The Curate in Charge (1876)

The hard-working, good-natured reverend Cecil St John has an eminently conformist nature and soon settles in the life of curate to the always absent rector of Brentburn, actually undertaking all of the latter's duties. Already a middle aged man he marries a woman around his age, Hester Maydew, who has grown an old maid taking care after her elderly parents. she is a brilliant housewife and she runs her household exemplarily under her humble income until her death, when her daughters, Mab and Cicely are but eleven and twelve. Both are good daughters and fairly accomplished women, Mab in drawing, Cicely, after her mother, in housekeeping.

When a spinster aunt offers to pay for the girls' education and they are sent away, the poor curate is at a loss what to do with the meek governess who is to be sent away, and instead proposes marriage so that she need not look for a new home. Inefficient and weak, the new household keeper soon runs into debt, and passes away quite indifferently a few years later after leaving two frail twin sons behind her. The daughters, now working for their board at school, decide to go back home and assist their elderly father on this occassion.

Their return coincides with a dreadful piece of news, the rector has died, and a new young rector has been appointed by the college in ignorance of the venerable curate's current position. Perplexed and aggrieved by debt and the dreary idea of leaving their home, Cicely takes the reins of her family and encourages her sister to move with their aunt so that she can find her living as artist. Little does the new rector know of this state of affairs, and what is his surprise when his first visit reveals to him the consequences of his acceptance of the post. He hardly needs it, already an affluent scholar, but he is looking for a noble occupation for his days. He is very much impressed by Cicely's deep concern about her father, and wishes to give up to his position, and only accepts it when he learns he would only be turning it over to another man who would not be as considerate of the old curate's feelings. He wants to keep him as his curate, arguing he hardly knows about his duties. but the old man insists he will never accept charity, and a date is arranged for their departure from the rectory.

But age and sudden change have wrecked the old man's health, and he is stricken with sickness on the very day of his departure, and very quickly dies. Cicely decides she will work for her half brothers, even if that means coming down her social position in applying for the post of parish schoolmistress. She toils diligently but soullessly in her new position for the sake of her little, ready made family until one day, the rector proposes to her and she accepts, not exactly in love, but implicitly harbouring affectionate feelings for the young man who has long kept watch over her since her misfortune.