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CHAPTER XLIV MRS BOLD AT HOME
Poor Mrs Bold, when she got home from Ullathorne on the evening of Miss Thorne's party, was very unhappy, and moreover very tired. Nothing fatigues the body so much as weariness of spirit, and Eleanor's spirit was indeed weary.
Dr Stanhope had civilly but not very cordially asked her in to tea, and her manner of refusal convinced the worthy doctor that he need not repeat the invitation. He had not exactly made himself a party to the intrigue which was to convert the late Mr Bold's patrimony into an income for his hopeful son, but he had been well aware what was going on. And he was thus well aware also, when he perceived that Bertie declined accompanying them home in the carriage, that the affair had gone off.
Eleanor was very much afraid that Charlotte would have darted out upon her, as the prebendary got out at his own door, but Bertie thoughtfully saved her from this, by causing the carriage to go round by her house. This also Dr Stanhope understood, and allowed to pass by without remark.
When she got home, she found Mary Bold in the drawing-room with the child in her lap. She rushed forward, and, throwing herself on her knees, kissed the little fellow till she almost frightened him.
'Oh, Mary, I am so glad you did not go. It was an odious party.'
Now the question of Mary's going had been one greatly mooted between them. Mrs Bold, when invited, had been the guest of the Grantlys, and Miss Thorne, who had chiefly known Eleanor at the hospital or at Plumstead rectory, had forgotten all about Mary Bold. Her sister-in-law had implored her to go under her wing, and had offered to write to Miss Thorne, or to call on her. But Miss Bold had declined. In fact, Mr Bold had not been very popular with such people as the Thornes, and his sister would not go among them unless she were specially asked to do so.
'Well then,' said Mary cheerfully, 'I have the less to regret.'
'You have nothing to regret; but oh! Mary, I have - so much - so much;' - and then she began kissing her boy, whom her caresses had aroused from his slumbers. When she raised her head, Mary saw that the tears were running down her cheeks.
'Good heavens, Eleanor, what is the matter? What has happened to you? - Eleanor, dearest Eleanor - what is the matter?' and Mary got up with the boy still in her arms.
'Give him to me - give him to me,' said the young mother. 'Give him to me, Mary,'and she almost tore the child out of her sister's arms. The poor little fellow murmured somewhat at the disturbance, but nevertheless nestled himself close into his mother's bosom.
'Here, Mary, take the cloak from me. My own, own darling, darling, darling jewel. You are not false to me. Everybody else is false; everybody else is cruel. Mamma will care for nobody, nobody, nobody, but her own, own, own, little man;' and she again kissed and pressed the baby, and cried till the tears ran down over the child's face.
'Who has been cruel to you, Eleanor?' said Mary. 'I hope I have not.'
Now, in this matter, Eleanor had great cause for uneasiness.
She could not certainly accuse her loving sister-in-law of cruelty; but she had to do that which was more galling; she had to accuse herself of an imprudence against which her sister-in-law had warned her. Miss Bold had never encouraged Eleanor's acquaintance with Mr Slope, and she had positively discouraged the friendship of the Stanhopes as far as her usual gentle mode of speaking had permitted. Eleanor had only laughed at her, however, when she said that she disapproved of married women who lived apart from their husbands, and suggested that Charlotte Stanhope never went to church. Now, however, Eleanor must either hold her tongue, which was quite impossible, or confess herself to have been utterly wrong, which was nearly equally so. So she staved off the evil day by more tears, and consoled herself by inducing little Johnny to rouse himself sufficiently to return her caresses.
'He is a darling - as true as gold. What would mamma do without him? Mamma would lie down and die if she had not her own Johnny Bold to give her comfort.' This and much more she said of the same kind, and for a time made no other answer to Mary's inquiries.
This kind of consolation from the world's deceit is very common.
Mothers obtain it from their children, and men from their dogs. Some men even do so from their walking-sticks, which is just as rational. How is it that we can take joy to ourselves in that we are not deceived by those who have not attained the art to deceive us? In a true man, if such can be found, or a true woman, much consolation may indeed be taken.
In the caresses of her child, however, Eleanor did receive consolation; and may ill befall the man who would begrudge it to her. The evil day, however, was only postponed. She had to tell her disagreeable tale to Mary, and she had also to tell it to her father. Must it not, indeed, be told to the whole circle of her acquaintance before she could be made to stand all right with them? At the present moment there was no one to whom she could turn for comfort. She hated Mr Slope; that was a matter of course, in that feeling she revelled. She hated and despised the Stanhopes; but that feeling distressed her greatly. She had, as it were, separated herself from her old friends to throw herself into the arms of this family; and then how had they intended to use her? She could hardly reconcile herself to her own father, who had believed ill of her. Mary Bold had turned Mentor. That she could have forgiven had the Mentor turned out to be in the wrong; but Mentors in the right are not to be pardoned. She could not but hate the archdeacon; and now she hated him even worse than ever, for she must in some sort humble herself before him. She hated her sister, for she was part and parcel of the archdeacon. And she would have hated Mr Arabin if she could. He had pretended to regard her, and yet before her face he had hung over that Italian woman as though there had been no beauty in the world but hers - no other woman worth a moment's attention. And Mr Arabin would have to learn all this about Mr Slope! She told herself she hated him, and she knew that she was lying to herself as she did so. She had no consolation but her baby, and of that she made the most. Mary, though she could not surmise what it was that had so violently affected her sister-in-law, saw at once her grief was too great to be kept under control, and waited patiently till the child should be in his cradle.
'You'll have some tea, Eleanor,' she said.
'Oh, I don't care,' said she; though in fact she must have been very hungry, for she had eaten nothing at Ullathorne.
Mary quietly made the tea, and buttered the bread, laid aside the cloak, and made things look comfortable.
'He's fast asleep,' said she, 'you're very tired; let me take him up to bed.'
But Eleanor would not let her sister touch him. She looked wistfully at her baby's eyes, saw that they were lost in the deepest slumber, and then made a sort of couch for him on the sofa. She was determined that nothing should prevail upon her to let him out of her sight that night.
'Come, Nelly,' said Mary, 'don't be cross with me. I at least have done nothing to offend you.'
'I an't cross,' said Eleanor.
'Are you angry then? Surely you can't be angry with me.'
'No, I an't angry; at least not with you.'
'If you are not, drink the tea I have made for you. I am sure you must want it.'
Eleanor did drink it, and allowed herself to be persuaded. She ate and drank, and as the inner woman was recruited she felt a little more charitable towards the world at large. At last she found words to begin her story, and before she went to bed, she had made a clean breast of it and told everything - everything, that is, as to the lovers she had rejected: of Mr Arabin she said not a word.
'I know I was wrong,' said she, speaking of the blow she had given to Mr Slope; 'but I didn't know what he might do, and I had to protect myself.'
'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.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XLV THE STANHOPES AT HOME