Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 13

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Chapter XIII


"I want to know what all this means about young Wentworth," said Mr Wodehouse. "He's gone off, it appears, in a hurry, nobody knows where. Well, so they say. To his brother's, is it? I couldn't know that; but look here—that's not all, nor nearly all—they say he meets that little Rosa at Elsworthy's every night, and walks home with her, and all that sort of thing. I tell you I don't know—that's what people say. You ought to understand all the rights of it, you two girls. I confess I thought it was Lucy he was after, for my part—and a very bad match, too, and one I should never have given my consent to. And then there is another fine talk about some fellow he's got at his house. What's the matter, Molly?—she looks as if she was going to faint."

"Oh no," said Miss Wodehouse, faintly; "and I don't believe a word about Rosa Elsworthy," she said, with sudden impetuosity, a minute after. "I am sure Mr Wentworth could vindicate himself whenever he likes. I daresay the one story is just as true as the other; but then," said the gentle elder sister, turning with anxious looks towards Lucy, "he is proud, as is natural; and I shouldn't think he would enter into explanations if he thought people did not trust him without them."

"That is all stuff," said Mr Wodehouse; "why should people trust him? I don't understand trusting a man in all sorts of equivocal circumstances, because he's got dark eyes, &c., and a handsome face—which seems your code of morality; but I thought he was after Lucy—that was my belief—and I want to know if it's all off."

"It never was on, papa," said Lucy, in her clearest voice. "I have been a great deal in the district, you know, and Mr Wentworth and I could not help meeting each other; that is all about it: but people must always have something to talk about in Carlingford. I hope you don't think I and Rosa Elsworthy could go together," she went on, turning round to him with a smile. "I don't think that would be much of a compliment;" and, saying this, Lucy went to get her work out of its usual corner, and sat down opposite to her father, with a wonderfully composed face. She was so composed, indeed, that any interested beholder might have been justified in thinking that the work suffered in consequence, for it seemed to take nearly all Lucy's strength and leisure to keep up that look.

"Oh!" said Mr Wodehouse, "that's how it was? Then I wonder why that confounded puppy came here so constantly? I don't like that sort of behaviour. Don't you go into the district any more and meet him—that's all I've got to say."

"Because of Rosa Elsworthy?" said Lucy, with a little smile, which did not flicker naturally, but was apt to get fixed at the corners of her pretty mouth. "That would never do, papa. Mr Wentworth's private concerns are nothing to us; but, you know, there is a great work going on in the district, and that can't be interfered with," said the young Sister of Mercy, looking up at him with a decision which Mr Wodehouse was aware he could make no stand against. And when she stopped speaking, Lucy did a little work, which was for the district too. All this time she was admitting to herself that she had been much startled by this news about Rosa Elsworthy,—much startled. To be sure, it was not like Mr Wentworth, and very likely it would impair his influence; and it was natural that any friend taking an interest in him and the district, should be taken a little aback by such news. Accordingly, Lucy sat a little more upright than usual, and was conscious that when she smiled, as she had just done, the smile did not glide off again in a natural way, but settled down into the lines of her face with a kind of spasmodic tenacity. She could do a great deal in the way of self-control, but she could not quite command these refractory muscles. Mr Wodehouse, who was not particularly penetrating, could not quite make her out; he saw there was something a little different from her ordinary look about his favourite child, but he had not insight enough to enable him to comprehend what it was.