« PreviousContinue »
worth's Anglican coat. These two last were not see the sudden look of dismay and young people, with that indefinable harmony amazement which the curate of St. Roque's in their looks which prompts the suggestion darted down upon her, nor the violent symof "a handsome couple" to the bystander. pathetic blush which blazed over both the It had not even occurred to them to be in young faces. How shocking that elderly love with each other, so far as anybody quiet people should have such a faculty for knew, yet few were the undiscerning persons suggestions! You may be sure Lucy Wodewho saw them together without instinctively house and young Wentworth, had it not placing the young curate of St. Roque's in been "put into their heads " in such an abpermanence by Lucy's side. She was twenty, surd fashion, would never, all their virtuous pretty, blue-eyed, and full of dimples, with lives, have dreamt of any thing but frienda broad Leghorn hat thrown carelessly on ship. Deep silence ensued after this simple her head, untied, with broad strings of blue but startling speech. Miss Wodehouse ribbon falling among her fair curls-a blue knitted on, and took no notice; Lucy began which was "repeated," according to painter to gather up the flowers into the basket, unjargon, in ribbons at her throat and waist. able for her life to think of something to She had great gardening-gloves on, and a say. For his part, Mr. Wentworth gravely basket and huge pair of scissors on the grass picked the apple-blossoms off his coat, and at her feet, which grass, besides, was strewn counted them in his hand. That sweet sumwith a profusion of all the sweetest spring mer snow kept dropping, dropping, falling blossoms-the sweet narcissus, most exquis- here and there as the wind carried it, and ite of flowers, lilies of the valley, white and with a special attraction to Lucy and her blue blue hyacinths, golden ranunculus globes-ribbons; while behind, Miss Wodehouse sat worlds of sober, deep-breathing wallflower. calmly on the green bench, under the MayIf Lucy had been doing what her kind elder sister called her "duty," she would have been at this moment arranging her flowers in the drawing-room; but the times were rare when Lucy did her duty according to Miss Wodehouse's estimate; so instead of arranging those clusters of narcissus, she clubbed them together in her hands into a fragrant, dazzling sheaf, and discussed the new rector-not unaware, perhaps, in her secret heart, that the sweet morning, the sunshine and flowers, and exhilarating air, were somehow secretly enhanced by the presence of that black Anglican figure under the apple-trees.
"But I suppose," said Lucy, with a sigh, "we must wait till we see him; and if I must be very respectful of Mr. Bury because he christened me, I am heartily glad the new rector has no claim upon my reverence. I have been christened, I have been confirmed-"
tree just beginning to bloom, without lifting her eyes from her knitting. Not far off, the bright English house, all beaming with open doors and windows, shone in the sunshine. With the white May peeping out among the green overhead, and the sweet narcissus in a great dazzling sheaf upon the grass, making all the air fragrant around them, can anybody fancy a sweeter domestic out-ofdoor scene? or else it seemed so to the perpetual curate of St. Roque's.
Ah me! and if he was to be perpetual curate, and none of his great friends thought upon him, or had preferment to bestow, how do you suppose he could ever, ever marry Lucy Wodehouse, if they were to wait a hundred years?
Just then the garden-gate-the green gate in the wall-opened to the creaking murmur of Mr. Wodehouse's own key. Mr. Wodehouse was a man who creaked universally. His boots were a heavy infliction upon the "But, Lucy, my dear, the chances are he good-humor of his household; and like every will marry you," said Miss Wodehouse, other invariable quality of dress, the peculcalmly; "indeed, there can be no doubt iarity became identified with him in every that it is only natural he should, for he is particular of his life. Every thing belongthe rector, you know; and though we go so ing to him moved with a certain jar, except, often to St. Roque's, Mr. Wentworth will indeed, his household, which went on noiseexcuse me saying that he is a very young less wheels, thanks to Lucy and love. As man." he came along the garden-path, the gravel Miss Wodehouse was knitting; she did started all round his unmusical foot. Miss
Wodehouse alone turned round to hail her father's approach, but both the young people looked up at her instinctively, and saw her little start, the falling of her knitting-needles, the little flutter of color which surprise brought to her maidenly, middle-aged cheek. How they both divined it I cannot tell, but it certainly was no surprise to either of them when a tall, embarrassed figure, following the portly one of Mr. Wodehouse stepped suddenly from the noisy gravel to the quiet grass, and stood gravely awkward behind the father of the house.
take Lucy. Though she has her gardengloves on, she's manager indoors for all that. Molly here is the one we coddle up and take care of. Put down your knitting, child, and don't make an old woman of yourself. To be sure, it's your own concern-you should know best; but that's my opinion. Why, Wentworth, where are you off to? "Tisn't a fast, surely-is it, Mary ?-nothing of the sort; it's Thursday-Thursday, do you hear? and the rector newly arrived. Come along." "I am much obliged, but I have an appointment," began the curate, with restraint. 'My dear children, here's the rector-de- 'Why didn't you keep it, then, before we lighted to see him! we're all delighted to came in," cried Mr. Wodehouse, chatting see him!" cried Mr. Wodehouse. "This is with a couple of girls like Lucy and Mary ? my little girl Lucy, and this is my eldest Come along, come along an appointment daughter. They're both as good as curates, with some old woman or other, who wants to though I say it, you know, as shouldn't. I screw flannels and things out of you-weil, suppose you've got something tidy for lunch, I suppose so! I don't know any thing else Lucy, eh? To be sure you ought to know you could have to say to them. Come -how can I tell? She might have had only along." cold mutton, for any thing I knew-and "Thank you. I shall hope to wait on that wont do, you know, after college fare. the rector shortly," said young Wentworth, Hollo, Wentworth! I beg your pardon-more and more stiffly; "but at present I who thought of seeing you here? I thought am sorry it is not in my power. Good-mornyou had morning service, and all that sort ing, Miss Wodehouse-good-morning; I am of thing. Delighted to make you known to happy to have had the opportunity" and the rector SO soon. Mr. Proctor-Mr. the voice of the perpetual curate died off Wentworth of St. Roque's." into vague murmurs of politeness as he made his way towards the green door.
That green door! what a slight, paltry barrier-one plank, and no more; but outside a dusty, dry road, nothing to be seen but other high brick walls, with here and there an apple-tree or a lilac, or the half-developed flower-turrets of a chestnut looking over-nothing to be seen but a mean little costermonger's cart, with a hapless donkey, and, down in the direction of St. Roque's, the long road winding, still drier and dustier. Ah me! was it paradise inside? or was it only a merely mortal lawn dropped over with apple-blossoms, blue ribbons, and other vanities? Who could tell? The per
The rector bowed. He had no time to say any thing, fortunately for him; but a vague sort of color fluttered over his face. It was his first living; and cloistered in All-Souls for fifteen years of his life, how is a man to know all at once how to accost his parishioners ? especially when these curious unknown specimens of natural life happen to be female creatures, doubtless accustomed to compliment and civility. If ever any one was thankful to hear the sound of another man's voice, that person was the new rector of Carlingford, standing in the bewildering garden-scene into which the green door had so suddenly admitted him, all but treading on the dazzling bundle of narcissus, and turn-petual curate wended sulky on his way. I ing with embarrassed politeness from the perpetual curate, whose salutation was less cordial than it might have been, to those indefinite flutters of blue ribbon from which Mr. Proctor's tall figure divided the ungracious young man.
fear the old woman would have made neither flannel nor tea and sugar out of him in that inhuman frame of mind.
"Dreadful young prig that young Wentworth," said Mr. Wodehouse, "but comes of a great family, you know, and gets greatly "But come along to lunch. Bless me! taken notice of-to be sure he does, child. don't let us be too ceremonious," cried Mr. I suppose it's for his family's sake: I can't Wodehouse. "Take Lucv, my dear sir-see into people's hearts. It may be higher
motives, to be sure, and all that. He's gone off in a huff about something; never mind, luncheon comes up all the same. Now let's address ourselves to the business of life."
"You couldn't have a better chance. They're head people in Carlingford, though I say it. There's Mary, she's a learned woman; take you up in a false quantity, sir, a deal sooner than I should. And Lucy, she's in another line altogether; but there's quantities of people swear by her. What's the matter, children, eh? I suppose so-people tell me so. If people tell me so all day long, I'm entitled to believe it, I presume?"
Lucy answered this by a burst of laugh
For when Mr. Wodehouse took knife and fork in hand a singular result followed. He was silent-at least he talked no longer: the mystery of carving, of eating, of drinking all the serious business of the table -engrossed the good man. He had nothing more to say for the moment; and then a dread, unbroken silence fell upon the lit-ter, not loud but cordial, which rung sweet tle company. The rector colored, faltered, and strange upon the rector's ears. Miss cleared his throat-he had not an idea how to get into conversation with such unknown entities. He looked hard at Lucy, with a bold intention of addressing her; but, having the bad fortune to meet her eye, shrank back, and withdrew the venture. Then the good man inclined his profile towards Miss Wodehouse. His eyes wandered wildly round the room in search of a suggestion; but, alas! it was a mere dining-room, very comfortable, but not imaginative. In this dreadful dilemma he was infinitely relieved by the sound of somebody's voice.
"I trust you will like Carlingford, Mr. Proctor," said Miss Wodehouse, mildly.
"Yes-oh, yes; I trust so," answered the confused but grateful man; "that is, it will depend very much, of course, on the kind of people I find here."
"Well, we are a little vain. To tell the truth, indeed, we rather pride ourselves a little on the good society in Carlingford," said the gentle and charitable interlocutor. "Ah, yes-ladies?" said the rector: "hum—that was not what I was thinking of."
"But, O, Mr. Proctor," cried Lucy, with a sudden access of fun, "you don't mean to say that you dislike ladies' society, I hope?"
The rector gave an uneasy, half-frightened glance at her. The creature was dangerous even to a Fellow of All-Souls.
"I may say I know very little about them," said the bewildered clergyman. As soon as he had said the words he thought they sounded rude; but how could he help it ?the truth of his speech was indisputable.
Wodehouse, on the contrary, looked a little ashamed, blushed a pretty pink, old-maidenly blush, and mildly remonstrated with papa. The whole scene was astonishing to the stranger. He had been living out of nature so long that he wondered within himself whether it was common to retain the habits and words of childhood to such an age as that which good Miss Wodehouse put no disguise upon, or if sisters with twenty years of difference between them were usual in ordinary households. He looked at them with looks which to Miss Wodehouse appeared disapproving, but which in reality meant only surprise and discomfort. He was exceedingly glad when lunch was over, and he was at liberty to take his leave. With very different feelings from those of young Wentworth, the rector crossed the boundary of that green door. When he saw it closed behind him he drew a long breath of relief, and looked up and down the dusty road, and through those lines of garden walls, where the loads of blossoms burst over everywhere, with a sensation of having escaped and got at liberty. After a momentary pause and gaze round him in enjoyment of that liberty, the rector gave a start and went on again rapidly. A dismayed, discomfited, helpless sensation came over him. These parishioners!-these female parishioners! From out of another of those green doors had just emerged a brilliant group of ladies, the rustle of whose dress and murmur of whose voices he could hear in the genteel half-rural silence. The rector bolted: he never slackened pace nor drew breath till he was safe in the vacant library of the rectory, among old Mr. Bury's book-shelves. seemed the only safe place in Carlingford to the languishing transplanted Fellow of All
"Come here, and we'll initiate youcome here as often as you can spare us a little of your time," cried Mr. Wodehouse, who had come to a pause in his operations. Souls.
start and re-ascend. Five years ago, old Mrs. Proctor had completed the human term; now she had recommenced her life.
A MONTH later, Mr. Proctor had got fairly settled in his new rectory, with a complete modest establishment becoming his means But, to tell the very truth, the rector would -for Carlingford was a tolerable living. very fain, had that been possible, have conAnd in the newly furnished, sober drawing- fined her inquiries to books and public afroom, sat a very old lady, lively, but infirm, fairs. For to make confidential disclosures, who was the rector's mother. Nobody knew either concerning one's self or other people, that this old woman kept the Fellow of All-in a tone of voice perfectly audible in the Souls still a boy at heart, nor that the re- kitchen, is somewhat trying. He had beserved and inappropriate man forgot his come acquainted with those dread parishionawkwardness in his mother's presence. He ers of his during this interval. Already they was not only a very affectionate son, but a had worn him to death with dinner-parties dutiful good child to her. It had been his dinner-parties very pleasant and friendly, pet scheme for years to bring her from her when one got used to them; but to a stranDevonshire cottage, and make her mistress ger frightful reproductions of each other, of his house. That had been the chief at- with the same dishes, the same dresses, the traction, indeed, which drew him to Carling- same stories, in which the rector communiford; for had he consulted his own tastes, cated gravely with his next neighbor, and and kept to his college, who would insure eluded as long as he could those concluding him that at seventy-five his old mother might moments in the drawing-room, which were not glide away out of life without that last worst of all. It cannot be said that his pagleam of sunshine long intended for her by rishioners made much progress in their her grateful son? knowledge of the rector. What his "views" were, nobody could divine any more than they could before his arrival. He made no innovations whatever; but he did not pursue Mr. Bury's Evangelical ways, and never preached a sermon or a word more than was absolutely necessary. When zealous churchmen discussed the progress of dissent, the rector scarcely looked interested; and nobody could move him to express an opinion concerning all that lovely upholstery with which Mr. Wentworth had decorated St. Roque's. People asked in vain, what was he? He was neither High or Low, enlightened nor narrow-minded; he was a Fellow of All-Souls.
This scene, accordingly, was almost the only one which reconciled him to the extraordinary change in his life. There she sat, the lively old lady; very deaf, as you could almost divine by that vivid inquiring twinkle in her eyes; feeble, too, for she had a silverheaded cane beside her chair, and even with that assistance seldom moved across the room when she could help it. Feeble in body, but alert in mind, ready to read any thing, to hear any thing, to deliver her opinions freely; resting in her big chair in the complete repose of age, gratified with her son's attentions, and overjoyed in his company; interested about every thing, and as ready to enter into all the domestic concerns of the new people as if she had lived all her life among them. The rector sighed and smiled as he listened to his mother's questions, and did his best at the top of his voice, to enlighten her. His mother was, let us say, a hundred years or so younger than the rector. If she had been his bride, and at the blithe commencement of life, she could not have shown more inclination to know all about Carlingford. Mr. Proctor was middle-aged, and pre-occupied by right of his years; but his mother had long ago got over that stage of life. She was at that point when some energetic natures, having got to the bottom of the hill, seem to make a fresh
question, and, as she did so, tapped him pretty smartly on the arm to recall his wandering thoughts.
I like in your manner of expressing your self, Morley, is its conciseness," said the laughing old lady. "Just so-exactly what I imagined; but being an ass, you know, "One's one thing," at last shouted the doesn't account for him coming here so often. confused man, “and t'other's another!" An What is he besides, my dear?" oracular deliverance which surely must have The rector made spasmodic gestures tow-been entirely unintelligible in the kitchen, ards the door, to the great amusement of where we will not deny that an utterance so his lively mother; and then produced, with incomprehensible awoke a laudable curiosity. much confusion, and after a long search, his 'My dear, you're lucid!" cried the old pocket-book, on a leaf of paper in which he lady. "I hope you don't preach like that. wrote-loudly, in big characters-" He's a "T'other's another!—is she so? and I supchurchwarden-they'll hear in the kitchen." pose that's the one you're wanted to marry "He's a churchwarden! And what if they-ch? For shame, Morley, not to tell your do hear in the kitchen?" cried the old lady, mother!" greatly amused; "it isn't a sin. Well, now, let me hear: has he a family, Morley?"
Again Mr. Proctor showed a little discomposure. After a troubled look at the door, and pause, as if he meditated a remonstrance, he changed his mind, and answered, "Two daughters!" shouting sepulchrally into his mother's ear.
"Oh, so!" cried the old lady "two daughters-so, so that explains it all at once. I know now why he comes to the rectory so often. And, I declare, I never thought of it before. Why, you're always there!-so, so—and he's got two daughters, has he? To be sure; now I understand it all."
The rector looked helpless and puzzled. It was difficult to take the initiative and ask why-but the poor man looked so perplexed and ignorant, and so clearly unaware what the solution was, that the old lady burst into shrill, gay laughter as she looked at him.
"I don't believe you know any thing about it," she said. "Are they old or young? are they pretty or ugly? Tell me all about them, Morley."
Now Mr. Proctor had not the excuse of having forgotten the appearance of the two Miss Wodehouses: on the contrary, though not an imaginative man, he could have fancied he saw them both before him-Lucy lost in noiseless laughter, and her good elder sister deprecating and gentle as usual. We will not even undertake to say that a gleam of something blue did not flash across the mind of the good man, who did not know what ribbons were. He was so much bewildered that Mrs. Proctor repeated her
The rector jumped to his feet, thunderstruck. Wanted to marry!-the idea was too overwhelming and dreadful-his mind could not receive it. The air of alarm which immediately diffused itself all over him-his unfeigned horror at the suggestion-captivated his mother. She was amused, but she was pleased at the same time. Just making her cheery outset on this second lifetime, you can't suppose she would have been glad to hear that her son was going to jilt her, and appoint another queen in her stead.
"Sit down and tell me about them," said Mrs. Proctor; "my dear, you're wonderfully afraid of the servants hearing. They don't know who we're speaking of. Aha! and so you didn't know what they meant—didn't you? I don't say you shouldn't marry, my dear-quite the reverse. A man ought to marry, one time or another. Only it's rather soon to lay their plans. I don't doubt there's a great many unmarried ladies in your church, Morley. There always is in a country place."
To this the alarmed rector answered only by a groan-a groan so expressive that his quick-witted mother heard it with her eyes.
They will come to call on me," said Mrs. Proctor, with fire dancing in her bright old eyes. "I'll tell you all about them, and you needn't be afraid of the servants. Trust to me, my dear-I'll find them out. And now, if you wish to take a walk, or go out visiting, don't let me detain you, Morley. I shouldn't wonder but there's something in the papers I would like to see-or I even might close my eyes for a few minutes: the afternoon is always a drowsy time with me. When I was in Devonshire, you know, no one minded what I did. You had better re