by Margaret Oliphant
NEW EDITION WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON
CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD
It is natural to suppose that the arrival of the new Rector was a
rather exciting event for Carlingford. It is a considerable town, it is
true, nowadays, but then there are no alien activities to disturb the
placeno manufactures, and not much trade. And there is a very
respectable amount of very good society at Carlingford. To begin with,
it is a pretty placemild, sheltered, not far from town; and naturally
its very reputation for good society increases the amount of that
much-prized article. The advantages of the town in this respect have
already put five per cent upon the house-rents; but this, of course,
only refers to the real town, where you can go through an entire
street of high garden-walls, with houses inside full of the retired
exclusive comforts, the dainty economical refinement peculiar to such
places; and where the good people consider their own society as a
warrant of gentility less splendid, but not less assured, than the
favour of Majesty itself. Naturally there are no Dissenters in
Carlingfordthat is to say, none above the rank of a greengrocer or
milkman; and in bosoms devoted to the Church it may be well imagined
that the advent of the new Rector was an event full of importance, and
even of excitement.
He was highly spoken of, everybody knew; but nobody knew who had
spoken highly of him, nor had been able to find out, even by inference,
what were his views. The Church had been Low during the last Rector's
reignprofoundly Lowlost in the deepest abysses of Evangelicalism. A
determined inclination to preach to everybody had seized upon that good
man's brain; he had half emptied Salem Chapel, there could be no doubt;
but, on the other hand, he had more than half filled the Chapel of St
Roque, half a mile out of Carlingford, where the perpetual curate,
young, handsome, and fervid, was on the very topmost pinnacle of
Anglicanism. St Roque's was not more than a pleasant walk from the best
quarter of Carlingford, on the north side of the town, thank heaven!
which one could get at without the dread passage of that new horrid
suburb, to which young Mr Rider, the young doctor, was devoting
himself. But the Evangelical rector was dead, and his reign was over,
and nobody could predict what the character of the new administration
was to be. The obscurity in which the new Rector had buried his views
was the most extraordinary thing about him. He had taken high honours
at college, and was highly spoken of; but whether he was High, or
Low, or Broad, muscular or sentimental, sermonising or decorative,
nobody in the world seemed able to tell.
Fancy if he were just to be a Mr Bury over again! Fancy him going
to the canal, and having sermons to the bargemen, and attending to all
sorts of people except to us, whom it is his duty to attend to! cried
one of this much-canvassed clergyman's curious parishioners. Indeed I
do believe he must be one of these people. If he were in society at
all, somebody would be sure to know.
Lucy dear, Mr Bury christened you, said another not less curious
but more tolerant inquirer.
Then he did you the greatest of all services, cried the third
member of the little group which discussed the new Rector under Mr
Wodehouse's blossomed apple-trees. He conferred such a benefit upon
you that he deserves all reverence at your hand. Wonderful idea! a man
confers this greatest of Christian blessings on multitudes, and does
not himself appreciate the boon he conveys!
Well, for that matter, Mr Wentworth, you know said the elder
lady; but she got no farther. Though she was verging upon forty,
leisurely, pious, and unmarried, that good Miss Wodehouse was not
polemical. She had her own opinions, but few people knew much about
them. She was seated on a green garden-bench which surrounded the great
May-tree in that large, warm, well-furnished garden. The high brick
walls, all clothed with fruit-trees, shut in an enclosure of which not
a morsel except this velvet grass, with its nests of daisies, was not
under the highest and most careful cultivation. It was such a scene as
is only to be found in an old country town; the walls jealous of
intrusion, yet thrusting tall plumes of lilac and stray branches of
apple-blossom, like friendly salutations to the world without; within,
the blossoms drooping over the light bright head of Lucy Wodehouse
underneath the apple-trees, and impertinently flecking the Rev. Frank
Wentworth's Anglican coat. These two last were young people, with that
indefinable harmony in their looks which prompts the suggestion of a
handsome couple to the bystander. It had not even occurred to them to
be in love with each other, so far as anybody knew, yet few were the
undiscerning persons who saw them together without instinctively
placing the young curate of St Roque's in permanence by Lucy's side.
She was twenty, pretty, blue-eyed, and full of dimples, with a broad
Leghorn hat thrown carelessly on her head, untied, with broad strings
of blue ribbon falling among her fair curlsa blue which was
repeated, according to painter jargon, in ribbons at her throat and
waist. She had great gardening gloves on, and a basket and huge pair of
scissors on the grass at her feet, which grass, besides, was strewed
with a profusion of all the sweetest spring blossomsthe sweet
narcissus, most exquisite of flowers, lilies of the valley, white and
blue hyacinths, golden ranunculus globesworlds of sober,
deep-breathing wallflower. If 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 Rectornot
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
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
But, Lucy, my dear, the chances are he will marry you, said Miss
Wodehouse, calmly; indeed, there can be no doubt that it is only
natural he should, for he is the Rector, you know; and though we
go so often to St Roque's, Mr Wentworth will excuse me saying that he
is a very young man.
Miss Wodehouse was knitting; she did not see the sudden look of
dismay and amazement which the curate of St Roque's darted down upon
her, nor the violent sympathetic blush which blazed over both the young
faces. How shocking that elderly quiet people should have such a
faculty for suggestions! You may be sure Lucy Wodehouse and young
Wentworth, had it not been put into their heads in such an absurd
fashion, would never, all their virtuous lives, have dreamt of anything
but friendship. Deep silence ensued after this simple but startling
speech. Miss Wodehouse knitted on, and took no notice; Lucy began to
gather up the flowers into the basket, unable for her life to think of
anything to say. For his part, Mr Wentworth gravely picked the
apple-blossoms off his coat, and counted them in his hand. That sweet
summer snow kept dropping, dropping, falling here and there as the wind
carried it, and with a special attraction to Lucy and her blue ribbons;
while behind, Miss Wodehouse sat calmly on the green bench, under the
May-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-of-door 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-gatethe green gate in the wallopened 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
good-humour of his household; and like every other invariable quality
of dress, the peculiarity became identified with him in every
particular of his life. Everything belonging to him moved with a
certain jar, except, indeed, his household, which went on noiseless
wheels, thanks to Lucy and love. As he came along the garden path, the
gravel 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 colour 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.
My dear children, here's the Rectordelighted to see him! we're
all delighted to see him! cried Mr Wodehouse. This is my little girl
Lucy, and this is my eldest daughter. They're both as good as curates,
though I say it, you know, as shouldn't. I suppose you've got something
tidy for lunch, Lucy, eh? To be sure you ought to knowhow can I tell?
She might have had only cold mutton, for anything I knewand that
won't do, you know, after college fare. Hollo, Wentworth! I beg your
pardonwho thought of seeing you here? I thought you had morning
service, and all that sort of thing. Delighted to make you known to the
Rector so soon. Mr ProctorMr Wentworth of St Roque's.
The Rector bowed. He had no time to say anything, fortunately for
him; but a vague sort of colour 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
turning 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.
But come along to lunch. Bless me! don't let us be too
ceremonious, cried Mr Wodehouse. Take Lucy, my dear sirtake Lucy.
Though she has her garden-gloves 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 concernyou should know best; but that's my
opinion. Why, Wentworth, where are you off to? 'Tisn't a fast,
surelyis it, Mary?nothing of the sort; it's ThursdayThursday, do you hear? and the Rector newly arrived. Come along.
I am much obliged, but I have an appointment, began the curate,
Why didn't you keep it, then, before we came in, cried Mr
Wodehouse, chatting with a couple of girls like Lucy and Mary? Come
along, come alongan appointment with some old woman or other, who
wants to screw flannels and things out of youwell, I suppose so! I
don't know anything else you could have to say to them. Come along.
Thank you. I shall hope to wait on the Rector shortly, said young
Wentworth, more and more stiffly; but at present I am sorry it is not
in my power. Good morning, Miss Wodehousegood morning; I am happy to
have had the opportunity and the voice of the perpetual curate
died off into vague murmurs of politeness as he made his way towards
the green door.
That green door! what a slight, paltry barrierone 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 overnothing 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 perpetual curate wended sulky on his way.
I 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 taken notice ofto
be sure he does, child. I suppose it's for his family's sake: I can't
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
For when Mr Wodehouse took knife and fork in hand a singular result
followed. He was silentat least he talked no longer: the mystery of
carving, of eating, of drinkingall the serious business of the
tableengrossed the good man. He had nothing more to say for the
moment; and then a dread unbroken silence fell upon the little company.
The Rector coloured, faltered, cleared his throathe 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 Wentworth. 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 his
dreadful dilemma he was infinitely relieved by the sound of somebody's
I trust you will like Carlingford, Mr Proctor, said Miss
Yesoh 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
Well, we are a little vain. To tell the truth, indeed, we rather
pride ourselves a little on the good society in Carlingford, said his
gentle and charitable interlocutor.
Ah, yesladies? said the Rector: humthat was not what I was
But, oh, 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
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. 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 sopeople 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 laughter, not loud but cordial,
which rang sweet and strange upon the Rector's ears. Miss 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. Ho 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
blossom 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. It seemed the only safe place in Carlingford to
the languishing transplanted Fellow of All-Souls.
A month later, Mr Proctor had got fairly settled in his new rectory,
with a complete modest establishment becoming his meansfor
Carlingford was a tolerable living. And in the newly-furnished sober
drawing-room sat a very old lady, lively but infirm, who was the
Rector's mother. Nobody knew that this old woman kept the Fellow of
All-Souls still a boy at heart, nor that the reserved and inappropriate
man forgot his awkwardness in his mother's presence. He was not only a
very affectionate son, but a dutiful good child to her. It had been his
pet scheme for years to bring her from her Devonshire cottage, and make
her mistress of his house. That had been the chief attraction, indeed,
which drew him to Carlingford; for had he consulted his own tastes, and
kept to his college, who would insure him that at seventy-five his old
mother might not glide away out of life without that last gleam of
sunshine long intended for her by her grateful son?
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 silver-headed 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 anything, to hear anything, to deliver her opinions freely;
resting in her big chair in the complete repose of age, gratified with
her son's attentions, and over-joyed in his company; interested about
everything, 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 preoccupied 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 start and reascend. Five years ago, old Mrs Proctor had completed
the human term; now she had recommenced her life.
But, to tell the very truth, the Rector would very fain, had that
been possible, have confined her inquiries to books and public affairs.
For to make confidential disclosures, either concerning one's self or
other people, in a tone of voice perfectly audible in the kitchen, is
somewhat trying. He had become acquainted with those dread parishioners
of his during this interval. Already they had worn him to death with
dinner-partiesdinner-parties very pleasant and friendly, when one got
used to them; but to a stranger frightful reproductions of each other,
with the same dishes, the same dresses, the same stories, in which the
Rector communicated gravely with his next neighbour, and eluded as long
as he could those concluding moments in the drawing-room which were
worst of all. It cannot be said that his parishioners made much
progress in their 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 nor Low, enlightened nor narrow-minded; he
was a Fellow of All-Souls.
But now tell me, my dear, said old Mrs Proctor, who's Mr
With despairing calmness, the Rector approached his voice to her
ear. He's a churchwarden! cried the unfortunate man, in a shrill
He's what?you forget I don't hear very well. I'm a great deal
deafer, Morley, my dear, than I was the last time you were in
Devonshire. What did you say Mr Wodehouse was?
He's an ass! exclaimed the baited Rector.
Mrs Proctor nodded her head with a great many little satisfied
Exactly my own opinion, my dear. What I like in your manner of
expressing yourself, Morley, is its conciseness, said the laughing old
lady. Just soexactly what I imagined; but being an ass, you know,
doesn't account for him coming here so often. What is he besides, my
The Rector made spasmodic gestures towards the door, to the great
amusement of his lively mother; and then produced, with much confusion
and after a long search, his pocketbook, on a leaf of paper in which he
wroteloudly, in big charactersHe's a churchwardenthey'll hear in
He's a churchwarden! And what if they do hear in the kitchen?
cried the old lady, 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
Oh so! cried the old ladytwo daughtersso, sothat
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, soand 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 whybut 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 anything 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 himLucy 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
question, and, as she did so, tapped him pretty smartly on the arm to
recall his wandering thoughts.
One's one thing, at last shouted the confused man, and t'other's
another! An oracular deliverance which surely must have been entirely
unintelligible in the kitchen, where we will not deny that an utterance
so incomprehensible awoke a laudable curiosity.
My dear, you're lucid! cried the old lady, I hope you don't
preach like that. T'other's another!is she so? and I suppose that's
the one you're wanted to marryeh? For shame, Morley, not to tell your
The Rector jumped to his feet, thunderstruck. Wanted to marry!the
idea was too overwhelming and dreadfulhis mind could not receive it.
The air of alarm which immediately diffused itself all over himhis
unfeigned horror at the suggestioncaptivated 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 meantdidn't
you? I don't say you shouldn't marry, my dearquite 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 groana groan so
expressive that his quick-witted mother heard it with her eyes.
They will come to call on me, said Mrs Proctor, with fun 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 dearI'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 seeor 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 refresh
yourself with a nice walk, my dear boy.
The Rector got up well pleased. The alacrity with which he left the
room, however, did not correspond with the horror-stricken and helpless
expression of his face, when, after walking very smartly all round the
Rectory garden, he paused with his hand on the gate, doubtful whether
to retreat into his study, or boldly to face that world which was
plotting against him. The question was a profoundly serious one to Mr
Proctor. He did not feel by any means sure that he was a free agent, or
could assert the ordinary rights of an Englishman, in this most
unexpected dilemma. How could he tell how much or how little was
necessary to prove that a man had committed himself? For anything he
could tell, somebody might be calculating upon him as her lover, and
settling his future life for him. The Rector was not vainhe did not
think himself an Adonis; he did not understand anything about the
matter, which indeed was beneath the consideration of a Fellow of
All-Souls. But have not women been incomprehensible since ever there
was in this world a pen with sufficient command of words to call them
so? And is it not certain that, whether it may be to their advantage or
disadvantage, every soul of them is plotting to marry somebody? Mr
Proctor recalled in dim but frightful reminiscences stories which had
dropped upon his ear at various times of his life. Never was there a
man, however ugly, disagreeable, or penniless, but he could tell of a
narrow escape he had, some time or other. The Rector recollected and
trembled. No woman was ever so dismayed by the persecutions of a lover,
as was this helpless middle-aged gentleman under the conviction that
Lucy Wodehouse meant to marry him. The remembrance of the curate of St
Roque's gave him no comfort: her sweet youth, so totally unlike his
sober age, did not strike him as unfavourable to her pursuit of him.
Who could fathom the motives of a woman? His mother was wise, and knew
the world, and understood what such creatures meant. No doubt it was
entirely the casea dreadful certaintyand what was he to do?
At the bottom of all this fright and perplexity must it be owned
that the Rector had a guilty consciousness within himself, that if Lucy
drove the matter to extremities, he was not so sure of his own powers
of resistance as he ought to be? She might marry him before he knew
what he was about; and in such a case the Rector could not have taken
his oath at his own private confessional that he would have been so
deeply miserable as the circumstances might infer. No wonder he was
alarmed at the position in which he found himself; nobody could predict
how it might end.
When Mr Proctor saw his mother again at dinner, she was evidently
full of some subject which would not bear talking of before the
servants. The old lady looked at her son's troubled apprehensive face
with smiles and nods and gay hints, which he was much too preoccupied
to understand, and which only increased his bewilderment. When the good
man was left alone over his glass of wine, he drank it slowly, in
funereal silence, with profoundly serious looks; and what between
eagerness to understand what the old lady meant, and reluctance to show
the extent of his curiosity, had a very heavy half-hour of it in that
grave solitary dining-room. He roused himself with an effort from this
dismal state into which he was falling. He recalled with a sigh the
classic board of All-Souls. Woe for the day when he was seduced to
forsake that dear retirement! Really, to suffer himself to fall into a
condition so melancholy, was far from being right. He must rouse
himselfhe must find some other society than parishioners; and with a
glimpse of a series of snug little dinner-parties, undisturbed by the
presence of women, Mr Proctor rose and hurried after his mother, to
hear what new thing she might have to say.
Nor was he disappointed. The old lady was snugly posted, ready for a
conference. She made lively gestures to hasten him when he appeared at
the door, and could scarcely delay the utterance of her news till he
had taken his seat beside her. She had taken off her spectacles, and
laid aside her paper, and cleared off her work into her work-basket.
All was ready for the talk in which she delighted.
My dear, they've been here, said old Mrs Proctor, rubbing her
handsboth together, and as kind as could beexactly as I expected.
An old woman gets double the attention when she's got an unmarried son.
I've always observed that; though in Devonshire, what with your
fellowship and seeing you so seldom, nobody took much notice. Yes,
they've been here; and I like them a great deal better than I expected,
Morley, my dear.
The Rector, not knowing what else to say, shouted Indeed, mother!
into the old lady's ear.
Quite so, continued that lively observernice young womennot
at all like their father, which is a great consolation. That elder one
is a very sensible person, I am sure. She would make a nice wife for
somebody, especially for a clergyman. She is not in her first youth,
but neither are some other people. A very nice creature indeed, I am
During all this speech the Rector's countenance had been falling,
falling. If he was helpless before, the utter woe of his expression now
was a spectacle to behold. The danger of being married by proxy was
appalling certainly, yet was not entirely without alleviations; but
Miss Wodehouse! who ever thought of Miss Wodehouse? To see the last
remains of colour fade out of his cheek, and his very lip fall with
disappointment, was deeply edifying to his lively old mother. She
perceived it all, but made no sign.
And the other is a pretty creaturecertainly pretty: shouldn't you
say she was pretty, Morley? said his heartless mother.
Mr Proctor hesitated, hemmedfelt himself growing redtried to
intimate his sentiments by a nod of assent; but that would not do, for
the old lady had presented her ear to him, and was blind to all his
I don't know much about it, mother, he made answer at last.
Much about it! it's to be hoped not. I never supposed you
did; but you don't mean to say you don't think her pretty? said Mrs
Proctorbut, I don't doubt in the least, a sad flirt. Her sister is a
very superior person, my dear.
The Rector's face lengthened at every worda vision of these two
Miss Wodehouses rose upon him every moment clearer and more distinct as
his mother spoke. Considering how ignorant he was of all such female
paraphernalia, it is extraordinary how correct his recollection was of
all the details of their habitual dress and appearance. With a certain
dreadful consciousness of the justice of what his mother said, he saw
in imagination the mild elder sister in her comely old-maidenhood.
Nobody could doubt her good qualities, and could it be questioned that
for a man of fifty, if he was to do anything so foolish, a woman not
quite forty was a thousand times more eligible than a creature in blue
ribbons? Still the unfortunate Rector did not seem to see it: his face
grew longer and longerhe made no answer whatever to his mother's
address; while she, with a spice of natural female malice against the
common enemy triumphing for the moment over the mother's admiration of
her son, sat wickedly enjoying his distress, and aggravating it. His
dismay and perplexity amused this wicked old woman beyond measure.
I have no doubt that younger girl takes a pleasure in deluding her
admirers, said Mrs Proctor; she's a wicked little flirt, and likes
nothing better than to see her power. I know very well how such people
do; but, my dear, continued this false old lady, scarcely able to
restrain her laughter, if I were you, I would be very civil to Miss
Wodehouse. You may depend upon it, Morley, that's a very superior
person. She is not very young, to be sure, but you are not very young
yourself. She would make a nice wifenot too foolish, you know, nor
fanciful. Ah! I like Miss Wodehouse, my dear.
The Rector stumbled up to his feet hastily, and pointed to a table
at a little distance, on which some books were lying. Then he went and
brought them to her table. I've brought you some new books, he
shouted into her ear. It was the only way his clumsy ingenuity could
fall upon for bringing this most distasteful conversation to an end.
The old lady's eyes were dancing with fun and a little mischief,
but, notwithstanding, she could not be so false to her nature as to
show no interest in the books. She turned them over with lively remarks
and comment. But for all that, Morley, I would not have you forget
Miss Wodehouse, she said, when her early bedtime came. Give it a
thought now and then, and consider the whole matter. It is not a thing
to be done rashly; but still you know you are settled now, and you
ought to be thinking of settling for life.
With this parting shaft she left him. The troubled Rector, instead
of sitting up to his beloved studies, went early to bed that night, and
was pursued by nightmares through his unquiet slumbers. Settling for
life! Alas! there floated before him vain visions of that halcyon world
he had leftthat sacred soil at All-Souls, where there were no
parishioners to break the sweet repose. How different was this
discomposing real world!
Matters went on quietly for some time without any catastrophe
occurring to the Rector. He had shut himself up from all society, and
declined the invitations of the parishioners for ten long days at
least; but finding that the kind people were only kinder than ever when
they understood he was indisposed, poor Mr Proctor resumed his
ordinary life, confiding timidly in some extra precautions which his
own ingenuity had invented. He was shyer than ever of addressing the
ladies in those parties he was obliged to attend. He was especially
embarrassed and uncomfortable in the presence of the two Miss
Wodehouses, who, unfortunately, were very popular in Carlingford, and
whom he could not help meeting everywhere. Notwithstanding this
embarrassment, it is curious how well he knew how they looked, and what
they were doing, and all about them. Though he could not for his life
have told what these things were called, he knew Miss Wodehouse's
dove-coloured dress and her French grey; and all those gleams of blue
which set off Lucy's fair curls, and floated about her pretty person
under various pretences, had a distinct though inarticulate place in
the good man's confused remembrance. But neither Lucy nor Miss
Wodehouse had brought matters to extremity. He even ventured to go to
their house occasionally without any harm coming of it, and lingered in
that blooming fragrant garden, where the blossoms had given place to
fruit, and ruddy apples hung heavy on the branches which had once
scattered their petals, rosy-white, on Frank Wentworth's Anglican coat.
Yet Mr Proctor was not lulled into incaution by this seeming calm.
Other people besides his mother had intimated to him that there were
expectations current of his settling in life. He lived not in false
security, but wise trembling, never knowing what hour the thunderbolt
might fall upon his head.
It happened one day, while still in this condition of mind, that the
Rector was passing through Grove Street on his way home. He was walking
on the humbler side of the street, where there is a row of cottages
with little gardens in front of themcheap houses, which are contented
to be haughtily overlooked by the staircase windows and blank walls of
their richer neighbours on the other side of the road. The Rector
thought, but could not be sure, that he had seen two figures like those
of the Miss Wodehouses going into one of these houses, and was making a
little haste to escape meeting those enemies of his peace. But as he
wont hastily on, he heard sobs and screamssounds which a man who hid
a good heart under a shy exterior could not willingly pass by. He made
a troubled pause before the door from which these outcries proceeded,
and while he stood thus irresolute whether to pass on or to stop and
inquire the cause, some one came rushing out and took hold of his arm.
Please, sir, she's dyingoh, please, sir, she thought a deal o' you.
Please, will you come in and speak to her? cried the little
servant-girl who had pounced upon him so. The Rector stared at her in
amazement. He had not his prayer-bookhe was not prepared; he had no
idea of being called upon in such an emergency. In the mean time the
commotion rather increased in the house, and he could hear in the
distance a voice adjuring some one to go for the clergyman. The Rector
stood uncertain and perplexed, perhaps in a more serious personal
difficulty than had ever happened to him all his life before. For what
did he know about deathbeds? or what had he to say to any one on that
dread verge? He grew pale with real vexation and distress.
Have they gone for a doctor? that would be more to the purpose, he
said, unconsciously, aloud.
Please, sir, it's no good, said the little maid-servant. Please,
the doctor's been, but he's no goodand she's unhappy in her mind,
though she's quite resigned to go: and oh, please, if you would say a
word to her, it might do her a deal of good.
Thus adjured, the Rector had no choice. He went gloomily into the
house and up the stair after his little guide. Why did not they send
for the minister of Salem Chapel close by? or for Mr Wentworth, who was
accustomed to that sort of thing? Why did they resort to him in such an
emergency? He would have made his appearance before the highest
magnates of the landbefore the Queen herselfbefore the bench of
bishops or the Privy Councilwith less trepidation than he entered
that poor little room.
The sufferer lay breathing heavily in the poor apartment. She did
not look very ill to Mr Proctor's inexperienced eyes. Her colour was
bright, and her face full of eagerness. Near the door stood Miss
Wodehouse, looking compassionate but helpless, casting wistful glances
at the bed, but standing back in a corner as confused and embarrassed
as the Rector himself. Lucy was standing by the pillow of the sick
woman with a watchful readiness visible to the most unskilled
eyeready to raise her, to change her position, to attend to her wants
almost before they were expressed. The contrast was wonderful. She had
thrown off her bonnet and shawl, and appeared, not like a stranger, but
somehow in her natural place, despite the sweet youthful beauty of her
looks, and the gay girlish dress with its floating ribbons. These
singular adjuncts notwithstanding, no homely nurse in a cotton gown
could have looked more alert or serviceable, or more natural to the
position, than Lucy did. The poor Rector, taking the seat which the
little maid placed for him directly in the centre of the room, looked
at the nurse and the patient with a gasp of perplexity and
embarrassment. A deathbed, alas! was an unknown region to him.
Oh, sir, I'm obliged to you for comingoh, sir, I'm grateful to
you, cried the poor woman in the bed. I've been ill, off and on, for
years, but never took thought to it as I ought. I've put off and put
off, waiting for a better timeand now, God help me, it's perhaps too
late. Oh, sir, tell me, when a person's ill and dying, is it too late?
Before the Rector could even imagine what he could answer, the sick
woman took up the broken thread of her own words, and continued
I don't feel to trust as I ought toI don't feel no confidence,
she said, in anxious confession. Oh, sir, do you think it matters if
one feels it?don't you think things might be right all the same
though we were uneasy in our minds? My thinking can't change it
one way or another. Ask the good gentleman to speak to me, Miss Lucy,
dearhe'll mind what you say.
A look from Lucy quickened the Rector's speech, but increased his
embarrassments. Itit isn't her doctor she has no confidence in? he
The poor woman gave a little cry. The doctorthe doctor! what can
he do to a poor dying creature? Oh, Lord bless you, it's none of them
things I'm thinking of; it's my soulmy soul!
But my poor good woman, said Mr Proctor, though it is very good
and praiseworthy of you to be anxious about your soul, let us hope that
there is no suchno such haste as you seem to suppose.
The patient opened her eyes wide, and stared, with the anxious look
of disease, in his face.
I mean, said the good man, faltering under that gaze, that I see
no reason for your making yourself so very anxious. Let us hope it is
not so bad as that. You are very ill, but not so illI
Here the Rector was interrupted by a groan from the patient, and by
a troubled, disapproving, disappointed look from Lucy Wodehouse. This
brought him to a sudden standstill. He gazed for a moment helplessly at
the poor woman in the bed. If he had known anything in the world which
would have given her consolation, he was ready to have made any
exertion for it; but he knew nothing to sayno medicine for a mind
diseased was in his repositories. He was deeply distressed to see the
disappointment which followed his words, but his distress only made him
more silent, more helpless, more inefficient than before.
After an interval which was disturbed only by the groans of the
patient and the uneasy fidgeting of good Miss Wodehouse in her corner,
the Rector again broke silence. The sick woman had turned to the wall,
and closed her eyes in dismay and disappointmentevidently she had
ceased to expect anything from him.
If there is anything I can do, said poor Mr Proctor, I am afraid
I have spoken hastily. I meant to try to calm her mind a little; if I
can be of any use?
Ah, maybe I'm hasty, said the dying woman, turning round again
with a sudden effortbut, oh, to speak to me of having time when I've
one foot in the grave already!
Not so bad as thatnot so bad as that, said the Rector,
But I tell you it is as bad as that, she cried, with the brief
blaze of anger common to great weakness. I'm not a child to be
persuaded different from what I know. If you'd tell meif you'd say a
prayerah, Miss Lucy, it's coming on again.
In a moment Lucy had raised the poor creature in her arms, and in
default of the pillows which were not at hand, had risen herself into
their place, and supported the gasping woman against her own breast. It
was a paroxysm dreadful to behold, in which every labouring breath
seemed the last. The Rector sat like one struck dumb, looking on at
that mortal struggle. Miss Wodehouse approached nervously from behind,
and went up to the bedside, faltering forth questions as to what she
could do. Lucy only waved her hand, as her own light figure swayed and
changed, always seeking the easiest attitude for the sufferer. As the
elder sister drew back, the Rector and she glanced at each other with
wistful mutual looks of sympathy. Both were equally well-disposed,
equally helpless and embarrassed. How to be of any use in that dreadful
agony of nature was denied to both. They stood looking on, awed and
self-reproaching. Such scenes have doubtless happened in sick-rooms
When the fit was over, a hasty step came up the stair, and Mr
Wentworth entered the room. He explained in a whisper that he had not
been at home when the messenger came, but had followed whenever he
heard of the message. Seeing the Rector, he hesitated, and drew back
with some surprise, and, even (for he was far from perfect) in that
chamber, a little flush of offence. The Rector rose abruptly, waving
his hand, and went to join Miss Wodehouse in her corner. There the two
elderly spectators looked on silent at ministrations of which both were
incapable; one watching with wondering yet affectionate envy how Lucy
laid down the weakened but relieved patient upon her pillows; and one
beholding with a surprise he could not conceal, how a young man, not
half his own age, went softly, with all the confidence yet awe of
nature, into those mysteries which he dared not touch upon. The two
young creatures by the deathbed acknowledged that their patient was
dying; the woman stood by her watchful and affectionatethe man held
up before her that cross, not of wood or metal, but of truth and
everlasting verity, which is the only hope of man. The spectators
looked on, and did not interruptlooked on, awed and
wonderingunaware of how it was, but watching, as if it were a miracle
wrought before their eyes. Perhaps all the years of his life had not
taught the Rector so much as did that half-hour in an unknown poor
bed-chamber, where, honest and humble, he stood aside, and, kneeling
down, responded to his young brother's prayer. His young brotheryoung
enough to have been his sonnot half nor a quarter part so learned as
he; but a world further on in that profession which they sharedthe
art of winning souls.
When those prayers were over, the Rector, without a word to anybody,
stole quietly away. When he got into the street, however, he found
himself closely followed by Miss Wodehouse, of whom he was not at this
moment afraid. That good creature was crying softly under her veil. She
was eager to make up to him, to open out her full heart; and indeed the
Rector, like herself, in that wonderful sensation of surprised and
unenvying discomfiture, was glad at that moment of sympathy too.
Oh, Mr Proctor, isn't it wonderful? sighed good Miss Wodehouse.
The Rector did not speak, but he answered by a very emphatic nod of
It did not use to be so when you and I were young, said his
companion in failure. I sometimes take a little comfort from that; but
no doubt, if it had been in me, it would have shown itself somehow. Ah,
I fear, I fear, I was not well brought up; but, to be sure, that dear
child has not been brought up at all, if one may say so. Her poor
mother died when she was born. And oh, I'm afraid I never was kind to
Lucy's mother, Mr Proctor. You know she was only a year or two older
than I was; and to think of that child, that baby! What a world she is,
and always was, before me, that might have been her mother, Mr
Proctor! said Miss Wodehouse, with a little sob.
But things were different in our young days, said the Rector,
repeating her sentiment, without inquiring whether it were true or not,
and finding a certain vague consolation in it.
Ah, that is true, said Miss Wodehousethat is true; what a
blessing things are so changed; and these blessed young creatures, she
added softly, with tears falling out of her gentle old eyesthese
blessed young creatures are near the Fountainhead.
With this speech Miss Wodehouse held out her hand to the Rector, and
they parted with a warm mutual grasp. The Rector went straight
homestraight to his study, where he shut himself in, and was not to
be disturbed; that night was one long to be remembered in the good
man's history. For the first time in his life he set himself to inquire
what was his supposed business in this world. His treatise on the Greek
verb, and his new edition of Sophocles, were highly creditable to the
Fellow of All-Souls; but how about the Rector of Carlingford? What was
he doing here, among that little world of human creatures who were
dying, being born, perishing, suffering, falling into misfortune and
anguish, and all manner of human vicissitudes, every day? Young
Wentworth knew what to say to that woman in her distress; and so might
the Rector, had her distress concerned a disputed translation, or a
disused idiom. The good man was startled in his composure and calm.
To-day he had visibly failed in a duty which even in All-Souls was
certainly known to be one of the duties of a Christian priest. Was he a
Christian priest, or what was he? He was troubled to the very depths of
his soul. To hold an office the duties of which he could not perform,
was clearly impossible. The only question, and that a hard one, was,
whether he could learn to discharge those duties, or whether he must
cease to be Rector of Carlingford. He laboured over this problem in his
solitude, and could find no answer. Things were different when we were
young, was the only thought that was any comfort to him, and that was
For one thing, it is hard upon the most magnanimous of men to
confess that he has undertaken an office for which he has not found
himself capable. Magnanimity was perhaps too lofty a word to apply to
the Rector; but he was honest to the bottom of his soul. As soon as he
became aware of what was included in the duties of his office, he must
perform them, or quit his post. But how to perform them? Can one
learn to convey consolation to the dying, to teach the ignorant, to
comfort the sorrowful? Are these matters to be acquired by study, like
Greek verbs or intricate measures? The Rector's heart said No. The
Rector's imagination unfolded before him, in all its halcyon
blessedness, that ancient paradise of All-Souls, where no such
confounding demands ever disturbed his beatitude. The good man groaned
within himself over the mortification, the labour, the sorrow, which
this living was bringing upon him. If I had but let it pass to Morgan,
who wanted to marry, he said with self-reproach; and then suddenly
bethought himself of his own most innocent filial romance, and the
pleasure his mother had taken in her new house and new beginning of
life. At that touch the tide flowed back again. Could he dismiss her
now to another solitary cottage in Devonshire, her old home there being
all dispersed and broken up, while the house she had hoped to die in
cast her out from its long-hoped-for shelter? The Rector was quite
overwhelmed by this new aggravation. If by any effort of his own, any
sacrifice to himself, he could preserve this bright new home to his
mother, would he shrink from that labour of love?
Nobody, however, knew anything about those conflicting thoughts
which rent his sober bosom. He preached next Sunday as usual, letting
no trace of the distressed, wistful anxiety to do his duty which now
possessed him gleam into his sermon. He looked down upon a crowd of
unsympathetic, uninterested faces, when he delivered that smooth little
sermon, which nobody cared much about, and which disturbed nobody. The
only eyes which in the smallest degree comprehended him were those of
good Miss Wodehouse, who had been the witness and the participator of
his humiliation. Lucy was not there. Doubtless Lucy was at St Roque's,
where the sermons of the perpetual curate differed much from those of
the Rector of Carlingford. Ah me! the rectorship, with all its
responsibilities, was a serious business; and what was to become of it
yet, Mr Proctor could not see. He was not a hasty manhe determined to
wait and see what events might make of it; to consider it ripelyto
take full counsel with himself. Every time he came out of his mother's
presence, he came affected and full of anxiety to preserve to her that
home which pleased her so much. She was the strong point in favour of
Carlingford; and it was no small tribute to the good man's filial
affection, that for her chiefly he kept his neck under the yoke of a
service to which he know himself unequal, and, sighing, turned his back
upon his beloved cloisters. If there had been no other sick-beds
immediately in Carlingford, Mrs Proctor would have won the day.
Such a blessed exemption, however, was not to be hoped for. When the
Rector was solemnly sent for from his very study to visit a poor man
who was not expected to live many days, he put his prayer-book under
his arm, and went off doggedly, feeling that now was the crisis. He
went through it in as exemplary a manner as could have been desired,
but it was dreadful work to the Rector. If nobody else suspected him,
he suspected himself. He had no spontaneous word of encouragement or
consolation to offer; he went through it as his duty with a horrible
abstractness. That night he went home disgusted beyond all possible
power of self-reconciliation. He could not continue this. Good
evangelical Mr Bury, who went before him, and by nature loved
preaching, had accustomed the people to much of such visitations. It
was murder to the Fellow of All-Souls.
That night Mr Proctor wrote a long letter to his dear cheery old
mother, disclosing all his heart to her. It was written with a pathos
of which the good man was wholly unconscious, and finished by asking
her advice and her prayers. He sent it up to her next morning on her
breakfast tray, which he always furnished with his own hands, and went
out to occupy himself in paying visits till it should be time to see
her, and ascertain her opinion. At Mr Wodehouse's there was nobody at
home but Lucy, who was very friendly, and took no notice of that sad
encounter which had changed his views so entirely. The Rector found, on
inquiry, that the woman was dead, but not until Mr Wentworth had
administered to her fully the consolations of the church. Lucy did not
look superior, or say anything in admiration of Mr Wentworth, but the
Rector's conscience supplied all that was wanting. If good Miss
Wodehouse had been there with her charitable looks, and her
disefficiency so like his own, it would have been a consolation to the
good man. He would have turned joyfully from Lucy and her blue ribbons
to that distressed dove-coloured woman, so greatly had recent events
changed him. But the truth was, he cared nothing for either of them
nowadays. He was delivered from those whimsical distressing fears.
Something more serious had obliterated those lighter apprehensions. He
had no leisure now to think that somebody had planned to marry him; all
his thoughts were fixed on matters so much more important that this was
Mrs Proctor was seated as usual in the place she loved, with her
newspapers, her books, her work-basket, and silver-headed cane at the
side of her chair. The old lady, like her son, looked serious. She
beckoned him to quicken his steps when she saw him appear at the
drawing-room door, and pointed to the chair placed beside her, all
ready for this solemn conference. He came in with a troubled face,
scarcely venturing to look at her, afraid to see the disappointment
which he had brought upon his dearest friend. The old lady divined why
it was he did not lift his eyes. She took his hand and addressed him
with all her characteristic vivacity.
Morley, what is this you mean, my dear? When did I ever give my son
reason to distrust me? Do you think I would suffer you to continue in a
position painful to yourself for my sake? How dare you think such a
thing of me, Morley? Don't say so? you didn't mean it; I can see it in
The Rector shook his head, and dropped into the chair placed ready
for him. He might have had a great deal to say for himself could she
have heard him. But as it was, he could not shout all his reasons and
apologies into her deaf ear.
As for the change to me, said the old lady, instinctively seizing
upon the heart of the difficulty, that's nothingsimply nothing. I've
not had time to get attached to Carlingford. I've no associations with
the place. Of course I shall be very glad to go back to all my old
friends. Put that out of the question, Morley.
But the Rector only shook his head once more. The more she made
light of it, the more he perceived all the painful circumstances
involved. Could his mother go back to Devonshire and tell all her old
ladies that her son had made a failure in Carlingford? He grieved
within himself at the thought. His brethren at All-Souls might
understand him; but what could console the brave old woman for
all the condolence and commiseration to which she would be subject? It
goes to my heart, mother, he cried in her ear.
Well, Morley, I am very sorry you find it so, said the old lady;
very sorry you can't see your way to all your duties. They tell me the
late rector was very Low Church, and visited about like a Dissenter, so
it is not much wonder you, with your different habits, find yourself a
good deal put out; but, my dear, don't you think it's only at first?
Don't you think after a while the people would get into your ways, and
you into theirs? Miss Wodehouse was here this morning, and was telling
me a good deal about the late rector. It's to be expected you should
find the difference; but by-and-by, to be sure, you might get used to
it, and the people would not expect so much.
Did she tell you where we met the other day? asked the Rector,
with a brevity rendered necessary by Mrs Proctor's infirmity.
She told meshe's a dear confused good soul, said the old
ladyabout the difference between Lucy and herself, and how the young
creature was twenty times handier than she, and something about young
Mr Wentworth of St Roque's. Really, by all I hear, that must be a very
presuming young man, cried Mrs Proctor, with a lively air of offence.
His interference among your parishioners, Morley, is really more than
I should be inclined to bear.
Once more the good Rector shook his head. He had not thought of that
aspect of the subject. He was indeed so free from vanity or
self-importance, that his only feeling in regard to the sudden
appearance of the perpetual curate was respect and surprise. He would
not be convinced otherwise even now. He can do his duty, mother, he
Stuff and nonsense! cried the old lady. Do you mean to tell me a
boy like that can do his duty better than my son could do it, if he put
his mind to it? And if it is your duty, Morley, dear, continued his
mother, melting a little, and in a coaxing persuasive tone, of course
I know you will do it, however hard it may be.
That's just the difficulty, cried the Rector, venturing on a
longer speech than usual, and roused to a point at which he had no fear
of the listeners in the kitchen; such duties require other training
than mine has been. I can't!do you hear me, mother?I must not hold
a false position; that's impossible.
You shan't hold a false position, cried the old lady; that's the
only thing that is impossiblebut, Morley, let us consider,
dear. You are a clergyman, you know; you ought to understand all that's
required of you a great deal better than these people do. My dear, your
poor father and I trained you up to be a clergyman, said Mrs Proctor,
rather pathetically, and not to be a Fellow of All-Souls.
The Rector groaned. Had it not been advancement, progress,
unhoped-for good fortune, that made him a member of that learned
corporation? He shook his head. Nothing could change the fact now.
After fifteen years' experience of that Elysium, he could not put on
the cassock and surplice with all his youthful fervour. He had settled
into his life-habits long ago. With the quick perception which made up
for her deficiency, his mother read his face, and saw the cause was
hopeless; yet with female courage and pertinacity made one effort more.
And with an excellent hard-working curate, said the old ladya
curate whom, of course, we'd do our duty by, Morley, and who could take
a great deal of the responsibility off your hands; for Mr Leigh, though
a nice young man, is not, I know, the man you would have chosen
for such a post; and still more, my dear sonwe were talking of it in
jest not long ago, but it is perfect earnest, and a most important
matterwith a good wife, Morley; a wife who would enter into all the
parish work, and give you useful hints, and conduct herself as a
clergyman's wife shouldwith such a wife
Lucy Wodehouse! cried the Rector, starting to his feet, and
forgetting all his proprieties; I tell you the thing is impossible.
I'll go back to All-Souls.
He sat down again doggedly, having said it. His mother sat looking
at him in silence, with tears in her lively old eyes. She was saying
within herself that she had seen his father take just such a turn,
and that it was no use arguing with them under such circumstances. She
watched him as women often do watch men, waiting till the creature
should come to itself again and might be spoken to. The
incomprehensibleness of women is an old theory, but what is that to the
curious wondering observation with which wives, mothers, and sisters
watch the other unreasoning animal in those moments when he has
snatched the reins out of their hands, and is not to be spoken to! What
he will make of it in those unassisted moments, afflicts the
compassionate female understanding. It is best to let him come to, and
feel his own helplessness. Such was Mrs Proctor's conclusion, as,
vexed, distressed, and helpless, she leant back in her chair, and wiped
a few tears of disappointment and vexation out of her bright old eyes.
The Rector saw this movement, and it once more excited him to
speech. But you shall have a house in Oxford, mother, he criedyou
shan't go back to Devonshirewhere I can see you every day, and you
can hear all that is going on. Bravo! that will be a thousand times
better than Carlingford.
It was now Mrs Proctor's turn to jump up, startled, and put her hand
on his mouth and point to the door. The Rector did not care for the
door; he had disclosed his sentiments, he had taken his resolution, and
now the sooner all was over the better for the emancipated man.
Thus concluded the brief incumbency of the Reverend Morley Proctor.
He returned to Oxford before his year of grace was over, and found
everybody very glad to see him; and he left Carlingford with universal
good wishes. The living fell to Morgan, who wanted to be married, and
whose turn was much more to be a working clergyman than a classical
commentator. Old Mrs Proctor got a pretty house under shelter of the
trees of St Giles's, and half the under-graduates fell in love with the
old lady in the freshness of her second lifetime. Carlingford passed
away like a dream from the lively old mother's memory, and how could
any reminiscences of that uncongenial locality disturb the recovered
beatitude of the Fellow of All-Souls?
Yet all was not so satisfactory as it appeared. Mr Proctor paid for
his temporary absence. All-Souls was not the Elysium it had been before
that brief disastrous voyage into the world. The good man felt the
stings of failure; he felt the mild jokes of his brethren in those
Elysian fields. He could not help conjuring up to himself visions of
Morgan with his new wife in that pretty rectory. Life, after all, did
not consist of books, nor were Greek verbs essential to happiness. The
strong emotion into which his own failure had roused him; the wondering
silence in which he stood looking at the ministrations of Lucy
Wodehouse and the young curate; the tearful sympathetic woman as
helpless as himself, who had stood beside him in that sick chamber,
came back upon his recollection strangely, amidst the repose, not so
blessed as heretofore, of All-Souls. The good man had found out that
secret of discontent which most men find out a great deal earlier than
he. Something better, though it might be sadder, harder, more
calamitous, was in this world. Was there ever human creature yet that
had not something in him more congenial to the thorns and briars
outside to be conquered, than to that mild paradise for which our
primeval mother disqualified all her children? When he went back to his
dear cloisters, good Mr Proctor felt that sting: a longing for the work
he had rejected stirred in hima wistful recollection of the sympathy
he had not sought.
And if in future years any traveller, if travellers still fall upon
adventures, should light upon a remote parsonage in which an elderly
embarrassed Rector, with a mild wife in dove-coloured dresses, toils
painfully after his duty, more and more giving his heart to it, more
and more finding difficult expression for the unused faculty, let him
be sure that it is the late Rector of Carlingford, self-expelled out of
the uneasy paradise, setting forth untimely, yet not too late, into the
PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.