Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 15

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Chapter XV


It was mid-day, and more than twelve hours after he had left Carlingford, before Mr Wentworth reached the Rectory. He had snatched a few hours' sleep in London, where he was obliged to pause because of the trains, which did not correspond; and accordingly, though he was very anxious about Gerald, it was with a mien and gait very much like his usual appearance that he jumped out of the railway carriage at the little station which was on his father's property, and where everybody knew the Squire's son. Left in entire uncertainty as he was in respect to the trouble which had overtaken his brother, it was a little comfort to the Curate to find that everybody looked surprised to see him, and that nobody seemed to know of any cause demanding his presence. All was well at the Hall, so far as the station-master knew; and as for the Rector, he had no special place in the local report which the handiest porter supplied "Mr Frank"—a blessed neglect, which was very consolatory to the heart of the anxious brother, to whom it became evident that nothing had happened, and who began to hope that Gerald's wife, who never was very wise, had been seized with some merely fantastic terror. With this hope he walked on briskly upon the familiar road to his brother's house, recovering his courage, and falling back upon his own thoughts, and at last taking pleasure in the idea of telling all his troubles to Gerald, and getting strength and enlightenment from his advice. He had come quite into this view of the subject when he arrived at the Rectory, and saw the pretty old-fashioned house, with its high ivied garden-walls, and the famous cedar on the lawn, standing all secure and sweet in the early sunshine, like something too steadfast to be moved, as if sorrow or conflict could never enter there. Unconsciously to himself, the perfect tranquillity of everything altered the entire scope of Frank Wentworth's thoughts. He was no longer in anxiety about his brother. He was going to ask Gerald's advice upon his own troubles, and lay the difficulties and dangers of his position before the clear and lucid eyes of the best man he ever knew.

It shook him a little out of his position, however, to find himself admitted with a kind of scared expectation by Mrs Gerald Wentworth's maid, who made no exclamation of wonder at the sight of him, but opened the door in a troubled, stealthy way, strangely unlike the usual customs of the place. "Is my brother at home?" said the Curate, going in with a step that rang on the hall, and a voice that sounded into the house. He would have proceeded straight, as usual, to Gerald's study after this question, which was one of form merely, but for the disturbed looks of the woman, who put up her hand imploringly. "Oh hush! Mr Frank; hush! My mistress wants to see you first. She said I was to show you into her sitting-room," said the maid, half in a whisper, and led him hastily down a side-passage to a little out-of-the-way room, which he knew was where Louisa was wont to retire when she had her headaches, as was well known to all the house of Wentworth. The Curate went in with some impatience and some alarm to this retired apartment. His eyes, dazzled by the sunshine, could not penetrate at first the shadowy greenness of the room, which, what with the trees without and the Venetian blind within, was lost in a kind of twilight, grateful enough after a while, but bewildering at the first moment. Out of this darkness somebody rose as he entered, and walked into his arms with trembling eagerness. "Oh Frank, I am so thankful you are come! now perhaps something may be done; for you always understood," said his little sister-in-law, reaching up to kiss him. She was a tiny little woman, with soft eyes and a tender little blooming face, which he had never before seen obscured by any cloud, or indeed moved by any particular sentiment. Now the firmament was all overcast, and Louisa, it was evident, had been sitting in the shade of her drawn blinds, having a quiet cry, and going into all her grievances. To see such a serene creature all clouded over and full of tears, gave the Curate a distinct shock of alarm and anxiety. He led her back to her sofa, seeing clearer and clearer, as he watched her face, the plaintive lines of complaint, the heavy burden of trouble which she was about to cast on his shoulders. He grew more and more afraid as he looked at her. "Is Gerald ill?" he said, with a thrill of terror; but even this could scarcely account for the woeful look of all the accessories to the picture.