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Going of an afternoon to call upon his niece, Mr. Wentworth more
than once found Robert Acton sitting in her little drawing-room.
This was in no degree, to Mr. Wentworth, a perturbing fact,
for he had no sense of competing with his young kinsman for
Eugenia's good graces. Madame Munster's uncle had the highest
opinion of Robert Acton, who, indeed, in the family at large,
was the object of a great deal of undemonstrative appreciation.
They were all proud of him, in so far as the charge of being
proud may be brought against people who were, habitually,
distinctly guiltless of the misdemeanor known as "taking credit."
They never boasted of Robert Acton, nor indulged in vainglorious
reference to him; they never quoted the clever things
he had said, nor mentioned the generous things he had done.
But a sort of frigidly-tender faith in his unlimited goodness
was a part of their personal sense of right; and there can,
perhaps, be no better proof of the high esteem in which he was
held than the fact that no explicit judgment was ever passed
upon his actions. He was no more praised than he was blamed;
but he was tacitly felt to be an ornament to his circle.
He was the man of the world of the family. He had been to China
and brought home a collection of curiosities; he had made a fortune--
or rather he had quintupled a fortune already considerable;
he was distinguished by that combination of celibacy,
"property," and good humor which appeals to even the most
subdued imaginations; and it was taken for granted that he would
presently place these advantages at the disposal of some
well-regulated young woman of his own "set." Mr. Wentworth was
not a man to admit to himself that--his paternal duties apart--
he liked any individual much better than all other individuals;
but he thought Robert Acton extremely judicious; and this was
perhaps as near an approach as he was capable of to the eagerness
of preference, which his temperament repudiated as it would
have disengaged itself from something slightly unchaste.
Acton was, in fact, very judicious--and something more beside;
and indeed it must be claimed for Mr. Wentworth that in the more
illicit parts of his preference there hovered the vague
adumbration of a belief that his cousin's final merit was
a certain enviable capacity for whistling, rather gallantly,
at the sanctions of mere judgment--for showing a larger courage,
a finer quality of pluck, than common occasion demanded.
Mr. Wentworth would never have risked the intimation that Acton
was made, in the smallest degree, of the stuff of a hero;
but this is small blame to him, for Robert would certainly
never have risked it himself. Acton certainly exercised great
discretion in all things--beginning with his estimate of himself.
He knew that he was by no means so much of a man of the world
as he was supposed to be in local circles; but it must be added
that he knew also that his natural shrewdness had a reach
of which he had never quite given local circles the measure.
He was addicted to taking the humorous view of things,
and he had discovered that even in the narrowest circles
such a disposition may find frequent opportunities.
Such opportunities had formed for some time--that is, since his
return from China, a year and a half before--the most active
element in this gentleman's life, which had just now a rather
indolent air. He was perfectly willing to get married.
He was very fond of books, and he had a handsome library;
that is, his books were much more numerous than Mr. Wentworth's.
He was also very fond of pictures; but it must be confessed,
in the fierce light of contemporary criticism, that his walls
were adorned with several rather abortive masterpieces. He had got
his learning--and there was more of it than commonly appeared--
at Harvard College; and he took a pleasure in old associations,
which made it a part of his daily contentment to live so near
this institution that he often passed it in driving to Boston.
He was extremely interested in the Baroness Munster.