Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 10

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Chapter X

 

It may be easily supposed after this that Mr Wentworth and his proceedings were sufficiently overlooked and commented upon in Carlingford. The Miss Wentworths took old Major Brown's house for six months, which, as everybody knows, is next door to Dr Marjoribanks. It was just after Letty Brown's marriage, and the poor old Major was very glad to go away and pay a round of visits, and try to forget that his last daughter had gone the way of all the rest. There was a summer-house built in the corner of the garden, with a window in the outer wall looking on to Grange Lane, from which everything that happened could be inspected; and there was always somebody at that window when the Perpetual Curate passed by. Then he began to have a strange painful feeling that Lucy watched too, and was observing all his looks and ways, and what he did and said in these changed times. It was a strange difference from the sweet half-conscious bond between them which existed of old, when they walked home together from Wharfside, talking of the district and the people, in the tender union of unspoken love and fellowship. Not that they were altogether parted now; but Lucy contrived to leave the schoolroom most days before the young priest could manage to disrobe himself, and was seldom to be seen on the road lingering on her errands of kindness as she used to do. But still she knew all he was about, and watched, standing in doubt and wonder of him, which was at least a great deal better than indifference. On the whole, however, it was a cloudy world through which the Perpetual Curate passed as he went from his lodgings, where the whistle of the new lodger had become a great nuisance to him, past the long range of garden-walls, the sentinel window where Miss Dora looked out watching for him, and Mr Wodehouse's green door which he no longer entered every day. Over the young man's mind, as he went out to his labours, there used to come that sensation of having nobody to fall back upon, which is of all feelings the most desolate. Amid all those people who were watching him, there was no one upon whom he could rest, secure of understanding and sympathy. They were all critical—examining, with more or less comprehension, what he did; and he could not think of anybody in the world just then who would be content with knowing that he did it, and take that as warranty for the act, unless, perhaps, his poor aunt Dora, whose opinion was not important to the young man. It was not a pleasant state of mind into which these feelings threw him; and the natural result was, that he grew more and more careful about the rubric, and confined his sermons, with increasing precision, to the beautiful arrangements of the Church. They were very clever little sermons, even within these limitations, and an indifferent spectator would probably have been surprised to find how much he could make out of them; but still it is undeniable that a man has less scope, not only for oratory, but for all that is worthy of regard in human speech, when, instead of the ever-lasting reciprocations between heaven and earth, he occupies himself only with a set of ecclesiastical arrangements, however perfect. The people who went to St Roque's found this out, and so did Mr Wentworth; but it did not alter the system pursued by the troubled Curate. Perhaps he gave himself some half-conscious credit for it, as being against his own interests; for there was no mistaking the countenance of Miss Leonora, when now and then, on rare occasions, she came to hear her nephew preach.