The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER X

Facing the Enemy

Sauntering slowly homewards, Major Pendennis reached the George presently, and found Mr. Morgan, his faithful valet, awaiting him at the door of the George Inn, who stopped his master as he was about to take a candle to go to bed, and said, with his usual air of knowing deference, “I think, sir, if you would go into the coffee-room, there’s a young gentleman there as you would like to see.”

“What, is Mr. Arthur here?” the Major said, in great anger.

“No, sir — but his great friend, Mr. Foker, sir. Lady Hagnes Foker’s son is here, sir. He’s been asleep in the coffee-room since he took his dinner, and has just rung for his coffee, sir. And I think, p’raps, you might like to git into conversation with him,” the valet said, opening the coffee-room door.

The Major entered; and there indeed was Mr. Foker, the only occupant of the place. He was rubbing his eyes, and sate before a table rated with empty decanters and relics of dessert. He had intended to go to the play too, but sleep had overtaken him after a copious meal, and he had flung up his legs on the bench, and indulged in a nap instead of the dramatic amusement. The Major was meditating how to address the young man, but the latter prevented him that trouble.

“Like to look at the evening paper, sir?” said Mr. Foker, who was always communicative and affable; and he took up the Globe from his table, and offered it to the new-comer.

“I am very much obliged to you,” said the Major, with a grateful bow and smile. “If I don’t mistake the family likeness, I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Henry Foker, Lady Agnes Foker’s son. I have the happiness to name her ladyship among my acquaintances — and you bear, sir, a Rosherville face.”

“Hullo! I beg your pardon,” Mr. Foker said, “I took you,”— he was going to say —“I took you for a commercial gent.” But he stopped that phrase. “To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?” he added.

“To a relative of a friend and schoolfellow of yours — Arthur Pendennis, my nephew, who has often spoken to me about you in terms of great regard. I am Major Pendennis, of whom you may have heard him speak. May I take my soda-water at your table? I have had the pleasure of sitting at your grandfather’s.”

“Sir, you do me proud,” said Mr. Foker, with much courtesy. “And so you are Arthur Pendennis’s uncle, are you?”

“And guardian,” added the Major.

“He’s as good a fellow as ever stepped, sir,” said Mr. Foker.

“I am glad you think so.”

“And clever, too — I was always a stupid chap, I was — but you see, sir, I know ’em when they are clever, and like ’em of that sort.”

“You show your taste and your modesty, too,” said the Major. “I have heard Arthur repeatedly speak of you, and he said your talents were very good.”

“I’m not good at the books,” Mr. Foker said, wagging his head —“never could manage that — Pendennis could — he used to do half the chaps’ verses — and yet”— the young gentleman broke out, “you are his guardian; and I hope you will pardon me for saying that I think he’s what we call flat,” the candid young gentleman said.

The Major found himself on the instant in the midst of a most interesting and confidential conversation. “And how is Arthur a flat?” he asked, with a smile.

“You know,” Foker answered, winking at him — he would have winked at the Duke of Wellington with just as little scruple, for he was in that state of absence, candour, and fearlessness which a man sometimes possesses after drinking a couple of bottles of wine —“You know Arthur’s a flat — about women I mean.”

“He is not the first of us, my dear Mr. Harry,” answered the Major. “I have heard something of this — but pray tell me more.”

“Why, sir, you see — it’s partly my fault. He went to the play one night — for you see I’m down here readin’ for my little go during the Long, only I come over from Baymouth pretty often in my drag — well, sir, we went to the play, and Pen was struck all of a heap with Miss Fotheringay — Costigan her real name is — an uncommon fine gal she is too; and the next morning I introduced him to the General, as we call her father — a regular old scamp and such a boy for the whisky-and-water! — and he’s gone on being intimate there. And he’s fallen in love with her — and I’m blessed if he hasn’t proposed to her,” Foker said, slapping his hand on the table, until all the dessert began to jingle.

“What! you know it too?” asked the Major.

“Know it! don’t I? and many more too. We were talking about it at mess, yesterday, and chaffing Derby Oaks — until he was as mad as a hatter. Know Sir Derby Oaks? We dined together, and he went to the play: we were standing at the door smoking, I remember, when you passed in to dinner.”

“I remember Sir Thomas Oaks, his father, before he was a Baronet or a Knight; he lived in Cavendish-square, and was physician to Queen Charlotte.”

“The young one is making the money spin, I can tell you,” Mr. Foker said.

“And is Sir Derby Oaks,” the Major said, with great delight and anxiety, “another soupirant?”

“Another what?” inquired Mr. Foker.

“Another admirer of Miss Fotheringay?”

“Lord bless you! we call him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Pen Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. But mind you, nothing wrong! No, no! Miss F. is a deal too wide-awake for that, Major Pendennis. She plays one off against the other. What you call two strings to her bow.”

“I think you seem tolerably wide-awake, too, Mr. Foker, Pendennis said, laughing.

“Pretty well, thank you, sir — how are you?” Foker replied, imperturbably. “I’m not clever, p’raps: but I am rather downy; and partial friends say I know what’s o’clock tolerably well. Can I tell you the time of day in any way?”

“Upon my word,” the Major answered, quite delighted, “I think you may be of very great service to me. You are a young man of the world, and with such one likes to deal. And as such I need not inform you that our family is by no means delighted at this absurd intrigue in which Arthur is engaged.”

“I should rather think not,” said Mr. Foker. “Connexion not eligible. Too much beer drunk on the premises. No Irish need apply. That I take to be your meaning.”

The Major said it was, exactly; though in truth he did not quite understand what Mr. Foker’s meaning was: and he proceeded to examine his new acquaintance regarding the amiable family into which his nephew proposed to enter, and soon got from the candid witness a number of particulars regarding the House of Costigan.

We must do Mr. Foker the justice to say that he spoke most favourably of Mr. and Miss Costigan’s moral character. “You see,” said he, “I think the General is fond of the jovial bowl, and if I wanted to be very certain of my money, it isn’t in his pocket I’d invest it — but he has always kept a watchful eye on his daughter, and neither he nor she will stand anything but what’s honourable. Pen’s attentions to her are talked about in the whole Company, and I hear all about them from a young lady who used to be very intimate with her, and with whose family I sometimes take tea in a friendly way. Miss Rouncy says, Sir Derby Oaks has been hanging about Miss Fotheringay ever since his regiment has been down here; but Pen has come in and cut him out lately, which has made the Baronet so mad, that he has been very near on the point of proposing too. Wish he would; and you’d see which of the two Miss Fotheringay would jump at.”

“I thought as much,” the Major said. “You give me a great deal of pleasure, Mr. Foker. I wish I could have seen you before.”

“Didn’t like to put in my oar,” replied the other. “Don’t speak till I’m asked, when, if there’s no objections, I speak pretty freely. Heard your man had been hankering about my servant — didn’t know myself what was going on until Miss Fotheringay and Miss Rouncy had the row about the ostrich feathers, when Miss R. told me everything.”

“Miss Rouncy, I gather, was the confidante of the other.”

“Confidant? I believe you. Why, she’s twice as clever a girl as Fotheringay, and literary and that, while Miss Foth can’t do much more than read.”

“She can write,” said the Major, remembering Pen’s breast-pocket.

Foker broke out into a sardonic “He, he! Rouncy writes her letters,” he said; “every one of ’em; and since they’ve quarrelled, she don’t know how the deuce to get on. Miss Rouncy is an uncommon pretty hand, whereas the old one makes dreadful work of the writing and spelling when Bows ain’t by. Rouncy’s been settin’ her copies lately — she writes a beautiful hand, Rouncy does.”

“I suppose you know it pretty well,” said the Major archly upon which Mr. Foker winked at him again.

“I would give a great deal to have a specimen of her hand-writing,” continued Major Pendennis, “I dare say you could give me one.”

“No, no, that would be too bad,” Foker replied. “Perhaps I oughtn’t to have said as much as I have. Miss F.‘s writin’ ain’t so very bad, I dare say; only she got Miss R. to write the first letter, and has gone on ever since. But you mark my word, that till they are friends again the letters will stop.”

“I hope they will never be reconciled,” the Major said with great sincerity; “and I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have had the good fortune of making your acquaintance. You must feel, my dear sir, as a man of the world, how fatal to my nephew’s prospects in life is this step which he contemplates, and how eager we all must be to free him from this absurd engagement.”

“He has come out uncommon strong,” said Mr. Foker; “I have seen his verses; Rouncy copied ’em. And I said to myself when I saw ’em, ‘Catch me writin’ verses to a woman — that’s all.’”

“He has made a fool of himself, as many a good fellow has before him. How can we make him see his folly, and cure it? I am sure you will give us what aid you can in extricating a generous young man from such a pair of schemers as this father and daughter seem to be. Love on the lady’s side is out of the question.”

“Love, indeed!” Foker said. “If Pen hadn’t two thousand a year when he came of age ——”

“If Pen hadn’t what?” cried out the Major in astonishment.

“Two thousand a year: hasn’t he got two thousand a year? — the General says he has.”

“My dear friend,” shrieked out the Major, with an eagerness which this gentleman rarely showed, “thank you! — thank you! — I begin to see now. — Two thousand a year! Why, his mother has but five hundred a year in the world. — She is likely to live to eighty, and Arthur has not a shilling but what she can allow him.”

“What! he ain’t rich then?” Foker asked.

“Upon my honour he has no more than what I say.”

“And you ain’t going to leave him anything?”

The Major had sunk every shilling he could scrape together on an annuity, and of course was going to leave Pen nothing; but he did not tell Foker this. “How much do you think a Major on half-pay can save?” he asked. “If these people have been looking at him as a fortune, they are utterly mistaken-and-and you have made me the happiest man in the world.”

“Sir to you,” said Mr. Foker, politely, and when they parted for the night they shook hands with the greatest cordiality; the younger gentleman promising the elder not to leave Chatteris without a further conversation in the morning. And as the Major went up to his room, and Mr. Foker smoked his cigar against the door pillars of the George, Pen, very likely, ten miles off; was lying in bed kissing the letter from his Emily.

The next morning, before Mr. Foker drove off in his drag, the insinuating Major had actually got a letter of Miss Rouncy’s in his own pocket-book. Let it be a lesson to women how they write. And in very high spirits Major Pendennis went to call upon Doctor Portman at the Deanery, and told him what happy discoveries he had made on the previous night. As they sate in confidential conversation in the Dean’s oak breakfast-parlour they could look across the lawn and see Captain Costigan’s window, at which poor Pen had been only too visible some three weeks since. The Doctor was most indignant against Mrs. Creed, the landlady, for her duplicity, in concealing Sir Derby Oaks’s constant visits to her lodgers, and threatened to excommunicate her out of the Cathedral. But the wary Major thought that all things were for the best; and, having taken counsel with himself over night, felt himself quite strong enough to go and face Captain Costigan.

“I’m going to fight the dragon,” he said, with a laugh, to Doctor Portman.

“And I shrive you, sir, and bid good fortune go with you,” answered the Doctor. Perhaps he and Mrs. Portman and Miss Myra, as they sate with their friend, the Dean’s lady, in her drawing-room, looked up more than once at the enemy’s window to see if they could perceive any signs of the combat.

The Major walked round, according to the directions given him, and soon found Mrs. Creed’s little door. He passed it, and as he ascended to Captain Costigan’s apartment, he could hear a stamping of feet, and a great shouting of “Ha, ha!” within.

“It’s Sir Derby Oaks taking his fencing lesson,” said the child, who piloted Major Pendennis. “He takes it Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.”

The Major knocked, and at length a tall gentleman came forth, with a foil and mask in one hand, and a fencing glove on the other.

Pendennis made him a deferential bow. “I believe I have the honour of speaking to Captain Costigan — My name is Major Pendennis.”

The Captain brought his weapon up to the salute, and said, “Major, the honer is moine; I’m deloighted to see ye.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07