Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 30

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Chapter XXX


"I don't know what is the exact connection between tea and reformation," said Jack Wentworth, with a wonderful yawn. "When I consider that this is all on account of that stupid beast Wodehouse, I feel disposed to eat him. By the way, they have got a capital cook; I did not think such a cuisine was the sort of thing to be found in the bosom of one's family, which has meant boiled mutton up to this moment, to my uninstructed imagination. But the old ladies are in a state of excitement which, I presume, is unusual to them. It appears you have been getting into scrapes like other people, though you are a parson. As your elder brother, my dear Frank—"

"Look here," said the Perpetual Curate; "you want to ask about Wodehouse. I will answer your questions, since you seem to have some interest in him; but I don't speak of my private affairs to any but my intimate friends," said Mr Wentworth, who was not in a humour to be trifled with.

The elder brother shrugged his shoulders. "It is curious to remark the progress of the younger members of one's family," he said, reflectively. "When you were a little boy, you took your drubbings dutifully; but never mind, we've another subject in hand. I take an interest in Wodehouse, and so do you—I can't tell for what reason. Perhaps he is one of the intimate friends with whom you discuss your private affairs? but that is a matter quite apart from the subject. The thing is that he has to be taken care of—not for his own sake, as I don't need to explain to you," said Jack. "I hear the old fellow died today, which was the best thing he could have done, upon the whole. Perhaps you can tell me how much he had, and how he has left it? We may have to take different sides, and the fellow himself is a snob; but I should like to understand exactly the state of affairs between you and me as gentlemen," said the heir of the Wentworths. Either a passing spasm of compunction passed over him as he said the word, or it was the moon, which had just flung aside the last fold of cloud and burst out upon them as they turned back facing her. "When we know how the affair stands, we can either negotiate or fight," he added, puffing a volume of smoke from his cigar. "Really a very fine effect—that little church of yours comes well against that bit of sky. It looks like a Constable, or rather it would look like a Constable, thrusting up that bit of spire into the blue, if it happened to be daylight," said Jack, making a tube of his hand, and regarding the picture with great interest. Miss Dora at her window beheld the movement with secret horror and apprehension, and took it for some mysterious sign.

"I know nothing about Mr Wodehouse's property," said the Curate: "I wish I knew enough law to understand it. He has left no will, I believe;" and Mr Wentworth watched his brother's face with no small interest as he spoke.

"Very like a Constable," said Jack, still with his hands to his eyes. "These clouds to the right are not a bad imitation of some effects of his. I beg your pardon, but Constable is my passion. And so old Wodehouse has left no will? What has he left? some daughters? Excuse my curiosity," said the elder brother. "I am a man of the world, you know. If you like this other girl well enough to compromise yourself on her account (which, mind you, I think a great mistake), you can't mean to go in at the same time for that pretty sister, eh? It's a sort of sport I don't attempt myself—though it may be the correct thing for a clergyman, for anything I can tell to the contrary," said the tolerant critic.