Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 9

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Chapter IX


"If they are going to stay in Carlingford, perhaps we could be of use to them? Yes, Lucy; and I am sure anything we could do for Mr Wentworth—" said Miss Wodehouse. "I wonder what house they will get. I am going to Elsworthy's about some paper, and we can ask him if he knows where they are going. That poor little Rosa should have some one to take care of her. I often wonder whether it would be kind to speak to Mrs Elsworthy about it, Lucy; she is a sensible woman. The little thing stands at the door in the evening, and talks to people who are passing, and I am afraid there are some people who are unprincipled, and tell her she is pretty, and say things to her," said Miss Wodehouse, shaking her head; "it is a great pity. Even Mr Wentworth is a great deal more civil to that little thing than he would be if she had not such a pretty face."

"I said you knew everything that went on in Carlingford," said Lucy, as they went out together from the green door, not in their grey cloaks this time; "but I forgot to ask you about one thing that puzzled us last night—who is the man in the beard who lives at Mrs Hadwin's? Mr Wentworth will not tell anybody about him, and I think he knows."

"Who is the man in the beard?" said Miss Wodehouse, with a gasp. She grew very pale, and turned away her head and shivered visibly. "How very cold it is!" she said, with her teeth chattering; "did you think it was so cold? I—I don't know any men with beards; and it is so strange of you to say I know everything that goes on in Carlingford. Don't stop to speak to that little girl just now. Did you say she came from Prickett's Lane? No. 10? It is very right to go to see the sick, but, indeed, I don't approve of your attendance upon that poor woman, Lucy. When I was a girl I dared not have gone away by myself as you do, and she might not be a proper person. There is a carriage that I don't know standing before Elsworthy's shop."

"But you have not told me yet about the man with the beard," said Lucy, whose curiosity was excited. She looked at her sister keenly with an investigating look, and poor Miss Wodehouse was fain to draw her shawl close round her, and complain again of the cold.

"I told you I did not know," she said, with a complaining tone in her voice. "It is strange you should think I knew; it looks as if you thought me a gossip, Lucy. I wonder who those people can be coming out of the carriage? My dear," said the elder sister, feeling within herself that an attack upon the enemy's country was the best means of meeting any sally—"I don't think you should go down to Prickett's Lane just now. I saw Mr Wentworth pass a little while ago, and people might say you went to meet each other. I can't keep people from talking, Lucy, and you are both so young; and you know I spoke to you before about your meeting so often. It will be a great deal better for you to come with me to call on his aunts."

"Only that my poor patient wants me," said Lucy. "Must I not do my duty to a poor woman who is dying, because Mr Wentworth is in Prickett's Lane? There is no reason why I should be afraid of meeting Mr Wentworth," said the young district-visitor, severely; and the elder sister saw that Lucy spoke in a different tone from that in which she had answered her before. She did not extinguish Miss Wodehouse by a reference to the great work. She treated the matter more as a personal one to-day; and a shadow—a very ghost of irritation—was in Lucy's voice. The two crossed the street silently after that to Elsworthy's, where a group of ladies were visible, who had come out of the strange carriage. One of them was seated in a chair by the counter, another was reading a list which Mr Elsworthy had just presented to her, and the third, who was not so tall as her sister, was pressing up to it on tiptoe, trying to read it too. "That is Miss Dora Wentworth," said Lucy, "and the other, I suppose, is Miss Leonora, who is so very Low-Church. I think I can see the Miss Hemmings coming down George Street. If I were to go in I should be in a dreadful minority; but you are Low-Church in your heart too."