Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 17

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Chapter XVII

 

The Curate of St Roque's went sadly along the road he knew so well from Wentworth Rectory to the Hall. There was scarcely a tree nor the turning of a hedgerow which had not its own individual memories to the son of the soil. Here he had come to meet Gerald returning from Eton—coming back from the university in later days. Here he had rushed down to the old Rector, his childless uncle, with the copy of the prize-list when his brother took his first-class. Gerald, and the family pride in him, was interwoven with the very path, and now— The young man pressed on to the Hall with a certain bitter moisture stealing to the corner of his eye. He felt indignant and aggrieved in his love, not at Gerald, but at the causes which were conspiring to detach him from his natural sphere and duties. When he recollected how he had himself dallied with the same thoughts, he grew angry with his brother's nobleness and purity, which never could see less than its highest ideal soul in anything, and with a certain fierce fit of truth, glanced back at his own Easter lilies and choristers, feeling involuntarily that he would like to tear off the flowers and surplices and tread them under his feet. Why was it that he, an inferior man, should be able to confine himself to the mere accessories which pleased his fancy, and could judge and reject the dangerous principles beneath; while Gerald, the loftier, purer intelligence, should get so hopelessly lost in mazes of sophistry and false argument, to the peril of his work, his life, and all that he could ever know of happiness? Such were the thoughts that passed through the mind of the Perpetual Curate as he went rapidly through the winding country-road going "home." Perhaps he was wrong in thinking that Gerald was thus superior to himself; but the error was a generous one, and the Curate held it in simplicity and with all his heart.

Before he reached the house he saw his father walking under the lime-trees, which formed a kind of lateral aisle to the great avenue, which was one of the boasts of the Wentworths. The Squire was like most squires of no particular character; a hale, ruddy, clear-complexioned, well-preserved man, looking his full age, but retaining all the vigour of his youth. He was not a man of any intellect to speak of, nor did he pretend to it; but he had that glimmering of sense which keeps many a stupid man straight, and a certain amount of natural sensibility and consideration for other people's feelings which made persons who knew no better give Mr Wentworth credit for tact, a quality unknown to him. He was walking slowly in a perplexed manner under the lime-trees. They were all in glorious blossom, filling the air with that mingling sense of fragrance and music which is the soul of the murmurous tree: but the short figure of the Squire, in his morning-coat, with his perplexed looks, was not at all an accessory in keeping with the scene. He was taking his walk in a subdued way, pondering something—and it puzzled him sorely in his straightforward, unprofound understanding. He shook his head sometimes as he went along, sad and perplexed and unsatisfactory, among his limes. He had got a note from Gerald that morning; and how his son could intend to give up living and station, and wife and children, for anything in heaven or earth, was more than the Squire could understand. He started very much when he heard Frank's voice calling to him. Frank, indeed, was said to be, if any one was, the Squire's weakness in the family; he was as clever as Gerald, and he had the practical sense which Mr Wentworth prized as knowing himself to possess it. If he could have wished for any one in the present emergency, it would have been Frank—and he turned round overjoyed.

"Frank, my boy, you're heartily welcome home!" he said, holding out his hand to him as became a British parent—"always welcome, but particularly just now. Where did you come from? how did you come? have you eaten anything this morning? it's close upon lunch, and we'll go in directly; but, my dear boy, wait here a moment, if you're not particularly hungry; I can't tell you how glad I am you're come. I'd rather see you than a hundred pound!"