Hetty led the way upstairs. “It is all strange at first, dear: I know the feeling. But see how cosy we shall be.” She threw the door open, and showed a room far more comfortably furnished than any at Wroote or Epworth. The housemaid, who adored Hetty, had even lit a fire in the grate. Two beds with white coverlets, coarse but exquisitely clean, stood side by side—“Though we won’t use them both. I must have you in my arms, and drink in every word you have to tell me till you drop off to sleep in spite of me, and hold you even then. Oh, Patty, it is good to have you here!”
But Patty, having untied the strings of her hat, tossed it on to the edge of her bed and collapsed beside it.
“I wish I was dead!” she announced.
John Romley was the cause of her exile. This young man had been a pupil of the Rector’s, and studied divinity with him for a while before matriculating at Lincoln College, Oxford; where in due course he took his degree, and whence he returned, in deacon’s orders, to take charge of the endowed school at Epworth and to help in the spiritual work of the parish. Mr. Wesley’s experience of curates had been far from happy, but Romley promised to be the bright exception in a long list of failures. (It was he who discovered and introduced Johnny Whitelamb to the household.) He was sociable; had pleasant manners, a rotund figure not yet inclining to coarseness, a pink and white complexion, and a mellifluous tenor voice. To his voice, alas! he owed most of his misfortunes in life.
The Rector had no high opinion of his brains: but tolerated him, and at first looked on leniently enough when he began to pay his addresses to Patty. Indeed the courtship proceeded to the gentle envy of her sisters until one fatal night when Romley, in the rectory parlour at Wroote, attuned his voice to sing the Vicar of Bray. In his study Mr. Wesley heard it. He, of all men, was no Vicar of Bray, albeit he had abjured Dissent: but he felt his cloth insulted, and by this fribble of his own order. It was treason in short, and he bounced into the parlour as Mr. Romley carolled:
Anne became our Queen,
The Church of England’s glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory;
Occasional Conformists base—”
There was a scene, and it ended in Romley being shown the door and Patty forbidden to have speech with him. Actually she had not set eyes on him since that night: but the Rector unaccountably omitted to forbid their corresponding. Now Patty, the most literally minded of her sex, had a niggling obstinacy in pursuit of her ends. She would obey to a hair’s breadth: but, nothing having been said about letters, letters passed. Piecing the truth together from her incoherent railings, Hetty learned that the Rector had happened upon a scrap of Romley’s handwriting, had lost his temper furiously and given sentence of banishment.