Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 18

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Chapter XVIII

 

Very little came, as was natural, of the talk in the library, to which the entire afternoon was devoted. The Squire, in his way, was as great an interruption to the arguments of the Curate as was poor Louisa in hers; and Gerald sat patiently to listen to his father's indignant monologue, broken as it was by Frank's more serious attacks. He was prepared for all they could say to him, and listened to it, sometimes with a kind of wondering smile, knowing well how much more strongly, backed by all his prejudices and interests, he had put the same arguments to himself. All this time nobody discussed the practicability of the matter much, nor what steps he meant to take: what immediately occupied both his father and brother was his determination itself, and the reasons which had led him to it, which the Squire, like Louisa, could not understand.

"If I had made myself disagreeable," said Mr Wentworth; "if I had remonstrated with him, as Leonora urged me to do; if I had put a stop to the surplice and so forth, and interfered with his decorations or his saints' days, or anything, it might have been comprehensible. But I never said a syllable on the subject. I give you my word, I never did. Why couldn't he have sent down for Louisa now, and dined at the Hall, as usual, when any of my sons come home? I suppose a man may change his religion, sir, without getting rid of his natural affections," said the Squire, gazing out with puzzled looks to watch Gerald going slowly down the avenue. "A man who talks of leaving his wife, and declines to dine at his father's house with his brothers and sisters, is a mystery I can't understand."

"I don't suppose he cares for a lively party like ours at this moment," said the Curate: "I don't take it as any sign of a want of affection for me."

The Squire puffed forth a large sigh of trouble and vexation as he came from the window. "If I were to give in to trouble when it appears, what would become of our lively party, I wonder?" he said. "I'm getting an old man, Frank; but there's not a young man in Christendom has more need to take care of himself, and preserve his health, than I have. I am very well, thank God, though I have had a touch of our Wentworth complaint—just one touch. My father had it ten years earlier in life, and lived to eighty, all the same; but that is an age I shall never see. Such worries as I have would kill any man. I've not spoken to anybody about it," said the Squire, hastily, "but Jack is going a terrible pace just now. I've had a good deal of bother about bills and things. He gets worse every year; and what would become of the girls and the little children if the estate were to come into Jack's hands, is a thought I don't like to dwell upon, Frank. I suppose he never writes to you?"

"Not for years past," said the Curate—"not since I was at Oxford. Where is he now?"

"Somewhere about town, I suppose," said the aggrieved father, "or wherever the greatest scamps collect when they go out of town—that's where he is. I could show you a little document or two, Frank—but now," said the Squire, shutting up a drawer which he had unlocked and partly opened, "I won't; you've enough on your mind with Gerald, and I told you I should be glad of your advice about Cuthbert and Guy."

Upon which the father and son plunged into family affairs. Cuthbert and Guy were the youngest of the Squire's middle family—a "lot" which included Frank and Charley and the three sisters, one of whom was married. The domestic relations of the Wentworths were complicated in this generation. Jack and Gerald were of the first marriage, a period in his history which Mr Wentworth himself had partly forgotten; and the troop of children at present in the Hall nursery were quite beyond the powers of any grown-up brother to recognise or identify. It was vaguely understood that "the girls" knew all the small fry by head and name, but even the Squire himself was apt to get puzzled. With such a household, and with an heir impending over his head like Jack, it may be supposed that Mr Wentworth's anxiety to get his younger boys disposed of was great. Cuthbert and Guy were arrows in the hand of the giant, but he had his quiver so full that the best thing he could do was to draw his bow and shoot them away into as distant and as fresh a sphere as possible. They were sworn companions and allies, but they were not clever, Mr Wentworth believed, and he was very glad to consult over New Zealand and Australia, and which was best, with their brother Frank.