Barchester Towers HTML version
18. The Widow's Persecution
Early on the following morning, Mr Slope was summoned to the bishop's dressing-room,
and went there fully expecting that he should find his lordship very indignant, and
spirited up by his wife to repeat the rebuke which she had administered on the previous
day. Mr Slope had resolved that at any rate from him he would not stand it, and entered
the dressing-room in rather a combative disposition; but he found the bishop in the most
placid and gentle of humours. His lordship complained of being rather unwell, had a
slight headache, and was not quite the thing in his stomach; but there was nothing the
matter with his temper.
'Oh, Slope,' said he, taking the chaplain's proffered hand. 'Archdeacon Grantly is to call
on me this morning, and I really am not fit to see him. I fear I must trouble you to see
him for me;' and then Dr Proudie proceeded to explain what it was that must be said to
Dr Grantly. He was to be told in fact in the civilest words in which the tidings could be
conveyed, that Mr Harding having refused the wardenship, the appointment had been
offered to Mr Quiverful and accepted by him.
Mr Slope again pointed out to his patron that he thought he was perhaps not quite wise
in his decision, and this he did sotto voce. But even with this precaution it was not safe
to say much, and during the little that he did say, the bishop made a very slight, but still
a very ominous gesture with his thumb towards the door which opened from his
dressing-room to some inner sanctuary. Mr Slope at once took the hint and said no
more; but he perceived that there was to be confidence between him and his patron,
that the league desired by him was to be made, and that this appointment of Mr
Quiverful was to be the sacrifice offered on the altar of conjugal obedience. All this Mr
Slope read in the slight motion of the bishop's thumb, and he read it correctly. There
was no need of parchments and seals, of attestations, explanations, and professions.
The bargain was understood between them, and Mr Slope gave the bishop his hand
upon it. The bishop understood the little extra squeeze, and an intelligible gleam of
assent twinkled in his eye.
'Pray be civil to the archdeacon, Mr Slope,' said he out loud; 'but make him quite
understand that in this matter Mr Harding has put it out of my power to oblige him.'
It would be calumny on Mrs Proudie to suggest that she was sitting in her bed-room with
her ear at the keyhole during this interview. She had within her a spirit of decorum which
prevented her from descending to such baseness. To put her ear to a key-hole or to
listen at a chink, was a trick for a housemaid.
Mrs Proudie knew this, and therefore she did not do it; but she stationed herself as near
to the door as she well could, that she might, if possible, get the advantage which the
housemaid would have had, without descending to the housemaid's artifice.