Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 31

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Chapter XXXI


"I will do what I can for you," said Mr Morgan; "yours is a very hard case, as you say. Of course it would not do for me to give any opinion—but such a thing shall not occur in Carlingford, while I am here, without being looked into," said the Rector, with dignity; "of that you may be sure."

"I don't want no more nor justice," said Elsworthy—"no more nor justice. I'm a man as has always been respected, and never interfered with nobody as didn't interfere with me. The things I've stood from my clergyman, I wouldn't have stood from no man living. The way as he'd talk, sir, of them as was a deal better than himself! We was a happy family afore Mr Wentworth came nigh of us. Most folks in Carlingford knows me. There wasn't a more industrious family in Carlingford, though I say it as shouldn't, nor one as was more content, or took things more agreeable, afore Mr Wentworth come to put all wrong."

"Mr Wentworth has been here for five years," said the Rector's wife, who was present at this interview; "have things been going wrong for all that time?"

"I couldn't describe to nobody what I've put up with," said the clerk of St Roque's, evading the question. "He hadn't the ways of such clergymen as I've been used to. Twice the pay wouldn't have made up for what I've suffered in my feelings; and I ask you, sir, is this how it's all to end? My little girl's gone," cried Elsworthy, rising into hoarse earnestness—"my little girl as was so sweet, and as everybody took notice on. She's gone, and I don't know as I'll ever see her again; and I can't get no satisfaction one way or another; and I ask you, sir, is a villain as could do such a thing to hold up his head in the town, and go on the same as ever? I aint a man as is contrairy, or as goes agin' my superiors; but it's driving me mad, that's what it's doing," said Elsworthy, wiping the moisture from his forehead. The man was trembling and haggard, changed even in his looks—his eyes were red with passion and watching, and looked like the eyes of a wild beast lying in wait for its prey. "I can't say as I've ever slept an hour since it happened," he cried; "and as for my missis, it's a-killing of her. We aint shut up, because we've got to live all the same; and because, if the poor thing come back, there's always an open door. But I'll have justice, if I was to die for it!" cried Elsworthy. "I don't ask no more than justice. If it aint to be had one way, I'll have it another. I'll set the police on him—I will. When a man's drove wild, he aint answerable for what he's a-doing; and to see him a-walking about Carlingford, and a-holding up his head, is a thing as I won't stand no longer, not if it was to be my ruin. I'm as good as ruined now, and I don't care." He broke off short with these words, and sat down abruptly on the chair Thomas had placed for him in front of the Rector's table. Up to this moment he had been standing, in his vehemence and agitation, without taking advantage of the courtesy accorded to his misfortune; now the poor man sat down by way of emphasis, and began to polish his hat round and round with his trembling hands.

As for Mr Morgan, he, on the contrary, got up and walked instinctively to the fireplace, and stood there with his back to the empty grate, contemplating the world in general with a troubled countenance, as was usual. Not to speak of his prejudice against Mr Wentworth, the Rector was moved by the sight of Elsworthy's distress; but then his wife, who unluckily had brought her needlework into the library on this particular morning, and who was in the interest of the Curate of St Roque's, was seated watchful by the window, occasionally looking up, and entirely cognisant, as Mr Morgan was aware, of everything that happened. The Rector was much embarrassed to feel himself thus standing between the two parties. "Yours is a very hard case—but it is necessary to proceed with caution, for, after all, there is not much proof," he said, faltering a little. "My dear, it is a pity to detain you from your walk," Mr Morgan continued, after a momentary pause, and looked with a flush of consciousness at his wife, whose absence would have been such a relief to him. Mrs Morgan looked up with a gracious smile.

"You are not detaining me, William—I am very much interested," said the designing woman, and immediately began to arrange and put in order what the Rector knew by experience to be a long piece of work, likely to last her an hour at least. Mr Morgan uttered a long breath, which sounded like a little snort of despair.