The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XII

In which a Shooting Match is proposed

Early mention has been made in this history of Mr. Garbetts, Principal Tragedian, a promising and athletic young actor, of jovial habits and irregular inclinations, between whom and Mr. Costigan there was a considerable intimacy. They were the chief ornaments of the convivial club held at the Magpie Hotel; they helped each other in various bill transactions in which they had been engaged, with the mutual loan of each other’s valuable signatures. They were friends, in fine: although Mr. Garbetts seldom called at Costigan’s house, being disliked by Miss Fotheringay, of whom in her turn Mrs. Garbetts was considerably jealous. The truth is, that Garbetts had paid his court to Miss Fotheringay and been refused by her, before he offered his hand to Mrs. G. Their history, however, forms no part of our present scheme — suffice it, Mr. Garbetts was called in by Captain Costigan immediately after his daughter and Mr. Bows had quitted the house, as a friend proper to be consulted at the actual juncture. He was a large man, with a loud voice and fierce aspect, who had the finest legs of the whole company, and could break a poker in mere sport across his stalwart arm.

“Run, Tommy,” said Mr. Costigan to the little messenger, “and fetch Mr. Garbetts from his lodgings over the tripe shop, ye know, and tell ’em to send two glasses of whisky-and-water, hot, from the Grapes.” So Tommy went his way; and presently Mr. Garbetts and the whisky came.

Captain Costigan did not disclose to him the whole of the previous events, of which the reader is in possession; but, with the aid of the spirits-and-water, he composed a letter of a threatening nature to Major Pendennis’s address, in which he called upon that gentleman to offer no hindrance to the marriage projected between Mr. Arthur Pendennis and his daughter, Miss Fotheringay, and to fix an early day for its celebration: or, in any other case, to give him the satisfaction which was usual between gentlemen of honour. And should Major Pendennis be disinclined to this alternative, the Captain hinted, that he would force him to accept by the use of a horsewhip, which he should employ upon the Major’s person. The precise terms of this letter we cannot give, for reasons which shall be specified presently; but it was, no doubt, couched in the Captain’s finest style, and sealed elaborately with the great silver seal of the Costigans — the only bit of the family plate which the Captain possessed.

Garbetts was despatched then with this message and letter; and bidding Heaven bless ‘um the General squeezed his ambassador’s hand, and saw him depart. Then he took down his venerable and murderous duelling-pistols, with flint locks, that had done the business of many a pretty fellow in Dublin: and having examined these, and seen that they were in a satisfactory condition, he brought from the drawer all Pen’s letters and poems which he kept there, and which he always read before he permitted his Emily to enjoy their perusal.

In a score of minutes Garbetts came back with an anxious and crestfallen countenance.

“Ye’ve seen ‘um?” the Captain said.

“Why, yes,” said Garbetts.

“And when is it for?” asked Costigan, trying the lock of one of the ancient pistols, and bringing it to a level with his oi — as he called that bloodshot orb.

“When is what for?” asked Mr. Garbetts.

“The meeting, my dear fellow?”

“You don’t mean to say, you mean mortal combat, Captain,” Garbetts said, aghast.

“What the devil else do I mean, Garbetts? — I want to shoot that man that has trajuiced me honor, or meself dthrop a victim on the sod.”

“D—— if I carry challenges,” Mr. Garbetts replied. “I’m a family man, Captain, and will have nothing to do with pistols — take back your letter;” and, to the surprise and indignation of Captain Costigan, his emissary flung the letter down, with its great sprawling superscription and blotched seal.

“Ye don’t mean to say ye saw ‘um and didn’t give ‘um the letter?” cried out the Captain in a fury.

“I saw him, but I could not have speech with him, Captain,” said Mr. Garbetts.

“And why the devil not?” asked the other.

“There was one there I cared not to meet, nor would you,” the tragedian answered in a sepulchral voice. “The minion Tatham was there, Captain.”

“The cowardly scoundthrel!” roared Costigan. “He’s frightened, and already going to swear the peace against me.”

“I’ll have nothing to do with the fighting, mark that,” the tragedian doggedly said, “and I wish I’d not seen Tatham neither, nor that bit of ——”

“Hold your tongue, Bob Acres. It’s my belief ye’re no better than a coward,” said Captain Costigan, quoting Sir Lucius O’Trigger, which character he had performed with credit, both off and on the stage, and after some more parley between the couple they separated in not very good humour.

Their colloquy has been here condensed, as the reader knows the main point upon which it turned. But the latter will now see how it is impossible to give a correct account of the letter which the Captain wrote to Major Pendennis, as it was never opened at all by that gentleman.

When Miss Costigan came home from rehearsal, which she did in the company of the faithful Mr. Bows, she found her father pacing up and down their apartment in a great state of agitation, and in the midst of a powerful odour of spirits-and-water, which, as it appeared, had not succeeded in pacifying his disordered mind. The Pendennis papers were on the table surrounding the empty goblets and now useless teaspoon which had served to hold and mix the Captain’s liquor and his friend’s. As Emily entered he seized her in his arms, and cried out, “Prepare yourself, me child, me blessed child,” in a voice of agony, and with eyes brimful of tears.

“Ye’re tipsy again, Papa,” Miss Fotheringay said, pushing back her sire. “Ye promised me ye wouldn’t take spirits before dinner.”

“It’s to forget me sorrows, me poor girl, that I’ve taken just a drop,” cried the bereaved father —“it’s to drown me care that I drain the bowl.”

“Your care takes a deal of drowning, Captain dear,” said Bows, mimicking his friend’s accent; “what has happened? Has that soft-spoken gentleman in the wig been vexing you?”

“The oily miscreant! I’ll have his blood!” roared Cos. Miss Milly, it must be premised, had fled to her room out of his embrace, and was taking off her bonnet and shawl there.

“I thought he meant mischief. He was so uncommon civil,” the other said. “What has he come to say?”

“O Bows! He has overwhellum’d me,” the Captain said. “There’s a hellish conspiracy on foot against me poor girl; and it’s me opinion that both them Pendennises, nephew and uncle, is two infernal thrators and scoundthrels, who should be conshumed from off the face of the earth.”

“What is it? What has happened?” said Mr. Bows, growing rather excited.

Costigan then told him the Major’s statement that the young Pendennis had not two thousand, nor two hundred pounds a year; and expressed his fury that he should have permitted such an impostor to coax and wheedle his innocent girl, and that he should have nourished such a viper in his own personal bosom. “I have shaken the reptile from me, however,” said Costigan; “and as for his uncle, I’ll have such a revenge on that old man, as shall make ‘um rue the day he ever insulted a Costigan.”

“What do you mean, General?” said Bows.

“I mean to have his life, Bows — his villanous, skulking life, my boy;” and he rapped upon the battered old pistol-case in an ominous and savage manner. Bows had often heard him appeal to that box of death, with which he proposed to sacrifice his enemies; but the Captain did not tell him that he had actually written and sent a challenge to Major Pendennis, and Mr. Bows therefore rather disregarded the pistols in the present instance.

At this juncture Miss Fotheringay returned to the common sitting-room from her private apartment, looking perfectly healthy, happy, and unconcerned, a striking and wholesome contrast to her father, who was in a delirious tremor of grief, anger, and other agitation. She brought in a pair of ex-white satin shoes with her, which she proposed to rub as clean as might be with bread-crumb: intending to go mad with them upon next Tuesday evening in Ophelia, in which character she was to reappear on that night.

She looked at the papers on the table; stopped as if she was going to ask a question, but thought better of it, and going to the cupboard, selected an eligible piece of bread wherewith she might operate on the satin slippers: and afterwards coming back to the table, seated herself there commodiously with the shoes, and then asked her father, in her honest, Irish brogue, “What have ye got them letthers, and pothry, and stuff, of Master Arthur’s out for, Pa? Sure ye don’t want to be reading over that nonsense.”

“O Emilee!” cried the Captain, “that boy whom I loved as the boy of mee bosom is only a scoundthrel, and a deceiver, mee poor girl:” and he looked in the most tragical way at Mr. Bows, opposite; who, in his turn, gazed somewhat anxiously at Miss Costigan.

“He! pooh! Sure the poor lad’s as simple as a schoolboy,” she said. “All them children write verses and nonsense.”

“He’s been acting the part of a viper to this fireside, and a traitor in this familee,” cried the Captain. “I tell ye he’s no better than an impostor.”

“What has the poor fellow done, Papa?” asked Emily.

“Done? He has deceived us in the most athrocious manner,” Miss Emily’s papa said. “He has thrifled with your affections, and outraged my own fine feelings. He has represented himself as a man of property, and it turruns out that he is no betther than a beggar. Haven’t I often told ye he had two thousand a year? He’s a pauper, I tell ye, Miss Costigan; a depindent upon the bountee of his mother; a good woman, who may marry again, who’s likely to live for ever, and who has but five hundred a year. How dar he ask ye to marry into a family which has not the means of providing for ye? Ye’ve been grossly deceived and put upon, Milly, and it’s my belief his old ruffian of an uncle in a wig is in the plot against us.”

“That soft old gentleman? What has he been doing, Papa?” continued Emily, still imperturbable.

Costigan informed Milly, that when she was gone, Major Pendennis told him in his double-faced Pall Mall polite manner, that young Arthur had no fortune at all, that the Major had asked him (Costigan) to go to the lawyers (“wherein he knew the scoundthrels have a bill of mine, and I can’t meet them,” the Captain parenthetically remarked), and see the lad’s father’s will and finally, that an infernal swindle had been practised upon him by the pair, and that he was resolved either on a marriage, or on the blood of both of them.

Milly looked very grave and thoughtful, rubbing the white satin shoes. “Sure, if he’s no money, there’s no use marrying him, Papa,” she said sententiously.

“Why did the villain say he was a man of prawpertee?” asked Costigan.

“The poor fellow always said he was poor,” answered the girl. “’Twas you would have it he was rich, Papa — and made me agree to take him.”

“He should have been explicit and told us his income, Milly,” answered the father. “A young fellow who rides a blood mare, and makes presents of shawls and bracelets, is an impostor if he has no money; — and as for his uncle, bedad I’ll pull off his wig whenever I see ‘um. Bows, here, shall take a message to him and tell him so. Either it’s a marriage, or he meets me in the field like a man, or I tweak ‘um on the nose in front of his hotel or in the gravel walks of Fairoaks Park before all the county, bedad.”

“Bedad, you may send somebody else with the message,” said Bows, laughing. “I’m a fiddler, not a fighting man, Captain.”

“Pooh, you’ve no spirit, sir,” roared the General. “I’ll be my own second, if no one will stand by and see me injured. And I’ll take my case of pistols and shoot ‘um in the Coffee-room of the George.”

“And so poor Arthur has no money?” sighed out Miss Costigan, rather plaintively. “Poor lad, he was a good lad too: wild and talking nonsense, with his verses and pothry and that, but a brave, generous boy, and indeed I liked him — and he liked me too,” she added, rather softly, and rubbing away at the shoe.

“Why don’t you marry him if you like him so?” Mr. Bows said, rather savagely. “He is not more than ten years younger than you are. His mother may relent, and you might go and live and have enough at Fairoaks Park. Why not go and be a lady? I could go on with the fiddle, and the General live on his half-pay. Why don’t you marry him? You know he likes you.”

“There’s others that likes me as well, Bows, that has no money and that’s old enough,” Miss Milly said sententiously.

“Yes, d —— it,” said Bows, with a bitter curse —“that are old enough and poor enough and fools enough for anything.”

“There’s old fools, and young fools too. You’ve often said so you silly man,” the imperious beauty said, with a conscious glance at the old gentleman. “If Pendennis has not enough money to live upon, it’s folly to talk about marrying him: and that’s the long and short of it.”

“And the boy?” said Mr. Bows. “By Jove! you throw a man away like an old glove, Miss Costigan.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Bows,” said Miss Fotheringay, placidly, rubbing the second shoe. “If he had had half of the two thousand a year that Papa gave him, or the half of that, I would marry him. But what is the good of taking on with a beggar? We’re poor enough already. There’s no use in my going to live with an old lady that’s testy and cross, maybe, and would grudge me every morsel of meat.” (Sure, it’s near dinner time, and Suky not laid the cloth yet.) “And then,” added Miss Costigan quite simply, “suppose there was a family? — why, Papa, we shouldn’t be as well off as we are now.”

“‘Deed, then, you would not, Milly dear,” answered the father.

“And there’s an end to all the fine talk about Mrs. Arthur Pendennis of Fairoaks Park — the member of Parliament’s lady,” said Milly, with a laugh. “Pretty carriages and horses we should have to ride! — that you were always talking about, Papa! But it’s always the same. If a man looked at me, you fancied he was going to marry me; and if he had a good coat, you fancied he was as rich as Crazes.”

“— As Croesus,” said Mr. Bows.

“Well, call ‘um what ye like. But it’s a fact now that Papa has married me these eight years a score of times. Wasn’t I to be my Lady Poldoody of Oystherstown Castle? Then there was the Navy Captain at Portsmouth, and the old surgeon at Norwich, and the Methodist preacher here last year, and who knows how many more? Well, I bet a penny, with all your scheming, I shall die Milly Costigan at last. So poor little Arthur has no money? Stop and take dinner, Bows; we’ve a beautiful beef-steak pudding.”

“I wonder whether she is on with Sir Derby Oaks,” thought Bows, whose eyes and thoughts were always watching her. “The dodges of women beat all comprehension; and I am sure she wouldn’t let the lad off so easily, if she had not some other scheme on hand.”

It will have been perceived that Miss Fotheringay, though silent in general, and by no means brilliant as a conversationist, where poetry, literature, or the fine arts were concerned, could talk freely, and with good sense, too, in her own family circle. She cannot justly be called a romantic person: nor were her literary acquirement great: she never opened a Shakspeare from the day she left the stage, nor, indeed, understood it during all the time she adorned the boards: but about a pudding, a piece of needle-work, or her own domestic affairs, she was as good a judge as could be found; and not being misled by a strong imagination or a passionate temper, was better enabled to keep her judgment cool. When, over their dinner, Costigan tried to convince himself and the company, that the Major’s statement regarding Pen’s finances was unworthy of credit, and a mere ruse upon the old hypocrite’s part so as to induce them, on their side, to break off the match, Miss Milly would not, for a moment, admit the possibility of deceit on the side of the adversary: and pointed out clearly that it was her father who had deceived himself, and not poor little Pen who had tried to take them in. As for that poor lad, she said she pitied him with all her heart. And she ate an exceedingly good dinner; to the admiration of Mr. Bows, who had a remarkable regard and contempt for this woman, during and after which repast, the party devised upon the best means of bringing this love-matter to a close. As for Costigan, his idea of tweaking the Major’s nose vanished with his supply of after-dinner whisky-and-water; and he was submissive to his daughter, and ready for any plan on which she might decide, in order to meet the crisis which she saw was at hand.

The Captain, who, as long as he had a notion that he was wronged, was eager to face and demolish both Pen and his uncle, perhaps shrank from the idea of meeting the former, and asked “what the juice they were to say to the lad if he remained steady to his engagement, and they broke from theirs?” “What? don’t you know how to throw a man over?” said Bows; “ask a woman to tell you?” and Miss Fotheringay showed how this feat was to be done simply enough — nothing was more easy. “Papa writes to Arthur to know what settlements he proposes to make in event of a marriage; and asks what his means are. Arthur writes back and says what he’s got, and you’ll find it’s as the Major says, I’ll go bail. Then papa writes, and says it’s not enough, and the match had best be at an end.”

“And, of course, you enclose a parting line, in which you say you will always regard him as a brother,” said Mr. Bows, eyeing her in his scornful way.

“Of course, and so I shall,” answered Miss Fotheringay. “He’s a most worthy young man, I’m sure. I’ll thank ye hand me the salt. Them filberts is beautiful.”

“And there will be no noses pulled, Cos, my boy? I’m sorry you’re baulked,” said Mr. Bows.

“Dad, I suppose not,” said Cos, rubbing his own. —“What’ll ye do about them letters, and verses, and pomes, Milly, darling? — Ye must send ’em back.”

“Wigsby would give a hundred pound for ’em,” Bows said, with a sneer.

“‘Deed, then, he would,” said Captain Costigan, who was easily led.

“Papa!” said Miss Milly. —“Ye wouldn’t be for not sending the poor boy his letters back? Them letters and pomes is mine. They were very long, and full of all sorts of nonsense, and Latin, and things I couldn’t understand the half of; indeed I’ve not read ’em all; but we’ll send ’em back to him when the proper time comes.” And going to a drawer, Miss Fotheringay took out from it a number of the County Chronicle and Chatteris Champion, in which Pen had written a copy of flaming verses celebrating her appearance in the character of Imogen, and putting by the leaf upon which the poem appeared (for, like ladies of her profession, she kept the favourable printed notices of her performances), she wrapped up Pen’s letters, poems, passions, and fancies, and tied them with a piece of string neatly, as she would a parcel of sugar.

Nor was she in the least moved while performing this act. What hours the boy had passed over those papers! What love and longing: what generous faith and manly devotion — what watchful nights and lonely fevers might they tell of! She tied them up like so much grocery, and sate down and made tea afterwards with a perfectly placid and contented heart: while Pen was yearning after her ten miles off: and hugging her image to his soul.

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