Page images

time in her life was busy, and had in hand a quantity of mysterious calculations and lists to make out, sat at the table in the centre of the room, with her desk open, and covered with long slips of paper. Perhaps it was to save her Rector trouble that the gentle woman gave herself so much labour; perhaps she liked putting down on paper all the things that were indispensable for the new establishment. At all events, she looked up only to give Mr Wentworth a smile and sisterly nod of welcome as he came in and made his way to the corner where Lucy sat, not unexpectant. Out of the disturbed atmosphere he had just left, the Perpetual Curate came softly to that familiar corner, feeling that he had suddenly reached his haven, and that Eden itself could not have possessed a sweeter peace. Lucy in her black dress, with traces of the exhaustion of nature in her face, which was the loveliest face in the world to Mr Wentworth, looked up and welcomed him with that look of satisfaction and content which is the highest compliment one human creature can pay to another. His presence rounded off all the corners of existence to Lucy for that moment at least, and made the world complete and full. He sat down beside her at her work-table with no further interruption to the têteà-tête than the presence of the kind elder sister at the table, who was absorbed in her lists, and who, even had that pleasant business been wanting, was dear and familiar enough to both to make her spectatorship just the sweet restraint which endears such intercourse all the more. Thus the Perpetual Curate seated himself, feeling in some degree master of the position; and surely here, if nowhere else in the world, the young man was justified in expecting to have his own way.

[ocr errors]

They have settled about their marriage," said Lucy, whose voice was sufficiently audible to be heard at the table, where Miss Wodehouse seized her pen hastily and plunged

it into the ink, doing her best to appear unconscious, but failing sadly in the attempt. "Mr Proctor is going away directly to make everything ready, and the marriage is to be on the 15th of next month."

"And ours?" said Mr Wentworth, who had not as yet approached that subject. Lucy knew that this event must be far off, and was not agitated about it as yet; on the contrary, she met his look sympathetically and with deprecation after the first natural blush, and soothed him in her feminine way, patting softly with her pretty hand the sleeve of his coat.

"Nobody knows," said Lucy. "We must wait, and have patience. We have more time to spare than they have," she added, with a little laugh. "We must wait."

"I don't see the must," said the Perpetual Curate. "I have been thinking it all over since the morning. I see no reason why I should always have to give in, and wait; self-sacrifice is well enough when it can't be helped, but I don't see any reason for postponing my happiness indefinitely. Look here, Lucy. It appears to me at present that there are only two classes of people in the world-those who will wait and those who won't. I don't mean to enrol myself among the martyrs. The man who gets his own way is the man who takes it. I don't see any reason in the world for concluding that I must wait."


Lucy Wodehouse was a very good young woman, a devoted Anglican, and loyal to all her duties; but she had always been known to possess a spark of spirit, and this rebellious quality came to a sudden blaze at so unlooked - for a speech. Wentworth," said Lucy, looking the Curate in the face with a look which was equivalent to making him a low curtsy, "I understood there were two people to be consulted as to the must or must not ;" and having entered this protest, she withdrew her chair a little farther off, and bestowed her attention ab

solutely upon the piece of needlework in her hand.

If the ground had suddenly been cut away underneath Frank Wentworth's feet, he could not have been more surprised; for, to tell the truth, it had not occurred to him to doubt that he himself was the final authority on this point, though, to be sure, it was part of the conventional etiquette that the lady should "fix the day." He sat gazing at her with so much surprise that for a minute or two he could say nothing. Lucy, I am not going to have you put yourself on the other side," he said at last; "there is not to be any opposition between you and me.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

"Which you were quite free to do," interrupted Lucy, who, having given way to temper once to-day, found in herself an alarming proclivity towards a repetition of the offence.

"Which I was quite free to do," said the Perpetual Curate, with a smile, "but could not, and did not, all the same. Things are altogether changed. Now, be as cross as you please, you belong to me, Lucia mia. To be sure, I have no money

[ocr errors]

"I was not thinking of that," said the young lady, under her breath.

"Of course one has to think about it," said Mr Wentworth; "but the question is whether we shall be happier and better going on separate in our usual way, or making up our minds to give up something for the comfort of being together. Perhaps you will forgive me for taking that view of the question," said the Curate, with a

little enthusiasm. "I have got tired of ascetic principles. I don't see why it must be best to deny myself and postpone myself to other things and other people. I begin to be of my brother Jack's opinion. The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. A man who will wait has to wait. Providence does not invariably reward him after he has been tried, as we used to suppose. I am willing to be a poor man because I can't help it; but I am not willing to wait and trust my happiness to the future when it is in my reach now," said the unreasonable young man, to whom it was of course as easy as it was to Lucy to change the position of his chair, and prevent the distance between them being increased. Perhaps he might have carried his point even at that moment, had not Miss Wodehouse, who had heard enough to alarm her, come forward hastily in a fright on the prudential side.

[ocr errors]

"I could not help hearing what you were saying," said the elder sister. Oh, Mr Wentworth, I hope you don't mean to say that you can't trust Providence? I'm sure that is not Lucy's way of thinking. I would not mind, and I am sure she would not mind, beginning very quietly; but then you have nothing, next to nothing, neither of you. It might not matter just at the first," said Miss Wodehouse, with serious looks "but then-afterwards, you know," and a vision of a nursery flashed upon her mind as she spoke. "Clergymen always have such large families," she said half out before she was aware, and stopped, covered with confusion, not daring to look at Lucy to see what effect such a suggestion might have had upon her. "I mean," cried Miss Wodehouse, hurrying on to cover over her inadvertence if possible, "I have seen such cases; and a poor clergyman who has to think of the grocer's bill and the baker's bill instead of his parish and his duty-there are

[blocks in formation]

Here Lucy, on her part, was touched in a tender point, and interposed. "For a man to be teased about bills," said the young housekeeper, with flushed cheeks and an averted countenance, "it must be not his poverty, but his-his wife's fault."

"Oh, Lucy, don't say so," cried Miss Wodehouse; "what is a poor woman to do, especially when she has no money of her own, as you wouldn't have? and then the struggling, and getting old before your time, and all the burdens

[ocr errors]

"Please don't say any more," said Lucy; "there was no intention on-on any side to drive things to a decision. As for me, I have not a high opinion of myself. I would not be the means of diminishing any one's comforts," said the

"How can

spiteful young woman. I be sure that I might not turn out a very poor compensation? We settled this morning how all that was to be, and I for one have not changed my mind-as yet," said Lucy. That was all the encouragement Mr Wentworth got when he propounded his new views. Things looked easy enough when he was alone, and suffered himself to drift on pleasantly on the changed and heightened current of personal desires and wishes; but it became apparent to him, after that evening's discussion, that even in Eden itself, though the dew had not yet dried on the leaves, it would be highly incautious for any man to conclude that he was sure of having his own way. The Perpetual Curate returned a sadder and a more doubtful man to Mrs Hadwin's, to his own apartments; possibly, as the two states of mind so often go together, a wiser individual too.


The dinner-party at the Rectory, to which Mr Wentworth did not go, was much less interesting and agreeable than it might have been had he been present. As for the Rector and his wife, they could not but feel themselves in a somewhat strange position, having between them a secret unsuspected by the company. It was difficult to refrain from showing a certain flagging of interest in the question of the church restoration, about which, to be sure, Mr Finial was just as much concerned as he had been yesterday; though Mr Morgan, and even Mrs Morgan, had suffered a great and unexplainable diminution of enthusiasm. And then Mr Leeson, who was quite unaware of the turn that affairs had taken, and who was much too obtuse to understand how the Rector could be anything but exasperated against the Perpetual Curate by the failure of the investigation, did all that he could to make himself disagreeable, which was saying a good deal. When Mrs

Morgan came into the drawingroom, and found this obnoxious individual occupying the most comfortable easy-chair, and turning over at his ease the great book of ferns, nature-printed, which was the pet decoration of the table, her feelings may be conceived by any lady who has gone through a similar trial; for Mr Leeson's hands were not of the irreproachable purity which becomes the fingers of a gentleman when he goes out to dinner. "I know some people who always wear gloves when they turn over a portfolio of prints," Mrs Morgan said, coming to the Curate's side to protect her book if possible, "and these require quite as much care;" and she had to endure a discussion upon the subject, which was still more trying to her feelings, for Mr Leeson pretended to know about ferns on the score of having a Wardian case in his lodgings (which belonged to his landlady), though in reality he could scarcely tell the commonest

spleenwort from a lycopodium. While Mrs Morgan went through this trial, it is not to be wondered at if she hugged to her heart the new idea of leaving Carlingford, and thought to herself that whatever might be the character of the curate (if there was one) at Scarsfield, any change from Mr Leeson must be for the better. And then the unfortunate man, as if he was not disagreeable enough already, began to entertain his unwilling hostess with the latest news.

"There is quite a commotion in Grange Lane," said Mr Leeson. 66 "Such constant disturbances must deteriorate the property, you know. Of course, whatever one's opinion may be, one must keep it to one's self, after the result of the investigation; though I can't say I have unbounded confidence in trial by jury," said the disagreeable young man.

"I am afraid I am very slow of comprehension," said the Rector's wife. "I don't know in the least what you mean about trial by jury. Perhaps it would be best to put the book back on the table; it is too heavy for you to hold."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Mr Leeson "I mean about Wentworth, of course. When a man is popular in society, people prefer to shut their eyes. I suppose the matter is settled for the present, but you and I know better than to believe

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

over. Then it was perhaps the AllSouls pudding that warmed Mr Leeson's soul; perhaps he had taken a little more wine than usual. He took sudden advantage of that curious little pause which occurs at a well-conducted dinner-table, when the meal is concluded, and the fruit (considered apparently, in orthodox circles, a paradisaical kind of food which needs no blessing) alone remains to be discussed. As soon as the murmur of thanks from the foot of the table was over, the Curate incautiously rushed in before anybody else could break silence, and delivered his latest information at a high pitch of voice.

"Has any one heard about the Elsworthys?" said Mr Leeson ; "something fresh has happened there. I hope your verdict yesterday will not be called in question. The fact is, I believe that the girl has been taken away again. They say she has gone and left a letter saying that she is to be made a lady of. I don't know what we are to understand by that. There was some private service or other going on at St Roque's very early in the morning. Marriage is a sacrament, you know. Perhaps Mr Wentworth or his brother

"They are a queer family, the Wentworths," said old Mr Western, "and such lots of them, sir-such lots of them. The old ladies seem to have settled down here. I am not of their way of thinking, you know, but they're very good to the poor."

"Mr Frank Wentworth is going to succeed his brother, I suppose,' said Mr Leeson; "it is very lucky for a man who gets himself talked of to have a family living to fall back upon

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

No such thing-no such thing," said Mr Proctor, hastily. "Mr Frank Wentworth means to stay here."


"Dear me!" said the disagreeable Curate, with an elaborate pause of astonishment. Things must be bad indeed,” added that interesting youth, with solemnity, shaking the devoted head, upon which

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

So good a reason, that it is strange how it should not have occurred to a brother clergyman. That is the evil of a large parish," said the Rector's wife, with beautiful simplicity; "however hard one works, one never can know above half of the poor people; and I suppose you have been occupied in the other districts, and have not heard what a great work Mr Wentworth is doing. I have reason to know," said Mrs Morgan, with considerable state," that he will remain in Carlingford in a very different position from that which he has filled hitherto. Mr Leeson knows how much a curate has to live upon, but I am afraid that is all he does know of such a life as Mr Wentworth's." Mrs Morgan paused for a moment to get breath, for her excitement was considerable, and she had many wrongs to avenge. "There is a great deal of difference in curates as well as in other things," said the indignant woman. "I have reason to know that Mr Wentworth will remain in Carlingford in quite a different position. Now and then, even in this world, things come right like a fairy tale that is, when the authority is in the right hands;" the Rector's wife went on, with a smile at her husband, which disarmed that astonished man. "Perhaps if Mr Lee

son had the same inducement as Mr Wentworth, he too would make up his mind to remain in Carlingford." Mrs Morgan got up, as she made this speech, with a rustle and sweep of drapery which seemed all addressed to the unhappy Curate, who stumbled upon his feet like the other gentlemen, but dared not for his life have approached her to open the door. Mr Leeson felt that he had received his congé, as he sank back into his chair. He was too much stunned to speculate on the subject, or ask himself what was going to happen. Whatever was going to happen, there was an end of him. He had eaten the last All-Souls pudding that he ever would have presented to him under that roof. He sank back in the depths of despair upon his seat, and suffered the claret to pass him in the agony of his feelings. Mr Wentworth and Mrs Morgan were avenged.

This was how it came to be noised abroad in Carlingford that some great change of a highly favourable character was about to occur in the circumstances and position of the Curate of St Roque's. It was discussed next day throughout the town, as soon as people had taken breath after telling each other about Rosa Elsworthy, who had indisputably been carried off from her uncle's house on the previous night. When the Wentworth family were at dinner, and just as the board was being spread in the Rectory, where Mrs Morgan was half an hour later than usual, having company, it had been discovered in Elsworthy's that the prison was vacant, and the poor little bird had flown. Mr Wentworth was aware of a tumult about the shop when he went to the Miss Wodehouses, but was preoccupied, and paid no attention; but Mr Leeson, who was not preoccupied, had already heard all about it when he entered the Rectory. That day it was all over the town, as may be supposed. The poor, little, wicked, unfortunate creature had disappeared, no one knew how, at the moment, ap

« PreviousContinue »