Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 35

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Chapter XXXV

 

Mr Wentworth's day had been closely occupied up to this point. He had gone through a great many emotions, and transacted a good deal of business, and he went home with the comparative ease of a man whose anxieties are relieved, not by any real deliverance, but by the soothing influence of fatigue and the sense of something accomplished. He was not in reality in a better position than when he left his house in the morning, bitterly mortified, injured, and wounded at the tenderest point. Things were very much the same as they had been, but a change had come over the feelings of the Perpetual Curate. He remembered with a smile, as he went down Grange Lane, that Mr Proctor was to dine with him, and that he had rashly undertaken to have something better than a chop. It was a very foolish engagement under the circumstances. Mr Wentworth was cogitating within himself whether he could make an appeal to the sympathies of his aunt's cook for something worthy of the sensitive palate of a Fellow of All-Souls, when all such thoughts were suddenly driven out of his mind by the apparition of his brother Gerald—perhaps the last man in the world whom he could have expected to see in Carlingford. Gerald was coming up Grange Lane in his meditative way from Mrs Hadwin's door. To look at him was enough to reveal to any clear-sighted spectator the presence of some perpetual argument in his mind. Though he had come out to look for Frank, his eyes were continually forsaking his intention, catching spots of lichen on the wall and clumps of herbage on the roadside. The long discussion had become so familiar to him, that even now, when his mind was made up, he could not relinquish the habit which possessed him. When he perceived Frank, he quickened his steps. They met with only such a modified expression of surprise on the part of the younger brother as was natural to a meeting of English kinsfolk. "I heard Louisa's voice in my aunt's drawing-room," said Frank; "but, oddly enough, it never occurred to me that you might have come with her;" and then Gerald turned with the Curate. When the ordinary family questions were asked and answered, a silence ensued between the two. As for Frank, in the multiplicity of his own cares, he had all but forgotten his brother; and Gerald's mind, though full of anxiety, had something of the calm which might be supposed to subdue the senses of a dying man. He was on the eve of a change, which appeared to him almost as great as death; and the knowledge of that gave him a curious stillness of composure—almost a reluctance to speak. Strangely enough, each brother at this critical moment felt it necessary to occupy himself with the affairs of the other, and to postpone the consideration of his own.

"I hope you have changed your mind a little since we last met," said Frank; "your last letter—"

"We'll talk of that presently," said the elder brother; "in the mean time I want to know about you. What is all this? My father is in a great state of anxiety. He does not seem to have got rid of his fancy that you were somehow involved with Jack—and Jack is here," said Gerald, with a look which betokened some anxiety on his own part. "I wish you would give me your confidence. Right or wrong, I have come to stand by you, Frank," said the Rector of Wentworth, rather mournfully. He had been waiting at Mrs Hadwin's for the last two hours. He had seen that worthy woman's discomposed looks, and felt that she did not shake her head for nothing. Jack had been the bugbear of the family for a long time past. Gerald was conscious of adding heavily at the present moment to the Squire's troubles. Charley was at Malta, in indifferent health; all the others were boys. There was only Frank to give the father a little consolation; and now Frank, it appeared, was most deeply compromised of all; no wonder Gerald was sad. And then he drew forth the anonymous letter which had startled all the Wentworths on the previous night. "This is written by somebody who hates you," said the elder brother; "but I suppose there must be some meaning in it. I wish you would be frank with me, and tell me what it is."

This appeal had brought them to Mrs Hadwin's door, which the Curate opened with his key before he answered his brother. The old lady herself was walking in the garden in a state of great agitation, with a shawl thrown over the best cap, which she had put on in honour of the stranger. Mrs Hadwin's feelings were too much for her at that moment. Her head was nodding with the excitement of age, and injured virtue trembled in every line of her face. "Mr Wentworth, I cannot put up with it any longer; it is a thing I never was used to," she cried, as soon as the Curate came within hearing. "I have shut my eyes to a great deal, but I cannot bear it any longer. If I had been a common lodging-house keeper, I could not have been treated with less respect; but to be outraged—to be insulted—"