Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 23

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Chapter XXIII


The Curate went to breakfast next morning with a little curiosity and a great deal of painful feeling. He had been inhospitable to his brother, and a revulsion had happened such as happens invariably when a generous man is forced by external circumstances to show himself churlish. Though his good sense and his pride alike prevented him from changing his resolution of the previous night, still his heart had relented toward Jack, and he felt sorry and half ashamed to meet the brother to whom he had shown so much temper and so little kindness. It was much later than usual when he came down-stairs, and Jack was just coming out of the comfortable chamber which belonged of right to his brother, when the Curate entered the sitting-room. Jack was in his dressing-gown, as on the previous night, and came forth humming an air out of the 'Trovatore,' and looking as wholesomely fresh and clean and dainty as the most honest gentleman in England. He gave his brother a good-humoured nod, and wished him good morning. "I am glad to see you don't keep distressingly early hours," he said, between the bars of the air he was humming. He was a man of perfect digestion, like all the Wentworths, and got up accordingly, in a good temper, not disposed to make too much of any little incivility that might have taken place. On the contrary, he helped himself to his brother's favourite omelet with the most engaging cheerfulness, and entered into such conversation as might be supposed to suit a Perpetual Curate in a little country town.

"I daresay you have a good many nice people about here," said Jack. "I've done nothing but walk about since I came—and it does a man good to see those fresh little women with their pink cheeks. There's one, a sister of our friend's, I believe," he continued, with a nod towards the door to indicate Wodehouse—"an uncommonly pretty girl, I can tell you; and there's a little rosebud of a creature at that shop, whom, they tell me, you're interested in. Your living is not worth much, I suppose? It's unlucky having two clergymen in a family; but, to be sure, you're going in for Skelmersdale. By the way, that reminds me—how are the aunts? I have not heard anything of them for ages. Female relations of that description generally cling to the parsons of the race. I suppose they are all living—all three? Some people never seem to die."

"They are here," said the Curate, succinctly, "living in Carlingford. I wonder nobody has told you."

A sudden bright spark lighted in the prodigal's eyes. "Ah, they are here, are they?" he said, after a momentary pause; "so much the better for you; but in justice you ought to be content with the living. I say so as your elder brother. Gerald has the best right to what they've got to leave. By the by, how are Gerald and the rest? you've just been there. I suppose our respected parent goes on multiplying. To think of so many odious little wretches calling themselves Wentworth is enough to make one disgusted with the name."

"My father was very ill when I left; he has had another attack," said the Curate. "He does not seem able to bear any agitation. Your telegram upset him altogether. I don't know what you've been about—he did not tell me," continued the younger brother, with a little emotion, "but he is very uneasy about you."

"Ah, I daresay," said Jack; "that's natural; but he's wonderfully tough for such an old fellow. I should say it would take twenty attacks to finish him; and this is the second, isn't it? I wonder how long an interval there was between the two; it would be a pretty calculation for a post-obit. Wodehouse seems to have brought his ancestor down at the first shot almost; but then there's no entail in his case, and the old fellow may have made a will. I beg your pardon; you don't like this sort of talk. I forgot you were a clergyman. I rather like this town of yours, do you know. Sweet situation, and good for the health, I should say. I'll take your advice, I think, about the—how did you call it?—Black Boar. Unless, indeed, some charitable family would take me in," said the elder brother, with a glance from under his eyelids. His real meaning did not in the least degree suggest itself to the Curate, who was thinking more of what was past than of what was to come.

"You seem to take a great interest in Wodehouse?" said Mr Wentworth.