Ullathorne Sports-Act II

‘That which has made them drunk, has made me bold.’ ’Twas thus that Mr Slope encouraged himself, as he left the dining–room in pursuit of Eleanor. He had not indeed seen in that room any person really intoxicated; but there had been a good deal of wine drunk, and Mr Slope had not hesitated to take his share, in order to screw himself up to the undertaking which he had in hand. He is not the first man who has thought it expedient to call in the assistance of Bacchus on such an occasion.

Eleanor was out through the window, and on the grass before she perceived that she was followed. Just at that moment the guests were nearly all occupied at the tables. Here and there were to be seen a constant couple or two, who preferred their own sweet discourse to the jingle of glasses, or the charms of rhetoric which fell from the mouths of the Honourable George and the bishop of Barchester; but the grounds were as nearly vacant as Mr Slope could wish them to be.

Eleanor saw that she was pursued, and as a deer, when escape is no longer possible, will turn to bay and attack the hounds, so did she turn upon Mr Slope.

‘Pray don’t let me take you from the room,’ said she, speaking with all the stiffness which she know how to use. ‘I have come out to look for a friend. I must beg of you, Mr Slope, to go back.’

But Mr Slope would not be thus entreated. He had observed all day that Mrs Bold was not cordial to him, and this had to a certain extent oppressed him. But he did not deduce from this any assurance that his aspirations were in vain. He saw that she was angry with him. Might she not be so because he had so long tampered with her feelings,—might it not arise from his having, as he knew to be the case, caused her name to be bruited about in conjunction with his own, without having given her the opportunity of confessing to the world that henceforth their names were to be the one and the same?

Poor lady! He had within him a certain Christian conscience–stricken feeling of remorse on this head. It might be that he had wronged her by his tardiness. He had, however, at the present moment imbibed too much of Mr Thorne’s champagne to have any inward misgivings. He was right in repeating the boast of Lady Macbeth: he was not drunk; but he was bold enough for anything. It was a pity that in such a state he could not have encountered Mrs Proudie.

‘You must permit me to attend you,’ said he; ‘I could not think of allowing you to go alone.’

‘Indeed you must, Mr Slope,’ said Eleanor still very stiffly; ‘for it is my special wish to be alone.’

The time for letting the great secret escape him had already come. Mr Slope saw that it must be now or never, and he was determined that it should be now. This was not his first attempt at winning a fair lady. He had been on his knees, looked unutterable things with his eyes, and whispered honeyed words before this. Indeed he was somewhat an adept at these things, and had only to adapt to the perhaps different taste of Mrs Bold the well–remembered rhapsodies which had once so much gratified Olivia Proudie.

‘Do not ask me to leave you, Mrs Bold,’ said he with an impassioned look, impassioned and sanctified as well, with that sort of look which is not uncommon with gentlemen of Mr Slope’s school, and which may perhaps be called the tender–pious. ‘Do not ask me to leave you, till I have spoken a few words with which my heart is full; which I have come hither purposely to say.’

Eleanor saw how it was now. She knew directly what it was she was about to go through, and very miserable the knowledge made her. Of course she could refuse Mr Slope, and there would be an end of that, one might say. But there was not an end of it as far as Eleanor was concerned. The very fact of Mr Slope’s making an offer to her would be a triumph for the archdeacon, and in a great measure a vindication of Mr Arabin’s conduct. The widow could not bring herself to endure with patience the idea that she had been in the wrong.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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