« ForrigeFortsett »
possessed as artists—was a pretension much more disagreeable to the shopkeepers than to society in general. Thus in every sense Mr Cavendish had done the very worst for himself by his ill-timed indulgence; and his guilt was about the same with most of his critics whether he meant perfectly well and innocently, or entertained the most guilty intentions ever conceived by man.
And all his misfortunes were increased by the fact that the intervening day was a Sunday. Barbara Lake herself, who did not know what people were saying, and who, if she had known, would not have cared, came to church, as was natural, in the morning; and under pretence that the family pew was full, had the assurance, as people remarked, to come to the middle aisle, in that same silk dress which rustled like tin, and made more demonstration than the richest draperies. The pew-opener disapproved of her as much as everybody else did, but she could not turn the intruder out; and though Barbara had a long time to wait, and was curiously inspected by all the eyes near her while she did so, the end was that she got a seat in her rustling silk not very far from where Lucilla sat in deep mourning, a model of every righteous observance. As for poor Barbara, she too was very exemplary in church. She meant nobody any harm, poor soul. She could not help the flashing of those big black eyes, to which the level line above them gave such a curious appearance of obliqueness—nor was it to be expected that she should deny herself the use of her advantages, or omit to "take the second" in all the canticles with such melodious liquid tones as made everybody stop and look round. She had a perfect right to do it; indeed it was her duty, as it is everybody's duty, to aid to the best of their ability in the church-music of their parish, which was what Lucilla Marjoribanks persisted in saying in answer to all objections. But the effect was great in the congregation, and even the Rector himself was seen to change colour as his eye fell upon the unlucky young woman. Mr Cavendish, for his part, knew her voice the moment he heard it, and gave a little start, and received such a look from his sister, who was standing by him, as turned him to stone. Mrs Woodburn looked at him, and so did her husband, and Mr Centum turned a solemnly inquiring reproachful gaze upon him from the other side of the aisle. "Oh, Harry, you will kill me with vexation! why, for goodness' sake, did you let her come?" his sister whispered when they had all sat down again. "Good heavens! how could I help it?" cried poor Mr Cavendish, almost loud enough to be heard. And then by the slight, almost imperceptible, hum around him, he felt that not only his sister and his committee, but the Eector and all Carlingford, had their eyes upon him, and was thankful to look up the lesson, poor man, and bury his face in it. It was a hard punishment for the indiscretion of an hour.
But perhaps of all the people concerned it was the Rector who was the most to be pitied. He had staked his honour upon Mr Cavendish's repentance, and here was he going back publicly to wallow in the mire— and it was Sunday, when such a worldly subject ought not to be permitted to enter a good man's mind, much less to be discussed and acted upon as it ought to be if anything was to be done; for there was little more than this sacred day remaining in which to undo the mischief which a too great confidence in human nature had wrought. And then, to tell the truth, the Sector did not know how to turn back. It would have been hard, very hard, to have told all the people who confided in him that he had never had any stronger evidence for Mr Cavendish's repentance than he now had for his backsliding; and to give in, and let the other side have it all their own way, and throw over the candidate with whom he had identified himself, was as painful to Mr Bury as if, instead of being very LowChurch, he had been the most muscular of Christians. Being in this state of mind, it may be supposed that his sister's mild wonder and trembling speculations at lunch, when they were alone together, were well qualified to raise some sparks of that old Adam, who,
Vol. in. o
though well kept under, still existed in the Rector's, as in most other human breasts.
"But, dear Edward, I would not quite condemn him," Miss Bury said. "He has been the cause of a good deal of remark, you know, and the poor girl has been talked about. He may think it is his duty to make her amends. For anything we can tell, he may have the most honourable intentions"
"Oh, bother his honourable intentions!" said the Rector. Such an exclamation from him was as bad as the most dreadful oath from an ordinary man, and very nearly made Miss Bury drop from her chair in amazement. Things must have gone very far indeed when the Rector himself disregarded all proprieties and the sacredness of the day in such a wildly-daring fashion. For, to tell the truth, in his secret heart Mr Bury was himself a little of the way of thinking of the people in Grove Street. Strictly speaking, if a man has done anything to make a young woman be talked about, every well-principled person ought to desire that he should make her amends; but at the same time, at such a crisis there was little consolation in the fact that the candidate one was supporting and doing daily battle for had honourable intentions in respect to Barbara Lake. If it had been Rose Lake, it would still have been a blow; but Rose was unspeakably respect
able, and nobody could have said a syllable on the subject: while Barbara, who came to church in a tin gown, and rustled up the middle aisle in it, attracting all eyes, and took such a second in the canticles that she overwhelmed the choir itself—Barbara, who had made people talk at Lucilla's parties, and had been ten years away, wandering over the face of the earth, nobody could tell where—governessing, singing, playacting, perhaps, for anything that anybody could tell! A clergyman, it is true, dared not have said such a thing, and Mr Bury's remorse would have been bitter could he have really believed himself capable even of thinking it; but still it is certain that the unconscious, unexpressed idea in his mind was, that the honourable intentions were the worst of it—that a candidate might be a fool, or even an unrepentant sinner, and after all it would be chiefly his own concern; but that so much as to dream of making Barbara Lake the Member's wife, was the deepest insult that could be offered to Carlingford. The Bector carried his burden silently all day, and scarcely opened his lips, as all his sympathetic following remarked; but before he went to bed he made a singular statement, the complete accuracy of which an impartial observer might be disposed to doubt, but which Mr Bury uttered with profound sincerity, and with a sigh of self-compassion. "Now I understand Lucilla Marjoribanks," was what the good