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   Chapter 18 No.18

A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 22197

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


On the day following the dinner at Lord Seely's, Algernon received a card, importing that Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs would be at home that evening.

Of the lady he knew nothing, except that she was an elder sister of young Pawkins, of Pudcombe Hall; and that her family, who were people of consideration in Whitford and its neighbourhood, thought Jemima to have made a good match in marrying Mr. Machyn-Stubbs. In giving him the letter of introduction, Orlando Pawkins had let fall a word or two as to the position his sister held in London society.

"I can't send anybody and everybody to the Machyn-Stubbses," said young Pawkins. "In their position, it wouldn't be fair to inflict our bucolic magnates on them. But I'm sure Jemima will be very glad to make your acquaintance, old fellow."

Algernon was quite free from arrogance. He would have been well enough contented to dine with Mr. Machyn-Stubbs, had that gentleman been a grocer or a cheesemonger. And, in that case, he would probably have derived a good deal of amusement from any little vulgarities which might have marked the manners of his host, and would have entertained his genteeler friends by a humorous imitation of the same. But he was not in the least overawed by the prospect of meeting Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, and was quite aware that he probably owed his introduction to her, to young Pawkins's knowledge of the fact that he was Lady Seely's relation.

Algernon betook himself to the house of Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, in the fashionable neighbourhood before mentioned, about half-past ten o'clock, and found the small reception-rooms already fuller than was agreeable. Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs received him very graciously. She was a pretty woman, with a smooth fair face and light hair, and she was dressed with as much good taste as was compatible with the extreme of the prevailing fashion. She smiled a good deal, and was quite destitute of any sense of humour.

"So glad to see you, Mr. Errington," said she, when Algernon had made his bow. "You and Orlando are great friends, are you not? You must let me make you acquainted with my husband." Then she handed Algernon over to a stout, red-faced, white-haired gentleman, much older than herself, who shook hands with him, said, "How d'ye do?" and "How long have you been in town?" and then appeared to consider that he had done all that could be expected of him in the way of conversation.

"I suppose you don't know many people here, Mr. Errington?" said Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, seeing that Algernon was standing silent in the shadow of her husband.

"Not any. You know I have never been in London before."

"Haven't you, really? But perhaps we may have some mutual acquaintances notwithstanding. Let me see who is here!" said the lady, looking round her rooms.

"Are you acquainted with the Dormers, Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs?"

"The Dormers? Let me see--"

"General and Lady Harriet Dormer."

"Oh! no; I don't think I am. Of course I must have met them. In the course of the season, sooner or later, one meets everybody."

"Do you know Miss Kilfinane?"

"Miss Kilfinane? I-I can't recall at this moment--"

"She is a sort of connection of mine; not a relation, for she is Lord Seely's niece, not my lady's."

"Oh, to be sure! You are a cousin of Lady Seely. Yes, yes; I had forgotten. But Orlando did mention it."

In truth, the fact of Algernon's relationship to Lady Seely was the only one concerning him which had dwelt in Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs's memory. Presently she resumed:

"I should like to introduce you to a great friend of ours-the most delightful creature! I hope he will come to-night, but he is very difficult to catch. He is a son of Lord Mullingar."

"What, Jack Price?"

"Oh, you know him, do you?"

"Only by reputation. He was to have dined at Lord Seely's last night, when I was there. But he didn't show."

"Oh, I know he's dreadfully uncertain. But I must say, however, that he is generally very good about coming to me. It's quite wonderful. I'm sure I don't know why I am so favoured!"

Then Algernon was presented to a rather awful dowager, with two stiff daughters, to whom he talked as well as he could; and the nicest looking of whom he took into the tea-room, where there was a great crush, and where people trod on each other's toes, and poked their elbows into each other's ribs, to procure a cup of hay-coloured tea and a biscuit that had seen better days.

"Upon my word," thought Algernon, "if this is London society, I think Whitford society better fun." But then he reflected that Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs was not a real leader of fashionable society. She was not quite a rose herself, although she lived near enough to the roses for their scent to cling, more or less faintly, about her garments. He was not bored, for his quick powers of perception, and lively appreciation of the ludicrous, enabled him to gather considerable amusement from the scene. Especially did he feel amused and in his element when, on an allusion to his cousinship to Lady Seely, thrown out in the airiest, most haphazard way, the awful dowager and the stiff daughters unbent, and became as gracious as temperament in the one case, and painfully tight stays in the other, permitted.

"He's a very agreeable person, your young friend, Mr. Ancram Errington," said the dowager, later on in the evening, to Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs.

"Oh yes; he's very nice indeed. He is a great favourite with my people. He half lives at our place, I believe, when Orlando is at home."

"Indeed! He is-a-a-connected with the Seelys, I believe, in some way?"

"Second cousin. Lady Seely was an Ancram-Warwickshire Ancrams, you know," returned Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, who knew her "Peerage" nearly by heart. Whereupon the dowager went back to her daughter, by whose side, having nothing else to do, Algernon was still sitting, and told him that she should be happy to see him at her house in Portland Place any Friday afternoon, between four and six o'clock during the season.

Presently, when the company was giving forth a greater amount and louder degree of talk than had hitherto been the case-for Herr Doppeldaun had just sat down to the grand piano-Algernon's quick eyes perceived a movement near the door of the principal drawing-room, and saw Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs advance with extended hand, and more eagerness than she had thrown into her reception of most of the company, to greet a gentleman who entered with a kind of plunge, tripping over a bearskin rug that lay before the door, and dropping his hat.

He was a short, broad-chested man, with a bald forehead and a fringe of curly chestnut hair round his head. He was evidently extremely near-sighted, and wore a glass in one eye, the effort of keeping which in its place occasioned an odd contortion of his facial muscles. He was rubicund, and looked like a man who might grow to be very stout later in life. At present he was only rather stout, and was braced, and strapped, and tightened, so as to make the best of his figure. His dress was the dress of a dandy of that day, and he wore a fragrant hothouse flower in his button-hole.

"That must be Jack Price!" thought Algernon, he scarcely knew why; and the next moment he got away from the dowager and her daughters, and sauntered towards the door.

"Oh, here is Mr. Errington," said Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, looking round at him as he made his way through the crowd. "Do let me introduce you to Mr. Price. This is Mr. Ancram Errington, a great friend of my brother Orlando. You have met Orlando, I think?"

"Oh, indeed, I have!" said Mr. Jack Price, in a rich sweet voice, and with a very decidedly marked brogue. "Orlando is one of my dearest friends. Delightful fellow, what? Orlando's friend must be my friend, if he will, what?"

The little interrogation at the end of the sentence meant nothing, but was a mere trick. The use of it, with a soft rising inflection of Mr. Jack Price's very musical voice, had once upon a time been pronounced to be "captivating" by an enthusiastic Irish lady. But he had not fallen into the habit of using it from any idea that it was captivating, nor had he desisted from it since all projects of captivation had departed from his mind.

"I was to have met you at dinner, last night, Mr. Price," said Algernon, shaking his proffered hand.

"Last night? I was-where is it I was last night? Oh, at the Blazonvilles! Yes, of course, what? Why didn't you come, then, Mr. Errington? The Duke would have been delighted-perfectly charmed to see you!"

"Well, that may be doubtful, seeing that I cannot flatter myself that his Grace is even aware of my existence," said Algernon, looking at Mr. Price with twinkling eyes, and his mouth twitching with the effort to avoid a broad grin.

Jack Price looked back at him, puzzled and smiling. "Eh? How was it then, what? Was it-it wasn't me, was it?"

Algernon laughed outright.

"Ah now, Mr.-Mr.-my dear fellow, where was it that you were to have met me?"

"My cousin, Lady Seely, was hoping for the pleasure of your company, Mr. Price. She was under the impression that you had promised to dine with her."

Jack Price fell back a step and gave himself a sounding slap on the forehead. "Good gracious goodness!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean to say that?"

"I do, indeed."

"Ah, now, upon my honour, I am the most unfortunate fellow under the sun! I don't know how the deuce it is that these kind of misfortunes are always happening to me. What will I say to Lady Seely? She'll never speak to me any more, I suppose, what?"

"You should keep a little book and note down your engagements, Mr. Price," said Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, as she walked away to some other guest.

Mr. Price gave Algernon a comical look, half-rueful, half-amused. "I don't quite see myself with the little book, entering all my engagements," said he. "I daresay you've heard already from Lady Seely of my sins and shortcomings?"

"At all events, I have heard this: that whatever may be your sins and shortcomings, they are always forgiven."

"I am afraid I bear an awfully bad character, my dear Mr.--"

"Errington; Ancram Errington."

"To be sure! Ah, I know your name well enough. But names are among the things that slip my memory. It is a serious misfortune, what?"

Then the two began to chat together. And when the crowd began to diminish, and the rattle of carriages grew more frequent down in the street beneath the drawing-room windows, Jack Price proposed to Algernon to go and sup with him at his club. They walked away together, arm-in-arm, and, as they left Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs's doorstep, Mr. Price assured his new acquaintance that that lady was the nicest creature in the world, and one of his dearest friends; and that he could take upon himself to assert that Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs would be only too delighted to receive him (Algernon) at any time and as often as he liked. "It will give her real pleasure, now, what?" said Jack Price, with quite a glow of hospitality on behalf of Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs. Then they went to Mr. Price's club. It was neither a

political club, nor a fashionable club, nor a grand club; but a club that was widely miscellaneous, and decidedly jolly. Algernon, before he returned to his lodging that night, had come to the opinion that London was, after all, a great deal better fun than Whitford. And Jack Price, when he called upon Lady Seely the next day, to make his peace with her, declared that young Errington was, really now, the most delightful and dearest boy in the world, and that he was quite certain that the young fellow was most warmly attached to Lord and Lady Seely.

All this was agreeable enough, and Algernon would have been content to go on in the same way to the end of the London season had it been possible. But careless as he was about money, he was not careless about the luxuries which money supplies. Certainly, if tradesmen and landlords could only be induced to give unlimited credit, Algernon would have had none the less pleasure in availing himself of their wares, because he had not paid for them in coin of the realm. But as to doing without, or even limiting himself to an inferior quality and restricted quantity, that was a matter about which he was not at all indifferent. He was received on a familiar footing in the Seelys' house; and his reception there opened to him many other houses, in which it was more or less agreeable and flattering to be received. Among the Machyn-Stubbses of London society he was looked upon as quite a desirable guest, and received a good deal of petting, which he took with the best grace in the world. And all this was, as has been said, pleasant enough. But, as weeks went on, Algernon's money began to run short; and he soon beheld the dismal prospect ahead-and not very far ahead-of his last sovereign. And he was in debt.

As to being in debt, that had nothing in it appalling to our young man's imagination. What frightened him was the conviction that he should not be permitted to go on being in debt. Other people owed money, and seemed to enjoy life none the less. Mr. Jack Price, for instance, had an allowance from his father, on which no one pretended to expect him to live. And he appeared very comfortable and contented in the midst of a rolling sea of debt, which sometimes ebbed a little, and sometimes flowed alarmingly high; but which, during the last ten years or so, he had managed to keep pretty fairly at the same level. But then Mr. Price was the Honourable John Patrick Price, the Earl of Mullingar's son-a younger son, it was true; and neither Lord Mullingar, nor Lord Mullingar's heir, was likely to have the means, or the inclination, to fish him out of the rolling sea aforesaid. At the most, they would throw him a plank now and then just to keep him afloat. Still there was something to be got out of Jack Price by a West-end tradesman who knew his business. Something was to be got in the way of money, and, perhaps, something more in the way of connection. Upon the whole, it may be supposed that the West-end tradesmen understood what they were about, when they went on supplying the Honourable John Patrick Price with all sorts of comforts and luxuries, season after season.

But with Algernon the case was widely different, and he knew it. He had ventured to speak to Lord Seely about his prospects, and to ask that nobleman's "advice." But Lord Seely had not seemed able to offer any advice which it was practicable to follow. Indeed, how should he have done so, seeing that he was ignorant of most of the material facts of the case? He knew in a general way that young Ancram (Algernon had come to be called so in the Seely household) was poor; but between Lord Seely's conception of the sort of poverty which might pinch a well-born young gentleman, who always appeared in the neatest-fitting shoes and freshest of gloves, and the reality of Algernon's finances, there was a wide discrepancy. Algernon had indeed talked freely, and with much appearance of frankness, about his life in Whitford; but it may be doubted whether Lord Seely, or his wife either-although she, doubtless, came nearer to the truth in her imaginings on the subject-at all realised such facts as that Mrs. Errington had no maid to attend on her; that her lodgings cost her eighteen shillings a week; and that the smell of cheese from the shop below was occasionally a source of discomfort in her only sitting-room.

With Lord Seely Algernon had made himself a great favourite, and the proof of it was, that my lord actually thought about him when he was absent; and one day said to his wife, "I wish, Belinda, that we could do something for Ancram."

"Do something for him! I think we do a great deal for him. He has the run of the house, and I introduce him right and left. And he is always asked to sing when we have people."

"That latter looks rather like his doing something for us, I think."

"Not at all. It's a great advantage for a young fellow in his position to be brought forward, and allowed to show off his little gifts in that way."

"He is wasting his time. I wish we could get him something to do."

"I am sure you have plenty of claims on you that come before him."

"I-I did speak to the Duke of Blazonville about him the other day," said my lord, with the slightest hesitation in the world.

The Duke of Blazonville was in the cabinet, and had been a colleague of Lord Seely's years ago.

"What on earth made you do that, Valentine? You know very well that the next thing the duke has to give I particularly want for Reginald."

"Oh, but what I should ask for young Ancram would be something at which your nephew Reginald would probably--"

"Turn up his nose?"

"Something which Reginald would not care about taking."

"Reginald wouldn't go abroad, except to Italy. Nor, indeed, anywhere in Italy but to Naples."

"Exactly. Whether the duke would consider that he was particularly serving the interests of diplomacy by sending Reginald to Naples, I don't know. But, at all events, Ancram could not interfere with that project."

"Serving--? Nonsense! The duke would do it to oblige me. As to Ancram, I have latterly had a kind of plan in my head about Ancram."

"About a place for him?"

"Well, yes; a place, if you like to call it so. What do you say to his coming abroad with us in the autumn?"

"Eh! Coming abroad with us?"

"Of course we should have to pay all his expenses. But I think he would be amusing, and perhaps useful. He talks French very well, and is lively and good-tempered."

"I have no doubt he would be a most charming travelling companion--"

"I don't know about that. But I should take him out of kindness, and to do him a service."

"But I don't see of what use such a plan would be to him, Belinda."

"Well, I've an idea in my head, I tell you. I have kept my eyes open, and I fancy I see a chance for Ancram."

"You are very mysterious, my dear!" said Lord Seely, with a little shrug.

"Well, least said, soonest mended. I shall be mysterious a little longer. And, meanwhile, I think we might make him the offer to take him to Switzerland with us, since you have no objection."

"I have no objection, certainly."

"I think I shall mention it to him, then. And, if I were you, I wouldn't bother the duke about him just yet."

"But what is this notion of yours, Belinda?"

The exclamation rose to my lady's lips, "How inquisitive men are!" but she suppressed it. It was the kind of speech which particularly angered Lord Seely, who much disliked being lumped in with his fellow-creatures on the ground of common qualities. Even a compliment, so framed that my lord was supposed to share it with a number of other persons, would have displeased him. So my lady said, "Well, now, Valentine, you'll begin to laugh at me, very likely, but I believe I'm right. I think Castalia is very well inclined to like this young fellow. And she might do worse."

"Castalia! Like him? Why, you don't mean--?"

"Yes, I do," returned my lady, nodding her head. "That's just what I do mean. I'm sure, the other evening, she became quite sentimental about him."

"Good heavens, Belinda! But the idea is preposterous."

"Yes; I knew you'd say so at first. That's why I didn't want to say anything about it just yet awhile."

"But allow me to say that, if you had any such idea in your head, it was only proper that it should be mentioned to me."

"Well, I have mentioned it."

Lord Seely clasped his hands behind his back, and walked up and down the room in a stiff, abrupt kind of march. At length he stopped opposite to her ladyship, who was assiduously soothing Fido; Fido having, for some occult reason, become violently exasperated by his master's walking about the room.

"Why, in the first place--do send that brute away," said his lordship, sharply.

"There! he's quiet now. Good Fido! Good boy! Mustn't bark and growl at master. Yes; you were saying--?"

"I was saying that, in the first place, Castalia must be ten years older than this boy."

"About that, I should say. But if they don't mind that, I don't see what it matters to us."

"And he has not any means, nor any prospect of earning any, that I can see."

"Why, for that matter, Castalia hasn't a shilling in the world, you know. We have to find her in everything, and so has your sister Julia, when Castalia goes to stay with her. And if these two could set their horses together-could, in a word, make a match of it-why, you might do something to provide for the two together, don't you see? Killing two birds with one stone!"

"Very much like killing two birds, indeed! What are they to live on?"

"If Ancram makes up to Castalia, you must get him a place. Something modest, of course. I don't see that they can either of them expect a grand thing."

"Putting all other considerations aside," said my lord, drawing himself up, "it would be a very odd sort of match for Castalia Kilfinane."

"Come! his birth is as good as hers, any way. If his father was an apothecary, her mother was a poor curate's daughter."

"Rector's daughter, Belinda. Dr. Vyse was a learned man, and the rector of his parish."

"Oh, well, it all comes to the same thing. And as to an odd sort of match, why, perhaps, an odd match is better than none at all. You know Castalia's no beauty. She don't grow younger; and she'll be unbearable in her temper, if once she thinks she's booked for an old maid."

Poor Lord Seely was much disquieted. He had a kindly feeling for his orphan niece, which would have ripened into affection if Miss Castalia's character had been a little less repellent. And he really liked Algernon Errington so much that the notion of his marrying Castalia appeared to him in the light of a sacrifice, even although he held his own opinion as to the comparative goodness of the Ancram and Kilfinane blood. But, nevertheless, such was Lady Seely's force of character, that many days had not elapsed before his lordship was silenced, if not convinced, on the subject. And the invitation to go to Switzerland was given to Algernon, and accepted.

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