Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 2

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"But I thought your aunts, Mr Wentworth—" said poor Miss Wodehouse, who unluckily did not always know when to stop.

"My aunts don't approve of my principles," answered Mr Wentworth, who had his own reasons for speaking with a little asperity. "They are more likely to have me denounced at Exeter Hall. I will join you immediately. I must speak to these men across the street;" and the Curate accordingly walked into a knot of loungers opposite, with a decision of manner which Lucy's desertion had helped him to. Miss Wodehouse, thus left alone, went on with lingering and somewhat doubtful steps. She was not used to being in "the district" by herself. It disturbed her mild, middle-aged habits to be left straying about here alone among all these poor people, whom she looked at half wistfully, half alarmed, feeling for them in her kind heart, but not at all knowing how to get at them as the young people did. The unruly children and gossiping mothers at the poor doors discomposed her sadly, and she was not near so sure that her grey cloak defended her from all rudeness as she pretended to be when assenting to the enthusiasm of Mr Wentworth and Lucy. She made tremulous haste to get out of this scene, which she was not adapted for, to the shelter of the schoolroom, where, at least, she would be safe. "We never were taught so in my day," she said to herself, with an unexpressed wonder which was right; but when she had reached that haven of shelter, was seized with a little panic for Lucy, and went out again and watched for her at the corner of the street, feeling very uncomfortable. It was a great relief to see her young sister coming down alert and bright even before she was joined by Mr Wentworth, who had carried his point with the men he had been talking to. To see them coming down together, smiling to all those people at the doors who disturbed the gentle mind of Miss Wodehouse with mingled sentiments of sympathy and repulsion, bestowing nods of greeting here and there, pausing even to say a word to a few favoured clients, was a wonderful sight to the timid maiden lady at the corner of the street. Twenty years ago some such companion might have been by Miss Wodehouse's side, but never among the poor people in Prickett's Lane. Even with Lucy before her she did not understand it. As the two came towards her, other thoughts united with these in her kind soul. "I wonder whether anything will ever come of it?" she said to herself, and with that wandered into anxious reflections what this difference could be between Mr Wentworth and his aunts: which cogitations, indeed, occupied her till the service began, and perhaps disturbed her due appreciation of it; for if Lucy and Mr Wentworth got attached, as seemed likely, and Mr Wentworth did not get a living, what was to come of it? The thought made this tender-hearted spectator sigh: perhaps she had some experience of her own to enlighten her on such a point. At least it troubled, with sympathetic human cares, the gentle soul which had lost the confidence of youth.

As for the two most immediately concerned, they thought nothing at all about aunts or livings. Whether it is the divine influence of youth, or whether the vague unacknowledged love which makes two people happy in each other's presence carries with it a certain inspiration, this at least is certain, that there is an absolute warmth of devotion arrived at in such moments, which many a soul, no longer happy, would give all the world to reach. Such crowds and heaps of blessings fall to these young souls! They said their prayers with all their hearts, not aware of deriving anything of that profound sweet trust and happiness from each other, but expanding over all the rude but reverend worshippers around them, with an unlimited faith in their improvement, almost in their perfection. This was what the wondering looker-on, scarcely able to keep her anxieties out of her prayers, could not understand, having forgotten, though she did not think so, the exaltation of that time of youth, as people do. She thought it all their goodness that they were able to put away their own thoughts; she did not know it was in the very nature of those unexpressed emotions to add the confidence of happiness to their prayers.