Margaret Oliphant, The Perpetual Curate: Ch. 43

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Chapter XLIII


These were eventful days in Grange Lane, when gossip was not nearly rapid enough to follow the march of events. When Mr Wentworth went to lunch with his family, the two sisters kept together in the drawing-room, which seemed again re-consecrated to the purposes of life. Lucy had not much inclination just at that moment to move out of her chair; she was not sociable, to tell the truth, nor disposed to talk even about the new prospects which were brightening over both. She even took out her needlework, to the disgust of her sister. "When there are so many things to talk about, and so much to be considered," Miss Wodehouse said, with a little indignation; and wondered within herself whether Lucy was really insensible to "what had happened," or whether the sense of duty was strong upon her little sister even in the height of her happiness. A woman of greater experience or discrimination might have perceived that Lucy had retired into that sacred silence, sweetest of all youthful privileges, in which she could dream over to herself the wonderful hour which had just come to an end, and the fair future of which it was the gateway. As for Miss Wodehouse herself, she was in a flutter, and could not get over the sense of haste and confusion which this last new incident had brought upon her. Things were going too fast around her, and the timid woman was out of breath. Lucy's composure at such a moment, and, above all, the production of her needlework, was beyond the comprehension of the elder sister.

"My dear," said Miss Wodehouse, with an effort, "I don't doubt that these poor people are badly off, and I am sure it is very good of you to work for them; but if you will only think how many things there are to do! My darling, I am afraid you will have to—to make your own dresses in future, which is what I never thought to see," she said, putting her handkerchief to her eyes; "and we have not had any talk about anything, Lucy, and there are so many things to think of!" Miss Wodehouse, who was moving about the room as she spoke, began to lift her own books and special property off the centre table. The books were principally ancient Annuals in pretty bindings, which no representation on Lucy's part could induce her to think out of date; and among her other possessions was a little desk in Indian mosaic, of ivory, which had been an institution in the house from Lucy's earliest recollection. "And these are yours, Lucy dear," said Miss Wodehouse, standing up on a chair to take down from the wall two little pictures which hung side by side. They were copies both, and neither of great value; one representing the San Sisto Madonna, and the other a sweet St Agnes, whom Lucy had in her earlier days taken to her heart. Lucy's slumbering attention was roused by this sacrilegious act. She gave a little scream, and dropped her work out of her hands.

"What do I mean?" said Miss Wodehouse; "indeed, Lucy dear, we must look it in the face. It is not our drawing-room any longer, you know." Here she made a pause, and sighed; but somehow a vision of the other drawing-room which was awaiting her in the new rectory, made the prospect less doleful than it might have been. She cleared up in a surprising way as she turned to look at her own property on the table. "My cousin Jack gave me this," said the gentle woman, brushing a little dust off her pretty desk. "When it came first, there was nothing like it in Carlingford, for that was before Colonel Chiley and those other Indian people had settled here. Jack was rather fond of me in those days, you know, though I never cared for him," the elder sister continued, with a smile. "Poor fellow! they said he was not very happy when he married." Though this was rather a sad fact, Miss Wodehouse announced it not without a certain gentle satisfaction. "And, Lucy dear, it is our duty to put aside our own things; they were all presents, you know," she said, standing up on the chair again to reach down the St Agnes, which, ever since Lucy had been confirmed, had hung opposite to her on the wall.

"Oh, don't, don't!" cried Lucy. In that little bit of time, not more than five minutes as it appeared, the familiar room, which had just heard the romance of her youth, had come to have a dismantled and desolate look. The agent of this destruction, who saw in her mind's eye a new scene, altogether surpassing the old, looked complacently upon her work, and piled the abstracted articles on the top of each other, with a pleasant sense of property.