"Glad you like it," Popjoy answered; "it's a favourite bit of my own."
"There's no such thing in the whole book," whispered Wagg to Pen. "Invented it myself. Gad! it wouldn't be a bad plot for a high-church novel."
"I remember poor Byron, Hobhouse, Trelawney, and myself, dining with Cardinal Mezzocaldo at Rome," Captain Sumph began, "and we had some Orvieto wine for dinner, which Byron liked very much. And I remember how the Cardinal regretted that he was a single man. We went to Civita Vecchia two days afterwards, where Byron's yacht was—and, by Jove, the Cardinal died within three weeks; and Byron was very sorry, for he rather liked him."
"A devilish interesting story, Sumph, indeed," Wagg said.
"You should publish some of those stories, Captain Sumph, you really should. Such a volume would make our friend Bungay's fortune," Shandon said.
"Why don't you ask Sumph to publish 'em in your new paper—the what-d'ye-call-'em—hay, Shandon?" bawled out Wagg.
"Why don't you ask him to publish 'em in your old magazine, the Thingumbob?" Shandon replied.
"Is there going to be a new paper?" asked Wenham, who knew perfectly well, but was ashamed of his connection with the press.
"Bungay going to bring out a paper?" cried Popjoy, who, on the contrary, was proud of his literary reputation and acquaintances. "You must employ me. Mrs. Bungay, use your influence with him, and make him employ me. Prose or verse—what shall it be? Novels, poems, travels, or leading articles, begad. Anything or everything—only let Bungay pay me, and I'm ready—I am now my dear Mrs. Bungay, begad now."
"It's to be called the Small Beer Chronicle," growled Wagg, "and little Popjoy is to be engaged for the infantine department."
"It is to be called the Pall Mall Gazette, sir, and we shall be very happy to have you with us," Shandon said.
"Pall Mall Gazette—why Pall Mall Gazette?" asked Wagg.
"Because the editor was born at Dublin, the sub-editor at Cork, because the proprietor lives in Paternoster Row;—and the paper is published in Catherine Street, Strand. Won't that reason suffice you, Wagg?" Shandon said; he was getting rather angry. "Everything must have a name. My dog Ponto has got a namee. You've got a name, and a name which you deserve, more or less, indeed. Why d'ye grudge the name to our paper?"
"By any other name it would smell as sweet," said Wagg.
"I'll have ye remember its name's not what-d'ye-call-'em, Mr. Wagg," said Shandon. "You know its name well enough, and—and you know mine."
"And I know your address too," said Wagg; but this was spoken in an undertone, and the good-natured Irishman was appeased almost in an instant after his ebullition of spleen, and asked Wagg to drink wine with him in a friendly voice.
When the ladies retired from the table, the talk grew louder still; and presently Wenham, in a courtly speech, proposed that everybody should drink to the health of the new Journal, eulogising highly the talents, wit, and learning of its editor, Captain Shandon. It was his maxim never to lose the support of a newspaper man, and in the course of that evening he went round and saluted every literary gentleman present with a privy compliment specially addressed to him; informing this one how great an impression had been made in Downing Street by his last article, and telling that one how profoundly his good friend, the Duke of So-and-So, had been struck by the ability of the late numbers.
The evening came to a close, and in spite of all the precautions to the contrary, poor Shandon reeled in his walk, and went home to his new lodgings, with his faithful wife by his side, and the cabman on his box jeering at him. Wenham had a chariot of his own, which he put at Popjoy's seat; and the timid Miss Bunion seeing Mr. Wagg, who was her neighbour, about to depart, insisted upon a seat in his carriage, much to that gentleman's discomfiture.
Pen and Warrington walked home together in the moonlight. "And now," Warrington said, "that you have seen the men of letters, tell me, was I far wrong in saying that there are thousands of people in this town, who don't write books, who are, to the full, as clever and intellectual as people who do?"
Pen was forced to confess that the literary personages with whom he had become acquainted had not said much, in the course of the night's conversation, that was worthy to be remembered or quoted. In fact not one word about literature had been said during the whole course of the night:—and it may be whispered to those uninitiated people who are anxious to know the habits and make the acquaintance of men of letters, that there are no race of people who talk about books, or, perhaps, who read books, so little as literary men.
CHAPTER XXXVI. The Pall Mall Gazette
Considerable success at first attended the new journal. It was generally stated, that an influential political party supported the paper; and great names were cited amongst the contributors to its columns. Was there any foundation for these rumours? We are not at liberty to say whether they were ill-founded; but this much we may divulge, that an article upon foreign policy, which was generally attributed to a noble Lord, whose connexion with the Foreign Office is very well known, was in reality composed by Captain Shandon, in the parlour of the Bear and Staff public-house near Whitehall Stairs, whither the printer's boy had tracked him, and where a literary ally of his, Mr. Bludyer, had a temporary residence; and that a series of papers on finance questions, which were universally supposed to be written by a great Statesman of the House of Commons, were in reality composed by Mr. George Warrington of the Upper Temple.
That there may have been some dealings between the Pall Mall Gazette and this influential party, is very possible, Percy Popjoy (whose father, Lord Falconet, was a member of the party) might be seen not unfrequently ascending the stairs to Warrington's chambers; and some information appeared in the paper which it gave a character, and could only be got from very peculiar sources. Several poems, feeble in thought, but loud and vigorous in expression, appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, with the signature of "P. P."; and it must be owned that his novel was praised in the new journal in a very outrageous manner.
In the political department of the paper Mr. Pen did not take any share; but he was a most active literary contributor. The Pall Mall Gazette had its offices, as we have heard, in Catherine Street, in the Strand, and hither Pen often came with his manuscripts in his pocket, and with a great deal of bustle and pleasure; such as a man feels at the outset of his literary career, when to see himself in print is still a novel sensation, and he yet pleases himself to think that his writings are creating some noise in the world.
Here it was that Mr. Jack Finucane, the sub-editor, compiled with paste and scissors the Journal of which he was supervisor. With an eagle eye he scanned all the paragraphs of all the newspapers which had anything to do with the world of fashion over which he presided. He didn't let a death or a dinner-party of the aristocracy pass without having the event recorded in the columns of his Journal; and from the most recondite provincial prints, and distant Scotch and Irish newspapers, he fished out astonishing paragraphs and intelligence regarding the upper classes of society. It was a grand, nay, a touching sight, for a philosopher, to see Jack Finucane, Esquire, with a plate of meat from the cookshop and glass of porter from the public-house, for his meal, recounting the feasts of the great as if h had been present at them; and in tattered trousers and dingy shirt-sleeves, cheerfully describing and arranging the most brilliant fetes of the world of fashion. The incongruity of Finucane's avocation, and his manners and appearance amused his new friend Pen. Since he left his own native village, where his rank probably was not very, lofty Jack had seldom seen any society but such as used the parlour of the taverns which he frequented, whereas from his writing you would have supposed that he dined with ambassadors, and that his common lounge was the bow-window of White's. Errors of description, it is true, occasionally slipped from his pen; but the Ballinafad Sentinel, of which he was own correspondent, suffered by these, not the Pall Mall Gazette, in which Jack was not permitted to write much, his London chiefs thinking that the scissors and the paste were better wielded by him than the pen.
Pen took a great deal of pains with the writing of his reviews, and having a pretty fair share of desultory reading, acquired in the early years of his life an eager fancy and a keen sense of fun, his articles pleased his chief and the public, and he was proud to think that he deserved the money which he earned. We may be sure that the Pall Mall Gazette was taken in regularly at Fairoaks, and read with delight by the two ladies there. It was received at Clavering Park, too, where we know there was a young lady of great literary tastes; and old Doctor Portman himself, to whom the widow sent her paper after she had got her son's articles by heart, signified his approval of Pen's productions, saying that the lad had spirit, taste, and fancy, and wrote, if not like a scholar, at any rate like a gentleman.
And what was the astonishment and delight of our friend Major Pendennis, on walking into one of his clubs, the Regent, where Wenham, Lord Falconet, and some other gentlemen of good reputation and fashion were assembled, to hear them one day talking over a number of the Pall Mall Gazette, and of an article which appeared in its columns, making some bitter fun of the book recently published by the wife of a celebrated member of the opposition party. The book in question was a Book of Travels in Spain and Italy, by the Countess of Muffborough, in which it was difficult to say which was the most wonderful, the French or the English, in which languages her ladyship wrote indifferently, and upon the blunders of which the critic pounced with delightful mischief. The critic was no other than Pen: he jumped and danced round about his subject with the greatest jocularity and high spirits: he showed up the noble lady's faults with admirable mock gravity and decorum. There was not a word in the article which was not polite and gentlemanlike; and the unfortunate subject of the criticism was scarified and laughed at during the operation. Wenham's bilious countenance was puckered up with malign pleasure as he read the critique. Lady Muffborough had not asked him to her parties during the last year. Lord Falconet giggled and laughed with all his heart; Lord Muffborough and he had been rivals ever since they began life; and these complimented Major Pendennis, who until now had scarcely paid any attention to some hints which his Fairoaks correspondence threw out of "dear Arthur's constant and severe literary occupations, which I fear may undermine the poor boy's health," and had thought any notice of Mr. Pen and his newspaper connexions quite below his dignity as a Major and a gentleman.
But when the oracular Wenham praised the boy's production; when Lord Falconet, who had had the news from Percy Popjoy, approved of the genius of young Pen; when the great Lord Steyne himself, to whom the Major referred the article, laughed and sniggered over it, swore it was capital, and that the Muffborough would writhe under it, like a whale under a harpoon, the Major, as in duty bound, began to admire his nephew very much, said, "By gad, the young rascal had some stuff in him, and would do something; he had always said he would do something;" and with a hand quite tremulous with pleasure, the old gentleman sate down to write to the widow at Fairoaks all that the great folks had said in praise of Pen; and he wrote to the young rascal, too, asking when he would come and eat a chop with his old uncle, and saying that he was commissioned to take him to dinner at Gaunt House, for Lord Steyne liked anybody who could entertain him, whether by his folly, wit, or by his dulness, by his oddity, affectation, good spirits, or any other quality. Pen flung his letter across the table to Warrington: perhaps he was disappointed that the other did not seem to be much affected by it.
The courage of young critics is prodigious: they clamber up to the judgment-seat, and, with scarce a hesitation, give their opinion upon works the most intricate or profound. Had Macaulay's History or Herschel's Astronomy been put before Pen at this period, he would have looked through the volumes, meditated his opinion over a cigar, and signified his august approval of either author, as if the critic had been their born superior and indulgent master and patron. By the help of the Biographie Universelle or the British Museum, he would be able to take a rapid resume of a historical period, and allude to names, dates, and facts, in such a masterly, easy way, as to astonish his mamma at home, who wondered where her boy could have acquired such a prodigious store of reading and himself, too, when he came to read over his articles two or three months after they had been composed, and when he had forgotten the subject and the books which he had consulted. At that period of his life, Mr. Pen owns that he would not have hesitated, at twenty-four hours' notice, to pass his opinion upon the greatest scholars, or to give a judgment upon the Encyclopaedia. Luckily he had Warrington to laugh at him and to keep down his impertinence by a constant and wholesome ridicule, or he might have become conceited beyond all sufferance; for Shandon liked the dash and flippancy of his young aide-de-camp, and was, indeed, better pleased with Pen's light and brilliant flashes, than with the heavier metal which his elder coadjutor brought to bear.
But though he might justly be blamed on the score of impertinence and a certain prematurity of judgment, Mr. Pen was a perfectly honest critic; a great deal too candid for Mr. Bungay's purposes, indeed, who grumbled sadly at his impartiality. Pen and his chief, the Captain, had a dispute upon this subject one day. "In the name of common-sense, Mr. Pendennis," Shandon asked, "what have you been doing—praising one of Mr. Bacon's books? Bungay has been with me in a fury this morning at seeing a laudatory article upon one of the works of the odious firm over the way."
Pen's eyes opened with wide astonishment. "Do you mean to say," he asked, "that we are to praise no books that Bacon publishes: or that, if the books are good, we are to say they are bad?"
"My good young friend—for what do you suppose a benevolent publisher undertakes a critical journal, to benefit his rival?" Shandon inquired.
"To benefit himself certainly, but to tell the truth too," Pen said, "ruat coelum, to tell the truth."
"And my prospectus," said Shandon, with a laugh and a sner; "do you consider that was a work of mathematical accuracy of statement?"
"Pardon me, that is not the question," Pen said "and I don't think you very much care to argue it. I had some qualms of conscience about that same prospectus, and debated the matter with my friend Warrington. We agreed, however," Pen said, laughing "that because the prospectus was rather declamatory and poetical, and the giant was painted upon the show-board rather larger than the original, who was inside the caravan; we need not be too scrupulous about this trifling inaccuracy, but might do our part of the show, without loss of character or remorse of conscience. We are the fiddlers, and play our tunes only; you are the showman."
"And leader of the van," said Shandon. "Well, I am glad that your conscience gave you leave to play for us."
"Yes, but," said Pen, with a fine sense of the dignity of his position, "we are all party men in England, and I will stick to my party like a Briton. I will be as good-natured as you like to our own side, he is a fool who quarrels with his own nest; and I will hit the enemy as hard as you like—but with fair play, Captain, if you please. One can't tell all the truth, I suppose; but one can tell nothing but the truth; and I would rather starve, by Jove, and never earn another penny by my pen" (this redoubted instrument had now been in use for some six weeks, and Pen spoke of it with vast enthusiasm and respect) "than strike an opponent an unfair blow, or, if called upon to place him, rank him below his honest desert."
"Well, Mr. Pendennis, when we want Bacon smashed, we must get some other hammer to do it," Shandon said, with fatal good-nature; and very likely thought within himself, "A few years hence perhaps the young gentleman won't be so squeamish." The veteran Condottiere himself was no longer so scrupulous. He had fought and killed on so many a side for many a year past, that remorse had long left him. "Gad," said he, "you've a tender conscience, Mr. Pendennis. It's the luxury of all novices, and I may have had one once myself; but that sort of bloom wears off with the rubbing of the world, and I'm not going to the trouble myself of putting on an artificial complexion, like our pious friend Wenham, or our model of virtue, Wagg."
"I don't know whether some people's hypocrisy is not better, Captain, than other's cynicism."
"It's more profitable, at any rate," said the Captain, biting his nails. "That Wenham is as dull a quack as ever quacked: and you see the carriage in which he drove to dinner. Faith, it'll be a long time before Mrs. Shandon will take a drive in her own chariot. God help her, poor thing!" And Pen went away from his chief, after their little dispute and colloquy, pointing his own moral to the Captain's tale, and thinking to himself, "Behold this man, stored with genius, wit, learning, and a hundred good natural gifts: see how he has wrecked them, by paltering with his honesty, and forgetting to respect himself. Wilt thou remember thyself, O Pen? thou art conceited enough! Wilt thou sell thy honour for a bottle? No, by heaven's grace, we will be honest, whatever befalls, and our mouths shall only speak the truth when they open."
A punishment, or, at least, a trial, was in store for Mr. Pen. In the very next number of the Pall Mall Gazette, Warrington read out, with roars of laughter, an article which by no means amused Arthur Pendennis, who was himself at work with a criticism for the next week's number of the same journal; and in which the Spring Annual was ferociously maltreated by some unknown writer. The person of all most cruelly mauled was Pen himself. His verses had not appeared with his own name in the Spring Annual, but under an assumed signature. As he had refused to review the book, Shandon had handed it over to Mr. Bludyer, with directions to that author to dispose of it. And he had done so effectually. Mr. Bludyer, who was a man of very considerable talent, and of a race which, I believe, is quite extinct in the press of our time, had a certain notoriety in his profession, and reputation for savage humour. He smashed and trampled down the poor spring flowers with no more mercy than a bull would have on a parterre; and having cut up the volume to his heart's content, went and sold it at a bookstall, and purchased a pint of brandy with the proceeds of the volume.
CHAPTER XXXVII. Where Pen appears in Town and Country
Let us be allowed to pass over a few months of the history of Mr. Arthur Pendennis's lifetime, during the which, many events may have occurred which were more interesting and exciting to himself, than they would be likely to prove to the reader of his present memoirs. We left him, in his last chapter, regularly entered upon his business as a professional writer, or literary hack, as Mr. Warrington chooses to style himself and his friend; and we know how the life of any hack, legal or literary, in a curacy, or in a marching regiment, or at a merchant's desk, is dull of routine, and tedious of description. One day's labour resembles another much too closely. A literary man has often to work for his bread against time, or against his will, or in spite of his health, or of his indolence, or of his repugnance to the subject on which he is called to exert himself, just like any other daily toiler. When you want to make money by Pegasus (as he must, perhaps, who has no other saleable property), farewell poetry and aerial flights: Pegasus only rises now like Mr. Green's balloon, at periods advertised beforehand, and when the spectator's money has been paid. Pegasus trots in harness, over the stony pavement, and pulls a cart or a cab behind him. Often Pegasus does his work with panting sides and trembling knees, and not seldom gets a cut of the whip from his driver.
Do not let us, however, be too prodigal of our pity upon Pegasus. There is no reason why this animal should be exempt from labour, or illness, or decay, any more than any of the other creatures of God's world. If he gets the whip, Pegasus often deserves it, and I for one am quite ready to protest my friend, George Warrington, against the doctrine which poetical sympathisers are inclined to put forward, viz., that of letters, and what is called genius, are to be exempt from prose duties of this daily, bread-wanting, tax-paying life, and not to be made to work and pay like their neighbours.
Well, then, the Pall Mall Gazette being duly established and Arthur Pendennis's merits recognised as a flippant, witty, and amusing critic, he worked away hard every week, preparing reviews of such works as came into his department, and writing his reviews with flippancy certainly, but with honesty, and to the best of his power. It might be that a historian of threescore, who had spent a quarter of a century in composing a work of which our young gentleman disposed in the course of a couple of days' reading at the British Museum, was not altogether fairly treated by such a facile critic; or that a poet who had been elaborating sublime sonnets and odes until he thought them fit for the public and for fame, was annoyed by two or three dozen pert lines in Mr. Pen's review, in which the poet's claims were settled by the critic, as if the latter were my lord on the bench and the author a miserable little suitor trembling before him. The actors at the theatres complained of him wofully, too, and very likely he was too hard upon them. But there was not much harm done after all. It is different now, as we know; but there were so few great historians, or great poets, or great actors, in Pen's time, that scarce any at all came up for judgment his critical desk. Those who got a little whipping, got what in the main was good for them; not that the judge was any better or wiser than the persons whom he sentenced, or indeed ever fancied himself so. Pen had a strong sense of humour and justice, and had not therefore an overweening respect for his own works; besides, he had his friend Warrington at his elbow—a terrible critic if the young man was disposed to be conceited, and more savage over Pen than ever he was to those whom he tried at his literary assize.
By these critical labours, and by occasional contributions to leading articles of the journal, when, without wounding his paper, this eminent publicist could conscientiously speak his mind, Mr. Arthur Pendennis gained the sum of four pounds four shillings weekly, and with no small pains and labour. Likewise be furnished Magazines and Reviews with articles of his composition, and is believed to have been (though on this score he never chooses to speak) London correspondent of the Chatteris Champion, which at that time contained some very brilliant and eloquent letters from the metropolis. By these labours the fortunate youth was enabled to earn a sum very nearly equal to four hundred pounds a year; and on the second Christmas after his arrival in London, he actually brought a hundred pounds to his mother, as a dividend upon the debt which he owed to Laura. That Mrs. Pendennis read every word of her son's works, and considered him to be the profoundest thinker and most elegant writer of the day; that she thought his retribution of the hundred pounds an act of angelic virtue; that she feared he was ruining his health by his labours, and was delighted when he told her of the society which he met, and of the great men of letters and fashion whom he saw, will be imagined by all readers who have seen son-worship amongst mothers, and that charming simplicity of love with which women in the country watch the career of their darlings in London. If John has held such and such a brief; if Tom has been invited to such and such a ball; or George has met this or that great and famous man at dinner; what a delight there is in the hearts of mothers and sisters at home in Somersetshire! How young Hopeful's letters are read and remembered! What a theme for village talk they give, and friendly congratulation! In the second winter, Pen came for a very brief space, and cheered the widow's heart, and lightened up the lonely house at Fairoaks. Helen had her son all to herself; Laura was away on a visit to old Lady Rockminster; the folks of Clavering Park were absent; the very few old friends of the house, Doctor Portman at their head, called upon Mr. Pen, and treated him with marked respect; between mother and son, it was all fondness, confidence, and affection. It was the happiest fortnight of the widow's whole life; perhaps in the lives of both of them. The holiday was gone only too quickly; and Pen was back in the busy world, and the gentle widow alone again. She sent Arthur's money to Laura: I don't know why this young lady took the opportunity of leaving home when Pen was coming thither, or whether he was the more piqued or relieved by her absence.
He was by this time, by his own merits and his uncle's introductions, pretty well introduced into London, and known both in literary and polite circles. Amongst the former his fashionable reputation stood him in no little stead; he was considered to be a gentleman of good present means and better expectations, who wrote for his pleasure, than which there cannot be a greater recommendation to a young literary aspirant. Bacon, Bungay and Co. were proud to accept his articles; Mr. Wenham asked him to dinner; Mr. Wagg looked upon him with a favourable eye; and they reported how they met him at the houses of persons of fashion, amongst whom he was pretty welcome, as they did not trouble themselves about his means, present or future; as his appearance and address were good; and as he had got a character for being a clever fellow. Finally, he was asked to one house, because he was seen at another house: and thus no small varieties of London life were presented to the young man: he was made familiar with all sorts of people from Paternoster Row to Pimlico, and was as much at home at Mayfair dining-tables as at those tavern boards where some of his companions of the pen were accustomed to assemble.
Full of high spirits and curiosity, easily adapting himself to all whom he met, the young fellow pleased himself in this strange variety and jumble of men, and made himself welcome, or at ease at least, wherever he went. He would breakfast, for instance, at Mr. Plover's of a morning, in company with a Peer, a Bishop, a parliamentary orator, two blue ladies of fashion, a popular preacher, the author of the last new novel, and the very latest lion imported from Egypt or from America: and would quit this distinguished society for the back room at the newspaper office, where pens and ink and the wet proof-sheets were awaiting him. Here would be Finucane, the sub-editor, with the last news from the Row: and Shandon would come in presently, and giving a nod to Pen, would begin scribbling his leading article at the other end of the table, flanked by the pint of sherry, which, when the attendant boy beheld him, was always silently brought for the Captain: or Mr. Bludyer's roaring voice would be heard in the front room, where that truculent critic would impound the books on the counter in spite of the timid remonstrances of Mr. Midge, the publisher, and after looking through the volumes would sell them at his accustomed bookstall, and having drunken and dined upon the produce of the sale in a tavern box, would call for ink and paper, and proceed to "smash" the author of his dinner and the novel. Towards evening Mr. Pen would stroll in the direction of his club, and take up Warrington there for a constitutional walk. This exercise freed the lungs, and gave an appetite for dinner, after which Pen had the privilege to make his bow at some very pleasant houses which were opened to him; or the town before him for amusement. There was the Opera; or the Eagle Tavern; or a ball to go to in Mayfair; or a quiet night with a cigar and a book and a long talk with Warrington; or a wonderful new song at the Back Kitchen;—at this time of his life Mr. Pen beheld all sorts of places and men; and very likely did not know how much he enjoyed himself until long after, when balls gave him no pleasure, neither did farces make him laugh; nor did the tavern joke produce the least excitement in him; nor did the loveliest dancer that ever showed her ankles cause him to stir from his chair after dinner. At his present mature age all these pleasures are over: and the times have passed away too. It is but a very very few years since—but the time is gone, and most of the men. Bludyer will no more bully authors or cheat landlords of their score. Shandon, the learned and thriftless, the witty and unwise, sleeps his last sleep. They buried honest Doolan the other day: never will he cringe or flatter, never pull long-bow or empty whisky-noggin any more.
The London season was now blooming in its full vigour, and the fashionable newspapers abounded with information regarding the grand banquets, routs, and balls which were enlivening the polite world. Our gracious Sovereign was holding levees and drawing-rooms at St. James's: the bow-windows of the clubs were crowded with the heads of respectable red-faced newspaper-reading gentlemen: along the Serpentine trailed thousands of carriages: squadrons of dandy horsemen trampled over Rotten Row, everybody was in town, in a word; and of course Major Arthur Pendennis, who was somebody, was not absent.
With his head tied up in a smart bandana handkerchief and his meagre carcass enveloped in a brilliant Turkish dressing-gown, the worthy gentleman sate on a certain morning by his fireside letting his feet gently simmer in a bath, whilst he took his early cup of tea, and perused his Morning Post. He could not have faced the day without his two hours' toilet, without his early cup of tea, without his Morning Post. I suppose nobody in the world except Morgan, not even Morgan's master himself, knew how feeble and ancient the Major was growing, and what numberless little comforts he required.
If men sneer, as our habit is, at the artifices of an old beauty, at her paint, perfumes, ringlets; at those innumerable, and to us unknown, stratagems with which she is said to remedy the ravages of time and reconstruct the charms whereof years have bereft her; the ladies, it is to be presumed, are not on their side altogether ignorant that men are vain as well as they, and that the toilets of old bucks are to the full as elaborate as their own. How is it that old Blushington keeps that constant little rose-tint on his cheeks; and where does old Blondel get the preparation which makes his silver hair pass for golden? Have you ever seen Lord Hotspur get off his horse when he thinks nobody is looking? Taken out of his stirrups, his shiny boots can hardly totter up the steps of Hotspur House. He is a dashing young nobleman still as you see the back of him in Rotten Row; when you behold him on foot, what an old, old fellow! Did you ever form to yourself any idea of Dick Lacy (Dick has been Dick these sixty years) in a natural state, and without his stays? All these men are objects whom the observer of human life and manners may contemplate with as much profit as the most elderly Belgravian Venus, or inveterate Mayfair Jezebel. An old reprobate daddy-longlegs, who has never said his prayers (except perhaps in public) these fifty years: an old buck who still clings to as many of the habits of youth as his feeble grasp of health can hold by: who has given up the bottle, but sits with young fellows over it, and tells naughty stories upon toast-and-water—who has given up beauty, but still talks about it as wickedly as the youngest roue in company—such an old fellow, I say, if any parson in Pimlico or St. James's were to order the beadles to bring him into the middle aisle, and there set him in an armchair, and make a text of him, and preach about him to the congregation, could be turned to a wholesome use for once in his life, and might be surprised to find that some good thoughts came out of him. But we are wandering from our text, the honest Major, who sits all this while with his feet cooling in the bath: Morgan takes them out of that place of purification, and dries them daintily, and proceeds to set the old gentleman on his legs, with waistband and wig, starched cravat, and spotless boots and gloves.
It was during these hours of the toilet that Morgan and his employer had their confidential conversations, for they did not meet much at other times of the day—the Major abhorring the society of his own chairs and tables in his lodgings; and Morgan, his master's toilet over and letters delivered, had his time very much on his own hands.
This spare time the active and well-mannered gentleman bestowed among the valets and butlers of the nobility, his acquaintance; and Morgan Pendennis, as he was styled, for, by such compound names, gentlemen's gentlemen are called in their private circles, was a frequent and welcome guest at some of the very highest tables in this town. He was a member of two influential clubs in Mayfair and Pimlico; and he was thus enabled to know the whole gossip of the town, and entertain his master very agreeably during the two hours' toilet conversation. He knew a hundred tales and legends regarding persons of the very highest ton, whose valets canvass their august secrets, just, my dear Madam, as our own parlour-maids and dependants in the kitchen discuss our characters, our stinginess and generosity, our pecuniary means or embarrassments, and our little domestic or connubial tiffs and quarrels. If I leave this manuscript open on my table, I have not the slightest doubt Betty will read it, and they will talk it over in the lower regions to-night; and to-morrow she will bring in my breakfast with a face of such entire imperturbable innocence, that no mortal could suppose her guilty of playing the spy. If you and the Captain have high words upon any subject, which is just possible, the circumstances of the quarrel, and the characters of both of you, will be discussed with impartial eloquence over the kitchen tea-table; and if Mrs. Smith's maid should by chance be taking a dish of tea with yours, her presence will not undoubtedly act as a restraint upon the discussion in question; her opinion will be given with candour; and the next day her mistress will probably know that Captain and Mrs. Jones have been a quarrelling as usual. Nothing is secret. Take it as a rule that John knows everything: and as in our humble world so in the greatest: a duke is no more a hero to his valet-de-chambre than you or I; and his Grace's Man at his club, in company doubtless with other Men of equal social rank, talks over his master's character and affairs with the ingenuous truthfulness which befits gentlemen who are met together in confidence. Who is a niggard and screws up his money-boxes: who is in the hands of the money-lenders, and is putting his noble name on the back of bills of exchange: who is intimate with whose wife: who wants whom to marry her daughter, and which he won't, no not at any price:—all these facts gentlemen's confidential gentlemen discuss confidentially, and are known and examined by every person who has any claim to rank in genteel society. In a word, if old Pendennis himself was said to know everything, and was at once admirably scandalous and delightfully discreet; it is but justice to Morgan to say, that a great deal of his master's information was supplied to that worthy man by his valet, who went out and foraged knowledge for him. Indeed, what more effectual plan is there to get a knowledge of London society, than to begin at the foundation—that is, at the kitchen floor?
So Mr. Morgan and his employer conversed as the latter's toilet proceeded. There had been a drawing-room on the previous day, and the Major read among the presentations that of Lady Clavering by Lady Rockminster, and of Miss Amory by her mother Lady Clavering,—and in a further part of the paper their dresses were described, with a precision and in a jargon which will puzzle and amuse the antiquary of future generations. The sight of these names carried Pendennis back to the country. "How long have the Claverings been in London?" he asked; "pray, Morgan, have you seen any of their people?"
"Sir Francis have sent away his foring man, sir," Mr. Morgan replied; "and have took a friend of mine as own man, sir. Indeed he applied on my reckmendation. You may recklect Towler, sir,—tall red-aired man—but dyes his air. Was groom of the chambers in Lord Levant's family till his Lordship broke hup. It's a fall for Towler, sir; but pore men can't be particklar," said the valet, with a pathetic voice.
"Devilish hard on Towler, by gad!" said the Major, amused, "and not pleasant for Lord Levant—he, he!"
"Always knew it was coming, sir. I spoke to you of it Michaelmas was four years: when her Ladyship put the diamonds in pawn. It was Towler, sir, took 'em in two cabs to Dobree's—and a good deal of the plate went the same way. Don't you remember seeing of it at Blackwall, with the Levant arms and coronick, and Lord Levant settn oppsit to it at the Marquis of Steyne's dinner? Beg your pardon; did I cut you, sir?"
Morgan was now operating upon the Major's chin—he continued the theme while strapping the skilful razor. "They've took a house in Grosvenor Place, and are coming out strong, sir. Her Ladyship's going to give three parties, besides a dinner a week, sir. Her fortune won't stand it—can't stand it."
"Gad, she had a devilish good cook when I was at Fairoaks," the Major said, with very little compassion for the widow Amory's fortune.
"Marobblan was his name, sir; Marobblan's gone away, sir," Morgan said,—and the Major, this time, with hearty sympathy, said, "he was devilish sorry to lose him."
"There's been a tremenjuous row about that Mosseer Marobblan," Morgan continued "At a ball at Baymouth, sir, bless his impadence, he challenged Mr. Harthur to fight a jewel, sir, which Mr. Arthur was very near knocking him down, and pitchin' him outawinder, and serve him right; but Chevalier Strong, sir, came up and stopped the shindy—I beg pardon, the holtercation, sir—them French cooks has as much pride and hinsolence as if they was real gentlemen."
"I heard something of that quarrel," said the Major; "but Mirobolant was not turned off for that?"
"No, sir—that affair, sir, which Mr. Harthur forgave it him and beayved most handsome, was hushed hup: it was about Miss Hamory, sir, that he ad is dismissial. Those French fellers, they fancy everybody is in love with 'em; and he climbed up the large grape vine to her winder, sir, and was a trying to get in, when he was caught, sir; and Mr. Strong came out, and they got the garden-engine and played on him, and there was no end of a row, sir."
"Confound his impudence! You don't mean to say Miss Amory encouraged him," cried the Major, amazed at a peculiar expression in Mr. Morgan's countenance.
Morgan resumed his imperturbable demeanour. "Know nothing about it, sir. Servants don't know them kind of things the least. Most probbly there was nothing in it—so many lies is told about families—Marobblan went away, bag and baggage, saucepans, and pianna, and all—the feller ad a pianna, and wrote potry in French, and he took a lodging at Clavering, and he hankered about the primises, and it was said that Madam Fribsy, the milliner, brought letters to Miss Hamory, though I don't believe a word about it; nor that he tried to pison hisself with charcoal, which it was all a humbug betwigst him and Madam Fribsy; and he was nearly shot by the keeper in the park."
In the course of that very day, it chanced that the Major had stationed himself in the great window of Bays's Club in Saint James's Street, at the hour in the afternoon when you see a half-score of respectable old bucks similarly recreating themselves (Bays's is rather an old-fashioned place of resort now, and many of its members more than middle-aged; but in the time of the Prince Regent, these old fellows occupied the same window, and were some of the very greatest dandies in this empire)—Major Pendennis was looking from the great window, and spied his nephew Arthur walking down the street in company with his friend Mr. Popjoy.
"Look!" said Popjoy to Pen, as they passed, "did you ever pass Bays's at four o'clock, without seeing that collection of old fogies? It's a regular museum. They ought to be cast in wax, and set up at Madame Tussaud's—"
"—In a chamber of old horrors by themselves," Pen said, laughing.
"—In the chamber of horrors! Gad, doosid good!" Pop cried. "They are old rogues, most of 'em, and no mistake. There's old Blondel; there's my Uncle Colchicum, the most confounded old sinner in Europe; there's—hullo! there's somebody rapping the window and nodding at us."
"It's my uncle, the Major," said Pen. "Is he an old sinner too?"
"Notorious old rogue," Pop said, wagging his head. ("Notowious old wogue," he pronounced the words, thereby rendering them much more emphatic.)—"He's beckoning you in; he wants to speak to you."
"Come in too," Pen said.
"—Can't," replied the other. "Cut uncle Col. two years ago, about Mademoiselle Frangipane—Ta, ta," and the young sinner took leave of Pen, and the club of the elder criminals, and sauntered into Blacquiere's, an adjacent establishment, frequented by reprobates of his own age.
Colchicum, Blondel, and the senior bucks had just been conversing about the Clavering family, whose appearance in London had formed the subject of Major Pendennis's morning conversation with his valet. Mr. Blondel's house was next to that of Sir Francis Clavering, in Grosvenor Place: giving very good dinners himself, he had remarked some activity in his neighbour's kitchen. Sir Francis, indeed, had a new chef, who had come in more than once and dressed Mr. Blondel's dinner for him; that gentleman having only a remarkably expert female artist permanently engaged in his establishment, and employing such chiefs of note as happened to be free on the occasion of his grand banquets. "They go to a devilish expense and see devilish bad company as yet, I hear," Mr. Blondel said, "they scour the streets, by gad, to get people to dine with 'em. Champignon says it breaks his heart to serve up a dinner to their society. What a shame it is that those low people should have money at all," cried Mr. Blondel, whose grandfather had been a reputable leather-breeches maker, and whose father had lent money to the Princes.
"I wish I had fallen in with the widow myself" sighed Lord Colchicum, "and not been laid up with that confounded gout at Leghorn—I would have married the woman myself.—I'm told she has six hundred thousand pounds in the Threes."
"Not quite so much as that,—I knew her family in India,"—Major Pendennis said, "I knew her family in India; her father was an enormously rich old indigo-planter,—know all about her;—Clavering has the next estate to ours in the country.—Ha! there's my nephew walking with"—"With mine,—the infernal young scamp," said Lord Colchicum glowering at Popjoy out of his heavy eyebrows; and he turned away from the window as Major Pendennis tapped upon it.
The Major was in high good-humour. The sun was bright, the air brisk and invigorating. He had determined upon a visit to Lady Clavering on that day, and bethought him that Arthur would be a good companion for the walk across the Green Park to her ladyship's door. Master Pen was not displeased to accompany his illustrious relative, who pointed out a dozen great men in that brief transit through St. James's Street, and got bows from a Duke at a crossing, a Bishop (on a cob), and a Cabinet Minister with an umbrella. The Duke gave the elder Pendennis a finger of a pipe-clayed glove to shake, which the Major embraced with great veneration; and all Pen's blood tingled as he found himself in actual communication, as it were, with this famous man (for Pen had possession of the Major's left arm, whilst the gentleman's other wing was engaged with his Grace's right) and he wished all Grey Friars' School, all Oxbridge University, all Paternoster Row and the Temple and Laura and his mother at Fairoaks, could be standing on each side of the street, to see the meeting between him and his uncle, and the most famous duke in Christendom.
"How do, Pendennis?—fine day," were his Grace's remarkable words, and with a nod of his august head he passed on—in a blue frock-coat and spotless white duck trousers, in a white stock, with a shining buckle behind.
Old Pendennis, whose likeness to his Grace has been remarked, began to imitate him unconsciously, after they had parted, speaking with curt sentences, after the manner of the great man. We have all of us, no doubt, met with more than one military officer who has so imitated the manner of a certain great Captain of the Age; and has, perhaps, changed his own natural character and disposition, because Fate had endowed him with an aquiline nose. In like manner have we not seen many another man pride himself on having a tall forehead and a supposed likeness to Mr. Canning? many another go through life swelling with self-gratification on account of an imagined resemblance (we say "imagined," because that anybody should be really like that most beautiful and perfect of men is impossible) to the great and revered George IV.: many third parties, who wore low necks to their dresses because they fancied that Lord Byron and themselves were similar in appearance: and has not the grave closed but lately upon poor Tom Bickerstaff, who having no more imagination than Mr. Joseph Hume, looked in the glass and fancied himself like Shakspeare? shaved his forehead so as farther to resemble the immortal bard, wrote tragedies incessantly, and died perfectly crazy—actually perished of his forehead? These or similar freaks of vanity most people who have frequented the world must have seen in their experience. Pen laughed in his roguish sleeve at the manner in which his uncle began to imitate the great man from whom they had just parted but Mr. Pen was as vain in his own way, perhaps, as the elder gentleman, and strutted, with a very consequential air of his own, by the Major's side.
"Yes, my dear boy," said the old bachelor, as they sauntered through the Green Park, where many poor children were disporting happily, and errand-boys were playing at toss-halfpenny, and black sheep were grazing in the sunshine, and an actor was learning his part on a bench, and nursery-maids and their charges sauntered here and there, and several couples were walking in a leisurely manner; "yes, depend on it, my boy; for a poor man, there is nothing like having good acquaintances. Who were those men, with whom you saw me in the bow-window at Bays's? Two were Peers of the realm. Hobananob will be a Peer, as soon as his grand-uncle dies, and he has had his third seizure; and of the other four, not one has less than his seven thousand a year. Did you see that dark blue brougham, with that tremendous stepping horse, waiting at the door of the club? You'll know it again. It is Sir Hugh Trumpington's; he was never known to walk in his life; never appears in the streets on foot—never: and if he is going two doors off, to see his mother, the old dowager (to whom I shall certainly introduce you, for she receives some of the best company in London), gad, sir—he mounts his horse at No. 23, and dismounts again at No. 25 A. He is now upstairs, at Bays's, playing picquet with Count Punter: he is the second-best player in England—as well he may be; for he plays every day of his life, except Sundays (for Sir Hugh is an uncommonly religious man) from half-past three till half-past seven, when he dresses for dinner.
"A very pious manner of spending his time," Pen said, laughing and thinking that his uncle was falling into the twaddling state.
"Gad, sir, that is not the question. A man of his estate may employ his time as he chooses. When you are a baronet, a county member, with ten thousand acres of the best land in Cheshire, and such a place as Trumpington (though he never goes there), you may do as you like."
"And so that was his brougham, sir, was it?" the nephew said with almost a sneer.
"His brougham—O ay, yes!—and that brings me back to my point—revenons a nos moutons. Yes, begad! revenons a nous moutons. Well, that brougham is mine if I choose, between four and seven. Just as much mine as if I jobbed it from Tilbury's, begad, for thirty pound a month. Sir Hugh is the best natured fellow in the world; and if it hadn't been so fine an afternoon as it is, you and I would have been in that brougham at this very minute on our way to Grosvenor Place. That is the benefit of knowing rich men;—I dine for nothing, sir;—I go into the country, and I'm mounted for nothing. Other fellows keep hounds and gamekeepers for me. Sic vos, non vobis, as we used to say at Grey Friars, hey? I'm of the opinion of my old friend Leech, of the Forty-fourth; and a devilish good shrewd fellow he was, as most Scotchmen are. Gad, sir, Leech used to say, 'He was so poor that he couldn't afford to know a poor man.'"
"You don't act up to your principles, uncle," Pen said good-naturedly.
"Up to my principles; how, sir?" the Major asked, rather testily.
"You would have cut me in Saint James's Street, sir," Pen said, "were your practice not more benevolent than your theory; you who live with dukes and magnates of the land, and would take no notice of a poor devil like me." By which speech we may see that Mr. Pen was getting on in the world, and could flatter as well as laugh in his sleeve.
Major Pendennis was appeased instantly, and very much pleased. He tapped affectionately his nephew's arm on which he was leaning, and said,—"you, sir, you are my flesh and blood! Hang it, sir, I've been very proud of you and very fond of you, but for your confounded follies and extravagances—and wild oats, sir, which I hope you've sown 'em. I hope you've sown 'em; begad! My object, Arthur, is to make a man of you—to see you well placed in the world, as becomes one of your name and my own, sir. You have got yourself a little reputation by your literary talents, which I am very far from undervaluing, though in my time, begad, poetry and genius and that sort of thing were devilish disreputable. There was poor Byron, for instance, who ruined himself, and contracted the worst habits by living with poets and newspaper-writers, and people of that kind: But the times are changed now—there's a run upon literature—clever fellows get into the best houses in town, begad! Tempora mutantur, sir; and by Jove, I suppose whatever is is right, as Shakspeare says."
Pen did not think fit to tell his uncle who was the author who had made use of that remarkable phrase, and here descending from the Green Park, the pair made their way into Grosvenor Place, and to the door of the mansion occupied there by Sir Francis and Lady Clavering.
The dining-room shutters of this handsome mansion were freshly gilded; the knockers shone gorgeous upon the newly painted door; the balcony before the drawing-room bloomed with a portable garden of the most beautiful plants, and with flowers, white, and pink, and scarlet; the windows of the upper room (the sacred chamber and dressing-room of my lady, doubtless), and even a pretty little casement of the third story, which keen-sighted Mr. Pen presumed to belong to the virgin bedroom of Miss Blanche Amory, were similarly adorned with floral ornaments, and the whole exterior face of the house presented the most brilliant aspect which fresh new paint, shining plate-glass, newly cleaned bricks, and spotless mortar, could offer to the beholder.
"How Strong must have rejoiced in organising all this splendour," thought Pen. He recognised the Chevalier's genius in the magnificence before him.
"Lady Clavering is going out for her drive," the Major said. "We shall only have to leave our pasteboards, Arthur." He used the word 'pasteboards,' having heard it from some of the ingenuous youth of the nobility about town, and as a modern phrase suited to Pen's tender years. Indeed, as the two gentlemen reached the door, a landau drove up, a magnificent yellow carriage, lined with brocade or satin of a faint cream colour, drawn by wonderful grey horses, with flaming ribbons, and harness blazing all over with crests: no less than three of these heraldic emblems surmounted the coats-of-arms on the panels, and these shields contained a prodigious number of quarterings, betokening the antiquity and splendour of the house of Clavering and Snell. A coachman in a tight silver wig surmounted the magnificent hammer-cloth (whereon the same arms were worked in bullion), and controlled the prancing greys—a young man still, but of a solemn countenance, with a laced waistcoat and buckles in his shoes—little buckles, unlike those which John and Jeames, the footmen, wear, and which we know are large, and spread elegantly over the foot.
One of the leaves of the hall door was opened, and John—one of the largest of his race—was leaning against the door-pillar with his ambrosial hair powdered, his legs crossed; beautiful, silk-stockinged; in his hand his cane, gold-headed, dolichoskion. Jeames was invisible, but near at hand, waiting in the hall, with the gentleman who does not wear livery, and ready to fling down the roll of hair-cloth over which her ladyship was to step to her carriage. These things and men, the which to tell of demands time, are seen in the glance of a practised eye: and, in fact, the Major and Pen had scarcely crossed the street, when the second battant of the door flew open; the horse-hair carpet tumbled down the door-steps to those of the carriage; John was opening it on one side of the emblazoned door, and Jeames on the other, the two ladies, attired in the highest style of fashion, and accompanied by a third, who carried a Blenheim spaniel, yelping in a light blue ribbon, came forth to ascend the carriage.
Miss Amory was the first to enter, which she did with aerial lightness, and took the place which she liked best. Lady Clavering next followed, but her ladyship was more mature of age and heavy of foot, and one of those feet, attired in a green satin boot, with some part of a stocking, which was very fine, whatever the ankle might be which it encircled, might be seen swaying on the carriage-step, as her ladyship leaned for support on the arm of the unbending Jeames, by the enraptured observer of female beauty who happened to be passing at the time of this imposing ceremonial.
The Pendennises senior and junior beheld those charms as they came up to the door—the Major looking grave and courtly, and Pen somewhat abashed at the carriage and its owners; for he thought of sundry little passages at Clavering, which made his heart beat rather quick.
At that moment Lady Clavering, looking round the pair,—she was on the first carriage-step, and would have been in the vehicle in another second, but she gave a start backwards (which caused some of the powder to fly from the hair of ambrosial Jeames), and crying out, "Lor, if it isn't Arthur Pendennis and the old Major!" jumped back to terra firma directly, and holding out two fat hands, encased in tight orange-coloured gloves, the good-natured woman warmly greeted the Major and his nephew.
"Come in both of you.—Why haven't you been before?—Get out, Blanche, and come and see your old friends.—O, I'm so glad to see you. We've been waitin and waitin for you ever so long. Come in, luncheon ain't gone down," cried out this hospitable lady, squeezing Pen's hand in both hers (she had dropped the Major's after a brief wrench of recognition), and Blanche, casting up her eyes towards the chimneys, descended from the carriage presently, with a timid, blushing, appealing look, and gave a little hand to Major Pendennis.
The companion with the spaniel looked about irresolute, and doubting whether she should not take Fido his airing; but she too turned right about face and entered the house, after Lady Clavering, her daughter, and the two gentlemen. And the carriage, with the prancing greys, was left unoccupied, save by the coachman in the silver wig.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. In which the Sylph reappears
Better folks than Morgan, the valet, were not so well instructed as that gentleman, regarding the amount of Lady Clavering's riches; and the legend in London, upon her Ladyship's arrival in the polite metropolis, was, that her fortune was enormous. Indigo factories, opium clippers, banks overflowing with rupees, diamonds and jewels of native princes, and vast sums of interest paid by them for loans contracted by themselves or their predecessors to Lady Clavering's father, were mentioned as sources of her wealth. Her account at her London banker's was positively known, and the sum embraced so many cyphers as to create as many O's of admiration in the wondering hearer. It was a known fact that an envoy from an Indian Prince, a Colonel Altamont, the Nawaub of Lucknow's prime favourite, an extraordinary man, who had, it was said, embraced Mahometanism, and undergone a thousand wild and perilous adventures was at present in this country, trying to negotiate with the Begum Clavering, the sale of the Nawaub's celebrated nose-ring diamond, 'the light of the Dewan.'
Under the title of the Begum, Lady Clavering's fame began to spread in London before she herself descended upon the Capital, and as it has been the boast of Delolme, and Blackstone, and all panegyrists of the British Constitution, that we admit into our aristocracy merit of every kind, and that the lowliest-born man, if he but deserve it, may wear the robes of a peer, and sit alongside of a Cavendish or a Stanley: so it ought to be the boast of our good society, that haughty though it be, naturally jealous of its privileges, and careful who shall be admitted into its circle, yet, if an individual be but rich enough, all barriers are instantly removed, and he or she is welcomed, as from his wealth he merits to be. This fact shows our British independence and honest feeling—our higher orders are not such mere haughty aristocrats as the ignorant represent them: on the contrary, if a man have money they will hold out their hands to him, eat his dinners, dance at his balls, marry his daughters, or give their own lovely girls to his sons, as affably as your commonest roturier would do.
As he had superintended the arrangements of the country mansion, our friend, the Chevalier Strong, gave the benefit of his taste and advice to the fashionable London upholsterers, who prepared the town house for the reception of the Clavering family. In the decoration of this elegant abode, honest Strong's soul rejoiced as much as if he had been himself its proprietor. He hung and re-hung the pictures, he studied the positions of sofas, he had interviews with wine merchants and purveyors who were to supply the new establishment; and at the same time the Baronet's factotum and confidential friend took the opportunity of furnishing his own chambers, and stocking his snug little cellar: his friends complimented him upon the neatness of the former; and the select guests who came in to share Strong's cutlet new found a bottle of excellent claret to accompany the meal. The Chevalier was now, as he said, "in clover:" he had a very comfortable set of rooms in Shepherd's Inn. He was waited on by a former Spanish Legionary and comrade of his whom he had left at a breach of a Spanish fort, and found at a crossing in Tottenham-court Road, and whom he had elevated to the rank of body-servant to himself and to the chum who, at present, shared his lodgings. This was no other than the favourite of the Nawaub of Lucknow, the valiant Colonel Altamont.
No man was less curious, or at any rate, more discreet, than Ned Strong, and he did not care to inquire into the mysterious connexion which, very soon after their first meeting at Baymouth was established between Sir Francis Clavering and the envoy of the Nawaub. The latter knew some secret regarding the former, which put Clavering into his power, somehow; and Strong, who knew that his patron's early life had been rather irregular, and that his career with his regiment in India had not been brilliant, supposed that the Colonel, who swore he knew Clavering well at Calcutta, had some hold upon Sir Francis, to which the latter was forced to yield. In truth, Strong had long understood Sir Francis Clavering's character, as that of a man utterly weak in purpose, in principle, and intellect, a moral and physical trifler and poltroon.
With poor Clavering, his Excellency had had one or two interviews after their Baymouth meeting, the nature of which conversations the Baronet did not confide to Strong: although he sent letters to Altamont by that gentleman, who was his ambassador in all sorts of affairs. On one of these occasions the Nawaub's envoy must have been in an exceeding ill humour; for he crushed Clavering's letter in his hand, and said with his own particular manner and emphasis:—
"A hundred, be hanged. I'll have no more letters nor no more shilly-shally. Tell Clavering I'll have a thousand, or by Jove I'll split, and burst him all to atoms. Let him give me a thousand and I'll go abroad, and I give you my honour as a gentleman, I'll not ask him for no more for a year. Give him that message from me, Strong, my boy; and tell him if the money ain't here next Friday at twelve o'clock, as sure as my name's what it is, I'll have a paragraph in the newspaper on Saturday, and next week I'll blow up the whole concern."
Strong carried back these words to his principal, on whom their effect was such that actually on the day and hour appointed, the Chevalier made his appearance once more at Altamont's hotel at Baymouth, with the sum of money required. Altamont was a gentleman, he said, and behaved as such; he paid his bill at the Inn, and the Baymouth paper announced his departure on a foreign tour. Strong saw him embark at Dover. "It must be forgery at the very least," he thought, "that has put Clavering into this fellow's power, and the Colonel has got the bill."
Before the year was out, however, this happy country saw the Colonel once more upon its shores. A confounded run on the red had finished him, he said, at Baden Baden: no gentleman could stand against a colour coming up fourteen times. He had been obliged to draw upon Sir Francis Clavering for means of returning home: and Clavering, though pressed for money (for he had election expenses, had set up his establishment in the country and was engaged in furnishing his London house), yet found means to accept Colonel Altamont's bill, though evidently very much against his will; for in Strong's hearing, Sir Francis wished to heaven, with many curses, that the Colonel could have been locked up in a debtor's goal in Germany for life, so that he might never be troubled again.
These sums for the Colonel Sir Francis was obliged to raise without the knowledge of his wife; for though perfectly liberal, nay, sumptuous in her expenditure, the good lady had inherited a tolerable aptitude for business along with the large fortune of her father, Snell, and gave to her husband only such a handsome allowance as she thought befitted a gentleman of his rank. Now and again she would give him a present, or pay an outstanding gambling debt; but she always exacted a pretty accurate account of the moneys so required; and respecting the subsidies to the Colonel, Clavering fairly told Strong that he couldn't speak to his wife.
Part of Mr. Strong's business in life was to procure this money and other sums, for his patron. And in the Chevalier's apartments, in Shepherd's Inn, many negotiations took place between gentlemen of the moneyed world and Sir Francis Clavering, and many valuable bank-notes and pieces of stamped paper were passed between them. When a man has been in the habit of getting in debt from his early youth, and of exchanging his promises to pay at twelve months against present sums of money, it would seem as if no piece of good fortune ever permanently benefited him: a little while after the advent of prosperity, the money-lender is pretty certain to be in the house again, and the bills with the old signature in the market. Clavering found it more convenient to see these gentry at Strong's lodgings than at his own; and such was the Chevalier's friendship for the Baronet that although he did not possess a shilling of his own, his name might be seen as the drawer of almost all the bills of exchange which Sir Francis Clavering accepted. Having drawn Clavering's bills, he got them discounted "in the City." When they became due he parleyed with the bill-holders, and gave them instalments of their debt, or got time in exchange for fresh acceptances. Regularly or irregularly, gentlemen must live somehow: and as we read how, the other day, at Comorn, the troops forming that garrison were gay and lively, acted plays, danced at balls, and consumed their rations; though menaced with an assault from the enemy without the walls, and with a gallows if the Austrians were successful,—so there are hundreds of gallant spirits in this town, walking about in good spirits, dining every day in tolerable gaiety and plenty, and going to sleep comfortably; with a bailiff always more or less near, and a rope of debt round their necks—the which trifling inconveniences, Ned Strong, the old soldier, bore very easily.
But we shall have another opportunity of making acquaintance with these and some other interesting inhabitants of Shepherd's Inn, and in the meanwhile are keeping Lady Clavering and her friends too long waiting on the door-steps of Grosvenor Place.
First they went into the gorgeous dining-room, fitted up, Lady Clavering couldn't for goodness gracious tell why, in the middle-aged style, "unless," said her good-natured ladyship, laughing, "because me and Clavering are middle-aged people;"—and here they were offered the copious remains of the luncheon of which Lady Clavering and Blanche had just partaken. When nobody was near, our little Sylphide, who scarcely ate at dinner more than the six grains of rice of Amina, the friend of the Ghouls in the Arabian Nights, was most active with her knife and fork, and consumed a very substantial portion of mutton cutlets: in which piece of hypocrisy it is believed she resembled other young ladies of fashion. Pen and his uncle declined the refection, but they admired the dining-room with fitting compliments, and pronounced it "very chaste," that being the proper phrase. There were, indeed, high-backed Dutch chairs of the seventeenth century; there was a sculptured carved buffet of the sixteenth; there was a sideboard robbed out of the carved work of a church in the Low Countries, and a large brass cathedral lamp over the round oak table; there were old family portraits from Wardour Street and tapestry from France, bits of armour, double-handed swords and battle-axes made of carton-pierre, looking-glasses, statuettes of saints, and Dresden china—nothing, in a word, could be chaster. Behind the dining-room was the library, fitted with busts and books all of a size, and wonderful easy-chairs, and solemn bronzes in the severe classic style. Here it was that, guarded by double doors, Sir Francis smoked cigars, and read Bell's Life in London, and went to sleep after dinner, when he was not smoking over the billiard-table at his clubs, or punting at the gambling-houses in Saint James's.
But what could equal the chaste splendour of the drawing-rooms?—the carpets were so magnificently fluffy that your foot made no more noise on them than your shadow: on their white ground bloomed roses and tulips as big as warming-pans: about the room were high chairs and low chairs, bandy-legged chairs, chairs so attenuated that it was a wonder any but a sylph could sit upon them, marquetterie-tables covered with marvellous gimcracks, china ornaments of all ages and countries, bronzes, gilt daggers, Books of Beauty, yataghans, Turkish papooshes and boxes of Parisian bonbons. Wherever you sate down there were Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses convenient at your elbow; there were, moreover, light blue poodles and ducks and cocks and hens in porcelain; there were nymphs by Boucher, and shepherdesses by Greuze, very chaste indeed; there were muslin curtains and brocade curtains, gilt cages with parroquets and love-birds, two squealing cockatoos, each out-squealing and out-chattering the other; a clock singing tunes on a console-table, and another booming the hours like Great Tom, on the mantelpiece—there was, in a word, everything that comfort could desire, and the most elegant taste devise. A London drawing-room, fitted up without regard to expense, is surely one of the noblest and most curious sights of the present day. The Romans of the Lower Empire, the dear Marchionesses and Countesses of Louis XV., could scarcely have had a finer taste than our modern folks exhibit; and everybody who saw Lady Clavering's reception rooms, was forced to confess that they were most elegant; and that the prettiest rooms in London—Lady Harley Quin's, Lady Hanway Wardour's, or Mrs. Hodge-Podgson's own; the great Railroad Croesus' wife, were not fitted up with a more consummate "chastity."
Poor Lady Clavering, meanwhile, knew little regarding these things, and had a sad want of respect for the splendours around her. "I only know they cost a precious deal of money, Major," she said to her guest, "and that I don't advise you to try one of them gossamer gilt chairs: I came down on one the night we gave our second dinner-party. Why didn't you come and see us before? We'd have asked you to it."
"You would have liked to see Mamma break a chair, wouldn't you, Mr. Pendennis?" dear Blanche said with a sneer. She was angry because Pen was talking and laughing with Mamma, because Mamma had made a number of blunders in describing the house—for a hundred other good reasons.
"I should like to have been by to give Lady Clavering my arm if she had need of it," Pen answered, with a bow and a blush.
"Quel preux Chevalier!" cried the Sylphide, tossing up her little head.
"I have a fellow-feeling with those who fall, remember," Pen said. "I suffered myself very much from doing so once."
"And you went home to Laura to console you," said Miss Amory. Pen winced. He did not like the remembrance of the consolation which Laura had given to him, nor was he very well pleased to find that his rebuff in that quarter was known to the world; so as he had nothing to say in reply, he began to be immensely interested in the furniture round about him, and to praise Lady Clavering's taste with all his might.
"No, don't praise me," said honest Lady Clavering, "it's all the upholsterer's doings and Captain Strong's, they did it all while we was at the Park—and—and—Lady Rockminster has been here and says the salongs are very well," said Lady Clavering, with an air and tone of great deference.
"My cousin Laura has been staying with her," Pen said.
"It's not the dowager: it is the Lady Rockminster."
"Indeed!" cried Major Pendennis, when he heard this great name of fashion. "If you have her ladyship's approval, Lady Clavering, you cannot be far wrong. No, no, you cannot be far wrong. Lady Rockminster, I should say, Arthur, is the very centre of the circle of fashion and taste. The rooms are beautiful indeed!" and the Major's voice hushed as he spoke of this great lady, and he looked round and surveyed the apartments awfully and respectfully, as if he had been at church.
"Yes, Lady Rockminster has took us up," said Lady Clavering.
"Taken us up, Mamma," cried Blanche, in a shrill voice.
"Well, taken us up, then," said my lady; "it's very kind of her, and I dare say we shall like it when we git used to it, only at first one don't fancy being took—well, taken up, at all. She is going to give our balls for us; and wants to invite all our dinners. But I won't stand that. I will have my old friends and I won't let her send all the cards out, and sit mum at the head of my own table. You must come to me, Arthur and Major—come, let me see, on the 14th.—It ain't one of our grand dinners, Blanche," she said, looking round at her daughter, who bit her lips and frowned very savagely for a sylphide.
The Major, with a smile and a bow, said he would much rather come to a quiet meeting than to a grand dinner. He had had enough of those large entertainments, and preferred the simplicity of the home circle.
"I always think a dinner's the best the second day," said Lady Clavering, thinking to mend her first speech. "On the 14th we'll be quite a snug little party;" at which second blunder, Miss Blanche clasped her hands in despair, and said "O, mamma, vous etes incorrigible." Major Pendennis vowed that he liked snug dinners of all things in the world, and confounded her ladyship's impudence for daring to ask such a man as him to a second day's dinner. But he was a man of an economical turn of mind, and bethinking himself that he could throw over these people if anything better should offer, he accepted with the blandest air. As for Pen, he was not a diner-out of thirty years' standing as yet, and the idea of a fine feast in a fine house was still perfectly welcome to him.
"What was that pretty little quarrel which engaged itself between your worship and Miss Amory?" the Major asked of Pen, as they walked away together. "I thought you used to au mieux in that quarter."
"Used to be," answered Pen, with a dandified air "is a vague phrase regarding a woman. Was and is are two very different terms, sir, as regards women's hearts especially.
"Egad, they change as we do," cried the elder. "When we took the Cape of Good Hope, I recollect there was a lady who talked poisoning herself for your humble servant; and, begad, in three months she ran away from her husband with somebody else. Don't get yourself entangled with that Miss Amory, She is forward, affected, and under-bred; and her character is somewhat—never mind what. But don't think of her; ten thousand pound won't do for you. What, my good fellow, is ten thousand pound? I would scarcely pay that girl's milliner's bill with the interest of the money."
"You seem to be a connoisseur in millinery, Uncle" Pen said.
"I was, sir, I was," replied the senior; "and the old war-horse, you know, never hears the sound of a trumpet, but he begins to he, he!—you understand,"—and he gave a killing and somewhat superannuated leer and bow to a carriage that passed them and entered the Park.
"Lady Catherine Martingale's carriage" he said "mons'ous fine girls the daughters, though, gad, I remember their mother a thousand times handsomer. No, Arthur, my dear fellow, with your person and expectations, you ought to make a good coup in marriage some day or other; and though I wouldn't have this repeated at Fairoaks, you rogue, ha! ha! a reputation for a little wickedness, and for being an homme dangereux, don't hurt a young fellow with the women. They like it, sir, they hate a milksop—young men must be young men, you know. But for marriage," continued the veteran moralist, "that is a very different matter. Marry a woman with money. I've told you before it is as easy to get a rich wife as a poor one; and a doosed deal more comfortable to sit down to a well-cooked dinner, with your little entrees nicely served, than to have nothing but a damned cold leg of mutton between you and your wife. We shall have a good dinner on the 14th, when we dine with Sir Francis Clavering: stick to that, my boy, in your relations with the family. Cultivate 'em, but keep 'em for dining. No more of your youthful follies and nonsense about love in a cottage."
"It must be a cottage with a double coach-house, a cottage of gentility, sir," said Pen, quoting the hackneyed ballad of the Devil's Walk: but his Uncle did not know that poem (though, perhaps, he might be leading Pen upon the very promenade in question), and went on with his philosophical remarks, very much pleased with the aptness of the pupil to whom he addressed them. Indeed Arthur Pendennis was a clever fellow, who took his colour very readily from his neighbour, and found the adaptation only too easy.
Warrington, the grumbler, growled out that Pen was becoming such a puppy that soon there would be no bearing him. But the truth is, the young man's success and dashing manners pleased his elder companion. He liked to see Pen gay and spirited, and brimful of health, and life, and hope; as a man who has long since left off being amused with clown and harlequin, still gets a pleasure in watching a child at a pantomime. Mr. Pen's former sulkiness disappeared with his better fortune: and he bloomed as the sun began to shine upon him.
CHAPTER XXXIX. Colonel Altamont appears and disappears
On the day appointed, Major Pendennis, who had formed no better engagement, and Arthur who desired none, arrived together to dine with Sir Francis Clavering. The only tenants of the drawing-room when Pen and his uncle reached it, were Sir Francis and his wife, and our friend Captain Strong, whom Arthur was very glad to see, though the Major looked very sulkily at Strong, being by no means well pleased to sit down to dinner with Clavering's d—— house-steward, as he irreverently called Strong. But Mr. Welbore Welbore, Clavering's country neighbour and brother member of Parliament, speedily arriving, Pendennis the elder was somewhat appeased, for Welbore, though perfectly dull, and taking no more part in the conversation at dinner than the footman behind his chair, was a respectable country gentleman of ancient family and seven thousand a year: and the Major felt always at ease in such society. To these were added other persons of note: the Dowager Lady Rockminster, who had her reasons for being well with the Clavering family, and the Lady Agnes Foker, with her son Mr. Harry, our old acquaintance. Mr. Pynsent could not come, his parliamentary duties keeping him at the House, duties which sate upon the two other senators very lightly. Miss Blanche Amory was the last of the company who made her appearance. She was dressed in a killing white silk dress which displayed her pearly shoulders to the utmost advantage. Foker whisped to Pen, who regarded her with eyes of evident admiration, that he considered her "a stunner." She chose to be very gracious to Arthur upon this day, and held out her hand most cordially, and talked about dear Fairoaks, and asked for dear Laura and his mother, and said she was longing to go back to the country, and in fact was entirely simple, affectionate, and artless.
Harry Foker thought he had never seen anybody so amiable and delightful Not accustomed much to the society of ladies, and ordinarily being dumb to their presence, he found that he could speak before Miss Amory, and became uncommonly lively and talkative, even before the dinner was announced and the party descended to the lower rooms. He would have longed to give his arm to the fair Blanche, and conduct her down the broad carpeted stair; but she fell to the lot of Pen upon this occasion, Mr. Foker being appointed to escort Mrs. Welbore Welbore, in consequence of his superior rank as an earl's grandson.
But though he was separated from the object of his desire during the passage downstairs, the delighted Foker found himself by Miss Amory's side at the dinner-table, and flattered himself that he had manoeuvred very well in securing that happy place. It may be that the move was not his, but that it was made by another person. Blanche had thus the two young men, one on each side of her, and each tried to render himself gallant and agreeable.
Foker's mamma, from her place, surveying her darling boy, was surprised at his vivacity. Harry talked constantly to his fair neighbour about the topics of the day.
"Seen Taglioni in the Sylphide, Miss Amory? Bring me that souprame of Volile again if you please (this was addressed to the attendant near him), very good: can't think where the souprames come from; what becomes of the legs of the fowls, I wonder? She's clipping in the Sylphide, ain't she?" and he began very kindly to hum the pretty air which pervades that prettiest of all ballets, now faded into the past with that most beautiful and gracious of all dancers. Will the young folks ever see anything so charming, anything so classic, anything like Taglioni?
"Miss Amory is a sylph herself," said Mr. Pen.
"What a delightful tenor voice you have, Mr. Foker," said the young lady. "I am sure you have been well taught. I sing a little myself. I should like to sing with you."
Pen remembered that words very similar had been addressed to himself by the young lady, and that she had liked to sing with him in former days. And sneering within himself, he wondered with how many other gentlemen she had sung duets since his time? But he did not think fit to put this awkward question aloud: and only said, with the very tenderest air which he could assume, "I should like to hear you sing again, Miss Blanche. I never heard a voice I liked so well as yours, I think."
"I thought you liked Laura's," said Miss Blanche.
"Laura's is a contralto: and that voice is very often out, you know," Pen said, bitterly. "I have heard a great deal of music, in London," he continued. "I'm tired of those professional people—they sing too loud—or I have grown too old or too blase. One grows old very soon, in London, Miss Amory. And like all old fellows, I only care for the songs I heard in my youth."
"I like English music best. I don't care for foreign songs much. Get me some saddle of mutton," said Mr. Foker.
"I adore English ballads, of all things," said Miss Amory.
"Sing me one of the old songs after dinner, will you?" said Pen, with an imploring voice.
"Shall I sing you an English song, after dinner?" asked the Sylphide, turning to Mr. Foker. "I will, if you will promise to come up soon:" and she gave him a perfect broadside of her eyes.
"I'll come up after dinner, fast enough," he said, simply. "I don't care about much wine afterwards—I take my whack at dinner—I mean my share, you know; and when I have had as much as I want I toddle up to tea. I'm a domestic character, Miss Amory—my habits are simple—and when I'm pleased I'm generally in a good-humour, ain't I, Pen?—that jelly, if you please—not that one, the other with the cherries inside. How the doose do they get those cherries inside the jellies?" In this way the artless youth prattled on: and Miss Amory listened to him with inexhaustible good-humour. When the ladies took their departure for the upper regions, Blanche made the two young men promise faithfully to quit the table soon, and departed with kind glances to each. She dropped her gloves on Foker's side of the table and her handkerchief on Pen's. Each had had some little attention paid to him: her politeness to Mr. Foker was perhaps a little more encouraging than her kindness to Arthur: but the benevolent little creature did her best to make both the gentlemen happy. Foker caught her last glance as she rushed out of the door; that bright look passed over Mr. Strong's broad white waistcoat and shot straight at Harry Foker's. The door closed on the charmer: he sate down with a sigh, and swallowed a bumper of claret.
As the dinner at which Pen and his uncle took their places was not one of our grand parties, it had been served at a considerably earlier hour than those ceremonial banquets of the London season, which custom has ordained shall scarcely take place before nine o'clock; and, the company being small, and Miss Blanche anxious to betake herself to her piano in the drawing-room, giving constant hints to her mother to retreat,—Lady Clavering made that signal very speedily, so that it was quite daylight yet when the ladies reached the upper apartments, from the flower-embroidered balconies of which they could command a view of the two Parks, of the poor couples and children still sauntering in the one, and of the equipages of ladies and the horses of dandies passing through the arch of the other. The sun, in a word had not set behind the elms of Kensington Gardens, and was still gilding the statue erected by the ladies of England in honour of his Grace the Duke of Wellington, when Lady Clavering and her female friends left the gentlemen drinking wine.
The windows of the dining-room were opened to let in the fresh air, and afforded to the passers-by in the street a pleasant, or perhaps, tantalising view of six gentlemen in white waistcoats with a quantity of decanters and a variety of fruits before them—little boys, as they passed and jumped up at the area-railings and took a peep, said to one another, "Hi hi, Jim, shouldn't you like to be there and have a cut of that there pineapple?"—the horses and carriages of the nobility and gentry passed by conveying them to Belgravian toilets: the policeman, with clamping feet patrolled up and down before the mansion: the shades of evening began to fall: the gasman came and lighted the lamps before Sir Francis's door: the butler entered the dining-room, and illuminated the antique gothic chandelier over the antique carved oak dining-table: so that from outside the house you looked inwards upon a night-scene of feasting and wax-candles; and from within you beheld a vision of a calm summer evening, and the wall of Saint James's Park, and the sky above, in which a star or two was just beginning to twinkle.
Jeames, with folded legs, leaning against the door-pillar of his master's abode, looked forth musingly upon the latter tranquil sight: whilst a spectator clinging to the railings examined the former scene. Policeman X passing, gave his attention to neither, but fixed it upon the individual holding by the railings, and gazing into Sir Francis Clavering's dining-room, where Strong was laughing and talking away, making the conversation for the party.
The man at the railing was very gorgeously attired with chains, jewellery, and waistcoats, which the illumination from the house lighted up to great advantage; his boots were shiny; he had brass buttons to his coat, and large white wristbands over his knuckles; and indeed looked so grand, that X imagined he beheld a member of parliament, or a person of consideration before him. Whatever his rank, however, the M.P., or person of consideration, was considerably excited by wine; for he lurched and reeled somewhat in his gait, and his hat was cocked over his wild and bloodshot eyes in a manner which no sober hat ever could assume. His copious black hair was evidently surreptitious, and his whiskers of the Tyrian purple.
As Strong's laughter, following after one of his own gros mots, came ringing out of window, this gentleman without laughed and sniggered in the queerest way likewise, and he slapped his thigh and winked at Jeames pensive in the portico, as much as to say, "Plush, my boy, isn't that a good story?"