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CHAPTER L THE ARCHDEACON IS SATISFIED WITH THE STATE OF AFFAIRS
The archdeacon, in his journey into Barchester, had been assured by Mr Harding that all their prognostications about Mr Slope and Eleanor were groundless. Mr Harding, however, had found it very difficult to shake his son-in-law's faith in his own acuteness. The matter had, to Dr Grantly, been so plainly corroborated by such patent evidence, borne out by such endless circumstances, that he at first refused to take as true the positive statement which Mr Harding made to him of Eleanor's own disavowal of the impeachment. But at last he yielded in a qualified way. He brought himself to admit that he would at the present regard his past convictions as a mistake; but in doing this he so guarded himself, that if, at any future time, Eleanor should come forth to the world as Mrs Slope, he might still be able to say: 'There, I told you so. Remember what you said and what I said; and remember also for coming years, that I was right in this matter - as in all others.'
He carried, however, his concession so far as to bring himself to undertake to call at Eleanor's house, and he did call accordingly, while the father and the daughter were yet in the middle of their conference. Mr Harding had had so much to hear and to say that he had forgotten to advertise Eleanor of the honour that awaited her, and she heard her brother-in-law's voice in the hall, while she quite unprepared to see him.
'There's the archdeacon,' she said, springing up.
'Yes, my dear. He told me to tell you that he would come to see you; but, to tell the truth, I had forgotten all about it.'
Eleanor fled away, regardless of all her father's entreaties. She could not now, in the first hours of her joy, bring herself to bear all the archdeacon's retractions, apologies, and congratulations. He would have so much to say, and would be so tedious in saying it; consequently, the archdeacon, when he was shown into the drawing-room, found on one there but Mr Harding.'
'You must excuse Eleanor,' said Mr Harding.
'Is anything the matter?' asked the doctor, who at once anticipated that the whole truth about Mr Slope had at last come out.
'Well, something is the matter. I wonder whether you will be much surprised?'
The archdeacon saw by his father-in-law's manner that after all he had nothing to tell him about Mr Slope. 'No,' said he, 'certainly not - nothing will ever surprise me again.' Very many men nowadays, besides the archdeacon, adopt or affect to adopt the nil admirari doctrine; but nevertheless, to judge from their appearance, they are just as subject to sudden emotions as their grandfathers and grandmothers were before them.
'What do you think Mr Arabin has done?'
'Mr Arabin! It's nothing about that daughter of Stanhope's, I hope?'
'No, not that woman,' said Mr Harding, enjoying his joke in his sleeve.
'Not that woman! Is he going to do anything about any woman? Why can't you speak out if yo have anything to say? There is nothing I hate so much as these sort of mysteries.'
'There shall be no mystery with you, archdeacon; though, of course, it must go no further at present.'
'Except Susan. You must promise me you'll tell no one else?'
'Nonsense!' exclaimed the archdeacon, who was becoming angry in his suspense. 'You can't have any secret about Mr Arabin.'
'Only this - that he and Eleanor are engaged.'
It was quite clear to see by the archdeacon's face, that he did not believe a word of it. 'Mr Arabin! It's impossible!'
'Eleanor, at any rate, has just told me so.'
'It's impossible,' repeated the archdeacon.
'Well, I can't say I think it is impossible. It certainly took me by surprise; but that does not make it impossible.'
'She must be mistaken.'
Mr Harding assured him that there was no mistake; that he would find, on returning home, that Mr Arabin had been at Plumstead with the express object of making to same declaration, that even Miss Thorne knew all about it; and that, in fact, the thing was as clearly settled as any such arrangement between a lady and a gentleman could be.
'Good heavens!' said the archdeacon, walking up and down Eleanor's drawing-room. 'Good heavens! Good heavens!'
Now, these exclamations certainly betokened faith. Mr Harding properly gathered from it that, at last, Dr Grantly did believe the fact. The first utterances clearly evinced a certain amount of distaste at the information he had received; the second, simply indicated surprise; and the tone of the third, Mr Harding fancied that he could catch a certain gleam of satisfaction.
The archdeacon had truly expressed the workings of his mind. He could not but be disgusted to find how utterly astray he had been in all his anticipations. Had he only been lucky enough to have suggested the marriage himself when he first brought Mr Arabin into the country, his character for judgment and wisdom would have received an addition which would have classed him at any rate next to Solomon. And why had he not done so? Might he not have foreseen that Mr Arabin would want a wife in the parsonage? He had foreseen that Eleanor would want a husband; but should he not also have perceived that Mr Arabin was a man much more likely to attract her than Mr Slope? The archdeacon found that he had been at fault, and of course could not immediately get over his discomfiture.
Then his surprise was intense. How sly the pair of young turtle doves had been with him. How egregiously they had hoaxed him. He had preached at Eleanor against her fancied attachment to Mr Slope, at the very time she was in love with his own protege, Mr Arabin; and had absolutely taken that same Mr Arabin into his confidence with reference to the dread of Mr Slope's alliance. It was very natural that the archdeacons should feel surprise.
But there was also great ground for satisfaction. Looking at the match by itself, it was the very thing to help the doctor out of his difficulties. In the first place, the assurance that he should never have Mr Slope for his brother-in-law was in itself a great comfort. Then Mr Arabin was, of all men, one with whom it would best suit him to be utterly connected. But the crowning comfort was the blow that this marriage would give to Mr Slope. He had now certainly lost his wife; rumour was beginning to whisper that he might possibly lose his position in the palace; and if Mr Harding would only be true, the great danger of all would be surmounted. In such case it might be expected that Mr Slope would own himself vanquished, and take himself altogether away from Barchester. And so the archdeacon would again be able to breath the pure air.
'Well, well,' said he. 'Good heavens! Good heavens!' and the tone of the fifth exclamation made Mr Harding fully aware that content was reigning in the archdeacon's bosom.
And then slowly, gradually, and craftily, Mr Harding propounded his own new scheme. Why should not Mr Arabin be the new dean?
Slowly, gradually, thoughtfully, Dr Grantly fell into his father-in-law's views. Much as he liked Mr Arabin, sincere as he was in his admiration for that gentleman's ecclesiastical abilities, he would not have sanctioned a measure which would have robbed his father-in-law of his fairly-earned promotion, were it at all practicable to induce his father-in-law to accept the promotion which he had earned. But the archdeacon had, on a former occasion, received proof of the obstinacy with which Mr Harding could adhere to his own views in opposition to the advice of all his friends. He knew tolerably well that nothing would induce the meek, mild man before him to take the high place offered to him, if he thought it wrong to do so. Knowing this, he also said to himself more than once; 'Why should not Mr Arabin be dean of Barchester?' it was at last arranged between them that they would together start to London by the earliest train on the following morning, making a little detour to Oxford on their journey. Dr Gwynne's counsels, they imagined, might perhaps be of assistance to them.
These matters settled, the archdeacon hurried off, that he might return to Plumstead and prepare for his journey. The day was extremely fine, and he came into the city in an open gig. As he was driving up the High Street he encountered Mr Slope at a crossing. Had he not pulled up rather sharply, he would have run over him. The two had never spoken to each other since they had met on a memorable occasion in the bishop's study. They did not speak now; but they looked at each other full in the face, and Mr Slope's countenance was as impudent, as triumphant, as defiant as ever. Had Dr Grantly not known to the contrary, he would have imagined that his enemy had won the deanship, the wife, and all the rich honours, for which he had been striving. As it was he had lost everything that he had in the world, and had just received his conge from the bishop.
In leaving the town the archdeacon drove by the well-remembered entrance of Hiram's hospital. There, at the gate, was a large, untidy, farmer's wagon, laden with untidy-looking furniture; and there, inspecting the arrival, was good Mrs Quiverful - not dressed in her Sunday best - not very clean in her apparel - not graceful as to her bonnet and shawl; or, indeed, with many feminine charms as to her whole appearance. She was busy at domestic work in her new house, and had just ventured out, expecting to see no one on the arrival of the family chattels. The archdeacon was down upon her before she knew where she was.
Her acquaintance with Dr Grantly or his family were very slight indeed. The archdeacon, as a matter of course, knew every clergyman in the archdeaconry; it may almost be said the diocese, and had some acquaintance, more or less intimate, with their wives and families. With Mr Quiverful he had been concerned on various matters of business; but of Mrs Q. he had seen very little. Now, however, he was in too gracious a mood to pass her by unnoticed. The Quiverfuls, one and all, had looked for the bitterest hostility from Dr Grantly; they knew his anxiety for Mr Harding should return to his old home at the hospital, and they did not know that a new home had been offered to him at the deanery. Mrs Quiverful was therefore not a little surprised and not a little rejoiced also, at the tone at which she was addressed.
'How do you do, Mrs Quiverful? - how do you do?' said he, stretching his left hand out of the gig, as he spoke to her.
'I am very glad to see you employed in so pleasant and useful a manner; very glad indeed.'
Mrs Quiverful thanked him, and shook hands with him, and looked into his face suspiciously. She was not sure whether the congratulations and kindness were or were not ironical.
'Pray tell Mr Quiverful from me,' he continued, 'that I am rejoiced at his appointment. It is a comfortable place, Mrs Quiverful, and a comfortable house, and I am very glad to see you in it. Good-bye, good-bye.' And he drove on, leaving the lady well-pleased and astonished at his good nature. On the whole things were going well with the archdeacon, and he could afford to be charitable to Mrs Quiverful. He looked forth from his gig smilingly on all the world, and forgave every one in Barchester their sins, excepting only Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope. Had he seen the bishop, he would have felt inclined to pat even him kindly on the head.
He determined to go home by St Ewold's. This would take him some three miles out of his way; but he felt that he could not leave Plumstead comfortably without saying one word of good fellowship to Mr Arabin. When he reached the parsonage the vicar was still out; but, from what he had heard, he did not doubt but that he would meet him on the road between their two houses. He was right in this, for about halfway home, at a narrow turn, he came upon Mr Arabin, who was on horseback.
'Well, well, well, well,' said the archdeacon loudly, joyously, and with supreme good humour; 'well, well, well, well; so, after all, we have no further cause to fear Mr Slope.'
'I hear from Mrs Grantly that they have offered the deanery to Mr Harding,' said the other.
'Mr Slope has lost more than the deanery, I find,' and then the archdeacon laughed jocosely. 'Come, come, Arabin, you have kept your secret well enough. I know all about it now.'
'I have had no secret, archdeacon,'said the other with a quiet smile. 'None at all - not for a day. It was only yesterday that I knew my own good fortune, and to-day I went over to Plumstead to ask your approval. From what Mrs Grantly has said to me, I am led to hope that I shall have it.'
'With all my heart, with all my heart,' said the archdeacon cordially, holding his friend by the hand. 'It's just as I would have it. She is an excellent young woman; she will not come to you empty-handed; and I think she will make you a good wife. If she does her duty by you as her sister does by me, you'll be a happy man; that's all I can say.' And as he finished speaking, a tear might have been observed in each of the doctor's eyes.'
Mr Arabin warmly returned the archdeacon's grasp, but he said little. His heart was too full for speaking, and he could not express the gratitude which he felt. Dr Grantly understood him as well as though he had spoken for an hour.
'And mind, Arabin,' said he, 'no one but myself shall tie the knot. We'll get Eleanor out to Plumstead, and it shall come off there. I'll make Susan stir herself, and we'll do it in style. I must be off to London to-morrow on special business. Harding goes with me. But I'll be back before your bride has got her wedding-dress ready.' And so they parted.
On his journey home the archdeacon occupied his mind with preparations for the marriage festivities. He made a great resolve that he would atone to Eleanor for all the injury he had done her by the munificence of his future treatment. He would show her what was the difference in his eyes between a Slope and an Arabin. On one other thing also he decided with a firm mind: if the affair of the dean should not be settled in Mr Arabin's favour, nothing should prevent him putting a new front and bow-window to the dining-room at St Ewold's parsonage.
'So we're sold after all, Sue,' said he to his wife, accosting her with a kiss as soon as he entered his house. He did not call his wife Sue above twice or thrice in a year, and these occasions were great high days.
'Eleanor has had more sense then we gave her credit for,' said Mrs Grantly.
And there was great content in Plumstead rectory that evening; and Mrs Grantly promised her husband that she would now open her heart, and take Mr Arabin into it. Hitherto she had declined to do so.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER LI MR SLOPE BIDS FAREWELL TO THE PALACE AND ITS INHABITANTS