« AnteriorContinuar »
this answer for all the sorrows of life, I am content to take my doc. trines on the same terms,” said the Perpetual Curate; — and by this time they had come to Miss Wentworth's door. After all, perhaps it was not Gerald, except so far as he was carried by a wonderful force of human sympathy and purity of soul, who was the predestined priest
of the family. As he went up to his own room, a momentary spasm of doubt came upon the new convert —whether, perhaps, he was making a sacrifice of his life for a mistake. He hushed the thought forcibly as it rose; such impulses were no longer to be listened to. The same authority which made faith certain decided every doubt to be sin.
- CHAPTER xli.
Next morning the Curate got up with anticipations" which were far from cheerful, and a weary sense of the monotony and dulness of life. He had won his little battle, it was true; but the very victory had removed that excitement which answered in the absence of happier stimulants to keep up his heart and courage. After a struggle like that in which he had been engaged, it was hard to come again into the peaceable routine without any particular hope to enliven or happiness to cheer it, which was all he had at present to look for in his life; and it was harder still to feel the necessity of being silent, of standing apart from Lucy in her need, of shutting up in his own heart the longing he had towards her, and refraining himself from the desperate thought of uniting his genteel beggary to hers. That was the one thing which must not be thought of, and he subdued himself with an impatient sigh, and eould not but wonder, as he went down-stairs, whether, if Gerald had been less smoothly guided through the perplexing paths of life, he would have found time for all the difficulties which had driven him to take refuge in Rome. It was with this sense of hopeless restraint and ingapacity, which is perhaps of all tions the most humbling, that he went down-stairs, and found lying on his breakfast-table, the first thing that met his eye, the note which Lucy. Wodehouse had written to him on the previous night. As he read it, the earth somehow turned to the sun; the
dubious light brightened in the skies. Unawares, he had been wondering never to receive any token of sympathy, any word of encouragement from those for whom he had made so many exertions. When he had read Lucy's letter, the aspect of affairs changed considerably. To be sure nothing that she had said or could say made any difference in the facts of the case; but the Curate was young, and still liable to those changes of atmosphere which do more for an imaginative mind than real revolutions. He read the letter several times over as he lingered through his breakfast, making on the whole an agreeable meal, and finding himself repossessed of his ordinary healthful appetite. He even canvassed the signature as much in reading as Lucy had done in writing it—balancing in his mind the maidenly “truly yours” of that subscription with as many ingenious renderings of its possible meaning, as if Lucy's letter had been articles of faith. “Truly mine,” he said to himself, with a smile; which indeed meant all a lover could require; and then paused, as if he had been Dr. Lushington' or Lord Westbury, to inquire into the real force of the phrase. For after all, it is not only when signing the Articles that the bond and pledge of subscription means more than is intended. When Mr. Wentworth was able to tear himself from the agreeable casuistry of this self-discussion, he got up in much better spirits to go about his daily business. First of all, he had to see his father, and ascertain what were the Squire's intentions, and how long he meant to stay in Carlingford; and then— It occurred to the Perpetual Curate that after that, politeness demanded that he should call on the Miss Wodehouses, who had, or at least one of them, expressed so frankly their confidence in him. He could not but call to thank her, to inquire into their plans, perhaps to back aunt Leonora's invitation, which he was aware had been gratefully declined. With these ideas in his mind he went down-stairs, after brushing his hat very carefully and casting one solicitous glance in the mirror as he passed—which presented to him a very creditable reflection, an eidolon in perfect clerical apparel, without any rusty suggestions of a Perpetual Curacy. Yet a Perpetual Curacy it was which was his sole benefice or hope in his present circumstances, for he knew very well that, were all other objections at an end, neither Skelmersdale nor Wentworth could be kept open for him; and that beyond these two he had not a hope of advancement—and at the same time he was pledged to remain in Carlingford. All this, however, though discouraging enough, did not succeed in discouraging Mr. Wentworth after he had read Lucy's letter. He went down-stairs so lightly that Mrs. Hadwin, who was waiting in the parlour in her best cap, to ask if he would pardon her for making such a mistake, did not hear him pass, and sat waiting for an hour, forgetting, or rather neglecting to give any response, when the butcher came for orders—which was an unprecedented accident. Mr. Wentworth went cheerfully up Grange Lane, meeting, by a singular chance, ever so many people, who stopped to shake hands with him, or at least bowed their good wishes and friendly acknowledgments. He smiled in himself at these evidences of popular penitence, but was not the less pleased to find himself reinstated in his place in the affections and respect of Carlingford.
“After all, it was not an unnatural mistake,” he said to himself, and smiled benignly upon the excellent people who had found out the error of their own ways. Carlingford, indeed, seemed altogether in a more cheerful state than usual, and Mr. Wentworth could not but think that the community in general was
glad to find that it had been de
ceived, and so went upon his way, pleasing himself with those maxims about the ultimate prevalence of justice and truth, which make it apparent that goodness is always victorious, and wickedness punished, in the end. Somehow even a popular fallacy has an aspect of truth when it suits one's own case. The Perpetual Curate went through his aunt's garden with a conscious smile, feeling once more master of himself and his concerns. There was, to tell the truth, even a slight shade of self-content and approbation upon his handsome countenance. In the present changed state of public opinion and private feeling, he began to take some pleasure in his sacrifice. To be sure, a Perpetual Curate could not marry; but perhaps Lucy—in short, there was no telling what might happen; and it was accordingly with that delicious sense of goodness which generally attends an act of self-sacrifice, mingled with an equally delicious feeling that the act, when accomplished, might turn out no such great sacrifice after all, — which it is to be feared is the most usual way in which the sacrifices of youth are made—that the Curate walked into the hall, passing his aunt Dora's toy terrier without that violent inclination to give it a whack with his cane in passing, which was his usual state of feeling. To tell the truth, Lucy's letter had made him at peace with"all the world. When, however, he entered the dining-room, where the family were still at breakfast, Frank's serenity was unexpectedly disturbed. The first thing that met his eye was his aunt Leonora, towering over her tea-urn at the upper end of the table, holding in her hand a letter which she had just opened. The envelope had fallen in the midst of the immaculate breakfast “things,” and indeed lay, with its broad black edge on the top of the snow white lumps, in Miss Leonora's own sugarbasin; and the news had been sufficiently interesting to supend the operations of tea-making, and to bring the strong-minded woman to her feet. The first words which were audible to Frank, revealed to him the nature of the intelligence which had produced such startling effects. “He was always a contradictory man,” said Miss Leonora ; “since the first hour he was in Skelmersdale, he has made a practice of doing things at the wrong time. I don't mean to reproach the poor man now he's gone; but when he has been so long of going, what good could it do him to choose this particular moment, for no other reason that I can see, except that it was specially uncomfortable to us? What my brother has just been saying makes it all the worse,” said Miss Leonora with a look of annoyance. She had turned her head away from the door, which was at the side of the room, and had not perceived the entrance of the Curate. “As long as we could imagine that Frank was to succeed to the Rectory the thing looked comparatively easy. I beg your pardon, Gerald. Of course, you know how grieved I am—in short, that we all feel the deepest distress and vexation; but, to be sure, since you have given it up, somebody must succeed you— there can be no doubt of that.” “Not the least, my dear aunt,” said Gerald. “I am glad you grant so much. It is well to be sure of something,” said the incisive and peremptory speaker. “It would have been a painful thing for us at any time to place another person in Skelmersdale while Frank was unprovided for ; but, of course,” said Miss Leonora, sitting down suddenly, “nobody
who knows me could suppose for a minute that I would let my feelings stand in the way of my public duty. Still it is very awkward just at this moment, when Frank, on the whole, has been behaving very properly, and one can't help so far approving of him -> “I am much obliged to you, aunt Leonora,” said the Curate. 1 “Oh you are there, Frank,” said his sensible aunt; and strong-minded though she was, a slight shade of additional colour appeared for a moment on Miss Leonora's face. She paused a little, evidently diverted from the line of discourse which she had contemplated, and wavered like a vessel disturbed in its course. “The fact is, I have just had a letter announcing Mr. Shirley's death,” she continued, facing round towards her nephew, and setting off abruptly, in face of all consequences, on the new tack. “I am very sorry,” said Frank Wentworth; “though I have an old grudge at him on account of his long sermons; but as you have expected it for a year or two, I can't imagine your grief to be overwhelming,” said the Curate, with a touch of natural impertinence to be expected under the circumstances. Skelmersdale had been so long thought interesting to him, that now, when it was not in the least interesting, he got impatient of the maine, “I quite agree with you, Frank," said Miss Wentworth. Aunt Cecilia had not been able for a long time to agree with anybody. She had been, on the contrary, shaking her head and shedding a few gentle tears over Gerald's silent submission and Louisa's noisy lamentations. Everything was somehow going wrong; and she who had no power to mend, at least could not assent, and broke through her old use and wont to shake her head, which was a thing very alarming to the family. The entire party was moved by a sensation of pleasure to hear Miss Cecilia say, “I quite agree with you, Frank.”
* “You are looking better this morning, my dear aunt,” said Gerald. They had a great respect for each other these two ; but when Miss Cecilia turned to hear what her elder nephew was saying, her face lost the momentary look of approval it had worn, and she again, though very softly, almost imperceptibly, began to shake her head. “We were not asking for your sympathy,” said Miss Leonora, sharply. “Don’t talk like a saucy boy. We were talking of our own embarrassment. There is a very excellent young man, the curate of the parish, whom Julia Trench is to be married to. By the way, of course, this must put it off; but I was about to say, when you interrupted me that to give it away from you at this moment, just as you had been doing well—doing— your duty,” said Miss Leonora, with unusual hesitation, “was certainly very uncomfortable, to say the least, to us.” “Don’t let that have the slightest influence on you, I beg,” cried the Perpetual Curate, with all the F. of his years. “I hope I ave been doing my duty all along,” the young man added, more softly, a moment after; upon which the Squire gave a little nod, partly of satisfaction and encouragement to his son—partly of remonstrance and protest to his sister. “Yes, I suppose so—with the flowers at Easter, for example,” said Miss Leonora, with a slight sneer. “I consider that I have stood by tou through all this business, rank—but, of course, in so important a matter as a cure of souls, neither relationship nor, to a certain extent, approval,” said Miss Leonora, with again some hesitation “can be allowed to stand against public duty. We have the responsibility of providing a good gospel minister ** “I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Leonora,” said the Squire, “but I can't help thinking that you make a mistake. I think it's a man's bounden duty, when
there is a living in the family, to educate one of his sons for it. In my opinion, it's one of the duties of property. You have no right to live off your estate, and spend your money elsewhere ; and no more have you any right to give less than—than your own flesh and blood to the people you have the charge of You've got the charge of them to–to a certain extent —soul and body, sir,” said the Squire, growing warm, as he put down his “Times,' and forgetting that he addressed a lady. “I’d never have any peace of mind if I filled up a family living with a stranger—unless, of course,” Mr Wentworth added in a parenthesis —an unlikely sort of contingency which had not occurred to him at first—“you should happen to have no second son.—The eldest the squire, the second the rector. That's my idea, Leonora, of Church and State.” o o Miss Leonora smiled a little at her brother's semi-feudal, semi-pagan ideas. “I have long known that we were not of the same way of thinking,” said the strong-minded aunt, who, though cleverer than her brother, was too wise in her own conceit to perceive at the first glance the noble, simple conception of his own duties and position, which was implied in the honest gentleman's words. “Your second son might be either a fool or a knave, or even, although neither, might be quite unfit to be intrusted with the eternal interest of his fellow-creatures. In my opinion, the duty of choosing a clergyman is one not to be exercised without the gravest deliberation. A conscientious man would make his selection dependant, at least, upon the character of his second son—if he had one. We, however—” . “But then his character is so satisfactory, Leonora,” cried Miss Dora, feeling emboldened by the shadow of visitors under whose shield she could always retire. “Everybody knows what a good clergyman he is—I am sure it would
ture, and laid aside his paper once had written. “It is difficult to more to know what it meant
think of any consolation in such a "I am sure I beg your pardon, bereavement," wrote Mr. Shirley's Jack," said aunt Dora, suddenly niece; "but still it is a little comstopping short, and feeling guilty. fort to feel that I can throw myself “I never meant to neglect you. on your sympathy, my dear and kind Poor dear boy, he never was pro- friend." * Little calculating thing!" perly tried with female society and Miss Leonora said to herself as she the comforts of home; but then threw down the mournful epistle; you were dining out that night," and then she could not belp think said the simple woman, eagerly. ing again of Frank. To be sure, “I should have stayed with you he was not of her way of thinking; Jack, of course, had you been at but when she remembered the “inhome."
vestigation "and its result, and the From this little scene Miss Leo- secret romance involved in it, her nora turned away hastily, with an Wentworth blood sent a thrill of exclamation of impatience. She pride and pleasure through her made an abrupt end of her tea-mak- veins. Miss Leonora, though she ing, and went off to her little busi- was strong-minded, was still woness room with a grim smile upon man enough to perceive ber neher iron-grey countenance. She too phep's motives in his benevolence had been taken in a little by Jack's to Wodehouse; but these motives, pleasant farce of the Sinner Re- which were strong enough to make pentant; and it occurred to her to him endure so much annoyance, feel a little ashamed of herself as were not strong enough to tempt she went up-stairs. After all, the him from Carlingford and his Perninety-and-nine, just men of Jack's petual Curacy, where his honour irreverent quotation were worth con- and reputation, in the face of love sidering now and then; and Miss and ambition, demanded that he Leonora could not but think with a should remain. “It would be a little humiliation of the contrast pity to balk him in his self-sacri. between her nephew Frank and the fice," she said to herself, with again comfortable young Curate who was a somewhat grim smile, and a comgoing to marry Julia Trench. He parison tot much to the advantage was fat, it could not be denied; of Julia Trench and her curate. Sho and she remembered his chubby shut herself up among her papers looks, and his sermons about self. till luncheon, and only emerged with denial and mortification of the flesh, a stormy front when that meal was much as a pious Catholic might on the table; during the progress of think of the Lenten oratory of a fat which she snubbed everybody who friar. But then he was perfectly ventured to speak to her, and spoke sound in his doctrines, and it was to her nephew Frank as if he might undeniable that the people liked have been suspected of designs him, and that the appointment was upon the plate-chest. Such were one which eren a Scotch ecclesias- the unpleasant consequences of the tical community full of popular struggle between duty and inclinarights could scarcely have objected tion in the bosom of Miss Leonora; to According to her own prin- and, save for other unforeseen events ciples, the strong - minded woman which decided the matter for her, could not do otherwise. She threw it is not by any means so certain herself into her arın-chair with un- as, judging from her character, it necessary force, and read over the ought to have been, that duty would letter which Miss Trench herself have won the day.