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A Charming Fellow, Volume I (of 3) By Frances Eleanor Trollope Characters: 11693

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

As the spring advanced, letters from Algernon Errington arrived rather frequently at Whitford. His mother had ample scope for the exercise of her peculiar talent, in boasting about the reception Algy had met with from her great relations in town, the fine society he frequented, and the prospect of still greater distinctions in store for him. One or two troublesome persons, to be sure, would ask for details, and inquire whether Lord Seely meant to get Algy a place, and what tangible benefits he had it in contemplation to bestow on him. But to all such prosy, plodding individuals, Mrs. Errington presented a perspective of vague magnificence, which sometimes awed and generally silenced them.

The big square letters on Bath post paper, directed in Algernon's clear, graceful handwriting, and bearing my Lord Seely's frank, in the form of a blotchy sprawling autograph in one corner, were, however, palpable facts; and Mrs. Errington made the most of them. It was seldom that she had not one of them in her pocket. She would pull them out, sometimes as though in mere absence of mind, sometimes avowedly of set purpose, but in either case she failed not to make them the occasion for an almost endless variety of prospective and retrospective boasting.

It must be owned that Algernon's letters were delightful. They were written with such a freshness of observation, such a sense of enjoyment, such a keen appreciation of fun-tempered always by a wonderful knack of keeping his own figure in a favourable light-that passages from them were read aloud, and quoted at Whitford tea-parties with a most enlivening effect.

"Those letters are written pro bono publico," Minnie Bodkin observed confidentially to her mother. "No human being would address such communications to Mrs. Errington for her sole perusal."

"Well, I don't know, Minnie! Surely it is natural enough that he should write long letters to his mother, even without expecting her to read them aloud to people."

"Very natural; but not just such letters as he does write, I think."

Minnie suppressed any further expression of her own shrewdness. Her confidence in herself had been rudely shaken; and she made keen, motive-probing speeches much seldomer than formerly. And she could not but agree in the general verdict, that Algernon's letters were very amusing. Miss Chubb was delighted with them; although they were the occasion of one or two tough struggles for supremacy in the knowledge of fashionable life between herself and Mrs. Errington. But Miss Chubb was really good-natured, and Mrs. Errington was unshakeably self-satisfied; so that no serious breach resulted from these combats.

"Dormer-Lady Harriet Dormer!" Miss Chubb would say, musingly. "I think I must have met her when I was staying with Mrs. Figgins and the Bishop of Plumbunn. And the Dormers' place is not so very far from Whitford, you know. I believe I have heard papa speak of his acquaintance with some of the family."

"Oh no," Mrs. Errington would reply; "not likely you should have ever met Lady Harriet at Mrs. Figgins's. She is the Earl of Grandcourt's daughter; and Lord Grandcourt had the reputation of being the proudest nobleman in England."

"Well, my dear Mrs. Errington," the spinster would retort, bridling and tossing her head sideways, "that could be no reason why his daughter should not have visited the bishop! A dignitary of the Church, you know! And as to family-I can assure you the Figginses were most aristocratically connected."

"Besides, Miss Chubb, Lady Harriet must have been in the nursery in those days. She's only six-and-thirty. You can see her age in the 'Peerage.'"

This was a kind of blow that usually silenced poor Miss Chubb, who was sensitive on the score of her age. But, on the whole, she was not displeased at the opportunity of airing her reminiscences of London; and she did not always get the worst of it in her encounters with Mrs. Errington.

Mrs. Errington had one listener who, at all events, was never tired of hearing Algy's letters read and re-read, and whose interest in all they contained was vivid and inexhaustible. Rhoda bestowed an amount of eager attention on the brilliant epistles bearing Lord Seely's frank, which even Mrs. Errington considered adequate to their merits.

Often-not quite always-there would be a little message. "How are all the good Maxfields? Say I asked." Or sometimes, "Give my love to Rhoda." Mrs. Errington took Algernon's sending his love to Rhoda much as she would have taken his bidding her stroke the kitten for him. She did not guess how it set the poor girl's heart beating. It was only natural that Rhoda's face should flush with pleasure at being so kindly and condescendingly remembered. Still less could the worthy lady understand the effect of her careless words on Mr. Maxfield. Once she said in his presence, "Have you any message for Mr. Algernon, Rhoda?" (She had recently taken to speaking of her son as "Mr." Algernon; a circumstance which had not escaped Rhoda's sensitive observation.) "You know he always sends you his love."

"Oh, my young gentleman has not forgotten Rhoda, then?" said old Maxfield, without raising his eyes from the ledger he was examining.

"Algernon never forgets. Indeed, none of the Ancrams ever forget. An almost royal memory has always been a characteristic of our race." With which magnificent speech Mrs. Errington made an impressive exit from the back shop.

Old Max knew enough to be aware that the tenacity even of a royal memory had not always been found equal to retaining such trifles as a debt of twenty pounds. But so long as Algy remembered his Rhoda, he was welcome to let the money slip. Indeed, if Algy behaved properly to Rhoda, there should be no question of repayment. Twenty pounds, or two hundred, would be well besto

wed in securing Rhoda's happiness, and making a lady of her. Nevertheless, old Max kept the acknowledgment of the debt safely locked up, and looked at it now and then, with some inward satisfaction. Algernon was coming back to revisit Whitford in the summer, and then something definite should be settled.

Meanwhile, Maxfield took some pains to have Rhoda treated with more consideration than had hitherto been bestowed on her. He astonished Betty Grimshaw by sharply reproving her for sending Rhoda into the shop on some errand. "Rice!" he exclaimed testily, in answer to his sister-in-law's explanation. "If you want rice, you must fetch it for yourself. The shop is no place for Rhoda, and I will not have her come there." Then he began to display a quite unprecedented liberality in providing Rhoda's clothes. The girl, whose ideas about her own dress were of the humblest, and who had thought a dove-coloured merino gown as good a garment as she was ever likely to possess, was told to buy herself a silk gown. "A good 'un. Nothing flimsy and poor," said old Max. "A good, solid silk gown, that will wear and last. And-you had better ask Mrs. Errington to go with you to buy it. She will understand what is fitting better than your aunt Betty. I wish you to have proper and becoming raiment, Rhoda. You are not a child now. And you go amongst gentlefolks at Dr. Bodkin's house. And I would not have you seem out of place there, by reason of unsuitable attire."

Rhoda was delighted to be allowed to gratify her natural taste for colour and adornment; and she shortly afterwards appeared in so elegant a dress, that Betty Grimshaw was moved to say to her brother-in-law, "Why, Jonathan, I'll declare if our Rhoda don't look as genteel as 'ere a one o' the young ladies I see! Why you're making quite a lady of her, Jonathan!"

"Me make a lady of her?" growled old Max. "It isn't me, nor you, nor yet a smart gown, as can do that. But the Lord has done it. The Lord has given Rhoda the natur' of a lady, if ever I see a lady in my life; and I mean her to be treated like one. Rhoda's none o' your sort of clay, Betty Grimshaw. She's fine porcelain, is Rhoda. I suppose you've nothing to say against the child's silk gown?"

"Nay, not I, Jonathan! She's welcome to wear silk or satin either, if you like to pay for it. And, indeed, I'm uncommon pleased to see a bit of bright colour, and be let to put a flower in my bonnet. I'm sure we've had enough of them Methodist ways. Dismal and dull enough they were, Jonathan. But you can't say as I ever grumbled, or went agin' you. Anything for peace and quietness' sake is my way. But I do like church best, having been bred to it. And I always did, in my heart, even when you and David Powell would be preaching up the Wesleyans. I never said anything, as you know, Jonathan. But I kept my own way of thinking all the same. And I'm only glad you've come round to it yourself, at last."

This was bitter to Jonathan Maxfield. But he had had once or twice to endure similar speeches from his sister-in-law, since his defection from Methodism. His autocratic power in his own family was wielded as strictly as ever, but his assumption of infallibility had been fatally damaged. To get his own way was still within his power, but it would be vain henceforward to expect those around him to acknowledge-even with their lips-that his way must of necessity be the best way.

At the beginning of April there came to Whitford the announcement that Algernon had received and accepted an invitation to accompany the Seelys abroad in the late summer; and that, therefore, his visit to "dear old Whitford" was indefinitely postponed. This announcement would have angered and disquieted old Max beyond measure, had it not been that Algernon took the precaution to write him a letter, which arrived in Whitford by the same post as that which brought to Mrs. Errington the news of his projected journey to the Continent. It was a very neat letter. Some persons might have called it a cunning letter. At any rate, it soothed old Max's anxious suspicions, if it did not absolutely destroy them. "I believe, my good friend," wrote Algernon, "that you will quite approve the step I am taking, in accompanying Lord and Lady Seely to Switzerland. They have no son, and I think I may say that they have come to look upon me almost as a child of the house. I remember all the good advice you gave me before I left Whitford. And when I was hesitating about accepting my lord's invitation, I thought of what you would have said, and made up my mind to resist the strong temptation of coming back to dear old Whitford this summer." Then in a postscript he added: "As to that little private transaction between us, I must ask you kindly to have patience with me yet awhile. I try to be careful, but living here is expensive, and I am put to it to pay my way. You will not mention the matter to my mother, I know. And, perhaps, it would be well to say nothing to her about this letter. May I send my love to Rhoda?"

In justification of this last sentence, it must be said that Algernon was quite innocent of Lady Seely's project regarding himself and Castalia; and that there were times when he thought with some warmth of feeling of the summer days in Llanryddan, and told himself that there was not one of the girls whom he met in society who surpassed Rhoda Maxfield in the delicate freshness of her beauty, or equalled her in natural grace and sweetness.

Algernon had really excellent taste.



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[1] A common expression among the early Methodists, to indicate the first fervour of religious zeal.

[2] A collection of receipts, published by John Wesley, under the title of "Primitive Physic; or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing most Diseases."

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