The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXV

Contains both Love and Jealousy

Our readers have already heard Sir Francis Clavering’s candid opinion of the lady who had given him her fortune and restored him to his native country and home, and it must be owned that the Baronet was not far wrong in his estimate of his wife, and that Lady Clavering was not the wisest or the best educated of women. She had had a couple of years’ education in Europe, in a suburb of London, which she persisted in calling Ackney to her dying day, whence she had been summoned to join her father at Calcutta at the age of fifteen. And it was on her voyage thither, on board the Ramchunder East Indiaman, Captain Bragg, in which ship she had two years previously made her journey to Europe, that she formed the acquaintance of her first husband, Mr. Amory, who was third mate of the vessel in question.

We are not going to enter into the early part of Lady Clavering’s history, but Captain Bragg, under whose charge Miss Snell went out to her father, who was one of the Captain’s consignees, and part owner of the Ramchunder and many other vessels, found reason to put the rebellious rascal of a mate in irons, until they reached the Cape, where the Captain left his officer behind; and finally delivered his ward to her father at Calcutta, after a stormy and perilous voyage in which the Ramchunder and the cargo and passengers incurred no small danger and damage.

Some months afterwards Amory made his appearance at Calcutta, having worked his way out before the mast from the Cape — married the rich Attorney’s daughter in spite of that old speculator — set up as indigo-planter and failed — set up as agent and failed again — set up as editor of the Sunderbund Pilot and failed again — quarrelling ceaselessly with his father-inlaw and his wife during the progress of all these mercantile transactions and disasters, and ending his career finally with a crash which compelled him to leave Calcutta and go to New South Wales. It was in the course of these luckless proceedings, that Mr. Amory probably made the acquaintance of Sir Jasper Rogers, the respected Judge of the Supreme Court of Calcutta, who has been mentioned before: and, as the truth must out, it was by making an improper use of his father-inlaw’s name, who could write perfectly well, and had no need of an amanuensis, that fortune finally forsook Mr. Amory and caused him to abandon all further struggles with her.

Not being in the habit of reading the Calcutta law-reports very assiduously, the European public did not know of these facts as well as people did in Bengal, and Mrs. Amory and her father finding her residence in India not a comfortable one, it was agreed that the lady should return to Europe, whither she came with her little daughter Betsy or Blanche, then four years old. They were accompanied by Betsy’s nurse, who has been presented to the reader in the last chapter as the confidential maid of Lady Clavering, Mrs. Bonner: and Captain Bragg took a house for them in the near neighbourhood of his residence in Pocklington Street.

It was a very hard bitter summer, and the rain it rained every day for some time after Mrs. Amory’s arrival. Bragg was very pompous and disagreeable, perhaps ashamed, perhaps anxious, to get rid of the Indian lady. She believed that all the world in London was talking about her husband’s disaster, and that the King and Queen and the Court of Directors were aware of her unlucky history. She had a good allowance from her father; she had no call to live in England; and she determined to go abroad. Away she went, then, glad to escape the gloomy surveillance of the odious bully, Captain Bragg. People had no objection to receive her at the continental towns where she stopped, and at the various boarding-houses, where she royally paid her way. She called Hackney Ackney, to be sure (though otherwise she spoke English with a little foreign twang, very curious and not unpleasant); she dressed amazingly; she was conspicuous for her love of eating and drinking, and prepared curries and pillaws at every boarding-house which she frequented; but her singularities of language and behaviour only gave a zest to her society, and Mrs. Amory was deservedly popular. She was the most good-natured, jovial, and generous of women. She was up to any party of pleasure by whomsoever proposed. She brought three times more champagne and fowl and ham to the picnics than anyone else. She took endless boxes for the play, and tickets for the masked balls, and gave them away to everybody. She paid the boarding-house people months beforehand; she helped poor shabby mustachiod bucks and dowagers whose remittances had not arrived, with constant supplies from her purse; and in this way she tramped through Europe, and appeared at Brussels, at Paris, at Milan, at Naples, at Rome, as her fancy led her. News of Amory’s death reached her at the latter place, where Captain Clavering was then staying, unable to pay his hotel bill, as, indeed, was his friend, the Chevalier Strong; and the good-natured widow married the descendant of the ancient house of Clavering — professing, indeed, no particular grief for the scapegrace of a husband whom she had lost. We have brought her thus up to the present time when she was mistress of Clavering Park, in the midst of which Mr. Pinckney, the celebrated painter, pourtrayed her with her little boy by her side.

Missy followed her mamma in most of her peregrinations, and so learned a deal of life. She had a governess for some time; and after her mother’s second marriage, the benefit of Madame de Caramel’s select pension in the Champs Elysees. When the Claverings came to England, she of course came with them. It was only within a few years, after the death of her grandfather, and the birth of her little brother, that she began to understand that her position in life was altered, and that Miss Amory, nobody’s daughter, was a very small personage in a house compared with Master Francis Clavering, heir to an ancient baronetcy and a noble estate. But for little Frank, she would have been an heiress, in spite of her father: and though she knew, and cared not much about money, of which she never had any stint, and though she was a romantic little Muse, as we have seen, yet she could not reasonably be grateful to the persons who had so contributed to change her condition: nor, indeed, did she understand what the latter really was, until she had made some further progress, and acquired more accurate knowledge in the world.

But this was clear, that her stepfather was dull and weak: that mamma dropped her H’s, and was not refined in manners or appearance; and that little Frank was a spoiled quarrelsome urchin, always having his way, always treading upon her feet, always upsetting his dinner on her dresses, and keeping her out of her inheritance. None of these, as she felt, could comprehend her: and her solitary heart naturally pined for other attachments, and she sought around her where to bestow the precious boon of her unoccupied affection.

This dear girl, then, from want of sympathy, or other cause, made herself so disagreeable at home, and frightened her mother and bored her stepfather so much, that they were quite as anxious as she could be that she should settle for herself in life; and hence Sir Francis Clavering’s desire expressed to his friend, in the last chapter, that Mrs. Strong should die, and that he would take Blanche to himself as a second Mrs. Strong.

But as this could not be, any other person was welcome to win her: and a smart young fellow, well-looking and well educated like our friend Arthur Pendennis, was quite free to propose for her if he had a mind, and would have been received with open arms by Lady Clavering as a son-inlaw, had he had the courage to come forward as a competitor for Miss Amory’s hand.

Mr. Pen, however, besides other drawbacks, chose to entertain an extreme diffidence about himself. He was ashamed of his late failures, of his idle and nameless condition, of the poverty which he had brought on his mother by his folly, and there was as much of vanity as remorse in his present state of doubt and distrust. How could he ever hope for such a prize as this brilliant Blanche Amory, who lived in a fine park and mansion, and was waited on by a score of grand domestics, whilst a maid-servant brought in their meagre meal at Fairoaks, and his mother was obliged to pinch and manage to make both ends meet? Obstacles seemed for him insurmountable, which would have vanished had he marched manfully upon them: and he preferred despairing, or dallying with his wishes — or perhaps he had not positively shaped them as yet — to attempting to win gallantly the object of his desire. Many a young man fails by that species of vanity called shyness, who might, for the asking have his will.

But we do not pretend to say that Pen had, as yet, ascertained his: or that he was doing much more than thinking about falling in love. Miss Amory was charming and lively. She fascinated and cajoled him by a thousand arts or natural graces or flatteries. But there were lurking reasons and doubts, besides shyness and vanity, withholding him. In spite of her cleverness, and her protestations, and her fascinations, Pen’s mother had divined the girl, and did not trust her. Mrs. Pendennis saw Blanche light-minded and frivolous, detected many wants in her which offended the pure and pious-minded lady; a want of reverence for her parents, and for things more sacred, Helen thought: worldliness and selfishness couched under pretty words and tender expressions. Laura and Pen battled these points strongly at first with the widow — Laura being as yet enthusiastic about her new friend, and Pen not far-gone enough in love to attempt any concealment of his feelings. He would laugh at these objections of Helen’s, and say, “Psha, mother! you are jealous about Laura — all women are jealous.”

But when, in the course of a month or two, and by watching the pair with that anxiety with which brooding women watch over their sons’ affections — and in acknowledging which, I have no doubt there is a sexual jealousy on the mother’s part, and a secret pang — when Helen saw that the intimacy appeared to make progress, that the two young people were perpetually finding pretexts to meet, and that Miss Blanche was at Fairoaks or Mr. Pen at the Park every day, the poor widow’s heart began to fail her — her darling project seemed to vanish before her; and, giving way to her weakness, she fairly told Pen one day what her views and longings were; that she felt herself breaking, and not long for this world, and that she hoped and prayed before she went, that she might see her two children one. The late events, Pen’s life and career and former passion for the actress, had broken the spirit of this tender lady. She felt that he had escaped her, and was in the maternal nest no more; and she clung with a sickening fondness to Laura, Laura who had been left to her by Francis in Heaven.

Pen kissed and soothed her in his grand patronising way. He had seen something of this, he had long thought his mother wanted to make this marriage — did Laura know anything of it? (Not she — Mrs. Pendennis said — not for worlds would she have breathed a word of it to Laura)—“Well, well, there was time enough, his mother wouldn’t die,” Pen said, laughingly: “he wouldn’t hear of any such thing, and as for the Muse, she is too grand a lady to think about poor little me — and as for Laura, who knows that she would have me? She would do anything you told her, to be sure. But am I worthy of her?”

“O, Pen, you might be,” was the widow’s reply; not that Mr. Pen ever doubted that he was; and a feeling of indefinable pleasure and self-complacency came over him as he thought over this proposal, and imaged Laura to himself, as his memory remembered her for years past, always fair and open, kindly and pious, cheerful, tender and true. He looked at her with brightening eyes as she came in from the garden at the end of this talk, her cheeks rather flushed, her looks frank and smiling — a basket of roses in her hand.

She took the finest of them and brought it to Mrs. Pendennis, who was refreshed by the odour and colour of these flowers; and hung over her fondly and gave it to her.

“And I might have this prize for the asking!” Pen thought with a thrill of triumph, as he looked at the kindly girl. “Why, she is as beautiful and as generous as her roses.” The image of the two women remained for ever after in his mind, and he never recalled it but the tears came into his eyes.

Before very many weeks’ intimacy with her new acquaintance, however, Miss Laura was obliged to give in to Helen’s opinion, and own that the Muse was selfish, unkind, and inconstant. Of course Blanche confided to her bosom friend all the little griefs and domestic annoyances; how the family could not comprehend her and she moved among them an isolated being; how her poor mamma’s education had been neglected, and she was forced to blush for her blunders; how Sir Francis was a weak person deplorably unintellectual, and only happy when smoking his odious cigars; how, since the birth of her little brother, she had seen her mother’s precious affection, which she valued more than anything in life, estranged from her once darling daughter; how she was alone, alone, alone in the world.

But these griefs, real and heart-rending though they might be to a young lady of exquisite sensibility, did not convince Laura of the propriety of Blanche’s conduct in many small incidents of Little Frank, for instance, life might be very provoking, and might have deprived Blanche of her mamma’s affection, but this was no reason why Blanche should box the child’s ears because he upset a glass of water over her drawing, and why she should call him many opprobrious names in the English and French language; and the preference accorded to little Frank was certainly no reason why Blanche should give herself imperial airs of command towards the boy’s governess, and send that young lady upon messages through the house to bring her book or to fetch her pocket-handkerchief. When a domestic performed an errand for honest Laura, she was always thankful and pleased; whereas she could not but perceive that the little Muse had not the slightest scruple in giving her commands to all the world round about her, and in disturbing anybody’s ease or comfort, in order to administer to her own. It was Laura’s first experience in friendship; and it pained the kind creature’s heart to be obliged to give up as delusions, one by one, those charms and brilliant qualities in which her fancy had dressed her new friend, and to find that the fascinating little fairy was but a mortal, and not a very amiable mortal after all. What generous person is there that has not been so deceived in his time? — what person, perhaps, that has not so disappointed others in his turn?

After the scene with little Frank, in which that refractory son and heir of the house of Clavering had received the compliments in French and English, and the accompanying box on the ear from his sister, Miss Laura who had plenty of humour, could not help calling to mind some very touching and tender verses which the Muse had read to her out of Mes Larmes, and which began, “My pretty baby brother, may angels guard thy rest,” in which the Muse, after complimenting the baby upon the station in life which it was about to occupy, and contrasting it with her own lonely condition, vowed nevertheless that the angel boy would never enjoy such affection as hers was, or find in the false world before him anything so constant and tender as a sister’s heart. “It may be,” the forlorn one said, “it may be, you will slight it, my pretty baby sweet, You will spurn me from your bosom, I’ll cling around your feet! O let me, let me, love you! the world will prove to you As false as ’tis to others, but I am ever true.” And behold the Muse was boxing the darling brother’s ears instead of kneeling at his feet, and giving Miss Laura her first lesson in the Cynical philosophy — not quite her first, however — something like this selfishness and waywardness, something like this contrast between practice and poetry, between grand versified aspirations and everyday life, she had witnessed at home in the person of our young friend Mr. Pen.

But then Pen was different. Pen was a man. It seemed natural somehow that he should be self-willed and should have his own way. And under his waywardness and selfishness, indeed there was a kind and generous heart. O it was hard that such a diamond should be changed away against such a false stone as this. In a word, Laura began to be tired of her admired Blanche. She had assayed her and found her not true; and her former admiration and delight, which she had expressed with her accustomed generous artlessness, gave way to a feeling, which we shall not call contempt, but which was very near it; and which caused Laura to adopt towards Miss Amory a grave and tranquil tone of superiority, which was at first by no means to the Muse’s liking. Nobody likes to be found out, or, having held a high place, to submit to step down.

The consciousness that this event was impending did not serve to increase Miss Blanche’s good-humour, and as it made her peevish and dissatisfied with herself, it probably rendered her even less agreeable to the persons round about her. So there arose, one fatal day, a battle-royal between dearest Blanche and dearest Laura, in which the friendship between them was all but slain outright. Dearest Blanche had been unusually capricious and wicked on this day. She had been insolent to her mother; savage with little Frank; odiously impertinent in her behaviour to the boy’s governess; and intolerably cruel to Pincott, her attendant. Not venturing to attack her friend (for the little tyrant was of a timid feline nature, and only used her claws upon those who were weaker than herself), she maltreated all these, and especially poor Pincott, who was menial, confidante, companion (slave always), according to the caprice of her young mistress.

This girl, who had been sitting in the room with the young ladies, being driven thence in tears, occasioned by the cruelty of her mistress, and raked with a parting sarcasm as she went sobbing from the door, Laura fairly broke out into a loud and indignant invective — wondered how one so young could forget the deference owing to her elders as well as to her inferiors in station; and professing so much sensibility of her own, could torture the feelings of others so wantonly. Laura told her friend that her conduct was absolutely wicked, and that she ought to ask pardon of Heaven on her knees for it. And having delivered herself of a hot and voluble speech whereof the delivery astonished the speaker as much almost as her auditor, she ran to her bonnet and shawl, and went home across the park in a great flurry and perturbation, and to the surprise of Mrs. Pendennis, who had not expected her until night.

Alone with Helen, Laura gave an account of the scene, and gave up her friend henceforth. “O Mamma,” she said, “you were right; Blanche, who seems so soft and so kind, is, as you have said, selfish and cruel. She who is always speaking of her affections can have no heart. No honest girl would afflict a mother so, or torture a dependant; and — and, I give her up from this day, and I will have no other friend but you.”

On this the two ladies went through the osculatory ceremony which they were in the habit of performing, and Mrs. Pendennis got a great secret comfort from the little quarrel — for Laura’s confession seemed to say, “That girl can never be a wife for Pen, for she is light-minded and heartless, and quite unworthy of our noble hero. He will be sure to find out her unworthiness for his own part, and then he will be saved from this flighty creature, and awake out of his delusion.”

But Miss Laura did not tell Mrs. Pendennis, perhaps did not acknowledge to herself, what had been the real cause of the day’s quarrel. Being in a very wicked mood, and bent upon mischief everywhere, the little wicked Muse of a Blanche had very soon begun her tricks. Her darling Laura had come to pass a long day; and as they were sitting in her own room together, had chosen to bring the conversation round to the subject of Mr. Pen.

“I am afraid he is sadly fickle,” Miss Blanche observed; “Mrs. Pybus, and many more Clavering people, have told us all about the actress.”

“I was quite a child when it happened, and I don’t know anything about it,” Laura answered, blushing very much.

“He used her very ill,” Blanche said, wagging her little head. “He was false to her.”

“I am sure he was not,” Laura cried out; “he acted most generously by her; he wanted to give up everything to marry her. It was she that was false to him. He nearly broke his heart about it: he ——”

“I thought you didn’t know anything about the story, dearest,” interposed Miss Blanche.

“Mamma has said so,” said Laura.

“Well, he is very clever,” continued the other little dear, “What a sweet poet he is! Have you ever read his poems?”

“Only the ‘Fisherman and the Diver,’ which he translated for us, and his Prize Poem, which didn’t get the prize; and, indeed, I thought it very pompous and prosy,” Laura said, laughing.

“Has he never written you any poems, then, love?” asked Miss Amory.

“No, my dear,” said Miss Bell.

Blanche ran up to her friend, kissed her fondly, called her my dearest Laura at least three times, looked her archly in the face, nodded her head, and said, “Promise to tell no-o-body, and I will show you something.”

And tripping across the room daintily to a little mother-of-pearl inlaid desk, she opened it with a silver key, and took out two or three papers crumpled and rather stained with green, which she submitted to her friend. Laura took them and read them. They were love-verses sure enough — something about Undine — about a Naiad — about a river. She looked at them for a long time; but in truth the lines were not very distinct before her eyes.

“And you have answered them, Blanche?” she asked, putting them back.

“O no! not for worlds, dearest,” the other said: and when her dearest Laura had quite done with the verses, she tripped back and popped them again into the pretty desk.

Then she went to her piano, and sang two or three songs of Rossini, whose flourishes of music her flexible little voice could execute to perfection, and Laura sate by, vaguely listening as she performed these pieces. What was Miss Bell thinking about the while? She hardly knew; but sate there silent as the songs rolled by. After this concert the young ladies were summoned to the room where luncheon was served; and whither they of course went with their arms round each other’s waists.

And it could not have been jealousy or anger on Laura’s part which had made her silent; for, after they had tripped along the corridor and descended the steps, and were about to open the door which leads into the hall, Laura paused, and looking her friend kindly and frankly in the face, kissed her with a sisterly warmth.

Something occurred after this — Master Frank’s manner of eating, probably, or mamma’s blunders, or Sir Francis smelling of cigars — which vexed Miss Blanche, and she gave way to that series of naughtinesses whereof we have spoken, and which ended in the above little quarrel.

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