Helen stirred and said, "Yes, I'm awake." The truth is, though she had been lying quite still and silent, she had not been asleep one instant, but had been looking at the night-lamp in the chimney, and had been thinking of Pen for hours and hours.
Then Miss Laura (who had been acting with similar hypocrisy, and lying, occupied with her own thoughts, as motionless as Helen's brooch, with Pen's and Laura's hair in it, on the frilled white pincushion on the dressing-table) began to tell Mrs. Pendennis of a notable plan which she had been forming in her busy little brains; and by which all Pen's embarrassments would be made to vanish in a moment, and without the least trouble to anybody.
"You know, mamma," this young lady said, "that I have been living with you for ten years, during which time you have never taken any of my money, and have been treating me just as if I was a charity girl. Now, this obligation has offended me very much, because I am proud and do not like to be beholden to people. And as, if I had gone to school—only I wouldn't—it must have cost me at least fifty pounds a year, it is clear that I owe you fifty times ten pounds, which I know you have put in the bank at Chatteris for me, and which doesn't belong to me a bit. Now, to-morrow we will go to Chatteris, and see that nice old Mr. Rowdy, with the bald head, and ask him for it,—not for his head, but for the five hundred pounds: and I dare say he will send you two more, which we will save and pay back; and we will send the money to Pen, who can pay all his debts without hurting anybody and then we will live happy ever after."
What Helen replied to this speech need not be repeated, as the widow's answer was made up of a great number of incoherent ejaculations, embraces, and other irrelative matter. But the two women slept well after that talk; and when the night-lamp went out with a splutter, and the sun rose gloriously over the purple hills, and the birds began to sing and pipe cheerfully amidst the leafless trees and glistening evergreens on Fairoaks lawn, Helen woke too, and as she looked at the sweet face of the girl sleeping beside her, her lips parted with a smile, blushes on her cheeks, her spotless bosom heaving and falling with gentle undulations, as if happy dreams were sweeping over it—Pen's mother felt happy and grateful beyond all power of words, save such as pious women offer up to the Beneficent Dispenser of love and mercy—in Whose honour a chorus of such praises is constantly rising up all round the world.
Although it was January and rather cold weather, so sincere was Mr. Pen's remorse, and so determined his plans of economy, that he would not take an inside place in the coach, but sate up behind with his friend the Guard, who remembered his former liberality, and lent him plenty of great-coats. Perhaps it was the cold that made his knees tremble as he got down at the lodge-gate, or it may be that he was agitated at the notion of seeing the kind creature for whose love he had made so selfish a return. Old John was in waiting to receive his master's baggage, but he appeared in a fustian jacket, and no longer wore his livery of drab and blue. "I'se garner and stable man, and lives in the ladge now," this worthy man remarked, with a grin of welcome to Pen, and something of a blush; but instantly as Pen turned the corner of the shrubbery and was out of eye-shot of the coach, Helen made her appearance, her face beaming with love and forgiveness—for forgiving is what some women love best of all.
We may be sure that the widow, having a certain other object in view, had lost no time in writing off to Pen an account of the noble, the magnanimous, the magnificent offer of Laura, filling up her letter with a profusion of benedictions upon both her children. It was probably the knowledge of this money-obligation which caused Pen to blush very much when he saw Laura, who was in waiting in the hall, and who this time, and for this time only, broke through the little arrangement of which we have spoken, as having subsisted between her and Arthur for the last few years; but the truth is, there has been a great deal too much said about kissing in the present chapter.
So the Prodigal came home, and the fatted calf was killed for him, and he was made as happy as two simple women could make him. No allusions were made to the Oxbridge mishap, or questions asked as to his farther proceedings, for some time. But Pen debated these anxiously in his own mind, and up in his own room, where he passed much time in cogitation.
A few days after he came home, he rode to Chatteris on his horse, and came back on the top of the coach. He then informed his mother that he had left the horse to be sold; and when that operation was effected, he handed her over the cheque, which she, and possibly Pen himself, thought was an act of uncommon virtue and self-denial, but which Laura pronounced to be only strict justice.
He rarely mentioned the loan which she had made, and which, indeed, had been accepted by the widow with certain modifications; but once or twice, and with great hesitation and stammering, he alluded to it, and thanked her; but it evidently pained his vanity to be beholden to the orphan for succour. He was wild to find some means of repaying her.
He left off drinking wine, and betook himself, but with great moderation, to the refreshment of whisky-and-water. He gave up cigar-smoking; but it must be confessed that of late years he had liked pipes and tobacco as well or even better, so that this sacrifice was not a very severe one.
He fell asleep a great deal after dinner when he joined the ladies in the drawing-room, and was certainly very moody and melancholy. He watched the coaches with great interest, walked in to read the papers at Clavering assiduously, dined with anybody who would ask him (and the widow was glad that he should have any entertainment in their solitary place), and played a good deal at cribbage with Captain Glanders.
He avoided Dr. Portman, who, in his turn, whenever Pen passed, gave him very severe looks from under his shovel-hat. He went to church with his mother, however, very regularly, and read prayers for her at home to the little household. Always humble, it was greatly diminished now: a couple of maids did the work of the house of Fairoaks: the silver dish-covers never saw the light at all.
John put on his livery to go to church, and assert his dignity on Sundays, but it was only for form's sake. He was gardener and out-door man, vice Upton, resigned. There was but little fire in Fairoaks kitchen, and John and the maids drank their evening beer there by the light, of a single candle. All this was Mr. Pen's doing, and the state of things did not increas his cheerfulness.
For some time Pen said no power on earth could induce him to go back to Oxbridge again, after his failure there; but one day Laura said to him, with many blushes, that she thought, as some sort of reparation, of punishment on himself for his—for his idleness, he ought to go back and get his degree, if he could fetch it by doing so; and so back Mr. Pen went.
A plucked man is a dismal being in a university; belonging to no set of men there, and owned by no one. Pen felt himself plucked indeed of all the fine feathers which he had won during his brilliant years, and rarely appeared out of his college; regularly going to morning chapel, and shutting himself up in his rooms of nights, away from the noise and suppers of the undergraduates. There were no duns about his door, they were all paid—scarcely any cards were left there. The men of his year had taken their degrees, and were gone. He went into a second examination, and passed with perfect ease. He was somewhat more easy in his mind when he appeared in his bachelor's gown.
On his way back from Oxbridge he paid a visit to his uncle in London; but the old gentleman received him with very cold looks, and would scarcely give him his forefinger to shake. He called a second time, but Morgan, the valet, said his master was from home.
Pen came back to Fairoaks, and to his books and to his idleness, and loneliness and despair. He commenced several tragedies, and wrote many copies of verses of a gloomy cast. He formed plans of reading and broke them. He thought about enlisting—about the Spanish legion—about a profession. He chafed against his captivity, and cursed the idleness which had caused it. Helen said he was breaking his heart, and was sad to see his prostration. As soon as they could afford it, he should go abroad—he should go to London—he should be freed from the dull society of two poor women. It was dull—very, certainly. The tender widow's habitual melancholy seemed to deepen into a sadder gloom; and Laura saw with alarm that the dear friend became every year more languid and weary, and that her pale cheek grew more wan.
CHAPTER XXIII. New Faces
The inmates of Fairoaks were drowsily pursuing this humdrum existence, while the great house upon the hill, on the other side of the River Brawl, was shaking off the slumber in which it had lain during the lives of two generations of masters, and giving extraordinary signs of renewed liveliness.
Just about the time of Pen's little mishap, and when he was so absorbed in the grief occasioned by that calamity as to take no notice of events which befell persons less interesting to himself than Arthur Pendennis, an announcement appeared in the provincial journals which caused no small sensation in the county at least, and in all the towns, villages, halls and mansions, and parsonages for many miles round Clavering Park. At Clavering Market; at Cackleby Fair; at Chatteris Sessions; on Gooseberry Green, as the squire's carriage met the vicar's one-horse contrivance, and the inmates of both vehicles stopped on the road to talk; at Tinkleton Church gate, as the bell was tolling in the sunshine, and the white smocks and scarlet cloaks came trooping over the green common, to Sunday worship; in a hundred societies round about—the word was, that Clavering Park was to be inhabited again.
Some five years before, the county papers had advertised the marriage at Florence, at the British Legation, of Francis Clavering, Esq., only son of Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., of Clavering Park, with Jemima Augusta, daughter of Samuel Snell, of Calcutta, Esq., and widow of the late J. Amory, Esq. At that time the legend in the county was that Clavering, who had been ruined for many a year, had married a widow from India with some money. Some of the county folks caught a sight of the newly-married pair. The Kickleburys, travelling in Italy, had seen them. Clavering occupied the Poggi Palace at Florence, gave parties, and lived comfortably—but could never come to England. Another year—young Peregrine, of Cackleby, making a Long Vacation tour, had fallen in with the Claverings occupying Schloss Schinkenstein, on the Mummel See. At Rome, at Lucca, at Nice, at the baths and gambling places of the Rhine and Belgium, this worthy couple might occasionally be heard of by the curious, and rumours of them came, as it were by gusts, to Clavering's ancestral place.
Their last place of abode was Paris, where they appear to have lived in great fashion and splendour after the news of the death of Samuel Snell, Esq., of Calcutta, reached his orphan daughter in Europe.
Of Sir Francis Clavering's antecedents little can be said that would be advantageous to that respected baronet. The son of an outlaw, living in a dismal old chateau near Bruges, this gentleman had made a feeble attempt to start in life with a commission in a dragoon regiment, and had broken down almost at the outset. Transactions at the gambling-table had speedily effected his ruin; after a couple of years in the army he had been forced to sell out, had passed some time in Her Majesty's prison of the Fleet, and had then shipped over to Ostend to join the gouty exile, his father. And in Belgium, France and Germany, for some years, this decayed and abortive prodigal might be seen lurking about billiard-rooms and watering-places, punting at gambling-houses, dancing at boarding-house balls, and riding steeple-chases on other folks' horses.
It was at a boarding-house at Lausanne that Francis Clavering made what he called the lucky coup of marrying the widow Amory, very lately returned from Calcutta. His father died soon after, by consequence of whose demise his wife became Lady Clavering. The title so delighted Mr. Snell of Calcutta, that he doubled his daughter's allowance; and dying himself soon after, left a fortune to her and her children the amount of which was, if not magnified by rumour, something very splendid indeed.
Before this time there had been, not rumours unfavourable to Lady Clavering's reputation, but unpleasant impressions regarding her ladyship. The best English people abroad were shy of making her acquaintance; her manners were not the most refined; her origin was lamentably low and doubtful. The retired East Indians, who are to be found in considerable force in most of the continental towns frequented by English, spoke with much scorn of the disreputable old lawyer and indigo-smuggler her father, and of Amory, her first husband, who had been mate of the Indiaman in which Miss Snell came out to join her father at Calcutta. Neither father nor daughter were in society at Calcutta, or had ever been heard of at Government House. Old Sir Jasper Rogers, who had been Chief Justice of Calcutta, had once said to his wife, that he could tell a queer story about Lady Clavering's first husband; but greatly to Lady Rogers's disappointment, and that of the young ladies his daughters, the old Judge could never be got to reveal that mystery.
They were all, however, glad enough to go to Lady Clavering's parties, when her ladyship took the Hotel Bouilli in the Rue Grenelle at Paris, and blazed out in the polite world there in the winter of 183—. The Faubourg St. Germain took her up. Viscount Bagwig, our excellent ambassador, paid her marked attention. The princes of the family frequented her salons. The most rigid and noted of the English ladies resident in the French capital acknowledged and countenanced her; the virtuous Lady Elderbury, the severe Lady Rockminster, the venerable Countess of Southdown—people, in a word, renowned for austerity, and of quite a dazzling moral purity:—so great and beneficent an influence had the possession of ten (some said twenty) thousand a year exercised upon Lady Clavering's character and reputation. And her munificence and good-will were unbounded. Anybody (in society) who had a scheme of charity was sure to find her purse open. The French ladies of piety got money from her to support their schools and convents; she subscribed indifferently for the Armenian patriarch; for Father Barbarossa, who came to Europe to collect funds for his monastery on Mount Athos; for the Baptist Mission to Quashyboo, and the Orthodox Settlement in Feefawfoo, the largest and most savage of the Cannibal Islands. And it is on record of her, that, on the same day on which Madame de Cricri got five Napoleons from her in support of the poor persecuted Jesuits, who were at that time in very bad odour in France, Lady Budelight put her down in her subscription-list for the Rev. J. Ramshorn, who had had a vision which ordered him to convert the Pope of Rome. And more than this, and for the benefit of the worldly, her ladyship gave the best dinners, and the grandest balls and suppers, which were known at Paris during that season.
And it was during this time, that the good-natured lady must have arranged matters with her husband's creditors in England, for Sir Francis reappeared in his native country, without fear of arrest; was announced in the Morning Post, and the county paper, as having taken up his residence at Mivart's Hotel; and one day the anxious old housekeeper at Clavering House beheld a carriage and four horses drive up the long avenue, and stop before the moss-grown steps in front of the vast melancholy portico.
Three gentlemen were in the carriage—an open one. On the back seat was our old acquaintance, Mr. Tatham of Chatteris, whilst in the places of honour sate a handsome and portly gentleman enveloped in mustachios, whiskers, fur collars, and braiding, and by him a pale languid man who descended feebly from the carriage, when the little lawyer, and the gentleman in fur, nimbly jumped out of it.
They walked up the great moss-grown steps to the hall-door, and a foreign attendant, with earrings and a gold-laced cap, pulled strenuously at the great bell-handle at the cracked and sculptured gate. The bell was heard clanging loudly through the vast gloomy mansion. Steps resounded presently upon the marble pavement of the hall within; and the doors opened, and finally Mrs. Blenkinsop, the housekeeper, Polly, her aide-de-camp, and Smart, the keeper, appeared bowing humbly.
Smart, the keeper, pulled the wisp of hay-coloured hair which adorned his sunburnt forehead, kicked out his left heel as if there were a dog biting at his calves, and brought down his head to a bow. Old Mrs Blenkinsop dropped a curtsey. Little Polly, her aide-de-camp, made a curtsey and several rapid bows likewise; and Mrs. Blenkinsop, with a great deal of emotion, quavered out, "Welcome to Clavering, Sir Francis. It du my poor eyes good to see one of the family once more."
The speech and the greetings were all addressed to the grand gentleman in fur and braiding, who wore his hat so magnificently on one side, and twirled his mustachios so royally. But he burst out laughing, and said, "You've saddled the wrong horse, old lady—I'm not Sir Francis Clavering what's come to revisit the halls of my ancestors. Friends and vassals! behold your rightful lord!"
And he pointed his hand towards the pale, languid gentleman who said, "Don't be an ass, Ned."
"Yes, Mrs. Blenkinsop, I'm Sir Francis Clavering; I recollect you quite well. Forgot me, I suppose?—How dy do?" and he took the old lady's trembling hand; and nodded in her astonished face, in a not unkind manner.
Mrs. Blenkinsop declared upon her conscience that she would have known Sir Francis anywhere, that he was the very image of Sir Francis, his father, and of Sir John who had gone before.
"O yes—thanky—of course—very much obliged—and that sort of thing," Sir Francis said, looking vacantly about the hall "Dismal old place, ain't it, Ned? Never saw it but once, when my governor quarrelled with gwandfather in the year twenty-thwee.
"Dismal?—beautiful!—the Castle of Otranto!—the Mysteries of Udolpho, by Jove!" said the individual addressed as Ned. "What a fireplace! You might roast an elephant in it. Splendid carved gallery! Inigo Jones, by Jove! I'd lay five to two it's Inigo Jones."
"The upper part by Inigo Jones; the lower was altered by the eminent Dutch architect, Vanderputty, in George the First his time, by Sir Richard, fourth baronet," said the housekeeper.
"O indeed," said the Baronet "Gad, Ned, you know everything."
"I know a few things, Frank," Ned answered. "I know that's not a Snyders over the mantelpiece—bet you three to one it's a copy. We'll restore it, my boy. A lick of varnish, and it will come out wonderfully, sir. That old fellow in the red gown, I suppose, is Sir Richard."
"Sheriff of the county, and sate in parliament in the reign of Queen Anne," said the housekeeper, wondering at the stranger's knowledge; "that on the right is Theodosia, wife of Harbottle, second baronet, by Lely, represented in the character of Venus, the Goddess of Beauty,—her son Gregory, the third baronet, by her side, as Cupid, God of Love, with a bow and arrows; that on the next panel is Sir Rupert, made a knight banneret by Charles the First, and whose property was confuscated by Oliver Cromwell."
"Thank you—needn't go on, Mrs. Blenkinsop," said the Baronet, "We'll walk about the place ourselves. Frosch, give me a cigar. Have a cigar, Mr. Tatham?"
Little Mr. Tatham tried a cigar which Sir Francis's courier handed to him, and over which the lawyer spluttered fearfully. "Needn't come with us, Mrs. Blenkinsop. What's—his—name—you—Smart—feed the horses and wash their mouths. Shan't stay long. Come along, Strong,—I know the way: I was here in twenty-thwee, at the end of my gwandfather's time." And Sir Francis and Captain Strong, for such was the style and title of Sir Francis's friend, passed out of the hall into the reception-rooms, leaving the discomfited Mrs. Blenkinsop to disappear by a side-door which led to her apartments, now the only habitable rooms in the long-uninhabited mansion.
It was a place so big that no tenant could afford to live in it; and Sir Francis and his friend walked through room after room, admiring their vastness and dreary and deserted grandeur. On the right of the hall-door were the saloons and drawing-rooms, and on the other side the oak room, the parlour, the grand dining-room, the library, where Pen had found books in old days. Round three sides of the hall ran a gallery, by which, and corresponding passages, the chief bedrooms were approached, and of which many were of stately proportions and exhibited marks of splendour. On the second story was a labyrinth of little discomfortable garrets, destined for the attendants of the great folks who inhabited the mansion in the days when it was first built: and I do not know any more cheering mark of the increased philanthropy of our own times, than to contrast our domestic architecture with that of our ancestors, and to see how much better servants and poor are cared for now, than in times when my lord and my lady slept under gold canopies, and their servants lay above them in quarters not so airy or so clean as stables are now.
Up and down the house the two gentlemen wandered, the owner of the mansion being very silent and resigned about the pleasure of possessing it; whereas the Captain, his friend, examined the premises with so much interest and eagerness that you would have thought he was the master, and the other the indifferent spectator of the place. "I see capabilities in it—capabilities in it, sir," cried the Captain. "Gad, sir, leave it to me, and I'll make it the pride of the country, at a small expense. What a theatre we can have in the library here, the curtains between the columns which divide the room! What a famous room for a galop!—it will hold the whole shire. We'll hang the morning parlour with the tapestry in your second salon in the Rue de Grenelle, and furnish the oak room with the Moyen-age cabinets and the armour. Armour looks splendid against black oak, and there's a Venice glass in the Quai Voltaire, which will suit that high mantelpiece to an inch, sir. The long saloon, white and crimson of course; the drawing-room yellow satin; and the little drawing-room light blue, with lace over—hay?"
"I recollect my old governor caning me in that little room," Sir Francis said sententiously; "he always hated me, my old governor."
"Chintz is the dodge, I suppose, for my lady's rooms—the suite in the landing, to the south, the bedroom, the sitting-room, and the dressing-room. We'll throw a conservatory out, over the balcony. Where will you have your rooms?"
"Put mine in the north wing," said the Baronet, with a yawn, "and out of the reach of Miss Amory's confounded piano. I can't bear it. She's scweeching from morning till night."
The Captain burst out laughing. He settled the whole further arrangements of the house in the course of their walk through it; and, the promenade ended, they went into the steward's room, now inhabited by Mrs. Blenkinsop, and where Mr. Tatham was sitting poring over a plan of the estate, and the old housekeeper had prepared a collation in honour of her lord and master.
Then they inspected the kitchen and stables, about both of which Sir Francis was rather interested, and Captain Strong was for examining the gardens; but the Baronet said, "D—— the gardens, and that sort of thing!" and finally he drove away from the house as unconcernedly as he had entered it; and that night the people of Clavering learned that Sir Francis Clavering had paid a visit to the Park, and was coming to live in the county.
When this fact came to be known at Chatteris, all the folks in the place were set in commotion: High Church and Low Church, half-pay captains and old maids and dowagers, sporting squireens of the viciniage, farmers, tradesmen, and factory people—all the population in and round about the little place. The news was brought to Fairoaks, and received by the ladies there, and by Mr. Pen, with some excitement. "Mrs. Pybus says there is a very pretty girl in the family, Arthur," Laura said, who was as kind and thoughtful upon this point as women generally are: "a Miss Amory, Lady Clavering's daughter by her first marriage. Of course, you will fall in love with her as soon as she arrives."
Helen cried out, "Don't talk nonsense, Laura." Pen laughed, and said, "Well, there is the young Sir Francis for you."
"He is but four years old," Miss Laura replied. "But I shall console myself with that handsome officer, Sir Francis's friend. He was at church last Sunday, in the Clavering pew, and his mustachios were beautiful."
Indeed the number of Sir Francis's family (whereof the members have all been mentioned in the above paragraphs) was pretty soon known in his town, and everything else, as nearly as human industry and ingenuity could calculate, regarding his household. The Park avenue and grounds were dotted now with town folks of the summer evenings, who made their way up to the great house, peered about the premises, and criticised the improvements which were taking place there. Loads upon loads of furniture arrived in numberless vans from Chatteris and London; and numerous as the vans are, there was not one but Captain Glanders knew what it contained, and escorted the baggage up to the Park House.
He and Captain Edward Strong had formed an intimate acquaintance by this time. The younger Captain occupied those very lodgings at Clavering, which the peaceful Smirke had previously tenanted, and was deep in the good graces of Madame Fribsby, his landlady; and of the whole town, indeed. The Captain was splendid in person and raiment; fresh-coloured, blue-eyed, black-whiskered, broad-chested, athletic—a slight tendency to fulness did not take away from the comeliness of his jolly figure—a braver soldier never presented a broader chest to the enemy. As he strode down Clavering High Street, his hat on one side, his cane clanking on the pavement, or waving round him in the execution of military cuts and soldatesque manoeuvres—his jolly laughter ringing through the otherwise silent street—he was as welcome as sunshine to the place, and a comfort to every inhabitant in it.
On the first market-day he knew every pretty girl in the market: he joked with all the women: had a word with the farmers about their stock, and dined at the Agricultural Ordinary at the Clavering Arms, where he set them all dying with laughing by his fun and jokes. "Tu be sure he be a vine veller, tu be sure that he be," was the universal opinion of the gentlemen in top-boots. He shook hands with a score of them, as they rode out of the inn-yard on their old nags, waving his hat to them splendidly as he smoked his cigar in the inn-gate. In the course of the evening he was free of the landlady's bar, knew what rent the landlord paid, how many acres he farmed, how much malt he put in his strong beer; and whether he ever ran in a little brandy unexcised by kings from Baymouth, or the fishing villages along the coast.
He had tried to live at the great house first; but it was so dull he couldn't stand it. "I am a creature born for society," he told Captain Glanders. "I'm down here to see Clavering's house set in order; for between ourselves, Frank has no energy, sir, no energy; he's not the chest for it, sir (and he threw out his own trunk as he spoke); but I must have social intercourse. Old Mrs. Blenkinsop goes to bed at seven, and takes Polly with her. There was nobody but me and the Ghost for the first two nights at the great house, and I own it, sir, I like company. Most old soldiers do."
Glanders asked Strong where he had served? Captain Strong curled his mustache, and said with a laugh, that the other might almost ask where he had not served. "I began, sir, as cadet of Hungarian Uhlans, and when the war of Greek independence broke out, quitted that service in consequence of a quarrel with my governor, and was one of seven who escaped from Missolonghi, and was blown up in one of Botzaris's fireships, at the age of seventeen. I'll show you my Cross of the Redeemer, if you'll come over to my lodgings and take a glass of grog with me, Captain, this evening. I've a few of those baubles in my desk. I've the White Eagle of Poland; Skrzynecki gave it me" (he pronounced Skrzynecki's name with wonderful accuracy and gusto) "upon the field of Ostrolenka. I was a lieutenant of the fourth regiment, sir, and we marched through Diebitsch's lines—bang thro' 'em into Prussia, sir, without firing a shot. Ah, Captain, that was a mismanaged business. I received this wound by the side of the King before Oporto,—where he would have pounded the stock-jobbing Pedroites, had Bourmont followed my advice; and I served in Spain with the King's troops, until the death of my dear friend, Zumalacarreguy, when I saw the game was over, and hung up my toasting iron, Captain. Alava offered me a regiment, the Queen's Muleteros; but I couldn't—damme, I couldn't—and now, sir, you know Ned Strong—the Chevalier Strong they call me abroad—as well as he knows himself."
In this way almost everybody in Clavering came to know Ned Strong. He told Madame Fribsby, he told the landlord of the George, he told Baker at the reading-rooms, he told Mrs. Glanders, and the young ones, at dinner: and, finally, he told Mr. Arthur Pendennis, who, yawning into Clavering one day, found the Chevalier Strong in company with Captain Glanders; and who was delighted with his new acquaintance.
Before many days were over, Captain Strong was as much at home in Helen's drawing-room as he was in Madame Fribsby's first floor; and made the lonely house very gay with his good-humour and ceaseless flow of talk. The two women had never before seen such a man. He had a thousand stories about battles and dangers to interest them—about Greek captives, Polish beauties, and Spanish nuns. He could sing scores of songs, in half a dozen languages, and would sit down to the piano and troll them off in a rich manly voice. Both the ladies pronounced him to be delightful—and so he was; though, indeed, they had not had much choice of man's society as yet, having seen in the course of their lives but few persons, except old Portman and the Major, and Mr. Pen, who was a genius, to be sure; but then your geniuses are somewhat flat and moody at home.
And Captain Strong acquainted his new friends at Fairoaks, not only with his own biography, but with the whole history of the family now coming to Clavering. It was he who had made the marriage between his friend Frank and the widow Amory. She wanted rank, and he wanted money. What match could be more suitable? He organised it; he made those two people happy. There was no particular romantic attachment between them; the widow was not of an age or a person for romance, and Sir Francis, if he had his game at billiards, and his dinner, cared for little besides. But they were as happy as people could be. Clavering would return to his native place and country, his wife's fortune would pay his encumbrances off, and his son and heir would be one of the first men in the county.
"And Miss Amory?" Laura asked. Laura was uncommonly curious about Miss Amory.
Strong laughed. "Oh, Miss Amory is a muse—Miss Amory is a mystery—Miss Amory is a femme incomprise." "What is that?" asked simple Mrs. Pendennis—but the Chevalier gave her no answer: perhaps could not give her one. "Miss Amory paints, Miss Amory writes poems, Miss Amory composes music, Miss Amory rides like Diana Vernon. Miss Amory is a paragon, in a word."
"I hate clever women," said Pen.
"Thank you," said Laura. For her part she was sure she should be charmed with Miss Amory, and quite longed to have such a friend. And with this she looked Pen full in the face, as if every word the little hypocrite said was Gospel truth.
Thus, an intimacy was arranged and prepared beforehand between the Fairoaks family and their wealthy neighbours at the Park; and Pen and Laura were to the full as eager for their arrival, as even the most curious of the Clavering folks. A Londoner, who sees fresh faces and yawns at them every day may smile at the eagerness with which country people expect a visitor. A cockney comes amongst them, and is remembered by his rural entertainers for years after he has left them, and forgotten them very likely—floated far away from them on the vast London sea. But the islanders remember long after the mariner has sailed away, and can tell you what he said and what he wore, and how he looked and how he laughed. In fine, a new arrival is an event in the country not to be understood by us, who don't, and had rather not, know who lives next door.
When the painters and upholsterers had done their work in the house, and so beautified it, under Captain Strong's superintendence, that he might well be proud of his taste, that gentleman announced that he should go to London, where the whole family had arrived by this time, and should speedily return to establish them in their renovated mansion.
Detachments of domestics preceded them. Carriages came down by sea, and were brought over from Baymouth by horses which had previously arrived under the care of grooms and coachmen. One day the 'Alacrity' coach brought down on its roof two large and melancholy men, who were dropped at the Park lodge with their trunks, and who were Messieurs Frederic and James, metropolitan footmen, who had no objection to the country, and brought with them state and other suits of the Clavering uniform.
On another day, the mail deposited at the gate a foreign gentleman, adorned with many ringlets and chains. He made a great riot at the lodge-gate to the keeper's wife (who, being a West-country woman, did not understand his English or his Gascon French), because there was no carriage in waiting to drive him to the house, a mile off, and because he could not walk entire leagues in his fatigued state and varnished boots. This was Monsieur Alcide Mirobolant, formerly Chef of his Highness the Duc de Borodino, of H. Eminence Cardinal Beccafico, and at present Chef of the bouche of Sir Clavering, Baronet:—Monsieur Mirobolant's library, pictures, and piano had arrived previously in charge of the intelligent young Englishman, his aide-de-camp. He was, moreover, aided by a professed female cook, likewise from London, who had inferior females under her orders.
He did not dine in the steward's room, but took his nutriment in solitude in his own apartments, where a female servant was affected to his private use. It was a grand sight to behold him in his dressing-gown composing a menu. He always sate down and played the piano for some time before that. If interrupted, he remonstrated pathetically with his little maid. Every great artist, he said, had need of solitude to perfectionate his works.
But we are advancing matters in the fulness of our love and respect for Monsieur Mirobolant, and bringing him prematurely on the stage.
The Chevalier Strong had a hand in the engagement of all the London domestics, and, indeed, seemed to be the master of the house. There were those among them who said he was the house-steward, only he dined with the family. Howbeit, he knew how to make himself respected, and two of by no means the least comfortable rooms of the house were assigned to his particular use.
He was walking upon the terrace finally upon the eventful day when, amidst an immense jangling of bells from Clavering Church, where the flag was flying, an open carriage and one of those travelling chariots or family arks, which only English philoprogenitiveness could invent drove rapidly with foaming horses through the Park gates, and up to the steps of the Hall. The two battans of the sculptured door flew open. The superior officers in black, the large and melancholy gentlemen, now in livery with their hair in powder, the country menials engaged to aid them, were in waiting in the hall, and bowed like elms when autumn winds wail in the park. Through this avenue passed Sir Francis Clavering with a most unmoved face: Lady Clavering, with a pair of bright black eyes, and a good-humoured countenance, which waggled and nodded very graciously: Master Francis Clavering, who was holding his mamma's skirt (and who stopped the procession to look at the largest footman, whose appearance seemed to strike the young gentleman), and Miss Blandy, governess to Master Francis, and Miss Amory, her ladyship's daughter, giving her arm to Captain Strong. It was summer, but fires of welcome were crackling in the great hall chimney, and in the rooms which the family were to occupy.
Monsieur Mirobolant had looked at the procession from one of the lime-trees in the avenue. "Elle est la," he said, laying his jewelled hand on his richly-embroidered velvet glass buttons, "Je t'ai vue, je te benis, O ma sylphide, O mon ange!" and he dived into the thicket, and made his way back to his furnaces and saucepans.
The next Sunday the same party which had just made its appearance at Clavering Park, came and publicly took possession of the ancient pew in the church, where so many of the Baronet's ancestors had prayed, and were now kneeling in effigy. There was such a run to see the new folks, that the Low Church was deserted, to the disgust of its pastor; and as the state barouche, with the greys and coachman in silver wig, and solemn footmen, drew up at the old churchyard-gate, there was such a crowd assembled there as had not been seen for many a long day. Captain Strong knew everybody, and saluted for all the company—the country people vowed my lady was not handsome, to be sure, but pronounced her to be uncommon fine dressed, as indeed she was—with the finest of shawls, the finest of pelisses, the brilliantest of bonnets and wreaths, and a power of rings, cameos, brooches, chains, bangles, and other nameless gimcracks; and ribbons of every breadth and colour of the rainbow flaming on her person. Miss Amory appeared meek in dove-colour, like a vestal virgin—while Master Francis was in the costume, then prevalent, of Rob Roy Macgregor, a celebrated Highland outlaw. The Baronet was not more animated than ordinarily—there was a happy vacuity about him which enabled him to face a dinner, a death, a church, a marriage, with the same indifferent ease.
A pew for the Clavering servants was filled by these domestics, and the enraptured congregation saw the gentlemen from London with "vlower on their heeds," and the miraculous coachman with his silver wig, take their places in that pew so soon as his horses were put up at the Clavering Arms.
In the course of the service, Master Francis began to make such a yelling in the pew, that Frederic, the tallest of the footmen, was beckoned by his master, and rose and went and carried out Master Francis, who roared and beat him on the head, so that the powder flew round about, like clouds of incense. Nor was he pacified until placed on the box of the carriage, where he played at horses with John's whip.
"You see the little beggar's never been to church before, Miss Bell," the Baronet drawled out to a young lady who was visiting him; "no wonder he should make a row: I don't go in town neither, but I think it's right in the country to give a good example—and that sort of thing."
Miss Bell laughed and said, "The little boy had not given a particularly good example."
"Gad, I don't know, and that sort of thing," said the Baronet. "It ain't so bad neither. Whenever he wants a thing, Frank always cwies, and whenever he cwies he gets it."
Here the child in question began to howl for a dish of sweetmeats on the luncheon-table, and making a lunge across the table-cloth, upset a glass of wine over the best waistcoat of one of the guests present, Mr. Arthur Pendennis, who was greatly annoyed at being made to look foolish, and at having his spotless cambric shirt front blotched with wine.
"We do spoil him so," said Lady Clavering to Mrs. Pendennis, finally gazing at the cherub, whose hands and face were now frothed over with the species of lather which is inserted in the confection called meringues a la creme.
"It is very wrong," said Mrs. Pendennis, as if she had never done such a thing herself as spoil a child.
"Mamma says she spoils my brother,—do you think anything could, Miss Bell? Look at him,—isn't he like a little angel?"
"Gad, I was quite wight," said the Baronet. "He has cwied, and he has got it, you see. Go it, Fwank, old boy."
"Sir Francis is a very judicious parent," Miss Amory whispered. Don't you think so, Miss Bell? I shan't call you Miss Bell—I shall call you Laura. I admired you so at church. Your robe was not well made, nor your bonnet very fresh. But you have such beautiful grey eyes, and such a lovely tint."
"Thank you," said Miss Bell, laughing.
"Your cousin is handsome, and thinks so. He is uneasy de sa personne. He has not seen the world yet. Has he genius? Has he suffered? A lady, a little woman in a rumpled satin and velvet shoes—a Miss Pybus—came here, and said he has suffered. I, too, have suffered,—and you, Laura, has your heart ever been touched?"
Laura said "No!" but perhaps blushed a little at the idea or the question, so that the other said,—
"Ah Laura! I see it all. It is the beau cousin. Tell me everything. I already love you as a sister."
"You are very kind," said Miss Bell, smiling, "and—and it must be owned that it is a very sudden attachment."
"All attachments are so. It is electricity—spontaneity. It is instantaneous. I knew I should love you from the moment I saw you. Do you not feel it yourself?"
"Not yet," said Laura; "but—I daresay I shall if I try."
"Call me by my name, then."
"But I don't know it," Laura cried out.
"My name is Blanche—isn't it a pretty name? Call me by it."
"Blanche—it is very pretty, indeed."
"And while mamma talks with that kind-looking lady—what relation is she to you? She must have been pretty once, but is rather passee; she is not well gantee, but she has a pretty hand—and while mamma talks to her, come with me to my own room,—my own, own room. It's a darling room, though that horrid creature, Captain Strong, did arrange it. Are you eprise of him? He says you are, but I know better; it is the beau cousin. Yes—il a de beaux yeux. Je n'aime pas les blonds, ordinairement. Car je suis blonde moi—je suis Blanche et blonde,"—and she looked at her face and made a moue in the glass; and never stopped for Laura's answer to the questions which she had put.
Blanche was fair, and like a sylph. She had fair hair, with green reflections in it. But she had dark eyebrows. She had long black eyelashes, which veiled beautiful brown eyes. She had such a slim waist, that it was a wonder to behold; and such a slim little feet, that you would have thought the grass would hardly bend under them. Her lips were of the colour of faint rosebuds, and her voice warbled limpidly over a set of the sweetest little pearly teeth ever seen. She showed them very often, for they were very pretty. She was very good-natured, and a smile not only showed her teeth wonderfully, but likewise exhibited two lovely little pink dimples, that nestled in either cheek.
She showed Laura her drawings, which the other thought charming. She played her some of her waltzes, with a rapid and brilliant finger, and Laura was still more charmed. And she then read her some poems, in French and English, likewise of her own composition, and which she kept locked in her own book—her own dear little book; it was bound in blue velvet, with a gilt lock, and on it was printed in gold the title of 'Mes Larmes.'
"Mes Larmes!—isn't it a pretty name?" the young lady continued, who was pleased with everything that she did, and did everything very well. Laura owned that it was. She had never seen anything like it before; anything so lovely, so accomplished, so fragile and pretty; warbling so prettily, and tripping about such a pretty room, with such a number of pretty books, pictures, flowers, round about her. The honest and generous country girl forgot even jealousy in her admiration. "Indeed, Blanche," she said, "everything in the room is pretty; and you are the prettiest of all." The other smiled, looked in the glass, went up and took both of Laura's hands, and kissed them, and sat down to the piano, and shook out a little song, as if she had been a nightingale.
This was the first visit paid by Fairoaks to Clavering Park, in return for Clavering Park's visit to Fairoaks, in reply to Fairoaks's cards left a few days after the arrival of Sir Francis's family. The intimacy between the young ladies sprang up like Jack's Bean-stalk to the skies in a single night. The large footmen were perpetually walking with little rose-coloured pink notes to Fairoaks; where there was a pretty house-maid in the kitchen, who might possibly tempt those gentlemen to so humble a place. Miss Amory sent music, or Miss Amory sent a new novel, or a picture from the 'Journal des Modes,' to Laura; or my lady's compliments arrived with flowers and fruit; or Miss Amory begged and prayed Miss Bell to come to dinner; and dear Mrs. Pendennis, if she was strong enough; and Mr. Arthur, if a humdrum party were not too stupid for him; and would send a pony-carriage for Mrs. Pendennis; and would take no denial.
Neither Arthur nor Laura wished to refuse. And Helen, who was, indeed, somewhat ailing, was glad that the two should have their pleasure; and would look at them fondly as they set forth, and ask in her heart that she might not be called away until those two beings whom she loved best in the world should be joined together. As they went out and crossed over the bridge, she remembered summer evenings five-and-twenty years ago, when she, too, had bloomed in her brief prime of love and happiness. It was all over now. The moon was looking from the purpling sky, and the stars glittering there, just as they used in the early, well-remembered evenings. He was lying dead far away, with the billows rolling between them. Good God! how well she remembered the last look of his face as they parted. It looked out at her through the vista of long years, as sad and as clear as then.
So Mr. Pen and Miss Laura found the society at Clavering Park an uncommonly agreeable resort of summer evenings. Blanche vowed that she raffoled of Laura; and, very likely, Mr. Pen was pleased with Blanche. His spirits came back: he laughed and rattled till Laura wondered to hear him. It was not the same Pen, yawning in a shooting jacket, in the Fairoaks parlour, who appeared alert and brisk, and smiling and well dressed, in Lady Clavering's drawing-room. Sometimes they had music. Laura had a sweet contralto voice, and sang with Blanche, who had had the best continental instruction, and was charmed to be her friend's mistress. Sometimes Mr. Pen joined in these concerts, or oftener looked sweet upon Miss Blanche as she sang. Sometimes they had glees, when Captain Strong's chest was of vast service, and he boomed out in a prodigious bass, of which he was not a little proud.
"Good fellow, Strong—ain't he, Miss Bell?" Sir Francis would say to her. "Plays at ecarte with Lady Clavering—plays anything, pitch-and-toss, pianoforty, cwibbage if you like. How long do you think he's been staying with me? He came for a week with a carpet-bag, and Gad, he's been staying here thwee years. Good fellow, ain't he? Don't know how he gets a shillin' though, begad I don't, Miss Lauwa."
And yet the Chevalier, if he lost his money to Lady Clavering, always paid it; and if he lived with his friend for three years, paid for that too—in good-humour, in kindness and joviality, in a thousand little services by which he made himself agreeable. What gentleman could want a better friend than a man who was always in spirits, never in the way or out of it, and was ready to execute any commission for his patron, whether it was to sing a song or meet a lawyer, to fight a duel or to carve a capon?
Although Laura and Pen commonly went to Clavering Park together, yet sometimes Mr. Pen took walks there unattended by her, and about which he did not tell her. He took to fishing the Brawl, which runs through the Park, and passes not very far from the garden-wall. And by the oddest coincidence, Miss Amory would walk out (having been to look at her flowers), and would be quite surprised to see Mr. Pendennis fishing.
I wonder what trout Pen caught while the young lady was looking on? or whether Miss Blanche was the pretty little fish which played round his fly, and which Mr. Pen was endeavouring to hook? It must be owned, he became very fond of that healthful and invigorating pursuit of angling, and was whipping the Brawl continually with his fly.
As for Miss Blanche she had a kind heart; and having, as she owned, herself "suffered" a good deal in the course of her brief life and experience—why, she could compassionate other susceptible beings like Pen, who had suffered too. Her love for Laura and that dear Mrs. Pendennis redoubled: if they were not at the Park, she was not easy unless she herself was at Fairoaks. She played with Laura; she read French and German with Laura; and Mr. Pen read French and German along with them. He turned sentimental ballads of Schiller and Goethe into English verse for the ladies, and Blanche unlocked 'Mes Larmes' for him, and imparted to him some of the plaintive outpourings of her own tender Muse.
It appeared from these poems that this young creature had indeed suffered prodigiously. She was familiar with the idea of suicide. Death she repeatedly longed for. A faded rose inspired her with such grief that you would have thought she must die in pain of it. It was a wonder how a young creature (who had had a snug home or been at a comfortable boarding-school, and had no outward grief or hardship to complain of) should have suffered so much—should have found the means of getting at such an ocean of despair and passion (as a runaway boy who will get to sea), and having embarked on it should survive it. What a talent she must have had for weeping to be able to pour out so many of Mes Larmes!
They were not particularly briny, Miss Blanche's tears, that is the truth; but Pen, who read her verses, thought them very well for a lady—and wrote some verses himself for her. His were very violent and passionate, very hot, sweet and strong: and he not only wrote verses; but—O the villain! O, the deceiver! he altered and adapted former poems in his possession, and which had been composed for a certain Emily Fotheringay, for the use and to the Christian name of Miss Blanche Amory.
CHAPTER XXIV. A Little Innocent
Every house has its skeleton in it somewhere, and it may be a comfort to some unhappy folks to think that the luckier and most wealthy of their neighbours have their miseries and causes of disquiet. Our little innocent Muse of Blanche, who sang so nicely and talked so sweetly, you would have thought she must have made sunshine where ever she went, was the skeleton, or the misery, or the bore, or the Nemesis of Clavering House, and of most of the inhabitants thereof. As one little stone in your own shoe or your horse's, suffices to put either to torture and to make your journey miserable, so in life a little obstacle is sufficient to obstruct your entire progress, and subject you to endless annoyance and disquiet. Who would have guessed that such a smiling little fairy as Blanche Amory could be the cause of discord in any family?
"I say, Strong," one day the Baronet said, as the pair were conversing after dinner over the billiard-table, and that great unbosomer of secrets, a cigar; "I say, Strong, I wish to the doose your wife was dead."
"So do I. That's a cannon, by Jove. But she won't; she'll live for ever—you see if she don't. Why do you wish her off the hooks, Frank, my boy?" asked Captain Strong.
"Because then you might marry Missy. She ain't bad-looking. She'll have ten thousand, and that's a good bit of money for such a poor old devil as you," drawled out the other gentleman.
"And gad, Strong, I hate her worse and worse every day. I can't stand her, Strong, by gad, I can't."
"I wouldn't take her at twice the figure," Captain Strong said, laughing. "I never saw such a little devil in my life."
"I should like to poison her," said the sententious Baronet; "by Jove I should."
"Why, what has she been at now?" asked his friend.
"Nothing particular," answered Sir Francis; "only her old tricks. That girl has such a knack of making everybody miserable that, hang me, it's quite surprising. Last night she sent the governess crying away from the dinner-table. Afterwards, as I was passing Frank's room, I heard the poor little beggar howling in the dark, and found his sister had been frightening his soul out of his body, by telling him stories about the ghost that's in the house. At lunch she gave my lady a turn; and though my wife's a fool, she's a good soul—I'm hanged if she ain't."
"What did Missy do to her?" Strong asked.
"Why, hang me, if she didn't begin talking about the late Amory, my predecessor," the Baronet said, with a grin. "She got some picture out of the Keepsake, and said she was sure it was like her dear father, She wanted to know where her father's grave was. Hang her father! Whenever Miss Amory talks about him, Lady Clavering always bursts out crying: and the little devil will talk about him in order to spite her mother. Today when she began, I got in a confounded rage; said I was her father; and—and that sort of thing, and then, sir, she took a shy at me."
"And what did she say about you, Frank?" Mr. Strong, still laughing, inquired of his friend and patron.
"Gad, she said I wasn't her father; that I wasn't fit to comprehend her; that her father must have been a man of genius, and fine feelings, and that sort of thing: whereas I had married her mother for money."
"Well, didn't you?" asked Strong.
"It don't make it any the pleasanter to hear because it's true, don't you know," Sir Francis Clavering answered. "I ain't a literary man and that; but I ain't such a fool as she makes me out. I don't know how it is, but she always manages to put me in the hole, don't you understand. She turns all the house round her in her quiet way, and with her confounded sentimental airs. I wish she was dead, Ned."
"It was my wife whom you wanted dead just now," Strong said, always in perfect good-humour; upon which the Baron with his accustomed candour, said, "Well; when people bore my life out, I do wish they were dead, and I wish Missy were down a well, with all my heart."
Thus it will be seen from the above report of this candid conversation that our accomplished little friend had some peculiarities or defects of character which rendered her not very popular. She was a young lady of some genius, exquisite sympathies and considerable literary attainments, living, like many another genius, with relatives who could not comprehend her. Neither her mother nor her stepfather were persons of a literary turn. Bell's Life and the Racing Calendar were the extent of the Baronet's reading, and Lady Clavering still wrote like a schoolgirl of thirteen, and with an extraordinary disregard to grammar and spelling. And as Miss Amory felt very keenly that she was not appreciated, and that she lived with persons who were not her equals in intellect or conversational power, she lost no opportunity to acquaint her family circle with their inferiority to herself, and not only was a martyr, but took care to let everybody know that she was so. If she suffered, as she said and thought she did, severely, are we to wonder that a young creature of such delicate sensibilities should shriek and cry out a good deal? Without sympathy life is nothing; and would it not have been a want of candour on her part to affect a cheerfulness which she did not feel, or pretend a respect for those towards whom it was quite impossible she should entertain any reverence? If a poetess may not bemoan her lot, of what earthly use is her lyre? Blanche struck hers only to the saddest of tunes; and sang elegies over her dead hopes, dirges over her early frost-nipt buds of affection, as became such a melancholy fate and Muse.
Her actual distresses, as we have said, had not been up to the present time very considerable: but her griefs lay; like those of most of us, in her own soul—that being sad and habitually dissatisfied, what wonder that she should weep? So Mes Larmes dribbled out of her eyes any day at command: she could furnish an unlimited supply of tears, and her faculty of shedding them increased by practice. For sentiment is like another complaint mentioned by Horace, as increasing by self-indulgence (I am sorry to say, ladies, that the complaint in question is called the dropsy), and the more you cry, the more you will be able and desirous to do so.
Missy had begun to gush at a very early age. Lamartine was her favourite bard from the period when she first could feel: and she had subsequently improved her mind by a sedulous study of novels of the great modern authors of the French language. There was not a romance of Balzac and George Sand which the indefatigable little creature had not devoured—by the time she was sixteen: and, however little she sympathised with her relatives at home, she had friends, as she said, in the spirit-world, meaning the tender Indiana, the passionate and poetic Lelia, the amiable Trenmor, that high-souled convict, that angel of the galleys,—the fiery Stenio,—and the other numberless heroes of the French romances. She had been in love with Prince Rodolph and Prince Djalma while she was yet at school, and had settled the divorce question, and the rights of woman, with Indiana, before she had left off pinafores. The impetuous little lady played at love with these imaginary worthies as a little while before she had played at maternity with her doll. Pretty little poetical spirits! It is curious to watch them with those playthings. To-day the blue-eyed one is the favourite, and the black-eyed one is pushed behind the drawers. To-morrow blue-eyes may take its turn of neglect and it may be an odious little wretch with a burnt nose, or torn bead of hair, and no eyes at all, that takes the first place in Miss's affection, and is dandled and caressed in her arms.
As novelists are supposed to know everything, even the secrets of female hearts, which the owners themselves do not perhaps know, we may state that at eleven years of age Mademoiselle Betsi, as Miss Amory was then called, had felt tender emotions towards a young Savoyard organ-grinder at Paris, whom she Persisted in believing to be a prince carried off from his parents; that at twelve an old and hideous drawing-master (but, ah, what age or personal defects are proof against woman's love?) had agitated her young heart; and that, at thirteen, being at Madame de Caramel's boarding-school, in the Champs Elysees, which, as everybody knows, is next door to Monsieur Rogron's (Chevalier of the Legion of Honour) pension for young gentlemen, a correspondence by letter took place between the seduisante Miss Betsi and two young gentlemen of the College of Charlemagne, who were pensioners of the Chevalier Rogron.
In the above paragraph our young friend has been called by a Christian name different to that under which we were lately presented to her. The fact is, that Miss Amory, called Missy at home, had really at the first been christened Betsy—but assumed the name of Blanche of her own will and fantasy, and crowned herself with it; and the weapon which the Baronet, her stepfather, held in terror over her, was the threat to call her publicly by her name of Betsy, by which menace he sometimes managed to keep the young rebel in order.
We have spoken just now of children's dolls, and of the manner in which those little people take up and neglect their darling toys, and very likely this history will show that Miss Blanche assumed and put away her live dolls with a similar girlish inconstancy. She had had hosts of dear, dear, darling, friends ere now, and had quite a little museum of locks of hair in her treasure-chest, which she had gathered in the course of her sentimental progress. Some dear friends had married: some had gone to other schools: one beloved sister she had lost from the pension, and found again, O, horror! her darling, her Leocadie keeping the books in her father's shop, a grocer in the Rue du Bac: in fact, she had met with a number of disappointments, estrangements, disillusionments, as she called them in her pretty French jargon, and had seen and suffered a great deal for so young a woman. But it is the lot of sensibility to suffer, and of confiding tenderness to be deceived, and she felt that she was only undergoing the penalties of genius in these pangs and disappointments of her young career.
Meanwhile, she managed to make the honest lady, her mother, as uncomfortable as circumstances would permit; and caused her worthy stepfather to wish she was dead. With the exception of Captain Strong, whose invincible good-humour was proof against her sarcasms, the little lady ruled the whole house with he tongue. If Lady Clavering talked about Sparrowgrass instead of Asparagus, or called an object a hobject, as this unfortunate lady would sometimes do, Missy calmly corrected her, and frightened the good soul, her mother, into errors only the more frequent as she grew more nervous under her daughter's eye.
It is not to be supposed, considering the vast interest which the arrival of the family at Clavering Park inspired in the inhabitants of the little town, that Madame Fribsby alone, of all the folks in Clavering, should have remained unmoved and incurious. At the first appearance of the Park family in church, Madame noted every article of toilette which the ladies wore, from their bonnets to their brodequins, and took a survey of the attire of the ladies' maids in the pew allotted to them. We fear that Doctor Portman's sermon, though it was one of his oldest and most valued compositions, had little effect upon Madame Fribsby on that day.
In a very few days afterwards, she had managed for herself an interview with Lady Clavering's confidential attendant in the housekeeper's room at the Park; and her cards in French and English, stating that she received the newest fashions from Paris from her correspondent Madame Victorine, and that she was in the custom of making court and ball dresses for the nobility and gentry of the shire, were in the possession of Lady Clavering and Miss Amory, and favourably received, as she was happy to hear, by those ladies.
Mrs. Bonner, Lady Clavering's lady, became soon a great frequenter of Madame Fribsby's drawing-room, and partook of many entertainments at the milliner's expense. A meal of green tea, scandal, hot Sally-Lunn cakes, and a little novel reading, were always at the service of Mrs. Bonner, whenever she was free to pass an evening in the town. And she found much more time for these pleasures than her junior officer, Miss Amory's maid, who seldom could be spared for a holiday, and was worked as hard as any factory-girl by that inexorable little Muse, her mistress.
The Muse loved to be dressed becomingly, and, having a lively fancy and a poetic desire for change, was for altering her attire every day. Her maid having a taste in dressmaking—to which art she had been an apprentice at Paris, before she entered into Miss Blanche's service there—was kept from morning till night altering and remodelling Miss Amory's habiliments; and rose very early and went to bed very late, in obedience to the untiring caprices of her little taskmistress. The girl was of respectable English parents. There are many of our people, colonists of Paris, who have seen better days, who are not quite ruined, who do not quite live upon charity, and yet cannot get on without it; and as her father was a cripple incapable of work, and her return home would only increase the burthen and add to the misery of the family, poor Pincott was fain to stay where she could maintain herself, and spare a little relief to her parents.
Our Muse, with the candour which distinguished her, never failed to remind her attendant of the real state of matters. "I should send you away, Pincott, for you are a great deal too weak, and your eyes are failing you, and you are always crying and snivelling and wanting the doctor; but I wish that your parents at home should be supported, and I go on enduring you for their sake, mind," the dear Blanche would say to her timid little attendant. Or, "Pincott, your wretched appearance and slavish manner, and red eyes, positively give me the migraine; and I think I shall make you wear rouge, so that you may look a little cheerful;" or, "Pincott, I can't bear, even for the sake of your starving parents, that you should tear my hair out of my head in that manner; and I will thank you to write to them and say that I dispense with your services." After which sort of speeches, and after keeping her for an hour trembling over her hair, which the young lady loved to have combed, as she perused one of her favourite French novels, she would go to bed at one o'clock, and say, "Pincott, you may kiss me. Good night. I should like you to have the pink dress ready for the morning." And so with blessing upon her attendant, she would turn round and go to sleep.
The Muse might lie in bed as long as she chose of a morning, and availed herself of that privilege; but Pincott had to rise very early indeed to get her mistress's task done; and had to appear next day with the same red eyes and the same wan face, which displeased Miss Amory by their want of gaiety, and caused the mistress to be so angry, because the servant persisted in being and looking unwell and unhappy. Not that Blanche ever thought she was a hard mistress. Indeed, she made quite a friend of Pincott, at times, and wrote some very pretty verses about the lonely little tiring-maid, whose heart was far away. Our beloved Blanche was a superior being, and expected to be waited upon as such. And I do not know whether there are any other ladies in this world who treat their servants or dependants so, but it may be that there are such, and that the tyranny which they exercise over their subordinates, and the pangs which they can manage to inflict with a soft voice, and a well-bred simper, are as cruel as those which a slave-driver administers with an oath and a whip.
But Blanche was a Muse—a delicate little creature, quite tremulous with excitability, whose eyes filled with tears at the smallest emotion; and who knows, but that it was the very fineness of her feelings which caused them to be froissed so easily? You crush a butterfly by merely touching it. Vulgar people have no idea of the sensibility of a Muse.
So little Pincott being occupied all day and night in stitching, hemming, ripping, combing, ironing, crimping, for her mistress; reading to her when in bed,—for the girl was mistress of the two languages, and had a sweet voice and manner—could take no share in Madame Fribsby's soirees, nor indeed was she much missed, or considered of sufficient consequence to appear at their entertainments.
But there was another person connected with the Clavering establishment, who became a constant guest of our friend, the milliner. This was the chief of the kitchen, Monsieur Mirobolant, with whom Madame Fribsby soon formed an intimacy.
Not having been accustomed to the appearance or society of persons of the French nation, the rustic inhabitants of Clavering were not so favourably impressed by Monsieur Alcide's manners and appearance, as that gentleman might have desired that they should be. He walked among them quite unsuspiciously upon the afternoon of a summer day, when his services were not required at the House, in his usual favourite costume, namely, his light green frock or paletot, his crimson velvet waistcoat, with blue glass buttons, his pantalon Ecossais, of a very large and decided check pattern, his orange satin neckcloth, and his jean-boots, with tips of shiny leather,—these, with a gold-embroidered cap, and a richly gilt cane, or other varieties of ornament of a similar tendency, formed his usual holiday costume, in which he flattered himself there was nothing remarkable (unless, indeed, the beauty of his person should attract observation), and in which he considered that he exhibited the appearance of a gentleman of good Parisian ton.
He walked then down the street, grinning and ogling every woman he met with glances, which he meant should kill them outright, and peered over the railings, and in at the windows, where females were, in the tranquil summer evening. But Betsy, Mrs. Pybus's maid, shrank back with a Lor bless us, as Alcide ogled her over the laurel-bush; the Miss Bakers, and their mamma, stared with wonder; and presently a crowd began to follow the interesting foreigner, of ragged urchins and children, who left their dirt-pies in the street to pursue him.
For some time he thought that admiration was the cause which led these persons in his wake, and walked on, pleased himself that he could so easily confer on others so much harmless pleasure. But the little children and dirt-pie manufacturers were presently succeeded by followers of a larger growth, and a number of lads and girls from the factory being let loose at this hour, joined the mob, and began laughing, jeering, hooting, and calling opprobrious names at the Frenchman. Some cried out "Frenchy! Frenchy!" some exclaimed "Frogs!" one asked for a lock of his hair, which was long and in richly-flowing ringlets; and at length the poor artist began to perceive that he was an object of derision rather than of respect to the rude grinning mob.
It was at this juncture that Madame Fribsby spied the unlucky gentleman with the train at his heels, and heard the scornful shouts with which they assailed him. She ran out of her room, and across the street to the persecuted foreigner; she held out her hand, and, addressing him in his own language, invited him into her abode; and when she had housed him fairly within her door, she stood bravely at the threshold before the gibing factory girls and boys, and said they were a pack of cowards to insult a poor man who could not speak their language, and was alone and without protection. The little crowd, with some ironical cheers and hootings, nevertheless felt the force of Madame Fribsby's vigorous allocution, and retreated before her; for the old lady was rather respected in the place, and her oddity and her kindness had made her many friends there.
Poor Mirobolant was grateful indeed to hear the language of his country ever so ill spoken. Frenchmen pardon our faults in their language much more readily than we excuse their bad English; and will face our blunders throughout a long conversation, without the least propensity to grin. The rescued artist vowed that Madame Fribsby was his guardian angel, and that he had not as yet met with such suavity and politeness among les Anglaises. He was as courteous and complimentary to her as if it was the fairest and noblest of ladies whom he was addressing for Alcide Mirobolant paid homage after his fashion to all womankind, and never dreamed of a distinction of ranks in the realms of beauty, as his phrase was.
A cream, flavoured with pineapple—a mayonnaise of lobster, which he flattered himself was not unworthy of his hand, or of her to whom he had the honour to offer it as an homage, and a box of preserved fruits of Provence, were brought by one of the chef's aides-de-camp, in a basket, the next day to the milliner's, and were accompanied with a gallant note to the amiable Madame Fribsbi. "Her kindness," Alcide said, "had made a green place in the desert of his existence,—her suavity would ever contrast in memory with the grossierete of the rustic population, who were not worthy to possess such a jewel." An intimacy of the most confidential nature thus sprang up between the milliner and the chief of the kitchen; but I do not know whether it was with pleasure or mortification that Madame received the declarations of friendship which the young Alcides proffered to her, for he persisted in calling her "La respectable Fribsbi," "La vertueuse Fribsbi,"—and in stating that he should consider her as his mother, while he hoped she would regard him as her son. Ah! it was not very long ago, Fribsby thought, that words had been addressed to her in that dear French language, indicating a different sort of attachment. And she sighed as she looked up at the picture of her Carabineer. For it is surprising how young some people's hearts remain when their heads have need of a front or a little hair-dye,—and, at this moment, Madame Fribsby, as she told young Alcide, felt as romantic as a girl of eighteen.
When the conversation took this turn—and at their first intimacy Madame Fribsby was rather inclined so to lead it—Alcide always politely diverged to another subject: it was as his mother that he persisted in considering the good milliner. He would recognise her in no other capacity, and with that relationship the gentle lady was forced to content herself, when she found how deeply the artist's heart was engaged elsewhere.
He was not long before he described to her the subject and origin of his passion.
"I declared myself to her," said Alcide, laying his hand on his heart, "in a manner which was as novel as I am charmed to think it was agreeable. Where cannot Love penetrate, respectable Madame Fribsbi? Cupid is the father of invention!—I inquired of the domestics what were the plats of which Mademoiselle partook with most pleasure; and built up my little battery accordingly. On a day when her parents had gone to dine in the world (and I am grieved to say that a grossier dinner at a restaurateur, in the Boulevard, or in the Palais Royal seemed to form the delights of these unrefined persons), the charming Miss entertained some comrades of the pension; and I advised myself to send up a little repast suitable to so delicate young palates. Her lovely name is Blanche. The name of the maiden is white; the wreath of roses which she wears is white. I determined that my dinner should be as spotless as the snow. At her accustomed hour, and instead of the rude gigot a l'eau, which was ordinarily served at her too simple table, I sent her up a little potage a la Reine—a la Reine Blanche I called it,—as white as her own tint—and confectioned with the most fragrant cream and almonds. I then offered up at her shrine a filet de merlan a l'gnes, and a delicate plat which I designated as Eperlan a la Sainte-Therese, and of which my charming Miss partook with pleasure. I followed this by two little entrees of sweetbread and chicken; and the only brown thing which I permitted myself in the entertainment was a little roast of lamb, which I lay in a meadow of spinaches, surrounded with croustillons, representing sheep, and ornamented with daisies and other savage flowers. After this came my second service: a pudding a la Reine Elizabeth (who, Madame Fribsbi knows, was a maiden princess); a dish of opal-coloured plover's eggs which I called Nid de tourtereaux a la Roucoule; placing in the midst of them two of those tender volatiles, billing each other, and confectioned with butter; a basket containing little gateaux of apricots, which, I know, all young ladies adore; and a jelly of marasquin, bland insinuating, intoxicating as the glance of beauty. This I designated Ambroisie de Calypso a la Souveraine de mon Coeur. And when the ice was brought in—an ice of plombiere and cherries—how do you think I had shaped them, Madame Fribsbi? In the form of two hearts united with an arrow, on which I had laid, before it entered, a bridal veil in cut-paper, surmounted by a wreath of virginal orange-flowers. I stood at the door to watch the effect of this entry. It was but one cry of admiration. The three young ladies filled their glasses with the sparkling Ay, and carried me in a toast. I heard it—I heard Miss speak of me—I heard her say, 'Tell Monsieur Mirobolant that we thank him—we admire him—we love him!' My feet almost failed me as she spoke.
"Since that, can I have any reason to doubt that the young artist has made some progress in the heart of the English Miss? I am modest, but my glass informs me that I am not ill-looking. Other victories have convinced me of the fact."
"Dangerous man!" cried the milliner.
"The blond misses of Albion see nothing in the dull inhabitants of their brumous isle, which can compare with the ardour and vivacity of the children of the South. We bring our sunshine with us; we are Frenchmen, and accustomed to conquer. Were it not for this affair of the heart, and my determination to marry an Anglaise, do you think I would stop in this island (which is not altogether ungrateful, since I have found here a tender mother in the respectable Madame Fribsbi), in this island, in this family? My genius would use itself in the company of these rustics—the poesy of my art cannot be understood by these carnivorous insularies. No—the men are odious, but the women—the women! I own, dear Fribsbi, are seducing! I have vowed to marry one; and as I cannot go into your markets and purchase, according to the custom of the country, I am resolved to adopt another custom, and fly with one to Gretna Grin. The blonde Miss will go. She is fascinated. Her eyes have told me so. The white dove wants but the signal to fly."
"Have you any correspondence with her?" asked Fribsby, in amazement, and not knowing whether the young lady or the lover might be labouring under a romantic delusion.
"I correspond with her by means of my art. She partakes of dishes which I make expressly for her. I insinuate to her thus a thousand hints which as she is perfectly spiritual, she receives. But I want other intelligences near her."
"There is Pincott, her maid," said Madame Fribsby, who, by aptitude or education, seemed to have some knowledge of affairs of the heart, but the great artist's brow darkened at this suggestion.
"Madame," he said, "there are points upon which a gallant man ought to silence himself; though, if he break the secret, he may do so with the least impropriety to his best friend—his adopted mother. Know then, that there is a cause why Miss Pincott should be hostile to me—a cause not uncommon with your sex—jealousy."
"Perfidious monster!" said the confidante.
"Ah, no," said the artist, with a deep bass voice, and a tragic accent worthy of the Port St Martin and his favourite melodrames, "not perfidious, but fatal. Yes, I am a fatal man, Madame Fribsbi. To inspire hopeless passion is my destiny. I cannot help it that women love me. Is it my fault that that young woman deperishes and languishes to the view of the eye, consumed by a flame which I cannot return? Listen! There are others in this family who are similarly unhappy. The governess of the young Milor has encountered me in my walks, and looked at me in a way which can bear but one interpretation. And Milady herself, who is of mature age, but who has oriental blood, has once or twice addressed compliments to the lonely artist which can admit of no mistake. I avoid the household, I seek solitude, I undergo my destiny. I can marry but one, and am resolved it shall be to a lady of your nation. And, if her fortune is sufficient I think Miss would be the person who would be most suitable. I wish to ascertain what her means are before I lead her to Gretna Grin."
Whether Alcides was as irresistible a conqueror as his namesake, or whether he was simply crazy, is a point which must be left to the reader's judgment. But the latter if he had had the benefit of much French acquaintance, has perhaps met with men amongst them who fancied themselves almost as invincible; and who, if you credit them, have made equal havoc in the hearts of les Anglaises.
CHAPTER XXV. Contains both Love and Jealousy
Our readers have already heard Sir Francis Clavering's candid opinion of the lady who had given him her fortune and restored him to his native country and home, and it must be owned that the Baronet was not far wrong in his estimate of his wife, and that Lady Clavering was not the wisest or the best educated of women. She had had a couple of years' education in Europe, in a suburb of London, which she persisted in calling Ackney to her dying day, whence she had been summoned to join her father at Calcutta at the age of fifteen. And it was on her voyage thither, on board the Ramchunder East Indiaman, Captain Bragg, in which ship she had two years previously made her journey to Europe, that she formed the acquaintance of her first husband, Mr. Amory, who was third mate of the vessel in question.
We are not going to enter into the early part of Lady Clavering's history, but Captain Bragg, under whose charge Miss Snell went out to her father, who was one of the Captain's consignees, and part owner of the Ramchunder and many other vessels, found reason to put the rebellious rascal of a mate in irons, until they reached the Cape, where the Captain left his officer behind; and finally delivered his ward to her father at Calcutta, after a stormy and perilous voyage in which the Ramchunder and the cargo and passengers incurred no small danger and damage.
Some months afterwards Amory made his appearance at Calcutta, having worked his way out before the mast from the Cape—married the rich Attorney's daughter in spite of that old speculator—set up as indigo-planter and failed—set up as agent and failed again—set up as editor of the Sunderbund Pilot and failed again—quarrelling ceaselessly with his father-in-law and his wife during the progress of all these mercantile transactions and disasters, and ending his career finally with a crash which compelled him to leave Calcutta and go to New South Wales. It was in the course of these luckless proceedings, that Mr. Amory probably made the acquaintance of Sir Jasper Rogers, the respected Judge of the Supreme Court of Calcutta, who has been mentioned before: and, as the truth must out, it was by making an improper use of his father-in-law's name, who could write perfectly well, and had no need of an amanuensis, that fortune finally forsook Mr. Amory and caused him to abandon all further struggles with her.
Not being in the habit of reading the Calcutta law-reports very assiduously, the European public did not know of these facts as well as people did in Bengal, and Mrs. Amory and her father finding her residence in India not a comfortable one, it was agreed that the lady should return to Europe, whither she came with her little daughter Betsy or Blanche, then four years old. They were accompanied by Betsy's nurse, who has been presented to the reader in the last chapter as the confidential maid of Lady Clavering, Mrs. Bonner: and Captain Bragg took a house for them in the near neighbourhood of his residence in Pocklington Street.
It was a very hard bitter summer, and the rain it rained every day for some time after Mrs. Amory's arrival. Bragg was very pompous and disagreeable, perhaps ashamed, perhaps anxious, to get rid of the Indian lady. She believed that all the world in London was talking about her husband's disaster, and that the King and Queen and the Court of Directors were aware of her unlucky history. She had a good allowance from her father; she had no call to live in England; and she determined to go abroad. Away she went, then, glad to escape the gloomy surveillance of the odious bully, Captain Bragg. People had no objection to receive her at the continental towns where she stopped, and at the various boarding-houses, where she royally paid her way. She called Hackney Ackney, to be sure (though otherwise she spoke English with a little foreign twang, very curious and not unpleasant); she dressed amazingly; she was conspicuous for her love of eating and drinking, and prepared curries and pillaws at every boarding-house which she frequented; but her singularities of language and behaviour only gave a zest to her society, and Mrs. Amory was deservedly popular. She was the most good-natured, jovial, and generous of women. She was up to any party of pleasure by whomsoever proposed. She brought three times more champagne and fowl and ham to the picnics than anyone else. She took endless boxes for the play, and tickets for the masked balls, and gave them away to everybody. She paid the boarding-house people months beforehand; she helped poor shabby mustachiod bucks and dowagers whose remittances had not arrived, with constant supplies from her purse; and in this way she tramped through Europe, and appeared at Brussels, at Paris, at Milan, at Naples, at Rome, as her fancy led her. News of Amory's death reached her at the latter place, where Captain Clavering was then staying, unable to pay his hotel bill, as, indeed, was his friend, the Chevalier Strong; and the good-natured widow married the descendant of the ancient house of Clavering—professing, indeed, no particular grief for the scapegrace of a husband whom she had lost. We have brought her thus up to the present time when she was mistress of Clavering Park, in the midst of which Mr. Pinckney, the celebrated painter, pourtrayed her with her little boy by her side.
Missy followed her mamma in most of her peregrinations, and so learned a deal of life. She had a governess for some time; and after her mother's second marriage, the benefit of Madame de Caramel's select pension in the Champs Elysees. When the Claverings came to England, she of course came with them. It was only within a few years, after the death of her grandfather, and the birth of her little brother, that she began to understand that her position in life was altered, and that Miss Amory, nobody's daughter, was a very small personage in a house compared with Master Francis Clavering, heir to an ancient baronetcy and a noble estate. But for little Frank, she would have been an heiress, in spite of her father: and though she knew, and cared not much about money, of which she never had any stint, and though she was a romantic little Muse, as we have seen, yet she could not reasonably be grateful to the persons who had so contributed to change her condition: nor, indeed, did she understand what the latter really was, until she had made some further progress, and acquired more accurate knowledge in the world.
But this was clear, that her stepfather was dull and weak: that mamma dropped her H's, and was not refined in manners or appearance; and that little Frank was a spoiled quarrelsome urchin, always having his way, always treading upon her feet, always upsetting his dinner on her dresses, and keeping her out of her inheritance. None of these, as she felt, could comprehend her: and her solitary heart naturally pined for other attachments, and she sought around her where to bestow the precious boon of her unoccupied affection.
This dear girl, then, from want of sympathy, or other cause, made herself so disagreeable at home, and frightened her mother and bored her stepfather so much, that they were quite as anxious as she could be that she should settle for herself in life; and hence Sir Francis Clavering's desire expressed to his friend, in the last chapter, that Mrs. Strong should die, and that he would take Blanche to himself as a second Mrs. Strong.
But as this could not be, any other person was welcome to win her: and a smart young fellow, well-looking and well educated like our friend Arthur Pendennis, was quite free to propose for her if he had a mind, and would have been received with open arms by Lady Clavering as a son-in-law, had he had the courage to come forward as a competitor for Miss Amory's hand.
Mr. Pen, however, besides other drawbacks, chose to entertain an extreme diffidence about himself. He was ashamed of his late failures, of his idle and nameless condition, of the poverty which he had brought on his mother by his folly, and there was as much of vanity as remorse in his present state of doubt and distrust. How could he ever hope for such a prize as this brilliant Blanche Amory, who lived in a fine park and mansion, and was waited on by a score of grand domestics, whilst a maid-servant brought in their meagre meal at Fairoaks, and his mother was obliged to pinch and manage to make both ends meet? Obstacles seemed for him insurmountable, which would have vanished had he marched manfully upon them: and he preferred despairing, or dallying with his wishes,—or perhaps he had not positively shaped them as yet,—to attempting to win gallantly the object of his desire. Many a young man fails by that species of vanity called shyness, who might, for the asking have his will.
But we do not pretend to say that Pen had, as yet, ascertained his: or that he was doing much more than thinking about falling in love. Miss Amory was charming and lively. She fascinated and cajoled him by a thousand arts or natural graces or flatteries. But there were lurking reasons and doubts, besides shyness and vanity, withholding him. In spite of her cleverness, and her protestations, and her fascinations, Pen's mother had divined the girl, and did not trust her. Mrs. Pendennis saw Blanche light-minded and frivolous, detected many wants in her which offended the pure and pious-minded lady; a want of reverence for her parents, and for things more sacred, Helen thought: worldliness and selfishness couched under pretty words and tender expressions. Laura and Pen battled these points strongly at first with the widow—Laura being as yet enthusiastic about her new friend, and Pen not far-gone enough in love to attempt any concealment of his feelings. He would laugh at these objections of Helen's, and say, "Psha, mother! you are jealous about Laura—all women are jealous."