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   Chapter 15 No.15

A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 20460

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Minnie and her father had been having a discussion about David Powell, and the discussion had heated Dr. Bodkin, and spoiled his half hour after dinner, which was wont to be the pleasantest half hour of his day. For Dr. Bodkin did not sit over his wine alone. When there were no guests, his wife and Minnie remained at the black shining board-in those days the table-cloth was removed for the dessert, and the polish of the mahogany beneath it was a matter of pride with notable housekeepers like Mrs. Bodkin-and his wife poured out his allowance of port and peeled his walnuts for him, and his daughter chatted with him, and coaxed him, and sometimes contradicted him a little, and there would be no more school until to-morrow morning, and altogether the doctor was accustomed to enjoy himself. But on this occasion the poor gentleman was vexed and disturbed.

"It's a parcel of stuff and nonsense!" said the doctor, jerking his legs under the table.

"That remains to be proved, papa. If the man has anything of consequence to say, I shall soon discover it."

"Anything of consequence to say? Fudge! He is coming begging, perhaps--"

"I don't believe that, papa. Nor, I think, do you in your heart," returned Minnie, with a little smile at one side of her mouth.

But the doctor was too much disturbed to smile. "Why shouldn't he come begging? It won't be his modesty that will stand in his way, I daresay. Or perhaps he wants to 'convert' you, as these fellows are pleased to call it!"

"Nobody seems to be afraid of our wanting to convert him!" said Minnie.

"I don't like the sort of thing. I don't like that people should have it to say that my daughter is honoured with the confidences of a parcel of ranting, canting cobblers."

"But, papa, would it not-I am speaking in sober sincerity, and because I really do want your serious answer-don't you think it would be wrong to be deterred from helping anyone with a kind word or a kind deed, by the fear of people saying this or that?"

"Helping a fiddlestick!" cried Dr. Bodkin magisterially, but incoherently.

Minnie's face fell. It had been paler than usual of late, and she had been suffering and feeble. She never lamented aloud, nor was importunate, nor even showed weakness of temper; but her father, who loved her very tenderly, understood the chill look of disappointment well enough, and it was more than he had strength to bear.

"Of course the man can come and say his say," he added, jerking his legs again impatiently under the sheltering mahogany, "especially as you say he is going away from Whitford directly."

"Yes; but there is no guarantee that he will not come back again. I cannot promise you that, on his behalf."

This unflinching straightforwardness of Minnie's was a fertile source of trouble between her father and herself.

It was certainly rather hard on the doctor to be forced to surrender absolutely, without any of those pleasant pretences which are equivalent to the honours of war. Fortunately-we are limiting ourselves to the doctor's point of view-fortunately at this moment his eye fell on Mrs. Bodkin, who, made exquisitely nervous by any collision between the two great forces that ruled her life, was pushing the decanter of port backwards and forwards on the slippery table, quite unconscious of that mechanical movement.

"Laura, what the--mischief are you about? Do you think I want my wine shaken up like a dose of physic?"

This kind of diversion of the vials of the doctor's wrath on to his wife's devoted head was no uncommon finale to any altercation in which the reverend gentleman happened not to be getting altogether the best of it.

"I think," said Mrs. Bodkin, speaking very quickly, and in a low tone, as was her wont, "that very likely Mr. Powell wants to interest Minnie on behalf of Richard Gibbs."

"And who, pray, if I may venture to inquire, is Richard Gibbs?" asked the doctor, in his most awful grammar-school manner, and with a sarcastic severity in his eye, as he uttered the name 'Gibbs,' and looked at Mrs. Bodkin as though he expected her to be very much ashamed of herself.

"Brother of Jane, our maid. He is a groom at Pudcombe Hall, and a Wesleyan. Mr. Powell may want to recommend him, or get him a place."

"What, is the fellow going to leave Pudcombe Hall, then?"

"Not that I know of exactly. But it struck me it might be about Richard Gibbs that he wanted to speak, because Gibbs is a Wesleyan, you know."

"I suppose he wants to meddle and make himself of consequence in some way. Egotism and conceit-rampant conceit-are the mainsprings that move such fellows as this Powell."

The doctor rose majestically from the table and walked towards the door. There he paused, and turning round said to his wife, "May I request, Laura, that somebody shall take care that I get a cup of hot tea sent to me in the study? I don't think it is much to request that my tea shall not be brought to me in a tepid state!"

Mrs. Bodkin had a great gift of holding her tongue on occasions. She held it now, and the doctor left the room with dignity.

That evening Minnie wrote the following note:-

"My dear Mr. Diamond,-I shall be able to see Mr. Powell at one o'clock to-morrow. Should that hour not suit his convenience, perhaps he will do me the favour to let me know.

"Yours very truly,

"M. Bodkin."

It was the first time she had ever written to Mr. Diamond. The temptation to make her letter longer than was absolutely needful had been resisted. But the consciousness that the temptation had existed, and been overcome, was present to Minnie's mind; and she curled her lip in self-scorn as she thought, "If I wrote him whole pages it would only bore him. He would prefer one line written in Rhoda's school-girl hand, out of Rhoda's school-girl head, to the best wit I could give him; aye, or to the best wit of a wittier woman than I." Then suddenly she tore the note she had just written across, threw it into the fire, and watched it blaze and smoulder into blackness. "I will ask you to write a line for me, mamma," she said, when Mrs. Bodkin re-entered the drawing-room, after having sent in the doctor's cup of tea to the study.

"To whom, Minnie?"

"To Mr. Diamond. Please say that I will receive Mr. Powell at one o'clock to-morrow, if that suits him."

"I daresay it is really about Richard Gibbs," said Mrs. Bodkin, as she sealed her note.

It was not without a slight feeling of nervousness that Minnie Bodkin, the next day, heard Jane's announcement, "Mr. Powell is below, Miss. Mistress wishes to know if you would see him in your own room?"

Minnie gave orders that the preacher should be shown upstairs, and Jane ushered him in very respectfully. Dr. Bodkin's old man-servant took no pains to hide his disgust at the reception of such a guest; and declared in the servants' hall that the sight of one of them long-haired, canting Methodys fairly turned his stomach. But Jane, remembering her brother Richard's reformation, was less militant in her orthodoxy, and expressed the opinion that "Mr. Powell was a very good man for all his long hair"-a revolutionary sentiment which was naturally received with incredulity and contempt.

Minnie looked up eagerly when the preacher entered the room, and scanned him with a rapid glance as she asked him to be seated. "I am a poor feeble creature, Mr. Powell," she said, "who cannot move about at my own will. So you will forgive my bringing you up here, will you not?"

Powell, on his part, looked at the young lady with a steady, searching gaze. Minnie was accustomed to be looked at admiringly, affectionately, deferentially, curiously, pityingly (which she liked least of all)-sometimes spitefully. But she had never been looked at as David Powell was looking at her now; that is, as if his spirit were scrutinising her spirit, altogether regardless of the form which housed it.

"I thank you gratefully for letting me have speech of you," he said; and his voice, as he said it, charmed Minnie's sensitive and fastidious ear.

"Do you know, Mr. Powell, that for some time past I have had the wish to make your acquaintance? But circumstances seemed to make it unlikely that I ever should do so."

"Yes; it was very unlikely, humanly speaking. But I have no doubt that our meeting has been brought about in direct answer to prayer."

Minnie was at a loss what to say. It was almost as startling to hear a man profess such a belief on a week-day, and in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone, as it would have been to find Madame Malibran conducting all her conversation in recitative, or to hear Mr. Dockett begin his sentences with a "whereas."

"You wish to speak to me on behalf of some one, Mr. Diamond tells me?" said Minnie, after a slight hesitation.

"Yes; you have been kind and gracious to a young girl beneath you in worldly station, named Rhoda Maxfield."

"Rhoda! Is it of her you wish to speak?" cried Minnie, in great surprise. She felt a strange sick pang of jealousy. It was for Rhoda's sake, then, that Mr. Diamond had begged her to receive Powell!

"You are kindly disposed towards the maiden?" said Powell, anxiously; for Minnie's change of countenance had not escaped him. For her life, Minnie could not cordially have said "yes" at that moment.

"I-Rhoda is a very good girl, I believe; what would you have me do for her?"

"I would have you dissuade her from resting her hopes-I speak now merely of earthly hopes and earthly prudence-on the attachment of one who is unstable, vain, and worldly-minded."

"What do you mean? I-I do not understand," stammered Minnie, with fast-beating heart.

"May I speak to you in full confidence? If you tell me I may do so, I shall trust you utterly."

"What is this matter to me? Why do you come to me about it?"

"Because I have been told by those whose words I believe, that you are gifted with a clear and strong judgment, as well as with all qualities that win love."

"You are mistaken. I am not gifted with the qualities that win love," said Minnie, bitterly. Then she asked, abruptly, "Did Mr. Diamond advise you to speak to me about Rhoda?"

"Nay; it was I who had recourse to his int

ercession to get speech of you."

"But he knows your errand?"

"In part he knows it. But I was not free to say to him all that I would fain say to you."

Minnie's face had a hard set look. "Well," she said, after a short silence, "I cannot refuse to hear you. But I warn you that I do not believe I can do any good in the matter."

"That will be overruled as the Lord wills."

Then David Powell proceeded to set forth his fears and anxieties about Rhoda, more fully and clearly than he had done to Diamond. He declared his conviction that the girl was deceived by false hopes, and was fretting and pining because every now and then misgivings assailed her which she could not confess to any one, and because that her conscience was uneasy. "The maiden is very guileless and tender-natured," said Powell, softly.

"Don't you think you a little exaggerate her tenderness, Mr. Powell? Persons capable of strong feelings themselves are apt to attribute all sorts of sentiments to very wooden-hearted creatures."

He looked at her earnestly, and shook his head.

"Rhoda always seems to me to be rather phlegmatic; very gentle and pretty, of course. But, do you know, I should not be afraid of her breaking her heart."

There was a hard tone in Minnie's voice, and a hard expression about her mouth, which hurt and disappointed the preacher. He had expected some warmth of sympathy, some word of affection for Rhoda.

"You do not know her," he said sadly.

"And then, Mr. Powell, Algernon Errington--you know, I suppose, that Mr. Errington is a great friend of mine?"

"I will not willingly say aught to offend you, nor to offend against Christian courtesy. But there are higher duties-more solemn promptings-that must not be resisted."

"Oh, I am not offended. But, let me ask you, what right have we to assume that Mr. Errington has ever deceived Rhoda, or has ever thought of her otherwise than as the friend and playmate of his childhood?"

"I am convinced that he has led her to believe he means, some day, to marry her. I cannot resist that conviction."

"Marry her! Why, Mr. Powell, the thing is absurd on the face of it. A boy of nineteen, and in Algernon's position!-why, any person of common sense would understand that such an idea could not be looked at seriously."

Powell made himself some silent reproaches for his want of faith. This lady might not be soft and sweet; but she had evidently the clear judgment which he sought for to help Rhoda. And yet he had been discouraged, and had almost distrusted his "leading," because of a little coldness of manner. He answered Minnie eagerly:

"It is true! I well know that what you say is true; but will you tell Rhoda this? Will you plentifully declare to her the thing as it is?"

"Rhoda has her father to advise her, if she needs advice."

"Nay; her father is no adviser for her in this matter. He is an ignorant man. He does not understand the ways of the world-at least, not of that world in which the Erringtons hold a place-and he is prejudiced and stiff-necked."

There was a short silence. Then Minnie said:

"I do not see how I can interfere. I should, in fact, be taking an unjustifiable liberty, and-Mr. Errington is going away. They will both forget all about this boy-and-girl nonsense, if people have the wisdom to let it alone."

"Rhoda will not forget; she will brood silently over her secret feelings, and her thoughts will be diverted from higher things. She will fall away into outer darkness. Oh think, a word in season, how good it is! Consider that you may save a perishing soul by speaking that word. I have prayed that I might leave behind me in this place the assurance that this lamb should not be utterly lost out of the fold."

Powell had risen to his feet in his excitement, and walked away from Minnie towards the window, with his head bent, and his hands clasping his forehead. Minnie felt something like repulsion, and the sort of shame which an honest and proud nature feels at any suspicion of histrionism in one whom it has hitherto respected. Surely the man was exaggerating-consciously exaggerating-his feeling on this matter! But, then, Powell turned, and came back towards her; and she saw his face clearly in the full sunlight, and instantly her suspicion vanished. That face was wan and haggard with suffering, and there was a strange brilliancy in the eyes, almost like the brightness of latent tears. The tears sprang sympathetically to her own eyes as she looked at him. It was impossible to resist the pathos of that face. There was a strange appealing expression in it, as of a suffering of which the sufferer was only half-conscious, that went straight to Minnie's heart.

"Mr. Powell, I am so truly sorry to see you distressed! I wish-I really do wish-that I could do anything for you!"

"For me! Oh not for me! But stretch out your hands to this poor maiden, and say words of counsel to her, and of kindness, as one woman may say them to another. I have borne the burden of that young soul; I have had it laid upon me to wrestle strongly for her in prayer; I have-have been assailed with manifold troubles and temptations concerning her. But I am clear now. I speak with a single mind, and as desiring her higher welfare from the depths of my heart."

"Good Heaven!" thought Minnie, "what a tragic thing it is to see men pouring out all the treasures of their love on a thing like this girl!" For something in Powell's face and voice had pierced her mind with a lightning-swift conviction that he loved Rhoda Maxfield. Minnie would have died rather than utter such a speech aloud. The ridicule which, among sophisticated persons, slinks on the heels of all strongly-expressed emotion, was too present to her mind, and too disgusting to her pride, for her to have risked the utterance of such a speech even to her mother. But there in her mind the words were, "Good Heaven; how tragic it is!" And she acknowledged to herself, at the same time, that Powell's lack of sophistication and intensity of fervour raised him into a sphere wherein ridicule had no place.

"I will do what I can, Mr. Powell," said Minnie, after a pause, looking with unspeakable pity at his thin, pallid face. "But do not trust too much to my influence."

"I do trust to it, because it will be strengthened and supported by my prayers."

Then, when he had said farewell, and was about to go away, she was suddenly moved by a mixture of feelings, and, as it were, almost against her will, to say to him, "How good it would be for you to see Rhoda as she is! A shallow, sweet, poor little nature, as incapable of appreciating your love as a wren or a ladybird! I like Rhoda, and I am a poor, shallow creature in many ways myself. But I do recognise things higher than myself when I see them."

David Powell's face grew crimson with a hot, dark flush, and for an instant he grasped the back of a chair near him, like a man who reels in drunkenness. Then he said, "You are very keen to see the truth. You have seen it. Rhoda is dear to me, as no woman ever has been dear, or will be again. Once I thought this love was a snare to me. Now-unless in moments of temptation by the enemy-I know that it is an instrument in God's hands. It has given me strength to pray, courage to ask you for your help."

"But you suffer!" cried Minnie, looking at him with knit, earnest brows. "Why should you suffer for one who does not care for you? It is not just."

"Who dare ask for justice? I have received mercy-abundant, overflowing mercy-and shall I not render mercy in my poor degree? But in truth," he added, in a low voice, and with a smile which Minnie thought the most strangely sweet she had ever seen-"in truth, I cannot claim that merit. I can no more help desiring to do good to Rhoda than I can help drawing my breath. Of others I may say, 'It is my duty to assist this man, to counsel that one, to endure some hard treatment for the sake of this other, in order that I may lead them to Christ.' But with Rhoda there is no sense of sacrifice. I believe that the Lord has appointed me to bring her to Him. If my feet be cut and bleeding by the way, I cannot heed it."

"Would you be glad to see Rhoda married to Algernon Errington if he were to become a religious, earnest man-such a man as your conscientious judgment must approve?" asked Minnie.

And the minute the words had passed her lips she repented having said them; they seemed so needlessly cruel; such a ruthless probing of a tender, quivering soul. "It was as if the devil had put the words into my mouth," said she afterwards to herself.

But Powell answered very quietly, "I have thought of that often. But I ask myself such questions no longer. I hold my Father's hand even as a little child, and whither that hand leads me I shall go safely. It is not for me to tempt the wrath of the Lord by vain surmises and putting a case. 'Yea, though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.'"

"You will come back to Whitford, will you not?" asked Minnie.

"If I may. But I know not when. That is not given me to decide. At present, I feel my conscience in bonds of obedience to the Society."

"Perhaps we may never meet again in this world!" Minnie, as she said the words, was conscious of a strong fellow-feeling for this man, so far removed from her in external circumstances.

"May God bless you!" he said, almost in a whisper.

Minnie held out her hand. As he took it lightly in his own for an instant, he pointed upward with the other hand, and then turned and went away in silence.

When Dr. Bodkin said a word or two to Minnie that evening, as to her interview with the "ranting, canting cobbler," she was very reticent and brief in her answers. But on her father shrugging his shoulders disparagingly and observing, "It is a good thing that this firebrand is taking his departure from Whitford. I've been hearing all sorts of things about him to-day. It seems the fellow even set the Methodists by the ears among themselves," she exclaimed hotly, "I do declare most solemnly that this man gives me a more vivid idea of a saint upon earth-a stumbling, striving, suffering saint-than anything I ever saw or read."

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