William Makepeace Thackeray - Pendennis (1848)
This story was Thackeray's first great success. Many of the characters were drawn from life, and reappear often in succeeding stories.
MR. JOHN PENDENNIS was a little, quiet old gentleman, extremely mild and genteel, who had amassed a very modest competency by combining the vocations of apothecary and surgeon in a humble little shop graced by the sign of a gilt pestle. When the time came that he could retire, he gladly and completely forgot that he had ever sold brown paper plasters, and realized his life--dream of becoming a gentleman.
He bought a little estate in the village of Clavering, which he called Fairoaks. It was separated by a little river from what was left of the great Clavering family's park.
Here Mr. Pendennis installed his young wife, who had been Miss Helen Thistlewood, a very distant and very poor relative and dependent of the noble house of Bareacres.
The disappearance of the Pendennis of the pestle from Bath ushered into Clavering the Pendennis of Fairoaks. Where they came from Heaven only knows, but presently a whole range of Pendennis portraits appeared—Roger Pendennis of Agincourt, Arthur Pendennis of Crecy, General Pendennis of Blenheim.
By the time little Arthur Pendennis was eight years old all these and still other Pendennises of the past were as real to the family as the gilt pestle had become unreal. Although John's income of only about five hundred pounds a year did not permit him to live with the great folk of the county, he man-aged to get a good deal of the odor of genteel life.
A link which bound Squire Pendennis, as he now called him-self, to the great world of London and the fashions was his brother, Major Pendennis. He brought the last news of the nobility and of the clubs, of the latter of which he was a chief ornament. The Major had sold out after long service in India and New South Wales and gone on half pay. He was desperately poor; but the number of crested and coroneted invitations to great houses that lay on his favorite table in the club drove the less fortunate lovers of high society to desperation.
The young fellows loved to walk with him, for he touched his hat to everybody, and every other man he knew was a lord. If there was any question about etiquette, pedigree, or precedence Pendennis was the man to whom everybody appealed.
His coat, his white gloves, his whiskers, his very cane, were perfect. Seeing him from a distance one would take him to be thirty. It was only close inspection that revealed the crows' feet around the somewhat dimming eyes of his handsome mottled face and the entirely artificial character of his fine brown hair.
Major Pendennis was much prouder of his brother the Squire of Fairoaks than he ever had been of his brother the medical practitioner of Bath, and he was delighted beyond measure to behold his nephew growing up in such complete forgetfulness of the shop that everybody called him the Prince of Fairoaks.
His little court encouraged him in his royal temper. His mother was one of those affectionate, selfless creatures who are made to give their all to others. She spoke and thought of her husband with an awful reverence. The Major was a very Bayard among majors to her. She worshiped "the Prince" with an ardor that he accepted coolly, as princes should.
Pendennis was sixteen when his father died. Even in the moment of his grief, and as he embraced his mother and tenderly consoled her, he could not help feeling that now he was chief and lord, and that he wouldn't stand the bullying at school any longer, but should have it all holidays in the future. The Major was for his going back. But Pen adroitly conveyed to his mother a hint as to what a wild, dangerous place Greyfriars was, and the timid soul at once acceded to his desire.
Pen got a very good mare and rode her excellently well across country. He became a good judge of claret. He did not neglect his studies altogether, for Mr. Smirke, the curate, ambled over from Clavering daily on a sober-minded pony and read the poets with him.
Pen zealously avoided all books that might by chance fall into a school course; but he devoured all others, and his mind became of a gloomy Byronic cast. He broke out in the Poets' Corner of the County Chronicle with tremendous verses on Assize Meetings, Tears, Love, and Politics. He wrote tragedies in which everybody was killed.
One day he rode into Chatteris to deliver a fiery poem for the next week's paper, and in the stable-yard of the inn beheld a grand black tandem with scarlet wheels, whose owner was habited in crimson and green-and-white glory that made it difficult to say whether he was a prize-fighter on a holiday or a coachman in gala dress.
In this splendid creature Pendennis recognized a colleague of his Greyfriars days-young Foker, who could barely read in school and had been notorious both for his lack of cleanliness and his stupidity. But young Foker's father was stupendously rich from brewing that famous ale honorably known as Foker's Entire. He had married Lady Agnes, sister of the eminent and penniless Earl of Rosherwood, to one of whose daughters young Foker had been engaged since his childhood.
This kindly scion of ale-brewers and earls was "hail fellow, well met" with everybody. He called his noble uncle "old cock," with the same unassuming simplicity with which he ad-dressed the famous coal-heaver who had whipped the Shropshire One. He dazzled Pen by giving an order for a dinner of turtle and champagne, which little feast was wound up with a visit to the play, where the wonderful Fotheringay was performing in The Stranger.
In the grand scene all the house was affected. Foker wept piteously into a huge yellow silk handkerchief. As for Pen, the whole theater reeled before his sight. It was something overwhelming, maddening, delicious.
He rode home in a whirl, and with the first touch of dawn he awoke to the same delirium. Hardly had he eaten breakfast before he was off again, riding madly to Chatteris.
There Foker did him the inestimable favor of introducing him to the Fotheringay's father, Captain Costigan, "once of the Foighting Hundtherd and Third" and a Costigan of Costigantown. The Captain was attired in extremely shabby garments and gave Pen a military salute with a very dirty and broken glove. He wore a high stock, stained and scarred. His dress-coat was buttoned up tightly where there were buttons, and his once handsome face was coppery from much whisky.
In the brief morning of life Costigan had been the delight of regimental messes and had had the honor of singing at the tables of the most illustrious generals and commanders-in-chief. He spent his doubtful patrimony with speed and drank many times more than was good for him. After retiring hastily from the army he kept afloat in mysterious ways, ready to drink with any man and indorse any man's note, and always ready to weep at his own sentimental songs, which he sang admirably.
The Captain was much impressed with the grandeur, of the Prince of Fairoaks and the lavish way in which that royal heir spent money. To Pen's wild delight, he invited him to his home, where he had the honor of meeting the peerless Fotheringay face to face. She looked even more handsome off the stage than on. Indeed, she was one of the beauties of her day; and later when she made her success in London the whole town lay at her feet.
Small wonder, then, that Pen's heart nearly choked him and that his knees trembled under him. He hardly heard her speak, so overwhelmed was the poor lad with love and confusion. The Fotheringay looked at the rosy, freckled, frank, good-natured face, the honest blue eyes, and the innocent confusion of the lad, and mentioned in a rich, deep, melancholy voice that the weather was very fine. Subsequently she added to the conversation by announcing that it was a bit warm.
The truth was, Miss Costigan was invincibly stupid, but poor Pen rode home that night saying aloud to the sky and the trees : "How beautiful she is! How simple and how tender! How well she talked! Emily! Emily!"
Now the mare had her work cut out, for she had to carry her young master daily to Chatteris at her best speed. Night after night Pen spent watching breathlessly for the appearance of Emily on the stage. Hour after hour he spent listening to Captain Costigan's tales of his Royal Highness the Juke of Kent and paying for the old toper's whisky. He wrote verses, sonnets, epics to his love. Miss Costigan, whose invincible stupidity made her invincibly good-natured, received them with a kind smile, and after Pen's departure would say: Poor lad! They're very grand, but what they're all about I'm sure I don't know."
"Put them with th' hother letters, Milly darling," said Costigan with a wink. " Sir Poldoody's pomes was nothin' to this." And Milly would lock them up while debating whether she should have mutton chops or broiled kidneys for luncheon.
Of course Pen's infatuation for the actress could not long remain a secret. All Chatteris was talking of it, and soon Helen's kindest friends hastened to tell her of it, not forgetting to put the worst possible construction on the affair. Old Dr. Port-man came to the house and upbraided him in his mother's tearful presence. When Pen raved about her goodness, and declared that the Costigans were fully as good as the Pendennises, having been kings in Ireland, the old doctor burst out: "Why, you don't mean to say that you want to marry her?"
On that Pen put on his most princely air and asked vehemently, "What else, Dr. Portman, could be my desire?" where-upon Helen threw herself on her son's shoulder in an excess of joy and cried: "I told you, doctor, that he was not—not what you thought!"
Utterly routed, the doctor could only gasp: "Send for Major Pendennis, Ma'am!"
That poor old buck received the news with horror. He thought of how people would laugh at him were his nephew to marry a tragedy queen. He groaned at going to the country in the height of the London season. Ruefully he wrote off refusals to the Marquis of Steyne and Lord Deuceace, and all the other noble ones who had invited him to their festivities. He ordered his valet to pack his belongings and resigned himself piteously to martyrdom.
He arrived barely in time, for Pen had almost won his mother over. The wise old man of the world wasted no time with the lovelorn youngster. Like an old campaigner, he sallied at once against the key position, which was that weak and maudlin for-tress, the castle Costigan.
Though he shuddered at the sight and odor of that alcoholic soldier, he bluffly declared himself comrade-in-arms with him and soon managed to convey the information that Pendennis was but a poverty-stricken prince, who would have nothing at all till his mother died and then only five hundred a year.
Captain Costigan arose in lion like wrath and called down the imprecations of Heaven on the impostor who had trifled with the affection of his innocent child. He also challenged the Major to a duel. Later, sinking into despondency, he wept into his whisky and water. Finally he permitted the Major to redeem a small note which was out against him, in return for which favor he gave up all Pen's letters and all the flaming verses.
Miss Costigan wisely remarked that to be supported at the charity of an old lady who might be cross about it wouldn't make them very well off. So she wrote Arthur Pendennis a little note that made him ride distractedly around the country, toss through sleepless nights, and deem that he should die.
But he did not; and at last the Major thankfully saw his martyrdom at an end and returned to his beloved clubs. Pen wrote tragedies more burning than ever, cultivated more Byronic gloom and talked of his blighted love to Mr. Smirke until that gentleman feebly confessed to him that he, too, loved passionately; and on Pen's laughingly asking her name said that it was the young man's mother; which made the Prince of Fair-oaks roar out most indignantly and send the poor curate out of the house in sore disgrace.
His Highness now decided to go to Oxbridge, where Harry Foker and other friends from Greyfriars were reading for their degrees. The widow scraped together all her savings and des-patched him there in magnificence. Soon Pendennis of Fair, oaks was the leader in all that classical place of learning and life. His rooms were the finest, his wines were the best, his words were quoted by eager admirers and his costumes copied by all the college dandies.
All declared that he was easily the best man in the university; but somehow another man carried off the Greek ode prize and a rival won the Latin hexameter prize, and at the last poor Pen got nothing but a minor declamation prize, at which his mother marveled and cherished it as the finest thing ever won in a college.
All the young nobles and spendthrifts at Oxbridge belonged to Fen's set. Honest Harry Foker, who was presently" sent down" because of a little dinner that he gave in college in which a prize- fighting guest operated on a proctor who came to investigate, said to Pen before he left: "It's not me I'm bothered about. As long as people drink beer I don't care. But you're goin' too fast, my boy. You can't keep up the pace, I tell you."
Presently Foker's prediction came true. One day the crash came. Pen's allowance had long since been spent, he had borrowed right and left, tradesmen openly besieged his door, and Pen sat down to realize that he had spent more than fourteen hundred pounds in his two years, and still owed seven hundred pounds. In the midst of his troubles the lists came out and Pendennis found that he had been "plucked."
He fled from Oxbridge and went to London to see the Major. That gentleman, who had been vastly delighted with the fine acquaintances his nephew had made at Oxbridge, received him with pleasure that changed to trembling indignation when he learned the truth, and he stalked away, regretting that his engagements would not permit him to see much of Pen during his stay in London.
Poor Pendennis skulked about London after writing to his mother such a letter as prodigals have had to write ever since there were mothers and prodigals. The gentle soul who received it did not care one half so much about the great sum of money or the loss of the degree as she did to know that her son, of whose wild career in Oxbridge she had learned from many sources, was coming back to her, repentant.
And as to the money, why, wasn't all of Pen's father's money his? Hadn't he a right to spend it? Besides, the problem of raising the cash was not at all a difficult one, for Helen's eyes were not the only ones that wept over Pen's penitent letter.
"You know, mamma," said the owner of the other pair of eyes (and remarkably fine ones they were), "I have been living with you all my life, and if I had had to go to school it would have cost me a great deal. So I am sure that the five hundred pounds that are in my bank belong to you, and I shall be very angry if you do not take them."
Mrs. Pendennis embraced the owner of the fine eyes and wept again and called her "dearest Laura." Who was this dearest Laura, who is introduced thus unexpectedly at this financially opportune moment?
Once upon a time, long before Miss Helen Thistlewood ever imagined that she would marry an elderly little gentleman with a bald head, there was a young gentleman of Cambridge University who was as poor as she. His name was the Rev. Frank Bell, and he was waiting for a living. Before it fell in they were separated, and finally he went away to a colony, where he married years afterward. There he and his wife died after Helen's marriage to Pendennis, and she sent for Laura, the child whom the Bells had left all alone, and brought her up as her own.
It was Helen's dream that some day her beautiful, clever Pen should marry her beloved Laura; and that young gentleman sometimes thought that he might gratify the two women ultimately when he had seen enough of life.
Pen came home very much humbled. He blushed when he saw Laura, who received him with all her true, old-time affection. He sold his mare and felt that he had done a very virtuous act. He lounged around the house, whose state, never great, was much diminished now to help pay his debts. He began several tragedies and wrote innumerable verses of frightful melancholy. At last, however, roused by the insistence of Laura, he went back to Oxbridge, where he shut himself up for a while and passed his second examination with perfect ease.
When he returned with his degree he resumed his idleness. He fell asleep with great regularity after dinner and pervaded the house with gloom and despondency, until an unusual event awoke him.
Clavering Park was to be reopened. The Claverings had not honored their country with their presence in some years. The father of the present baronet, Sir Francis Clavering, had lived on the Continent as an outlaw. Sir Francis had left his regiment in disgrace, had passed through many shady transactions, winding up in the debtors' prison of the Fleet, and had at last slipped over to France, where he helped his father improve the Clavering reputation as blacklegs and outcasts.
When the paternal rake died, Sir Francis married the Widow Amory, who was a daughter of an immensely wealthy indigo planter named Snell, in Calcutta. A few old East Indians spoke with a good deal of malicious pleasure about the disreputable old father, and declared that it was indigo smuggling and indigo smuggling and not indigo planting that had made him wealthy. As to the late Mr. Amory, they said that he had been the mate of an East Indianian.; whom the impressionable Miss Snell had married after knowing him only a few weeks. And they hinted that he had died as a convict in New South Wales after having kindly signed his father-in-law's name to a tote in ordér to save the old gentleman trouble.
However, Mrs. Amory was the best-natured if the most vulgar of women. She paid Sir Francis's debts, and presently the Clavering family crest blazed from rejuvenated carriages and Clavering Park was opened with splendor to which it had been a stranger for many generations.
With Sir and Lady Clavering arrived Miss Blanche Amory, daughter of Lady Clavering by the late Mr. Amory. Miss Blanche had been educated most expensively in France. She was fair, like a sylph, her mouth was a rosebud, she composed music and sketched and wrote poetry and, in a word, was a most romantic and interesting beauty.
Péndennis's spirits seemed to come back soon after the family opened Clavering Park. Before long he and Miss Blanche were exchanging poetry. Soon afterward he took to fishing the little stream, where, strangely enough, Miss Blanche took to walking. And there was a certain hollow tree that served very well as a post-office.
But in time the great families that had looked askance at the Claverings were tempted to call by the magnificence of the entertainments, and the sylph found her way less and less often to the little river, while invitations did not reach Fairoaks so plentifully as in the beginning.
It suddenly seemed to Mr. Pendennis that it was time for him to make his mother's heart happy. He would go to London and read for the bar, and as soon as he had assured himself a place in the world he would return and marry Laura.
So he told Laura that he was old and weary, having met with so many disappointments that he had hardly a heart to offer, but what there was he very kindly laid at her feet.
Vastly surprised and vastly offended was the Prince of Fair-oaks when Laura thankfully declined the proffered fragments. In high dignity he went away to London, where he took possession of part of the chambers occupied by his old friend, George Warrington, a younger son of Sir Miles Warrington.
Warrington was so poor that he was almost reduced to rags. Indeed, both his dressing-gown and his furniture were tattered and ragged beyond repair. He drank beer like a coal-heaver and preferred any kind of company to that of his own rank, but for all that he had "gentleman" written all over him.
Warrington had married out of his own circle. His wife turned out to be a selfish, malicious vixen. When he found that she and her wretched, rapacious family had trapped him of set purpose, he gave them all he had on condition that they should not dishonor his family's name by laying claim to it. He signed over his younger son's allowance, dropped out of his world, and began life defeated before his race had well started.
Pendennis, with his wild ambitions, his Byronic poses, and his lust of life, came into his existence like a laughing sun. He listened to Pen's rapturous descriptions of his loves, and smiled without ill nature to see the heart-broken fellow, who declared that he was world-worn and weary, plunge into every kind of pleasure that offered with the zest of a boy fresh from school.
Despite the good resolutions of the Prince of Fairoaks, he could not settle down to reading law, but had to postpone it from day to day because his social engagements were too pressing. Thus at last the day came when his money was at an end again, and George Warrington gave him a lecture that he had long been preparing. "You can't go on sponging upon the women," said he. "How do you think I live?"
Then he let Pen into a secret. He was writing for the papers, and he knew of an opening for the Prince of Fairoaks. That gentleman at once rose from the slough of despond and soared again in his native blue. He would be a poet. He would make up for his past idleness. Warrington called him a young goose and laughed at him, not unkindly, and with some sadness.
Pen plunged into the profession of letters with the same enthusiasm with which he plunged into love and fun. To tell the truth, he had a good bit of literary talent, and he had the swift facility of catching the moods and whims of his readers. It was not many months before his mother and Laura were delighted by receiving papers and magazines that contained articles signed by him. In a little while Pen began to send remittances home, and to feel himself a very fair fellow indeed.
For all his hard work Pen still managed to indulge himself in the pleasures of the life that he loved. He went from receptions by great ladies to back taverns where Costigan and his kind sang songs and had "goes" of brandy and water. The old warrior was pensioned now, his daughter having married old Sir Charles Mirabel, and he entertained the company by fictitious accounts of the love his son-in-law bore him.
Warrington, who belonged to one of the oldest families in England, was as simple and jovial with all these poor folk as if he were plain Tom Jones, the lawyer's clerk; but Pendennis, the son of the apothecary, was always the Prince of Fairoaks. He never could forget his grand manners, though Warrington used to jeer at him good-humoredly and remind him of the gallipots from which the family income had sprung.
Pen was beginning to prosper. He had written a novel, and it had brought him reputation and money. Old Major Pendennis had the pleasure of hearing his nephew discussed in the circles of the nobility, and quite naturally all his old affection for the heir of the house of Pendennis was awakened again.
So the old fellow was mightily perturbed when the news reached him at the country house of the noble Marquis of Steyne that his nephew was dying from fever in London. The Major posted in all haste back to the deserted town and arrived at the Temple almost simultaneously with Mrs. Pendennis and Laura.
Those two ladies bridled up and were deeply shocked when they found an exceedingly pretty young girl at their darling's bedside. The better a woman is, the quicker she seems to be to think the worst of another; and even in the midst of their grief over their boy these two good women showed poor Fanny Bolton the door first of all.
That poor girl crept away, weeping, and waited in the entry for the doctor, who comforted her as best he could. He, too, had his own ideas about the relations that had brought about her presence at the handsome young sinner's bedside. Yet all these virtuous ones were quite wrong.
It was only one of Pen's romantic love-affairs; but this time that experienced gentleman did not dream of marrying Fanny Bolton, the daughter of the porter of the Temple, as he had dreamed of marrying the daughter of Captain Costigan. No. He had merely fluttered around the candle and fallen in love with all his old-time impetuosity; and then he had realized that the only honorable course for him was to retreat. He had been on the eve of fleeing from London for the summer when his illness seized him.
But Mrs. Pendennis wept over her boy, mingling her tears of agony for his illness with tears of shame and sorrow for his sin. He lay delirious, and Warrington was away, having gone on his vacation before Pen's last love affair. So there was none to explain matters to the simple woman.
Perhaps it would have been as well for Warrington had he remained absent. Yet who can escape fate? Warrington came back to find Pen recovering, and in the next few weeks he had ample opportunity to look at Laura, with results that were not at all conducive to his peace of mind.
Before long he knew that he would give his whole life and soul to win that prize which Arthur had held lightly. But Fate had ruled otherwise.
Laura could not but contrast Warrington's many accomplishments, his enthusiasm, simplicity, and freshness of mind with Pen's dandy indifference of manner and his faded sneer. In Warrington's very uncouthness there was a greater refinement than in Pen's finery. Her kind eyes rested oftener and oftener on his strong, true face.
When Pen awoke from his delirium his love for little Fanny Bolton had vanished with his fever, but when he discovered by chance that his mother had turned the girl away and suppressed the letters that she had written to him—most harmless little letters, though they seemed quite otherwise to poor Mrs. Pendennis —of course the Prince of Fairoaks flamed out in savage anger. He looked at his mother's pallid and wo-stricken face and her trembling form, and the spectacle of her misery only added to his wrath.
He swore that he would seek the girl out and marry her forthwith. As in a previous case, his mother forgot all else in the joy that overcame her when she learned that her son had not sinned; and who knows that the loyal, loving woman would not have ended by taking the porter's ignorant, silly little daughter to her heart, despite the Major's frantic rage, if Warrington had not asked them to listen to a story?
The simple, brave fellow laid bare the secret of his life in order to warn his friend. After it was done; Pen, quiet and subdued, led his mother to her room. Thence, presently, there came a loud cry; and when the others ran in they found that Helen Pendennis had given her son her last embrace.
Laura went to stay with old Lady Rockminster, who adored her; and as for Pen, as soon as the mourning was over the Major lost no time in looking for a rich wife for him.
An event at Sir Francis Clavering's town house decided the old soldier's course for him strangely. While the Baronet was giving a select little dinner a gorgeously attired person, with a mighty black wig and whiskers dyed almost purple, forced his way into the house and lurched into the room, where he roared for drink.
Some of the guests recognized the intruder as a Colonel Alta-mount, who called himself the Ambassador of the Nawaub of Lucknow. Sir Francis introduced him with a piteously frightened face. Altamount was too drunk to pay much attention to the company, but suddenly his eyes fell on the face of Major Pendennis. He leaped up, reeled toward the door, and the company heard him mutter: "Captain Beak! Captain Beak! By jingo!" as he fled.
The Major's mind went back rapidly, searching for a clue. The fellow's face was familiar, despite the wig and the dyed whiskers. Suddenly a great discovery flashed on him. He saw before him a convict gang in New South Wales, and he knew that Colonel Altamount was none other than Mr. Amory.
It did not take the shrewd old soldier long to discover that Amory had been bleeding Sir Francis copiously under threat of disclosing himself to Lady Clavering. The Baronet was willing to do anything to retain the income that came to him through Lady Clavering, and he and Altamount were almost chums, the harmony of these two foul birds of a feather being broken only by rows over money.
The Major told Clavering he knew all. When the frightened lord began to weep the Major offered him a compromise. "I want my nephew to enter public life," said he. "I want him to marry Miss Amory, and I want you to resign your seat in Parliament in his favor. Nobody need know anything more about it."
"It will be easy enough to get rid of Amory," thought the old campaigner. "I tan put my hand on witnesses who can swear to him and who will prove that he killed one of his guards in New South Wales. Let my boy marry the heiress and the rest will be easily done."
Within a few days the Major, beaming with joy, told Pen of his good luck, and that young gentleman did not wonder, but accepted it quite simply as merely a prize won by his great abilities. He laughed when the Major pressed him to court Miss Amory, but he went there, nevertheless, and soon was immersed again, as in the old days, in poetry and moonshine with that romantic young person.
Lady Clavering looked on, pleased enough. She liked the handsome, gay, frank, clever young fellow. As for Pen, if he had any doubts as to whether or not he was in lové with Blanche he was prevented from dwelling on them by the discovery that there was a rival in the field. Poor Harry Foker, perfumed, curled, garbed in Oriental magnificence, was displaying his passion for all the world to see and sighed day and night.
In his simplicity he told Pen all about it, and Pen felt sorry for him in his lordly way and pressed his suit with Blanche just a little more eagerly for the knowledge.
Not that Harry Foker had much chance. His father had declared that unless he married Lady Ann, his cousin, he would be cut off with two hundred pounds a year, and it was well known that when the brewer of Foker's Entire said a thing he meant it.
So it was not long before Miss Blanche Amory and Mr. Arthur Pendennis were engaged, and Mr. Pendennis began his canvass, purely a matter of form, for the seat in Parliament for which he was sure to be returned, there being no contest.
The Major rubbed his hands and glowed with pride and triumph. If his aims for his nephew were very worldly and very mercenary, yet they were the most unselfish that he had had in all his years; and according to his lights he had sacrificed much of his beloved peace of mind for this boy, who was the one being that the sophisticated old man loved.
Great was the shock then when Pen burst into his rooms one day and announced that he had learned from the Major's valet, who had indulged in eavesdropping, what was the real reason for Clavering's surrender of his seat. "Can't you see, sir," cried he, "that rather than profit by this secret I would go and join my prospective father-in-law at the hulks? I have felt for months that my conduct in this affair was wicked and sordid. I am rightly punished. But I will do wrong no more. I will resign all pretensions to the seat. I will marry Blanche. But I will not take any money with her except the small sum that was settled on her long ago."
"Arthur—in God's name—" shrieked the Major, and the old buck actually sank to his knees and seizing one of Arthur's hands, looked up piteously at him.
Pen fled to Laura and sought from her calm, clear, unfaltering soul the firmness that he needed. He knew now that he did not love Blanche. When he had wanted to marry her from self-interest and pride, he had shut his eyes to her faults. Now he saw but too clearly that she was vain, heartless, that her sentiment was counterfeit and her romance was only a cloak for calculation.
Laura insisted with all her might that Pen keep his word, and she urged him to lose no time. Why was she in such a fever of impatience? Was it because in the tangled maze of life in which all our feet stray so helplessly Laura's footsteps had come back to the beginning, when to her childish mind there was no creature in all the world so splendid as Pen? Was it because she realized now that for all her knowledge that Warrington was the better man, she could never care for anyone except Arthur? Who knows? Our women are never so eager as when they are making sacrifice.
But Laura did not have to make sacrifice. The honest proprietor of Foker's Entire died very suddenly. As soon as his presence was removed from the scene Lady Ann ran off with a curate, and Harry Foker, heir to fifteen thousand pounds a year, became a most welcome visitor at the Clavering residence. So when Pendennis pressed Blanche to set the date for the wedding, in a speech in which he could not help mentioning his sere and wounded heart and his disillusionments, the sylph deftly took advantage of Arthur's phrases to give him his dismissal; and soon afterward she was engaged to Harry, who swam in the seventh heaven.
The date of the marriage was fixed. All Clavering was decorating for the event. The society papers were full of news about the guests and the trousseau. Just then Pendennis discovered that Altamount had been seen in the neighborhood, and he also discovered that Blanche had learned about him some time before.
Arthur hastened to beg her to tell Harry Foker all. The sylph, however, had no intention of risking the loss of fifteen thousand a year. She calculated that the wedding would be past and done before there could be any danger of discovery.
Unfortunately she calculated without considering her respected parent's weakness for drink. Mr. Amory, otherwise Colonel Altamount, could not resist the temptation to visit Clavering to behold his daughter's state. He got into a fight at the Clavering Arms, and in the course of it was recognized. He managed to flee, but the news was at Clavering Park on the wings of the wind. In the midst of the excitement Harry Foker realized from Blanche's actions that she had known the secret all along.
"I would have taken you, whatever you were," said he. "D — it all ! I've loved you with all my heart and soul. To think that you've been playing with me and cheating me!" cried the young dandy with a sob, and rushed from the house.
So it came about that instead of a magnificent and fashion-able wedding in Clavering Church, there was a very simple and quiet one—that of Laura Bell and Arthur Pendennis.
And what sort of husband would this Pendennis be? Ask his wife, who, seeing his faults and wayward moods, seeing and owning that there are men better than he, loves him always.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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