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When Miss Thorne left the dining-room, Eleanor had formed no intention of revealing to her what had occurred; but when she was seated beside her hostess on the sofa the secret dropped from her almost unawares. Eleanor was but a bad hypocrite, and she found herself quite unable to continue talking about Mr Arabin, as though he was a stranger, while her heart was full of him. When Miss Thorne, pursuing her own scheme with discreet zeal, asked the young widow whether, in her opinion, it would not be a good thing for Mr Arabin to get married, she had nothing for it but to confess the truth. 'I suppose it would,' said Eleanor, rather sheepishly. Whereupon Miss Thorne amplified on the idea. 'Oh, Miss Thorne,' said Eleanor, 'he is going to be married. I am engaged to him.'
Now Miss Thorne knew very well that there had been no such engagement when she had been walking with Mrs Bold in the morning. She had also heard enough to be tolerably sure that there had been no preliminaries to such an engagement. She was, therefore, as we have before described, taken a little by surprise. But, nevertheless, she embraced her guest, and cordially congratulated her.
Eleanor had no opportunity of speaking another word to Mr Arabin that evening, except such words as all the world might hear; and these, as may be supposed, were few enough. Miss Thorne did her best to leave them in privacy; but Mr Thorne, who knew nothing of what had occurred, and another guest, a friend of his, entirely interfered with her good intentions. So poor Eleanor had to go to bed without one sign of affection. Her state, nevertheless, was not to be pitied.
The next morning she was up early. It was probable, she thought, that by going down a little before the usual hour of breakfast, she might find Mr Arabin alone in the dining-room. Might it not be that she would calculate that an interview would thus be possible? Thus thinking, Eleanor was dressed a full hour before the time fixed at the Ullathorne household for morning prayers. She did not at once go down. She was afraid to seem to be too anxious to meet her lover; though, heaven knows, her anxiety was intense enough. She therefore sat herself down at her window, and repeatedly looking at her watch, nursed her child till she thought she might venture forth.
When she found herself at the dining-room door, she stood a moment, hesitating to turn the handle; but when she heard Mr Thorne's voice inside she hesitated no longer. Her object was defeated, and she might now go in as soon as she liked without the slightest imputation on her delicacy. Mr Thorne and Mr Arabin were standing on the hearth-rug, discussing the merits of the Beelzebub colt; or rather, Mr Thorne was discussing, and Mr Arabin was listening. That interesting animal had rubbed the stump of his tail against the wall of his stable, and occasioned much uneasiness to the Ullathorne master of the horse. Had Eleanor but waited another minute, Mr Thorne would have been in the stable.
Mr Thorne, when he saw his lady guest, repressed his anxiety. The Beelzebub colt must do without him. And so the three stood, saying little or nothing to each other, till at last the master of the house, finding that he could no longer bear the present state of suspense respecting his favourite young steed, made an elaborate apology to Mrs Bold, and escaped. As he shut the door behind him, Eleanor almost wished that he had remained. It was not that she was afraid of Mr Arabin, but she hardly yet knew how to address him.
He, however, soon relieved her from her embarrassment. He came up to her, and taking bother her hands in his, he said, 'So, Eleanor, you and I are to be man and wife. Is it so?'
She looked up into his face, and her lips formed themselves into a single syllable. She uttered no sound, but he could read the affirmative plainly in her face.
'It is a great trust,' said he, 'a very great trust.'
'It is--it is,' said Eleanor, not exactly taking what he had said in the sense that he had meant. 'It is a very great trust, and I will do my utmost to deserve it.'
'And I also will do my utmost to deserve it,' said Mr Arabin very solemnly. And then, winding his arm round her waist, he stood there gazing at the fire, and she with her head leaning in his shoulder, stood by him, well satisfied with her position. They neither of them spoke, or found any want of speaking. All that was needful for them to say had been said. The yea, yea, had been spoken by Eleanor in her own way--and that way had been perfectly satisfactory to Mr Arabin.
And now it remained to them each to enjoy the assurance of the other's love. And how great that luxury is! How far it surpasses any other pleasure which God has allowed to his creatures! And to a woman's heart how doubly delightful!
When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall, we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper. They were not created to stretch forth their branches alone, and endure without protection the summer's sun and the winter's storm. Alone they but spread themselves on the ground, and cower unseen in the dingy shade. But when they have found their firm supporters, how wonderful is their beauty; how all pervading and victorious!
What is the turret without its ivy, or the high garden wall without the jasmine which gives it its beauty and fragrance? The hedge without the honeysuckle is but a hedge.
There is s feeling still half existing, but now half conquered by the force of human nature, that a woman should be ashamed of her love till the husband's right to her compels her to acknowledge it. We would fain preach a different doctrine. A woman should glory in her love; but on that account let her take the more care that it be such as to justify her glory.
Eleanor did glory in hers, and she felt, and had cause to feel, that it deserved to be held as glorious. She could have stood there for hours with his arm around her, had fate and Mr Thorne permitted it. Each moment she crept nearer to his bosom, and felt more and more certain that there was her home. What now to her was the archdeacon's arrogance, her sister's coldness, or her dear father's weakness? What need she care for the duplicity of such friends as Charlotte Stanhope? She had found the strong shield that should guard her from all wrongs, the trusty pilot that should henceforward guide her through the shoals and rocks. She would give up the heavy burden of her independence, and once more assume the position of a woman, and the duties of a trusting and loving wife.
And he, too, stood there fully satisfied with his place. They were both looking intently on the fire, as though they could read there their future fate, till at last Eleanor turned her face towards his. 'How sad you are,' she said, smiling; and indeed his face was, if not sad, at least serious. 'How sad you are, love!'
'Sad,' said he, looking down at her; 'no, certainly not sad.' Her sweet loving eyes were turned towards him, and she smiled softly as he answered her. The temptation was too strong even for the demure propriety of Mr Arabin, and, bending over her, he pressed his lips to hers.
Immediately after this, Mr Thorne appeared, and they were both delighted to hear that the tail of the Beelzebub colt was not materially injured.
It had been Mr Harding's intention to hurry over to Ullathorne as soon as possible after his return to Barchester, in order to secure the support of his daughter in his meditated revolt against the archdeacon as touching the deanery; but he was spared the additional journey by hearing that Mrs Bold had returned unexpectedly home. As soon as he had read her note he started off, and found her waiting for him in her own house.
How much each of them had to tell the other, and how certain each was that the story which he or she had to tell would astonish the other!
'My dear, I am so anxious to see you,' said Mr Harding, kissing his daughter.
'Oh, papa, I have so much to tell you!' said the daughter, returning his embrace.
'My dear, they have offered me the deanery!' said Mr Harding, anticipating by the suddenness of the revelation the tidings which Eleanor had to give him.
'Oh, papa,' said she, forgetting her own love and happiness in her joy at the surprising news; 'oh, papa, can it be possible? Dear, papa, how thoroughly, thoroughly happy that makes me!'
'But, my dear, I think it best to refuse it.'
'I am sure you will agree with me, Eleanor, when I explain it to you. You know, my dear how old I am. If I live, I--'
'But, papa, I must tell you about myself.'
'Well, my dear.'
'I do wonder how you will take it.'
'If you don't rejoice at it, if it doesn't make you happy, if you don't encourage me, I shall break my heart.'
'If that be the case, Nelly, I certainly will encourage you.'
'But I fear you won't. I do so fear you won't. And yet you can't but think I am the most fortunate woman living on God's earth.'
'Are you, dearest? Then I certainly will rejoice with you. Come, Nelly, come to me, and tell me what it is.'
'I am going--'
He led her to the sofa, and seating himself beside her, with both her hands in his. 'You are going to be married, Nelly. Is not that it?'
'Yes,' she said, faintly. 'That is if you will approve;' and then she blushed as she remembered the promise which she had so lately volunteered to him, and which she had so utterly forgotten in making her engagement with Mr Arabin.
Mr Harding thought for a moment who the man could be whom he was to be called upon to welcome as his son-in-law. A week since he would have had no doubt whom to name. In that case he would have been prepared to give his sanction, although he would have done so with a heavy heart. Now he knew that at any rate it would not be Mr Slope, though he was perfectly at a loss to guess who could possibly have filled his place. For a moment he thought that the man might be Bertie Stanhope, and his very soul sank within him.
'Oh, papa, promise me that, for my sake, you will love him.'
'Come, Nelly, come; tell me who it is.'
'But you will love him, papa?'
'Dearest, I must love any one that you love.' Then she turned he face to his, and whispered into his ear the name of Mr Arabin.
No man that she could have named could have more surprised or more delighted him. Had he looked round the world for a son-in-law to his taste, he could have selected no one whom he would have preferred to Mr Arabin. He was a clergyman; he held a living in the neighbourhood; he was of a set to which all Mr Harding's own partialities most closely adhered; he was the great friend of Dr Grantly; and he was, moreover, a man of whom Mr Harding knew nothing but what he approved. Nevertheless his surprise was so great as to prevent the immediate expression of his joy. He had never thought of Mr Arabin in connection with his daughter; he had never imagined that they had any feeling in common. He had feared that his daughter had been made hostile to clergymen of Mr Arabin's stamp by her intolerance of the archdeacon's pretensions. Had he been put to wish, he might have wished for Mr Arabin for a son-in-law; but had he been put to guess, the name would never have occurred to him.
'Mr Arabin!' he exclaimed; 'impossible!'
'Oh, papa, for heaven's sake don't say anything against him! If you do love me, don't say anything against him. Oh, papa, it's done, and mustn't be undone--oh, papa!'
Fickle Eleanor! Where was the promise that she would make no choice for herself without her father's approval? She had chosen, and now demanded his acquiescence. 'Oh, papa, isn't he good? isn't he noble? isn't he religious, high-minded, everything that a good man possibly can be?' and she clung to her father, beseeching him for his consent.
'My Nelly, my child, my own daughter! He is; he is noble and good and high-minded; he is all that a woman can love and admire. He shall be my son, my own son. He shall be as close to my heart as you are. My Nelly, my child, my happy, happy child!'
We need not pursue the interview any further. By degrees they returned to the subject of the new promotion. Eleanor tried to prove to him, as the Grantlys had done, that his age could be no bar to his being a very excellent dean; but those arguments had now even less weight than before. He said little or nothing, but sat meditative. Every now and then he would kiss his daughter, and say, 'yes,' or 'no,' or 'very true,' or 'well, my dear, I can't quite agree with you there,' but he could not be got to enter sharply into the question of 'to be or not to be' dean of Barchester. Of her and her happiness, of Mr Arabin and his virtues, he would talk as much as Eleanor desired; and, to tell the truth, that was not a little; but about the deanery he would now say nothing further. He had got a new idea into his head--Why should not Mr Arabin be the new dean?
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