Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 26

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Chapter XXVI


The first thing Mr Wentworth did was to hasten up-stairs to Wodehouse's room. Sarah had gone before him, and was by this time talking to her mistress, who had left the window, and stood, still in her nightcap, at the door of her own chamber. "It's something about Rosa Elsworthy, ma'am," said Sarah; "she's gone off with some one, which nothing else was to be expected; and her uncle's been a-raving and a-raging at Mr Wentworth, which proves as a gentleman should never take no notice of them shop-girls. I always heard as she was a bad lot."

"Oh, Mr Wentworth—if you would excuse my nightcap," said Mrs Hadwin—"I am so shaken and all of a tremble with that noise; I couldn't help thinking it must be a murder at the least," said the little old lady; "but I never could believe that there was anything between you and—Sarah, you may go away; I should like to talk to Mr Wentworth by himself," said Mrs Hadwin, suddenly remembering that Mr Wentworth's character must not be discussed in the presence of even her favourite maid.

"Presently," said the unhappy Curate, with mingled impatience and resignation; and, after a hasty knock at the door, he went into Wodehouse's room, which was opposite, so full of a furious anxiety to question him that he had burst into speech before he perceived that the room was empty. "Answer me this instant," he had cried, "where is Rosa Elsworthy?" and then he paused, utterly taken aback. It had not occurred to him that the culprit would be gone. He had parted with him late on the previous night, leaving him, according to appearances, in a state of sulky half-penitence; and now the first impulse of his consternation was to look in all the corners for the fugitive. The room had evidently been occupied that night; part of the Curate's own wardrobe, which he had bestowed upon his guest, lay about on the chairs, and on a little table were his tools and the bits of wood with which he did his carving. The window was open, letting in the fresh air, and altogether the apartment looked so exactly like what it might have done had the occupant gone out for a virtuous morning walk, that Mr Wentworth stopped short in blank amazement. It was a relief to him to hear the curious Sarah still rustling in the passage outside. He came out upon her so hastily that Sarah was startled. Perhaps she had been so far excited out of her usual propriety as to think of the keyhole as a medium of information.

"Where is Wode—Mr Smith?" cried the Curate; "he is not in his room—he does not generally get up so early. Where is he? Did he go out last night?"

"Not as I knows of, sir," said Sarah, who grew a little pale, and gave a second glance at the open door. "Isn't the gentleman in his room? He do take a walk in the morning, now and again," and Sarah cast an alarmed look behind to see if her mistress was still within hearing; but Mrs Hadwin, intent on questioning Mr Wentworth himself, had fortunately retired to put on her cap, and closed her door.

"Where is he?" said the Curate, firmly.

"Oh, please sir, I don't know," said Sarah, who was very near crying. "He's gone out for a walk, that's all. Oh, Mr Wentworth, don't look at me so dreadfully, and I'll tell you hall," cried the frightened girl, "hall—as true as if I was on my oath. He 'as a taking way with him," said poor Sarah, to whom the sulky and shabby rascal was radiant still with the fascinating though faded glory of "a gentleman"—"and he aint one as has been used to regular hours; and seeing as he was a friend of yours, I knew as hall was safe, Mr Wentworth; and oh, sir, if you'll not tell missis, as might be angry. I didn't mean no harm; and knowing as he was a friend of yours, I let him have the key of the little door."

Here Sarah put her apron to her eyes; she did not cry much into it, or wet it with her tears—but under its cover she peeped at Mr Wentworth, and, encouraged by his looks, which did not seem to promise any immediate catastrophe, went on with her explanation.