With a firm, dignified step, as if he measured the distance, the rector paced the pavement between the inn and the Manor House. He knew of no cause for the veiling of an eyelash before human being. It was true he had closed his eyes to certain faults in the man of good estate and old name who had done him the honor of requesting the hand of his one child, and, leaving her to judge for herself, had not given her the knowledge which might have led her to another conclusion; it had satisfied him that the man’s wild oats were sown: after the crop he made no inquiry. It was also true that he had not mentioned a certain vice in the last horse he sold; but then he hoped the severe measures taken had cured him. He was aware that at times he took a few glasses of port more than he would have judged it proper to carry to the pulpit or the communion table, for those he counted the presence of his Maker; but there was a time for every thing. He was conscious to himself, I repeat, of nothing to cause him shame, and in the tramp of his boots there was certainly no self-abasement. It was true he performed next to none of the duties of the rectorship—but then neither did he turn any of its income to his own uses; part he paid his curate, and the rest he laid out on the church, which might easily have consumed six times the amount in desirable, if not absolutely needful repairs. What further question could be made of the matter? the church had her work done, and one of her most precious buildings preserved from ruin to the bargain. How indignant he would have been at the suggestion that he was after all only an idolater, worshiping what he called The Church, instead of the Lord Christ, the heart-inhabiting, world-ruling king of heaven! But he was a very good sort of idolater, and some of the Christian graces had filtered through the roofs of the temple upon him—eminently those of hospitality and general humanity—even uprightness so far as his light extended; so that he did less to obstruct the religion he thought he furthered, than some men who preach it as on the house-tops.
It was from policy, not from confidence in Mrs. Ramshorn, that he went to her first. He liked his curate, and every one knew she hated him. If, of any thing he did, two interpretations were possible—one good, and one bad, there was no room for a doubt as to which she would adopt and publish. Not even to herself, however, did she allow that one chief cause of her hatred was, that, having all her life been used to a pair of horses, she had now to put up with only a brougham.
To the brass knocker on her door, the rector applied himself, and sent a confident announcement of his presence through the house. Almost instantly the long-faced butler, half undertaker, half parish-clerk, opened the door; and seeing the rector, drew it wide to the wall, inviting him to step into the library, as he had no doubt Mrs. Ramshorn would be at home to him. Nor was it long ere she appeared, in rather youthful morning dress, and gave him a hearty welcome; after which, by no very wide spirals of descent, the talk swooped presently upon the curate.