The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXIX

Babylon

Our reader must now please to quit the woods and sea-shore of the west, and the gossip of Clavering, and the humdrum life of poor little Fairoaks, and transport himself with Arthur Pendennis, on the ‘Alacrity’ coach, to London, whither he goes once for all to face the world and to make his fortune. As the coach whirls through the night away from the friendly gates of home, many a plan does the young man cast in his mind of future life and conduct, prudence, and peradventure success and fame. He knows he is a better man than many who have hitherto been ahead of him in the race: his first failure has caused him remorse, and brought with it reflection; it has not taken away his courage, or, let us add, his good opinion of himself. A hundred eager fancies and busy hopes keep him awake. How much older his mishaps and a year’s thought and self-communion have made him, than when, twelve months since, he passed on this road on his way to and from Oxbridge! His thoughts turn in the night with inexpressible fondness and tenderness towards the fond mother who blessed him when parting, and who, in spite of all his past faults and follies, trusts him and loves him still. Blessings be on her! he prays, as he looks up to the stars overhead. O Heaven! give him strength to work, to endure, to be honest, to avoid temptation, to be worthy of the loving soul who loves him so entirely! Very likely she is awake, too, at that moment, and sending up to the same Father purer prayers than his for the welfare of her boy. That woman’s love is a talisman by which he holds and hopes to get his safety. And Laura’s — he would have fain carried her affection with him too, but she has denied it, as he is not worthy of it. He owns as much with shame and remorse; confesses how much better and loftier her nature is than his own — confesses it, and yet is glad to be free. “I am not good enough for such a creature,” he owns to himself. He draws back before her spotless beauty and innocence, as from something that scares him. He feels he is not fit for such a mate as that; as many a wild prodigal who has been pious and guiltless in early days, keeps away from a church which he used to frequent once — shunning it, but not hostile to it — only feeling that he has no right in that pure place.

With these thoughts to occupy him, Pen did not fall asleep until the nipping dawn of an October morning, and woke considerably refreshed when the coach stopped at the old breakfasting place at B— — where he had had a score of merry meals on his way to and from school and college many times since he was a boy. As they left that place, the sun broke out brightly, the pace was rapid, the horn blew, the milestones flew by, Pen smoked and joked with guard and fellow-passengers and people along the familiar road; it grew more busy and animated at every instant; the last team of greys came out at H— — and the coach drove into London. What young fellow has not felt a thrill as he entered the vast place? Hundreds of other carriages, crowded with their thousands of men, were hastening to the great city. “Here is my place,” thought Pen; “here is my battle beginning, in which I must fight and conquer, or fall. I have been a boy and a dawdler as yet. Oh, I long, I long to show that I can be a man.” And from his place on the coach-roof the eager young fellow looked down upon the city, with the sort of longing desire which young soldiers feel on the eve of a campaign.

As they came along the road, Pen had formed acquaintance with a cheery fellow-passenger in a shabby cloak, who talked a great deal about men of letters with whom he was very familiar, and who was, in fact, the reporter of a London newspaper, as whose representative he had been to attend a great wrestling-match in the west. This gentleman knew intimately, as it appeared, all the leading men of letters of his day, and talked about Tom Campbell, and Tom Hood, and Sydney Smith, and this and the other, as if he had been their most intimate friend. As they passed by Brompton, this gentleman pointed out to Pen Mr. Hurtle, the reviewer, walking with his umbrella. Pen craned over the coach to have a long look at the great Hurtle. He was a Boniface man, said Pen. And Mr. Doolan, of the Star newspaper (for such was the gentleman’s name and address upon the card which he handed to Pen), said “Faith he was, and he knew him very well.” Pen thought it was quite an honour to have seen the great Mr. Hurtle, whose works he admired. He believed fondly, as yet, in authors, reviewers, and editors of newspapers. Even Wagg, whose books did not appear to him to be masterpieces of human intellect, he yet secretly revered as a successful writer. He mentioned that he had met Wagg in the country, and Doolan told him how that famous novelist received three hundther pounds a volume for every one of his novels. Pen began to calculate instantly whether he might not make five thousand a year.

The very first acquaintance of his own whom Arthur met, as the coach pulled up at the Gloster Coffee-house, was his old friend Harry Foker, who came prancing down Arlington Street behind an enormous cab-horse. He had white kid gloves and white reins, and nature had by this time decorated him with a considerable tuft on the chin. A very small cab-boy, vice Stoopid retired, swung on behind Foker’s vehicle; knock-kneed and in the tightest leather breeches. Foker looked at the dusty coach, and the smoking horses of the ‘Alacrity’ by which he had made journeys in former times. “What, Foker!” cried out Pendennis — “Hullo! Pen, my boy!” said the other, and he waved his whip by way of amity and salute to Arthur, who was very glad to see his queer friend’s kind old face. Mr. Doolan had a great respect for Pen who had an acquaintance in such a grand cab; and Pen was greatly excited and pleased to be at liberty and in London. He asked Doolan to come and dine with him at the Covent Garden Coffee-house, where he put up: he called a cab and rattled away thither in the highest spirits. He was glad to see the bustling waiter and polite bowing landlord again; and asked for the landlady, and missed the old Boots and would have liked to shake hands with everybody. He had a hundred pounds in his pocket. He dressed himself in his very best; dined in the coffee-room with a modest pint of sherry (for he was determined to be very economical), and went to the theatre adjoining.

The lights and the music, the crowd and the gaiety, charmed and exhilarated Pen, as those sights will do young fellows from college and the country, to whom they are tolerably new. He laughed at the jokes; he applauded the songs, to the delight of some of the dreary old habitues of the boxes, who had ceased long ago to find the least excitement in their place of nightly resort, and were pleased to see any one so fresh, and so much amused. At the end of the first piece, he went and strutted about the lobbies of the theatre, as if he was in a resort of the highest fashion. What tired frequenter of the London pave is there that cannot remember having had similar early delusions, and would not call them back again? Here was young Foker again, like an ardent votary of pleasure as he was. He was walking with Grandy Tiptoff, of the Household Brigade, Lord Tiptoff’s brother, and Lord Colchicum, Captain Tiptoff’s uncle, a venerable peer, who had been a man of pleasure since the first French Revolution. Foker rushed upon Pen with eagerness, and insisted that the latter should come into his private box, where a lady with the longest ringlets and the fairest shoulders, was seated. This was Miss Blenkinsop, the eminent actress of high comedy; and in the back of the box snoozing in a wig, sate old Blenkinsop, her papa. He was described in the theatrical prints as the “veteran Blenkinsop”—“the useful Blenkinsop”— “that old favourite of the public, Blenkinsop”— those parts in the drama, which are called the heavy fathers, were usually assigned to this veteran, who, indeed, acted the heavy father in public, as in private life.

At this time, it being about eleven o’clock, Mrs. Pendennis was gone to bed at Fairoaks, and wondering whether her dearest Arthur was at rest after his journey. At this time Laura, too, was awake. And at this time yesterday night, as the coach rolled over silent commons, where cottage windows twinkled, and by darkling woods under calm starlit skies, Pen was vowing to reform and to resist temptation, and his heart was at home. Meanwhile the farce was going on very successfully, and Mrs. Leary, in a hussar jacket and braided pantaloons, was enchanting the audience with her archness, her lovely figure, and her delightful ballads.

Pen, being new to the town, would have liked to listen to Mrs. Leary; but the other people in the box did not care about her song or her pantaloons, and kept up an incessant chattering. Tiptoff knew where her maillots came from. Colchicum saw her when she came out in ‘14. Miss Blenkinsop said she sang out of all tune, to the pain and astonishment of Pen, who thought that she was as beautiful as an angel, and that she sang like a nightingale; and when Hoppus came on as Sir Harcourt Featherby, the young man of the piece, the gentlemen in the box declared that Hoppus was getting too stale, and Tiptoff was for flinging Miss Blenkinsop’s bouquet to him.

“Not for the world,” cried the daughter of the veteran Blenkinsop; “Lord Colchicum gave it to me.”

Pen remembered that nobleman’s name, and with a bow and a blush said he believed he had to thank Lord Colchicum for having proposed him at the Megatherium Club, at the request of his uncle, Major Pendennis.

“What, you’re Wigsby’s nephew, are you?” said the peer. “I beg your pardon, we always call him Wigsby.” Pen blushed to hear his venerable uncle called by such a familiar name. “We balloted you in last week, didn’t we? Yes, last Wednesday night. Your uncle wasn’t there.”

Here was delightful news for Pen! He professed himself very much obliged indeed to Lord Colchicum, and made him a handsome speech of thanks, to which the other listened with his double opera-glass up to his eyes. Pen was full of excitement at the idea of being a member of this polite Club.

“Don’t be always looking at that box, you naughty creature,” cried Miss Blenkinsop.

“She’s a dev’lish fine woman, that Mirabel,” said Tiptoff; “though Mirabel was a d —— d fool to marry her.”

“A stupid old spooney,” said the peer.

“Mirabel!” cried out Pendennis.

“Ha! ha!” laughed out Harry Foker. “We’ve heard of her before, haven’t we, Pen?”

It was Pen’s first love. It was Miss Fotheringay. The year before she had been led to the altar by Sir Charles Mirabel, G.C.B., and formerly envoy to the Court of Pumpernickel, who had taken so active a part in the negotiations before the Congress of Swammerdam, and signed, on behalf of H.B.M., the Peace of Pultusk.

“Emily was always as stupid as an owl,” said Miss Blenkinsop.

“Eh! Eh! pas si bete,” the old Peer said.

“Oh, for shame!” cried the actress, who did not in the least know what he meant.

And Pen looked out and beheld his first love once again — and wondered how he ever could have loved her.

Thus on the very first night of his arrival in London, Mr. Arthur Pendennis found himself introduced to a Club, to an actress of genteel comedy and a heavy father of the Stage, and to a dashing society of jovial blades, old and young; for my Lord Colchicum, though stricken in years, bald of head and enfeebled in person, was still indefatigable in the pursuit of enjoyment, and it was the venerable Viscount’s boast that he could drink as much claret as the youngest member of the society which he frequented. He lived with the youth about town: he gave them countless dinners at Richmond and Greenwich: an enlightened patron of the drama in all languages and of the Terpsichorean art, he received dramatic professors of all nations at his banquets — English from the Covent Garden and Strand houses, Italians from the Haymarket, French from their own pretty little theatre, or the boards of the Opera where they danced. And at his villa on the Thames, this pillar of the State gave sumptuous entertainments to scores of young men of fashion, who very affably consorted with the ladies and gentlemen of the greenroom — with the former chiefly, for Viscount Colchicum preferred their society as more polished and gay than that of their male brethren.

Pen went the next day and paid his entrance-money at the Club, which operation carried off exactly one-third of his hundred pounds; and took possession of the edifice, and ate his luncheon there with immense satisfaction. He plunged into an easy-chair in the library, and tried to read all the magazines. He wondered whether the members were looking at him, and that they could dare to keep on their hats in such fine rooms. He sate down and wrote a letter to Fairoaks on the Club paper, and said, what a comfort this place would be to him after his day’s work was over. He went over to his uncle’s lodgings in Bury Street with some considerable tremor, and in compliance with his mother’s earnest desire, that he should instantly call on Major Pendennis; and was not a little relieved to find that the Major had not yet returned to town. His apartments were blank. Brown hollands covered his library-table, and bills and letters lay on the mantelpiece, grimly awaiting the return of their owner. The Major was on the Continent, the landlady of the house said, at Badnbadn, with the Marcus of Steyne. Pen left his card upon the shelf with the rest. Fairoaks was written on it still.

When the Major returned to London, which he did in time for the fogs of November, after enjoying which he proposed to spend Christmas with some friends in the country, he found another card of Arthur’s, on which Lamb Court, Temple, was engraved, and a note from that young gentleman and from his mother, stating that he was come to town, was entered a member of the Upper Temple, and was reading hard for the bar.

Lamb Court, Temple:— where was it? Major Pendennis remembered that some ladies of fashion used to talk of dining with Mr. Ayliffe, the barrister, who was “in society,” and who lived there in the King’s Bench, of which prison there was probably a branch in the Temple, and Ayliffe was very likely an officer. Mr. Deuceace, Lord Crabs’s son, had also lived there, he recollected. He despatched Morgan to find out where Lamb Court was, and to report upon the lodging selected by Mr. Arthur. That alert messenger had little difficulty in discovering Mr. Pen’s abode. Discreet Morgan had in his time traced people far more difficult to find than Arthur.

“What sort of a place is it, Morgan?” asked the Major, out of the bed-curtains in Bury Street the next morning, as the valet was arranging his toilette in the deep yellow London fog.

“I should say rayther a shy place,” said Mr. Morgan. “The lawyers lives there, and has their names on the doors. Mr. Harthur lives three pair high, sir. Mr. Warrington lives there too, sir.”

“Suffolk Warringtons! I shouldn’t wonder: a good family,” thought the Major. “The cadets of many of our good families follow the robe as a profession. Comfortable rooms, eh?”

“Honly saw the outside of the door, sir, with Mr. Warrington’s name and Mr. Arthur’s painted up, and a piece of paper with ‘Back at 6;’ but I couldn’t see no servant, sir.”

“Economical at any rate,” said the Major.

“Very, sir. Three pair, sir. Nasty black staircase as ever I see. Wonder how a gentleman can live in such a place.”

“Pray, who taught you where gentlemen should or should not live, Morgan? Mr. Arthur, sir, is going to study for the bar, sir,” the Major said with much dignity; and closed the conversation and began to array himself in the yellow fog.

“Boys will be boys,” the mollified uncle thought to himself. “He has written to me a devilish good letter. Colchicum says he has had him to dine, and thinks him a gentlemanlike lad. His mother is one of the best creatures in the world. If he has sown his wild oats, and will stick to his business, he may do well yet. Think of Charley Mirabel, the old fool, marrying that flame of his! that Fotheringay! He doesn’t like to come here until I give him leave, and puts it in a very manly nice way. I was deuced angry with him, after his Oxbridge escapades — and showed it too when he was here before — Gad, I’ll go and see him, hang me if I don’t.”

And having ascertained from Morgan that he could reach the Temple without much difficulty, and that a city omnibus would put him down at the gate, the Major one day after breakfast at his Club — not the Polyanthus, whereof Mr. Pen was just elected a member, but another Club: for the Major was too wise to have a nephew as a constant inmate of any house where he was in the habit of passing his time — the Major one day entered one of those public vehicles, and bade the conductor to put him down at the gate of the Upper Temple.

When Major Pendennis reached that dingy portal it was about twelve o’clock in the day; and he was directed by a civil personage with a badge and a white apron, through some dark alleys, and under various melancholy archways into courts each more dismal than the other, until finally he reached Lamb Court. If it was dark in Pall Mail, what was it in Lamb Court? Candles were burning in many of the rooms there — in the pupil-room of Mr. Hodgeman, the special pleader, where six pupils were scribbling declarations under the tallow; in Sir Hokey Walker’s clerk’s room, where the clerk, a person far more gentlemanlike and cheerful in appearance than the celebrated counsel, his master, was conversing in a patronising manner with the managing clerk of an attorney at the door; and in Curling the wigmaker’s melancholy shop, where, from behind the feeble glimmer of a couple of lights, large serpents’ and judges’ wigs were looming drearily, with the blank blocks looking at the lamp-post in the court. Two little clerks were playing at toss-halfpenny under that lamp. A laundress in pattens passed in at one door, a newspaper boy issued from another. A porter, whose white apron was faintly visible, paced up and down. It would be impossible to conceive a place more dismal, and the Major shuddered to think that any one should select such a residence. “Good Ged!” he said, “the poor boy mustn’t live on here.”

The feeble and filthy oil-lamps, with which the staircases of the Upper Temple are lighted of nights, were of course not illuminating the stairs by day, and Major Pendennis, having read with difficulty his nephew’s name under Mr. Warrington’s on the wall of No. 6, found still greater difficulty in climbing the abominable black stairs, up the banisters of which, which contributed their damp exudations to his gloves, he groped painfully until he came to the third story. A candle was in the passage of one of the two sets of rooms; the doors were open, and the names of Mr. Warrington and Mr. A. Pendennis were very clearly visible to the Major as he went in. An Irish charwoman, with a pail and broom, opened the door for the Major.

“Is that the beer?” cried out a great voice: “give us hold of it.”

The gentleman who was speaking was seated on a table, unshorn and smoking a short pipe; in a farther chair sate Pen, with a cigar, and his legs near the fire. A little boy, who acted as the clerk of these gentlemen, was grinning in the Major’s face, at the idea of his being mistaken for beer. Here, upon the third floor, the rooms were somewhat lighter, and the Major could see place.

“Pen, my boy, it’s I— it’s your uncle,” he said, choking with the smoke. But as most young men of fashion used the weed, he pardoned the practice easily enough.

Mr. Warrington got up from the table, and Pen, in a very perturbed manner, from his chair. “Beg your pardon for mistaking you,” said Warrington, in a frank, loud voice. “Will you take a cigar, sir? Clear those things off the chair, Pidgeon, and pull it round to the fire.”

Pen flung his cigar into the grate; and was pleased with the cordiality with which his uncle shook him by the hand. As soon as be could speak for the stairs and the smoke, the Major began to ask Pen very kindly about himself and about his mother; for blood is blood, and he was pleased once more to see the boy.

Pen gave his news, and then introduced Mr. Warrington — an old Boniface man — whose chambers he shared.

The Major was quite satisfied when he heard that Mr. Warrington was a younger son of Sir Miles Warrington of Suffolk. He had served with an uncle of his in India and in New South Wales, years ago.

“Took a sheep-farm there, sir, made a fortune — better thing than law or soldiering,” Warrington said. “Think I shall go there too.” And here the expected beer coming in, in a tankard with a glass bottom, Mr. Warrington, with a laugh, said he supposed the Major would not have any, and took a long, deep draught himself, after which he wiped his wrist across his beard with great satisfaction. The young man was perfectly easy and unembarrassed. He was dressed in a ragged old shooting jacket, and had a bristly blue beard. He was drinking beer like a coalheaver, and yet you couldn’t but perceive that he was a gentleman.

When he had sate for a minute or two after his draught he went out of the room, leaving it to Pen and his uncle, that they might talk over family affairs were they so inclined.

“Rough and ready, your chum seems,” the Major said. “Somewhat different from your dandy friends at Oxbridge.”

“Times are altered,” Arthur replied, with a blush. “Warrington is only just called, and has no business, but he knows law pretty well; and until I can afford to read with a pleader, I use his books, and get his help.”

“Is that one of the books?” the Major asked, with a smile. A French novel was lying at the foot of Pen’s chair.

“This is not a working day, sir,” the lad said. “We were out very late at a party last night — at Lady Whiston’s,” Pen added, knowing his uncle’s weakness. “Everybody in town was there except you, sir; Counts, Ambassadors, Turks, Stars and Garters — I don’t know who — it’s all in the paper — and my name, too,” said Pen, with great glee. “I met an old flame of mine there, sir,” he added, with a laugh. “You know whom I mean, sir, — Lady Mirabel — to whom I was introduced over again. She shook hands, and was gracious enough. I may thank you for being out of that scrape, sir. She presented me to the husband, too — an old beau in a star and a blonde wig. He does not seem very wise. She has asked me to call on her, sir: and I may go now without any fear of losing my heart.”

“What, we have had some new loves, have we?” the Major asked in high good-humour.

“Some two or three,” Mr. Pen said, laughing. “But I don’t put on my grand serieux any more, sir. That goes off after the first flame.”

“Very right, my dear boy. Flames and darts and passion, and that sort of thing, do very well for a lad: and you were but a lad when that affair with the Fotheringill — Fotheringay —(what’s her name?) came off. But a man of the world gives up those follies. You still may do very well. You have been bit, but you may recover. You are heir to a little independence; which everybody fancies is a doosid deal more. You have a good name, good wits, good manners, and a good person — and, begad! I don’t see why you shouldn’t marry a woman with money — get into Parliament — distinguish yourself, and — and, in fact, that sort of thing. Remember, it’s as easy to marry a rich woman as a poor woman: and a devilish deal pleasanter to sit down to a good dinner, than to a scrag of mutton in lodgings. Make up your mind to that. A woman with a good jointure is a doosid deal easier a profession than the law, let me tell you that. Look out; I shall be on the watch for you: and I shall die content, my boy, if I can see you with a good ladylike wife, and a good carriage, and a good pair of horses, living in society, and seeing your friends, like a gentleman. Would you like to vegetate like your dear good mother at Fairoaks? Dammy, sir! life, without money and the best society isn’t worth having.” It was thus this affectionate uncle spoke, and expounded to Pen his simple philosophy.

“What would my mother and Laura say to this, I wonder?” thought the lad. Indeed old Pendennis’s morals were not their morals, nor was his wisdom theirs.

This affecting conversation between uncle and nephew had scarcely concluded, when Warrington came out of his bedroom, no longer in rags, but dressed like a gentleman, straight and tall and perfectly frank and good-humoured. He did the honours of his ragged sitting-room with as much ease as if it had been the finest apartment in London. And queer rooms they were in which the Major found his nephew. The carpet was full of holes — the table stained with many circles of Warrington’s previous ale-pots. There was a small library of law-books, books of poetry, and of mathematics, of which he was very fond. (He had been one of the hardest livers and hardest readers of his time at Oxbridge, where the name of Stunning Warrington was yet famous for beating bargemen, pulling matches, winning prizes, and drinking milk-punch.) A print of the old college hung up over the mantelpiece, and some battered volumes of Plato, bearing its well-known arms, were on the book-shelves. There were two easy-chairs; a standing reading-desk piled with bills; a couple of very meagre briefs on a broken-legged study-table. Indeed, there was scarcely any article of furniture that had not been in the wars, and was not wounded. “Look here, sir, here is Pen’s room. He is a dandy, and has got curtains to his bed, and wears shiny boots, and a silver dressing-case.” Indeed, Pen’s room was rather coquettishly arranged, and a couple of neat prints of opera-dancers, besides a drawing of Fairoaks, hung on the walls. In Warrington’s room there was scarcely any article of furniture, save a great shower-bath, and a heap of books by the bedside: where he lay upon straw like Margery Daw, and smoked his pipe, and read half through the night his favourite poetry or mathematics.

When he had completed his simple toilette, Mr. Warrington came out of this room, and proceeded to the cupboard to search for his breakfast.

“Might I offer you a mutton-chop, sir? We cook ’em ourselves hot and hot: and I am teaching Pen the first principles of law, cooking, and morality at the same time. He’s a lazy beggar, sir, and too much of a dandy.”

And so saying, Mr. Warrington wiped a gridiron with a piece of paper, put it on the fire, and on it two mutton-chops, and took from the cupboard a couple of plates and some knives and silver forks, and castors.

“Say but a word, Major Pendennis,” he said; “there’s another chop in the cupboard, or Pidgeon shall go out and get you anything you like.”

Major Pendennis sate in wonder and amusement, but he said he had just breakfasted, and wouldn’t have any lunch. So Warrington cooked the chops, and popped them hissing hot upon the plates.

Pen fell to at his chop with a good appetite, after looking up at his uncle, and seeing that gentleman was still in good-humour.

“You see, sir,” Warrington said, “Mrs. Flanagan isn’t here to do ’em, and we can’t employ the boy, for the little beggar is all day occupied cleaning Pen’s boots. And now for another swig at the beer. Pen drinks tea; it’s only fit for old women.”

“And so you were at Lady Whiston’s last night,” the Major said, not in truth knowing what observation to make to this rough diamond.

“I at Lady Whiston’s! not such a flat, sir. I don’t care for female society. In fact it bores me. I spent my evening philosophically at the Back Kitchen.”

“The Back Kitchen? indeed!” said the Major.

“I see you don’t know what it means,” Warrington said. “Ask Pen. He was there after Lady Whiston’s. Tell Major Pendennis about the Back Kitchen, Pen — don’t be ashamed of yourself.”

So Pen said it was a little eccentric society of men of letters and men about town, to which he had been presented; and the Major began to think that the young fellow had seen a good deal of the world since his arrival in London.

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