The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXIII

New Faces

The inmates of Fairoaks were drowsily pursuing this humdrum existence, while the great house upon the hill, on the other side of the River Brawl, was shaking off the slumber in which it had lain during the lives of two generations of masters, and giving extraordinary signs of renewed liveliness.

Just about the time of Pen’s little mishap, and when he was so absorbed in the grief occasioned by that calamity as to take no notice of events which befell persons less interesting to himself than Arthur Pendennis, an announcement appeared in the provincial journals which caused no small sensation in the county at least, and in all the towns, villages, halls and mansions, and parsonages for many miles round Clavering Park. At Clavering Market; at Cackleby Fair; at Chatteris Sessions; on Gooseberry Green, as the squire’s carriage met the vicar’s one-horse contrivance, and the inmates of both vehicles stopped on the road to talk; at Tinkleton Church gate, as the bell was tolling in the sunshine, and the white smocks and scarlet cloaks came trooping over the green common, to Sunday worship; in a hundred societies round about — the word was, that Clavering Park was to be inhabited again.

Some five years before, the county papers had advertised the marriage at Florence, at the British Legation, of Francis Clavering, Esq., only son of Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., of Clavering Park, with Jemima Augusta, daughter of Samuel Snell, of Calcutta, Esq., and widow of the late J. Amory, Esq. At that time the legend in the county was that Clavering, who had been ruined for many a year, had married a widow from India with some money. Some of the county folks caught a sight of the newly-married pair. The Kickleburys, travelling in Italy, had seen them. Clavering occupied the Poggi Palace at Florence, gave parties, and lived comfortably — but could never come to England. Another year — young Peregrine, of Cackleby, making a Long Vacation tour, had fallen in with the Claverings occupying Schloss Schinkenstein, on the Mummel See. At Rome, at Lucca, at Nice, at the baths and gambling places of the Rhine and Belgium, this worthy couple might occasionally be heard of by the curious, and rumours of them came, as it were by gusts, to Clavering’s ancestral place.

Their last place of abode was Paris, where they appear to have lived in great fashion and splendour after the news of the death of Samuel Snell, Esq., of Calcutta, reached his orphan daughter in Europe.

Of Sir Francis Clavering’s antecedents little can be said that would be advantageous to that respected baronet. The son of an outlaw, living in a dismal old chateau near Bruges, this gentleman had made a feeble attempt to start in life with a commission in a dragoon regiment, and had broken down almost at the outset. Transactions at the gambling-table had speedily effected his ruin; after a couple of years in the army he had been forced to sell out, had passed some time in Her Majesty’s prison of the Fleet, and had then shipped over to Ostend to join the gouty exile, his father. And in Belgium, France and Germany, for some years, this decayed and abortive prodigal might be seen lurking about billiard-rooms and watering-places, punting at gambling-houses, dancing at boarding-house balls, and riding steeple-chases on other folks’ horses.

It was at a boarding-house at Lausanne that Francis Clavering made what he called the lucky coup of marrying the widow Amory, very lately returned from Calcutta. His father died soon after, by consequence of whose demise his wife became Lady Clavering. The title so delighted Mr. Snell of Calcutta, that he doubled his daughter’s allowance; and dying himself soon after, left a fortune to her and her children the amount of which was, if not magnified by rumour, something very splendid indeed.

Before this time there had been, not rumours unfavourable to Lady Clavering’s reputation, but unpleasant impressions regarding her ladyship. The best English people abroad were shy of making her acquaintance; her manners were not the most refined; her origin was lamentably low and doubtful. The retired East Indians, who are to be found in considerable force in most of the continental towns frequented by English, spoke with much scorn of the disreputable old lawyer and indigo-smuggler her father, and of Amory, her first husband, who had been mate of the Indiaman in which Miss Snell came out to join her father at Calcutta. Neither father nor daughter were in society at Calcutta, or had ever been heard of at Government House. Old Sir Jasper Rogers, who had been Chief Justice of Calcutta, had once said to his wife, that he could tell a queer story about Lady Clavering’s first husband; but greatly to Lady Rogers’s disappointment, and that of the young ladies his daughters, the old Judge could never be got to reveal that mystery.

They were all, however, glad enough to go to Lady Clavering’s parties, when her ladyship took the Hotel Bouilli in the Rue Grenelle at Paris, and blazed out in the polite world there in the winter of 183 —. The Faubourg St. Germain took her up. Viscount Bagwig, our excellent ambassador, paid her marked attention. The princes of the family frequented her salons. The most rigid and noted of the English ladies resident in the French capital acknowledged and countenanced her; the virtuous Lady Elderbury, the severe Lady Rockminster, the venerable Countess of Southdown — people, in a word, renowned for austerity, and of quite a dazzling moral purity:— so great and beneficent an influence had the possession of ten (some said twenty) thousand a year exercised upon Lady Clavering’s character and reputation. And her munificence and good-will were unbounded. Anybody (in society) who had a scheme of charity was sure to find her purse open. The French ladies of piety got money from her to support their schools and convents; she subscribed indifferently for the Armenian patriarch; for Father Barbarossa, who came to Europe to collect funds for his monastery on Mount Athos; for the Baptist Mission to Quashyboo, and the Orthodox Settlement in Feefawfoo, the largest and most savage of the Cannibal Islands. And it is on record of her, that, on the same day on which Madame de Cricri got five Napoleons from her in support of the poor persecuted Jesuits, who were at that time in very bad odour in France, Lady Budelight put her down in her subscription-list for the Rev. J. Ramshorn, who had had a vision which ordered him to convert the Pope of Rome. And more than this, and for the benefit of the worldly, her ladyship gave the best dinners, and the grandest balls and suppers, which were known at Paris during that season.

And it was during this time, that the good-natured lady must have arranged matters with her husband’s creditors in England, for Sir Francis reappeared in his native country, without fear of arrest; was announced in the Morning Post, and the county paper, as having taken up his residence at Mivart’s Hotel; and one day the anxious old housekeeper at Clavering House beheld a carriage and four horses drive up the long avenue, and stop before the moss-grown steps in front of the vast melancholy portico.

Three gentlemen were in the carriage — an open one. On the back seat was our old acquaintance, Mr. Tatham of Chatteris, whilst in the places of honour sate a handsome and portly gentleman enveloped in mustachios, whiskers, fur collars, and braiding, and by him a pale languid man who descended feebly from the carriage, when the little lawyer, and the gentleman in fur, nimbly jumped out of it.

They walked up the great moss-grown steps to the hall-door, and a foreign attendant, with earrings and a gold-laced cap, pulled strenuously at the great bell-handle at the cracked and sculptured gate. The bell was heard clanging loudly through the vast gloomy mansion. Steps resounded presently upon the marble pavement of the hall within; and the doors opened, and finally Mrs. Blenkinsop, the housekeeper, Polly, her aide-de-camp, and Smart, the keeper, appeared bowing humbly.

Smart, the keeper, pulled the wisp of hay-coloured hair which adorned his sunburnt forehead, kicked out his left heel as if there were a dog biting at his calves, and brought down his head to a bow. Old Mrs Blenkinsop dropped a curtsey. Little Polly, her aide-de-camp, made a curtsey and several rapid bows likewise; and Mrs. Blenkinsop, with a great deal of emotion, quavered out, “Welcome to Clavering, Sir Francis. It du my poor eyes good to see one of the family once more.”

The speech and the greetings were all addressed to the grand gentleman in fur and braiding, who wore his hat so magnificently on one side, and twirled his mustachios so royally. But he burst out laughing, and said, “You’ve saddled the wrong horse, old lady — I’m not Sir Francis Clavering what’s come to revisit the halls of my ancestors. Friends and vassals! behold your rightful lord!”

And he pointed his hand towards the pale, languid gentleman who said, “Don’t be an ass, Ned”

“Yes, Mrs. Blenkinsop, I’m Sir Francis Clavering; I recollect you quite well. Forgot me, I suppose? — How dy do?” and he took the old lady’s trembling hand; and nodded in her astonished face, in a not unkind manner.

Mrs. Blenkinsop declared upon her conscience that she would have known Sir Francis anywhere, that he was the very image of Sir Francis, his father, and of Sir John who had gone before.

“O yes — thanky — of course — very much obliged — and that sort of thing,” Sir Francis said, looking vacantly about the hall “Dismal old place, ain’t it, Ned? Never saw it but once, when my governor quarrelled with gwandfather in the year twenty-thwee.

“Dismal? — beautiful! — the Castle of Otranto! — the Mysteries of Udolpho, by Jove!” said the individual addressed as Ned. “What a fireplace! You might roast an elephant in it. Splendid carved gallery! Inigo Jones, by Jove! I’d lay five to two it’s Inigo Jones.”

“The upper part by Inigo Jones; the lower was altered by the eminent Dutch architect, Vanderputty, in George the First his time, by Sir Richard, fourth baronet,” said the housekeeper.

“O indeed,” said the Baronet “Gad, Ned, you know everything.”

“I know a few things, Frank,” Ned answered. “I know that’s not a Snyders over the mantelpiece — bet you three to one it’s a copy. We’ll restore it, my boy. A lick of varnish, and it will come out wonderfully, sir. That old fellow in the red gown, I suppose, is Sir Richard.”

“Sheriff of the county, and sate in parliament in the reign of Queen Anne,” said the housekeeper, wondering at the stranger’s knowledge; “that on the right is Theodosia, wife of Harbottle, second baronet, by Lely, represented in the character of Venus, the Goddess of Beauty — her son Gregory, the third baronet, by her side, as Cupid, God of Love, with a bow and arrows; that on the next panel is Sir Rupert, made a knight banneret by Charles the First, and whose property was confuscated by Oliver Cromwell.”

“Thank you — needn’t go on, Mrs. Blenkinsop,” said the Baronet, “We’ll walk about the place ourselves. Frosch, give me a cigar. Have a cigar, Mr. Tatham?”

Little Mr. Tatham tried a cigar which Sir Francis’s courier handed to him, and over which the lawyer spluttered fearfully. “Needn’t come with us, Mrs. Blenkinsop. What’s — his — name — you — Smart — feed the horses and wash their mouths. Shan’t stay long. Come along, Strong — I know the way: I was here in twenty-thwee, at the end of my gwandfather’s time.” And Sir Francis and Captain Strong, for such was the style and title of Sir Francis’s friend, passed out of the hall into the reception-rooms, leaving the discomfited Mrs. Blenkinsop to disappear by a side-door which led to her apartments, now the only habitable rooms in the long-uninhabited mansion.

It was a place so big that no tenant could afford to live in it; and Sir Francis and his friend walked through room after room, admiring their vastness and dreary and deserted grandeur. On the right of the hall-door were the saloons and drawing-rooms, and on the other side the oak room, the parlour, the grand dining-room, the library, where Pen had found books in old days. Round three sides of the hall ran a gallery, by which, and corresponding passages, the chief bedrooms were approached, and of which many were of stately proportions and exhibited marks of splendour. On the second story was a labyrinth of little discomfortable garrets, destined for the attendants of the great folks who inhabited the mansion in the days when it was first built: and I do not know any more cheering mark of the increased philanthropy of our own times, than to contrast our domestic architecture with that of our ancestors, and to see how much better servants and poor are cared for now, than in times when my lord and my lady slept under gold canopies, and their servants lay above them in quarters not so airy or so clean as stables are now.

Up and down the house the two gentlemen wandered, the owner of the mansion being very silent and resigned about the pleasure of possessing it; whereas the Captain, his friend, examined the premises with so much interest and eagerness that you would have thought he was the master, and the other the indifferent spectator of the place. “I see capabilities in it — capabilities in it, sir,” cried the Captain. “Gad, sir, leave it to me, and I’ll make it the pride of the country, at a small expense. What a theatre we can have in the library here, the curtains between the columns which divide the room! What a famous room for a galop! — it will hold the whole shire. We’ll hang the morning parlour with the tapestry in your second salon in the Rue de Grenelle, and furnish the oak room with the Moyen-age cabinets and the armour. Armour looks splendid against black oak, and there’s a Venice glass in the Quai Voltaire, which will suit that high mantelpiece to an inch, sir. The long saloon, white and crimson of course; the drawing-room yellow satin; and the little drawing-room light blue, with lace over — hay?”

“I recollect my old governor caning me in that little room,” Sir Francis said sententiously; “he always hated me, my old governor.”

“Chintz is the dodge, I suppose, for my lady’s rooms — the suite in the landing, to the south, the bedroom, the sitting-room, and the dressing-room. We’ll throw a conservatory out, over the balcony. Where will you have your rooms?”

“Put mine in the north wing,” said the Baronet, with a yawn, “and out of the reach of Miss Amory’s confounded piano. I can’t bear it. She’s scweeching from morning till night.”

The Captain burst out laughing. He settled the whole further arrangements of the house in the course of their walk through it; and, the promenade ended, they went into the steward’s room, now inhabited by Mrs. Blenkinsop, and where Mr. Tatham was sitting poring over a plan of the estate, and the old housekeeper had prepared a collation in honour of her lord and master.

Then they inspected the kitchen and stables, about both of which Sir Francis was rather interested, and Captain Strong was for examining the gardens; but the Baronet said, “D—— the gardens, and that sort of thing!” and finally he drove away from the house as unconcernedly as he had entered it; and that night the people of Clavering learned that Sir Francis Clavering had paid a visit to the Park, and was coming to live in the county.

When this fact came to be known at Chatteris, all the folks in the place were set in commotion: High Church and Low Church, half-pay captains and old maids and dowagers, sporting squireens of the viciniage, farmers, tradesmen, and factory people — all the population in and round about the little place. The news was brought to Fairoaks, and received by the ladies there, and by Mr. Pen, with some excitement. “Mrs. Pybus says there is a very pretty girl in the family, Arthur,” Laura said, who was as kind and thoughtful upon this point as women generally are: “a Miss Amory, Lady Clavering’s daughter by her first marriage. Of course, you will fall in love with her as soon as she arrives.”

Helen cried out, “Don’t talk nonsense, Laura.” Pen laughed, and said, “Well, there is the young Sir Francis for you.”

“He is but four years old,” Miss Laura replied. “But I shall console myself with that handsome officer, Sir Francis’s friend. He was at church last Sunday, in the Clavering pew, and his mustachios were beautiful.”

Indeed the number of Sir Francis’s family (whereof the members have all been mentioned in the above paragraphs) was pretty soon known in his town, and everything else, as nearly as human industry and ingenuity could calculate, regarding his household. The Park avenue and grounds were dotted now with town folks of the summer evenings, who made their way up to the great house, peered about the premises, and criticised the improvements which were taking place there. Loads upon loads of furniture arrived in numberless vans from Chatteris and London; and numerous as the vans are, there was not one but Captain Glanders knew what it contained, and escorted the baggage up to the Park House.

He and Captain Edward Strong had formed an intimate acquaintance by this time. The younger Captain occupied those very lodgings at Clavering, which the peaceful Smirke had previously tenanted, and was deep in the good graces of Madame Fribsby, his landlady; and of the whole town, indeed. The Captain was splendid in person and raiment; fresh-coloured, blue-eyed, black-whiskered, broad-chested, athletic — a slight tendency to fulness did not take away from the comeliness of his jolly figure — a braver soldier never presented a broader chest to the enemy. As he strode down Clavering High Street, his hat on one side, his cane clanking on the pavement, or waving round him in the execution of military cuts and soldatesque manoeuvres — his jolly laughter ringing through the otherwise silent street — he was as welcome as sunshine to the place, and a comfort to every inhabitant in it.

On the first market-day he knew every pretty girl in the market: he joked with all the women: had a word with the farmers about their stock, and dined at the Agricultural Ordinary at the Clavering Arms, where he set them all dying with laughing by his fun and jokes. “Tu be sure he be a vine veller, tu be sure that he be,” was the universal opinion of the gentlemen in top-boots. He shook hands with a score of them, as they rode out of the inn-yard on their old nags, waving his hat to them splendidly as he smoked his cigar in the inn-gate. In the course of the evening he was free of the landlady’s bar, knew what rent the landlord paid, how many acres he farmed, how much malt he put in his strong beer; and whether he ever ran in a little brandy unexcised by kings from Baymouth, or the fishing villages along the coast.

He had tried to live at the great house first; but it was so dull he couldn’t stand it. “I am a creature born for society,” he told Captain Glanders. “I’m down here to see Clavering’s house set in order; for between ourselves, Frank has no energy, sir, no energy; he’s not the chest for it, sir (and he threw out his own trunk as he spoke); but I must have social intercourse. Old Mrs. Blenkinsop goes to bed at seven, and takes Polly with her. There was nobody but me and the Ghost for the first two nights at the great house, and I own it, sir, I like company. Most old soldiers do.”

Glanders asked Strong where he had served? Captain Strong curled his mustache, and said with a laugh, that the other might almost ask where he had not served. “I began, sir, as cadet of Hungarian Uhlans, and when the war of Greek independence broke out, quitted that service in consequence of a quarrel with my governor, and was one of seven who escaped from Missolonghi, and was blown up in one of Botzaris’s fireships, at the age of seventeen. I’ll show you my Cross of the Redeemer, if you’ll come over to my lodgings and take a glass of grog with me, Captain, this evening. I’ve a few of those baubles in my desk. I’ve the White Eagle of Poland; Skrzynecki gave it me” (he pronounced Skrzynecki’s name with wonderful accuracy and gusto) “upon the field of Ostrolenka. I was a lieutenant of the fourth regiment, sir, and we marched through Diebitsch’s lines — bang thro’ ’em into Prussia, sir, without firing a shot. Ah, Captain, that was a mismanaged business. I received this wound by the side of the King before Oporto — where he would have pounded the stock-jobbing Pedroites, had Bourmont followed my advice; and I served in Spain with the King’s troops, until the death of my dear friend, Zumalacarreguy, when I saw the game was over, and hung up my toasting iron, Captain. Alava offered me a regiment, the Queen’s Muleteros; but I couldn’t — damme, I couldn’t — and now, sir, you know Ned Strong — the Chevalier Strong they call me abroad — as well as he knows himself.”

In this way almost everybody in Clavering came to know Ned Strong. He told Madame Fribsby, he told the landlord of the George, he told Baker at the reading-rooms, he told Mrs. Glanders, and the young ones, at dinner: and, finally, he told Mr. Arthur Pendennis, who, yawning into Clavering one day, found the Chevalier Strong in company with Captain Glanders; and who was delighted with his new acquaintance.

Before many days were over, Captain Strong was as much at home in Helen’s drawing-room as he was in Madame Fribsby’s first floor; and made the lonely house very gay with his good-humour and ceaseless flow of talk. The two women had never before seen such a man. He had a thousand stories about battles and dangers to interest them — about Greek captives, Polish beauties, and Spanish nuns. He could sing scores of songs, in half a dozen languages, and would sit down to the piano and troll them off in a rich manly voice. Both the ladies pronounced him to be delightful — and so he was; though, indeed, they had not had much choice of man’s society as yet, having seen in the course of their lives but few persons, except old Portman and the Major, and Mr. Pen, who was a genius, to be sure; but then your geniuses are somewhat flat and moody at home.

And Captain Strong acquainted his new friends at Fairoaks, not only with his own biography, but with the whole history of the family now coming to Clavering. It was he who had made the marriage between his friend Frank and the widow Amory. She wanted rank, and he wanted money. What match could be more suitable? He organised it; he made those two people happy. There was no particular romantic attachment between them; the widow was not of an age or a person for romance, and Sir Francis, if he had his game at billiards, and his dinner, cared for little besides. But they were as happy as people could be. Clavering would return to his native place and country, his wife’s fortune would pay his encumbrances off, and his son and heir would be one of the first men in the county.

“And Miss Amory?” Laura asked. Laura was uncommonly curious about Miss Amory.

Strong laughed. “Oh, Miss Amory is a muse — Miss Amory is a mystery — Miss Amory is a femme incomprise.” “What is that?” asked simple Mrs. Pendennis — but the Chevalier gave her no answer: perhaps could not give her one. “Miss Amory paints, Miss Amory writes poems, Miss Amory composes music, Miss Amory rides like Diana Vernon. Miss Amory is a paragon, in a word.”

“I hate clever women,” said Pen.

“Thank you,” said Laura. For her part she was sure she should be charmed with Miss Amory, and quite longed to have such a friend. And with this she looked Pen full in the face, as if every word the little hypocrite said was Gospel truth.

Thus, an intimacy was arranged and prepared beforehand between the Fairoaks family and their wealthy neighbours at the Park; and Pen and Laura were to the full as eager for their arrival, as even the most curious of the Clavering folks. A Londoner, who sees fresh faces and yawns at them every day may smile at the eagerness with which country people expect a visitor. A cockney comes amongst them, and is remembered by his rural entertainers for years after he has left them, and forgotten them very likely — floated far away from them on the vast London sea. But the islanders remember long after the mariner has sailed away, and can tell you what he said and what he wore, and how he looked and how he laughed. In fine, a new arrival is an event in the country not to be understood by us, who don’t, and had rather not, know who lives next door.

When the painters and upholsterers had done their work in the house, and so beautified it, under Captain Strong’s superintendence, that he might well be proud of his taste, that gentleman announced that he should go to London, where the whole family had arrived by this time, and should speedily return to establish them in their renovated mansion.

Detachments of domestics preceded them. Carriages came down by sea, and were brought over from Baymouth by horses which had previously arrived under the care of grooms and coachmen. One day the ‘Alacrity’ coach brought down on its roof two large and melancholy men, who were dropped at the Park lodge with their trunks, and who were Messieurs Frederic and James, metropolitan footmen, who had no objection to the country, and brought with them state and other suits of the Clavering uniform.

On another day, the mail deposited at the gate a foreign gentleman, adorned with many ringlets and chains. He made a great riot at the lodge-gate to the keeper’s wife (who, being a West-country woman, did not understand his English or his Gascon French), because there was no carriage in waiting to drive him to the house, a mile off, and because he could not walk entire leagues in his fatigued state and varnished boots. This was Monsieur Alcide Mirobolant, formerly Chef of his Highness the Duc de Borodino, of H. Eminence Cardinal Beccafico, and at present Chef of the bouche of Sir Clavering, Baronet:— Monsieur Mirobolant’s library, pictures, and piano had arrived previously in charge of the intelligent young Englishman, his aide-de-camp. He was, moreover, aided by a professed female cook, likewise from London, who had inferior females under her orders.

He did not dine in the steward’s room, but took his nutriment in solitude in his own apartments, where a female servant was affected to his private use. It was a grand sight to behold him in his dressing-gown composing a menu. He always sate down and played the piano for some time before that. If interrupted, he remonstrated pathetically with his little maid. Every great artist, he said, had need of solitude to perfectionate his works.

But we are advancing matters in the fulness of our love and respect for Monsieur Mirobolant, and bringing him prematurely on the stage.

The Chevalier Strong had a hand in the engagement of all the London domestics, and, indeed, seemed to be the master of the house. There were those among them who said he was the house-steward, only he dined with the family. Howbeit, he knew how to make himself respected, and two of by no means the least comfortable rooms of the house were assigned to his particular use.

He was walking upon the terrace finally upon the eventful day when, amidst an immense jangling of bells from Clavering Church, where the flag was flying, an open carriage and one of those travelling chariots or family arks, which only English philoprogenitiveness could invent drove rapidly with foaming horses through the Park gates, and up to the steps of the Hall. The two battans of the sculptured door flew open. The superior officers in black, the large and melancholy gentlemen, now in livery with their hair in powder, the country menials engaged to aid them, were in waiting in the hall, and bowed like elms when autumn winds wail in the park. Through this avenue passed Sir Francis Clavering with a most unmoved face: Lady Clavering, with a pair of bright black eyes, and a good-humoured countenance, which waggled and nodded very graciously: Master Francis Clavering, who was holding his mamma’s skirt (and who stopped the procession to look at the largest footman, whose appearance seemed to strike the young gentleman), and Miss Blandy, governess to Master Francis, and Miss Amory, her ladyship’s daughter, giving her arm to Captain Strong. It was summer, but fires of welcome were crackling in the great hall chimney, and in the rooms which the family were to occupy.

Monsieur Mirobolant had looked at the procession from one of the lime-trees in the avenue. “Elle est la,” he said, laying his jewelled hand on his richly-embroidered velvet glass buttons, “Je t’ai vue, je te benis, O ma sylphide, O mon ange!” and he dived into the thicket, and made his way back to his furnaces and saucepans.

The next Sunday the same party which had just made its appearance at Clavering Park, came and publicly took possession of the ancient pew in the church, where so many of the Baronet’s ancestors had prayed, and were now kneeling in effigy. There was such a run to see the new folks, that the Low Church was deserted, to the disgust of its pastor; and as the state barouche, with the greys and coachman in silver wig, and solemn footmen, drew up at the old churchyard-gate, there was such a crowd assembled there as had not been seen for many a long day. Captain Strong knew everybody, and saluted for all the company — the country people vowed my lady was not handsome, to be sure, but pronounced her to be uncommon fine dressed, as indeed she was — with the finest of shawls, the finest of pelisses, the brilliantest of bonnets and wreaths, and a power of rings, cameos, brooches, chains, bangles, and other nameless gimcracks; and ribbons of every breadth and colour of the rainbow flaming on her person. Miss Amory appeared meek in dove-colour, like a vestal virgin — while Master Francis was in the costume, then prevalent, of Rob Roy Macgregor, a celebrated Highland outlaw. The Baronet was not more animated than ordinarily — there was a happy vacuity about him which enabled him to face a dinner, a death, a church, a marriage, with the same indifferent ease.

A pew for the Clavering servants was filled by these domestics, and the enraptured congregation saw the gentlemen from London with “vlower on their heeds,” and the miraculous coachman with his silver wig, take their places in that pew so soon as his horses were put up at the Clavering Arms.

In the course of the service, Master Francis began to make such a yelling in the pew, that Frederic, the tallest of the footmen, was beckoned by his master, and rose and went and carried out Master Francis, who roared and beat him on the head, so that the powder flew round about, like clouds of incense. Nor was he pacified until placed on the box of the carriage, where he played at horses with John’s whip.

“You see the little beggar’s never been to church before, Miss Bell,” the Baronet drawled out to a young lady who was visiting him; “no wonder he should make a row: I don’t go in town neither, but I think it’s right in the country to give a good example — and that sort of thing.”

Miss Bell laughed and said, “The little boy had not given a particularly good example.”

“Gad, I don’t know, and that sort of thing,” said the Baronet. “It ain’t so bad neither. Whenever he wants a thing, Frank always cwies, and whenever he cwies he gets it.”

Here the child in question began to howl for a dish of sweetmeats on the luncheon-table, and making a lunge across the table-cloth, upset a glass of wine over the best waistcoat of one of the guests present, Mr. Arthur Pendennis, who was greatly annoyed at being made to look foolish, and at having his spotless cambric shirt front blotched with wine.

“We do spoil him so,” said Lady Clavering to Mrs. Pendennis, finally gazing at the cherub, whose hands and face were now frothed over with the species of lather which is inserted in the confection called meringues a la creme.

“It is very wrong,” said Mrs. Pendennis, as if she had never done such a thing herself as spoil a child.

“Mamma says she spoils my brother — do you think anything could, Miss Bell? Look at him — isn’t he like a little angel?”

“Gad, I was quite wight,” said the Baronet. “He has cwied, and he has got it, you see. Go it, Fwank, old boy.”

“Sir Francis is a very judicious parent,” Miss Amory whispered. Don’t you think so, Miss Bell? I shan’t call you Miss Bell — I shall call you Laura. I admired you so at church. Your robe was not well made, nor your bonnet very fresh. But you have such beautiful grey eyes, and such a lovely tint.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Bell, laughing.

“Your cousin is handsome, and thinks so. He is uneasy de sa personne. He has not seen the world yet. Has he genius? Has he suffered? A lady, a little woman in a rumpled satin and velvet shoes — a Miss Pybus — came here, and said he has suffered. I, too, have suffered — and you, Laura, has your heart ever been touched?”

Laura said “No!” but perhaps blushed a little at the idea or the question, so that the other said —

“Ah Laura! I see it all. It is the beau cousin. Tell me everything. I already love you as a sister.”

“You are very kind,” said Miss Bell, smiling, “and — and it must be owned that it is a very sudden attachment.”

“All attachments are so. It is electricity — spontaneity. It is instantaneous. I knew I should love you from the moment I saw you. Do you not feel it yourself?”

“Not yet,” said Laura; “but — I daresay I shall if I try.”

“Call me by my name, then.”

“But I don’t know it,” Laura cried out.

“My name is Blanche — isn’t it a pretty name? Call me by it.”

“Blanche — it is very pretty, indeed.”

“And while mamma talks with that kind-looking lady — what relation is she to you? She must have been pretty once, but is rather passee; she is not well gantee, but she has a pretty hand — and while mamma talks to her, come with me to my own room — my own, own room. It’s a darling room, though that horrid creature, Captain Strong, did arrange it. Are you eprise of him? He says you are, but I know better; it is the beau cousin. Yes — il a de beaux yeux. Je n’aime pas les blonds, ordinairement. Car je suis blonde moi — je suis Blanche et blonde,”— and she looked at her face and made a moue in the glass; and never stopped for Laura’s answer to the questions which she had put.

Blanche was fair, and like a sylph. She had fair hair, with green reflections in it. But she had dark eyebrows. She had long black eyelashes, which veiled beautiful brown eyes. She had such a slim waist, that it was a wonder to behold; and such a slim little feet, that you would have thought the grass would hardly bend under them. Her lips were of the colour of faint rosebuds, and her voice warbled limpidly over a set of the sweetest little pearly teeth ever seen. She showed them very often, for they were very pretty. She was very good-natured, and a smile not only showed her teeth wonderfully, but likewise exhibited two lovely little pink dimples, that nestled in either cheek.

She showed Laura her drawings, which the other thought charming. She played her some of her waltzes, with a rapid and brilliant finger, and Laura was still more charmed. And she then read her some poems, in French and English, likewise of her own composition, and which she kept locked in her own book — her own dear little book; it was bound in blue velvet, with a gilt lock, and on it was printed in gold the title of ‘Mes Larmes.’

“Mes Larmes! — isn’t it a pretty name?” the young lady continued, who was pleased with everything that she did, and did everything very well. Laura owned that it was. She had never seen anything like it before; anything so lovely, so accomplished, so fragile and pretty; warbling so prettily, and tripping about such a pretty room, with such a number of pretty books, pictures, flowers, round about her. The honest and generous country girl forgot even jealousy in her admiration. “Indeed, Blanche,” she said, “everything in the room is pretty; and you are the prettiest of all.” The other smiled, looked in the glass, went up and took both of Laura’s hands, and kissed them, and sat down to the piano, and shook out a little song, as if she had been a nightingale.

This was the first visit paid by Fairoaks to Clavering Park, in return for Clavering Park’s visit to Fairoaks, in reply to Fairoaks’s cards left a few days after the arrival of Sir Francis’s family. The intimacy between the young ladies sprang up like Jack’s Bean-stalk to the skies in a single night. The large footmen were perpetually walking with little rose-coloured pink notes to Fairoaks; where there was a pretty house-maid in the kitchen, who might possibly tempt those gentlemen to so humble a place. Miss Amory sent music, or Miss Amory sent a new novel, or a picture from the ‘Journal des Modes,’ to Laura; or my lady’s compliments arrived with flowers and fruit; or Miss Amory begged and prayed Miss Bell to come to dinner; and dear Mrs. Pendennis, if she was strong enough; and Mr. Arthur, if a humdrum party were not too stupid for him; and would send a pony-carriage for Mrs. Pendennis; and would take no denial.

Neither Arthur nor Laura wished to refuse. And Helen, who was, indeed, somewhat ailing, was glad that the two should have their pleasure; and would look at them fondly as they set forth, and ask in her heart that she might not be called away until those two beings whom she loved best in the world should be joined together. As they went out and crossed over the bridge, she remembered summer evenings five-and-twenty years ago, when she, too, had bloomed in her brief prime of love and happiness. It was all over now. The moon was looking from the purpling sky, and the stars glittering there, just as they used in the early, well-remembered evenings. He was lying dead far away, with the billows rolling between them. Good God! how well she remembered the last look of his face as they parted. It looked out at her through the vista of long years, as sad and as clear as then.

So Mr. Pen and Miss Laura found the society at Clavering Park an uncommonly agreeable resort of summer evenings. Blanche vowed that she raffoled of Laura; and, very likely, Mr. Pen was pleased with Blanche. His spirits came back: he laughed and rattled till Laura wondered to hear him. It was not the same Pen, yawning in a shooting jacket, in the Fairoaks parlour, who appeared alert and brisk, and smiling and well dressed, in Lady Clavering’s drawing-room. Sometimes they had music. Laura had a sweet contralto voice, and sang with Blanche, who had had the best continental instruction, and was charmed to be her friend’s mistress. Sometimes Mr. Pen joined in these concerts, or oftener looked sweet upon Miss Blanche as she sang. Sometimes they had glees, when Captain Strong’s chest was of vast service, and he boomed out in a prodigious bass, of which he was not a little proud.

“Good fellow, Strong — ain’t he, Miss Bell?” Sir Francis would say to her. “Plays at ecarte with Lady Clavering — plays anything, pitch-and-toss, pianoforty, cwibbage if you like. How long do you think he’s been staying with me? He came for a week with a carpet-bag, and Gad, he’s been staying here thwee years. Good fellow, ain’t he? Don’t know how he gets a shillin’ though, begad I don’t, Miss Lauwa.”

And yet the Chevalier, if he lost his money to Lady Clavering, always paid it; and if he lived with his friend for three years, paid for that too — in good-humour, in kindness and joviality, in a thousand little services by which he made himself agreeable. What gentleman could want a better friend than a man who was always in spirits, never in the way or out of it, and was ready to execute any commission for his patron, whether it was to sing a song or meet a lawyer, to fight a duel or to carve a capon?

Although Laura and Pen commonly went to Clavering Park together, yet sometimes Mr. Pen took walks there unattended by her, and about which he did not tell her. He took to fishing the Brawl, which runs through the Park, and passes not very far from the garden-wall. And by the oddest coincidence, Miss Amory would walk out (having been to look at her flowers), and would be quite surprised to see Mr. Pendennis fishing.

I wonder what trout Pen caught while the young lady was looking on? or whether Miss Blanche was the pretty little fish which played round his fly, and which Mr. Pen was endeavouring to hook? It must be owned, he became very fond of that healthful and invigorating pursuit of angling, and was whipping the Brawl continually with his fly.

As for Miss Blanche she had a kind heart; and having, as she owned, herself “suffered” a good deal in the course of her brief life and experience — why, she could compassionate other susceptible beings like Pen, who had suffered too. Her love for Laura and that dear Mrs. Pendennis redoubled: if they were not at the Park, she was not easy unless she herself was at Fairoaks. She played with Laura; she read French and German with Laura; and Mr. Pen read French and German along with them. He turned sentimental ballads of Schiller and Goethe into English verse for the ladies, and Blanche unlocked ‘Mes Larmes’ for him, and imparted to him some of the plaintive outpourings of her own tender Muse.

It appeared from these poems that this young creature had indeed suffered prodigiously. She was familiar with the idea of suicide. Death she repeatedly longed for. A faded rose inspired her with such grief that you would have thought she must die in pain of it. It was a wonder how a young creature (who had had a snug home or been at a comfortable boarding-school, and had no outward grief or hardship to complain of) should have suffered so much — should have found the means of getting at such an ocean of despair and passion (as a runaway boy who will get to sea), and having embarked on it should survive it. What a talent she must have had for weeping to be able to pour out so many of Mes Larmes!

They were not particularly briny, Miss Blanche’s tears, that is the truth; but Pen, who read her verses, thought them very well for a lady — and wrote some verses himself for her. His were very violent and passionate, very hot, sweet and strong: and he not only wrote verses; but — O the villain! O, the deceiver! he altered and adapted former poems in his possession, and which had been composed for a certain Emily Fotheringay, for the use and to the Christian name of Miss Blanche Amory.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter23.html

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