‘Nonsense!’ exclaimed the archdeacon, who was becoming angry in his suspense. ‘You can’t have any secret about Mr Arabin.’

‘Only this—that he and Eleanor are engaged.’

It was quite clear to see by the archdeacon’s face, that he did not believe a word of it. ‘Mr Arabin! It’s impossible!’

‘Eleanor, at any rate, has just told me so.’

‘It’s impossible,’ repeated the archdeacon.

‘Well, I can’t say I think it is impossible. It certainly took me by surprise; but that does not make it impossible.’

‘She must be mistaken.’

Mr Harding assured him that there was no mistake; that he would find, on returning home, that Mr Arabin had been at Plumstead with the express object of making to same declaration, that even Miss Thorne knew all about it; and that, in fact, the thing was as clearly settled as any such arrangement between a lady and a gentleman could be.

‘Good heavens!’ said the archdeacon, walking up and down Eleanor’s drawing–room. ‘Good heavens! Good heavens!’

Now, these exclamations certainly betokened faith. Mr Harding properly gathered from it that, at last, Dr Grantly did believe the fact. The first utterances clearly evinced a certain amount of distaste at the information he had received; the second, simply indicated surprise; and the tone of the third, Mr Harding fancied that he could catch a certain gleam of satisfaction.

The archdeacon had truly expressed the workings of his mind. He could not but be disgusted to find how utterly astray he had been in all his anticipations. Had he only been lucky enough to have suggested the marriage himself when he first brought Mr Arabin into the country, his character for judgment and wisdom would have received an addition which would have classed him at any rate next to Solomon. And why had he not done so? Might he not have foreseen that Mr Arabin would want a wife in the parsonage? He had foreseen that Eleanor would want a husband; but should he not also have perceived that Mr Arabin was a man much more likely to attract her than Mr Slope? The archdeacon found that he had been at fault, and of course could not immediately get over his discomfiture.

Then his surprise was intense. How sly the pair of young turtle doves had been with him. How egregiously they had hoaxed him. He had preached at Eleanor against her fancied attachment to Mr Slope, at the very time she was in love with his own protégé, Mr Arabin; and had absolutely taken that same Mr Arabin into his confidence with reference to the dread of Mr Slope’s alliance. It was very natural that the archdeacons should feel surprise.

But there was also great ground for satisfaction. Looking at the match by itself, it was the very thing to help the doctor out of his difficulties. In the first place, the assurance that he should never have Mr Slope for his brother–in–law was in itself a great comfort. Then Mr Arabin was, of all men, one with whom it would best suit him to be utterly connected. But the crowning comfort was the blow that this marriage would give to Mr Slope. He had now certainly lost his wife; rumour was beginning to whisper that he might possibly lose his position in the palace; and if Mr Harding would only be true, the great danger of all would be surmounted. In such case it might be expected that Mr Slope would own himself vanquished, and take himself altogether away from Barchester. And so the archdeacon would again be able to breath the pure air.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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