Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 19

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Chapter XIX

 

"The sum of it all is, that you won't hear any reason, Gerald," said the Squire. "What your brother says, and what I say, are nothing; your poor wife is nothing; and all a man's duties, sir, in life—all your responsibilities, everything that is considered most sacred—"

"You may say what you will to me, father," said Gerald. "I can't expect you should speak differently. But you may imagine I have looked at it in every possible light before I came to this resolution. A man does not decide easily when everything he prizes on earth is at stake. I cannot see with Frank's eyes, or with yours; according to the light God has given me, I must see with my own."

"But, God bless my soul! what do you mean by seeing with your own eyes?" said the Squire. "Don't you know that is a Protestant doctrine, sir? Do you think they'll let you see with any eyes but theirs when you get among a set of Papists? Instead of an easy-going bishop, and friendly fellows for brother clergymen, and parishioners that think everything that's good of you, how do you suppose you'll feel as an Englishman when you get into a dead Frenchified system, with everything going by rule and measure, and bound to believe just as you're told? It'll kill you, sir—that's what will be the end of it. If you are in your grave within the year, it will be no wonder to me."

"Amen!" said Gerald, softly. "If that is to be all, we will not quarrel with the result;" and he got up and went to the window, as if to look for his cedar, which was not there. Perhaps the absence of his silent referee gave him a kind of comfort, though at the same time it disappointed him in some fantastical way, for he turned with a curious look of relief and vexation to his brother. "We need not be always thinking of it, even if this were to be the end," he said. "Come down the avenue with me, Frank, and let us talk of something else. The girls will grumble, but they can have you later: come, I want to hear about yourself."

Unfortunately the Squire got up when his sons did, which was by no means their intention; but Mr Wentworth was vexed and restless, and was not willing to let Gerald off so easily. If he were mad, at least he ought to be made duly wretched in his madness, Mr Wentworth thought; and he went out with them, and arrested the words on their lips. Somehow everything seemed to concur in hindering any appeal on the part of the Curate. And Gerald, like most imaginative men, had a power of dismissing his troubles after they had taken their will of him. It was he who took the conversation on himself when they went out of doors. Finding Frank slow in his report, Gerald went into all the country news for the instruction of his brother. He had been down to the very depths during the two previous days, and now he had come aloft again; for a man cannot be miserable every moment of his life, however heavy his burden may be. The "girls," whose anxieties had been much stimulated by the renewed conference held with closed doors in the library, stood watching them from one of the drawing-room windows. The boldest of the two had, indeed, got her hat to follow them, not comprehending why Frank should be monopolised for days together by anybody but herself, his favourite sister; but something in the aspect of the three men, when they first appeared under the lime-trees, had awed even the lively Letty out of her usual courage. "But Gerald is talking and laughing just as usual," she said, as she stood at the window dangling her hat in her hand—"more than usual, for he has been very glum all this spring. Poor fellow! I daresay Louisa worries him out of his life;" and with this easy conclusion the elder brother was dismissed by the girls. "Perhaps Frank is going to be married," said the other sister, who, under the lively spur of this idea, came back to the window to gaze at him again, and find out whether any intimation of this alarming possibility could be gathered from the fit of his long clerical coat, or his manner of walk, as he sauntered along under the limes. "As if a Perpetual Curate could marry!" said Letty, with scorn, who knew the world. As for little Janet, who was a tender-hearted little soul, she folded her two hands together, and looked at her brother's back with a great increase of interest. "If one loved him, one would not mind what he was," said the little maiden, who had been in some trouble herself, and understood about such matters. So the girls talked at their window, Mrs Wentworth being, as usual, occupied with her nursery, and nobody else at hand to teach them wisdom, and soon branched off into speculations about the post-bag, which was "due," and which, perhaps, was almost more interesting, to one of them at least, than even a brother who was going to be married.