But if the Begum paid Clavering's debts many times more, her wealth would be expended altogether upon this irreclaimable reprobate; and her heirs, whoever they might be, would succeed but to an emptied treasury; and Miss Amory, instead of bringing her husband a good income and a seat in Parliament, would bring to that individual her person only, and her pedigree with that lamentable note of sus. per coll. at the name of the last male of her line.
There was, however, to the old schemer revolving these things in his mind, another course yet open; the which will appear to the reader who may take the trouble to peruse a conversation, which presently ensued, between Major Pendennis and the honourable Baronet, the Member for Clavering.
When a man, under pecuniary difficulties, disappears from among his usual friends and equals,—dives out of sight, as it were, from the flock of birds in which he is accustomed to sail, it is wonderful at what strange and distant nooks he comes up again for breath. I have known a Pall Mall lounger and Rotten Row buck, of no inconsiderable fashion, vanish from amongst his comrades of the Clubs and the Park, and be discovered, very happy and affable, at an eighteenpenny ordinary in Billingsgate: another gentleman, of great learning and wit, when outrunning the constable (were I to say he was a literary man, some critics would vow that I intended to insult the literary profession), once sent me his address at a little public-house called the "Fox under the Hill," down a most darksome and cavernous archway in the Strand. Such a man, under such misfortunes, may have a house, but he is never in his house; and has an address where letters may be left; but only simpletons go with the hopes of seeing him.—Only a few of the faithful know where he is to be found, and have the clue to his hiding-place. So, after the disputes with his wife, and the misfortunes consequent thereon, to find Sir Francis Clavering at home was impossible. "Ever since I hast him for my book, which is fourteen pound, he don't come home till three o'clock, and purtends to be asleep when I bring his water of a mornin', and dodges hout when I'm downstairs," Mr. Lightfoot remarked to his friend Morgan; and announced that he should go down to my Lady, and be butler there, and marry his old woman. In like manner, after his altercations with Strong, the Baronet did not come near him, and fled to other haunts, out of the reach of the Chevalier's reproaches;—out of the reach of conscience, if possible, which many of us try to dodge and leave behind us by changes of scene and other fugitive stratagems.
So, though the elder Pendennis, having his own ulterior object, was bent upon seeing Pen's country neighbour and representative in Parliament, it took the Major no inconsiderable trouble and time before he could get him into such a confidential state and conversation, as were necessary for the ends which the Major had in view. For since the Major had been called in as family friend, and had cognisance of Clavering's affairs, conjugal and pecuniary, the Baronet avoided him: as he always avoided all his lawyers and agents when there was an account to be rendered, or an affair of business to be discussed between them; and never kept any appointment but when its object was the raising of money. Thus, previous to catching this most shy and timorous bird, the Major made more than one futile attempt to hold him;—on one day it was a most innocent-looking invitation to dinner at Greenwich, to meet a few friends; the Baronet accepted, suspected something, and did not come; leaving the Major (who indeed proposed to represent in himself the body of friends) to eat his whitebait alone:—on another occasion the Major wrote and asked for ten minutes' talk, and the Baronet instantly acknowledged the note, and made the appointment at four o'clock the next day at Bays's precisely (he carefully underlined the "precisely"); but though four o'clock came, as in the course of time and destiny it could not do otherwise, no Clavering made his appearance. Indeed, if he had borrowed twenty pounds of Pendennis, he could not have been more timid, or desirous of avoiding the Major; and the latter found that it was one thing to seek a man, and another to find him.
Before the close of that day in which Strong's patron had given the Chevalier the benefit of so many blessings before his face and curses behind his back, Sir Francis Clavering, who had pledged his word and his oath to his wife's advisers to draw or accept no more bills of exchange, and to be content with the allowance which his victimised wife still awarded him, had managed to sign his respectable name to a piece of stamped paper, which the Baronet's friend, Mr. Moss Abrams, had carried off, promising to have the bill "done" by a party with whose intimacy Mr. Abrams was favoured. And it chanced that Strong heard of this transaction at the place where the writings had been drawn,—in the back-parlour, namely, of Mr. Santiago's cigar-shop, where the Chevalier was constantly in the habit of spending an hour in the evening.
"He is at his old work again," Mr. Santiago told his customer. "He and Moss Abrams were in my parlour. Moss sent out my boy for a stamp. It must have been a bill for fifty pound. I heard the Baronet tell Moss to date it two months back. He will pretend that it is an old bill, and that he forgot it when he came to a settlement with his wife the other day. I dare say they will give him some more money now he is clear." A man who has the habit of putting his unlucky name to "promises to pay" at six months, has the satisfaction of knowing, too, that his affairs are known and canvassed, and his signature handed round among the very worst knaves and rogues of London.
Mr. Santiago's shop was close by St. James's Street and Bury Street, where we have had the honour of visiting our friend Major Pendennis in his lodgings. The Major was walking daintily towards his apartment, as Strong, burning with wrath and redolent of Havanna, strode along the same pavement opposite to him.
"Confound these young men: how they poison everything with their smoke," thought the Major. "Here comes a fellow with mustachios and a cigar. Every fellow who smokes and wears mustachios is a low fellow. Oh! it's Mr. Strong.—I hope you are well, Mr. Strong?" and the old gentleman, making a dignified bow to the Chevalier, was about to pass into his house; directing towards the lock of the door, with trembling hand, the polished door-key.
We have said that, at the long and weary disputes and conferences regarding the payment of Sir Francis Clavering's last debts, Strong and Pendennis had both been present as friends and advisers of the Baronet's unlucky family. Strong stopped and held out his hand to his brother negotiator, and old Pendennis put out towards him a couple of ungracious fingers.
"What is your good news?" said Major Pendennis, patronising the other still further, and condescending to address to him an observation; for old Pendennis had kept such good company all his life, that he vaguely imagined he honoured common men by speaking to them. "Still in town, Mr. Strong? I hope I see you well."
"My news is bad news, sir," Strong answered; "it concerns our friends at Tunbridge Wells, and I should like to talk to you about it. Clavering is at his old tricks again, Major Pendennis."
"Indeed! Pray do me the favour to come into my lodging," cried the Major with awakened interest; and the pair entered and took possession of his drawing-room. Here seated, Strong unburthened himself of his indignation to the Major, and spoke at large of Clavering's recklessness and treachery. "No promises will bind him, sir," he said. "You remember when we met, sir, with my lady's lawyer, how he wouldn't be satisfied with giving his honour, but wanted to take his oath on his knees to his wife, and rang the bell for a Bible, and swore perdition on his soul if he ever would give another bill. He has been signing one this very day, sir: and will sign as many more as you please for ready money: and will deceive anybody, his wife or his child, or his old friend, who has backed him a hundred times. Why, there's a bill of his and mine will be due next week."
"I thought we had paid all."
"Not that one," Strong said, blushing. "He asked me not to mention it, and—and—I had half the money for that, Major; And they will be down on me. But I don't care for it; I'm used to it. It's Lady Clavering that riles me. It's a shame that that good-natured woman, who has paid him out of gaol a score of times, should be ruined by his heartlessness. A parcel of bill-stealers boxers, any rascals, get his money; and he don't scruple to throw an honest fellow over. Would you believe it, sir, he took money of Altamont—you know whom I mean."
"Indeed? of that singular man, who I think came tipsy once to Sir Francis's house?" Major Pendennis said, with impenetrable countenance. "Who is Altamont, Mr. Strong?"
"I am sure I don't know, if you don't know," the Chevalier answered, with a look of surprise and suspicion.
"To tell you frankly," said the Major, "I have my suspicions—I suppose—mind, I only suppose—that in our friend Clavering's a life—who, between you and me, Captain Strong, we must own about as loose a fish as any in my acquaintance—there are, no doubt, some queer secrets and stories which he would not like to have known: none of us would. And very likely this fellow, who calls himself Altamont, knows some story against Clavering, and has some hold on him, and gets money out of him on the strength of his information. I know some of the best men of the best families in England who are paying through the nose in that way. But their private affairs are no business of mine, Mr. Strong; and it is not to be supposed that because I go and dine with a man, I pry into his secrets, or am answerable for all his past life. And so with our friend Clavering, I am most interested for his wife's sake, and her daughter's, who is a most charming creature: and when her ladyship asked me, I looked into her affairs, and tried to set them straight; and shall do so again, you understand, to the best of my humble power and ability, if I can make myself useful. And if I am called upon—you understand, if I am called upon—and—by the way, this Mr. Altamont, Mr. Strong? How is this Mr. Altamont? I believe you are acquainted with him. Is he in town?"
"I don't know that I am called upon to know where he is, Major Pendennis," said Strong, rising and taking up his hat in dudgeon, for the Major's patronising manner and impertinence of caution offended the honest gentleman not a little.
Pendennis's manner altered at once from a tone of hauteur to one of knowing good-humour. "Ah, Captain Strong, you are cautious too, I see; and quite right, my good sir, quite right. We don't know what ears walls may have, sir, or to whom we may be talking; and as a man of the world, and an old soldier,—an old and distinguished soldier, I have been told, Captain Strong,—you know very well that there is no use in throwing away your fire; you may have your ideas, and I may put two and two together and have mine. But there are things which don't concern him that many a man had better not know, eh, Captain? and which I, for one, won't know until I have reason for knowing them: and that I believe is your maxim too. With regard to our friend the Baronet, I think with you, it would be most advisable that he should be checked in his imprudent courses; and most strongly reprehend any man's departure from his word, or any conduct of his which can give any pain to his family, or cause them annoyance in any way. That is my full and frank opinion, and I am sure it is yours."
"Certainly," said Mr. Strong, drily.
"I am delighted to hear it; delighted that an old brother soldier should agree with me so fully. And I am exceedingly glad of the lucky meeting which has procured me the good fortune of your visit. Good evening. Thank you. Morgan, show the door to Captain Strong."
And Strong, preceded by Morgan, took his leave of Major Pendennis; the Chevalier not a little puzzled at the old fellow's prudence; and the valet, to say the truth, to the full as much perplexed at his master's reticence. For Mr. Morgan, in his capacity of accomplished valet, moved here and there in a house as silent as a shadow; and, as it so happened, during the latter part of his master's conversation with his visitor, had been standing very close to the door, and had overheard not a little of the talk between the two gentlemen, and a great deal more than he could understand.
"Who is that Altamont? know anything about him and Strong?" Mr. Morgan asked of Mr. Lightfoot, on the next convenient occasion when they met at the Club.
"Strong's his man of business, draws the Governor's bills, and indosses 'em, and does his odd jobs and that; and I suppose Altamont's in it too," Mr. Lightfoot replied. "That kite-flying, you know, Mr. M., always takes two or three on 'em to set the paper going. Altamont put the pot on at the Derby, and won a good bit of money. I wish the Governor could get some somewhere, and I could get my book paid up."
"Do you think my Lady would pay his debts again?" Morgan asked. "Find out that for me, Lightfoot, and I'll make it worth your while, my boy."
* * * * * *
Major Pendennis had often said with a laugh, that his vale Morgan was a much richer man than himself: and, indeed, by long course of careful speculation, this wary and silent attendant had been amassing a considerable sum of money, during the year which he had passed in the Major's service, where he had made the acquaintance of many other valets of distinction, from whom he had learned the affairs of their principals. When Mr. Arthur came into his property, but not until then, Morgan had surprised the young gentleman, by saying that he had a little sum of money, some fifty or a hundred pound, which he wanted to lay out to advantage; perhaps the gentlemen in the Temple, knowing about affairs and business and that, could help a poor fellow to a good investment? Morgan would be very much obliged to Mr. Arthur, most grateful and obliged indeed, if Arthur could tell him of one. When Arthur laughingly replied, that he knew nothing about money matters, and knew no earthly way of helping Morgan, the latter, with the utmost simplicity, was very grateful, very grateful indeed, to Mr. Arthur, and if Mr. Arthur should want a little money before his rents was paid, perhaps he would kindly remember that his uncle's old and faithful servant had some as he would like to put out: and be most proud if he could be useful anyways to any of the family.
The Prince of Fairoaks, who was tolerably prudent and had no need of ready money, would as soon have thought of borrowing from his uncle's servant as of stealing the valet's pocket-handkerchief, and was on the point of making some haughty reply to Morgan's offer, but was checked by the humour of the transaction. Morgan a capitalist! Morgan offering to lend to him—The joke was excellent. On the other hand, the man might be quite innocent, and the proposal of money a simple offer of good-will. So Arthur withheld the sarcasm that was rising to his lips, and contented himself by declining Mr. Morgan's kind proposal. He mentioned the matter to his uncle, however, and congratulated the latter on having such a treasure in his service.
It was then that the Major said that he believed Morgan had been getting devilish rich for a devilish long time; in fact, he had bought the house in Bury Street, in which his master was a lodger and had actually made a considerable sum of money, from his acquaintance with the Clavering family and his knowledge obtained through his master that the Begum would pay all her husband's debts, by buying up as many of the Baronet's acceptances as he could raise money to purchase. Of these transactions the Major, however, knew no more than most gentlemen do of their servants, who live with us all our days and are strangers to us, so strong custom is, and so pitiless the distinction between class and class.
"So he offered to lend you money, did he?" the elder Pendennis remarked to his nephew. "He's a dev'lish sly fellow, and a dev'lish rich fellow; and there's many a nobleman would like to have such a valet in his service, and borrow from him too. And he ain't a bit changed, Monsieur Morgan. He does his work just as well as ever—he's always ready to my bell—steals about the room like a cat—he's so dev'lishly attached to me, Morgan!"
On the day of Strong's visit, the Major bethought him of Pen's story, and that Morgan might help him, and rallied the valet regarding his wealth with that free and insolent way which so high-placed a gentleman might be disposed to adopt towards so unfortunate a creature.
"I hear that you have got some money to invest, Morgan," said the Major.
"It's Mr. Arthur has been telling, hang him," thought the valet.
"I'm glad my place is such a good one."
"Thank you, sir—I've no reason to complain of my place, nor of my master," replied Morgan, demurely.
"You're a good fellow: and I believe you are attached to me; and I'm glad you get on well. And I hope you'll be prudent, and not be taking a public-house or that kind of thing."
A public-house, thought Morgan—me in a public-house!—the old fool!—Dammy, if I was ten years younger I'd set in Parlyment before I died, that I would.—"No, thank you kindly, sir. I don't think of the public line, sir. And I've got my little savings pretty well put out, sir."
"You do a little in the discounting way, eh, Morgan?"
"Yes, sir, a very little—I—I beg your pardon, sir—might I be so free as to ask a question——"
"Speak on, my good fellow," the elder said, graciously.
"About Sir Francis Clavering's paper, sir? Do you think he's any longer any good, sir? Will my Lady pay on 'em, any more, sir?"
"What, you've done something in that business already?"
"Yes, sir, a little," replied Morgan, dropping down his eyes. "And I don't mind owning, sir, and I hope I may take the liberty of saying, sir, that a little more would make me very comfortable if it turned out as well as the last."
"Why, how much have you netted by him, in Gad's name?" asked the Major.
"I've done a good bit, sir, at it: that I own, sir. Having some information, and made acquaintance with the fam'ly through your kindness, I put on the pot, sir."
"You did what?"
"I laid my money on, sir—I got all I could, and borrowed, and bought Sir Francis's bills; many of 'em had his name, and the gentleman's as is just gone out, Edward Strong, Esquire, sir: and of course I know of the blow-hup and shindy as is took place in Grosvenor Place, sir: and as I may as well make my money as another, I'd be very much obleeged to you if you'd tell me whether my Lady will come down any more."
Although Major Pendennis was as much surprised at this intelligence regarding his servant, as if he had heard that Morgan was a disguised Marquis, about to throw off his mask and assume his seat in the House of Peers; and although he was of course indignant at the audacity of the fellow who had dared to grow rich under his nose, and without his cognisance; yet he had a natural admiration for every man who represented money and success, and found himself respecting Morgan, and being rather afraid of that worthy, as the truth began to dawn upon him.
"Well, Morgan," said he, "I mustn't ask how rich you are; and the richer the better for your sake, I'm sure. And if I could give you any information that could serve you, I would speedily help you. But frankly, if Lady Clavering asks me whether she shall pay any more of Sir Francis's debts, I shall advise and I hope she won't, though I fear she will—and that is all I know. And so you are aware that Sir Francis is beginning again in his—eh—reckless and imprudent course?"
"At his old games, sir—can't prevent that gentleman. He will do it."
"Mr. Strong was saying that a Mr. Moss Abrams was the holder of one of Sir Francis Clavering's notes. Do you know anything of this Mr. Abrams; or the amount of the bill?"
"Don't know the bill, know Abrams quite well, sir."
"I wish you would find out about it for me. And I wish you would find out where I can see Sir Francis Clavering, Morgan."
And Morgan said, "Thank you, sir, yes, sir, I will, sir;" and retired from the room, as he had entered it, with his usual stealthy respect and quiet humility; leaving the Major to muse and wonder over what he had just heard.
The next morning the valet informed Major Pendennis that he had seen Mr. Abrams; what was the amount of the bill that gentleman was desirous to negotiate; and that the Baronet would be sure to be in the back-parlour of the Wheel of Fortune Tavern that day at one o'clock.
To this appointment Sir Francis Clavering was punctual, and as at one o'clock he sate in the parlour of the tavern in question, surrounded by spittoons, Windsor chairs, cheerful prints of boxers, trotting horses, and pedestrians, and the lingering of last night's tobacco fumes—as the descendant of an ancient line sate in this delectable place accommodated with an old copy of Bell's Life in London, much blotted with beer, the polite Major Pendennis walked into the apartment.
"So it's you, old boy?" asked the Baronet, thinking that Mr. Moss Abrams had arrived with the money.
"How do you do, Sir Francis Clavering? I wanted to see you, and followed you here," said the Major, at sight of whom the other's countenance fell.
Now that he had his opponent before him, the Major was determined to make a brisk and sudden attack upon him, and went into action at once. "I know," he continued, "who is the exceedingly disreputable person for whom you took me, Clavering; and the errand which brought you here."
"It ain't your business, is it?" asked the Baronet, with a sulky and deprecatory look. "Why are you following me about and taking the command, and meddling in my affairs, Major Pendennis? I've never done you any harm, have I? I've never had your money. And I don't choose to be dodged about in this way, and domineered over. I don't choose it, and I won't have it. If Lady Clavering has any proposal to make to me, let it be done in the regular way, and through the lawyers. I'd rather not have you."
"I am not come from Lady Clavering," the Major said, "but of my own accord, to try and remonstrate with you, Clavering, and see if you can be kept from ruin. It is but a month ago that you swore on your honour, and wanted to get a Bible to strengthen the oath, that you would accept no more bills, but content yourself with the allowance which Lady Clavering gives you. All your debts were paid with that proviso, and you have broken it; this Mr. Abrams has a bill of yours for sixty pounds."
"It's an old bill. I take my solemn oath it's an old bill," shrieked out the Baronet.
"You drew it yesterday, and you dated it three months back purposely. By Gad, Clavering, you sicken me with lies, I can't help telling you so. I've no patience with you, by Gad. You cheat everybody, yourself included. I've seen a deal of the world, but I never met your equal at humbugging. It's my belief you had rather lie than not."
"Have you come here, you old—old beast, to tempt me to—to pitch into you, and—and knock your old head off?" said the Baronet, with a poisonous look of hatred at the Major.
"What, sir?" shouted out the old Major, rising to his feet and clasping his cane, and looking so fiercely, that the Baronet's tone instantly changed towards him.
"No, no," said Clavering, piteously, "I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to be angry, or say anything unkind, only you're so damned harsh to me, Major Pendennis. What is it you want of me? Why have you been hunting me so? Do you want money out of me too? By Jove, you know I've not got a shilling,"—and so Clavering, according to his custom, passed from a curse into a whimper.
Major Pendennis saw, from the other's tone, that Clavering knew his secret was in the Major's hands.
"I've no errand from anybody, or no design upon you," Pendennis said, "but an endeavour, if it's not too late, to save you and your family from utter ruin, through the infernal recklessness of your courses. I knew your secret——"
"I didn't know it when I married her; upon my oath I didn't know it till the d——d scoundrel came back and told me himself; and it's the misery about that which makes me so reckless, Pendennis; indeed it is," the Baronet cried, clasping his hands.
"I knew your secret from the very first day when I saw Amory come drunk into your dining-room in Grosvenor Place. I never forget faces. I remember that fellow in Sydney a convict, and he remembers me. I know his trial, the date of his marriage, and of his reported death in the bush. I could swear to him. And I know that you are no more married to Lady Clavering than I am. I've kept your secret well enough, for I've not told a single soul that I know it,—not your wife, not yourself till now."
"Poor Lady C., it would cut her up dreadfully," whimpered Sir Francis; "and it wasn't my fault, Major; you know it wasn't."
"Rather than allow you to go on ruining her as you do; I will tell her, Clavering, and tell all the world too; that is what I swear I will do, unless I can come to some terms with you, and put some curb on your infernal folly. By play, debt, and extravagance of all kind, you've got through half your wife's fortune, and that of her legitimate heirs, mind—her legitimate heirs. Here it must stop. You can't live together. You're not fit to live in a great house like Clavering; and before three years' more were over would not leave a shilling to carry on. I've settled what must be done. You shall have six hundred a year; you shall go abroad and live on that. You must give up Parliament, and get on as well as you can. If you refuse, I give you my word I'll make the real state of things known to-morrow; I'll swear to Amory, who, when identified, will go back to the country from whence he came, and will rid the widow of you and himself together. And so that boy of yours loses at once all title to old Spell's property, and it goes to your wife's daughter. Ain't I making myself pretty clearly understood?"
"You wouldn't be so cruel to that poor boy, would you, Pendennis?" asked the father, pleading piteously; "hang it, think about him. He's a nice boy: though he's dev'lish wild, I own he's dev'lish wild."
"It's you who are cruel to him," said the old moralist. "Why, sir, you'll ruin him yourself inevitably in three years."
"Yes, but perhaps I won't have such dev'lish bad luck, you know;—the luck must turn: and I'll reform, by Gad, I'll reform. And if you were to split on me, it would cut up my wife so; you know it would, most infernally."
"To be parted from you," said the old Major, with a sneer; "you know she won't live with you again."
"But why can't Lady C. live abroad, or at Bath, or at Tunbridge, or at the doose, and I go on here?" Clavering continued. "I like being here better than abroad, and I like being in Parliament. It's dev'lish convenient being in Parliament. There's very few seats like mine left; and if I gave it to 'em, I should not wonder the ministry would give me an island to govern, or some dev'lish good thing; for you know I'm a gentleman of dev'lish good family, and have a handle to my name, and—and that sort of thing, Major Pendennis. Eh, don't you see? Don't you think they'd give me something dev'lish good if I was to play my cards well? And then, you know, I'd save money, and be kept out of the way of the confounded hells and rouge et noir—and—and so I'd rather not give up Parliament, please." For at one instant to hate and defy a man, at the next to weep before him, and at the next to be perfectly confidential and friendly with him, was not an unusual process with our versatile-minded Baronet.
"As for your seat in Parliament," the Major said, with something of a blush on his cheek, and a certain tremor, which the other did not see, "you must part with that, Sir Francis Clavering, to—to me."
"What! are you going into the House, Major Pendennis?"
"No—not I; but my nephew, Arthur, is a very clever fellow and would make a figure there: and when Clavering had two members, his father might very likely have been one; and—and should like Arthur to be there," the Major said.
"Dammy, does he know it, too?" cried out Clavering.
"Nobody knows anything out of this room," Pendennis answered; and if you do this favour for me, I hold my tongue. "If not, I'm a man of my word, and will do what I have said."
"I say, Major," said Sir Francis, with a peculiarly humble smile "You—You couldn't get me my first quarter in advance, could you, like the best of fellows? You can do anything with Lady Clavering; and, upon my oath, I'll take up that bill of Abrams'. The little dam scoundrel, I know he'll do me in the business—he always does; and if you could do this for me, we'd see, Major."
"And I think your best plan would be to go down in September to Clavering to shoot, and take my nephew with you, and introduce him. Yes, that will be the best time. And we will try and manage about the advance." (Arthur may lend him that, thought old Pendennis. Confound him, a seat in Parliament is worth a hundred and fifty pounds.) "And, Clavering, you understand, of course, my nephew knows nothing about this business. You have a mind to retire: he is a Clavering man and a good representative for the borough; you introduce him, and your people vote for him—you see."
"When can you get me the hundred and fifty, Major? When shall I come and see you? Will you be at home this evening or to-morrow morning? Will you have anything here? They've got some dev'lish good bitters in the bar. I often have a glass of bitters, it sets one up so."
The old Major would take no refreshment; but rose and took his leave of the Baronet, who walked with him to the door of the Wheel of Fortune, and then strolled into the bar, where he took a glass of gin and bitters with the landlady there: and a gentleman connected with the ring (who boarded at the Wheel of F.) coming in, he and Sir Francis Clavering and the landlord talked about the fights and the news of the sporting world in general; and at length Mr. Moss Abrams arrived with the proceeds of the Baronet's bill, from which his own handsome commission was deducted, and out of the remainder Sir Francis "stood" a dinner at Greenwich to his distinguished friend, and passed the evening gaily at Vauxhall.
Meanwhile Major Pendennis, calling a cab in Piccadilly, drove to Lamb Court, Temple, where he speedily was closeted with his nephew in deep conversation.
After their talk they parted on very good terms, and it was in consequence of that unreported conversation, whereof the reader nevertheless can pretty well guess the bearing, that Arthur expressed himself as we have heard in the colloquy with Warrington, which is reported in the last chapter.
When a man is tempted to do a tempting thing, he can find a hundred ingenious reasons for gratifying his liking; and Arthur thought very much that he would like to be in Parliament, and that he would like to distinguish himself there, and that he need not care much what side he took, as there was falsehood and truth on every side. And on this and on other matters he thought he would compromise with his conscience, and that Sadduceeism was a very convenient and good-humoured profession of faith.
CHAPTER LXIV. Phyllis and Corydon
On a picturesque common in the neighbourhood of Tunbridge Wells, Lady Clavering had found a pretty villa, whither she retired after her conjugal disputes at the end of that unlucky London season. Miss Amory, of course, accompanied her mother, and Master Clavering came home for the holidays, with whom Blanche's chief occupation was to fight and quarrel. But this was only a home pastime, and the young schoolboy was not fond of home sports. He found cricket, and horses, and plenty of friends at Tunbridge. The good-natured Begum's house was filled with a constant society of young gentlemen of thirteen, who ate and drank much too copiously of tarts and champagne, who rode races on the lawn, and frightened the fond mother, who smoked and made themselves sick, and the dining-room unbearable to Miss Blanche. She did not like the society of young gentlemen of thirteen.
As for that fair young creature, any change as long as it was change was pleasant to her; and for a week or two she would have liked poverty and a cottage, and bread-and-cheese; and, for a night, perhaps, a dungeon and bread-and-water, and so the move to Tunbridge was by no means unwelcome to her. She wandered in the woods, and sketched trees and farmhouses; she read French novels habitually; she drove into Tunbridge Wells pretty often, and to any play, or ball, or conjurer, or musician who might happen to appear in the place; she slept a great deal; she quarrelled with Mamma and Frank during the morning; she found the little village school and attended it, and first fondled the girls and thwarted the mistress, then scolded the girls and laughed at the teacher; she was constant at church, of course. It was a pretty little church, of immense antiquity—a little Anglo-Norman bijou, built the day before yesterday, and decorated with all sorts of painted windows, carved saints' heads, gilt scripture texts, and open pews. Blanche began forthwith to work a most correct high-church altar-cover for the church. She passed for a saint with the clergyman for a while, whom she quite took in, and whom she coaxed, and wheedled, and fondled so artfully, that poor Mrs. Smirke, who at first was charmed with her, then bore with her, then would hardly speak to her, was almost mad with jealousy. Mrs. Smirke was the wife of our old friend Smirke, Pen's tutor and poor Helen's suitor. He had consoled himself for her refusal with a young lady from Clapham whom his mamma provided. When the latter died, our friend's views became every day more and more pronounced. He cut off his coat collar, and let his hair grow over his back. He rigorously gave up the curl which he used to sport on his forehead, and the tie of his neckcloth, of which he was rather proud. He went without any tie at all. He went without dinner on Fridays. He read the Roman Hours, and intimated that he was ready to receive confessions in the vestry. The most harmless creature in the world, he was denounced as a black and most dangerous Jesuit and Papist, by Muffin of the Dissenting chapel, and Mr. Simeon Knight at the old church. Mr. Smirke had built his chapel-of-ease with the money left him by his mother at Clapham. Lord! lord! what would she have said to hear a table called an altar! to see candlesticks on it! to get letters signed on the Feast of Saint So-and-so, or the Vigil of Saint What-do-you-call-'em! All these things did the boy of Clapham practise; his faithful wife following him. But when Blanche had a conference of near two hours in the vestry with Mr. Smirke, Belinda paced up and down on the grass, where there were only two little grave-stones as yet; she wished that she had a third there: only, only he would offer very likely to that creature, who had infatuated him in a fortnight. No, she would retire; she would go into a convent, and profess and leave him. Such bad thoughts had Smirke's wife and his neighbours regarding him; these, thinking him in direct correspondence with the Bishop of Rome; that, bewailing errors to her even more odious and fatal; and yet our friend meant no earthly harm. The post-office never brought him any letters from the Pope; he thought Blanche, to be sure, at first, the most pious, gifted, right-thinking, fascinating person he had ever met; and her manner of singing the Chants delighted him—but after a while he began to grow rather tired of Miss Amory, her ways and graces grew stale somehow; then he was doubtful about Miss Amory; then she made a disturbance in his school, lost her temper, and rapped the children's fingers. Blanche inspired this admiration and satiety, somehow, in many men. She tried to please them, and flung out all her graces at once; came down to them with all her jewels on, all her smiles, and cajoleries, and coaxings, and ogles. Then she grew tired of them and of trying to please them, and never having cared about them, dropped them: and the men grew tired of her, and dropped her too. It was a happy night for Belinda when Blanche went away; and her husband, with rather a blush and a sigh, said "he had been deceived in her; he had thought her endowed with many precious gifts, he feared they were mere tinsel; he thought she had been a right-thinking person, he feared she had merely made religion an amusement—she certainly had quite lost her temper to the schoolmistress, and beat Polly Rucker's knuckles cruelly." Belinda flew to his arms, there was no question about the grave or the veil any more. He tenderly embraced her on the forehead. "There is none like thee, my Belinda," he said, throwing his fine eyes up to the ceiling, "precious among women!" As for Blanche, from the instant she lost sight of him and Belinda, she never thought or cared about either any more.
But when Arthur went down to pass a few days at Tunbridge Wells with the Begum, this stage of indifference had not arrived on Miss Blanche's part or on that of the simple clergyman. Smirke believed her to be an angel and wonder of a woman. Such a perfection he had never seen, and sate listening to her music in the summer evenings, open-mouthed, rapt in wonder, tea-less, and bread-and-butter-less. Fascinating as he had heard the music of the opera to be—he had never but once attended an exhibition of that nature (which he mentioned with a blush and a sigh—it was on that day when he had accompanied Helen and her son to the play at Chatteris)—he could not conceive anything more delicious, more celestial, he had almost said, than Miss Amory's music. She was a most gifted being: she had a precious soul: she had the most remarkable talents—to all outward seeming, the most heavenly disposition, etc. etc. It was in this way that, being then at the height of his own fever and bewitchment for Blanche, Smirke discoursed to Arthur about her.
The meeting between the two old acquaintances had been very cordial. Arthur loved anybody who loved his mother; Smirke could speak on that theme with genuine feeling and emotion. They had a hundred things to tell each other of what had occurred in their lives. "Arthur would perceive," Smirke said, "that his—his views on Church matters had developed themselves since their acquaintance." Mrs. Smirke, a most exemplary person, seconded them with all her endeavours. He had built this little church on his mother's demise, who had left him provided with a sufficiency of worldly means. Though in the cloister himself, he had heard of Arthur's reputation. He spoke in the kindest and most saddened tone; he held his eyelids down, and bowed his fair head on one side. Arthur was immensely amused with him; with his airs; with his follies and simplicity; with his blank stock and long hair; with his real goodness, kindness, friendliness of feeling. And his praises of Blanche pleased and surprised our friend not a little, and made him regard her with eyes of particular favour.
The truth is, Blanche was very glad to see Arthur; as one is glad to see an agreeable man in the country, who brings down the last news and stories from the great city; who can talk better than most country-folks, at least can talk that darling London jargon, so dear and indispensable to London people, so little understood by persons out of the world. The first day Pen came down, he kept Blanche laughing for hours after dinner. She sang her songs with redoubled spirit. She did not scold her mother; she fondled and kissed her, to the honest Begum's surprise. When it came to be bedtime, she said, "Deja!" with the prettiest air of regret possible; and was really quite sorry to go to bed, and squeezed Arthur's hand quite fondly. He on his side gave her pretty palm a very cordial pressure. Our young gentleman was of that turn, that eyes very moderately bright dazzled him.
"She is very much improved," thought Pen, looking out into the night, "very much. I suppose the Begum won't mind my smoking with the window open. She's a jolly good old woman, and Blanche is immensely improved. I liked her manner with her mother tonight. I liked her laughing way with that stupid young cub of a boy, whom they oughtn't to allow to get tipsy. She sang those little verses very prettily; they were devilish pretty verses too, though I say it who shouldn't say it." And he hummed a tune which Blanche had put to some verses of his own. "Ah! what a fine night! How jolly a cigar is at night! How pretty that little Saxon church looks in the moonlight! I wonder what old Warrington's doing? Yes, she's a dayvlish nice little thing, as my uncle says."
"Oh, heavenly!" Here broke out a voice from a clematis-covered casement near—a girl's voice: it was the voice of the author of 'Mes Larmes.'
Pen burst into a laugh. "Don't tell about my smoking," he said, leaning out of his own window.
"Oh! go on! I adore it," cried the lady of 'Mes Larmes.' "Heavenly night! heavenly, heavenly moon! but I must shut my window, and not talk to you on account of les moeurs. How droll they are, les moeurs! Adieu." And Pen began to sing the Goodnight to Don Basilio.
The next day they were walking in the fields together, laughing and chattering—the gayest pair of friends. They talked about the days of their youth, and Blanche was prettily sentimental. They talked about Laura, dearest Laura—Blanche had loved her as a sister: was she happy with that odd Lady Rockminster? Wouldn't she come and stay with them at Tunbridge? Oh, what walks they would take together! What songs they would sing—the old, old songs! Laura's voice was splendid. Did Arthur—she must call him Arthur—remember the songs they sang in the happy old days, now he was grown such a great man, and had such a succes? etc. etc.
And the day after, which was enlivened with a happy ramble through the woods to Penshurst, and a sight of that pleasant park and hall, came that conversation with the curate which we have narrated, and which made our young friend think more and more.
"Is she all this perfection?" he asked himself. "Has she become serious and religious? Does she tend schools, and visit the poor? Is she kind to her mother and brother? Yes, I am sure of that, I have seen her." And walking with his old tutor over his little parish, and going to visit his school, it was with inexpressible delight that Pen found Blanche seated instructing the children, and fancied to himself how patient she must be, how good-natured, how ingenuous, how really simple in her tastes, and unspoiled by the world.
"And do you really like the country?" he asked her, as they walked together.
"I should like never to see that odious city again. O Arthur—that is, Mr.—well, Arthur, then—one's good thoughts grow up in these sweet woods and calm solitudes, like those flowers which won't bloom in London, you know. The gardener comes and changes our balconies once a week. I don't think I shall bear to look London in the face again—its odious, smoky, brazen face! But, heigho!"
"Why that sigh, Blanche?"
"Never mind why."
"Yes, I do mind why. Tell me, tell me everything."
"I wish you hadn't come down;" and a second edition of 'Mes Soupirs' came out.
"You don't want me, Blanche?"
"I don't want you to go away. I don't think this house will be very happy without you, and that's why I wish that you never had come."
'Mes Soupirs' were here laid aside, and 'Mes Larmes' had begun.
Ah! What answer is given to those in the eyes of a young woman? What is the method employed for drying them? What took place? O ringdoves and roses, O dews and wildflowers, O waving greenwoods and balmy airs of summer! Here were two battered London rakes, taking themselves in for a moment, and fancying that they were in love with each other, like Phillis and Corydon!
When one thinks of country houses and country walks, one wonders that any man is left unmarried.
CHAPTER LXV. Temptation
Easy and frank-spoken as Pendennis commonly was with Warrington, how came it that Arthur did not inform the friend and depository of all his secrets, of the little circumstances which had taken place at the villa near Tunbridge Wells? He talked about the discovery of his old tutor Smirke, freely enough, and of his wife, and of his Anglo-Norman church, and of his departure from Clapha to Rome; but, when asked about Blanche, his answers were evasive or general: he said she was a good-natured clever little thing, that rightly guided she make no such bad wife after all, but that he had for the moment no intention of marriage, that his days of romance were over, that he was contented with his present lot, and so forth.
In the meantime there came occasionally to Lamb Court, Temple, pretty little satin envelopes, superscribed in the neatest handwriting, and sealed with one of those admirable ciphers, which, if Warrington had been curious enough to watch his friend's letters, or indeed if the cipher had been decipherable, would have shown George that Mr. Arthur was in correspondence with a young lady whose initials were B. A. To these pretty little compositions Mr. Pen replied in his best and gallantest manner; with jokes, with news of the town, with points of wit, nay, with pretty little verses very likely, in reply to the versicles of the Muse of 'Mes Larmes.' Blanche we know rhymes with "branch," and "stanch," and "launch," and no doubt a gentleman of Pen's ingenuity would not forgo these advantages of position, and would ring the pretty little changes upon these pleasing notes. Indeed we believe that those love-verses of Mr. Pen's, which had such a pleasing success in the 'Roseleaves,' that charming Annual edited by Lady Violet Lebas, and illustrated by portraits of the female nobility by the famous artist Pinkney, were composed at this period of our hero's life; and were first addressed to Blanche per post, before they figured in print, cornets as it were to Pinkney's pictorial garland.
"Verses are all very well," the elder Pendennis said, who found Pen scratching down one of these artless effusions at the Club as he was waiting for his dinner; "and letter-writing if mamma allows it, and between such old country friends of course there may be a correspondence, and that sort of thing—but mind, Pen, and don't commit yourself, my boy. For who knows what the doose may happen? The best way is to make your letters safe. I never wrote a letter in all my life that would commit me, and demmy, sir, I have had some experience of women." And the worthy gentleman, growing more garrulous and confidential with his nephew as he grew older, told many affecting instances of the evil results consequent upon this want of caution to many persons in "Society;"—how from using too ardent expressions in some poetical notes to the widow Naylor, young Spoony had subjected himself to a visit of remonstrance from the widow's brother, Colonel Flint; and thus had been forced into a marriage with a woman old enough to be his mother: how when Louisa Salter had at length succeeded in securing young Sir John Bird, Hopwood, of the Blues, produced some letters which Miss S. had written to him, and caused a withdrawal on Bird's part, who afterwards was united to Miss Stickney, of Lyme Regis, etc. The Major, if he had not reading, had plenty of observation, and could back his wise saws with a multitude of modern instances, which he had acquired in a long and careful perusal of the great book of the world.
Pen laughed at the examples, and blushing a little at his uncle's remonstrances, said that he would bear them in mind and be cautious. He blushed, perhaps, because he had borne them in mind; because he was cautious: because in his letters to Miss Blanche he had from instinct, or honesty perhaps, refrained from any avowals which might compromise him. "Don't you remember the lesson I had, sir, in Lady Mirabel's—Miss Fotheringay's affair? I am not to be caught again, uncle," Arthur said with mock frankness and humility. Old Pendennis congratulated himself and his nephew heartily on the latter's prudence and progress, and was pleased at the position which Arthur was taking as a man of the world.
No doubt, if Warrington had been consulted, his opinion would have been different: and he would have told Pen that the boy's foolish letters were better than the man's adroit compliments and slippery gallantries; that to win the woman he loves, only a knave or a coward advances under cover, with subterfuges, and a retreat secured behind him: but Pen spoke not on this matter to Mr. Warrington, knowing pretty well that he was guilty, and what his friend's verdict would be.
Colonel Altamont had not been for many weeks absent on his foreign tour, Sir Francis Clavering having retired meanwhile into the country pursuant to his agreement with Major Pendennis, when the ills of fate began to fall rather suddenly and heavily upon the sole remaining partner of the little firm of Shepherd's Inn. When Strong, at parting with Altamont, refused the loan proffered by the latter in the fulness of his purse and the generosity of his heart, he made such a sacrifice to conscience and delicacy as caused him many an after twinge and pang; he and felt—it was not very many hours in his life he had experienced the feeling—that in this juncture of his affairs he had been too delicate and too scrupulous. Why should a fellow in want refuse a kind offer kindly made? Why should a thirsty man decline a pitcher of water from a friendly hand, because it was a little soiled? Strong's conscience smote him for refusing what the other had fairly come by, and generously proffered: and he thought ruefully, now it was too late, that Altamont's cash would have been as well in his pocket as in that of the gambling—house proprietor at Baden or Ems, with whom his Excellency would infallibly leave his Derby winnings. It was whispered among the tradesmen, bill-discounters, and others who had commercial dealings with Captain Strong, that he and the Baronet had parted company, and that the Captain's "paper" was henceforth of no value. The tradesmen, who had put a wonderful confidence in him hitherto,—for who could resist Strong's jolly face and frank and honest demeanour?—now began to pour in their bills with a cowardly mistrust and unanimity. The knocks at the Shepherd's Inn chambers door were constant, and tailors, bootmakers, pastrycooks who had furnished dinners, in their own persons, or by the boys their representatives, held levees on Strong's stairs. To these were added one or two persons of a less clamorous but far more sly and dangerous sort,—the young clerks of lawyers, namely, who lurked about the Inn, or concerted with Mr. Campion's young man in the chambers hard by, having in their dismal pocketbooks copies of writs to be served on Edward Strong, requiring him to appear on an early day next term before our Sovereign Lady the Queen, and answer to, etc. etc.
From this invasion of creditors, poor Strong, who had not a guinea in his pocket, had, of course, no refuge but that of the Englishman's castle, into which he retired, shutting the outer and inner door upon the enemy, and not quitting his stronghold until after nightfall. Against this outer barrier the foe used to come and knock and curse in vain, whilst the Chevalier peeped at them from behind the little curtain which he had put over the orifice of his letter-box; and had the dismal satisfaction of seeing the faces of furious clerk and fiery dun, as they dashed up against the door and retreated from it. But as they could not be always at his gate, or sleep on his staircase, the enemies of the Chevalier sometimes left him free.
Strong, when so pressed by his commercial antagonists, was not quite alone in his defence against them, but had secured for himself an ally or two. His friends were instructed to communicate with him by a system of private signals: and they thus kept the garrison from starving by bringing in necessary supplies, and kept up Strong's heart and prevented him from surrendering by visiting him and cheering him in his retreat. Two of Ned's most faithful allies were Huxter and Miss Fanny Bolton: when hostile visitors were prowling about the Inn, Fanny's little sisters were taught a particular cry or jodel, which they innocently whooped in the court: when Fanny and Huxter came up to visit Strong, they archly sang this same note at his door; when that barrier was straightway opened, the honest garrison came out smiling, the provisions and the pot of porter were brought in, and in the society of his faithful friends the beleaguered one passed a comfortable night. There are some men who could not live under this excitement, but Strong was a brave man, as we have said, who had seen service and never lost heart in peril.
But besides allies, our general had secured for himself, under difficulties, that still more necessary aid, a retreat. It has been mentioned in a former part of this history, how Messrs. Costigan and Bows lived in the house next door to Captain Strong, and that the window of one of their rooms was not very far off the kitchen-window which was situated in the upper story of Strong's chambers. A leaden water-pipe and gutter served for the two; and Strong, looking out from his kitchen one day, saw that he could spring with great ease up to the sill of his neighbour's window, and clamber up the pipe which communicated from one to the other. He had laughingly shown this refuge to his chum, Altamont; and they had agreed that it would be as well not to mention the circumstance to Captain Costigan, whose duns were numerous, and who would be constantly flying down the pipe into their apartments if this way of escape were shown to him.
But now that the evil days were come, Strong made use of the passage, and one afternoon burst in upon Bows and Costigan with his jolly face, and explained that the enemy was in waiting on his staircase, and that he had taken this means of giving them the slip. So while Mr. Marks's aides-de-camp were in waiting in the passage of No. 3, Strong walked down the steps of No. 4, dined at the Albion, went to the play, and returned home at midnight, to the astonishment of Mrs. Bolton and Fanny, who had not seen him quit his chambers and could not conceive how he could have passed the line of sentries.
Strong bore this siege for some weeks with admirable spirit and resolution, and as only such an old and brave soldier would, for the pains and privations which he had to endure were enough to depress any man of ordinary courage; and what vexed and riled him (to use his own expression) was the infernal indifference and cowardly ingratitude of Clavering, to whom he wrote letter after letter, which the Baronet never acknowledged by a single word, or by the smallest remittance, though a five-pound note, as Strong said, at that time would have been a fortune to him.
But better days were in store for the Chevalier, and in the midst of his despondency and perplexities there came to him a most welcome aid. "Yes, if it hadn't been for this good fellow here," said Strong,—"for a good fellow you are, Altamont, my boy, and hang me if I don't stand by you as long as I live,—I think, Pendennis, it would have been all up with Ned Strong. I was the fifth week of my being kept a prisoner, for I couldn't be always risking my neck across that water-pipe, and taking my walks abroad through poor old Cos's window, and my spirit was quite broken, sir—dammy, quite beat, and I was thinking of putting an end to myself, and should have done it in another week, when who should drop down from heaven but Altamont!"
"Heaven ain't exactly the place, Ned," said Altamont. "I came from Baden-Baden," said he, "and I'd had a deuced lucky month there, that's all."
"Well, sir, he took up Marks's bill, and he paid the other fellows that were upon me, like a man, sir, that he did," said Strong, enthusiastically.
"And I shall be very happy to stand a bottle of claret for this company, and as many more as the company chooses," said Mr. Altamont, with a blush. "Hallo! waiter, bring us a magnum of the right sort, do you hear? And we'll drink our healths all round, sir—and may every good fellow like Strong find another good fellow to stand by him at a pinch. That's my sentiment, Mr. Pendennis, though I don't like your name."
"No! And why?" asked Arthur.
Strong pressed the Colonel's foot under the table here; and Altamont, rather excited, filled up another bumper, nodded to Pen, drank off his wine, and said, "He was a gentleman, and that was sufficient, and they were all gentlemen."
The meeting between these "all gentlemen" took place at Richmond, whither Pendennis had gone to dinner, and where he found the Chevalier and his friend at table in the coffee-room. Both of the latter were exceedingly hilarious, talkative, and excited by wine; and Strong, who was an admirable story-teller, told the story of his own siege, and adventures, and escapes with great liveliness and humour, and described the talk of the sheriff's officers at his door, the pretty little signals of Fanny, the grotesque exclamations of Costigan when the Chevalier burst in at his window, and his final rescue by Altamont, in a most graphic manner, and so as greatly to interest his hearers.
"As for me, it's nothing," Altamont said. "When a ship's paid off, a chap spends his money, you know. And it's the fellers at the black and red at Baden-Baden that did it. I won a good bit of money there, and intend to win a good bit more, don't I, Strong? I'm going to take him with me. I've got a system. I'll make his fortune, I tell you. I'll make your fortune, if you like—dammy, everybody's fortune. But what I'll do, and no mistake, boys, I promise you. I'll put in for that little Fanny. Dammy, sir, what do you think she did? She had two pound, and I'm blest if she didn't go and lend it to Ned Strong! Didn't she, Ned? Let's drink her health."
"With all my heart," said Arthur, and pledged this toast with the greatest cordiality.
Mr. Altamont then began, with the greatest volubility, at great length, to describe his system. He said that it was infallible, if played with coolness; that he had it from a chap at Baden, who had lost by it, it was true, but because he had not enough capital; if he could have stood one more turn of the wheel, he would have had all his money back; that he and several more chaps were going to make a bank, and try it; and that he would put every shilling he was worth into it, and had come back to the country for the express purpose of fetching away his money, and Captain Strong; that Strong should play for him; that he could trust Strong and his temper much better than he could his own; and much better than Bloundell-Bloundell or the Italian that "stood in." As he emptied his bottle, the Colonel described at full length all his plans and prospects to Pen, who was interested in listening to his story, and the confessions of his daring and lawless good-humour.
"I met that queer fellow Altamont the other day," Pen said to his uncle, a day or two afterwards.
"Altamont? What Altamont? There's Lord Westport's son," said the Major.
"No, no; the fellow who came tipsy into Clavering's dining-room one day when we were there," said the nephew, laughing, "he said he did not like the name of Pendennis, though he did me the honour to think that I was a good fellow."
"I don't know any man of the name of Altamont, I give you my honour," said the impenetrable Major; "and as for your acquaintance, I think the less you have to do with him the better, Arthur."
Arthur laughed again. "He is going to quit the country, and make his fortune by a gambling system. He and my amiable college acquaintance, Bloundell, are partners, and the Colonel takes out Strong with him as aide-de-camp. What is it that binds the Chevalier and Clavering, I wonder?"
"I should think, mind you, Pen, I should think, but of course I have only the idea, that there has been something in Clavering's previous life which gives these fellows and some others a certain power over him; and if there should be no such a secret, which affair of ours, my boy, dammy, I say, it ought to be a lesson to a man to keep himself straight in life, and not to give any man a chance over him."
"Why, I think you have some means of persuasion over Clavering, uncle, or why should he give me that seat in Parlament?"
"Clavering thinks he ain't fit for Parliament," the Major answered. "No more he is. What's to prevent him from putting you or anybody else into his place if he likes? Do you think that vernment or the Opposition would make any bones about accepting the seat if he offered it to them! Why should you be more squeamish than the first men, and the most honourable men, and men of the highest birth and position in the country, begad?" The Major had an answer of this kind to most of Pen's objections, and Pen accepted his uncle's replies, not so much because he believed them, but because he wished to believe them. We do a thing—which of us has not?—not because "everybody does it," but because we like it; and our acquiescence, alas! proves not that everybody is right, but that we and the rest of the world are poor creatures alike.
At his next visit to Tunbridge, Mr. Pen did not forget to amuse Miss Blanche with the history which he had learned at Richmond of the Chevalier's imprisonment, and of Altamont's gallant rescue. And after he had told his tale in his usual satirical way, he mentioned with praise and emotion little Fanny's generous behaviour to the Chevalier, and Altamont's enthusiasm in her behalf.
Miss Blanche was somewhat jealous, and a good deal piqued and curious about Fanny. Among the many confidential little communications which Arthur made to Miss Amory in the course of their delightful rural drives and their sweet evening walks, it may be supposed that our hero would not forget a story so interesting to himself and so likely to be interesting to her, as that of the passion and cure of the poor little Ariadne of Shepherd's Inn. His own part in that drama he described, to do him justice, with becoming modesty; the moral which he wished to draw from the tale being one in accordance with his usual satirical mood, viz., that women get over their first loves quite as easily as men do (for the fair Blanche, in their intimes conversations, did not cease to twit Mr. Pen about his notorious failure in his own virgin attachment to the Fotheringay), and, number one being withdrawn, transfer themselves to number two without much difficulty. And poor little Fanny was offered up in sacrifice as an instance to prove this theory. What griefs she had endured and surmounted, what bitter pangs of hopeless attachment she had gone through, what time it had taken to heal those wounds of the tender little bleeding heart, Mr. Pen did not know, or perhaps did not choose to know; for he was at once modest and doubtful about his capabilities as a conqueror of hearts, and averse to believe that he had executed any dangerous ravages on that particular one, though his own instance and argument told against himself in this case; for if, as he said, Miss Fanny was by this time in love with her surgical adorer, who had neither good looks, nor good manners, nor wit, nor anything but ardour and fidelity to recommend him, must she not in her first sickness of the love-complaint have had a serious attack, and suffered keenly for a man who had certainly a number of the showy qualities which Mr. Huxter wanted?
"You wicked odious creature," Miss Blanche said, "I believe that you are enraged with Fanny for being so impudent as to forget you, and that you are actually jealous of Mr. Huxter." Perhaps Miss Amory was right, as the blush which came in spite of himself and tingled upon Pendennis's cheek (one of those blows with which a man's vanity is constantly slapping his face) proved to Pen that he was angry to think he had been superseded by such a rival. By such a fellow as that! without any conceivable good quality! O Mr. Pendennis! (although this remark does not apply to such a smart fellow as you) if Nature had not made that provision for each sex in the credulity of the other, which sees good qualities where none exist, good looks in donkeys' ears, wit in their numskulls, and music in their bray, there would not have been near so much marrying and giving in marriage as now obtains, and as is necessary for the due propagation and continuance of the noble race to which we belong.
"Jealous or not," Pen said, "and, Blanche, I don't say no, I should have liked Fanny to have come to a better end than that. I don't like histories that end in that cynical way; and when we arrive at the conclusion of the story of a pretty girl's passion, to find such a figure as Huxter's at the last page of the tale. Is a life a compromise, my lady fair, and the end of the battle of love an ignoble surrender? Is the search for the Cupid which my poor little Psyche pursued in the darkness—the god of her soul's longing—the god of the blooming cheek and rainbow pinions,—to result in Huxter smelling of tobacco and gallypots? I wish, though I don't see it in life, that people could be like Jenny and Jessamy, or my Lord and Lady Clementina in the story-books and fashionable novels, and at once under the ceremony, and, as it were, at the parson's benediction, become perfectly handsome and good and happy ever after."
"And don't you intend to be good and happy, pray, Monsieur le Misanthrope—and are you very discontented with your lot—and will your marriage be a compromise"—(asked the author of 'Mes Larmes,' with a charming moue)—"and is your Psyche an odious vulgar wretch? You wicked satirical creature, I can't abide you! You take the hearts of young things, play with them, and fling them away with scorn. You ask for love and trample on it. You—you make me cry, that you do, Arthur, and—and don't—and I won't be consoled in that way—and I think Fanny was quite right in leaving such a heartless creature."
"Again, I don't say no," said Pen, looking very gloomily at Blanche, and not offering by any means to repeat the attempt at consolation, which had elicited that sweet monosyllable "don't" from the young lady. "I don't think I have much of what people call heart; but I don't profess it. I made my venture when I was eighteen, and lighted my lamp and went in search of Cupid. And what was my discovery of love?—a vulgar dancing-woman! I failed, as everybody does, almost everybody; only it is luckier to fail before marriage than after."
"Merci du choix, Monsieur," said the Sylphide, making a curtsey.
"Look, my little Blanche," said Pen, taking her hand, and with his voice of sad good-humour; "at least I stoop to no flatteries."
"Quite the contrary," said Miss Blanche.
"And tell you no foolish lies, as vulgar men do. Why should you and I, with our experience, ape romance and dissemble passion? I do not believe Miss Blanche Amory to be peerless among the beautiful, nor the greatest poetess, nor the most surpassing musician, any more than I believe you to be the tallest woman in the whole world—like the giantess whose picture we saw as we rode through the fair yesterday. But if I don't set you up as a heroine, neither do I offer you your very humble servant as a hero. But I think you are—well, there, I think you are very sufficiently good-looking."
"Merci," Miss Blanche said, with another curtsey.
"I think you sing charmingly. I'm sure you're clever. I hope and believe that you are good-natured, and that you will be companionable."
"And so, provided I bring you a certain sum of money and a seat in Parliament, you condescend to fling to me your royal pocket-handkerchief," said Blanche. "Que d'honneur! We used to call your Highness the Prince of Fairoaks. What an honour to think that I am to be elevated to the throne, and to bring the seat in Parliament as backsheesh to the sultan! I am glad I am clever, and that I can play and sing to your liking; my songs will amuse my lord's leisure."
"And if thieves are about the house," said Pen, grimly pursuing the simile, "forty besetting thieves in the shape of lurking cares and enemies in ambush and passions in arms, my Morgiana will dance round me with a tambourine, and kill all my rogues and thieves with a smile. Won't she?" But Pen looked as if he did not believe that she would. "Ah, Blanche," he continued after a pause, "don't be angry; don't be hurt at my truth-telling.—Don't you see that I always take you at your word? You say you will be a slave and dance—I say, dance. You say, 'I take you with what you bring:' I say, 'I take you with what you bring.' To the necessary deceits and hypocrisies of our life, why add any that are useless and unnecessary? If I offer myself to you because I think we have a fair chance of being happy together, and because by your help I may get for both of us a good place and a not undistinguished name, why ask me to feign raptures and counterfeit romance, in which neither of us believe? Do you want me to come wooing in a Prince Prettyman's dress from the masquerade warehouse, and to pay you compliments like Sir Charles Grandison? Do you want me to make you verses as in the days when we were—when we were children? I will if you like, and sell them to Bacon and Bungay afterwards. Shall I feed my pretty princess with bonbons?"
"Mais j'adore les bonbons, moi," said the little Sylphide, with a queer piteous look.
"I can buy a hatful at Fortnum and Mason's for a guinea. And it shall have its bonbons, its pooty little sugar-plums, that it shall," Pen said with a bitter smile. "Nay, my dear, nay, my dearest little Blanche, don't cry. Dry the pretty eyes, I can't bear that;" and he proceeded to offer that consolation which the circumstance required, and which the tears, the genuine tears of vexation, which now sprang from the angry eyes of the author of 'Mes Larmes' demanded.
The scornful and sarcastic tone of Pendennis quite frightened and overcame the girl. "I—I don't want your consolation. I—I never was—so—spoken to before—by any of my—my—by anybody"—she sobbed out, with much simplicity.
"Anybody!" shouted out Pen, with a savage burst of laughter, and Blanche blushed one of the most genuine blushes which her cheek had ever exhibited, and she cried out, "O Arthur, vous etes un homme terrible!" She felt bewildered, frightened, oppressed, the worldly little flirt who had been playing at love for the last dozen years of her life, and yet not displeased at meeting a master.
"Tell me, Arthur," she said, after a pause in this strange love-making. "Why does Sir Francis Clavering give up his seat in Parliament?"
"Au fait, why does he give it to me?" asked Arthur, now blushing in his turn.
"You always mock me, sir," she said. "If it is good to be in Parliament, why does Sir Francis go out?"
"My uncle has talked him over. He always said that you were not sufficiently provided for. In the—the family disputes, when your mamma paid his debts so liberally, it was stipulated, I suppose, that you—that is, that I—that is, upon my word, I don't know why he goes out of Parliament," Pen said, with rather a forced laugh. "You see, Blanche, that you and I are two good little children, and that this marriage has been arranged for us by our mammas and uncles, and that we must be obedient, like a good little boy and girl."
So, when Pen went to London, he sent Blanche a box of bonbons, each sugar-plum of which was wrapped up in ready-made French verses, of the most tender kind; and, besides, despatched to her some poems of his own manufacture, quite as artless and authentic; and it was no wonder that he did not tell Warrington what his conversations with Miss Amory had been, of so delicate a sentiment were they, and of a nature so necessarily private.
And if, like many a worse and better man, Arthur Pendennis, the widow's son, was meditating an apostasy, and going to sell himself to—we all know whom,—at least the renegade did not pretend to be a believer in the creed to which he was ready to swear. And if every woman and man in this kingdom, who has sold her or himself for money or position, as Mr. Pendennis was about to do, would but purchase a copy of his memoirs, what tons of volumes Messrs. Bradbury and Evans would sell!
CHAPTER LXVI. In which Pen begins his Canvass
Melancholy as the great house at Clavering Park had been in the days before his marriage, when its bankrupt proprietor was a refugee in foreign lands, it was not much more cheerful now when Sir Francis Clavering came to inhabit it. The greater part of the mansion was shut up, and the Baronet only occupied a few of the rooms on the ground floor, where his housekeeper and her assistant from the lodge-gate waited upon the luckless gentleman in his forced retreat, and cooked a part of the game which he spent the dreary mornings in shooting. Lightfoot, his man, had passed over to my Lady's service; and, as Pen was informed in a letter from Mr. Smirke, who performed the ceremony, had executed his prudent intention of marrying Mrs. Bonner, my Lady's woman, who, in her mature years, was stricken with the charms of the youth, and endowed him with her savings and her mature person.
To be landlord and landlady of the Clavering Arms was the ambition of both of them; and it was agreed that they were to remain in Lady Clavering's service until quarter-day arrived, when they were to take possession of their hotel. Pen graciously promised that he would give his election dinner there, when the Baronet should vacate his seat in the young man's favour; and, as it had been agreed by his uncle, to whom Clavering seemed to be able to refuse nothing, Arthur came down in September on a visit to Clavering Park, the owner of which was very glad to have a companion who would relieve his loneliness, and perhaps would lend him a little ready money.
Pen furnished his host with these desirable supplies a couple of days after he had made his appearance at Clavering: and no sooner were these small funds in Sir Francis's pocket, than the latter found he had business at Chatteris and at the neighbouring watering-places, of which———shire boasts many, and went off to see to his affairs, which were transacted, as might be supposed, at the county race-grounds and billiard-rooms. Arthur could live alone well enough, having many mental resources and amusements which did not require other persons' company: he could walk with the gamekeeper of a morning, and for the evenings there was a plenty of books and occupation for a literary genius like Mr. Arthur, who required but a cigar and a sheet of paper or two to make the night pass away pleasantly. In truth, in two or three days he had found the society of Sir Francis Clavering perfectly intolerable; and it was with a mischievous eagerness and satisfaction that he offered Clavering the little pecuniary aid which the latter according to his custom solicited, and supplied him with the means of taking flight from his own house.
Besides, our ingenious friend had to ingratiate himself with the townspeople of Clavering, and with the voters of the borough which he hoped to represent; and he set himself to this task with only the more eagerness, remembering how unpopular he had before been in Clavering, and determined to vanquish the odium which he had inspired amongst the simple people there. His sense of humour made him delight in this task. Naturally rather reserved and silent in public, he became on a sudden as frank, easy, and jovial as Captain Strong. He laughed with everybody who would exchange a laugh with him, shook hands right and left, with what may be certainly called a dexterous cordiality; made his appearance at the market-day and the farmers' ordinary; and, in fine, acted like a consummate hypocrite, and as gentlemen of the highest birth and most spotless integrity act when they wish to make themselves agreeable to their constituents, and have some end to gain of the country-folks. How is it that we allow ourselves not to be deceived, but to be ingratiated so readily by a glib tongue, a ready laugh, and a frank manner? We know, for the most part, that it is false coin, and we take it we know that it is flattery, which it costs nothing to distribute to everybody, and we had rather have it than be without it. Friend Pen went about at Clavering, laboriously simple and adroitly pleased, and quite a different being from the scornful and rather sulky young dandy whom the inhabitants remembered ten years ago.
The Rectory was shut up. Doctor Portman was gone, with his gout and his family, to Harrogate,—an event which Pen deplored very much in a letter to the Doctor, in which, in a few kind and simple words, he expressed his regret at not seeing his old friend, whose advice he wanted and whose aid he might require some day: but Pen consoled himself for the Doctor's absence by making acquaintance with Mr. Simcoe, the opposition preacher, and with the two partners of the cloth-factory at Chatteris, and with the Independent preacher there, all of whom he met at Clavering Athenaeum, which the Liberal party had set up in accordance with the advanced spirit of the age, and perhaps in opposition to the aristocratic old reading-room, into which the Edinburgh Review had once scarcely got an admission, and where no tradesmen were allowed an entrance. He propitiated the younger partner of the cloth-factory, by asking him to dine in a friendly way at the Park; he complimented the Honourable Mrs. Simcoe with hares and partridges from the same quarter, and a request to read her husband's last sermon; and being a little unwell one day, the rascal took advantage of the circumstance to show his tongue to Mr. Huxter, who sent him medicines and called the next morning. How delighted old Pendennis would have been with his pupil! Pen himself was amused with the sport in which he was engaged, and his success inspired him with a wicked good-humour.
And yet, as he walked out of Clavering of a night, after "presiding" at a meeting of the Athenaeum, or working through an evening with Mrs. Simcoe, who, with her husband, was awed by the young Londoner's reputation, and had heard of his social successes; as he passed over the old familiar bridge of the rushing Brawl, and heard that well-remembered sound of waters beneath, and saw his own cottage of Fairoaks among the trees, their darkling outlines clear against the starlit sky, different thoughts no doubt came to the young man's mind, and awakened pangs of grief and shame there. There still used to be a light in the windows of the room which he remembered so well, and in which the Saint who loved him had passed so many hours of care and yearning and prayer. He turned away his gaze from the faint light which seemed to pursue him with its wan reproachful gaze, as though it was his mother's spirit watching and warning. How clear the night was! How keen the stars shone! how ceaseless the rush of the flowing waters! the old home trees whispered, and waved gently their dark heads and branches over the cottage roof. Yonder, in the faint starlight glimmer, was the terrace where, as a boy, he walked of summer evenings, ardent and trustful, unspotted, untried, ignorant of doubts or passions; sheltered as yet from the world's contamination in the pure and anxious bosom of love. The clock of the near town tolling midnight, with a clang, disturbs our wanderer's reverie, and sends him onwards towards his night's resting-place, through the lodge into Clavering avenue, and under the dark arcades of the rustling limes.
When he sees the cottage the next time, it is smiling in sunset; those bedroom windows are open where the light was burning the night before; and Pen's tenant, Captain Stokes, of the Bombay Artillery (whose mother, old Mrs. Stokes, lives in Clavering), receives his landlord's visit with great cordiality: shows him over the grounds and the new pond he has made in the back-garden from the stables; talks to him confidentially about the roof and chimneys, and begs Mr. Pendennis to name a day when he will do himself and Mrs. Stokes the pleasure to, etc. Pen, who has been a fortnight in the country, excuses himself for not having called sooner upon the Captain by frankly owning that he had not the heart to do it. "I understand you, sir," the Captain says; and Mrs. Stokes, who had slipped away at the ring of the bell (how odd it seemed to Pen to ring the bell!), comes down in her best gown, surrounded by her children. The young ones clamb about Stokes: the boy jumps into an arm-chair. It was Pen's father's arm-chair; and Arthur remembers the days when he would as soon have thought of mounting the king's throne as of seating himself in that arm-chair. He asks if Miss Stokes—she is the very image of her mamma—if she can play? He should like to hear a tune on that piano. She plays. He hears the notes of the old piano once more, enfeebled by age, but he does not listen to the player. He is listening to Laura singing as in the days of their youth, and sees his mother bending and beating time over the shoulder of the girl.
The dinner at Fairoaks given in Pen's honour by his tenant, and at which old Mrs. Stokes, Captain Glanders, Squire Hobnel and the clergyman and his lady from Tinckleton, were present, was very stupid and melancholy for Pen, until the waiter from Clavering (who aided the captain's stable-boy and Mrs. Stokes's butler) whom Pen remembered as a street boy, and who was now indeed barber in that place, dropped a plate over Pen's shoulder, on which Mr. Hobnell (who also employed him) remarked, "I suppose, Hodson, your hands are slippery with bear's-grease. He's always dropping the crockery about, that Hodson is—haw, haw!" On which Hodson blushed, and looked so disconcerted, that Pen burst out laughing; and good-humour and hilarity were the order of the evening. For the second course, there was a hare and partridges top and bottom, and when after the withdrawal of the servants Pen said to the Vicar of Tinckleton, "I think, Mr. Stooks, you should have asked Hodson to cut the hare," the joke was taken instantly by the clergyman, who was followed in the course of a few minutes by Captains Stokes and Glanders, and by Mr. Hobnell, who arrived rather late, but with an immense guffaw.
* * * * * *
While Mr. Pen was engaged in the country in the above schemes, it happened that the lady of his choice, if not of his affections, came up to London from the Tunbridge villa bound upon shopping expeditions or important business, and in company of old Mrs. Bonner, her mother's maid, who had lived and quarrelled with Blanche many times since she was an infant, and who now being about to quit Lady Clavering's service for the hymeneal state, was anxious like a good soul to bestow some token of respectful kindness upon her old and young mistress before she quitted them altogether, to take her post as the wife of Lightfoot, and landlady of the Clavering Arms.
The honest woman took the benefit of Miss Amory's taste to make the purchase which she intended to offer her ladyship; and, requested the fair Blanche to choose something for herself that should be to her liking, and remind her of her old nurse who had attended her through many a wakeful night, and eventful teething, and childish fever, and who loved her like a child of her own a'most. These purchases were made, and as the nurse insisted on buying an immense Bible for Blanche, the young lady suggested that Bonner should purchase a large Johnson's Dictionary for her mamma. Each of the two women might certainly profit by the present made to her.
Then Mrs. Bonner invested money in some bargains in linen-drapery, which might be useful at the Clavering Arms, and bought a red and yellow neck-handkerchief, which Blanche could see at once was intended for Mr. Lightfoot. Younger than herself by at least five-and-twenty years, Mrs. Bonner regarded that youth with a fondness at once parental and conjugal, and loved to lavish ornaments on his person, which already glittered with pins, rings, shirt-studs, and chains and seals, purchased at the good creature's expense.
It was in the Strand that Mrs. Bonner made her purchases, aided by Miss Blanche, who liked the fun very well; and when the old lady had bought everything that she desired, and was leaving the shop, Blanche, with a smiling face, and a sweet bow to one of the shopmen, said, "Pray, sir, will you have the kindness to show us the way to Shepherd's Inn?"
Shepherd's Inn was but a few score of yards off, Old Castle Street was close by, the elegant young shopman pointed out the turning which the young lady was to take, and she and her companion walked off together.
"Shepherd's Inn! what can you want in Shepherd's Inn, Miss Blanche?" Bonner inquired. "Mr. Strong lives there. Do you want to go and see the Captain?"
"I should like to see the Captain very well. I like the Captain; but it is not him I want. I want to see a dear little good girl, who was very kind to—to Mr. Arthur when he was so ill last year, and saved his life almost; and I want to thank her and ask her if she would like anything. I looked out several of my dresses on purpose this morning, Bonner!" and she looked at Bonner as if she had a right to admiration, and had performed an act of remarkable virtue. Blanche, indeed, was very fond of sugar-plums; she would have fed the poor upon them, when she had had enough, and given a country girl a ball-dress, when she had worn it and was tired of it.
"Pretty girl—pretty young woman!" mumbled Mrs. Bonner. "I know I want no pretty young women to come about Lightfoot," and in imagination she peopled the Clavering Arms with a harem of the most hideous chambermaids and barmaids.
Blanche, with pink and blue, and feathers, and flowers, and trinkets (that wondrous invention, a chatelaine, was not extant yet, or she would have had one, we may be sure), and a shot-silk dress, and a wonderful mantle, and a charming parasol, presented a vision of elegance and beauty such as bewildered the eyes of Mrs. Bolton, who was scrubbing the lodge-floor of Shepherd's Inn and caused Betsy-Jane and Ameliar-Ann to look with delight.