St Ewold's Parsonage

When Mr Harding and Mrs Bold reached the rectory on the following morning, the archdeacon and his friend were at St Ewold’s. They had gone over that the new vicar might inspect his church, and be introduced to the squire, and were not expected back before dinner. Mr Harding rambled out by himself, and strolled, as was his wont at Plumstead, about the lawn and round the church; and as he did so, the two sisters naturally fell into conversation about Barchester.

There was not much sisterly confidence between them. Mrs Grantly was ten years older than Eleanor, and had been married while Eleanor was yet a child. They had never, therefore, poured into each other’s ears their hopes and loves; and now that one was a wife and the other a widow, it was not probable that they would begin to do so. They lived too much asunder to be able to fall into that kind of intercourse which makes confidence between sisters almost a necessity; and, moreover, that which is so easy at eighteen is often very difficult at twenty–eight. Mrs Grantly knew this, and did not, therefore, expect confidence from her sister; and yet she longed to ask her whether in real truth Mr Slope was agreeable to her.

It was by no means difficult to turn the conversation to Mr Slope. That gentleman had become so famous at Barchester, had so much to do with all clergymen connected with the city, and was so specially concerned in the affairs of Mr Harding, that it would have been odd if Mr Harding’s daughters had not talked about him. Mrs Grantly was soon abusing him, which she did with her whole heart; and Mrs Bold was nearly as eager to defend him. She positively disliked the man, would have been delighted to learn that he had taken himself off so that she should never see him again, had indeed almost a fear of him, and yet she constantly found herself taking his part. The abuse of other people, and abuse of a nature that she felt to be unjust, imposed that necessity on her, and at last made Mr Slope’s defence an habitual course of argument with her.

From Mr Slope the conversation turned to the Stanhopes, and Mrs Grantly was listening with some interest to Eleanor’s account of the family, when it dropped out that Mr Slope was one of the party.

‘What!’ said the lady of the rectory, ‘was Mr Slope there too?’

Eleanor merely replied that such had been the case.

‘Why, Eleanor, he must be very fond of you, I think; he seems to follow you everywhere.’

Even this did not open Eleanor’s eyes. She merely laughed, and said that she imagined Mr Slope found other attraction at Dr Stanhope’s. And so they parted. Mrs Grantly felt quite convinced that the odious match would take place; and Mrs Bold as convinced that that unfortunate chaplain, disagreeable as he must be allowed to be, was more sinned against than sinning.

The archdeacon of course heard before dinner that Eleanor had remained the day before at Barchester with the view of meeting Mr Slope, and that she had so met him. He remembered how she had positively stated that there were to be guests at the Stanhopes, and he did not hesitate to accuse her of deceit. Moreover, the fact, or rather the presumed fact, of her being deceitful on such a matter, spoke but too plainly in evidence against her as to her imputed crime of receiving Mr Slope as a lover.

‘I am afraid that anything we can do will be too late,’ said the archdeacon. ‘I own I am fairly surprised. I never liked your sister’s taste with regard to men; but still I did not give her credit for—ugh!’

‘And so soon, too,’ said Mrs Grantly, who thought more, perhaps, of her sister’s indecorum in having a lover before she had put off her weeds, than her bad taste in having such a lover as Mr Slope.

‘Well, my dear, I shall be sorry to be harsh, or to do anything that can hurt your father; but, positively, neither that man nor his wife shall come within my doors.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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