'Dr Grantly is here, sir,' greeted his ears before the door was well open, 'and Mrs Grantly. They have a sitting-room above, and are waiting up for you.'
There was something in the tone of the man's voice which seemed to indicate that even he looked upon the warden as a runaway schoolboy, just recaptured by his guardian, and that he pitied the culprit, though he could not but be horrified at the crime.
The warden endeavoured to appear unconcerned, as he said, 'Oh, indeed! I'll go upstairs at once'; but he failed signally. There was, perhaps, a ray of comfort in the presence of his married daughter; that is to say, of comparative comfort, seeing that his son-in-law was there; but how much would he have preferred that they should both have been safe at Plumstead Episcopi! However, upstairs he went, the waiter slowly preceding him; and on the door being opened the archdeacon was discovered standing in the middle of the room, erect, indeed, as usual, but oh! how sorrowful! and on the dingy sofa behind him reclined his patient wife.
'Papa, I thought you were never coming back,' said the lady; 'it's twelve o'clock.'
'Yes, my dear,' said the warden. 'The attorney-general named ten for my meeting; to be sure ten is late, but what could I do, you know? Great men will have their own way.'
And he gave his daughter a kiss, and shook hands with the doctor, and again tried to look unconcerned.
'And you have absolutely been with the attorney-general?' asked the archdeacon.
Mr Harding signified that he had.
'Good heavens, how unfortunate!' And the archdeacon raised his huge hands in the manner in which his friends are so accustomed to see him express disapprobation and astonishment. 'What will Sir Abraham think of it? Did you not know that it is not customary for clients to go direct to their counsel?'
'Isn't it?' asked the warden, innocently. 'Well, at any rate, I've done it now. Sir Abraham didn't seem to think it so very strange.'
The archdeacon gave a sigh that would have moved a man-of-war.
'But, papa, what did you say to Sir Abraham?' asked the lady.
'I asked him, my dear, to explain John Hiram's will to me. He couldn't explain it in the only way which would have satisfied me, and so I resigned the wardenship.'
'Resigned it!' said the archdeacon, in a solemn voice, sad and low, but yet sufficiently audible--a sort of whisper that Macready would have envied, and the galleries have applauded with a couple of rounds. 'Resigned it! Good heavens!' And the dignitary of the church sank back horrified into a horsehair arm-chair.
'At least I told Sir Abraham that I would resign; and of course I must now do so.'
'Not at all,' said the archdeacon, catching a ray of hope. 'Nothing that you say in such a way to your own counsel can be in any way binding on you; of course you were there to ask his advice. I'm sure Sir Abraham did not advise any such step.'
Mr Harding could not say that he had.
'I am sure he disadvised you from it,' continued the reverend cross-examiner.
Mr Harding could not deny this.
'I'm sure Sir Abraham must have advised you to consult your friends.'
To this proposition also Mr Harding was obliged to assent.
'Then your threat of resignation amounts to nothing, and we are just where we were before.'
Mr Harding was now standing on the rug, moving uneasily from one foot to the other. He made no distinct answer to the archdeacon's last proposition, for his mind was chiefly engaged on thinking how he could escape to bed. That his resignation was a thing finally fixed on, a fact all but completed, was not in his mind a matter of any doubt; he knew his own weakness; he knew how prone he was to be led; but he was not weak enough to give way now, to go back from the position to which his conscience had driven him, after having purposely come to London to declare his determination: he did not in the least doubt his resolution, but he greatly doubted his power of defending it against his son-in-law.
'You must be very tired, Susan,' said he: 'wouldn't you like to go to bed?'
But Susan didn't want to go till her husband went.--She had an idea that her papa might be bullied if she were away: she wasn't tired at all, or at least she said so.
The archdeacon was pacing the room, expressing, by certain noddles of his head, his opinion of the utter fatuity of his father-in-law.
'Why,' at last he said--and angels might have blushed at the rebuke expressed in his tone and emphasis--'Why did you go off from Barchester so suddenly? Why did you take such a step without giving us notice, after what had passed at the palace?'
The warden hung his head, and made no reply: he could not condescend to say that he had not intended to give his son-in-law the slip; and as he had not the courage to avow it, he said nothing.
'Papa has been too much for you,' said the lady.
The archdeacon took another turn, and again ejaculated, 'Good heavens!' this time in a very low whisper, but still audible.
'I think I'll go to bed,' said the warden, taking up a side candle.
'At any rate, you'll promise me to take no further step without consultation,' said the archdeacon. Mr Harding made no answer, but slowly proceeded to light his candle.
'Of course,' continued the other, 'such a declaration as that you made to Sir Abraham means nothing. Come, warden, promise me this. The whole affair, you see, is already settled, and that with very little trouble or expense. Bold has been compelled to abandon his action, and all you have to do is to remain quiet at the hospital.' Mr Harding still made no reply, but looked meekly into his son-in-law's face. The archdeacon thought he knew his father-in-law, but he was mistaken; he thought that he had already talked over a vacillating man to resign his promise. 'Come,' said he, 'promise Susan to give up this idea of resigning the wardenship.'
The warden looked at his daughter, thinking probably at the moment that if Eleanor were contented with him, he need not so much regard his other child, and said, 'I am sure Susan will not ask me to break my word, or to do what I know to be wrong.'
'Papa,' said she, 'it would be madness in you to throw up your preferment. What are you to live on?'
'God, that feeds the young ravens, will take care of me also,' said Mr Harding, with a smile, as though afraid of giving offence by making his reference to scripture too solemn.
'Pish!' said the archdeacon, turning away rapidly. 'If the ravens persisted in refusing the food prepared for them, they wouldn't be fed.' A clergyman generally dislikes to be met in argument by any scriptural quotation; he feels as affronted as a doctor does, when recommended by an old woman to take some favourite dose, or as a lawyer when an unprofessional man attempts to put him down by a quibble.
'I shall have the living of Crabtree,' modestly suggested the warden. 'Eighty pounds a year!' sneered the archdeacon.
'And the precentorship,' said the father-in-law.
'It goes with the wardenship,' said the son-in-law. Mr Harding was prepared to argue this point, and began to do so, but Dr Grantly stopped him. 'My dear warden,' said he, 'this is all nonsense. Eighty pounds or a hundred and sixty makes very little difference. You can't live on it--you can't ruin Eleanor's prospects for ever. In point of fact, you can't resign; the bishop wouldn't accept it; the whole thing is settled. What I now want to do is to prevent any inconvenient tittle-tattle--any more newspaper articles.'
'That's what I want, too,' said the warden.
'And to prevent that,' continued the other, 'we mustn't let any talk of resignation get abroad.'
'But I shall resign,' said the warden, very, very meekly.
'Good heavens! Susan, my dear, what can I say to him?'
'But, papa,' said Mrs Grantly, getting up, and putting her arm through that of her father, 'what is Eleanor to do if you throw away your income?'
A hot tear stood in each of the warden's eyes as he looked round upon his married daughter. Why should one sister who was so rich predict poverty for another? Some such idea as this was on his mind, but he gave no utterance to it. Then he thought of the pelican feeding its young with blood from its own breast, but he gave no utterance to that either; and then of Eleanor waiting for him at home, waiting to congratulate him on the end of all his trouble.
'Think of Eleanor, papa,' said Mrs Grantly.
'I do think of her,' said her father.
'And you will not do this rash thing?' The lady was really moved beyond her usual calm composure.
'It can never be rash to do right,' said he. 'I shall certainly resign this wardenship.'
'Then, Mr Harding, there is nothing before you but ruin,' said the archdeacon, now moved beyond all endurance. 'Ruin both for you and Eleanor. How do you mean to pay the monstrous expenses of this action?'
Mrs Grantly suggested that, as the action was abandoned, the costs would not be heavy.
'Indeed they will, my dear,' continued he. 'One cannot have the attorney-general up at twelve o'clock at night for nothing--but of course your father has not thought of this.'
'I will sell my furniture,' said the warden. 'Furniture!' ejaculated the other, with a most powerful sneer.
Come, archdeacon,' said the lady, 'we needn't mind that at present. You know you never expected papa to pay the costs.'
'Such absurdity is enough to provoke job,' said the archdeacon, marching quickly up and down the room. 'Your father is like a child. Eight hundred pounds a year!--eight hundred and eighty with the house--with nothing to do. The very place for him. And to throw that up because some scoundrel writes an article in a newspaper! Well--I have done my duty. If he chooses to ruin his child I cannot help it'; and he stood still at the fire-place, and looked at himself in a dingy mirror which stood on the chimney-piece.
There was a pause for about a minute, and then the warden, finding that nothing else was coming, lighted his candle, and quietly said, 'Good-night.'
'Good-night, papa,' said the lady.
And so the warden retired; but, as he closed the door behind him, he heard the well-known ejaculation--slower, lower, more solemn, more ponderous than ever--'Good heavens!'