We will now follow Mr Slope so as to complete the day with him, and then return to his letter and its momentous fate in the next chapter.

There is an old song which gives us some very good advice about courting:—

“It’s gude to be off with the auld luve
Before ye be on wi’ the new.”

Of the wisdom of this maxim Mr Slope was ignorant, and accordingly, having written his letter to Mrs Bold, he proceeded to call upon the Signora Neroni. Indeed it was hard to say which was the old love and which was the new, Mr Slope having been smitten with both so nearly at the same time. Perhaps he thought it not amiss to have two strings to his bow. But two strings to Cupid’s bow are always dangerous to him on whose behalf they are to be used. A man should remember that between two stools he may fall to the ground.

But in sooth Mr Slope was pursuing Mrs Bold in obedience to his better instincts, and the signora in obedience to his worse. Had he won the widow and worn her, no one could have blamed him. You, O reader, and I, and Eleanor’s other friends would have received the story of such a winning with much disgust and disappointment; but we should have been angry with Eleanor, not with Mr Slope. Bishop, male and female, dean and chapter and diocesan clergy in full congress, could have found nothing to disapprove of in such an alliance. Convocation itself, that mysterious and mighty synod, could in no wise have fallen foul of it. The possession of £ 1000 a year and a beautiful wife would not al all have hurt the voice of the pulpit character, or lessened the grace and piety of the exemplary clergyman.

But not of such a nature were likely to be his dealings with the Signora Neroni. In the first place he knew that her husband was living, and therefore he could not woo her honestly. Then again she had nothing to recommend her to his honest wooing had such been possible. She was not only portionless, but also from misfortune unfitted to be chosen as the wife of any man who wanted a useful mate. Mr Slope was aware that she was a helpless hopeless cripple.

But Mr Slope could not help himself. He knew that he was wrong in devoting his time to the back drawing–room in Dr Stanhope’s house. He knew that what took place would if divulged utterly ruin him with Mrs Bold. He knew that scandal would soon come upon his heels and spread abroad among the black coats of Barchester some tidings, some exaggerated tidings, of the sighs which he poured into the lady’s ears. He knew that he was acting against the recognised principles of his life, against those laws of conduct by which he hoped to achieve much higher success. But as we have said, he could not help himself. Passion, for the first time in his life, passion was too strong for him.

As for the signora, no such plea can be put forward for her, for in truth, she cared no more for Mr Slope than she did for twenty others who had been at her feet before him. She willingly, nay greedily, accepted his homage. He was the finest fly that Barchester had hitherto afforded to her web; and the signora was a powerful spider that made wondrous webs, and could in no way live without catching flies. Her taste in this respect was abominable, for she had no use for the victims when caught. She could not eat them matrimonially as young lady–flies do whose webs are most frequently of their mother’s weaving. Nor could she devour them by any escapade of a less legitimate description. Her unfortunate affliction precluded her from all hope of levanting with a lover. It would be impossible to run away with a lady who required three servants to move her from a sofa.

The signora was subdued by no passion. Her time for love was gone. She had lived out her heart, such heart as she ever had ever had, in her early years, at an age when Mr Slope was thinking of his second book of Euclid and his unpaid bill at the buttery hatch. In age the lady was younger than the gentleman; but in feelings, in knowledge of the affairs of love, in intrigue, he was immeasurably her junior. It was necessary to her to have some man at her feet. It was the one customary excitement of her life. She delighted in the exercise of power which this gave her; it was now nearly the only food for her ambition; she would boast to her sister that she could make a fool of any man, and the sister, as little imbued with

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