Miss Thorne had had lovers of her own, but they had been gentlemen of old–fashioned and deliberate habits. Miss Thorne’s heart also had not always been hard, though she was still a virgin spinster; but it had never yielded in this way at the first assault. She had intended to bring together a middle–aged studious clergyman, and a discreet matron who might possibly be induced to marry again; and in doing she had thrown fire among tinder. Well, it was all as it should be, but she did feel perhaps a little put out by the precipitancy of her own success; and perhaps a little vexed at the readiness of Mrs Bold to be wooed.

She said, however, nothing about it to any one, and ascribed it all to the altered manners of the new age. Their mothers and grandmothers were perhaps a little more deliberate; but, it was admitted on all sides that things were conducted very differently now that in former times. For aught Miss Thorne knew of the matter, a couple of hours might be quite sufficient under the new régime to complete that for which she in her ignorance had allotted twelve months.

But we must not pass over the wooing so cavalierly. It has been told, with perhaps tedious accuracy, how Eleanor disposed of two of her lovers at Ullathorne; and it must also be told with equal accuracy, and if possible with less tedium, how she encountered Mr Arabin.

It cannot be denied that when Eleanor accepted Miss Thorne’s invitation, she remembered that Ullathorne was in the parish of St Ewold’s. Since her interview with the signora she had done little else than think about Mr Arabin, and the appeal that had been made to her. She could not bring herself to believe or try to bring herself to believe, that what she had been told was untrue. Think of it how she would, she could not but accept it as a fact that Mr Arabin was fond of her; and then when she went further, and asked herself the question, she could not but accept it as a fact also that she was fond of him. If it were destined for her to be the partner of his hopes and sorrows, to whom she could she look for friendship so properly as to Miss Thorne? This invitation was like an ordained step towards the fulfilment of her destiny, and when she also heard that Mr Arabin was expected to be at Ullathorne on the following day, it seemed as though all the world was conspiring in her favour. Well, did she not deserve it? In that affair of Mr Slope, had not all the world conspired against her?

She could not, however, make herself easy and at home. When in the evening after dinner Miss Thorne expatiated on the excellence of Mr Arabin’s qualities, she hinted that any little rumour which might be ill–naturedly spread abroad concerning him really meant nothing, Mrs Bold found herself unable to answer. When Miss Thorne went a little further and declared that she did not know a prettier vicarage–house in the country than St Ewold’s, Mrs Bold remembering the projected bow–window and the projected priestess still held her tongue; though her ears tingled with the conviction that all the world would know that she was in love with Mr Arabin. Well; what could that matter if they could only meet and tell each other what each now longed to tell?

And they did meet. Mr Arabin came early in the day, and found the two ladies together at work in the drawing–room. Miss Thorne, who had she known all the truth would have vanished into air at once, had no conception that her immediate absence would be a blessing, and remained chatting with them till luncheon–time. Mr Arabin could talk about nothing but the Signora Neroni’s beauty, would discuss no people but the Stanhopes. This was very distressing to Eleanor, and not very satisfactory to Miss Thorne. But yet there was evidence of innocence in his open avowal of admiration.

And then they had lunch, and then Mr Arabin went out on parish duty; and Eleanor and Miss Thorne were left to take a walk together.

‘Do you think the Signora Neroni is so lovely as people say?’ Eleanor asked as they were coming home.

‘She is very beautiful certainly, very beautiful,’ Miss Thorne answered; ‘but I do not know that any one considers her lovely. She is a woman all men would like to look at; but few I imagine would be glad to take her to their hearths, even were she unmarried and not afflicted as she is.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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