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A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 11010

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

In how few cases would the power to "see oursel's as ithers see us" be other than a very malevolent and wicked fairy-like gift! And, perhaps, the discovery of the real reasons why our friends like us, would not be the least mortifying part of the revelation.

Now, the Bodkins liked Miss Chubb. But they did not like her for her manners, her knowledge of the usages of polite society, her highly respectable clerical connections, or the little gummed-down curls on her forehead; on all of which Miss Chubb prided herself.

Dr. Bodkin liked her principally because she was an old acquaintance. It pleased him to see various people, and to do and say various things daily, often for no better reason than that he had seen the same people, and done and said the same things yesterday, and throughout a long, backward-reaching chain of yesterdays. Mrs. Bodkin liked her because she was good-natured, and neither strong-minded nor strong-willed enough to domineer over her. Minnie liked her because she found her peculiarities very amusing.

"Miss Chubb has the veriest rag-bag of a mind," said Minnie, "and pulls out of it, every now and then, unexpected scraps of ignorance as other folks display bits of knowledge, in the oddest way!" She could often endure to listen to Miss Chubb's chatter, when the talk of wiser people irritated her nerves. And Minnie would speak with Miss Chubb on many subjects more unreservedly than she did with any other of her acquaintances.

"What Minnie Bodkin can find in that affected old maid, to have her so much with her when she is so reserved and stand-offish to-to quite superior persons, and nearer her own age, I am at a loss to understand!" Violet McDougall would say, tossing her thin spiral ringlets. And Rose, the bitterer of the two, would make answer, raspingly: "Why, Miss Chubb toadies her, my dear. That's the secret. Poor Minnie! Of course one wishes to make every allowance for her afflicted state; but there are limits. Miss Chubb is almost a fool, and that suits poor dear Minnie's domineering spirit."

Unconscious of these and similar comments, Minnie and Miss Chubb continued to be very good friends.

There sat Miss Chubb in Dr. Bodkin's drawing-room one Saturday about noon; her round face beaming, and her fat fingers covered with huge old-fashioned rings, busily engaged in some bright-coloured worsted work. She had come early, and was to have luncheon with Mrs. Bodkin and Minnie, and was a good deal elated by the privilege, although she did her best to repress any ebullition of her good spirits, and to assume the languishing air which she chose to consider peculiarly genteel.

Minnie and Miss Chubb were alone. Mrs. Bodkin was "busy." Mrs. Bodkin was nearly always "busy." She superintended the machinery of her household very effectively. But she was one of those persons whose labours meet with scant recognition. Dr. Bodkin had a vague idea that his wife liked to be fussing about in kitchen and storeroom, and that she did a great deal more than was necessary, but, "then, you see, it amused her." He very much liked order, punctuality, economy, and good cookery; and since it "amused" Laura to supply him with these, the combination was at once fortunate and satisfactory.

"My dear Minnie," said Miss Chubb, raising her eyes to the ceiling with a languishing glance, which would have been more effective had it not been invariably accompanied by an odd wrinkling up of the nose, "did you ever, in all your days hear of anything so extraordinary as the appearance of those Methodist people at church on Sunday?"

"It was strange."

"Strange! My dear love, it was amazing. But it ought to be a matter of congratulation to us all, to see Dissenters embracing the canons of the Church! And the Methodists, especially, are such dreadful people. I believe they think nothing of foaming at the mouth, and going into convulsions, in the open chapel. I wonder if those Maxfields felt anything of the kind on Sunday? It would have been a terrible thing, my dear, if they had had to be carried out on stretchers, or anything of that sort. What would Mr. Bodkin have said?"

"I don't think there's any fear of papa's sermons throwing anybody into convulsions."

"Of course not, my dear child. Pray don't imagine that I hinted at such a thing. No, no; Mr. Bodkin is ever gentleman-like, ever soothing and composing, in the pulpit. But people, you know, who have been used to convulsions-they really might not be able to leave them off all at once. You may smile, my dear Minnie; but I assure you that such things have been known to become quite chronic. And, once a thing gets to be chronic--"

Miss Chubb left her sentence unfinished, as she often did; but remained with an expressive countenance, which suggested horrible results from "things getting to be chronic."

"It seems an odd caprice of Fate," said Minnie, who had been pursuing her own reflections, "that, no sooner do I make Rhoda Maxfield's acquaintance, for the sole reason that she is a Methodist, than she and her family turn into orthodox church people."

"People will say you converted her, my dear."

"I daresay they will, as it isn't true."

"Now, I wonder who did convert them."

"If you care to know, I think I can tell you that the real reason why Maxfield left the Wesleyans, was a quarrel he had with their preacher. My maid Jane has a brother who belongs to the Society; and he gave her an account of the matter."

"Dear, dear! You d

on't say so! Of course the preacher is furious? Those kind of Ranters are very violent sometimes. I remember, when I was quite a girl, a man on a tub, who used to scream and use the most dreadful language. So much so, that poor papa forbade our going within earshot of him."

"No; David Powell is not furious. I am told that he astonished some of the more bigoted of his flock, by reminding them that they ought to have charity enough to believe that a man may worship acceptably in any Christian community."

"Did he really? Now, that positively was very proper of the man, and very right. Quite right, indeed."

"So that I think we may assume that he is on the road to Heaven, Methodist though he be."

"Oh, Minnie!"

"Does that shock you, Miss Chubb?"

"Well, my dear, yes; it does, rather. My family has been connected with the Church for generations. And-one doesn't like to hear Dr. Bodkin's daughter talk of being sure that a Dissenter is on the road to Heaven."

Minnie lay back on her sofa, and looked at Miss Chubb complacently bending over her knitting. Gradually the look of amused scorn on Minnie's face softened into melancholy thoughtfulness. She wondered how David Powell would have met such an observation as Miss Chubb's. He had to deal with even narrower and more ignorant minds than hers. What method did he take to touch them? To Minnie it all seemed very hopeless, so long as men and women continued to be such as those she saw around her. And yet this preacher did move them very powerfully. If she could but meet him face to face, and have speech with him!

There was one person to whom she was strongly impelled to detail her perplexities, and to express her fluctuating feelings and opinions on more momentous subjects than she had ever yet spoken with him upon. But there were a hundred little counter impulses pulling against this strong one, and holding it in check.

Miss Chubb's voice broke in upon her meditations by uttering loudly the name that was in Minnie's mind.

"My dear, I think it's quite a case with Mr. Diamond."

Minnie's heart gave a great bound; and the deep, burning blush which was so rare and meant so much with her, covered her face from brow to chin. Miss Chubb's eyes were fixed on her knitting. When, after a short pause, she raised them to seek some response, Minnie was quite pale again. She met Miss Chubb's gaze with bright, steady eyes, a thought more wide open than usual.

"How do you mean 'a case'?" she asked carelessly.

"I mean, my dear, a case of falling, or having fallen, in love."

The white lids drooped a little over the beautiful eyes, and a look, partly of pleasure, partly of fluttered surprise, swept over Minnie's face, as the breeze sweeps over a corn-field, touching it with shifting lights and shadows.

"What nonsense!" she said, in a little uncertain voice, unlike her usual clear tones.

"Now, my dear Minnie, I must beg to differ. I might give up my judgment to you on a point of-of-" (Miss Chubb hesitated a long time here, for she found it extremely difficult to think of any subject on which she didn't know best)-"on a point of the dead languages, for instance. But on this point I maintain that I have a certain penetration and coo-doyl. And I say that it is a case with Mr. Diamond and little Rhoda-at least on his side. And of course she would be ready to jump out of her skin for joy, only I don't think the idea has entered into her head as yet. How should it, in her station? Of course--. But as to him--! If I ever read a human countenance in my life, he admires her-oh, over head and ears! To see him staring at her from behind your sofa when she sits by Mrs. Errington--! No, no, my dear; depend upon it, I am correct. And I don't know but what it might do very well, because, although educated, Mr. Diamond is a man of no birth. And the girl is pretty, and will have all old Max's savings. So that really--"

Thus, and much more in the same disjointed fashion, Miss Chubb.

Minnie felt like one who is conscious of having swallowed a deadly but slow poison. For the present there is no pain; only a horrible watchful apprehension of the moment when the pain shall begin.

Some faculties of her mind seemed curiously numb. But the active part of it accepted the truth of what had been said, unhesitatingly.

Miss Chubb paused at last breathless.

"You look fagged, Minnie," she said. "Have I tired you? Mrs. Bodkin will scold me if I have."

"No; you have not tired me. But I think I will go and be quiet in my own room. Tell mamma I don't want any lunch. Please ring for Jane."

Mrs. Bodkin came into the room in her quick, noiseless way. She had heard the bell. Minnie reiterated her wish to be wheeled into her own room, and left quiet. She spoke briefly and peremptorily, and her desire was promptly complied with.

"I never cross her, or talk to her much when she is not feeling well," whispered Mrs. Bodkin to Miss Chubb; thereby checking a lively stream of suggestions, regrets, and inquiries which the spinster was beginning to pour forth in her most girlish manner.

"There, my darling," said her mother, preparing to close the door of Minnie's room softly. "If any of the Saturday people come I shall say you are not well enough to see them to-day."

"No!" cried Minnie, with sharp decisiveness. "I wish to come into the drawing-room by-and-by. Don't send them away. It will be Algy's last Saturday. I mean to come into the drawing-room."

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