Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 12

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Chapter XII


On the afternoon of the same day Mr Morgan went home late, and frightened his wife out of her propriety by the excitement and trouble in his face. He could do nothing but groan as he sat down in the drawing-room, where she had just been gathering her work together, and putting stray matters in order, before she went up-stairs to make herself tidy for dinner. The Rector paid no attention to the fact that the dinner-hour was approaching, and only shook his head and repeated his groan when she asked him anxiously what was the matter. The good man was too much flushed and heated and put out, to be able at first to answer her questions.

"Very bad, very bad," he said, when he had recovered sufficient composure—"far worse than I feared. My dear, I am afraid the beginning of my work in Carlingford will be for ever associated with pain to us both. I am discouraged and distressed beyond measure by what I have heard to-day."

"Dear William, tell me what it is," said the Rector's wife.

"I feared it was a bad business from the first," said the disturbed Rector. "I confess I feared, when I saw a young man so regardless of lawful authority, that his moral principles must be defective, but I was not prepared for what I have heard to-day. My dear, I am sorry to grieve you with such a story; but as you are sure to hear it, perhaps it is better that you should have the facts from me."

"It must be about Mr Wentworth," said Mrs Morgan. She was sorry; for though she had given in to her husband's vehemence, she herself in her own person had always been prepossessed in favour of the Perpetual Curate; but she was also sensible of a feeling of relief to know that the misfortune concerned Mr Wentworth, and was not specially connected with themselves.

"Yes, it's about Mr Wentworth," said the Rector. He wiped his face, which was red with haste and exhaustion, and shook his head. He was sincerely shocked and grieved, to do him justice; but underneath there was also a certain satisfaction in the thought that he had foreseen it, and that his suspicions were verified. "My dear, I am very glad he had not become intimate in our house," said Mr Morgan; "that would have complicated matters sadly. I rejoice that your womanly instincts prevented that inconvenience;" and as the Rector began to recover himself, he looked more severe than ever.

"Yes," said Mrs Morgan, with hesitation; for the truth was, that her womanly instincts had pronounced rather distinctly in favour of the Curate of St Roque's. "I hope he has not done anything very wrong, William. I should be very sorry; for I think he has very good qualities," said the Rector's wife. "We must not let our personal objections prejudice us in respect to his conduct otherwise. I am sure you are the last to do that."

"I have never known an insubordinate man who was a perfect moral character," said the Rector. "It is very discouraging altogether; and you thought he was engaged to Wodehouse's pretty daughter, didn't you? I hope not—I sincerely hope not. That would make things doubly bad; but, to be sure, when a man is faithless to his most sacred engagements, there is very little dependence to be placed on him in other respects."

"But you have not told me what it is," said the Rector's wife, with some anxiety; and she spoke the more hastily as she saw the shadow of a curate—Mr Morgan's own curate, who must inevitably be invited to stop to dinner—crossing the lawn as she spoke. She got up and went a little nearer the window to make sure. "There is Mr Leeson," she said, with some vexation. "I must run up-stairs and get ready for dinner. Tell me what it is!"

Upon which the Rector, with some circumlocution, described the appalling occurrence of the previous night,—how Mr Wentworth had walked home with little Rosa Elsworthy from his own house to hers, as had, of course, been seen by various people. The tale had been told with variations, which did credit to the ingenuity of Carlingford; and Mr Morgan's version was that they had walked arm in arm, in the closest conversation, and at an hour which was quite unseemly for such a little person as Rosa to be abroad. The excellent Rector gave the story with strong expressions of disapproval; for he was aware of having raised his wife's expectations, and had a feeling, as he related them, that the circumstances, after all, were scarcely sufficiently horrifying to justify his preamble. Mrs Morgan listened with one ear towards the door, on the watch for Mr Leeson's knock.