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 to 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 this 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 am not sufficiently ambitious."
"Pray don't be angry with her, Mrs. Bold," said he, "or with me either."
"Certainly not with you, Mr. Stanhope," said she with considerable sarcasm in her tone. "Certainly not with you."
"No—nor with her," said he imploringly.
"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 the wish she could restrain herself no longer and 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 her going back to Barchester in the carriage with her second suitor.
This somewhat mollified her. "Oh, Mr. Stanhope," said she, "why should you have made me so miserable? What will you have gained by telling me all this?"
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 be bandied about between them in different senses, and each sense false. She was to be 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 ears in debt, completed the compliment of owning that he did not care to have his debts paid at so great a sacrifice of 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 he 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 everyone, 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 anyone 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 he waited leaning patiently against the front wall, 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 of 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 someone 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.
Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful Are Made Happy. Mr. Slope is 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 dispatches. 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.; 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, no 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 these 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 wants 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 other. "Quiverful," said she with impressive voice, "you are to be at the palace at eleven to-morrow."
"And so are you, my dear," said he, almost gasping with the importance of the tidings—and then they exchanged letters.
"She'd never have sent for me again," said the lady, "if it wasn't all right."
"Oh, my dear, don't be too certain," said the gentleman, "Only think if it should be wrong."
"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 piecrust, 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 anyone 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 a 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 enabled 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 dress, of a possible piano—the one they had in the vicarage was so weather-beaten with the 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 the 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 that husband of thine, that Q. of thy bosom, shall reign supreme for 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 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 that 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 again 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, it'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; 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 be 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 him 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 as much pleased with him. He attributed the visit solely to compliment, and thought it 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.
"And 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 heard something of Mrs. Proudie and her Sunday-schools, both from Dr. Grantly and Mr. Harding.
"By the by, 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, stiff-necked, and hardened in their iniquity. "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,'" she said. "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 her menacing forefinger.
"Certainly, madam, certainly," said the master, "and so does the archdeacon, I am sure, on weekdays as well as on Sundays."
"On weekdays you can't take heed not to despise them," said Mrs. Proudie, "because then they are out in the fields. On weekdays 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 object.
"My lord," said he, "I wanted to ask you a question on business, if you could spare me one moment's leisure. I know I must apologize 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 dispatch 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.
There was more in this than in all Sir Nicholas Fitzwhiggin's flummery; more than in all the bishop's promises, even had they been ever so sincere; more than in any archbishop's good word, 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 he 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 broadsheets 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 fitting man for the vacant post. It was pleasant for Mr. Slope to read the following lines 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 now about to meddle very deeply in the affairs of the diocese. If any of the chapter feel a qualm of conscience on reading thus far, 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 reverend 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 in 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 be due to us or not. But the consequence of our remark was that the warden did look into the matter, and finding on so doing that he himself could come to no other opinion than that expressed by us, he very creditably threw up the appointment. The then bishop 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 reopened 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 L450. 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 adverted to its state of decadence, we think it right also to advert to its renaissance. May it go on 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 honourably 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 his 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 of this paper. The only fault we knew in him was his age, and as that is a crime of which we 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 that 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 pensioning 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 be 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 to the hospital was now comparatively a 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 awhile 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.
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 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 had thoughtfully saved her from this by causing the carriage to go round by her own 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 roused 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 mental 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 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 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 that 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 that 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."
"He richly deserved it," said Mary.
"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 tranquilised.
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 anyone 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 in 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 anyone 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.
"But you'll tell the archdeacon?" asked Mr. Harding.
"Tell him what?" said she sharply.
"Or Susan?" continued Mr. Harding. "You'll tell Susan; you'll let them know that they wronged you in supposing that this man's addresses would be agreeable to you."
"They may find that out their own way," said she; "I shall not ever willingly mention Mr. Slope's name to either of them."
"But I may."
"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 am 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 to 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 no 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 dear, 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 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 will you 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 not I, 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 bedroom. It is really unkind of you to remain up 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 bedroom 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 anyone 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 elegancy 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 letters 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.
The Stanhopes at Home
We 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 has 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 chance."
"Where is he now?"
"Heaven knows! Smoking in 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 yet remember to have seen there. He was sitting in his own armchair, 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."
"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 house?"
"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 upstairs and give Mamma her tea?"
"You are in your brother's confidence. Tell me what he is going to do."
"Nothing, that I am aware of."
"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—"
"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 can you 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 this 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 ears detected her brother's catlike 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 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 upstairs, 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 to 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 what 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 he had completed admirable figures of Miss Thorne, Mrs. Proudie, and Lady De Courcy, and begun a family piece to comprise the whole set of the 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 can suggest, sir," replied 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?" and 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 to-morrow. 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'oeuvre 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 Papa so angry."
"He is perfectly indifferent to all decency, to all propriety," said the doctor; 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—"
"That is not true, sir," said Dr. Stanhope, "but I will not argue with you."
"You were angry just this moment because I would not speak," said Bertie, going on with a young Lookaloft.
"Give over drawing," said Charlotte, going up to him and taking the paper from under his hand. The caricatures, 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 to-morrow," said Charlotte; "but pray, Papa, let us arrange some scheme together."
"If he will leave this to-morrow, I will give him L10, and he shall be paid L5 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 upstairs 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 at 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 of him to another lady with most singular disinterestedness."
The next day, true to his promise, Bertie packed up and went off by the 4.30 P.M. train, with L20 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 communion with those in the front room. As she went up the stairs, she saw 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 here 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 close to the sofa.
"And now, Mrs. Bold, I am going to tell you something which you may perhaps 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 too 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, adores 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 fit 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 he 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," continued 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 fluttered. 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 anyone, 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 under stratum 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 that 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 head resting on his shoulder?
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 drawing-room. 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; she made him remain near 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 heart not guarded by a triple steel of experience could have withstood those eyes! The lady, it is true, intended to do him 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 in "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 he had kissed so often, and of that 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, yes, sometimes," said Mr. Thorne, looking rather sheepish and making his 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 very 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 undeaned 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 that 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, what was much more terrific 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 so magnificent a lady, nor holding her what to do with 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 had 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.
"Go to Aunt Charlotte, lovey," said the mamma, "and ask her if it is not time for you to go out."
But little Miss 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.