Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 25

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Chapter XXV


The Curate got up very early next morning. He had his sermon to write and it was Saturday, and all the events of the week had naturally enough unsettled his mind, and indisposed him for sermon-writing. When the events of life come fast upon a man, it is seldom that he finds much pleasure in abstract literary composition, and the style of the Curate of St Roque's was not of that hortatory and impassioned character which sometimes gives as much relief to the speaker as excitement to the audience. So he got up in the early sweetness of the summer morning, when nobody but himself was astir in the house, with the sense of entering upon a task, and taking up work which was far from agreeable to him. When he came into the little room which he used as a study, and threw the window open, and breathed the delicious air of the morning, which was all thrilling and trembling with the songs of birds, Mr Wentworth's thoughts were far from being concentrated upon any one subject. He sat down at his writing-table and arranged his pens and paper, and wrote down the text he had selected; and when he had done so much, and could feel that he had made a beginning, he leaned back in his chair, and poised the idle pen on his finger, and abandoned himself to his thoughts. He had so much to think about. There was Wodehouse under the same roof, with whom he had felt himself constrained to remonstrate very sharply on the previous night. There was Jack, so near, and certainly come to Carlingford on no good errand. There was Gerald, in his great perplexity and distress, and the household at home in their anxiety; and last, but worst of all, his fancy would go fluttering about the doors of the sick chamber in Grange Lane, longing and wondering. He asked himself what it could be which had raised that impalpable wall between Lucy and himself—that barrier too strong to be overthrown, too ethereal to be complained of; and wondered over and over again what her thoughts were towards him—whether she thought of him at all, whether she was offended, or simply indifferent?—a question which any one else who had observed Lucy as closely could have solved without any difficulty, but which, to the modest and true love of the Perpetual Curate, was at present the grand doubt of all the doubts in the universe. With this matter to settle, and with the consciousness that it was still only five o'clock, and that he was at least one hour beforehand with the world, it is easy to understand why Mr Wentworth mused and loitered over his work, and how, when it was nearly six o'clock, and Sarah and the cook were beginning to stir from their sleep, there still remained only the text written upon the sermon-paper, which was so nicely arranged before him on the table. "When the wicked man turneth away from the evil of his ways, and doeth that which is lawful and right."—This was the text; but sitting at the open window, looking out into the garden, where the birds, exempt, as they seemed to think, for once from the vulgar scrutiny of man, were singing at the pitch of all their voices as they prepared for breakfast; and where the sweet air of the morning breathed into his mind a freshness and hopefulness which youth can never resist, and seduced his thoughts away from all the harder problems of his life to dwell upon the sweeter trouble of that doubt about Lucy,—was not the best means of getting on with his work. He sat thus leaning back—sometimes dipping his pen in the ink, and hovering over the paper for two or three seconds at a time, sometimes reading over the words, and making a faint effort to recall his own attention to them; for, on the whole, perhaps, it is not of much use getting up very early in the morning when the chief consequence of it is, that a man feels he has an hour to spare, and a little time to play before he begins.