And now Tom Staple proffered such wisdom as he had for the assistance of Dr. Gwynne and Mr. Arabin.
"Quite out of the question," said he, arguing that Mr. Slope could not possibly be made the new Dean of Barchester.
"So I think," said the master. "He has no standing, and, if all I hear be true, very little character."
"As to character," said Tom Staple, "I don't think much of that. They rather like loose parsons for deans; a little fast living, or a dash of infidelity, is no bad recommendation to a cathedral close. But they couldn't make Mr. Slope; the last two deans have been Cambridge men; you'll not show me an instance of their making three men running from the same university. We don't get our share and never shall, I suppose, but we must at least have one out of three."
"Those sort of rules are all gone by now," said Mr. Arabin.
"Everything has gone by, I believe," said Tom Staple. "The cigar has been smoked out, and we are the ashes."
"Speak for yourself, Staple," said the master.
"I speak for all," said the tutor stoutly. "It is coming to that, that there will be no life left anywhere in the country. No one is any longer fit to rule himself, or those belonging to him. The Government is to find us all in everything, and the press is to find the Government. Nevertheless, Mr. Slope won't be Dean of Barchester."
"And who will be warden of the hospital?" said Mr. Arabin.
"I hear that Mr. Quiverful is already appointed," said Tom Staple.
"I think not," said the master. "And I think, moreover, that Dr. Proudie will not be so short-sighted as to run against such a rock: Mr. Slope should himself have sense enough to prevent it."
"But perhaps Mr. Slope may have no objection to see his patron on a rock," said the suspicious tutor.
"What could he get by that?" asked Mr. Arabin.
"It is impossible to see the doubles of such a man," said Mr. Staple. "It seems quite clear that Bishop Proudie is altogether in his hands, and it is equally clear that he has been moving heaven and earth to get this Mr. Quiverful into the hospital, although he must know that such an appointment would be most damaging to the bishop. It is impossible to understand such a man, and dreadful to think," added Tom Staple, sighing deeply, "that the welfare and fortunes of good men may depend on his intrigues."
Dr. Gwynne or Mr. Staple were not in the least aware, nor even was Mr. Arabin, that this Mr. Slope, of whom they were talking, had been using his utmost efforts to put their own candidate into the hospital, and that in lieu of being permanent in the palace, his own expulsion therefrom had been already decided on by the high powers of the diocese.
"I'll tell you what," said the tutor, "if this Quiverful is thrust into the hospital and Dr. Trefoil does die, I should not wonder if the Government were to make Mr. Harding Dean of Barchester. They would feel bound to do something for him after all that was said when he resigned."
Dr. Gwynne at the moment made no reply to this suggestion, but it did not the less impress itself on his mind. If Mr. Harding could not be warden of the hospital, why should he not be Dean of Barchester?
And so the conference ended without any very fixed resolution, and Dr. Gwynne and Mr. Arabin prepared for their journey to Plumstead on the morrow.
Miss Thorne's Fete Champetre
The day of the Ullathorne party arrived, and all the world were there—or at least so much of the world as had been included in Miss Thorne's invitation. As we have said, the bishop returned home on the previous evening, and on the same evening and by the same train came Dr. Gwynne and Mr. Arabin from Oxford. The archdeacon with his brougham was in waiting for the Master of Lazarus, so that there was a goodly show of church dignitaries on the platform of the railway.
The Stanhope party was finally arranged in the odious manner already described, and Eleanor got into the doctor's carriage full of apprehension and presentiment of further misfortune, whereas Mr. Slope entered the vehicle elate with triumph.
He had received that morning a very civil note from Sir Nicholas Fitzwhiggin, not promising much, indeed, but then Mr. Slope knew, or fancied that he knew, that it was not etiquette for government officers to make promises. Though Sir Nicholas promised nothing he implied a good deal, declared his conviction that Mr. Slope would make an excellent dean, and wished him every kind of success. To be sure he added that, not being in the cabinet, he was never consulted on such matters, and that even if he spoke on the subject, his voice would go for nothing. But all this Mr. Slope took for the prudent reserve of official life. To complete his anticipated triumphs, another letter was brought to him just as he was about to start to Ullathorne.
Mr. Slope also enjoyed the idea of handing Mrs. Bold out of Dr. Stanhope's carriage before the multitude at Ullathorne gate as much as Eleanor dreaded the same ceremony. He had fully made up his mind to throw himself and his fortune at the widow's feet, and had almost determined to select the present propitious morning for doing so. The signora had of late been less than civil to him. She had indeed admitted his visits and listened, at any rate without anger, to his love, but she had tortured him and reviled him, jeered at him and ridiculed him, while she allowed him to call her the most beautiful of living women, to kiss her hand, and to proclaim himself with reiterated oaths her adorer, her slave and worshipper.
Miss Thorne was in great perturbation, yet in great glory, on the morning of the gala day. Mr. Thorne also, though the party was none of his giving, had much heavy work on his hands. But perhaps the most overtasked, the most anxious, and the most effective of all the Ullathorne household was Mr. Plomacy, the steward. This last personage had, in the time of Mr. Thorne's father, when the Directory held dominion in France, gone over to Paris with letters in his boot-heel for some of the royal party, and such had been his good luck that he had returned safe. He had then been very young and was now very old, but the exploit gave him a character for political enterprise and secret discretion which still availed him as thoroughly as it had done in its freshest gloss. Mr. Plomacy had been steward of Ullathorne for more than fifty years, and a very easy life he had had of it. Who could require much absolute work from a man who had carried safely at his heel that which, if discovered, would have cost him his head? Consequently Mr. Plomacy had never worked hard, and of latter years had never worked at all. He had a taste for timber, and therefore he marked the trees that were to be cut down; he had a taste for gardening, and would therefore allow no shrub to be planted or bed to be made without his express sanction. In these matters he was sometimes driven to run counter to his mistress, but he rarely allowed his mistress to carry the point against him.
But on occasions such as the present Mr. Plomacy came out strong. He had the honour of the family at heart; he thoroughly appreciated the duties of hospitality; and therefore, when gala doings were going on, he always took the management into his own hands and reigned supreme over master and mistress.
To give Mr. Plomacy his due, old as he was, he thoroughly understood such work as he had in hand, and did it well.
The order of the day was to be as follows. The quality, as the upper classes in rural districts are designated by the lower with so much true discrimination, were to eat a breakfast, and the non-quality were to eat a dinner. Two marquees had been erected for these two banquets: that for the quality on the esoteric or garden side of a certain deep ha-ha; and that for the non-quality on the exoteric or paddock side of the same. Both were of huge dimensions—that on the outer side was, one may say, on an egregious scale—but Mr. Plomacy declared that neither would be sufficient. To remedy this, an auxiliary banquet was prepared in the dining-room, and a subsidiary board was to be spread sub dio for the accommodation of the lower class of yokels on the Ullathorne property.
No one who has not had a hand in the preparation of such an affair can understand the manifold difficulties which Miss Thorne encountered in her project. Had she not been made throughout of the very finest whalebone, riveted with the best Yorkshire steel, she must have sunk under them. Had not Mr. Plomacy felt how much was justly expected from a man who at one time carried the destinies of Europe in his boot, he would have given way, and his mistress, so deserted, must have perished among her poles and canvas.
In the first place there was a dreadful line to be drawn. Who were to dispose themselves within the ha-ha, and who without? To this the unthinking will give an off-hand answer, as they will to every ponderous question. Oh, the bishop and such-like within the ha-ha, and Farmer Greenacre and such-like without. True, my unthinking friend, but who shall define these such-likes? It is in such definitions that the whole difficulty of society consists. To seat the bishop on an arm-chair on the lawn and place Farmer Greenacre at the end of a long table in the paddock is easy enough, but where will you put Mrs. Lookaloft, whose husband, though a tenant on the estate, hunts in a red coat, whose daughters go to a fashionable seminary in Barchester, who calls her farm-house Rosebank, and who has a pianoforte in her drawing-room? The Misses Lookaloft, as they call themselves, won't sit contented among the bumpkins. Mrs. Lookaloft won't squeeze her fine clothes on a bench and talk familiarly about cream and ducklings to good Mrs. Greenacre. And yet Mrs. Lookaloft is no fit companion and never has been the associate of the Thornes and the Grantlys. And if Mrs. Lookaloft be admitted within the sanctum of fashionable life, if she be allowed with her three daughters to leap the ha-ha, why not the wives and daughters of other families also? Mrs. Greenacre is at present well contented with the paddock, but she might cease to be so if she saw Mrs. Lookaloft on the lawn. And thus poor Miss Thorne had a hard time of it.
And how was she to divide her guests between the marquee and the parlour? She had a countess coming, an Honourable John and an Honourable George, and a whole bevy of Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, &c; she had a leash of baronets with their baronettes; and, as we all know, she had a bishop. If she put them on the lawn, no one would go into the parlour; if she put them into the parlour, no one would go into the tent. She thought of keeping the old people in the house and leaving the lawn to the lovers. She might as well have seated herself at once in a hornet's nest. Mr. Plomacy knew better than this. "Bless your soul, ma'am," said he, "there won't be no old ladies—not one, barring yourself and old Mrs. Clantantram."
Personally Miss Thorne accepted this distinction in her favour as a compliment to her good sense, but nevertheless she had no desire to be closeted on the coming occasion with Mrs. Clantantram. She gave up all idea of any arbitrary division of her guests and determined if possible to put the bishop on the lawn and the countess in the house, to sprinkle the baronets, and thus divide the attractions. What to do with the Lookalofts even Mr. Plomacy could not decide. They must take their chance. They had been specially told in the invitation that all the tenants had been invited, and they might probably have the good sense to stay away if they objected to mix with the rest of the tenantry.
Then Mr. Plomacy declared his apprehension that the Honourable Johns and Honourable Georges would come in a sort of amphibious costume, half-morning, half-evening, satin neck-handkerchiefs, frock-coats, primrose gloves, and polished boots; and that, being so dressed, they would decline riding at the quintain, or taking part in any of the athletic games which Miss Thorne had prepared with so much fond care. If the Lord Johns and Lord Georges didn't ride at the quintain, Miss Thorne might be sure that nobody else would.
"But," said she in dolorous voice, all but overcome by her cares, "it was specially signified that there were to be sports."
"And so there will be, of course," said Mr. Plomacy. "They'll all be sporting with the young ladies in the laurel walks. Them's the sports they care most about now-a-days. If you gets the young men at the quintain, you'll have all the young women in the pouts."
"Can't they look on as their great grandmothers did before them?" said Miss Thorne.
"It seems to me that the ladies ain't contented with looking now-a-days. Whatever the men do they'll do. If you'll have side-saddles on the nags; and let them go at the quintain too, it'll answer capital, no doubt."
Miss Thorne made no reply. She felt that she had no good ground on which to defend her sex of the present generation from the sarcasm of Mr. Plomacy. She had once declared, in one of her warmer moments, "that now-a-days the gentlemen were all women, and the ladies all men." She could not alter the debased character of the age. But, such being the case, why should she take on herself to cater for the amusement of people of such degraded tastes? This question she asked herself more than once, and she could only answer herself with a sigh. There was her own brother Wilfred, on whose shoulders rested all the ancient honours of Ullathorne house; it was very doubtful whether even he would consent to "go at the quintain," as Mr. Plomacy not injudiciously expressed it.
And now the morning arrived. The Ullathorne household was early on the move. Cooks were cooking in the kitchen long before daylight, and men were dragging out tables and hammering red baize on to benches at the earliest dawn. With what dread eagerness did Miss Thorne look out at the weather as soon as the parting veil of night permitted her to look at all! In this respect, at any rate, there was nothing to grieve her. The glass had been rising for the last three days, and the morning broke with that dull, chill, steady, grey haze which in autumn generally presages a clear and dry day. By seven she was dressed and down. Miss Thorne knew nothing of the modern luxury of deshabilles. She would as soon have thought of appearing before her brother without her stockings as without her stays—and Miss Thorne's stays were no trifle.
And yet there was nothing for her to do when down. She fidgeted out to the lawn and then back into the kitchen. She put on her high-heeled clogs and fidgeted out into the paddock. Then she went into the small home park where the quintain was erected. The pole and cross-bar and the swivel and the target and the bag of flour were all complete. She got up on a carpenter's bench and touched the target with her hand; it went round with beautiful ease; the swivel had been oiled to perfection. She almost wished to take old Plomacy at his word, to get on a side-saddle and have a tilt at it herself. What must a young man be, thought she, who could prefer maundering among laurel trees with a wishy-washy school-girl to such fun as this? "Well," said she aloud to herself, "one man can take a horse to water, but a thousand can't make him drink. There it is. If they haven't the spirit to enjoy it, the fault shan't be mine;" and so she returned to the house.
At a little after eight her brother came down, and they had a sort of scrap breakfast in his study. The tea was made without the customary urn, and they dispensed with the usual rolls and toast. Eggs also were missing, for every egg in the parish had been whipped into custards, baked into pies, or boiled into lobster salad. The allowance of fresh butter was short, and Mr. Thorne was obliged to eat the leg of a fowl without having it devilled in the manner he loved.
"I have been looking at the quintain, Wilfred," said she, "and it appears to be quite right."
"Oh—ah, yes," said he. "It seemed to be so yesterday when I saw it." Mr. Thorne was beginning to be rather bored by his sister's love of sports, and had especially no affection for this quintain post.
"I wish you'd just try it after breakfast," said she. "You could have the saddle put on Mark Antony, and the pole is there all handy. You can take the flour bag off, you know, if you think Mark Antony won't be quick enough," added Miss Thorne, seeing that her brother's countenance was not indicative of complete accordance with her little proposition.
Now Mark Antony was a valuable old hunter, excellently suited to Mr. Thorne's usual requirements, steady indeed at his fences, but extremely sure, very good in deep ground, and safe on the roads. But he had never yet been ridden at a quintain, and Mr. Thorne was not inclined to put him to the trial, either with or without the bag of flour. He hummed and hawed and finally declared that he was afraid Mark Antony would shy.
"Then try the cob," said the indefatigable Miss Thorne.
"He's in physic," said Wilfred.
"There's the Beelzebub colt," said his sister. "I know he's in the stable because I saw Peter exercising him just now."
"My dear Monica, he's so wild that it's as much as I can do to manage him at all. He'd destroy himself and me, too, if I attempted to ride him at such a rattletrap as that."
A rattletrap! The quintain that she had put up with so much anxious care; the game that she had prepared for the amusement of the stalwart yeomen of the country; the sport that had been honoured by the affection of so many of their ancestors! It cut her to the heart to hear it so denominated by her own brother. There were but the two of them left together in the world, and it had ever been one of the rules by which Miss Thorne had regulated her conduct through life to say nothing that could provoke her brother. She had often had to suffer from his indifference to time-honoured British customs, but she had always suffered in silence. It was part of her creed that the head of the family should never be upbraided in his own house, and Miss Thorne had lived up to her creed. Now, however, she was greatly tried. The colour mounted to her ancient cheek, and the fire blazed in her still bright eyes; but yet she said nothing. She resolved that, at any rate, to him nothing more should be said about the quintain that day.
She sipped her tea in silent sorrow and thought with painful regret of the glorious days when her great ancestor Ealfried had successfully held Ullathorne against a Norman invader. There was no such spirit now left in her family except that small useless spark which burnt in her own bosom. And she herself, was not she at this moment intent on entertaining a descendant of those very Normans, a vain proud countess with a Frenchified name who would only think that she graced Ullathorne too highly by entering its portals? Was it likely that an Honourable John, the son of an Earl De Courcy, should ride at a quintain in company with Saxon yeomen? And why should she expect her brother to do that which her brother's guests would decline to do?
Some dim faint idea of the impracticability of her own views flitted across her brain. Perhaps it was necessary that races doomed to live on the same soil should give way to each other and adopt each other's pursuits. Perhaps it was impossible that after more than five centuries of close intercourse, Normans should remain Normans, and Saxons, Saxons. Perhaps, after all, her neighbours were wiser than herself. Such ideas did occasionally present themselves to Miss Thorne's mind and make her sad enough. But it never occurred to her that her favourite quintain was but a modern copy of a Norman knight's amusement, an adaptation of the noble tourney to the tastes and habits of the Saxon yeomen. Of this she was ignorant, and it would have been cruelty to instruct her.
When Mr. Thorne saw the tear in her eye, he repented himself of his contemptuous expression. By him also it was recognized as a binding law that every whim of his sister was to be respected. He was not perhaps so firm in his observances to her as she was in hers to him. But his intentions were equally good, and whenever he found that he had forgotten them, it was matter of grief to him.
"My dear Monica," said he, "I beg your pardon. I don't in the least mean to speak ill of the game. When I called it a rattletrap, I merely meant that it was so for a man of my age. You know you always forget that I an't a young man."
"I am quite sure you are not an old man, Wilfred," said she, accepting the apology in her heart and smiling at him with the tear still on her cheek.
"If I was five-and-twenty, or thirty," continued he, "I should like nothing better than riding at the quintain all day."
"But you are not too old to hunt or to shoot," said she. "If you can jump over a ditch and hedge, I am sure you could turn the quintain round."
"But when I ride over the hedges, my dear—and it isn't very often I do that—but when I do ride over the hedges, there isn't any bag of flour coming after me. Think how I'd look taking the countess out to breakfast with the back of my head all covered with meal."
Miss, Thorne said nothing further. She didn't like the allusion to the countess. She couldn't be satisfied with the reflection that the sports at Ullathorne should be interfered with by the personal attentions necessary for a Lady De Courcy. But she saw that it was useless for her to push the matter further. It was conceded that Mr. Thorne was to be spared the quintain, and Miss Thorne determined to trust wholly to a youthful knight of hers, an immense favourite, who, as she often declared, was a pattern to the young men of the age and an excellent sample of an English yeoman.
This was Farmer Greenacre's eldest son, who, to tell the truth, had from his earliest years taken the exact measure of Miss Thorne's foot. In his boyhood he had never failed to obtain from her apples, pocket-money, and forgiveness for his numerous trespasses; and now in his early manhood he got privileges and immunities which were equally valuable. He was allowed a day or two's shooting in September; he schooled the squire's horses; got slips of trees out of the orchard and roots of flowers out of the garden; and had the fishing of the little river altogether in his own hands. He had undertaken to come mounted on a nag of his father's and show the way at the quintain post. Whatever young Greenacre did the others would do after him. The juvenile Lookalofts might stand aloof, but the rest of the youth of Ullathorne would be sure to venture if Harry Greenacre showed the way. And so Miss Thorne made up her mind to dispense with the noble Johns and Georges and trust, as her ancestors had done before her, to the thews and sinews of native Ullathorne growth.
At about nine the lower orders began to congregate in the paddock and park, under the surveillance of Mr. Plomacy and the head gardener and head groom, who were sworn in as his deputies and were to assist him in keeping the peace and promoting the sports. Many of the younger inhabitants of the neighbourhood, thinking that they could not have too much of a good thing, had come at a very early hour, and the road between the house and the church had been thronged for some time before the gates were thrown open.
And then another difficulty of huge dimensions arose, a difficulty which Mr. Plomacy had indeed foreseen and for which he was in some sort provided. Some of those who wished to share Miss Thorne's hospitality were not so particular as they should have been as to the preliminary ceremony of an invitation. They doubtless conceived that they had been overlooked by accident, and instead of taking this in dudgeon, as their betters would have done, they good-naturedly put up with the slight, and showed that they did so by presenting themselves at the gate in their Sunday best.
Mr. Plomacy, however, well-knew who were welcome and who were not. To some, even though uninvited, he allowed ingress. "Don't be too particular, Plomacy," his mistress had said, "especially with the children. If they live anywhere near, let them in."
Acting on this hint, Mr. Plomacy did let in many an eager urchin and a few tidily dressed girls with their swains who in no way belonged to the property. But to the denizens of the city he was inexorable. Many a Barchester apprentice made his appearance there that day and urged with piteous supplication that he had been working all the week in making saddles and boots for the use of Ullathorne, in compounding doses for the horses, or cutting up carcasses for the kitchen. No such claim was allowed. Mr. Plomacy knew nothing about the city apprentices; he was to admit the tenants and labourers on the estate; Miss Thorne wasn't going to take in the whole city of Barchester; and so on.
Nevertheless, before the day was half over, all this was found to be useless. Almost anybody who chose to come made his way into the park, and the care of the guardians was transferred to the tables on which the banquet was spread. Even here there was many an unauthorised claimant for a place, of whom it was impossible to get quit without more commotion than the place and food were worth.
Ullathorne Sports—Act I
The trouble in civilized life of entertaining company, as it is called too generally without much regard to strict veracity, is so great that it cannot but be matter of wonder that people are so fond of attempting it. It is difficult to ascertain what is the quid pro quo. If they who give such laborious parties, and who endure such toil and turmoil in the vain hope of giving them successfully, really enjoyed the parties given by others, the matter could be understood. A sense of justice would induce men and women to undergo, in behalf of others, those miseries which others had undergone in their behalf. But they all profess that going out is as great a bore as receiving, and to look at them when they are out, one cannot but believe them.
Entertain! Who shall have sufficient self-assurance, who shall feel sufficient confidence in his own powers to dare to boast that he can entertain his company? A clown can sometimes do so, and sometimes a dancer in short petticoats and stuffed pink legs; occasionally, perhaps, a singer. But beyond these, success in this art of entertaining is not often achieved. Young men and girls linking themselves kind with kind, pairing like birds in spring because nature wills it, they, after a simple fashion, do entertain each other. Few others even try.
Ladies, when they open their houses, modestly confessing, it may be presumed, their own incapacity, mainly trust to wax candles and upholstery. Gentlemen seem to rely on their white waistcoats. To these are added, for the delight of the more sensual, champagne and such good things of the table as fashion allows to be still considered as comestible. Even in this respect the world is deteriorating. All the good soups are now tabooed, and at the houses of one's accustomed friends—small barristers, doctors, government clerks, and such-like (for we cannot all of us always live as grandees, surrounded by an elysium of livery servants)—one gets a cold potato handed to one as a sort of finale to one's slice of mutton. Alas for those happy days when one could say to one's neighbour, "Jones, shall I give you some mashed turnip? May I trouble you for a little cabbage?" And then the pleasure of drinking wine with Mrs. Jones and Miss Smith—with all the Joneses and all the Smiths! These latter-day habits are certainly more economical.
Miss Thorne, however, boldly attempted to leave the modern, beaten track, and made a positive effort to entertain her guests. Alas! She did so with but moderate success. They had all their own way of going, and would not go her way. She piped to them, but they would not dance. She offered to them good, honest household cake made of currants and flour and eggs and sweetmeat, but they would feed themselves on trashy wafers from the shop of the Barchester pastry-cook, on chalk and gum and adulterated sugar. Poor Miss Thorne! Yours is not the first honest soul that has vainly striven to recall the glories of happy days gone by! If fashion suggests to a Lady De Courcy that, when invited to a dejeuner at twelve she ought to come at three, no eloquence of thine will teach her the advantage of a nearer approach to punctuality.
She had fondly thought that when she called on her friends to come at twelve, and specially begged them to believe that she meant it, she would be able to see them comfortably seated in their tents at two. Vain woman—or rather ignorant woman—ignorant of the advances of that civilization which the world had witnessed while she was growing old. At twelve she found herself alone, dressed in all the glory of the newest of her many suits of raiment—with strong shoes however, and a serviceable bonnet on her head, and a warm, rich shawl on her shoulders. Thus clad, she peered out into the tent, went to the ha-ha, and satisfied herself that at any rate the youngsters were amusing themselves, spoke a word to Mrs. Greenacre over the ditch, and took one look at the quintain. Three or four young farmers were turning the machine round and round and poking at the bag of flour in a manner not at all intended by the inventor of the game; but no mounted sportsmen were there. Miss Thorne looked at her watch. It was only fifteen minutes past twelve, and it was understood that Harry Greenacre was not to begin till the half-hour.
Miss Thorne returned to her drawing-room rather quicker than was her wont, fearing that the countess might come and find none to welcome her. She need not have hurried, for no one was there. At half-past twelve she peeped into the kitchen; at a quarter to one she was joined by her brother; and just then the first fashionable arrival took place. Mrs. Clantantram was announced.
No announcement was necessary, indeed, for the good lady's voice was heard as she walked across the courtyard to the house, scolding the unfortunate postilion who had driven her from Barchester. At the moment Miss Thorne could not but be thankful that the other guests were more fashionable and were thus spared the fury of Mrs. Clantantram's indignation.
"Oh, Miss Thorne, look here!" said she as soon as she found herself in the drawing-room; "do look at my roque-laure. It's clean spoilt, and forever. I wouldn't but wear it because I knew you wished us all to be grand to-day, and yet I had my misgivings. Oh dear, oh dear! It was five-and-twenty shillings a yard."
The Barchester post-horses had misbehaved in some unfortunate manner just as Mrs. Clantantram was getting out of the chaise and had nearly thrown her under the wheel.
Mrs. Clantantram belonged to other days, and therefore, though she had but little else to recommend her, Miss Thorne was to a certain extent fond of her. She sent the roque-laure away to be cleaned, and lent her one of her best shawls out of her own wardrobe.
The next comer was Mr. Arabin, who was immediately informed of Mrs. Clantantram's misfortune and of her determination to pay neither master nor post-boy, although, as she remarked, she intended to get her lift home before she made known her mind upon that matter. Then a good deal of rustling was heard in the sort of lobby that was used for the ladies' outside cloaks, and the door having been thrown wide open, the servant announced, not in the most confident of voices, Mrs. Lookaloft, and the Miss Lookalofts, and Mr. Augustus Lookaloft.
Poor man!—we mean the footman. He knew, none better, that Mrs. Lookaloft had no business there, that she was not wanted there, and would not be welcome. But he had not the courage to tell a stout lady with a low dress, short sleeves, and satin at eight shillings a yard that she had come to the wrong tent; he had not dared to hint to young ladies with white dancing shoes and long gloves that there was a place ready for them in the paddock. And thus Mrs. Lookaloft carried her point, broke through the guards, and made her way into the citadel. That she would have to pass an uncomfortable time there she had surmised before. But nothing now could rob her of the power of boasting that she had consorted on the lawn with the squire and Miss Thorne, with a countess, a bishop, and the county grandees, while Mrs. Greenacre and such-like were walking about with the ploughboys in the park. It was a great point gained by Mrs. Lookaloft, and it might be fairly expected that from this time forward the tradesmen of Barchester would, with undoubting pens, address her husband as T. Lookaloft, Esquire.
Mrs. Lookaloft's pluck carried her through everything, and she walked triumphant into the Ullathorne drawing-room; but her children did feel a little abashed at the sort of reception they met with. It was not in Miss Thorne's heart to insult her own guests, but neither was it in her disposition to overlook such effrontery.
"Oh, Mrs. Lookaloft, is this you?" said she. "And your daughters and son? Well, we're very glad to see you, but I'm sorry you've come in such low dresses, as we are all going out of doors. Could we lend you anything?"
"Oh dear, no thank ye, Miss Thorne," said the mother; "the girls and myself are quite used to low dresses, when we're out."
"Are you, indeed?" said Miss Thorne shuddering—but the shudder was lost on Mrs. Lookaloft.
"And where's Lookaloft?" said the master of the house, coming up to welcome his tenant's wife. Let the faults of the family be what they would, he could not but remember that their rent was well paid; he was therefore not willing to give them a cold shoulder.
"Such a headache, Mr. Thorne!" said Mrs. Lookaloft. "In fact he couldn't stir, or you may be certain on such a day he would not have absented hisself."
"Dear me," said Miss Thorne. "If he is so ill, I'm sure you'd wish to be with him."
"Not at all!" said Mrs. Lookaloft. "Not at all, Miss Thorne. It is only bilious you know, and when he's that way, he can bear nobody nigh him."
The fact, however, was that Mr. Lookaloft, having either more sense or less courage than his wife, had not chosen to intrude on Miss Thorne's drawing-room, and as he could not very well have gone among the plebeians while his wife was with the patricians, he thought it most expedient to remain at Rosebank.
Mrs. Lookaloft soon found herself on a sofa, and the Miss Lookalofts on two chairs, while Mr. Augustus stood near the door; and here they remained till in due time they were seated, all four together, at the bottom of the dining-room table.
Then the Grantlys came—the archdeacon and Mrs. Grantly and the two girls, and Dr. Gwynne and Mr. Harding. As ill-luck would have it, they were closely followed by Dr. Stanhope's carriage. As Eleanor looked out of the carriage window, she saw her brother-in-law helping the ladies out and threw herself back into her seat, dreading to be discovered. She had had an odious journey. Mr. Slope's civility had been more than ordinarily greasy; and now, though he had not in fact said anything which she could notice, she had for the first time entertained a suspicion that he was intending to make love to her. Was it after all true that she had been conducting herself in a way that justified the world in thinking that she liked the man? After all, could it be possible that the archdeacon and Mr. Arabin were right, and that she was wrong? Charlotte Stanhope had also been watching Mr. Slope and had come to the conclusion that it behoved her brother to lose no further time, if he meant to gain the widow. She almost regretted that it had not been contrived that Bertie should be at Ullathorne before them.
Dr. Grantly did not see his sister-in-law in company with Mr. Slope, but Mr. Arabin did. Mr. Arabin came out with Mr. Thorne to the front door to welcome Mrs. Grantly, and he remained in the courtyard till all their party had passed on. Eleanor hung back in the carriage as long as she well could, but she was nearest to the door, and when Mr. Slope, having alighted, offered her his hand, she had no alternative but to take it. Mr. Arabin, standing at the open door while Mrs. Grantly was shaking hands with someone within, saw a clergyman alight from the carriage whom he at once knew to be Mr. Slope, and then he saw this clergyman hand out Mrs. Bold. Having seen so much, Mr. Arabin, rather sick at heart, followed Mrs. Grantly into the house.
Eleanor was, however, spared any further immediate degradation, for Dr. Stanhope gave her his arm across the courtyard, and Mr. Slope was fain to throw away his attention upon Charlotte.
They had hardly passed into the house, and from the house to the lawn, when, with a loud rattle and such noise as great men and great women are entitled to make in their passage through the world, the Proudies drove up. It was soon apparent that no everyday comer was at the door. One servant whispered to another that it was the bishop, and the word soon ran through all the hangers-on and strange grooms and coachmen about the place. There was quite a little cortege to see the bishop and his "lady" walk across the courtyard, and the good man was pleased to see that the church was held in such respect in the parish of St. Ewold's.
And now the guests came fast and thick, and the lawn began to be crowded, and the room to be full. Voices buzzed, silk rustled against silk, and muslin crumpled against muslin. Miss Thorne became more happy than she had been, and again bethought her of her sports. There were targets and bows and arrows prepared at the further end of the lawn. Here the gardens of the place encroached with a somewhat wide sweep upon the paddock and gave ample room for the doings of the toxophilites. Miss Thorne got together such daughters of Diana as could bend a bow and marshalled them to the targets. There were the Grantly girls and the Proudie girls and the Chadwick girls, and the two daughters of the burly chancellor, and Miss Knowle; and with them went Frederick and Augustus Chadwick, and young Knowle of Knowle Park, and Frank Foster of the Elms, and Mr. Vellem Deeds, the dashing attorney of the High Street, and the Rev. Mr. Green, and the Rev. Mr. Brown, and the Rev. Mr. White, all of whom, as in duty bound, attended the steps of the three Miss Proudies.
"Did you ever ride at the quintain, Mr. Foster?" said Miss Thorne as she walked with her party across the lawn.
"The quintain?" said young Foster, who considered himself a dab at horsemanship. "Is it a sort of gate, Miss Thorne?"
Miss Thorne had to explain the noble game she spoke of, and Frank Foster had to own that he never had ridden at the quintain.
"Would you like to come and see?" said Miss Thorne. "There'll be plenty here you know without you, if you like it."
"Well, I don't mind," said Frank. "I suppose the ladies can come too."
"Oh, yes," said Miss Thorne; "those who like it. I have no doubt they'll go to see your prowess, if you'll ride, Mr. Foster."
Mr. Foster looked down at a most unexceptionable pair of pantaloons, which had arrived from London only the day before. They were the very things, at least he thought so, for a picnic or fete champetre, but he was not prepared to ride in them. Nor was he more encouraged than had been Mr. Thorne by the idea of being attacked from behind by the bag of flour, which Miss Thorne had graphically described to him.
"Well, I don't know about riding, Miss Thorne," said he; "I fear I'm not quite prepared."
Miss Thorne sighed but said nothing further. She left the toxophilites to their bows and arrows and returned towards the house. But as she passed by the entrance to the small park, she thought that she might at any rate encourage the yeomen by her presence, as she could not induce her more fashionable guests to mix with them in their manly amusements. Accordingly she once more betook herself to the quintain post.
Here to her great delight she found Harry Greenacre ready mounted, with his pole in his hand, and a lot of comrades standing round him, encouraging him to the assault. She stood at a little distance and nodded to him in token of her good pleasure.
"Shall I begin, ma'am?" said Harry, fingering his long staff in a rather awkward way, while his horse moved uneasily beneath him, not accustomed to a rider armed with such a weapon.
"Yes, yes," said Miss Thorne, standing triumphant as the queen of beauty on an inverted tub which some chance had brought thither from the farmyard.
"Here goes then," said Harry as he wheeled his horse round to get the necessary momentum of a sharp gallop. The quintain post stood right before him, and the square board at which he was to tilt was fairly in his way. If he hit that duly in the middle, and maintained his pace as he did so, it was calculated that he would be carried out of reach of the flour bag, which, suspended at the other end of the cross-bar on the post, would swing round when the board was struck. It was also calculated that if the rider did not maintain his pace, he would get a blow from the flour bag just at the back of his head, and bear about him the signs of his awkwardness to the great amusement of the lookers-on.
Harry Greenacre did not object to being powdered with flour in the service of his mistress and therefore gallantly touched his steed with his spur, having laid his lance in rest to the best of his ability. But his ability in this respect was not great, and his appurtenances probably not very good; consequently, he struck his horse with his pole unintentionally on the side of the head as he started. The animal swerved and shied and galloped off wide of the quintain. Harry, well-accustomed to manage a horse, but not to do so with a twelve-foot rod on his arm, lowered his right hand to the bridle, and thus the end of the lance came to the ground and got between the legs of the steed. Down came rider and steed and staff. Young Greenacre was thrown some six feet over the horse's head, and poor Miss Thorne almost fell off her tub in a swoon.
"Oh, gracious, he's killed," shrieked a woman who was near him when he fell.
"The Lord be good to him! His poor mother, his poor mother!" said another.
"Well, drat them dangerous plays all the world over," said an old crone.
"He has broke his neck sure enough, if ever man did," said a fourth.
Poor Miss Thorne. She heard all this and yet did not quite swoon. She made her way through the crowd as best she could, sick herself almost to death. Oh, his mother—his poor mother! How could she ever forgive herself. The agony of that moment was terrific. She could hardly get to the place where the poor lad was lying, as three or four men in front were about the horse, which had risen with some difficulty, but at last she found herself close to the young farmer.
"Has he marked himself? For heaven's sake tell me that: has he marked his knees?" said Harry, slowly rising and rubbing his left shoulder with his right hand and thinking only of his horse's legs. Miss Thorne soon found that he had not broken his neck, nor any of his bones, nor been injured in any essential way. But from that time forth she never instigated anyone to ride at a quintain.
Eleanor left Dr. Stanhope as soon as she could do so civilly and went in quest of her father, whom she found on the lawn in company with Mr. Arabin. She was not sorry to find them together. She was anxious to disabuse at any rate her father's mind as to this report which had got abroad respecting her, and would have been well pleased to have been able to do the same with regard to Mr. Arabin. She put her own through her father's arm, coming up behind his back, and then tendered her hand also to the vicar of St. Ewold's.
"And how did you come?" said Mr. Harding, when the first greeting was over.
"The Stanhopes brought me," said she; "their carriage was obliged to come twice, and has now gone back for the signora." As she spoke she caught Mr. Arabin's eye and saw that he was looking pointedly at her with a severe expression. She understood at once the accusation contained in his glance. It said as plainly as an eye could speak, "Yes, you came with the Stanhopes, but you did so in order that you might be in company with Mr. Slope."
"Our party," said she, still addressing her father, "consisted of the doctor and Charlotte Stanhope, myself, and Mr. Slope." As she mentioned the last name she felt her father's arm quiver slightly beneath her touch. At the same moment Mr. Arabin turned away from them and, joining his hands behind his back, strolled slowly away by one of the paths.
"Papa," said she, "it was impossible to help coming in the same carriage with Mr. Slope; it was quite impossible. I had promised to come with them before I dreamt of his coming, and afterwards I could not get out of it without explaining and giving rise to talk. You weren't at home, you know. I couldn't possibly help it." She said all this so quickly that by the time her apology was spoken she was quite out of breath.
"I don't know why you should have wished to help it, my dear," said her father.
"Yes, Papa, you do. You must know, you do know all the things they said at Plumstead. I am sure you do. You know all the archdeacon said. How unjust he was; and Mr. Arabin too. He's a horrid man, a horrid odious man, but—"
"Who is an odious man, my dear? Mr. Arabin?"
"No; but Mr. Slope. You know I mean Mr. Slope. He's the most odious man I ever met in my life, and it was most unfortunate my having to come here in the same carriage with him. But how could I help it?"
A great weight began to move itself off Mr. Harding's mind. So, after all, the archdeacon with all his wisdom, and Mrs. Grantly with all her tact, and Mr. Arabin with all his talent, were in the wrong. His own child, his Eleanor, the daughter of whom he was so proud, was not to become the wife of a Mr. Slope. He had been about to give his sanction to the marriage, so certified had he been of the fact, and now he learnt that this imputed lover of Eleanor's was at any rate as much disliked by her as by any one of the family. Mr. Harding, however, was by no means sufficiently a man of the world to conceal the blunder he had made. He could not pretend that he had entertained no suspicion; he could not make believe that he had never joined the archdeacon in his surmises. He was greatly surprised, and gratified beyond measure, and he could not help showing that such was the case.
"My darling girl," said he, "I am so delighted, so overjoyed. My own child; you have taken such a weight off my mind."
"But surely, Papa, you didn't think—"
"I didn't know what to think, my dear. The archdeacon told me that—"
"The archdeacon!" said Eleanor, her face lighting up with passion. "A man like the archdeacon might, one would think, be better employed than in traducing his sister-in-law and creating bitterness between a father and his daughter!"
"He didn't mean to do that, Eleanor."
"What did he mean then? Why did he interfere with me and fill your mind with such falsehood?"
"Never mind it now, my child; never mind it now. We shall all know you better now."
"Oh, Papa, that you should have thought it! That you should have suspected me!"
"I don't know what you mean by suspicion, Eleanor. There would be nothing disgraceful, you know, nothing wrong in such a marriage. Nothing that could have justified my interfering as your father." And Mr. Harding would have proceeded in his own defence to make out that Mr. Slope after all was a very good sort of man and a very fitting second husband for a young widow, had he not been interrupted by Eleanor's greater energy.
"It would be disgraceful," said she; "it would be wrong; it would be abominable. Could I do such a horrid thing, I should expect no one to speak to me. Ugh—" and she shuddered as she thought of the matrimonial torch which her friends had been so ready to light on her behalf. "I don't wonder at Dr. Grantly; I don't wonder at Susan; but, oh, Papa, I do wonder at you. How could you, how could you believe it?" Poor Eleanor, as she thought of her father's defalcation, could resist her tears no longer, and was forced to cover her face with her handkerchief.
The place was not very opportune for her grief. They were walking through the shrubberies, and there were many people near them. Poor Mr. Harding stammered out his excuse as best he could, and Eleanor with an effort controlled her tears and returned her handkerchief to her pocket. She did not find it difficult to forgive her father, nor could she altogether refuse to join him in the returning gaiety of spirit to which her present avowal gave rise. It was such a load off his heart to think that he should not be called on to welcome Mr. Slope as his son-in-law. It was such a relief to him to find that his daughter's feelings and his own were now, as they ever had been, in unison. He had been so unhappy for the last six weeks about this wretched Mr. Slope! He was so indifferent as to the loss of the hospital, so thankful for the recovery of his daughter, that, strong as was the ground for Eleanor's anger, she could not find it in her heart to be long angry with him.
"Dear Papa," she said, hanging closely to his arm, "never suspect me again: promise me that you never will. Whatever I do you may be sure I shall tell you first; you may be sure I shall consult you."
And Mr. Harding did promise, and owned his sin, and promised again. And so, while he promised amendment and she uttered forgiveness, they returned together to the drawing-room windows.
And what had Eleanor meant when she declared that whatever she did, she would tell her father first? What was she thinking of doing?
So ended the first act of the melodrama which Eleanor was called on to perform this day at Ullathorne.
The Signora Neroni, the Countess De Courcy, and Mrs. Proudie Meet Each Other at Ullathorne
And now there were new arrivals. Just as Eleanor reached the drawing-room the signora was being wheeled into it. She had been brought out of the carriage into the dining-room and there placed on a sofa, and was now in the act of entering the other room, by the joint aid of her brother and sister, Mr. Arabin, and two servants in livery. She was all in her glory, and looked so pathetically happy, so full of affliction and grace, was so beautiful, so pitiable, and so charming that it was almost impossible not to be glad she was there.
Miss Thorne was unaffectedly glad to welcome her. In fact, the signora was a sort of lion; and though there was no drop of the Leohunter blood in Miss Thorne's veins, she nevertheless did like to see attractive people at her house. The signora was attractive, and on her first settlement in the dining-room she had whispered two or three soft feminine words into Miss Thorne's ear which, at the moment, had quite touched that lady's heart.
"Oh, Miss Thorne; where is Miss Thorne?" she said as soon as her attendants had placed her in her position just before one of the windows, from whence she could see all that was going on upon the lawn. "How am I to thank you for permitting a creature like me to be here? But if you knew the pleasure you give me, I am sure you would excuse the trouble I bring with me." And as she spoke she squeezed the spinster's little hand between her own.
"We are delighted to see you here," said Miss Thorne; "you give us no trouble at all, and we think it a great favour conferred by you to come and see us—don't we, Wilfred?"
"A very great favour indeed," said Mr. Thorne with a gallant bow but of a somewhat less cordial welcome than that conceded by his sister. Mr. Thorne had heard perhaps more of the antecedents of his guest than his sister had done, and had not as yet undergone the power of the signora's charms.
But while the mother of the last of the Neros was thus in her full splendour, with crowds of people gazing at her and the elite of the company standing round her couch, her glory was paled by the arrival of the Countess De Courcy. Miss Thorne had now been waiting three hours for the countess, and could not therefore but show very evident gratification when the arrival at last took place. She and her brother of course went off to welcome the titled grandees, and with them, alas, went many of the signora's admirers.
"Oh, Mr. Thorne," said the countess, while in the act of being disrobed of her fur cloaks and rerobed in her gauze shawls, "what dreadful roads you have; perfectly frightful."
It happened that Mr. Thorne was waywarden for the district and, not liking the attack, began to excuse his roads.
"Oh, yes, indeed they are," said the countess not minding him in the least; "perfectly dreadful—are they not, Margaretta? Why, my dear Miss Thorne, we left Courcy Castle just at eleven; it was only just past eleven, was it not, George? And—"
"Just past one I think you mean," said the Honourable George, turning from the group and eyeing the signora through his glass. The signora gave him back his own, as the saying is, and more with it, so that the young nobleman was forced to avert his glance and drop his glass.
"I say, Thorne," whispered he, "who the deuce is that on the sofa?"
"Dr. Stanhope's daughter," whispered back Mr. Thorne. "Signora Neroni, she calls herself."
"Whew—ew—ew!" whistled the Honourable George. "The devil she is. I have heard no end of stories about that filly. You must positively introduce me, Thorne; you positively must."
Mr. Thorne, who was respectability itself, did not quite like having a guest about whom the Honourable George De Courcy had heard no end of stories, but he couldn't help himself. He merely resolved that before he went to bed he would let his sister know somewhat of the history of the lady she was so willing to welcome. The innocence of Miss Thorne at her time of life was perfectly charming, but even innocence may be dangerous.
"George may say what he likes," continued the countess, urging her excuses to Miss Thorne; "I am sure we were past the castle gate before twelve—weren't we, Margaretta?"
"Upon my word I don't know," said the Lady Margaretta, "for I was half-asleep. But I do know that I was called some time in the middle of the night and was dressing myself before daylight."
Wise people, when they are in the wrong, always put themselves right by finding fault with the people against whom they have sinned. Lady De Courcy was a wise woman, and therefore, having treated Miss Thorne very badly by staying away till three o'clock, she assumed the offensive and attacked Mr. Thorne's roads. Her daughter, not less wise, attacked Miss Thorne's early hours. The art of doing this is among the most precious of those usually cultivated by persons who know how to live. There is no withstanding it. Who can go systematically to work and, having done battle with the primary accusation and settled that, then bring forward a countercharge and support that also? Life is not long enough for such labours. A man in the right relies easily on his rectitude and therefore goes about unarmed. His very strength is his weakness. A man in the wrong knows that he must look to his weapons; his very weakness is his strength. The one is never prepared for combat, the other is always ready. Therefore it is that in this world the man that is in the wrong almost invariably conquers the man that is in the right, and invariably despises him.
A man must be an idiot or else an angel who, after the age of forty, shall attempt to be just to his neighbours. Many like the Lady Margaretta have learnt their lesson at a much earlier age. But this of course depends on the school in which they have been taught.
Poor Miss Thorne was altogether overcome. She knew very well that she had been ill-treated, and yet she found herself making apologies to Lady De Courcy. To do her ladyship justice, she received them very graciously, and allowed herself, with her train of daughters, to be led towards the lawn.
There were two windows in the drawing-room wide open for the countess to pass through, but she saw that there was a woman on a sofa, at the third window, and that that woman had, as it were, a following attached to her. Her ladyship therefore determined to investigate the woman. The De Courcy's were hereditarily shortsighted, and had been so for thirty centuries at least. So Lady De Courcy, who when she entered the family had adopted the family habits, did as her son had done before her and, taking her glass to investigate the Signora Neroni, pressed in among the gentlemen who surrounded the couch, and bowed slightly to those whom she chose to honour by her acquaintance.
In order to get to the window she had to pass close to the front of the couch, and as she did so she stared hard at the occupant. The occupant, in return, stared hard at the countess. The countess, who, since her countess-ship commenced, had been accustomed to see all eyes not royal, ducal, or marquesal fall before her own, paused as she went on, raised her eyebrows, and stared even harder than before. But she had now to do with one who cared little for countesses. It was, one may say, impossible for mortal man or woman to abash Madeline Neroni. She opened her large, bright, lustrous eyes wider and wider, till she seemed to be all eyes. She gazed up into the lady's face, not as though she did it with an effort, but as if she delighted in doing it. She used no glass to assist her effrontery, and needed none. The faintest possible smile of derision played round her mouth, and her nostrils were slightly dilated, as if in sure anticipation of her triumph. And it was sure. The Countess De Courcy, in spite of her thirty centuries and De Courcy Castle, and the fact that Lord De Courcy was grand master of the ponies to the Prince of Wales, had not a chance with her. At first the little circlet of gold wavered in the countess's hand, then the hand shook, then the circlet fell, the countess's head tossed itself into the air, and the countess's feet shambled out to the lawn. She did not, however, go so fast but what she heard the signora's voice, asking:
"Who on earth is that woman, Mr. Slope?"
"That is Lady De Courcy."
"Oh, ah. I might have supposed so. Ha, ha, ha. Well, that's as good as a play."
It was as good as a play to any there who had eyes to observe it and wit to comment on what they observed.
But the Lady De Courcy soon found a congenial spirit on the lawn. There she encountered Mrs. Proudie, and as Mrs. Proudie was not only the wife of a bishop but was also the cousin of an earl, Lady De Courcy considered her to be the fittest companion she was likely to meet in that assemblage. They were accordingly delighted to see each other. Mrs. Proudie by no means despised a countess, and as this countess lived in the county and within a sort of extensive visiting distance of Barchester, she was glad to have this opportunity of ingratiating herself.
"My dear Lady De Courcy, I am so delighted," said she, looking as little grim as it was in her nature to do. "I hardly expected to see you here. It is such a distance, and then, you know, such a crowd."
"And such roads, Mrs. Proudie! I really wonder how the people ever get about. But I don't suppose they ever do."
"Well, I really don't know, but I suppose not. The Thornes don't, I know," said Mrs. Proudie. "Very nice person, Miss Thorne, isn't she?"
"Oh, delightful, and so queer; I've known her these twenty years. A great pet of mine is dear Miss Thorne. She is so very strange, you know. She always makes me think of the Eskimos and the Indians. Isn't her dress quite delightful?"
"Delightful," said Mrs. Proudie. "I wonder now whether she paints. Did you ever see such colour?"
"Oh, of course," said Lady De Courcy; "that is, I have no doubt she does. But, Mrs. Proudie, who is that woman on the sofa by the window? Just step this way and you'll see her, there—" and the countess led her to a spot where she could plainly see the signora's well-remembered face and figure.
She did not however do so without being equally well seen by the signora. "Look, look," said that lady to Mr. Slope, who was still standing near to her; "see the high spiritualities and temporalities of the land in league together, and all against poor me. I'll wager my bracelet, Mr. Slope, against your next sermon that they've taken up their position there on purpose to pull me to pieces. Well, I can't rush to the combat, but I know how to protect myself if the enemy come near me."
But the enemy knew better. They could gain nothing by contact with the Signora Neroni, and they could abuse her as they pleased at a distance from her on the lawn.
"She's that horrid Italian woman, Lady De Courcy; you must have heard of her."
"What Italian woman?" said her ladyship, quite alive to the coming story. "I don't think I've heard of any Italian woman coming into the country. She doesn't look Italian, either."
"Oh, you must have heard of her," said Mrs. Proudie. "No, she's not absolutely Italian. She is Dr. Stanhope's daughter—Dr. Stanhope the prebendary—and she calls herself the Signora Neroni."
"Oh-h-h-h!" exclaimed the countess.
"I was sure you had heard of her," continued Mrs. Proudie. I don't know anything about her husband. They do say that some man named Neroni is still alive. I believe she did marry such a man abroad, but I do not at all know who or what he was.
"Oh-h-h-h!" exclaimed the countess, shaking her head with much intelligence, as every additional "h" fell from her lips. "I know all about it now. I have heard George mention her. George knows all about her. George heard about her in Rome."
"She's an abominable woman, at any rate," said Mrs. Proudie.
"Insufferable," said the countess.
"She made her way into the palace once, before I knew anything about her, and I cannot tell you how dreadfully indecent her conduct was."
"Was it?" said the delighted countess.
"Insufferable," said the prelatess.
"But why does she lie on a sofa?" asked Lady De Courcy.
"She has only one leg," replied Mrs. Proudie.
"Only one leg!" said Lady De Courcy, who felt to a certain degree dissatisfied that the signora was thus incapacitated. "Was she born so?"
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Proudie—and her ladyship felt some what recomforted by the assurance—"she had two. But that Signor Neroni beat her, I believe, till she was obliged to have one amputated. At any rate, she entirely lost the use of it."
"Unfortunate creature!" said the countess, who herself knew something of matrimonial trials.
"Yes," said Mrs. Proudie, "one would pity her in spite of her past bad conduct, if she now knew how to behave herself. But she does not. She is the most insolent creature I ever put my eyes on."
"Indeed she is," said Lady De Courcy.
"And her conduct with men is so abominable that she is not fit to be admitted into any lady's drawing-room."
"Dear me!" said the countess, becoming again excited, happy and merciless.
"You saw that man standing near her—the clergyman with the red hair?"
"She has absolutely ruined that man. The bishop—or I should rather take the blame on myself, for it was I—I brought him down from London to Barchester. He is a tolerable preacher, an active young man, and I therefore introduced him to the bishop. That woman, Lady De Courcy, has got hold of him and has so disgraced him that I am forced to require that he shall leave the palace; and I doubt very much whether he won't lose his gown!"
"Why, what an idiot the man must be!" said the countess.
"You don't know the intriguing villainy of that woman," said Mrs. Proudie, remembering her torn flounces.
"But you say she has only got one leg!"
"She is as full of mischief as tho' she had ten. Look at her eyes, Lady De Courcy. Did you ever see such eyes in a decent woman's head?"
"Indeed, I never did, Mrs. Proudie."
"And her effrontery, and her voice! I quite pity her poor father, who is really a good sort of man."
"Dr. Stanhope, isn't he?"
"Yes, Dr. Stanhope. He is one of our prebendaries—a good, quiet sort of man himself. But I am surprised that he should let his daughter conduct herself as she does."
"I suppose he can't help it," said the countess.
"But a clergyman, you know, Lady De Courcy! He should at any rate prevent her from exhibiting in public, if he cannot induce her to behave at home. But he is to be pitied. I believe he has a desperate life of it with the lot of them. That apish-looking man there, with the long beard and the loose trousers—he is the woman's brother. He is nearly as bad as she is. They are both of them infidels."
"Infidels!" said Lady De Courcy, "and their father a prebendary!"
"Yes, and likely to be the new dean, too," said Mrs. Proudie.
"Oh, yes, poor dear Dr. Trefoil!" said the countess, who had once in her life spoken to that gentleman. "I was so distressed to hear it, Mrs. Proudie. And so Dr. Stanhope is to be the new dean! He comes of an excellent family, and I wish him success in spite of his daughter. Perhaps, Mrs. Proudie, when he is dean, they'll be better able to see the error of their ways."
To this Mrs. Proudie said nothing. Her dislike of the Signora Neroni was too deep to admit of her even hoping that that lady should see the error of her ways. Mrs. Proudie looked on the signora as one of the lost—one of those beyond the reach of Christian charity—and was therefore able to enjoy the luxury of hating her without the drawback of wishing her eventually well out of her sins.
Any further conversation between these congenial souls was prevented by the advent of Mr. Thorne, who came to lead the countess to the tent. Indeed, he had been desired to do so some ten minutes since, but he had been delayed in the drawing-room by the signora. She had contrived to detain him, to get him near to her sofa, and at last to make him seat himself on a chair close to her beautiful arm. The fish took the bait, was hooked, and caught, and landed. Within that ten minutes he had heard the whole of the signora's history in such strains as she chose to use in telling it. He learnt from the lady's own lips the whole of that mysterious tale to which the Honourable George had merely alluded. He discovered that the beautiful creature lying before him had been more sinned against than sinning. She had owned to him that she had been weak, confiding, and indifferent to the world's opinion, and that she had therefore been ill-used, deceived, and evil spoken of. She had spoken to him of her mutilated limb, her youth destroyed in fullest bloom, her beauty robbed of its every charm, her life blighted, her hopes withered, and as she did so a tear dropped from her eye to her cheek. She had told him of these things and asked for his sympathy.
What could a good-natured, genial, Anglo-Saxon Squire Thorne do but promise to sympathize with her? Mr. Thorne did promise to sympathize; promised also to come and see the last of the Neros, to hear more of those fearful Roman days, of those light and innocent but dangerous hours which flitted by so fast on the shores of Como, and to make himself the confidant of the signora's sorrows.
We need hardly say that he dropped all idea of warning his sister against the dangerous lady. He had been mistaken—never so much mistaken in his life. He had always regarded that Honourable George as a coarse, brutal-minded young man; now he was more convinced than ever that he was so. It was by such men as the Honourable George that the reputations of such women as Madeline Neroni were imperilled and damaged. He would go and see the lady in her own house; he was fully sure in his own mind of the soundness of his own judgement; if he found her, as he believed he should do, an injured, well-disposed, warm-hearted woman, he would get his sister Monica to invite her out to Ullathorne.
"No," said she, as at her instance he got up to leave her and declared that he himself would attend upon her wants; "no, no, my friend; I positively put a veto upon your doing so. What, in your own house, with an assemblage round you such as there is here! Do you wish to make every woman hate me and every man stare at me? I lay a positive order on you not to come near me again to-day. Come and see me at home. It is only at home that I can talk, it is only at home that I really can live and enjoy myself. My days of going out, days such as these, are rare indeed. Come and see me at home, Mr. Thorne, and then I will not bid you to leave me."
It is, we believe, common with young men of five-and-twenty to look on their seniors—on men of, say, double their own age—as so many stocks and stones—stocks and stones, that is, in regard to feminine beauty. There never was a greater mistake. Women, indeed, generally know better, but on this subject men of one age are thoroughly ignorant of what is the very nature of mankind of other ages. No experience of what goes on in the world, no reading of history, no observation of life, has any effect in teaching the truth. Men of fifty don't dance mazurkas, being generally too fat and wheezy; nor do they sit for the hour together on river-banks at their mistresses' feet, being somewhat afraid of rheumatism. But for real true love—love at first sight, love to devotion, love that robs a man of his sleep, love that "will gaze an eagle blind," love that "will hear the lowest sound when the suspicious tread of theft is stopped," love that is "like a Hercules, still climbing trees in the Hesperides"—we believe the best age is from forty-five to seventy; up to that, men are generally given to mere flirting.
At the present moment Mr. Thorne, aetat. fifty, was over head and ears in love at first sight with the Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, nata Stanhope.
Nevertheless, he was sufficiently master of himself to offer his arm with all propriety to Lady De Courcy, and the countess graciously permitted herself to be led to the tent. Such had been Miss Thorne's orders, as she had succeeded in inducing the bishop to lead old Lady Knowle to the top of the dining-room. One of the baronets was sent off in quest of Mrs. Proudie and found that lady on the lawn not in the best of humours. Mr. Thorne and the countess had left her too abruptly; she had in vain looked about for an attendant chaplain, or even a stray curate; they were all drawing long bows with the young ladies at the bottom of the lawn, or finding places for their graceful co-toxophilites in some snug corner of the tent. In such position Mrs. Proudie had been wont in earlier days to fall back upon Mr. Slope, but now she could never fall back upon him again. She gave her head one shake as she thought of her lone position, and that shake was as good as a week deducted from Mr. Slope's longer sojourn in Barchester. Sir Harkaway Gorse, however, relieved her present misery, though his doing so by no means mitigated the sinning chaplain's doom.
And now the eating and drinking began in earnest. Dr. Grantly, to his great horror, found himself leagued to Mrs. Clantantram. Mrs. Clantantram had a great regard for the archdeacon, which was not cordially returned, and when she, coming up to him, whispered in his ear, "Come, Archdeacon, I'm sure you won't begrudge an old friend the favour of your arm," and then proceeded to tell him the whole history of her roquelaure, he resolved that he would shake her off before he was fifteen minutes older. But latterly the archdeacon had not been successful in his resolutions, and on the present occasion Mrs. Clantantram stuck to him till the banquet was over.
Dr. Gwynne got a baronet's wife, and Mrs. Grantly fell to the lot of a baronet. Charlotte Stanhope attached herself to Mr. Harding in order to make room for Bertie, who succeeded in sitting down in the dining-room next to Mrs. Bold. To speak sooth, now that he had love in earnest to make, his heart almost failed him.
Eleanor had been right glad to avail herself of his arm, seeing that Mr. Slope was hovering nigh her. In striving to avoid that terrible Charybdis of a Slope she was in great danger of falling into an unseen Scylla on the other hand, that Scylla being Bertie Stanhope. Nothing could be more gracious than she was to Bertie. She almost jumped at his proffered arm. Charlotte perceived this from a distance and triumphed in her heart; Bertie felt it and was encouraged; Mr. Slope saw it and glowered with jealousy. Eleanor and Bertie sat down to table in the dining-room, and as she took her seat at his right hand she found that Mr. Slope was already in possession of the chair at her own.
As these things were going on in the dining-room, Mr. Arabin was hanging enraptured and alone over the signora's sofa, and Eleanor from her seat could look through the open door and see that he was doing so.
The Bishop Sits Down to Breakfast, and the Dean Dies
The Bishop of Barchester said grace over the well-spread board in the Ullathorne dining-room; while he did so, the last breath was flying from the Dean of Barchester as he lay in his sick room in the deanery. When the Bishop of Barchester raised his first glass of champagne to his lips, the deanship of Barchester was a good thing in the gift of the prime minister. Before the Bishop of Barchester had left the table, the minister of the day was made aware of the fact at his country-seat in Hampshire, and had already turned over in his mind the names of five very respectable aspirants for the preferment. It is at present only necessary to say that Mr. Slope's name was not among the five.
"'Twas merry in the hall when the beards wagged all," and the clerical beards wagged merrily in the hall of Ullathorne that day. It was not till after the last cork had been drawn, the last speech made, the last nut cracked, that tidings reached and were whispered about that the poor dean was no more. It was well for the happiness of the clerical beards that this little delay took place, as otherwise decency would have forbidden them to wag at all.
But there was one sad man among them that day. Mr. Arabin's beard did not wag as it should have done. He had come there hoping the best, striving to think the best, about Eleanor; turning over in his mind all the words he remembered to have fallen from her about Mr. Slope, and trying to gather from them a conviction unfavourable to his rival. He had not exactly resolved to come that day to some decisive proof as to the widow's intention, but he had meant, if possible, to recultivate his friendship with Eleanor, and in his present frame of mind any such recultivation must have ended in a declaration of love.
He had passed the previous night alone at his new parsonage, and it was the first night that he had so passed. It had been dull and sombre enough. Mrs. Grantly had been right in saying that a priestess would be wanting at St. Ewold's. He had sat there alone with his glass before him, and then with his tea-pot, thinking about Eleanor Bold. As is usual in such meditations, he did little but blame her; blame her for liking Mr. Slope, and blame her for not liking him; blame her for her cordiality to himself, and blame her for her want of cordiality; blame her for being stubborn, headstrong, and passionate; and yet the more he thought of her the higher she rose in his affection. If only it should turn out, if only it could be made to turn out, that she had defended Mr. Slope, not from love, but on principle, all would be right. Such principle in itself would be admirable, lovable, womanly; he felt that he could be pleased to allow Mr. Slope just so much favour as that. But if—And then Mr. Arabin poked his fire most unnecessarily, spoke crossly to his new parlour-maid who came in for the tea-things, and threw himself back in his chair determined to go to sleep. Why had she been so stiff-necked when asked a plain question? She could not but have known in what light he regarded her. Why had she not answered a plain question and so put an end to his misery? Then, instead of going to sleep in his armchair, Mr. Arabin walked about the room as though he had been possessed.
On the following morning, when he attended Miss Thorne's behests, he was still in a somewhat confused state. His first duty had been to converse with Mrs. Clantantram, and that lady had found it impossible to elicit the slightest sympathy from him on the subject of her roquelaure. Miss Thorne had asked him whether Mrs. Bold was coming with the Grantlys, and the two names of Bold and Grantly together had nearly made him jump from his seat.
He was in this state of confused uncertainty, hope, and doubt, when he saw Mr. Slope, with his most polished smile, handing Eleanor out of her carriage. He thought of nothing more. He never considered whether the carriage belonged to her or to Mr. Slope, or to anyone else to whom they might both be mutually obliged without any concert between themselves. This sight in his present state of mind was quite enough to upset him and his resolves. It was clear as noon-day. Had he seen her handed into a carriage by Mr. Slope at a church door with a white veil over her head, the truth could not be more manifest. He went into the house and, as we have seen, soon found himself walking with Mr. Harding. Shortly afterwards Eleanor came up, and then he had to leave his companion and either go about alone or find another. While in this state he was encountered by the archdeacon.
"I wonder," said Dr. Grantly, "if it be true that Mr. Slope and Mrs. Bold came here together. Susan says she is almost sure she saw their faces in the same carriage as she got out of her own."
Mr. Arabin had nothing for it but to bear his testimony to the correctness of Mrs. Grantly's eyesight.
"It is perfectly shameful," said the archdeacon; "or, I should rather say, shameless. She was asked here as my guest, and if she be determined to disgrace herself, she should have feeling enough not to do so before my immediate friends. I wonder how that man got himself invited. I wonder whether she had the face to bring him."
To this Mr. Arabin could answer nothing, nor did he wish to answer anything. Though he abused Eleanor to himself, he did not choose to abuse her to anyone else, nor was he well-pleased to hear anyone else speak ill of her. Dr. Grantly, however, was very angry and did not spare his sister-in-law. Mr. Arabin therefore left him as soon as he could and wandered back into the house.
He had not been there long when the signora was brought in. For some time he kept himself out of temptation, and merely hovered round her at a distance; but as soon as Mr. Thorne had left her, he yielded himself up to the basilisk and allowed himself to be made prey of.
It is impossible to say how the knowledge had been acquired, but the signora had a sort of instinctive knowledge that Mr. Arabin was an admirer of Mrs. Bold. Men hunt foxes by the aid of dogs, and are aware that they do so by the strong organ of smell with which the dog is endowed. They do not, however, in the least comprehend how such a sense can work with such acuteness. The organ by which women instinctively, as it were, know and feel how other women are regarded by men, and how also men are regarded by other women, is equally strong, and equally incomprehensible. A glance, a word, a motion, suffices: by some such acute exercise of her feminine senses the signora was aware that Mr. Arabin loved Eleanor Bold; therefore, by a further exercise of her peculiar feminine propensities, it was quite natural for her to entrap Mr. Arabin into her net.
The work was half-done before she came to Ullathorne, and when could she have a better opportunity of completing it? She had had almost enough of Mr. Slope, though she could not quite resist the fun of driving a very sanctimonious clergyman to madness by a desperate and ruinous passion. Mr. Thorne had fallen too easily to give much pleasure in the chase. His position as a man of wealth might make his alliance of value, but as a lover he was very second-rate. We may say that she regarded him somewhat as a sportsman does a pheasant. The bird is so easily shot that he would not be worth the shooting were it not for the very respectable appearance that he makes in a larder. The signora would not waste much time in shooting Mr. Thorne, but still he was worth bagging for family uses.
But Mr. Arabin was game of another sort. The signora was herself possessed of quite sufficient intelligence to know that Mr. Arabin was a man more than usually intellectual. She knew also that, as a clergyman, he was of a much higher stamp than Mr. Slope and that, as a gentleman, he was better educated than Mr. Thorne. She would never have attempted to drive Mr. Arabin into ridiculous misery as she did Mr. Slope, nor would she think it possible to dispose of him in ten minutes as she had done with Mr. Thorne.
Such were her reflexions about Mr. Arabin. As to Mr. Arabin, it cannot be said that he reflected at all about the signora. He knew that she was beautiful, and he felt that she was able to charm him. He required charming in his present misery, and therefore he went and stood at the head of her couch. She knew all about it. Such were her peculiar gifts. It was her nature to see that he required charming, and it was her province to charm him. As the Eastern idler swallows his dose of opium, as the London reprobate swallows his dose of gin, so with similar desires and for similar reasons did Mr. Arabin prepare to swallow the charms of the Signora Neroni.
"Why an't you shooting with bows and arrows, Mr. Arabin?" said she, when they were nearly alone together in the drawing-room, "or talking with young ladies in shady bowers, or turning your talents to account in some way? What was a bachelor like you asked here for? Don't you mean to earn your cold chicken and champagne? Were I you, I should be ashamed to be so idle."
Mr. Arabin murmured some sort of answer. Though he wished to be charmed, he was hardly yet in a mood to be playful in return.
"Why what ails you, Mr. Arabin?" said she. "Here you are in your own parish—Miss Thorne tells me that her party is given expressly in your honour—and yet you are the only dull man at it. Your friend Mr. Slope was with me a few minutes since, full of life and spirits; why don't you rival him?"
It was not difficult for so acute an observer as Madeline Neroni to see that she had hit the nail on the head and driven the bolt home. Mr. Arabin winced visibly before her attack, and she knew at once that he was jealous of Mr. Slope.
"But I look on you and Mr. Slope as the very antipodes of men," said she. "There is nothing in which you are not each the reverse of the other, except in belonging to the same profession—and even in that you are so unlike as perfectly to maintain the rule. He is gregarious; you are given to solitude. He is active; you are passive. He works; you think. He likes women; you despise them. He is fond of position and power; and so are you, but for directly different reasons. He loves to be praised; you very foolishly abhor it. He will gain his rewards, which will be an insipid, useful wife, a comfortable income, and a reputation for sanctimony; you will also gain yours."
"Well, and what will they be?" said Mr. Arabin, who knew that he was being flattered and yet suffered himself to put up with it. "What will be my rewards?"
"The heart of some woman whom you will be too austere to own that you love, and the respect of some few friends which you will be too proud to own that you value."
"Rich rewards," said he; "but of little worth, if they are to be so treated."
"Oh, you are not to look for such success as awaits Mr. Slope. He is born to be a successful man. He suggests to himself an object and then starts for it with eager intention. Nothing will deter him from his pursuit. He will have no scruples, no fears, no hesitation. His desire is to be a bishop with a rising family—the wife will come first, and in due time the apron. You will see all this, and then—"
"Well, and what then?"
"Then you will begin to wish that you had done the same."
Mr. Arabin looked placidly out at the lawn and, resting his shoulder on the head of the sofa, rubbed his chin with his hand. It was a trick he had when he was thinking deeply, and what the signora said made him think. Was it not all true? Would he not hereafter look back, if not at Mr. Slope, at some others, perhaps not equally gifted with himself, who had risen in the world while he had lagged behind, and then wish that he had done the same?
"Is not such the doom of all speculative men of talent?" said she. "Do they not all sit wrapt as you now are, cutting imaginary silken cords with their fine edges, while those not so highly tempered sever the everyday Gordian knots of the world's struggle and win wealth and renown? Steel too highly polished, edges too sharp, do not do for this world's work, Mr. Arabin."
Who was this woman that thus read the secrets of his heart and re-uttered to him the unwelcome bodings of his own soul? He looked full into her face when she had done speaking and said, "Am I one of those foolish blades, too sharp and too fine to do a useful day's work?"
"Why do you let the Slopes of the world outdistance you?" said she. "Is not the blood in your veins as warm as his? Does not your pulse beat as fast? Has not God made you a man and intended you to do a man's work here, ay, and to take a man's wages also?"
Mr. Arabin sat ruminating, rubbing his face, and wondering why these things were said to him, but he replied nothing. The signora went on:
"The greatest mistake any man ever made is to suppose that the good things of the world are not worth the winning. And it is a mistake so opposed to the religion which you preach! Why does God permit his bishops one after another to have their five thousands and ten thousands a year if such wealth be bad and not worth having? Why are beautiful things given to us, and luxuries and pleasant enjoyments, if they be not intended to be used? They must be meant for someone, and what is good for a layman surely cannot be bad for a clerk. You try to despise these good things, but you only try—you don't succeed."