Barchester Towers/Chapter 45
THE STANHOPES AT HOME.
WE must now return to the Stanhopes, and see how they behaved themselves on their return from Ullathorne.
Charlotte, who came back in the first homeward journey with her sister, waited in palpitating expectation till the carriage drove up to the door a second time. She did not run down or stand at the window, or show in any outward manner that she looked for anything wonderful to occur; but, when she heard the carriage-wheels, she stood up with erect ears, listening for Eleanor's footfall on the pavement or the cheery sound of Bertie's voice welcoming her in. Had she heard either, she would have felt that all was right; but neither sound was there for her to hear. She heard only her father's slow step, as he ponderously let himself down from the carriage, and slowly walked along the hall, till he got into his own private room on the ground floor. "Send Miss Stanhope to me," he said to the servant.
"There's something wrong now," said Madeline, who was lying on her sofa in the back drawing-room.
"It's all up with Bertie," replied Charlotte. "I know, I know," she said to the servant, as he brought up the message. "Tell my father I will be with him immediately."
"Bertie's wooing has gone astray," said Madeline; "I knew it would."
"It has been his own fault then. She was ready enough, I am quite sure," said Charlotte, with that sort of ill-nature which is not uncommon when one woman speaks of another.
"What will you say to him now?" By "him," the signora meant their father.
"That will be as I find him. He was ready to pay two hundred pounds for Bertie, to stave off the worst of his creditors, if this marriage had gone on. Bertie must now have the money instead, and go and take his chance."
"Where is he now?"
"Heaven knows! smoking in the bottom of Mr. Thorne's ha-ha, or philandering with some of those Miss Chadwicks. Nothing will ever make an impression on him. But he'll be furious if I don't go down."
"No; nothing ever will. But don't be long, Charlotte, for I want my tea."
And so Charlotte went down to her father. There was a very black cloud on the old man's brow; blacker than his daughter could ever yet remember to have seen there. He was sitting in his own arm-chair, not comfortably over the fire, but in the middle of the room, waiting till she should come and listen to him.
"What has become of your brother?" he said, as soon as the door was shut.
"I should rather ask you," said Charlotte. "I left you both at Ullathorne, when I came away. What have you done with Mrs. Bold?"
"Mrs. Bold! nonsense. The woman has gone home as she ought to do. And heartily glad I am that she should not be sacrificed to so heartless a reprobate."
"A heartless reprobate! Tell me now where he is, and what he is going to do. I have allowed myself to be fooled between you. Marriage, indeed! Who on earth that has money, or credit, or respect in the world to lose, would marry him?"
"It is no use your scolding me, papa. I have done the best I could for him and you."
"And Madeline is nearly as bad," said the prebendary, who was in truth very, very angry.
"Oh, I suppose we are all bad," replied Charlotte.
The old man emitted a huge leonine sigh. If they were all bad, who had made them so? If they were unprincipled, selfish, and disreputable, who was to be blamed for the education which had had so injurious an effect?
"I know you'll ruin me among you," said he.
"Why, papa, what nonsense that is. You are living within your income this minute, and if there are any new debts, I don't know of them. I am sure there ought to be none, for we are dull enough here."
"Are those bills of Madeline's paid?"
"No, they are not. Who was to pay them?"
"Her husband may pay them."
"Her husband! would you wish me to tell her you say so? Do you wish to turn her out of your house?"
"I wish she would know how to behave herself."
"Why, what on earth has she done now? Poor Madeline! To-day is only the second time she has gone out since we came to this vile town."
He then sat silent for a time, thinking in what shape he would declare his resolve. "Well, papa," said Charlotte, "shall I stay here, or may I go up-stairs and give mamma her tea?"
"You are in your brother's confidence. Tell me what he is going to do?"
"Nothing, that I am aware of."
"Nothing—nothing! nothing but eat and drink, and spend every shilling of my money he can lay his hands upon. I have made up my mind, Charlotte. He shall eat and drink no more in this house."
"Very well. Then I suppose he must go back to Italy."
"He may go where he pleases."
"That's easily said, papa; but what does it mean? You can't let him——"
"It means this," said the doctor, speaking more loudly than was his wont, and with wrath flashing from his eyes; "that as sure as God rules in heaven, I will not maintain him any longer in idleness."
"Oh, ruling in heaven!" said Charlotte. "It is no use talking about that. You must rule him here on earth; and the question is, how you can do it. You can't turn him out of the house penniless, to beg about the street."
"He may beg where he likes."
"He must go back to Carrara. That is the cheapest place he can live at, and nobody there will give him credit for above two or three hundred pauls. But you must let him have the means of going."
"As sure as——"
"Oh, papa, don't swear. You know you must do it. You were ready to pay two hundred pounds for him if this marriage came off. Half that will start him to Carrara."
"What? give him a hundred pounds!"
"You know we are all in the dark, papa," said she, thinking it expedient to change the conversation. "For anything we know, he may be at this moment engaged to Mrs. Bold."
"Fiddlestick," said the father, who had seen the way in which Mrs. Bold had got into the carriage, while his son stood apart without even offering her his hand.
"Well, then, he must go to Carrara," said Charlotte. Just at this moment the lock of the front door was heard, and Charlotte's quick ears detected her brother's cat-like step in the hall. She said nothing, feeling that for the present Bertie had better keep out of her father's way. But Dr. Stanhope also heard the sound of the lock.
"Who's that?" he demanded. Charlotte made no reply, and he asked again, "Who is that that has just come in? Open the door. Who is it?"
"I suppose it is Bertie."
"Bid him come here," said the father. But Bertie, who was close to the door and heard the call, required no further bidding, but walked in with a perfectly unconcerned and cheerful air. It was this peculiar insouciance which angered Dr. Stanhope, even more than his son's extravagance.
"Well, sir?" said the doctor.
"And how did you get home, sir, with your fair companion?" said Bertie. "I suppose she is not up-stairs, Charlotte?"
"Bertie," said Charlotte, "papa is in no humour for joking. He is very angry with you."
"Angry!" said Bertie, raising his eyebrows, as though he had never yet given his parent cause for a single moment's uneasiness.
"Sit down, if you please, sir," said Dr. Stanhope very sternly, but not now very loudly. "And I'll trouble you to sit down too, Charlotte. Your mother can wait for her tea a few minutes."
Charlotte sat down on the chair nearest to the door, in somewhat of a perverse sort of manner; as much as though she would say—Well, here I am; you shan't say I don't do what I am bid, but I'll be whipped if I give way to you. And she was determined not to give way. She too was angry with Bertie; but she was not the less ready on that account to defend him from his father. Bertie also sat down. He drew his chair close to the library-table, upon which he put his elbow, and then resting his face comfortably on one hand, he began drawing little pictures on a sheet of paper with the other. Before the scene was over he had completed admirable figures of Miss Thorne, Mrs. Proudie, and Lady De Courcy, and begun a family piece to comprise the whole set of the Lookalofts.
"Would it suit you, sir," said the father, "to give me some idea as to what your present intentions are?—what way of living you propose to yourself?"
"I'll do anything you can suggest, sir," replied Bertie.
"No, I shall suggest nothing further. My time for suggesting has gone by. I have only one order to give, and that is, that you leave my house."
"To-night?" said Bertie; and the simple tone of the question left the doctor without any adequately dignified method of reply.
"Papa does not quite mean to-night," said Charlotte, "at least I suppose not."
"To-morrow, perhaps," suggested Bertie.
"Yes, sir, to-morrow," said the doctor. "You shall leave this to-morrow."
"Very well, sir. Will the 4.30 p.m. train be soon enough?" and Bertie, as he asked, put the finishing touch to Miss Thorne's high-heeled boots.
"You may go how and when and where you please, so that you leave my house to-morrow. You have disgraced me, sir; you have disgraced yourself, and me, and your sisters."
"I am glad at least, sir, that I have not disgraced my mother," said Bertie.
Charlotte could hardly keep her countenance; but the doctor's brow grew still blacker than ever. Bertie was executing his chef d'œuvre in the delineation of Mrs. Proudie's nose and mouth.
"You are a heartless reprobate, sir; a heartless, thankless, good-for-nothing reprobate. I have done with you. You are my son—that I cannot help; but you shall have no more part or parcel in me as my child, nor I in you as your father."
"Oh, papa, papa! you must not, shall not say so," said Charlotte.
"I will say so, and do say so," said the father, rising from his chair. "And now leave the room, sir."
"Stop, stop," said Charlotte; "why don't you speak, Bertie? why don't you look up and speak? It is your manner that makes papa so angry."
"He is perfectly indifferent to all decency, to all propriety," said the doctor; and then he shouted out, "Leave the room, sir! Do you hear what I say?"
"Papa, papa, I will not let you part so. I know you will be sorry for it." And then she added, getting up and whispering into his ear, "Is he only to blame? Think of that. We have made our own bed, and, such as it is, we must lie on it. It is no use for us to quarrel among ourselves," and as she finished her whisper Bertie finished off the countess's bustle, which was so well done that it absolutely seemed to be swaying to and fro on the paper with its usual lateral motion.
"My father is angry at the present time," said Bertie, looking up for a moment from his sketches, "because I am not going to marry Mrs. Bold. What can I say on the matter? It is true that I am not going to marry her. In the first place——"
"That is not true, sir," said Dr. Stanhope; "but I will not argue with you."
"You were angry just this moment because I would not speak," said Bertie, going on with a young Lookaloft.
"Give over drawing," said Charlotte, going up to him and taking the paper from under his hand. The caricatures, however, she preserved, and showed them afterwards to the friends of the Thornes, the Proudies, and De Courcys. Bertie, deprived of his occupation, threw himself back in his chair and waited further orders.
"I think it will certainly be for the best that Bertie should leave this at once, perhaps to-morrow," said Charlotte; "but pray, papa, let us arrange some scheme together."
"If he will leave this to-morrow, I will give him 10l., and he shall be paid 5l. a month by the banker at Carrara as long as he stays permanently in that place."
"Well, sir! it won't be long," said Bertie; "for I shall be starved to death in about three months."
"He must have marble to work with," said Charlotte.
"I have plenty there in the studio to last me three months," said Bertie. "It will be no use attempting anything large in so limited a time; unless I do my own tombstone."
Terms, however, were ultimately come to, somewhat more liberal than those proposed, and the doctor was induced to shake hands with his son, and bid him good night. Dr. Stanhope would not go up to tea, but had it brought to him in his study by his daughter.
But Bertie went up-stairs and spent a pleasant evening. He finished the Lookalofts, greatly to the delight of his sisters, though the manner of portraying their décolleté dresses was not the most refined. Finding how matters were going, he by degrees allowed it to escape from him that he had not pressed his suit upon the widow in a very urgent way.
"I suppose, in point of fact, you never proposed at all?" said Charlotte.
"Oh, she understood that she might have me if she wished," said he.
"And she didn't wish," said the signora.
"You have thrown me over in the most shameful manner," said Charlotte. "I suppose you told her all about my little plan?"
"Well, it came out somehow; at least the most of it."
"There's an end of that alliance," said Charlotte; "but it doesn't matter much. I suppose we shall all be back at Como soon."
"I am sure I hope so," said the signora; "I'm sick of the sight of black coats. If that Mr. Slope comes here any more, he'll be the death of me."
"You've been the ruin of him, I think," said Charlotte.
"And as for a second black-coated lover of mine, I am going to make a present of him to another lady with most singular disinterestedness."
The next day, true to his promise, Bertie packed up and went off by the 4.30 p.m. train, with 20l. in his pocket, bound for the marble quarries of Carrara. And so he disappears from our scene.
At twelve o'clock on the day following that on which Bertie went, Mrs. Bold, true also to her word, knocked at Dr. Stanhope's door with a timid hand and palpitating heart. She was at once shown up to the back drawing-room, the folding doors of which were closed, so that in visiting the signora Eleanor was not necessarily thrown into any communion with those in the front room. As she went up the stairs, she saw none of the family, and was so far saved much of the annoyance which she had dreaded.
"This is very kind of you, Mrs. Bold; very kind, after what has happened," said the lady on the sofa with her sweetest smile.
"You wrote in such a strain that I could not but come to you."
"I did, I did; I wanted to force you to see me."
"Well, signora; I am here."
"How cold you are to me. But I suppose I must put up with that. I know you think you have reason to be displeased with us all. Poor Bertie! if you knew all, you would not be angry with him."
"I am not angry with your brother—not in the least. But I hope you did not send for me here to talk about him."
"If you are angry with Charlotte, that is worse; for you have no warmer friend in all Barchester. But I did not send for you to talk about this,—pray bring your chair nearer, Mrs. Bold, so that I may look at you. It is so unnatural to see you keeping so far off from me."
Eleanor did as she was bid, and brought her chair close to the sofa.
"And now, Mrs. Bold, I am going to tell you something which you may perhaps think indelicate; but yet I know that I am right in doing so."
Hereupon Mrs. Bold said nothing, but felt inclined to shake in her chair. The signora, she knew, was not very particular, and that which to her appeared to be indelicate might to Mrs. Bold appear to be extremely indecent.
"I believe you know Mr. Arabin?"
Mrs. Bold would have given the world not to blush, but her blood was not at her own command. She did blush up to her forehead, and the signora, who had made her sit in a special light in order that she might watch her, saw that she did so.
"Yes,—I am acquainted with him. That is, slightly. He is an intimate friend of Dr. Grantly, and Dr. Grantly is my brother-in-law."
"Well; if you know Mr. Arabin, I am sure you must like him. I know and like him much. Everybody that knows him must like him."
Mrs. Bold felt it quite impossible to say anything in reply to this. Her blood was rushing about her body she knew not how or why. She felt as though she were swinging in her chair; and she knew that she was not only red in the face, but also almost suffocated with heat. However, she sat still and said nothing.
"How stiff you are with me, Mrs. Bold," said the signora; "and I the while am doing for you all that one woman can do to serve another."
A kind of thought came over the widow's mind that perhaps the signora's friendship was real, and that at any rate it could not hurt her; and another kind of thought, a glimmering of a thought, came to her also,—that Mr. Arabin was too precious to be lost. She despised the signora; but might she not stoop to conquer? It should be but the smallest fraction of a stoop!
"I don't want to be stiff," she said, "but your questions are so very singular."
"Well, then, I will ask you one more singular still," said Madeline Neroni, raising herself on her elbow and turning her own face full upon her companion's. "Do you love him, love him with all your heart and soul, with all the love your bosom can feel? For I can tell you that he loves you, adores you, worships you, thinks of you and nothing else, is now thinking of you as he attempts to write his sermon for next Sunday's preaching. What would I not give to be loved in such a way by such a man, that is, if I were an object fit for any man to love!"
Mrs. Bold got up from her seat and stood speechless before the woman who was now addressing her in this impassioned way. When the signora thus alluded to herself, the widow's heart was softened, and she put her own hand, as though caressingly, on that of her companion which was resting on the table. The signora grasped it and went on speaking.
"What I tell you is God's own truth; and it is for you to use it as may be best for your own happiness. But you must not betray me. He knows nothing of this. He knows nothing of my knowing his inmost heart. He is simple as a child in these matters. He told me his secret in a thousand ways because he could not dissemble; but he does not dream that he has told it. You know it now, and I advise you to use it."
Eleanor returned the pressure of the other's hand with an infinitesimal soupçon of a squeeze.
"And remember," continued the signora, "he is not like other men. You must not expect him to come to you with vows and oaths and pretty presents, to kneel at your feet, and kiss your shoe-strings. If you want that, there are plenty to do it; but he won't be one of them." Eleanor's bosom nearly burst with a sigh; but Madeline, not heeding her, went on. "With him, yea will stand for yea, and nay for nay. Though his heart should break for it, the woman who shall reject him once, will have rejected him once and for all. Remember that. And now, Mrs. Bold, I will not keep you, for you are fluttered. I partly guess what use you will make of what I have said to you. If ever you are a happy wife in that man's house, we shall be far away; but I shall expect you to write me one line to say that you have forgiven the sins of the family."
Eleanor half whispered that she would, and then, without uttering another word, crept out of the room, and down the stairs, opened the front door for herself without hearing or seeing any one, and found herself in the close.
It would be difficult to analyse Eleanor's feelings as she walked home. She was nearly stupefied by the things that had been said to her. She felt sore that her heart should have been so searched and riddled by a comparative stranger, by a woman whom she had never liked and never could like. She was mortified that the man whom she owned to herself that she loved should have concealed his love from her and shown it to another. There was much to vex her proud spirit. But there was, nevertheless, an under-stratum of joy in all this which buoyed her up wondrously. She tried if she could disbelieve what Madame Neroni had said to her; but she found that she could not. It was true; it must be true. She could not, would not, did not doubt it.
On one point she fully resolved to follow the advice given her. If it should ever please Mr. Arabin to put such a question to her as that suggested, her "yea" should be "yea." Would not all her miseries be at an end, if she could talk of them to him openly, with her head resting on his shoulder?