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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 his own. He took his arm from round her waist, his arm that was trembling with a new delight, and let her go. She fled like a roe to her own chamber, and then, having turned the bolt, she enjoyed the full luxury of her love. She idolised, almost worshipped this man who had so meekly begged her pardon. And he was now her own. Oh, how she wept and cried and laughed, as the hopes and fears and miseries of the last few weeks passed in remembrance through her mind.
Mr Slope! That any one should have dared to think that she who had been chosen by him could possibly have mated herself with Mr Slope! That they should have dared to tell him, also, and subject her bright happiness to such a needless risk! And then she smiled with joy as she thought of all the comforts that she could give him; not that he cared for comforts, but that it would be so delicious for her to give.
She got up and rang for her maid that she might tell her little boy of his new father; and in her own way she did tell him. She desired her maid to leave her, in order that she might be alone with her child; and there, while he lay sprawling on the bed, she poured forth the praises, so unmeaning to him, of the man she had selected to guard his infancy.
She could not be happy, however, till she had made Mr Arabin take the child to himself, and thus, as it were, adopt him as his own. The moment the idea struck her she took the baby in her arms, and, opening her door, ran quickly down to the drawing-room. She at once found, by the step still pacing on the floor, that he was there; and a glance within the room told her that he was alone. She hesitated a moment, and then hurried in with her precious charge.
Mr Arabin met her in the middle of the room. 'There,' said she, breathless with her haste; 'there, take him - take him and love him.'
Mr Arabin took the little fellow from her, and kissing him again and again, prayed God to bless him. 'He shall be all as my own-all as my own,' said he. Eleanor, as she stooped to take back her child, kissed the hand that held him, and then rushed back with her treasure to her chamber.
It was then that Mr Harding's younger daughter was won for the second time. At dinner neither she nor Mr Arabin were very bright, but their silence occasioned no remark. In the drawing-room, as we have before said, she told Miss Thorne what had occurred. The next morning she returned to Barchester, and Mr Arabin went over with his budget of news to the archdeacon. As Dr Grantly was not there, he could only satisfy himself by telling Mrs Grantly how that he intended himself the honour of becoming her brother-in-law. In the ecstasy of her joy at hearing such tidings, Mrs Grantly vouchsafed him a warmer welcome than any he had yet received from Eleanor.
'Good heavens!' she exclaimed - it was the general exclamation of the rectory. 'Poor Eleanor! Dear Eleanor. What monstrous injustice has been done her! - Well, it shall all be made up now.' And then she thought of the signora. 'What lies people tell,' she said to herself.
But people in this matter had told no lies at all.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XLIX THE BEELZEBUB COLT