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A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 13935

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"To be frank with you, Mr. Diamond, I don't believe Dr. Bodkin understands my son's genius."

"I beg your pardon, madam, you said your son's--?"

"Genius, sir; the bent of his genius. Algy's is not a mechanical mind."

Mrs. Errington slightly tossed her head as she uttered the word "mechanical."

Mr. Diamond said "Oh!" and then sat silent.

The room was very quiet. The autumn day was fading, and the mingling of twilight and firelight, and the stillness of the scene, were conducive to mute meditation. It was a long, low room, with an uneven floor, a whitewashed ceiling crossed by heavy beams, and one large bow window. It was furnished with the spindle-legged chairs and tables in use in the last century. A crimson drugget covered the floor, and in front of the hearth lay a rug, made of scraps of black and coloured cloth, neatly sewn together in a pattern. Over the high wooden mantelpiece hung, on one side, a faded water-colour sketch of a gentleman, with powdered hair; and on the other, an oval miniature of much later date, which represented a fair, florid young lady, with large languid blue eyes, and a red mouth, somewhat too full-lipped. Notwithstanding the years which had elapsed since the miniature was painted, it was still sufficiently like Mrs. Errington to be recognised for her portrait. There was an old harpsichord in the room, and a few books on hanging shelves. But the only handsome or costly object to be seen were some delicate blue and white china cups and saucers, which glistened from an oaken corner-cupboard; and a large work-box of tortoise-shell, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, lined with amber satin, and fitted with all the implements of needlework, in richly-chased silver. The box, like the china cupboard, stood wide open to display its contents, and was evidently a subject of pride to its possessor. It was entirely incongruous with the rest of the furniture, which, although decent and serviceable, was very plain, and rather scanty.

Nevertheless the room looked snug and homelike. The coal-fire burnt with a deep glowing light; a small copper kettle was singing cheerily on the hob; tea-things were laid on a table in front of the fire; and a fitful, moaning wind, that rattled now and then against the antique casement, enhanced the comfort of the scene by its suggestion of forlorn chilliness without.

But however the influences of the time and place might incline Mr. Diamond to silence, they had no such effect on Mrs. Errington.

After a short pause, during which she seemed to be awaiting some remark from her companion, she observed once more, "No; I do not think the doctor understands Algy's genius. And that is why I was anxious to ask your advice, on this proposition of Mr. Filthorpe's."

"But, madam, why should you suppose me likely to understand Algernon better than Dr. Bodkin does?"

"Oh, because--In the first place, you are younger, nearer Algy's own age."

"Ah! There is a wide gap, though, between his eighteen and my eight-and-twenty-a wider gap than the mere ten years would necessarily make in all cases."

Mrs. Errington glanced at the speaker, and thought, in the maternal pride of her heart, that there was indeed a wide difference between her joyous, handsome Algernon, and Matthew Diamond, second master at the Whitford Grammar School; and she thought, too, that the difference was all to her son's advantage. Mr. Diamond was a grave-looking young man, with a spare, strong figure, and a face which, in repose, was neither handsome nor ugly. His clean-shaven chin and upper lip were firmly cut, and he had a pair of keen grey eyes. But such as it was, it was a face which most persons who saw it often, fell into a habit of watching. It raised an indefinite expectation. You were instinctively aware of something latent beneath its habitual expression of seriousness and reserve. What the "something" might be, was variously guessed at according to the temperament of the observer.

"Then there is another reason why I wished to consult you," pursued Mrs. Errington. "I have a great opinion of your judgment, from what Algy tells me. I assure you Algy thinks an immense deal of your talents, Mr. Diamond. You must not think I flatter you."

"No," replied Mr. Diamond, very quietly, "I do not think you flatter me."

"And therefore I have told you the state of the case quite openly. And I would not have you hesitate to give your advice, from any fear of disagreeing with my opinion."

Mr. Diamond leaned his elbow on the table, and his face on his hand, which he held so as to hide his mouth-an habitual posture with him-and looked gravely at Mrs. Errington.

"I trust," continued the lady, "that I am superior to the weakness of requiring blind acquiescence from people."

Mrs. Errington spoke in a mellow, measured voice, and had a soft smiling cast of countenance. Both these were frequently contradicted in a startling manner by the words she uttered: for, in truth, the worthy lady's soul and body were no more like each other than a peach-stone is like a peach. Her velvety softness was not affected, but it was merely external, and the real woman was nothing less than tender. Sensitive persons did not fare very well with Mrs. Errington; who, withal, had the reputation of being an exceedingly good-natured woman.

"If you think my advice worth having--" said Mr. Diamond.

"I do really. Now pray don't be shy of speaking out!" interrupted the lady, reassuringly.

"I must tell you that I think your cousin's offer is much too good to be refused, and opens a prospect which many young men would envy."

"You advise us to accept it?"

"Yes."

"Why, then, Mr. Diamond, I don't believe you understand Algy one bit better than the doctor does!" exclaimed Mrs. Errington, leaning back in her chair, and folding her large white hands together in a resigned manner.

"I warned you, you know, that I might not," answered Mr. Diamond, composedly.

"'A prospect which many young men would envy!' Well, perhaps 'many young men,' yes; I daresay. But for Algy! Do but think of it, Mr. Diamond; to sit all day on a high stool in a musty office! You must own that, for a young fellow of my son's spirit, the idea is not alluring."

"Oh, if the question be merely for Algernon to choose some method of passing his time which shall be alluring--"

Mrs. Errington drew herself up a little. "No;" said she, "that is certainly not the question, Mr. Diamond. At the same time, before embracing Mr. Filthorpe's offer, I thought it only reasonable to ask myself, 'May we not do better? Can we not do better?'"

"I begin to perceive," thought Matthew Diamond within himself, "that Mrs. Errington's meaning, when she asks 'advice,' is pretty much like that of most of her neighbours. Having already made up her mind how to act, she would like to be told that her decision is the best and wisest conceivable." He said nothing, however, but bowed his

head a little, to show that he was giving attention to the lady's discourse.

"We have an alternative, you must know," said Mrs. Errington, turning her eyes languidly on Mr. Diamond, but not moving her head from its comfortable resting-place against the back of her well-cushioned arm-chair. "We are not bound hand and foot to this Bristol merchant. By the way, you spoke of him as my cousin--"

"I beg your pardon; is he not so?"

"No; not mine. My poor husband's," with a glance at the portrait over the mantelpiece. "None of my family ever had the remotest connection with commerce."

"Ha! The good fortune was all on the side of the Erringtons?"

This time Mrs. Errington turned her head, so as to look full at her interlocutor. There met her view the same calm forehead, the same steady eyes, the same sheltering hand gently stroking the upper lip, which she had looked upon a minute before.

"My good sir!" she answered, in a tone of patient explanation, "my own family, the Ancrams, were people of the very first quality in Warwickshire. My grandfather never stirred out without his coach and four!"

"Ah!"

"Oh, yes, Algy's prospects in life ought to be very, very different from what they are. Of course he ought to go to the university; but I cannot afford to send him there. I make no secret of my circumstances. College is out of the question for him, poor boy, unless he entered himself as a what-do-you-call-it? A sort of pauper, a sizar. And I suppose you would hardly advise him to do that!"

"No; I should by no means advise it. I was a sizar myself."

"Really? Ah well, then you know what it is. And I am quite sure it would never suit Algy's spirits."

"I am quite sure it would not."

Mrs. Errington's good opinion of the tutor's judgment, which had been considerably shaken, began to revive.

"I see you know something of his character," said she, smiling. "Well, then, the case stands thus; Algy is turned eighteen; he has had the best education I could give him-indeed, my chief motive for settling in this obscure little hole, when I was left a widow, was the fact that Dr. Bodkin, who was an old acquaintance of my husband, was head of the Grammar School here, and I knew I could give my boy the education of a gentleman-up to a certain point-at small expense. He has had this offer from the Bristol man, and he has had another offer of a very different sort from my side of the house."

"Indeed!"

"Oh, yes; perhaps if I had began by stating that circumstance, you might have modified your advice, eh, Mr. Diamond?" This was said in a tone of mild raillery.

"Why," answered Mr. Diamond, slowly, "I must own that my advice usually does depend somewhat on my knowledge of the circumstances of the case under consideration."

"Now, that's candid-and I love candour, as I told you. The fact is, Lord Seely married an Ancram."

There was a pause. Mrs. Errington looked inquiringly at her companion. "You have heard of Lord Seely?" she said.

"I have seen his name in the newspapers, in the days when I used to read newspapers."

"He is a most distinguished nobleman."

Another pause.

"Well," continued Mrs. Errington, condescendingly, "I cannot expect all that to interest you, Mr. Diamond. Perhaps there may be a little family partiality, in my estimate of Lord Seely. However, be that as it may, he married an Ancram. She was of the younger branch, my father's second cousin. When Algy first began to turn his thoughts towards a diplomatic career--"

"Eh?"

"A diplomatic--Oh, didn't you know? Yes; he has had serious thoughts of it for some time."

"Algernon?"

"Certainly! And, in confidence, Mr. Diamond, I think it would suit him admirably. I fancy it is what his genius is best adapted for. Well, when I perceived this bent in him, I made-indirectly-application to Lady Seely, and she returned-also indirectly-a most gracious answer. She should be happy to receive Mr. Algernon Ancram Errington, whenever she was in town."

"Is that all?"

"All?"

"All that you have to tell me, to modify-and so on?"

"That would lead to more, don't you see? Lord Seely has enormous influence, and I don't know anyone better able to push the fortunes of a young man like Algy."

"But has he promised anything definite?"

"He could hardly do that, seeing that, as yet, he knows nothing of my son whatever! My dear Mr. Diamond, when you know as much of the world as I do, you will see that it does not do to rush at things in a hurry. You must give people time. Especially a man like Lord Seely, who of course cannot be expected to-to--"

"Do you mean that you seriously contemplate dropping the substance of Filthorpe, for this shadow of Seely?"

"Mr. Diamond! What very extraordinary expressions!"

Mr. Diamond took his hand from his mouth, clasped both hands on his knee, and sat looking into the fire as abstractedly as if there had been no other person within sight or sound of him.

Mrs. Errington, apparently taking it for granted that his attitude was one of profound attention to herself, proceeded flowingly to justify her decision, for it evidently was a decision-to decline the Bristol merchant's offer of employment and a home for her son. Besides Algy's "genius," there were other objections. Mr. Filthorpe had a vulgar wife and a vulgar daughter. Of course they must be vulgar. That was clear. And who could say that they might not endeavour to entangle Algy in some promise, or engagement, to marry the daughter? Nay, it was very certain that they would make such an endeavour. Possibly-probably-that was old Filthorpe's real object in inviting his young relative to accept a place in his counting-house. Indeed, they might confidently consider that it was so. Of course Algy would be a bait to these people! And as to Lord Seely, Mr. Diamond did not know (how should he? seeing that he had been little more than a twelvemonth in Whitford, and out of that time had scarcely ever had an hour's converse with her) that she, Mrs. Errington, was a person rather apt to hide and diminish, than unduly blazon forth her family glories. And she was, moreover, scrupulous to a fault in the accuracy of all her statements. Nevertheless, she must say that there was, perhaps, no nobleman in England whose patronage would have more weight than his lordship's; and whether or not the brilliancy of Algy's parts, and the charm of his manners, would be likely to captivate a man of Lord Seely's taste and cultivation; that she left to the sense and candour of any one who knew, and could appreciate her son.

Mr. Diamond uttered an odd, smothered kind of sound.

"Eh?" said Mrs. Errington, mellifluously.

There was no answer.

"Hulloa!" cried a blithe voice, as the door was suddenly thrown open. "Why, you're all in the dark here!"

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Diamond, jumping to his feet, and then sitting down again, "I believe-I'm afraid I was almost asleep!"

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