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Chapter VI
Esther's regrets on quitting her work at the church lasted not so long as Catherine's,
though they were more serious. She had already begun to feel alarmed about her
father's condition, and nothing but his positive order had induced her to leave him even
for a few hours every day. She had seen that his strength steadily failed; he suffered
paroxysms of pain; he lost consciousness more than once; and although he insisted to
the last on acting as though he were well, his weakness increased until he could no
longer sit out a game of whist, but was forced to lie on the sofa in his library where he
liked to see every visitor who came to the house. He required that every thing about him
should go on as usual, and not only made Esther go regularly to her work, but took keen
interest in hearing from her and Catherine all that was said and done at the church. He
delighted in laughing at Catherine about her romantic relations with Wharton, but he
made no jokes about Mr. Hazard. He thought from the first that this intimacy might be a
serious matter for Esther, but he would not again interfere in her affairs, and feared
making things worse by noticing them. He watched Hazard sharply, until Esther had the
uncomfortable sense of feeling that her father's eyes were never far away from the
clergyman when he came to the house. She knew, or fancied she knew, every thought
in her father's mind, and his silence embarrassed her more than criticism could have
done. She asked herself in vain why her father, disliking the clergy as she knew he did,
should suddenly admit a clergyman into his intimacy. In truth, Mr. Dudley looked on
himself as no longer having a right to speak; his feelings and prejudices were to be kept
out of her life; but he could watch, and the longer he watched, the more intense his
interest became.
When Esther and Catherine returned from the church with their account of Wharton's
wife, their first act was to tell the story to Mr. Dudley, who lay on his sofa and listened
with keen interest.
"I suppose you meant to come back for my revolver," said he to Catherine, whose little
explosions of courage always amused him. "I think I could almost have crawled round to
see you take a shot at your French friend as she started for you."
"Oh, no!" said Catherine modestly. "I would have given the revolver to Mr. Wharton."
"Don't do it, Catherine! Wharton could not hit the church door with it. Suppose he had
shot you instead of the other woman!"
"Of course!" said Catherine reflectively. "He wouldn't know how to use a revolver, would
he? I suppose I ought to teach him."
"Better not!" said Mr. Dudley. "Keep him under. You may have to talk with him one of
these days, after you have settled your little misunderstanding with his wife."