Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope - HTML preview
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40. Ullathorne Sports--Act II
'That which has made them drunk, has made me bold.' 'Twas thus that Mr Slope encouraged himself, as he left the dining-room in pursuit of Eleanor. He had not indeed seen in that room any person really intoxicated; but there had been a good deal of wine drunk, and Mr Slope had not hesitated to take his share, in order to screw himself up to the undertaking which he had in hand. He is not the first man who has thought it expedient to call in the assistance of Bacchus on such an occasion.
Eleanor was out through the window, and on the grass before she perceived that she was followed. Just at that moment the guests were nearly all occupied at the tables. Here and there were to be seen a constant couple or two, who preferred their own sweet discourse to the jingle of glasses, or the charms of rhetoric which fell from the mouths of the Honourable George and the bishop of Barchester; but the grounds were as nearly vacant as Mr Slope could wish them to be.Eleanor saw that she was pursued, and as a deer, when escape is no longer possible, will turn to bay and attack the hounds, so did she turn upon Mr Slope.
'Pray don't let me take you from the room,' said she, speaking with all the stiffness which she know how to use. 'I have come out to look for a friend. I must beg of you, Mr Slope, to go back.'
But Mr Slope would not be thus entreated. He had observed all day that Mrs Bold was not cordial to him, and this had to a certain extent oppressed him. But he did not deduce from this any assurance that his aspirations were in vain. He saw that she was angry with him. Might she not be so because he had so long tampered with her feelings,-might it not arise from his having, as he knew to be the case, caused her name to be bruited about in conjunction with his own, without having given her the opportunity of confessing to the world that henceforth their names were to be the one and the same?
Poor lady! He had within him a certain Christian conscience-stricken feeling of remorse on this head. It might be that he had wronged her by his tardiness. He had, however, at the present moment imbibed too much of Mr Thorne's champagne to have any inward misgivings. He was right in repeating the boast of Lady Macbeth: he was not drunk; but he was bold enough for anything. It was a pity that in such a state he could not have encountered Mrs Proudie.'You must permit me to attend you,' said he; 'I could not think of allowing you to go alone.'
'Indeed you must, Mr Slope,' said Eleanor still very stiffly; 'for it is my special wish to be alone.'
The time for letting the great secret escape him had already come. Mr Slope saw that it must be now or never, and he was determined that it should be now. This was not his first attempt at winning a fair lady. He had been on his knees, looked unutterable things with his eyes, and whispered honeyed words before this. Indeed he was somewhat an adept at these things, and had only to adapt to the perhaps different taste of Mrs Bold the well-remembered rhapsodies which had once so much gratified Olivia Proudie.
'Do not ask me to leave you, Mrs Bold,' said he with an impassioned look, impassioned and sanctified as well, with that sort of look which is not uncommon with gentlemen of Mr Slope's school, and which may perhaps be called the tender-pious. 'Do not ask me to leave you, till I have spoken a few words with which my heart is full; which I have come hither purposely to say.'
Eleanor saw how it was now. She knew directly what it was she was about to go through, and very miserable the knowledge made her. Of course she could refuse Mr Slope, and there would be an end of that, one might say. But there was not an end of it as far as Eleanor was concerned. The very fact of Mr Slope's making an offer to her would be a triumph for the archdeacon, and in a great measure a vindication of Mr Arabin's conduct. The widow could not bring herself to endure with patience the idea that she had been in the wrong.
She had defended Mr Slope, she had declared herself quite justified in admitting him among her acquaintance, had ridiculed the idea of his considering himself as more than an acquaintance, and had resented the archdeacon's caution in her behalf: now it was about to be proved to her in a manner sufficiently disagreeable that the archdeacon had been right, and she herself had been entirely wrong.
'I don't know what you can have to say to me, Mr Slope, that you could not have said when we were sitting at table just now;' and she closed her lips, and steadied her eyeballs and looked at him in a manner that ought to have frozen him.But gentlemen are not easily frozen when they are full of champagne, and it would not at any time have been easy to freeze Mr Slope.
'There are things, Mrs Bold, which a man cannot well say before a crowd; which perhaps he cannot well say at any time; which indeed he may most fervently desire to get spoken, and which he may yet find it almost impossible to utter. It is such things as these, that I now wish to say to you;' and then the tender-pious look was repeated, with a little more emphasis even than before.
Eleanor had not found it practicable to stand stock still before the dining-room window, and there receive his offer in full view of Miss Thorne's guests. She had therefore in self-defence walked on, and Mr Slope had gained his object of walking with her. He now offered her his arm.
'Thank you, Mr Slope, I am much obliged to you; but for the very short time that I shall remain with you I shall prefer walking alone.'
'I had hoped, Mrs Bold--I had hoped--' 'Pray hope nothing, Mr Slope, as far as I am concerned; pray do not; I do not know, and need not know what hope you mean. Our acquaintance is very slight, and will probably remain so. Pray, pray, let that be enough; there is at any rage no necessity for us to quarrel.'
Mrs Bold was certainly treating Mr Slope rather cavalierly, and he felt it so. She was rejecting him before he had offered himself, and informed him at the same time that he was taking a great deal too much on himself to be so familiar. She did not even make an attempt>From such a sharp and waspish word as 'no' To pluck the string.
He was still determined to be very tender and very pious, seeing that in spite of all Mrs Bold had said to him, he not yet abandoned hope; but he was inclined to be somewhat angry. The widow was bearing herself, as he thought, with too high a hand, was speaking of herself in much too imperious a tone. She had clearly no idea that an honour was being conferred on her. Mr Slope would be tender as long as he could, but he began to think, if that failed, it would not be amiss if he also mounted himself for a while on his high horse. Mr Slope could undoubtedly be very tender, but he could be very savage also, and he knew his own abilities.
'That is cruel,' said he, 'and unchristian too. The worst of us are all still bidden to hope. What have I done that you should pass on me so severe a sentence?' and then he paused a moment, during which the widow walked steadily on with measured step, saying nothing further.
'Beautiful woman,' at last he burst forth, 'beautiful woman, you cannot pretend to be ignorant that I adore you. Yes, Eleanor, yes, I love you. I love you with the truest affection which man can bear to woman. Next to my hopes of heaven are my hopes of possessing you.' (Mr Slope's memory here played him false, or he would not have omitted the deanery) 'How sweet to walk to heaven with you by my side, with you for my guide, mutual guides. Say, Eleanor, dearest Eleanor, shall we walk that sweet path together?'
Eleanor had no intention of ever walking together with Mr Slope on any other path than the special one of Miss Thorne's which they now occupied; but as she had been unable to prevent the expression of Mr Slope's wishes and aspirations, she resolved to hear him out to the end, before she answered him.
'Ah! Eleanor,' he continued, and it seemed to be his idea, that as he had once found courage to pronounce her Christian name, he could not utter it often enough. 'Ah! Eleanor, will it not be sweet with the Lord's assistance, to travel hand in hand through this mortal valley which his mercies will make pleasant to us, till hereafter we shall dwell together at the foot of his throne?' And then a more tenderly pious glance ever beamed from the lover's eyes. 'Ah! Eleanor--'
'My name, Mr Slope, is Mrs Bold,' said Eleanor, who, though determined to hear out the tale of his love, was too much disgusted by his blasphemy to be able to bear much more of it.
'Sweetest angel, be not so cold,' said he, and as he said it the champagne broke forth, and he contrived to pass his arm around her waist. He did this with considerable cleverness, for up to this point Eleanor had contrived with tolerable success to keep her distance from him. They had got into a walk nearly enveloped by shrubs, and Mr Slope therefore no doubt considered that as they were now alone it was fitting that he should give her some outward demonstration of that affection of which he talked so much. It may perhaps be presumed that the same stamp of measures had been found to succeed with Olivia Proudie. Be this as it may, it was not successful with Eleanor Bold.
She sprang from him as she would have jumped from an adder, but she did not spring far; not, indeed, beyond arm's length; and then, quick as thought, she raised her little hand and dealt him a box on the ear with such right good will, that it sounded among the trees like a miniature thunder-clap.
And now it is to be feared that every well-bred reader of these pages will lay down the book with disgust, feeling that, after all, the heroine is unworthy of sympathy. She is a hoyden, one will say. At any rate she is not a lady, another will exclaim. I have suspected her all through, a third will declare; and she has no idea of the dignity of a matron; or of the peculiar propriety which her position demands. At one moment she is romping with young Stanhope; then she is making eyes at Mr Arabin; anon she comes to fisty-cuffs with a third lover; and all before she is yet a widow of two years' standing.
She cannot altogether be defended; and yet it may be averred that she is not a hoyden, not given to romping, nor prone to boxing. It were to be wished devoutly that she had not struck Mr Slope in the face. In doing so she derogated from her dignity and committed herself. Had she been educated in Belgravia, had she been brought up by any sterner mentor than that fond father, had she lived longer under the rule of a husband, she might, perhaps, have saved herself from this great fault. As it was, the provocation was too much for her, the temptation to instant resentment of the insult too strong. She was too keen in the feeling of independence, a feeling dangerous for a young woman, but one in which her position peculiarly tempted her to indulge. And then Mr Slope's face, tinted with a deeper dye than usual by the wine he had drunk, simpering and puckering itself with pseudo piety and tender grimaces, seemed specially to call for such punishment. She had, too, a true instinct as to the man; he was capable of rebuke in this way and in no other. To him the blow from her little hand was as much an insult as a blow from a man would have been to another. It went directly to his pride. He conceived himself lowered in his dignity, and personally outraged. He could almost have struck at her again in his rage. Even the pain was a great annoyance to him, and the feeling that his clerical character had been wholly disregarded, sorely vexed him.
There are such men; men who can endure no taint on their personal self-respect, even from a woman;--men whose bodies are to themselves such sacred temples, that a joke against them is desecration, and a rough touch downright sacrilege. Mr Slope was such a man; and, therefore, the slap on that face that he got from Eleanor was, as far as he was concerned, the fittest rebuke which could have been administered to him.
But, nevertheless, she should not have raised her hand against the man. Ladies' hands so soft, so sweet, so delicious to the touch, so grateful to the eye, so gracious in their gentle doings, were not made to belabour men's faces. The moment the deed was done, Eleanor felt that she had sinned against all propriety, and would have given little worlds to recall the blow. In her first agony of sorrow she all but begged the man's pardon. Her next impulse, however, and the one which she obeyed, was to run away.
'I never, never, will speak another word to you,' she said, gasping with emotion and the loss of breath, which her exertion and violent feelings occasioned her, and so saying she put foot to the ground and ran quickly back along the path to the house.
But how shall I sing the divine wrath of Mr Slope, or how invoke the tragic muse to describe the rage which swelled the celestial bosom of the bishop's chaplain? Such an undertaking by no means befits the low-heeled buskin of modern fiction. The painter put a veil over Agamemnon's face when called on to depict the father's grief at the early doom of his devoted daughter. The god, when he resolved to punish the rebellions winds, abstained from mouthing empty threats. The god when he resolved to punish the rebellious winds, abstained from mouthing empty threats.
We will not attempt to tell with what mighty surging of the inner heart Mr Slope swore to revenge himself on the woman who had disgraced him, nor will we vainly strive to depict the deep agony of his soul.
There he is, however, alone on the garden walk, and we must contrive to bring him out of it. He was not willing to come forth quite at once. His cheek was stinging with the weight of Eleanor's fingers, and he fancied that every one who looked at him would be able to see on his face the traces of what he had endured. He stood awhile, becoming redder and redder with rage. He stood motionless, undecided, glaring with his eyes, thinking of the pains and penalties of Hades, and meditating how he might best devote his enemy to the infernal gods with all the passion of his accustomed eloquence. He longed in his heart to be preaching at her. 'Twas thus that he was ordinarily avenged of sinning mortal men and women. Could he at once have ascended his Sunday rostrum and fulminated at her such denunciations as his spirit delighted in, his bosom would have been greatly eased.
But how preach to Mr Thorne's laurels, or how preach indeed at all in such a vanity fair as this now going on at Ullathorne? And then he began to feel a righteous disgust at the wickedness of the doings around him. He had been justly chastised for lending, by his presence, a sanction to such worldly lures. The gaiety of society, the mirth of banquets, the laughter of the young, and the eating and drinking of the elders were, for awhile, without excuse in his sight. What had he now brought down upon himself by sojourning thus in the tents of the heathen? He had consorted with idolaters round the altars of Baal; and therefore a sore punishment had come upon him. He then thought of the Signora Neroni, and his soul within him was full of sorrow. He had an inkling--a true inkling--that he was a wicked sinful man; but it led him in no right direction; he could admit no charity in his heart. He felt debasement coming on him, and he longed to take it off, to rise up in his stirrup, to mount to high places and great power, that he might get up into a mighty pulpit and preach to the world a loud sermon against Mrs Bold.
There he stood fixed to the gravel for about ten minutes. Fortune favoured him so far that no prying eyes came to look upon him in his misery. Then a shudder passed over his whole frame; he collected himself, and slowly wound his way round to the lawn, advancing along the path and not returning in the direction which Eleanor had taken. When he reached the tent he found the bishop standing there in conversation with the master of Lazarus. His lordship had come out to air himself afer the exertion of his speech.
'This is very pleasant--very pleasant, my lord, is it not?' said Mr Slope with his most gracious smile, and pointing to the tent; 'very pleasant. It is delightful to see so many persons enjoying themselves so thoroughly.'
Mr Slope thought he might force the bishop to introduce him to Dr Gwynne. A very great example had declared and practised the wisdom of being everything to everybody, and Mr Slope was desirous of following it. His maxim was never to lose a chance. The bishop, however, at the present moment was not very anxious to increase Mr Slope's circle of acquaintance among his clerical brethren. He had his own reasons for dropping any marked allusion to his domestic chaplain, and he therefore made his shoulder rather cold for the occasion.
'Very, very,' said he without turning round, or even deigning to look at Mr Slope. 'And therefore, Dr Gwynne, I really think that you will find that the hebdomadal board will exercise as wide and as general an authority as at the present moment. I, for one, Dr Gwynne--''Dr Gwynne,' said Mr Slope, raising his hat, and resolving not to be outwitted by such an insignificant little goose as the bishop of Barchester.
The master of Lazarus also raised his hat and bowed very politely to Mr Slope. There is not a more courteous gentleman in the queen's dominions than the master of Lazarus. 'My lord,' said Mr Slope, 'pray do me the honour of introducing me to Dr Gwynne. The opportunity is too much in my favour to be lost.'
The bishop had no help for it. 'My chaplain, Dr Gwynne,' said he; 'my present chaplain, Mr Slope.' he certainly made the introduction as unsatisfactory to the chaplain as possible, and by the use of the word present, seemed to indicate that Mr Slope might probably not long enjoy the honour which he now held. But Mr Slope cared nothing for this. He understood the innuendo, and disregarded it. It might probably come to pass that he would be in a situation to resign his chaplaincy before the bishop was in a situation to dismiss him from it. What need the future dean of Barchester care for the bishop, or for the bishop's wife? Had not Mr Slope, just as he was entering Dr Stanhope's carriage, received an important note from Tom Towers of the Jupiter? Had he not that note this moment in his pocket?So disregarding the bishop, he began to open out a conversation with the master of Lazarus.
But suddenly and interruption came, not altogether unwelcome to Mr Slope. One of the bishop's servants came up to his master's shoulder with a long, grave face, and whispered into the bishop's ear.'What is it, John?' said the bishop. 'The dean, my lord; he is dead.' Mr Slope had no further desire to converse with the master of Lazarus, and was very soon on his road back to Barchester.
Eleanor, as we have said, having declared her intention of never holding further communication with Mr Slope, ran hurriedly back towards the house. The thought, however, of what she had done grieved her greatly, and she could not abstain from bursting into tears. 'Twas thus she played the second act in that day's melodrama.
When Mrs Bold came to the end of the walk and faced the lawn, she began to bethink herself what she should do. Was she to wait there till Mr Slope caught her, or was she to go in among the crowd with tears in her eyes and passion in her face? She might in truth have stood there long enough without any reasonable fear of further immediate persecution from Mr Slope; but we are all inclined to magnify the bugbears which frighten us. In her present state of dread she did not know of what atrocity he might venture to be guilty. Had any one told her a week ago that he would have put his arm around her waist at the party of Miss Thorne's she would have been utterly incredulous. Had she been informed that he would be seen on the following Sunday walking down the High Street in a scarlet coat and top-boots, she would not have thought such a phenomenon more improbable.
But this improbable iniquity he had committed; and now there was nothing she could not believe of him. In the first place it was quite manifest that he was tipsy; in the next place, it was to be taken as proved that all his religion was sheer hypocrisy; and finally the man was utterly shameless. She therefore stood watching for the sound of his footfall, not without some fear that he might creep out at her suddenly from among the bushes.
As she thus stood, she saw Charlotte Stanhope at a little distance from her walking quickly across the grass. Eleanor's handkerchief was in her hand, and putting it to her face so as to conceal her tears, she ran across the lawn and joined her friend.'Oh, Charlotte,' she said, almost too much out of breath to speak very plainly; 'I am so glad I have found you.'
'Glad you have found me!' said Charlotte, laughing, 'that's a good joke. Why Bertie and I have been looking for you everywhere. He swears that you have gone off with Mr Slope, and is now on the point of hanging himself.''Oh, Charlotte, don't,' said Mrs Bold.
'Why, my child, what on earth is the matter with you!' said Miss Stanhope, perceiving that Eleanor's hand trembled on her own arm, and finding also that her companion was still half choked with tears. 'Goodness heaven! Something has distressed you. What is it? What can I do for you?'Eleanor answered her only by a sort of spasmodic gurgle in her throat. She was a good deal upset, as people say, and could not at the moment collect herself. 'Come here, this way, Mrs Bold; come this way, and we shall not be seen. What has happened to vex you so? What can I do for you? Can Bertie do anything?' 'On, no, no, no, no,' said Eleanor. 'There is nothing to be done. Only that horrid man--' 'What horrid man?' asked Charlotte.
There are some moments in life in which both men and women feel themselves called on to make a confidence; in which not to do so requires a disagreeable resolution and also a disagreeable suspicion. There are people of both sexes who never make confidences; who are never tempted by momentary circumstances to disclose their secrets. But such are generally dull, close, unimpassioned spirits, 'gloomy gnomes who live in cold dark mines.' There was nothing of the gnome about Eleanor; and she therefore resolved to tell Charlotte Stanhope the whole story about Mr Slope.'That horrid man; that Mr Slope,' said she, 'did you not see that he followed me out of the dining-room?' 'Of course I did and was sorry enough; but I could not help it. I knew you would be annoyed. But you and Bertie managed it badly between you.' 'It was not his fault nor mine either. You know how I dislike the idea of coming in the carriage with that man.' 'I am sure I am very sorry if that has led to it.' 'I don't know what has led to it,' said Eleanor, almost crying again. 'But it has not been my fault.' 'But what has he done, my dear?' 'He's an abominable, horrid, hypocritical man, and it would serve him right to tell the bishop about it.' 'Believe me, if you want to do him an injury, you had far better tell Mrs Proudie. But what did he do, Mrs Bold?' 'Ugh!' exclaimed Eleanor. 'Well, I must confess he's not very nice,' said Charlotte Stanhope.
'Nice!' said Eleanor. 'He is the most fulsome, fawning, abominable man I ever saw. What business had he to come to me?--I that never gave him the slightest tittle of encouragement--I that always hated him, though I did take his part when others ran him down.'
'That's just where it is, my dear. He has heard that, and therefore fancied that of course you were in love with him.'
This was wormwood to Eleanor. It was in fact the very thing which all her friends had been saying for the last month past; and which experience now proved to be true. Eleanor resolved within herself that she would never again take any man's part. The world with all its villainy, and all its ill-nature, might wag as it like; she would not again attempt to set crooked things straight.
'Ha, ha, ha!' Charlotte Stanhope laughed heartily at the finale of the tragedy. It was delightful to her to think that Mr Slope had had his ears boxed. She did not quite appreciate the feeling which made her friend so unhappy at the result of the interview. To her thinking, the matter had ended happily enough as regarded the widow, who indeed was entitled to some sort of triumph among her friends. Whereas Mr Slope would be due all those jibes and jeers which would naturally follow such an affair. His friends would ask him whether his ears tingled whenever he saw a widow; and he would be cautioned that beautiful things were made to be looked at, and not to be touched. Such were Charlotte Stanhope's views on such matters; but she did not at the present moment clearly explain them to Mrs Bold. Her object was to endear herself to her friend; and therefore, having had her laugh, she was ready enough to offer sympathy. Could Bertie do anything? Should Bertie speak to the man, and warn him that in future he must behave with more decorum? Bertie, indeed, she declared, would be more angry than any one else when he heard to what insult Mrs Bold had been subjected.'But you won't tell him?' said Mrs Bold with a look of horror.
'Not if you don't like it,' said Charlotte; 'but considering everything, I would strongly advise it. If you had a brother, you know, it would be unnecessary. But it is very right that Mr Slope should know that you have somebody by you that will, and can protect you.''But my father is here.'
'Yes, but it is so disagreeable for clergymen to have to quarrel with each other; and circumstanced as your father is just at this moment, it would be very inexpedient that there should be anything unpleasant between him and Mr Slope. Surely you and Bertie are intimate enough for you to permit him to take your part.'Charlotte Stanhope was very anxious that her brother should at once on that very day settle matters with his future wife.
Things had now come to that point between him and his father, and between him and his creditors, that he must either do so, or leave Barchester; either do that, or go back to his unwashed associates, dirty lodgings, and poor living at Carrara. Unless he could provide himself with an income, he must go to Carrara or to -. His father the prebendary had not said this in so many words, but had he done so, he could not have signified it more plainly.
Such being the state of the case, it was very necessary that no more time should be lost. Charlotte had seen her brother's apathy, when he neglected to follow Mrs Bold out of the room, with anger which she could hardly suppress. It was grievous to think that Mr Slope should have so distanced him.
Charlotte felt that she had played her part with sufficient skill. She had brought them together and induced such a degree of intimacy, that her brother was really relieved from all trouble and labour in the matter. And moreover, it was quite plain that Mrs Bold was very fond of Bertie. And now it was plain enough also that he had nothing to fear from his rival Mr Slope.
There was certainly an awkwardness in subjecting Mrs Bold to a second offer on the same day. It would have been well, perhaps, to have put the matter off for a week, could a week have been spared. But circumstances are frequently too peremptory to be arranged as we would wish to arrange them; and such was the case now. This being so, could not this affair of Mr Slope's be turned to advantage? Could it not be made the excuse for bringing Bertie and Mrs Bold into still closer connection; into such close connection that they could not fail to throw themselves into each other's arms? Such was the game which Miss Stanhope now at a moment's notice resolved to play.
And very well she played it. In the first place, it was arranged that Mr Slope should not return in the Stanhope's carriage to Barchester. It so happened that Mr Slope was already gone, but of that of course they knew nothing. The signora should be induced to go first, with only the servants and her sister, and Bertie should take Mr Slope's place in the second journey. Bertie was to be told in confidence of the whole affair, and when the carriage was gone off with the first load, Eleanor was to be left under Bertie's special protection, so as to insure her from any further aggression from Mr Slope. While the carriage was getting ready, Bertie was to seek out that gentleman and make him understand that he must provide himself with another conveyance back to Barchester. Their immediate object should be to walk about together in search of Bertie. Bertie, in short, was to be the Pegasus on whose wings they were to ride out of their present dilemma.
There was a warmth of friendship and cordial kindness in all this, that was very soothing to the widow; but yet, though she gave way to it, she was hardly reconciled to doing so. It never occurred to her, that now that she had killed one dragon, another was about to spring up in her path; she had no remote idea that she would have to encounter another suitor in her proposed protector, but she hardly liked the idea of putting herself so much into the hands of young Stanhope. She felt that if she wanted protection, she should go to her father. She felt that she should ask him to provide a carriage for her back to Barchester. Mrs Clantantram she knew would give her a seat. She knew that she should not throw herself entirely upon friends whose friendship dated as it were but from yesterday. But yet she could not say, 'no,' to one who was so sisterly in her kindness, so eager in her good nature, so comfortably sympathetic as Charlotte Stanhope.
They first went into the dining-room, looking for their champion, and from thence to the drawing-room. Here they found Mr Arabin, still hanging over the signora's sofa; or, rather, they found him sitting near her head, as a physician might have sat, had the lady been his patient. There was no other person in the room. The guests were some in the tent, some few still in the dining-room, some at the bows and arrows, but most of them walking with Miss Thorne through the park, and looking at the games that were going on.
All that had passed, and was passing between Mr Arabin and the lady, it is unnecessary to give in detail. She was doing with him as she did with all others. It was her mission to make fools of men, and she was pursuing her mission with Mr Arabin. She had almost got him to own his love for Mrs Bold, and had subsequently almost induced him to acknowledge a passion for herself. He, poor man, was hardly aware what he was doing or saying, hardly conscious whether he was in heaven or hell. So little had he known of female attractions of that peculiar class which the signora owned, that he became affected with a temporary delirium, when first subjected to its power. He lost his head rather than his heart, and toppled about mentally, reeling in his ideas as a drunken man does on his legs. She had whispered to him words that really meant nothing, but which coming from such beautiful lips, and accompanied by such lustrous glances, seemed to have a mysterious significance, which he felt though he could not understand.
In being thus be-sirened, Mr Arabin behaved himself very differently from Mr Slope. The signora had said truly, that the two men were the contrasts of each other; that the one was all for action, the other all for thought. Mr Slope, when this lady laid upon his senses the overpowering breath of her charms, immediately attempted to obtain some fruition, to achieve some mighty triumph. He began by catching at her hand, and progressed by kissing it. He made vows of love, and asked for vows in return. He promised everlasting devotion, knelt before her, and swore that had she been on Mount Ida, Juno would have no cause to hate the offspring of Venus. But Mr Arabin uttered no oaths, kept his hand mostly in his trousers pocket, and had no more thought of kissing Madam Neroni than of kissing the Countess De Courcy.
As soon as Mr Arabin saw Mrs Bold enter the room, he blushed and rose from his chair; then he sat down again, and then again got up. The signora saw the blush at once, and smiled at the poor victim, but Eleanor was too much confused to see anything.
'Oh, Madeline,' said Charlotte, 'I want to speak to you particularly; we must arrange about the carriage, you know,' and she stooped down to whisper to her sister. Mr Arabin immediately withdrew to a little distance, and as Charlotte had in fact much to explain before she could make the new arrangement intelligible, he had nothing to do but to talk to Mrs Bold.'We have had a very pleasant party,' said he, using the tone he would have used had he declared that the sun was shining very brightly, or the rain was falling very fast. 'Very,' said Eleanor, who never in her life had passed a more unpleasant day. 'I hope Mr Harding has enjoyed himself.' 'Oh, yes, very much,' said Eleanor, who had not seen her father since she parted from him soon after her arrival. 'He returns to Barchester to-night, I suppose.' 'Yes, I believe so; that is, I think he is staying at Plumstead.' 'Oh, staying at Plumstead,' said Mr Arabin. 'He came from there this morning. I believe he is going back; he didn't exactly say, however.' 'I hope Mrs Grantly is quite well.' 'She seemed to be quite well. She is here; that is, unless she has gone away.'
'Oh, yes, to be sure. I was talking to her. Looking very well indeed.' Then there was a considerable pause: for Charlotte could not at once make Madeline understand why she was to be sent home in a hurry without her brother.
'Are you returning to Plumstead, Mrs Bold?' Mr Arabin merely asked this by way of making conversation, but he immediately perceived that he was approaching dangerous ground.'No,' said Mrs Bold, very quietly; 'I am going home to Barchester.'
'Oh, ah, yes. I had forgotten that you had returned.' And then Mr Arabin, finding it impossible to say anything further, stood silent till Charlotte had completed her plans, and Mrs Bold stood equally silent, intently occupied as it appeared in the arrangement of her rings.
And yet these two people were thoroughly in love with each other; and though one was a middle-aged clergyman, and the other a lady at any rate past the wishy-washy breadand-butter period of life, they were as unable to tell their own minds to each other as any Damon and Phillis, whose united ages would not make up that to which Mr Arabin had already attained.Madeline Neroni consented to her sister's proposal, and then the two ladies again went off in quest of Bertie Stanhope.
42. Ullathorne Sports--Act III
And now Miss Thorne's guests were beginning to take their departure, and the amusement of those who remained was becoming slack. It was getting dark, and ladies in morning costumes were thinking that if they were to appear by candle-light they ought to readjust themselves. Some young gentlemen had been heard to talk so loud that prudent mammas determined to retire judiciously, and the more discreet of the male sex, whose libation had been moderate, felt that there was not much more left for them to do.
Morning parties, as a rule, are failures. People never know how to get away from them gracefully. A picnic on an island or a mountain or in a wood may perhaps be permitted. There is no master of the mountain bound by courtesy to bid you stay while in his heart he is longing for your departure. But in a private home or in private grounds a morning party is a bore. One is called on to eat and drink at unnatural hours. One is obliged to give up the day which is useful, and is then left without resources for the evening which is useless. One gets home fagged and desouvre, and yet at an hour too early for bed. There is not comfortable resource left. Cards in these genteel days are among the things tabooed, and a rubber of whist is impracticable.
All this began now to be felt. Some young people had come with some amount of hope that they might get up a dance in the evening, and were unwilling to leave till all such hope was at an end. Others, fearful of staying longer than was expected, had ordered their carriages early, and were doing their best to go, solicitous for their servants and horses. The countess and her noble brood were among the first to leave, and as regarded the Hon. George, it was certainly time that he did so. Her ladyship was in a great fret and fume. Those horrid roads would, she was sure, be the death of her if unhappily she were caught in them by the dark of night. The lamps she was assured were good, but no lamp could withstand the jolting of the roads of East Barsetshire.The De Courcy property lay in the western division of the county.
Mrs Proudie could not stay when the countess was gone. So the bishop was searched for by the Revs. Messrs. Grey and Green, and found in one corner of the tent enjoying himself thoroughly in a disquisition on the hebdomadal board. He obeyed, however, the behests of the lady without finishing the sentence in which he was promising to Dr Gwynne that his authority at Oxford should remain unimpaired; and the episcopal horses turned their noses towards the palatial stables. Then the Grantlys went. Before they did so Mr Harding managed to whisper a word into his daughter's ear. Of course, he said, he would undeceive the Grantlys as to that foolish rumour about Mr Slope.'No, no, no,' said Eleanor; 'pray do not--pray wait till I see you. You will be home in a day or two, and then I will explain to you everything.' 'I shall be home to-morrow,' said he. 'I am so glad,' said Eleanor. 'You will come and dine with me, and then we shall be so comfortable.'
Mr Harding promised. He did not exactly know what there was to be explained, or why Dr Grantly's mind should not be disabused of the mistake into which he had fallen; but nevertheless he promised. He owed some reparation to his daughter, and he thought that he might best make it by obedience.
And thus the people were thinning off by degrees, as Charlotte and Eleanor walked about in quest of Bertie. Their search might have been long, had they not happened to hear his voice. He was comfortably ensconced in the ha-ha, with his back to the sloping side, smoking a cigar, and eagerly engaged in conversation with some youngster from the further side of the county, whom he had never met before, who was also smoking under Bertie's pupilage, and listening with open ears to an account given by his companion of some of the pastimes of the Eastern clime.'Bertie, I am seeking you everywhere,' said Charlotte. 'Come up here at once.'
Bertie looked up out of the ha-ha, and saw the two ladies before him. As there was nothing for him but to obey, he got up and threw away his cigar. From the first moment of his acquaintance with her he had liked Eleanor Bold. Had he been left to his own devices, had she been penniless, and had it then been quite out of the question that he should marry her, he would most probably have fallen violently in love with her. But now he could not help regarding her somewhat as he did the marble workshops at Carrara, as he had done his easel and palette, as he had done the lawyer's chambers in London; in fact, as he had invariably regarded everything by which it had been proposed to obtain the means of living. Eleanor Bold appeared before him, no longer as a beautiful woman, but as a new profession called matrimony. It was a profession indeed requiring but little labour, and one in which an income was insured to him. But nevertheless he had been as it were goaded on to it; his sister had talked to him of Eleanor, just as she had talked of busts and portraits. Bertie did not dislike money, but he hated the very thought of earning it. He was now called away from his pleasant cigar to earn it, by offering himself as a husband to Mrs Bold. The work indeed was made easy enough; for in lieu of his having to seek the widow, the widow had apparently come to seek him.He made some sudden absurd excuse to his auditor, and then throwing away his cigar, climbed up the wall of the ha-ha and joined the ladies on the lawn.
'Come and give Mrs Bold your arm,' said Charlotte, 'while I set you on a piece of duty which, as a preux chevalier, you must immediately perform. Your personal danger will, I fear, be insignificant, as your antagonist is a clergyman.'
Bertie immediately gave his arm to Eleanor, walking between her and his sister. He had lived too long abroad to fall into an Englishman's habit of offering each an arm to two ladies at the same time; a habit, by the bye, which foreigners regard as an approach to bigamy, or a sort of incipient Mormonism.
The little history of Mr Slope's misconduct was then told to Bertie by his sister, Eleanor's ears tingling the while. And well they might tingle. If it were necessary to speak of the outrage at all, why should it be spoken of to such a person as Mr Stanhope, and why in her own hearing? She knew she was wrong, and was unhappy and dispirited, and yet she could think of no way to extricate herself, no way to set herself right. Charlotte spared her as much as she possibly could, spoke of the whole thing as though Mr Slope had taken a glass of wine too much, said that of course there would be nothing more about it, but that steps must be taken to exclude Mr Slope from the carriage.
'Mrs Bold need be under no alarm about that,' said Bertie, 'for Mr Slope has gone this hour past. He told me that business made it necessary that he should start at once for Barchester.'
'He is not so tipsy, at any rate, but what he knows his fault,' said Charlotte. 'Well, my dear, that is one difficulty over. Now I'll leave you with your true knight, and get Madeline off as quickly as I can. The carriage is here, I suppose, Bertie?''It has been here for the last hour.'
'That's well. Good-bye, my dear. Of course you'll come in to tea. I shall trust you to bring her, Bertie; even by force if necessary.' And so saying, Charlotte was off across the lawn, leaving her brother alone with the widow.
As Miss Stanhope went off, Eleanor bethought herself that, as Mr Slope had taken his departure, there no longer existed any necessity for separating Mr Stanhope from his sister Madeline, who so much needed his aid. It had been arranged that he should remain so as to preoccupy Mr Slope's place in the carriage, and act as a social policeman to effect the exclusion of that disagreeable gentleman. But Mr Slope had effected his own exclusion, and there as no possible reason now why Bertie should not go with his sister. At least Eleanor saw none, and she said so much.
'Oh, let Charlotte have her own way,' said he. 'She has arranged it, and there will be no end of confusion if we make another change. Charlotte always arranges everything in our house; and rules us like a despot.''But the signora?' said Eleanor. 'Oh, the signora can do very well without me. Indeed, she will have to do without me,' he added, thinking rather of his studies in Carrara, than of his Barchester hymeneals.
'Why, you are not going to leave us?' asked Eleanor. It has been said that Bertie Stanhope was a man without principle. He certainly was so. He had no power of using active mental exertion to keep himself from doing evil. Evil had no ugliness in his eyes; virtue no beauty. He was void of any of those feelings which actuate men to do good. But he was perhaps equally void of those which actuate men to do evil. He got into debt with utter recklessness, thinking of nothing as to whether the tradesmen would ever be paid or not. But he did not invent active schemes of deceit for the sake of extracting the goods of others. If a man gave him credit, that was the man's look-out; Bertie Stanhope troubled himself nothing further. In borrowing money he did the same; he gave people references to 'his governor', told them that the 'old chap' had a good income; and agreed to pay sixty per cent for the accommodation. All this he did without a scruple of conscience; but then he never contrived active villainy.
In this affair of his marriage, it had been represented to him as a matter of duty that he ought to put himself in possession of Mrs Bold's hand and fortune; and at first he had so regarded it. About her he had thought but little. It was the customary thing for men situated as he was to marry for money, and there was no reason why he should not do what others around him did. And so he consented. But now he began to see the matter in another light. He was setting himself down to catch a woman, as a cat sits to catch a mouse. He was to catch her, and swallow her up, her and her child, and her houses and land, in order that he might live on her instead of on his father. There was a cold, calculating, cautious cunning about this quite at variance with Bertie's character. The prudence of the measure was quite as antagonistic to his feelings as the iniquity.
And then, should he be successful, what would be the reward? Having satisfied his creditors with half of the widow's fortune, he would be allowed to sit down quietly at Barchester, keeping economical house with the remainder. His duty would be to rock the cradle of the late Mr Bold's child, and his highest excitement a demure party at Plumstead rectory, should it ultimately turn out that the archdeacon be sufficiently reconciled to receive him.
There was little in the programme to allure such a man as Bertie Stanhope. Would not the Carrara workshop, or whatever worldly career fortune might have in store for him, would not almost anything be better than this? The lady herself was undoubtedly all that was desirable; but the most desirable lady becomes nauseous when she has to be taken as a pill. He was pledged to his sister, however, and let him quarrel with whom he would, it behoved him not to quarrel with her. If she were lost to him all would be lost that he could ever hope to derive henceforward from the paternal roof-tree. His mother was apparently indifferent to his weal or woe, to his wants or to his warfare. His father's brow got blacker and blacker from day to day, as the old man looked at his hopeless son. And as for Madeline--poor Madeline, whom of all of them he liked the best,--she had enough to do to shift for herself. No; come what might, he must cling to his sister and obey her behests, let them be ever so stern; or at the very least be seen to obey them. Could not some happy deceit bring him through in this matter, so that he might save appearances with his sister, and yet not betray the widow to her ruin? What if he made a confidence of Eleanor?
'Twas in this spirit that Bertie Stanhope set about his wooing.
'I have often wondered, Mr Stanhope, why you do not exert yourself more,' said Eleanor, who felt a friendly fondness for the man with whom she was walking. 'But I know it is very impertinent in me to say so.''Impertinent!' said he. 'Not so, but much too kind. It is much too kind in you to take an interest in so idle a scamp.'
'And make busts of the bishop, dean and chapter? Or perhaps, if I achieve great success, obtain a commission to put up an elaborate tombstone over a prebendary's widow, a dead lady with a Grecian nose, a bandeau, and an intricate lace veil; lying of course on a marble sofa, from among the legs of which Death will be creeping out and poking at his victim with a small toasting-fork.'Eleanor laughed; but yet she thought that if the surviving prebendary paid the bill the object of the artist as a professional man would, in great measure, be obtained.
'I don't know about the dean and chapter and the prebendary's widow,' said Eleanor. 'Of course you must take them as they come. But the fact of your having a great cathedral in which such ornaments are required, could not but be in your favour.'
'No real artist could descend to the ornamentation of a cathedral,' said Bertie, who had his ideas of the high ecstatic ambition of art, as indeed all artists have, who are not in receipt of a good income. 'Building should be fitted to grace the sculpture, not the sculpture to grace the building.'
'Yes, when the work of art is good enough to merit it. Do you, Mr Stanhope, do something sufficiently excellent, and we ladies of Barchester will erect for it a fitting receptacle. Come, what shall the subject be?'
'I'll put you in your pony-chair, Mrs Bold, as Dannecker put Ariadne on her lion. Only you must promise to sit for me.'
'Wholly by you,' said Bertie, dropping his companion's arm, and standing before her on the path. In their walk they had come exactly to the spot where Eleanor had been provoked into slapping Mr Slope's face. Could it be possible that the place was peculiarly unpropitious to her comfort? Could it be possible that she should her have to encounter another amorous swain?
'If you will be guided by me, Mr Stanhope, you will set yourself down to steady and persevering work, and you will be ruled by your father as to the place in which it will be most advisable for you to do so.''Nothing could be more prudent, if only it were practicable. But now, if you will let me, I will tell you how it is that I will be guided by you, and why. Will you let me tell you?' 'I really do not know what you can have to tell.' 'No--you cannot know. It is impossible that you should. But we have been very good friends, Mrs Bold, have we not?' 'Yes, I think we have,' said she, observing in his demeanour an earnestness very unusual with him. 'You were kind enough to say just now that you took an interest in me, and I was perhaps vain enough to believe you.' 'There is no vanity in that; I do so as your sister's brother,--and as my own friend also.'
'Well, I don't deserve that you should feel so kindly towards me,' said Bertie; 'but upon my word I am very grateful for it,' and he paused awhile, hardly knowing how to introduce the subject that he had in hand.
And it was no wonder that he found it difficult. He had to make known to his companion the scheme that had been prepared to rob her of her wealth; he had to tell her that he loved her without intending to marry her; and he had also to bespeak from her not only his own pardon, but also that of his sister, and induce Mrs Bold to protest in her future communication with Charlotte that an offer had been duly made to her and duly rejected.
Bertie Stanhope was not prone to be very diffident of his own conversational powers, but it did seem to him that he was about to tax them almost too far. He hardly knew where to begin, and he hardly knew where he should end.'I wish to be guided by you,' said he; 'and, indeed, in this matter, there is no one else who can set me right.' 'Oh, that must be nonsense,' said she. 'Well, listen to me now, Mrs Bold; and if you can help it, pray don't be angry with me.' 'Angry!' said she. 'Oh, indeed you will have cause to do so. You know how very much attached to you my sister Charlotte is.' Eleanor acknowledged that she did. 'Indeed she is; I never knew her to love any one so warmly on so short an acquaintance. You know also how well she loves me?'
Eleanor now made no answer, but she felt the blood tingle in her cheek as she gathered from what he said the probable result of this double-barrelled love on the part of Miss Stanhope.
'I am her only brother, Mrs Bold, and it is not to be wondered at that she should love me. But you do not yet know Charlotte--you do not know how entirely the well-being of our family hangs on her. Without her to manage for us, I do not know how we should get on from day to day. You cannot yet have observed all this.'Eleanor had indeed observed a good deal of this; she did not however now say so, but allowed him to proceed with his story. 'You cannot therefore be surprised that Charlotte should be most anxious to do the best for us all.
Eleanor said that she was not at all surprised. 'And she has had a very difficult game to play, Mrs Bold--a very difficult game. Poor Madeline's unfortunate marriage and terrible accident, my mother's ill-health, my father's absence from England, and last, and worst perhaps my own roving, idle spirit have almost been too much for her. You cannot wonder if among all her cares one of the foremost is to see me settled in the world.'
Eleanor on this occasion expressed no acquiescence. She certainly supposed that a formal offer was to be made, and could not but think that so singular an exordium was never before made by a gentleman in a similar position. Mr Slope had annoyed her by the excess of his ardour. It was quiet clear that no such danger was to be feared from Mr Stanhope. Prudential motives alone actuated him. Not only was he about to make love because his sister told him, but he also took the precaution of explaining all this before he began. 'Twas thus, we may presume, that the matter presented itself to Mrs Bold.
When he had got so far, Bertie began poling in the gravel with a little cane which he carried. He still kept moving on, but very slowly, and his companion moved slowly by his side, not inclined to assist him in the task the performance of which appeared to be difficult to him.'Knowing how fond she is of yourself, Mrs Bold, cannot you imagine what scheme should have occurred to her?' 'I can imagine no better scheme, Mr Stanhope, than the one I proposed to you just now.' 'No,' said he, somewhat lack-a-daisically; 'I suppose that would be the best; but Charlotte thinks another plan might be joined with it.--She wants me to marry you.'
A thousand remembrances flashed across Eleanor's mind all in a moment--how Charlotte had talked about and praised her brother, how she had continually contrived to throw the two of them together, how she had encouraged all manner of little intimacies, how she had with singular cordiality persisted in treating Eleanor as one of the family. All this had been done to secure her comfortable income for the benefit of one of the family!
Such a feeling as this is very bitter when it first impresses itself on a young mind. To the old such plots and plans, such matured schemes for obtaining the goods of this world without the trouble of earning them, such long-headed attempts to convert 'tuum' into 'meum' are the ways of life to which they are accustomed. 'Tis thus that many live, and it therefore behoves all those who are well to do in the world be on their guard against those who are not. With them it is the success that disgusts, not the attempt. But Eleanor had not yet learnt to look on her money as a source of danger; she had not begun to regard herself as fair game to be hunted down by hungry gentlemen. She had enjoyed the society of the Stanhopes, she had greatly liked the cordiality of Charlotte, and had been happy in her new friends. Now she saw the cause of all that kindness, and her mind was opened to a new phase of human life.
'Miss Stanhope,' said she haughtily, 'has been contriving for me a great deal of honour, but she might have saved herself the trouble. I an not sufficiently ambitious.'
'And why, may I ask you, Mr Stanhope, have you told me this singular story? For I may presume I may judge by your manner of telling it, that--that--that you and your sister are not exactly of one mind on the subject.''No, we are not.'
'And if so,' said Mrs Bold, who was now really angry with the unnecessary insult, which she thought had been offered to her, 'and if so, why has it been worth your while to tell me all this?''I did once think, Mrs Bold--that you--that you--' The widow now again became entirely impassive, and would not lend the slightest assistance to her companion. 'I did once think that you perhaps might--might have been taught to regard me as more than a friend.'
'Never!,' said Mrs Bold, 'never. If I have ever allowed myself to do anything to encourage such an idea, I have been very much to blame,--very much to blame, indeed.'
'You never have,' said Bertie, who really had a good-natured anxiety to make what he said as little unpleasant as possible. 'You never have, and I have seen for some time that I had no chance; but my sister's hopes ran higher. I have not mistaken you, Mrs Bold, though perhaps she has.''Then why have you said all this to me?' 'Because I must not anger her.'
'And will not this anger her? Upon my word, Mr Stanhope, I do not understand the policy of your family. Oh, how I wish I was at home!' And as she expressed this wish, she could restrain herself no longer, but burst out into a flood of tears.
Poor Bertie was greatly moved. 'You shall have the carriage to yourself going home,' said he, 'at least you and my father. As for me I can walk, or for the matter of that it does not much signify what I do.' He perfectly understood that part of Eleanor's grief arose from the apparent necessity of going back to Barchester in the carriage of her second suitor.
He had not even yet explained to her the most difficult part of his proposition; he had not told her that she was to be a party to the little deception which he intended to play off upon his sister. This suggestion had still to be made, and as it was absolutely necessary, he proceeded to make it.
We need not follow him through the whole of his statement. At last, and not without considerable difficulty, he made Eleanor understand why he had let her into his confidence, seeing that he no longer intended her the honour of a formal offer. At last he made her comprehend the part which she was destined to play in this little family comedy.
But when she did understand it, she was only more angry with him than ever: more angry, not only with him, but with Charlotte also. Her fair name was to bandied about between them in different senses, and each sense false. She was to played off by the sister against the father; and then by the brother against the sister. Her dear friend Charlotte, with all her agreeable sympathy and affection, was striving to sacrifice her for the Stanhope family welfare; and Bertie, who, as he now proclaimed himself, was over head and heels in debt, completed the compliment of owning that he did not care to have his debts paid at so great a sacrifice to himself. Then she was asked to conspire together with this unwilling suitor, for the sake of making the family believe that he had in obedience to their commands done his best to throw himself thus away!She lifted up her face when she had finished, and looking at him with much dignity, even through her tears, she said-- 'I regret to say it, Mr Stanhope; but after what has passed, I believe that all intercourse between your family and myself had better cease.' 'Well, perhaps it had,' said Bertie naively; 'perhaps that will be better, at any rate for a time; and then Charlotte will think you are offended at what I have done.' 'And now I will go back to the house, if you please,' said Eleanor. 'I can find my way by myself, Mr Stanhope: after what has passed,' she added, 'I would rather go alone.'
'But I must find the carriage for you, Mrs Bold, and I must tell my father that you will return with him alone, and I must make some excuse to him for not going with you; and I must bid the servant put you down at your own house, for I suppose you will not now choose to see them again in the close.'
There was a truth about this, and a perspicuity in making arrangements for lessening her immediate embarrassment, which had some effect in softening Eleanor's anger. So she suffered herself to walk by his side over the now deserted lawn, till they came to the drawing-room window. There was something about Bertie Stanhope which gave him in the estimation of every one, a different standing from that which any other man would occupy under similar circumstances. Angry as Eleanor was, and great as was her cause for anger, she was not half as angry with him as she would have been with any one else. He was apparently so simple, so good- natured, so unaffected and easy to talk to, that she had already half-forgiven him before he was at the drawing-room window. When they arrived there, Dr Stanhope was sitting nearly alone with Mr and Miss Thorne; one or two other unfortunates were there, who from one cause or another were still delayed in getting away; but they were every moment getting fewer in number.
As soon as he had handed Eleanor over to his father, Bertie started off to the front gate, in search of the carriage, and there waited leaning patiently against the front wall, and comfortably smoking a cigar, till it came up. When he returned to the room, Dr Stanhope and Eleanor were alone with their hosts.
'At last, Miss Thorne,' said he cheerily, 'I have come to relieve you. Mrs Bold and my father are the last roses in the very delightful summer you have given us, and desirable as Mrs Bold's society always is, now at least you must be glad to see the last flowers plucked from the tree.'
Miss Thorne declared that she was delighted to have Mrs Bold and Dr Stanhope still with her; and Mr Thorne would have said the same, had he not been checked by a yawn, which he could not suppress.'Father, will you give your arm to Mrs Bold?' said Bertie: and so the last adieux were made, and the prebendary led out Mrs Bold, followed by his son. 'I shall be home soon after you,' said he, as the two got into the carriage. 'Are you not coming in the carriage?' said the father. 'No, no; I have some one to see on the road, and shall walk. John, mind you drive to Mrs Bold's house first.'
Eleanor, looking out of the window, saw him with his hat in his hand, bowing to her with his usual gay smile, as though nothing had happened to mar the tranquillity of the day. It was many a long year before she saw him again. Dr Stanhope hardly spoke to her on her way home: and she was safely deposited by John at her own hall-door, before the carriage drove into the close.
And thus our heroine played the last act of that day's melodrama.
43. Mr Slope Encouraged By The PressMr And Mrs Quiverful Are Made Happy. Mr Slope Encouraged By The Press
Before she started for Ullathorne, Mrs Proudie, careful soul, caused two letters to be written, one by herself and one by her lord, to the inhabitants of Puddingdale vicarage, which made happy the hearth of those within it.
As soon as the departure of the horses left the bishop's stable-groom free for other services, that humble denizen of the diocese started on the bishop's own pony with the two despatches. We have had so many letters lately that we will spare ourselves these. That from the bishop was simply a request that Mr Quiverful would wait upon his lordship the next morning at 11 A.M.; and that from the lady was as simply a request that Mrs Quiverful would do the same by her, though it was couched in somewhat longer and more grandiloquent phraseology.
It had become a point of conscience with Mrs Proudie to urge the settlement of this great hospital question. She was resolved that Mr Quiverful should have it. She was resolved that there should be no more doubt or delay; no more refusals and resignations, nor more secret negotiations carried on by Mr Slope on his own account in opposition to her behests.'Bishop,' she said, immediately after breakfast, on the morning of that eventful day, 'have you signed the appointment yet?' 'No, my dear, not yet; it is not exactly signed as yet.' 'Then do it,' said the lady.
The bishop did it; and a very pleasant day indeed he spent at Ullathorne. And when he got home he had a glass of hot negus in his wife's sitting-room, and read the last number of the 'Little Dorrit' of the day with great inward satisfaction. Oh, husbands, oh, my marital friends, what great comfort is there to be derived from a wife well obeyed!
Much perturbation and flutter, high expectation and renewed hopes, were occasioned at Puddingdale, by the receipt of those episcopal dispatches. Mrs Quiverful, whose careful ear caught the sound of the pony's feet as he trotted up to the vicarage kitchen door, brought them in hurriedly to her husband. She was at the moment concocting the Irish stew destined to satisfy the noonday want of fourteen young birds, let alone the parent couple. She had taken the letters from the man's hands between the folds of her capacious apron, so as to save them from the contamination of the stew, and in this guise she brought them to her husband's desk.
They at once divided the spoil, each taking that addressed to the others. 'Quiverful,'said she with impressive voice, 'you are to be at the palace at eleven to-morrow.'
'She'd never have sent for me, Q., if it wasn't all right,' again argued the lady. 'She's stiff and hard and proud as pie-crust, but I think she's right at bottom.' Such was Mrs Quiverful's verdict about Mrs Proudie, to which in after times she always adhered. People when they get their income doubled usually think that those through whose instrumentality this little ceremony is performed are right at bottom.'Oh, Letty!' said Mr Quiverful, rising from his well-worn seat. 'Oh, Q!' said Mrs Quiverful; and then the two, unmindful of the kitchen apron, the greasy fingers, and the adherent Irish stew, threw themselves warmly into each other's arms. 'For heaven's sake, don't let any one cajole you out of it again,' said the wife.
'Let me alone for that,' said the husband, with a look of almost fierce determination, pressing his fist as he spoke rigidly on his desk, as though he had Mr Slope's head below his knuckles, and meant to keep it there.'I wonder how soon it will be,' said she. 'I wonder whether it will be at all,' said he, still doubtful.
'Well, I won't say too much,' said the lady. 'The cup has slipped twice before, and it may fall altogether this time; but I'll not believe it. He'll give you the appointment to-morrow. You'll find he will.'
'Heaven send he may,' said Mr Quiverful, solemnly. And who that considers the weight of the burden on this man's back, will say that the prayer was an improper one? There were fourteen of them--fourteen of them living--as Mrs Quiverful had so powerfully urged in the presence of the bishop's wife. As long as promotion cometh from any human source, whether north or south, east or west, will not such a claim as this hold good, in spite of all our examination tests, detur digniori's and optimist tendencies? It is fervently to be hoped that it may. Till we can become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for change we sink to something lower.
And then the pair sitting down lovingly together, talked over all their difficulties, as they so often did, and all their hopes, as they so seldom were able to do.
'You had better call on that man, Q, as you come away from the palace,' said Mrs Quiverful, pointing to an angry call for money from the Barchester draper, which the postman had left at the vicarage that morning. Cormorant that he was, unjust, hungry cormorant! When rumour first got abroad that the Quiverfuls were to go to the hospital this fellow with fawning eagerness had pressed his goods upon the wants of the poor clergyman. He had done so, feeling that he should be paid from the hospital funds, and flattering himself that a man with fourteen children, and money wherewithal to clothe them, could not but be an excellent customer. As soon as the second rumour reached him, he applied for his money angrily.
'And the 'fourteen'--or such of them as were old enough to hope and discuss their hopes, talked over their golden future. The tall-grown girls whispered to each other of possible Barchester parties, of possible allowances for dresses, of a possible piano--the one they had in the vicarage was so weather-beaten with storms of years and children as to be no longer worthy of the name--of the pretty garden, and the pretty house. 'Twas of such things it most behoved them to whisper.
And the younger fry, they did not content themselves with whispers, but shouted to each other of their new playground beneath our dear ex-warden's well-loved elms, of their future own gardens, of marbles to be procured in the wished-for city, and of the rumour which had reached them of a Barchester school.
'Twas in vain that their cautious mother tried to instil into their breasts the very feeling she had striven to banish from that of their father; 'twas in vain that she repeated to the girls that 'there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip'; 'twas in vain she attempted to make the children believe that they were to live at Puddingdale all their lives. Hopes mounted high and would not have themselves quelled. The neighbouring farmers heard this news, and came in to congratulate them. 'Twas Mrs Quiverful herself who had kindled the fire, and in the first outbreak of her renewed expectations she did it so thoroughly, that it was quite past her power to put it out again.
Poor matron! Good honest matron! Doing thy duty in the state to which thou hast been called, heartily if not contentedly; let the fire burn on--on this occasion the flames will not scorch; they shall warm thee and thine. 'Tis ordained that the husband of thine, that Q of thy bosom, shall reign supreme for some years to come over the bedesmen of Hiram's hospital.
And the last in all Barchester to mar their hopes, had he heard and seen all that had passed at Puddingdale that day, would have been Mr Harding. What wants had he to set in opposition to those of such a regiment of young ravens? There are fourteen of them living! With him at any rate, let us say, that the argument would have been sufficient for the appointment of Mr Quiverful.
In the morning, Q and his wife kept their appointments with that punctuality which bespeaks an expectant mind. The friendly farmer's gig was borrowed, and in that they went, discussing many things by the way. They had instructed the household to expect them back by one, and injunctions were given to the eldest pledge to have ready by that accustomed hour the remainder of the huge stew which the provident mother had prepared on the previous day. The hands of the kitchen clock came round to two, three, four, before the farmer's gig-wheels were agin heard at the vicarage gate. With what palpitating hearts were the returning wanderers greeted!
'I suppose, children, 'you all thought we were never coming back any more?' said the mother, as she slowly let down her solid foot till it rested on the step of the gig. 'Well, such a day as we've had!' and then leaning heavily on a big boy's shoulder, she stepped once more on terra firma.There was no need for more than the tone of her voice to tell them that all was right. The Irish stew might burn itself to cinders now.
Then there was such kissing and hugging, such crying and laughing. Mr Quiverful could not sit still at all, but kept walking from room to room, then out into the garden, then down the avenue into the road, and then back again to his wife. She, however, lost no time so idly.'We must go to work at once, girls; and that in earnest. Mrs Proudie expects us to be in the hospital house on the 15th of October.' Had Mrs Proudie expressed a wish that they should all be there on the next morning, the girls would have had nothing to say against it. 'And when will the pay begin?' asked the eldest boy. 'To-day, my dear,' said the gratified mother. 'Oh,--that is jolly,' said the boy.
'Mrs Proudie insisted on our going down to the house,' continued the mother; 'and when there I thought I might save a journey by measuring some of the rooms and windows; so I got a knot of tape from Bobbins. Bobbins is as civil as you please, now.''I wouldn't thank him,' said Letty the younger.
'Oh, that's the way of the world, my dear. They all do just the same. You might just as well be angry with the turkey cock for gobbling at you. It's the bird's nature.' And as she enunciated to her bairns the upshot of her practical experience, she pulled from her pocket the portions of tape which showed the length and breadth of the various rooms at the hospital house.
And so we will leave her happy in her toils. The Quiverfuls had hardly left the palace, and Mrs Proudie was still holding forth on the matter to her husband, when another visitor was announced in, the person of Dr Gwynne. The master of Lazarus had asked for the bishop, and not for Mrs Proudie, and therefore, when he was shown into the study, he was surprised rather than rejoiced to find the lady there.
But we must go back a little, and it shall be but a little, for a difficulty begins to make itself manifest in the necessity of disposing of all our friends in the small remainder of this one volume. Oh, that Mr Longman would allow me a fourth! It should transcend the other three as the seventh heaven transcends all the lower stages of celestial bliss.
Going home in the carriage that evening from Ullathorne, Dr Gwynne had not without difficulty brought round his friend the archdeacon to a line of tactics much less bellicose than that which his own taste would have preferred. 'It will be unseemly in us to show ourselves in a bad humour; and moreover we have no power in this matter, and it will therefore be bad policy to act as though we had.' 'Twas thus the master of Lazarus argued. 'If,' he continued, 'the bishop is determined to appoint another to the hospital, threats will not prevent him, and threats should not be lightly used by an archdeacon to his bishop. If he will place a stranger in the hospital, we can only leave him to the indignation of others. It is probable that such a step may not eventually injure your father-in-law. I will see the bishop, if you will allow me,--alone.' At this the archdeacon winced visibly; 'yes, alone; for so I shall be calmer: and then I shall at any rate learn what he does mean to do in the matter.
The archdeacon puffed and blew, put up the carriage window and then put it down again, argued the matter up to his own gate, and at last gave way. Everybody was against him; his own wife, Mr Harding, and Dr Gwynne.
'Pray keep him out of hot water, Dr Gwynne,' Mrs Grantly had said to her guest. 'My dearest madam, I'll do my best,' the courteous master had replied. 'Twas thus he did it; and earned for himself the gratitude of Mrs Grantly.And now we may return to the bishop's study.
Dr Gwynne had certainly not foreseen the difficulty which here presented itself. He,-together with all the clerical world of England,--had heard it rumoured about that Mrs Proudie did not confine herself to her wardrobes, still-rooms, and laundries; but yet it had never occurred to him that if he called on a bishop at one o'clock in the day, he could by any possibility find himself closeted with his wife; or that if he did so, the wife would remain longer than necessary to make her curtsey. It appeared, however, as though in the present case Mrs Proudie had no idea of retreating.
The bishop had been very much pleased with Dr Gwynne on the preceding day, and of course thought that Dr Gwynne had been very much pleased with him. He attributed the visit solely to compliment, and thought it was an extremely gracious and proper thing for the master of Lazarus to drive over from Plumstead specially to call at the palace so soon after his arrival in the country. The fact that they were not on the same side either in politics or doctrines made the compliment the greater. The bishop, therefore, was all smiles. And Mrs Proudie, who liked people with good handles to their names, was also very well disposed to welcome the master of Lazarus.'We had a charming party at Ullathorne, Master, had we not?' said she. 'I hope Mrs Grantly got home without fatigue.' Dr Gwynne said that they had all been a little tired, but were none the worse this morning. 'An excellent person, Miss Thorne,' suggested the bishop. 'An exemplary Christian, I am told,' said Mrs Proudie. Dr Gwynne declared that he was very glad to hear it. 'I have not seen her Sabbath-day schools yet,' continued the lady, 'but I shall make a point of doing so before long.' Dr Gwynne merely bowed at this intimation. He had something of Mrs Proudie and her Sunday schools, both from Dr Grantly and Mr Harding. 'By the bye, Master,' continued the lady, 'I wonder whether Mrs Grantly would like me to drive over and inspect her Sabbath-day school. I hear that it is most excellently kept.'
Dr Gwynne really could not say. He had no doubt Mrs Grantly would be most happy to see Mrs Proudie any day Mrs Proudie would do her the honour of calling: that was, of course, if Mrs Grantly should happen to be at home.
A slight cloud darkened the lady's brow. She saw that her offer was not taken in good part. This generation of unregenerated vipers was still perverse, stiffnecked, and hardened in their antiquity. 'The archdeacon, I know,' said she, 'sets his face against these institutions.'At this Dr Gwynne laughed slightly. It was but a smile. Had he given his cap for it he could not have helped it.
Mrs Proudie frowned again. '"Suffer little children, and forbid them not,"' said she. 'Are we not to remember that, Dr Gwynne? "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Are we not to remember that, Dr Gwynne?' And at each of these questions she raised at him a menacing forefinger.
'Certainly, madam, certainly,' said the master, 'and so does the archdeacon, I am sure, on week days as well as on Sundays.'
'On week days you can't take heed not to despise them,' said Mrs Proudie, 'because they are out in the fields. On week days they belong to their parents, but on Sundays they ought to belong to the clergyman.' And the finger was again raised.
The master began to understand and to share the intense disgust which the archdeacon always expressed when Mrs Proudie's name was mentioned. What was he to do with such a woman as this? To take his hat and go would have been his natural resource; but then he did not wish to be foiled in his subject.
'My lord,' said he, 'I wanted to ask you a question on business, if you would spare me one moment's leisure. I know I must apologise for so disturbing you; but in truth, I will not detain you five minutes.''Certainly, Master, certainly,' said the bishop; 'my time is quite yours--pray make no apology, pray make no apology.'
'You have a great deal to do just at the present moment, bishop. Do not forget how extremely busy you are at present,' said Mrs Proudie, whose spirit was now up; for she was angry with her visitor.
'I will not delay his lordship much above a minute,' said the master of Lazarus, rising from his chair, and expecting that Mrs Proudie would now go, or else that the bishop would lead the way into another room.But neither event seemed likely to occur, and Dr Gwynne stood for a moment silent in the middle of the room. 'Perhaps it's about Hiram's Hospital,' suggested Mrs Proudie. Dr Gwynne, lost in astonishment, and not knowing what else on earth to do, confessed that his business with the bishop was connected with Hiram's Hospital. 'His lordship has finally conferred the appointment on Mr Quiverful this morning,' said the lady.
Dr Gwynne made a simple reference to the bishop, and finding that the lady's statement was formally confirmed, he took his leave. 'That comes of the reform bill,' he said to himself as he walked down the bishop's avenue. 'Well, at any rate the Greek play bishops were not so bad as that.'
It has been said that Mr Slope, as he started for Ullathorne, received a despatch from his friend Mr Towers, which had the effect of putting him in that high good-humour which subsequent events somewhat untowardly damped. It ran as follows. Its shortness will be its sufficient apology:
My dear Sir,--I wish you every success. I don't know that I can help you, but if I can I will. 'Yours ever' T.T. '30/9/185-'
There was more in this than in all Sir Nicholas Fitzwiggin's flummery; more than in all the bishop's promises, even had they been ever so sincere; more than in any archbishop's good work, even had it been possible to obtain it. Tom Towers would do for him what he could.
Mr Slope had from his youth upwards been a firm believer in the public press. He had dabbled in it himself ever since he had taken his degree, and regarded it as the great arranger and distributor of all future British terrestrial affairs whatever. He had not yet arrived at the age, an age which sooner or later comes to most of us, which dissipates the golden dreams of youth. He delighted in the idea of wresting power from the hands of his country's magnates, and placing it in a custody which was at any rate nearer to his own reach. Sixty thousand broad sheets dispersing themselves daily among his reading fellow-citizens, formed in his eyes a better depot for supremacy than a throne at Windsor, a cabinet in Downing Street, or even an assembly at Westminster. And on this subject we must not quarrel with Mr Slope, for the feeling is too general to be met with disrespect.
Tom Towers was as good, if not better than his promise. On the following morning the Jupiter, spouting forth public opinion with sixty thousand loud clarions, did proclaim to the world that Mr Slope was the fittest man for the vacant post. It was pleasant for Mr Slope to read the following line in the Barchester news-room, which he did within thirty minutes after the morning train from London had reached the city.
"It is just now five years since we called the attention of our readers to the quiet city of Barchester. From that day to this, we have in no way meddled with the affairs of that happy ecclesiastical community. Since then, an old bishop has died there, and a young bishop has been installed; but we believe we did not do more than give some customary record of the interesting event. Nor are we about to meddle very deeply in the affairs of the diocese. If any of the chapter feel a qualm of conscience on reading this, let it be quieted. Above all, let the mind of the new bishop be at rest. We are now not armed for war, but approach the revered towers of the old cathedral with an olive-branch in our hands.
'It will be remembered that at the time alluded to, now five years past, we had occasion to remark on the state of a charity at Barchester called Hiram's Hospital. We thought that it was maladministered, and that the very estimable and reverend gentleman who held the office of warden was somewhat too highly paid for duties which were somewhat too easily performed. This gentleman--and we say it in all sincerity and with no touch of sarcasm--had never looked on the matter in this light before. We do not wish to take praise to ourselves whether praise is due or not. But the consequence of our remark was, that the warden did look into the matter, and finding on doing so that he himself could come to no other opinion than that expressed by us, he very creditably threw up the appointment. The then bishop then as creditably declined to fill the vacancy till the affair was put on a better footing. Parliament then took it up; and we have now the satisfaction of informing our readers that Hiram's Hospital will be immediately re-opened under new auspices. Heretofore, provision was made for the maintenance of twelve old men. This will now be extended to the fair sex, and twelve elderly women if any such can be found in Barchester, will be added to the establishment. There will be a matron; there will, it is hoped, be schools attached for the poorest of the children of the poor, and there will be a steward. The warden, for there will still be a warden, will receive an income more in keeping with the extent of the charity than that heretofore paid. The stipend we believe will be L 450. We may add that the excellent house which the former warden inhabited will still be attached to the situation.
'Barchester hospital cannot perhaps boast a world-wide reputation; but as we advertised to its state of decadence, we think it right also to advert to its renaissance. May it go up and prosper. Whether the salutary reform which has been introduced within its walls has been carried as far as could have been desired, may be doubtful. The important question of the school appears to be somewhat left to the discretion of the new warden. This might have been made the most important part of the establishment, and the new warden, whom we trust we shall not offend by the freedom of our remarks, might have been selected with some view to his fitness as schoolmaster. But we will not now look a gift horse in the mouth. May the hospital go on and prosper! The situation of warden has of course been offered to the gentleman who so honourable vacated it five years since; but we are given to understand that he has declined it. Whether the ladies who have been introduced, be in his estimation too much for his powers of control, whether it be that the diminished income does not offer to him sufficient temptation to resume the old place, or that he has in the meantime assumed other clerical duties, we do not know. We are, however, informed that he has refused the offer, and that the situation has been accepted by Mr Quiverful, the vicar of Puddingdale.
'So much we think is due to Hiram redivivus. But while we are on the subject of Barchester, we will venture with all respectful humility to express our opinion on another matter, connected with the ecclesiastical polity of that ancient city. Dr Trefoil, the dean, died yesterday. A short record of his death, giving his age, and the various pieces of preferment which he has at different times held, will be found in another column in this paper. The only fault we knew in him was his age, and as that is a crime of which we may all hope to be guilty, we will not bear heavily on it. May he rest in peace! But though the great age of an expiring dean cannot be made matter of reproach, we are not inclined to look on such a fault as at all pardonable in a dean just brought to the birth. We do hope the days of sexagenarian appointments are past. If we want deans, we must want them for some purpose. That purpose will necessarily be better fulfilled by a man of forty than by a man of sixty. If we are to pay deans at all, we are to pay them for some sort of work. That work, be it what it may, will be best performed by a workman in the prime of life. Dr Trefoil, we see, was eighty when he died. As we have as yet completed no plan for positioning superannuated clergymen, we do not wish to get rid of any existing deans of that age. But we prefer having as few such as possible. If a man of seventy be now appointed, we beg to point out to Lord--that he will be past all use in a year or two, if indeed he is not so at the present moment. His lordship will allow us to remind him that all men are not evergreens like himself.
'We hear that Mr Slope's name has been mentioned for this preferment. Mr Slope is at present chaplain to the bishop. A better man could hardly be selected. He is a man of talent, young, active, and conversant with the affairs of the cathedral; he is moreover, we conscientiously believe, a truly pious clergyman. We know that his services in the city of Barchester have been highly appreciated. He is an eloquent preacher and a ripe scholar. Such a selection as this would go far to raise the confidence of the public in the present administration of church patronage, and would teach men to believe that from henceforth the establishment of our church will not afford easy couches to worn-out clerical voluptuaries.'
Standing at a reading-desk in the Barchester news-room, Mr Slope digested this article with considerable satisfaction. What was therein said as the hospital was now comparatively matter of indifference to him. He was certainly glad that he had not succeeded in restoring to the place the father of that virago who had so audaciously outraged all decency in his person; and was so far satisfied. But Mrs Proudie's nominee was appointed, and he was so far dissatisfied. His mind, however, was now soaring above Mrs Bold or Mrs Proudie.
He was sufficiently conversant with the tactics of the Jupiter to know that the pith of the article would lie in the last paragraph. The place of honour was given to him, and it was indeed as honourable as even he could have wished. He was very grateful to his friend Mr Towers, and with full heart looked forward to the day when he might entertain him in princely style at his own full-spread board in the deanery dining-room.
It had been well for Mr Slope that Dr Trefoil had died in the autumn. Those caterers for our morning repast, the staff of the Jupiter, had been sorely put to it for the last month to find a sufficiency of proper pabulum. Just then there was no talk of a new American president. No wonderful tragedies had occurred on railway trains in Georgia, or elsewhere. There was a dearth of broken banks, and a dead dean with the necessity for a live one was a godsend. Had Dr Trefoil died in June, Mr Towers would probably not have known so much about the piety of Mr Slope.
And here we will leave Mr Slope for a while in his triumph; explaining, however, that his feelings were not altogether of a triumphant nature. His rejection by the widow, or rather the method of his rejection, galled him terribly. For days to come he positively felt the sting upon his cheek, whenever he thought of what had been done to him. He could not refrain from calling her by harsh names, speaking to himself as he walked through the streets of Barchester. When he said his prayers, he could not bring himself to forgive her. When he strove to do so, his mind recoiled from the attempt, and in lieu of forgiving, ran off in a double spirit of vindictiveness, dwelling on the extent of the injury he had received. And so his prayers dropped senseless from his lips.
And then the signora; what would he not have given to be able to hate her also? As it was, he worshipped the very sofa on which she was ever lying. And thus it was not all rose colour with Mr Slope, although his hopes ran high.
44. Mrs Bold At Home
Poor Mrs Bold, when she got home from Ullathorne on the evening of Miss Thorne's party, was very unhappy, and moreover very tired. Nothing fatigues the body so much as weariness of spirit, and Eleanor's spirit was indeed weary.
Dr Stanhope had civilly but not very cordially asked her in to tea, and her manner of refusal convinced the worthy doctor that he need not repeat the invitation. He had not exactly made himself a party to the intrigue which was to convert the late Mr Bold's patrimony into an income for his hopeful son, but he had been well aware what was going on. And he was thus well aware also, when he perceived that Bertie declined accompanying them home in the carriage, that the affair had gone off.
Eleanor was very much afraid that Charlotte would have darted out upon her, as the prebendary got out at his own door, but Bertie thoughtfully saved her from this, by causing the carriage to go round by her house. This also Dr Stanhope understood, and allowed to pass by without remark.
When she got home, she found Mary Bold in the drawing-room with the child in her lap. She rushed forward, and, throwing herself on her knees, kissed the little fellow till she almost frightened him.'Oh, Mary, I am so glad you did not go. It was an odious party.'
Now the question of Mary's going had been one greatly mooted between them. Mrs Bold, when invited, had been the guest of the Grantlys, and Miss Thorne, who had chiefly known Eleanor at the hospital or at Plumstead rectory, had forgotten all about Mary Bold. Her sister-in-law had implored her to go under her wing, and had offered to write to Miss Thorne, or to call on her. But Miss Bold had declined. In fact, Mr Bold had not been very popular with such people as the Thornes, and his sister would not go among them unless she were specially asked to do so.'Well then,' said Mary cheerfully, 'I have the less to regret.'
'You have nothing to regret; but oh! Mary, I have--so much--so much;'--and then she began kissing her boy, whom her caresses had aroused from his slumbers. When she raised her head, Mary saw that the tears were running down her cheeks.'Good heavens, Eleanor, what is the matter? What has happened to you?--Eleanor, dearest Eleanor--what is the matter?' and Mary got up with the boy still in her arms.
'Give him to me--give him to me,' said the young mother. 'Give him to me, Mary,'and she almost tore the child out of her sister's arms. The poor little fellow murmured somewhat at the disturbance, but nevertheless nestled himself close into his mother's bosom.
'Here, Mary, take the cloak from me. My own, own darling, darling, darling jewel. You are not false to me. Everybody else is false; everybody else is cruel. Mamma will care for nobody, nobody, nobody, but her own, own, own, little man;' and she again kissed and pressed the baby, and cried till the tears ran down over the child's face.'Who has been cruel to you, Eleanor?' said Mary. 'I hope I have not.' Now, in this matter, Eleanor had great cause for uneasiness.
She could not certainly accuse her loving sister-in-law of cruelty; but she had to do that which was more galling; she had to accuse herself of an imprudence against which her sister-in-law had warned her. Miss Bold had never encouraged Eleanor's acquaintance with Mr Slope, and she had positively discouraged the friendship of the Stanhopes as far as her usual gentle mode of speaking had permitted. Eleanor had only laughed at her, however, when she said that she disapproved of married women who lived apart from their husbands, and suggested that Charlotte Stanhope never went to church. Now, however, Eleanor must either hold her tongue, which was quite impossible, or confess herself to have been utterly wrong, which was nearly equally so. So she staved off the evil day by more tears, and consoled herself by inducing little Johnny to rouse himself sufficiently to return her caresses.
'He is a darling--as true as gold. What would mamma do without him? Mamma would lie down and die if she had not her own Johnny Bold to give her comfort.' This and much more she said of the same kind, and for a time made no other answer to Mary's inquiries.This kind of consolation from the world's deceit is very common.
Mothers obtain it from their children, and men from their dogs. Some men even do so from their walking-sticks, which is just as rational. How is it that we can take joy to ourselves in that we are not deceived by those who have not attained the art to deceive us? In a true man, if such can be found, or a true woman, much consolation may indeed be taken.
In the caresses of her child, however, Eleanor did receive consolation; and may ill befall the man who would begrudge it to her. The evil day, however, was only postponed. She had to tell her disagreeable tale to Mary, and she had also to tell it to her father. Must it not, indeed, be told to the whole circle of her acquaintance before she could be made to stand all right with them? At the present moment there was no one to whom she could turn for comfort. She hated Mr Slope; that was a matter of course, in that feeling she revelled. She hated and despised the Stanhopes; but that feeling distressed her greatly. She had, as it were, separated herself from her old friends to throw herself into the arms of this family; and then how had they intended to use her? She could hardly reconcile herself to her own father, who had believed ill of her. Mary Bold had turned Mentor. That she could have forgiven had the Mentor turned out to be in the wrong; but Mentors in the right are not to be pardoned. She could not but hate the archdeacon; and now she hated him even worse than ever, for she must in some sort humble herself before him. She hated her sister, for she was part and parcel of the archdeacon. And she would have hated Mr Arabin if she could. He had pretended to regard her, and yet before her face he had hung over that Italian woman as though there had been no beauty in the world but hers--no other woman worth a moment's attention. And Mr Arabin would have to learn all this about Mr Slope! She told herself she hated him, and she knew that she was lying to herself as she did so. She had no consolation but her baby, and of that she made the most. Mary, though she could not surmise what it was that had so violently affected her sister-in-law, saw at once her grief was too great to be kept under control, and waited patiently till the child should be in his cradle.'You'll have some tea, Eleanor,' she said. 'Oh, I don't care,' said she; though in fact she must have been very hungry, for she had eaten nothing at Ullathorne. Mary quietly made the tea, and buttered the bread, laid aside the cloak, and made things look comfortable. 'He's fast asleep,' said she, 'you're very tired; let me take him up to bed.'
But Eleanor would not let her sister touch him. She looked wistfully at her baby's eyes, saw that they were lost in the deepest slumber, and then made a sort of couch for him on the sofa. She was determined that nothing should prevail upon her to let him out of her sight that night.'Come, Nelly,' said Mary, 'don't be cross with me. I at least have done nothing to offend you.' 'I an't cross,' said Eleanor. 'Are you angry then? Surely you can't be angry with me.' 'No, I an't angry; at least not with you.' 'If you are not, drink the tea I have made for you. I am sure you must want it.'
Eleanor did drink it, and allowed herself to be persuaded. She ate and drank, and as the inner woman was recruited she felt a little more charitable towards the world at large. At last she found words to begin her story, and before she went to bed, she had made a clean breast of it and told everything--everything, that is, as to the lovers she had rejected: of Mr Arabin she said not a word.
'I know I was wrong,' said she, speaking of the blow she had given to Mr Slope; 'but I didn't know what he might do, and I had to protect myself.'
'Deserved it!' said Eleanor, whose mind as regarded Mr Slope was almost bloodthirsty. 'Had I stabbed him with a dagger, he would have deserved it. But what will they say about it at Plumstead?''I don't think I should tell them,' said Mary. Eleanor began to think that she would not.
There could have been no kinder comforter than Mary Bold. There was not the slightest dash of triumph about her when she heard of the Stanhope scheme, nor did she allude to her former opinion when Eleanor called her late friend Charlotte a base, designing woman. She re-echoed all the abuse that was heaped on Mr Slope's head, and never hinted that she had said as much before. 'I told you so! I told you so!' is the croak of a true Job's comforter. But Mary, when she found her friend lying in her sorrow and scraping herself with potsherds, forbore to argue and to exult. Eleanor acknowledged the merit of the forbearance, and at length allowed herself to be tranquillised.
On the next day she did not go out of the house. Barchester she thought would be crowded with Stanhopes and Slopes; perhaps also with Arabins and Grantlys. Indeed there was hardly any one among her friends whom she could have met, without some cause of uneasiness.In the course of the afternoon she heard that the dean was dead; and she also heard that Mr Quiverful had been finally appointed to the hospital.
In the evening her father came to her, and then the story, or as much of it as she could bring herself to tell him, had to be repeated. He was not in truth much surprised at Mr Slope's effrontery; but he was obliged to act as though he had been, to save his daughter's feelings. He was, however, anything but skilful in his deceit, and she saw through it.'I see,' said she, 'that you think it only the common course of things that Mr Slope should have treated me in this way.' She had said nothing to him about the embrace, nor yet of the way in which it had been met. 'I do not think it at all strange,' said he, 'that any one should admire my Eleanor.'
'It is strange to me,' said she, 'that any man should have so much audacity, without ever having received the slightest encouragement.'
To this Mr Harding answered nothing. With the archdeacon it would have been the text for a rejoinder, which would not have disgraced Bildad the Shuhite.
'I have no right to hinder you from doing anything that may be necessary to your own comfort, but pray do not do it for my sake. Dr Grantly never thought well of me, and never will. I don't know now that I an even anxious that he should do so.'And then they went to the affair of the hospital. 'But is it true, papa?' 'What, my dear,' said he. 'About the dean? Yes, I fear quite true. Indeed, I know there is no doubt about it.' 'Poor Miss Trefoil. I am so sorry for her. But I did not mean that,' said Eleanor. 'But about the hospital, papa? 'Yes, my dear. I believe it is true that Mr Quiverful is to have it.' 'Oh, what a shame!' 'No, my dear, not at all, not at all a shame: I am sure I hope it will suit him.' 'But, papa, you know it is a shame. After all your hopes, all your expectations to get back your old house, to see it given away in this way to a perfect stranger!' 'My dear, the bishop had a right to give it to whom he pleased.' 'I deny that, papa. He had no such right. It is not as though you were a candidate for a new piece of preferment. If the bishop has a grain of justice--' 'The bishop offered it to me on his terms, and as I did not like the terms, I refused it. After that, I cannot complain.' 'Terms! He had not right to make terms.'
'I don't know about that; but it seems he had the power. But to tell you the truth, Nelly, I am as well satisfied as it is. When the affair became the subject of angry discussion, I thoroughly wished to be rid of it altogether.''But you did want to go back to the old house, papa. You told me so yourself.'
'Yes, my child, I did. For a short time I did wish it. And I was foolish in doing so. I am getting old now; and my chief worldly wish is for peace and rest. Had I gone back to the hospital, I should have had the endless contentions with the bishop, contentions with his chaplain, and contentions with the archdeacon. I am not up to this now, I am not able to meet such troubles; and therefore I am not ill-pleased to find myself left to the little church of St Cuthbert's. I shall never starve,' added he, laughing 'as long as you are here.''But if you will come and live with me, papa?' she said earnestly, taking him by both his hands. 'If you will do that, if you will promise that, I will own that you are right.' 'I will dine with you to-day, at any rate.' 'No, but live here altogether. Give up that close, odious little room in High Street.' 'My dear, it's a very nice little room; and you are really quite uncivil.' 'Oh, papa, don't joke. It's not a nice place for you. You say you are growing old, though I am sure you are not.' 'Am I not, my dear?'
'No, papa, not old--not to say old. But you are quite old enough to feel the want of a decent room to sit in. You know how lonely Mary and I are here. You know nobody ever sleeps in the big front bed-room. It is really unkind of you to remain there alone, when you are so much wanted here.''Thank you, Nelly--thank you. But, my dear--'
'If you had been living here, papa, with us, as I really think you ought to have done, considering how lonely we are, there would have been none of all this dreadful affair about Mr Slope.'
Mr Harding, however, did not allow himself to be talked over into giving up his own and only little pied a terre in the High Street. He promised to come and dine with his daughter, and stay with her, and visit her, and do everything but absolutely live with her. It did not suit the peculiar feelings of the man to tell his daughter that though she had rejected Mr Slope, and been ready to reject Mr Stanhope, some other more favoured suitor would probably soon appear; and that on the appearance of such a suitor the big front bed-room might perhaps be more frequently in requisition than at present. But doubtless such an idea crossed his mind, and added its weight to the other reasons which made him decide on still keeping the close, odious little room in High Street.
The evening passed over quietly and in comfort. Eleanor was always happier with her father than with any one else. He had not, perhaps, any natural taste for baby-worship, but he was always ready to sacrifice himself, and therefore made an excellent third in a trio with his daughter and Mary Bold in singing the praises of the wonderful child.
They were standing together over their music in the evening, the baby having again been put to bed upon the sofa, when the servant brought in a very small note in a beautiful pink envelope. It quite filled the room with perfume as it lay upon the small salver. Mary Bold and Mrs Bold were both at the piano, and Mr Harding was sitting close to them, with the violoncello between his legs; so that the elegance of the epistle was visible to them all.'Please, ma'am, Dr Stanhope's coachman says he is to wait for an answer,' said the servant.
Eleanor got very red in the face as she took the note in her hand. She had never seen the writing before. Charlotte's epistles, to which she was well accustomed, were of a very different style and kind. She generally wrote on large note-paper; she twisted up her letter into the shape and sometimes into the size of cocked hats; she addressed them in a sprawling manly hand, and not unusually added a blot or a smudge, as though such were her own peculiar sign-manual. The address of this note was written in a beautiful female hand, and the gummed wafer bore on it an impress of a gilt coronet. Though Eleanor had never seen such a one before, she guessed that it came from the signora. Such epistles were very numerously sent out from any house in which the signora might happen to be dwelling, but they were rarely addressed to ladies. When the coachman was told by the lady's maid to take the letter to Mrs Bold, he openly expressed his opinion that there was some mistake about it. Whereupon the lady's maid boxed the coachman's ears. Had Mr Slope seen in how meek a spirit the coachman took the rebuke, he might have learnt a useful lesson, both in philosophy and religion.The note was as follows. It may be taken as a faithful promise that no further letter whatever shall be transcribed at length in these pages.
'My dear Mrs Bold--May I ask you, as a great favour, to call on me to-morrow? You can say what hour will best suit you; but quite early, if you can. I need hardly say that if I could call upon you I should not take this liberty with you.
'I partly know what occurred the other day, and I promise you that you shall meet with no annoyance if you will come to me. My brother leaves us for London to-day; from thence he goes to Italy.
'It will probably occur to you that I should not thus intrude on you, unless I had that to say to you which may be of considerable moment. Pray therefore excuse me, even if you do not grant my request, and believe me, 'Very sincerely yours, M.VESEY NERONI
The three of them sat in consultation on this epistle for some ten or fifteen minutes, and then decided that Eleanor should write a line saying that she would see the signora the next morning, at twelve o'clock.
45. The Stanhopes At HomeWe must now return to the Stanhopes, and see how they behaved themselves on their return from Ullathorne.
Charlotte, who came back in the first homeward journey with her sister, waited in palpitating expectation till the carriage drove up to the door a second time. She did not run down or stand at the window, or show in any outward manner that she looked for anything wonderful to occur; but, when she heard the carriage-wheels, she stood up with erect ears, listening for Eleanor's footfall on the pavement or the cheery sound of Bertie's voice welcoming her in. Had she heard either, she would have felt that all was right; but neither sound was there for her to hear. She heard only her father's slow step, as he ponderously let himself down from the carriage, and slowly walked along the hall, till he got into his own private room on the ground floor. 'Send Miss Stanhope to me,' he said to the servant.'There's something wrong now,' said Madeline, who was lying on her sofa in the back drawing-room. 'It's all up with Bertie,' replied Charlotte. 'I know, I know,' she said to the servant, as he brought up the message. 'Tell my father I will be with him immediately.' 'Bertie's wooing gone astray,' said Madeline. 'I knew it would.' 'It has been his own fault then. She was ready enough. I am quite sure,' said Charlotte, with that sort of ill-nature which is not uncommon when one woman speaks of another. 'What will you say to him now?' By 'him' the signora meant their father.
'That will be as I find him. He was ready to pay two hundred pounds for Bertie, to stave off the worst of his creditors, if this marriage had gone on. Bertie must now have the money instead, and go and take his chances.''Where is he now?'
'Heaven knows! Smoking at the bottom of Mr Thorne's ha-ha, or philandering with some of those Miss Chadwicks. Nothing will ever make an impression on him. But he'll be furious if I don't go down.''No; nothing ever will. But don't be long, Charlotte, for I want my tea.'
And so Charlotte went down to her father. There was a very black cloud on the old man's brow; blacker than his daughter could ever remember to have seen there. He was sitting in his own arm-chair, not comfortably over the fire, but in the middle of the room, waiting till she should come and listen to him.'What has become of your brother?' he said, as soon as the door was shut. 'I should rather ask you,' said Charlotte. 'I left you both at Ullathorne, when I came away. What have you done with Mrs Bold?' 'Mrs Bold! nonsense. The woman has gone home as she ought to do. And heartily glad I am that she should not be sacrificed to so heartless a reprobate.' 'Oh, papa!'
'A heartless reprobate! Tell me now where he is, and what he is going to do. I have allowed myself to be fooled between you. Marriage indeed! Who on earth that has money, or credit, or respect in the world to lose, would marry him?''It is no use your scolding me, papa. I have done the best I could for him and you.' 'And Madeline is nearly as bad,' said the prebendary, who was in truth, very, very angry. 'Oh, I suppose we are all bad,' replied Charlotte.
The old man emitted a huge leonine sigh. If they were all bad, who had made them so? If they were unprincipled, selfish, and disreputable, who was to be blamed for the education which had had so injurious an effect.'I know you'll ruin me among you,' said he.
'Why, papa, what nonsense that is. You are living within your income this minute, and if there are any new debts, I don't know of them. I am sure there ought to be none, for we are dull enough here.''Are those bills of Madeline's paid?' 'No, they are not. Who was to pay them?' 'Her husband may pay them.' 'Her husband! Would you wish me to tell her you say so? Do you wish to turn her out of your home?' 'I wish she would know how to behave herself.'
'Why, what on earth has she done now? Poor Madeline! To-day is only the second time she has gone out since we came to this vile town.'
He then sat silent for a time, thinking in what shape he would declare his resolve. 'Well, papa,' said Charlotte, 'shall I stay here, or may I go up-stairs and give mamma her tea?'
'Nothing--nothing! Nothing but eat and drink, and spend every shilling of my money he can lay his hands upon. I have made up my mind, Charlotte. He shall eat and drink no more in this house.''Very well. Then I suppose he must go back to Italy.' 'He may go where he pleases.' 'That's easily said, papa; but what does it mean? You can't let him live--'
'It means this,' said the doctor, speaking more loudly than was his wont, and with wrath flashing from his eyes; 'that as sure as God rules in heaven, I will not maintain him any longer in idleness.'
'Oh, ruling in heaven!' said Charlotte. 'It is no use talking about that. You must rule him here on earth; and the question is, how you can do it. You can't turn him out of the house penniless, to beg about the street.''He may beg where he likes.'
'He must go back to Carrara. That is the cheapest place he can live at, and nobody there will give him credit for above two or three hundred pauls. But you must let him have the means of going.''As sure as--' 'Oh papa, don't swear. You know you must do it. You were ready to pay two hundred pounds for him if the marriage came off. Half that will start him to Carrara.' 'What? Give him a hundred pounds!' 'You know we are all in the dark, papa,' said she, thinking it expedient to change the conversation. 'For anything we know, he may be at this moment engaged to Mrs Bold.' 'Fiddlestick,' said the father, who had seen the way in which Mrs Bold had got into the carriage, while his son stood apart without even offering her his hand.
'Well, then, he must go to Carrara.' said Charlotte. Just at this moment the lock of the front door was heard, and Charlotte's quick care detected her brother's cat-like step in the hall. She said nothing, feeling that for the present Bertie had better keep out of her father's way. But Dr Stanhope also heard the sound of the lock.'Who's that?' he demanded. Charlotte made no reply, and he asked again. 'Who is that that has just come in? Open the door. Who is it?' 'I suppose it is Bertie.'
'Bid him to come here,' said the father. But Bertie, who was close to the door and heard the call, required no further bidding, but walked in with a perfectly unconcerned and cheerful air. It was this peculiar insouciance which angered Dr Stanhope, even more than his son's extravagance.'Well, sir,' said the doctor. 'And how did you get home, sir, with your fair companion?' said Bertie. 'I suppose she is not up-stairs, Charlotte?' 'Bertie,' said Charlotte, 'papa is in no humour for joking. He is very angry with you.' 'Angry!' said Bertie, raising his eyebrows, as though he had never yet given his parent cause for a single moment's uneasiness.
'Sit down, if you please, sir,' said Dr Stanhope very sternly, but not now very loudly. 'And I'll trouble you to sit down, too, Charlotte. Your mother can wait for her tea a few minutes.'
Charlotte sat down on the chair nearest the door, in somewhat of a perverse sort of manner; as much as though she would say--Well, here I am; you shan't say I don't do as I am bid; but I'll be whipped if I give way to you. And she was determined not to give way. She too was angry with Bertie; but she was not the less ready on that account to defend him from his father. Bertie also sat down. He drew his chair close to the library table, upon which he put his elbow, and then resting his face comfortably on one hand, he began drawing little pictures on a sheet of paper with the other. Before the scene was over had had completed admirable figures of Miss Thorne, Mrs Proudie, and Lady De Courcy, and began a family piece to comprise the whole set of Lookalofts.'Would it suit you, sir,' said the father, 'to give me some idea as to what your present intentions are?--what way of living you propose to yourself?'
'I'll do anything you suggest, sir,' said Bertie. 'No, I shall suggest nothing further. My time for suggesting has gone by. I have only one order to give, and that is, that you leave my house.''To-night?' said Bertie; and the simple tone of the question left the doctor without any adequately dignified method of reply. 'Papa does not quite mean to-night,' said Charlotte, 'at least I suppose not.' 'To-morrow perhaps,' suggested Bertie. 'Yes sir, to-morrow,' said the doctor. 'You shall leave this to-morrow.' 'Very well, sir. Will the 4.30 P.M. train be soon enough?' said Bertie, as he asked, put the finishing touch to Miss Thorne's high-heeled boots.
'You may go how and when and where you please, so that you leave my house tomorrow. You have disgraced me, sir; you have disgraced yourself, and me, and your sisters.''I am glad at least sir, that I have not disgraced my mother,' said Bertie.
Charlotte could hardly keep her countenance; but the doctor's brow grew still blacker than ever. Bertie was executing his chef d'ouvre in the delineation of Mrs Proudie's nose and mouth.
'You are a heartless reprobate, sir; a heartless, thankless, good-for-nothing reprobate. I have done with you. You are my son--that I cannot help; but you shall have no more part or parcel in me as my child, nor I in you as your father.''Oh, papa, papa! You must not, shall not say so,' said Charlotte. 'I will say so, and do say so,' said the father, rising from his chair. 'And now leave the room, sir.' 'Stop, stop,' said Charlotte; 'why don't you speak, Bertie? Why don't you look up and speak? It is your manner that makes him so angry.' 'He is perfectly indifferent to all decency, to all propriety,' said the doctor; and then he shouted out, 'Leave the room, sir! Do you hear what I say?'
'Papa, papa, I will not let you part so. I know you will be sorry for it.' And then she added, getting up and whispering into his ear. 'Is he only to blame? Think of that. We have made our own bed, and, such as it is, we must lie on it. It is no use for us to quarrel among ourselves,' and as she finished her whisper, Bertie finished off the countess's bustle, which was so well done that it absolutely seemed to be swaying to and fro on the paper with its usual lateral motion.
'My father is angry at the present time,' said Bertie, looking up for a moment from his sketches, 'because I am not going to marry Mrs Bold. What can I say on the matter? It is true that I am not going to marry her. In the first place--'
'Give over drawing,' said Charlotte, going up to him and taking the paper from under his hand. The caricature, however, she preserved, and showed them afterwards to the friends of the Thornes, the Proudies, and De Courcys. Bertie, deprived of his occupation, threw himself back in his chair and waited further orders.'I think it will certainly be for the best that Bertie should leave this at once, perhaps tomorrow,' said Charlotte; 'but pray, papa, let us arrange some scheme together.' 'If he will leave to-morrow, I will give him L 10, and he shall be paid L 5 a month by the banker at Carrara as long as he stays permanently in that place.' 'Well, sir! it won't be long,' said Bertie; 'for I shall be starved to death in about three months.' 'He must have marble to work with,' said Charlotte. 'I have plenty there in the studio to last me three months,' said Bertie. 'It will be no use attempting anything large in so limited a time; unless I do my own tombstone.'
Terms, however, were ultimately come to, somewhat more liberal than those proposed, and the doctor was induced to shake hands with his son, and bid him good-night. Dr Stanhope would not go up to tea, but had it brought to him in his study by his daughter.
But Bertie went up-stairs and spent a pleasant evening. He finished the Lookalofts, greatly to the delight of his sisters, though the manner of portraying their decollete dresses was not the most refined. Finding how matters were going, he by degrees allowed it to escape from him that he had not pressed his suit upon the widow in a very urgent way.'I suppose, in point of fact, you never proposed at all?' said Charlotte. 'Oh, she understood that she might have me if she wished,' said he. 'And she didn't wish,' said the signora. 'You have thrown me over in the most shameful manner,' said Charlotte. 'I suppose you told her all about my little plan?' 'Well, it came out somehow; at least the most of it.' 'There's an end of that alliance,' said Charlotte; 'but it doesn't matter much. I suppose we shall all be back in Como soon.' 'I am sure I hope so,' said the signora; 'I'm sick of the sight of black coats. If that Mr Slope comes here any more, he'll be the death of me.' 'You've been the ruin of him, I think,' said Charlotte. 'And as for a second black-coated lover of mine, I am going to make a present to him of another lady with most singular disinterestedness.'
The next day, true to his promise, Bertie packed up and went of by the 4.30 P.M. train, with L 20 in his pocket, bound for the marble quarries of Carrara. And so he disappears from our scene.
At twelve o'clock on the day following that on which Bertie went, Mrs Bold, true also to her word, knocked at Dr Stanhope's door with a timid hand and palpitating heart. She was at once shown up to the back drawing-room, the folding doors of which were closed, so that in visiting the signora, Eleanor was not necessarily thrown into any communication with those in the front room. As she went up the stairs, she none of the family, and was so far saved much of the annoyance which she had dreaded.'This is very kind of you, Mrs Bold; very kind, after what has happened,' said the lady on the sofa with her sweetest smile. 'You wrote in such a strain that I could not but come to you.' 'I did, I did; I wanted to force you to see me.' 'Well, signora; I am here.'
'How cold you are to me. But I suppose I must put up with that. I know you think you have reason to be displeased with us all. Poor Bertie! if you knew all, you would not be angry with him.''I am not angry with your brother--not in the least. But I hope you did not send for me to talk about him.'
'If you are angry with Charlotte, that is worse; for you have no warmer friend in all Barchester. But I did not send for you to talk about this--pray bring your chair nearer, Mrs Bold, so that I may look at you. It is so unnatural to see you keeping so far off from me.'
Eleanor did as she was bid, and brought her chair closer to the sofa. 'And now, Mrs Bold, I am going to tell you something which you may think indelicate; but yet I know that I am right in doing so.'
Hereupon Mrs Bold said nothing, but felt inclined to shake in her chair. The signora, she knew, was not very particular, and that which to her appeared to be indelicate might to Mrs Bold appear to be extremely indecent.'I believe you know Mr Arabin?'
Mrs Bold would have given the world not to blush, but her blood was not at her own command. She did blush up to her forehead, and the signora, who had made her sit in a special light in order that she might watch her, saw that she did so.'Yes--I am acquainted with him. That is, slightly. He is an intimate friend of Dr Grantly, and Dr Grantly is my brother-in-law.' 'Well; if you know Mr Arabin, I am sure you must like him. I know and like him much. Everybody that knows him must like him.'
Mrs Bold felt it quite impossible to say anything in reply to this. Her blood was rushing about her body she knew not how or why. She felt as though she were swinging in her chair; and she knew that she was not only red in the face, but also almost suffocated with heat. However, she sat still and said nothing.'How stiff you are with me, Mrs Bold,' said the signora; 'and I the while am doing for you all that one woman can do to serve another.'
A kind of thought came over the widow's mind that perhaps the signora's friendship was real; and that at any rate it could not hurt her; and another kind of thought, a glimmering of a thought, came to her also,--that Mr Arabin was to precious to be lost. She despised the signora; but might she not stoop to conquer? It should be but the smallest fraction of a stoop!'I don't want to be stiff,' she said, 'but your questions are so very singular.'
'Well, then, I will ask you one more singular still,' said Madeline Neroni, raising herself on her elbow and turning her own face full upon her companion's. 'Do you love him, love him with all your heart and soul, with all the love your bosom can feel? For I can tell you that he loves you, worships you, thinks of you and nothing else, is now thinking of you as he attempts to write his sermon for next Sunday's preaching. What would I not give to be loved in such a way by such a man, that is, if I were an object for any man to love!'
Mrs Bold got up from her seat and stood speechless before the woman who was now addressing her in this impassioned way. When the signora thus alluded to herself, the widow's heart was softened, and she put her own hand, as though caressingly, on that of her companion which was resting on the table. The signora grasped it and went on speaking.
'What I tell you is God's own truth; and it is for you to use it as may be best for your own happiness. But you must not betray me. He knows nothing of this. He knows nothing of my knowing his inmost heart. He is simple as a child in these matters. He told me his secret in a thousand ways because he could not dissemble; but he does not dream that has told it. You know it now, and I advise you to use it.'Eleanor returned the pressure of the other's hand with an infinitesimal soupcon of a squeeze.
'And remember,' said the signora, 'he is not like other men. You must not expect him to come to you with vows and oaths and pretty presents, to kneel at your feet, and kiss your shoe-strings. If you want that, there are plenty to do it; but he won't be one of them.' Eleanor's bosom nearly burst with a sigh; but Madeline, not heeding her, went on. 'With him, yea will stand for yea, and nay for nay. Though his heart should break for it, the woman who shall reject him once, will have rejected him once and for all. Remember that. And now, Mrs Bold, I will not keep you, for you are flattered. I partly guess what use you will make of what I have said to you. If ever you are a happy wife in that man's house, we shall be far away; but I shall expect you to write me one line to say that you have forgiven the sins of the family.'
Eleanor half whispered that she would, and then without uttering another word, crept out of the room, and down the stairs, opened the front door for herself without hearing or seeing any one, and found herself in the close.
It would be difficult to analyse Eleanor's feelings as she walked home. She was nearly stupefied by the things that had been said to her. She felt sore that her heart should have been so searched and riddled by a comparative stranger, by a woman whom she had never liked and never could like. She was mortified that the man whom she owned to herself that she loved should have concealed his love from her and shown it to another. There was much to vex her proud spirit. But there was, nevertheless, an understratum of joy in all this which buoyed her up wondrously. She tried if she could disbelieve what Madame Neroni had said to her; but she found that she could not. It was true; it must be true. She could not, would not, did not doubt it.
On one point she fully resolved to follow the advice given her. If it should ever please Mr Arabin to put such a question to her as suggested, her 'yea' should be 'yea'. Would not all her miseries be at an end, if she could talk of them to him openly, with her hand resting on his shoulder?
46. Mr Slope's Parting Interview With The Signora
On the following day the signora was in her pride. She was dressed in her brightest of morning dresses, and had quite a levee round her couch. It was a beautifully bright October afternoon; all the gentlemen of the neighbourhood were in Barchester, and those who had the entry of Dr Stanhope's house were in the signora's back drawingroom. Charlotte and Mrs Stanhope were in the front room, and such of the lady's squires as could not for the moment get near the centre of attraction had to waste their fragrance on the mother and sister.
The first who came and the last to leave was Mr Arabin. This was the second visit he had paid to Madame Neroni since he had met her at Ullathorne. He came he knew not why, to talk about he knew not what. But, in truth, the feelings which now troubled him were new to him, and he could not analyse them. It may seem strange that he should thus come dangling about Madame Neroni because he was in love with Mrs Bold; but it was nevertheless the fact; and though he could not understand why he did so, Madame Neroni understood it well enough.
She had been gentle and kind to him, and had encouraged his staying. Therefore he stayed on. She pressed his hand when he first greeted her; and whispered to him little nothings. And then her eye, brilliant and bright, now mirthful, now melancholy, and invincible in either way! What man with warm feelings, blood unchilled, and a heat not guarded by a triple steel of experience could have withstood those eyes! The lady, it is true, intended to do no mortal injury; she merely chose to inhale a slight breath of incense before she handed the casket over to another. Whether Mrs Bold would willingly have spared even so much is another question.
And then came Mr Slope. All the world now knew that Mr Slope was a candidate for the deanery, and that he was generally considered to be the favourite. Mr Slope, therefore, walked rather largely upon the earth. He gave to himself a portly air, such as might become a dean, spoke but little to other clergymen, and shunned the bishop as much as possible. How the meagre little prebendary, and the burly chancellor, and all the minor canons and vicars choral, ay, and all the choristers too, cowered and shook and walked about with long faces when they read or heard of that article of the Jupiter. Now were coming the days when nothing would avail to keep the impure spirit from the cathedral pulpit. That pulpit would indeed be his own. Precentors, vicars, and choristers might hang up their harps on the willows. Ichabod! Ichabod! The glory of their house was departing from them.
Mr Slope, great as he was with embryo grandeur, still came to see the signora. Indeed, he could not keep himself away. He dreamed of that soft hand which had kissed so often, and of the imperial brow which his lips had once pressed, and he then dreamed also of further favours.
And Mr Thorne was there also. It was the first visit he had ever paid to the signora, and he made it not without due preparation. Mr Thorne was a gentleman usually precise in his dress, and prone to make the most of himself in an unpretending way. The grey hairs in his whiskers were eliminated perhaps once a month; those on his head were softened by a mixture which we will not call a dye; it was only a wash. His tailor lived in St James's Street, and his bootmaker at the corner of that street and Piccadilly. He was particular in the article of gloves, and the getting up of his shirts was a matter not lightly thought of in the Ullathorne laundry. On the occasion of the present visit he had rather overdone his usual efforts, and caused some little uneasiness to his sister, who had not hitherto received very cordially the proposition for a lengthened visit from the signora at Ullathorne.
There were others also there--young men about the city who had not much to do, and who were induced by the lady's charms to neglect that little; but all gave way to Mr Thorne, who was somewhat of a grand signor, as a country gentleman always is in a provincial city.'Oh, Mr Thorne, this is so kind of you!' said the signora. 'You promised to come; but I really did not expect it. I thought you country gentlemen never kept your pledges.' 'Oh, yea, sometimes,' said Mr Thorne, looking rather sheepish, and making salutations a little too much in the style of the last century.
'You deceive none but your consti-stit-stit; what do you call the people that carry you about in chairs and pelt you with eggs and apples when they make you a member of parliament?'
'One another also, sometimes, signora,' said Mr Slope, with a deanish sort of smirk on his face. 'Country gentlemen do deceive one another sometimes, don't they, Mr Thorne?'
Mr Thorne gave him a look which undressed him completely for the moment; but he soon remembered his high hopes, and recovering himself quickly, sustained his probable coming dignity by a laugh at Mr Thorne's expense.'I never deceive a lady, at any rate,' said Mr Thorne; 'especially when the gratification of my own wishes is so strong an inducement to keep me true, as it now is.'
Mr Thorne went on thus awhile, with antediluvian grimaces and compliments which he had picked up from Sir Charles Grandison, and the signora at every grimace and at every bow smiled a little smile and bowed a little bow. Mr Thorne, however, was kept standing at the foot of the couch, for the new dean sat in the seat of honour near the table. Mr Arabin the while was standing with his back to the fire, his coat tails under his arms, gazing at her with all his eyes--not quite in vain, for every now and again a glance came up at him, bright as a meteor out of heaven.
'Oh, Mr Thorne, you promised to let me introduce my little girl to you. Can you spare a moment?--will you see her now?'
Mr Thorne assured her that he could, and would see the young lady with the greatest pleasure in life. 'Mr Slope, might I trouble you to ring the bell?' said she; and when Mr Slope got up she looked at Mr Thorne and pointed to the chair. Mr Thorne, however, was much too slow to understand her, and Mr Slope would have recovered his seat had not the signora, who never chose to be unsuccessful, somewhat summarily ordered him out of it.
'Oh, Mr Slope, I must ask you to let Mr Thorne sit here just for a moment or two. I am sure you will pardon me. We can take a liberty with you this week. Next week, you know, when you move into the dean's house, we shall all be afraid of you.'Mr Slope, with an air of much indifference, rose from his seat, and, walking into the next room, became greatly interested in Mrs Stanhope's worsted work.
And then the child was brought in. She was a little girl, about eight years of age, like her mother, only that her enormous eyes were black, and her hair quite jet. Her complexion too was very dark, and bespoke her foreign blood. She was dressed in the most outlandish and extravagant way in which clothes could be put on a child's back. She had great bracelets on her naked little arms, a crimson fillet braided with gold round her head, and scarlet shoes with high heels. Her dress was all flounces, and stuck out from her as though the object were to make it lie off horizontally from her little hips. It did not nearly cover her knees; but this was atoned for by a loose pair of drawers which seemed made throughout of lace; then she had on pink silk stockings. It was thus that the last of the Neros was habitually dressed at the hour when visitors were wont to call.
'Julia, my love,' said the mother,--Julia was ever a favourite name with the ladies of the family, 'Julia, my love, come here. I was telling you about the beautiful party poor mamma went to. This is Mr Thorne; will you give him a kiss, dearest?'
Julia put up her face to be kissed, as she did to all her mother's visitors; and then Mr Thorne found that he had got her, and, which was much more terrible to him, all her finery, into his arms. The lace and starch crumpled against his waistcoat and trousers, the greasy black curls hung upon his cheek, and one of the bracelet clasps scratched his ear. He did not at all know how to hold her. However, he had on other occasions been compelled to fondle little nieces and nephews, and now set about the task in the mode he always used.'Diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle,' said he, putting the child on one knee, and working away with it as though he were turning a knife-grinder's wheel with his foot.
'Mamma, mamma,' said Julia, crossly. 'I don't want to be diddle diddled. Let me go, you naughty old man, you.'
Poor Mr Thorne put the child down quietly on the ground, and drew back his chair; Mr Slope, who had returned to the pole star that attracted him, laughed aloud; Mr Arabin winced and shut his eyes; and the signora pretended not to hear her daughter.
But little Julia, though she had not exactly liked the nature of Mr Thorne's attention, was accustomed to be played with by gentlemen, and did not relish the idea of being sent so soon to her aunt.
'Julia, go when I tell you, my dear.' But Julia still went pouting about the room. 'Charlotte, do come and take her,' said the signora. 'She must go out; and the days get so short now.' And thus ended the much-talked of interview between Mr Thorne and the last of the Neros.
Mr Thorne recovered from the child's crossness sooner than from Mr Slope's laughter. He could put up with being called an old man by an infant, but he did not like to be laughed at by the bishop's chaplain, even though that chaplain was about to become a dean. He said nothing, but he showed plainly enough that he was angry.The signora was ready enough to avenge him. 'Mr Slope,' said she, 'I hear that you are triumphing on all sides.' 'How so,' said he smiling. He did not dislike being talked to about the deanery, though, of course, he strongly denied the imputation. 'You carry the day both in love and war.' Mr Slope hereupon did not look quite so satisfied as he had done. 'Mr Arabin,' continued the signora, 'don't you think Mr Slope is a very lucky man?' 'Not more than he deserves, I am sure,' said Mr Arabin. 'Only think, Mr Thorne, he is to be our new dean; of course we all know that.' 'Indeed, signora,' said Mr Slope, 'we all know nothing about it. I can assure you I myself -' 'He is to be the new dean--there is no manner of doubt of it, Mr Thorne.' 'Hum,' said Mr Thorne. 'Passing over the heads of old men like my father and Archdeacon Grantly--'
'Oh--oh!' said Mr Slope. 'The archdeacon would not accept it,' said Mr Arabin; whereupon Mr Slope smiled abominably, and said, as plainly as a look could speak, that the grapes were sour.'Going over all our heads,' continued the signora; 'for, of course, I consider myself one of the chapter.' 'If I am ever dean,' said Mr Slope--'that is, were I ever to become so, I should glory in such a canoness.' 'Oh, Mr Slope, stop; I haven't half done. There is another canoness for you to glory in. Mr Slope is not only to have the deanery, but a wife to put in it.' Mr Slope again looked disconcerted. 'A wife with a large fortune, too. It never rains but it pours, does it Mr Thorne?' 'No, never,' said Mr Thorne, who did not quite relish talking about Mr Slope and his affairs. 'When will it be, Mr Slope?' 'When will what be?' said he. 'Oh! we know when the affair of the dean will be: a week will settle that. The new hat, I have no doubt, has already been ordered. But when will the marriage come off?' 'Do you mean mine or Mr Arabin's,' said he, striving to be facetious.
'Well, just then I meant yours, though perhaps, after all, Mr Arabin's may be first. But we know nothing of him. He is too close for any of us. Now all is open and above board with you; which, by the bye, Mr Arabin, I beg to tell you I like much the best. He who runs can read that Mr Slope is a favoured lover. Come, Mr Slope, when is the widow to be made Mrs Dean?'
To Mr Arabin this badinage was peculiarly painful; and yet he could not tear himself away and leave it. He believed, still believed with that sort of belief which the fear of a thing engenders, that Mrs Bold would probably become the wife of Mr Slope. Of Mr Slope's little adventure in the garden he knew nothing. For aught he knew, Mr Slope might have had an adventure of quite a different character. He might have thrown himself at the widow's feet, been accepted, and then returned to town a jolly, thriving wooer. The signora's jokes were bitter enough to Mr Slope, but they were quite as bitter to Mr Arabin. He still stood leaning against the fire-place, fumbling with his hands in his trouser's pockets.
'Come, come, Mr Slope, don't be so bashful,' continued the signora. 'We all know that you proposed to the lady the other day at Ullathorne. Tell us with what words she accepted you. Was it with a simple "yes", or with two "no, no's", which makes an affirmative? or did silence give consent: or did she speak out with that spirit which so well becomes a widow, and say openly, "By my troth, sir, you shall make me Mrs Slope as soon as it is your pleasure to do so"?'
Mr Slope had seldom in his life felt himself less at his case. There sat Mr Thorne, laughing silently. There stood his old antagonist, Mr Arabin, gazing at him with all his eyes. There round the door between the two rooms were clustered a little group of people, including Miss Stanhope and the Rev. Messrs. Gray and Green, all listening to his discomfiture. He knew that it depended solely on his own wit whether or no he could throw the joke back upon the lady. He knew that it stood him to do so if he possibly could; but he said not a word. ''Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all.' He felt on his cheek the sharp points of Eleanor's fingers, and did not know who might have seen the blow, who might have told the tale to this pestilent woman who took such delight in jeering him. He stood there, therefore, red as a carbuncle and mute as a fish; grinning just sufficiently to show his teeth; an object of pity.
But the signora had no pity; she knew nothing of mercy. Her present object was to put Mr Slope down, and she was determined to do it thoroughly, now that she had him in her power.
'What, Mr Slope, no answer? Why it can't possibly be that this woman has been fool enough to refuse you? She surely can't be looking out after a bishop. But I see how it is, Mr Slope. Widows are proverbially cautious. You should have let her alone till the new hat was on your head; till you could show her the key of the deanery.''Signora,' said he at last, trying to speak in a tone of dignified reproach, 'you really permit yourself to talk on such solemn subjects in a very improper way.' 'Solemn subjects--what solemn subjects? Surely a dean's hat is not such a solemn subject.' 'I have no aspirations such as those you impute to me. Perhaps you will drop the subject.' 'Oh, certainly, Mr Slope; but one word first. Go to her again with the prime minister's letter in your pocket. I'll wager my shawl to your shovel she does not refuse you then.' 'I must say, signora, that I think you are speaking of the lady in a very unjustifiable manner.' 'And one other piece of advice, Mr Slope; I'll only offer you one other;' and then she commenced singing-- 'It's gude to be merry and wise, Mr Slope, It's gude to be honest and true; It's gude to be off with the old love, Mr Slope, Before you are on with the new-- 'Ha, ha, ha!'
And the signora, throwing herself back on her sofa, laughed merrily. She little recked how those who heard her would, in their own imagination, fill up the little history of Mr Slope's first love. She little cared that some among them might attribute to her the honour of his earlier admiration. She was tired of Mr Slope and wanted to get rid of him; she had ground for anger with him, and she chose to be revenged.
How Mr Slope got out of that room he never himself knew. He did succeed ultimately, and probably with some assistance, in getting him his had and escaping into the air. At last his love for the signora was cured. Whenever he again thought of her in his dreams, it was not as of an angel with azure wings. He connected her rather with fire and brimstone, and though he could still believe her to be a spirit, he banished her entirely out of heaven, and found a place for her among the infernal gods. When he weighed in the balance, as he not seldom did, the two women to whom he had attached himself in Barchester, the pre-eminent place in his soul's hatred was usually allotted to the signora.