Bertie looked up out of the ha–ha, and saw the two ladies before him. As there was nothing for him but to obey, he got up and threw away his cigar. From the first moment of his acquaintance with her he had liked Eleanor Bold. Had he been left to his own devices, had she been penniless, and had it then been quite out of the question that he should marry her, he would most probably have fallen violently in love with her. But now he could not help regarding her somewhat as he did the marble workshops at Carrara, as he had done his easel and palette, as he had done the lawyer’s chambers in London; in fact, as he had invariably regarded everything by which it had been proposed to obtain the means of living. Eleanor Bold appeared before him, no longer as a beautiful woman, but as a new profession called matrimony. It was a profession indeed requiring but little labour, and one in which an income was insured to him. But nevertheless he had been as it were goaded on to it; his sister had talked to him of Eleanor, just as she had talked of busts and portraits. Bertie did not dislike money, but he hated the very thought of earning it. He was now called away from his pleasant cigar to earn it, by offering himself as a husband to Mrs Bold. The work indeed was made easy enough; for in lieu of his having to seek the widow, the widow had apparently come to seek him.

He made some sudden absurd excuse to his auditor, and then throwing away his cigar, climbed up the wall of the ha–ha and joined the ladies on the lawn.

‘Come and give Mrs Bold your arm,’ said Charlotte, ‘while I set you on a piece of duty which, as a preux chevalier, you must immediately perform. Your personal danger will, I fear, be insignificant, as your antagonist is a clergyman.’

Bertie immediately gave his arm to Eleanor, walking between her and his sister. He had lived too long abroad to fall into an Englishman’s habit of offering each an arm to two ladies at the same time; a habit, by the bye, which foreigners regard as an approach to bigamy, or a sort of incipient Mormonism.

The little history of Mr Slope’s misconduct was then told to Bertie by his sister, Eleanor’s ears tingling the while. And well they might tingle. If it were necessary to speak of the outrage at all, why should it be spoken of to such a person as Mr Stanhope, and why in her own hearing? She knew she was wrong, and was unhappy and dispirited, and yet she could think of no way to extricate herself, no way to set herself right. Charlotte spared her as much as she possibly could, spoke of the whole thing as though Mr Slope had taken a glass of wine too much, said that of course there would be nothing more about it, but that steps must be taken to exclude Mr Slope from the carriage.

‘Mrs Bold need be under no alarm about that,’ said Bertie, ‘for Mr Slope has gone this hour past. He told me that business made it necessary that he should start at once for Barchester.’

‘He is not so tipsy, at any rate, but what he knows his fault,’ said Charlotte. ‘Well, my dear, that is one difficulty over. Now I’ll leave you with your true knight, and get Madeline off as quickly as I can. The carriage is here, I suppose, Bertie?’

‘It has been here for the last hour.’

‘That’s well. Good–bye, my dear. Of course you’ll come in to tea. I shall trust you to bring her, Bertie; even by force if necessary.’ And so saying, Charlotte was off across the lawn, leaving her brother alone with the widow.

As Miss Stanhope went off, Eleanor bethought herself that, as Mr Slope had taken his departure, there no longer existed any necessity for separating Mr Stanhope from his sister Madeline, who so much needed his aid. It had been arranged that he should remain so as to preoccupy Mr Slope’s place in the carriage, and act as a social policeman to effect the exclusion of that disagreeable gentleman. But Mr Slope had effected his own exclusion, and there as no possible reason now why Bertie should not go with his sister. At least Eleanor saw none, and she said so much.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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