Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope - HTML preview
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33. Mrs Proudie Victrix
The next week passed over at Barchester with much apparent tranquillity. The hearts, however, of some of the inhabitants were not so tranquil as the streets of the city. The poor old dean still continued to live, just as Sir Omicron had prophesied that he would do, much to amazement, and some thought, disgust, of Dr Fillgrave. The bishop still remained away. He had stayed a day or two in town, and had also remained longer at the archbishop's than he had intended. Mr Slope had as yet received no line in answer to either of his letters; but he had learnt the cause of this. Sir Nicholas was stalking a deer, or attending the Queen, in the Highlands; and even the indefatigable Mr Towers had stolen an autumn holiday, and had made one of the yearly tribe who now ascend Mont Blanc. Mr Slope learnt that he was not expected back till the last day of September.
Mrs Bold was thrown much with the Stanhopes, of whom she became fonder and fonder. If asked, she would have said that Charlotte Stanhope was her special friend, and so she would have thought. But, to tell the truth, she liked Bertie nearly as well; she had no more idea of regarding him as a lover than she would have had of looking at a big tame dog in such a light. Bertie had become very intimate with her, and made little speeches to her, and said little things of sort very different from the speeches and sayings of other men. But then this was almost always done before his sisters; and he, with his long silken beard, his light blue eyes and strange dress, was so unlike other men. She admitted him to a kind of familiarity which she had never known with any one else, and of which she by no means understood the danger. She blushed once at finding that she had called him Bertie, and on the same day only barely remembered her position in time to check herself from playing upon him some personal practical joke to which she was instigated by Charlotte.
In all this Eleanor was perfectly innocent, and Bertie Stanhope could hardly be called guilty. But every familiarity into which Eleanor was entrapped was deliberately planned by his sister. She knew well how to play her game, and played it without mercy; she knew, none so well, what was her brother's character, and she would have handed over to him the young widow, and the young widow's money, and the money of the widow's child, without remorse. With her pretended friendship and warm cordiality, she strove to connect Eleanor so closely with her brother as to make it impossible that she should go back even if she wished it. But Charlotte Stanhope knew really nothing of Eleanor's character; did not even understand that there were such characters. She did not comprehend that a young and pretty woman could be playful and familiar with a man such as Bertie Stanhope, and yet have no idea in her head, no feeling in her heart that she would have been ashamed to own to all the world. Charlotte Stanhope did not in the least conceive that her new friend was a woman whom nothing could entrap into an inconsiderate marriage, whose mind would have revolted from the slightest impropriety had she been aware that any impropriety existed.
Miss Stanhope, however, had tact enough to make herself and her father's house very agreeable to Mrs Bold. There was with them all an absence of stiffness and formality which was peculiarly agreeable to Eleanor after the great dose of clerical arrogance which she had lately been constrained to take. She played chess with them, walked with them, and drank tea with them; studied or pretended to study astronomy; assisted them in writing stories in rhyme, in turning prose tragedy into comic verse, or comic stories into would-be tragic poetry. She had no idea before that she had any such talents. She had not conceived the possibility of her doing such things as she now did. She found with the Stanshopes new amusements and employments, new pursuits, which in themselves could not be wrong, and which were exceedingly alluring.
Is it not a pity that people who are bright and clever should so often be exceedingly improper? And that those who are never improper should so often be dull and heavy? Now Charlotte Stanhope was always bright, and never heavy: but her propriety was doubtful.
But during all this time Eleanor by no means forgot Mr Arabin, nor did she forget Mr Slope. She had parted from Mr Arabin in her anger. She was still angry at what she regarded as his impertinent interference; but nevertheless she looked forward to meeting him again; and also looked forward to forgiving him. The words that Mr Arabin had uttered still sounded in her ears. She knew that if not intended for a declaration of love, they did signify that he loved her; and she felt also that if he ever did make such a declaration, it might be that she should not receive it unkindly. She was still angry with him, very angry with him; so angry that she would bit her lip and stamp her foot as she thought of what he had said and done. But nevertheless she yearned to let him know that he was forgiven; all that she required was that he should own that he had sinned.
She was to meet him at Ullathorne on the last day of the present month. Miss Thorne had invited all the country round to a breakfast on the lawn. There were to be tents and archery, and dancing for the ladies on the lawn, and for the swains and girls in the paddock. There were to be fiddlers and fifers, races for the boys, poles to be climbed, ditches full of water to be jumped over, horse-collars to be grinned through (this latter amusement was an addition of the stewards, and not arranged by Miss Thorne in the original programme), and every game to be played which, in a long course of reading, Miss Thorne could ascertain to have been played in the good days of Queen Elizabeth. Everything of more modern growth was to be tabooed, if possible. On one subject Miss Thorne was very unhappy. She had been turning in her mind the matter of the bull-ring, but could not succeed in making anything of it. She would not for the world have done, or allowed to be done, anything that was cruel; as to the promoting the torture of a bull for the amusement of her young neighbours, it need hardly be said that Miss Thorne would be the last to think of it. And yet, there was something so charming in the name. A bull-ring, however, without a bull would only be a memento of the decadence of the times, and she felt herself constrained to abandon the idea. Quintains, however, she was determined to have, and had poles and swivels and bags of flour prepared accordingly. She would no doubt have been anxious for something small in the way of a tournament; but, as she said to her brother, that had been tried, and the age had proved itself too decidedly inferior to its fore-runners to admit of such a pastime. Mr Thorne did not seem to participate in her regret, feeling perhaps that a full suit of chain-armour would have added but little to his own personal comfort.
This party at Ullathorne had been planned in the first place as a sort of welcoming to Mr Arabin on his entrance into St Ewold's parsonage; an intended harvest-home gala for the labourers and their wives and children had subsequently been amalgamated with it, and thus it had grown into its present dimensions. All the Plumstead party had of course been asked, at the time of the invitation Eleanor had intended to have gone with her sister. Now her plans were altered, and she was going with the Stanhopes. The Proudies were also to be there; and as Mr Slope had not been included in the invitation to the palace, the signora, whose impudence never deserted her, asked permission of Miss Thorne to bring him.
This permission Miss Thorne gave, having no other alternative; but she did so with a trembling heart, fearing Mr Arabin would be offended. Immediately on his return she apologised, almost with tears, so dire an enmity was presumed to rage between the two gentlemen. But Mr Arabin comforted by an assurance that he should meet Mr Slope with the greatest pleasure imaginable, and made her promise that she would introduce them to each other.
But this triumph of Mr Slope's was not so agreeable to Eleanor, who since her return to Barchester had done her best to avoid him. She would not give way to the Plumstead folk when they so ungenerously accused her of being in love with this odious man; but, nevertheless, knowing that she was so accused, she was fully alive to the expediency of keeping out of his way and dropping him by degrees. She had seen very little of him since her return. Her servants had been instructed to say to all visitors that she was out. She could not bring herself to specify Mr Slope particularly, and in order to order to avoid him she had thus debarred herself from all her friends. She had excepted Charlotte Stanhope, and, by degrees, a few others also. Once she had met him at the Stanhope's; but, as a rule, Mr Slope's visits there had been made in the morning, and hers in the evening. On that one occasion Charlotte had managed to preserve her from any annoyance. This was very good-natured on the part of Charlotte, as Eleanor thought, and also very sharp-witted, as Eleanor had told her friend nothing of her reasons for wishing to avoid that gentleman. The fact, however, was, that Charlotte had learnt from her sister that Mr Slope would probably put himself forward as a suitor for the widow's hand, and she was consequently sufficiently alive to the expediency of guarding Bertie's future wife from any danger in that quarter.
Nevertheless the Stanhopes were pledged to take Mr Slope with them to Ullathorne. An arrangement was therefore necessarily made, which was very disagreeable to Eleanor. Dr Stanhope, with herself, Charlotte, and Mr Slope, were to go together, and Bertie was to follow with his sister Madeline. It was clearly visible to Eleanor's face that this assortment was very disagreeable to her; and Charlotte, who was much encouraged thereby in her own little plan, made a thousand apologies.
'I see you don't like it, dear,' said she, 'but we could not manage it otherwise. Bertie would give his eyes to go with you, but Madeline cannot possibly go without him. Nor could we possibly put Mr Slope and Madeline in the same carriage without anyone else. They'd both be ruined for ever, you know, and not admitted inside Ullathorne gates, I should imagine, after such an impropriety.'
'Nonsense, my dear. Don't think of such a thing; after all it is only for an hour or so, and to tell the truth, I don't know what it is you dislike so. I thought you and Mr Slope were great friends. What is it you dislike?''Oh; nothing particular,' said Eleanor; 'only I thought it would be a family party.'
'Of course it would be much nicer, much more snug, if Bertie would go with us. It is he that is badly treated. I can assure you he is much more afraid of Mr Slope than you are. But you see Madeline cannot go without him,--and she, poor creature, goes out so seldom! I am sure you don't begrudge her this, though her vagary does knock about our own party a little.'
Of course Eleanor made a thousand protestations, a uttered a thousand hopes that Madeline would enjoy herself. And of course she had to give way, and undertake to go in the carriage with Mr Slope. In fact, she was driven either to so this, or to explain why she would not do so. Now she could not bring herself to explain to Charlotte Stanhope all that had passed at Plumstead.
But it was to her a sore necessity. She thought of a thousand little schemes for avoiding it; she would plead illness, and not go at all; she would persuade Mary Bold to go although not asked, and then make a necessity of having a carriage of her own to take her sister-in-law; anything, in fact, she could do rather than be seen in the same carriage with Mr Slope. However, when the momentous morning came she had no scheme matured, and then Mr Slope handed her into Dr Stanhope's carriage, and following her steps, sat opposite to her.
The bishop returned on the eve of the Ullathorne party, and was received at home with radiant smiles by the partner of all his cares. On his arrival he crept up to his dressingroom with somewhat of a palpitating heart; he had overstayed his allotted time by three days, and was not without fear of penalties. Nothing, however, could be more affectionately cordial than the greeting he received; the girls came out and kissed him in a manner that was quite soothing to his spirit; and Mrs Proudie, arms, and almost in words called him her dear, darling, good, pet, little bishop. All this was a very pleasant surprise.
Mrs Proudie had somewhat changed her tactics; not that she had seen any cause to disapprove of her former line of conduct, but she had now brought matters to such a point that she calculated that she might safely do so. She had got the better of Mr Slope, and she now thought well to show her husband that when allowed to get the better of everybody, when obeyed by him and permitted to rule over others, she would take care that he should have his reward. Mr Slope had not a chance against her; not only could she stun the poor bishop by her midnight anger, but she could assuage and soothe him, if she so willed by daily indulgences. She could furnish his room for him, turn him out as smart a bishop as any on the bench, give him good dinners, warm fires, and an easy life; all this she would do if he would but be quietly obedient. But if not--! To speak sooth, however, his sufferings on that dreadful night had been as poignant, as to leave him little spirit for further rebellion.
As soon as he had dressed himself she returned to his room. 'I hope you enjoyed yourself at--' said she, seating herself on one side of the fire while he remained in his arm-chair on the other, stroking the calves of his legs. It was the first time he had had a fire in his room since the summer, and it pleased him; for the good bishop loved to be warm and cosy. Nothing could be more polite than the archbishop; and Mrs Archbishop had been equally charming.Mrs Proudie was delighted to hear it; nothing, she declared, pleased her so much as to think Her bairn respectit like the lave.
She did not put it precisely in these words, but what she said came to the same thing; and then, having petted and fondled her little man sufficiently, she proceeded to business.'The poor dean is still alive,' said she. 'So I hear, so I hear,' said the bishop. 'I'll go to the deanery directly after breakfast tomorrow.' 'We are going to this party at Ullathorne to-morrow morning, my dear; we must be there early, you know,--by twelve o'clock I suppose.' 'Oh,--ah!' said the bishop; 'then I'll certainly call the next day. 'Was much said about it at--?' asked Mrs Proudie. 'About what?' said the bishop.
'Filling up the dean's place,' said Mrs Proudie. As she spoke a spark of the wonted fire returned to her eye, and the bishop felt himself to be a little less comfortable than before.'Filling up the dean's place; that is, if the dean dies?--very little, my dear. It was mentioned, just mentioned.' 'And what did you say about it, bishop?'
'Why I said that I thought that if, that is, should--should the dean die, that is, I said I thought--' As he went on stammering and floundering, he saw that his wife's eye was fixed sternly on him. Why should he encounter such evil for a man whom he loved so slightly as Mr Slope? Why should he give up his enjoyments and his ease, and such dignity as might be allowed to him, to fight a losing battle for a chaplain? The chaplain after all, if successful, would be as great a tyrant as his wife. Why fight at all? Why contend? Why be uneasy? From that moment he determined to fling Mr Slope to the winds, and take the goods the gods provided.'I am told,' said Mrs Proudie, speaking very slowly, 'that Mr Slope is looking to be the new dean.' 'Yes,--certainly, I believe he is,' said the bishop. 'And what does the archbishop say about that?' asked Mrs Proudie.
'Well, my dear, to tell the truth, I promised Mr Slope to speak to the archbishop. Mr Slope spoke to me about it. It was very arrogant of him, I must say,--but that is nothing to me.'
'Arrogant!' said Mrs Proudie; 'it is the most impudent piece of pretension I ever heard in my life. Mr Slope dean of Barchester, indeed! And what did you do in the matter, bishop?''Why, my dear, I did speak to the archbishop.'
'You don't mean to tell me,' said Mrs Proudie, 'that you are going to make yourself ridiculous by lending your name to such preposterous attempts as this? Mr Slope dean of Barchester indeed!' And she tossed her head, and put her arms a-kimbo, with an air of confident defiance that made her husband quite sure that Mr Slope never would be Dean of Barchester. In truth, Mrs Proudie was all but invincible; had she married Petruchio, it may be doubted whether that arch wife-tamer would have been able to keep her legs out of those garments which are presumed by men to be peculiarly unfitted for feminine use.'It is preposterous, my dear.' 'Then why have you endeavoured to assist him?' 'Why,--my dear, I haven't assisted him--much.' 'But why have you done it at all? Why have you mixed your name up in any thing so ridiculous? What was it you did say to the archbishop?' 'Why, I did just mention it; I just did say that--that in the event of the poor dean's death, Mr Slope would--would--' 'Would what?' 'I forget how I put it,--would take it if he could get it; something of that sort. I didn't say much more than that.' 'You shouldn't have said anything at all. And what did the archbishop say?'
'He didn't say anything; he just bowed and rubbed his hands. Somebody else came up at the moment, and as we were discussing the new parochial universal school committee, the matter of the new dean dropped; after that I didn't think it was wise to renew it.''Renew it! I am very sorry you ever mentioned it. What will the archbishop think of that?' 'You may be sure, my dear, that the archbishop thought very little about it.'
'But why did you think about it, bishop? How could you think of making such a creature as that Dean of Barchester?--Dean of Barchester! I suppose he'll be looking for bishoprics some of these days--a man that hardly knows who his father was; a man that I found without bread to his mouth, or a coat to his back. Dean of Barchester indeed! I'll dean him.'
Mrs Proudie considered herself to be in politics a pure Whig; all her family belonged to the Whig party. Now among all ranks of Englishmen and Englishwomen (Mrs Proudie should, I think, be ranked among the former, on the score of her great strength of mind), no one is so hostile to lowly born pretenders to high station as the pure Whig. The bishop thought it necessary to exculpate himself. 'Why, my dear,' said he, 'it appeared to me that you and Mr Slope did not get on quite as well as you used to do.''Get on!' said Mrs Proudie, moving her foot uneasily on the hearth-rug, and compressing her lips in a manner that betokened such danger to the subject of their discourse.
'I began to find that he was objectionable to you,'--Mrs Proudie's foot worked on the hearth-rug with great rapidity,--'and that you would be more comfortable if he was out of the palace,' Mrs Proudie smiled, as a hyena may probably smile before he begins his laugh,--'and therefore I thought that if he got this place, and so ceased to be my chaplain, you might be pleased at such an arrangement.'
And then the hyena laughed loud. Pleased at such an arrangement! pleased at having her enemy converted into a dean with twelve hundred a year! Medea, when she describes the customs of her native country (I am quoting from Robson's edition), assures her astonished auditor that in her land captives, when taken, are eaten. 'You pardon them!' says Medea. 'We do indeed,' says the mild Grecian. 'We eat them!' says she of Colchis, with terrible energy. Mrs Proudie was the Medea of Barchester; she had no idea of not eating Mr Slope. Pardon him! merely get rid of him! make a dean of him! It was not so they did with their captives in her country, among people of her sort! Mr Slope had no such mercy to expect; she would pick him to the very last bone.
'Oh, yes, my dear, of course he'll cease to be your chaplain,' said she. 'After what has passed, that must be a matter of course. I couldn't for a moment think of living in the same house with such a man. Besides, he has shown himself quite unfit for such a situation; making broils and quarrels among the clergy, getting you, my dear, into scrapes, and taking upon himself as though he was as good as bishop himself. Of course he'll go. But because he leaves the palace, that is no reason why he should get into the deanery.''Oh, of course not!' said the bishop; 'but to save appearances you know, my dear--'
'I don't want to save appearances; I want Mr Slope to appear just what he is--a false, designing, mean, intriguing man. I have my eye on him; he little knows what I see. He is misconducting himself in the most disgraceful way with that lame Italian woman. That family is a disgrace to Barchester, and Mr Slope is a disgrace to Barchester! If he doesn't look well to it, he'll have his gown stripped off his back instead of having a dean's hat on his head. Dean, indeed! The man has gone mad with arrogance.
The bishop said nothing further to excuse either himself or his chaplain, and having shown himself passive and docile was again taken into favour. They soon went to dinner, and he spent the pleasantest evening he had had in his own house for a long time. His daughter played and sang to him as he sipped his coffee and read his newspaper, and Mrs Proudie asked good-natured little questions about the archbishop; and then he went happily to bed, and slept as quietly as though Mrs Proudie had been Griselda herself. While shaving himself in the morning and preparing for the festivities of Ullathorne, he fully resolved to run no more tilts against a warrior so fully armed at all points as was Mrs Proudie.
34. Oxford--The Master And Tutor Of Lazarus
Mr Arabin, as we have said, had but a sad walk of it under the trees of Plumstead churchyard. He did not appear to any of the family till dinner time, and then he assumed, as far as their judgment went, to be quite himself. He had, as was his wont, asked himself a great many questions, and given himself a great many answers; and the upshot of this was that he had set himself down for an ass. He had determined that he was much too old and much to rusty to commence the manouvres of lovemaking; that he had let the time slip through his hands which should have been used for such purposes; and that now he must lie on his bed as he had made it. Then he asked himself whether in truth he did love this woman; and he answered himself, not without a long struggle, but at last honestly, that he certainly did love her. He then asked himself whether he did not also love her money; and he again answered himself that he did so. But here he did not answer honestly. It was and ever had been his weakness to look for impure motives for his own conduct. No doubt, circumstanced as he was, with a small living and a fellowship, accustomed as he had been to collegiate luxuries and expensive comforts, he might have hesitated to marry a penniless woman had he felt ever so strong a predilection for the woman herself; no doubt Eleanor's fortune put all such difficulties out of the question; but it was equally without doubt that his love for her had crept upon him without the slightest idea on his part that he could ever benefit his own condition by sharing her wealth.
When he had stood on the hearth-rug, counting the pattern, and counting also the future chances of his own life, the remembrances of Mrs Bold's comfortable income had not certainly damped his first assured feeling of love for her. And why should it have done so? Need it have done so with the purest of men? Be that as it may, Mr Arabin decided against himself; he decided that it had done so in his case, and that he was not the purest of men.
He also decided, which was more to his purpose, that Eleanor did not care a straw for him, and that very probably did not care a straw for his rival. Then he made up his mind not to think of her any more, and went on thinking of her till he was almost in a state to drown himself in the little brook which was at the bottom of the archdeacon's grounds.
And ever and again his mind would revert to the Signora Neroni, and he would make comparisons between her and Eleanor Bold, not always in favour of the latter. The signora had listened to him, and flattered him, and believed in him; at least she had told him so. Mrs Bold had also listened to him, but had never flattered him; had not always believed in him: and now had broken from him in violent rage. The signora, too, was the more lovely woman of the two, and had also the additional attraction of her affliction; for to him it was an attraction.
But he never could have loved the Signora Neroni as he felt that he now loved Eleanor! and so he flung stones into the brook, instead of flinging in himself, and sat down on its margin as sad a gentleman as you shall meet in a summer's day.
He heard the dinner-bell ring from the churchyard, and he knew that it was time to recover his self possession. He felt that he was disgracing himself in his own eyes, that he had been idling his time and neglecting the high duties which he had taken upon himself to perform. He should have spent the afternoon among the poor at St Ewold's, instead of wandering about Plumstead, an ancient love-lorn swain, dejected and sighing, full of imaginary sorrows and Wertherian grief. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself, and determined to lose no time in retrieving his character, so damaged in his own eyes. Thus when he appeared at dinner he was as animated as ever, and was the author of most of the conversation which graced the archdeacon's board on that evening. Mr Harding was ill at ease and sick at heart, and did not care to appear more comfortable than he really was; what little he did say was said to his daughter. He thought the archdeacon and Mr Arabin had leagued together against Eleanor's comfort; and his wish now was to break away from the pair, and undergo in his Barchester lodgings whatever Fate had in store for him. He hated the name of the hospital; his attempt to regain his lost inheritance there had brought upon him so much suffering. As far as he was concerned, Mr Quiverful was now welcome to the place.
And the archdeacon was not very lively. The poor dean's illness was of course discussed in the first place. Dr Grantly did not mention Mr Slope's name in connexion with the expected event of Dr Trefoil's death; he did not wish to say anything about Mr Slope just at present, nor did he wish to make known his own sad surmises; but the idea that his enemy might possibly become Dean of Barchester made him very gloomy. Should such an even take place, such a dire catastrophe come about, there would be an end to his life as far as his life was connected with the city of Barchester. He must give up all his old haunts, all his old habits, and live quietly as a retired rector at Plumstead. It had been a severe trial for him to have Dr Proudie in the palace; but with Mr Slope also in the deanery, he felt that he should be unable to draw his breath in Barchester close.
Thus it came to pass that in spite of the sorrow at his heart, Mr Arabin was apparently the gayest of the party. Both Mr Harding and Mrs Grantly were in a slight degree angry with him on account of his want of gloom. To the one it appeared as though he were triumphing at Eleanor's banishment, and to the other that he was not affected as he should have been by all the sad circumstances of the day, Eleanor's obstinacy, Mr Slope's success, and the poor dean's apoplexy. And so they were all at cross purposes.
Mr Harding left the room almost together with the ladies, and the archdeacon opened his heart to Mr Arabin. He still harped upon the hospital. 'What did that fellow mean,' said he, 'by saying in his letter to Mrs Bold, that if Mr Harding would call on the bishop it would be all right? Of course I would not be guided by anything he might say; but still it may be well that Mr Harding should see the bishop. It would be foolish to let the thing slip through our fingers because Mrs Bold is determined to make a fool of herself.' Mr Arabin hinted that he was not quite so sure that Mrs Bold would make a fool of herself. He said that he was not convinced that she did regard Mr Slope so warmly as she was supposed to do. The archdeacon questioned and cross-questioned him about this, but elicited nothing; and at least remained firm in his own conviction that he was destined, malgre lui, to be the brother-in-law of Mr Slope. Mr Arabin strongly advised that Mr Harding should take no step regarding the hospital in connexion with, or in consequence of, Mr Slope's letter. 'If the bishop really means to confer the appointment on Mr Harding,' argued Mr Arabin, 'he will take care to let him have some other intimation than a message conveyed through a letter to a lady. Were Mr Harding to present himself at the palace he might merely be playing Mr Slope's game;' and thus it was settled that nothing should be done till the great Dr Gwynne's arrival, or at any rate without that potentate's sanction.
It was droll how these men talked of Mr Harding as though he were a puppet, and planned their intrigues and small ecclesiastical manouvres without dreaming of taking him into their confidence. There was a comfortable house and income in question, and it was very desirable, and certainly very just, that Mr Harding should have them; but that, at present, was not the main point; it was expedient to beat the bishop, and if possible to smash Mr Slope. Mr Slope had set up, or was supposed to have set up, a rival candidate. Of all things the most desirable would have been to have had Mr Quiverful's appointment published to the public, and then annulled by the clamour of an indignant world, loud in the defence of Mr Harding's rights. But of such an event the chance was small; a slight fraction only of the world would be indignant, and that fraction would be one not accustomed to loud speaking. And then the preferment had in a sort of way been offered to Mr Harding, and had in a sort of way been refused by him.
Mr Slope's wicked, cunning hand had been peculiarly conspicuous in the way in which this had been brought to pass, and it was the success of Mr Slope's cunning which was so painfully grating the feelings of the archdeacon. That which of all things he most dreaded was that he should be out-generalled by Mr Slope: and just at present it appeared probable that Mr Slope would turn his flank, steal a march on him, cut off his provisions, carry his strong town by a coup de main, and at last beat him thoroughly in a regular pitched battle. The archdeacon felt that his flank had been turned when desired to wait on Mr Slope instead of the bishop, that a march had been stolen when Mr Harding was induced to refuse the bishop's offer, that his provisions would be cut off when Mr Quiverful got the hospital, that Eleanor was the strong town doomed to be taken, and that Mr Slope, as Dean of Barchester, would be regarded by all the world as the conqueror in that final conflict.
Dr Gwyinne was the Deus ex machina who was to come down upon the Barchester stage, and bring about deliverance from these terrible evils. But how can melodramatic denouments be properly brought about, how can vice and Mr Slope be punished, and virtue and the archdeacon be rewarded, while the avenging god is laid up with the gout? In the mean time evil may be triumphant, and poor innocence, transfixed to the earth by an arrow from Dr Proudie's quiver, may be dead upon the ground, not to be resuscitated even by Dr Gwynne.
Two or three days after Eleanor's departure, Mr Arabin went to Oxford, and soon found himself closeted with the august head of his college. It was quite clear that Dr Gwynne was not very sanguine as to the effects of his journey to Barchester, and not over anxious to interfere with the bishop. He had had the gout but was very nearly convalescent, and Mr Arabin at once saw that had the mission been one of which the master thoroughly approved, he would before this have been at Plumstead.
As it was, Dr Gwynne was resolved to visiting his friend, and willingly promised to return to Barchester with Mr Arabin. He could not bring himself to believe that there was any probability that Mr Slope would be made Dean of Barchester. Rumour, he said, had reached even his ears not at all favourable to that gentleman's character, and he expressed himself strongly of the opinion that any such appointment was quite out of the question. At this stage of the proceedings, the master's right-hand man, Tom Staple, was called in to assist at the conference. Tom Staple was the Tutor of Lazarus, and moreover a great man at Oxford. Though universally known by a species of nomenclature as very undignified. Tom Staple was one who maintained a high dignity in the University. He was, as it were, the leader of the Oxford tutors, a body of men who consider themselves collectively as being by very little, if at all, second in importance to the heads themselves. It is not always the case that the master, or warden, or provost, or principal can hit it off exactly with his tutor. A tutor is by no means indisposed to have a will of his own. But at Lazarus they were great friends and firm allies at the time of which we are writing.
Tom Staple was a hale strong man of about forty-five; short in stature, swarthy in face, with strong sturdy black hair, and crisp black beard, of which very little was allowed to show itself in the shape of whiskers. He always wore a white neckcloth, clean indeed, but not tied with that scrupulous care which now distinguishes some of our younger clergy. He was, of course, always clothed in a seemly suit of solemn black. Mr Staple was a decent cleanly liver, not over addicted to any sensuality; but nevertheless a somewhat warmish hue was beginning to adorn his nose, the peculiar effect, as his friends averred, of a certain pipe of port introduced into the cellars of Lazarus the very same year in which the tutor entered in as a freshman. There was also, perhaps with a little redolence of port wine, as it were the slightest possible twang, in Mr Staple's voice.
In these days Tom Staple was not a very happy man; University reform had long been his bugbear, and now was his bane. It was not with him as with most others, an affair of politics, respecting which, when the need existed, he could, for parties' sake or on behalf of principle, maintain a certain amount of necessary zeal; it was not with him a subject for dilettante warfare, and courteous common-place opposition. To him it was life and death. He would willingly have been a martyr in the cause, had the cause admitted of martyrdom.
At the present day, unfortunately, public affairs will allow of no martyrs, and therefore it is that there is such a deficiency of zeal. Could gentlemen of L 10,000 a year have died on their own door-steps in defence of protection, no doubt some half-dozen glorious old baronets would have so fallen, and the school of protection would at this day have been crowded with scholars. Who can fight strenuously in any combat in which there is no danger? Tom Staple would have willingly been impaled before a Committee of the House, could he by such self-sacrifice have infused his own spirit into the component members of the hebdomadal board.
Tom Staple was one of those who in his heart approved of the credit system which had of old been in vogue between the students and tradesmen of the University. He knew and acknowledged to himself that it was useless in these degenerate days publicly to contend with the Jupiter on such a subject. The Jupiter had undertaken to rule the University, and Tom Staple was well aware that the Jupiter was too powerful for him. But in secret, and among his safe companions, he would argue that the system of credit was an ordeal good for young men to undergo.
The bad men, said he, and the weak and worthless, blunder into danger and burn their feet; but the good men, they who have any character, they who have that within them which can reflect credit in their Alma Mater, they come through scatheless. What merit will there be to a young man to get through safely, if he guarded and protected and restrained like a school-boy? By so doing, the period of the ordeal is only postponed, and the manhood of the man will be deferred from the age of twenty to that of twentyfour. If you bind him with leading-strings at college, he will break loose while eating for the bar in London; bind him there, and he will break loose afterwards, when he is a married man. The wild oats must be sown somewhere. 'Twas thus that Tom Staple would argue of young men; not, indeed, with much consistency, but still with some practical knowledge of the subject gathered from long experience.And now Tom Staple proffered such wisdom as he had for the assistance of Dr Gwynne and Mr Arabin. 'Quite out of the question,' said he, arguing that Mr Slope could not possibly be made the new Dean of Barchester. 'So I think,' said the master. 'He has no standing, and, if all I hear be true, very little character.'
'As to character,' said Tom Staple, 'I don't think much of that. They rather like loose parsons for deans; a little fast living, or a dash of infidelity, is no bad recommendation to a cathedral close. But they couldn't make Mr Slope; the last two deans have been Cambridge men; you'll not show me an instance of their making three men running from the same University. We don't get out share, and never shall, I suppose; but we must at least have one out of the three.''These sort of rules are all gone out by now,' said Mr Arabin. 'Everything has gone by, I believe,' said Tom Staple. 'The cigar has been smoked out, and we are the ashes.' 'Speak for yourself, Staple,' said the master.
'I speak for all,' said the tutor stoutly. 'It is coming to that, that there will be no life left anywhere in the country. No one is any longer fit to rule himself, or those belonging to him. The Government is to find us all in everything, and the press is to find the Government. Nevertheless, Mr Slope won't be Dean of Barchester.''And who will be the warden of the hospital?' said Mr Arabin. 'I hear that Mr Quiverful is already appointed,' said Tom Staple.
'I think not,' said the master. 'And I think, moreover, that Dr Proudie will not be so shortsighted as to run against such a rock; Mr Slope should himself have sense enough to prevent it.''But perhaps Mr Slope may have no objection to see his patron on a rock,' said the suspicious tutor. 'What could he get by that?' asked Mr Arabin.
'It is impossible to see the doubles of such a man,' said Mr Staple. 'It seems quite clear that Bishop Proudie is altogether in his hands, and it is equally clear that he has been moving heaven and earth to get this Mr Quiverful into the hospital, although he must know that such an appointment would be most damaging to the bishop. It is impossible to understand such a man, and dreadful to think,' added Mr Staple, sighing deeply, 'that the welfare and fortunes of good men may depend on his intrigues.'
Dr Gwynne or Mr Staple were not in the least aware, nor even was Mr Arabin that this Mr Slope, of whom they were talking, had been using his utmost efforts to put their own candidate into the hospital; and that in lieu of being a permanent in the palace, his own expulsion therefrom had been already decided on by the high powers of the diocese.
'I'll tell you what,' said the tutor, 'if this Quiverful is thrust into the hospital and Dr Trefoil must die, I should not wonder if the Government were to make Mr Harding Dean of Barchester. They would feel bound to do something for him after all that was said when he resigned.'
Dr Gwynne at the moment made no reply to this suggestion; but it did not the less impress itself on his mind. If Mr Harding could not be warden of the hospital, why should he not be Dean of Barchester?And so the conference ended without any very fixed resolution, and Dr Gwynne and Mr Arabin prepared for their journey to Plumstead on the morrow.
35. Miss Thorne's Fete Champetre
The day of the Ullathorne party arrived, and all the world was there; or at least so much of the world as had been included in Miss Thorne's invitation. As we have said, the bishop returned home on the previous evening, and on the same evening, and by the same train, came Dr Gwynne and Mr Arabin from Oxford. The archdeacon with his brougham was in waiting for the Master of Lazarus, so that there was a goodly show of church dignitaries on the platform of the railway.
The Stanhope party was finally arranged in the odious manner already described, and Eleanor got into the doctor's waiting carriage full of apprehension and presentiment of further misfortunes, whereas Mr Slope entered the vehicle elate with triumph.
He had received that morning a civil note from Sir Nicholas Fitzwiggin; not promising much indeed; but then Mr Slope knew, or fancied that he knew, that it was not etiquette for government officers to make promises. Though Sir Nicholas promised nothing he implied a good deal; declared his conviction that Mr Slope would make an excellent dean, and wished him every kind of success. To be sure he added that, not being in the cabinet, he was never consulted on such matters, and that even if he spoke on the subject his voice would go for nothing. But all this Mr Slope took for the prudent reserve of official life. To complete his anticipated triumph, another letter was brought to him just as he was about to start to Ullathorne.
Mr Slope also enjoyed the idea of handing Mrs Bold out of Dr Stanhope's carriage before the multitude at Ullathorne gate, as much as Eleanor dreaded the same ceremony. He had fully made up his mind to throw himself and his fortune at the widow's feet, and had almost determined to select the present propitious morning for doing so. The signora had of late been less than civil to him. She had indeed admitted his visits, and listened, at any rate without anger, to his love; but she had tortured him, and reviled him, jeered at him and ridiculed him, while she allowed him to call her the most beautiful of living women, to kiss her hand, and to proclaim himself with reiterated oaths her adorer, her slave, and worshipper.
Miss Thorne was in great perturbation, yet in great glory, on the morning of this day. Mr Thorne also, though the party was none of his giving, had much heavy work on his hands. But perhaps the most overtasked, the most anxious and the most effective of all the Ullathorne household was Mr Plomacy the steward. This last personage had, in the time of Mr Thorne's father, when the Directory held dominion in France, gone over to Paris with letters in his boot heel for some of the royal party; and such had been his good luck that he had returned safe. He had then been very young and was now very old, but the exploit gave him a character for political enterprise and secret discretion which still availed him as thoroughly as it had done in its freshest gloss. Mr Plomacy had been steward of Ullathorne for more than fifty years, and a very easy life he had had of it. Who could require much absolute work from a man who had carried safely at his heel that which if discovered would have cost him his head? Consequently Mr Plomacy had never worked hard, and of latter years had never worked at all. He had a taste for timber, and therefore he marked the trees that were to be cut down; he had a taste for gardening, and would therefore allow no shrub to be planted or bed to be made without his express sanction.In these matters he was sometimes driven to run counter to his mistress, but he rarely allowed his mistress to carry the point against him.
But on occasions such as the present, Mr Pomney came out strong. He had the honour of the family at heart; he thoroughly appreciated the duties of hospitality; and therefore, when gala doings were going on, always took the management into his own hands and reigned supreme over master and mistress.To give Mr Pomney his due, old as he was, he thoroughly understood such work as he had in hand, and did it well.
The order of the day was to be as follows. The quality, as the upper classes in rural districts are designated by the lower with so much true discrimination, were to eat a breakfast, and the non-quality were to eat a dinner. Two marquees had been erected for these two banquets, that for the quality on the esoteric or garden side of a certain deep ha-ha; and that for the non-quality on the exoteric or paddock side of the same. Both were of huge dimensions; that on the outer side, one may say, on an egregious scale; but Mr Pomney declared that neither would be sufficient. To remedy this, an auxiliary banquet was prepared in the dining-room, and a subsidiary board was to be spread sub dio for the accommodation of the lower class of yokels on the Ullathorne property.
No one who has not had a hand in the preparation of such an affair can understand the manifold difficulties which Miss Thorne encountered in her project. Had she not been made throughout of the very finest whalebone, rivetted with the best Yorkshire steel, she must have sunk under them. Had not Mr Pomney felt how much was justly expected from a man who at one time carried the destinies of Europe in his boot, he would have given way; and his mistress, so deserted, must have perished among her poles and canvass.
In the first place there was a dreadful line to be drawn. Who was to dispose themselves within the ha-ha, and who without? To this the unthinking will give an off-hand answer, as they will to every ponderous question. Oh, the bishop and such like within the ha-ha; and Farmer Greenacre and such without. True, my unthinking friend; but who shall define these such-likes? It is in such definitions that the whole difficulty of society consists. To seat the bishop on an arm chair on the lawn and place Farmer Greenacre at the end of a long table in the paddock is easy enough; but where will you put Mrs Lookaloft, whose husband, though a tenant on the estate, hunts in a red coat, whose daughters go to a fashionable seminary in Barchester, who calls her farm house Rosebank, and who has a pianoforte in her drawing-room? The Misses Lookaloft, as they call themselves, won't sit contented among the bumpkins. Mrs Lookaloft won't squeeze her fine clothes on a bench and talk familiarly about cream and ducklings to good Mrs Greenacres. And yet Mrs Lookaloft is not fit companion and never has been the associate of the Thornes and the Grantlys. And if Mrs Lookaloft be admitted within the sanctum of fashionable life, if she be allowed with her three daughters to leap the ha-ha, why not the wives and daughters of other families also? Mrs Greenacre is at present well contented with the paddock, but she might cease to be so if she saw Mrs Lookaloft on the lawn. And thus poor Miss Thorne had a hard time of it.
And how was she to divide the guests between the marquee and the parlour? She had a countess coming, and Honourable John and an Honourable George, and a whole bevy of Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta &c; she had a leash of baronets with their baronesses; and, as we all know, a bishop. If she put them on the lawn, no one would go into the parlour; if she put them into the parlour, no one would go into the tent. She thought of keeping the old people in the house, and leaving the lawn to the lovers. She might as well have seated herself at once in a hornet's nest. Mr Pomney knew better than this. 'Bless your soul, Ma'am,' said he, 'there won't be no old ladies; not one, barring yourself and old Mrs Chantantrum.'
Personally Miss Thorne accepted this distinction in her favour as a compliment to her good sense; but nevertheless she had no desire to be closeted on the coming occasion with Mrs Chantantrum. She gave up all idea of any arbitrary division of her guests, and determined if possible to put the bishop on the lawn and the countess in the house, to sprinkle the baronets, and thus divide the attractions. What to do with the Lookalofts even Mr Plomacy could not decide. They must take their chance. They had been specially told in the invitation that all the tenants had been invited; and they might probably have the good sense to stay away if they objected to mix with the rest of the tenantry.
Then Mr Plomacy declared his apprehension that the Honourable Johns and Honourable Georges would come in a sort of amphibious costume, half morning half evening, satin neckhandkerchiefs, frock coats, primrose gloves, and polished boots; and that being so dressed, they would decline riding at the quintain, or taking part in any of the athletic games which Miss Thorne had prepared with so much care. If the Lord Johns and Lord Georges didn't ride at the quintain, Miss Thorne might be sure that nobody else would.'But,' said she in dolorous voice, all but overcome by her cares; 'it was specially signified that there were to be sports.'
'And so there will be, of course,' said Mr Pomney. 'They'll all be sporting with the young ladies in the laurel walks. Them's the sports they care most about now-a-days. If you gets the young men at the quintain, you'll have all the young women in the pouts.'
'Can't they look on, as their great grandmothers did before them?' said Miss Thorne. 'It seems to me that the ladies ain't contented with looking now-a-days. Whatever the men do they'll do. If you'll have side saddles on the nags, and let them go at the quintain too, it'll answer capital, no doubt.'
Miss Thorne made no reply. She felt that she had no good ground on which to defend her sex of the present generation, from the sarcasm of Mr Pomney. She had once declared, in one of her warmer moments, 'that now-a-days the gentlemen were all women, and the ladies all men.' She could not alter the debased character of the age. But such being the case, why should she take on herself to cater for the amusement of people of such degraded tastes? This question she asked herself more than once, and she could only answer herself with a sigh. There was her own brother Wilfred, on whose shoulders rested the all the ancient honours of Ullathorne House; it was very doubtful whether even he would consent to 'go at the quintain', as Mr Pomney not injudiciously expressed it.
And now the morning arrived. The Ullathorne household was early on the move. Cooks were cooking in the kitchen long before daylight, and men were dragging out tables and hammering red baize on to benches at the earliest dawn. With what dread eagerness did Miss Thorne look out at the weather as soon as the parting veil of night permitted her to look at all! In this respect at any rate there was nothing to grieve her. The glass had been rising for the last three days, and the morning broke with that dull chill steady grey haze which in autumn generally presages a clear and dry day. By seven she was dressed and down. Miss Thorne knew nothing of the modern luxury of deshabilles. She would as soon have thought of appearing before her brother without her stockings as without her stays; and Miss Thorne's stays were no trifle.
And yet there was nothing for her to do when down. She fidgeted out to the lawn, and then back into the kitchen. She put on her high-heeled clogs, and fidgeted out into the paddock. Then she went into the small home park where the quintain was erected. The pole and cross-bar and the swivel, and the target and the bag of flour were all complete. She got up on a carpenter's bench and touched the target with her hand; it went round with beautiful ease; the swivel had been oiled to perfection. She almost wished to take old Plomacy at his word, to go on a side saddle, and have a tilt at it herself.
What must a young man be, thought she, who could prefer maundering among the trees with a wishy-washy school girl to such fun as this? 'Well,' said she aloud to herself, 'one man can take a horse to water, but a thousand can't make him drink. There it is. If they haven't the spirit to enjoy it, the fault shan't be mine;' and so she returned the house.
At a little after eight her brother came down, and they had a sort of scrap breakfast in his study. The tea was made without the customary urn, and they dispensed with the usual rolls and toast. Eggs were also missing, for every egg in the parish had been whipped into custards, baked into pies, or boiled into lobster salad. The allowances of fresh butter was short, and Mr Thorne was obliged to eat the leg of a fowl without having it devilled in the manner he loved.
'I have been looking at the quintain, Wilfred,' said she, 'and it appears to be quite right.'
'Oh,--ah; yes;' said he. 'It seemed to be so yesterday when I saw it.' Mr Thorne was beginning to be rather bored by his sister's love of sports, and had especially no affection for this quintain post.
'I wish you'd just try it after breakfast,' said she. 'You could have the saddle put on Mark Antony, and the pole is there all handy. You can take the flour bag off, you know, if you think Mark Antony won't be quick enough,' added Miss Thorne, seeing that her brother's countenance was not indicative of complete accordance with her little proposition.
Now Mark Antony was a valuable old hunter, excellently suited to Mr Thorne's usual requirements, steady indeed at his fences, but extremely sure, very good in deep ground, and safe on the roads. But he had never yet been ridden at a quintain, and Mr Thorne was not inclined to put him to the trial, either with or without the bag of flour. He hummed and hawed, and finally declared that he was afraid Mark Antony would shy.'Then try the cob,' said the indefatigable Miss Thorne. 'He's in physic,' said Wilfred. 'There's the Beelzebub colt,' said his sister; 'I know he's in the stable, because I saw Peter exercising him just now.' 'My dear Monica, he's so wild that it's as much as I can do to manage him at all. He'd destroy himself and me too, if I attempted to ride him at such a rattletrap as that.'
A rattletrap! The quintain that she had put up with so much anxious care; the game that she had prepared for the amusement of the stalwart yeomen of the country; the sport that had been honoured by the affection of so many of their ancestors! It cut her to the heart to hear it so denominated by her own brother. There were but the two of them left together in the world; and it had ever been one of the rules by which Miss Thorne had regulated her conduct through life, to say nothing that could provoke her brother. She had often had to suffer from his indifference to time-honoured British customs; but she had always suffered in silence. It was part of her creed that the head of the family should never be upbraided in his own house; and Miss Thorne had lived up to her creed. Now, however, she was greatly tried. The colour mounted to her ancient cheek, and the fire blazed in her still bright eye; but yet she said nothing. She resolved that at any rate, to him nothing more should be said about the quintain that day.
She sipped her tea in silent sorrow, and thought with painful regret of the glorious days when her great ancestor Ealfried had successfully held Ullathorne against a Norman invader. There was no such spirit now left in her family except that small useless spark which burnt in her own bosom. And she herself, was not she at this moment intent on entertaining a descendant of those very Normand, a vain proud countess with a frenchified name, who would only think that she graced Ullathorne too highly by entering its portals? Was it likely that an honourable John, the son of the Earl de Courcy, should ride at a quintain in company with a Saxon yeoman? And why should she expect her brother to do that which her brother's guests would decline to do?
Some dim faint idea of the impracticability of her own views flitted across her brain. Perhaps it was necessary that races doomed to live on the same soil should give way to each other, and adopt each other's pursuits. Perhaps it was impossible that after more than five centuries of close intercourse, Normans should remain Normans, and Saxons, Saxons. Perhaps after all her neighbours were wiser than herself, such ideas did occasionally present themselves to Miss Thorne's mind, and make her sad enough. But it never occurred to her that her favourite quintain was but a modern copy of a Norman knight's amusement, an adaptation of the noble tourney to the tastes and habits of the Saxon yeomen. Of this she was ignorant, and it would have been cruelty to instruct her.
When Mr Thorne saw the tear in her eye, he repented himself of his contemptuous expression. By him also it was recognised as a binding law that every whim of his sister was to be respected. He was not perhaps so firm in his observances to her, as she was in hers to him. But his intentions were equally good, and whenever he found that he had forgotten them, it was a matter of grief to him.
'My dear Monica,' said he, 'I beg your pardon; I don't in the least mean to speak ill of the game. When I called it a rattletrap, I merely meant that it was so for a man of my age. You know you always forget that I an't a young man.''I am quite sure you are not an old man, Wilfred,' said she, accepting the apology in her heart, and smiling at him with the tear still on her cheek. 'If I was five-and-twenty, or thirty,' continued he, 'I should like nothing better than riding at the quintain all day.' 'But you are not too old to hunt or to shoot,' said she. 'If you can jump over a ditch and hedge, I am sure you could turn the quintain round.'
'But when I ride over the hedges, my dear--and it isn't very often I do that--but when I do ride over the hedges there isn't any bag of flour coming after me. Think how I'd look taking the countess out to breakfast with the back of my head all covered with meal.'
Miss Thorne said nothing further. She didn't like the allusion to the countess. She couldn't be satisfied with the reflection that the sports of Ullathorne should be interfered with by the personal attentions necessary for a Lady de Courcy. But she saw that it was useless for her to push the matter further. It was conceded that Mr Thorne was to spared the quintain; and Miss Thorne determined to trust wholly to a youthful knight of hers, an immense favourite, who, as she often declared, was a pattern to the young men of the age, and an excellent example of an English yeoman.
This was Farmer Greenacre's eldest son; who, to tell the truth, had from his earliest years taken the exact measure of Miss Thorne's foot. In his boyhood he had never failed to obtain from her, apples, pocket money, and forgiveness for his numerous trespasses; and now in his early manhood he got privileges and immunities which were equally valuable. He was allowed a day or two's shooting in September; he schooled the squire's horses; got slips of trees out of the orchard, and roots of flowers out of the garden; and had the fishing of the little river altogether in his own hands. He had undertaken to come mounted on a nag of his father's, and show the way at the quintain post. Whatever young Greenacre did the others would do after him. The juvenile Lookalofts might stand sure to venture if Harry Greenacre showed the way. And so Miss Thorne made up her mind to dispense with the noble Johns and Georges, and trust, as her ancestors had done before her, to the thews and sinews of native Ullathorne growth.
At about nine the lower orders began to congregate in the paddock and park, under the surveillance of Mr Plomacy and the head gardener and head groom, who were sworn in as his deputies, and were to assist him in keeping the peace and promoting the sports. Many of the younger inhabitants of the neighbourhood, thinking that they could not have too much of a good thing, had come at a very early hour, and the road between the house and the church had been thronged for some time before the gates were thrown open.
And then another difficulty of huge dimensions arose, a difficulty which Mr Plomacy had indeed foreseen, and for which he was in some sort provided. Some of those who wished to share Miss Thorne's hospitality were not so particular that they should have been as to the preliminary ceremony of an invitation. They doubtless conceived that they had been overlooked by accident; and instead of taking this in dudgeon, as their betters would have done, they good-naturedly put up with the slight, and showed that they did so by presenting themselves at the gate in their Sunday best.
Mr Plomacy, however, well knew who were welcome and who were not. To some, even though uninvited, he allowed ingress. 'Don't be too particular, Plomacy,' his mistress had said; 'especially with the children. If they live anywhere near, let them in.'
Acting on this hint, Mr Plomacy did let in many an eager urchin, and a few tidily dressed girls with their swains, who in no way belonged to the property. But to the denizens of the city he was inexorable. Many a Barchester apprentice made his appearance there that day, and urged with piteous supplication that he had been working all the week in making saddles and boots for the use of Ullathorne, in compounding doses for the horses, or cutting up carcasses for the kitchen. No such claim was allowed. Mr Plomacy knew nothing about the city apprentices; he was to admit the tenants and labourers on the estate; Miss Thorne wasn't going to take in the whole city of Barchester; and so on.
Nevertheless, before the day was half over, all this was found to be useless. Almost anybody who chose to come made his way into the park, and the care of the guardians was transferred to the tables on which the banquet was spread. Even here there was many an unauthorized claimant for a plate, of whom it was impossible to get quit without some commotion than the place and food were worth.
36. Ullathorne Sports--Act I
The trouble in civilised life of entertaining company, as it is called too generally without much regard to strict veracity, is so great that it cannot but be matter of wonder that people are so fond of attempting it. It is difficult to ascertain what is the quid pro quo. If they who give such laborious parties, and who endure such toil and turmoil in the vain hope of giving them successfully, really enjoyed the parties given by others, the matter would be understood. A sense of justice would induce men and women to undergo, in behalf of others, those miseries which others had undergone on their behalf. But they all profess that going out is as great a bore as receiving; and to look at them when they are out, one cannot but believe them.
Entertain! Who shall have sufficient self-assurance, who shall feel sufficient confidence in his own powers to dare to boast that he can entertain his company? A clown can sometimes do so, and sometimes a dancer in short petticoats and stuffed pink legs; occasionally, perhaps, a singer. But beyond these, success in this art of entertaining is not often achieved. Young men and girls linking themselves kind with kind, pairing like birds in spring, because nature wills it, they, after a simple fashion, do entertain each other. Few others even try.
Ladies, when they open their houses, modestly confessing, it may be presumed, their own incapacity, mainly trust to wax candles and upholstery. Gentlemen seem to rely on their white waistcoats. To these are added, for the delight of the more sensual, champagne and such good things of the table as fashion allows to be still considered as comestible. Even in this respect the world is deteriorating. All the good soups are now tabooed; and at the houses of one's accustomed friends, small barristers, doctors, government clerks, and such like, (for we cannot all of us always live as grandees, surrounded by an Elysium of livery servants), one gets a cold potato handed to one as a sort of finale to one's slice of mutton. Alas! for those happy days when one could say to one's neighbourhood, 'Jones, shall I give you some mashed turnip--may I trouble you for a little cabbage?' And then the pleasure of drinking wine with Mrs Jones and Miss Smith; with all the Joneses and all the Smiths! These latter-day habits are certainly more economical.
Miss Thorne, however, boldly attempted to leave the modern beaten track, and made a positive effort to entertain her guests. Alas! she did so with but moderate success. They had all their own way of going, and would not go her way. She piped to them, but they would not dance. She offered to them good honest household cake, made of currants and flour and eggs and sweetmeat; but they would feed themselves on trashy wafers from the shop of the Barchester pastry-cook, on chalk and gum and adulterated sugar. Poor Miss Thorne! yours is not the first honest soul that has vainly striven to recall the glories of happy days gone by! If fashion suggests to a Lady De Courcy that when invited to a dejeuner at twelve o'clock she ought to come at three, no eloquence of thine will teach her the advantage of a nearer approach to punctuality.
She had fondly thought that when she called on her friends to come at twelve, and especially begged them to believe that she meant it, she would be able to see them comfortably seated in their tents at two. Vain woman--or rather ignorant woman-ignorant of the advances of that civilization which the world had witnessed while she was growing old. At twelve she found herself alone, dressed in all the glory of the newest of her many suits of raiment; with strong shoes however, and a serviceable bonnet on her head, and a warm rich shawl on her shoulders. Thus clad she peered out into the tent, went to the ha-ha, and satisfied herself that at any rate the youngsters were amusing themselves, spoke a word to Mrs Greenacre over the ditch, and took one look at the quintain. Three or four young farmers were turning the machine round and round, and poking at the bag of flour in a manner not at all intended by the inventor of the game; but no mounted sportsmen were there. Miss Thorne looked at her watch. It was only fifteen minutes past twelve, and it was understood that Harry Greenacre was not to begin till the half hour.
Miss Thorne returned to her drawing-room rather quicker than her wont, fearing that the countess might come and find none to welcome her. She need not have hurried, for no one was there. At half-past twelve she peeped into the kitchen; at a quarter to one she was joined by her brother; and just then the first fashionable arrival took place. Mrs Clantantram was announced.
No announcement was necessary, indeed; for the good lady's voice was heard as she walked across the court-yard to the house scolding the unfortunate postilion who had driven her from Barchester. At the moment Miss Thorne could not but be thankful that the other guests were more fashionable, and were thus spared the fury of Mrs Clantantram's indignation.
'Oh, Miss Thorne, look here!' said she, as soon as she found herself in the drawingroom; 'do look at my roquelaure! It's clean spoilt, and for ever. I wouldn't but wear it because I know you wished us all to be grand to-day; and yet I had my misgivings. Oh dear, oh dear! It was five-and-twenty shillings a yard.'The Barchester post horses had misbehaved in some unfortunate manner just as Mrs Clantantram was getting out of the chaise and had nearly thrown her under the wheel.
Mrs Clantantram belonged to other days, and therefore, though she had but little else to recommend her, Miss Thorne was to a certain extent fond of her. She sent the roquelaure away to be cleaned, and lent her one of her best shawls out of her own wardrobe.
The next comer was Mr Arabin, who was immediately informed of Mrs Clantantram's misfortune, and of her determination to pay neither master nor post-boy; although, as she remarked, she intended to get her lift home before she made known her mind upon that matter. Then a good deal of rustling was heard in the sort of lobby that was used for the ladies' outside cloaks; and the door having been thrown wide open, the servant announced, not in the most confident of voices, Mrs Lookaloft, and the Miss Lookalofts, and Mr Augustus Lookaloft.
Poor man!--we mean the footman. He knew, none better, that Mrs Lookaloft had no business there, that she was not wanted there, and would not be welcome. But he had not the courage to tell a stout lady with a low dress, short sleeves, and satin at eight shillings a yard, that she had come to the wrong tent; he had not dared to hint to young ladies with white dancing shoes and long gloves, that there was a place ready for them in the paddock. And thus Mrs Lookaloft carried her point, broke through the guards, and made her way into the citadel. That she would have to pass an uncomfortable time there, she had surmised before. But nothing now could rob her of the power of boasting that she had consorted on the lawn with the squire and Miss Thorne, with a countess, a bishop, and the country grandees, while Mrs Greenacres and such like were walking about with the ploughboys in the park. It was a great point gained by Mrs Lookaloft, and it might be fairly expected that from this time forward the tradesmen of Barchester would, with undoubting pens, address her husband and T. Lookaloft, Esquire.
Mrs Lookaloft's pluck carried her through everything, and she walked triumphant into the Ullathorne drawing-room; but her children did feel a little abashed at the sort of reception they met with. It was not in Miss Thorne's heart to insult her own guests; but neither was it in her disposition to overlook such effrontery.
'Oh, Mrs Lookaloft, is this you,' said she; 'and your daughters and son? Well, we're very glad to see you; but I'm sorry you've come in such low dresses, as we are all going out of doors. Could we lend you anything?''Oh dear no! thank ye, Miss Thorne,' said the mother; 'the girls and myself are quite used to low dresses, when we're out.' 'Are you, indeed?' said Miss Thorne shuddering; but the shudder was not lost on Mrs Lookaloft.
'And where's Lookaloft,' said the master of the house, coming up to welcome his tenant's wife. Let the faults of the family be what they would, he could not but remember that their rent was well paid; he was therefore not willing to give them a cold shoulder.'Such a headache, Mr Thorne!' said Mrs Lookaloft. 'In fact he couldn't stir, or you may be certain on such a day he would not have absented himself.' 'Dear me,' said Miss Thorne. 'If he is so ill, I sure you'd wish to be with him.' 'Not at all!' said Mrs Lookaloft. 'Not at all, Miss Thorne. It is only bilious you know, and when he's that way he can bear nobody nigh him.'
The fact however was that Mr Lookaloft, having either more sense or less courage than his wife, had not chosen to intrude on Miss Thorne's drawing-room; and as he could not very well have gone among the plebeians while his wife was with the patricians, he thought it most expedient to remain at Rosebank.
Mrs Lookaloft soon found herself on a sofa, and the Miss Lookalofts on two chairs, while Mr Augustus stood near the door; and here they remained till in due time they were seated all four together at the bottom of the dining-room table.
Then the Grantlys came; the archdeacon and Mrs Grantly and the two girls, and Dr Gwynne and Mr Harding; and as ill luck would have it, they were closely followed by Dr Stanhope's carriage. As Eleanor looked out of the carriage window, she saw her brother-in-law helping the ladies out, and threw herself back into her seat, dreading to be discovered. She had had an odious journey. Mr Slope's civility had been more than ordinarily greasy; and now, though he had not in fact said anything which she could notice, she had for the first time entertained a suspicion that he was intending to make love to her. Was it after all true that she had been conducting herself in a way that justified the world in thinking that she liked the man? After all, could it be possible that the archdeacon and Mr Arabin were right, and that she was wrong? Charlotte Stanhope had also been watching Mr Slope, and had come to the conclusion that it behoved her brother to lose no further time, if he meant to gain the widow. She almost regretted that it had not been contrived that Bertie should be at Ullathorne before them.
Dr Grantly did not see his sister-in-law in company with Mr Slope, but Mr Arabin did. Mr Arabin came out with Mr Thorne to the front door to welcome Mrs Grantly, and he remained in the courtyard till all their party had passed on. Eleanor hung back in the carriage as long as she well could, but she was nearest to the door, and when Mr Slope, having alighted, offered her his hand, she had no alternative but to take it.
Mr Arabin standing at the open door, while Mrs Grantly was shaking hands with someone within, saw a clergyman alight from the carriage whom he at once knew to be Mr Slope, and then she saw this clergyman hand out Mrs Bold. Having seen so much, Mr Arabin, rather sick at heart, followed Mrs Grantly into the house.
Eleanor was, however, spared any further immediate degradation, for Dr Stanhope gave her his arm across the courtyard, and Mr Slope was fain to throw away his attention upon Charlotte.
They had hardly passed into the house, and from the house to the lawn, when, with a loud rattle and such noise as great men and great woman are entitled to make in their passage through the world, the Proudies drove up. It was soon apparent that no every day comer was at the door. One servant whispered to another that it was the bishop, and the word soon ran through all the hangers-on and strange grooms and coachmen about the place. There was quite a little cortege to see the bishop and his 'lady' walk across the courtyard, and the good man was pleased to see that the church was held in such respect in the parish of St Ewold's.
And now the guests came fast and thick, and the lawn began to be crowded, and the room to be full. Voices buzzed, silk rustled against silk, and muslin crumpled against muslin. Miss Thorne became more happy than she had been, and again bethought her of her sports. There were targets and bows and arrows prepared at the further end of the lawn. Here the gardens of the place encroached with a somewhat wide sweep upon the paddock, and gave ample room for the doings of the toxophilites. Miss Thorne got together such daughters of Diana as could bend a bow, and marshalled them to the targets. There were the Grantly girls and the Proudie girls and the Chadwick girls, and the two daughters of the burly chancellor, and Miss Knowle; and with them went Frederick and Augustus Chadwick, and young Knowle of Knowle park, and Frank Foster of the Elms, and Mr Vellem Deeds the dashing attorney of the High Street, and the Rev Mr Green, and the Rev Mr Browne, and the Rev Mr White, all of whom as in duty bound, attended the steps of the three Miss Proudies.
Mr Foster looked down at a most unexceptionable pair of pantaloons, which had arrived from London only the day before. They were the very things, at least he thought so, for a picnic of fete champetre; but he was not prepared to ride in them. Nor was he more encouraged than had been Mr Thorne, by the idea of being attacked from behind by the bag of flour which Miss Thorne had graphically described to him.'Well, I don't know about riding, Miss Thorne,' said he; 'I fear I'm not quite prepared.'
Miss Thorne sighed, but said nothing further. She left the toxophilites to their bows and arrows, and returned towards the house. But as she passed by the entrance to the small park, she thought that she might at any rate encourage the yeomen by her presence, as she could not induced her more fashionable guests to mix with them in their many amusements.
Accordingly she once more betook herself to the quintain post. Here to her great delight she found Harry Greenacre ready mounted, with his pole in his hand, and a lot of comrades standing round him, encouraging him to the assault. She stood at a little distance and nodded to him in token of her good pleasure.
'Shall I begin, ma'am?' said Henry fingering his long staff in a rather awkward way, while his horse moved uneasily beneath him, not accustomed to a rider armed with such a weapon.'Yes, yes,' said Miss Thorne, standing triumphant as the queen of beauty, on an inverted tub which some chance had brought hither from the farm-yard.
'Here goes then,' said Harry as he wheeled his horse round to get the necessary momentum of a sharp gallop. The quintain post stood right before him, and the square board at which he was to tilt was fairly in the way. If he hit that duly in the middle, and maintained his pace as he did so, it was calculated that he would be carried out of reach of the flour bag, which, suspended at the other end of the cross-bar on the post, would swing round when the board was struck. It was also calculated that if the rider did not maintain his pace, he would get a blow from the flour bag just at the back of his head, and bear about him the signs of his awkwardness to the great amusement of the lookers-on.
Harry Greenacre did not object to being powdered with flour in the service of his mistress, and therefore gallantly touched his steed with his spur, having laid his lance in rest to the best of his ability. But his ability in this respect was not great, and his appurtenances probably not very good; consequently, he struck his horse with his pole unintentionally on the side of the head as he started. The animal swerved and shied, and galloped off wide of the quintain. Harry well accustomed to manage a horse, but not to do so with a twelve-foot rod on his arm, lowered his right hand to the bridle and thus the end of the lance came to the ground, and got between the legs of the steed. Down came the rider and steed and staff. Young Greenacre was thrown some six feet over the horse's head, and poor Miss Thorne almost fell of her tub in a swoon.'Oh gracious, he's killed,' shrieked a woman, who was near him when he fell. 'The Lord be good to him! his poor mother, his poor mother!' said another. 'Well, drat them dangerous plays all the world over,' said an old crone. 'He has broke his neck sure enough, if ever man did,' said a fourth.
Poor Miss Thorne. She heard all this and yet did not quite swoon. She made her way through the crowd as best she could, sick herself almost to death. Oh, his mother--his poor mother! how could she ever forgive herself. The agony of that moment was terrific. She could hardly get to the place where the poor lad was lying, as three or four men in front were about the horse which had risen with some difficulty; but at last she found herself close to the young farmer.
'Has he marked himself? for heaven's sake tell me that; has he marked his knees?' said Harry, slowly rising and rubbing his left shoulder with his right hand, and thinking only of his horse's legs. Miss Thorne soon found that he had not broken his neck, nor any of his bones, nor been injured in any essential way. But from that time forth she never instigated any one to ride at the quintain.
Eleanor left Dr Stanhope as soon as she could do so civilly, and went in quest of her father whom she found on the lawn in company with Mr Arabin. She was not sorry to find them together. She was anxious to disabuse at any rate her father's mind as to this report which had got abroad respecting her, and would have been well pleased to have been able to do the same with regard to Mr Arabin. She put her own through her father's arm, coming up behind his back, and then tendered her hand also to the vicar of St Ewold's.'And how did you come?' said Mr Harding, when the first greeting was over.
'The Stanhopes brought me,' said she; 'their carriage was obliged to come twice, and has now gone back for the signora.' As she spoke she caught Mr Arabin's eye, and saw that he was looking pointedly at her with a severe expression. She understood at once the accusation contained in his glance. It said as plainly as an eye could speak, 'Yes, you came with the Stanhopes, but you did so in order that you might be in company with Mr Slope.'
'Our party,' said she, still addressing her father, 'consisted of the Doctor and Charlotte Stanhope, myself, and Mr Slope.' As she mentioned the last name she felt her father's arm quiver slightly beneath her touch. At the same moment Mr Arabin turned away from them, and joining his hands behind his back strolled slowly away by one of the paths.
'Papa,' said she, 'it was impossible to help coming in the same carriage with Mr Slope; it was quite impossible. I had promised to come with them before I dreamt of his coming, and afterwards I could not get out of it without explaining and giving rise to talk. You weren't at home, you know, I couldn't possibly help it.' She said all this so quickly that by the time her apology was spoken she was quite out of breath.'I don't know why you should have wished to help it, my dear,' said her father.
'Yes, papa, you do; you must know, you do know all the things they said at Plumstead. I am sure you do. You know all the archdeacon said. How unjust he was, and Mr Arabin too. He's a horrid man, a horrid, odious man, but--'
'Who is an odious man, my dear? Mr Arabin?' 'No; but Mr Slope. You know I mean Mr Slope. He's the most odious man I ever met in my life, and it was most unfortunate my having to come here in the same carriage with him. But how could I help it?'
A great weight began to move itself off Mr Harding's mind. So, after all, the archdeacon with all his wisdom, and Mrs Grantly with all her tact, and Mr Arabin with all his talent were in the wrong. His own child, his Eleanor, the daughter of whom he was so proud was not to become the wife of Mr Slope. He had been about to give his sanction to the marriage, so certified had he been of this fact; and now he learnt that this imputed lover of Eleanor's was at any rage as much disliked by her as by any one of the family. Mr Harding, however, was by no means sufficiently a man of the world to conceal the blunder he had made. He could not pretend that he had entertained no suspicion; he could not make believe that he had never joined the archdeacon in his surmises. He was greatly surprised, and gratified beyond measure, and he could not help showing that such was the case.'My darling girl,' said he, 'I am so delighted, so overjoyed. My own child; you have taken such a weight off my mind.' 'But surely, papa, you didn't think--' 'I didn't know what to think, my dear. The archdeacon told me that -'
'The archdeacon!' said Eleanor, her face lighting up with passion. 'A man like the archdeacon might, one would think, be better employed than in traducing his sister-inlaw, and creating bitterness between a father and his daughter.''He didn't mean to that, Eleanor.' 'What did he mean then? Why did he interfere with me, and fill your mind with such falsehood?' 'Never mind it now, my child; never mind it now. We shall all know you better now.' 'Oh, papa, that you should have thought it! that you should have suspected me!'
'I don't know what you mean by suspicion, Eleanor. There would be nothing disgraceful, you know; nothing wrong in such a marriage. Nothing that could have justified my interfering as your father.' And Mr Harding would have proceeded in his own defence to make out that Mr Slope after all was a very good sort of man, and a very fitting second husband for a young widow, had he not been interrupted by Eleanor's greater energy.
'It would be disgraceful,' said she; 'it would be wrong; it would be abominable. Could I do such a horrid thing, I should expect no one to speak to me. Ugh--' and she shuddered as she thought of the matrimonial torch which her friends had been so ready to light on her behalf. I don't wonder at Dr Grantly; I don't wonder at Susan; but, oh, papa, I do wonder at you. How could you, how could you believe it?' Poor Eleanor, as she thought of her father's defalcation, could resist her tears no longer, and was forced to cover her face with her handkerchief.
The place was not very opportune for her grief. They were walking through the shrubberies, and there were many people near them. Poor Mr Harding stammered out his excuse as best he could, and Eleanor with an effort controlled her tears, and returned her handkerchief to her pocket. She did not find it difficult to forgive her father, nor could she altogether refuse to join him in the returning gaiety of spirit to which her present avowal gave rise. It was such a load off his heart to think that he should not be called on to welcome Mr Slope as his son-in-law; it was such a relief to him to find that his daughter's feelings and his own were now, as they ever had been, in unison. He had been so unhappy for the last six weeks about this wretched Mr Slope!
He was so indifferent as to the loss of the hospital, so thankful for the recovery of his daughter, that, strong as was the ground for Eleanor's anger, she could not find it in her heart to be long angry with him.
'Dear papa,' she said, hanging closely to his arm, 'never suspect me again: promise me that you never will. Whatever I do, you may be sure I shall tell you first; you may be sure I shall consult you.'
And Mr Harding did promise, and owned his sin, and promised again. And so, while he promised amendment and she uttered forgiveness, they returned together to the drawing-room windows.And what had Eleanor meant when she declared that whatever she did, she would tell her father first? What was she thinking of doing? So ended the first act of the melodrama which Eleanor was called on to perform this day at Ullathorne.
37. Meet Each Other At UllathorneThe Signora Neroni, The Countess De Courcy, And Mrs Proudie Meet Each Other At Ullathorne
And now there were new arrivals. Just as Eleanor reached the drawing-room the signora was being wheeled into it. She had been brought out of the carriage into the dining-room and there placed on a sofa, and was now in the act of entering the other room, by the joint aid of her brother and sister, Mr Arabin, and two servants in livery. She was all in her glory, and looked so pathetically happy, so full of affliction and grace, was so beautiful, so pitiable, and so charming, that it was almost impossible not to be glad she was there.
Miss Thorne was unaffectedly glad to welcome her. In fact, the signora was a sort of lion; and though there was no drop of the Leohunter blood in Miss Thorne's veins, she nevertheless did like to see attractive people at her house.
The signora was attractive, and on her first settlement in the dining-room she had whispered two or three soft feminine words into Miss Thorne's ear, which, at the moment, had quite touched that lady's heart.
'Oh, Miss Thorne; where is Miss Thorne?' she said, as soon as her attendants had placed her in her position just before one of the windows, from whence she could see all that was going on upon the lawn; 'How am I to thank you for permitting a creature like me to be here? But if you knew the pleasure you give me, I am sure you would excuse the trouble I bring with me.' And as she spoke she squeezed the spinster's little hand between her own.'We are delighted to see you here,' said Miss Thorne; 'you give us no trouble at all, and we think it a great favour conferred by you to come and see us; don't we, Wilfred?'
'A very great favour indeed,' said Mr Thorne, with a gallant bow, but of somewhat less cordial welcome than that conceded by his sister. Mr Thorne had learned perhaps more of the antecedents of his guest than his sister had done, and not as yet undergone the power of the signora's charms.
But while the mother of the last of the Neros was thus in he full splendour, with crowds of people gazing at her and the elite of the company standing round her couch, her glory was paled by the arrival of the Countess De Courcy. Miss Thorne had now been waiting three hours for the countess, and could not therefore but show very evident gratification when the arrival at last took place. She and her brother of course went off to welcome the titled grandee, and with them, alas, went many of the signora's admirers. 'Oh, Mr Thorne,' said the countess, while the act of being disrobed of her fur cloaks, and re-robed in her gauze shawls, 'what dreadful roads you have; perfectly frightful.'It happened that Mr Thorne was way-warden for the district, and not liking the attack, began to excuse his roads.
'Oh yes, indeed they are,' said the countess, not minding him in the least, 'perfectly dreadful; are they not, Margaretta? Why, dear Miss Thorne, we left Courcy Castle just at eleven; it was only just past eleven, was it not, John? and--'
'Just past one, I think you mean,' said the Honourable John, turning from the group and eyeing the signora through his glass. The signora gave him back his own, as the saying is, and more with it; so that the young nobleman was forced to avert his glance, and drop his glass.'I say, Thorne,' whispered he, 'who the deuce is that on the sofa?' 'Dr Stanhope's daughter,' whispered back Mr Thorne. 'Signora Neroni she calls herself.' 'Whew-ew-ew!' whistled the Honourable John. 'The devil she is! I have heard no end of stories about that filly. You must positively introduce me, Thorne; you positively must.'
Mr Thorne who was respectability itself, did not quite like having a guest about whom the Honourable John De Courcy had heard no end of stories; but he couldn't help himself. He merely resolved that before he went to bed he would let his sister know somewhat of the history of the lady she was so willing to welcome. The innocence of Miss Thorne, at her time of life, was perfectly charming; but even innocence may be dangerous.'John may say what he likes,' continued the countess, urging her excuses on Miss Thorne; 'I am sure we were past the castle gate before twelve, weren't we, Margaretta?'
'Upon my word, I don't know,' said the Lady Margaretta, 'for I was half asleep. But I do know that I was called sometime in the middle of the night, and was dressing myself before daylight.'
Wise people, when they are in the wrong, always put themselves right by finding fault with the people against whom they have sinned. Lady De Courcy was a wise woman; and therefore, having treated Miss Thorne very badly by staying away till three o'clock, she assumed the offensive and attacked Mr Thorne's roads. Her daughter, not less wise, attacked Miss Thorne's early hours. The art of doing this is among the most precious of those usually cultivated by persons who know how to live. There is no withstanding it. Who can go systematically to work, and having done battle with the primary accusation and settled that, then bring forward a counter-charge and support that also? Life is not long enough for such labours. A man in the right relies easily on his rectitude, and therefore goes about unarmed. His very strength is his weakness; his very weakness is his strength. The one is never prepared for combat, the other is always ready. Therefore it is that in this world the man that is in the wrong almost invariably conquers the man that is in the right, and invariably despises him.
A man must be an idiot or else an angel, who, after the age of forty shall attempt to be just to his neighbours. Many like the Lady Margaretta have learnt their lesson at a much earlier age. But this of course depends on the school in which they have been taught.
Poor Miss Thorne was altogether overcome. She knew very well that she had been illtreated, and yet she found herself making apologies to Lady De Courcy. To do her ladyship justice, she received them very graciously, and allowed herself with her train of daughters to be led towards the lawn.
There were two windows in the drawing-room wide open for the countess to pass through; but she saw that there was a woman on the sofa, at the third window, and that that woman had, as it were, a following attached to her. Her ladyship therefore determined to investigate the woman. The De Courcys were hereditarily short sighted, and had been so for thirty centuries at least. So Lady De Courcy, who, when she entered the family had adopted the family habits, did as her son had done before her, and taking her glass to investigate the Signora Neroni, pressed in among the gentlemen who surrounded the couch, and bowed slightly to those whom she chose to honour by her acquaintance.
In order to get to the window she had to pass close to the front of the couch, and as she did so she stared hard at the occupant. The occupant in return stared hard at the countess. The countess who since her countess-ship commenced had been accustomed to see all eyes, not royal, ducal, or marquesal, fall down before her own, paused as she went on, raised her eyebrows, and stared even harder than before. But she had now to do with one who cared little for countesses. It was, one may say, impossible for mortal man or woman to abash Madeline Neroni. She opened her large bright lustrous eyes wider and wider, till she seemed to be all eyes.
She gazed up into the lady's face, not as though she did it with an effort, but as if she delighted in doing it. She used no glass to assist her effrontery, and needed none. The faintest possible smile of derision played round her mouth, and her nostrils were slightly dilated, as if in sure anticipation of her triumph. And it was sure. The Countess De Courcy, in spite of her thirty centuries and De Courcy castle, and the fact that Lord De Courcy was grand master of the ponies to the Prince of Wales, had not a chance with her.
At first the little circlet of gold wavered in the countess's hand, then the hand shook, then the circlet fell, the countess's head tossed itself into the air, and the countess's feet shambled out to the lawn. She did not however go so fast but what she heard the signora's voice, asking--'Who on earth is that woman, Mr Slope?' 'That is Lady De Courcy.' 'Oh, ah. I might have supposed so. Ha, ha, ha. Well, that's as good as a play.' It was as good as a play to any there who had eyes to observe it, and wit to comment on what they observed.
But the Lady De Courcy soon found a congenial spirit on the lawn. There she encountered Mrs Proudie, and as Mrs Proudie was not only the wife of a bishop, but was also the cousin of an earl, Lady De Courcy considered her to be the fittest companion she was likely to meet in that assemblage. They were accordingly delighted to see each other. Mrs Proudie by no means despised a countess, and as this countess lived in the county and within a sort of extensive visiting distance of Barchester, she was glad to have this opportunity of ingratiating herself.
'My dear Lady De Courcy, I am so delighted,' said she, looking as little grim as it was in her nature to do so. 'I hardly expected to see you here. It is such a distance, and then you know, such a crowd.''And such roads, Mrs Proudie! I really wonder how the people ever get about. But I don't suppose they ever do.' 'Well, I really don't know; but I suppose not. The Thorne don't, I know,' said Mrs Proudie. 'Very nice person, Miss Thorne, isn't she?'
'Oh, delightful and so queer; I've known her these twenty years. A great pet of mine is dear Miss Thorne. She is so very strange, you know. She always makes me think of the Esquimaux and the Indians. Isn't her dress quite delightful?''Delightful,' said Mrs Proudie; 'I wonder now whether she paints. Did you ever see such colour?'
'Oh, of course,' said Lady De Courcy; 'that is, I have no doubt she does. But, Mrs Proudie, who is that woman on the sofa by the window? just step this way and you'll see her, there--' and the countess led her to a spot where she could plainly see the signora's well-remembered face and figure.
She did not however do so without being equally well seen by the signora. 'Look, look,' said that lady to Mr Slope, who was still standing near to her; 'see the high spiritualities and temporalities of the land in league together, and all against poor me. I'll wager my bracelet, Mr Slope against your next sermon, that they've taken up their position there on purpose to pull me to pieces. Well, I can't rush to the combat, but I know how to protect myself if the enemy come near me.'But the enemy knew better. They could gain nothing be contact with the signora Neroni, and they could abuse her as they pleased at a distance from her on the lawn. 'She's that horrid Italian woman, Lady De Courcy; you must have heard of her.' 'What Italian woman?' said her ladyship, quite alive to the coming story; 'I don't think I've heard of any Italian woman coming into the country. She doesn't look Italian either.'
'Oh, you must have heard of her,' said Mrs Proudie. 'No, she's not absolutely Italian. She is Dr Stanhope's daughter--Dr Stanhope the prebendary; and she calls herself the Signora Neroni.''Oh--h--h--h!' exclaimed the countess.
'I was sure you had heard of her,' continued Mrs Proudie. 'I don't know anything about her husband. They do say that some man named Neroni is still alive. I believe she did marry such a man abroad, but I do not at all know who or what he was.'
'Ah--h--h--h!' said the countess, shaking her head with much intelligence, as every additional 'h' fell from her lips. 'I know all about it now. I have heard George mention her. George knows all about her. George heard about her in Rome.''She's an abominable woman at any rate,' said Mrs Proudie. 'Insufferable,' said the countess. 'She made her way into the palace once, before I knew anything about her; and I cannot tell you how dreadfully indecent her conduct was.' 'Was it?' said the delighted countess. 'Insufferable,' said the prelatess. 'But why does she lie on a sofa?' asked the Lady De Courcy. 'She has only one leg,' said Mrs Proudie. 'Only one leg!' said the Lady De Courcy, who felt to a certain degree dissatisfied that the signora was thus incapacitated. 'Was she born so?'
'Oh, no,' said Mrs Proudie,--and her ladyship felt somewhat recomforted by the assurance,--'she had two. But that Signor Neroni beat her, I believe, till she was obliged to have one amputated. At any rate she entirely lost the use of it.'
'Unfortunate creature!' said the countess, who herself knew something of matrimonial trials.
'Yes,' said Mrs Proudie; 'one would pity her, in spite of her past bad conduct, if she knew how to behave herself. But she does not. She is the most insolent creature I have ever put my eyes on.'
'She has absolutely ruined that man. The bishop, or I should rather take the blame on myself, for it was I,--I brought him down from London to Barchester. He is a tolerable preacher, an active young man, and I therefore introduced him to the bishop. That woman, Lady De Courcy, has got hold of him, and has so disgraced him, that I am forced to required that he shall leave the palace; and I doubt very much whether he won't lose his gown.''Why what an idiot the man must be!' said the countess. 'You don't know the intriguing villainy of that woman,' said Mrs Proudie, remembering her own torn flounces. 'But you say she has only got one leg!' 'She is as full of mischief as tho' she had ten. Look at her eyes, Lady De Courcy. Did you ever see such eyes in a decent woman's head?' 'Indeed I never did, Mrs Proudie.' 'And her effrontery, and her voice; I quite pity her poor father, who is really a good sort of man.' 'Dr Stanhope, isn't he?' 'Yes, Dr Stanhope. He is one of our prebendaries,--a good quiet sort of man himself. But I am surprised that he should let his daughter conduct herself as he does.' 'I suppose he can't help it,' said the countess.
'But a clergyman, you know, Lady De Courcy! He should at any rate prevent her from exhibiting in public, if he cannot induce her to behave at home. But he is to be pitied. I believe he has a desperate life of it with the lot of them. That apish-looking man there, with the long beard and the loose trousers,--he is the woman's brother. He is nearly as bad as she is. They are both of them infidels.''Infidels!' said Lady De Courcy, 'and their father a prebendary!' 'Yes, and likely to be the new dean too,' said Mrs Proudie.
'Oh, yes, poor dear Dr Trefoil!' said the countess, who had once in her life spoken to that gentleman; 'I was so distressed to hear it, Mrs Proudie. And so Dr Stanhope is to be the new dean! He comes of an excellent family, and I wish him success in spite of his daughter. Perhaps, Mrs Proudie, when he is dean, they'll be better able to see the error of their ways.'
To this Mrs Proudie said nothing. Her dislike of the Signora Neroni was too deep to admit of her even hoping that that lady should see the error of her ways. Mrs Proudie looked on the signora as one of the lost,--one of those beyond the reach of Christian charity, and was therefore able to enjoy the luxury of hating her, without the drawback of wishing her eventually well out of her sins.
Any further conversation between these congenial souls was prevented by the advent of Mr Thorne, who came to lead the countess to the tent. Indeed, he had been desired to do so some ten minutes since; but he had been delayed in the drawing-room by the signora. She had contrived to detain him, to bet him near to her sofa, and at last to make him seat himself on a chair close to her beautiful arm. The fish took the bait, was hooked, and caught, and landed. Within that ten minutes he had heard the whole of signora's history in such strains as she chose to use in telling it. He learnt from the lady's own lips the whole of that mysterious tale to which the Honourable George had merely alluded. He discovered that the beautiful creature lying before him had been more sinned against than sinning. She had owned to him that she had been weak, confiding and indifferent to the world's opinion, and that she had therefore been ill-used, deceived and evil spoken of. She had spoken to him of her mutilated limb, her youth destroyed in the fullest bloom, her beauty robbed of its every charm, her life blighted, her hopes withered; and as she did so, a tear dropped from her eye to her cheek. She had told him of these things, and asked for his sympathy.
What could a good-natured genial Anglo-Saxon Squire Thorne do but promise to sympathise with her? Mr Thorne did promise to sympathise; promised also to come and see the last of the Neros, to hear more of those fearful Roman days, of those light and innocent but dangerous hours which flitted by so fast on the shores of Como, and to make himself the confidant of the signora's sorrows.
We need hardly say that he dropped all idea of warning his sister against the dangerous lady. He had been mistaken; never so much mistaken in his life. He had always regarded that Honourable George as a coarse brutal-minded young man; now he was more convinced than ever that he was so. It was by such men as the Honourable George that the reputation of such women as Madeline Neroni were imperilled and damaged. He would go and see the lady in her own house; he was fully sure in his own mind of the soundness of his own judgment; if he found her, as he believed he should do, an injured well-disposed, warm-hearted woman, he would get his sister Monica to invite her out to Ullathorne.
'No,' said she, as at her instance he got up to leave her, and declared that he himself would attend upon her wants; 'no, no, my friend; I positively put a veto upon your doing so. What, in your own house, with an assemblage round you such as there is here! Do you wish to make every woman hate me and every man stare at me? I lay a positive order on you not to come near me again to-day. Come and see me at home. It is only at home that I can talk; it is only at home that I really can live and enjoy myself. My days of going out, days such as these, are rare indeed. Come and see me at home, Mr Thorne, and then I will not bid you to leave me.'
It is, we believe, common with young men of five and twenty to look on their seniors--on men of, say, double their own age--as so many stocks and stones--stocks and stones, that is, in regard to feminine beauty. There never was a greater mistake. Women, indeed, generally know better; but on this subject men of one age are thoroughly ignorant of what is the very nature of mankind of other ages. No experience of what goes on in the world, no reading of history, no observation of life, has any effect in teaching the truth. Men of fifty don't dance mazurkas, being generally too fat and wheezy; nor do they sit for the hour together on river banks at their mistresses' feet, being somewhat afraid of rheumatism. But for real true love, love at first sight, love to devotion, love that robs a man of his sleep, love that 'will gaze an eagle blind,' love that 'will hear the lowest sound when the suspicious tread of theft is stopped,' love that is 'like a Hercules still climbing trees in the Hesperides,'--we believe this best age is from forty-five to seventy; up to that, men are generally given to mere flirting.At the present moment Mr Thorne, aetat. fifty, was over head and ears in love at first sight with the Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, nata Stanhope. Nevertheless he was sufficiently master of himself to offer his arm with all propriety to Lady De Courcy, and the countess graciously permitted herself to be led to the tent.
Such had been Miss Thorne's orders, as she had succeeded in inducing the bishop to lead old Lady Knowle to the top of the dining-room. One of the baronets was sent off in quest of Mrs Proudie, and found that lady on the lawn not in the best of humours. Mr Thorne and the countess had left her too abruptly; she had in vain looked about for an attendant chaplain, or even a stray curate; they were all drawing long bows with the young ladies at the bottom of the lawn, or finding places for their graceful co-toxophilites in some snug corner of the tent. In such position Mrs Proudie had been wont in earlier days to fall back upon Mr Slope; but now she could never fall back upon him again. She gave her head one shake as she thought of her lone position, and that shake was as good as a week deducted from Mr Slope's longer sojourn in Barchester. Sir Harkaway Gorse, however, relieved her present misery, though his doing so by no means mitigated the sinning chaplain's doom.
And now the eating and drinking began in earnest. Dr Grantly, to his great horror, found himself leagued to Mrs Clantantram. Mrs Clantantram had a great regard for the archdeacon, which was not cordially returned; and when she, coming up to him, whispered in his ear, 'Come, archdeacon, I'm sure you won't begrudge an old friend the favour of your arm,' and then proceeded to tell him the whole history of her roquelaure, he resolved that he would shake her off before he was fifteen minutes older. But latterly the archdeacon had not been successful in his resolutions; and on the present occasion Mrs Clantantram stuck to him till the banquet was over.
Dr Gwynne got a baronet's wife, and Mrs Grantly fell to the lot of a baronet. Charlotte Stanhope attached herself to Mr Harding in order to make room for Bertie, who succeeded in sitting down in the dining-room next to Mrs Bold. To speak sooth, now that he had love in earnest to make, his heart almost failed him.
Eleanor had been right glad to avail herself of his arm, seeing that Mr Slope was hovering nigh her. In striving to avoid that terrible Charybdis of a Slope she was in great danger of falling into an unseen Scylla on the other hand, that Scylla being Bertie Stanhope. Nothing could be more gracious than she was to Bertie. She almost jumped at his proffered arm. Charlotte perceived this from a distance, and triumphed in her heart; Bertie felt it, and was encouraged; Mr Slope saw it, and glowered with jealousy. Eleanor and Bertie sat down to table in the dining-room; and as she took her seat at his right hand, she found that Mr Slope was already in possession of the chair at her own.
As these things were going on in the dining-room, Mr Arabin was hanging enraptured and alone over the signora's sofa; and Eleanor from her seat could look through the open door and see that he was doing so.
38. The Bishop Sits Down To Breakfast, And The Dean Dies
The bishop of Barchester said grace over the well-spread board in the Ullathorne dining-room; and while he did so the last breath was flying from the dean of Barchester as he lay in his sick-room in the deanery. When the bishop of Barchester raised his first glass of champagne to his lips, the deanship of Barchester was a good thing in the gift of the prime minister. Before the bishop of Barchester had left the table, the minister of the day was made aware of the fact at his country seat in Hampshire, and had already turned over in his mind the names of five very respectable aspirants for the preferment. It is at present only necessary to say that Mr Slope's name was not among the five.
''Twas merry in the hall when the beards wagged all;' and the clerical beards wagged merrily in the hall of Ullathorne that day. It was not till after the last cork had been drawn, the last speech made, the last nut cracked, that tidings reached and were whispered about that the poor dean was no more. It was well for the happiness of the clerical beards that this little delay took place, as otherwise decency would have forbidden them to wag at all.
But there was one sad man among them that day. Mr Arabin's beard did not wag as it should have done. He had come there hoping the best, striving to think the best about Eleanor; turning over in his mind all the words he remembered to have fallen from her about Mr Slope, and trying to gather from them a conviction unfavourable to his rival. He had not exactly resolved to come that day to some decisive proof as to the widow's intention; but he had meant, if possible, to re-cultivate his friendship with Eleanor; and in his present frame of mind any such re-cultivation must have ended in a declaration of love.
He had passed the previous night alone at his new parsonage, and it was the first night that he had so passed. It had been dull and sombre enough. Mrs Grantly had been right in saying that a priestess would be wanting at St Ewold's. He had sat there alone with his glass before him, and then with his teapot, thinking about Eleanor Bold. As is usual in such meditations, he did little but blame her; blame her for liking Mr Slope, and blame her for not liking him; blame her for her cordiality to himself, and blame her for her want of cordiality; blame her for being stubborn, headstrong, and passionate; and yet the more he thought of her the higher she rose in his affection. If only it should turn out, if only it could be made to turn out, that she had defended Mr Slope, not from love, but on principle, all would be right. Such principle in itself would be admirable, loveable, womanly; he felt that he could be pleased to allow Mr Slope just so much favour as that. But if--And then Mr Arabin poked his fire most unnecessarily, spoke crossly to his new parlour-maid who came in for the tea-things, and threw himself back in his chair determined to go to sleep. Why had she been so stiff-necked when asked a plain question? She could not but have known in what light he regarded her. Why had she not answered a plain question, and so put an end to his misery? Then, instead of going to sleep in his arm-chair, Mr Arabin walked about the room as though he had been possessed.
On the following morning, when he attended Miss Thorne's behests, he was still in a somewhat confused state. His first duty had been to converse with Mrs Clantantram, and that lady had found it impossible to elicit the slightest sympathy from him on the subject of hr roquelaure. Miss Thorne had asked him whether Mrs Bold was coming with the Grantlys; and the two names of Bold and Grantly together had nearly made him jump from his seat.
He was in this state of confused uncertainty, hope, and doubt, when he saw Mr Slope, with his most polished smile, handing Eleanor out of her carriage. He thought of nothing more. He never considered whether the carriage belonged to her or to Mr Slope, or to any one else to whom they might both be mutually obliged without any concert between themselves. The sight in his present state of mind was quite enough to upset him and his resolves. It was clear as noonday. Had he seen her handed into a carriage by Mr Slope at a church door with a white veil over her head, the truth could not be more manifest. He went into the house, and, as we have seen, soon found himself walking with Mr Harding. Shortly afterwards Eleanor came up; and then he had to leave his companion, and either go about alone or find another. While in this state he was encountered by the archdeacon.
'I wonder,' said Dr Grantly, 'if it be true that Mr Slope and Mrs Bold come here together. Susan says she is almost sure she saw their faces in the same carriage as she got out of her own.'Mr Arabin had nothing for it but to bear his testimony to the correctness of Mrs Grantly's eyesight.
'It is perfectly shameful,' said the archdeacon; 'or I should rather say, shameless. She was asked her as my guest; and if she be determined to disgrace herself, she should have feeling enough not to do so before my immediate friends. I wonder how that man got himself invited. I wonder whether she had the face to bring him.'
To this Mr Arabin could answer nothing, nor did he wish to answer anything. Though he abused Eleanor to himself, he did not choose to abuse to any one else, nor was he well pleased to hear any one else speak ill of her. Dr Grantly, however, was very angry, and did not spare his sister-in-law. Mr Arabin therefore left him as soon as he could, and wandered back into the house.
It is impossible to say how the knowledge had been acquired, but the signora had a sort of instinctive knowledge that Mr Arabin was an admirer of Mrs Bold. Men hunt foxes by the aid of dogs, and are aware that they do so by the strong organ of smell with which the dog is endowed. They do not, however, in the least comprehend how such a sense can work with such acuteness. The organ by which woman instinctively, as it were, know and feel how other women are regarded by men, and how also men are regarded by other women, is equally strong, and equally incomprehensible. A glance, a word, a motion, suffices: by some such acute exercise of her feminine senses the signora was aware that Mr Arabin loved Eleanor Bold; and therefore, by a further exercise of her peculiar feminine propensities, it was quite natural for her to entrap Mr Arabin into her net.
The work was half done before she came to Ullathorne, and when could she have a better opportunity of completing it? She had had almost enough of Mr Slope, though she could not quite resist the fun of driving a very sanctimonious clergyman to madness by a desperate and ruinous passion. Mr Thorne had fallen too easily to give much pleasure in the chase. His position as a man of wealth might make his alliance of value, but as a lover he was very second-rate. We may say that she regarded him somewhat as a sportsman does a pheasant. The bird is so easily shot, that he would not be worth the shooting were it not for the very respectable appearance that he makes in a larder. The signora would not waste much time in shooting Mr Thorne, but still he was worth bagging for family uses.
But Mr Arabin was game of another sort. The signora was herself possessed of quite sufficient intelligence to know that Mr Arabin was a man more than usually intellectual. She knew also, that as a clergyman he was of a much higher stamp than Mr Slope, and that as gentleman he was better educated than Mr Thorne. She would never have attempted to drive Mr Arabin into ridiculous misery as she did Mr Slope, nor would she think it possible to dispose of him in ten minutes as she had done with Mr Thorne.Such were her reflections about Mr Arabin. As to Mr Arabin, it cannot be said that he reflected at all about the signora.
He knew that she was beautiful, and he felt that she was able to charm him. He required charming in his present misery, and therefore he went and stood at the head of her couch. She knew all about it. Such were her peculiar gifts.
It was her nature to see that he required charming, and it was her province to charm him. As the Easter idler swallows his dose of opium, as the London reprobate swallows his dose of gin, so with similar desire and for similar reasons did Mr Arabin prepare to swallow the charms of the Signora Neroni.
'Why aren't you shooting with bows and arrows, Mr Arabin?' said she, when they were nearly alone together in the sitting-room; 'or talking with young ladies in shady bowers, or turning your talents to account in some way? What was a bachelor like you asked here for? Don't you mean to earn your cold chicken and champagne? Were I you, I should be ashamed to be so idle.'Mr Arabin murmured some sort of answer. Though he wished to be charmed, he as hardly yet in a mood to be playful in return.
'Why, what ails you, Mr Arabin?' said she, 'here you are in your own parish; Miss Thorne tells me that her party is given expressly in your honour; and yet you are the only dull man in it. Your friend Mr Slope was with me a few minutes since, full of life and spirits' why don't you rival him?'
It was not difficult for so acute an observer as Madeline Neroni to see that she had hit the nail on the head and driven the bolt home. Mr Arabin winced visibly before her attack, and she knew at once that he was jealous of Mr Slope.
'But I look on you and Mr Slope as the very antipodes of men,' said she. 'There is nothing in which you are not each the reverse of the other, except in belonging to the same profession; and even in that you are so unlike as perfectly to maintain the rule. He is gregarious, you are given to solitude. He is active, you are passive. He works, you think. He likes women, you despise them. He is fond of position and power, and so are you, but for directly different reasons. He loves to be praised, you very foolishly abhor it. He will gain his rewards, which will be an insipid useful wife, a comfortable income, and a reputation for sanctimony. You will also gain yours.''Well, and what will they be?' said Mr Arabin, who knew that he was being flattered, and yet suffered himself to put up with it. 'What will be my rewards?' 'The heart of some woman whom you will be too austere to own that you love, and the respect of some few friends which you will be too proud to own that you value.' 'Rich rewards,' said he; 'but of little worth if they are to be so treated.'
'Oh, you are not to look for such success as awaits Mr Slope. He is born to be a successful man. He suggests to himself an object, and then starts for it with eager intention. Nothing will deter him from his pursuit. He will have no scruples, no fears, no hesitation. His desire is to be a bishop with a rising family, the wife will come first, and in due time the apron. You will see all this, and then--''Well, and what then?' 'Then you will begin to wish that you had done the same.'
Mr Arabin look placidly out at the lawn, and resting his shoulder on the head of the sofa, rubbed his chin with his hand. It was a trick he had when he was thinking deeply; and what the signora said made him think. Was it not all true? Would he not hereafter look back, if not at Mr Slope, at some others, people not equally gifted with himself, who had risen in the world while he had lagged behind, and then wish that he had done the same?
'Is not such the doom of all speculative men of talent?' said she. 'Do they not all sit rapt as you now are, cutting imaginary silken cords with their fine edges, while those not so highly tempered sever the every-day Gordian knots of the world's struggle, and win wealth and renown? Steel too highly polished, edges too sharp, do not do for this world's work, Mr Arabin.'
Who was this woman that thus read the secrets of his heart, and re-uttered to him the unwelcome bodings of his own soul? He looked full into her face when she had done speaking, and said, 'Am I one of those foolish blades, too sharp and too fine to do a useful day's work?'
'Why do you let the Slopes of the world out-distance you?' said she. 'It not the blood in your veins as warm as his? does not your pulse beat as fast? Has not God made you a man, and intended you to do a man's work here, ay, and to take a man's wages also?'Mr Arabin sat ruminating and rubbing his face, and wondering why these things were said to him; but he replied nothing. The signora went on--
'The greatest mistake any man ever made is to suppose that the good things of the world are not worth the winning. And it is a mistake so opposed to the religion which you preach! Why does God permit his bishops one after the other to have their five thousands and ten thousands a year if such wealth be bad and not worth having? Why are beautiful things given to us, and luxuries and pleasant enjoyments, if they be not intended to be used? They must be meant for some one, and what is good for a layman cannot surely be bad for a clerk. You try to despise these good things, but you only try; you don't succeed.''Don't I,' said Mr Arabin, still musing, and not knowing what he said. 'I ask you the question: do you succeed?'
Mr Arabin looked at her piteously. It seemed to him as though he were being interrogated by some inner spirit of his own, to whom he could not refuse an answer, and to whom he did not dare to give a false reply.
'Come, Mr Arabin, confess; do you succeed? Is money so contemptible? Is worldly power so worthless? Is feminine beauty a trifle to be so slightly regarded by a wise man?''Feminine beauty!' said he, gazing into her face, as though all the feminine beauty in the world was concentrated there. 'Why do you say I do not regard it?' 'If you look at me like that, Mr Arabin, I shall alter my opinion--or should do so, were I not of course aware that I have no beauty of my own worth regarding.'
The gentleman blushed crimson, but the lady did not blush at all. A slightly increased colour animated her face, just so much so as to give her an air of special interest. She expected a compliment from her admirer, but she was rather grateful than otherwise by finding that he did not pay it to her. Messrs Slope and Thorne, Messrs Brown, Jones and Robinson, they all paid her compliments. She was rather in hopes that she would ultimately succeed in inducing Mr Arabin to abuse her.'But your gaze,' said she, 'is one of wonder, and not of admiration. You wonder at my audacity in asking you such questions about yourself.' 'Well, I do rather,' said he. 'Nevertheless I expect an answer, Mr Arabin. Why were women made beautiful if men are not to regard them?' 'But men do regard them,' he replied. 'And why not you?' 'You are begging the question, Madame Neroni.'
'I am sure that I shall beg nothing, Mr Arabin, which you will not grant, and I do beg for an answer. Do you not as a rule think women below your notice as companions? Let us see. There is the widow Bold looking round at you from her chair this minute. What would you say to her as a companion for life?'
Mr Arabin, rising from his position, leaned over the sofa and looked through the drawing-room door to the place where Eleanor was seated between Bertie Stanhope and Mr Slope. She at once caught his glance, and averted her own. She was not pleasantly placed in her present position. Mr Slope was doing his best to attract her attention; and she was striving to prevent his doing so by talking to Mr Stanhope, while her mind was intently fixed on Mr Arabin and Madame Neroni. Bertie Stanhope endeavoured to take advantage of her favours, but he was thinking more of the manner in which he would by-and-by throw himself at her feet, than of amusing her at the present moment.
'There,' said the signora. 'She was stretching her beautiful neck to look at you, and now you have disturbed her. Well I declare, I believe I am wrong about you; I believe that you do think Mrs Bold a charming woman. Your looks seem to say so; and by her looks I should say that she is jealous of me. Come, Mr Arabin, confide in me, and if it is so, I'll do all in my power to make up the match.'
It is needless to say that the signora was not very sincere in her offer. She was never sincere on such subjects. She never expected others to be so, nor did she expect others to think her so. Such matters were her playthings, her billiard table, her hounds and hunters, her waltzes and polkas, her picnics and summer-day excursions. She had little else to amuse her, and therefore played at love-making in all its forms. She was now playing at it with Mr Arabin, and did not at all expect the earnestness and truth of his answer.'All in your power would be nothing,' said he; 'for Mrs Bold is, I imagine, already engaged to another.'
'Then you own the impeachment yourself.' 'You cross-question me rather unfairly,' he replied, 'and I do not know why I answer you at all. Mrs Bold is a very beautiful woman, and as intelligent as beautiful. It is impossible to know her without admiring her.''So you think the widow a very beautiful woman?' 'Indeed I do.' 'And one that would grace the parsonage at St Ewold's.' 'One that would grace any man's house.'
'And you really have the effrontery to tell me this,' said she; 'to tell me, who, as you very well know, set up to be a beauty myself, and who am at this very moment taking such an interest in your affairs, you really have the effrontery to tell me that Mrs Bold is the most beautiful woman you know.''I did not say so,' said Mr Arabin; 'you are more beautiful--' 'Ah, come now, that is something like. I thought you would not be so unfeeling.' 'You are more beautiful, perhaps more clever.' 'Thank you, thank you, Mr Arabin. I knew that you and I should be friends.' 'But--' 'Not a word further. I will not hear a word further. If you talk till midnight, you cannot improve what you have said.' 'But Madame Neroni, Mrs Bold--' 'I will not hear a word about Mrs Bold. Dread thoughts of strychnine did pass across my brain, but she is welcome to the second place.' 'Her place--'
'I won't hear anything about her or her place. I am satisfied and that is enough. But, Mr Arabin, I am dying with hunger; beautiful and clever as I am, you know I cannot go to my food, and yet you do not bring it to me.'This at any rate was so true as to make it unnecessary that Mr Arabin should not act upon it, and he accordingly went into the dining-room and supplied the signora's wants. 'And yourself,' said she. 'Oh,' said he, 'I am not hungry; I never eat at this hour.'
'Come, come, Mr Arabin, don't let love interfere with your appetite. It never does with mine. Give me half a glass more champagne, and then go to the table. Mrs Bold will do me an injury if you stay talking to me any longer.'
Mr Arabin did as he was bid. He took her plate and glass from her, and going into the dining-room, helped himself to a sandwich from the crowded table and began munching it in a corner.As he was doing so, Miss Thorne, who had hardly sat down for a moment, came into the room, and seeing him standing, was greatly distressed. 'Oh, my dear Mr Arabin,' said she, 'have you never sat down yet? I am so distressed. You of all men too.' Mr Arabin assured her that he had only just come into the room.
'That is the very reason why you should lose no more time. Come I'll make room for you. Thank'ee my dear,' she said, seeing that Mrs Bold was making an attempt to move from her chair, 'but I would not for the world see you stir, for all the ladies would think it necessary to follow. But, perhaps, if Mr Stanhope has done--just for a minute, Mr Stanhope--till I can get another chair.'
And so Bertie had to rise to make way for his rival. This he did, as he did everything, with an air of good-humoured pleasantry, which made it impossible for Mr Arabin to refuse the proffered seat.
'His bishopric let another take,' said Bertie; the quotation being certainly not very appropriate, either for the occasion, or the person spoken to. 'I have eaten and am satisfied; Mr Arabin, pray take my chair. I wish for your sake, it really was a bishop's seat.'Mr Arabin did sit down, and as he did so, Mrs Bold got up as though to follow her neighbour.
'Pray, pray don't move,' said Miss Thorne, almost forcing Eleanor back into her chair. 'Mr Stanhope is not going to leave us. He will stand behind you like a true knight as he is. And now I think of it, Mr Arabin, let me introduce you to Mr Slope. Mr Slope, Mr Arabin.' And the two gentlemen bowed stiffly to each other across the lady they both intended to marry, while the other gentleman who also intended to marry her stood behind, watching them.
The two had never met each other before, and the present was certainly not a good opportunity for much cordial conversation, even if cordial conversation between them had been possible. As it was, the whole four who formed the party seemed as though their tongues were tied. Mr Slope, who was wide awake to what he hoped was his coming opportunity, was not much concerned in the interest of the moment. His wish was to see Eleanor move, that he might pursue her. Bertie was not exactly in the same frame of mind; the evil of the day was near enough; there was no reason why he should precipitate it. He had made up his mind to marry Eleanor Bold if he could, and was resolved to-day to take the first preliminary step towards doing so. But there was time enough before him. He was not going to make an offer of marriage over the table-cloth. Having thus good-naturedly made way for Mr Arabin, he was willing also to let him talk to the future Mrs Stanhope as long as they remained in their present position.Mr Arabin bowed to Mr Slope, began eating his food, without saying a word further. He was full of thoughts, and though he ate he did so unconsciously.
But poor Eleanor was the most to be pitied. The only friend on whom she thought she could rely, was Bertie Stanhope, and he, it seemed, was determined to desert her. Mr Arabin did not attempt to address her. She said a few words in reply to some remarks from Mr Slope, and then feeling the situation too much for her, started from her chair in spite of Miss Thorne, and hurried from the room. Mr Slope followed her, and young Stanhope lost the occasion.
Madame Neroni, when she was left alone, could not help pondering much on the singular interview she had had with this singular man. Not a word that she had spoken to him had been intended by her to be received as true, and yet he had answered her in the very spirit of truth. He had done so, and she had been aware that he had done so. She had wormed from him his secret; and he, debarred as it would seem from man's usual privilege of lying, had innocently laid bare his whole soul to her. He loved Eleanor Bold, but Eleanor was not in his eyes so beautiful as herself. He would fain have Eleanor for his wife, but yet he had acknowledged that she was the less gifted of the two. The man had literally been unable to falsify his thoughts when questioned, and had been compelled to be true malgre lui, even when truth must have been disagreeable to him.
This teacher of men, this Oxford pundit, this double-distilled quintessence of university perfection, this writer of religious treatises, this speaker of ecclesiastical speeches, had been like a little child in her hands; she had turned him inside out, and read his very heart as she might have done that of a young girl. She could not but despise him for his facile openness, and yet she liked him too. It was a novelty to her, a new trait in a man's character. She felt also that she could never so completely make a fool of him as she did of the Slopes and the Thornes. She felt that she could never induce Mr Arabin to make protestations to her that were not true, or to listen to nonsense that was mere nonsense.
It was quite clear that Mr Arabin was heartily in love with Mrs Bold, and the signora, with very unwonted good nature, began to turn it over in her mind whether she could not do him a good turn. Of course Bertie was to have the first chance. It was an understood family arrangement that her brother was, if possible, to marry the widow Bold. Madeline knew too well the necessities and what was due to her sister to interfere with so excellent a plan, as long as it might be feasible. But she had strong suspicion that it was not feasible. She did not think it likely that Mrs Bold would accept a man in her brother's position, and she had frequently said so to Charlotte. She was inclined to believe that Mr Slope had more chance of success; and with her it would be a labour of love to rob Mr Slope of his wife.And so the signora resolved, should Bertie fail, to do a good-natured act for once in her life, and give up Mr Arabin to the woman whom he loved.
39. The Lookalofts And The GreenacresOn the whole, Miss Thorne's provision for the amusement and feeding of the outer classes in the exoteric paddock was not unsuccessful.
Two little drawbacks to the general happiness did take place, but they were of a temporary nature, and apparent rather than real. The first was the downfall of young Harry Greenacre, and the other was the uprise of Mrs Lookaloft and her family.
As to the quintain, it became more popular among the boys on foot, than it would ever have been among the men on horseback, even had young Greenacre been more successful. It was twirled round and round till it was nearly twisted out of the ground; and the bag of flour was used with great gusto in powdering the backs and heads of all who could be coaxed within the vicinity.
Of course it was reported all throughout the assemblage that Harry was dead, and there was a pathetic scene between him and his mother when it was found that he had escaped scatheless from the fall. A good deal of beer was drunk on the occasion, and the quintain was 'dratted' and 'bothered', and very generally anathematised by all the mothers who had young sons likely to be placed in similar jeopardy. But the affair of Mrs Lookaloft was of a more serious nature.
'I do tell 'ee plainly,--face to face--she be there in madam's drawing-room; herself and Gussy, and them two walloping gals, dressed up to their very eyeses.' This was said by a very positive, very indignant, and very fat farmer's wife, who was sitting on the end of a bench leaning on the handle of a huge cotton umbrella.
'But you didn't zee her, Dame Guffern?' said Mrs Greenacres, whom this information, joined to the recent peril undergone by her son, almost overpowered. Mr Greenacres held just as much land as Mr Lookaloft, paid his rent quite as punctually, and his opinion in the vestry-room was reckoned to be every whit as good. Mrs Lookaloft's rise in the world had been wormwood to Mrs Greenacre. She had not taste herself for the sort of finery which converted Barleystubb farm into Rosebank, and which had occasionally graced Mr Lookaloft's letters with the dignity of esquirehood. She had no wish to convert her own homeland into Violet Villa, or to see her goodman go about with a new-fangled handle to his name. But it was a mortal injury to her that Mrs Lookaloft should be successful in her hunt after such honours. She had abused and ridiculed Mrs Lookaloft to the extent of her little power. She had pushed against her going out of church, and had excused herself with all the easiness of equality. 'Ah, dame, I axes pardon; but you be grown so mortal stout these time.' She had inquired with apparent cordiality of Mr Lookaloft after 'the woman that owned him,' and had, as she thought, been on the whole able to hold her own pretty well against her aspiring neighbour. Now, however, she found herself distinctly put into a separate and inferior class. Mrs Lookaloft was asked into the Ullathorne drawing-room, merely because she called her house Rosebank, and had talked over her husband into buying pianos and silk dresses instead of putting his money by to stock farms for his sons.
Mrs Greenacre, much as she reverenced Miss Thorne, and highly as she respected her husband's landlord, could not but look on this as an act of injustice done to her and hers. Hitherto the Lookalofts had never been recognised as being of a different class from the Greenacres. Their pretensions were all self-pretensions, their finery was all paid for by themselves and not granted to them by others. The local sovereigns of the vicinity, the district fountains of honour, had hitherto conferred on them the stamp of no rank. Hitherto their crinoline petticoats, late hours, and mincing gait had been a fair subject of Mrs Greenacre's raillery, and this raillery had been a safety valve for her envy. Now, however, and from henceforward, the case would be very different. Now the Lookalofts would boast that their aspirations had been sanctioned by the gentry of the country; now they would declare with some show of truth that their claims to peculiar consideration had been recognised. They had sat as equal guests in the presence of bishops and baronets; they had been curtseyed to by Miss Thorne on her own drawingroom carpet; they were about to sit down to table in company with a live countess! Bab Lookaloft, as she had always been called by the young Greenacres in the days of their juvenile equality, might possibly sit next to the Honourable George, and that wretched Gussy might be permitted to hand a custard to the Lady Margaretta De Courcy.
The fruition of these honours, or such of them as fell to the lot of the envied family, was not such as should have caused much envy. The attention paid to the Lookalofts by the De Courcys was very limited, and the amount of society was hardly in itself a recompense for the dull monotony of their day. But of what they endured Mrs Greenacre took no account; she thought only of what she considered they must enjoy, and of the dreadfully exalted tone of living which would be manifested by the Rosebank family, as the consequence of their present distinction.'But did 'ee zee 'em there, dame, did 'ee zee 'em then with your own eyes?' asked poor Mrs Greenacre, still hoping that there might be some ground for doubt.
'And how could I do that, unless so be I was there myself?' asked Mrs Guffen. 'I didn't set eyes on none of them this blessed morning, but I zee'd them as did. You know our John; well, he will be for keeping company with Betsey Rusk, madam's own maid, you know. And Betsey isn't one of your common kitchen wenches. So Betsey, she come out to our John, you know, and she's always vastly polite to me, is Betsey Rusk, I must say. So before she took so much as one turn with John, she told me every ha'porth that was going on up in the house.''Did she now?' said Mrs Greenacre. 'Indeed she did,' said Mrs Guffern.
'And she told you them people was up there in the drawing-room?' 'She told me she zee'd them come in--that they was dressed finer by half nor any of the family, with all their neckses and buzoms stark naked as a born babby.''The minxes!' exclaimed Mrs Greenacre, who felt herself more put about by this than any other mark of aristocratic distinction which her enemies had assumed. 'Yes, indeed,' continued Mrs Guffern, 'as naked as you please, while all the quality was dressed just as you and I be, Mrs Greenacre.' 'Drat their impudence' said Mrs Greenacre, from whose well-covered bosom all milk of human kindness was receding, as far as the family of the Lookalofts were concerned.
'So says I,' said Mrs Guffern; 'and so says my good-man Thomas Guffern, when he hear'd it. "Molly," says he to me, "if ever you takes to going about o' mornings with yourself all naked in them ways, I begs you won't come back no more to the old house." So says I, "Thomas, no more I wull." "But," says he, "drat it, how the deuce does she manage with her rheumatiz, and she not a rag on her:"' said Mrs Giffern, laughed loudly as she though of Mrs Lookalofts's probable sufferings from rheumatic attacks.'But to liken herself that way to folk that ha' blood in their veins,' said Mrs Greenacre.
'Well, but that warn't all neither that Betsey told. There they all swelled into madam's drawing-room, like so many turkey cocks, as much to say, "and who dare say no to us?" and Gregory was thinking of telling them to come down here, only his heart failed him 'cause of the grand way they was dressed. So in they went; but madam looked at them as glum as death.''Well now,' said Mrs Greenacre, greatly relieved, 'so they wasn't axed different from us all then?'
'Betsey says that Gregory says that madam wasn't a bit too well pleased to see them where they was and that, to his believing, they was expected to come here just like the rest of us.'
There was great consolation in this. Not that Mrs Greenacre was altogether satisfied. She felt that justice to herself demanded that Mrs Lookaloft should not only not be encouraged, but that she should also be absolutely punished.
What had been done at that scriptural banquet, of which Mrs Greenacre so often read the account to her family? Why had not Miss Thorne boldly gone to the intruder and said: 'Friend, thou hast come up hither to high places not fitted for thee. Go down lower, and thou wilt find thy mates.' Let the Lookalofts be treated at the present moment with ever so cold a shoulder, they would still be enabled to boast hereafter of their position, their aspirations, and their honour.
'Well, with all her grandeur, I do wonder that she be so mean, continued Mrs Greenacre, unable to dismiss the subject. 'Did you hear, goodman?' she went on, about to repeat the whole story to her husband who then came up. 'There's dame Lookaloft and Bab and Gussy and the lot of 'em all sitting as grand as fivepence in madam's drawing-room, and they not axed no more nor you nor me. Did you ever hear tell the like o' that?'
'Well, if they likes it and madam likes it, they's welcome for me,' said the farmer. 'Now I likes the place better, cause I be more at home like, and don't have to pay for them fine clothes for the missus. Every one to his taste, Mrs Guffern, and if neighbour Lookaloft thinks that he has the best of it, he's welcome.'
Mrs Greenacre sat down by her husband's side to begin the heavy work of the banquet, and she did so in some measure of restored tranquillity, but nevertheless she shook her head at her gossip to show that in this instance she did not quite approve of her husband's doctrine.
'And I'll tell 'ee what, dames,' continued he; 'if so be that we cannot enjoy the dinner that madam gives us because Mother Lookaloft is sitting up there on a grand sofa, I think we ought all to go home. If we greet at that, what'll we do when true sorrow comes across us? How would you be now, dame, if the boy there had broke his neck when he got the tumble?'
Mrs Greenacre was humbled, and said nothing further on the matter. But let prudent men, such as Mr Greenacre, preach as they will, the family of the Lookalofts certainly does occasion a good deal of heart-burning in the world at large.
It was pleasant to see Mr Plomacy, as leaning on his stout stick he went about among the rural guests, acting as a sort of head constable as well as master of the revels. 'Now, young 'un, if you can't manage to get along without that screeching, you'd better go to the other side of the twelve-acre field, and take your dinner with you. Come, girls, what do you stand there for, twirling of your thumbs? come out, and let the lads see you; you've no need to be so ashamed of your faces. Hello! there, who are you? how did you make your way in here?'This last disagreeable question was put to a young man of about twenty-four, who did not, in Mr Plomacy's eye, bear sufficient vestiges of a rural education and residence.
'If you please, your worship, Master Barrell the coachman let me in at the church wicket, 'cause I do be working mostly al'ays for the family.'
'Then Master Barrell the coachman may let you out again,' said Mr Plomacy, not even conciliated by the magisterial dignity which had been conceded to him. 'What's your name? And what trade are you, and who do you work for?'
'I'll plaister you and Barrell too; you'll just walk out of this 'ere field as quick as you walked in. We don't want no plaisterers; when we do, we'll send for 'em. Come, my buck, walk.'
Stubbs the plasterer was much downcast at the dreadful edict. He was a sprightly fellow, and had contrived since his egress into the Ullathorne elysium to attract to himself a forest nymph, to whom he was whispering a plasterer's usual soft nothings, when he was encountered by the great Mr Plomacy. It was dreadful to be thus dissevered from the dryad, and sent howling back to a Barchester pandemonium just as the nectar and ambrosia were about to descend on the fields of asphodel. He began to try what prayers would do, but city prayers were vain against the great rural potentate. Not only did Mr Plomacy order his exit, but raising his stick to show the way which led to the gate that had been left in the custody of that false Cerberus Barrell, proceeded himself to see the edict of banishment carried out.
The goddess Mercy, however, the sweetest goddess that ever sat upon a cloud, and the dearest to poor frail erring man appeared on the field in the person of Mr Greenacre. Never was interceding goddess more welcome.'Come, man,' said Mr Greenacre, 'never stick at trifles such a day as this. I know the lad well. Let him bide at my axing. Madam won't miss what he can eat and drink, I know.'
Now Mr Plomacy and Mr Greenacre were sworn friends. Mr Plomacy had at his own disposal as comfortable a room as there was in Ullathorne House; but he was a bachelor, and alone there; and, moreover, smoking in the house was not allowed even to Mr Plomacy. His moments of truest happiness were spent in a huge arm-chair in the warmest corner of Mrs Greenacre's beautifully clean front kitchen. 'Twas there that the inner man dissolved itself, and poured itself out in streams of pleasant chat; 'twas there, and perhaps there only, that he could unburden himself from the ceremonies of life without offending the dignity of those above him, or incurring the familiarity of those below. 'Twas there that his long pipe was always to be found on the accustomed chimney board, not only permitted but encouraged.
Such being the state of the case, it was not to be supposed that Mr Plomacy could refuse such a favour to Mr Greenacre; but nevertheless he not grant it without some further show of austere authority.
'Eat and drink, Mr Greenacre! No. it's not what he eats and drinks; but the example such a chap shows, coming in where he's not invited--a chap of his age too. He too that never did a day's work about Ullathorne since he was born. Plaisterer! I'll plaister him!'
'He worked long enough for me, then Mr Plomacy. And a good hand he is at setting tiles as any in Barchester,' said the other, not sticking quite to veracity, as indeed mercy never should. 'Come, come, let him alone to-day, and quarrel with him to-morrow. You wouldn't shame him before his lass there?'
'It goes against the grain with me, then,' said Mr Plomacy. 'And take care, you Stubbs, and behave yourself. If I hear a row, I shall know where it comes from. I'm up to you Barchester journeymen; I know what stuff you're made of.'
And so Stubbs went off happy, pulling at the forelock of his shock head of hair in honour of the steward's clemency, and giving another double pull at it in honour of the farmer's kindness. And as he went he swore within his grateful heart, that if ever Farmer Greenacre wanted a day's work done for nothing, he was the lad to do it for him. Which promise it was not probable that he would ever be called upon to perform.
But Mr Plomacy was not quite happy in his mind for he thought of the unjust steward, and began to reflect whether he had not made for himself friends at the mammon of unrighteousness. This, however, did not interfere with the manner in which he performed his duties at the bottom of the long board; nor did Mr Greenacre perform his the worse at the top on account of the good wishes of Stubbs the plasterer. Moreover, the guests did not think it anything amiss when Mr Plomacy, rising to say grace, prayed that God would make them all truly thankful for the good things which Madam Thorne in her great liberality had set out before them!
All this time the quality in the tent on the lawn were getting on swimmingly; that is, champagne without restrictions can enable quality fold to swim. Sir Harkaway Gorse proposed the health of Miss Thorne, and likened her to a blood race-horse, always in condition, and not to be tired down by any amount of work. Mr Thorne returned thanks, saying he hoped his sister would always be found able to run when called upon, and than gave the health and prosperity of the De Courcy family. His sister was very much honoured by seeing so many of them at her poor board. They were all aware that important avocations made the absence of the earl necessary. As his duty to his prince had called him from his family hearth he, Mr Thorne, could not venture to regret that he did not see him at Ullathorne; but nevertheless he would venture to say--And so Mr Thorne became somewhat gravelled as a country gentleman in similar circumstances usually do; but he ultimately sat down, declaring that he had much satisfaction in drinking the noble earl's health, together with that of the countess, and all the family of De Courcy castle.
And then the Honourable George returned thanks. We will not follow him through the different periods of his somewhat irregular eloquence. Those immediately in his neighbourhood found it at first rather difficult to get him to his legs, but much greater difficulty was soon experience in inducing him to resume his seat. One of two arrangements should certainly be made in these days: either let all speech-making on festive occasions be utterly tabooed and made as it were impossible; or else let those who are to exercise the privilege be first subjected to a competing examination before the civil service examining commissioners. As it is now, the Honourable Georges do but little honour to our exertions in favour of British education.
In the dining-room the bishop went through the honours of the day with much more neatness and propriety. He also drank Miss Thorne's health, and did it in a manner becoming the bench which he adorned. The party there, was perhaps a little more dull, a shade less lively than that in the tent.But what was lost in mirth, was fully made up in decorum. And so the banquet passed off at the various tables with great eclat and universal delight.