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  • 1857
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the affair had gone off.

Eleanor was very much afraid that Charlotte would have darted out upon her, as the prebendary got out at his own door, but Bertie thoughtfully saved her from this, by causing the carriage to go round by her house. This also Dr Stanhope understood, and allowed to pass by without remark.

When she got home, she found Mary Bold in the drawing-room with the child in her lap. She rushed forward, and, throwing herself on her knees, kissed the little fellow till she almost frightened him.

‘Oh, Mary, I am so glad you did not go. It was an odious party.’

Now the question of Mary’s going had been one greatly mooted between them. Mrs Bold, when invited, had been the guest of the Grantlys, and Miss Thorne, who had chiefly known Eleanor at the hospital or at Plumstead rectory, had forgotten all about Mary Bold. Her sister-in-law had implored her to go under her wing, and had offered to write to Miss Thorne, or to call on her. But Miss Bold had declined. In fact, Mr Bold had not been very popular with such people as the Thornes, and his sister would not go among them unless she were specially asked to do so.

‘Well then,’ said Mary cheerfully, ‘I have the less to regret.’

‘You have nothing to regret; but oh! Mary, I have–so much–so much;’–and then she began kissing her boy, whom her caresses had aroused from his slumbers. When she raised her head, Mary saw that the tears were running down her cheeks.

‘Good heavens, Eleanor, what is the matter? What has happened to you?–Eleanor, dearest Eleanor–what is the matter?’ and Mary got up with the boy still in her arms.

‘Give him to me–give him to me,’ said the young mother. ‘Give him to me, Mary,’and she almost tore the child out of her sister’s arms. The poor little fellow murmured somewhat at the disturbance, but nevertheless nestled himself close into his mother’s bosom.

‘Here, Mary, take the cloak from me. My own, own darling, darling, darling jewel. You are not false to me. Everybody else is false; everybody else is cruel. Mamma will care for nobody, nobody, nobody, but her own, own, own, little man;’ and she again kissed and pressed the baby, and cried till the tears ran down over the child’s face.

‘Who has been cruel to you, Eleanor?’ said Mary. ‘I hope I have not.’

Now, in this matter, Eleanor had great cause for uneasiness.

She could not certainly accuse her loving sister-in-law of cruelty; but she had to do that which was more galling; she had to accuse herself of an imprudence against which her sister-in-law had warned her. Miss Bold had never encouraged Eleanor’s acquaintance with Mr Slope, and she had positively discouraged the friendship of the Stanhopes as far as her usual gentle mode of speaking had permitted. Eleanor had only laughed at her, however, when she said that she disapproved of married women who lived apart from their husbands, and suggested that Charlotte Stanhope never went to church. Now, however, Eleanor must either hold her tongue, which was quite impossible, or confess herself to have been utterly wrong, which was nearly equally so. So she staved off the evil day by more tears, and consoled herself by inducing little Johnny to rouse himself sufficiently to return her caresses.

‘He is a darling–as true as gold. What would mamma do without him? Mamma would lie down and die if she had not her own Johnny Bold to give her comfort.’ This and much more she said of the same kind, and for a time made no other answer to Mary’s inquiries.

This kind of consolation from the world’s deceit is very common.

Mothers obtain it from their children, and men from their dogs. Some men even do so from their walking-sticks, which is just as rational. How is it that we can take joy to ourselves in that we are not deceived by those who have not attained the art to deceive us? In a true man, if such can be found, or a true woman, much consolation may indeed be taken.

In the caresses of her child, however, Eleanor did receive consolation; and may ill befall the man who would begrudge it to her. The evil day, however, was only postponed. She had to tell her disagreeable tale to Mary, and she had also to tell it to her father. Must it not, indeed, be told to the whole circle of her acquaintance before she could be made to stand all right with them? At the present moment there was no one to whom she could turn for comfort. She hated Mr Slope; that was a matter of course, in that feeling she revelled. She hated and despised the Stanhopes; but that feeling distressed her greatly. She had, as it were, separated herself from her old friends to throw herself into the arms of this family; and then how had they intended to use her? She could hardly reconcile herself to her own father, who had believed ill of her. Mary Bold had turned Mentor. That she could have forgiven had the Mentor turned out to be in the wrong; but Mentors in the right are not to be pardoned. She could not but hate the archdeacon; and now she hated him even worse than ever, for she must in some sort humble herself before him. She hated her sister, for she was part and parcel of the archdeacon. And she would have hated Mr Arabin if she could. He had pretended to regard her, and yet before her face he had hung over that Italian woman as though there had been no beauty in the world but hers–no other woman worth a moment’s attention. And Mr Arabin would have to learn all this about Mr Slope! She told herself she hated him, and she knew that she was lying to herself as she did so. She had no consolation but her baby, and of that she made the most. Mary, though she could not surmise what it was that had so violently affected her sister-in-law, saw at once her grief was too great to be kept under control, and waited patiently till the child should be in his cradle.

‘You’ll have some tea, Eleanor,’ she said.

‘Oh, I don’t care,’ said she; though in fact she must have been very hungry, for she had eaten nothing at Ullathorne.

Mary quietly made the tea, and buttered the bread, laid aside the cloak, and made things look comfortable.

‘He’s fast asleep,’ said she, ‘you’re very tired; let me take him up to bed.’

But Eleanor would not let her sister touch him. She looked wistfully at her baby’s eyes, saw that they were lost in the deepest slumber, and then made a sort of couch for him on the sofa. She was determined that nothing should prevail upon her to let him out of her sight that night.

‘Come, Nelly,’ said Mary, ‘don’t be cross with me. I at least have done nothing to offend you.’

‘I an’t cross,’ said Eleanor.

‘Are you angry then? Surely you can’t be angry with me.’

‘No, I an’t angry; at least not with you.’

‘If you are not, drink the tea I have made for you. I am sure you must want it.’

Eleanor did drink it, and allowed herself to be persuaded. She ate and drank, and as the inner woman was recruited she felt a little more charitable towards the world at large. At last she found words to begin her story, and before she went to bed, she had made a clean breast of it and told everything–everything, that is, as to the lovers she had rejected: of Mr Arabin she said not a word.

‘I know I was wrong,’ said she, speaking of the blow she had given to Mr Slope; ‘but I didn’t know what he might do, and I had to protect myself.’

‘He richly deserved it,’ said Mary.

‘Deserved it!’ said Eleanor, whose mind as regarded Mr Slope was almost bloodthirsty. ‘Had I stabbed him with a dagger, he would have deserved it. But what will they say about it at Plumstead?’

‘I don’t think I should tell them,’ said Mary. Eleanor began to think that she would not.

There could have been no kinder comforter than Mary Bold. There was not the slightest dash of triumph about her when she heard of the Stanhope scheme, nor did she allude to her former opinion when Eleanor called her late friend Charlotte a base, designing woman. She re-echoed all the abuse that was heaped on Mr Slope’s head, and never hinted that she had said as much before. ‘I told you so! I told you so!’ is the croak of a true Job’s comforter. But Mary, when she found her friend lying in her sorrow and scraping herself with potsherds, forbore to argue and to exult. Eleanor acknowledged the merit of the forbearance, and at length allowed herself to be tranquillised.

On the next day she did not go out of the house. Barchester she thought would be crowded with Stanhopes and Slopes; perhaps also with Arabins and Grantlys. Indeed there was hardly any one among her friends whom she could have met, without some cause of uneasiness.

In the course of the afternoon she heard that the dean was dead; and she also heard that Mr Quiverful had been finally appointed to the hospital.

In the evening her father came to her, and then the story, or as much of it as she could bring herself to tell him, had to be repeated. He was not in truth much surprised at Mr Slope’s effrontery; but he was obliged to act as though he had been, to save his daughter’s feelings. He was, however, anything but skilful in his deceit, and she saw through it.

‘I see,’ said she, ‘that you think it only the common course of things that Mr Slope should have treated me in this way.’

She had said nothing to him about the embrace, nor yet of the way in which it had been met.

‘I do not think it at all strange,’ said he, ‘that any one should admire my Eleanor.’

‘It is strange to me,’ said she, ‘that any man should have so much audacity, without ever having received the slightest encouragement.’

To this Mr Harding answered nothing. With the archdeacon it would have been the text for a rejoinder, which would not have disgraced Bildad the Shuhite.

‘But you’ll tell the archdeacon,’ asked Mr Harding.

‘Tell him what?’ said she sharply.

‘Or Susan?’ continued Mr Harding. ‘You’ll tell Susan; you’ll let them know that they wronged you in supposing that this man’s addresses would be agreeable to you.’

‘They may find out their own way,’ said she; ‘I shall not ever willingly mention Mr Slope’s name to either of them.’

‘But I may.’

‘I have no right to hinder you from doing anything that may be necessary to your own comfort, but pray do not do it for my sake. Dr Grantly never thought well of me, and never will. I don’t know now that I an even anxious that he should do so.’

And then they went to the affair of the hospital. ‘But is it true, papa?’

‘What, my dear,’ said he. ‘About the dean? Yes, I fear quite true. Indeed, I know there is no doubt about it.’

‘Poor Miss Trefoil. I am so sorry for her. But I did not mean that,’ said Eleanor. ‘But about the hospital, papa?

‘Yes, my dear. I believe it is true that Mr Quiverful is to have it.’

‘Oh, what a shame!’

‘No, my dear, not at all, not at all a shame: I am sure I hope it will suit him.’

‘But, papa, you know it is a shame. After all your hopes, all your expectations to get back your old house, to see it given away in this way to a perfect stranger!’

‘My dear, the bishop had a right to give it to whom he pleased.’

‘I deny that, papa. He had no such right. It is not as though you were a candidate for a new piece of preferment. If the bishop has a grain of justice–‘

‘The bishop offered it to me on his terms, and as I did not like the terms, I refused it. After that, I cannot complain.’

‘Terms! He had not right to make terms.’

‘I don’t know about that; but it seems he had the power. But to tell you the truth, Nelly, I am as well satisfied as it is. When the affair became the subject of angry discussion, I thoroughly wished to be rid of it altogether.’

‘But you did want to go back to the old house, papa. You told me so yourself.’

‘Yes, my child, I did. For a short time I did wish it. And I was foolish in doing so. I am getting old now; and my chief worldly wish is for peace and rest. Had I gone back to the hospital, I should have had the endless contentions with the bishop, contentions with his chaplain, and contentions with the archdeacon. I am not up to this now, I am not able to meet such troubles; and therefore I am not ill-pleased to find myself left to the little church of St Cuthbert’s. I shall never starve,’ added he, laughing ‘as long as you are here.’

‘But if you will come and live with me, papa?’ she said earnestly, taking him by both his hands. ‘If you will do that, if you will promise that, I will own that you are right.’

‘I will dine with you to-day, at any rate.’

‘No, but live here altogether. Give up that close, odious little room in High Street.’

‘My dear, it’s a very nice little room; and you are really quite uncivil.’

‘Oh, papa, don’t joke. It’s not a nice place for you. You say you are growing old, though I am sure you are not.’

‘Am I not, my dear?’

‘No, papa, not old–not to say old. But you are quite old enough to feel the want of a decent room to sit in. You know how lonely Mary and I are here. You know nobody ever sleeps in the big front bed-room. It is really unkind of you to remain there alone, when you are so much wanted here.’

‘Thank you, Nelly–thank you. But, my dear–‘

‘If you had been living here, papa, with us, as I really think you ought to have done, considering how lonely we are, there would have been none of all this dreadful affair about Mr Slope.’

Mr Harding, however, did not allow himself to be talked over into giving up his own and only little pied a terre in the High Street. He promised to come and dine with his daughter, and stay with her, and visit her, and do everything but absolutely live with her. It did not suit the peculiar feelings of the man to tell his daughter that though she had rejected Mr Slope, and been ready to reject Mr Stanhope, some other more favoured suitor would probably soon appear; and that on the appearance of such a suitor the big front bed-room might perhaps be more frequently in requisition than at present. But doubtless such an idea crossed his mind, and added its weight to the other reasons which made him decide on still keeping the close, odious little room in High Street.

The evening passed over quietly and in comfort. Eleanor was always happier with her father than with any one else. He had not, perhaps, any natural taste for baby-worship, but he was always ready to sacrifice himself, and therefore made an excellent third in a trio with his daughter and Mary Bold in singing the praises of the wonderful child.

They were standing together over their music in the evening, the baby having again been put to bed upon the sofa, when the servant brought in a very small note in a beautiful pink envelope. It quite filled the room with perfume as it lay upon the small salver. Mary Bold and Mrs Bold were both at the piano, and Mr Harding was sitting close to them, with the violoncello between his legs; so that the elegance of the epistle was visible to them all.

‘Please, ma’am, Dr Stanhope’s coachman says he is to wait for an answer,’ said the servant.

Eleanor got very red in the face as she took the note in her hand. She had never seen the writing before. Charlotte’s epistles, to which she was well accustomed, were of a very different style and kind. She generally wrote on large note-paper; she twisted up her letter into the shape and sometimes into the size of cocked hats; she addressed them in a sprawling manly hand, and not unusually added a blot or a smudge, as though such were her own peculiar sign-manual. The address of this note was written in a beautiful female hand, and the gummed wafer bore on it an impress of a gilt coronet. Though Eleanor had never seen such a one before, she guessed that it came from the signora. Such epistles were very numerously sent out from any house in which the signora might happen to be dwelling, but they were rarely addressed to ladies. When the coachman was told by the lady’s maid to take the letter to Mrs Bold, he openly expressed his opinion that there was some mistake about it. Whereupon the lady’s maid boxed the coachman’s ears. Had Mr Slope seen in how meek a spirit the coachman took the rebuke, he might have learnt a useful lesson, both in philosophy and religion.

The note was as follows. It may be taken as a faithful promise that no further letter whatever shall be transcribed at length in these pages.

‘My dear Mrs Bold–May I ask you, as a great favour, to call on me to-morrow? You can say what hour will best suit you; but quite early, if you can. I need hardly say that if I could call upon you I should not take this liberty with you.

‘I partly know what occurred the other day, and I promise you that you shall meet with no annoyance if you will come to me. My brother leaves us for London to-day; from thence he goes to Italy.

‘It will probably occur to you that I should not thus intrude on you, unless I had that to say to you which may be of considerable moment. Pray therefore excuse me, even if you do not grant my request, and believe me, ‘Very sincerely yours, M.VESEY NERONI

The three of them sat in consultation on this epistle for some ten or fifteen minutes, and then decided that Eleanor should write a line saying that she would see the signora the next morning, at twelve o’clock.

CHAPTER XLV

THE STANHOPES AT HOME

We must now return to the Stanhopes, and see how they behaved themselves on their return from Ullathorne.

Charlotte, who came back in the first homeward journey with her sister, waited in palpitating expectation till the carriage drove up to the door a second time. She did not run down or stand at the window, or show in any outward manner that she looked for anything wonderful to occur; but, when she heard the carriage-wheels, she stood up with erect ears, listening for Eleanor’s footfall on the pavement or the cheery sound of Bertie’s voice welcoming her in. Had she heard either, she would have felt that all was right; but neither sound was there for her to hear. She heard only her father’s slow step, as he ponderously let himself down from the carriage, and slowly walked along the hall, till he got into his own private room on the ground floor. ‘Send Miss Stanhope to me,’ he said to the servant.

‘There’s something wrong now,’ said Madeline, who was lying on her sofa in the back drawing-room.

‘It’s all up with Bertie,’ replied Charlotte. ‘I know, I know,’ she said to the servant, as he brought up the message. ‘Tell my father I will be with him immediately.’

‘Bertie’s wooing gone astray,’ said Madeline. ‘I knew it would.’

‘It has been his own fault then. She was ready enough. I am quite sure,’ said Charlotte, with that sort of ill-nature which is not uncommon when one woman speaks of another.

‘What will you say to him now?’ By ‘him’ the signora meant their father.

‘That will be as I find him. He was ready to pay two hundred pounds for Bertie, to stave off the worst of his creditors, if this marriage had gone on. Bertie must now have the money instead, and go and take his chances.’

‘Where is he now?’

‘Heaven knows! Smoking at the bottom of Mr Thorne’s ha-ha, or philandering with some of those Miss Chadwicks. Nothing will ever make an impression on him. But he’ll be furious if I don’t go down.’

‘No; nothing ever will. But don’t be long, Charlotte, for I want my tea.’

And so Charlotte went down to her father. There was a very black cloud on the old man’s brow; blacker than his daughter could ever remember to have seen there. He was sitting in his own arm-chair, not comfortably over the fire, but in the middle of the room, waiting till she should come and listen to him.

‘What has become of your brother?’ he said, as soon as the door was shut.

‘I should rather ask you,’ said Charlotte. ‘I left you both at Ullathorne, when I came away. What have you done with Mrs Bold?’

‘Mrs Bold! nonsense. The woman has gone home as she ought to do. And heartily glad I am that she should not be sacrificed to so heartless a reprobate.’

‘Oh, papa!’

‘A heartless reprobate! Tell me now where he is, and what he is going to do. I have allowed myself to be fooled between you. Marriage indeed! Who on earth that has money, or credit, or respect in the world to lose, would marry him?’

‘It is no use your scolding me, papa. I have done the best I could for him and you.’

‘And Madeline is nearly as bad,’ said the prebendary, who was in truth, very, very angry.

‘Oh, I suppose we are all bad,’ replied Charlotte.

The old man emitted a huge leonine sigh. If they were all bad, who had made them so? If they were unprincipled, selfish, and disreputable, who was to be blamed for the education which had had so injurious an effect.

‘I know you’ll ruin me among you,’ said he.

‘Why, papa, what nonsense that is. You are living within your income this minute, and if there are any new debts, I don’t know of them. I am sure there ought to be none, for we are dull enough here.’

‘Are those bills of Madeline’s paid?’

‘No, they are not. Who was to pay them?’

‘Her husband may pay them.’

‘Her husband! Would you wish me to tell her you say so? Do you wish to turn her out of your home?’

‘I wish she would know how to behave herself.’

‘Why, what on earth has she done now? Poor Madeline! To-day is only the second time she has gone out since we came to this vile town.’

He then sat silent for a time, thinking in what shape he would declare his resolve. ‘Well, papa,’ said Charlotte, ‘shall I stay here, or may I go up-stairs and give mamma her tea?’

‘You are in your brother’s confidence. Tell me what he is going to do?’

‘Nothing, that I am aware of.’

‘Nothing–nothing! Nothing but eat and drink, and spend every shilling of my money he can lay his hands upon. I have made up my mind, Charlotte. He shall eat and drink no more in this house.’

‘Very well. Then I suppose he must go back to Italy.’

‘He may go where he pleases.’

‘That’s easily said, papa; but what does it mean? You can’t let him live–‘

‘It means this,’ said the doctor, speaking more loudly than was his wont, and with wrath flashing from his eyes; ‘that as sure as God rules in heaven, I will not maintain him any longer in idleness.’

‘Oh, ruling in heaven!’ said Charlotte. ‘It is no use talking about that. You must rule him here on earth; and the question is, how you can do it. You can’t turn him out of the house penniless, to beg about the street.’

‘He may beg where he likes.’

‘He must go back to Carrara. That is the cheapest place he can live at, and nobody there will give him credit for above two or three hundred pauls. But you must let him have the means of going.’

‘As sure as–‘

‘Oh papa, don’t swear. You know you must do it. You were ready to pay two hundred pounds for him if the marriage came off. Half that will start him to Carrara.’

‘What? Give him a hundred pounds!’

‘You know we are all in the dark, papa,’ said she, thinking it expedient to change the conversation. ‘For anything we know, he may be at this moment engaged to Mrs Bold.’

‘Fiddlestick,’ said the father, who had seen the way in which Mrs Bold had got into the carriage, while his son stood apart without even offering her his hand.

‘Well, then, he must go to Carrara.’ said Charlotte.

Just at this moment the lock of the front door was heard, and Charlotte’s quick care detected her brother’s cat-like step in the hall. She said nothing, feeling that for the present Bertie had better keep out of her father’s way. But Dr Stanhope also heard the sound of the lock.

‘Who’s that?’ he demanded. Charlotte made no reply, and he asked again. ‘Who is that that has just come in? Open the door. Who is it?’

‘I suppose it is Bertie.’

‘Bid him to come here,’ said the father. But Bertie, who was close to the door and heard the call, required no further bidding, but walked in with a perfectly unconcerned and cheerful air. It was this peculiar insouciance which angered Dr Stanhope, even more than his son’s extravagance.

‘Well, sir,’ said the doctor.

‘And how did you get home, sir, with your fair companion?’ said Bertie. ‘I suppose she is not up-stairs, Charlotte?’

‘Bertie,’ said Charlotte, ‘papa is in no humour for joking. He is very angry with you.’

‘Angry!’ said Bertie, raising his eyebrows, as though he had never yet given his parent cause for a single moment’s uneasiness.

‘Sit down, if you please, sir,’ said Dr Stanhope very sternly, but not now very loudly. ‘And I’ll trouble you to sit down, too, Charlotte. Your mother can wait for her tea a few minutes.’

Charlotte sat down on the chair nearest the door, in somewhat of a perverse sort of manner; as much as though she would say–Well, here I am; you shan’t say I don’t do as I am bid; but I’ll be whipped if I give way to you. And she was determined not to give way. She too was angry with Bertie; but she was not the less ready on that account to defend him from his father. Bertie also sat down. He drew his chair close to the library table, upon which he put his elbow, and then resting his face comfortably on one hand, he began drawing little pictures on a sheet of paper with the other. Before the scene was over had had completed admirable figures of Miss Thorne, Mrs Proudie, and Lady De Courcy, and began a family piece to comprise the whole set of Lookalofts.

‘Would it suit you, sir,’ said the father, ‘to give me some idea as to what your present intentions are?–what way of living you propose to yourself?’

‘I’ll do anything you suggest, sir,’ said Bertie.

‘No, I shall suggest nothing further. My time for suggesting has gone by. I have only one order to give, and that is, that you leave my house.’

‘To-night?’ said Bertie; and the simple tone of the question left the doctor without any adequately dignified method of reply.

‘Papa does not quite mean to-night,’ said Charlotte, ‘at least I suppose not.’

‘To-morrow perhaps,’ suggested Bertie.

‘Yes sir, to-morrow,’ said the doctor. ‘You shall leave this to-morrow.’

‘Very well, sir. Will the 4.30 P.M. train be soon enough?’ said Bertie, as he asked, put the finishing touch to Miss Thorne’s high-heeled boots.

‘You may go how and when and where you please, so that you leave my house to-morrow. You have disgraced me, sir; you have disgraced yourself, and me, and your sisters.’

‘I am glad at least sir, that I have not disgraced my mother,’ said Bertie.

Charlotte could hardly keep her countenance; but the doctor’s brow grew still blacker than ever. Bertie was executing his chef d’ouvre in the delineation of Mrs Proudie’s nose and mouth.

‘You are a heartless reprobate, sir; a heartless, thankless, good-for-nothing reprobate. I have done with you. You are my son–that I cannot help; but you shall have no more part or parcel in me as my child, nor I in you as your father.’

‘Oh, papa, papa! You must not, shall not say so,’ said Charlotte.

‘I will say so, and do say so,’ said the father, rising from his chair. ‘And now leave the room, sir.’

‘Stop, stop,’ said Charlotte; ‘why don’t you speak, Bertie? Why don’t you look up and speak? It is your manner that makes him so angry.’

‘He is perfectly indifferent to all decency, to all propriety,’ said the doctor; and then he shouted out, ‘Leave the room, sir! Do you hear what I say?’

‘Papa, papa, I will not let you part so. I know you will be sorry for it.’ And then she added, getting up and whispering into his ear. ‘Is he only to blame? Think of that. We have made our own bed, and, such as it is, we must lie on it. It is no use for us to quarrel among ourselves,’ and as she finished her whisper, Bertie finished off the countess’s bustle, which was so well done that it absolutely seemed to be swaying to and fro on the paper with its usual lateral motion.

‘My father is angry at the present time,’ said Bertie, looking up for a moment from his sketches, ‘because I am not going to marry Mrs Bold. What can I say on the matter? It is true that I am not going to marry her. In the first place–‘

‘That is not true, sir,’ said Dr Stanhope; ‘but I will not argue with you.’

‘You were angry just this moment because I would not speak,’ said Bertie, going on with a young Lookaloft.

‘Give over drawing,’ said Charlotte, going up to him and taking the paper from under his hand. The caricature, however, she preserved, and showed them afterwards to the friends of the Thornes, the Proudies, and De Courcys. Bertie, deprived of his occupation, threw himself back in his chair and waited further orders.

‘I think it will certainly be for the best that Bertie should leave this at once, perhaps to-morrow,’ said Charlotte; ‘but pray, papa, let us arrange some scheme together.’

‘If he will leave to-morrow, I will give him L 10, and he shall be paid L 5 a month by the banker at Carrara as long as he stays permanently in that place.’

‘Well, sir! it won’t be long,’ said Bertie; ‘for I shall be starved to death in about three months.’

‘He must have marble to work with,’ said Charlotte.

‘I have plenty there in the studio to last me three months,’ said Bertie. ‘It will be no use attempting anything large in so limited a time; unless I do my own tombstone.’

Terms, however, were ultimately come to, somewhat more liberal than those proposed, and the doctor was induced to shake hands with his son, and bid him good-night. Dr Stanhope would not go up to tea, but had it brought to him in his study by his daughter.

But Bertie went up-stairs and spent a pleasant evening. He finished the Lookalofts, greatly to the delight of his sisters, though the manner of portraying their decollete dresses was not the most refined. Finding how matters were going, he by degrees allowed it to escape from him that he had not pressed his suit upon the widow in a very urgent way.

‘I suppose, in point of fact, you never proposed at all?’ said Charlotte.

‘Oh, she understood that she might have me if she wished,’ said he.

‘And she didn’t wish,’ said the signora.

‘You have thrown me over in the most shameful manner,’ said Charlotte. ‘I suppose you told her all about my little plan?’

‘Well, it came out somehow; at least the most of it.’

‘There’s an end of that alliance,’ said Charlotte; ‘but it doesn’t matter much. I suppose we shall all be back in Como soon.’

‘I am sure I hope so,’ said the signora; ‘I’m sick of the sight of black coats. If that Mr Slope comes here any more, he’ll be the death of me.’

‘You’ve been the ruin of him, I think,’ said Charlotte.

‘And as for a second black-coated lover of mine, I am going to make a present to him of another lady with most singular disinterestedness.’

The next day, true to his promise, Bertie packed up and went of by the 4.30 P.M. train, with L 20 in his pocket, bound for the marble quarries of Carrara. And so he disappears from our scene.

At twelve o’clock on the day following that on which Bertie went, Mrs Bold, true also to her word, knocked at Dr Stanhope’s door with a timid hand and palpitating heart. She was at once shown up to the back drawing-room, the folding doors of which were closed, so that in visiting the signora, Eleanor was not necessarily thrown into any communication with those in the front room. As she went up the stairs, she none of the family, and was so far saved much of the annoyance which she had dreaded.

‘This is very kind of you, Mrs Bold; very kind, after what has happened,’ said the lady on the sofa with her sweetest smile.

‘You wrote in such a strain that I could not but come to you.’

‘I did, I did; I wanted to force you to see me.’

‘Well, signora; I am here.’

‘How cold you are to me. But I suppose I must put up with that. I know you think you have reason to be displeased with us all. Poor Bertie! if you knew all, you would not be angry with him.’

‘I am not angry with your brother–not in the least. But I hope you did not send for me to talk about him.’

‘If you are angry with Charlotte, that is worse; for you have no warmer friend in all Barchester. But I did not send for you to talk about this–pray bring your chair nearer, Mrs Bold, so that I may look at you. It is so unnatural to see you keeping so far off from me.’

Eleanor did as she was bid, and brought her chair closer to the sofa.

‘And now, Mrs Bold, I am going to tell you something which you may think indelicate; but yet I know that I am right in doing so.’

Hereupon Mrs Bold said nothing, but felt inclined to shake in her chair. The signora, she knew, was not very particular, and that which to her appeared to be indelicate might to Mrs Bold appear to be extremely indecent.

‘I believe you know Mr Arabin?’

Mrs Bold would have given the world not to blush, but her blood was not at her own command. She did blush up to her forehead, and the signora, who had made her sit in a special light in order that she might watch her, saw that she did so.

‘Yes–I am acquainted with him. That is, slightly. He is an intimate friend of Dr Grantly, and Dr Grantly is my brother-in-law.’

‘Well; if you know Mr Arabin, I am sure you must like him. I know and like him much. Everybody that knows him must like him.’

Mrs Bold felt it quite impossible to say anything in reply to this. Her blood was rushing about her body she knew not how or why. She felt as though she were swinging in her chair; and she knew that she was not only red in the face, but also almost suffocated with heat. However, she sat still and said nothing.

‘How stiff you are with me, Mrs Bold,’ said the signora; ‘and I the while am doing for you all that one woman can do to serve another.’

A kind of thought came over the widow’s mind that perhaps the signora’s friendship was real; and that at any rate it could not hurt her; and another kind of thought, a glimmering of a thought, came to her also,–that Mr Arabin was to precious to be lost. She despised the signora; but might she not stoop to conquer? It should be but the smallest fraction of a stoop!

‘I don’t want to be stiff,’ she said, ‘but your questions are so very singular.’

‘Well, then, I will ask you one more singular still,’ said Madeline Neroni, raising herself on her elbow and turning her own face full upon her companion’s. ‘Do you love him, love him with all your heart and soul, with all the love your bosom can feel? For I can tell you that he loves you, worships you, thinks of you and nothing else, is now thinking of you as he attempts to write his sermon for next Sunday’s preaching. What would I not give to be loved in such a way by such a man, that is, if I were an object for any man to love!’

Mrs Bold got up from her seat and stood speechless before the woman who was now addressing her in this impassioned way. When the signora thus alluded to herself, the widow’s heart was softened, and she put her own hand, as though caressingly, on that of her companion which was resting on the table. The signora grasped it and went on speaking.

‘What I tell you is God’s own truth; and it is for you to use it as may be best for your own happiness. But you must not betray me. He knows nothing of this. He knows nothing of my knowing his inmost heart. He is simple as a child in these matters. He told me his secret in a thousand ways because he could not dissemble; but he does not dream that has told it. You know it now, and I advise you to use it.’

Eleanor returned the pressure of the other’s hand with an infinitesimal soupcon of a squeeze.

‘And remember,’ said the signora, ‘he is not like other men. You must not expect him to come to you with vows and oaths and pretty presents, to kneel at your feet, and kiss your shoe-strings. If you want that, there are plenty to do it; but he won’t be one of them.’ Eleanor’s bosom nearly burst with a sigh; but Madeline, not heeding her, went on. ‘With him, yea will stand for yea, and nay for nay. Though his heart should break for it, the woman who shall reject him once, will have rejected him once and for all. Remember that. And now, Mrs Bold, I will not keep you, for you are flattered. I partly guess what use you will make of what I have said to you. If ever you are a happy wife in that man’s house, we shall be far away; but I shall expect you to write me one line to say that you have forgiven the sins of the family.’

Eleanor half whispered that she would, and then without uttering another word, crept out of the room, and down the stairs, opened the front door for herself without hearing or seeing any one, and found herself in the close.

It would be difficult to analyse Eleanor’s feelings as she walked home. She was nearly stupefied by the things that had been said to her. She felt sore that her heart should have been so searched and riddled by a comparative stranger, by a woman whom she had never liked and never could like. She was mortified that the man whom she owned to herself that she loved should have concealed his love from her and shown it to another. There was much to vex her proud spirit. But there was, nevertheless, an under-stratum of joy in all this which buoyed her up wondrously. She tried if she could disbelieve what Madame Neroni had said to her; but she found that she could not. It was true; it must be true. She could not, would not, did not doubt it.

On one point she fully resolved to follow the advice given her. If it should ever please Mr Arabin to put such a question to her as suggested, her ‘yea’ should be ‘yea’. Would not all her miseries be at an end, if she could talk of them to him openly, with her hand resting on his shoulder?

CHAPTER XLVI

MR SLOPE’S PARTING INTERVIEW WITH THE SIGNORA

On the following day the signora was in her pride. She was dressed in her brightest of morning dresses, and had quite a levee round her couch. It was a beautifully bright October afternoon; all the gentlemen of the neighbourhood were in Barchester, and those who had the entry of Dr Stanhope’s house were in the signora’s back drawing-room. Charlotte and Mrs Stanhope were in the front room, and such of the lady’s squires as could not for the moment get near the centre of attraction had to waste their fragrance on the mother and sister.

The first who came and the last to leave was Mr Arabin. This was the second visit he had paid to Madame Neroni since he had met her at Ullathorne. He came he knew not why, to talk about he knew not what. But, in truth, the feelings which now troubled him were new to him, and he could not analyse them. It may seem strange that he should thus come dangling about Madame Neroni because he was in love with Mrs Bold; but it was nevertheless the fact; and though he could not understand why he did so, Madame Neroni understood it well enough.

She had been gentle and kind to him, and had encouraged his staying. Therefore he stayed on. She pressed his hand when he first greeted her; and whispered to him little nothings. And then her eye, brilliant and bright, now mirthful, now melancholy, and invincible in either way! What man with warm feelings, blood unchilled, and a heat not guarded by a triple steel of experience could have withstood those eyes! The lady, it is true, intended to do no mortal injury; she merely chose to inhale a slight breath of incense before she handed the casket over to another. Whether Mrs Bold would willingly have spared even so much is another question.

And then came Mr Slope. All the world now knew that Mr Slope was a candidate for the deanery, and that he was generally considered to be the favourite. Mr Slope, therefore, walked rather largely upon the earth. He gave to himself a portly air, such as might become a dean, spoke but little to other clergymen, and shunned the bishop as much as possible. How the meagre little prebendary, and the burly chancellor, and all the minor canons and vicars choral, ay, and all the choristers too, cowered and shook and walked about with long faces when they read or heard of that article of the Jupiter. Now were coming the days when nothing would avail to keep the impure spirit from the cathedral pulpit. That pulpit would indeed be his own. Precentors, vicars, and choristers might hang up their harps on the willows. Ichabod! Ichabod! The glory of their house was departing from them.

Mr Slope, great as he was with embryo grandeur, still came to see the signora. Indeed, he could not keep himself away. He dreamed of that soft hand which had kissed so often, and of the imperial brow which his lips had once pressed, and he then dreamed also of further favours.

And Mr Thorne was there also. It was the first visit he had ever paid to the signora, and he made it not without due preparation. Mr Thorne was a gentleman usually precise in his dress, and prone to make the most of himself in an unpretending way. The grey hairs in his whiskers were eliminated perhaps once a month; those on his head were softened by a mixture which we will not call a dye; it was only a wash. His tailor lived in St James’s Street, and his bootmaker at the corner of that street and Piccadilly. He was particular in the article of gloves, and the getting up of his shirts was a matter not lightly thought of in the Ullathorne laundry. On the occasion of the present visit he had rather overdone his usual efforts, and caused some little uneasiness to his sister, who had not hitherto received very cordially the proposition for a lengthened visit from the signora at Ullathorne.

There were others also there–young men about the city who had not much to do, and who were induced by the lady’s charms to neglect that little; but all gave way to Mr Thorne, who was somewhat of a grand signor, as a country gentleman always is in a provincial city.

‘Oh, Mr Thorne, this is so kind of you!’ said the signora. ‘You promised to come; but I really did not expect it. I thought you country gentlemen never kept your pledges.’

‘Oh, yea, sometimes,’ said Mr Thorne, looking rather sheepish, and making salutations a little too much in the style of the last century.

‘You deceive none but your consti-stit-stit; what do you call the people that carry you about in chairs and pelt you with eggs and apples when they make you a member of parliament?’

‘One another also, sometimes, signora,’ said Mr Slope, with a deanish sort of smirk on his face. ‘Country gentlemen do deceive one another sometimes, don’t they, Mr Thorne?’

Mr Thorne gave him a look which undressed him completely for the moment; but he soon remembered his high hopes, and recovering himself quickly, sustained his probable coming dignity by a laugh at Mr Thorne’s expense.

‘I never deceive a lady, at any rate,’ said Mr Thorne; ‘especially when the gratification of my own wishes is so strong an inducement to keep me true, as it now is.’

Mr Thorne went on thus awhile, with antediluvian grimaces and compliments which he had picked up from Sir Charles Grandison, and the signora at every grimace and at every bow smiled a little smile and bowed a little bow. Mr Thorne, however, was kept standing at the foot of the couch, for the new dean sat in the seat of honour near the table. Mr Arabin the while was standing with his back to the fire, his coat tails under his arms, gazing at her with all his eyes–not quite in vain, for every now and again a glance came up at him, bright as a meteor out of heaven.

‘Oh, Mr Thorne, you promised to let me introduce my little girl to you. Can you spare a moment?–will you see her now?’

Mr Thorne assured her that he could, and would see the young lady with the greatest pleasure in life. ‘Mr Slope, might I trouble you to ring the bell?’ said she; and when Mr Slope got up she looked at Mr Thorne and pointed to the chair. Mr Thorne, however, was much too slow to understand her, and Mr Slope would have recovered his seat had not the signora, who never chose to be unsuccessful, somewhat summarily ordered him out of it.

‘Oh, Mr Slope, I must ask you to let Mr Thorne sit here just for a moment or two. I am sure you will pardon me. We can take a liberty with you this week. Next week, you know, when you move into the dean’s house, we shall all be afraid of you.’

Mr Slope, with an air of much indifference, rose from his seat, and, walking into the next room, became greatly interested in Mrs Stanhope’s worsted work.

And then the child was brought in. She was a little girl, about eight years of age, like her mother, only that her enormous eyes were black, and her hair quite jet. Her complexion too was very dark, and bespoke her foreign blood. She was dressed in the most outlandish and extravagant way in which clothes could be put on a child’s back. She had great bracelets on her naked little arms, a crimson fillet braided with gold round her head, and scarlet shoes with high heels. Her dress was all flounces, and stuck out from her as though the object were to make it lie off horizontally from her little hips. It did not nearly cover her knees; but this was atoned for by a loose pair of drawers which seemed made throughout of lace; then she had on pink silk stockings. It was thus that the last of the Neros was habitually dressed at the hour when visitors were wont to call.

‘Julia, my love,’ said the mother,–Julia was ever a favourite name with the ladies of the family, ‘Julia, my love, come here. I was telling you about the beautiful party poor mamma went to. This is Mr Thorne; will you give him a kiss, dearest?’

Julia put up her face to be kissed, as she did to all her mother’s visitors; and then Mr Thorne found that he had got her, and, which was much more terrible to him, all her finery, into his arms. The lace and starch crumpled against his waistcoat and trousers, the greasy black curls hung upon his cheek, and one of the bracelet clasps scratched his ear. He did not at all know how to hold her. However, he had on other occasions been compelled to fondle little nieces and nephews, and now set about the task in the mode he always used.

‘Diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle,’ said he, putting the child on one knee, and working away with it as though he were turning a knife-grinder’s wheel with his foot.

‘Mamma, mamma,’ said Julia, crossly. ‘I don’t want to be diddle diddled. Let me go, you naughty old man, you.’

Poor Mr Thorne put the child down quietly on the ground, and drew back his chair; Mr Slope, who had returned to the pole star that attracted him, laughed aloud; Mr Arabin winced and shut his eyes; and the signora pretended not to hear her daughter.

‘Go to Aunt Charlotte, lovey,’ said the mamma, ‘and ask her it if is not time for you to go out.’

But little Julia, though she had not exactly liked the nature of Mr Thorne’s attention, was accustomed to be played with by gentlemen, and did not relish the idea of being sent so soon to her aunt.

‘Julia, go when I tell you, my dear.’ But Julia still went pouting about the room. ‘Charlotte, do come and take her,’ said the signora. ‘She must go out; and the days get so short now.’ And thus ended the much-talked of interview between Mr Thorne and the last of the Neros.

Mr Thorne recovered from the child’s crossness sooner than from Mr Slope’s laughter. He could put up with being called an old man by an infant, but he did not like to be laughed at by the bishop’s chaplain, even though that chaplain was about to become a dean. He said nothing, but he showed plainly enough that he was angry.

The signora was ready enough to avenge him. ‘Mr Slope,’ said she, ‘I hear that you are triumphing on all sides.’

‘How so,’ said he smiling. He did not dislike being talked to about the deanery, though, of course, he strongly denied the imputation.

‘You carry the day both in love and war.’ Mr Slope hereupon did not look quite so satisfied as he had done.

‘Mr Arabin,’ continued the signora, ‘don’t you think Mr Slope is a very lucky man?’

‘Not more than he deserves, I am sure,’ said Mr Arabin.

‘Only think, Mr Thorne, he is to be our new dean; of course we all know that.’

‘Indeed, signora,’ said Mr Slope, ‘we all know nothing about it. I can assure you I myself–‘

‘He is to be the new dean–there is no manner of doubt of it, Mr Thorne.’

‘Hum,’ said Mr Thorne.

‘Passing over the heads of old men like my father and Archdeacon Grantly–‘

‘Oh–oh!’ said Mr Slope.

‘The archdeacon would not accept it,’ said Mr Arabin; whereupon Mr Slope smiled abominably, and said, as plainly as a look could speak, that the grapes were sour.

‘Going over all our heads,’ continued the signora; ‘for, of course, I consider myself one of the chapter.’

‘If I am ever dean,’ said Mr Slope–‘that is, were I ever to become so, I should glory in such a canoness.’

‘Oh, Mr Slope, stop; I haven’t half done. There is another canoness for you to glory in. Mr Slope is not only to have the deanery, but a wife to put in it.’

Mr Slope again looked disconcerted.

‘A wife with a large fortune, too. It never rains but it pours, does it Mr Thorne?’

‘No, never,’ said Mr Thorne, who did not quite relish talking about Mr Slope and his affairs.

‘When will it be, Mr Slope?’

‘When will what be?’ said he.

‘Oh! we know when the affair of the dean will be: a week will settle that. The new hat, I have no doubt, has already been ordered. But when will the marriage come off?’

‘Do you mean mine or Mr Arabin’s,’ said he, striving to be facetious.

‘Well, just then I meant yours, though perhaps, after all, Mr Arabin’s may be first. But we know nothing of him. He is too close for any of us. Now all is open and above board with you; which, by the bye, Mr Arabin, I beg to tell you I like much the best. He who runs can read that Mr Slope is a favoured lover. Come, Mr Slope, when is the widow to be made Mrs Dean?’

To Mr Arabin this badinage was peculiarly painful; and yet he could not tear himself away and leave it. He believed, still believed with that sort of belief which the fear of a thing engenders, that Mrs Bold would probably become the wife of Mr Slope. Of Mr Slope’s little adventure in the garden he knew nothing. For aught he knew, Mr Slope might have had an adventure of quite a different character. He might have thrown himself at the widow’s feet, been accepted, and then returned to town a jolly, thriving wooer. The signora’s jokes were bitter enough to Mr Slope, but they were quite as bitter to Mr Arabin. He still stood leaning against the fire-place, fumbling with his hands in his trouser’s pockets.

‘Come, come, Mr Slope, don’t be so bashful,’ continued the signora. ‘We all know that you proposed to the lady the other day at Ullathorne. Tell us with what words she accepted you. Was it with a simple “yes”, or with two “no, no’s”, which makes an affirmative? or did silence give consent: or did she speak out with that spirit which so well becomes a widow, and say openly, “By my troth, sir, you shall make me Mrs Slope as soon as it is your pleasure to do so”?’

Mr Slope had seldom in his life felt himself less at his case. There sat Mr Thorne, laughing silently. There stood his old antagonist, Mr Arabin, gazing at him with all his eyes. There round the door between the two rooms were clustered a little group of people, including Miss Stanhope and the Rev. Messrs. Gray and Green, all listening to his discomfiture. He knew that it depended solely on his own wit whether or no he could throw the joke back upon the lady. He knew that it stood him to do so if he possibly could; but he said not a word. ”Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all.’ He felt on his cheek the sharp points of Eleanor’s fingers, and did not know who might have seen the blow, who might have told the tale to this pestilent woman who took such delight in jeering him. He stood there, therefore, red as a carbuncle and mute as a fish; grinning just sufficiently to show his teeth; an object of pity.

But the signora had no pity; she knew nothing of mercy. Her present object was to put Mr Slope down, and she was determined to do it thoroughly, now that she had him in her power.

‘What, Mr Slope, no answer? Why it can’t possibly be that this woman has been fool enough to refuse you? She surely can’t be looking out after a bishop. But I see how it is, Mr Slope. Widows are proverbially cautious. You should have let her alone till the new hat was on your head; till you could show her the key of the deanery.’

‘Signora,’ said he at last, trying to speak in a tone of dignified reproach, ‘you really permit yourself to talk on such solemn subjects in a very improper way.’

‘Solemn subjects–what solemn subjects? Surely a dean’s hat is not such a solemn subject.’

‘I have no aspirations such as those you impute to me. Perhaps you will drop the subject.’

‘Oh, certainly, Mr Slope; but one word first. Go to her again with the prime minister’s letter in your pocket. I’ll wager my shawl to your shovel she does not refuse you then.’

‘I must say, signora, that I think you are speaking of the lady in a very unjustifiable manner.’

‘And one other piece of advice, Mr Slope; I’ll only offer you one other;’ and then she commenced singing–

‘It’s gude to be merry and wise, Mr Slope, It’s gude to be honest and true; It’s gude to be off with the old love, Mr Slope, Before you are on with the new–

‘Ha, ha, ha!’

And the signora, throwing herself back on her sofa, laughed merrily. She little recked how those who heard her would, in their own imagination, fill up the little history of Mr Slope’s first love. She little cared that some among them might attribute to her the honour of his earlier admiration. She was tired of Mr Slope and wanted to get rid of him; she had ground for anger with him, and she chose to be revenged.

How Mr Slope got out of that room he never himself knew. He did succeed ultimately, and probably with some assistance, in getting him his had and escaping into the air. At last his love for the signora was cured. Whenever he again thought of her in his dreams, it was not as of an angel with azure wings. He connected her rather with fire and brimstone, and though he could still believe her to be a spirit, he banished her entirely out of heaven, and found a place for her among the infernal gods. When he weighed in the balance, as he not seldom did, the two women to whom he had attached himself in Barchester, the pre-eminent place in his soul’s hatred was usually allotted to the signora.

CHAPTER XLVII

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 the 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 was 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 two 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 out 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 that day after Mr Slope’s departure for London; and on this occasion Mrs Grantly spoke her mind freely. She had opinions of her own about parish clergymen, and now thought it right to give vent to them.

‘It 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 mean 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 some one who could.’

‘But, my dear, are fellows never to get livings?’

‘Yes, to be sure they are, when they got 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 clergyman 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 bout to achieve respectability and wealth; and 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 still be 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 at Plumstead drawing-room when Dr and Mrs Grantly were disturbed in their sweet discourse by the quick rattle of a carriage and a 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 belonged rather to some person or persons who were in a hurry to reach the house, and had not 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 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 is 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 is 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 at the 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 disclosure.

‘Has Slope been made dean?’

‘No, he has not; but–‘

‘But what?’ said the archdeacon, who was becoming very impatient.

‘They have–‘

‘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 sank back exhausted in an easy-chair.

‘My dear, dear, father,’ said Mrs Grantly, and threw her arms around his 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 up-stairs 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 for 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 down-stairs, 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 the opportunity of speaking. It was, however, with much 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 had upon the table; and the start he made was so great as to make his wife jump 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 200 pounds a year, should accept high rank, 1200 pounds 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 that what a dean has to do. Surely you are more active than Dr Trefoil.’

‘He won’t have half as much to do as 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 I am too old for it.’

‘Good heavens! 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 have been 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 great poverty, he did fully recognise 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 appears 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, 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, and 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.

CHAPTER XLVIII

MISS THORNE SHOWS HER TALENT FOR MATCH-MAKING

On Mr Harding’s return to Barchester from Plumstead, which was effected by him in due course in company with the archdeacon, some 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 barely 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 to 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 a promotion as a country parsonage affords, she could think of no one more eligible than Mrs Bold; and, 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 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 matching 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; and 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 no maintain, with tears that 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 schemed, 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 terrible 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 have 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 an inexperienced gunner, who has ill calculated the length of the train that he has laid. The gunpowder 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 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 any one, 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 that 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 she 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 was 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, she 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 country 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 would know that she was in love with Mr Arabin. Well; what could 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 any one 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 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 the 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 resolve. 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, as he had to go close to her.

‘Very lovely,’ said he, standing modestly so far away from her s 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 could, 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 this conversation was taking, and yet she was quite relieved at his saying something which enabled herself to speak without showing any emotion.

‘What do I think, Mrs Bold?’ and then he rumbled his money with his hand 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 over in different directions. I hardly know whether or no we do lead 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 a while, 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 coming 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 passing up and down the room, took four of 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 a 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 then 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 connection, Dr Grantly, could justify it. Nor could the acquaintance which existed between ourselves.’ The word acquaintance struck cold on Eleanor’s heart. Was this to 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 this? 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 to so 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; and as he did so, there was a sober and 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 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 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 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 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 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 his kiss; he did not press another on her lips. He might have done so, had he been so minded. She was now all