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   Chapter 12 No.12

A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 14472

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Minnie, during the hour's quiet solitude which was hers before the Saturday guests began to arrive, got her thoughts into some clear order, and began to look things in the face. She did not look far ahead; merely kept her attention fixed on that which the next few hours might hold for her. She pictured to herself what she would say, and even how she would look. Cost what it might, no trace of her real feelings should appear. Her heart might bleed, but none should see the wound. She could not yet tell herself how deep the hurt was. She would not look at it, would not probe it. Not yet! That should be afterwards; perhaps in the long dim hours of her sleepless night. Not yet!

She put on her panoply of pride, and braced up her nerves to a pitch of strained excitement. And then, after all, the effort seemed to have been wasted! There was no fight to be fought, no struggle to be made. The social atmosphere among her visitors that Saturday afternoon was as mildly relaxing as the breath of a misty woodland landscape in autumn, and Minnie felt her Spartan mood melting beneath it.

Whether it were due to the influence of Dr. Bodkin's presence (the doctor usually spent the Saturday half-holiday in his study, preparing the morrow's sermon; or, it may be, occasionally reading the newspaper, or even taking a nap)-or whether it were the shadow of Algernon's approaching departure, the fact was that the little company appeared depressed, and attuned to melancholy.

Rhoda Maxfield was not there. She had privately told Algy that she could not bear to be present among his friends on that last Saturday. "They will be saying 'Good-bye' to you, and-and all that," said the girl, with quivering lips. "And I know I should burst out crying before them all." Whereupon Algy had eagerly commended her prudent resolution to stay at home.

No other of the accustomed frequenters of the Bodkins' drawing-room was absent. The doctor's was the only unusual presence in the little assembly. He stood in his favourite attitude on the hearth, and surveyed the company as if they had been a class called up for examination. Mr. Diamond sat beside Miss Bodkin's sofa, and was, perhaps, a thought more grave and silent than usual.

Minnie lay with half-closed eyes on her sofa, and felt almost ashamed of the proud resolutions she had been making. It seemed very natural to be silently miserable. No one appeared to expect her to be anything else. If she had even begun to cry, as Miss Chubb did when Algernon went to the piano and sang "Auld Lang Syne," it would have excited no wondering remark.

Pathos was not Algy's forte in general, but circumstances gave a resistless effect to his song. The tears ran down Miss Chubb's cheeks, so copiously, as to imperil the little gummed curls that adorned her face. Even the Reverend Peter Warlock, who was a little jealous of Algy's high place in Miss Bodkin's good graces, exhibited considerable feeling on this occasion, and joined in the chorus "For au-auld la-ang syne, my friends," with his deep bass voice, which had a hollow tone like the sound of the wind in the belfry of St. Chad's.

Here Mrs. Errington's massive placidity became useful. She broke the painful pause which ensued upon the last note of the song, by asking Dr. Bodkin, in a sonorous voice, if he happened to be acquainted with Lord Seely's remarkably brilliant pamphlet on the dog-tax.

"No," replied the doctor, shaking his head slowly and emphatically, as who should say that he challenged society to convict him of any such acquaintance.

It did not at all matter to Mrs. Errington whether he had or had not read the pamphlet in question, the existence of which, indeed, had only come to her own knowledge that morning, by the chance inspection of an old newspaper that had been hunted out to wrap some of Algy's belongings in. What the good lady had at heart was the introduction of Lord Seely's name, in whose praise she forthwith began a flowing discourse.

This brought Miss Chubb, figuratively speaking, to her legs. She always a little resented Mrs. Errington's aristocratic pretensions, and was accustomed to oppose to them the fashionable reminiscences of her sole London season, which had been passed in an outwardly smoke-blackened and inwardly time-tarnished house in Manchester Square, whereof the upper floors had been hired furnished for a term by the Right Reverend the Bishop of Plumbunn. And the bishop's lady had "chaperoned" Miss Chubb to such gaieties as seemed not objectionable to the episcopal mind. As the rose-scent of youth still clung to the dry and faded memories of that time, Miss Chubb always recurred to them with pleasure.

Having first carefully wiped away her tears by the method of pressing her handkerchief to her eyes and cheeks as one presses blotting-paper to wet ink, so as not to disturb the curls, Miss Chubb plunged, with happy flexibility of mood, into the midst of a rout at Lady Tubville's, nor paused until she had minutely described five of the dresses worn on that occasion, including her own and the bishopess's, from shoe to head-dress.

Mrs. Errington came in ponderously. "Tubville? I don't know the name. It isn't in Debrett?"

"And the supper!" pursued Miss Chubb, ignoring Debrett. "Such refinement, together with such luxury-! It was a banquet for Lucretius."

"What, what?" exclaimed the doctor in his sharp, scholastic key. He had been conversing in a low voice with Mr. Warlock, but the Latin name caught his ear.

"I am speaking of a supper, Dr. Bodkin, at the house of a leader of tong. I never shall forget it. Although I didn't eat much of it, to be sure. Just a sip of champagne, and a taste of-of-What do you call that delightful thing, with the French name, that they give at ball suppers? Vo-vo-What is it?"

"Vol-au-vent?" suggested Algy, at a venture.

"Ah! vol-o-voo. Yes; you will excuse my correcting you, Algernon, but that is the French pronunciation. Just one taste of vol-o-voo was all that I partook of; but the elegance-the plate, the exotic bouquets, and the absolute paraphernalia of wax-lights! It was a scene for young Romance to gloat on!"

"But what had Lucretius to do with it?" persisted the doctor.

Miss Chubb looked up, and shook her forefinger archly.

"Now, Dr. Bodkin, I will not be catechised; you can't give me an imposition, you know. And as to Lucretius, beyond the fact that he was a Roman emperor, who ate and drank a great deal, I honestly own that I know very little about him."

This time the doctor was effectually silenced. He stood with his eyes rolling from Mr. Diamond to the curate, and from the curate to Algy, as though mutely protesting against the utterance of such things under the very roof of the grammar school. But he said not a syllable.

Mr. Diamond had looked at Minnie with an amused smile, expecting to meet an answering glance of amusement at Miss Chubb's speech. But the fringed eyelids hung heavily over the beautiful dark eyes, which were wont to meet his own with such quick sympathy. Mr. Diamond felt a little shock of disappointment. Without giving himself much account of the matter, he had come to consider Miss Bodkin and himself as the only two

persons in the little coterie who had an intellectual point of view in common on many topics. The circumstance that Miss Bodkin was a very beautiful and interesting woman, certainly added a flattering charm to this communion of minds. He had almost grown to look upon her attention and sympathy as peculiarly his own-things to which he had a right. And the unsmiling, listless face which now met his gaze, gave him the same blank feeling that we experience on finding a well-known window, accustomed to present gay flowers to the passers-by, all at once grown death-like with a down-drawn ghastly blind.

Mr. Diamond looked at Minnie again, and was struck with the expression of suffering on her face. He knew she disliked being condoled with about her health; so he said gently, "I think Errington's departure is depressing us all. Even Miss Bodkin looks dull."

Minnie lifted her eyelids now, and her wan look of suffering was rather enhanced by the view of those bright, wistful eyes.

"I think Errington is an enviable fellow," continued Mr. Diamond.

"So do I. He is going away."

"That's a hard saying for us, who are to remain behind, Miss Bodkin! But I meant-and I think you know that I meant-he is enviable because he will be so much regretted."

"I don't know that he will be 'so much regretted.'"

"Surely--Why, one fair lady has even been shedding tears!"

"Oh, Miss Chubb? Yes; but that proves very little. The good soul is always overstocked with sentiment, and will use any friend as a waste-pipe to get rid of her superfluous emotion."

"Well, I should have made no doubt that you would be sorry, Miss Bodkin."

"Sorry! Yes; I am sorry. That is to say, I shall miss Algernon. He is so clever, and bright, and gay, and-different from all our Whitford mortals. But for himself, I think one ought to be glad. Papa says, and you say, and I say myself, that his journey to London on such slender encouragement is a wild-goose chase. But, after all, why not? Wild geese must be better to chase than tame ones."

"Not so easy to catch, nor so well worth the catching, though," said Mr. Diamond, smiling.

"I said nothing about catching. The hunting is the sport. If a good fat goose had been all that was wanted, Mr. Filthorpe, of Bristol, offered him that; and even, I believe, ready roasted. But-if I were a man, I think I would rather hunt down my wild goose for myself."

"You had better not let Errington hear your theory about the pleasures of wild-goose hunting."

"Because he is apt enough for the sport already?"

"N-not precisely. But he would take advantage of your phrase to characterise any hunting which it suited him to undertake, and thus give an air of impulse and romance to, perhaps, a very prosaic ambition, very deliberately pursued."

"I wonder why--," said Minnie, and then stopped suddenly.

"Yes! You wonder why?"

"No, I wonder no longer. I think I understand."

"Miss Bodkin is pleased to be oracular," said Mr. Diamond, with a careless smile; and then he moved away towards the piano, where Mrs. Bodkin was playing a quaint sonata of Clementi, and stood listening with a composed, attentive face. Nevertheless, he felt some curiosity about the scope of Minnie's unfinished sentence.

The sentence, if finished, would have run thus: "I wonder why you are so hard on Algernon!" But with the utterance of the first words an explanation of Diamond's severe judgment darted into her mind. Might he not have some feeling of jealousy towards Algernon? (Miss Chubb's words were lighting up many things. Probably the good little woman had never in her life before said anything of such illuminating power.) Yes, Diamond must be jealous. Algernon had unrivalled opportunities of attracting pretty Rhoda's attention. Nay, had he not attracted it already? Minnie recalled little words, little looks, little blushes, which seemed to point to the real nature of Rhoda's feelings for Algernon. Rhoda did not-no; she surely did not-care for Matthew Diamond. Minnie had a momentary elation of heart as she thus assured herself, and at the same time she felt an impulse of scorn for the girl who could disregard the love of such a man, as though it were a valueless trifle. But, then, did Rhoda know? did Rhoda guess? And then Minnie, suddenly checking her eager mental questioning in mid-career, turned her fiery scorn against herself for her pitiful weakness.

As she lay there so graceful and outwardly tranquil, whilst the studied, passionless turns and phrases of old Clementi trickled from the keys, she had hot fits of raging wounded pride, and cold shudders of deadly depression. The numb listlessness which had shielded her at the beginning of the afternoon had disappeared during her short conversation with Diamond. She was sensitive now to a thousand stinging thoughts.

What a fool she had been! What a poor, blind fool! She tried to remember all the details of the past days. Did others see what Miss Chubb had seen in Diamond's face? And had she-Minnie Bodkin, who prided herself on her keen observation, her cleverness, and her power of reading motives-had she been the only one to miss this obvious fact? She had been deluding herself with the thought that Matthew Diamond came and sat beside her couch, and talked, and smiled for her sake! Poor fool! Why, did not his frequent visits date from the time when Rhoda's visits had begun, too? It was all clear enough now; so clear, that the self-delusion which had blinded her seemed to have been little short of madness. "As if it were possible that a man should waste his love on me!" she thought bitterly.

At that moment she caught Mr. Warlock's eyes mournfully fixed upon her. His gaze irritated her unendurably. "Am I so pitiable a spectacle?" she asked herself. "Is my folly written on my face, that that idiot stares at me in wonder and compassion?"

Minnie gave him one of her haughtiest and coldest glances, and then turned away her head.

Poor Mr. Warlock! It must be owned that there are strange, cruel pangs unjustly inflicted and suffered in this world by the most civilised persons.

The little party broke up sooner than usual. The dispirited tone with which it had begun continued to the end. Algernon made his farewells to Miss Chubb, Mr. Warlock, Mr. Diamond, and Dr. Bodkin. But to Minnie he whispered, "I will run in once more on Monday to say 'Good-bye' to your mother and to you, if I may."

The rest departed almost simultaneously. Matthew Diamond lingered an instant at the door of the drawing-room, to say to Mrs. Bodkin, "I hope this is not to be the last of our pleasant Saturdays, although we are losing Errington?"

It was an unusual sort of speech from the reserved, shy tutor, who carried his proud dread of being thought officious or intrusive to such a point, that Minnie was wont to say, laughingly, that Mr. Diamond's diffidence was haughtier than anyone else's disdain.

Mrs. Bodkin smiled, well pleased. "Oh, I hope not, indeed!" she said in her quick, low accents. "Minnie! Do you hear what Mr. Diamond is saying?"

Minnie did not answer. She thought how happy this wish of his to keep up "our pleasant Saturdays" would have made her yesterday!

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