Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 8

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Chapter VIII

 

It was the next morning after this when Mrs Hadwin's strange lodger first appeared in the astonished house. He was the strangest lodger to be taken into a house of such perfect respectability, a house in Grange Lane; and it came to be currently reported in Carlingford after a time, when people knew more about it, that even the servants could not tell when or how he arrived, but had woke up one morning to find a pair of boots standing outside the closed door of the green room, which the good old lady kept for company, with sensations which it would be impossible to describe. Such a pair of boots they were too—muddy beyond expression, with old mud which had not been brushed off for days—worn shapeless, and patched at the sides; the strangest contrast to a handsome pair of Mr Wentworth's, which he, contrary to his usual neat habits, had kicked off in his sitting-room, and which Sarah, the housemaid, had brought and set down on the landing, close by these mysterious and unaccountable articles. When the bell of the green room rang an hour or two later, Sarah and the cook, who happened to be standing together, jumped three yards apart and stared at each other; the sound gave them both "a turn." But they soon got perfectly well used to that bell from the green room. It rung very often in the day, for "the gentleman" chose to sit there more than half his time; and if other people were private about him, it was a great deal more than he was about himself. He even sent the boots to be mended, to Sarah's shame and confusion. For the credit of the house, the girl invented a story about them to calm the cobbler's suspicions. "They was the easiest boots the gentleman had, being troubled with tender feet; and he wasn't a-going to give them up because they was shabby," said Sarah. He sent down his shabby clothes to be brushed, and wore Mr Wentworth's linen, to the indignation of the household. But he was not a man to be concealed in a corner. From where he sat in the green room, he whistled so beautifully that Mrs Hadwin's own pet canary paused astonished to listen, and the butcher's boy stole into the kitchen surreptitiously to try if he could learn the art; and while he whistled, he filled the tidy room with parings and cuttings of wood, and carved out all kinds of pretty articles with his knife. But though he rang his bell so often, and was so tiresome with his litter, and gave so much trouble, Sarah's heart, after a while, melted to "the gentleman." He made her a present of a needlecase, and was very civil-spoken—more so a great deal than the Curate of St Roque's; and such a subject of talk and curiosity had certainly not been in Carlingford for a hundred years.