Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 24

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"For, oh, Frank, my dear," said Miss Dora, much emboldened by this support, "you must consider that you are a clergyman, and there are a great many things that are wrong in a clergyman that would not matter in another man. Oh, Leonora, if you would speak to him, he would mind you," cried the poor lady; "for you know a clergyman is quite different;" and Miss Dora again stopped short, and the three aunts looked at the bewildered Curate, who, for his part, sat gazing at them without an idea what they could mean.

"What have I been doing that would be right in another man?" he said, with a smile which was slightly forced; and then he turned to Jack, who was laughing softly under his breath, and stroking his silky beard. The elder brother was highly amused by the situation altogether, but Frank, as was natural, did not see it in the same light. "What have you been saying?" said the indignant Curate; and his eyes gave forth a sudden light which frightened Miss Dora, and brought her in to the rescue.

"Oh, Frank, he has not been saying anything," cried that troubled woman; "it is only what we have heard everywhere. Oh, my dear boy, it is only for your good I ever thought of speaking. There is nobody in the world to whom your welfare is so precious," said poor Miss Dora. "Oh, Frank, if you and your brother were to have any difference, I should think it all my fault—and I always said you did not mean anything," she said, putting herself and her eau-de-Cologne between the two, and looking as if she were about to throw herself into the Curate's arms. "Oh, Frank, dear, don't blame any one else—it is my fault!" cried aunt Dora, with tears; and the tender-hearted foolish creature kept between them, ready to rush in if any conflict should occur, which was a supposition much resented by the Curate of St Roque's.

"Jack and I have no intention of fighting, I daresay," he said, drawing his chair away with some impatience; and Jack lay back on the sofa and stroked his beard, and looked on with the greatest composure while poor Miss Dora exhausted her alarm. "It is all my fault," sobbed aunt Dora; "but, oh, my dear boy, it was only for your good; and I always said you did not mean anything," said the discomfited peacemaker. All this, though it was highly amusing to the prodigal, was gall and bitterness to the Perpetual Curate. It moved him far more deeply than he could have imagined it possible for anything spoken by his aunt Dora to move him. Perhaps there is something in human nature which demands to be comprehended, even where it is aware that comprehension is impossible; and it wounded him in the most unreasonable way to have it supposed that he was likely to get into any quarrel with his brother, and to see Jack thus preferred to himself.

"Don't be a fool," said Miss Leonora, sharply: "I wish you would confine yourself to Louisa's bassinet, and talk of things you can understand. I hope Frank knows what he is doing better than a set of old women. At the same time, Frank," said Miss Leonora, rising and leading the way to the door, "I want to say a word to you. Don't think you are above misconception. Most people believe a lie more readily than the truth. Dora is a fool," said the elder sister, pausing, when she had led her nephew outside the drawing-room door, "but so are most people; and I advise you to be careful, and not to give occasion for any gossip; otherwise, I don't say I disapprove of your conduct." She had her pen in one hand, and held out the other to him, dismissing him; and even this added to the painful feeling in the Curate's heart.

"I should hope not," he said, somewhat stiffly; "good-bye—my conduct is not likely to be affected by any gossip, and I don't see any need for taking precautions against imaginary danger." Miss Leonora thought her nephew looked very ungracious as he went away. She said to herself that Frank had a great deal of temper, and resembled his mother's family more than the Wentworths, as she went back to her writing-table; and though she could not disapprove of him, she felt vexed somehow at his rectitude and his impatience of advice; whereas, Jack, poor fellow! who had been a great sinner, was, according to all appearance, a great penitent also, and a true Wentworth, with all the family features. Such were Miss Leonora's thoughts as she went back to finish her letters, and to encourage her agents in her London district to carry on the good work.

"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform," she wrote apropos of the gin-palace, and set very distinctly before her spiritual retainers all that Providence might intend by this unexpected hindrance; and so quite contented herself about her nephew, whose views on this and many other subjects were so different from her own.