Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 2

[+] | [-] | reset

"I hope your aunts were quite well, Mr Wentworth, when you heard from them last," said Miss Wodehouse, "and all your people at home. In such a small family as ours, we should go out of our wits if we did not hear every day; but I suppose it is different where there are so many. Lucy, when she goes from home," said the tender elder sister, glancing at her with a half-maternal admiration—"and she might always be visiting about if she liked—writes to me every day."

"I have nobody who cares for me enough to write every week," said the Curate, with a look which was for Lucy's benefit. "I am not so lucky as you. My aunts are quite well, Miss Wodehouse, and they think I had better go up to town in May for the meetings," added Mr Wentworth, with a passing laugh; "and the rest of my people are very indignant that I am not of their way of thinking. There is Tom Burrows on the other side of the street; he is trying to catch your eye," said the Curate, turning round upon Lucy; for the young man had come to such a pass that he could not address her in an ordinary and proper way like other people, but, because he dared not yet call her by her Christian name as if she belonged to him, had a strange rude way of indicating when he was speaking to her, by emphasis and action. It was singularly different from his usual good-breeding; but Lucy somehow rather liked it than otherwise. "He is not going to church for the sake of the service. He is going to please you. He has never forgotten what you did for that little boy of his; and, indeed, if you continue to go on so," said Mr Wentworth, lowering his voice, and more than ever bending his tall head to one side, "I shall have to put a stop to it somehow, for I am not prepared, whatever people say, to go in at once for public worship of the saints."

"I am going in here to call," said Lucy. She looked up very innocently in the Curate's face. "I promised the poor sick woman in the back room to see her every day, and I could not get out any sooner. I daresay I shall be at the schoolroom before you begin. Good-bye just now," said the young Sister of Mercy. She went off all at once on this provoking but unexceptionable errand, looking with calm eyes upon the dismay which overspread the expressive countenance of her spiritual guide. Mr Wentworth stood looking after her for a moment, stunned by the unexpected movement. When he went on, truth compels us to own that a thrill of disgust had taken the place of that vague general sense of beatitude which threw beauty even upon Prickett's Lane. The Curate gave but a sulky nod to the salutation of Tom Burrows, and walked on in a savage mood by the side of Miss Wodehouse, around whom no nimbus of ideal glory hovered.

"I am always afraid of its being too much for her, Mr Wentworth," said the anxious elder sister; "it upsets me directly; but then I never was like Lucy—I can't tell where all you young people have learned it; we never used to be taught so in my day; and though I am twice as old as she is, I know I am not half so much good in the world," said the kind soul, with a gentle sigh. "I should like to see you in a parish of your own, where you would have it all your own way. I hope Mr Morgan won't be meddling when he comes to have time for everything. I should almost think he would—though it seems unkind to say it—by his face."

"I am doing nothing more than my duty," said the Perpetual Curate, in morose tones. "This district was given into my hands by the late Rector. Mr Morgan's face does not matter to me."

"But I should like to see you in a parish of your own," said Miss Wodehouse, meaning to please him. "You know papa always says so. St Roque's is very nice, but—"

"If you wish me out of the way, Miss Wodehouse, I am sorry to say you are not likely to be gratified," said the Curate, "for I have no more expectation of any preferment than you have. Such chances don't come in everybody's way."