Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 28

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Chapter XXVIII


Mrs Morgan was in the garden watering her favourite ferns when her husband returned home to dinner on the day of Mr Wodehouse's death. The Rector was late, and she had already changed her dress, and was removing the withered leaves from her prettiest plant of maidenhair, and thinking, with some concern, of the fish, when she heard his step on the gravel; for the cook at the Rectory was rather hasty in her temper, and was apt to be provoking to her mistress next morning when the Rector chose to be late. It was a very hot day, and Mr Morgan was flushed and uncomfortable. To see his wife looking so cool and tranquil in her muslin dress rather aggravated him than otherwise, for she did not betray her anxiety about the trout, but welcomed him with a smile, as she felt it her duty to do, even when he was late for dinner. The Rector looked as if all the anxieties of the world were on his shoulders, as he came hurriedly along the gravel; and Mrs Morgan's curiosity was sufficiently excited by his looks to have overcome any consideration but that of the trout, which, however, was too serious to be trifled with; so, instead of asking questions, she thought it wiser simply to remind her husband that it was past six o'clock. "Dinner is waiting," she said, in her composed way; and the Rector went up-stairs to wash his hands, half disposed to be angry with his wife. He found her already seated at the head of the table when he came down after his rapid ablutions; and though he was not particularly quick of perception, Mr Morgan perceived, by the looks of the servant as well as the mistress, that he was generally disapproved of throughout the household for being half an hour too late. As for Thomas, he was at no pains to conceal his sentiments, but conducted himself with distant politeness towards his master, expressing the feelings of the household with all the greater freedom that he had been in possession of the Rectory since Mr Bury's time, and felt himself more secure in his tenure than any incumbent, as was natural to a man who had already outlived two of these temporary tenants. Mr Morgan was disposed to be conciliatory when he saw the strength of the opposite side.

"I am a little late today," said the politic Rector. "Mr Leeson was with me, and I did not want to bring him home to dinner. It was only on Wednesday he dined with us, and I know you don't care for chance guests."

"I think it shows a great want of sense in Mr Leeson to think of such a thing," said Mrs Morgan, responding by a little flush of anger to the unlucky Curate's name. "He might understand that people like to be by themselves now and then. I am surprised that you give in to him so much as you do, William. Good-nature must stop somewhere, and I think it is always best to draw a line."

"I wish it were possible for everybody to draw a line," said the Rector, mysteriously, with a sigh. "I have heard something that has grieved me very much to-day. I will tell you about it afterwards." When he had said this, Mr Morgan addressed himself sadly to his dinner, sighing over it, as if that had something to do with his distress.

"Perhaps, ma'am," suggested Thomas, who was scarcely on speaking terms with his master, "the Rector mayn't have heard as Mr Wodehouse has been took very bad again, and aint expected to see out the night."