Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 39

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Chapter XXXIX

 

Mr Morgan did not go home direct from the investigation of the morning; on the contrary, he paid various visits, and got through a considerable amount of parish business, before he turned his face towards the Rectory. On the whole, his feelings were far from being comfortable. He did not know, certainly, who Mr Wentworth's witness was, but he had an unpleasant conviction that it was somebody who would clear the Curate. "Of course I shall be very glad," the Rector said to himself; but it is a fact, that in reality he was far from being glad, and that a secret conviction of this sentiment, stealing into his mind, made matters still more uncomfortable. This private sense of wishing evil to another man, of being unwilling and vexed to think well of his neighbour, was in itself enough to disturb the Rector's tranquillity; and when to this was added the aggravation that his wife had always been on the other side, and had warned him against proceeding, and might, if she pleased, say, "I told you so," it will be apparent that Mr Morgan's uneasiness was not without foundation. Instead of going home direct to acquaint his wife with the circumstances, about which he knew she must be curious, it was late in the afternoon before the Rector opened his own gate. Even then he went through the garden with a reluctant step, feeling it still more difficult to meet her now than it would have been at first, although his delay had arisen from the thought that it would be easier to encounter her keen looks after an interval. There was, however, no keen look to be dreaded at this moment. Mrs Morgan was busy with her ferns, and she did not look up as her husband approached. She went on with her occupation, examining carefully what withered fronds there might be about her favourite maidenhair, even when he stopped by her side. Though her husband's shadow fell across the plants she was tending, Mrs Morgan, for the first time in her married life, did not look up to welcome the Rector. She made no demonstration, said no word of displeasure, but only showed herself utterly absorbed in, and devoted to, her ferns. There was, to be sure, no such lover of ferns in the neighbourhood of Carlingford as the Rector's wife.

As for Mr Morgan, he stood by her side in a state of great discomfort and discomfiture. The good man's perceptions were not very clear, but he saw that she had heard from some one the issue of the morning's inquiry, and that she was deeply offended by his delay, and that, in short, they had arrived at a serious difference, the first quarrel since their marriage. Feeling himself in the wrong, Mr Morgan naturally grew angry too.

"I should like to have dinner earlier to-day," he said, with the usual indiscretion of an aggrieved husband. "Perhaps you will tell the cook, my dear. I think I should like to have it at five, if possible. It can't make much difference for one day."

Mrs Morgan raised herself up from her ferns, and no doubt it was a relief to her to find herself provided with so just a cause of displeasure. "Much difference!" cried the Rector's wife; "it is half-past four now. I wonder how you could think of such a thing, William. There is some lamb, which of course is not put down to roast yet, and the ducks. If you wish the cook to give warning immediately, you may send such a message. It is just like a man to think it would make no difference! But I must say, to do them justice," said the Rector's wife, "it is not like a man of your college!" When she had fired this double arrow, she took off her gardening gloves and lifted her basket. "I suppose you told Mr Proctor that you wished to dine early?" said Mrs Morgan, with severity, pausing on the threshold. "Of course it is quite impossible to have dinner at five unless he knows."

"Indeed I—I forgot all about Proctor," said the Rector, who now saw the inexpediency of his proposal. "On second thoughts, I see it does not matter much. But after dinner I expect some people about Mr Wentworth's business. It was not settled this morning, as I expected."

"So I heard," said Mrs Morgan. "I will tell Thomas to show them into the library," and she went indoors, carrying her basket. As for the Rector, he stood silent, looking after her, and feeling wonderfully discomfited. Had she found fault with him for his delay—had she even said "I told you so!" it would have been less overwhelming than this indifference. They had never had a quarrel before, and the effect was proportionately increased. After standing bewildered at the door for a few minutes, he retired into his study, where the change in his wife's demeanour haunted him, and obscured Mr Wentworth. Mrs Morgan sat at the head of the table at dinner with an equal want of curiosity. Even when the subject was discussed between the Rector and Mr Proctor, she asked no questions—a course of procedure very puzzling and trying to Mr Morgan, who could not make it out.