‘My dear Miss Tucker,—I received your kind letter,，
But he never could have loved the Signora Neroni as he felt that he now loved Eleanor! and so he flung stones into the brook, instead of flinging in himself, and sat down on its margin as sad a gentleman as you shall meet in a summer's day.
He heard the dinner-bell ring from the churchyard, and he knew that it was time to recover his self possession. He felt that he was disgracing himself in his own eyes, that he had been idling his time and neglecting the high duties which he had taken upon himself to perform. He should have spent the afternoon among the poor at St Ewold's, instead of wandering about Plumstead, an ancient love-lorn swain, dejected and sighing, full of imaginary sorrows and Wertherian grief. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself, and determined to lose no time in retrieving his character, so damaged in his own eyes. Thus when he appeared at dinner he was as animated as ever, and was the author of most of the conversation which graced the archdeacon's board on that evening. Mr Harding was ill at ease and sick at heart, and did not care to appear more comfortable than he really was; what little he did say was said to his daughter. He thought the archdeacon and Mr Arabin had leagued together against Eleanor's comfort; and his wish now was to break away from the pair, and undergo in his Barchester lodgings whatever Fate had in store for him. He hated the name of the hospital; his attempt to regain his lost inheritance there had brought upon him so much suffering. As far as he was concerned, Mr Quiverful was now welcome to the place.
And the archdeacon was not very lively. The poor dean's illness was of course discussed in the first place. Dr Grantly did not mention Mr Slope's name in connexion with the expected event of Dr Trefoil's death; he did not wish to say anything about Mr Slope just at present, nor did he wish to make known his own sad surmises; but the idea that his enemy might possibly become Dean of Barchester made him very gloomy. Should such an even take place, such a dire catastrophe come about, there would be an end to his life as far as his life was connected with the city of Barchester. He must give up all his old haunts, all his old habits, and live quietly as a retired rector at Plumstead. It had been a severe trial for him to have Dr Proudie in the palace; but with Mr Slope also in the deanery, he felt that he should be unable to draw his breath in Barchester close.
Thus it came to pass that in spite of the sorrow at his heart, Mr Arabin was apparently the gayest of the party. Both Mr Harding and Mrs Grantly were in a slight degree angry with him on account of his want of gloom. To the one it appeared as though he were triumphing at Eleanor's banishment, and to the other that he was not affected as he should have been by all the sad circumstances of the day, Eleanor's obstinacy, Mr Slope's success, and the poor dean's apoplexy. And so they were all at cross purposes.
Mr Harding left the room almost together with the ladies, and the archdeacon opened his heart to Mr Arabin. He still harped upon the hospital. 'What did that fellow mean,' said he, 'by saying in his letter to Mrs Bold, that if Mr Harding would call on the bishop it would be all right? Of course I would not be guided by anything he might say; but still it may be well that Mr Harding should see the bishop. It would be foolish to let the thing slip through our fingers because Mrs Bold is determined to make a fool of herself.'
Mr Arabin hinted that he was not quite so sure that Mrs Bold would make a fool of herself. He said that he was not convinced that she did regard Mr Slope so warmly as she was supposed to do. The archdeacon questioned and cross-questioned him about this, but elicited nothing; and at least remained firm in his own conviction that he was destined, malgre lui, to be the brother-in-law of Mr Slope. Mr Arabin strongly advised that Mr Harding should take no step regarding the hospital in connexion with, or in consequence of, Mr Slope's letter. 'If the bishop really means to confer the appointment on Mr Harding,' argued Mr Arabin, 'he will take care to let him have some other intimation than a message conveyed through a letter to a lady. Were Mr Harding to present himself at the palace he might merely be playing Mr Slope's game;' and thus it was settled that nothing should be done till the great Dr Gwynne's arrival, or at any rate without that potentate's sanction.
It was droll how these men talked of Mr Harding as though he were a puppet, and planned their intrigues and small ecclesiastical manouvres without dreaming of taking him into their confidence. There was a comfortable house and income in question, and it was very desirable, and certainly very just, that Mr Harding should have them; but that, at present, was not the main point; it was expedient to beat the bishop, and if possible to smash Mr Slope. Mr Slope had set up, or was supposed to have set up, a rival candidate. Of all things the most desirable would have been to have had Mr Quiverful's appointment published to the public, and then annulled by the clamour of an indignant world, loud in the defence of Mr Harding's rights. But of such an event the chance was small; a slight fraction only of the world would be indignant, and that fraction would be one not accustomed to loud speaking. And then the preferment had in a sort of way been offered to Mr Harding, and had in a sort of way been refused by him.
Mr Slope's wicked, cunning hand had been peculiarly conspicuous in the way in which this had been brought to pass, and it was the success of Mr Slope's cunning which was so painfully grating the feelings of the archdeacon. That which of all things he most dreaded was that he should be out-generalled by Mr Slope: and just at present it appeared probable that Mr Slope would turn his flank, steal a march on him, cut off his provisions, carry his strong town by a coup de main, and at last beat him thoroughly in a regular pitched battle. The archdeacon felt that his flank had been turned when desired to wait on Mr Slope instead of the bishop, that a march had been stolen when Mr Harding was induced to refuse the bishop's offer, that his provisions would be cut off when Mr Quiverful got the hospital, that Eleanor was the strong town doomed to be taken, and that Mr Slope, as Dean of Barchester, would be regarded by all the world as the conqueror in that final conflict.
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