Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 24

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Meanwhile Mr Wentworth went about the rest of the day's work in a not unusual, but far from pleasant, frame of mind. When one suddenly feels that the sympathy upon which one calculated most surely has been withdrawn, the shock is naturally considerable. It might not be anything very great while it lasted, but still one feels the difference when it is taken away. Lucy had fallen off from him; and even aunt Dora had ceased to feel his concerns the first in the world. He smiled at himself for the wound he felt; but that did not remove the sting of it. After the occupations of the day were over, when at last he was going home, and when his work and the sense of fatigue which accompanied it had dulled his mind a little, the Curate felt himself still dwelling on the same matter, contemplating it in a half-comic point of view, as proud men are not unapt to contemplate anything that mortifies them. He began to realise, in a humorous way, his own sensations as he stood at the drawing-room door and recognised the prodigal on the sofa; and then a smile dawned upon his lip as he thought once more of the prodigal's elder brother, who regarded that business with unsympathetic eyes and grudged the supper. And from that he went into a half-professional line of thought, and imagined to himself, half smiling, how, if he had been Dr Cumming or the minister of Salem Chapel, he might have written a series of sermons on the unappreciated characters of Scripture, beginning with that virtuous uninteresting elder brother; from which suggestion, though he was not the minister of Salem nor Dr Cumming, it occurred to the Perpetual Curate to follow out the idea, and to think of such generous careless souls as Esau, and such noble unfortunates as the peasant-king, the mournful magnificent Saul—people not generally approved of, or enrolled among the martyrs or saints. He was pursuing this kind of half-reverie, half-thought, when he reached his own house. It was again late and dark, for he had dined in the mean time, and was going home now to write his sermon, in which, no doubt, some of these very ideas were destined to reappear. He opened the garden-gate with his latch-key, and paused, with an involuntary sense of the beauty and freshness of the night, as soon as he got within the sheltering walls. The stars were shining faint and sweet in the summer blue, and all the shrubs and the grass breathing forth that subdued breath of fragrance and conscious invisible life which gives so much sweetness to the night. He thought he heard whispering voices, as he paused glancing up at the sky; and then from the side-walk he saw a little figure run, and heard a light little footstep fluttering towards the door which he had just closed. Mr Wentworth started and went after this little flying figure with some anxiety. Two or three of his long strides brought him up with the escaping visitor, as she fumbled in her agitation over the handle of the door. "You have come again, notwithstanding what I said to you? but you must not repeat it, Rosa," said the Curate; "no good can come of these meetings. I will tell your uncle, if I ever find you here again."

"Oh no, no, please don't," cried the girl; "but, after all, I don't mind," she said, with more confidence: "he would think it was something very different;" and Rosa raised her eyes to the Curate's face with a coquettish inquiry. She could not divest herself of the thought that Mr Wentworth was jealous, and did not like to have her come there for anybody but himself.

"If you were not such a child, I should be very angry," said the Curate; "as it is, I am very angry with the person who deludes you into coming. Go home, child," he said, opening the door to her, "and remember I will not allow you on any pretext to come here again."

His words were low, and perhaps Rosa did not care much to listen; but there was quite light enough to show them both very plainly, as he stood at the door and she went out. Just then the Miss Hemmings were going up Grange Lane from a little tea-party with their favourite maid, and all their eyes about them. They looked very full in Mr Wentworth's face, and said How d'ye do? as they passed the door; and when they had passed it, they looked at each other with eyes which spoke volumes. Mr Wentworth shut the door violently with irrepressible vexation and annoyance when he encountered that glance. He made no farewells, nor did he think of taking care of Rosa on the way home as he had done before. He was intensely annoyed and vexed, he could not tell how. And this was how it happened that the last time she was seen in Carlingford, Rosa Elsworthy was left standing by herself in the dark at Mr Wentworth's door.