Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 25

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Mr Wentworth was still lingering in this peaceful pause, when he heard, in the stillness, hasty steps coming down Grange Lane. No doubt it was some workmen going to their work, and he felt it must be nearly six o'clock, and dipped his pen once more in the ink; but, the next moment, paused again to listen, feeling in his heart a strange conviction that the steps would stop at his door, and that something was going to happen. He was sure of it, and yet somehow the sound tingled upon his heart when he heard the bell ring, waking up echoes in the silent house. Cook and Sarah had not yet given any signs of coming down-stairs, and nobody stirred even at the sound of the bell. Mr Wentworth put down his pen altogether, and listened with an anxiety which he could scarcely account for—knowing, as he said to himself, that it must be the milk, or the baker, or somebody. But neither the milk nor the baker would have dared to knock, and shake, and kick the door as the new arrivals were doing. Mr Wentworth sat still as long as he could, then he added to the din they were making outside by an indignant ring of his own bell; and finally getting anxious, as was natural, and bethinking himself of his father's attack and Mr Wodehouse's illness, the Curate took the matter into his own hands, and hastened down-stairs to open the door. Mrs Hadwin called to him as he passed her room, thinking it was Sarah, and begging for goodness gracious sake to know directly what was the matter; and he felt himself growing agitated as he drew back the complicated bolts, and turned the key in the door, which was elaborately defenced, as was natural. When he hurried out into the garden, the songs of the birds and the morning air seemed to have changed their character. He thought he was about to be summoned to the deathbed of one or other of the old men upon whom their sons had brought such misery. He was but little acquainted with the fastenings of the garden-door, and fumbled a little over them in his anxiety. "Wait a moment and you shall be admitted," he called out to those outside, who still continued to knock; and he fancied, even in the haste and confusion of the moment, that his voice caused some little commotion among them. Mr Wentworth opened the door, looking anxiously out for some boy with a telegram, or other such mournful messenger; but to his utter amazement was nearly knocked down by the sudden plunge of Elsworthy, who entered with a spring like that of a wild animal, and whose face looked white and haggard as he rushed in. He came against the Curate so roughly as to drive him a step or two farther into the garden, and naturally aroused somewhat sharply the temper of the young man, who had already begun to regard him with disagreeable sensations as a kind of spy against himself.

"What in the world do you want at such an early hour in the morning?" cried Mr Wentworth—"and what do you mean by making such a noise? Is Mr Wodehouse worse? or what has happened?" for, to tell the truth, he was a little relieved to find that the two people outside both belonged to Carlingford, and that nowhere was there any visible apparition of a telegraph boy.

"Don't trifle with me, Mr Wentworth," said Elsworthy. "I'm a poor man; but a worm as is trodden on turns. I want my child, sir!—give me my child. I'll find her out if it was at the end of the world. I've only brought down my neighbour with me as I can trust," he continued, hoarsely—"to save both your characters. I don't want to make no talk; if you do what is right by Rosa, neither me or him will ever say a word. I want Rosa, Mr Wentworth. Where's Rosa? If I had known as it was for this you wanted her home! But I'll take my oath not to make no talk," cried the clerk, with passion and earnestness, which confounded Mr Wentworth—"if you'll promise to do what's right by her, and let me take her home."

"Elsworthy, are you mad?" cried the Curate—"is he out of his senses? Has anything happened to Rosa? For heaven's sake, Hayles, don't stand there like a man of wood, but tell me if the man's crazy, or what he means."

"I'll come in, sir, if you've no objection, and shut the door, not to make a talk," said Elsworthy's companion, Peter Hayles, the druggist. "If it can be managed without any gossip, it'll be best for all parties," said this worthy, shutting the door softly after him. "The thing is, where's Rosa, Mr Wentworth? I can't think as you've got her here."