Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 7

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Chapter VII


"Your Rector is angry at some of your proceedings," said Miss Leonora. "I did not think a man of your views would have cared for missionary work. I should have supposed that you would think that vulgar, and Low-Church, and Evangelical. Indeed, I thought I heard you say you didn't believe in preaching, Frank?—neither do I, when a man preaches the Tracts for the Times. I was surprised to hear what you were doing at the place they call Wharfside."

"First let me correct you in two little inaccuracies," said Mr Wentworth, blandly, as he peeled his orange. "The Rector of Carlingford is not my rector, and I don't preach the Tracts for the Times. Let us always be particular, my dear aunt, as to points of fact."

"Exactly so," said Miss Leonora, grimly; "but, at the same time, as there seems no great likelihood of your leaving Carlingford, don't you think it would be wise to cultivate friendly relations with the Rector?" said the iron-grey inexorable aunt, looking full in his eyes as she spoke. So significant and plain a statement took for an instant the colour out of the Curate's cheeks—he pared his orange very carefully while he regained his composure, and it was at least half a minute before he found himself at leisure to reply. Miss Dora of course seized upon the opportunity, and, by way of softening matters, interposed in her unlucky person to make peace.

"But, my dear boy, I said I was sure you did not mean it," said Miss Dora; "I told Mr Morgan I felt convinced it could be explained. Nobody knows you so well as I do. You were always high-spirited from a child, and never would give in; but I know very well you never could mean it, Frank."

"Mean it?" said the Curate, with sparkling eyes: "what do you take me for, aunt Dora? Do you know what it is we are talking of? The question is, whether a whole lot of people, fathers and children, shall be left to live like beasts, without reverence for God or man, or shall be brought within the pale of the Church, and taught their duty? And you think I don't mean it? I mean it as much as my brother Charley meant it at the Redan," said young Wentworth, with a glow of suppressed enthusiasm, and that natural pride in Charley (who got the Cross for valour) which was common to all the Wentworths. But when he saw his aunt Leonora looking at him, the Perpetual Curate stood to his arms again. "I have still to learn that the Rector has anything to do with it," said the young Evangelist of Wharfside.

"It is in his parish, and he thinks he has," said Miss Leonora. "I wish you could see your duty more clearly, Frank. You seem to me, you know, to have a kind of zeal, but not according to knowledge. If you were carrying the real Gospel to the poor people, I shouldn't be disposed to blame you; for the limits of a parish are but poor things to pause for when souls are perishing; but to break the law for the sake of diffusing the rubric and propagating Tractarianism—"

"Oh, Leonora, how can you be so harsh and cruel?" cried Miss Dora; "only think what you are doing. I don't say anything about disappointing Frank, and perhaps injuring his prospects for life; for, to be sure, he is a true Wentworth, and won't acknowledge that; but think of my poor dear brother, with so many sons as he has to provide for, and so much on his mind; and think of ourselves and all that we have planned so often. Only think what you have talked of over and over; how nice it would be when he was old enough to take the Rectory, and marry Julia Trench—"

"Aunt Dora," said the Curate, rising from the table. "I shall have to go away if you make such appeals on my behalf. And besides, it is only right to tell you that, whatever my circumstances were, I never could nor would marry Julia Trench. It is cruel and unjust to bring in her name. Don't let us hear any more of this, if you have any regard for me."

"Quite so, Frank," said Miss Wentworth; "that is exactly what I was thinking." Miss Cecilia was not in the habit of making demonstrations, but she put out her delicate old hand to point her nephew to his seat again, and gave a soft slight pressure to his as she touched it. Old Miss Wentworth was a kind of dumb lovely idol to her nephews; she rarely said anything to them, but they worshipped her all the same for her beauty and those languid tendernesses which she showed them once in ten years or so. The Perpetual Curate was much touched by this manifestation. He kissed his old aunt's beautiful hand as reverently as if it had been a saint's. "I knew you would understand me," he said, looking gratefully at her lovely old face; which exclamation, however, was a simple utterance of gratitude, and would not have borne investigation. When he had resumed his seat and his orange, Miss Leonora cleared her throat for a grand address.