Barchester Towers

Anthony Trollope



The new bishop

During the last ten days of July in the year 1852, in the ancient cathedral city of Barchester, a most important question was asked every hour and answered every hour in different ways - 'Who is to be the new bishop?'

Old Dr Grantly, who had for many years occupied the bishop's chair, was dying, just as the government of the country was about to change. The bishop's son, Archdeacon Grantly, had recently taken on many of his father's duties, and it was fairly well understood that the present prime minister would choose him as the new bishop. It was a difficult time for the archdeacon. The prime minister had never promised him the post in so many words, but those who know anything of government will be well aware that encouragement is often given by a whisper from a great man or one of his friends. The archdeacon had heard such a whisper, and allowed himself to hope.

A month ago, the doctors had said the old man would live just four more weeks. Only yesterday, they had examined him again, expressed their surprise, and given him another two weeks. Now the son was sitting by his father's bedside, calculating his chances. The government would fall within five days that much was certain; his father would die within - no, he refused to think that. He tried to keep his mind on other matters, but the race was so very close and the prize so very great. He looked at the dying man's calm face. As far as he and the doctors could judge, life might yet hang there for weeks to come. The old bishop slept for twenty of the twenty-four hours, but during his waking moments, he was able to recognize both his son and his dear old friend, Mr Harding, the archdeacon's father-in-law. Now he lay sleeping like a baby. Nothing could be easier than the old man's passing from this world to the next.

But by no means easy were the emotions of the man who sat there watching. He knew it must be now or never. He was already over fifty, and there was little chance that the next prime minister would think as kindly of him as the present one did. He thought long and sadly, in deep silence, and then at last dared to ask himself whether he really desired his father's death.