‘I think you are very hard upon Eleanor,’ replied Mr Harding. ‘I will not allow that she has disgraced herself, nor do I think it likely that she will do so. She has a right to correspond with whom she pleases, and I shall not take upon myself to blame her because she gets a letter from Slope.’

‘I suppose,’ said Dr Grantly, ‘you don’t wish her to marry this man. I suppose you’ll admit that she would disgrace herself if she did so.’

‘I do not wish her to marry him,’ said the perplexed father; ‘I do not like him, and do not think he would make a good husband. But if Eleanor decides to do so, I shall certainly not think that she has disgraced herself.’

‘Good heavens!’ exclaimed Dr Grantly, and threw himself back into the corner of his brougham. Mr Harding said nothing more, but commenced playing a dirge, with an imaginary fiddle bow upon an imaginary violoncello, for which there did not appear to be quite room enough in the carriage; and he continued the tune, with sundry variations, till he arrived at the rectory door.

The archdeacon had been meditating sad things in his mind. Hitherto he had always looked on his father–in–law as a true partisan, though he knew him to be a man devoid of all the combative qualifications for that character. He had felt no fear that Mr Harding would go over to the enemy, though he had never counted much on the ex–warden’s prowess in breaking the battle ranks. Now, however, it seemed that Eleanor, with her wiles, had completely trepanned and bewildered her father, cheated him out of his judgement, robbed him of the predilections and tastes of life, and caused him to be tolerant of a man whose arrogance and vulgarity would, in a few years since, have been unendurable to him. That the whole thing was as good as arranged between Eleanor and Mr Slope there was no longer any room to doubt. That Mr Harding knew that such was the case, even this could hardly be doubted. It was too manifest that he at any rate suspected it, and was prepared to sanction it.

And to tell the truth, such was the case. Mr Harding disliked Mr Slope as much as it was in his nature to dislike any man. Had his daughter wished to do her worst to displease him by a second marriage, she could hardly have succeeded better than by marrying Mr Slope. But, as he said to himself now very often, what right had he to condemn her if she did nothing that was really wrong? If she liked Mr Slope it was her affair. It was indeed miraculous to him, that a woman with such a mind, so educated, so refined, so nice in her tastes, should like such a man. Then he asked himself whether it was possible that she did so.

Ah, thou weak man; most charitable, most Christian, but weakest of men! Why couldst thou not have asked herself? Was she not the daughter of thy loins, the child of thy heart, the most beloved of thee of all humanity? Had she not proved to thee, by years of closest affection, her truth and goodness and filial obedience? And yet, groping in darkness, hearing her name in strains which wounded thy loving heart, and being unable to defend her as thou shouldst have done!

Mr Harding had not believed, did not believe, that his daughter meant to marry this man; but he feared to commit himself to such an opinion. If she did do it there would be then no means of retreat. The wishes of his heart were—First, that there should be no truth in the archdeacon’s surmises; and in this wish he would have fain trusted entirely, had he dared to do so; Secondly, that the match might be prevented, if unfortunately, it had been contemplated by Eleanor; Thirdly, that should she be so infatuated as to marry this man, he might justify his conduct, and declare that no cause existed for his separating himself from her.

He wanted to believe her incapable of such a marriage; he wanted to show that he so believed of her; but he wanted also to be able to say hereafter, that she had done nothing amiss, if she could unfortunately prove herself to be different from what he thought her to be.

Nothing but affection could justify such fickleness; but affection did justify it. There was but little of the Roman about Mr Harding. He could not sacrifice his Lucretia even though she should be polluted by

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