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A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 15687

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The little group round Minnie's sofa dispersed as Mr. Diamond came forward. He was barely known by sight to most of them, and merely bowed gravely and shyly, without speaking.

"Who's that?" asked Colonel Whistler, in a loud whisper, of his eldest niece. "Eh? oh! ah! second master-yes, yes, yes; to be sure!" And the gallant gentleman walked off to the card-room, and joined the party at Mrs. Dockett's table, where there was a vacant place. It must be owned that the colonel's appearance was by no means rapturously hailed there. He was a notoriously bad player. Fate, however, allotted him as a partner to Mr. Warlock. Mrs. Dockett and Mr. Smith exchanged glances of satisfaction, and the gloom on Mr. Warlock's brow perceptibly deepened as the colonel, polite, smiling, and eager for the fray, took his seat opposite to that clerical victim.

"Algy, give Mr. Diamond your chair," said Miss Bodkin. It was in this imperious manner that she occasionally addressed her young friend. In her eyes he was still a school-boy. And then she was four years his senior, and had been a young woman grown when he was still playing marbles and munching toffy.

Algy by no means considered himself a school-boy, but he had excellent tact and temper. He rose directly, shook hands with his tutor, and then standing opposite to Minnie, put his knuckles to his forehead, after the fashion in vogue amongst rustic children by way of salute, and said meekly, "Yes'm, please'm."

Minnie laughed. "You don't mind, do you, Algernon?" she said, looking up at him.

"Not at all, Miss Bodkin. You have merely cast another blight over my young existence. I am growing to look like the reverend Peter, in consequence of your ill-usage. Don't you perceive a ghastly hue upon my brow? No? Ah, well, you would if you had any feeling. Here, let me put this cushion better for you. Will that do?"

"Capitally, thanks. And, look here, Algy; I can't bear any music to-night, so will you get mamma to set the McDougalls down to a round game? And play yourself, there's a good boy!"

"Oh, Minnie, you ought to have been Mrs. Nero. There never was such a tyrant. Well, Pawkins and I must make ourselves agreeable, I suppose. For England, home, and beauty-here goes!" And Algernon speedily had the two Miss McDougalls, and Mr. Pawkins, and Alethea Dockett engaged in a game of vingt-et-un-played in a very infantine manner by the first-named ladies, and with a good deal of business-like gravity by little Alethea, who liked to win.

Mr. Diamond looked at the group with his hand over his mouth, after his habit.

"Isn't he a nice fellow?" asked Minnie, watching Mr. Diamond's face curiously.

"Errington?"

"Of course!"

"Very."

"But now, tell me-do sit down here; I want to talk to you. You come so seldom. I wonder why you came to-night?"

"I chanced to meet Mrs. Bodkin in the street, and she asked me so pressingly-she is so good!"

Minnie's face wore a pained look. "It is a pity mamma should have teased you," she said, in a low voice.

Matthew Diamond took no notice of the words. Perhaps he did not hear them. "I am not fit to go to evening parties," he continued. "The very wax-lights dazzle me. I feel like a bat or an owl."

"Too wise for your company, that means!"

"How can you say so? No: I assure you I was compared to an owl the other evening by a lady, and I felt the justice of the comparison."

"By a lady! What lady?"

Mr. Diamond smiled a little amused smile at the authoritative tone of the question. Minnie did not see it. She was leaning her elbow on a cushion, and had her face turned towards Mr. Diamond; but her eyes, which usually looked out, open and unabashed, were half veiled by their lids.

"The lady was Mrs. Errington," answered the tutor, after a moment's pause.

"She called you an owl? That eagle? Well, she has this aquiline quality; I believe she could stare the sun himself out of countenance!"

"You were asking me to tell you--" said Mr. Diamond.

"To tell me--? Oh, yes; about the Methodist preacher. That caricature is not like him, you say?"

"Not at all. It is a vulgar conception of the man."

"And the man is not vulgar? I am glad of that! Tell me about him."

Matthew Diamond had heard the preacher more than once. The first time had been by chance on Whit Meadow. The other times were in the crowded, close Wesleyan chapel, into which he had penetrated at the cost of a good deal of personal inconvenience, so greatly had Powell's eloquence impressed him.

"The man is like a flame of fire," he said. "It is wonderful! He must be like Garrick, according to the descriptions I have heard. And, then, this fellow is so handsome-wild and oriental-looking. I always long to clap a turban on his head, and a great flowing robe over his shoulders."

Minnie listened eagerly, with parted lips, to all that Diamond would tell her of the preacher.

"That is for his manner," she said, at length. "Now, as to the matter?"

Mr. Diamond paused. "The man is an enthusiast, you know," he answered, gravely.

"But as to his doctrine? Give me some idea of the kind of thing he says."

"Not now."

"Yes; now. This moment."

"Excuse me; I cannot enter into the subject now."

Minnie raises her brown eyes to his steel-grey ones, and then drops her own quickly.

"Will you ever?" she asks, meekly.

"Perhaps. I don't know."

Miss Bodkin is not accustomed to be answered with such unceremonious curtness; but, perhaps on account of its novelty, Mr. Diamond's blunt disregard of her requests (in that house Minnie's requests have the weight of commands) does not ruffle her. She bears it with the most perfect sweetness, and proceeds to discourse of other things.

"Don't you think it a pity," she says, "that Algernon Errington should have refused his cousin's offer?"

"A great pity-for him."

"Ah! you think Mr. Filthorpe of Bristol is not to be condoled with on the occasion?"

Mr. Diamond's firmly closed lips remain immovable.

Minnie looks at him wistfully, and then says suddenly, "Do you know I like Algy very much! There is something so bright and winning and gay about him! I have known him so long-ever since he came here as a small child in a frock. And papa knew his father, Dr. Errington. He was a very clever man, a brilliant talker, and greatly sought after in society. Algy inherits all that. And he has-what they say his father had not-a temper that is almost perfect, thoroughly sound and sweet. I wish you liked him."

"Who tells you that I do not like him? You are mistaken in fancying so. I think Errington one of the most winning fellows I ever knew in my life."

"Y-yes; but you don't think so well of him as I do."

"Perhaps that is hardly to be expected! And pardon me, Miss Bodkin, but you don't know--"

"I know nothing about your thoughts on the subject!" interrupts Minnie quickly, and with a bright, mischievous glance. "Forgive my interrupting you; but when I am to have a cold shower-bath, I like to pull the string myself. Now it's over."

"You think me a terrible bear," says Diamond, looking down on her beautiful, animated face.

"Ah! take care. If I know nothing about your thoughts, how do you pretend to guess mine? Besides, I am not so zoological in my choice of epithets as your friend, Mrs. Errington. Papa nearly quarrelled with that lady on the subject of Algy's going away. But, you know, it is not all Mrs. Errington's fault. Algy chooses to try his fortune under the auspices of Lord Seely-I can see that plainly enough. And what Algy chooses his mother chooses. He has been terribly spoiled."

"It is a great misfortune--"

"To be spoiled?"

"For him to have lost his father when he was a child. Otherwise he might not have been so pampered: though fathers spoil their children sometimes!"

"Mine spoils me, I think. But then there is an excuse, after all, for spoiling me."

"My dear Miss Bodkin, you cannot suppose that I had any such meaning."

"You? Oh, no! You are honest: you never speak in innuendoes. But it is true, you know. My father and mother have spoiled me. Poor father and mother! I am but a miserable, frail little craft for them to have ventured so much love and devotion in!"

It was not in mortal man-not even in mortal man whose heart was filled with a passion for another woman-to refrain from a tender glance and a soft tone, in answer to Minnie's pathetic little plaint. Her beauty and her intellect might be resisted: her helplessness, and acknowledgment of peculiar affliction, could not be.

"Ah!" said Matthew Diamond; "who would not embark all their freight of affection in such a venture as the hope that you would love them again? I think your parents are paid."

It has been said that Mr. Diamond's calm, grave face raised an indefinite expectation in the beholder. When he said those words to Minnie Bodkin, you would have thought, if you had been watching him, that you had found the key of the puzzle, and that an ineffable tenderness was the secret that lay hid beneath that grave mask. The stern mouth smiled, the stern eyes beamed, the straight brows were lifted in a compassionate curve. Minnie had never seen his face with that look on it, and the change in it gave her a curious pang, half of pain, half of pleasure. Strong conflicting feelings battled in her. She was strung to a high pitch of excitement; and her eyes brightened, and her pulse beat quicker-all for a look, a smile, a beam of the eye from this staid, quiet schoolmaster! What do we know of the thought in our neighbour's brain? of the thrill that makes his heart flutter? We do not care for this air-bubble. How can he? It is yonder beautiful transparent ball, all radiant with prismatic colours, that we expend our breath upon. Up it goes-up, up, up-look! No; our stupid neighbour is watching his own airy sphere, which is not nearly so beautiful; and which, we know, will burst presently!

The game of vingt-et-un comes to an end. Almost at the same moment the whist-players break up, and come trooping into the drawing-room; trooping and talking rather noisily, to say the truth, as though to indemnify themselves for the silence which Doctor Bodkin insists upon during the classic game. Mrs. Bodkin bustles up to her daughter; hopes she is not tired; thinks she looks a little fagged; wonders why she did not have any music, as she generally likes Rose McDougall's Scotch ballads; supposes Mr. Diamond preferred not to play, as she sees he has been sitting out, and trusts he has not been bored.

But of all the people present, Mrs. Bodkin alone guesses that Minnie has enjoyed her evening, and why. And, with her mother's and woman's instinct, she knows that Minnie's pleasure would have been spoiled by guessing that it had been guessed. For the rest, this small anxious-faced woman cares but little. She would tear your feelings to mince-meat to feed the fancies of her daughter, as ruthlessly as any maternal vixen would slay a chicken for her cubs; although, for herself, no hare is milder or more timid.

The Misses McDougall are in good spirits. They have won, and they have had the two young men all to themselves, for Ally Dockett in short frocks doesn't count. Also Minnie Bodkin has kept aloof. That bright lamp of hers is not favourable to such twinkling little rushlights as Rose and Violet are able to display. But this evening they have not been quenched by a superior luminary, and are quite radiant and cheerful. Dr. Bodkin, too, is contented in his lofty manner; for there has been no music, and he has enjoyed his rubber in peace. Colonel Whistler has lost, but the stakes are always modest at Dr. Bodkin's table, and he doesn't mind it. Over the feelings of the Rev. Peter Warlock it will, perhaps, be best to draw a veil. The reverend gentleman stalks in, and sits down in a corner, whence he can stare at Minnie unobserved. It is the only comfort he enjoys throughout the evening. And for this he thinks it worth while to submit to the peine forte et dure of playing whist, with Colonel Whistler for his partner.

Mrs. Errington sails towards Minnie's sofa, and suddenly stops short, and opens her eyes very wide.

Mr. Diamond, who is the object of her gaze, rises and bows. "Good evening, madam," he says, unable to repress a smile at her manifest astonishment on beholding him there.

"Why, how do you do, Mr. Diamond? Dear me! I little expected to see you this evening. Dear Minnie, how are you now? Well, this is a surprise!"

Then, as Mr. Diamond moves away, Mrs. Errington takes his chair beside Minnie, and says to her confidentially-"Now, I hope, Minnie, you won't owe me a grudge for it; but I must confess that if it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have had that gentleman to entertain this evening."

"What on earth do you mean?" cries Minnie, with scant ceremony, and flashes an impatient glance at the lady's soft, smiling, self-satisfied visage.

"My dear, I advised him to come here a little oftener. I think he felt diffident, you know, and all that. Poor man, he is rather dull, although Algy is always crying up his talents. But it really is kind to bring him forward a little. I asked him to tea the other night. You see he must feel it a good deal when people are affable, and so on, for"-here her voice sank to a whisper-"he told me himself that he had been a sizar."

With all which benevolent remarks Miss Bodkin is, of course, highly delighted. She does not forget them either; for after the negus has been drunk, and the sandwiches eaten, and the company has departed, she says to her father, "Papa, was Mr. Diamond a sizar?"

"I don't know, child. Very likely. None the worse for that, if he were."

"The worse! No!" returns Minnie, with a superb smile.

"Who says he was?"

"Mrs. Errington."

"Pooh! Ten to one it isn't true then. She has her good points, poor woman, but the Ancrams are all liars; every one of them! Greatest liars in all the Midland Counties. It runs in the family, like gout."

"It does not seem likely, certainly, that Mr. Diamond should have confided the circumstance to Mrs. Errington," observed Minnie, thoughtfully.

"Confided! No; I never knew a man less likely to confide anything to anybody."

"However, after all, it is a thing which all the world might know, isn't it, papa?"

Dr. Bodkin was not interested in the question. He gave a great loud yawn, and declared it was time for Minnie to go to bed.

"It doesn't follow that I'm sleepy because you yawn, papa!" she said saucily.

"You are tired though, puss! I see it in your face. Go to bed. Mrs. Bodkin, get Minnie off to rest."

He bent to kiss his daughter, and bid her good night.

"Say 'God bless' me, papa," she whispered, drawing his head down and kissing his forehead.

"Don't I always say it? God bless you, my darling!"

There were tears in Minnie's eyes as she turned her head away among her cushions. But nobody saw them. She talked to the maid who undressed her about Mr. Powell, the Methodist preacher, and asked her if she had heard him, and what the folks said about him in the town.

"No, Miss Minnie. I've never heard him, and I know master wouldn't think it right for any of us to be going to a dissenting chapel. But I do think as there's some good to be got there, miss. For my brother Richard, him that lives groom at Pudcombe Hall-he went and got-got 'conversion,' I think they call it, at Mr. Powell's. And since then he's never touched a drop of liquor, nor a bad word never comes out of his mouth. And he says he's quite happy and comfortable in his mind, miss."

"Is he? How I envy him!"

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