Whether or no the ill-natured prediction made by certain ladies in the beginning of the last chapter was or was not carried out to the letter, I am not in a position to state. Eleanor, however, certainly did feel herself to have been baffled as she returned home with all her news to her father. Certainly she had been victorious, certainly she had achieved her object, certainly she was not unhappy, and yet she did not feel herself triumphant. Everything would run smooth now. Eleanor was not at all addicted to the Lydian school of romance; she by no means objected to her lover because he came in at the door under the name of Absolute, instead of pulling her out of a window under the name of Beverley; and yet she felt that she had been imposed upon, and could hardly think of Mary Bold with sisterly charity. "I did think I could have trusted Mary," she said to herself over and over again. "Oh that she should have dared to keep me in the room when I tried to get out!" Eleanor, however, felt that the game was up, and that she had now nothing further to do but to add to the budget of news which was prepared for her father, that John Bold was her accepted lover.
We will, however, now leave her on her way, and go with John Bold to Plumstead Episcopi, merely premising that Eleanor on reaching home will not find things so smooth as she fondly expected; two messengers had come, one to her father and the other to the archdeacon, and each of them much opposed to her quiet mode of solving all their difficulties; the one in the shape of a number of The Jupiter, and the other in that of a further opinion from Sir Abraham Haphazard.
John Bold got on his horse and rode off to Plumstead Episcopi; not briskly and with eager spur, as men do ride when self-satisfied with their own intentions; but slowly, modestly, thoughtfully, and somewhat in dread of the coming interview. Now and again he would recur to the scene which was just over, support himself by the remembrance of the silence that gives consent, and exult as a happy lover. But even this feeling was not without a shade of remorse. Had he not shown himself childishly weak thus to yield up the resolve of many hours of thought to the tears of a pretty girl? How was he to meet his lawyer? How was he to back out of a matter in which his name was already so publicly concerned? What, oh what! was he to say to Tom Towers? While meditating these painful things he reached the lodge leading up to the archdeacon's glebe, and for the first time in his life found himself within the sacred precincts.
All the doctor's children were together on the slope of the lawn, close to the road, as Bold rode up to the hall door. They were there holding high debate on matters evidently of deep interest at Plumstead Episcopi, and the voices of the boys had been heard before the lodge gate was closed.
Florinda and Grizzel, frightened at the sight of so well-known an enemy to the family, fled on the first appearance of the horseman, and ran in terror to their mother's arms; not for them was it, tender branches, to resent injuries, or as members of a church militant to put on armour against its enemies. But the boys stood their ground like heroes, and boldly demanded the business of the intruder.
"Do you want to see anybody here, sir?" said Henry, with a defiant eye and a hostile tone, which plainly said that at any rate no one there wanted to see the person so addressed; and as he spoke he brandished aloft his garden water-pot, holding it by the spout, ready for the braining of anyone.
"Henry," said Charles James slowly, and with a certain dignity of diction, "Mr Bold of course would not have come without wanting to see someone; if Mr Bold has a proper ground for wanting to see some person here, of course he has a right to come."
But Samuel stepped lightly up to the horse's head, and offered his services. "Oh, Mr Bold," said he, "papa, I'm sure, will be glad to see you; I suppose you want to see papa. Shall I hold your horse for you? Oh what a very pretty horse!" and he turned his head and winked funnily at his brothers. "Papa has heard such good news about the old hospital to-day. We know you'll be glad to hear it, because you're such a friend of grandpapa Harding, and so much in love with Aunt Nelly!"
"How d'ye do, lads?" said Bold, dismounting. "I want to see your father if he's at home."
"Lads!" said Henry, turning on his heel and addressing himself to his brother, but loud enough to be heard by Bold; "lads, indeed! if we're lads, what does he call himself?"
Charles James condescended to say nothing further, but cocked his hat with much precision, and left the visitor to the care of his youngest brother.
Samuel stayed till the servant came, chatting and patting the horse; but as soon as Bold had disappeared through the front door, he stuck a switch under the animal's tail to make him kick if possible.
The church reformer soon found himself tête-à-tête with the archdeacon in that same room, in that sanctum sanctorum of the rectory, to which we have already been introduced. As he entered he heard the click of a certain patent lock, but it struck him with no surprise; the worthy clergyman was no doubt hiding from eyes profane his last much-studied sermon; for the archdeacon, though he preached but seldom, was famous for his sermons. No room, Bold thought, could have been more becoming for a dignitary of the church; each wall was loaded with theology; over each separate bookcase was printed in small gold letters the names of those great divines whose works were ranged beneath: beginning from the early fathers in due chronological order, there were to be found the precious labours of the chosen servants of the church down to the last pamphlet written in opposition to the consecration of Dr Hampden; and raised above this were to be seen the busts of the greatest among the great: Chrysostom, St Augustine, Thomas à Becket, Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Laud, and Dr Philpotts.
Every appliance that could make study pleasant and give ease to the overtoiled brain was there; chairs made to relieve each limb and muscle; reading-desks and writing-desks to suit every attitude; lamps and candles mechanically contrived to throw their light on any favoured spot, as the student might desire; a shoal of newspapers to amuse the few leisure moments which might be stolen from the labours of the day; and then from the window a view right through a bosky vista along which ran a broad green path from the rectory to the church,—at the end of which the tawny-tinted fine old tower was seen with all its variegated pinnacles and parapets. Few parish churches in England are in better repair, or better worth keeping so, than that at Plumstead Episcopi; and yet it is built in a faulty style: the body of the church is low,—so low, that the nearly flat leaden roof would be visible from the churchyard, were it not for the carved parapet with which it is surrounded. It is cruciform, though the transepts are irregular, one being larger than the other; and the tower is much too high in proportion to the church. But the colour of the building is perfect; it is that rich yellow gray which one finds nowhere but in the south and west of England, and which is so strong a characteristic of most of our old houses of Tudor architecture. The stone work also is beautiful; the mullions of the windows and the thick tracery of the Gothic workmanship is as rich as fancy can desire; and though in gazing on such a structure one knows by rule that the old priests who built it, built it wrong, one cannot bring oneself to wish that they should have made it other than it is.
When Bold was ushered into the book-room, he found its owner standing with his back to the empty fire-place ready to receive him, and he could not but perceive that that expansive brow was elated with triumph, and that those full heavy lips bore more prominently than usual an appearance of arrogant success.
"Well, Mr Bold," said he;—"well, what can I do for you? Very happy, I can assure you, to do anything for such a friend of my father-in-law."
"I hope you'll excuse my calling, Dr Grantly."
"Certainly, certainly," said the archdeacon; "I can assure you, no apology is necessary from Mr Bold;—only let me know what I can do for him."
Dr Grantly was standing himself, and he did not ask Bold to sit, and therefore he had to tell his tale standing, leaning on the table, with his hat in his hand. He did, however, manage to tell it; and as the archdeacon never once interrupted him, or even encouraged him by a single word, he was not long in coming to the end of it.
"And so, Mr Bold, I'm to understand, I believe, that you are desirous of abandoning this attack upon Mr Harding."
"Oh, Dr Grantly, there has been no attack, I can assure you—"
"Well, well, we won't quarrel about words; I should call it an attack;—most men would so call an endeavour to take away from a man every shilling of income that he has to live upon; but it sha'n't be an attack, if you don't like it; you wish to abandon this—this little game of backgammon you've begun to play."
"I intend to put an end to the legal proceedings which I have commenced."
"I understand," said the archdeacon. "You've already had enough of it; well, I can't say that I am surprised; carrying on a losing lawsuit where one has nothing to gain, but everything to pay, is not pleasant."
Bold turned very red in the face. "You misinterpret my motives," said he; "but, however, that is of little consequence. I did not come to trouble you with my motives, but to tell you a matter of fact. Good-morning, Dr Grantly."
"One moment,—one moment," said the other. "I don't exactly appreciate the taste which induced you to make any personal communication to me on the subject; but I dare say I'm wrong, I dare say your judgment is the better of the two; but as you have done me the honour,—as you have, as it were, forced me into a certain amount of conversation on a subject which had better, perhaps, have been left to our lawyers, you will excuse me if I ask you to hear my reply to your communication."
"I am in no hurry, Dr Grantly."
"Well, I am, Mr Bold; my time is not exactly leisure time, and, therefore, if you please, we'll go to the point at once:—you're going to abandon this lawsuit?"—and he paused for a reply.
"Yes, Dr Grantly, I am."
"Having exposed a gentleman who was one of your father's warmest friends to all the ignominy and insolence which the press could heap upon his name, having somewhat ostentatiously declared that it was your duty as a man of high public virtue to protect those poor old fools whom you have humbugged there at the hospital, you now find that the game costs more than it's worth, and so you make up your mind to have done with it. A prudent resolution, Mr Bold; but it is a pity you should have been so long coming to it. Has it struck you that we may not now choose to give over? that we may find it necessary to punish the injury you have done to us? Are you aware, sir, that we have gone to enormous expense to resist this iniquitous attempt of yours?"
Bold's face was now furiously red, and he nearly crushed his hat between his hands; but he said nothing.
"We have found it necessary to employ the best advice that money could procure. Are you aware, sir, what may be the probable cost of securing the services of the attorney-general?"
"Not in the least, Dr Grantly."
"I dare say not, sir. When you recklessly put this affair into the hands of your friend Mr Finney, whose six-and-eightpences and thirteen-and-fourpences may, probably, not amount to a large sum, you were indifferent as to the cost and suffering which such a proceeding might entail on others; but are you aware, sir, that these crushing costs must now come out of your own pocket?"
"Any demand of such a nature which Mr Harding's lawyer may have to make will doubtless be made to my lawyer."
"'Mr Harding's lawyer and my lawyer!' Did you come here merely to refer me to the lawyers? Upon my word I think the honour of your visit might have been spared! And now, sir, I'll tell you what my opinion is:—my opinion is, that we shall not allow you to withdraw this matter from the courts."
"You can do as you please, Dr Grantly; good-morning."
"Hear me out, sir," said the archdeacon; "I have here in my hands the last opinion given in this matter by Sir Abraham Haphazard. I dare say you have already heard of this;—I dare say it has had something to do with your visit here to-day."
"I know nothing whatever of Sir Abraham Haphazard or his opinion."
"Be that as it may, here it is; he declares most explicitly that under no phasis of the affair whatever have you a leg to stand upon; that Mr Harding is as safe in his hospital as I am here in my rectory; that a more futile attempt to destroy a man was never made, than this which you have made to ruin Mr Harding. Here," and he slapped the paper on the table, "I have this opinion from the very first lawyer in the land; and under these circumstances you expect me to make you a low bow for your kind offer to release Mr Harding from the toils of your net! Sir, your net is not strong enough to hold him; sir, your net has fallen to pieces, and you knew that well enough before I told you;—and now, sir, I'll wish you good-morning, for I'm busy."
Bold was now choking with passion. He had let the archdeacon run on because he knew not with what words to interrupt him; but now that he had been so defied and insulted, he could not leave the room without some reply.
"Dr Grantly," he commenced.
"I have nothing further to say or to hear," said the archdeacon. "I'll do myself the honour to order your horse." And he rang the bell.
"I came here, Dr Grantly, with the warmest, kindest feelings—"
"Oh, of course you did; nobody doubts it."
"With the kindest feelings;—and they have been most grossly outraged by your treatment."
"Of course they have;—I have not chosen to see my father-in-law ruined; what an outrage that has been to your feelings!"
"The time will come, Dr Grantly, when you will understand why I called upon you to-day."
"No doubt, no doubt. Is Mr Bold's horse there? That's right; open the front door. Good-morning, Mr Bold;" and the doctor stalked into his own drawing-room, closing the door behind him, and making it quite impossible that John Bold should speak another word.
As he got on his horse, which he was fain to do feeling like a dog turned out of a kitchen, he was again greeted by little Sammy.
"Good-bye, Mr Bold; I hope we may have the pleasure of seeing you again before long; I am sure papa will always be glad to see you."
That was certainly the bitterest moment in John Bold's life. Not even the remembrance of his successful love could comfort him; nay, when he thought of Eleanor he felt that it was that very love which had brought him to such a pass. That he should have been so insulted, and be unable to reply! That he should have given up so much to the request of a girl, and then have had his motives so misunderstood! That he should have made so gross a mistake as this visit of his to the archdeacon's! He bit the top of his whip, till he penetrated the horn of which it was made: he struck the poor animal in his anger, and then was doubly angry with himself at his futile passion. He had been so completely checkmated, so palpably overcome! and what was he to do? He could not continue his action after pledging himself to abandon it; nor was there any revenge in that;—it was the very step to which his enemy had endeavoured to goad him!
He threw the reins to the servant who came to take his horse, and rushed upstairs into his drawing-room, where his sister Mary was sitting.
"If there be a devil," said he, "a real devil here on earth, it is Dr Grantly." He vouchsafed her no further intelligence, but again seizing his hat, he rushed out, and took his departure for London without another word to anyone.