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 so 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 been already 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 by, 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 trousers 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 the two 'no no's' which make 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 ease. 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 Revs. Messrs. Grey 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 had 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 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 the woman has been fool enough to refuse you? She can't surely 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 solemn subjects in a very improper way."
"Solemn subjects—what solemn subject? 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 imaginations, 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 his hat 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.
The Dean Elect
During the entire next week Barchester was ignorant who was to be its new dean. On Sunday morning Mr. Slope was decidedly the favourite, but he did not show himself in the cathedral, and then he sank a point or two in the betting. On Monday he got a scolding from the bishop in the hearing of the servants, and down he went till nobody would have him at any price; but on Tuesday he received a letter, in an official cover, marked private, by which he fully recovered his place in the public favour. On Wednesday he was said to be ill, and that did not look well; but on Thursday morning he went down to the railway station with a very jaunty air; and when it was ascertained that he had taken a first-class ticket for London, there was no longer any room for doubt on the matter.
While matters were in this state of ferment at Barchester, there was not much mental comfort at Plumstead. Our friend the archdeacon had many grounds for inward grief. He was much displeased at the result of Dr. Gwynne's diplomatic mission to the palace, and did not even scruple to say to his wife that had he gone himself, he would have managed the affair much better. His wife did not agree with him, but that did not mend the matter.
Mr. Quiverful's appointment to the hospital was, however, a fait accompli, and Mr. Harding's acquiescence in that appointment was not less so. Nothing would induce Mr. Harding to make a public appeal against the bishop, and the Master of Lazarus quite approved of his not doing so.
"I don't know what has come to the master," said the archdeacon over and over again. "He used to be ready enough to stand up for his order."
"My dear Archdeacon," Mrs. Grantly would say in reply, "what is the use of always fighting? I really think the master is right." The master, however, had taken steps of his own of which neither the archdeacon nor his wife knew anything.
Then Mr. Slope's successes were henbane to Dr. Grantly, and Mrs. Bold's improprieties were as bad. What would be all the world to Archdeacon Grantly if Mr. Slope should become Dean of Barchester and marry his wife's sister! He talked of it and talked of it till he was nearly ill. Mrs. Grantly almost wished that the marriage were done and over, so that she might hear no more about it.
And there was yet another ground of misery which cut him to the quick nearly as closely as either of the others. That paragon of a clergyman whom he had bestowed upon St. Ewold's, that college friend of whom he had boasted so loudly, that ecclesiastical knight before whose lance Mr. Slope was to fall and bite the dust, that worthy bulwark of the church as it should be, that honoured representative of Oxford's best spirit, was—so at least his wife had told him half a dozen times—misconducting himself!
Nothing had been seen of Mr. Arabin at Plumstead for the last week, but a good deal had, unfortunately, been heard of him. As soon as Mrs. Grantly had found herself alone with the archdeacon, on the evening of the Ullathorne party, she had expressed herself very forcibly as to Mr. Arabin's conduct on that occasion. He had, she declared, looked and acted and talked very unlike a decent parish clergyman. At first the archdeacon had laughed at this, and assured her that she need not trouble herself—that Mr. Arabin would be found to be quite safe. But by degrees he began to find that his wife's eyes had been sharper than his own. Other people coupled the signora's name with that of Mr. Arabin. The meagre little prebendary who lived in the close told him to a nicety how often Mr. Arabin had visited at Dr. Stanhope's, and how long he had remained on the occasion of each visit. He had asked after Mr. Arabin at the cathedral library, and an officious little vicar choral had offered to go and see whether he could be found at Dr. Stanhope's. Rumour, when she has contrived to sound the first note on her trumpet, soon makes a loud peal audible enough. It was too clear that Mr. Arabin had succumbed to the Italian woman, and that the archdeacon's credit would suffer fearfully if something were not done to rescue the brand from the burning. Besides, to give the archdeacon his due, he was really attached to Mr. Arabin, and grieved greatly at his backsliding.
They were sitting, talking over their sorrows, in the drawing-room before dinner on the day after Mr. Slope's departure for London, and on this occasion Mrs. Grantly spoke out her mind freely. She had opinions of her own about parish clergymen, and now thought it right to give vent to them.
"If you would have been led by me, Archdeacon, you would never have put a bachelor into St. Ewold's."
"But my dear, you don't meant to say that all bachelor clergymen misbehave themselves."
"I don't know that clergymen are so much better than other men," said Mrs. Grantly. "It's all very well with a curate, whom you have under your own eye and whom you can get rid of if he persists in improprieties."
"But Mr. Arabin was a fellow, and couldn't have had a wife."
"Then I would have found someone who could."
"But, my dear, are fellows never to get livings?"
"Yes, to be sure they are, when they get engaged. I never would put a young man into a living unless he were married, or engaged to be married. Now, here is Mr. Arabin. The whole responsibility lies upon you."
"There is not at this moment a clergymen in all Oxford more respected for morals and conduct than Arabin."
"Oh, Oxford!" said the lady, with a sneer. "What men choose to do at Oxford nobody ever hears of. A man may do very well at Oxford who would bring disgrace on a parish; and to tell you the truth, it seems to me that Mr. Arabin is just such a man."
The archdeacon groaned deeply, but he had no further answer to make.
"You really must speak to him, Archdeacon. Only think what the Thornes will say if they hear that their parish clergyman spends his whole time philandering with this woman."
The archdeacon groaned again. He was a courageous man, and knew well enough how to rebuke the younger clergymen of the diocese, when necessary. But there was that about Mr. Arabin which made the doctor feel that it would be very difficult to rebuke him with good effect.
"You can advise him to find a wife for himself, and he will understand well enough what that means," said Mrs. Grantly.
The archdeacon had nothing for it but groaning. There was Mr. Slope: he was going to be made dean; he was going to take a wife; he was about to achieve respectability and wealth, an excellent family mansion, and a family carriage; he would soon be among the comfortable elite of the ecclesiastical world of Barchester; whereas his own protege, the true scion of the true church, by whom he had sworn, would be still but a poor vicar, and that with a very indifferent character for moral conduct! It might be all very well recommending Mr. Arabin to marry, but how would Mr. Arabin, when married, support a wife?
Things were ordering themselves thus in Plumstead drawing-room when Dr. and Mrs. Grantly were disturbed in their sweet discourse by the quick rattle of a carriage and pair of horses on the gravel sweep. The sound was not that of visitors, whose private carriages are generally brought up to country-house doors with demure propriety, but betokened rather the advent of some person or persons who were in a hurry to reach the house, and had no intention of immediately leaving it. Guests invited to stay a week, and who were conscious of arriving after the first dinner-bell, would probably approach in such a manner. So might arrive an attorney with the news of a granduncle's death, or a son from college with all the fresh honours of a double first. No one would have had himself driven up to the door of a country-house in such a manner who had the slightest doubt of his own right to force an entry.
"Who is it?" said Mrs. Grantly, looking at her husband.
"Who on earth can it be?" said the archdeacon to his wife. He then quietly got up and stood with the drawing-room door open in his hand. "Why, it's your father!"
It was indeed Mr. Harding, and Mr. Harding alone. He had come by himself in a post-chaise with a couple of horses from Barchester, arriving almost after dark, and evidently full of news. His visits had usually been made in the quietest manner; he had rarely presumed to come without notice, and had always been driven up in a modest old green fly, with one horse, that hardly made itself heard as it crawled up to the hall-door.
"Good gracious, Warden, is it you?" said the archdeacon, forgetting in his surprise the events of the last few years. "But come in; nothing the matter, I hope."
"We are very glad you are come, Papa," said his daughter. "I'll go and get your room ready at once."
"I an't warden, Archdeacon," said Mr. Harding; "Mr. Quiverful is warden."
"Oh, I know, I know," said the archdeacon petulantly. "I forgot all about it at the moment. Is anything the matter?"
"Don't go this moment, Susan," said Mr. Harding. "I have something to tell you."
"The dinner-bell will ring in five minutes," said she.
"Will it?" said Mr. Harding. "Then perhaps I had better wait." He was big with news which he had come to tell, but which he knew could not be told without much discussion. He had hurried away to Plumstead as fast as two horses could bring him, and now, finding himself there, he was willing to accept the reprieve which dinner would give him.
"If you have anything of moment to tell us," said the archdeacon, "pray let us hear it at once. Has Eleanor gone off?"
"No, she has not," said Mr. Harding with a look of great displeasure.
"Has Slope been made dean?"
"No, he has not, but—"
"But what?" said the archdeacon, who was becoming very impatient.
"They have what?" said the archdeacon.
"They have offered it to me," said Mr. Harding, with a modesty which almost prevented his speaking.
"Good heavens!" said the archdeacon, and sunk back exhausted in an easy chair.
"My dear, dear father," said Mrs. Grantly, and threw her arms round her father's neck.
"So I thought I had better come out and consult with you at once," said Mr. Harding.
"Consult!" shouted the archdeacon. "But, my dear Harding, I congratulate you with my whole heart—with my whole heart; I do indeed. I never heard anything in my life that gave me so much pleasure;" and he got hold of both his father-in-law's hands, and shook them as though he were going to shake them off, and walked round and round the room, twirling a copy of "The Jupiter" over his head to show his extreme exultation.
"But—" began Mr. Harding.
"But me no buts," said the archdeacon. "I never was so happy in my life. It was just the proper thing to do. Upon my honour I'll never say another word against Lord —— the longest day I have to live."
"That's Dr. Gwynne's doing, you may be sure," said Mrs. Grantly, who greatly liked the Master of Lazarus, he being an orderly married man with a large family.
"I suppose it is," said the archdeacon.
"Oh, Papa, I am so truly delighted!" said Mrs. Grantly, getting up and kissing her father.
"But, my dear," said Mr. Harding. It was all in vain that he strove to speak; nobody would listen to him.
"Well, Mr. Dean," said the archdeacon, triumphing, "the deanery gardens will be some consolation for the hospital elms. Well, poor Quiverful! I won't begrudge him his good fortune any longer."
"No, indeed," said Mrs. Grantly. "Poor woman, she has fourteen children. I am sure I am very glad they have got it."
"So am I," said Mr. Harding.
"I would give twenty pounds," said the archdeacon, "to see how Mr. Slope will look when he hears it." The idea of Mr. Slope's discomfiture formed no small part of the archdeacon's pleasure.
At last Mr. Harding was allowed to go upstairs and wash his hands, having, in fact, said very little of all that he had come out to Plumstead on purpose to say. Nor could anything more be said till the servants were gone after dinner. The joy of Dr. Grantly was so uncontrollable that he could not refrain from calling his father-in-law Mr. Dean before the men, and therefore it was soon matter of discussion in the lower regions how Mr. Harding, instead of his daughter's future husband, was to be the new dean, and various were the opinions on the matter. The cook and butler, who were advanced in years, thought that it was just as it should be; but the footman and lady's maid, who were younger, thought it was a great shame that Mr. Slope should lose his chance.
"He's a mean chap all the same," said the footman, "and it an't along of him that I says so. But I always did admire the missus's sister; and she'd well become the situation."
While these were the ideas downstairs, a very great difference of opinion existed above. As soon as the cloth was drawn and the wine on the table, Mr. Harding made for himself an opportunity of speaking. It was, however, with much inward troubling that he said:
"It's very kind of Lord ——, very kind, and I feel it deeply, most deeply. I am, I must confess, gratified by the offer—"
"I should think so," said the archdeacon.
"But all the same I am afraid that I can't accept it."
The decanter almost fell from the archdeacon's hand upon the table, and the start he made was so great as to make his wife jump up from her chair. Not accept the deanship! If it really ended in this, there would be no longer any doubt that his father-in-law was demented. The question now was whether a clergyman with low rank and preferment amounting to less than L200 a year should accept high rank, L1,200 a year, and one of the most desirable positions which his profession had to afford!
"What!" said the archdeacon, gasping for breath and staring at his guest as though the violence of his emotion had almost thrown him into a fit. "What!"
"I do not find myself fit for new duties," urged Mr. Harding.
"New duties! What duties?" said the archdeacon with unintended sarcasm.
"Oh, Papa," said Mrs. Grantly, "nothing can be easier than what a dean has to do. Surely you are more active than Dr. Trefoil."
"He won't have half as much to do as he has at present," said Dr. Grantly.
"Did you see what 'The Jupiter' said the other day about young men?"
"Yes, and I saw that 'The Jupiter' said all that it could to induce the appointment of Mr. Slope. Perhaps you would wish to see Mr. Slope made dean."
Mr. Harding made no reply to this rebuke, though he felt it strongly. He had not come over to Plumstead to have further contention with his son-in-law about Mr. Slope, so he allowed it to pass by.
"I know I cannot make you understand my feeling," he said, "for we have been cast in different moulds. I may wish that I had your spirit and energy and power of combatting; but I have not. Every day that is added to my life increases my wish for peace and rest."
"And where on earth can a man have peace and rest if not in a deanery!" said the archdeacon.
"People will say that I am too old for it."
"Good heavens! People! What people? What need you care for any people?"
"But I think myself I am too old for any new place."
"Dear Papa," said Mrs. Grantly, "men ten years older than you are appointed to new situations day after day."
"My dear," said he, "it is impossible that I should make you understand my feelings, nor do I pretend to any great virtue in the matter. The truth is, I want the force of character which might enable me to stand against the spirit of the times. The call on all sides now is for young men, and I have not the nerve to put myself in opposition to the demand. Were 'The Jupiter,' when it hears of my appointment, to write article after article setting forth my incompetency, I am sure it would cost me my reason. I ought to be able to bear with such things, you will say. Well, my dear, I own that I ought. But I feel my weakness, and I know that I can't. And to tell you the truth, I know no more than a child what the dean has to do."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed the archdeacon.
"Don't be angry with me, Archdeacon: don't let us quarrel about it, Susan. If you knew how keenly I feel the necessity of having to disoblige you in this matter, you would not be angry with me."
This was a dreadful blow to Dr. Grantly. Nothing could possibly have suited him better than having Mr. Harding in the deanery. Though he had never looked down on Mr. Harding on account of his recent poverty, he did fully recognize the satisfaction of having those belonging to him in comfortable positions. It would be much more suitable that Mr. Harding should be Dean of Barchester than vicar of St. Cuthbert's and precentor to boot. And then the great discomfiture of that arch-enemy of all that was respectable in Barchester, of that new Low Church clerical parvenu that had fallen amongst them, that alone would be worth more, almost, than the situation itself. It was frightful to think that such unhoped-for good fortune should be marred by the absurd crotchets and unwholesome hallucinations by which Mr. Harding allowed himself to be led astray. To have the cup so near his lips and then to lose the drinking of it was more than Dr. Grantly could endure.
And yet it appeared as though he would have to endure it. In vain he threatened and in vain he coaxed. Mr. Harding did not indeed speak with perfect decision of refusing the proffered glory, but he would not speak with anything like decision of accepting it. When pressed again and again, he would again and again allege that he was wholly unfitted to new duties. It was in vain that the archdeacon tried to insinuate, though he could not plainly declare, that there were no new duties to perform. It was in vain he hinted that in all cases of difficulty he, he the archdeacon, was willing and able to guide a weak-minded dean. Mr. Harding seemed to have a foolish idea, not only that there were new duties to do, but that no one should accept the place who was not himself prepared to do them.
The conference ended in an understanding that Mr. Harding should at once acknowledge the letter he had received from the minister's private secretary, and should beg that he might be allowed two days to make up his mind; and that during those two days the matter should be considered.
On the following morning the archdeacon was to drive Mr. Harding back to Barchester.
Miss Thorne Shows Her Talent at Match-Making
On Mr. Harding's return to Barchester from Plumstead, which was effected by him in due course in company with the archdeacon, more tidings of a surprising nature met him. He was, during the journey, subjected to such a weight of unanswerable argument, all of which went to prove that it was his bounden duty not to interfere with the paternal Government that was so anxious to make him a dean, that when he arrived at the chemist's door in High Street, he hardly knew which way to turn himself in the matter. But, perplexed as he was, he was doomed to further perplexity. He found a note there from his daughter begging him most urgently to come to her immediately. But we must again go back a little in our story.
Miss Thorne had not been slow to hear the rumours respecting Mr. Arabin which had so much disturbed the happiness of Mrs. Grantly. And she, also, was unhappy to think that her parish clergyman should be accused of worshipping a strange goddess. She, also, was of opinion that rectors and vicars should all be married, and with that good-natured energy which was characteristic of her, she put her wits to work to find a fitting match for Mr. Arabin. Mrs. Grantly, in this difficulty, could think of no better remedy than a lecture from the archdeacon. Miss Thorne thought that a young lady, marriageable and with a dowry, might be of more efficacy. In looking through the catalogue of her unmarried friends who might possibly be in want of a husband, and might also be fit for such promotion as a country parsonage affords, she could think of no one more eligible than Mrs. Bold; consequently, losing no time, she went into Barchester on the day of Mr. Slope's discomfiture, the same day that her brother had had his interesting interview with the last of the Neros, and invited Mrs. Bold to bring her nurse and baby to Ullathorne and make them a protracted visit.
Miss Thorne suggested a month or two, intending to use her influence afterwards in prolonging it so as to last out the winter, in order that Mr. Arabin might have an opportunity of becoming fairly intimate with his intended bride. "We'll have Mr. Arabin, too," said Miss Thorne to herself; "and before the spring they'll know each other; and in twelve or eighteen months' time, if all goes well, Mrs. Bold will be domiciled at St. Ewold's;" and then the kind-hearted lady gave herself some not undeserved praise for her match-making genius.
Eleanor was taken a little by surprise, but the matter ended in her promising to go to Ullathorne for at any rate a week or two; on the day previous to that on which her father drove out to Plumstead, she had had herself driven out to Ullathorne.
Miss Thorne would not perplex her with her embryo lord on that same evening, thinking that she would allow her a few hours to make herself at home; but on the following morning Mr. Arabin arrived. "And now," said Miss Thorne to herself, "I must contrive to throw them in each other's way." That same day, after dinner, Eleanor, with an assumed air of dignity which she could not maintain, with tears which she could not suppress, with a flutter which she could not conquer, and a joy which she could not hide, told Miss Thorne that she was engaged to marry Mr. Arabin and that it behoved her to get back home to Barchester as quick as she could.
To say simply that Miss Thorne was rejoiced at the success of the scheme would give a very faint idea of her feelings on the occasion. My readers may probably have dreamt before now that they have had before them some terribly long walk to accomplish, some journey of twenty or thirty miles, an amount of labour frightful to anticipate, and that immediately on starting they have ingeniously found some accommodating short cut which has brought them without fatigue to their work's end in five minutes. Miss Thorne's waking feelings were somewhat of the same nature. My readers may perhaps have had to do with children, and may on some occasion have promised to their young charges some great gratification intended to come off, perhaps at the end of the winter, or at the beginning of summer. The impatient juveniles, however, will not wait, and clamorously demand their treat before they go to bed. Miss Thorne had a sort of feeling that her children were equally unreasonable. She was like an inexperienced gunner, who has ill-calculated the length of the train that he has laid. The gun-powder exploded much too soon, and poor Miss Thorne felt that she was blown up by the strength of her own petard.
Miss Thorne had had lovers of her own, but they had been gentlemen of old-fashioned and deliberate habits. Miss Thorne's heart also had not always been hard, though she was still a virgin spinster; but it had never yielded in this way at the first assault. She had intended to bring together a middle-aged, studious clergyman and a discreet matron who might possibly be induced to marry again, and in doing so she had thrown fire among tinder. Well, it was all as it should be, but she did feel perhaps a little put out by the precipitancy of her own success, and perhaps a little vexed at the readiness of Mrs. Bold to be wooed.
She said, however, nothing about it to anyone, and ascribed it all to the altered manners of the new age. Their mothers and grandmothers were perhaps a little more deliberate, but it was admitted on all sides that things were conducted very differently now than in former times. For aught Miss Thorne knew of the matter, a couple of hours might be quite sufficient under the new regime to complete that for which she in her ignorance had allotted twelve months.
But we must not pass over the wooing so cavalierly. It has been told, with perhaps tedious accuracy, how Eleanor disposed of two of her lovers at Ullathorne; and it must also be told with equal accuracy, and if possible with less tedium, how she encountered Mr. Arabin.
It cannot be denied that when Eleanor accepted Miss Thorne's invitation she remembered that Ullathorne was in the parish of St. Ewold's. Since her interview with the signora she had done little else than think about Mr. Arabin and the appeal that had been made to her. She could not bring herself to believe, or try to bring herself to believe, that what she had been told was untrue. Think of it how she would, she could not but accept it as a fact that Mr. Arabin was fond of her; and then when she went further and asked herself the question, she could not but accept it as a fact also that she was fond of him. If it were destined for her to be the partner of his hopes and sorrows, to whom could she look for friendship so properly as to Miss Thorne? This invitation was like an ordained step towards the fulfilment of her destiny, and when she also heard that Mr. Arabin was expected to be at Ullathorne on the following day, it seemed as though all the world were conspiring in her favour. Well, did she not deserve it? In that affair of Mr. Slope had not all the world conspired against her?
She could not, however, make herself easy and at home. When, in the evening after dinner, Miss Thorne expatiated on the excellence of Mr. Arabin's qualities, and hinted that any little rumour which might be ill-naturedly spread abroad concerning him really meant nothing, Mrs. Bold found herself unable to answer. When Miss Thorne went a little further and declared that she did not know a prettier vicarage-house in the county than St. Ewold's, Mrs. Bold, remembering the projected bow-window and the projected priestess, still held her tongue, though her ears tingled with the conviction that all the world knew that she was in love with Mr. Arabin. Well, what would that matter if they could only meet and tell each other what each now longed to tell?
And they did meet. Mr. Arabin came early in the day and found the two ladies together at work in the drawing-room. Miss Thorne, who, had she known all the truth, would have vanished into air at once, had no conception that her immediate absence would be a blessing, and remained chatting with them till luncheon-time. Mr. Arabin could talk about nothing but the Signora Neroni's beauty, would discuss no people but the Stanhopes. This was very distressing to Eleanor and not very satisfactory to Miss Thorne. But yet there was evidence of innocence in his open avowal of admiration.
And then they had lunch, and then Mr. Arabin went out on parish duty, and Eleanor and Miss Thorne were left to take a walk together.
"Do you think the Signora Neroni is so lovely as people say?" Eleanor asked as they were coming home.
"She is very beautiful, certainly, very beautiful," Miss Thorne answered; "but I do not know that anyone considers her lovely. She is a woman all men would like to look at, but few, I imagine, would be glad to take her to their hearths, even were she unmarried and not afflicted as she is."
There was some little comfort in this. Eleanor made the most of it till she got back to the house. She was then left alone in the drawing-room, and just as it was getting dark Mr. Arabin came in.
It was a beautiful afternoon in the beginning of October, and Eleanor was sitting in the window to get the advantage of the last daylight for her novel. There was a fire in the comfortable room, but the weather was not cold enough to make it attractive; and as she could see the sun set from where she sat, she was not very attentive to her book.
Mr. Arabin, when he entered, stood awhile with his back to the fire in his usual way, merely uttering a few commonplace remarks about the beauty of the weather, while he plucked up courage for more interesting converse. It cannot probably be said that he had resolved then and there to make an offer to Eleanor. Men, we believe, seldom make such resolves. Mr. Slope and Mr. Stanhope had done so, it is true, but gentlemen generally propose without any absolutely defined determination as to their doing so. Such was now the case with Mr. Arabin.
"It is a lovely sunset," said Eleanor, answering him on the dreadfully trite subject which he had chosen.
Mr. Arabin could not see the sunset from the hearth-rug, so he had to go close to her.
"Very lovely," said he, standing modestly so far away from her as to avoid touching the flounces of her dress. Then it appeared that he had nothing further to say; so, after gazing for a moment in silence at the brightness of the setting sun, he returned to the fire.
Eleanor found that it was quite impossible for herself to commence a conversation. In the first place she could find nothing to say; words, which were generally plenty enough with her, would not come to her relief. And moreover, do what she would, she could hardly prevent herself from crying.
"Do you like Ullathorne?" said Mr. Arabin, speaking from the safely distant position which he had assumed on the hearth-rug.
"Yes, indeed, very much!"
"I don't mean Mr. and Miss Thorne—I know you like them—but the style of the house. There is something about old-fashioned mansions, built as this is, and old-fashioned gardens, that to me is especially delightful."
"I like everything old-fashioned," said Eleanor; "old-fashioned things are so much the honestest."
"I don't know about that," said Mr. Arabin, gently laughing. "That is an opinion on which very much may be said on either side. It is strange how widely the world is divided on a subject which so nearly concerns us all, and which is so close beneath our eyes. Some think that we are quickly progressing towards perfection, while others imagine that virtue is disappearing from the earth."
"And you, Mr. Arabin, what do you think?" said Eleanor. She felt somewhat surprised at the tone which his conversation was taking, and yet she was relieved at his saying something which enabled herself to speak without showing her own emotion.
"What do I think, Mrs. Bold?" and then he rumbled his money with his hands in his trousers pockets, and looked and spoke very little like a thriving lover. "It is the bane of my life that on important subjects I acquire no fixed opinion. I think, and think, and go on thinking, and yet my thoughts are running ever in different directions. I hardly know whether or no we do lean more confidently than our fathers did on those high hopes to which we profess to aspire."
"I think the world grows more worldly every day," said Eleanor.
"That is because you see more of it than when you were younger. But we should hardly judge by what we see—we see so very, very little." There was then a pause for awhile, during which Mr. Arabin continued to turn over his shillings and half-crowns. "If we believe in Scripture, we can hardly think that mankind in general will now be allowed to retrograde."
Eleanor, whose mind was certainly engaged otherwise than on the general state of mankind, made no answer to this. She felt thoroughly dissatisfied with herself. She could not force her thoughts away from the topic on which the signora had spoken to her in so strange a way, and yet she knew that she could not converse with Mr. Arabin in an unrestrained, natural tone till she did so. She was most anxious not to show to him any special emotion, and yet she felt that if he looked at her, he would at once see that she was not at ease.
But he did not look at her. Instead of doing so, he left the fire-place and began walking up and down the room. Eleanor took up her book resolutely, but she could not read, for there was a tear in her eye, and do what she would, it fell on her cheek. When Mr. Arabin's back was turned to her, she wiped it away; but another was soon coursing down her face in its place. They would come—not a deluge of tears that would have betrayed her at once, but one by one, single monitors. Mr. Arabin did not observe her closely, and they passed unseen.
Mr. Arabin, thus pacing up and down the room, took four or five turns before he spoke another word, and Eleanor sat equally silent with her face bent over her book. She was afraid that her tears would get the better of her, and was preparing for an escape from the room, when Mr. Arabin in his walk stood opposite to her. He did not come close up but stood exactly on the spot to which his course brought him, and then, with his hands under his coat-tails, thus made his confession.
"Mrs. Bold," said he, "I owe you retribution for a great offence of which I have been guilty towards you." Eleanor's heart beat so that she could not trust herself to say that he had never been guilty of any offence. So Mr. Arabin thus went on.
"I have thought much of it since, and I am now aware that I was wholly unwarranted in putting to you a question which I once asked you. It was indelicate on my part, and perhaps unmanly. No intimacy which may exist between myself and your connexion, Dr. Grantly, could justify it. Nor could the acquaintance which existed between ourselves." This word acquaintance struck cold on Eleanor's heart. Was this to be her doom after all? "I therefore think it right to beg your pardon in a humble spirit, and I now do so."
What was Eleanor to say to him? She could not say much because she was crying, and yet she must say something. She was most anxious to say that something graciously, kindly, and yet not in such a manner as to betray herself. She had never felt herself so much at a loss for words.
"Indeed, I took no offence, Mr. Arabin."
"Oh, but you did! And had you not done so, you would not have been yourself. You were as right to be offended as I was wrong so to offend you. I have not forgiven myself, but I hope to hear that you forgive me."
She was now past speaking calmly, though she still continued to hide her tears; and Mr. Arabin, after pausing a moment in vain for her reply, was walking off towards the door. She felt that she could not allow him to go unanswered without grievously sinning against all charity; so, rising from her seat, she gently touched his arm and said, "Oh, Mr. Arabin, do not go till I speak to you! I do forgive you. You know that I forgive you."
He took the hand that had so gently touched his arm and then gazed into her face as if he would peruse there, as though written in a book, the whole future destiny of his life; as he did so, there was a sober, sad seriousness in his own countenance which Eleanor found herself unable to sustain. She could only look down upon the carpet, let her tears trickle as they would, and leave her hand within his.
It was but for a minute that they stood so, but the duration of that minute was sufficient to make it ever memorable to them both. Eleanor was sure now that she was loved. No words, be their eloquence what it might, could be more impressive than that eager, melancholy gaze.
Why did he look so into her eyes? Why did he not speak to her? Could it be that he looked for her to make the first sign?
And he, though he knew but little of women, even he knew that he was loved. He had only to ask, and it would be all his own, that inexpressible loveliness, those ever-speaking but yet now mute eyes, that feminine brightness and eager, loving spirit which had so attracted him since first he had encountered it at St. Ewold's. It might, must, all be his own now. On no other supposition was it possible that she should allow her hand to remain thus clasped within his own. He had only to ask. Ah, but that was the difficulty. Did a minute suffice for all this? Nay, perhaps it might be more than a minute.
"Mrs. Bold—" at last he said and then stopped himself.
If he could not speak, how was she to do so? He had called her by her name, the same name that any merest stranger would have used! She withdrew her hand from his and moved as though to return to her seat. "Eleanor!" he then said in his softest tone, as though the courage of a lover were as yet but half-assumed, as though he were still afraid of giving offence by the freedom which he took. She looked slowly, gently, almost piteously up into his face. There was at any rate no anger there to deter him.
"Eleanor!" he again exclaimed, and in a moment he had her clasped to his bosom. How this was done, whether the doing was with him or her, whether she had flown thither conquered by the tenderness of his voice, or he with a violence not likely to give offence had drawn her to his breast, neither of them knew; nor can I declare. There was now that sympathy between them which hardly admitted of individual motion. They were one and the same—one flesh—one spirit—one life.
"Eleanor, my own Eleanor, my own, my wife!" She ventured to look up at him through her tears, and he, bowing his face down over hers, pressed his lips upon her brow—his virgin lips, which, since a beard first grew upon his chin, had never yet tasted the luxury of a woman's cheek.
She had been told that her yea must be yea, or her nay, nay, but she was called on for neither the one nor the other. She told Miss Thorne that she was engaged to Mr. Arabin, but no such words had passed between them, no promises had been asked or given.
"Oh, let me go," said she, "let me go now. I am too happy to remain—let me go, that I may be alone." He did not try to hinder her; he did not repeat the kiss; he did not press another on her lips. He might have done so, had he been so minded. She was now all his own. He took his arm from round her waist, his arm that was trembling with a new delight, and let her go. She fled like a roe to her own chamber, and then, having turned the bolt, she enjoyed the full luxury of her love. She idolised, almost worshipped this man who had so meekly begged her pardon. And he was now her own. Oh, how she wept and cried and laughed as the hopes and fears and miseries of the last few weeks passed in remembrance through her mind.
Mr. Slope! That anyone should have dared to think that she who had been chosen by him could possibly have mated herself with Mr. Slope! That they should have dared to tell him, also, and subject her bright happiness to such needless risk! And then she smiled with joy as she thought of all the comforts that she could give him—not that he cared for comforts, but that it would be so delicious for her to give.
She got up and rang for her maid that she might tell her little boy of his new father, and in her own way she did tell him. She desired her maid to leave her, in order that she might be alone with her child; and then, while he lay sprawling on the bed, she poured forth the praises, all unmeaning to him, of the man she had selected to guard his infancy.
She could not be happy, however, till she had made Mr. Arabin take the child to himself and thus, as it were, adopt him as his own. The moment the idea struck her she took the baby up in her arms and, opening her door, ran quickly down to the drawing-room. She at once found, by his step still pacing on the floor, that he was there, and a glance within the room told her that he was alone. She hesitated a moment and then hurried in with her precious charge.
Mr. Arabin met her in the middle of the room. "There," said she, breathless with her haste; "there, take him—take him, and love him."
Mr. Arabin took the little fellow from her and, kissing him again and again, prayed God to bless him. "He shall be all as my own—all as my own," said he. Eleanor, as she stooped to take back her child, kissed the hand that held him and then rushed back with her treasure to her chamber.
It was thus that Mr. Harding's younger daughter was won for the second time. At dinner neither she nor Mr. Arabin were very bright, but their silence occasioned no remark. In the drawing-room, as we have before said, she told Miss Thorne what had occurred. The next morning she returned to Barchester, and Mr. Arabin went over with his budget of news to the archdeacon. As Doctor Grantly was not there, he could only satisfy himself by telling Mrs. Grantly how that he intended himself the honour of becoming her brother-in-law. In the ecstasy of her joy at hearing such tidings Mrs. Grantly vouchsafed him a warmer welcome than any he had yet received from Eleanor.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed—it was the general exclamation of the rectory. "Poor Eleanor! Dear Eleanor! What a monstrous injustice has been done her! Well, it shall all be made up now." And then she thought of the signora. "What lies people tell," she said to herself.
But people in this matter had told no lies at all.
The Beelzebub Colt
When Miss Thorne left the dining-room, Eleanor had formed no intention of revealing to her what had occurred, but when she was seated beside her hostess on the sofa, the secret dropped from her almost unawares. Eleanor was but a bad hypocrite, and she found herself quite unable to continue talking about Mr. Arabin as though he were a stranger while her heart was full of him. When Miss Thorne, pursuing her own scheme with discreet zeal, asked the young widow whether, in her opinion, it would not be a good thing for Mr. Arabin to get married, she had nothing for it but to confess the truth. "I suppose it would," said Eleanor rather sheepishly. Whereupon Miss Thorne amplified on the idea. "Oh, Miss Thorne," said Eleanor, "he is going to be married: I am engaged to him."
Now Miss Thorne knew very well that there had been no such engagement when she had been walking with Mrs. Bold in the morning. She had also heard enough to be tolerably sure that there had been no preliminaries to such an engagement. She was, therefore, as we have before described, taken a little by surprise. But nevertheless, she embraced her guest and cordially congratulated her.
Eleanor had no opportunity of speaking another word to Mr. Arabin that evening, except such words as all the world might hear; and these, as may be supposed, were few enough. Miss Thorne did her best to leave them in privacy, but Mr. Thorne, who knew nothing of what had occurred, and another guest, a friend of his, entirely interfered with her good intentions. So poor Eleanor had to go to bed without one sign of affection. Her state, nevertheless, was not to be pitied.
The next morning she was up early. It was probable, she thought, that by going down a little before the usual hour of breakfast she might find Mr. Arabin alone in the dining-room. Might it not be that he also would calculate that an interview would thus be possible? Thus thinking, Eleanor was dressed a full hour before the time fixed in the Ullathorne household for morning prayers. She did not at once go down. She was afraid to seem to be too anxious to meet her lover, though heaven knows her anxiety was intense enough. She therefore sat herself down at her window, and repeatedly looking at her watch, nursed her child till she thought she might venture forth.
When she found herself at the dining-room door, she stood a moment, hesitating to turn the handle; but when she heard Mr. Thorne's voice inside she hesitated no longer. Her object was defeated, and she might now go in as soon as she liked without the slightest imputation on her delicacy. Mr. Thorne and Mr. Arabin were standing on the hearth-rug, discussing the merits of the Beelzebub colt; or rather, Mr. Thorne was discussing, and Mr. Arabin was listening. That interesting animal had rubbed the stump of his tail against the wall of his stable and occasioned much uneasiness to the Ullathorne master of the horse. Had Eleanor but waited another minute, Mr. Thorne would have been in the stables.
Mr. Thorne, when he saw his lady guest, repressed his anxiety. The Beelzebub colt must do without him. And so the three stood, saying little or nothing to each other, till at last the master of the house, finding that he could no longer bear his present state of suspense respecting his favourite young steed, made an elaborate apology to Mrs. Bold and escaped. As he shut the door behind him Eleanor almost wished that he had remained. It was not that she was afraid of Mr. Arabin, but she hardly yet knew how to address him.
He, however, soon relieved her from her embarrassment. He came up to her, and taking both her hands in his, he said, "So, Eleanor, you and I are to be man and wife. Is it so?"
She looked up into his face, and her lips formed themselves into a single syllable. She uttered no sound, but he could read the affirmative plainly in her face.
"It is a great trust," said he, "a very great trust."
"It is—it is," said Eleanor, not exactly taking what he had said in the sense that he had meant. "It is a very, very great trust, and I will do my utmost to deserve it."
"And I also will do my utmost to deserve it," said Mr. Arabin very solemnly. And then, winding his arm round her waist, he stood there gazing at the fire, and she, with her head leaning on his shoulder, stood by him, well satisfied with her position. They neither of them spoke, or found any want of speaking. All that was needful for them to say had been said. The yea, yea, had been spoken by Eleanor in her own way—and that way had been perfectly satisfactory to Mr. Arabin.
And now it remained to them each to enjoy the assurance of the other's love. And how great that luxury is! How far it surpasses any other pleasure which God has allowed to his creatures! And to a woman's heart how doubly delightful!
When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall, we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper. They were not created to stretch forth their branches alone, and endure without protection the summer's sun and the winter's storm. Alone they but spread themselves on the ground and cower unseen in the dingy shade. But when they have found their firm supporters, how wonderful is their beauty; how all-pervading and victorious! What is the turret without its ivy, or the high garden wall without the jasmine which gives it its beauty and fragrance? The hedge without the honeysuckle is but a hedge.
There is a feeling still half-existing, but now half-conquered by the force of human nature, that a woman should be ashamed of her love till the husband's right to her compels her to acknowledge it. We would fain preach a different doctrine. A woman should glory in her love, but on that account let her take the more care that it be such as to justify her glory.
Eleanor did glory in hers, and she felt, and had cause to feel, that it deserved to be held as glorious. She could have stood there for hours with his arm round her, had fate and Mr. Thorne permitted it. Each moment she crept nearer to his bosom and felt more and more certain that there was her home. What now to her was the archdeacon's arrogance, her sister's coldness, or her dear father's weakness? What need she care for the duplicity of such friends as Charlotte Stanhope? She had found the strong shield that should guard her from all wrongs, the trusty pilot that should henceforward guide her through the shoals and rocks. She would give up the heavy burden of her independence, and once more assume the position of a woman and the duties of a trusting and loving wife.
And he, too, stood there fully satisfied with his place. They were both looking intently on the fire, as though they could read there their future fate, till at last Eleanor turned her face towards his. "How sad you are," she said, smiling; and indeed his face was, if not sad, at least serious. "How sad you are, love!"
"Sad," said he, looking down at her; "no, certainly not sad." Her sweet, loving eyes were turned towards him, and she smiled softly as he answered her. The temptation was too strong even for the demure propriety of Mr. Arabin, and bending over her, he pressed his lips to hers.
Immediately after this Mr. Thorne appeared, and they were both delighted to hear that the tail of the Beelzebub colt was not materially injured.
It had been Mr. Harding's intention to hurry over to Ullathorne as soon as possible after his return to Barchester, in order to secure the support of his daughter in his meditated revolt against the archdeacon as touching the deanery; but he was spared the additional journey by hearing that Mrs. Bold had returned unexpectedly home. As soon as he had read her note he started off, and found her waiting for him in her own house.
How much each of them had to tell the other, and how certain each was that the story which he or she had to tell would astonish the other!
"My dear, I am so anxious to see you," said Mr. Harding, kissing his daughter.
"Oh, Papa, I have so much to tell you!" said the daughter, returning the embrace.
"My dear, they have offered me the deanery!" said Mr. Harding, anticipating by the suddenness of the revelation the tidings which Eleanor had to give him.
"Oh, Papa," said she, forgetting her own love and happiness in her joy at the surprising news. "Oh, Papa, can it be possible? Dear Papa, how thoroughly, thoroughly happy that makes me!"
"But, my dear, I think it best to refuse it."
"I am sure you will agree with me, Eleanor, when I explain it to you. You know, my dear, how old I am. If I live I—"
"But, Papa, I must tell you about myself."
"Well, my dear."
"I do so wonder how you'll take it."
"If you don't rejoice at it, if it doesn't make you happy, if you don't encourage me, I shall break my heart."
"If that be the case, Nelly, I certainly will encourage you."
"But I fear you won't. I do so fear you won't. And yet you can't but think I am the most fortunate woman living on God's earth."
"Are you, dearest? Then I certainly will rejoice with you. Come, Nelly, come to me and tell me what it is."
"I am going—"
He led her to the sofa and, seating himself beside her, took both her hands in his. "You are going to be married, Nelly. Is not that it?"
"Yes," she said faintly. "That is, if you will approve;" and then she blushed as she remembered the promise which she had so lately volunteered to him and which she had so utterly forgotten in making her engagement with Mr. Arabin.
Mr. Harding thought for a moment who the man could be whom he was to be called upon to welcome as his son-in-law. A week since he would have had no doubt whom to name. In that case he would have been prepared to give his sanction, although he would have done so with a heavy heart. Now he knew that at any rate it would not be Mr. Slope, though he was perfectly at a loss to guess who could possibly have filled the place. For a moment he thought that the man might be Bertie Stanhope, and his very soul sank within him.
"Oh, Papa, promise to me that, for my sake, you will love him."
"Come, Nelly, come; tell me who it is."
"But will you love him, Papa?"
"Dearest, I must love anyone that you love." Then she turned her face to his and whispered into his ear the name of Mr. Arabin.
No man that she could have named could have more surprised or more delighted him. Had he looked round the world for a son-in-law to his taste, he could have selected no one whom he would have preferred to Mr. Arabin. He was a clergyman; he held a living in the neighbourhood; he was of a set to which all Mr. Harding's own partialities most closely adhered; he was the great friend of Dr. Grantly; and he was, moreover, a man of whom Mr. Harding knew nothing but what he approved. Nevertheless, his surprise was so great as to prevent the immediate expression of his joy. He had never thought of Mr. Arabin in connexion with his daughter; he had never imagined that they had any feeling in common. He had feared that his daughter had been made hostile to clergymen of Mr. Arabin's stamp by her intolerance of the archdeacon's pretensions. Had he been put to wish, he might have wished for Mr. Arabin for a son-in-law; but had he been put to guess, the name would never have occurred to him.
"Mr. Arabin!" he exclaimed; "impossible!"
"Oh, Papa, for heaven's sake don't say anything against him! If you love me, don't say anything against him. Oh, Papa, it's done and mustn't be undone—oh, Papa!"
Fickle Eleanor! Where was the promise that she would make no choice for herself without her father's approval? She had chosen, and now demanded his acquiescence. "Oh, Papa, isn't he good? Isn't he noble? Isn't he religious, high-minded, everything that a good man possibly can be?" She clung to her father, beseeching him for his consent.
"My Nelly, my child, my own daughter! He is; he is noble and good and high-minded; he is all that a woman can love and a man admire. He shall be my son, my own son. He shall be as close to my heart as you are. My Nelly, my child, my happy, happy child!"
We need not pursue the interview any further. By degrees they returned to the subject of the new promotion. Eleanor tried to prove to him, as the Grantlys had done, that his age could be no bar to his being a very excellent dean, but those arguments had now even less weight on him than before. He said little or nothing but sat, meditative. Every now and then he would kiss his daughter and say "yes," or "no," or "very true," or "well, my dear, I can't quite agree with you there," but he could not be got to enter sharply into the question of "to be, or not to be" Dean of Barchester. Of her and her happiness, of Mr. Arabin and his virtues, he would talk as much as Eleanor desired—and to tell the truth, that was not a little—but about the deanery he would now say nothing further. He had got a new idea into his head—why should not Mr. Arabin be the new dean?
The Archdeacon Is Satisfied with the State of Affairs
The archdeacon, in his journey into Barchester, had been assured by Mr. Harding that all their prognostications about Mr. Slope and Eleanor were groundless. Mr. Harding, however, had found it very difficult to shake his son-in-law's faith in his own acuteness. The matter had, to Dr. Grantly, been so plainly corroborated by such patent evidence, borne out by such endless circumstances, that he at first refused to take as true the positive statement which Mr. Harding made to him of Eleanor's own disavowal of the impeachment. But at last he yielded in a qualified way. He brought himself to admit that he would at the present regard his past convictions as a mistake, but in doing this he so guarded himself that if, at any future time, Eleanor should come forth to the world as Mrs. Slope, he might still be able to say: "There, I told you so. Remember what you said and what I said; and remember also for coming years, that I was right in this matter—as in all others."
He carried, however, his concession so far as to bring himself to undertake to call at Eleanor's house, and he did call accordingly, while the father and daughter were yet in the middle of their conference. Mr. Harding had had so much to hear and to say that he had forgotten to advise Eleanor of the honour that awaited her, and she heard her brother-in-law's voice in the hall while she was quite unprepared to see him.
"There's the archdeacon," she said, springing up.
"Yes, my dear. He told me to tell you that he would come and see you; but to tell the truth I had forgotten all about it."
Eleanor fled away, regardless of all her father's entreaties. She could not now, in the first hours of her joy, bring herself to bear all the archdeacon's retractions, apologies, and congratulations. He would have so much to say, and would be so tedious in saying it; consequently, the archdeacon, when he was shown into the drawing-room, found no one there but Mr. Harding.
"You must excuse Eleanor," said Mr. Harding.
"Is anything the matter?" asked the doctor, who at once anticipated that the whole truth about Mr. Slope had at last come out.
"Well, something is the matter. I wonder now whether you will be much surprised."
The archdeacon saw by his father-in-law's manner that after all he had nothing to tell him about Mr. Slope. "No," said he, "certainly not—nothing will ever surprise me again." Very many men now-a-days besides the archdeacon adopt or affect to adopt the nil admirari doctrine; but nevertheless, to judge from their appearance, they are just as subject to sudden emotions as their grandfathers and grandmothers were before them.
"What do you think Mr. Arabin has done?"
"Mr. Arabin! It's nothing about that daughter of Stanhope's, I hope?"
"No, not that woman," said Mr. Harding, enjoying his joke in his sleeve.
"Not that woman! Is he going to do anything about any woman? Why can't you speak out, if you have anything to say? There is nothing I hate so much as these sort of mysteries."
"There shall be no mystery with you, Archdeacon, though of course it must go no further at present."
"Except Susan. You must promise me you'll tell no one else."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the archdeacon, who was becoming angry in his suspense. "You can't have any secret about Mr. Arabin."
"Only this—that he and Eleanor are engaged."
It was quite clear to see, by the archdeacon's face, that he did not believe a word of it. "Mr. Arabin! It's impossible!"
"Eleanor, at any rate, has just now told me so."
"It's impossible," repeated the archdeacon.
"Well, I can't say I think it impossible. It certainly took me by surprise, but that does not make it impossible."
"She must be mistaken."
Mr. Harding assured him that there was no mistake; that he would find, on returning home, that Mr. Arabin had been at Plumstead with the express object of making the same declaration; that even Miss Thorne knew all about it; and that, in fact, the thing was as clearly settled as any such arrangement between a lady and a gentleman could well be.
"Good heavens!" said the archdeacon, walking up and down Eleanor's drawing-room. "Good heavens! Good heavens!"
Now these exclamations certainly betokened faith. Mr. Harding properly gathered from it that, at last, Dr. Grantly did believe the fact. The first utterance clearly evinced a certain amount of distaste at the information he had received; the second simply indicated surprise; in the tone of the third Mr. Harding fancied that he could catch a certain gleam of satisfaction.
The archdeacon had truly expressed the workings of his mind. He could not but be disgusted to find how utterly astray he had been in all his anticipations. Had he only been lucky enough to have suggested this marriage himself when he first brought Mr. Arabin into the country, his character for judgement and wisdom would have received an addition which would have classed him at any rate next to Solomon. And why had he not done so? Might he not have foreseen that Mr. Arabin would want a wife in his parsonage? He had foreseen that Eleanor would want a husband, but should he not also have perceived that Mr. Arabin was a man much more likely to attract her than Mr. Slope? The archdeacon found that he had been at fault and, of course, could not immediately get over his discomfiture.
Then his surprise was intense. How sly this pair of young turtle-doves had been with him. How egregiously they had hoaxed him. He had preached to Eleanor against her fancied attachment to Mr. Slope at the very time that she was in love with his own protege, Mr. Arabin, and had absolutely taken that same Mr. Arabin into his confidence with reference to his dread of Mr. Slope's alliance. It was very natural that the archdeacon should feel surprise.
But there was also great ground for satisfaction. Looking at the match by itself, it was the very thing to help the doctor out of his difficulties. In the first place, the assurance that he should never have Mr. Slope for his brother-in-law was in itself a great comfort. Then Mr. Arabin was, of all men, the one with whom it would best suit him to be so intimately connected. But the crowning comfort was the blow which this marriage would give to Mr. Slope. He had now certainly lost his wife; rumour was beginning to whisper that he might possibly lose his position in the palace; and if Mr. Harding would only be true, the great danger of all would be surmounted. In such case it might be expected that Mr. Slope would own himself vanquished, and take himself altogether away from Barchester. And so the archdeacon would again be able to breathe pure air.
"Well, well," said he. "Good heavens! Good heavens!" and the tone of the fifth exclamation made Mr. Harding fully aware that content was reigning in the archdeacon's bosom.
And then slowly, gradually, and craftily Mr. Harding propounded his own new scheme. Why should not Mr. Arabin be the new dean?
Slowly, gradually, and thoughtfully Dr. Grantly fell into his father-in-law's views. Much as he liked Mr. Arabin, sincere as was his admiration for that gentleman's ecclesiastical abilities, he would not have sanctioned a measure which would rob his father-in-law of his fairly earned promotion, were it at all practicable to induce his father-in-law to accept the promotion which he had earned. But the archdeacon had, on a former occasion, received proof of the obstinacy with which Mr. Harding could adhere to his own views in opposition to the advice of all his friends. He knew tolerably well that nothing would induce the meek, mild man before him to take the high place offered to him, if he thought it wrong to do so. Knowing this, he also said to himself more than once: "Why should not Mr. Arabin be Dean of Barchester?" It was at last arranged between them that they would together start to London by the earliest train on the following morning, making a little detour to Oxford on their journey. Dr. Gwynne's counsels, they imagined, might perhaps be of assistance to them.
These matters settled, the archdeacon hurried off, that he might return to Plumstead and prepare for his journey. The day was extremely fine, and he came into the city in an open gig. As he was driving up the High Street he encountered Mr. Slope at a crossing. Had he not pulled up rather sharply, he would have run over him. The two had never spoken to each other since they had met on a memorable occasion in the bishop's study. They did not speak now, but they looked each other full in the face, and Mr. Slope's countenance was as impudent, as triumphant, as defiant as ever. Had Dr. Grantly not known to the contrary, he would have imagined that his enemy had won the deanship, the wife, and all the rich honours for which he had been striving. As it was, he had lost everything that he had in the world, and had just received his conge from the bishop.
In leaving the town the archdeacon drove by the well-remembered entrance of Hiram's Hospital. There, at the gate, was a large, untidy farmer's wagon, laden with untidy-looking furniture; and there, inspecting the arrival, was good Mrs. Quiverful—not dressed in her Sunday best, not very clean in her apparel, not graceful as to her bonnet and shawl, or, indeed, with many feminine charms as to her whole appearance. She was busy at domestic work in her new house, and had just ventured out, expecting to see no one on the arrival of the family chattels. The archdeacon was down upon her before she knew where she was.
Her acquaintance with Dr. Grantly or his family was very slight indeed. The archdeacon, as a matter of course, knew every clergyman in the archdeaconry—it may almost be said in the diocese—and had some acquaintance, more or less intimate, with their wives and families. With Mr. Quiverful he had been concerned on various matters of business, but of Mrs. Q. he had seen very little. Now, however, he was in too gracious a mood to pass her by unnoticed. The Quiverfuls, one and all, had looked for the bitterest hostility from Dr. Grantly; they knew his anxiety that Mr. Harding should return to his old home at the hospital, and they did not know that a new home had been offered to him at the deanery. Mrs. Quiverful was therefore not a little surprised, and not a little rejoiced also, at the tone in which she was addressed.
"How do you do, Mrs. Quiverful, how do you do?" said he, stretching his left hand out of the gig as he spoke to her. "I am very glad to see you employed in so pleasant and useful a manner; very glad indeed."
Mrs. Quiverful thanked him, and shook hands with him, and looked into his face suspiciously. She was not sure whether the congratulations and kindness were or were not ironical.
"Pray tell Mr. Quiverful from me," he continued, "that I am rejoiced at his appointment. It's a comfortable place, Mrs. Quiverful, and a comfortable house, and I am very glad to see you in it. Good-bye—good-bye." And he drove on, leaving the lady well pleased and astonished at his good nature. On the whole things were going well with the archdeacon, and he could afford to be charitable to Mrs. Quiverful. He looked forth from his gig smilingly on all the world, and forgave everyone in Barchester their sins, excepting only Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope. Had he seen the bishop, he would have felt inclined to pat even him kindly on the head.
He determined to go home by St. Ewold's. This would take him some three miles out of his way, but he felt that he could not leave Plumstead comfortably without saying one word of good-fellowship to Mr. Arabin. When he reached the parsonage, the vicar was still out, but from what he had heard, he did not doubt but that he would meet him on the road between their two houses. He was right in this, for about half-way home, at a narrow turn, he came upon Mr. Arabin, who was on horseback.
"Well, well, well, well," said the archdeacon loudly, joyously, and with supreme good humour; "well, well, well, well; so, after all, we have no further cause to fear Mr. Slope."
"I hear from Mrs. Grantly that they have offered the deanery to Mr. Harding," said the other.
"Mr. Slope has lost more than the deanery I find," and then the archdeacon laughed jocosely. "Come, come, Arabin, you have kept your secret well enough. I know all about it now."
"I have had no secret, Archdeacon," said the other with a quiet smile. "None at all—not for a day. It was only yesterday that I knew my own good fortune, and to-day I went over to Plumstead to ask your approval. From what Mrs. Grantly has said to me, I am led to hope that I shall have it."
"With all my heart, with all my heart," said the archdeacon cordially, holding his friend fast by the hand. "It's just as I would have it. She is an excellent young woman; she will not come to you empty-handed; and I think she will make you a good wife. If she does her duty by you as her sister does by me, you'll be a happy man; that's all I can say." And as he finished speaking a tear might have been observed in each of the doctor's eyes.
Mr. Arabin warmly returned the archdeacon's grasp, but he said little. His heart was too full for speaking, and he could not express the gratitude which he felt. Dr. Grantly understood him as well as though he had spoken for an hour.
"And mind, Arabin," said he, "no one but myself shall tie the knot. We'll get Eleanor out to Plumstead, and it shall come off there. I'll make Susan stir herself, and we'll do it in style. I must be off to London to-morrow on special business. Harding goes with me. But I'll be back before your bride has got her wedding-dress ready." And so they parted.
On his journey home the archdeacon occupied his mind with preparations for the marriage festivities. He made a great resolve that he would atone to Eleanor for all the injury he had done her by the munificence of his future treatment. He would show her what was the difference in his eyes between a Slope and an Arabin. On one other thing also he decided with a firm mind: if the affair of the dean should not be settled in Mr. Arabin's favour, nothing should prevent him putting a new front and bow-window to the dining-room at St. Ewold's parsonage.
"So we're sold after all, Sue," said he to his wife, accosting her with a kiss as soon as he entered his house. He did not call his wife Sue above twice or thrice in a year, and these occasions were great high days.
"Eleanor has had more sense than we gave her credit for," said Mrs. Grantly.
And there was great content in Plumstead Rectory that evening. Mrs. Grantly promised her husband that she would now open her heart and take Mr. Arabin into it. Hitherto she had declined to do so.
Mr. Slope Bids Farewell to the Palace and Its Inhabitants
We must now take leave of Mr. Slope, and of the bishop also, and of Mrs. Proudie. These leave-takings in novels are as disagreeable as they are in real life; not so sad, indeed, for they want the reality of sadness; but quite as perplexing, and generally less satisfactory. What novelist, what Fielding, what Scott, what George Sand, or Sue, or Dumas, can impart an interest to the last chapter of his fictitious history? Promises of two children and superhuman happiness are of no avail, nor assurance of extreme respectability carried to an age far exceeding that usually allotted to mortals. The sorrows of our heroes and heroines, they are your delight, oh public!—their sorrows, or their sins, or their absurdities; not their virtues, good sense, and consequent rewards. When we begin to tint our final pages with couleur de rose, as in accordance with fixed rule we must do, we altogether extinguish our own powers of pleasing. When we become dull, we offend your intellect; and we must become dull or we should offend your taste. A late writer, wishing to sustain his interest to the last page, hung his hero at the end of the third volume. The consequence was that no one would read his novel. And who can apportion out and dovetail his incidents, dialogues, characters, and descriptive morsels so as to fit them all exactly into 930 pages, without either compressing them unnaturally, or extending them artificially at the end of his labour? Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgelling my brains to find them? And then, when everything is done, the kindest-hearted critic of them all invariably twits us with the incompetency and lameness of our conclusion. We have either become idle and neglected it, or tedious and overlaboured it. It is insipid or unnatural, overstrained or imbecile. It means nothing, or attempts too much. The last scene of all, as all last scenes we fear must be,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
I can only say that if some critic who thoroughly knows his work, and has laboured on it till experience has made him perfect, will write the last fifty pages of a novel in the way they should be written, I, for one, will in future do my best to copy the example. Guided by my own lights only, I confess that I despair of success.
For the last week or ten days Mr. Slope had seen nothing of Mrs. Proudie, and very little of the bishop. He still lived in the palace, and still went through his usual routine work; but the confidential doings of the diocese had passed into other hands. He had seen this clearly and marked it well, but it had not much disturbed him. He had indulged in other hopes till the bishop's affairs had become dull to him, and he was moreover aware that, as regarded the diocese, Mrs. Proudie had checkmated him. It has been explained, in the beginning of these pages, how three or four were contending together as to who, in fact, should be Bishop of Barchester. Each of these had now admitted to himself (or boasted to herself) that Mrs. Proudie was victorious in the struggle. They had gone through a competitive examination of considerable severity, and she had come forth the winner, facile princeps. Mr. Slope had for a moment run her hard, but it was only for a moment. It had become, as it were, acknowledged that Hiram's Hospital should be the testing-point between them, and now Mr. Quiverful was already in the hospital, the proof of Mrs. Proudie's skill and courage.
All this did not break down Mr. Slope's spirit, because he had other hopes. But, alas, at last there came to him a note from his friend Sir Nicholas, informing him that the deanship was disposed of. Let us give Mr. Slope his due. He did not lie prostrate under this blow, or give himself up to vain lamentations; he did not henceforward despair of life and call upon gods above and gods below to carry him off. He sat himself down in his chair, counted out what monies he had in hand for present purposes and what others were coming in to him, bethought himself as to the best sphere for his future exertions, and at once wrote off a letter to a rich sugar-refiner's wife in Baker Street, who, as he well knew, was much given to the entertainment and encouragement of serious young evangelical clergymen. He was again, he said, "upon the world, having found the air of a cathedral town, and the very nature of cathedral services, uncongenial to his spirit;" and then he sat awhile, making firm resolves as to his manner of parting from the bishop, and also as to his future conduct.
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue (black), To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new.
Having received a formal command to wait upon the bishop, he rose and proceeded to obey it. He rang the bell and desired the servant to inform his master that, if it suited his lordship, he, Mr. Slope, was ready to wait upon him. The servant, who well understood that Mr. Slope was no longer in the ascendant, brought back a message saying that "his lordship desired that Mr. Slope would attend him immediately in his study." Mr. Slope waited about ten minutes more to prove his independence, and then he went into the bishop's room. There, as he had expected, he found Mrs. Proudie, together with her husband.
"Hum, ha—Mr. Slope, pray take a chair," said the gentleman bishop.
"Pray be seated, Mr. Slope," said the lady bishop.
"Thank ye, thank ye," said Mr. Slope, and walking round to the fire, he threw himself into one of the armchairs that graced the hearth-rug.
"Mr. Slope," said the bishop, "it has become necessary that I should speak to you definitively on a matter that has for some time been pressing itself on my attention."
"May I ask whether the subject is in any way connected with myself?" said Mr. Slope.
"It is so—certainly—yes, it certainly is connected with yourself, Mr. Slope."
"Then, my lord, if I may be allowed to express a wish, I would prefer that no discussion on the subject should take place between us in the presence of a third person."
"Don't alarm yourself, Mr. Slope," said Mrs. Proudie, "no discussion is at all necessary. The bishop merely intends to express his own wishes."
"I merely intend, Mr. Slope, to express my own wishes—no discussion will be at all necessary," said the bishop, reiterating his wife's words.
"That is more, my lord, than we any of us can be sure of," said Mr. Slope; "I cannot, however, force Mrs. Proudie to leave the room; nor can I refuse to remain here if it be your lordship's wish that I should do so."
"It is his lordship's wish, certainly," said Mrs. Proudie.
"Mr. Slope," began the bishop in a solemn, serious voice, "it grieves me to have to find fault. It grieves me much to have to find fault with a clergyman—but especially so with a clergyman in your position."
"Why, what have I done amiss, my lord?" demanded Mr. Slope boldly.
"What have you done amiss, Mr. Slope?" said Mrs. Proudie, standing erect before the culprit and raising that terrible forefinger. "Do you dare to ask the bishop what you have done amiss? Does not your conscience—"
"Mrs. Proudie, pray let it be understood, once for all, that I will have no words with you."
"Ah, sir, but you will have words," said she; "you must have words. Why have you had so many words with that Signora Neroni? Why have you disgraced yourself, you a clergyman, too, by constantly consorting with such a woman as that—with a married woman—with one altogether unfit for a clergyman's society?"
"At any rate I was introduced to her in your drawing-room," retorted Mr. Slope.
"And shamefully you behaved there," said Mrs. Proudie; "most shamefully. I was wrong to allow you to remain in the house a day after what I then saw. I should have insisted on your instant dismissal."
"I have yet to learn, Mrs. Proudie, that you have the power to insist either on my going from hence or on my staying here."
"What!" said the lady. "I am not to have the privilege of saying who shall and who shall not frequent my own drawing-room! I am not to save my servants and dependants from having their morals corrupted by improper conduct! I am not to save my own daughters from impurity! I will let you see, Mr. Slope, whether I have the power or whether I have not. You will have the goodness to understand that you no longer fill any situation about the bishop, and as your room will be immediately wanted in the palace for another chaplain, I must ask you to provide yourself with apartments as soon as may be convenient to you."
"My lord," said Mr. Slope, appealing to the bishop, and so turning his back completely on the lady, "will you permit me to ask that I may have from your own lips any decision that you may have come to on this matter?"
"Certainly, Mr. Slope, certainly," said the bishop; "that is but reasonable. Well, my decision is that you had better look for some other preferment. For the situation which you have lately held I do not think that you are well suited."
"And what, my lord, has been my fault?"
"That Signora Neroni is one fault," said Mrs. Proudie; "and a very abominable fault she is; very abominable and very disgraceful. Fie, Mr. Slope, fie! You an evangelical clergyman indeed!"