Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 3

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Chapter III

 

Next week was Passion Week, and full of occupation. Even if it had been consistent either with Mr Wentworth's principles or Lucy's to introduce secular affairs into so holy a season, they had not time or opportunity, as it happened, which was perhaps just as well; for otherwise the premonitory thrill of expectation which had disturbed Lucy's calm, and the bitter exasperation against himself and his fate with which Mr Wentworth had discovered that he dared not say anything, might have caused an estrangement between them. As it was, the air was thundery and ominous through all the solemn days of the Holy Week. A consciousness as of something about to happen overshadowed even the "district," and attracted the keen observation of the lively spectators at Wharfside. They were not greatly up in matters of doctrine, nor perhaps did they quite understand the eloquent little sermon which the Perpetual Curate gave them on Good Friday in the afternoon, between his own services, by way of impressing upon their minds the awful memories of the day; but they were as skilful in the variations of their young evangelist's looks, and as well qualified to decide upon the fact that there was "a something between" him and Miss Lucy Wodehouse, as any practised observer in the higher ranks of society. Whether the two had "'ad an unpleasantness," as, Wharfside was well aware, human creatures under such circumstances are liable to have, the interested community could not quite make out; but that something more than ordinary was going on, and that the prettiest of all the "Provident ladies" had a certain preoccupation in her blue eyes, was a fact perfectly apparent to that intelligent society. And, indeed, one of the kinder matrons in Prickett's Lane had even ventured so far as to wish Miss Lucy "a 'appy weddin' when the time comes." "And there's to be a sight o' weddings this Easter," had added another, who was somewhat scandalised by the flowers in the bonnet of one of the brides-elect, and proceeded to say so in some detail. "But Miss Lucy won't wear no bonnet; the quality goes in veils: and there never was as full a church as there will be to see it, wishing you your 'ealth and 'appiness, ma'am, as aint no more nor you deserve, and you so good to us poor folks." All which felicitations and inquiries had confused Lucy, though she made her way out of them with a self-possession which amazed her sister.

"You see what everybody thinks, dear," said that gentle woman, when they had made their escape.

"Oh, Mary, how can you talk of such things at such a time?" the young Sister of Mercy had answered once more, turning those severe eyes of youthful devotion upon her troubled elder sister, who, to tell the truth, not having been brought up to it, as she said, felt much the same on Easter Eve as at other times of her life; and thus once more the matter concluded. As for Mr Wentworth, he was much occupied on that last day of the Holy Week with a great many important matters on hand. He had not seen the Wodehouses since the Good Friday evening service, which was an interval of about twenty hours, and had just paused, before eating his bachelor's dinner, to ponder whether it would be correct on that most sacred of vigils to steal away for half an hour, just to ask Lucy if she thought it necessary that he should see the sick woman at No. 10 Prickett's Lane before the morning. It was while he was pondering this matter in his mind that Mr Wentworth's heart jumped to his throat upon receipt, quite suddenly, without preparation, of the following note:—