Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 25

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"She's all the same as my own child!" cried Elsworthy, who was greatly excited. "I've had her and loved her since she was a baby. I don't mean to say as I'd put myself forward to hurt her prospects if she was married in a superior line o' life; but them as harms Rosa has me to reckon with," he said, with a kind of fury which sat strangely on the man. "Mr Wentworth, where's the child? God forgive you both, you've given me a night o' weeping; but if you'll do what's right by Rosa, and send her home in the mean time—"

"Be silent, sir!" cried the Curate. "I know nothing in the world about Rosa. How dare you venture to come on such an errand to me? I don't understand how it is," said the young man, growing red and angry, "that you try so persistently to connect this child with me. I have never had anything to do with her, and I will not submit to any such impertinent suspicion. Leave my house, sir, immediately, and don't insult me by making such inquiries here."

Mr Wentworth was very angry in the first flush of his wrath. He did not think what misery was involved in the question which had been addressed to him, nor did he see for the moment the terrible calamity to Rosa which was suggested by this search for her. He thought only of himself, as was natural, at the first shock—of the injurious and insulting suspicion with which he seemed to be pursued, and of the annoyance which she and her friends were causing him. "What do you mean by rousing a whole household at this hour in the morning?" cried Mr Wentworth, as he saw with vexation, Sarah, very startled and sleepy, come stealing round by the kitchen door.

"You don't look as if you had wanted any rousing," said Elsworthy, who was too much in earnest to own the Curate's authority. "She was seen at your door the last thing last night, and you're in your clothes, as bright as day, and a-waiting for us afore six o'clock in the morning. Do you think as I've shut my eyes because it's my clergyman?" cried the injured man, passionately. "I want my little girl—my little Rosa—as is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. If Mr Wentworth didn't know nothing about it, as he says," cried Elsworthy, with sudden insight, "he has a feelin' heart, and he'd be grieved about the child; but he aint grieved, nor concerned, nor nothing in the world but angry; and will you tell me there aint nothing to be drawn from that? But it's far from my intention to raise a talk," said the clerk, drawing closer and touching the arm of the Perpetual Curate; "let her come back, and if you're a man of your word, and behave honourable by her, there shan't be nothing said in Carlingford. I'll stand up for you, sir, against the world."

Mr Wentworth shook off his assailant's hand with a mingled sense of exasperation and sympathy. "I tell you, upon my honour, I know nothing about her," he said. "But it is true enough I have been thinking only of myself," he continued, addressing the other. "How about the girl? When was she lost? and can't you think of any place she can have gone to? Elsworthy, hear reason," cried the Curate anxiously. "I assure you, on my word, that I have never seen her since I closed this garden-gate upon her last night."

"And I would ask you, sir, what had Rosa to do at your garden-gate?" cried the clerk of St Roque's. "He aint denying it, Hayles; you can see as he aint a-denying of it. What was it as she came here for but you? Mr Wentworth, I've always had a great respect for you," said Elsworthy. "I've respected you as my clergyman, sir, as well as for other things; but you're a young man, and human nature is frail. I say again as you needn't have no fear of me. I aint one as likes to make a talk, and no more is Hayles. Give up the girl, and give me your promise, and there aint a man living as will be the wiser; Mr Wentworth—"

"Hold your tongue, sir!" cried the Curate, furious with indignation and resentment. "Leave this place instantly! If you don't want me to pitch you into the middle of the road, hold your tongue and go away. The man is mad!" said Mr Wentworth, turning towards the spectator, Hayles, and pausing to take breath. But it was evident that this third person was by no means on the Curate's side.