The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXVI

A House full of Visitors

The difference between the girls did not last long. Laura was always too eager to forgive and be forgiven, and as for Miss Blanche, her hostilities, never very long or durable, had not been provoked by the above scene. Nobody cares about being accused of wickedness. No vanity is hurt by that sort of charge: Blanche was rather pleased than provoked by her friend’s indignation, which never would have been raised but for a cause which both knew, though neither spoke of.

And so Laura, with a sigh, was obliged to confess that the romantic part of her first friendship was at an end, and that the object of it was only worthy of a very ordinary sort of regard.

As for Blanche, she instantly composed a copy of touching verses, setting forth her desertion and disenchantment. It was only the old story, she wrote, of love meeting with coldness, and fidelity returned by neglect; and some new neighbours arriving from London about this time, in whose family there were daughters, Miss Amory had the advantage of selecting an eternal friend from one of these young ladies, and imparting her sorrows and disappointments to this new sister. The tall footmen came but seldom now with notes to the sweet Laura; the pony-carriage was but rarely despatched to Fairoaks to be at the orders of the ladies there. Blanche adopted a sweet look of suffering martyrdom when Laura came to see her. The other laughed at her friend’s sentimental mood, and treated it with a good-humour that was by no means respectful.

But if Miss Blanche found new female friends to console her, the faithful historian is also bound to say, that she discovered some acquaintances of the other sex who seemed to give her consolation too. If ever this artless young creature met a young man, and had ten minutes’ conversation with him in a garden walk, in a drawing-room window, or in the intervals of a waltz, she confided in him, so to speak — made play with her beautiful eyes — spoke in a tone of tender interest, and simple and touching appeal, and left him, to perform the same pretty little drama in behalf of his successor.

When the Claverings first came down to the Park, there were very few audiences before whom Miss Blanche could perform: hence Pen had all the benefits of her glances and confidences, and the drawing-room window or the garden walk all to himself. In the town of Clavering, it has been said, there were actually young men: in the near surrounding country, only a curate or two or a rustic young squire, with large feet and ill-made clothes. To the dragoons quartered at Chatteris the Baronet made no overtures: it was unluckily his own regiment: he had left it on bad terms with some officers of the corps — an ugly business about a horse bargain — a disputed play account — blind-Hookey — a white feather — who need ask? — it is not our business to inquire too closely into the bygones of our characters, except in so far as their previous history appertains to the development of this present story.

But the autumn, and the end of the Parliamentary Session and the London season, brought one or two county families down to their houses, and filled tolerably the neighbouring little watering-place of Baymouth, and opened our friend Mr. Bingley’s Theatre Royal at Chatteris, and collected the usual company at the Assizes and Race-balls there. Up to this time, the old county families had been rather shy of our friends of Clavering Park. The Fogeys of Drummington; the Squares of Tozely Park; the Welbores of The Barrow, etc.: all sorts of stories were current among these folks regarding the family at Clavering; — indeed, nobody ought to say that people in the country have no imagination who heard them talk about new neighbours. About Sir Francis and his Lady, and her birth and parentage, about Miss Amory, about Captain Strong, there had been endless histories which need not be recapitulated; and the family of the Park had been three months in the county before the great people around began to call.

But at the end of the season, the Earl of Trehawk, Lord Lieutenant of the County, coming to Eyrie Castle, and the Countess Dowager of Rockminster, whose son was also a magnate of the land, to occupy a mansion on the Marine Parade at Baymouth — these great folks came publicly, immediately, and in state, to call upon the family of Clavering Park; and the carriages of the county families speedily followed in the track which had been left in the avenue by their lordly wheels.

It was then that Mirobolant began to have an opportunity of exercising that skill which he possessed, and of forgetting, in the occupations of his art, the pangs of love. It was then that the large footmen were too much employed at Clavering Park to be able to bring messages, or dally over the cup of small beer with the poor little maids at Fairoaks. It was then that Blanche found other dear friends than Laura, and other places to walk in besides the river-side, where Pen was fishing. He came day after day, and whipped the stream, but the “fish, fish!” wouldn’t do their duty, nor the Peri appear. And here, though in strict confidence, and with a request that the matter go no further, we may as well allude to a delicate business, of which previous hint has been given. Mention has been made, in a former page, of a certain hollow tree, at which Pen used to take his station when engaged in his passion for Miss Fotheringay, and the cavity of which he afterwards used for other purposes than to insert his baits and fishing-cans in. The truth is, be converted this tree into a post-office. Under a piece of moss and a stone, he used to put little poems, or letters equally poetical, which were addressed to a certain Undine, or Naiad who frequented the stream, and which, once or twice, were replaced by a receipt in the shape of a flower, or by a modest little word or two of acknowledgment, written in a delicate hand, in French or English, and on pink scented paper. Certainly, Miss Amory used to walk by this stream, as we have seen; and it is a fact that she used pink scented paper for her correspondence. But after the great folks had invaded Clavering Park, and the family coach passed out of the lodge-gates, evening after evening, on their way to the other great country houses, nobody came to fetch Pen’s letters at the post-office; the white paper was not exchanged for the pink, but lay undisturbed under its stone and its moss, whilst the tree was reflected into the stream, and the Brawl went rolling by. There was not much in the letters certainly; in the pink notes scarcely anything — merely a little word or two, half jocular, half sympathetic, such as might be written by any young lady. But oh, you silly Pendennis, if you wanted this one, why did you not speak? Perhaps neither party was in earnest. You were only playing at being in love, and the sportive little Undine was humouring you at the same play.

But if a man is baulked at this game, he not unfrequently loses his temper; and when nobody came any more for Pen’s poems, he began to look upon those compositions in a very serious light. He felt almost tragical and romantic again, as in his first affair of the heart:— at any rate he was bent upon having an explanation. One day he went to the Hall and there was a roomful of visitors: on another, Miss Amory was not to be seen; she was going to a ball that night, and was lying down to take a little sleep. Pen cursed balls, and the narrowness of his means, and the humility of his position in the country that caused him to be passed over by the givers of these entertainments. On a third occasion, Miss Amory was in the garden, and he ran thither; she was walking there in state with no less personages than the Bishop and Bishopess of Chatteris and the episcopal family, who scowled at him, and drew up in great dignity when he was presented to them, and they heard his name. The Right Reverend Prelate had heard it before, and also of the little transaction in the Dean’s garden.

“The Bishop says you’re a sad young man,” good-natured Lady Clavering whispered to him. “What have you been a doing of? Nothink, I hope, to vex such a dear Mar as yours? How is your dear Mar? Why don’t she come and me? We an’t seen her this ever such a time. We’re a goin about a gaddin, so that we don’t see no neighbours now. Give my love to her and Laurar, and come all to dinner tomorrow.”

Mrs. Pendennis was too unwell to come out but Laura and Pen came, and there was a great party, and Pen only got an opportunity of a hurried word with Miss Amory. “You never come to the river now” he said.

“I can’t,” said Blanche, “the house is full of people.”

“Undine has left the stream,” Mr. Pen went on, choosing to be poetical.

“She never ought to have gone there,” Miss Amory answered. “She won’t go again. It was very foolish: very wrong: it was only play. Besides, you have other consolations at home,” she added, looking him full in the face an instant, and dropping her eyes.

If he wanted her, why did he not speak then? She might have said “Yes” even then. But as she spoke of other consolations at home, he thought of Laura, so affectionate and so pure, and of his mother at home, who had bent her fond heart upon uniting him with her adopted daughter. “Blanche!” he began, in a vexed tone — “Miss Amory!”

“Laura is looking at us, Mr. Pendennis,” the young lady said. “I must go back to the company,” and she ran off, leaving Mr. Pendennis to bite his nails in perplexity, and to look out into the moonlight in the garden.

Laura indeed was looking at Pen. She was talking with, or appearing to listen to the talk of, Mr. Pynsent, Lord Rockminster’s son, and grandson of the Dowager Lady, who was seated in state in the place of honour, gravely receiving Lady Clavering’s bad grammar, and patronising the vacuous Sir Francis, whose interest in the county she was desirous to secure. Pynsent and Pen had been at Oxbridge together, where the latter, during his heyday of good fortune and fashion, had been the superior of the young patrician, and perhaps rather supercilious towards him. They had met for the first time, since they parted at the University, at the table today, and given each other that exceedingly impertinent and amusing demi-nod of recognition which is practised in England only, and only to perfection by University men — and which seems to say, “Confound you — what do you do here?”

“I knew that man at Oxbridge,” Mr. Pynsent said to Miss Bell —“a Mr. Pendennis, I think.”

“Yes,” said Miss Bell.

“He seems rather sweet upon Miss Amory,” the gentleman went on. Laura looked at them, and perhaps thought so too, but said nothing.

“A man of large property in the county, ain’t he? He used to talk about representing it. He used to speak at the Union. Whereabouts do his estates lie?”

Laura smiled. “His estates lie on the other side of the river, near the lodge-gate. He is my cousin, and I live there.”

“Where?” asked Mr. Pynsent, with a laugh.

“Why, on the other side of the river, at Fairoaks,” answered Miss Bell.

“Many pheasants there? Cover looks rather good,” said the simple gentleman.

Laura smiled again. “We have nine hens and a cock, a pig, and an old pointer.”

“Pendennis don’t preserve, then?” continued Mr. Pynsent.

“You should come and see him,” the girl said, laughing, and greatly amused at the notion that her Pen was a great county gentleman, and perhaps had given himself out to be such.

“Indeed, I quite long to renew our acquaintance,” Mr. Pynsent said, gallantly, and with a look which fairly said, “It is you that I would like to come and see”— to which look and speech Miss Laura vouchsafed a smile, and made a little bow.

Here Blanche came stepping up with her most fascinating smile and ogle, and begged dear Laura to come and take the second in a song. Laura was ready to do anything good-natured, and went to the piano; by which Mr. Pynsent listened as long as the duet lasted, and until Miss Amory began for herself, when he strode away.

“What a nice, frank, amiable, well-bred girl that is, Wagg,” said Mr. Pynsent to a gentleman who had come over with him from Baymouth —“the tall one, I mean, with the ringlets and red lips — monstrous red, ain’t they?”

“What do you think of the girl of the house?” asked Wagg.

“I think she’s a lean, scraggy humbug,” said Mr. Pynsent, with great candour. “She drags her shoulders out of her dress, she never lets her eyes alone: and she goes simpering and ogling about like a French waiting-maid.

“Pynsent, be civil,” cried the other, “somebody can hear.”

“Oh, it’s Pendennis of Boniface,” Mr. Pynsent said. “Fine evening, Mr. Pendennis; we were just talking of your charming cousin.”

“Any relation to my old friend, Major Pendennis?” asked Mr. Wagg.

“His nephew. Had the pleasure of meeting you at Gaunt House,” Mr. Pen said with his very best air — the acquaintance between the gentlemen was made in an instant.

In the afternoon of the next day, the two gentlemen who were staying at Clavering Park were found by Mr. Pen on his return from a fishing excursion, in which he had no sport, seated in his mother’s drawing-room in comfortable conversation with the widow and her ward. Mr. Pynsent, tall and gaunt, with large red whiskers and an imposing tuft to his chin, was striding over a chair in the intimate neighbourhood of Miss Laura. She was amused by his talk, which was simple, straightforward, rather humorous and keen, and interspersed with homely expressions of a style which is sometimes called slang. It was the first specimen of a young London dandy that Laura had seen or heard: for she had been but a chit at the time of Mr. Foker’s introduction at Fairoaks, nor indeed was that ingenuous gentleman much more than a boy, and his refinement was only that of a school and college.

Mr. Wagg, as he entered the Fairoaks premises with his companion, eyed and noted everything. “Old gardener,” he said, seeing Mr. John at the lodge —“old red livery waistcoat — clothes hanging out to dry on the gooseberry-bushes — blue aprons, white ducks — gad, they must be young Pendennis’s white ducks — nobody else wears ’em in the family. Rather a shy place for a sucking county member, ay, Pynsent?”

“Snug little crib,” said Mr. Pynsent, “pretty cosy little lawn.”

“Mr. Pendennis at home, old gentleman?” Mr. Wagg said to the old domestic. John answered, “No, Master Pendennis was agone out.”

“Are the ladies at home?” asked the younger visitor. Mr. John answered, “Yes, they be;” and as the pair walked over the trim gravel, and by the neat shrubberies, up the steps to the hall-door, which old John opened, Mr. Wagg noted everything that he saw; the barometer and the letter-bag, the umbrellas and the ladies’ clogs, Pen’s hats and tartan wrapper, and old John opening the drawing-room door, to introduce the new-comers. Such minutiae attracted Wagg instinctively; he seized them in spite of himself.

“Old fellow does all the work,” he whispered to Pynsent. “Caleb Balderstone. Shouldn’t wonder if he’s the housemaid.” The next minute the pair were in the presence of the Fairoaks ladies; in whom Pynsent could not help recognising two perfectly well-bred ladies, and to whom Mr. Wagg made his obeisance, with florid bows, and extra courtesy, accompanied with an occasional knowing leer at his companion. Mr. Pynsent did not choose to acknowledge these signals, except by extreme haughtiness towards Mr. Wagg, and particular deference to the ladies. If there was one thing laughable in Mr. Wagg’s eyes, it was poverty. He had the soul of a butler who had been brought from his pantry to make fun in the drawing-room. His jokes were plenty, and his good-nature thoroughly genuine, but he did not seem to understand that a gentleman could wear an old coat, or that a lady could be respectable unless she had her carriage, or employed a French milliner.

“Charming place, ma’am,” said he, bowing to the widow; “noble prospect — delightful to us Cocknies, who seldom see anything but Pall Mall.” The widow said simply, she had never been in London but once in her life — before her son was born.

“Fine village, ma’am, fine village,” said Mr. Wagg, “and increasing every day. It’ll be quite a large town soon. It’s not a bad place to live in for those who can’t get the country, and will repay a visit when you honour it.”

“My brother, Major Pendennis, has often mentioned your name to us,” the widow said, “and we have been very much amused by some of your droll books, sir,” Helen continued, who never could be brought to like Mr. Wagg’s books, and detested their tone most thoroughly.

“He is my very good friend,” Mr. Wagg said, with a low bow, “and one of the best known men about town, and where known, ma’am, appreciated — I assure you appreciated. He is with our friend Steyne, at Aix-la-Chapelle. Steyne has a touch of the gout and so, between ourselves, has your brother. I am going to Stillbrook for the pheasant-shooting, and afterwards to Bareacres, where Pendennis and I shall probably meet;” and he poured out a flood of fashionable talk, introducing the names of a score of peers, and rattling on with breathless spirits, whilst the simple widow listened in silent wonder. What a man, she thought; are all the men of fashion in London like this? I am sure Pen will never like him.

Mr. Pynsent was in the meanwhile engaged with Miss Laura. He named some of the houses in the neighbourhood whither he was going, and hoped very much that he should see Miss Bell at some of them. He hoped that her aunt would give her a season in London. He said, that in the next parliament it was probable that he should canvass the county, and he hoped to get Pendennis’s interest here. He spoke of Pen’s triumph as an orator at Oxbridge, and asked was he coming into parliament too? He talked on very pleasantly, and greatly to Laura’s satisfaction, until Pen himself appeared, and, as has been said, found these gentlemen.

Pen behaved very courteously to the pair, now that they have found their way into his quarters; and though he recollected with some twinges a conversation at Oxbridge, when Pynsent was present, and in which after a great debate at the Union, and in the midst of considerable excitement produced by a supper and champagne-cup — he had announced his intention of coming in for his native county, and had absolutely returned thanks in a fine speech as the future member; yet Mr. Pynsent’s manner was so frank and cordial, that Pen hoped Pynsent might have forgotten his little fanfaronnade, and any other braggadocio speeches or actions which he might have made. He suited himself to the tone of the visitors, then, and talked about Plinlimmon and Magnus Charters, and the old set at Oxbridge, with careless familiarity and high-bred ease, as if he lived with marquises every day, and a duke was no more to him than a village curate.

But at this juncture, and it being then six o’clock in the evening, Betsy, the maid, who did not know of the advent of strangers, walked into the room without any preliminary but that of flinging the door wide open before her, and bearing in her arms a tray, containing three tea-cups, a tea-pot, and a plate of thick bread-and-butter. All Pen’s splendour and magnificence vanished away at this — and he faltered and became quite abashed. “What will they think of us?” he thought: and, indeed, Wagg thrust his tongue in his cheek, thought the tea infinitely contemptible, and leered and winked at Pynsent to that effect.

But to Mr. Pynsent the transaction appeared perfectly simple — there was no reason present to his mind why people should not drink tea at six if they were minded, as well as at any other hour; and he asked of Mr. Wagg, when they went away, “What the devil he was grinning and winking at, and what amused him?”

“Didn’t you see how the cub was ashamed of the thick bread-and-butter? I dare say they’re going to have treacle if they are good. I’ll take an opportunity of telling old Pendennis when we get back to town,” Mr. Wagg chuckled out.

“Don’t see the fun,” said Mr. Pynsent.

“Never thought you did,” growled Wagg between his teeth; they walked home rather sulkily.

Wagg told the story at dinner very smartly, with wonderful accuracy of observation. He described old John, the clothes that were drying, the clogs in the hall, the drawing-room, and its furniture and pictures; — “Old man with a beak and bald head — feu Pendennis I bet two to one; sticking-plaster full-length of a youth in a cap and gown — the present Marquis of Fairoaks, of course; the widow when young in a miniature, Mrs. Mee; she had the gown on when we came, or a dress made the year after, and the tips cut off the fingers of her gloves which she stitches her son’s collars with; and then the sarving maid came in with their teas so we left the Earl and the Countess to their bread-and-butter.”

Blanche, near whom he sate as he told this story, and who adored les hommes desprit, burst out laughing, and called him such an odd, droll creature. But Pynsent, who began to be utterly disgusted with him, broke out in a loud voice, and said, “I don’t know, Mr. Wagg, what sort of ladies you are accustomed to meet in your own family, but by gad, as far as a first acquaintance can show, I never met two better-bred women in my life, and I hope, ma’am, you’ll call upon ’em,” he added, addressing Lady Rockminster, who was seated at Sir Francis Clavering’s right hand.

Sir Francis turned to the guest on his left, and whispered. “That’s what I call a sticker for Wagg.” And Lady Clavering, giving the young gentleman a delighted tap with her fan, winked her black eyes at him, and said, “Mr. Pynsent, you’re a good feller.”

After the affair with Blanche, a difference ever so slight, a tone of melancholy, perhaps a little bitter, might be perceived in Laura’s converse with her cousin. She seemed to weigh him and find him wanting too; the widow saw the girl’s clear and honest eyes watching the young man at times, and a look of almost scorn pass over her face, as he lounged in the room with the women, or lazily sauntered smoking upon the lawn, or lolled under a tree there over a book which he was too listless to read.

“What has happened between you?” eager-sighted Helen asked of the girl. “Something has happened. Has that wicked little Blanche been making mischief? Tell me, Laura.”

“Nothing has happened at all,” Laura said.

“Then why do you look at Pen so?” asked his mother quickly.

“Look at him, dear mother!” said the girl. “We two women are no society for him: we don’t interest him; we are not clever enough for such a genius as Pen. He wastes his life and energies away among us, tied to our apron-strings. He interests himself in nothing: he scarcely cares to go beyond the garden-gate. Even Captain Glanders and Captain Strong pall upon him,” she added with a bitter laugh; “and they are men, you know, and our superiors. He will never be happy while he is here. Why, is he not facing the world, and without a profession?”

“We have got enough, with great economy,” said the widow, her heart beginning to beat violently. “Pen has spent nothing for months. I’m sure he is very good. I am sure he might be very happy with us.”

“Don’t agitate yourself so, dear mother,” the girl answered. “I don’t like to see you so. You should not be sad because Pen is unhappy here. All men are so. They must work. They must make themselves names and a place in the world. Look, the two captains have fought and seen battles; that Mr. Pynsent, who came here, and who will be very rich, is in a public office; he works very hard, he aspires to a name and a reputation. He says Pen was one of the best speakers at Oxbridge, and had as great a character for talent as any of the young gentlemen there. Pen himself laughs at Mr. Wagg’s celebrity (and indeed he is a horrid person), and says he is a dunce, and that anybody could write his books.”

“I am sure they are odious and vulgar,” interposed the widow.

“Yet he has a reputation. — You see the County Chronicle says, ‘The celebrated Mr. Wagg has been sojourning at Baymouth — let our fashionables and eccentrics look out for something from his caustic pen.’ If Pen can write better than this gentleman, and speak better than Mr. Pynsent, why doesn’t he? Mamma, he can’t make speeches to us; or distinguish himself here. He ought to go away, indeed he ought.”

“Dear Laura,” said Helen, taking the girl’s hand. “Is it kind of you to hurry him so? I have been waiting. I have been saving up money these many months — to — to pay back your advance to us.”

“Hush, mother!” Laura cried, embracing her friend hastily. “It was your money, not mine. Never speak about that again. How much money have you saved?”

Helen said there were more than two hundred pounds at the bank, and that she would be enabled to pay off all Laura’s money by the end of the next year.

“Give it him — let him have the two hundred pounds. Let him go to London and be a lawyer: be something, be worthy of his mother — and of mine, dearest mamma,” said the good girl; upon which, and with her usual tenderness and emotion, the fond widow declared that Laura was a blessing to her and the best of girls — and I hope no one in this instance will be disposed to contradict her.

The widow and her daughter had more than one conversation on this subject; and the elder gave way to the superior reason of the honest and stronger-minded girl; and indeed, whenever there was a sacrifice to be made on her part, this kind lady was only too eager to make it. But she took her own way, and did not loose sight of the end she had in view, in imparting these new plans to Pen. One day she told him of these projects, and it who that had formed them; how it was Laura who insisted upon his going to London and studying; how it was Laura who would not hear of the — the money arrangements when he came back from Oxbridge — being settled just then: how it was Laura whom he had to thank, if indeed he thought that he had to go.

At that news Pen’s countenance blazed up with pleasure, and he hugged his mother to his heart with an ardour that I fear disappointed the fond lady; but she rallied when he said, “By Heaven! she is a noble girl, and may God Almighty bless her mother! I have been wearing myself away for months here, longing to work, and not knowing how. I’ve been fretting over the thoughts of my shame, and my debts, and my past cursed extravagance and follies. I’ve suffered infernally. My heart has been half broken — never mind about that. If I can get a chance to redeem the past, and to do my duty to myself and the best mother in the world, indeed, indeed, I will. I’ll be worthy of you yet. Heaven bless you! God bless Laura! Why isn’t she here, that I may go and thank her?” Pen went on with more incoherent phrases; paced up and down the room, drank glasses of water, jumped about his mother with a thousand embraces — began to laugh — began to sing — was happier than she had seen him since he was a boy — since he had tasted of the fruit of that awful Tree of Life, which, from the beginning, has tempted all mankind.

Laura was not at home. Laura was on a visit to the stately Lady Rockminster, daughter to my Lord Bareacres, sister to the late Lady Pontypool, and by consequence a distant kinswoman of Helen’s, as her ladyship, who was deeply versed in genealogy, was graciously to point out to the modest country lady. Mr. Pen was greatly delighted at the relationship being acknowledged; though perhaps not over well pleased that Lady Rockminster took Miss Bell home with her for a couple of days to Baymouth, and did not make the slightest invitation to Mr. Arthur Pendennis. There was to be a ball at Baymouth, and it was to be Miss Laura’s first appearance. The dowager came to fetch her in her carriage, and she went off with a white dress in her box, happy and blushing, like the rose to which Pen compared her.

This was the night of the ball — a public entertainment at the Baymouth Hotel. “By Jove!” said Pen, “I’ll ride over — No, I won’t ride, but I’ll go too.” His mother was charmed that he should do so; and, as he was debating about the conveyance in which he should start for Baymouth, Captain Strong called opportunely, said he was going himself, and that he would put his horse, The Butcher Boy, into the gig, and drive Pen over.

When the grand company began to fill the house at Clavering Park, the Chevalier Strong, who, as his patron said, was never in the way or out of it, seldom intruded himself upon its society, but went elsewhere to seek his relaxation. “I’ve seen plenty of grand dinners in my time,” he said, “and dined, by Jove, in a company where there was a king and royal duke at top and bottom, and every man along the table had six stars on his coat; but dammy, Glanders, this finery don’t suit me; and the English ladies with their confounded buckram airs, and the squires with their politics after dinner, send me to sleep — sink me dead if they don’t. I like a place where I can blow my cigar when the cloth is removed, and when I’m thirsty, have my beer in its native pewter.” So on a gala-day at Clavering Park, the Chevalier would content himself with superintending the arrangements of the table, and drilling the major-domo and servants; and having looked over the bill-of-fare with Monsieur Mirobolant, would not care to take the least part in the banquet. “Send me up a cutlet and a bottle of claret to my room,” this philosopher would say, and from the windows of that apartment, which commanded the terrace and avenue, he would survey the company as they arrived in their carriages, or take a peep at the ladies in the hall through an oeil-de-boeuf which commanded it from his corridor. And the guests being seated, Strong would cross the park to Captain Glanders’s cottage at Clavering, or to pay the landlady a visit at the Clavering Arms, or to drop in upon Madame Fribsby over her novel and tea. Wherever the Chevalier went he was welcome, and whenever he came away a smell of hot brandy-and-water lingered behind him.

The Butcher Boy — not the worst horse in Sir Francis’s stable — was appropriated to Captain Strong’s express use; and the old Campaigner saddled him or brought him home at all hours of the day or night, and drove or rode him up and down the country. Where there was a public-house with a good tap of beer — where there was a tenant with a pretty daughter who played on the piano — to Chatteris, to the play, or the barracks — to Baymouth, if any fun was on foot there; to the rural fairs or races, the Chevalier and his brown horse made their way continually; and this worthy gentleman lived at free quarters in a friendly country. The Butcher Boy soon took Pen and the Chevalier to Baymouth. The latter was as familiar with the hotel and landlord there as with every other inn round about; and having been accommodated with a bedroom to dress, they entered the ballroom. The Chevalier was splendid. He wore three little gold crosses in a brochette on the portly breast of his blue coat, and looked like a foreign field-marshal.

The ball was public and all sorts of persons were admitted and encouraged to come, young Pynsent having views upon the county and Lady Rockminster being patroness of the ball. There was a quadrille for the aristocracy at one end, and select benches for the people of fashion. Towards this end the Chevalier did not care to penetrate far (as he said he did not care for the nobs); but in the other part of the room he knew everybody — the wine-merchants’, innkeepers’, tradesmen’s, solicitors’, squire-farmers’ daughters, their sires and brothers, and plunged about shaking hands.

“Who is that man with the blue ribbon and the three-pointed star?” asked Pen. A gentleman in black with ringlets and a tuft stood gazing fiercely about him, with one hand in the arm-hole of his waistcoat and the other holding his claque.

“By Jupiter, it’s Mirobolant!” cried Strong, bursting out laughing. “Bon jour, Chef! — Bon jour, Chevalier!”

“De la croix de Juillet, Chevalier!” said the Chef, laying his hand on his decoration.

“By Jove, here’s some more ribbon!” said Pen, amused.

A man with very black hair and whiskers, dyed evidently with the purple of Tyre, with twinkling eyes and white eyelashes, and a thousand wrinkles in his face, which was of a strange red colour, with two under-vests, and large gloves and hands, and a profusion of diamonds and jewels in his waistcoat and stock, with coarse feet crumpled into immense shiny boots, and a piece of parti-coloured ribbon in his button-hole, here came up and nodded familiarly to the Chevalier.

The Chevalier shook hands. “My friend Mr. Pendennis,” Strong said. “Colonel Altamont, of the bodyguard of his Highness the Nawaub of Lucknow.” That officer bowed to the salute of Pen; who was now looking out eagerly to see if the person wanted had entered the room.

Not yet. But the band began presently performing ‘See the Conquering Hero comes,’ and a host of fashionables — Dowager Countess of Rockminster, Mr. Pynsent and Miss Bell, Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., of Clavering Park, Lady Clavering and Miss Amory, Sir Horace Fogey, Bart., Lady Fogey, Colonel and Mrs. Higgs Wagg, Esq. (as the county paper afterwards described them), entered the room.

Pen rushed by Blanche, ran up to Laura, and seized her hand. “God bless you!” he said, “I want to speak to you — I must speak to you — Let me dance with you.” “Not for three dances, dear Pen,” she said, smiling: and he fell back, biting his nails with vexation, and forgetting to salute Pynsent.

After Lady Rockminster’s party, Lady Clavering’s followed in the procession.

Colonel Altamont eyed it hard, holding a most musky pocket-handkerchief up to his face, and bursting with laughter behind it.

“Who’s the gal in green along with ’em, Cap’n?” he asked of Strong.

“That’s Miss Amory, Lady Clavering’s daughter,” replied the Chevalier.

The Colonel could hardly contain himself for laughing.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter26.html

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