But when, in the course of a month or two, and by watching the pair with that anxiety with which brooding women watch over their sons' affections—and in acknowledging which, I have no doubt there is a sexual jealousy on the mother's part, and a secret pang—when Helen saw that the intimacy appeared to make progress, that the two young people were perpetually finding pretexts to meet, and that Miss Blanche was at Fairoaks or Mr. Pen at the Park every day, the poor widow's heart began to fail her—her darling project seemed to vanish before her; and, giving way to her weakness, she fairly told Pen one day what her views and longings were; that she felt herself breaking, and not long for this world, and that she hoped and prayed before she went, that she might see her two children one. The late events, Pen's life and career and former passion for the actress, had broken the spirit of this tender lady. She felt that he had escaped her, and was in the maternal nest no more; and she clung with a sickening fondness to Laura, Laura who had been left to her by Francis in Heaven.
Pen kissed and soothed her in his grand patronising way. He had seen something of this, he had long thought his mother wanted to make this marriage—did Laura know anything of it? (Not she,—Mrs. Pendennis said—not for worlds would she have breathed a word of it to Laura)—"Well, well, there was time enough, his mother wouldn't die," Pen said, laughingly: "he wouldn't hear of any such thing, and as for the Muse, she is too grand a lady to think about poor little me—and as for Laura, who knows that she would have me? She would do anything you told her, to be sure. But am I worthy of her?"
"O, Pen, you might be," was the widow's reply; not that Mr. Pen ever doubted that he was; and a feeling of indefinable pleasure and self-complacency came over him as he thought over this proposal, and imaged Laura to himself, as his memory remembered her for years past, always fair and open, kindly and pious, cheerful, tender and true. He looked at her with brightening eyes as she came in from the garden at the end of this talk, her cheeks rather flushed, her looks frank and smiling—a basket of roses in her hand.
She took the finest of them and brought it to Mrs. Pendennis, who was refreshed by the odour and colour of these flowers; and hung over her fondly and gave it to her.
"And I might have this prize for the asking!" Pen thought with a thrill of triumph, as he looked at the kindly girl. "Why, she is as beautiful and as generous as her roses." The image of the two women remained for ever after in his mind, and he never recalled it but the tears came into his eyes.
Before very many weeks' intimacy with her new acquaintance, however, Miss Laura was obliged to give in to Helen's opinion, and own that the Muse was selfish, unkind, and inconstant. Of course Blanche confided to her bosom friend all the little griefs and domestic annoyances; how the family could not comprehend her and she moved among them an isolated being; how her poor mamma's education had been neglected, and she was forced to blush for her blunders; how Sir Francis was a weak person deplorably unintellectual, and only happy when smoking his odious cigars; how, since the birth of her little brother, she had seen her mother's precious affection, which she valued more than anything in life, estranged from her once darling daughter; how she was alone, alone, alone in the world.
But these griefs, real and heart-rending though they might be to a young lady of exquisite sensibility, did not convince Laura of the propriety of Blanche's conduct in many small incidents of Little Frank, for instance, life might be very provoking, and might have deprived Blanche of her mamma's affection, but this was no reason why Blanche should box the child's ears because he upset a glass of water over her drawing, and why she should call him many opprobrious names in the English and French language; and the preference accorded to little Frank was certainly no reason why Blanche should give herself imperial airs of command towards the boy's governess, and send that young lady upon messages through the house to bring her book or to fetch her pocket-handkerchief. When a domestic performed an errand for honest Laura, she was always thankful and pleased; whereas she could not but perceive that the little Muse had not the slightest scruple in giving her commands to all the world round about her, and in disturbing anybody's ease or comfort, in order to administer to her own. It was Laura's first experience in friendship; and it pained the kind creature's heart to be obliged to give up as delusions, one by one, those charms and brilliant qualities in which her fancy had dressed her new friend, and to find that the fascinating little fairy was but a mortal, and not a very amiable mortal after all. What generous person is there that has not been so deceived in his time?—what person, perhaps, that has not so disappointed others in his turn?
After the scene with little Frank, in which that refractory son and heir of the house of Clavering had received the compliments in French and English, and the accompanying box on the ear from his sister, Miss Laura who had plenty of humour, could not help calling to mind some very touching and tender verses which the Muse had read to her out of Mes Larmes, and which began, "My pretty baby brother, may angels guard thy rest," in which the Muse, after complimenting the baby upon the station in life which it was about to occupy, and contrasting it with her own lonely condition, vowed nevertheless that the angel boy would never enjoy such affection as hers was, or find in the false world before him anything so constant and tender as a sister's heart. "It may be," the forlorn one said, "it may be, you will slight it, my pretty baby sweet, You will spurn me from your bosom, I'll cling around your feet! O let me, let me, love you! the world will prove to you As false as 'tis to others, but I am ever true." And behold the Muse was boxing the darling brother's ears instead of kneeling at his feet, and giving Miss Laura her first lesson in the Cynical philosophy—not quite her first, however,—something like this selfishness and waywardness, something like this contrast between practice and poetry, between grand versified aspirations and everyday life, she had witnessed at home in the person of our young friend Mr. Pen.
But then Pen was different. Pen was a man. It seemed natural somehow that he should be self-willed and should have his own way. And under his waywardness and selfishness, indeed there was a kind and generous heart. O it was hard that such a diamond should be changed away against such a false stone as this. In a word, Laura began to be tired of her admired Blanche. She had assayed her and found her not true; and her former admiration and delight, which she had expressed with her accustomed generous artlessness, gave way to a feeling, which we shall not call contempt, but which was very near it; and which caused Laura to adopt towards Miss Amory a grave and tranquil tone of superiority, which was at first by no means to the Muse's liking. Nobody likes to be found out, or, having held a high place, to submit to step down.
The consciousness that this event was impending did not serve to increase Miss Blanche's good-humour, and as it made her peevish and dissatisfied with herself, it probably rendered her even less agreeable to the persons round about her. So there arose, one fatal day, a battle-royal between dearest Blanche and dearest Laura, in which the friendship between them was all but slain outright. Dearest Blanche had been unusually capricious and wicked on this day. She had been insolent to her mother; savage with little Frank; odiously impertinent in her behaviour to the boy's governess; and intolerably cruel to Pincott, her attendant. Not venturing to attack her friend (for the little tyrant was of a timid feline nature, and only used her claws upon those who were weaker than herself), she maltreated all these, and especially poor Pincott, who was menial, confidante, companion (slave always), according to the caprice of her young mistress.
This girl, who had been sitting in the room with the young ladies, being driven thence in tears, occasioned by the cruelty of her mistress, and raked with a parting sarcasm as she went sobbing from the door, Laura fairly broke out into a loud and indignant invective—wondered how one so young could forget the deference owing to her elders as well as to her inferiors in station; and professing so much sensibility of her own, could torture the feelings of others so wantonly. Laura told her friend that her conduct was absolutely wicked, and that she ought to ask pardon of Heaven on her knees for it. And having delivered herself of a hot and voluble speech whereof the delivery astonished the speaker as much almost as her auditor, she ran to her bonnet and shawl, and went home across the park in a great flurry and perturbation, and to the surprise of Mrs. Pendennis, who had not expected her until night.
Alone with Helen, Laura gave an account of the scene, and gave up her friend henceforth. "O Mamma," she said, "you were right; Blanche, who seems so soft and so kind, is, as you have said, selfish and cruel. She who is always speaking of her affections can have no heart. No honest girl would afflict a mother so, or torture a dependant; and—and, I give her up from this day, and I will have no other friend but you."
On this the two ladies went through the osculatory ceremony which they were in the habit of performing, and Mrs. Pendennis got a great secret comfort from the little quarrel—for Laura's confession seemed to say, "That girl can never be a wife for Pen, for she is light-minded and heartless, and quite unworthy of our noble hero. He will be sure to find out her unworthiness for his own part, and then he will be saved from this flighty creature, and awake out of his delusion."
But Miss Laura did not tell Mrs. Pendennis, perhaps did not acknowledge to herself, what had been the real cause of the day's quarrel. Being in a very wicked mood, and bent upon mischief everywhere, the little wicked Muse of a Blanche had very soon begun her tricks. Her darling Laura had come to pass a long day; and as they were sitting in her own room together, had chosen to bring the conversation round to the subject of Mr. Pen.
"I am afraid he is sadly fickle," Miss Blanche observed; "Mrs. Pybus, and many more Clavering people, have told us all about the actress."
"I was quite a child when it happened, and I don't know anything about it," Laura answered, blushing very much.
"He used her very ill," Blanche said, wagging her little head. "He was false to her."
"I am sure he was not," Laura cried out; "he acted most generously by her; he wanted to give up everything to marry her. It was she that was false to him. He nearly broke his heart about it: he——"
"I thought you didn't know anything about the story, dearest," interposed Miss Blanche.
"Mamma has said so," said Laura.
"Well, he is very clever," continued the other little dear, "What a sweet poet he is! Have you ever read his poems?"
"Only the 'Fisherman and the Diver,' which he translated for us, and his Prize Poem, which didn't get the prize; and, indeed, I thought it very pompous and prosy," Laura said, laughing.
"Has he never written you any poems, then, love?" asked Miss Amory.
"No, my dear," said Miss Bell.
Blanche ran up to her friend, kissed her fondly, called her my dearest Laura at least three times, looked her archly in the face, nodded her head, and said, "Promise to tell no-o-body, and I will show you something."
And tripping across the room daintily to a little mother-of-pearl inlaid desk, she opened it with a silver key, and took out two or three papers crumpled and rather stained with green, which she submitted to her friend. Laura took them and read them. They were love-verses sure enough—something about Undine—about a Naiad—about a river. She looked at them for a long time; but in truth the lines were not very distinct before her eyes.
"And you have answered them, Blanche?" she asked, putting them back.
"O no! not for worlds, dearest," the other said: and when her dearest Laura had quite done with the verses, she tripped back and popped them again into the pretty desk.
Then she went to her piano, and sang two or three songs of Rossini, whose flourishes of music her flexible little voice could execute to perfection, and Laura sate by, vaguely listening as she performed these pieces. What was Miss Bell thinking about the while? She hardly knew; but sate there silent as the songs rolled by. After this concert the young ladies were summoned to the room where luncheon was served; and whither they of course went with their arms round each other's waists.
And it could not have been jealousy or anger on Laura's part which had made her silent; for, after they had tripped along the corridor and descended the steps, and were about to open the door which leads into the hall, Laura paused, and looking her friend kindly and frankly in the face, kissed her with a sisterly warmth.
Something occurred after this—Master Frank's manner of eating, probably, or mamma's blunders, or Sir Francis smelling of cigars—which vexed Miss Blanche, and she gave way to that series of naughtinesses whereof we have spoken, and which ended in the above little quarrel.
CHAPTER XXVI. A House full of Visitors
The difference between the girls did not last long. Laura was always too eager to forgive and be forgiven, and as for Miss Blanche, her hostilities, never very long or durable, had not been provoked by the above scene. Nobody cares about being accused of wickedness. No vanity is hurt by that sort of charge: Blanche was rather pleased than provoked by her friend's indignation, which never would have been raised but for a cause which both knew, though neither spoke of.
And so Laura, with a sigh, was obliged to confess that the romantic part of her first friendship was at an end, and that the object of it was only worthy of a very ordinary sort of regard.
As for Blanche, she instantly composed a copy of touching verses, setting forth her desertion and disenchantment. It was only the old story, she wrote, of love meeting with coldness, and fidelity returned by neglect; and some new neighbours arriving from London about this time, in whose family there were daughters, Miss Amory had the advantage of selecting an eternal friend from one of these young ladies, and imparting her sorrows and disappointments to this new sister. The tall footmen came but seldom now with notes to the sweet Laura; the pony-carriage was but rarely despatched to Fairoaks to be at the orders of the ladies there. Blanche adopted a sweet look of suffering martyrdom when Laura came to see her. The other laughed at her friend's sentimental mood, and treated it with a good-humour that was by no means respectful.
But if Miss Blanche found new female friends to console her, the faithful historian is also bound to say, that she discovered some acquaintances of the other sex who seemed to give her consolation too. If ever this artless young creature met a young man, and had ten minutes' conversation with him in a garden walk, in a drawing-room window, or in the intervals of a waltz, she confided in him, so to speak—made play with her beautiful eyes—spoke in a tone of tender interest, and simple and touching appeal, and left him, to perform the same pretty little drama in behalf of his successor.
When the Claverings first came down to the Park, there were very few audiences before whom Miss Blanche could perform: hence Pen had all the benefits of her glances and confidences, and the drawing-room window or the garden walk all to himself. In the town of Clavering, it has been said, there were actually young men: in the near surrounding country, only a curate or two or a rustic young squire, with large feet and ill-made clothes. To the dragoons quartered at Chatteris the Baronet made no overtures: it was unluckily his own regiment: he had left it on bad terms with some officers of the corps—an ugly business about a horse bargain—a disputed play account—blind-Hookey—a white feather—who need ask?—it is not our business to inquire too closely into the bygones of our characters, except in so far as their previous history appertains to the development of this present story.
But the autumn, and the end of the Parliamentary Session and the London season, brought one or two county families down to their houses, and filled tolerably the neighbouring little watering-place of Baymouth, and opened our friend Mr. Bingley's Theatre Royal at Chatteris, and collected the usual company at the Assizes and Race-balls there. Up to this time, the old county families had been rather shy of our friends of Clavering Park. The Fogeys of Drummington; the Squares of Tozely Park; the Welbores of The Barrow, etc.: all sorts of stories were current among these folks regarding the family at Clavering;—indeed, nobody ought to say that people in the country have no imagination who heard them talk about new neighbours. About Sir Francis and his Lady, and her birth and parentage, about Miss Amory, about Captain Strong, there had been endless histories which need not be recapitulated; and the family of the Park had been three months in the county before the great people around began to call.
But at the end of the season, the Earl of Trehawk, Lord Lieutenant of the County, coming to Eyrie Castle, and the Countess Dowager of Rockminster, whose son was also a magnate of the land, to occupy a mansion on the Marine Parade at Baymouth—these great folks came publicly, immediately, and in state, to call upon the family of Clavering Park; and the carriages of the county families speedily followed in the track which had been left in the avenue by their lordly wheels.
It was then that Mirobolant began to have an opportunity of exercising that skill which he possessed, and of forgetting, in the occupations of his art, the pangs of love. It was then that the large footmen were too much employed at Clavering Park to be able to bring messages, or dally over the cup of small beer with the poor little maids at Fairoaks. It was then that Blanche found other dear friends than Laura, and other places to walk in besides the river-side, where Pen was fishing. He came day after day, and whipped the stream, but the "fish, fish!" wouldn't do their duty, nor the Peri appear. And here, though in strict confidence, and with a request that the matter go no further, we may as well allude to a delicate business, of which previous hint has been given. Mention has been made, in a former page, of a certain hollow tree, at which Pen used to take his station when engaged in his passion for Miss Fotheringay, and the cavity of which he afterwards used for other purposes than to insert his baits and fishing-cans in. The truth is, be converted this tree into a post-office. Under a piece of moss and a stone, he used to put little poems, or letters equally poetical, which were addressed to a certain Undine, or Naiad who frequented the stream, and which, once or twice, were replaced by a receipt in the shape of a flower, or by a modest little word or two of acknowledgment, written in a delicate hand, in French or English, and on pink scented paper. Certainly, Miss Amory used to walk by this stream, as we have seen; and it is a fact that she used pink scented paper for her correspondence. But after the great folks had invaded Clavering Park, and the family coach passed out of the lodge-gates, evening after evening, on their way to the other great country houses, nobody came to fetch Pen's letters at the post-office; the white paper was not exchanged for the pink, but lay undisturbed under its stone and its moss, whilst the tree was reflected into the stream, and the Brawl went rolling by. There was not much in the letters certainly; in the pink notes scarcely anything—merely a little word or two, half jocular, half sympathetic, such as might be written by any young lady. But oh, you silly Pendennis, if you wanted this one, why did you not speak? Perhaps neither party was in earnest. You were only playing at being in love, and the sportive little Undine was humouring you at the same play.
But if a man is baulked at this game, he not unfrequently loses his temper; and when nobody came any more for Pen's poems, he began to look upon those compositions in a very serious light. He felt almost tragical and romantic again, as in his first affair of the heart:—at any rate he was bent upon having an explanation. One day he went to the Hall and there was a roomful of visitors: on another, Miss Amory was not to be seen; she was going to a ball that night, and was lying down to take a little sleep. Pen cursed balls, and the narrowness of his means, and the humility of his position in the country that caused him to be passed over by the givers of these entertainments. On a third occasion, Miss Amory was in the garden, and he ran thither; she was walking there in state with no less personages than the Bishop and Bishopess of Chatteris and the episcopal family, who scowled at him, and drew up in great dignity when he was presented to them, and they heard his name. The Right Reverend Prelate had heard it before, and also of the little transaction in the Dean's garden.
"The Bishop says you're a sad young man," good-natured Lady Clavering whispered to him. "What have you been a doing of? Nothink, I hope, to vex such a dear Mar as yours? How is your dear Mar? Why don't she come and me? We an't seen her this ever such a time. We're a goin about a gaddin, so that we don't see no neighbours now. Give my love to her and Laurar, and come all to dinner to-morrow."
Mrs. Pendennis was too unwell to come out but Laura and Pen came, and there was a great party, and Pen only got an opportunity of a hurried word with Miss Amory. "You never come to the river now," he said.
"I can't," said Blanche, "the house is full of people."
"Undine has left the stream," Mr. Pen went on, choosing to be poetical.
"She never ought to have gone there," Miss Amory answered. "She won't go again. It was very foolish: very wrong: it was only play. Besides, you have other consolations at home," she added, looking him full in the face an instant, and dropping her eyes.
If he wanted her, why did he not speak then? She might have said "Yes" even then. But as she spoke of other consolations at home, he thought of Laura, so affectionate and so pure, and of his mother at home, who had bent her fond heart upon uniting him with her adopted daughter. "Blanche!" he began, in a vexed tone,—"Miss Amory!"
"Laura is looking at us, Mr. Pendennis," the young lady said. "I must go back to the company," and she ran off, leaving Mr. Pendennis to bite his nails in perplexity, and to look out into the moonlight in the garden.
Laura indeed was looking at Pen. She was talking with, or appearing to listen to the talk of, Mr. Pynsent, Lord Rockminster's son, and grandson of the Dowager Lady, who was seated in state in the place of honour, gravely receiving Lady Clavering's bad grammar, and patronising the vacuous Sir Francis, whose interest in the county she was desirous to secure. Pynsent and Pen had been at Oxbridge together, where the latter, during his heyday of good fortune and fashion, had been the superior of the young patrician, and perhaps rather supercilious towards him. They had met for the first time, since they parted at the University, at the table to-day, and given each other that exceedingly impertinent and amusing demi-nod of recognition which is practised in England only, and only to perfection by University men,—and which seems to say, "Confound you—what do you do here?"
"I knew that man at Oxbridge," Mr. Pynsent said to Miss Bell—"a Mr. Pendennis, I think."
"Yes," said Miss Bell.
"He seems rather sweet upon Miss Amory," the gentleman went on. Laura looked at them, and perhaps thought so too, but said nothing.
"A man of large property in the county, ain't he? He used to talk about representing it. He used to speak at the Union. Whereabouts do his estates lie?"
Laura smiled. "His estates lie on the other side of the river, near the lodge-gate. He is my cousin, and I live there."
"Where?" asked Mr. Pynsent, with a laugh.
"Why, on the other side of the river, at Fairoaks," answered Miss Bell.
"Many pheasants there? Cover looks rather good," said the simple gentleman.
Laura smiled again. "We have nine hens and a cock, a pig, and an old pointer."
"Pendennis don't preserve, then?" continued Mr. Pynsent.
"You should come and see him," the girl said, laughing, and greatly amused at the notion that her Pen was a great county gentleman, and perhaps had given himself out to be such.
"Indeed, I quite long to renew our acquaintance," Mr. Pynsent said, gallantly, and with a look which fairly said, "It is you that I would like to come and see"—to which look and speech Miss Laura vouchsafed a smile, and made a little bow.
Here Blanche came stepping up with her most fascinating smile and ogle, and begged dear Laura to come and take the second in a song. Laura was ready to do anything good-natured, and went to the piano; by which Mr. Pynsent listened as long as the duet lasted, and until Miss Amory began for herself, when he strode away.
"What a nice, frank, amiable, well-bred girl that is, Wagg," said Mr. Pynsent to a gentleman who had come over with him from Baymouth—"the tall one, I mean, with the ringlets and red lips—monstrous red, ain't they?"
"What do you think of the girl of the house?" asked Wagg.
"I think she's a lean, scraggy humbug," said Mr. Pynsent, with great candour. "She drags her shoulders out of her dress, she never lets her eyes alone: and she goes simpering and ogling about like a French waiting-maid.
"Pynsent, be civil," cried the other, "somebody can hear."
"Oh, it's Pendennis of Boniface," Mr. Pynsent said. "Fine evening, Mr. Pendennis; we were just talking of your charming cousin."
"Any relation to my old friend, Major Pendennis?" asked Mr. Wagg.
"His nephew. Had the pleasure of meeting you at Gaunt House," Mr. Pen said with his very best air—the acquaintance between the gentlemen was made in an instant.
In the afternoon of the next day, the two gentlemen who were staying at Clavering Park were found by Mr. Pen on his return from a fishing excursion, in which he had no sport, seated in his mother's drawing-room in comfortable conversation with the widow and her ward. Mr. Pynsent, tall and gaunt, with large red whiskers and an imposing tuft to his chin, was striding over a chair in the intimate neighbourhood of Miss Laura. She was amused by his talk, which was simple, straightforward, rather humorous and keen, and interspersed with homely expressions of a style which is sometimes called slang. It was the first specimen of a young London dandy that Laura had seen or heard: for she had been but a chit at the time of Mr. Foker's introduction at Fairoaks, nor indeed was that ingenuous gentleman much more than a boy, and his refinement was only that of a school and college.
Mr. Wagg, as he entered the Fairoaks premises with his companion, eyed and noted everything. "Old gardener," he said, seeing Mr. John at the lodge—"old red livery waistcoat—clothes hanging out to dry on the gooseberry-bushes—blue aprons, white ducks—gad, they must be young Pendennis's white ducks—nobody else wears 'em in the family. Rather a shy place for a sucking county member, ay, Pynsent?"
"Snug little crib," said Mr. Pynsent, "pretty cosy little lawn."
"Mr. Pendennis at home, old gentleman?" Mr. Wagg said to the old domestic. John answered, "No, Master Pendennis was agone out."
"Are the ladies at home?" asked the younger visitor. Mr. John answered, "Yes, they be;" and as the pair walked over the trim gravel, and by the neat shrubberies, up the steps to the hall-door, which old John opened, Mr. Wagg noted everything that he saw; the barometer and the letter-bag, the umbrellas and the ladies' clogs, Pen's hats and tartan wrapper, and old John opening the drawing-room door, to introduce the new-comers. Such minutiae attracted Wagg instinctively; he seized them in spite of himself.
"Old fellow does all the work," he whispered to Pynsent. "Caleb Balderstone. Shouldn't wonder if he's the housemaid." The next minute the pair were in the presence of the Fairoaks ladies; in whom Pynsent could not help recognising two perfectly well-bred ladies, and to whom Mr. Wagg made his obeisance, with florid bows, and extra courtesy, accompanied with an occasional knowing leer at his companion. Mr. Pynsent did not choose to acknowledge these signals, except by extreme haughtiness towards Mr. Wagg, and particular deference to the ladies. If there was one thing laughable in Mr. Wagg's eyes, it was poverty. He had the soul of a butler who had been brought from his pantry to make fun in the drawing-room. His jokes were plenty, and his good-nature thoroughly genuine, but he did not seem to understand that a gentleman could wear an old coat, or that a lady could be respectable unless she had her carriage, or employed a French milliner.
"Charming place, ma'am," said he, bowing to the widow; "noble prospect—delightful to us Cocknies, who seldom see anything but Pall Mall." The widow said simply, she had never been in London but once in her life—before her son was born.
"Fine village, ma'am, fine village," said Mr. Wagg, "and increasing every day. It'll be quite a large town soon. It's not a bad place to live in for those who can't get the country, and will repay a visit when you honour it."
"My brother, Major Pendennis, has often mentioned your name to us," the widow said, "and we have been very much amused by some of your droll books, sir," Helen continued, who never could be brought to like Mr. Wagg's books, and detested their tone most thoroughly.
"He is my very good friend," Mr. Wagg said, with a low bow, "and one of the best known men about town, and where known, ma'am, appreciated—I assure you appreciated. He is with our friend Steyne, at Aix-la-Chapelle. Steyne has a touch of the gout and so, between ourselves, has your brother. I am going to Stillbrook for the pheasant-shooting, and afterwards to Bareacres, where Pendennis and I shall probably meet;" and he poured out a flood of fashionable talk, introducing the names of a score of peers, and rattling on with breathless spirits, whilst the simple widow listened in silent wonder. What a man, she thought; are all the men of fashion in London like this? I am sure Pen will never like him.
Mr. Pynsent was in the meanwhile engaged with Miss Laura. He named some of the houses in the neighbourhood whither he was going, and hoped very much that he should see Miss Bell at some of them. He hoped that her aunt would give her a season in London. He said, that in the next parliament it was probable that he should canvass the county, and he hoped to get Pendennis's interest here. He spoke of Pen's triumph as an orator at Oxbridge, and asked was he coming into parliament too? He talked on very pleasantly, and greatly to Laura's satisfaction, until Pen himself appeared, and, as has been said, found these gentlemen.
Pen behaved very courteously to the pair, now that they have found their way into his quarters; and though he recollected with some twinges a conversation at Oxbridge, when Pynsent was present, and in which after a great debate at the Union, and in the midst of considerable excitement produced by a supper and champagne-cup,—he had announced his intention of coming in for his native county, and had absolutely returned thanks in a fine speech as the future member; yet Mr. Pynsent's manner was so frank and cordial, that Pen hoped Pynsent might have forgotten his little fanfaronnade, and any other braggadocio speeches or actions which he might have made. He suited himself to the tone of the visitors, then, and talked about Plinlimmon and Magnus Charters, and the old set at Oxbridge, with careless familiarity and high-bred ease, as if he lived with marquises every day, and a duke was no more to him than a village curate.
But at this juncture, and it being then six o'clock in the evening, Betsy, the maid, who did not know of the advent of strangers, walked into the room without any preliminary but that of flinging the door wide open before her, and bearing in her arms a tray, containing three tea-cups, a tea-pot, and a plate of thick bread-and-butter. All Pen's splendour and magnificence vanished away at this—and he faltered and became quite abashed. "What will they think of us?" he thought: and, indeed, Wagg thrust his tongue in his cheek, thought the tea infinitely contemptible, and leered and winked at Pynsent to that effect.
But to Mr. Pynsent the transaction appeared perfectly simple—there was no reason present to his mind why people should not drink tea at six if they were minded, as well as at any other hour; and he asked of Mr. Wagg, when they went away, "What the devil he was grinning and winking at, and what amused him?"
"Didn't you see how the cub was ashamed of the thick bread-and-butter? I dare say they're going to have treacle if they are good. I'll take an opportunity of telling old Pendennis when we get back to town," Mr. Wagg chuckled out.
"Don't see the fun," said Mr. Pynsent.
"Never thought you did," growled Wagg between his teeth; they walked home rather sulkily.
Wagg told the story at dinner very smartly, with wonderful accuracy of observation. He described old John, the clothes that were drying, the clogs in the hall, the drawing-room, and its furniture and pictures;—"Old man with a beak and bald head—feu Pendennis I bet two to one; sticking-plaster full-length of a youth in a cap and gown—the present Marquis of Fairoaks, of course; the widow when young in a miniature, Mrs. Mee; she had the gown on when we came, or a dress made the year after, and the tips cut off the fingers of her gloves which she stitches her son's collars with; and then the sarving maid came in with their teas so we left the Earl and the Countess to their bread-and-butter."
Blanche, near whom he sate as he told this story, and who adored les hommes desprit, burst out laughing, and called him such an odd, droll creature. But Pynsent, who began to be utterly disgusted with him, broke out in a loud voice, and said, "I don't know, Mr. Wagg, what sort of ladies you are accustomed to meet in your own family, but by gad, as far as a first acquaintance can show, I never met two better-bred women in my life, and I hope, ma'am, you'll call upon 'em," he added, addressing Lady Rockminster, who was seated at Sir Francis Clavering's right hand.
Sir Francis turned to the guest on his left, and whispered. "That's what I call a sticker for Wagg." And Lady Clavering, giving the young gentleman a delighted tap with her fan, winked her black eyes at him, and said, "Mr. Pynsent, you're a good feller."
After the affair with Blanche, a difference ever so slight, a tone of melancholy, perhaps a little bitter, might be perceived in Laura's converse with her cousin. She seemed to weigh him and find him wanting too; the widow saw the girl's clear and honest eyes watching the young man at times, and a look of almost scorn pass over her face, as he lounged in the room with the women, or lazily sauntered smoking upon the lawn, or lolled under a tree there over a book which he was too listless to read.
"What has happened between you?" eager-sighted Helen asked of the girl. "Something has happened. Has that wicked little Blanche been making mischief? Tell me, Laura."
"Nothing has happened at all," Laura said.
"Then why do you look at Pen so?" asked his mother quickly.
"Look at him, dear mother!" said the girl. "We two women are no society for him: we don't interest him; we are not clever enough for such a genius as Pen. He wastes his life and energies away among us, tied to our apron-strings. He interests himself in nothing: he scarcely cares to go beyond the garden-gate. Even Captain Glanders and Captain Strong pall upon him," she added with a bitter laugh; "and they are men, you know, and our superiors. He will never be happy while he is here. Why, is he not facing the world, and without a profession?"
"We have got enough, with great economy," said the widow, her heart beginning to beat violently. "Pen has spent nothing for months. I'm sure he is very good. I am sure he might be very happy with us."
"Don't agitate yourself so, dear mother," the girl answered. "I don't like to see you so. You should not be sad because Pen is unhappy here. All men are so. They must work. They must make themselves names and a place in the world. Look, the two captains have fought and seen battles; that Mr. Pynsent, who came here, and who will be very rich, is in a public office; he works very hard, he aspires to a name and a reputation. He says Pen was one of the best speakers at Oxbridge, and had as great a character for talent as any of the young gentlemen there. Pen himself laughs at Mr. Wagg's celebrity (and indeed he is a horrid person), and says he is a dunce, and that anybody could write his books."
"I am sure they are odious and vulgar," interposed the widow.
"Yet he has a reputation.—You see the County Chronicle says, 'The celebrated Mr. Wagg has been sojourning at Baymouth—let our fashionables and eccentrics look out for something from his caustic pen.' If Pen can write better than this gentleman, and speak better than Mr. Pynsent, why doesn't he? Mamma, he can't make speeches to us; or distinguish himself here. He ought to go away, indeed he ought."
"Dear Laura," said Helen, taking the girl's hand. "Is it kind of you to hurry him so? I have been waiting. I have been saving up money these many months—to—to pay back your advance to us."
"Hush, mother!" Laura cried, embracing her friend hastily. "It was your money, not mine. Never speak about that again. How much money have you saved?"
Helen said there were more than two hundred pounds at the bank, and that she would be enabled to pay off all Laura's money by the end of the next year.
"Give it him—let him have the two hundred pounds. Let him go to London and be a lawyer: be something, be worthy of his mother—and of mine, dearest mamma," said the good girl; upon which, and with her usual tenderness and emotion, the fond widow declared that Laura was a blessing to her and the best of girls—and I hope no one in this instance will be disposed to contradict her.
The widow and her daughter had more than one conversation on this subject; and the elder gave way to the superior reason of the honest and stronger-minded girl; and indeed, whenever there was a sacrifice to be made on her part, this kind lady was only too eager to make it. But she took her own way, and did not loose sight of the end she had in view, in imparting these new plans to Pen. One day she told him of these projects, and it who that had formed them; how it was Laura who insisted upon his going to London and studying; how it was Laura who would not hear of the—the money arrangements when he came back from Oxbridge—being settled just then: how it was Laura whom he had to thank, if indeed he thought that he had to go.
At that news Pen's countenance blazed up with pleasure, and he hugged his mother to his heart with an ardour that I fear disappointed the fond lady; but she rallied when he said, "By Heaven! she is a noble girl, and may God Almighty bless her mother! I have been wearing myself away for months here, longing to work, and not knowing how. I've been fretting over the thoughts of my shame, and my debts, and my past cursed extravagance and follies. I've suffered infernally. My heart has been half broken—never mind about that. If I can get a chance to redeem the past, and to do my duty to myself and the best mother in the world, indeed, indeed, I will. I'll be worthy of you yet. Heaven bless you! God bless Laura! Why isn't she here, that I may go and thank her?" Pen went on with more incoherent phrases; paced up and down the room, drank glasses of water, jumped about his mother with a thousand embraces—began to laugh—began to sing—was happier than she had seen him since he was a boy—since he had tasted of the fruit of that awful Tree of Life, which, from the beginning, has tempted all mankind.
Laura was not at home. Laura was on a visit to the stately Lady Rockminster, daughter to my Lord Bareacres, sister to the late Lady Pontypool, and by consequence a distant kinswoman of Helen's, as her ladyship, who was deeply versed in genealogy, was graciously to point out to the modest country lady. Mr. Pen was greatly delighted at the relationship being acknowledged; though perhaps not over well pleased that Lady Rockminster took Miss Bell home with her for a couple of days to Baymouth, and did not make the slightest invitation to Mr. Arthur Pendennis. There was to be a ball at Baymouth, and it was to be Miss Laura's first appearance. The dowager came to fetch her in her carriage, and she went off with a white dress in her box, happy and blushing, like the rose to which Pen compared her.
This was the night of the ball—a public entertainment at the Baymouth Hotel. "By Jove!" said Pen, "I'll ride over—No, I won't ride, but I'll go too." His mother was charmed that he should do so; and, as he was debating about the conveyance in which he should start for Baymouth, Captain Strong called opportunely, said he was going himself, and that he would put his horse, The Butcher Boy, into the gig, and drive Pen over.
When the grand company began to fill the house at Clavering Park, the Chevalier Strong, who, as his patron said, was never in the way or out of it, seldom intruded himself upon its society, but went elsewhere to seek his relaxation. "I've seen plenty of grand dinners in my time," he said, "and dined, by Jove, in a company where there was a king and royal duke at top and bottom, and every man along the table had six stars on his coat; but dammy, Glanders, this finery don't suit me; and the English ladies with their confounded buckram airs, and the squires with their politics after dinner, send me to sleep—sink me dead if they don't. I like a place where I can blow my cigar when the cloth is removed, and when I'm thirsty, have my beer in its native pewter." So on a gala-day at Clavering Park, the Chevalier would content himself with superintending the arrangements of the table, and drilling the major-domo and servants; and having looked over the bill-of-fare with Monsieur Mirobolant, would not care to take the least part in the banquet. "Send me up a cutlet and a bottle of claret to my room," this philosopher would say, and from the windows of that apartment, which commanded the terrace and avenue, he would survey the company as they arrived in their carriages, or take a peep at the ladies in the hall through an oeil-de-boeuf which commanded it from his corridor. And the guests being seated, Strong would cross the park to Captain Glanders's cottage at Clavering, or to pay the landlady a visit at the Clavering Arms, or to drop in upon Madame Fribsby over her novel and tea. Wherever the Chevalier went he was welcome, and whenever he came away a smell of hot brandy-and-water lingered behind him.
The Butcher Boy—not the worst horse in Sir Francis's stable—was appropriated to Captain Strong's express use; and the old Campaigner saddled him or brought him home at all hours of the day or night, and drove or rode him up and down the country. Where there was a public-house with a good tap of beer—where there was a tenant with a pretty daughter who played on the piano—to Chatteris, to the play, or the barracks—to Baymouth, if any fun was on foot there; to the rural fairs or races, the Chevalier and his brown horse made their way continually; and this worthy gentleman lived at free quarters in a friendly country. The Butcher Boy soon took Pen and the Chevalier to Baymouth. The latter was as familiar with the hotel and landlord there as with every other inn round about; and having been accommodated with a bedroom to dress, they entered the ballroom. The Chevalier was splendid. He wore three little gold crosses in a brochette on the portly breast of his blue coat, and looked like a foreign field-marshal.
The ball was public and all sorts of persons were admitted and encouraged to come, young Pynsent having views upon the county and Lady Rockminster being patroness of the ball. There was a quadrille for the aristocracy at one end, and select benches for the people of fashion. Towards this end the Chevalier did not care to penetrate far (as he said he did not care for the nobs); but in the other part of the room he knew everybody—the wine-merchants', innkeepers', tradesmen's, solicitors', squire-farmers' daughters, their sires and brothers, and plunged about shaking hands.
"Who is that man with the blue ribbon and the three-pointed star?" asked Pen. A gentleman in black with ringlets and a tuft stood gazing fiercely about him, with one hand in the arm-hole of his waistcoat and the other holding his claque.
"By Jupiter, it's Mirobolant!" cried Strong, bursting out laughing. "Bon jour, Chef!—Bon jour, Chevalier!"
"De la croix de Juillet, Chevalier!" said the Chef, laying his hand on his decoration.
"By Jove, here's some more ribbon!" said Pen, amused.
A man with very black hair and whiskers, dyed evidently with the purple of Tyre, with twinkling eyes and white eyelashes, and a thousand wrinkles in his face, which was of a strange red colour, with two under-vests, and large gloves and hands, and a profusion of diamonds and jewels in his waistcoat and stock, with coarse feet crumpled into immense shiny boots, and a piece of parti-coloured ribbon in his button-hole, here came up and nodded familiarly to the Chevalier.
The Chevalier shook hands. "My friend Mr. Pendennis," Strong said. "Colonel Altamont, of the bodyguard of his Highness the Nawaub of Lucknow." That officer bowed to the salute of Pen; who was now looking out eagerly to see if the person wanted had entered the room.
Not yet. But the band began presently performing 'See the Conquering Hero comes,' and a host of fashionables—Dowager Countess of Rockminster, Mr. Pynsent and Miss Bell, Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., of Clavering Park, Lady Clavering and Miss Amory, Sir Horace Fogey, Bart., Lady Fogey, Colonel and Mrs. Higgs Wagg, Esq. (as the county paper afterwards described them), entered the room.
Pen rushed by Blanche, ran up to Laura, and seized her hand. "God bless you!" he said, "I want to speak to you—I must speak to you—Let me dance with you." "Not for three dances, dear Pen," she said, smiling: and he fell back, biting his nails with vexation, and forgetting to salute Pynsent.
After Lady Rockminster's party, Lady Clavering's followed in the procession.
Colonel Altamont eyed it hard, holding a most musky pocket-handkerchief up to his face, and bursting with laughter behind it.
"Who's the gal in green along with 'em, Cap'n?" he asked of Strong.
"That's Miss Amory, Lady Clavering's daughter," replied the Chevalier.
The Colonel could hardly contain himself for laughing.
CHAPTER XXVII. Contains some Ball-practising
Under some calico draperies in the shady embrasure of a window, Arthur Pendennis chose to assume a very gloomy and frowning countenance, and to watch Miss Bell dance her first quadrille with Mr. Pynsent for a partner. That gentleman was as solemn and severe as Englishmen are upon such occasions, and walked through the dance as he would have walked up to his pew in church, without a smile upon his face, or allowing any outward circumstance to interfere with his attention to the grave duty in which he was engaged. But Miss Laura's face was beaming with pleasure and good-nature. The lights and the crowd and music excited her. As she spread out her white robes, and performed her part of the dance, smiling and happy, her brown ringlets flowing back over her fair shoulders from her honest rosy face, more than one gentleman in the room admired and looked after her; and Lady Fogey, who had a house in London and gave herself no small airs of fashion when in the country, asked of Lady Rockminster who the young person was, mentioned a reigning beauty in London whom, in her ladyship's opinion, Laura was rather like, and pronounced that she would "do."
Lady Rockminster would have been very much surprised if any protegee of hers would not "do," and wondered at Lady Fogey's impudence in judging upon the point at all. She surveyed Laura with majestic glances through her eyeglass. She was pleased with the girl's artless looks, and gay innocent manner. Her manner is very good, her ladyship thought. Her arms are rather red, but that is a defect of her youth. Her tone is far better than that of the little pert Miss Amory, who is dancing opposite to her.
Miss Blanche was, indeed, the vis-a-vis of Miss Laura, and smiled most killingly upon her dearest friend, and nodded to her and talked to her, when they met during the quadrille evolutions, and patronised her a great deal. Her shoulders were the whitest in the whole room: and they were never easy in her frock for one single instant: nor were her eyes, which rolled about incessantly: nor was her little figure:—it seemed to say to all the people, "Come and look at me—not at that pink, healthy, bouncing country lass, Miss Bell, who scarcely knew how to dance till I taught her. This is the true Parisian manner—this is the prettiest little foot in the room, and the prettiest little chaussure too. Look at it, Mr. Pynsent. Look at it, Mr. Pendennis, you who are scowling behind the curtain—I know you are longing to dance with me."
Laura went on dancing, and keeping an attentive eye upon Mr. Pen in the embrasure of the window. He did not quit that retirement during the first quadrille, nor until the second, when the good-natured Lady Clavering beckoned to him to come up to her to the dais or place of honour where the dowagers were,—and whither Pen went blushing and exceedingly awkward, as most conceited young fellows are. He performed a haughty salutation to Lady Rockminster, who hardly acknowledged his bow, and then went and paid his respects to the widow of the late Amory, who was splendid in diamonds, velvet, lace, feathers, and all sorts of millinery and goldsmith's ware.
Young Mr. Fogey, then in the fifth form at Eton, and ardently expecting his beard and his commission in a dragoon regiment, was the second partner who was honoured with Miss Bell's hand. He was rapt in admiration of that young lady. He thought he had never seen so charming a creature. "I like you much better than the French girl" (for this young gentleman had been dancing with Miss Amory before), he candidly said to her. Laura laughed, and looked more good-humoured than ever; and in the midst of her laughter caught a sight of Pen, and continued to laugh as he, on his side, continued to look absurdly pompous and sulky. The next dance was a waltz, and young Fogey thought, with a sigh, that he did not know how to waltz, and vowed he would have a master the next holidays.
Mr. Pynsent again claimed Miss Bell's hand for this dance; and Pen beheld her, in a fury, twirling round the room, her waist encircled by the arm of that gentleman. He never used to be angry before when, on summer evenings, the chairs and tables being removed, and the governess called downstairs to play the piano, he and the Chevalier Strong (who was a splendid performer, and could dance a British hornpipe, a German waltz, or a Spanish fandango, if need were), and the two young ladies, Blanche and Laura, improvised little balls at Clavering Park. Laura enjoyed this dancing so much, and was so animated, that she even animated Mr. Pynsent. Blanche, who could dance beautifully, had an unlucky partner, Captain Broadfoot, of the Dragoons, then stationed at Chatteris. For Captain Broadfoot, though devoting himself with great energy to the object in view, could not get round in time: and, not having the least ear for music, was unaware that his movements were too slow.
So, in the waltz as in the quadrille, Miss Blanche saw that her dear friend Laura had the honours of the dance, and was by no means pleased with the latter's success. After a couple of turns with the heavy dragoon, she pleaded fatigue, and requested to be led back to her place, near her mamma, to whom Pen was talking; and she asked him why he had not asked her to waltz, and had left her for the mercies of that great odious man in spurs and a red coat?
"I thought spurs and scarlet were the most fascinating objects in the world to young ladies," Pen answered. "I never should have dared to put my black coat in competition with that splendid red jacket."
"You are very unkind and cruel and sulky and naughty," said Miss Amory, with another shrug of the shoulders. "You had better go away. Your cousin is looking at us over Mr. Pynsent's shoulder."
"Will you waltz with me?" said Pen.
"Not this waltz. I can't, having just sent away that good Captain Broadfoot. Look at Mr. Pynsent, did you ever see such a creature? But I will dance the next waltz with you, and the quadrille too. I am promised, but I will tell Mr. Poole that I had forgotten my engagement to you."
"Women forget very readily," Pendennis said.
"But they always come back, and are very repentant and sorry for what they've done," Blanche said. "See, here comes the Foker, and dear Laura leaning on him. How pretty she looks!"
Laura came up, and put out her hand to Pen, to whom Pynsent made a sort of bow, appearing to be not much more graceful than that domestic instrument to which Miss Amory compared him.
But Laura's face was full of kindness. "I am so glad to have come, dear Pen," she said. "I can speak to you now. How is mamma? The three dances are over, and I am engaged to you for the next, Pen."
"I have just engaged myself to Miss Amory," said Pen; and Miss Amory nodded her head, and made her usual little curtsey. "I don't intend to give him up, dearest Laura," she said.
"Well, then, he'll waltz with me, dear Blanche," said the other. "Won't you, Pen?"
"I promised to waltz with Miss Amory."
"Provoking!" said Laura, and making a curtsey in her turn she went and placed herself under the ample wing of Lady Rockminster.
Pen was delighted with his mischief. The two prettiest girls in the room were quarrelling about him. He flattered himself he had punished Miss Laura. He leaned in a dandified air, with his elbow over the wall, and talked to Blanche: he quizzed unmercifully all the men in the room—the heavy dragoons in their tight jackets—the country dandies in their queer attire—the strange toilettes of the ladies. One seemed to have a bird's nest in her head; another had six pounds of grapes in her hair, besides her false pearls. "It's a coiffure of almonds and raisins," said Pen "and might be served up for dessert." In a word, he was exceedingly satirical and amusing.
During the quadrille he carried on this kind of conversation with unflinching bitterness and vivacity, and kept Blanche continually laughing, both at his wickedness and jokes, which were good, and also because Laura was again their vis-a-vis, and could see and hear how merry and confidential they were.
"Arthur is charming to-night," she whispered to Laura, across Cornet Perch's shell-jacket, as Pen was performing cavalier seul before them, drawling through that figure with a thumb in the pocket of each waistcoat.
"Who?" said Laura.
"Arthur," answered Blanche, in French. "Oh, it's such a pretty name!" And now the young ladies went over to Pen's side, and Cornet Perch performed a pas seul in his turn. He had no waistcoat pocket to put his hands into, and they looked large and swollen as they hung before him depending from the tight arms in the jacket.
During the interval between the quadrille and the succeeding waltz, Pen did not take any notice of Laura, except to ask her whether her partner, Cornet Perch, was an amusing youth, and whether she liked him so well as her other partner, Mr. Pynsent. Having planted which two daggers in Laura's gentle bosom, Mr. Pendennis proceeded to rattle on with Blanche Amory, and to make jokes good or bad, but which were always loud. Laura was at a loss to account for her cousin's sulky behaviour, and ignorant in what she had offended him; however, she was not angry in her turn at Pen's splenetic mood, for she was the most good-natured and forgiving of women, and besides, an exhibition of jealousy on a man's part is not always disagreeable to a lady.
As Pen would not dance with her, she was glad to take up with the active Chevalier Strong, who was a still better performer than Pen; and being very fond of dancing, as every brisk and innocent young girl should be, when the waltz music began she set off, and chose to enjoy herself with all her heart. Captain Broadfoot on this occasion occupied the floor in conjunction with a lady of proportions scarcely inferior to his own; Miss Roundle, a large young woman in a strawberry-ice coloured crape dress, the daughter of the lady with the grapes in her head, whose bunches Pen had admired.
And now taking his time, and with his fair partner Blanche hanging lovingly on the arm which encircled her, Mr. Arthur Pendennis set out upon his waltzing career, and felt, as he whirled round to the music, that he and Blanche were performing very brilliantly indeed. Very likely he looked to see if Miss Bell thought so too; but she did not or would not see him, and was always engaged with her partner Captain Strong. But Pen's triumph was not destined to last long; and it was doomed that poor Blanche was to have yet another discomfiture on that unfortunate night. While she and Pen were whirling round as light and brisk as a couple of opera-dancers, honest Captain Broadfoot and the lady round whose large waist he was clinging, were twisting round very leisurely according to their natures, and indeed were in everybody's way. But they were more in Pendennis's way than in anybody's else, for he and Blanche, whilst executing their rapid gyrations, came bolt up against the heavy dragoon and his lady, and with such force that the centre of gravity was lost by all four of the circumvolving bodies; Captain Broadfoot and Miss Roundle were fairly upset, as was Pen himself, who was less lucky than his partner Miss Amory, who was only thrown upon a bench against a wall.
But Pendennis came fairly down upon the floor, sprawling in the general ruin with Broadfoot and Miss Roundle. The Captain, though heavy, was good-natured, and was the first to burst out into a loud laugh at his own misfortune, which nobody therefore heeded. But Miss Amory was savage at her mishap; Miss Roundle placed on her seant, and looking pitifully round, presented an object which very few people could see without laughing; and Pen was furious when he heard the people giggling about him. He was one of those sarcastic young fellows that did not bear a laugh at his own expense, and of all things in the world feared ridicule most.
As he got up Laura and Strong were laughing at him; everybody was laughing; Pynsent and his partner were laughing; and Pen boiled with wrath against the pair, and could have stabbed them both on the spot. He turned away in a fury from them, and began blundering out apologies to Miss Amory. It was the other couple's fault—the woman in pink had done it—Pen hoped Miss Amory was not hurt—would she not have the courage to take another turn?
Miss Amory in a pet said she was very much hurt indeed, and she would not take another turn; and she accepted with great thanks a glass of water which a cavalier, who wore a blue ribbon and a three-pointed star, rushed to fetch for her when he had seen the deplorable accident. She drank the water, smiled upon the bringer gracefully, and turning her white shoulder at Mr. Pen in the most marked and haughty manner, besought the gentleman with the star to conduct her to her mamma; and she held out her hand in order to take his arm.
The man with the star trembled with delight at this mark of her favour; he bowed over her hand, pressed it to his coat fervidly, and looked round him with triumph.
It was no other than the happy Mirobolant whom Blanche had selected as an escort. But the truth is, that the young lady had never fairly looked in the artist's face since he had been employed in her mother's family, and had no idea but it was a foreign nobleman on whose arm she was leaning. As she went off, Pen forgot his humiliation in his surprise, and cried out, "By Jove, it's the cook!"
The instant he had uttered the words, he was sorry for having spoken them—for it was Blanche who had herself invited Mirobolant to escort her, nor could the artist do otherwise than comply with a lady's command. Blanche in her flutter did not hear what Arthur said; but Mirobolant heard him, and cast a furious glance at him over his shoulder, which rather amused Mr. Pen. He was in a mischievous and sulky humour; wanting perhaps to pick a quarrel with somebody; but the idea of having insulted a cook, or that such an individual should have any feeling of honour at all, did not much enter into the mind of this lofty young aristocrat, the apothecary's son.
It had never entered that poor artist's head, that he as a man was not equal to any other mortal, or that there was anything in his position so degrading as to prevent him from giving his arm to a lady who asked for it. He had seen in the fetes in his own country fine ladies, not certainly demoiselles (but the demoiselle Anglaise he knew was a great deal more free than the spinster in France), join in the dance with Blaise or Pierre; and he would have taken Blanche up to Lady Clavering, and possibly have asked her to dance too, but he heard Pen's exclamation, which struck him as if it had shot him, and cruelly humiliated and angered him. She did not know what caused him to start, and to grind a Gascon oath between his teeth.
But Strong, who was acquainted with the poor fellow's state of mind, having had the interesting information from our friend Madame Fribsby, was luckily in the way when wanted, and saying something rapidly in Spanish, which the other understood, the Chevalier begged Miss Amory to come and take an ice before she went back to Lady Clavering. Upon which the unhappy Mirobolant relinquished the arm which he had held for a minute, and with a most profound and piteous bow, fell back. "Don't you know who it is?" Strong asked of Miss Amory, as he led her away. "It is the chef Mirobolant."
"How should I know?" asked Blanche. "He has a croix; he is very distingue; he has beautiful eyes."
"The poor fellow is mad for your beaux yeux, I believe," Strong said. "He is a very good cook, but he is not quite right in the head."
"What did you say to him in the unknown tongue?" asked Miss Blanche.
"He is a Gascon, and comes from the borders of Spain," Strong answered. "I told him he would lose his place if he walked with you."
"Poor Monsieur Mirobolant!" said Blanche.
"Did you see the look he gave Pendennis?"—Strong asked, enjoying the idea of the mischief—"I think he would like to run little Pen through with one of his spits."
"He is an odious, conceited, clumsy creature, that Mr. Pen," said Blanche.
"Broadfoot looked as if he would like to kill him too, so did Pynsent," Strong said. "What ice will you have—water ice or cream ice?"
"Water ice. Who is that odd man staring at me—he is decore too."
"That is my friend Colonel Altamont, a very queer character, in the service of the Nawaub of Lucknow. Hallo! what's that noise? I'll be back in an instant," said the Chevalier, and sprang out of the room to the ballroom, where a scuffle and a noise of high voices was heard.
The refreshment-room, in which Miss Amory now found herself, was a room set apart for the purposes of supper, which Mr. Rincer the landlord had provided for those who chose to partake, at the rate of five shillings per head. Also, refreshments of a superior class were here ready for the ladies and gentlemen of the county families who came to the ball; but the commoner sort of persons were kept out of the room by a waiter who stood at the portal, and who said that was a select room for Lady Clavering and Lady Rockminster's parties, and not to be opened to the public till supper-time, which was not to be until past midnight. Pynsent, who danced with his constituents' daughters, took them and their mammas in for their refreshment there. Strong, who was manager and master of the revels wherever he went, had of course the entree—and the only person who was now occupying the room was the gentleman with the black wig and the orders in his button—hole; the officer in the service of his Highness the Nawaub of Lucknow.
This gentleman had established himself very early in the evening in this apartment, where, saying he was confoundedly thirsty, he called for a bottle of champagne. At this order the waiter instantly supposed that he had to do with a grandee, and the Colonel sate down and began to eat his supper and absorb his drink, and enter affably into conversation with anybody who entered the room.
Sir Francis Clavering and Mr. Wagg found him there, when they left the ballroom, which they did pretty early—Sir Francis to go and smoke a cigar, and look at the people gathered outside the ballroom on the shore, which he declared was much better fun than to remain within; Mr. Wagg to hang on to a Baronet's arm, as he was always pleased to do on the arm of the greatest man in the company. Colonel Altamont had stared at these gentlemen in so odd a manner, as they passed through the 'Select' room, that Clavering made inquiries of the landlord who he was, and hinted a strong opinion that the officer of the Nawaub's service was drunk.
Mr. Pynsent, too, had had the honour of a conversation with the servant of the Indian potentate. It was Pynsent's cue to speak to everybody (which he did, to do him justice, in the most ungracious manner); and he took the gentleman in the black wig for some constituent, some merchant captain, or other outlandish man of the place. Mr. Pynsent, then, coming into the refreshment-room with a lady, the wife of a constituent, on his arm, the Colonel asked him if he would try a glass of Sham? Pynsent took it with great gravity, bowed, tasted the wine, and pronounced it excellent, and with the utmost politeness retreated before Colonel Altamont. This gravity and decorum routed and surprised the Colonel more than any other kind of behaviour probably would: he stared after Pynsent stupidly, and pronounced to the landlord over the counter that he was a rum one. Mr. Rincer blushed, and hardly knew what to say. Mr. Pynsent was a county Earl's grandson, going to set up as a Parliament man. Colonel Altamont on the other hand, wore orders and diamonds, jingled sovereigns constantly in his pocket, and paid his way like a man; so not knowing what to say, Mr. Rincer said, "Yes, Colonel—yes, ma'am, did you say tea? Cup a tea for Mr. Jones, Mrs. R.," and so got off that discussion regarding Mr. Pynsent's qualities, into which the Nizam's officer appeared inclined to enter.
In fact, if the truth must be told, Mr. Altamont, having remained at the buffet almost all night, and employed himself very actively whilst there, had considerably flushed his brain by drinking, and he was still going on drinking, when Mr. Strong and Miss Amory entered the room.
When the Chevalier ran out of the apartment, attracted by the noise in the dancing-room, the Colonel rose from his chair with his little red eyes glowing like coals, and, with rather an unsteady gait advanced towards Blanche, who was sipping her ice. She was absorbed in absorbing it, for it was very fresh and good; or she was not curious to know what was going on in the adjoining room, although the waiters were, who ran after Chevalier Strong. So that when she looked up from her glass, she beheld this strange man staring at her out of his little red eyes. "Who was he? It was quite exciting."
"And so you're Betsy Amory," said he, after gazing at her. "Betsy Amory, by Jove!"
"Who—who speaks to me?" said Betsy, alias Blanche.
But the noise in the ballroom is really becoming so loud, that we must rush back thither, and see what is the cause of the disturbance.
CHAPTER XXVIII. Which is both Quarrelsome and Sentimental
Civil war was raging, high words passing, people pushing and squeezing together in an unseemly manner, round a window in the corner of the ballroom, close by the door through which the Chevalier Strong shouldered his way. Through the opened window, the crowd in the street below was sending up sarcastic remarks, such as "Pitch into him!" "Where's the police?" and the like; and a ring of individuals, amongst whom Madame Fribsby was conspicuous, was gathered round Monsieur Alcide Mirobolant on the one side; whilst several gentlemen and ladies surrounded our friend Arthur Pendennis on the other. Strong penetrated into this assembly, elbowing by Madame Fribsby, who was charmed at the Chevalier's appearance, and cried, "Save him, save him!" in frantic and pathetic accents.
The cause of the disturbance, it appeared, was the angry little chef of Sir Francis Clavering's culinary establishment. Shortly after Strong had quitted the room, and whilst Mr. Pen, greatly irate at his downfall in the waltz, which had made him look ridiculous in the eyes of the nation, and by Miss Amory's behaviour to him, which had still further insulted his dignity, was endeavouring to get some coolness of body and temper, by looking out of window towards the sea, which was sparkling in the distance, and murmuring in a wonderful calm—whilst he was really trying to compose himself, and owning to himself, perhaps, that he had acted in a very absurd and peevish manner during the night—he felt a hand upon his shoulder; and, on looking round, beheld, to his utter surprise and horror, that the hand in question belonged to Monsieur Mirobolant, whose eyes were glaring out of his pale face and ringlets at Mr. Pen. To be tapped on the shoulder by a French cook was a piece of familiarity which made the blood of the Pendennises to boil up in the veins of their descendant, and he was astounded, almost more than enraged, at such an indignity.
"You speak French?" Mirobolant said in his own language to Pen.
"What is that to you, pray?" said Pen, in English.
"At any rate, you understand it?" continued the other, with a bow.
"Yes, sir," said Pen, with a stamp of his foot; "I understand it pretty well."
"Vous me comprendrez alors, Monsieur Pendennis," replied the other, rolling out his r with Gascon force, "quand je vous dis que vous etes un lache. Monsieur Pendennis—un lache, entendez-vous?"
"What?" said Pen, starting round on him.
"You understand the meaning of the word and its consequences among men of honour?" the artist said, putting his hand on his hip, and staring at Pen.
"The consequences are, that I will fling you out of window, you impudent scoundrel," bawled out Mr. Pen; and darting upon the Frenchman, he would very likely have put his threat into execution, for the window was at hand, and the artist by no means a match for the young gentleman—had not Captain Broadfoot and another heavy officer flung themselves between the combatants,—had not the ladies begun to scream,—had not the fiddles stopped, had not the crowd of people come running in that direction,—had not Laura, with a face of great alarm, looked over their heads and asked for Heaven's sake what was wrong,—had not the opportune Strong made his appearance from the refreshment-room, and found Alcides grinding his teeth and jabbering oaths in his Galleon French, and Pen looking uncommonly wicked, although trying to appear as calm as possible, when the ladies and the crowd came up.
"What has happened?" Strong asked of the chef, in Spanish.
"I am Chevalier de Juillet," said the other, slapping his breast, "and he has insulted me."
"What has he said to you?" asked Strong.
"Il m'a appele—Cuisinier," hissed out the little Frenchman.
Strong could hardly help laughing. "Come away with me, poor Chevalier," he said. "We must not quarrel before ladies. Come away; I will carry your message to Mr. Pendennis.—The poor fellow is not right in his head," he whispered to one or two people about him;—and others, and anxious Laura's face visible amongst these, gathered round Pen and asked the cause of the disturbance.
Pen did not know. "The man was going to give his arm to a young lady, on which I said that he was a cook, and the man called me a coward and challenged me to fight. I own I was so surprised and indignant, that if you gentlemen had not stopped me, I should have thrown him out of window," Pen said.
"D—— him, serve him right, too,—the impudent foreign scoundrel," the gentlemen said.
"I—I'm very sorry if I hurt his feelings, though," Pen added and Laura was glad to hear him say that; although some of the young bucks said, "No, hang the fellow,—hang those impudent foreigners—little thrashing would do them good."
"You will go and shake hands with him before you go to sleep—won't you, Pen?" said Laura, coming up to him. "Foreigners may be more susceptible than we are, and have different manners. If you hurt a poor man's feelings, I am sure you would be the first to ask his pardon. Wouldn't you, dear Pen?"
She looked all forgiveness and gentleness, like an angel, as she spoke; and Pen took both her hands, and looked into her kind face, and said indeed he would.
"How fond that girl is of me!" he thought, as she stood gazing at him. "Shall I speak to her now? No—not now. I must have this absurd business with the Frenchman over."
Laura asked—Wouldn't he stop and dance with her? She was as anxious to keep him in the room, as he to quit it. "Won't you stop and waltz with me, Pen? I'm not afraid to waltz with you."
This was an affectionate, but an unlucky speech. Pen saw himself prostrate on the ground, having tumbled over Miss Roundle and the dragoon, and flung Blanche up against the wall—saw himself on the ground, and all the people laughing at him, Laura and Pynsent amongst them.
"I shall never dance again," he replied, with a dark and determined face. "Never. I'm surprised you should ask me."
"Is it because you can't get Blanche for a partner?" asked Laura, with a wicked, unlucky captiousness.
"Because I don't wish to make a fool of myself, for other people to laugh at me," Pen answered—"for you to laugh at me, Laura. I saw you and Pynsent. By Jove! no man shall laugh at me."
"Pen, Pen, don't be so wicked!" cried out the poor girl, hurt at the morbid perverseness and savage vanity of Pen. He was glaring round in the direction of Mr. Pynsent as if he would have liked to engage that gentleman as he had done the cook. "Who thinks the worse of you for stumbling in a waltz?" If Laura does, we don't. "Why are you so sensitive, and ready to think evil?"
Here again, by ill luck, Mr. Pynsent came up to Laura, and said "I have it in command from Lady Rockminster to ask whether I may take you in to supper?"
"I—I was going in with my cousin," Laura said.
"O—pray, no!" said Pen. "You are in such good hands, that I can't do better than leave you: and I'm going home."
"Good-night, Mr. Pendennis," Pynsent said, drily—to which speech (which, in fact, meant, "Go to the deuce for an insolent, jealous, impertinent jackanapes, whose ears I should like to box") Mr. Pendennis did not vouchsafe any reply, except a bow: and in spite of Laura's imploring looks, he left the room.
"How beautifully calm and bright the night outside is!" said Mr. Pynsent; "and what a murmur the sea is making! It would be pleasanter to be walking on the beach, than in this hot room."
"Very," said Laura.
"What a strange congregation of people," continued Pynsent. "I have had to go up and perform the agreeable to most of them—the attorney's daughters—the apothecary's wife—I scarcely know whom. There was a man in the refreshment-room, who insisted upon treating me to champagne—a seafaring-looking man—extraordinarily dressed, and seeming half tipsy. As a public man one is bound to conciliate all these people, but it is a hard task—especially when one would so very much like to be elsewhere"—and he blushed rather as he spoke.
"I beg your pardon," said Laura—"I—I was not listening. Indeed—I was frightened about that quarrel between my cousin and that—that—French person."
"Your cousin has been rather unlucky to-night," Pynsent said. "There are three or four persons whom he has not succeeded in pleasing—captain Broadwood; what is his name—the officer—and the young lady in red with whom he danced—and Miss Blanche—and the poor chef—and I don't think he seemed to be particularly pleased with me."
"Didn't he leave me in charge to you?" Laura said, looking up into Mr. Pynsent's face, and dropping her eyes instantly, like a guilty little story-telling coquette.
"Indeed, I can forgive him a good deal for that," Pynsent eagerly cried out, and she took his arm, and he led off his little prize in the direction of the supper-room.
She had no great desire for that repast, though it was served in Rincer's well-known style, as the county paper said, giving an account of the entertainment afterwards; indeed, she was very distraite; and exceedingly pained and unhappy about Pen. Captious and quarrelsome; jealous and selfish; fickle and violent and unjust when his anger led him astray; how could her mother (as indeed Helen had by a thousand words and hints) ask her to give her heart to such a man? and suppose she were to do so, would it make him happy?
But she got some relief at length, when, at the end of half an hour—a long half-hour it had seemed to her—a waiter brought her a little note in pencil from Pen, who said, "I met Cooky below ready to fight me; and I asked his pardon. I'm glad I did it. I wanted to speak to you to-night, but will keep what I had to say till you come home. God bless you. Dance away all night with Pynsent, and be very happy.—PEN." Laura was very thankful for this letter, and to think that there was goodness and forgiveness still in her mother's boy.
Pen went downstairs, his heart reproaching him for his absurd behaviour to Laura, whose gentle and imploring looks followed and rebuked him; and he was scarcely out of the ballroom door but he longed to turn back and ask her pardon. But he remembered that he had left her with that confounded Pynsent. He could not apologise before him. He would compromise and forget his wrath, and make his peace with the Frenchman.
The Chevalier was pacing down below in the hall of the inn when Pen descended from the ballroom; and he came up to Pen, with all sorts of fun and mischief lighting up his jolly face.
"I have got him in the coffee-room," he said, "with a brace of pistols and a candle. Or would you like swords on the beach? Mirobolant is a dead hand with the foils, and killed four gardes-du-corps with his own point in the barricades of July."
"Confound it," said Pen, in a fury, "I can't fight a cook!"
"He is a Chevalier of July," replied the other. "They present arms to him in his own country."
"And do you ask me, Captain Strong, to go out with a servant?" Pen asked fiercely; "I'll call a policeman him but—but——"
"You'll invite me to hair triggers?" cried Strong, with a laugh. "Thank you for nothing; I was but joking. I came to settle quarrels, not to fight them. I have been soothing down Mirobolant; I have told him that you did not apply the word 'Cook' to him in an offensive sense: that it was contrary to all the customs of the country that a hired officer of a household, as I called it, should give his arm to the daughter of the house." And then he told Pen the grand secret which he had had from Madame Fribsby of the violent passion under which the poor artist was labouring.
When Arthur heard this tale, he broke out into a hearty laugh, in which Strong joined, and his rage against the poor cook vanished at once. He had been absurdly jealous himself all the evening, and had longed for a pretext to insult Pynsent. He remembered how jealous he had been of Oaks in his first affair; he was ready to pardon anything to a man under a passion like that: and he went into the coffee-room where Mirobolant was waiting, with an outstretched hand, and made him a speech in French, in which he declared that he was "sincerement fache d'avoir use une expression qui avoit pu blesser Monsieur Mirobolant, et qu'il donnoit sa parole comme un gentilhomme qu'il ne l'avoit jamais, jamais—intende," said Pen, who made a shot at a French word for "intended," and was secretly much pleased with his own fluency and correctness in speaking that language.
"Bravo, bravo!" cried Strong, as much amused with Pen's speech as pleased by his kind manner. And the Chevalier Mirobolant of course withdraws, and sincerely regrets the expression of which he made use.
"Monsieur Pendennis has disproved my words himself," said Alcide with great politeness; "he has shown that he is a galant homme."
And so they shook hands and parted, Arthur in the first place despatching his note to Laura before he and Strong committed themselves to the Butcher Boy.
As they drove along, Strong complimented Pen upon his behaviour, as well as upon his skill in French. "You're a good fellow, Pendennis, and you speak French like Chateaubriand, by Jove."
"I've been accustomed to it from my youth upwards," said Pen; and Strong had the grace not to laugh for five minutes, when he exploded into fits of hilarity which Pendennis has never perhaps understood up to this day.
It was daybreak when they got to the Brawl, where they separated. By that time the ball at Baymouth was over too. Madame Fribsby and Mirobolant were on their way home in the Clavering fly; Laura was in bed with an easy heart and asleep at Lady Rockminster's; and the Claverings at rest at the inn at Baymouth, where they had quarters for the night. A short time after the disturbance between Pen and the chef, Blanche had come out of the refreshment-room, looking as pale as a lemon-ice. She told her maid, having no other confidante at hand, that she had met with the most romantic adventure—the most singular man—one who had known the author of her being—her persecuted—her unhappy—her heroic—her murdered father; and she began a sonnet to his manes before she went to sleep.
So Pen returned to Fairoaks, in company with his friend the Chevalier, without having uttered a word of the message which he had been so anxious to deliver to Laura at Baymouth. He could wait, however, until her return home, which was to take place on the succeeding day. He was not seriously jealous of the progress made by Mr. Pynsent in her favour; and he felt pretty certain that in this, as in any other family arrangement, he had but to ask and have, and Laura, like his mother, could refuse him nothing.
When Helen's anxious looks inquired of him what had happened at Baymouth, and whether her darling project was fulfilled, Pen, in a gay tone, told of the calamity which had befallen; laughingly said, that no man could think about declarations under such a mishap, and made light of the matter. "There will be plenty of time for sentiment, dear mother, when Laura comes back," he said, and he looked in the glass with a killing air, and his mother put his hair off his forehead and kissed him, and of course thought, for her part, that no woman could resist him: and was exceedingly happy that day.
When he was not with her, Mr. Pen occupied himself in packing books and portmanteaus, burning and arranging papers, cleaning his gun and putting it into its case: in fact, in making dispositions for departure. For though he was ready to marry, this gentleman was eager to go to London too, rightly considering that at three-and-twenty it was quite time for him to begin upon the serious business of life, and to set about making a fortune as quickly as possible.
The means to this end he had already shaped out for himself. "I shall take chambers," he said, "and enter myself at an Inn of Court. With a couple of hundred pounds I shall be able to carry through the first year very well; after that I have little doubt my pen will support me, as it is doing with several Oxbridge men now in town. I have a tragedy, a comedy, and a novel, all nearly finished, and for which I can't fail to get a price. And so I shall be able to live pretty well, without drawing upon my poor mother, until I have made my way at the bar. Then, some day I will come back and make her dear soul happy by marrying Laura. She is as good and as sweet-tempered a girl as ever lived, besides being really very good-looking, and the engagement will serve to steady me,—won't it, Ponto?" Thus, smoking his pipe, and talking to his dog as he sauntered through the gardens and orchards of the little domain of Fairoaks, this young day-dreamer built castles in the air for himself: "Yes, she'll steady me, won't she? And you'll miss me when I've gone, won't you, old boy?" he asked of Ponto, who quivered his tail and thrust his brown nose into his master's fist. Ponto licked his hand and shoe, as they all did in that house, and Mr. Pen received their homage as other folks do the flattery which they get.
Laura came home rather late in the evening of the second day; and Mr. Pynsent, as ill luck would have it, drove her from Clavering. The poor girl could not refuse his offer, but his appearance brought a dark cloud upon the brow of Arthur Pendennis. Laura saw this, and was pained by it: the eager widow, however, was aware of nothing, and being anxious, doubtless, that the delicate question should be asked at once, was for going to bed very soon after Laura's arrival, and rose for that purpose to leave the sofa where she now generally lay, and where Laura would come and sit and work or read by her. But when Helen rose, Laura said, with a blush and rather an alarmed voice, that she was also very tired and wanted to go to bed: so that the widow was disappointed in her scheme for that night at least, and Mr. Pen was left another day in suspense regarding his fate.
His dignity was offended at being thus obliged to remain in the ante-chamber when he wanted an audience. Such a sultan as he, could not afford to be kept waiting. However, he went to bed and slept upon his disappointment pretty comfortably, and did not wake until the early morning, when he looked up and saw his mother standing in his room.
"Dear Pen, rouse up," said this lady. "Do not be lazy. It is the most beautiful morning in the world. I have not been able to sleep since daybreak; and Laura has been out for an hour. She is in the garden. Everybody ought to be in the garden and out on such a morning as this."
Pen laughed. He saw what thoughts were uppermost in the simple woman's heart. His good-natured laughter cheered the widow. "Oh you profound dissembler," he said, kissing his mother. "Oh you artful creature! Can nobody escape from your wicked tricks? and will you make your only son your victim?" Helen too laughed, she blushed, she fluttered, and was agitated. She was as happy as she could be—a good tender, matchmaking woman, the dearest project of whose heart was about to be accomplished.
So, after exchanging some knowing looks and hasty words, Helen left Arthur; and this young hero, rising from his bed, proceeded to decorate his beautiful person, and shave his ambrosial chin; and in half an hour he issued out from his apartment into the garden in quest of Laura. His reflections as he made his toilette were rather dismal. "I am going to tie myself for life," he thought, "to please my mother. Laura is the best of women, and—and she has given me her money. I wish to Heaven I had not received it; I wish I had not this duty to perform just yet. But as both the women have set their hearts on the match, why I suppose I must satisfy them—and now for it. A man may do worse than make happy two of the best creatures in the world." So Pen, now he was actually come to the point, felt very grave, and by no means elated, and, indeed, thought it was a great sacrifice he was going to perform.
It was Miss Laura's custom, upon her garden excursions, to wear a sort of uniform, which, though homely, was thought by many people to be not unbecoming. She had a large straw hat, with a streamer of broad ribbon, which was useless probably, but the hat sufficiently protected the owner's pretty face from the sun. Over her accustomed gown she wore a blouse or pinafore, which, being fastened round her little waist by a smart belt, looked extremely well, and her bands were guaranteed from the thorns of her favourite rose-bushes by a pair of gauntlets, which gave this young lady a military and resolute air.