The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XI

Negotiation

The Major and Captain Costigan were old soldiers and accustomed to face the enemy, so we may presume that they retained their presence of mind perfectly; but the rest of the party assembled in Cos’s sitting-room were, perhaps, a little flurried at Pendennis’s apparition. Miss Fotheringay’s slow heart began to beat no doubt, for her cheek flushed up with a great healthy blush, as Lieutenant Sir Derby Oaks looked at her with a scowl. The little crooked old man in the window-seat, who had been witnessing the fencing-match between the two gentlemen (whose stamping and jumping had been such as to cause him to give up all attempts to continue writing the theatre music, in the copying of which he had been engaged) looked up eagerly towards the new-comer as the Major of the well-blacked boots entered the apartment distributing the most graceful bows to everybody present.

“Me daughter — me friend, Mr. Bows — me gallant young pupil and friend, I may call ‘um, Sir Derby Oaks,” said Costigan, splendidly waving his hand, and pointing each of these individuals to the Major’s attention. “In one moment, Meejor, I’m your humble servant,” and to dash into the little adjoining chamber where he slept, to give a twist to his lank hair with his hair-brush (a wonderful and ancient piece), to tear off his old stock and put on a new one which Emily had constructed for him, and to assume a handsome clean collar, and the new coat which had been ordered upon the occasion of Miss Fotheringay’s benefit, was with the still active Costigan the work of a minute.

After him Sir Derby entered, and presently emerged from the same apartment, where he also cased himself in his little shell-jacket, which fitted tightly upon the young officer’s big person; and which he, and Miss Fotheringay, and poor Pen too, perhaps, admired prodigiously.

Meanwhile conversation was engaged between the actress and the new-comer; and the usual remarks about the weather had been interchanged before Costigan re-entered in his new ‘Shoot,’ as he called it.

“I needn’t apologoise to ye, Meejor,” he said, in his richest and most courteous manner, “for receiving ye in me shirt-sleeves.”

“An old soldier can’t be better employed than in teaching a young one the use of his sword,” answered the Major, gallantly. “I remember in old times hearing that you could use yours pretty well, Captain Costigan.”

“What, ye’ve heard of Jack Costigan, Major,” said the other, greatly.

The Major had, indeed; he had pumped his nephew concerning his new friend, the Irish officer; and whether he had no other knowledge of the Captain than what he had thus gained, or whether he actually remembered him, we cannot say. But Major Pendennis was a person of honour and undoubted veracity, and said that he perfectly well recollected meeting Mr. Costigan, and hearing him sing at Sir Richard Strachan’s table at Walcheren.

At this information, and the bland and cordial manner in which it was conveyed, Bows looked up, entirely puzzled. “But we will talk of these matters another time,” the Major continued, perhaps not wishing to commit himself; “it is to Miss Fotheringay that I came to pay my respects today;” and he performed another bow for her, so courtly and gracious, that if she had been a duchess he could not have made it more handsome.

“I had heard of your performances from my nephew, madam,” the Major said, “who raves about you, as I believe you know pretty well. But Arthur is but a boy, and a wild enthusiastic young fellow, whose opinions one must not take au pied de la lettre; and I confess I was anxious to judge for myself. Permit me to say your performance delighted and astonished me. I have seen our best actresses, and, on my word, I think you surpass them all. You are as majestic as Mrs. Siddons.”

“Faith, I always said so,” Costigan said, winking at his daughter; “Major, take a chair.” Milly rose at this hint, took an uuripped satin garment off the only vacant seat, and brought the latter to Major Pendennis with one of her finest curtseys.

“You are as pathetic as Miss O’Neill,” he continued, bowing and seating himself; “your snatches of song reminded me of Mrs. Jordan in her best time, when we were young men, Captain Costigan; and your manner reminded me of Mars. Did you ever see the Mars, Miss Fotheringay?”

“There was two Mahers in Crow Street,” remarked Miss Emily; “Fanny was well enough, but Biddy was no great things.”

“Sure, the Major means the god of war, Milly, my dear,” interposed the parent.

“It is not that Mars I meant, though Venus, I suppose, may be pardoned for thinking about him,” the Major replied with a smile directed in full to Sir Derby Oaks, who now re-entered in his shell-jacket; but the lady did not understand the words of which he made use, nor did the compliment at all pacify Sir Derby, who, probably, did not understand it either, and at any rate received it with great sulkiness and stiffness, scowling uneasily at Miss Fotheringay, with an expression which seemed to ask what the deuce does this man here?

Major Pendennis was not in the least annoyed by the gentleman’s ill-humour. On the contrary, it delighted him. “So,” thought he, “a rival is in the field;” and he offered up vows that Sir Derby might be, not only a rival, but a winner too, in this love-match in which he and Pen were engaged.

“I fear I interrupted your fencing lesson; but my stay in Chatteris is very short, and I was anxious to make myself known to my old fellow-campaigner Captain Costigan, and to see a lady nearer who had charmed me so much from the stage. I was not the only man epris last night, Miss Fotheringay (if I must call you so, though your own family name is a very ancient and noble one). There was a reverend friend of mine, who went home in raptures with Ophelia; and I saw Sir Derby Oaks fling a bouquet which no actress ever merited better. I should have brought one myself, had I known what I was going to see. Are not those the very flowers in a glass of water on the mantelpiece yonder?”

“I am very fond of flowers,” said Miss Fotheringay, with a languishing ogle at Sir Derby Oaks — but the Baronet still scowled sulkily.

“Sweets to the sweet — isn’t that the expression of the play?” Mr. Pendennis asked, bent upon being good-humoured.

“‘Pon my life, I don’t know. Very likely it is. I ain’t much of a literary man,” answered Sir Derby.

“Is it possible?” the Major continued, with an air of surprise. You don’t inherit your father’s love of letters, then, Sir Derby? He was a remarkably fine scholar, and I had the honour of knowing him very well.”

“Indeed,” said the other, and gave a sulky wag of his head.

“He saved my life,” continued Pendennis.

“Did he now?” cried Miss Fotheringay, rolling her eyes first upon the Major with surprise, then towards Sir Derby with gratitude — but the latter was proof against those glances: and far from appearing to be pleased that the Apothecary, his father, should have saved Major Pendennis’s life, the young man actually looked as if he wished the event had turned the other way.

“My father, I believe, was a very good doctor,” the young gentleman said by way of reply. “I’m not in that line myself. I wish you good morning, sir. I’ve got an appointment — Cos, bye-bye — Miss Fotheringay, good morning.” And, in spite of the young lady’s imploring looks and appealing smiles, the Dragoon bowed stiffly out of the room, and the clatter of his sabre was heard as he strode down the creaking stair; and the angry tones of his voice as he cursed little Tom Creed, who was disporting in the passage, and whose peg-top Sir Derby kicked away with an oath into the street.

The Major did not smile in the least, though he had every reason to be amused. “Monstrous handsome young man that — as fine a looking soldier as ever I saw,” he said to Costigan.

“A credit to the army and to human nature in general,” answered Costigan. “A young man of refoined manners, polite affabilitee, and princely fortune. His table is sumptuous: he’s adawr’d in the regiment: and he rides sixteen stone.”

“A perfect champion,” said the Major, laughing. “I have no doubt all the ladies admire him.”

“He’s very well, in spite of his weight, now he’s young,” said Milly; “but he’s no conversation.”

“He’s best on horseback,” Mr. Bows said; on which Milly replied, that the Baronet had ridden third in the steeple-chase on his horse Tareaways, and the Major began to comprehend that the young lady herself was not of a particular genius, and to wonder how she should be so stupid and act so well.

Costigan, with Irish hospitality, of course pressed refreshment upon his guest: and the Major, who was no more hungry than you are after a Lord Mayor’s dinner, declared that he should like a biscuit and a glass of wine above all things, as he felt quite faint from long fasting — but he knew that to receive small kindnesses flatters the donors very much, and that people must needs grow well disposed towards you as they give you their hospitality.

“Some of the old Madara, Milly, love,” Costigan said, winking to his child — and that lady, turning to her father a glance of intelligence, went out of the room, and down the stair, where she softly summoned her little emissary Master Tommy Creed: and giving him a piece of money, ordered him to go buy a pint of Madara wine at the Grapes, and sixpennyworth of sorted biscuits at the baker’s, and to return in a hurry, when he might have two biscuits for himself.

Whilst Tommy Creed was gone on this errand, Miss Costigan sate below with Mrs. Creed, telling her landlady how Mr. Arthur Pendennis’s uncle, the Major, was above-stairs; a nice, soft-spoken old gentleman; that butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth: and how Sir Derby had gone out of the room in a rage of jealousy, and thinking what must be done to pacify both of them.

“She keeps the keys of the cellar, Major,” said Mr. Costigan, as the girl left the room.

“Upon my word you have a very beautiful butler,” answered Pendennis, gallantly, “and I don’t wonder at the young fellows raving about her. When we were of their age, Captain Costigan, I think plainer women would have done our business.”

“Faith, and ye may say that, sir — and lucky is the man who gets her. Ask me friend Bob Bows here whether Miss Fotheringay’s moind is not even shuparior to her person, and whether she does not possess a cultiveated intellect, a refoined understanding, and an emiable disposition?”

“O of course,” said Mr. Bows, rather drily. “Here comes Hebe blushing from the cellar. Don’t you think it is time to go to rehearsal, Miss Hebe? You will be fined if you are later”— and he gave the young lady a look, which intimated that they had much better leave the room and the two elders together.

At this order Miss Hebe took up her bonnet and shawl, looking uncommonly pretty, good-humoured, and smiling: and Bows gathered up his roll of papers, and hobbled across the room for his hat and cane.

“Must you go?” said the Major. “Can’t you give us a few minutes more, Miss Fotheringay? Before you leave us, permit an old fellow to shake you by the hand, and believe that I am proud to have had the honour of making your acquaintance, and am most sincerely anxious to be your friend.”

Miss Fotheringay made a low curtsey at the conclusion of this gallant speech, and the Major followed her retreating steps to the door, where he squeezed her hand with the kindest and most paternal pressure. Bows was puzzled with this exhibition of cordiality: “The lad’s relatives can’t be really wanting to marry him to her,” he thought — and so they departed.

“Now for it,” thought Major Pendennis; and as for Mr. Costigan he profited instantaneously by his daughter’s absence to drink up the rest of the wine; and tossed off one bumper after another of the Madeira from the Grapes, with an eager shaking hand. The Major came up to the table, and took up his glass and drained it with a jovial smack. If it had been Lord Steyne’s particular, and not public-house Cape, he could not have appeared to relish it more.

“Capital Madeira, Captain Costigan,” he said. “Where do you get it? I drink the health of that charming creature in a bumper. Faith, Captain, I don’t wonder that the men are wild about her. I never saw such eyes in my life, or such a grand manner. I am sure she is as intellectual as she is beautiful; and I have no doubt she’s as good as she is clever.”

“A good girl, sir — a good girl, sir,” said the delighted father; “and I pledge a toast to her with all my heart. Shall I send to the — to the cellar for another pint? It’s handy by. No? Well, indeed sir, ye may say she is a good girl, and the pride and glory of her father — honest old Jack Costigan. The man who gets her will have a jew’l to a wife, sir; and I drink his health, sir, and ye know who I mean, Major.”

“I am not surprised at young or old falling in love with her,” said the Major, “and frankly must tell you, that though I was very angry with my poor nephew Arthur, when I heard of the boy’s passion — now I have seen the lady I can pardon him any extent of it. By George, I should like to enter for the race myself, if I weren’t an old fellow and a poor one.”

“And no better man, Major, I’m sure,” cried Jack enraptured.

“Your friendship, sir, delights me. Your admiration for my girl brings tears to me eyes — tears, sir — manlee tears — and when she leaves me humble home for your own more splendid mansion, I hope she’ll keep a place for her poor old father, poor old Jack Costigan.”— The Captain suited the action to the word, and his bloodshot eyes were suffused with water, as he addressed the Major.

“Your sentiments do you honour,” the other said. “But, Captain Costigan, I can’t help smiling at one thing you have just said.”

“And what’s that, sir?” asked Jack, who was at a too heroic and sentimental pitch to descend from it. You were speaking about our splendid mansion — my sister’s house, I mean.

“I mane the park and mansion of Arthur Pendennis, Esquire, of Fairoaks Park, whom I hope to see a Mimber of Parliament for his native town of Clavering, when he is of ege to take that responsible stetion,” cried the Captain with much dignity.

The Major smiled as he recognised a shaft of his own bow. It was he who had set Pen upon the idea of sitting in Parliament for the neighbouring borough — and the poor lad had evidently been bragging on the subject to Costigan and the lady of his affections. “Fairoaks Park, my dear sir,” he said. “Do you know our history? We are of excessively ancient family certainly, but I began life with scarce enough money to purchase my commission, and my eldest brother was a country apothecary: who made every shilling he died possessed of out of his pestle and mortar.”

“I have consented to waive that objection, sir,” said Costigan majestically, “in consideration of the known respectability of your family.”

“Curse your impudence,” thought the Major; but he only smiled and bowed.

“The Costigans, too, have met with misfortunes; and our house of Castle Costigan is by no manes what it was. I have known very honest men apothecaries, sir, and there’s some in Dublin that has had the honour of dining at the Lord Leftenant’s teeble.”

“You are very kind to give us the benefit of your charity,” the Major continued: “but permit me to say that is not the question. You spoke just now of my little nephew as heir of Fairoaks Park and I don’t know what besides.”

“Funded property, I’ve no doubt, Meejor, and something handsome eventually from yourself.”

“My good sir, I tell you the boy is the son of a country apothecary,” cried out Major Pendennis; “and that when he comes of age he won’t have a shilling.”

“Pooh, Major, you’re laughing at me,” said Mr. Costigan, “me young friend, I make no doubt, is heir to two thousand pounds a year.”

“Two thousand fiddlesticks! I beg your pardon, my dear sir; but has the boy been humbugging you? — it is not his habit. Upon my word and honour, as a gentleman and an executor to my brother’s will too, he left little more than five hundred a year behind him.”

“And with aconomy, a handsome sum of money too, sir,” the Captain answered. “Faith, I’ve known a man drink his clar’t, and drive his coach-and-four on five hundred a year and strict aconomy, in Ireland, sir. We’ll manage on it, sir — trust Jack Costigan for that.”

“My dear Captain Costigan — I give you my word that my brother did not leave a shilling to his son Arthur.”

“Are ye joking with me, Meejor Pendennis?” cried Jack Costigan. “Are ye thrifling with the feelings of a father and a gentleman?”

“I am telling you the honest truth,” said Major Pendennis. “Every shilling my brother had, he left to his widow: with a partial reversion, it is true, to the boy. But she is a young woman, and may marry if he offends her — or she may outlive him, for she comes of an uncommonly long-lived family. And I ask you, as a gentleman and a man of the world, what allowance can my sister, Mrs. Pendennis, make to her son out of five hundred a year, which is all her fortune — that shall enable him to maintain himself and your daughter in the rank befitting such an accomplished young lady?”

“Am I to understand, sir, that the young gentleman, your nephew, and whom I have fosthered and cherished as the son of me bosom, is an imposther who has been thrifling with the affections of me beloved child?” exclaimed the General, with an outbreak of wrath. —“Have you yourself been working upon the feelings of the young man’s susceptible nature to injuice him to break off an engagement, and with it me adored Emily’s heart? Have a care, sir, how you thrifle with the honour of John Costigan. If I thought any mortal man meant to do so, be heavens I’d have his blood, sir — were he old or young.”

“Mr. Costigan!” cried out the Major.

“Mr. Costigan can protect his own and his daughter’s honour, and will, sir,” said the other. “Look at that chest of dthrawers, it contains heaps of letthers that that viper has addressed to that innocent child. There’s promises there, sir, enough to fill a bandbox with; and when I have dragged the scoundthrel before the Courts of Law, and shown up his perjury and his dishonour, I have another remedy in yondther mahogany case, sir, which shall set me right, sir, with any individual — ye mark me words, Major Pendennis — with any individual who has counselled your nephew to insult a soldier and a gentleman. What? Me daughter to be jilted, and me grey hairs dishonoured by an apothecary’s son. By the laws of Heaven, Sir, I should like to see the man that shall do it.”

“I am to understand then that you threaten in the first place to publish the letters of a boy of eighteen to a woman of eight-and-twenty: and afterwards to do me the honour of calling me out,” the Major said, still with perfect coolness.

“You have described my intentions with perfect accuracy, Meejor Pendennis,” answered the Captain, as he pulled his ragged whiskers over his chin.

“Well, well; these shall be the subjects of future arrangements, but before we come to powder and ball, my good sir — do have the kindness to think with yourself in what earthly way I have injured you? I have told you that my nephew is dependent upon his mother, who has scarcely more than five hundred a year.”

“I have my own opinion of the correctness of that assertion,” said the Captain.

“Will you go to my sister’s lawyers, Messrs. Tatham here, and satisfy yourself?”

“I decline to meet those gentlemen,” said the Captain, with rather a disturbed air. “If it be as you say, I have been athrociously deceived by some one, and on that person I’ll be revenged.”

“Is it my nephew?” cried the Major, starting up and putting on his hat. “Did he ever tell you that his property was two thousand a year? If he did, I’m mistaken in the boy. To tell lies has not been a habit in our family, Mr. Costigan, and I don’t think my brother’s son has learned it as yet. Try and consider whether you have not deceived yourself; or adopted extravagant reports from hearsay — As for me, sir, you are at liberty to understand that I am not afraid of all the Costigans in Ireland, and know quite well how to defend myself against any threats from any quarter. I come here as the boy’s guardian to protest against a marriage, most absurd and unequal, that cannot but bring poverty and misery with it: and in preventing it I conceive I am quite as much your daughter’s friend (who I have no doubt is an honourable young lady) as the friend of my own family: and prevent the marriage I will, sir, by every means in my power. There, I have said my say, sir.”

“But I have not said mine, Major Pendennis — and ye shall hear more from me,” Mr. Costigan said, with a look of tremendous severity.

“‘Sdeath, sir, what do you mean?” the Major asked, turning round on the threshold of the door, and looking the intrepid Costigan in the face.

“Ye said, in the coorse of conversation, that ye were at the George Hotel, I think,” Mr. Costigan said in a stately manner. “A friend shall wait upon ye there before ye leave town, sir.”

“Let him make haste, Mr. Costigan,” cried out the Major, almost beside himself with rage. “I wish you a good morning, sir.” And Captain Costigan bowed a magnificent bow of defiance to Major Pendennis over the landing-place as the latter retreated down the stairs.

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