Who Shall be Cock of the Walk?

All this time things were going on somewhat uneasily at the palace. The hint or two which Mr Slope had given was by no means thrown away upon the bishop. He had a feeling that if he ever meant to oppose the now almost unendurable despotism of his wife, he must lose no further time in doing so; that if he even meant to be himself master in his own diocese, let alone his own house, he should begin at once. It would have been easier to have done so from the day of his consecration than now, but easier now than when Mrs Proudie should have succeeded in thoroughly mastering the diocesan details. Then the proffered assistance of Mr Slope was a great thing for him, a most unexpected and invaluable aid. Hitherto he had looked on the two as allied forces; and had considered that as allied they were impregnable. He had begun to believe that his only chance of escape would be by the advancement of Mr Slope to some distant and rich preferment. But now it seemed that one of his enemies, certainly the least potent of them, but nevertheless one very important, was willing to desert his own camp. He walked up and down his little study, almost thinking that the time had come when he would be able to appropriate to his own use the big room upstairs, in which his predecessor had always sat.

As he resolved these things in his mind a note was brought to him from Archdeacon Grantly, in which that divine begged his lordship to do him the honour of seeing him on the morrow—would his lordship have the kindness to name the hour? Dr Grantly’s proposed visit would have reference to the re–appointment of Mr Harding to the wardenship of Hiram’s hospital. The bishop having read this note was informed that the archdeacon’s servant was waiting for an answer.

Here at once a great opportunity offered itself to the bishop of acting on his own responsibility. He bethought himself of his new ally, and rang the bell for Mr Slope. It turned out that Mr Slope was not in the house; and then, greatly daring, the bishop with his own unassisted spirit wrote a note to the archdeacon saying that he would see him, and naming the hour for doing so. Having watched from his study–window that the messenger got safely off the premises with this despatch, he began to turn over in his mind what step he should next take.

To–morrow he would have to declare to the archdeacon either that Mr Harding should have the appointment, or that he should not have it. The bishop felt that he could not honestly throw over Mr Quiverful without informing Mrs Proudie, and he resolved at last to brave the lioness in her own den and tell her that circumstances were such that it behoved him to reappoint Mr Harding. He did not feel that he should at all derogate from his new courage by promising Mrs Proudie that the very first piece of available preferment at his disposal should be given to Quiverful to atone for the injury done to him. If he could mollify the lioness with such a sop, how happy would he think his first efforts had been?

Not without many misgivings did he find himself in Mrs Proudie’s boudoir. He had at first thought of sending for her. But it was not at all impossible that she might choose to take such a message amiss, and then also it might be some protection to him to have his daughters present at the interview. He found her sitting with her account books before her nibbling the end of her pencil evidently mersed in pecuniary difficulties, and harassed in mind by the multiplicity of palatial expenses, and the heavy cost of episcopal grandeur. Her daughters were around her. Olivia was reading a novel, Augusta was crossing a note to her bosom friend in Baker Street, and Netta was working diminutive coach wheels for the bottom of a petticoat. If the bishop could get the better of his wife in her present mood, he would be a man indeed. He might then consider victory his own for ever. After all, in such cases the matter between husband and wife stands much the same as it does between two boys at the same school, two cocks in the same yard, or two armies on the same continent. The conqueror once is generally the conqueror for ever after. The prestige of victory is everything.

‘Ahem—my dear,’ began the bishop, ‘if you are disengaged, I wished to speak to you.’ Mrs Proudie put her pencil down carefully at the point to which she had dotted her figures, marked down in her memory the sum she had arrived at, and then looked up, sourly enough, into her helpmate’s face. ‘If you are busy, another time will do as well,’ continued the bishop, whose courage like Bob Acres’ had oozed out, now that he found himself on the ground of battle.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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