Old Pendennis had only accompanied our friends to the water's edge, and left them on board the boat, giving the chief charge of the little expedition to Warrington. He himself was bound on a brief visit to the house of a great man, a friend of his, after which sojourn he proposed to join his sister-in-law at the German watering-place, whither the party was bound. The Major himself thought that his long attentions to his sick family had earned for him a little relaxation—and though the best of the partridges were thinned off, the pheasants were still to be shot at Stillbrook, where the noble owner still was; old Pendennis betook himself to that hospitable mansion and disported there with great comfort to himself. A royal Duke, some foreigners of note, some illustrious statesmen, and some pleasant people visited it: it did the old fellow's heart good to see his name in the Morning Post amongst the list of the distinguished company which the Marquis of Steyne was entertaining at his country-house at Stillbrook. He was a very useful and pleasant personage in a country-house. He entertained the young men with queer little anecdotes and grivoises stories on their shooting-parties or in their smoking-room, where they laughed at him and with him. He was obsequious with the ladies of a morning, in the rooms dedicated to them. He walked the new arrivals about the park and gardens, and showed them the carte du pays, and where there was the best view of the mansion, and where the most favourable point to look at the lake: he showed, where the timber was to be felled, and where the old road went before the new bridge was built, and the hill cut down; and where the place in the wood was where old Lord Lynx discovered Sir Phelim O'Neal on his knees before her ladyship, etc. etc.; he called the lodge-keepers and gardeners by their names; he knew the number of domestics that sat down in the housekeeper's room, and how many dined in the servants'-hall; he had a word for everybody, and about everybody, and a little against everybody. He was invaluable in a country-house, in a word: and richly merited and enjoyed his vacation after his labours. And perhaps whilst he was thus deservedly enjoying himself with his country friends, the Major was not ill pleased at transferring to Warrington the command of the family expedition to the Continent, and thus perforce keeping him in the service of the ladies,—a servitude which George was only too willing to undergo, for his friend's sake, and for that of a society which he found daily more delightful. Warrington was a good German scholar, and was willing to give Miss Laura lessons in the language, who was very glad to improve herself, though Pen, for his part, was too weak or lazy now to resume his German studies. Warrington acted as courier and interpreter; Warrington saw the baggage in and out of ships, inns and carriages, managed the money matters, and put the little troop into marching order. Warrington found out where the English church was, and, if Mrs. Pendennis and Miss Laura were inclined to go thither, walked with great decorum along with them. Warrington walked by Mrs. Pendennis's donkey, when that lady went out on her evening excursions; or took carriages for her; or got 'Galignani' for her; or devised comfortable seats under the lime-trees for her, when the guests paraded after dinner, and the Kursaal band at the bath, where our tired friends stopped, performed their pleasant music under the trees. Many a fine whiskered Prussian or French dandy, come to the bath for the 'Trente-et-quarante,' cast glances of longing towards the pretty fresh-coloured English girl who accompanied the pale widow, and would have longed to take a turn with her at the galop or the waltz. But Laura did not appear in the ballroom, except once or twice, when Pen vouchsafed to walk with her; and as for Warrington, that rough diamond had not had the polish of a dancing-master, and he did not know how to waltz,—though he would have liked to learn, if he could have had such a partner as Laura.—Such a partner! psha, what had a stiff bachelor to do with partners and waltzing? what was he about, dancing attendance here? drinking in sweet pleasure at a risk he knows not of what after-sadness, and regret, and lonely longing? But yet he stayed on. You would have said he was the widow's son, to watch his constant care and watchfulness of her; or that he was an adventurer, and wanted to marry her fortune, or, at any rate, that he wanted some very great treasure or benefit from her,—and very likely he did,—for ours, as the reader has possibly already discovered, is a Selfish Story, and almost every person, according to his nature, more or less generous than George, and according to the way of the world as it seems to us, is occupied about Number One. So Warrington selfishly devoted himself to Helen, who selfishly devoted herself to Pen, who selfishly devoted himself to himself at this present period, having no other personage or object to occupy him, except, indeed, his mother's health, which gave him a serious and real disquiet; but though they, sate together, they did not talk much, and the cloud was always between them.
Every day Laura looked for Warrington, and received him with more frank and eager welcome. He found himself talking to her as he didn't know himself that he could talk. He found himself performing acts of gallantry which astounded him after the performance: he found himself looking blankly in the glass at the crow's feet round his eyes, and at some streaks of white in his hair, and some intrusive silver bristles in his grim, blue beard. He found himself looking at the young bucks at the bath—at the bland, tight-waisted Germans—at the capering Frenchmen, with their lacquered mustachios and trim varnished boots—at the English dandies, Pen amongst them, with their calm domineering air, and insolent languor: and envied each one of these some excellence or quality of youth, or good looks, which he possessed, and of which Warrington felt the need. And every night, as the night came, he quitted the little circle with greater reluctance; and, retiring to his own lodging in their neighbourhood, felt himself the more lonely and unhappy. The widow could not help seeing his attachment. She understood, now, why Major Pendennis (always a tacit enemy of her darling project) had been so eager that Warrington should be of their party. Laura frankly owned her great, her enthusiastic, regard for him: and Arthur would make no movement. Arthur did not choose to see what was going on; or did not care to prevent, or actually encouraged, it. She remembered his often having said that he could not understand how a man proposed to a woman twice. She was in torture—at secret feud with her son, of all objects in the world the dearest to her—in doubt, which she dared not express to herself, about Laura—averse to Warrington, the good and generous. No wonder that the healing waters of Rosenbad did not do her good, or that Doctor von Glauber, the bath physician, when he came to visit her, found that the poor lady made no progress to recovery. Meanwhile Pen got well rapidly; slept with immense perseverance twelve hours out of the twenty-four; ate huge meals; and, at the end of a couple of months, had almost got back the bodily strength and weight which he had possessed before his illness.
After they had passed some fifteen days at their place of rest and refreshment, a letter came from Major Pendennis announcing his speedy arrival at Rosenbad, and, soon after the letter, the Major himself made his appearance accompanied by Morgan his faithful valet, without whom the old gentleman could not move. When the Major travelled he wore a jaunty and juvenile travelling costume; to see his back still you would have taken him for one of the young fellows whose slim waist and youthful appearance Warrington was beginning to envy. It was not until the worthy man began to move, that the observer remarked that Time had weakened his ancient knees, and had unkindly interfered to impede the action of the natty little varnished boots in which the gay old traveller still pinched his toes. There were magnates both of our own country and of foreign nations present that autumn at Rosenbad. The elder Pendennis read over the strangers' list with great gratification on the night of his arrival, was pleased to find several of his acquaintances among the great folks, and would have the honour of presenting his nephew to a German Grand Duchess, a Russian Princess, and an English Marquis, before many days were over: nor was Pen by any means averse to making the acquaintance of these great personages, having a liking for polite life, and all the splendours and amenities belonging to it. That very evening the resolute old gentleman, leaning on his nephew's arm, made his appearance in the halls of the Kursaal, and lost or won a napoleon or two at the table of 'Trente-et-quarante.' He did not play to lose, he said, or to win, but he did as other folks did, and betted his napoleon and took his luck as it came. He pointed out the Russians and Spaniards gambling for heaps of gold, and denounced their eagerness as something sordid and barbarous; an English gentleman should play where the fashion is play, but should not elate or depress himself at the sport; and he told how he had seen his friend the Marquis of Steyne, when Lord Gaunt, lose eighteen thousand at a sitting, and break the bank three nights running at Paris, without ever showing the least emotion at his defeat or victory. "And that's what I call being an English gentleman, Pen, my dear boy," the old gentleman said, warming as he prattled about his recollections—"what I call the great manner only remains with us and with a few families in France." And as Russian Princesses passed him, whose reputation had long ceased to be doubtful, and damaged English ladies, who are constantly seen in company of their faithful attendant for the time being in these gay haunts of dissipation, the old Major, with eager garrulity and mischievous relish, told his nephew wonderful particulars regarding the lives of these heroines; and diverted the young man with a thousand scandals. Egad, he felt himself quite young again, he remarked to Pen, as, rouged and grinning, her enormous chasseur behind her bearing her shawl, the Princess Obstropski smiled and recognised and accosted him. He remembered her in '14 when she was an actress of the Paris Boulevard, and the Emperor Alexander's aide-de-camp Obstropski (a man of great talents, who knew a good deal about the Emperor Paul's death, and was a devil to play) married her. He most courteously and respectfully asked leave to call upon the Princess, and to present to her his nephew, Mr. Arthur Pendennis; and he pointed out to the latter a half-dozen of other personages whose names were as famous, and whose histories were as satisfying. What would poor Helen have thought, could she have heard those tales, or known to what kind of people her brother-in-law was presenting her son? Only once, leaning on Arthur's arm, she had passed through the room where the green tables were prepared for play, and the croaking croupiers were calling out their fatal words of Rouge gagne and Couleur perd. She had shrunk terrified out of the pandemonium, imploring Pen, extorting from him a promise, on his word of honour, that he would never play at those tables; and the scene which so frightened the simple widow, only amused the worldly old veteran, and made him young again! He could breathe the air cheerfully which stifled her. Her right was not his right: his food was her poison. Human creatures are constituted thus differently, and with this variety the marvellous world is peopled. To the credit of Mr. Pen, let it be said, that he kept honestly the promise made to his mother, and stoutly told his uncle of his intention to abide by it.
When the Major arrived, his presence somehow cast a damp upon at least three of the persons of our little party—upon Laura who had anything but respect for him; upon Warrington, whose manner towards him showed an involuntary haughtiness and contempt; and upon the timid and alarmed widow, who dreaded lest he should interfere with her darling, though almost desperate, projects for her boy. And, indeed, the Major, unknown to himself, was the bearer of tidings which were to bring about a catastrophe in the affairs of all our friends.
Pen with his two ladies had apartments in the town of Rosenbad; honest Warrington had lodgings hard by; the Major, on arrival at Rosenbad, had, as befitted his dignity, taken his quarters at one of the great hotels, at the Roman Emperor or the Four Seasons, where two or three hundred gamblers, pleasure-seekers, or invalids, sate down and over-ate themselves daily at the enormous table-d'hote. To this hotel Pen went on the morning after the Major's arrival, dutifully to pay his respects to his uncle, and found the latter's sitting-room duly prepared and arranged by Mr. Morgan, with the Major's hats brushed, and his coats laid out: his despatch-boxes and umbrella-cases, his guidebooks, passports, maps, and other elaborate necessaries of the English traveller, all as trim and ready as they could be in their master's own room in Jermyn Street. Everything was ready, from the medicine-bottle fresh filled from the pharmacien's, down to the old fellow's prayer-book, without which he never travelled, for he made a point of appearing at the English church at every place which he honoured with a stay "Everybody did it," he said; "every English gentleman did it," and this pious man would as soon have thought of not calling upon the English ambassador in a Continental town, as of not showing himself at the national place of worship.
The old gentleman had been to take one of the baths for which Rosenbad is famous, and which everybody takes, and his after-bath toilet was not yet completed when Pen arrived. The elder called out to Arthur in a cheery voice from the inner apartment, in which he and Morgan were engaged, and the valet presently came in, bearing a little packet to Pen's address—Mr. Arthur's letters and papers, Morgan said, which he had brought from Mr. Arthur's chambers in London, and which consisted chiefly of numbers of the Pall Mall Gazette, which our friend Mr. Finucane thought his collaborateur would like to see. The papers were tied together: the letters in an envelope, addressed to Pen, in the last-named gentleman's handwriting.
Amongst the letters there was a little note addressed, as a former letter we have heard of had been, to "Arther Pendennis, Esquire," which Arthur opened with a start and a blush, and read with a very keen pang of interest, and sorrow, and regard. She had come to Arthur's house, Fanny Bolton said—and found that he was gone—gone away to Germany without ever leaving a word for her—or answer to her last letter, in which she prayed but for one word of kindness—or the books which he had promised her in happier times, before he was ill, and which she should like to keep in remembrance of him. She said she would not reproach those who had found her at his bedside when he was in the fever, and knew nobody, and who had turned the poor girl away without a word. She thought she should have died, she said, of that, but Doctor Goodenough had kindly tended her, and kept her life, when, perhaps, the keeping of it was of no good, and she forgave everybody and as for Arthur, she would pray for him for ever. And when he was so ill, and they cut off his hair, she had made so free as to keep one little lock for herself, and that she owned. And might she still keep it, or would his mamma order that that should be gave up too? She was willing to obey him in all things, and couldn't but remember that once he was so kind, oh! so good and kind! to his poor Fanny.
When Major Pendennis, fresh and smirking from his toilet, came out of his bedroom to his sitting-room, he found Arthur, with this note before him, and an expression of savage anger on his face, which surprised the elder gentleman. "What news from London, my boy?" he rather faintly asked; "are the duns at you that you look so glum?"
"Do you know anything about this letter, sir?" Arthur asked.
"What letter, my good sir?" said the other dryly, at once perceiving what had happened.
"You know what I mean—about, about Miss—about Fanny Bolton—the poor dear little girl," Arthur broke out. "When she was in my room? Was she there when I was delirious—I fancied she was—was she? Who sent her out of my chambers? who intercepted her letters to me? Who dared to do it? Did you do it, uncle?"
"It's not my practice to tamper with gentlemen's letters, or to answer damned impertinent questions," Major Pendennis cried out, in a great tremor of emotion and indignation. "There was a girl in your rooms when I came up at great personal inconvenience, daymy—and to meet with a return of this kind for my affection to you, is not pleasant, by Gad, sir—not at all pleasant."
"That's not the question, sir," Arthur said hotly—"and I beg your pardon, uncle. You were, you always have been, most kind to me: but I say again, did you say anything harsh to this poor girl? Did you send her away from me?"
"I never spoke a word to the girl," the uncle said, "and I never sent her away from you, and know no more about her, and wish to know no more about her, than about the man in the moon."
"Then it's my mother that did it," Arthur broke out. "Did my mother send that poor child away?"
"I repeat I know nothing about it, sir," the elder said testily. "Let's change the subject, if you please."
"I'll never forgive the person who did it," said Arthur, bouncing up and seizing his hat.
The Major cried out, "Stop, Arthur, for God's sake, stop;" but before he had uttered his sentence Arthur had rushed out of the room, and at the next minute the Major saw him striding rapidly down the street that led towards his home.
"Get breakfast!" said the old fellow to Morgan, and he wagged his head and sighed as he looked out of the window. "Poor Helen—poor soul! There'll be a row. I knew there would: and begad all the fat's in the fire."
When Pen reached home he only found Warrington in the ladies' drawing-room, waiting their arrival in order to conduct them to the room where the little English colony at Rosenbad held their Sunday church. Helen and Laura had not appeared as yet; the former was ailing, and her daughter was with her. Pen's wrath was so great that he could not defer expressing it. He flung Fanny's letter across the table to his friend. "Look there, Warrington," he said; "she tended me in my illness, she rescued me out of the jaws of death, and this is the way they have treated the dear little creature. They have kept her letters from me; they have treated me like a child, and her like a dog, poor thing! My mother has done this."
"If she has, you must remember it is your mother," Warrington interposed.
"It only makes the crime the greater, because it is she who has done it," Pen answered. "She ought to have been the poor girl's defender, not her enemy: she ought to go down on her knees and ask pardon of her. I ought! I will! I am shocked at the cruelty which has been shown her. What? She gave me her all, and this is her return! She sacrifices everything for me, and they spurn her."
"Hush!" said Warrington, "they can hear you from the next room."
"Hear? let them hear!" Pen cried out, only so much the louder. "Those may overhear my talk who intercept my letters. I say this poor girl has been shamefully used, and I will do my best to right her; I will."
The door of the neighbouring room opened, and Laura came forth with a pale and stern face. She looked at Pen with glances from which beamed pride, defiance, aversion. "Arthur, your mother is very ill," she said; "it is a pity that you should speak so loud as to disturb her."
"It is a pity that I should have been obliged to speak at all," Pen answered. "And I have more to say before I have done."
"I should think what you have to say will hardly be fit for me to hear," Laura said, haughtily.
"You are welcome to hear it or not, as you like," said Mr. Pen. "I shall go in now and speak to my mother."
Laura came rapidly forward, so that she should not be overheard by her friend within. "Not now, sir," she said to Pen. "You may kill her if you do. Your conduct has gone far enough to make her wretched."
"What conduct?" cried out Pen, in a fury. "Who dares impugn it? Who dares meddle with me? Is it you who are the instigator of this persecution?"
"I said before it was a subject of which it did not become me to hear or to speak," Laura said. "But as for mamma, if she had acted otherwise than she did with regard to—to the person about whom you seem to take such an interest, it would have been I that must have quitted your house, and not that—that person."
"By heavens! this is too much," Pen cried out, with a violent execration.
"Perhaps that is what you wished," Laura said, tossing her head up. "No more of this, if you please; I am not accustomed to hear such subjects spoken of in such language," and with a stately curtsey the young lady passed to her room, looking her adversary full in the face as she retreated and closed the door upon him.
Pen was bewildered with wonder, perplexity, fury, at this monstrous and unreasonable persecution. He burst out into a loud and bitter laugh as Laura quitted him, and with sneers and revilings, as a man who jeers under an operation, ridiculed at once his own pain and his persecutor's anger. The laugh, which was one of bitter humour, and no unmanly or unkindly expression of suffering under most cruel and unmerited torture, was heard in the next apartment, as some of his unlucky previous expressions had been, and, like them, entirely misinterpreted by the hearers. It struck like a dagger into the wounded and tender heart of Helen; it pierced Laura, and inflamed the high-spirited girl with scorn and anger. "And it was to this hardened libertine," she thought—"to this boaster of low intrigues, that I had given my heart away." "He breaks the most sacred laws," thought Helen. "He prefers the creature of his passion to his own mother; and when he is upbraided, he laughs, and glories in his crime. 'She gave me her all,' I heard him say it," argued the poor widow, "and he boasts of it, and laughs, and breaks his mother's heart." The emotion, the shame, the grief, the mortification almost killed her. She felt she should die of his unkindness.
Warrington thought of Laura's speech—"Perhaps that is what you wished." "She loves Pen still," he said. "It was jealousy made her speak."—"Come away, Pen. Come away, and let us go to church and get calm. You must explain this matter to your mother. She does not appear to know the truth: nor do you quite, my good fellow. Come away, and let us talk about it." And again he muttered to himself, "'Perhaps that is what you wished.' Yes, she loves him. Why shouldn't she love him? Whom else would I have her love? What can she be to me but the dearest and the fairest and the best of women?"
So, leaving the women similarly engaged within, the two gentlemen walked away, each occupied with his own thought, and silent for a considerable space. "I must set this matter right," thought honest George "as she loves him still—I must set his mind right about the other woman." And with this charitable thought, the good fellow began to tell more at large what Bows had said to him regarding Miss Bolton's behaviour and fickleness, and he described how the girl was no better than a little light-minded flirt; and, perhaps, he exaggerated the good-humour and contentedness which he had himself, as he thought, witnessed in her behaviour in the scene with Mr. Huxter.
Now, all Bows's statements had been coloured by an insane jealousy and rage on that old man's part; and instead of allaying Pen's renascent desire to see his little conquest again, Warrington's accounts inflamed and angered Pendennis, and made him more anxious than before to set himself right, as he persisted in phrasing it, with Fanny. They arrived at the church door presently; but scarce one word of the service, and not a syllable of Mr. Shamble's sermon, did either of them comprehend, probably—so much was each engaged with his own private speculations. The Major came up to them after the service, with his well-brushed hat and wig, and his jauntiest, most cheerful air. He complimented them upon being seen at church; again he said that every comme-il faut person made a point of attending the English service abroad; and he walked back with the young men, prattling to them in garrulous good-humour, and making bows to his acquaintances as they passed; and thinking innocently that Pen and George were both highly delighted by his anecdotes, which they suffered to run on in a scornful and silent acquiescence.
At the time of Mr. Shamble's sermon (an erratic Anglican divine, hired for the season at places of English resort, and addicted to debts, drinking, and even to roulette, it was said), Pen, chafing under the persecution which his womankind inflicted upon him, had been meditating a great act of revolt and of justice, as he had worked himself up to believe; and Warrington on his part had been thinking that a crisis in his affairs had likewise come, and that it was necessary for him to break away from a connexion which every day made more and more wretched and dear to him. Yes, the time was come. He took those fatal words, "Perhaps that is what you wished," as a text for a gloomy homily, which he preached to himself, in the dark pew of his own heart, whilst Mr. Shamble was feebly giving utterance to his sermon.
CHAPTER LVIII. "Fairoaks to let"
Our poor widow (with the assistance of her faithful Martha of Fairoaks, who laughed and wondered at the German ways, and superintend the affairs of the simple household) had made a little feast in honour of Major Pendennis's arrival, of which, however, only the Major and his two younger friends partook, for Helen sent to say that she was too unwell to dine at their table, and Laura bore her company. The Major talked for the party, and did not perceive, or choose to perceive, what a gloom and silence pervaded the other two sharers of the modest dinner. It was evening before Helen and Laura came into the sitting-room to join the company there. She came in leaning on Laura, with her back to the waning light, so that Arthur could not see how pallid and woe-stricken her face was, and as she went up to Pen, whom she had not seen during the day, and placed her fond arms on his shoulders and kissed him tenderly, Laura left her, and moved away to another part of the room. Pen remarked that his mother's voice and her whole frame trembled, her hand was clammy cold as she put it up to his forehead, piteously embracing him. The spectacle of her misery only added, somehow, to the wrath and testiness of the young man. He scarcely returned the kiss which the suffering lady gave him: and the countenance with which he met the appeal of her look was hard and cruel. "She persecutes me," he thought within himself, "and she comes to me with the air of a martyr!" "You look very ill, my child," she said. "I don't like to see you look in that way." And she tottered to a sofa, still holding one of his passive hands in her thin cold clinging fingers.
"I have had much to annoy me, mother," Pen said, with a throbbing breast: and as he spoke Helen's heart began to beat so, that she sate almost dead and speechless with terror.
Warrington, Laura, and Major Pendennis, all remained breathless, aware that the storm was about to break.
"I have had letters from London," Arthur continued, "and one that has given me more pain than I ever had in my life. It tells me that former letters of mine have been intercepted and purloined away from me;—that—that a young creature who has shown the greatest love and care for me, has been most cruelly used by—by you, mother."
"For God's sake stop," cried out Warrington. "She's ill—don't you see she is ill?"
"Let him go on," said the widow, faintly.
"Let him go on and kill her," said Laura, rushing up to her mother's side. "Speak on, sir, and see her die."
"It is you who are cruel," cried Pen, more exasperated and more savage, because his own heart, naturally soft and weak, revolted indignantly at the injustice of the very suffering which was laid at his door. "It is you that are cruel, who attribute all this pain to me: it is you who are cruel with your wicked reproaches, your wicked doubts of me, your wicked persecutions of those who love me,—yes, those who love me, and who brave everything for me, and whom you despise and trample upon because they are of lower degree than you. Shall I tell you what I will do,—what I am resolved to do, now that I know what your conduct has been?—I will go back to this poor girl whom you turned out of my doors, and ask her to come back and share my home with me. I'll defy the pride which persecutes her, and the pitiless suspicion which insults her and me."
"Do you mean, Pen, that you——" here the widow, with eager eyes and outstretched hands, was breaking out, but Laura stopped her: "Silence, hush, dear mother," she cried, and the widow hushed. Savagely as Pen spoke, she was only too eager to hear what more he had to say. "Go on, Arthur, go on, Arthur," was all she said, almost swooning away as she spoke.
"By Gad, I say he shan't go on, or I won't hear him, by Gad," the Major said, trembling too in his wrath. "If you choose, sir, after all we've done for you, after all I've done for you myself, to insult your mother and disgrace your name, by allying yourself with a low-born kitchen-girl, go and do it, by Gad,—but let us, ma'am, have no more to do with him. I wash my hands of you, sir,—I wash my hands of you. I'm an old fellow,—I ain't long for this world. I come of as ancient and honourable a family as any in England, by Gad, and I did hope, before I went off the hooks, by Gad, that the fellow that I'd liked, and brought up, and nursed through life, by Jove, would do something to show me that our name—yes, the name of Pendennis, by Gad, was left undishonoured behind us, but if he won't, dammy, I say, amen. By G—, both my father and my brother Jack were the proudest men in England, and I never would have thought that there would come this disgrace to my name,—never—and—and I'm ashamed that it's Arthur Pendennis." The old fellow's voice here broke off into a sob: it was the second time that Arthur had brought tears from those wrinkled lids.
The sound of his breaking voice stayed Pen's anger instantly, and he stopped pacing the room, as he had been doing until that moment. Laura was by Helen's sofa; and Warrington had remained hitherto an almost silent, but not uninterested spectator of the family storm. As the parties were talking, it had grown almost dark; and after the lull which succeeded the passionate outbreak of the Major, George's deep voice, as it here broke trembling into the twilight room, was heard with no small emotion by all.
"Will you let me tell you something about myself, my kind friends?" he said,—"you have been so good to me, ma'am, you have been so kind to me, Laura—I hope I may call you so sometimes—my dear Pen and I have been such friends that I have long wanted to tell you my story such as it is, and would have told it to you earlier but that it is a sad one and contains another's secret. However, it may do good for Arthur to know it—it is that every one here should. It will divert you from thinking about a subject, which, out of a fatal misconception, has caused a great deal of pain to all of you. May I please tell you, Mrs. Pendennis?"
"Pray speak," was all Helen said; and indeed she was not much heeding; her mind was full of another idea with which Pen's words had supplied her, and she was in a terror of hope that what he had hinted might be as she wished.
George filled himself a bumper of wine and emptied it, and began to speak. "You all of you know how you see me," he said, "a man without a desire to make an advance in the world: careless about reputation; and living in a garret and from hand to mouth, though I have friends and a name, and I daresay capabilities of my own, that would serve me if I had a mind. But mind I have none. I shall die in that garret most likely, and alone. I nailed myself to that doom in early life. Shall I tell you what it was that interested me about Arthur years ago, and made me inclined towards him when first I saw him? The men from our college at Oxbridge brought up accounts of that early affair with the Chatteris actress, about whom Pen has talked to me since; and who, but for the Major's generalship, might have been your daughter-in-law, ma'am. I can't see Pen in the dark, but he blushes, I'm sure; and I dare say Miss Bell does; and my friend Major Pendennis, I dare say, laughs as he ought to do—for he won. What would have been Arthur's lot now had he been tied at nineteen to an illiterate woman older than himself, with no qualities in common between them to make one a companion for the other, no equality, no confidence, and no love speedily? What could he have been but most miserable? And when he spoke just now and threatened a similar union, be sure it was but a threat occasioned by anger, which you must give me leave to say, ma'am, was very natural on his part, for after a generous and manly conduct—let me say who know the circumstances well—most generous and manly and self-denying (which is rare with him),—he has met from some friends of his with a most unkind suspicion, and has had to complain of the unfair treatment of another innocent person, towards whom he and you all are under much obligation."
The widow was going to get up here, and Warrington, seeing her attempt to rise, said, "Do I tire you, ma'am?"
"Oh no—go on—go on," said Helen, delighted, and he continued.
"I liked him, you see, because of that early history of his, which had come to my ears in college gossip, and because I like a man, if you will pardon me for saying so, Miss Laura, who shows that he can have a great unreasonable attachment for a woman. That was why we became friends—and are all friends here—for always, aren't we?" he added, in a lower voice, leaning over to her, "and Pen has been a great comfort and companion to a lonely and unfortunate man.
"I am not complaining of my lot, you see; for no man's is what he would have it; and up in my garret, where you left the flowers, and with my old books and my pipe for a wife, I am pretty contented, and only occasionally envy other men, whose careers in life are more brilliant, or who can solace their ill fortune by what Fate and my own fault has deprived me of—the affection of a woman or a child." Here there came a sigh from somewhere near Warrington in the dark, and a hand was held out in his direction, which, however, was instantly, withdrawn, for the prudery of our females is such, that before all expression of feeling, or natural kindness and regard, a woman is 'taught to think of herself and the proprieties, and to be ready to blush at the very slightest notice;' and checking, as, of course, it ought, this spontaneous motion, modesty drew up again, kindly friendship shrank back ashamed of itself, and Warrington resumed his history. "My fate is such as I made it, and not lucky for me or for others involved in it.
"I, too, had an adventure before I went to college; and there was no one to save me as Major Pendennis saved Pen. Pardon me, Miss Laura, if I tell this story before you. It is as well that you all of you should hear my confession. Before I went to college, as a boy of eighteen, I was at a private tutor's, and there, like Arthur, I became attached, or fancied I was attached, to a woman of a much lower degree and a greater age than my own. You shrink from me——"
"No, I don't," Laura said, and here the hand went out resolutely, and laid itself in Warrington's. She had divined his story from some previous hints let fall by him, and his first words at its commencement.
"She was a yeoman's daughter in the neighbourhood," Warrington said, with rather a faltering voice, "and I fancied—what all young men fancy. Her parents knew who my father was, and encouraged me, with all sorts of coarse artifices and scoundrel flatteries, which I see now, about their house. To do her justice, I own she never cared for me, but was forced into what happened by the threats and compulsion of her family. Would to God that I had not been deceived: but in these matters we are deceived because we wish to be so, and I thought I loved that poor woman.
"What could come of such a marriage? I found, before long, that I was married to a boor. She could not comprehend one subject that interested me. Her dulness palled upon me till I grew to loathe it. And after some time of a wretched, furtive union—I must tell you all—I found letters somewhere (and such letters they were!) which showed me that her heart, such as it was, had never been mine, but had always belonged to a person of her own degree.
"At my father's death, I paid what debts I had contracted at college, and settled every shilling which remained to me in an annuity upon—upon those who bore my name, on condition that they should hide themselves away, and not assume it. They have kept that condition, as they would break it, for more money. If I had earned fame or reputation, that woman would have come to claim it: if I had made a name for myself those who no right to it would have borne it; and I entered life at twenty, God help me—hopeless and ruined beyond remission. I was the boyish victim of vulgar cheats, and, perhaps, it is only of late I have found out how hard—ah, how hard—it is to forgive them. I told you the moral before, Pen; and now I have told you the fable. Beware how you marry out of your degree. I was made for a better lot than this, I think: but God has awarded me this one—and so, you see, it is for me to look on, and see others successful and others happy, with a heart that shall be as little bitter as possible."
"By Gad, sir," cried the Major, in high good-humour, "I intended you to marry Miss Laura here."
"And, by Gad, Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pound," Warrington said.
"How d'ye mean a thousand? it was only a pony, sir," replied the Major simply, at which the other laughed.
As for Helen, she was so delighted, that she started up, and said, "God bless you—God for ever bless you, Mr. Warrington;" and kissed both his hands, and ran up to Pen, and fell into his arms.
"Yes, dearest mother," he said as he held her to him, and with a noble tenderness and emotion, embraced and forgave her. "I am innocent, and my dear, dear mother has done me a wrong."
"Oh yes, my child, I have wronged you, thank God, I have wronged you!" Helen whispered. "Come away, Arthur—not here—I want to ask my child to forgive me—and—and my God, to forgive me; and to bless you, and love you, my son."
He led her, tottering, into her room, and closed the door, as the three touched spectators of the reconciliation looked on in pleased silence. Ever after, ever after, the tender accents of that voice faltering sweetly at his ear—the look of the sacred eyes beaming with an affection unutterable—the quiver of the fond lips smiling mournfully—were remembered by the young man. And at his best moments, and at his hours of trial and grief, and at his times of success or well-doing, the mother's face looked down upon him, and blessed him with its gaze of pity and purity, as he saw it in that night when she yet lingered with him; and when she seemed, ere she quite left him, an angel, transfigured and glorified with love—for which love, as for the greatest of the bounties and wonders of God's provision for us, let us kneel and thank Our Father.
The moon had risen by this time; Arthur recollected well afterwards how it lighted up his mother's sweet pale face. Their talk, or his rather, for she scarcely could speak, was more tender and confidential than it had been for years before. He was the frank and generous boy of her early days and love. He told her the story, the mistake regarding which had caused her so much pain—his struggles to fly from temptation, and his thankfulness that he had been able to overcome it. He never would do the girl wrong, never; or wound his own honour or his mother's pure heart. The threat that he would return was uttered in a moment of exasperation, of which he repented. He never would see her again. But his mother said yes he should; and it was she who had been proud and culpable—and she would like to give Fanny Bolton something—and she begged her dear boy's pardon for opening the letter—and she would write to the young girl, if,—if she had time. Poor thing! was it not natural that she should love her Arthur? And again she kissed him, and she blessed him.
As they were talking the clock struck nine, and Helen reminded him how, when he was a little boy, she used to go up to his bedroom at that hour, and hear him say Our Father. And once more, oh, once more, the young man fell down at his mother's sacred knees, and sobbed out the prayer which the Divine Tenderness uttered for us, and which has been echoed by twenty ages since by millions of sinful and humbled men. And as he spoke the last words of the supplication, the mother's head fell down on her boy's, and her arms closed round him, and together they repeated the words "for ever and ever" and "Amen."
A little time after, it might have been a quarter of an hour, Laura heard Arthur's voice call from within, "Laura! Laura!" She rushed into the room instantly and found the young man still on his knees, and holding his mother's hand. Helen's head had sunk back and was quite pale in the room. Pen looked round, scared with a ghastly terror. "Help, Laura, help!" he said, "she's fainted—she's——"
Laura screamed, and fell by the side of Helen. The shriek brought Warrington and Major Pendennis and the servants to the room. The sainted woman was dead. The last emotion of her soul here was joy to be henceforth unchequered and eternal. The tender heart beat no more; it was to have no more pangs, no more doubts, no more griefs and trials. Its last throb was love; and Helen's last breath was a benediction.
The melancholy party bent their way speedily homewards, and Helen was laid by her husband's side at Clavering, in the old church where she had prayed so often. For a while Laura went to stay with Dr. Portman, who read the service over his dear departed sister, amidst his own sobs and those of the little congregation which assembled round Helen's tomb. There were not many who cared for her, or who spoke of her when gone. Scarcely more than of a nun in a cloister did people know of that pious and gentle lady. A few words among the cottagers whom her bounty was accustomed to relieve, a little talk from house to house at Clavering, where this lady told how their neighbour died of a complaint in the heart; whilst that speculated upon the amount of a property which the widow had left; and a third wondered whether Arthur would let Fairoaks or live in it, and expected that he would not be long getting through his property,—this was all, and except with one or two who cherished her, the kind soul was forgotten by the next market-day. Would you desire that grief for you should last for a few more weeks? and does after-life seem less solitary, provided that our names, when we "go down into silence," are echoing on this side of the grave yet for a little while, and human voices are still talking about us? She was gone, the pure soul, whom only two or three loved and knew. The great blank she left was in Laura's heart, to whom her love had been everything, and who had now but to worship her memory. "I am glad that she gave me her blessing before she went away," Warrington said to Pen; and as for Arthur, with a humble acknowledgment and wonder at so much affection, he hardly dared to ask of Heaven to make him worthy of it, though he felt that a saint there was interceding for him.
All the lady's affairs were found in perfect order, and her little property ready for transmission to her son, in trust for whom she held it. Papers in her desk showed that she had long been aware of the complaint, one of the heart, under which she laboured, and knew that it would suddenly remove her: and a prayer was found in her handwriting, asking that her end might be, as it was, in the arms of her son.
Laura and Arthur talked over her sayings, all of which the former most fondly remembered, to the young man's shame somewhat, who thought how much greater her love had been for Helen than his own. He referred himself entirely to Laura to know what Helen would have wished should be done; what poor persons she would have liked to relieve; what legacies or remembrances she would have wished to transmit. They packed up the vase which Helen in her gratitude had destined to Dr. Goodenough, and duly sent it to the kind Doctor; a silver coffee-pot, which she used, was sent off to Portman: a diamond ring, with her hair, was given with affectionate greeting to Warrington.
It must have been a hard day for poor Laura when she went over to Fairoaks first and to the little room which she had occupied, and which was hers no more, and to the widow's own blank chamber in which those two had passed so many beloved hours. There, of course, were the clothes in the wardrobe, the cushion on which she prayed, the chair at the toilette: the glass that was no more to reflect her dear sad face. After she had been here a while Pen knocked and led her downstairs to the parlour again, and made her drink a little wine, and said, "God bless you," as she touched the glass. "Nothing shall ever be changed in your room," he said—"it is always your room—it is always my sister's room. Shall it not be so, Laura?" and Laura said, "Yes!"
Among the widow's papers was found a packet, marked by the widow, "Letters from Laura's father," and which Arthur gave to her. They were the letters which had passed between the cousins in the early days before the marriage of either of them. The ink was faded in which they were written: the tears dried out that both perhaps had shed over them: the grief healed now whose bitterness they chronicled: the friends doubtless united whose parting on earth had caused to both pangs so cruel. And Laura learned fully now for the first time what the tie was which had bound her so tenderly to Helen: how faithfully her more than mother had cherished her father's memory, how truly she had loved him, how meekly resigned him.
One legacy of his mother's Pen remembered, of which Laura could have no cognisance. It was that wish of Helen's to make some present to Fanny Bolton; and Pen wrote to her, putting his letter under an envelope to Mr. Bows, and requesting that gentleman to read it before he delivered it to Fanny. "Dear Fanny," Pen said, "I have to acknowledge two letters from you, one of which was delayed in my illness" (Pen found the first letter in his mother's desk after her decease and the reading it gave him a strange pang), "and to thank you, my kind nurse and friend, who watched me so tenderly during my fever. And I have to tell you that the last words of my dear mother who is no more, were words of goodwill and gratitude to you for nursing me: and she said she would have written to you, had she had time—that she would like to ask your pardon if she had harshly treated you—and that she would beg you to show your forgiveness by accepting some token of friendship and regard from her." Pen concluded by saying that his friend, George Warrington, Esq., of Lamb Court, Temple, was trustee of a little sum of money, of which the interest would be paid to her until she became of age, or changed her name, which would always be affectionately remembered by her grateful friend, A. Pendennis. The sum was in truth but small, although enough to make a little heiress of Fanny Bolton, whose parents were appeased, and whose father said Mr. P. had acted quite as the gentleman—though Bows growled out that that to plaster a wounded heart with a banknote was an easy kind of sympathy; and poor Fanny felt only too clearly that Pen's letter was one of farewell.
"Sending hundred-pound notes to porters' daughters is all dev'lish well," old Major Pendennis said to his nephew (whom, as thee proprietor of Fairoaks and the head of the family, he now treated with marked deference and civility), "and as there was a little ready money at the bank, and your poor mother wished it, there's perhaps no harm done. But, my good lad, I'd have you to remember that you've not above five hundred a year, though, thanks to me the world gives you credit for being a doosid deal better off; and, on my knees, I beg you, my boy, don't break into your capital: Stick to it, sir; don't speculate with it, sir; keep your land, and don't borrow on it. Tatham tells me that the Chatteris branch of the railway may—will almost certainly pass through Chatteris, and of it can be brought on this side of the Brawl, sir, and through your fields, they'll be worth a dev'lish deal of money, and your five hundred a year will jump up to eight or nine. Whatever it is, keep it, I implore you keep it. And I say, Pen, I think you should give up living in those dirty chambers in the Temple and let a decent lodging. And I should have a man, sir, to wait upon me; and a horse or two in town in the season. All this will pretty well swallow up your income, and I know you must live close. But remember you have a certain place in society, and you can't afford to cut a poor figure in the world. What are you going to do in the winter? You don't intend to stay down here, or, I suppose, to go on writing for that—what-d'ye-call-'em—that newspaper?"
"Warrington and I are going abroad again, sir, for a little, and then we shall see what is to be done," Arthur replied.
"And you'll let Fairoaks, of course? Good school in the neighbourhood; cheap country: dev'lish nice place for East India Colonels, or families wanting to retire. I'll speak about it at the club; there are lots of fellows at the club want a place of that sort."
"I hope Laura will live in it for the winter, at least, and will make it her home," Arthur replied: at which the Major pish'd and psha'd, and said that there ought to be convents, begad, for English ladies, and wished that Miss Bell had not been there to interfere with the arrangements of the family, and that she would mope herself to death alone in that place.
Indeed, it would have been a very dismal abode for poor Laura, who was not too happy either in Dr. Portman's household, and in the town where too many things reminded her of the dear parent whom she had lost. But old Lady Rockminster, who adored her young friend Laura, as soon as she read in the paper of her loss, and of her presence in the country, rushed over from Baymouth, where the old lady was staying, and insisted that Laura should remain six months, twelve months, all her life with her; and to her ladyship's house, Martha from Fairoaks, as femme de chambre, accompanied her young mistress.
Pen and Warrington saw her depart. It was difficult to say which of the young men seemed to regard her the most tenderly. "Your cousin is pert and rather vulgar, my dear, but he seems to have a good heart," little Lady Rockminster said, who said her say about everybody—"but I like Bluebeard best. Tell me, is he touche au coeur?"
"Mr. Warrington has been long—engaged," Laura said, dropping her eyes.
"Nonsense, child! And good heavens, my dear! that's a pretty diamond cross. What do you mean by wearing it in the morning?"
"Arthur—my brother, gave it me just now. It was—it was——"
She could not finish the sentence. The carriage passed over the bridge, and by the dear, dear gate of Fairoaks—home no more.
CHAPTER LIX. Old Friends
It chanced at that great English festival, at which all London takes a holiday upon Epsom Downs, that a great number of the personages to whom we have been introduced in the course of this history, were assembled to see the Derby. In a comfortable open carriage, which had been brought to the ground by a pair of horses, might be seen Mrs. Bungay, of Paternoster Row, attired like Solomon in all his glory, and having by her side modest Mrs. Shandon, for whom, since the commencement of their acquaintance, the worthy publisher's lady had maintained a steady friendship. Bungay, having recreated himself with a copious luncheon, was madly shying at the sticks hard by, till the perspiration ran off his bald pate. Shandon was shambling about among the drinking tenants and gipsies: Finucane constant in attendance on the two ladies, to whom gentlemen of their acquaintance, and connected with the publishing house, came up to pay a visit.
Among others, Mr. Archer came up to make her his bow, and told Mrs. Bungay who was on the course. Yonder was the Prime Minister: his lordship had just told him to back Borax for the race; but Archer thought Munmeer the better horse. He pointed out countless dukes and grandees to the delighted Mrs. Bungay. "Look yonder in the Grand Stand," he said. "There sits the Chinese Ambassador with the Mandarins of his suite, Fou-choo-foo brought me over letters of introduction from the Governor-General of India, my most intimate friend, and I was for some time very kind to him, and he had his chopsticks laid for him at my table whenever he chose to come and dine. But he brought his own cook with him, and—would you believe it, Mrs. Bungay?—one day, when I was out, and the Ambassador was with Mrs. Archer in our garden eating gooseberries, of which the Chinese are passionately fond, the beast of a cook, seeing my wife's dear little Blenheim spaniel (that we had from the Duke of Marlborough himself, whose ancestor's life Mrs. Archer's great-great-grandfather saved at the battle of Malplaquet), seized upon the poor little devil, cut his throat, and skinned him, and served him up stuffed with forced-meat in the second course."
"Law!" said Mrs. Bungay.
"You may fancy my wife's agony when she knew what had happened! The cook came screaming upstairs, and told us that she had found poor Fido's skin in the area, just after we had all of us tasted of the dish! She never would speak to the Ambassador again—never; and, upon my word, he has never been to dine with us since. The Lord Mayor, who did me the honour to dine, liked the dish very much; and, eaten with green peas, it tastes rather like duck."
"You don't say so, now!" cried the astonished publisher's lady.
"Fact, upon my word. Look at that lady in blue, seated by the Ambassador: that is Lady Flamingo, and they say she is going to be married to him, and return to Pekin with his Excellency. She is getting her feet squeezed down on purpose. But she'll only cripple herself, and will never be able to do it—never. My wife has the smallest foot in England, and wears shoes for a six-years-old child; but what is that to a Chinese lady's foot, Mrs. Bungay?"
"Who is that carriage as Mr. Pendennis is with, Mr. Archer?" Mrs. Bungay presently asked. "He and Mr. Warrington was here jest now. He's 'aughty in his manners, that Mr. Pendennis, and well he may be, for I'm told he keeps tip-top company. 'As he 'ad a large fortune left him, Mr. Archer? He's in black still, I see."
"Eighteen hundred a year in land, and twenty-two thousand five hundred in the Three-and-a-half per Cents; that's about it," said Mr. Archer.
"Law! why, you know everything, Mr. A.!" cried the lady of Paternoster Row.
"I happen to know, because I was called in about poor Mrs. Pendennis's will," Mr. Archer replied. "Pendennis's uncle, the Major, seldom does anything without me; and as he is likely to be extravagant we've tied up the property, so that he can't make ducks and drakes with it.—How do you do, my lord?—Do you know that gentleman, ladies? You have read his speeches in the House; it is Lord Rochester."
"Lord Fiddlestick," cried out Finucane, from the box. "Sure it's Tom Staples, of the Morning Advertiser, Archer."
"Is it?" Archer said, simply. "Well I'm very short-sighted, and upon my word I thought it was Rochester. That gentleman with the double opera-glass (another nod) is Lord John; and the tall man with him, don't you know him? is Sir James."
"You know 'em because you see 'em in the House," growled Finucane.
"I know them because they are kind enough to allow me to call them my most intimate friends," Archer continued. "Look at the Duke of Hampshire; what a pattern of a fine old English gentleman! He never misses 'the Derby.' 'Archer,' he said to me only yesterday, 'I have been at sixty-five Derbies! appeared on the field for the first time on a piebald pony when I was seven years old, with my father, the Prince of Wales, and Colonel Hanger; and only missing two races—one when I had the measles at Eton, and one in the Waterloo year, when I was with my friend Wellington in Flanders."
"And who is that yellow carriage, with the pink and yellow parasols, that Mr. Pendennis is talking to, and ever so many gentlemen?" asked Mrs. Bungay.
"That is Lady Clavering, of Clavering Park, next estate to my friend Pendennis. That is the young son and heir upon the box; he's awfully tipsy, the little scamp! and the young lady is Miss Amory, Lady Clavering's daughter by a first marriage, and uncommonly sweet upon my friend Pendennis; but I've reason to think he has his heart fixed elsewhere. You have heard of young Mr. Foker—the great brewer, Foker, you know—he was going to hang himself in consequence of a fatal passion for Miss Amory who refused him, but was cut down just in time by his valet, and is now abroad, under a keeper."
"How happy that young fellow is!" sighed Mrs. Bungay. "Who'd have thought when he came so quiet and demure to dine with us, three or four years ago, he would turn out such a grand character! Why, I saw his name at Court the other day, and presented by the Marquis of Steyne and all; and in every party of the nobility his name's down as sure as a gun."
"I introduced him a good deal when he first came up to town," Mr. Archer said, "and his uncle, Major Pendennis, did the rest. Hallo! There's Cobden here, of all men in the world! I must go and speak to him. Good-bye, Mrs. Bungay. Good morning, Mrs. Shandon."
An hour previous to this time, and at a different part of the course, there might have been seen an old stage-coach, on the battered roof of which a crowd of shabby raffs were stamping and hallooing, as the great event of the day—the Derby race—rushed over the greensward, and by the shouting millions of people assembled to view that magnificent scene. This was Wheeler's (the Harlequin's Head) drag, which had brought down a company of choice spirits from Bow Street, with a slap-up luncheon in the boot. As the whirling race flashed by, each of the choice spirits bellowed out the name of the horse or the colours which he thought or he hoped might be foremost. "The Cornet!" "It's Muffineer!" "It's blue sleeves!" "Yallow cap! yallow cap! yallow cap!" and so forth, yelled the gentlemen sportsmen during that delicious and thrilling minute before the contest was decided; and as the fluttering signal blew out, showing the number of the famous horse Podasokus as winner of the race, one of the gentlemen on the Harlequin's Head drag sprang up off the roof, as if he was a pigeon and about to fly away to London or York with the news.
But his elation did not lift him many inches from his standing-place, to which he came down again on the instant, causing the boards of the crazy old coach-roof to crack with the weight of his joy. "Hurray, hurray!" he bawled out, "Podasokus is the horse! Supper for ten, Wheeler, my boy. Ask you all round of course, and damn the expense."
And the gentlemen on the carriage, the shabby swaggerers, the dubious bucks, said, "Thank you—congratulate you, Colonel; sup with you with pleasure:" and whispered to one another, "The Colonel stands to win fifteen hundred, and he got the odds from a good man, too."
And each of the shabby bucks and dusky dandies began to eye his neighbour with suspicion, lest that neighbour, taking his advantage, should get the Colonel into a lonely place and borrow money of him. And the winner on Podasokus could not be alone during the whole of that afternoon, so closely did his friends watch him and each other.
At another part of the course you might have seen a vehicle certainly more modest, if not more shabby than that battered coach which had brought down the choice spirits from the Harlequin's Head; this was cab No. 2002, which had conveyed a gentleman and two ladies from the cabstand in the Strand: whereof one of the ladies, as she sate on the box of the cab enjoying with her mamma and their companion a repast of lobster salad and bitter ale, looked so fresh and pretty that many of the splendid young dandies who were strolling about the course, and enjoying themselves at the noble diversion of Sticks, and talking to the beautifully dressed ladies in the beautiful carriages, on the hill, forsook these fascinations to have a glance at the smiling and rosy-cheeked lass on the cab. The blushes of youth and good-humour mantled on the girl's cheeks, and played over that fair countenance like the pretty shining cloudlets on the serene sky overhead; the elder lady's cheek was red too; but that was a permanent mottled rose, deepening only as it received free draughts of pale ale and brandy-and-water, until her face emulated the rich shell of the lobster which she devoured.
The gentleman who escorted these two ladies was most active in attendance upon them: here on the course, as he had been during the previous journey. During the whole of that animated and delightful drive from London, his jokes had never ceased. He spoke up undauntedly to the most awful drags full of the biggest and most solemn guardsmen; as to the humblest donkey-chaise in which Bob the dustman was driving Molly to the race. He had fired astonishing volleys of what is called "chaff" into endless windows as he passed; into lines of grinning girls' schools; into little regiments of shouting urchins hurraying behind the railings of their Classical and Commercial Academies; into casements whence smiling maid-servants, and nurses tossing babies, or demure old maiden ladies with dissenting countenances, were looking. And the pretty girl in the straw bonnet with pink ribbon, and her mamma the devourer of lobsters, had both agreed that when he was in "spirits" there was nothing like that Mr. Sam. He had crammed the cab with trophies won from the bankrupt proprietors of the Sticks hard by, and with countless pincushions, wooden apples, backy-boxes, Jack-in-the-boxes, and little soldiers. He had brought up a gipsy with a tawny child in her arms to tell the fortunes of the ladies: and the only cloud which momentarily obscured the sunshine of that happy party, was when the teller of fate informed the young lady that had had reason to beware of a fair man, who was false to her: that she had had a bad illness, and that she would find that a man would prove true.
The girl looked very much abashed at this news: her mother and the young man interchanged signs of wonder and intelligence. Perhaps the conjurer had used the same words to a hundred different carriages on that day.
Making his way solitary amongst the crowd and the carriages, and noting, according to his wont, the various circumstances and characters which the animated scene presented, a young friend of ours came suddenly upon cab 2002, and the little group of persons assembled on the outside of the vehicle. As he caught sight of the young lady on the box, she started and turned pale: her mother became redder than ever: the heretofore gay and triumphant Mr. Sam immediately assumed a fierce and suspicious look, and his eyes turned savagely from Fanny Bolton (whom the reader, no doubt, has recognised in the young lady of the cab) to Arthur Pendennis, advancing to meet her.
Arthur, too, looked dark and suspicious on perceiving Mr. Samuel Huxter in company with his old acquaintances: his suspicion was that of alarmed morality, and, I dare say, highly creditable to Mr. Arthur: like the suspicion of Mrs. Lynx, when she sees Mr. Brown and Mrs. Jones talking together, or when she remarks Mrs. Lamb twice or thrice in a handsome opera-box. There may be no harm in the conversation of Mr. B. and Mr. J.: and Mrs. Lamb's opera-box (though she notoriously can't afford one) may be honestly come by: but yet a moralist like Mrs. Lynx has a right to the little precautionary fright: and Arthur was no doubt justified in adopting that severe demeanour of his.
Fanny's heart began to patter violently: Huxter's fists, plunged into the pockets of his paletot, clenched themselves involuntarily and armed themselves, as it were, in ambush: Mrs. Bolton began to talk with all her might, and with a wonderful volubility: and Lor! she was so 'apply to see Mr. Pendennis, and how well he was a-lookin', and we'd been talking' about Mr. P. only jest before; hadn't we, Fanny? and if this was the famous Epsom races that they talked so much about, she didn't care, for her part, if she never saw them again. And how was Major Pendennis, and that kind Mr. Warrington, who brought Mr. P.'s great kindness to Fanny? and she never would forget it, never: and Mr. Warrington was so tall, he almost broke his 'ead up against their lodge door. You recollect Mr. Warrington a-knocking' of his head—don't you, Fanny?
Whilst Mrs. Bolton was so discoursing, I wonder how many thousands of thoughts passed through Fanny's mind, and what dear times, sad struggles, lonely griefs, and subsequent shamefaced consolations were recalled to her? What pangs had the poor little thing, as she thought how much she had loved him, and that she loved him no more? There he stood, about whom she was going to die ten months since, dandified, supercilious, with a black crape to his white hat, and jet buttons in his shirt-front and a pink in his coat, that some one else had probably given him: with the tightest lavender-coloured gloves sewn with black and the smallest of canes. And Mr. Huxter wore no gloves, and great Blucher boots, and smelt very much of tobacco certainly; and looked, oh, it must be owned, he looked as if a bucket of water would do him a great deal of good! All these thoughts, and a myriad of others, rushed through Fanny's mind as her mamma was delivering herself of her speech, and as the girl, from under her eyes, surveyed Pendennis—surveyed him entirely from head to foot, the circle on his white forehead that his hat left when he lifted it (his beautiful, beautiful hair had grown again), the trinkets at his watch-chain, the ring on his hand under his glove, the neat shining boot, so, so unlike Sam's high-low!—and after her hand had given a little twittering pressure to the lavender-coloured kid grasp which was held out to it, and after her mother had delivered herself of her speech, all Fanny could find to say was, "This is Mr. Samuel Huxter whom you knew formerly, I believe, sir; Mr. Samuel, you know you knew Mr. Pendennis formerly—and—and, will you take a little refreshment?"
These little words, tremulous and uncoloured as they were, yet were understood by Pendennis in such a manner as to take a great load of suspicion from off his mind—of remorse, perhaps, from his heart. The frown on the countenance of the Prince of Fairoaks disappeared, and a good-natured smile and a knowing twinkle of the eyes illuminated his highness's countenance. "I am very thirsty," he said, "and I will be glad to drink your health, Fanny; and I hope Mr. Huxter will pardon me for having been very rude to him the last time we met, and when I was so ill and out of spirits, that indeed I scarcely knew what I said." And herewith the lavender-coloured Dexter kid-glove was handed out, in token of amity, to Huxter.
The dirty fist in the young surgeon's pocket was obliged to undoable itself, and come out of its ambush disarmed. The poor fellow himself felt, as he laid it in Pen's hand, how hot his own was, and how black—it left black marks on Pen's gloves; he saw them,—he would have liked to have clenched it again and dashed it into the other's good-humoured face; and have seen, there upon that round, with Fanny, with all England looking on, which was the best man—he Sam Huxter of Bartholomew's, or that grinning dandy.
Pen with ineffable good-humour took a glass—he didn't mind what it was—he was content to drink after the ladies; and he filled it with frothing lukewarm beer, which he pronounced to be delicious, and which he drank cordially to the health of the party.
As he was drinking and talking on in an engaging manner, a young lady in a shot dove-coloured dress, with a white parasol lined with pink, and the prettiest dove-coloured boots that ever stepped, passed by Pen, leaning on the arm of a stalwart gentleman with a military moustache.
The young lady clenched her little fist, and gave a mischievous side-look as she passed Pen. He of the mustachios burst out into a jolly laugh. He had taken off his hat to the ladies of cab No. 2002. You should have seen Fanny Bolton's eyes watching after the dove-coloured young lady. Immediately Huxter perceived the direction which they took, they ceased looking after the dove-coloured nymph, and they turned and looked into Sam Huxter's orbs with the most artless good-humoured expression.
"What a beautiful creature!" Fanny said. "What a lovely dress! Did you remark, Mr. Sam, such little, little hands?"
"It was Capting Strong," said Mrs. Bolton: "and who was the young woman, I wonder?"
"A neighbour of mine in the country—Miss 'Amory,'" Arthur said,—"Lady Clavering's daughter. You've seen Sir Francis often in Shepherd's Inn, Mrs. Bolton."
As he spoke, Fanny built up a perfect romance in three volumes love—faithlessness—splendid marriage at St. George's, Hanover Square—broken-hearted maid—and Sam Huxter was not the hero of that story—poor Sam, who by this time had got out an exceedingly rank Cuba cigar, and was smoking it under Fanny's little nose.
After that confounded prig Pendennis joined and left the party, the sun was less bright to Sam Huxter, the sky less blue—the Sticks had no attraction for him—the bitter beer hot and undrinkable—the world was changed. He had a quantity of peas and a tin pea-shooter in the pocket of the cab for amusement on the homeward route. He didn't take them out, and forgot their existence until some other wag, on their return from the races, fired a volley into Sam's sad face; upon which salute, after a few oaths indicative of surprise, he burst into a savage and sardonic laugh.
But Fanny was charming all the way home. She coaxed, and snuggled, and smiled. She laughed pretty laughs; she admired everything; she took out the darling little Jack-in-the-boxes, and was so obliged to Sam. And when they got home, and Mr. Huxter, still with darkness on his countenance, was taking a frigid leave of her—she burst into tears, and said he was a naughty unkind thing.
Upon which, with a burst of emotion almost as emphatic as hers, the young surgeon held the girl in his arms—swore that she was an angel, and that he was a jealous brute; owned that he was unworthy of her, and that he had no right to hate Pendennis; and asked her, implored her, to say once more that she——
That she what?—The end of the question and Fanny's answer were pronounced by lips that were so near each other, that no bystander could hear the words. Mrs. Bolton only said, "Come, come, Mr. H.—no nonsense, if you please; and I think you've acted like a wicked wretch, and been most uncommon cruel to Fanny, that I do."
When Arthur left No. 2002, he went to pay his respects to the carriage to which, and to the side of her mamma, the dove-coloured author of Mes Larmes had by this time returned. Indefatigable old Major Pendennis was in waiting upon Lady Clavering, and had occupied the back seat in her carriage; the box being in possession of young Hopeful, under the care of Captain Strong.
A number of dandies, and men of a certain fashion—of military bucks, of young rakes of the public offices, of those who may be styled men's men rather than ladies'—had come about the carriage during its station on the hill—and had exchanged a word or two with Lady Clavering, and a little talk (a little "chaff," some of the most elegant of the men styled their conversation) with Miss Amory. They had offered her sportive bets, and exchanged with her all sorts of free-talk and knowing innuendoes. They pointed out to her who was on the course: and the "who" was not always the person a young lady should know.
When Pen came up to Lady Clavering's carriage, he had to push his way through a crowd of these young bucks who were paying their court to Miss Amory, in order to arrive as near that young lady, who beckoned him by many pretty signals to her side.
"Je lay vue," she said; "Elle a de bien beaux yeux; vous etes un monster!"
"Why monster?" said Pen, with a laugh; "Hone suit qui mal y peens. My young friend, yonder, is as well protected as any young lady in Christendom. She has her mamma on one side, her pretend on the other. Could any harm happen to a girl between those two?"
"One does not know what may or may not arrive," said Miss Blanche, in French, "when a girl has the mind, and when she is pursued by a wicked monster like you. Figure to yourself, Major, that I come to find Monsieur, your nephew, near to a cab, by two ladies, and a man, oh, such a man! and who ate lobsters, and who laughed, who laughed!"
"It did not strike me that the man laughed," Pen said, "And as for lobsters, I thought he would have liked to eat me after the lobsters. He shook hands with me, and gripped me so, that he bruised my glove black-and-blue. He is a young surgeon. He comes from Clavering. Don't you remember the gilt pestle and mortar in High Street?"
"If he attends you when you are sick," continued Miss Amory, "he will kill you. He will serve you right; for you are a monster."
The perpetual recurrence to the word "monster" jarred upon Pen. "She speaks about these matters a great deal too lightly," he thought. "If I had been a monster, as she calls it, she would have received me just the same. This is not the way in which an English lady should speak or think. Laura would not speak in that way, thank God;" and as he thought so, his own countenance fell.
"Of what are you thinking? Are you going to bouder me at present?" Blanche asked. "Major, scold your mechant nephew. He does not amuse me at all. He is as bete as Captain Crackenbury."
"What are you saying about me, Miss Amory?" said the guardsman, with a grin. "If it's anything good, say it in English, for I don't understand French when it's spoke so devilish quick."
"It ain't anything good, Crack," said Crackenbury's fellow, Captain Clinker. "Let's come away, and don't spoil sport. They say Pendennis is sweet upon her."
"I'm told he's a devilish clever fellow," sighed Crackenbury. "Lady Violet Lebas says he's a devilish clever fellow. He wrote a work, or a poem, or something; and he writes those devilish clever things in the—in the papers, you know. Dammy, I wish I was a clever fellow, Clinker."
"That's past wishing for, Crack, my boy," the other said. "I can't write a good book, but I think I can make a pretty good one on the Derby. What a flat Clavering is! And the Begum! I like that old Begum. She's worth ten of her daughter. How pleased the old girl was at winning the lottery!"
"Clavering's safe to pay up, ain't he?" asked Captain Crackenbury.
"I hope so," said his friend; and they disappeared, to enjoy themselves among the Sticks.
Before the end of the day's amusements, many more gentlemen of Lady Clavering's acquaintance came up to her carriage, and chatted with the party which it contained. The worthy lady was in high spirits and good-humour, laughing and talking according to her wont, and offering refreshments to all her friends, until her ample baskets and bottles were emptied, and her servants and postillions were in such a royal state of excitement as servants and postillions commonly are upon the Derby day.
The Major remarked that some of the visitors to the carriage appeared to look with rather queer and meaning glances towards its owner. "How easily she takes it!" one man whispered to another. "The Begum's made of money," the friend replied. "How easily she takes what?" thought old Pendennis. "Has anybody lost any money?" Lady Clavering said she was happy in the morning because Sir Francis had promised her not to bet.
Mr. Welbore, the country neighbour of the Claverings, was passing the carriage, when he was called back by the Begum, who rallied him for wishing to cut her. "Why didn't he come before? Why didn't he come to lunch?" Her ladyship was in great delight, she told him—she told everybody, that she had won five pounds in a lottery. As she conveyed this piece of intelligence to him, Mr. Welbore looked so particularly knowing, and withal melancholy, that a dismal apprehension seized upon Major Pendennis. "He would go and look after the horses and those rascals of postillions, who were so long in coming round." When he came back to the carriage, his usually benign and smirking countenance was obscured by some sorrow. "What is the matter with you now?" the good-natured Begum asked. The Major pretended a headache from the fatigue and sunshine of the day. The carriage wheeled off the course and took its way Londonwards, not the least brilliant equipage in that vast and picturesque procession. The tipsy drivers dashed gallantly over the turf, amidst the admiration of foot-passengers, the ironical cheers of the little donkey-carriages and spring vans, and the loud objurgations of horse-and-chaise men, with whom the reckless post-boys came in contact. The jolly Begum looked the picture of good-humour as she reclined on her splendid cushions; the lovely Sylphide smiled with languid elegance. Many an honest holiday-maker with his family wadded into a tax-cart, many a cheap dandy working his way home on his weary hack, admired that brilliant turn-out, and thought, no doubt, how happy those "swells" must be. Strong sat on the box still, with a lordly voice calling to the post-boys and the crowd. Master Frank had been put inside of the carriage and was asleep there by the side of the Major, dozing away the effects of the constant luncheon and champagne of which he had freely partaken.
The Major was revolving in his mind meanwhile the news the receipt of which had made him so grave. "If Sir Francis Clavering goes on in this way," Pendennis the elder thought, "this little tipsy rascal will be as bankrupt as his father and grandfather before him. The Begum's fortune can't stand such drains upon it: no fortune can stand them: she has paid his debts half a dozen times already. A few years more of the turf, and a few coups like this, will ruin her."
"Don't you think we could get up races at Clavering, mamma?" Miss Amory asked. "Yes, we must have them there again. There were races there in the old times, the good old times. It's a national amusement, you know: and we could have a Clavering ball: and we might have dances for the tenantry, and rustic sports in the park—Oh, it would be charming."
"Capital fun," said mamma. "Wouldn't it, Major?"
"The turf is a very expensive amusement, my dear lady," Major Pendennis answered, with such a rueful face, that the Begum rallied him, and asked laughingly whether he had lost money on the race?
After a slumber of about an hour and a half, the heir of the house began to exhibit symptoms of wakefulness, stretching his youthful arms over the Major's face, and kicking his sister's knees as she sate opposite to him. When the amiable youth was quite restored to consciousness, he began a sprightly conversation.
"I say, Ma," he said, "I've gone and done it this time, I have."
"What have you gone and done, Franky dear?" asked Mamma.
"How much is seventeen half-crowns? Two pound and half-a crown, ain't it? I drew Borax in our lottery, but I bought Podasokus and Man-milliner of Leggat minor for two open tarts and a bottle of ginger-beer."
"You little wicked gambling creature, how dare you begin so soon?" cried Miss Amory.
"Hold your tongue, if you please. Who ever asked your leave, miss?" the brother said. "And I say, Ma——"
"Well, Franky dear?"
"You'll tip me all the same, you know, when I go back——" and here he broke out into a laugh. "I say, Ma, shall I tell you something?"
The Begum expressed her desire to hear this something, and her son and heir continued:
"When me and Strong was down at the grand stand after the race, and I was talking to Leggat minor, who was there with his governor, I saw Pa look as savage as a bear. And I say, Ma, Leggat minor told me that he heard his governor say that Pa had lost seven thousand backing the favourite. I'll never back the favourite when I'm of age. No, no—hang me if I do: leave me alone, Strong, will you?"
"Captain Strong! Captain Strong! is this true?" cried out the unfortunate Begum. "Has Sir Francis been betting again? He promised me he wouldn't. He gave me his word of honour he wouldn't."
Strong, from his place on the box, had overheard the end of young Clavering's communication, and was trying in vain to stop his unlucky tongue.
"I'm afraid it's true, ma'am," he said, turning round, "I deplore the loss as much as you can. He promised me as he promised you; but the play is too strong for him! he can't refrain from it."
Lady Clavering at this sad news burst into a fit of tears. She deplored her wretched fate as the most miserable of women, she declared she would separate, and pay no more debts for the ungrateful man. She narrated with tearful volubility a score of stories only too authentic, which showed how her husband had deceived, and how constantly she had befriended him: and in this melancholy condition, whilst young Hopeful was thinking about the two guineas which he himself had won; and the Major revolving, in his darkened mind, whether certain plans which he had been forming had better not be abandoned; the splendid carriage drove up at length to the Begum's house in Grosvenor Place; the idlers and boys lingering about the place to witness, according to public wont, the close of the Derby Day, cheering the carriage as it drew up, and envying the happy folks who descended from it.
"And it's for the son of this man that I am made a beggar!" Blanche said, quivering with anger, as she walked upstairs leaning on the Major's arm—"for this cheat—for this blackleg—for this liar—for this robber of women."
"Calm yourself, my dear Miss Blanche," the old gentleman said; "I pray calm yourself. You have been hardly treated, most unjustly. But remember that you have always a friend in me, and trust to an old fellow who will try and serve you."
And the young lady, and the heir of the hopeful house of Clavering, having retired to their beds, the remaining three of the Epsom party remained for some time in deep consultation.
CHAPTER LX. Explanations
Almost a year, as the reader will perceive, has passed since an event described a few pages back. Arthur's black coat is about to be exchanged for a blue one. His person has undergone other more pleasing and remarkable changes. His wig has been laid aside, and his hair, though somewhat thinner, has returned to public view. And he has had the honour of appearing at Court in the uniform of a Cornet of the Clavering troop of the ——shire Yeomanry Cavalry, being presented to the Sovereign by the Marquis of Steyne.
This was a measure strongly and pathetically urged by Arthur's uncle. The Major would not hear of a year passing before this ceremony of gentlemanhood was gone through. The old gentleman thought that his nephew should belong to some rather more select Club than the Megatherium; and has announced everywhere in the world his disappointment that the young man's property has turned out not by any means as well as he could have hoped, and is under fifteen hundred a year.
That is the amount at which Pendennis's property is set down in the world—where his publishers begin to respect him much more than formerly, and where even mammas are by no means uncivil to him. For if the pretty daughters are, naturally, to marry people of very different expectations—at any rate, he will be eligible for the plain ones: and if the brilliant and fascinating Myra is to hook an Earl, poor little Beatrice, who has one shoulder higher than the other, must hang on to some boor through life, and why should not Mr. Pendennis be her support? In the very first winter after the accession to his mother's fortune, Mrs. Hawxby in a country-house caused her Beatrice to learn billiards from Mr. Pendennis and would be driven by nobody but him in the pony carriage, because he was literary and her Beatrice was literary too, and declared that the young man, under the instigation of his horrid old uncle, had behaved most infamously in trifling with Beatrice's feelings. The truth is the old gentleman, who knew Mrs. Hawxby's character, and how desperately that lady would practise upon unwary young men, had come to the country-house in question and carried Arthur out of the danger of her immediate claws, though not out of the reach of her tongue. The elder Pendennis would have had his nephew pass a part of the Christmas at Clavering, whither the family had returned; but Arthur had not the heart for that. Clavering was too near poor old Fairoaks; and that was too full of sad recollections for the young man.
We have lost sight of the Claverings, too, until their reappearance upon the Epsom race-ground, and must give a brief account of them in the interval. During the past year, the world has not treated any member of the Clavering family very kindly; Lady Clavering, one of the best-natured women that ever enjoyed a good dinner, or made a slip in grammar, has had her appetite and good-nature sadly tried by constant family grievances, and disputes such as make the efforts of the best French cook unpalatable, and the most delicately-stuffed sofa-cushion hard to lie on. "I'd rather have a turnip, Strong, for dessert, than that pineapple, and all them Muscatel grapes, from Clavering," says poor Lady Clavering, looking at her dinner-table, and confiding her grief to her faithful friend, "if I could but have a little quiet to eat it with. Oh, how much happier I was when I was a widow and before all this money fell in to me!"
The Clavering family had indeed made a false start in life, and had got neither conduct, nor position, nor thanks for the hospitalities which they administered, nor a return of kindness from the people whom they entertained. The success of their first London season was doubtful; and their failure afterwards notorious. "Human patience was not great enough to put up with Sir Francis Clavering," people said. "He was too hopelessly low, dull, and disreputable. You could not say what, but there was a taint about the house and its entourages. Who was the Begum, with her money, and without her h's, and where did she come from? What an extraordinary little piece of conceit the daughter was, with her Gallicised graces and daring affectations, not fit for well-bred English girls to associate with! What strange people were those they assembled round about them! Sir Francis Clavering was a gambler, living notoriously in the society of blacklegs and profligates. Hely Clinker, who was in his regiment, said that he not only cheated at cards, but showed the white feather. What could Lady Rockminster have meant by taking her up? After the first season, indeed, Lady Rockminster, who had taken up Lady Clavering, put her down; the great ladies would not take their daughters to her parties; the young men who attended them behaved with the most odious freedom and scornful familiarity; and poor Lady Clavering herself avowed that she was obliged to take what she called 'the canal' into her parlour, because the tip-tops wouldn't come."