It was no other than Mr. Wapshot himself, who came with an air of great indignation, and holding Pen's missive in his hand, asked Mr. Foker "how dared he bring such an unchristian message as a challenge to a boy of his school?"
In fact Pen had written a note to his adversary of the day before, telling him that if after the chastisement which his insolence richly deserved, he felt inclined to ask the reparation which was usually given amongst gentlemen, Mr. Arthur Pendennis's friend, Mr. Henry Foker, was empowered to make any arrangements for the satisfaction of Mr. Hobnell.
"And so he sent you with the answer—did he, sir?" Mr. Foker said, surveying the Schoolmaster in his black coat and clerical costume.
"If he had accepted this wicked challenge, I should have flogged him," Mr. Wapshot said, and gave Mr. Foker a glance which seemed to say, "and I should like very much to flog you too."
"Uncommon kind of you, sir, I'm sure," said Pen's emissary. "I told my principal that I didn't think the other man would fight," he continued with a great air of dignity. "He prefers being flogged to fighting, sir, I dare say. May I offer you any refreshment, Mr.? I haven't the advantage of your name."
"My name is Wapshot, sir, and I am Master of the Grammar School of this town, sir," cried the other: "and I want no refreshment, sir, I thank you, and have no desire to make your acquaintance, sir."
"I didn't seek yours, sir, I'm sure," replied Mr. Foker. "In affairs of this sort, you see, I think it is a pity that the clergy should be called in, but there's no accounting for tastes, sir."
"I think it's a pity that boys should talk about committing murder, sir, as lightly as you do," roared the Schoolmaster; "and if I had you in my school——"
"I dare say you would teach me better, sir," Mr. Foker said, with a bow. "Thank you, sir. I've finished my education, sir, and ain't a-going back to school, sir—when I do, I'll remember your kind offer, sir. John, show this gentleman downstairs—and, of course, as Mr. Hobnell likes being thrashed, we can have no objection, sir, and we shall be very happy to accommodate him, whenever he comes our way."
And with this, the young fellow bowed the elder gentleman out of the room, and sate down and wrote a note off to Pen, in which he informed the latter that Mr. Hobnell was not disposed to fight, and proposed to put up with the caning which Pen had administered to him.
CHAPTER XVI. More Storms in the Puddle
Pen's conduct in this business of course was soon made public, and angered his friend Doctor Portman not a little: while it only amused Major Pendennis. As for the good Mrs. Pendennis, she was almost distracted when she heard of the squabble, and of Pen's unchristian behaviour. All sorts of wretchedness, discomfort, crime, annoyance, seemed to come out of this transaction in which the luckless boy had engaged; and she longed more than ever to see him out of Chatteris for a while,—anywhere removed from the woman who had brought him into so much trouble.
Pen when remonstrated with by this fond parent, and angrily rebuked by the Doctor for his violence and ferocious intentions, took the matter au grand serieux, with the happy conceit and gravity of youth: said that he himself was very sorry for the affair, that the insult had come upon him without the slightest provocation on his part; that he would permit no man to insult him upon this head without vindicating his own honour, and appealing with great dignity to his uncle, asked whether he could have acted otherwise as a gentleman, than as he did in resenting the outrage offered to him, and in offering satisfaction to the person chastised?
"Vous allez trop vite, my good sir," said the uncle, rather puzzled, for he had been indoctrinating his nephew with some of his own notions upon the point of honour—old-world notions savouring of the camp and pistol a great deal more than our soberer opinions of the present day—"between men of the world I don't say; but between two schoolboys, this sort of thing is ridiculous, my dear boy—perfectly ridiculous."
"It is extremely wicked, and unlike my son," said Mrs. Pendennis, with tears in her eyes, and bewildered with the obstinacy of the boy.
Pen kissed her, and said with great pomposity, "Women, dear mother, don't understand these matters—I put myself into Foker's hands—I had no other course to pursue."
Major Pendennis grinned and shrugged his shoulders. The young ones were certainly making great progress, he thought. Mrs. Pendennis declared that that Foker was a wicked horrid little wretch, and was sure that he would lead her dear boy into mischief, if Pen went to the same College with him. "I have a great mind not to let him go at all," she said: and only that she remembered that the lad's father had always destined him for the College in which he had had his own brief education, very likely the fond mother would have put a veto upon his going to the University.
That he was to go, and at the next October term, had been arranged between all the authorities who presided over the lad's welfare. Foker had promised to introduce him to the right set; and Major Pendennis laid great store upon Pen's introduction into College life and society by this admirable young gentleman. "Mr. Foker knows the very best young men now at the University," the Major said, "and Pen will form acquaintances there who will be of the greatest advantage through life to him. The young Marquis of Plinlimmon is there, eldest son of the Duke of Saint David's—Lord Magnus Charters is there, Lord Runnymede's son, and a first cousin of Mr. Foker (Lady Runnymede, my dear, was Lady Agatha Milton, you of course remember); Lady Agnes will certainly invite him to Logwood; and far from being alarmed at his intimacy with her son, who is a singular and humorous, but most prudent and amiable young man, to whom, I am sure, we are under every obligation for his admirable conduct in the affair of the Fotheringay marriage, I look upon it as one of the very luckiest things which could have happened to Pen, that he should have formed an intimacy with this most amusing young gentleman."
Helen sighed, she supposed the Major knew best. Mr. Foker had been very kind in the wretched business with Miss Costigan, certainly, and she was grateful to him. But she could not feel otherwise than a dim presentiment of evil; and all these quarrels, and riots, and worldliness, scared her about the fate of her boy.
Doctor Portman was decidedly of opinion that Pen should go to College. He hoped the lad would read, and have a moderate indulgence of the best society too. He was of opinion that Pen would distinguish himself: Smirke spoke very highly of his proficiency: the Doctor himself had heard him construe, and thought he acquitted himself remarkably well. That he should go out of Chatteris was a great point at any rate; and Pen, who was distracted from his private grief by the various rows and troubles which had risen round about him, gloomily said he would obey.
There were assizes, races, and the entertainments and the flux of company consequent upon them, at Chatteris, during a part of the months of August and September, and Miss Fotheringay still continued to act, and take farewell of the audiences at the Chatteris Theatre during that time. Nobody seemed to be particularly affected by her presence, or her announced departure, except those persons whom we have named; nor could the polite county folks, who had houses in London, and very likely admired the Fotheringay prodigiously in the capital, when they had been taught to do so by the Fashion which set in in her favour, find anything remarkable in the actress performing on the little Chatteris boards. Many genius and many a quack, for that matter, has met with a similar fate before and since Miss Costigan's time. This honest woman meanwhile bore up against the public neglect, and any other crosses or vexations which she might have in life, with her usual equanimity; and ate, drank, acted, slept, with that regularity and comfort which belongs to people of her temperament. What a deal of grief, care, and other harmful excitement does a healthy dulness and cheerful insensibility avoid! Nor do I mean to say that Virtue is not Virtue because it is never tempted to go astray; only that dulness is a much finer gift than we give it credit for being; and that some people are very lucky whom Nature has endowed with a good store of that great anodyne.
Pen used to go drearily in and out from the play at Chatteris during this season, and pretty much according to his fancy. His proceedings tortured his mother not a little, and her anxiety would have led her often to interfere, had not the Major constantly checked, and at the same time encouraged her; for the wily man of the world fancied he saw that a favourable turn had occurred in Pen's malady. It was the violent efflux of versification, among other symptoms, which gave Pen's guardian and physician satisfaction. He might be heard spouting verses in the shrubbery walks, or muttering them between his teeth as he sat with the home party of evenings. One day prowling about the house in Pen's absence, the Major found a great book full of verses in the lad's study. They were in English, and in Latin; quotations from the classic authors were given in the scholastic manner in the foot-notes. He can't be very bad, wisely thought the Pall-Mall Philosopher: and he made Pen's mother remark (not, perhaps, without a secret feeling of disappointment, for she loved romance like other soft women), that the young gentleman during the last fortnight came home quite hungry to dinner at night, and also showed a very decent appetite at the breakfast-table in the morning. "Gad, I wish I could," said the Major, thinking ruefully of his dinner pills. "The boy begins to sleep well, depend upon that." It was cruel, but it was true.
Having no other soul to confide in—for he could not speak to his mother of his loves and disappointments—his uncle treated them in a scornful and worldly tone, which, though carefully guarded and polite, yet jarred greatly on the feelings of Mr. Pen—and Foker was much too coarse to appreciate those refined sentimental secrets—the lad's friendship for the Curate redoubled, or rather, he was never tired of having Smirke for a listener on that one subject. What is a lovee without a confidant? Pen employed Mr. Smirke, as Corydon does the elm-tree, to cut out his mistress's name upon. He made him echo with the name of the beautiful Amaryllis. When men have left off playing the tune, they do not care much for the pipe: but Pen thought he had a great friendship for Smirke, because he could sigh out his loves and griefs into his tutor's ears; and Smirke had his own reasons for always being ready at the lad's call.
Pen's affection gushed out in a multitude of sonnets to the friend of his heart, as he styled the Curate, which the other received with great sympathy. He plied Smirke with Latin Sapphics and Alcaics. The love-songs multiplied under his fluent pen; and Smirke declared and believed that they were beautiful. On the other hand, Pen expressed a boundless gratitude to think that Heaven should have sent him such a friend at such a moment. He presented his tutor with his best-bound books, and his gold guard-chain, and wanted him to take his double-barrelled gun. He went into Chatteris and got a gold pencil-case on credit (for he had no money, and indeed was still in debt to Smirke for some of the Fotheringay presents), which he presented to Smirke, with an inscription indicative of his unalterable and eternal regard for the Curate; who of course was pleased with every mark of the boy's attachment.
The poor Curate was naturally very much dismayed at the contemplated departure of his pupil. When Arthur should go, Smirke's occupation and delight would go too. What pretext could he find for a daily visit to Fairoaks and that kind word or glance from the lady there, which was as necessary to the Curate as the frugal dinner which Madame Fribsby served him? Arthur gone, he would only be allowed to make visits like any other acquaintance: little Laura could not accommodate him by learning the Catechism more than once a week: he had curled himself like ivy round Fairoaks: he pined at the thought that he must lose his hold of the place. Should he speak his mind and go down on his knees to the widow? He thought over any indications in her behaviour which flattered his hopes. She had praised his sermons three weeks before: she had thanked him exceedingly for his present of a melon, for a small dinner-party which Mrs. Pendennis gave: she said she should always be grateful to him for his kindness to Arthur, and when he declared that there were no bounds to his love and affection for that dear boy, she had certainly replied in a romantic manner, indicating her own strong gratitude and regard to all her son's friends. Should he speak out?—or should he delay? If he spoke and she refused him, it was awful to think that the gate of Fairoaks might be shut upon him for ever—and within that door lay all the world for Mr. Smirke.
Thus, oh friendly readers, we see how every man in the world has his own private griefs and business, by which he is more cast down or occupied than by the affairs or sorrows of any other person. While Mrs. Pendennis is disquieting herself about losing her son, and that anxious hold she has had of him, as long as he has remained in the mother's nest, whence he is about to take flight into the great world beyond—while the Major's great soul chafes and frets, inwardly vexed as he thinks what great parties are going on in London, and that he might be sunning himself in the glances of Dukes and Duchesses, but for those cursed affairs which keep him in a wretched little country hole—while Pen is tossing between his passion and a more agreeable sensation, unacknowledged yet, but swaying him considerably, namely, his longing to see the world—Mr. Smirke has a private care watching at his bedside, and sitting behind him on his pony; and is no more satisfied than the rest of us. How lonely we are in the world; how selfish and secret, everybody! You and your wife have pressed the same pillow for forty years and fancy yourselves united. Psha, does she cry out when you have the gout, or do you lie awake when she has the toothache? Your artless daughter, seemingly all innocence and devoted to her mamma and her piano-lesson, is thinking of neither, but of the young Lieutenant with whom she danced at the last ball—the honest frank boy just returned from school is secretly speculating upon the money you will give him, and the debts he owes the tart-man. The old grandmother crooning in the corner and bound to another world within a few months, has some business or cares which are quite private and her own—very likely she is thinking of fifty years back, and that night when she made such an impression, and danced a cotillon with the Captain before your father proposed for her: or, what a silly little overrated creature your wife is, and how absurdly you are infatuated about her—and, as for your wife—O philosophic reader, answer and say,—Do you tell her all? Ah, sir—a distinct universe walks about under your hat and under mine—all things in nature are different to each—the woman we look at has not the same features, the dish we eat from has not the same taste to the one and the other—you and I are but a pair of infinite isolations, with some fellow-islands a little more or less near to us. Let us return, however, to the solitary Smirke.
Smirke had one confidante for his passion—that most injudicious woman, Madame Fribsby. How she became Madame Fribsby, nobody knows: she had left Clavering to go to a milliner's in London as Miss Fribsby—she pretended that she had got the rank in Paris during her residence in that city. But how could the French king, were he ever so much disposed, give her any such title? We shall not inquire into this mystery, however. Suffice to say, she went away from home a bouncing young lass; she returned a rather elderly character, with a Madonna front and a melancholy countenance—bought the late Mrs. Harbottle's business for a song—took her elderly mother to live with her; was very good to the poor, was constant at church, and had the best of characters. But there was no one in all Clavering, not Mrs. Portman herself, who read so many novels as Madame Fribsby. She had plenty of time for this amusement, for, in truth, very few people besides the folks at the Rectory and Fairoaks employed her; and by a perpetual perusal of such works (which were by no means so moral or edifying in the days of which we write, as they are at present) she had got to be so absurdly sentimental, that in her eyes life was nothing but an immense love-match; and she never could see two people together, but she fancied they were dying for one another.
On the day after Mrs. Pendennis's visit to the Curate, which we have recorded many pages back, Madame Fribsby settled in her mind that Mr. Smirke must be in love with the widow, and did everything in her power to encourage this passion on both sides. Mrs. Pendennis she very seldom saw, indeed, except in public, and in her pew at church. That lady had very little need of millinery, or made most of her own dresses and caps; but on the rare occasions when Madame Fribsby received visits from Mrs. Pendennis or paid her respects at Fairoaks, she never failed to entertain the widow with praises of the Curate, pointing out what an angelical man he was, how gentle, how studious, how lonely; and she would wonder that no lady would take pity upon him.
Helen laughed at these sentimental remarks, and wondered that Madame herself did not compassionate her lodger, and console him. Madame Fribsby shook her Madonna front, "Mong cure a boco souffare," she said, laying her hand on the part she designated as her cure. "It est more en Espang, Madame," she said with a sigh. She was proud of her intimacy with the French language, and spoke it with more volubility than correctness. Mrs. Pendennis did not care to penetrate the secrets of this wounded heart: except to her few intimates she was a reserved and it may be a very proud woman; she looked upon her son's tutor merely as an attendant on that young Prince, to be treated with respect as a clergyman certainly, but with proper dignity as a dependant on the house of Pendennis. Nor were Madame's constant allusions to the Curate particularly agreeable to her. It required a very ingenious sentimental turn indeed to find out that the widow had a secret regard for Mr. Smirke, to which pernicious error however Madame Fribsby persisted in holding.
Her lodger was very much more willing to talk on this subject with his soft-hearted landlady. Every time after that she praised the Curate to Mrs. Pendennis, she came away from the latter with the notion that the widow herself had been praising him. "Etre soul au monde est bien ouneeyoung," she would say, glancing up at a print of a French carbineer in a green coat and brass cuirass which decorated her apartment—"Depend upon it when Master Pendennis goes to College, his Ma will find herself very lonely. She is quite young yet.—You wouldn't suppose her to be five-and-twenty. Monsieur le Cury, song cure est touchy—j'ang suis sure—Je conny cela biang—Ally Monsieur Smirke."
He softly blushed; he sighed; he hoped; he feared; he doubted; he sometimes yielded to the delightful idea—his pleasure was to sit in Madame Fribsby's apartment, and talk upon the subject, where, as the greater part of the conversation was carried on in French by the Milliner, and her old mother was deaf, that retired old individual (who had once been a housekeeper, wife and widow of a butler in the Clavering family) could understand scarce one syllable of their talk.
Thus it was, that when Major Pendennis announced to his nephew's tutor that the young fellow would go to College in October, and that Mr. Smirke's valuable services would no longer be needful to his pupil, for which services the Major, who spoke as grandly as a lord, professed himself exceedingly grateful, and besought Mr. Smirke to command his interests in any way—thus it was, that the Curate felt that the critical moment was come for him, and was racked and tortured by those severe pangs which the occasion warranted.
Madame Fribsby had, of course, taken the strongest interest in the progress of Mr. Pen's love affair with Miss Fotheringay. She had been over to Chatteris, and having seen that actress perform, had pronounced that she was old and overrated: and had talked over Master Pen's passion in her shop many and many a time to the half-dozen old maids, and old women in male clothes, who are to be found in little country towns, and who formed the genteel population of Clavering. Captain Glanders, H.P., had pronounced that Pen was going to be a devil of a fellow, and had begun early: Mrs. Glanders had told him to check his horrid observations, and to respect his own wife, if he pleased. She said it would be a lesson to Helen for her pride and absurd infatuation about that boy. Mrs. Pybus said many people were proud of very small things, and for her part, she didn't know why an apothecary's wife should give herself such airs. Mrs. Wapshot called her daughters away from that side of the street, one day when Pen, on Rebecca, was stopping at the saddler's, to get a new lash to his whip—one and all of these people had made visits of curiosity to Fairoaks, and had tried to condole with the widow, or bring the subject of the Fotheringay affair on the tapis, and had been severally checked by the haughty reserve of Mrs. Pendennis, supported by the frigid politeness of the Major her brother.
These rebuffs, however, did not put an end to the gossip, and slander went on increasing about the unlucky Fairoaks' family. Glanders (H.P.), a retired cavalry officer, whose half-pay and large family compelled him to fuddle himself with brandy-and-water instead of claret after he quitted the Dragoons, had the occasional entree at Fairoaks, and kept his friend the Major there informed of all the stories which were current at Clavering. Mrs. Pybus had taken an inside place by the coach to Chatteris, and gone to the George on purpose to get the particulars. Mrs. Speers's man, had treated Mr. Foker's servant to drink at Baymouth for a similar purpose. It was said that Pen had hanged himself for despair in the orchard, and that his uncle had cut him down; that, on the contrary, it was Miss Costigan who was jilted, and not young Arthur; and that the affair had only been hushed up by the payment of a large sum of money, the exact amount of which there were several people in Clavering could testify—the sum of course varying according to the calculation of the individual narrator of the story.
Pen shook his mane and raged like a furious lion when these scandals, affecting Miss Costigan's honour and his own, came to his ears. Why was not Pybus a man (she had whiskers enough), that he might call her out and shoot her? Seeing Simcoe pass by, Pen glared at him so from his saddle on Rebecca, and clutched his whip in a manner so menacing, that that clergyman went home and wrote a sermon, or thought over a sermon (for he delivered oral testimony at great length), in which he spoke of Jezebel, theatrical entertainments (a double cut this—for Doctor Portman, the Rector of the old church, was known to frequent such), and of youth going to perdition, in a manner which made it clear to every capacity that Pen was the individual meant, and on the road alluded to. What stories more were there not against young Pendennis, whilst he sate sulking, Achilles-like in his tent, for the loss of his ravished Briseis?
After the affair with Hobnell, Pen was pronounced to be a murderer as well as a profligate, and his name became a name of terror and a byword in Clavering. But this was not all; he was not the only one of the family about whom the village began to chatter, and his unlucky mother was the next to become a victim to their gossip.
"It is all settled," said Mrs. Pybus to Mrs. Speers, "the boy is to go to College, and then the widow is to console herself."
"He's been there every day, in the most open manner, my dear," continued Mrs. Speers.
"Enough to make poor Mr. Pendennis turn in his grave," said Mrs. Wapshot.
"She never liked him, that we know," says No. 1.
"Married him for his money. Everybody knows that: was a penniless hanger-on of Lady Pontypool's," says No. 2.
"It's rather too open, though, to encourage a lover under pretence of having a tutor for your son," cried No. 3.
"Hush! here comes Mrs. Portman," some one said, as the good Rector's wife entered Madame Fribsby's shop, to inspect her monthly book of fashions just arrived from London. And the fact is that Madame Fribsby had been able to hold out no longer; and one day, after she and her lodger had been talking of Pen's approaching departure, and the Curate had gone off to give one of his last lessons to that gentleman, Madame Fribsby had communicated to Mrs. Pybus, who happened to step in with Mrs. Speers, her strong suspicion, her certainty almost, that there was an attachment between a certain clerical gentleman and a certain lady, whose naughty son was growing quite unmanageable, and that a certain marriage would take place pretty soon.
Mrs. Portman saw it all, of course, when the matter was mentioned. What a sly fox that Curate was! He was low-church, and she never liked him. And to think of Mrs. Pendennis taking a fancy to him after she had been married to such a man as Mr. Pendennis! She could hardly stay five minutes at Madame Fribsby's, so eager was she to run to the Rectory and give Doctor Portman the news.
When Doctor Portman heard this piece of intelligence, he was in such a rage with his curate, that his first movement was to break with Mr. Smirke, and to beg him to transfer his services to some other parish. "That milksop of a creature pretend to be worthy of such a woman as Mrs. Pendennis," broke out the Doctor: "where will impudence stop next!"
"She is much too old for Mr. Smirke," Mrs. Portman remarked: "why, poor dear Mrs. Pendennis might be his mother almost."
"You always choose the most charitable reason, Betsy," cried the Rector. "A matron with a son grown up—she would never think of marrying again."
"You only think men should marry again, Doctor Portman, answered his lady, bridling up.
"You stupid old woman," said the Doctor, "when I am gone, you shall marry whomsoever you like. I will leave orders in my will, my dear, to that effect: and I'll bequeath a ring to my successor, and my Ghost shall come and dance at your wedding."
"It is cruel for a clergyman to talk so," the lady answered, with a ready whimper: but these little breezes used to pass very rapidly over the surface of the Doctor's domestic bliss; and were followed by a great calm and sunshine. The Doctor adopted a plan for soothing Mrs. Portman's ruffled countenance, which has a great effect when it is tried between a worthy couple who are sincerely fond of one another; and which, I think, becomes 'John Anderson' at three-score, just as much as it used to do when he was a black-haired young Jo of five-and-twenty.
"Hadn't you better speak to Mr. Smirke, John?" Mrs Portman asked.
"When Pen goes to College, cadit quaestio," replied the Rector, "Smirke's visits at Fairoaks will cease of themselves, and there will be no need to bother the widow. She has trouble enough on her hands, with the affairs of that silly young scapegrace, without being pestered by the tittle-tattle of this place. It is all an invention of that fool, Fribsby."
"Against whom I always warned you,—you know I did, my dear John," interposed Mrs. Portman.
"That you did; you very often do, my love," the Doctor answered with a laugh. "It is not for want of warning on your part, I am sure, that I have formed my opinion of most women with whom we are acquainted. Madame Fribsby is a fool, and fond of gossip, and so are some other folks. But she is good to the poor: she takes care of her mother, and she comes to church twice every Sunday. And as for Smirke, my dear——" here the Doctor's face assumed for one moment a comical expression, which Mrs. Portman did not perceive (for she was looking out of the drawing-room window, and wondering what Mrs. Pybus could want cheapening fowls again in the market, when she had bad poultry from Livermore's two days before)—"and as for Mr. Smirke, my dear Betsy, will you promise me that you will never breathe to any mortal what I am going to tell you as a profound secret?"
"What is it, my dear John!—of course I won't," answered the Rector's lady.
"Well, then—I cannot say it is a fact, mind—but if you find that Smirke is at this moment—ay, and has been for years—engaged to a young lady, a Miss—a Miss Thompson, if you will have the name, who lives on Clapham Common—yes, on Clapham Common, not far from Mrs. Smirke's house, what becomes of your story then about Smirke and Mrs. Pendennis?"
"Why did you not tell me this before?" asked the Doctor's wife.—"How long have you known it?—How we all of us have been deceived in that man!"
"Why should I meddle in other folks' business, my dear?" the Doctor answered. "I know how to keep a secret—and perhaps this is only an invention like that other absurd story; at least, Madame Portman, I should never have told you this but for the other, which I beg you to contradict whenever you hear it." And so saying the Doctor went away to his study, and Mrs. Portman seeing that the day was a remarkably fine one, thought she would take advantage of the weather and pay a few visits.
The Doctor looking out of his study window saw the wife of his bosom presently issue forth, attired in her best. She crossed the Market-place, saluting the market-women right and left, and giving a glance at the grocery and general emporium at the corner: then entering London Street (formerly Hog Lane), she stopped for a minute at Madame Fribsby's window, and looking at the fashions which hung up there,—seemed hesitating whether she should enter; but she passed on and never stopped again until she came to Mrs. Pybus's little green gate and garden, through which she went to that lady's cottage.
There, of course, her husband lost sight of Mrs. Portman. "Oh, what a long bow I have pulled," he said inwardly—"Goodness forgive me! and shot my own flesh and blood. There must be no more tattling and scandal about that house. I must stop it, and speak to Smirke. I'll ask him to dinner this very day."
Having a sermon to compose, the Doctor sat down to that work, and was so engaged in the composition, that he had not concluded it until near five o'clock in the afternoon: when he stepped over to Mr. Smirke's lodgings, to put his hospitable intentions, regarding that gentleman, into effect. He reached Madame Fribsby's door, just as the Curate issued from it.
Mr. Smirke was magnificently dressed, and as he turned out his toes, he showed a pair of elegant open-worked silk stockings and glossy pumps. His white cravat was arranged in a splendid stiff tie, and his gold shirt studs shone on his spotless linen. His hair was curled round his fair temples. Had he borrowed Madame Fribsby's irons to give that curly grace? His white cambric pocket-handkerchief was scented with the most delicious eau-de-Cologne.
"O gracilis puer,"—cried the Doctor.—"Whither are you bound? I wanted you to come home to dinner."
"I am engaged to dine at—at Fairoaks," said Mr. Smirke, blushing faintly and whisking the scented pocket-handkerchief, and his pony being in waiting, he mounted and rode away simpering down the street. No accident befell him that day, and he arrived with his tie in the very best order at Mrs. Pendennis's house.
CHAPTER XVII. Which concludes the first Part of this History
The Curate had gone on his daily errand to Fairoaks, and was upstairs in Pens study pretending to read with his pupil, in the early part of that very afternoon when Mrs. Portman, after transacting business with Mrs. Pybus, had found the weather so exceedingly fine that she pursued her walk as far as Fairoaks, in order to pay a visit to her dear friend there. In the course of their conversation, the Rector's lady told Mrs. Pendennis and the Major a very great secret about the Curate, Mr. Smirke, which was no less than that he had an attachment, a very old attachment, which he had long kept quite private.
"And on whom is it that Mr. Smirke has bestowed his heart?" asked Mrs. Pendennis, with a superb air but rather an inward alarm.
"Why, my dear," the other lady answered, "when he first came and used to dine at the Rectory, people said we wanted him for Myra, and we were forced to give up asking him. Then they used to say he was smitten in another quarter; but I always contradicted it for my part, and said that you——"
"That I," cried Mrs. Pendennis; "people are very impertinent, I am sure. Mr. Smirke came here as Arthur's tutor, and I am surprised that anybody should dare to speak so——"
"'Pon my soul, it is a little too much," the Major said, laying down the newspaper and the double eye-glass.
"I've no patience with that Mrs. Pybus," Helen continued indignantly.
"I told her there was no truth in it," Mrs. Portman said. "I always said so, my dear: and now it comes out that my demure gentleman has been engaged to a young lady—Miss Thompson, of Clapham Common, ever so long: and I am delighted for my part, and on Myra's account, too, for an unmarried curate is always objectionable about one's house: and of course it is strictly private, but I thought I would tell you, as it might remove unpleasantnesses. But mind: not one word, if you please, about the story."
Mrs. Pendennis said, with perfect sincerity, that she was exceedingly glad to hear the news: and hoped Mr. Smirke, who was a very kind and amiable man, would have a deserving wife: and when her visitor went away, Helen and her brother talked of the matter with great satisfaction, the kind lady rebuking herself for her haughty behaviour to Mr. Smirke, whom she had avoided of late, instead of being grateful to him for his constant attention to Arthur.
"Gratitude to this kind of people," the Major said, "is very well; but familiarity is out of the question. This gentleman gives his lessons and receives his money like any other master. You are too humble, my good soul. There must be distinctions in ranks, and that sort of thing. I told you before, you were too kind to Mr. Smirke."
But Helen did not think so: and now that Arthur was going away, and she bethought her how very polite Mr. Smirke had been; how he had gone on messages for her; how he had brought books and copied music; how he had taught Laura so many things, and given her so many kind presents, her heart smote her on account of her ingratitude towards the Curate;—so much so, that when he came down from study with Pen, and was hankering about the hall previous to his departure, she went out and shook hands with him with rather a blushing face, and begged him to come into her drawing-room, where she said they now never saw him. And as there was to be rather a good dinner that day, she invited Mr. Smirke to partake of it; and we may be sure that he was too happy to accept such a delightful summons.
Eased, by the above report, of all her former doubts and misgivings regarding the Curate, Helen was exceedingly kind and gracious to Mr. Smirke during dinner, redoubling her attentions, perhaps, because Major Pendennis was very high and reserved with his nephew's tutor. When Pendennis asked Smirke to drink wine, he addressed him as if he was a Sovereign speaking to a petty retainer, in a manner so condescending, that even Pen laughed at it, although quite ready, for his part, to be as conceited as most young men are.
But Smirke did not care for the impertinences of the Major so long as he had his hostess's kind behaviour; and he passed a delightful time by her side at table, exerting all his powers of conversation to please her, talking in a manner both clerical and worldly, about the Fancy Bazaar, and the Great Missionary Meeting, about the last new novel, and the Bishop's excellent sermon about the fashionable parties in London, an account of which he read in the newspapers—in fine, he neglected no art, by which a College divine who has both sprightly and serious talents, a taste for the genteel, an irreproachable conduct, and a susceptible heart, will try and make himself agreeable to the person on whom he has fixed his affections.
Major Pendennis came yawning out of the dining-room very soon after his sister and little Laura had left the apartment. "What an unsufferable bore that man is, and how he did talk!" the Major said.
"He has been very good to Arthur, who is very fond of him," Mrs. Pendennis said,—"I wonder who the Miss Thompson is whom he is going to marry?"
"I always thought the fellow was looking in another direction," said the Major.
"And in what?" asked Mrs. Pendennis quite innocently,—"towards Myra Portman?"
"Towards Helen Pendennis, if you must know," answered her brother-in-law.
"Towards me! impossible!" Helen said, who knew perfectly well that such had been the case. "His marriage will be a very happy thing. I hope Arthur will not take too much wine."
Now Arthur, flushed with a good deal of pride at the privilege of having the keys of the cellar, and remembering that a very few more dinners would probably take place which he and his dear friend Smirke could share, had brought up a liberal supply of claret for the company's drinking, and when the elders with little Laura left him, he and the Curate began to pass the wine very freely.
One bottle speedily yielded up the ghost, another shed more than half its blood, before the two topers had been much more than half an hour together—Pen, with a hollow laugh and voice, had drunk off one bumper to the falsehood of women, and had said sardonically, that wine at any rate was a mistress who never deceived, and was sure to give a man a welcome.
Smirke gently said that he knew for his part some women who were all truth and tenderness; and casting up his eyes towards the ceiling, and heaving a sigh as if evoking some being dear and unmentionable, he took up his glass and drained it, and the rosy liquor began to suffuse his face.
Pen trolled over some verses he had been making that morning, in which he informed himself that the woman who had slighted his passion could not be worthy to win it: that he was awaking from love's mad fever, and, of course, under these circumstances, proceeded to leave her, and to quit a heartless deceiver: that a name which had one day been famous in the land, might again be heard in it: and, that though he never should be the happy and careless boy he was but a few months since, or his heart be what it had been ere passion had filled it and grief had well-nigh killed it; that though to him personally death was as welcome as life, and that he would not hesitate to part with the latter, but for the love of one kind being whose happiness depended on his own,—yet he hoped to show he was a man worthy of his race, and that one day the false one should be brought to know how great was the treasure and noble the heart which she had flung away.
Pen, we say, who was a very excitable person, rolled out these verses in his rich sweet voice, which trembled with emotion whilst our young poet spoke. He had a trick of blushing when in this excited state, and his large and honest grey eyes also exhibited proofs of a sensibility so genuine, hearty, and manly, that Miss Costigan, if she had a heart, must needs have softened towards him; and very likely she was, as he said, altogether unworthy of the affection which he lavished upon her.
The sentimental Smirke was caught by the emotion which agitated his young friend. He grasped Pen's hand over the dessert dishes and wine-glasses. He said the verses were beautiful: that Pen was a poet, a great poet, and likely by Heaven's permission to run a great career in the world. "Go on and prosper, dear Arthur," he cried; "the wounds under which at present you suffer are only temporary, and the very grief you endure will cleanse and strengthen your heart. I have always prophesied the greatest and brightest things of you, as soon as you have corrected some failings and weaknesses of character, which at present belong to you. But you will get over these, my boy; you will get over these; and when you are famous and celebrated, as I know you will be, will you remember your old tutor and the happy early days of your youth?"
Pen swore he would: with another shake of the hand across the glasses and apricots. "I shall never forget how kind you have been to me, Smirke," he said. "I don't know what I should have done without you. You are my best friend."
"Am I, really, Arthur?" said Smirke, looking through his spectacles; and his heart began to beat so that he thought Pen must almost hear it throbbing.
"My best friend, my friend for ever," Pen said. "God bless you, old boy," and he drank up the last glass of the second bottle of the famous wine which his father had laid in, which his uncle had bought, which Lord Levant had imported, and which now, like a slave indifferent, was ministering pleasure to its present owner, and giving its young master delectation.
"We'll have another bottle, old boy," Pen said, "by Jove we will. Hurray!—claret goes for nothing. My uncle was telling me that he saw Sheridan drink five bottles at Brookes's, besides a bottle of Maraschino. This is some of the finest wine in England, he says. So it is, by Jove. There's nothing like it. Nunc vino pellite curas—cras ingens iterabimus aeq,—fill your glass, Old Smirke, a hogshead of it won't do you any harm." And Mr. Pen began to sing the drinking song out of Der Freischuetz. The dining-room windows were open, and his mother was softly pacing on the lawn outside, while little Laura was looking at the sunset. The sweet fresh notes of the boy's voice came to the widow. It cheered her kind heart to hear him sing.
"You—you are taking too much wine, Arthur," Mr. Smirke said softly—"you are exciting yourself."
"No," said Pen, "women give headaches, but this don't. Fill your glass, old fellow, and let's drink—I say, Smirke, my boy—let's drink to her—your her, I mean, not mine, for whom I swear I'll care no more—no, not a penny—no, not a fig—no, not a glass of wine. Tell us about the lady, Smirke; I've often seen you sighing about her."
"Oh!" said Smirke—and his beautiful cambric shirt front and glistening studs heaved with the emotion which agitated his gentle and suffering bosom.
"Oh—what a sigh!" Pen cried, growing very hilarious; "fill, my boy, and drink the toast, you can't refuse a toast, no gentleman refuses a toast. Here's her health, and good luck to you, and may she soon be Mrs. Smirke."
"Do you say so?" Smirke said, all of a tremble. "Do you really say so, Arthur?"
"Say so; of course, I say so. Down with it. Here's Mrs. Smirke's good health: Hip, hip, hurray!"
Smirke convulsively gulped down his glass of wine, and Pen waved his over his head, cheering so as to make his mother and Laura wonder on the lawn, and his uncle, who was dozing over the paper in the drawing-room, start, and say to himself, "That boy's drinking too much." Smirke put down the glass.
"I accept the omen," gasped out the blushing Curate. "Oh my dear Arthur, you—you know her——"
"What—Myra Portman? I wish you joy; she's got a dev'lish large waist; but I wish you joy, old fellow."
"Oh, Arthur!" groaned the Curate again, and nodded his head, speechless.
"Beg your pardon—sorry I offended you—but she has got a large waist, you know—devilish large waist," Pen continued—the third bottle evidently beginning to act upon the young gentleman.
"It's not Miss Portman," the other said, in a voice of agony.
"Is it anybody at Chatteris or at Clapham? Somebody here? No—it ain't old Pybus? it can't be Miss Rolt at the Factory—she's only fourteen."
"It's somebody rather older than I am, Pen," the Curate cried, looking up at his friend, and then guiltily casting his eyes down into his plate.
Pen burst out laughing. "It's Madame Fribsby; by Jove, it's Madame Fribsby. Madame Frib. by the immortal Gods!"
The Curate could contain no more. "O Pen," he cried, "how can you suppose that any of those—of those more than ordinary beings you have named could have an influence upon this heart, when I have been daily in the habit of contemplating perfection! I may be insane, I may be madly ambitious, I may be presumptuous—but for two years my heart has been filled by one image, and has known no other idol. Haven't I loved you as a son, Arthur?—say, hasn't Charles Smirke loved you as a son?"
"Yes, old boy, you've been very good to me," Pen said, whose liking, however, for his tutor was not by any means of the filial kind.
"My means," rushed on Smirke, "are at present limited, I own, and my mother is not so liberal as might be desired; but what she has will be mine at her death. Were she to hear of my marrying a lady of rank and good fortune, my mother would be liberal, I am sure she would be liberal. Whatever I have or subsequently inherit—and it's five hundred a year at the very least—would be settled upon her and—and—and you at my death—that is."
"What the deuce do you mean?—and what have I to do with your money?" cried out Pen, in a puzzle.
"Arthur, Arthur!" exclaimed the other wildly; "you say I am your dearest friend—Let me be more. Oh, can't you see that the angelic being I love—the purest, the best of women—is no other than your dear, dear angel of a—mother."
"My mother!" cried out Arthur, jumping up and sober in a minute. "Pooh! damn it, Smirke, you must be mad—she's seven or eight years older than you are."
"Did you find that any objection?" cried Smirke piteously, and alluding, of course, to the elderly subject of Pen's own passion.
The lad felt the hint, and blushed quite red. "The cases are not similar, Smirke," he said, "and the allusion might have been spared. A man may forget his own rank and elevate any woman to it: but allow me to say our positions are very different."
"How do you mean, dear Arthur?" the Curate interposed sadly, cowering as he felt that his sentence was about to be read.
"Mean?" said Arthur. "I mean what I say. My tutor, I say my tutor, has no right to ask a lady of my mother's rank of life to marry him. It's a breach of confidence. I say it's a liberty you take, Smirke—it's a liberty. Mean, indeed!"
"O Arthur!" the Curate began to cry with clasped hands, and a scared face, but Arthur gave another stamp with his foot and began to pull at the bell. "Don't let's have any more of this. We'll have some coffee, if you please," he said with a majestic air; and the old butler entering at the summons, Arthur bade him to serve that refreshment.
John said he had just carried coffee into the drawing-room, where his uncle was asking for Master Arthur, and the old man gave a glance of wonder at the three empty claret-bottles. Smirke said he thought he'd—he'd rather not go into the drawing-room, on which Arthur haughtily said, "As you please," and called for Mr. Smirke's horse to be brought round. The poor fellow said he knew the way to the stable and would get his pony himself, and he went into the hall and sadly put on his coat and hat.
Pen followed him out uncovered. Helen was still walking up and down the soft lawn as the sun was setting, and the Curate took off his hat and bowed by way of farewell, and passed on to the door leading to the stable court, by which the pair disappeared. Smirke knew the way to the stable, as he said, well enough. He fumbled at the girths of the saddle, which Pen fastened for him, and put on the bridle and led the pony into the yard. The boy was touched by the grief which appeared in the other's face as he mounted. Pen held out his hand, and Smirke wrung it silently.
"I say, Smirke," he said in an agitated voice, "forgive me if I have said anything harsh—for you have always been very, very kind to me. But it can't be, old fellow, it can't be. Be a man. God bless you."
Smirke nodded his head silently, and rode out of the lodge-gate: and Pen looked after him for a couple of minutes, until he disappeared down the road, and the clatter of the pony's hoofs died away. Helen was still lingering on the lawn waiting until the boy came back—she put his hair off his forehead and kissed it fondly. She was afraid he had been drinking too much wine. Why had Mr. Smirke gone away without any tea?
He looked at her with a kind humour beaming in his eyes "Smirke is unwell," he said with a laugh. For a long while Hele had not seen the boy looking so cheerful. He put his arm round her waist, and walked her up and down the walk in front of the house. Laura began to drub on the drawing-room window and nod and laugh from it. "Come along, you two people," cried on Major Pendennis, "your coffee is getting quite cold."
When Laura was gone to bed, Pen, who was big with his secret, burst out with it, and described the dismal but ludicrous scene which had occurred. Helen heard of it with many blushes, which became her pale face very well, and a perplexity which Arthur roguishly enjoyed.
"Confound the fellow's impudence," Major Pendennis said as he took his candle, "where will the assurance of these people stop?" Pen and his mother had a long talk that night, full of love, confidence, and laughter, and the boy somehow slept more soundly and woke up more easily than he had done for many months before.
Before the great Mr. Dolphin quitted Chatteris, he not only made an advantageous engagement with Miss Fotheringay, but he liberally left with her a sum of money to pay off any debts which the little family might have contracted during their stay in the place, and which, mainly through the lady's own economy and management, were not considerable. The small account with the spirit merchant, which Major Pendennis had settled, was the chief of Captain Costigan's debts, and though the Captain at one time talked about repaying every farthing of the money, it never appears that he executed his menace, nor did the laws of honour in the least call upon him to accomplish that threat.
When Miss Costigan had seen all the outstanding bills paid to the uttermost shilling, she handed over the balance to her father, who broke out into hospitalities to all his friends, gave the little Creeds more apples and gingerbread than he had ever bestowed upon them, so that the widow Creed ever after held the memory of her lodger in veneration, and the young ones wept bitterly when he went away; and in a word managed the money so cleverly that it was entirely expended before many days, and that he was compelled to draw upon Mr. Dolphin for a sum to pay for travelling expenses when the time of their departure arrived.
There was held at an inn in that county town a weekly meeting of a festive, almost a riotous character, of a society of gentlemen who called themselves the Buccaneers. Some of the choice spirits of Chatteris belonged to this cheerful club. Graves, the apothecary (than whom a better fellow never put a pipe in his mouth and smoked it), Smart, the talented and humorous portrait-painter of High Street, Croker, an excellent auctioneer, and the uncompromising Hicks, the able Editor for twenty-three years of the County Chronicle and Chatteris Champion, were amongst the crew of the Buccaneers, whom also Bingley, the manager, liked to join of a Saturday evening, whenever he received permission from his lady.
Costigan had been also an occasional Buccaneer. But a want of punctuality of payments had of late somewhat excluded him from the Society, where he was subject to disagreeable remarks from the landlord, who said that a Buccaneer who didn't pay his shot was utterly unworthy to be a Marine Bandit. But when it became known to the 'Ears, as the Clubbists called themselves familiarly, that Miss Fotheringay had made a splendid engagement, a great revolution of feeling took place in the Club regarding Captain Costigan. Solly, mine host of the Grapes (and I need not say, as worthy a fellow as ever stood behind a bar), told the gents in the Buccaneers' room one night how noble the Captain had behaved; having been round and paid off all his ticks in Chatteris, including his score of three pound fourteen here—and pronounced that Cos was a good feller, a gentleman at bottom, and he, Solly, had always said so, and finally worked upon the feelings of the Buccaneers to give the Captain a dinner.
The banquet took place on the last night of Costigan's stay at Chatteris, and was served in Solly's accustomed manner. As good a plain dinner of old English fare as ever smoked on a table was prepared by Mrs. Solly; and about eighteen gentlemen sate down to the festive board. Mr. Jubber (the eminent draper of High Street) was in the Chair, having the distinguished guest of the Club on his right. The able and consistent Hicks officiated as croupier on the occasion; most of the gentlemen of the Club were present, and H. Foker, Esq., and Spavin, Esq., friends of Captain Costigan, were also participators in the entertainment. The cloth having been drawn, the Chairman said, "Costigan, there is wine, if you like," but the Captain preferring punch, that liquor was voted by acclamation: and 'Non Nobis' having been sung in admirable style by Messrs. Bingley, Hicks, and Bullby (of the Cathedral choir, than whom a more jovial spirit "ne'er tossed off a bumper or emptied a bowl"), the Chairman gave the health of the 'King!' which was drunk with the loyalty of Chatteris men, and then without further circumlocution proposed their friend 'Captain Costigan.'
After the enthusiastic cheering which rang through old Chatteris had subsided, Captain Costigan rose in reply, and made a speech of twenty minutes, in which he was repeatedly overcome by his emotions.
The gallant Captain said he must be pardoned for incoherence, if his heart was too full to speak. He was quitting a city celebrated for its antiquitee, its hospitalitee, the beautee of its women, the manly fidelitee, generositee, and jovialitee of its men. (Cheers.) He was going from that ancient and venerable city, of which while Mimoree held her sayt, he should never think without the fondest emotion, to a methrawpolis where the talents of his daughther were about to have full play, and where he would watch over her like a guardian angel. He should never forget that it was at Chatteris she had acquired the skill which she was about to exercise in another sphere, and in her name and his own Jack Costigan thanked and blessed them. The gallant officer's speech was received with tremendous cheers.
Mr. Hicks, Croupier, in a brilliant and energetic manner, proposed Miss Fotheringay's health.
Captain Costigan returned thanks in a speech full of feeling and eloquence.
Mr. Jubber proposed the Drama and the Chatteris Theatre, and Mr. Bingley was about to rise but was prevented by Captain Costigan, who, as long connected with the Chatteris Theatre and on behalf of his daughter, thanked the company. He informed them that he had been in garrison, at Gibraltar, and at Malta, and had been at the taking of Flushing. The Duke of York was a patron of the Drama; he had the honour of dining with His Royal Highness and the Duke of Kent many times; and the former had justly been named the friend of the soldier. (Cheers.)
The Army was then proposed, and Captain Costigan returned thanks. In the course of the night he sang his well-known songs, 'The Deserter,' 'The Shan Van Voght,' 'The Little Pig under the Bed,' and 'The Vale of Avoca.' The evening was a great triumph for him—it ended. All triumphs and all evenings end. And the next day, Miss Costigan having taken leave of all her friends, having been reconciled to Miss Rouncy, to whom she left a necklace and a white satin gown—the next day, he and Miss Costigan had places in the Competitor coach rolling by the gates of Fairoaks Lodge—and Pendennis never saw them.
Tom Smith, the coachman, pointed out Fairoaks to Mr. Costigan, who sate on the box smelling of rum-and-water—and the Captain said it was a poor place—and added, "Ye should see Castle Costigan, County Mayo, me boy,"—which Tom said he should like very much to see.
They were gone and Pen had never seen them! He only knew of their departure by its announcement in the county paper the next day: and straight galloped over to Chatteris to hear the truth of this news. They were gone indeed. A card of 'Lodgings to let' was placed in the dear little familiar window. He rushed up into the room and viewed it over. He sate ever so long in the old window-seat looking into the Dean's garden: whence he and Emily had so often looked out together. He walked, with a sort of terror, into her little empty bedroom. It was swept out and prepared for new-comers. The glass which had reflected her fair face was shining ready for her successor. The curtains lay square folded on the little bed: he flung himself down and buried his head on the vacant pillow.
Laura had netted a purse into which his mother had put some sovereigns, and Pen had found it on his dressing-table that very morning. He gave one to the little servant who had been used to wait upon the Costigans, and another to the children, because they said they were very fond of her. It was but a few months back, yet what years ago it seemed since he had first entered that room! He felt that it was all done. The very missing her at the coach had something fatal in it. Blank, weary, utterly wretched and lonely the poor lad felt.
His mother saw She was gone by his look when he came home. He was eager to fly too now, as were other folks round about Chatteris. Poor Smirke wanted to go away from the sight of the syren widow. Foker began to think he had had enough of Baymouth, and that a few supper-parties at Saint Boniface would not be unpleasant. And Major Pendennis longed to be off, and have a little pheasant-shooting at Stillbrook, and get rid of all annoyances and tracasseries of the village. The widow and Laura nervously set about the preparation for Pen's kit, and filled trunks with his books and linen. Helen wrote cards with the name of Arthur Pendennis, Esq., which were duly nailed on the boxes; and at which both she and Laura looked with tearful wistful eyes. It was not until long, long after he was gone, that Pen remembered how constant and tender the affection of these women had been, and how selfish his own conduct was.
A night soon comes, when the mail, with echoing horn and blazing lamps, stops at the lodge-gate of Fairoaks, and Pen's trunks and his uncle's are placed on the roof of the carriage, into which the pair presently afterwards enter. Helen and Laura are standing by the evergreens of the shrubbery, their figures lighted up by the coach lamps; the guard cries all right: in another instant the carriage whirls onward; the lights disappear, and Helen's heart and prayers go with them. Her sainted benedictions follow the departing boy. He has left the home-nest in which he has been chafing, and whither, after his very first flight, he returned bleeding and wounded; he is eager to go forth again, and try his restless wings.
How lonely the house looks without him! The corded trunks and book-boxes are there in his empty study. Laura asks leave to come and sleep in Helen's room: and when she has cried herself to sleep there, the mother goes softly into Pen's vacant chamber, and kneels down by the bed on which the moon is shining, and there prays for her boy, as mothers only know how to plead. He knows that her pure blessings are following him, as he is carried miles away.
CHAPTER XVIII. Alma Mater
Every man, however brief or inglorious may have been his academical career, must remember with kindness and tenderness the old university comrades and days. The young man's life is just beginning: the boy's leading-strings are cut, and he has all the novel delights and dignities of freedom. He has no idea of cares yet, or of bad health, or of roguery, or poverty, or to-morrow's disappointment. The play has not been acted so often as to make him tired. Though the after drink, as we mechanically go on repeating it, is stale and bitter, how pure and brilliant was that first sparkling draught of pleasure!—How the boy rushes at the cup, and with what a wild eagerness he drains it! But old epicures who are cut off from the delights of the table, and are restricted to a poached egg and a glass of water, like to see people with good appetites; and, as the next best thing to being amused at a pantomime one's-self is to see one's children enjoy it, I hope there may be no degree of age or experience to which mortal may attain, when he shall become such a glum philosopher as not to be pleased by the sight of happy youth. Coming back a few weeks since from a brief visit to the old University of Oxbridge, where my friend Mr. Arthur Pendennis passed some period of his life, I made the journey in the railroad by the side of a young fellow at present a student of Saint Boniface. He had got an exeat somehow, and was bent on a day's lark in London: he never stopped rattling and talking from the commencement of the journey until its close (which was a great deal too soon for me, for I never was tired of listening to the honest young fellow's jokes and cheery laughter); and when we arrived at the terminus nothing would satisfy him but a hansom cab, so that he might get into town the quicker, and plunge into the pleasures awaiting him there. Away the young lad went whirling, with joy lighting up his honest face; and as for the reader's humble servant, having but a small carpet-bag, I got up on the outside of the omnibus, and sate there very contentedly between a Jew-pedlar smoking bad cigars, and a gentleman's servant taking care of a poodle-dog, until we got our fated complement of passengers and boxes, when the coachman drove leisurely away. We weren't in a hurry to get to town. Neither one of us was particularly eager about rushing into that near smoking Babylon, or thought of dining at the Club that night, or dancing at the Casino. Yet a few years more, and my young friend of the railroad will be not a whit more eager.
There were no railroads made when Arthur Pendennis went to the famous University of Oxbridge; but he drove thither in a well-appointed coach, filled inside and out with dons, gownsmen, young freshmen about to enter, and their guardians, who were conducting them to the university. A fat old gentleman, in grey stockings, from the City, who sate by Major Pendennis inside the coach, having his pale-faced son opposite, was frightened beyond measure when he heard that the coach had been driven for a couple of stages by young Mr. Foker, of Saint Boniface College, who was the friend of all men, including coachmen, and could drive as well as Tom Hicks himself. Pen sate on the roof, examining coach, passengers, and country with great delight and curiosity. His heart jumped with pleasure as the famous university came in view, and the magnificent prospect of venerable towers and pinnacles, tall elms and shining river, spread before him.
Pen had passed a few days with his uncle at the Major's lodgings, in Bury Street, before they set out for Oxbridge. Major Pendennis thought that the lad's wardrobe wanted renewal; and Arthur was by no means averse to any plan which was to bring him new coats and waistcoats. There was no end to the sacrifices which the self-denying uncle made in the youth's behalf. London was awfully lonely. The Pall Mall pavement was deserted; the very red jackets had gone out of town. There was scarce a face to be seen in the bow-windows of the clubs. The Major conducted his nephew into one or two of those desert mansions, and wrote down the lad's name on the candidate-list of one of them; and Arthur's pleasure at this compliment on his guardian's part was excessive. He read in the parchment volume his name and titles, as 'Arthur Pendennis, Esquire, of Fairoaks Lodge, ——shire and Saint Boniface College, Oxbridge; proposed by Major Pendennis, and seconded by Viscount Colchicum,' with a thrill of intense gratification. "You will come in for ballot in about three years, by which time you will have taken your degree," the guardian said. Pen longed for the three years to be over, and surveyed the stucco-halls, and vast libraries, and drawing-rooms as already his own property. The Major laughed slyly to see the pompous airs of the simple young fellow as he strutted out of the building. He and Foker drove down in the latter's cab one day to the Grey Friars, and renewed acquaintance with some of their old comrades there. The boys came crowding up to the cab as it stood by the Grey Friars gates, where they were entering, and admired the chestnut horse, and the tights and livery and gravity of Stoopid, the tiger. The bell for afternoon-school rang as they were swaggering about the play-ground talking to their old cronies. The awful Doctor passed into school with his grammar in his hand. Foker slunk away uneasily at his presence, but Pen went up blushing, and shook the dignitary by the hand. He laughed as he thought that well-remembered Latin Grammar had boxed his ears many a time. He was generous, good-natured, and, in a word, perfectly conceited and satisfied with himself.
Then they drove to the parental brew-house. Foker's Entire is composed in an enormous pile of buildings, not far from the Grey Friars, and the name of that well-known firm is gilded upon innumerable public-house signs, tenanted by its vassals in the neighbourhood; and the venerable junior partner and manager did honour to the young lord of the vats and his friend, and served them with silver flagons of brown-stout, so strong, that you would have thought, not only the young men, but the very horse Mr. Harry Foker drove, was affected by the potency of the drink, for he rushed home to the west-end of the town at a rapid pace, which endangered the pie-stalls and the women on the crossings, and brought the cab-steps into collision with the posts at the street corners, and caused Stoopid to swing fearfully on his board behind.
The Major was quite pleased when Pen was with his young acquaintance; listened to Mr. Foker's artless stories with the greatest interest; gave the two boys a fine dinner at a Covent Garden Coffee-house, whence they proceeded to the play; but was above all happy when Mr. and Lady Agnes Foker, who happened to be in London, requested the pleasure of Major Pendennis and Mr. Arthur Pendennis's company at dinner in Grosvenor Street. "Having obtained the entree into Lady Agnes Foker's house," he said to Pen with an affectionate solemnity which befitted the importance of the occasion, "it behoves you, my dear boy, to keep it. You must mind and never neglect to call in Grosvenor Street when you come to London. I recommend you to read up carefully, in Debrett, the alliances and genealogy of the Earls of Rosherville, and if you can, to make some trifling allusions to the family, something historical, neat, and complimentary, and that sort of thing, which you, who have a poetic fancy, can do pretty well. Mr. Foker himself is a worthy man, though not of high extraction or indeed much education. He always makes a point of having some of the family porter served round after dinner, which you will on no account refuse, and which I shall drink myself, though all beer disagrees with me confoundedly." And the heroic martyr did actually sacrifice himself, as he said he would, on the day when the dinner took place, and old Mr. Foker, at the head of his table, made his usual joke about Foker's Entire. We should all of us, I am sure, have liked to see the Major's grin, when the worthy old gentleman made his time-honoured joke.
Lady Agnes, who, wrapped up in Harry, was the fondest of mothers, and one of the most good-natured though not the wisest of women, received her son's friend with great cordiality: and astonished Pen by accounts of the severe course of studies which her darling boy was pursuing, and which she feared might injure his dear health. Foker the elder burst into a horse-laugh at some of these speeches, and the heir of the house winked his eye very knowingly at his friend. And Lady Agnes then going through her son's history from the earliest time, and recounting his miraculous sufferings in the measles and hooping-cough, his escape from drowning, the shocking tyrannies practised upon him at that horrid school, whither Mr. Foker would send him because he had been brought up there himself, and she never would forgive that disagreeable Doctor, no never—Lady Agnes, we say, having prattled away for an hour incessantly about her son, voted the two Messieurs Pendennis most agreeable men; and when pheasants came with the second course, which the Major praised as the very finest birds he ever saw, her ladyship said they came from Logwood (as the Major knew perfectly well), and hoped that they would both pay her a visit there—at Christmas, or when dear Harry was at home for the vacations.
"God bless you, my dear boy," Pendennis said to Arthur, as they were lighting their candles in Bury Street afterwards to go to bed. "You made that little allusion to Agincourt, where one of the Roshervilles distinguished himself, very neatly and well, although Lady Agnes did not quite understand it: but it was exceedingly well for a beginner—though you oughtn't to blush so, by the way—and I beseech you, my dear Arthur, to remember through life, that with an entree—with a good entree, mind—it is just as easy for you to have good society as bad, and that it costs a man, when properly introduced, no more trouble or soins to keep a good footing in the best houses in London than to dine with a lawyer in Bedford Square. Mind this when you are at Oxbridge pursuing your studies, and for Heaven's sake be very particular in the acquaintances which you make. The premier pas in life is the most important of all—did you write to your mother to-day?—No?—well, do, before you go, and call and ask Mr. Foker for a frank—They like it—Good night. God bless you."
Pen wrote a droll account of his doings in London, and the play, and the visit to the old Friars, and the brewery, and the party at Mr. Foker's, to his dearest mother, who was saying her prayers at home in the lonely house at Fairoaks, her heart full of love and tenderness unutterable for the boy: and she and Laura read that letter and those which followed, many, many times, and brooded over them as women do. It was the first step in life that Pen was making—Ah! what a dangerous journey it is, and how the bravest may stumble and the strongest fail. Brother wayfarer! may you have a kind arm to support yours on the path, and a friendly hand to succour those who fall beside you. May truth guide, mercy forgive at the end, and love accompany always. Without that lamp how blind the traveller would be, and how black and cheerless the journey!
So the coach drove up to that ancient and comfortable inn the Trencher, which stands in Main Street, Oxbridge, and Pen with delight and eagerness remarked, for the first time, gownsmen going about, chapel bells clinking (bells in Oxbridge are ringing from morning-tide till even-song)—towers and pinnacles rising calm and stately over the gables and antique house-roofs of the homely busy city. Previous communications had taken place between Dr. Portman on Pen's part, and Mr. Buck, Tutor of Boniface, on whose side Pen was entered; and as soon as Major Pendennis had arranged his personal appearance, so that it should make a satisfactory impression upon Pen's tutor, the pair walked down Main Street, and passed the great gate and belfry-tower of Saint George's College, and so came, as they were directed, to Saint Boniface: where again Pen's heart began to beat as they entered at the wicket of the venerable ivy-mantled gate of the College. It is surmounted with an ancient dome almost covered with creepers, and adorned with the effigy of the Saint from whom the House takes its name, and many coats-of-arms of its royal and noble benefactors.
The porter pointed out a queer old tower at the corner of the quadrangle, by which Mr. Buck's rooms were approached, and the two gentlemen walked acrosse the square, the main features of which were at once and for ever stamped in Pen's mind—the pretty fountain playing in the centre of the fair grass plats; the tall chapel windows and buttresses rising to the right; the hall with its tapering lantern and oriel window; the lodge, from the doors of which the Master issued with rustling silks; the lines of the surrounding rooms pleasantly broken by carved chimneys, grey turrets, and quaint gables—all these Mr. Pen's eyes drank in with an eagerness which belongs to first impressions; and Major Pendennis surveyed with that calmness which belongs to a gentleman who does not care for the picturesque, and whose eyes have been somewhat dimmed by the constant glare of the pavement of Pall Mall.
Saint George's is the great College of the University of Oxbridge, with its four vast quadrangles, and its beautiful hall and gardens, and the Georgians, as the men are called wear gowns of a peculiar cut, and give themselves no small airs of superiority over all other young men. Little Saint Boniface is but a petty hermitage in comparison of the huge consecrated pile alongside of which it lies. But considering its size it has always kept an excellent name in the university. Its ton is very good: the best families of certain counties have time out of mind sent up their young men to Saint Boniface: the college livings are remarkably good: the fellowships easy; the Boniface men had had more than their fair share of university honours; their boat was third upon the river; their chapel-choir is not inferior to Saint George's itself; and the Boniface ale the best in Oxbridge. In the comfortable old wainscoted College-Hall, and round about Roubilliac's statue of Saint Boniface (who stands in an attitude of seraphic benediction over the uncommonly good cheer of the fellows' table) there are portraits of many most eminent Bonifacians. There is the learned Doctor Griddle, who suffered in Henry VIII.'s time, and Archbishop Bush who roasted him—there is Lord Chief Justice Hicks—the Duke of St. David's, K.G., Chancellor of the University and Member of this College—Sprott the Poet, of whose fame the college is justly proud—Doctor Blogg, the late master, and friend of Doctor Johnson, who visited him at Saint Boniface—and other lawyers, scholars, and divines, whose portraitures look from the walls, or whose coats-of-arms shine in emerald and ruby, gold and azure, in the tall windows of the refectory. The venerable cook of the college is one of the best artists in Oxbridge (his son took the highest honours in the other University of Camford), and the wine in the fellows' room has long been famed for its excellence and abundance.
Into this certainly not the least snugly sheltered arbour amongst the groves of Academe, Pen now found his way, leaning on his uncle's arm, and they speedily reached Mr. Buck's rooms, and were conducted into the apartment of that courteous gentleman.
He had received previous information from Dr. Portman regarding Pen, with respect to whose family, fortune, and personal merits the honest Doctor had spoken with no small enthusiasm. Indeed Portman had described Arthur to the tutor as "a young gentleman of some fortune and landed estate, of one of the most ancient families in the kingdom, and possessing such a character and genius as were sure, under the proper guidance, to make him a credit to the college and the university." Under such recommendations the tutor was, of course, most cordial to the young freshman and his guardian, invited the latter to dine in hall, where he would have the satisfaction of seeing his nephew wear his gown and eat his dinner for the first time, and requested the pair to take wine at his rooms after hall, and in consequence of the highly favourable report he had received of Mr. Arthur Pendennis, said, he should be happy to give him the best set of rooms to be had in college—a gentleman-pensioner's set, indeed, which were just luckily vacant. So they parted until dinner-time, which was very near at hand, and Major Pendennis pronounced Mr. Buck to be uncommonly civil indeed. Indeed when a College Magnate takes the trouble to be polite, there is no man more splendidly courteous. Immersed in their books and excluded from the world by the gravity of their occupations, these reverend men assume a solemn magnificence of compliment in which they rustle and swell as in their grand robes of state. Those silks and brocades are not put on for all comers or every day.
When the two gentlemen had taken leave of the tutor in his study, and had returned to Mr. Buck's ante-room, or lecture-room, a very handsome apartment, turkey-carpeted, and hung with excellent prints and richly framed pictures, they found the tutor's servant already in waiting there, accompanied by a man with a bag full of caps and a number of gowns, from which Pen might select a cap and gown for himself, and the servant, no doubt, would get a commission proportionable to the service done by him. Mr. Pen was all in a tremor of pleasure as the bustling tailor tried on a gown and pronounced that it was an excellent fit; and then he put the pretty college cap on, in rather a dandified manner and somewhat on one side, as he had seen Fiddicombe, the youngest master at Grey Friars, wear it. And he inspected the entire costume with a great deal of satisfaction in one of the great gilt mirrors which ornamented Mr. Buck's lecture-room: for some of these college divines are no more above looking—glasses than a lady is, and look to the set of their gowns and caps quite as anxiously as folks do of the lovelier sex. The Major smiled as he saw the boy dandifying himself in the glass: the old gentleman was not displeased with the appearance of the comely lad.
Then Davis, the skip or attendant, led the way, keys in hand, across the quadrangle, the Major and Pen following him, the latter blushing, and pleased with his new academical habiliments, across the quadrangle to the rooms which were destined for the freshman; and which were vacated by the retreat of the gentleman-pensioner, Mr. Spicer. The rooms were very comfortable, with large cross beams, high wainscots, and small windows in deep embrasures. Mr. Spicer's furniture was there, and to be sold at a valuation, and Major Pendennis agreed on his nephew's behalf to take the available part of it, laughingly however declining (as, indeed, Pen did for his own part) six sporting prints, and four groups of opera-dancers with gauze draperies, which formed the late occupant's pictorial collection.
Then they went to hall, where Pen sate down and ate his commons with his brother freshmen, and the Major took his place at the high-table along with the college dignitaries and other fathers or guardians of youth, who had come up with their sons to Oxbridge; and after hall they went to Mr. Buck's to take wine; and after wine to chapel, where the Major sate with great gravity in the upper place, having a fine view of the Master in his carved throne or stall under the organ-loft, where that gentleman, the learned Doctor Donne, sate magnificent, with his great prayer-book before him, an image of statuesque piety and rigid devotion. All the young freshmen behaved with gravity and decorum, but Pen was shocked to see that atrocious little Foker, who came in very late, and half a dozen of his comrades in the gentlemen-pensioners' seats, giggling and talking as if they had been in so many stalls at the Opera. But these circumstances, it must be remembered, took place some years back, when William the Fourth was king. Young men are much better behaved now, and besides, Saint Boniface was rather a fast college.
Pen could hardly sleep at night in his bedroom at the Trencher: so anxious was he to begin his college life, and to get into his own apartments. What did he think about, as he lay tossing and awake? Was it about his mother at home; the pious soul whose life was bound up in his? Yes, let us hope he thought of her a little. Was it about Miss Fotheringay, and his eternal passion, which had kept him awake so many nights, and created such wretchedness and such longing? He had a trick of blushing, and if you had been in the room, and the candle had not been out, you might have seen the youth's countenance redden more than once, as he broke out into passionate incoherent exclamations regarding that luckless event of his life. His uncle's lessons had not been thrown away upon him; the mist of passion had passed from his eyes now, and he saw her as she was. To think that he, Pendennis, had been enslaved by such a woman, and then jilted by her! that he should have stooped so low, to be trampled on the mire! that there was a time in his life, and that but a few months back, when he was willing to take Costigan for his father-in-law!
"Poor old Smirke!" Pen presently laughed out—"well, I'll write and try and console the poor old boy. He won't die of his passion, ha, ha!" The Major, had he been awake, might have heard a score of such ejaculations uttered by Pen as he lay awake and restless through the first night of his residence at Oxbridge.
It would, perhaps, have been better for a youth, the battle of whose life was going to begin on the morrow, to have passed the eve in a fferent sort of vigil: but the world had got hold of Pen in the shape of his selfish old Mentor: and those who have any interest in his character must have perceived ere now, that this lad was very weak as well as very impetuous, very vain as well as very frank, and if of a generous disposition, not a little selfish in the midst of his profuseness, and also rather fickle, as all eager pursuers of self-gratification are.
The six months' passion had aged him very considerably. There was an immense gulf between Pen the victim of love, and Pen the innocent boy of eighteen, sighing after it: and so Arthur Pendennis had all the experience and superiority, besides that command which afterwards conceit and imperiousness of disposition gave him over the young men with whom he now began to live.
He and his uncle passed the morning with great satisfaction in making purchases for the better comfort of the apartments which the lad was about to occupy. Mr. Spicer's china and glass was in a dreadfully dismantled condition, his lamps smashed, and his bookcases by no means so spacious as those shelves which would be requisite to receive the contents of the boxes which were lying in the hall at Fairoaks, and which were addressed to Arthur in the hand of poor Helen.
The boxes arrived in a few days, that his mother had packed with so much care. Pen was touched as he read the superscriptions in the dear well-known hand, and he arranged in their proper places all the books, his old friends, and all the linen and table-cloths which Helen had selected from the family stock, and all the jam-pots which little Laura had bound in straw, and the hundred simple gifts of home. Pen had another Alma Mater now. But it is not all children who take to her kindly.
CHAPTER XIX. Pendennis of Boniface
Our friend Pen was not sorry when his Mentor took leave of the young gentleman on the second day after the arrival of the pair in Oxbridge, and we may be sure that the Major on his part was very glad to have discharged his duty, and to have the duty over. More than three months of precious time had that martyr of a Major given up to his nephew—Was ever selfish man called upon to make a greater sacrifice? Do you know many men or Majors who would do as much? A man will lay down his head, or peril his life for his honour, but let us be shy how we ask him to give up his ease or his heart's desire. Very few of us can bear that trial. Say, worthy reader, if thou hast peradventure a beard, wouldst thou do as much? I will not say that a woman will not. They are used to it: we take care to accustom them to sacrifices but, my good sir, the amount of self-denial which you have probably exerted through life, when put down to your account elsewhere, will not probably swell the balance on the credit side much. Well, well, there is no use in speaking of such ugly matters, and you are too polite to use a vulgar to quoque. But I wish to state once for all that I greatly admire the Major for his conduct during the past quarter, and think that he has quite a right to be pleased at getting a holiday. Foker and Pen saw him off in the coach, and the former young gentleman gave particular orders to the coachman to take care of that gentleman inside. It pleased the elder Pendennis to have his nephew in the company of a young fellow who would introduce him to the best set of the university. The Major rushed off to London and thence to Cheltenham, from which Watering-place he descended upon some neighbouring great houses, whereof the families were not gone abroad, and where good shooting and company was to be had.
A quarter of the space which custom has awarded to works styled the Serial Nature, has been assigned to the account of one passage in Pen's career, and it is manifest that the whole of his adventures cannot be treated at a similar length, unless some descendant of the chronicler of Pen's history should take up the pen at his decease, and continue the narrative for the successors of the present generation of readers. We are not about to go through the young fellow's academical career with, by any means, a similar minuteness. Alas, the life of such boys does not bear telling altogether. I wish it did. I ask you, does yours? As long as what we call our honour is clear, I suppose your mind is pretty easy. Women are pure, but not men. Women are unselfish, but not men. And I would not wish to say of poor Arthur Pendennis that he was worse than his neighbours, only that his neighbours are bad for the most part. Let us have the candour to own as much at least. Can you point out ten spotless men of your acquaintance? Mine is pretty large, but I can't find ten saints in the list.
During the first term of Mr. Pen's academical life, he attended classical and mathematical lectures with tolerable assiduity; but discovering before very long time that he had little taste or genius for the pursuing of the exact sciences, and being perhaps rather annoyed that one or two very vulgar young men, who did not even use straps to their trousers so as to cover the abominably thick and coarse shoes and stockings which they wore, beat him completely in the lecture-room, he gave up his attendance at that course, and announced to his fond parent that he proposed to devote himself exclusively to the cultivation of Greek and Roman Literature.