It was certainly curious that within a few minutes of his having referred to Mrs. Linton, in the presence of Phyllis Ayrton, in a way that had had a very unhappy result so far as he was concerned, he should receive a letter from Mrs. Linton's husband asking for an early interview.
He seated himself in his study chair and began to think what the writer of that letter might have to say to him.
He had not to ask himself if it was possible that Mr. Linton might have a word or two to say to him, respecting the word or two which he, George Holland, had just said about Mrs. Linton; for George knew very well that, though during the previous week or two he had heard some persons speaking lightly of Mrs. Linton, coupling her name with the name of Herbert Courtland, yet he had never had occasion to couple their names together except during the previous half hour, so that it could not be Mr. Linton's intention to take him to task, so to speak, for his indiscretion--his slander, Phyllis might be disposed to term it.
Upon that point he was entirely satisfied. But he was not certain that Mr. Linton did not want to consult him on some matter having more or less direct bearing upon the coupling together of the names of Mrs. Linton and Mr. Courtland. People even in town are fond of consulting clergymen upon curious personal matters--matters upon which a lawyer or a doctor should rather be consulted. He himself had never encouraged such confidences. What did he keep curates for? His curates had saved him many a long hour of talk with inconsequent men and illogical women who had come to him with their stories. What were to him the stories of men whose wives were giving them trouble? What were to him the stories of wives who had difficulties with their housemaids or who could not keep their boys from reading pirate literature? His curates managed the domestic department of his church for him. They could give any earnest inquirer at a moment's notice the addresses of several civil-spoken women (elderly) who went out as mother's helps by the day. They were very useful young men and professed to like this work. He would not do them the injustice to believe that they spoke the truth in that particular way.
He could not fancy for what purpose Mr. Linton wished to see him. But he made up his mind that, if Mr. Linton was anxious that his wife should be remonstrated with, he, George Holland, would decline to accept the duty of remonstrating with her. He was wise enough to know that he did not know very much about womankind; but he knew too much to suppose that there is any more thankless employment than remonstrating with an extremely pretty woman on any subject, but particularly on the subject of a very distinguished man to whom she considers herself bound by ties of the truest friendship.
But then there came upon him with the force of a great shock the recollection of what Phyllis had said to him on this very point:
"/If Ella Linton were wicked, you should be held responsible for it in the sight of God/."
Those were her words, and those words cut asunder the last strand of whatever tie there had been between him and Phyllis.