The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXVIII

Which is both Quarrelsome and Sentimental

Civil war was raging, high words passing, people pushing and squeezing together in an unseemly manner, round a window in the corner of the ballroom, close by the door through which the Chevalier Strong shouldered his way. Through the opened window, the crowd in the street below was sending up sarcastic remarks, such as “Pitch into him!” “Where’s the police?” and the like; and a ring of individuals, amongst whom Madame Fribsby was conspicuous, was gathered round Monsieur Alcide Mirobolant on the one side; whilst several gentlemen and ladies surrounded our friend Arthur Pendennis on the other. Strong penetrated into this assembly, elbowing by Madame Fribsby, who was charmed at the Chevalier’s appearance, and cried, “Save him, save him!” in frantic and pathetic accents.

The cause of the disturbance, it appeared, was the angry little chef of Sir Francis Clavering’s culinary establishment. Shortly after Strong had quitted the room, and whilst Mr. Pen, greatly irate at his downfall in the waltz, which had made him look ridiculous in the eyes of the nation, and by Miss Amory’s behaviour to him, which had still further insulted his dignity, was endeavouring to get some coolness of body and temper, by looking out of window towards the sea, which was sparkling in the distance, and murmuring in a wonderful calm — whilst he was really trying to compose himself, and owning to himself, perhaps, that he had acted in a very absurd and peevish manner during the night — he felt a hand upon his shoulder; and, on looking round, beheld, to his utter surprise and horror, that the hand in question belonged to Monsieur Mirobolant, whose eyes were glaring out of his pale face and ringlets at Mr. Pen. To be tapped on the shoulder by a French cook was a piece of familiarity which made the blood of the Pendennises to boil up in the veins of their descendant, and he was astounded, almost more than enraged, at such an indignity.

“You speak French?” Mirobolant said in his own language to Pen.

“What is that to you, pray?” said Pen, in English.

“At any rate, you understand it?” continued the other, with a bow.

“Yes, sir,” said Pen, with a stamp of his foot; “I understand it pretty well.”

“Vous me comprendrez alors, Monsieur Pendennis,” replied the other, rolling out his r with Gascon force, “quand je vous dis que vous etes un lache. Monsieur Pendennis — un lache, entendez-vous?”

“What?” said Pen, starting round on him.

“You understand the meaning of the word and its consequences among men of honour?” the artist said, putting his hand on his hip, and staring at Pen.

“The consequences are, that I will fling you out of window, you impudent scoundrel,” bawled out Mr. Pen; and darting upon the Frenchman, he would very likely have put his threat into execution, for the window was at hand, and the artist by no means a match for the young gentleman — had not Captain Broadfoot and another heavy officer flung themselves between the combatants — had not the ladies begun to scream — had not the fiddles stopped, had not the crowd of people come running in that direction — had not Laura, with a face of great alarm, looked over their heads and asked for Heaven’s sake what was wrong — had not the opportune Strong made his appearance from the refreshment-room, and found Alcides grinding his teeth and jabbering oaths in his Galleon French, and Pen looking uncommonly wicked, although trying to appear as calm as possible, when the ladies and the crowd came up.

“What has happened?” Strong asked of the chef, in Spanish.

“I am Chevalier de Juillet,” said the other, slapping his breast, “and he has insulted me.”

“What has he said to you?” asked Strong.

“Il m’a appele — Cuisinier,” hissed out the little Frenchman.

Strong could hardly help laughing. “Come away with me, poor Chevalier,” he said. “We must not quarrel before ladies. Come away; I will carry your message to Mr. Pendennis. — The poor fellow is not right in his head,” he whispered to one or two people about him; — and others, and anxious Laura’s face visible amongst these, gathered round Pen and asked the cause of the disturbance.

Pen did not know. “The man was going to give his arm to a young lady, on which I said that he was a cook, and the man called me a coward and challenged me to fight. I own I was so surprised and indignant, that if you gentlemen had not stopped me, I should have thrown him out of window,” Pen said.

“D—— him, serve him right, too — the impudent foreign scoundrel,” the gentlemen said.

“I— I’m very sorry if I hurt his feelings, though,” Pen added and Laura was glad to hear him say that; although some of the young bucks said, “No, hang the fellow — hang those impudent foreigners — little thrashing would do them good.”

“You will go and shake hands with him before you go to sleep — won’t you, Pen?” said Laura, coming up to him. “Foreigners may be more susceptible than we are, and have different manners. If you hurt a poor man’s feelings, I am sure you would be the first to ask his pardon. Wouldn’t you, dear Pen?”

She looked all forgiveness and gentleness, like an angel, as she spoke; and Pen took both her hands, and looked into her kind face, and said indeed he would.

“How fond that girl is of me!” he thought, as she stood gazing at him. “Shall I speak to her now? No — not now. I must have this absurd business with the Frenchman over.”

Laura asked — Wouldn’t he stop and dance with her? She was as anxious to keep him in the room, as he to quit it. “Won’t you stop and waltz with me, Pen? I’m not afraid to waltz with you.”

This was an affectionate, but an unlucky speech. Pen saw himself prostrate on the ground, having tumbled over Miss Roundle and the dragoon, and flung Blanche up against the wall — saw himself on the ground, and all the people laughing at him, Laura and Pynsent amongst them.

“I shall never dance again,” he replied, with a dark and determined face. “Never. I’m surprised you should ask me.”

“Is it because you can’t get Blanche for a partner?” asked Laura, with a wicked, unlucky captiousness.

“Because I don’t wish to make a fool of myself, for other people to laugh at me,” Pen answered —“for you to laugh at me, Laura. I saw you and Pynsent. By Jove! no man shall laugh at me.”

“Pen, Pen, don’t be so wicked!” cried out the poor girl, hurt at the morbid perverseness and savage vanity of Pen. He was glaring round in the direction of Mr. Pynsent as if he would have liked to engage that gentleman as he had done the cook. “Who thinks the worse of you for stumbling in a waltz?” If Laura does, we don’t. “Why are you so sensitive, and ready to think evil?”

Here again, by ill luck, Mr. Pynsent came up to Laura, and said “I have it in command from Lady Rockminster to ask whether I may take you in to supper?”

“I— I was going in with my cousin,” Laura said.

“O— pray, no!” said Pen. “You are in such good hands, that I can’t do better than leave you: and I’m going home.”

“Good-night, Mr. Pendennis,” Pynsent said, drily — to which speech (which, in fact, meant, “Go to the deuce for an insolent, jealous, impertinent jackanapes, whose ears I should like to box”) Mr. Pendennis did not vouchsafe any reply, except a bow: and in spite of Laura’s imploring looks, he left the room.

“How beautifully calm and bright the night outside is!” said Mr. Pynsent; “and what a murmur the sea is making! It would be pleasanter to be walking on the beach, than in this hot room.”

“Very,” said Laura.

“What a strange congregation of people,” continued Pynsent. “I have had to go up and perform the agreeable to most of them — the attorney’s daughters — the apothecary’s wife — I scarcely know whom. There was a man in the refreshment-room, who insisted upon treating me to champagne — a seafaring-looking man — extraordinarily dressed, and seeming half tipsy. As a public man one is bound to conciliate all these people, but it is a hard task — especially when one would so very much like to be elsewhere”— and he blushed rather as he spoke.

“I beg your pardon,” said Laura —“I— I was not listening. Indeed — I was frightened about that quarrel between my cousin and that — that — French person.”

“Your cousin has been rather unlucky to-night,” Pynsent said. “There are three or four persons whom he has not succeeded in pleasing — captain Broadwood; what is his name — the officer — and the young lady in red with whom he danced — and Miss Blanche — and the poor chef — and I don’t think he seemed to be particularly pleased with me.”

“Didn’t he leave me in charge to you?” Laura said, looking up into Mr. Pynsent’s face, and dropping her eyes instantly, like a guilty little story-telling coquette.

“Indeed, I can forgive him a good deal for that,” Pynsent eagerly cried out, and she took his arm, and he led off his little prize in the direction of the supper-room.

She had no great desire for that repast, though it was served in Rincer’s well-known style, as the county paper said, giving an account of the entertainment afterwards; indeed, she was very distraite; and exceedingly pained and unhappy about Pen. Captious and quarrelsome; jealous and selfish; fickle and violent and unjust when his anger led him astray; how could her mother (as indeed Helen had by a thousand words and hints) ask her to give her heart to such a man? and suppose she were to do so, would it make him happy?

But she got some relief at length, when, at the end of half an hour — a long half-hour it had seemed to her — a waiter brought her a little note in pencil from Pen, who said, “I met Cooky below ready to fight me; and I asked his pardon. I’m glad I did it. I wanted to speak to you to-night, but will keep what I had to say till you come home. God bless you. Dance away all night with Pynsent, and be very happy. — PEN.” Laura was very thankful for this letter, and to think that there was goodness and forgiveness still in her mother’s boy.

Pen went downstairs, his heart reproaching him for his absurd behaviour to Laura, whose gentle and imploring looks followed and rebuked him; and he was scarcely out of the ballroom door but he longed to turn back and ask her pardon. But he remembered that he had left her with that confounded Pynsent. He could not apologise before him. He would compromise and forget his wrath, and make his peace with the Frenchman.

The Chevalier was pacing down below in the hall of the inn when Pen descended from the ballroom; and he came up to Pen, with all sorts of fun and mischief lighting up his jolly face.

“I have got him in the coffee-room,” he said, “with a brace of pistols and a candle. Or would you like swords on the beach? Mirobolant is a dead hand with the foils, and killed four gardes-du-corps with his own point in the barricades of July.”

“Confound it,” said Pen, in a fury, “I can’t fight a cook!”

“He is a Chevalier of July,” replied the other. “They present arms to him in his own country.”

“And do you ask me, Captain Strong, to go out with a servant?” Pen asked fiercely; “I’ll call a policeman him but — but ——”

“You’ll invite me to hair triggers?” cried Strong, with a laugh. “Thank you for nothing; I was but joking. I came to settle quarrels, not to fight them. I have been soothing down Mirobolant; I have told him that you did not apply the word ‘Cook’ to him in an offensive sense: that it was contrary to all the customs of the country that a hired officer of a household, as I called it, should give his arm to the daughter of the house.” And then he told Pen the grand secret which he had had from Madame Fribsby of the violent passion under which the poor artist was labouring.

When Arthur heard this tale, he broke out into a hearty laugh, in which Strong joined, and his rage against the poor cook vanished at once. He had been absurdly jealous himself all the evening, and had longed for a pretext to insult Pynsent. He remembered how jealous he had been of Oaks in his first affair; he was ready to pardon anything to a man under a passion like that: and he went into the coffee-room where Mirobolant was waiting, with an outstretched hand, and made him a speech in French, in which he declared that he was “sincerement fache d’avoir use une expression qui avoit pu blesser Monsieur Mirobolant, et qu’il donnoit sa parole comme un gentilhomme qu’il ne l’avoit jamais, jamais — intende,” said Pen, who made a shot at a French word for “intended,” and was secretly much pleased with his own fluency and correctness in speaking that language.

“Bravo, bravo!” cried Strong, as much amused with Pen’s speech as pleased by his kind manner. And the Chevalier Mirobolant of course withdraws, and sincerely regrets the expression of which he made use.

“Monsieur Pendennis has disproved my words himself,” said Alcide with great politeness; “he has shown that he is a galant homme.”

And so they shook hands and parted, Arthur in the first place despatching his note to Laura before he and Strong committed themselves to the Butcher Boy.

As they drove along, Strong complimented Pen upon his behaviour, as well as upon his skill in French. “You’re a good fellow, Pendennis, and you speak French like Chateaubriand, by Jove.”

“I’ve been accustomed to it from my youth upwards,” said Pen; and Strong had the grace not to laugh for five minutes, when he exploded into fits of hilarity which Pendennis has never perhaps understood up to this day.

It was daybreak when they got to the Brawl, where they separated. By that time the ball at Baymouth was over too. Madame Fribsby and Mirobolant were on their way home in the Clavering fly; Laura was in bed with an easy heart and asleep at Lady Rockminster’s; and the Claverings at rest at the inn at Baymouth, where they had quarters for the night. A short time after the disturbance between Pen and the chef, Blanche had come out of the refreshment-room, looking as pale as a lemon-ice. She told her maid, having no other confidante at hand, that she had met with the most romantic adventure — the most singular man — one who had known the author of her being — her persecuted — her unhappy — her heroic — her murdered father; and she began a sonnet to his manes before she went to sleep.

So Pen returned to Fairoaks, in company with his friend the Chevalier, without having uttered a word of the message which he had been so anxious to deliver to Laura at Baymouth. He could wait, however, until her return home, which was to take place on the succeeding day. He was not seriously jealous of the progress made by Mr. Pynsent in her favour; and he felt pretty certain that in this, as in any other family arrangement, he had but to ask and have, and Laura, like his mother, could refuse him nothing.

When Helen’s anxious looks inquired of him what had happened at Baymouth, and whether her darling project was fulfilled, Pen, in a gay tone, told of the calamity which had befallen; laughingly said, that no man could think about declarations under such a mishap, and made light of the matter. “There will be plenty of time for sentiment, dear mother, when Laura comes back,” he said, and he looked in the glass with a killing air, and his mother put his hair off his forehead and kissed him, and of course thought, for her part, that no woman could resist him: and was exceedingly happy that day.

When he was not with her, Mr. Pen occupied himself in packing books and portmanteaus, burning and arranging papers, cleaning his gun and putting it into its case: in fact, in making dispositions for departure. For though he was ready to marry, this gentleman was eager to go to London too, rightly considering that at three-and-twenty it was quite time for him to begin upon the serious business of life, and to set about making a fortune as quickly as possible.

The means to this end he had already shaped out for himself. “I shall take chambers,” he said, “and enter myself at an Inn of Court. With a couple of hundred pounds I shall be able to carry through the first year very well; after that I have little doubt my pen will support me, as it is doing with several Oxbridge men now in town. I have a tragedy, a comedy, and a novel, all nearly finished, and for which I can’t fail to get a price. And so I shall be able to live pretty well, without drawing upon my poor mother, until I have made my way at the bar. Then, some day I will come back and make her dear soul happy by marrying Laura. She is as good and as sweet-tempered a girl as ever lived, besides being really very good-looking, and the engagement will serve to steady me — won’t it, Ponto?” Thus, smoking his pipe, and talking to his dog as he sauntered through the gardens and orchards of the little domain of Fairoaks, this young day-dreamer built castles in the air for himself: “Yes, she’ll steady me, won’t she? And you’ll miss me when I’ve gone, won’t you, old boy?” he asked of Ponto, who quivered his tail and thrust his brown nose into his master’s fist. Ponto licked his hand and shoe, as they all did in that house, and Mr. Pen received their homage as other folks do the flattery which they get.

Laura came home rather late in the evening of the second day; and Mr. Pynsent, as ill luck would have it, drove her from Clavering. The poor girl could not refuse his offer, but his appearance brought a dark cloud upon the brow of Arthur Pendennis. Laura saw this, and was pained by it: the eager widow, however, was aware of nothing, and being anxious, doubtless, that the delicate question should be asked at once, was for going to bed very soon after Laura’s arrival, and rose for that purpose to leave the sofa where she now generally lay, and where Laura would come and sit and work or read by her. But when Helen rose, Laura said, with a blush and rather an alarmed voice, that she was also very tired and wanted to go to bed: so that the widow was disappointed in her scheme for that night at least, and Mr. Pen was left another day in suspense regarding his fate.

His dignity was offended at being thus obliged to remain in the ante-chamber when he wanted an audience. Such a sultan as he, could not afford to be kept waiting. However, he went to bed and slept upon his disappointment pretty comfortably, and did not wake until the early morning, when he looked up and saw his mother standing in his room.

“Dear Pen, rouse up,” said this lady. “Do not be lazy. It is the most beautiful morning in the world. I have not been able to sleep since daybreak; and Laura has been out for an hour. She is in the garden. Everybody ought to be in the garden and out on such a morning as this.”

Pen laughed. He saw what thoughts were uppermost in the simple woman’s heart. His good-natured laughter cheered the widow. “Oh you profound dissembler,” he said, kissing his mother. “Oh you artful creature! Can nobody escape from your wicked tricks? and will you make your only son your victim?” Helen too laughed, she blushed, she fluttered, and was agitated. She was as happy as she could be — a good tender, matchmaking woman, the dearest project of whose heart was about to be accomplished.

So, after exchanging some knowing looks and hasty words, Helen left Arthur; and this young hero, rising from his bed, proceeded to decorate his beautiful person, and shave his ambrosial chin; and in half an hour he issued out from his apartment into the garden in quest of Laura. His reflections as he made his toilette were rather dismal. “I am going to tie myself for life,” he thought, “to please my mother. Laura is the best of women, and — and she has given me her money. I wish to Heaven I had not received it; I wish I had not this duty to perform just yet. But as both the women have set their hearts on the match, why I suppose I must satisfy them — and now for it. A man may do worse than make happy two of the best creatures in the world.” So Pen, now he was actually come to the point, felt very grave, and by no means elated, and, indeed, thought it was a great sacrifice he was going to perform.

It was Miss Laura’s custom, upon her garden excursions, to wear a sort of uniform, which, though homely, was thought by many people to be not unbecoming. She had a large straw hat, with a streamer of broad ribbon, which was useless probably, but the hat sufficiently protected the owner’s pretty face from the sun. Over her accustomed gown she wore a blouse or pinafore, which, being fastened round her little waist by a smart belt, looked extremely well, and her bands were guaranteed from the thorns of her favourite rose-bushes by a pair of gauntlets, which gave this young lady a military and resolute air.

Somehow she had the very same smile with which she had laughed at him on the night previous, and the recollection of his disaster again offended Pen. But Laura, though she saw him coming down the walk looking so gloomy and full of care, accorded to him a smile of the most perfect and provoking good-humour, and went to meet him, holding one of the gauntlets to him, so that he might shake it if he liked — and Mr. Pen condescended to do so. His face, however, did not lose its tragic expression in consequence of this favour, and he continued to regard her with a dismal and solemn air.

“Excuse my glove,” said Laura, with a laugh, pressing Pen’s hand kindly with it. “We are not angry again, are we, Pen?”

“Why do you laugh at me?” said Pen. “You did the other night, and made a fool of me to the people at Baymouth.”

“My dear Arthur, I meant you no wrong,” the girl answered. “You and Miss Roundle looked so droll as you — as you met with your little accident, that I could not make a tragedy of it. Dear Pen, it wasn’t a serious fall. And, besides, it was Miss Roundle who was the most unfortunate.”

“Confound Miss Roundle,” bellowed out Pen.

“I’m sure she looked so,” said Laura, archly. “You were up in an instant; but that poor lady sitting on the ground in her red crape dress, and looking about her with that piteous face — can I ever forget her?”— and Laura began to make a face in imitation of Miss Roundle’s under the disaster, but she checked herself repentantly, saying, “Well, we must not laugh at her, but I am sure we ought to laugh at you, Pen, if you were angry about such a trifle.”

“You should not laugh at me, Laura,” said Pen, with some bitterness; “not you, of all people.”

“And why not? Are you such a great man?” asked Laura,

“Ah no, Laura, I’m such a poor one,” Pen answered. “Haven’t you baited me enough already?”

“My dear Pen, and how?” cried Laura. “Indeed, indeed, I didn’t think to vex you by such a trifle. I thought such a clever man as you could bear a harmless little joke from his sister,” she said, holding her hand out again. “Dear Arthur, if I have hurt you, I beg your pardon.”

“It is your kindness that humiliates me more even than your laughter, Laura,” Pen said. “You are always my superior.”

“What! superior to the great Arthur Pendennis? How can it be possible?” said Miss Laura, who may have had a little wickedness as well as a great deal of kindness in her composition. “You can’t mean that any woman is your equal?”

“Those who confer benefits should not sneer,” said Pen. “I don’t like my benefactor to laugh at me, Laura; it makes the obligation very hard to bear. You scorn me because I have taken your money, and I am worthy to be scorned; but the blow is hard coming from you.”

“Money! Obligation! For shame, Pen; this is ungenerous,” Laura said, flushing red. “May not our mother claim everything that belongs to us? Don’t I owe her all my happiness in this world, Arthur? What matters about a few paltry guineas, if we can set her tender heart at rest, and ease her mind regarding you? I would dig in the fields, I would go out and be a servant — I would die for her. You know I would,” said Miss Laura, kindling up; “and you call this paltry money an obligation? Oh, Pen, it’s cruel — it’s unworthy of you to take it so! If my brother may not share with me my superfluity, who may? — Mine? — I tell you it was not mine; it was all mamma’s to do with as she chose, and so is everything I have,” said Laura; “my life is hers.” And the enthusiastic girl looked towards the windows of the widow’s room, and blessed in her heart the kind creature within.

Helen was looking, unseen, out of that window towards which Laura’s eyes and heart were turned as she spoke, and was watching her two children with the deepest interest and emotion, longing and hoping that the prayer of her life might be fulfilled; and if Laura had spoken as Helen hoped, who knows what temptations Arthur Pendennis might have been spared, or what different trials he would have had to undergo? He might have remained at Fairoaks all his days, and died a country gentleman. But would he have escaped then? Temptation is an obsequious servant that has no objection to the country, and we know that it takes up its lodging in hermitages as well as in cities; and that in the most remote and inaccessible desert it keeps company with the fugitive solitary.

“Is your life my mother’s?” said Pen, beginning to tremble, and speak in a very agitated manner. “You know, Laura, what the great object of hers is?” And he took her hand once more.

“What, Arthur?” she said, dropping it, and looking at him, at the window again, and then dropping her eyes to the ground, so that they avoided Pen’s gaze. She, too, trembled, for she felt that the crisis for which she had been secretly preparing was come.

“Our mother has one wish above all others in the world, Laura,” Pen said; “and I think you know it. I own to you that she has spoken to me of it; and if you will fulfil it, dear sister, I am ready. I am but very young as yet; but I have had so many pains and disappointments, that I am old and weary. I think I have hardly got a heart to offer. Before I have almost begun the race in life, I am a tired man. My career has been a failure; I have been protected by those whom I by right should have protected. I own that your nobleness and generosity, dear Laura, shame me, whilst they render me grateful. When I heard from our mother what you had done for me; that it was you who armed me and bade me go out for one struggle more; I longed to go and throw myself at your feet, and say, ‘Laura, will you come and share the contest with me?’ Your sympathy will cheer me while it lasts. I shall have one of the tenderest and most generous creatures under heaven to aid and bear me company. Will you take me, dear Laura, and make our mother happy?”

“Do you think mamma would be happy if you were otherwise, Arthur?” Laura said in a low sad voice.

“And why should I not be,” asked Pen eagerly, “with so dear a creature as you by my side? I have not my first love to give you. I am a broken man. But indeed I would love you fondly and truly. I have lost many an illusion and ambition, but I am not without hope still. Talents I know I have, wretchedly as I have misapplied them: they may serve me yet: they would, had I a motive for action. Let me go away and think that I am pledged to return to you. Let me go and work, and hope, that you will share my success if I gain it. You have given me so much, Laura dear, will you take from me nothing?”

“What have you got to give, Arthur?” Laura said, with a grave sadness of tone, which made Pen start, and see that his words had committed him. Indeed, his declaration had not been such as he would have made it two days earlier, when, full of hope and gratitude, he had run over to Laura, his liberatress, to thank her for his recovered freedom. Had he been permitted to speak then, he had spoken, and she, perhaps, had listened differently. It would have been a grateful heart asking for hers; not a weary one offered to her, to take or to leave. Laura was offended with the terms in which Pen offered himself to her. He had, in fact, said that he had no love, and yet would take no denial. “I give myself to you to please my mother,” he had said: “take me, as she wishes that I should make this sacrifice.” The girl’s spirit would brook a husband under no such conditions: she was not minded to run forward because Pen chose to hold out the handkerchief, and her tone, in reply to Arthur, showed her determination to be independent.

“No, Arthur,” she said, “our marriage would not make mamma happy, as she fancies; for it would not content you very long. I, too, have known what her wishes were; for she is too open to conceal anything she has at heart: and once, perhaps, I thought — but that is over now — that I could have made you — that it might have been as she wished.”

“You have seen somebody else,” said Pen, angry at her tone, and recalling the incidents of the past days.

“That allusion might have been spared,” Laura replied, flinging up her head. “A heart which has worn out love at three-and-twenty, as yours has, you say, should have survived jealousy too. I do not condescend to say whether I have seen or encouraged any other person. I shall neither admit the charge, nor deny it: and beg you also to allude to it no more.”

“I ask your pardon, Laura, if I have offended you: but if I am jealous, does it not prove that I have a heart?”

“Not for me, Arthur. Perhaps you think you love me now but it is only for an instant, and because you are foiled. Were there no obstacle, you would feel no ardour to overcome it. No, Arthur, you don’t love me. You would weary of me in three months, as — as you do of most things; and mamma, seeing you tired of me, would be more unhappy than at my refusal to be yours. Let us be brother and sister, Arthur, as heretofore — but no more. You will get over this little disappointment.”

“I will try,” said Arthur, in a great indignation.

“Have you not tried before?” Laura said, with some anger, for she had been angry with Arthur for a very long time, and was now determined, I suppose, to speak her mind. “And the next time, Arthur, when you offer yourself to a woman, do not say as you have done to me, ‘I have no heart — I do not love you; but I am ready to marry you because my mother wishes for the match.’ We require more than this in return for our love — that is, I think so. I have had no experience hitherto, and have not had the — the practice which you supposed me to have, when you spoke but now of my having seen somebody else. Did you tell your first love that you had no heart, Arthur? or your second that you did not love her, but that she might have you if she liked?”

“What — what do you mean?” asked Arthur, blushing, and still in great wrath.

“I mean Blanche Amory, Arthur Pendennis,” Laura said, proudly. “It is but two months since you were sighing at her feet — making poems to her — placing them in hollow trees by the river-side. I knew all. I watched you — that is, she showed them to me. Neither one nor the other were in earnest perhaps; but it is too soon now, Arthur, to begin a new attachment. Go through the time of your — your widowhood at least, and do not think of marrying until you are out of mourning”—(Here the girl’s eyes filled with tears, and she passed her hand across them.) “I am angry and hurt, and I have no right to be so, and I ask your pardon in my turn now, dear Arthur. You had a right to love Blanche. She was a thousand times prettier and more accomplished than — than any girl near us here; and you not could know that she had no heart; and so you were right to leave her too. I ought not to rebuke you about Blanche Amory, and because she deceived you. Pardon me, Pen,”— and she held the kind hand out to Pen once more.

“We were both jealous,” said Pen. “Dear Laura, let us both forgive”— and he seized her band and would have drawn her towards him. He thought that she was relenting, and already assumed the airs of a victor.

But she shrank back, and her tears passed away; and she fixed on him a look so melancholy and severe, that the young man in his turn shrank before it. “Do not mistake me, Arthur,” she said, “it cannot be. You do not know what you ask, and do not be too angry with me for saying that I think you do not deserve it. What do you offer in exchange to a woman for her love, honour, and obedience? If ever I say these words, dear Pen, I hope to say them in earnest, and by the blessing of God to keep my vow. But you — what tie binds you? You do not care about many things which we poor women hold sacred, I do not like to think or ask how far your incredulity leads you. You offer to marry to please our mother, and own that you have no heart to give away. Oh, Arthur, what is it you offer me? What a rash compact would you enter into so lightly? A month ago, and you would have given yourself to another. I pray you do not trifle with your own or others’ hearts so recklessly. Go and work; go and mend, dear Arthur, for I see your faults, and dare speak of them now: go and get fame, as you say that you can, and I will pray for my brother, and watch our dearest mother at home.”

“Is that your final decision, Laura?” Arthur cried.

“Yes,” said Laura, bowing her head; and once more giving him her hand, she went away. He saw her pass under the creepers of the little porch, and disappear into the house. The curtains of his mother’s window fell at the same minute, but he did not mark that, or suspect that Helen had been witnessing the scene.

Was he pleased, or was he angry at its termination? He had asked her, and a secret triumph filled his heart to think that he was still free. She had refused him, but did she not love him? That avowal of jealousy made him still think that her heart was his own, whatever her lips might utter.

And now we ought, perhaps, to describe another scene which took place at Fairoaks, between the widow and Laura, when the latter had to tell Helen that she had refused Arthur Pendennis. Perhaps it was the hardest task of all which Laura had to go through in this matter: and the one which gave her the most pain. But as we do not like to see a good woman unjust, we shall not say a word more of the quarrel which now befell between Helen and her adopted daughter, or of the bitter tears which the poor girl was made to shed. It was the only difference which she and the widow had ever had as yet, and the more cruel from this cause. Pen left home whilst it was as yet pending — and Helen, who could pardon almost everything, could not pardon an act of justice in Laura.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter28.html

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