The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXXIV

In which the History still hovers about Fleet Street

Captain Shandon, urged on by his wife, who seldom meddled in business matters, had stipulated that John Finucane, Esquire, of the Upper Temple, should be appointed sub-editor of forthcoming Pall Mall Gazette, and this post was accordingly conferred upon Mr. Finucane by the spirited proprietor of the Journal. Indeed he deserved any kindness at the hands of Shandon, so fondly attached was he, as we have said, to the Captain and his family, and so eager to do him a service. It was in Finucane’s chambers that Shandon in former days used to hide when danger was near and bailiffs abroad: until at length his hiding-place was known, and the sheriff’s officers came as regularly to wait for the Captain on Finucane’s staircase as at his own door. It was to Finucane’s chambers that poor Mrs. Shandon came often and often to explain her troubles and griefs, and devise means of rescue for her adored Captain. Many a meal did Finucane furnish for her and the child there. It was an honour to his little rooms to be visited by such a lady; and as she went down the staircase with her veil over her face, Fin would lean over the balustrade looking after her, to see that no Temple Lovelace assailed her upon the road, perhaps hoping that some rogue might be induced to waylay her, so that he, Fin, might have the pleasure of rushing to her rescue, and breaking the rascal’s bones. It was a sincere pleasure to Mrs. Shandon when the arrangements were made by which her kind honest champion was appointed her husband’s aide-de-camp in the newspaper.

He would have sate with Mrs. Shandon as late as the prison hours permitted, and had indeed many a time witnessed the putting to bed of little Mary, who occupied a crib in the room; and to whose evening prayers that God might bless papa, Finucane, although of the Romish faith himself, had said Amen with a great deal of sympathy — but he had an appointment with Mr. Bungay regarding the affairs of the paper which they were to discuss over a quiet dinner. So he went away at six o’clock from Mrs. Shandon, but made his accustomed appearance at the Fleet Prison next morning, having arrayed himself in his best clothes and ornaments, which, though cheap as to cost, were very brilliant as to colour and appearance, and having in his pocket four pounds two shillings, being the amount of his week’s salary at the Daily Journal, minus two shillings expended by him in the purchase of a pair of gloves on his way to the prison.

He had cut his mutton with Mr. Bungay, as the latter gentleman phrased it, and Mr. Trotter, Bungay’s reader and literary man of business, at Dick’s Coffee-house on the previous day, and entered at large into his views respecting the conduct of the Pall Mall Gazette. In a masterly manner he had pointed out what should be the sub-editorial arrangements of the paper: what should be the type for the various articles: who should report the markets; who the turf and ring; who the Church intelligence; and who the fashionable chit-chat. He was acquainted with gentlemen engaged in cultivating these various departments of knowledge, and in communicating them afterwards to the public — in fine, Jack Finucane was, as Shandon had said of him, and as he proudly owned himself to be, one of the best sub-editors of a paper in London. He knew the weekly earnings of every man connected with the Press, and was up to a thousand dodges, or ingenious economic contrivances, by which money could be saved to spirited capitalists, who were going to set up a paper. He at once dazzled and mystified Mr. Bungay, who was slow of comprehension, by the rapidity of the calculations which he exhibited on paper, as they sate in the box. And Bungay afterwards owned to his subordinate Mr. Trotter, that that Irishman seemed a clever fellow.

And now having succeeded in making this impression upon Mr. Bungay, the faithful fellow worked round to the point which he had very near at heart, viz., the liberation from prison of his admired friend and chief, Captain Shandon. He knew to a shilling the amount of the detainers which were against the Captain at the porter’s lodge of the Fleet; and, indeed, professed to know all his debts, though this was impossible, for no man in England, certainly not the Captain himself, was acquainted with them. He pointed out what Shandon’s engagements already were; and how much better he would work if removed from confinement (though this Mr. Bungay denied, for, “when the Captain’s locked up,” he said, “we are sure to find him at home; whereas, when he’s free, you can never catch hold of him”); finally, he so worked on Mr. Bungay’s feelings, by describing Mrs. Shandon pining away in the prison, and the child sickening there, that the publisher was induced to promise that, if Mrs. Shandon would come to him in the morning, he would see what could be done. And the colloquy ending at this time with the second round of brandy-and-water, although Finucane, who had four guineas in his pocket, would have discharged the tavern reckoning with delight, Bungay said, “No, sir — this is my affair, sir, if you please. James, take the bill, and eighteenpence for yourself,” and he handed over the necessary funds to the waiter. Thus it was that Finucane, who went to bed at the Temple after the dinner at Dick’s, found himself actually with his week’s salary intact upon Saturday morning.

He gave Mrs. Shandon a wink so knowing and joyful, that that kind creature knew some good news was in store for her, and hastened to get her bonnet and shawl, when Fin asked if he might have the honour of taking her a walk, and giving her a little fresh air. And little Mary jumped for joy at the idea of this holiday, for Finucane never neglected to give her a toy, or to take her to a show, and brought newspaper orders in his pocket for all sorts of London diversions to amuse the child. Indeed, he loved them with all his heart, and would cheerfully have dashed out his rambling brains to do them, or his adored Captain, a service.

“May I go, Charley? or shall I stay with you, for you’re poorly, dear, this morning? He’s got a headache, Mr. Finucane. He suffers from headaches, and I persuaded him to stay in bed,” Mrs. Shandon said.

“Go along with you, and Polly. Jack, take care of ’em. Hand me over the Burton’s Anatomy, and leave me to my abominable devices,” Shandon said, with perfect good-humour. He was writing, and not uncommonly took his Greek and Latin quotations (of which he knew the use as a public writer) from that wonderful repertory of learning.

So Fin gave his arm to Mrs. Shandon, and Mary went skipping down the passages of the prison, and through the gate into the free air. From Fleet Street to Paternoster Row is not very far. As the three reached Mr. Bungay’s shop, Mrs. Bungay was also entering at the private door, holding in her hand a paper parcel and a manuscript volume bound in red, and, indeed, containing an account of her transactions with the butcher in the neighbouring market. Mrs. Bungay was in a gorgeous shot-silk dress, which flamed with red and purple; she wore a yellow shawl, and had red flowers inside her bonnet, and a brilliant light blue parasol.

Mrs. Shandon was in an old black watered silk; her bonnet had never seen very brilliant days of prosperity any more than its owner, but she could not help looking like a lady whatever her attire was. The two women curtsied to each other, each according to her fashion.

“I hope you’re pretty well, mum?” said Mrs. Bungay.

“It’s a very fine day,” said Mrs. Shandon.

“Won’t you step in, mum?” said Mrs. Bungay, looking so hard at the child as almost to frighten her.

“I— I came about business with Mr. Bungay — I— I hope he’s pretty well?” said timid Mrs. Shandon.

“If you go to see him in the counting-house, couldn’t you, couldn’t you leave your little gurl with me?” said Mrs. Bungay, in a deep voice, and with a tragic look, as she held out one finger towards the child.

“I want to stay with mamma,” cried little Mary, burying her face in her mother’s dress.

“Go with this lady, Mary, my dear,” said the mother.

“I’ll show you some pretty pictures,” said Mrs. Bungay, with the voice of an ogress, “and some nice things besides; look here,”— and opening her brown-paper parcel, Mrs. Bungay displayed some choice sweet buscuits, such as her Bungay loved after his wine. Little Mary followed after this attraction, the whole party entering at the private entrance, from which a side door led into Mr. Bungay’s commercial apartments. Here, however, as the child was about to part from her mother, her courage again failed her, and again she ran to the maternal petticoat; upon which the kind and gentle Mrs. Shandon, seeing the look of disappointment in Mrs. Bungay’s face, good-naturedly said, “If you will let me, I will come up too, and sit for a few minutes,” and so the three females ascended the stairs together. A second biscuit charmed little Mary into perfect confidence, and in a minute or two she prattled away without the least restraint.

Faithful Finucane meanwhile found Mr. Bungay in a severer mood than he had been on the night previous, when two-thirds of a bottle of port, and two large glasses of brandy-and-water, had warmed his soul into enthusiasm, and made him generous in his promises towards Captain Shandon. His impetuous wife had rebuked him on his return home. She had ordered that he should give no relief to the Captain; he was a good-for-nothing fellow, whom no money would help; she disapproved of the plan of the Pall Mall Gazette, and expected that Bungay would only lose his money in it as they were losing over the way (she always called her brother’s establishment “over the way”) by the Whitehall Journal. Let Shandon stop in prison and do his work; it was the best place for him. In vain Finucane pleaded and promised and implored, for his friend Bungay had had an hour’s lecture in the morning and was inexorable.

But what honest Jack failed to do below-stairs in the counting-house, the pretty faces and manners of the mother and child were effecting in the drawing-room, where they were melting the fierce but really soft Mrs. Bungay. There was an artless sweetness in Mrs. Shandon’s voice, and a winning frankness of manner, which made most people fond of her, and pity her: and taking courage by the rugged kindness with which her hostess received her, the Captain’s lady told her story, and described her husband’s goodness and virtues, and her child’s failing health (she was obliged to part with two of them, she said, and send them to school, for she could not have them in that horrid place)— that Mrs. Bungay, though as grim as Lady Macbeth, melted under the influence of the simple tale, and said she would go down and speak to Bungay. Now in this household to speak was to command, with Mrs. Bungay; and with Bungay, to hear was to obey.

It was just when poor Finucane was in despair about his negotiation, that the majestic Mrs. Bungay descended upon her spouse, politely requested Mr. Finucane to step up to his friends in her drawing-room, while she held a few minutes’ conversation with Mr. B., and when the pair were alone the publisher’s better half informed him of her intentions towards the Captain’s lady.

“What’s in the wind now, my dear?” Maecenas asked, surprised at his wife’s altered tone. “You wouldn’t hear of my doing anything for the Captain this morning: I wonder what has been a changing of you.

“The Capting is an Irishman,” Mrs. Bungay replied; “and those Irish I have always said I couldn’t abide. But his wife is a lady, as any one can see; and a good woman, and a clergyman’s daughter, and a West of England woman, B., which I am myself, by my mother’s side — and, O Marmaduke! didn’t you remark the little gurl?”

“Yes, Mrs. B., I saw the little girl.”

“And didn’t you see how like she was to our angel, Bessy, Mr. B.?”— and Mrs. Bungay’s thoughts flew back to a period eighteen years back, when Bacon and Bungay had just set up in business as small booksellers in a country town, and when she had had a child, named Bessy, something like the little Mary who had moved her compassion.

“Well, well, my dear,” Mr. Bungay said, seeing the little eyes of his wife begin to twinkle and grow red; “the Captain ain’t in for much. There’s only a hundred and thirty pound against him. Half the money will take him out of the Fleet, Finucane says, and we’ll pay him half salaries till he has made the account square. When the little ’un said, ‘Why don’t you take Par out of prizn?’ I did feel it, Flora, upon my honour I did, now.” And the upshot of this conversation was, that Mr. and Mrs. Bungay both ascended to the drawing-room, and Mr. Bungay made a heavy and clumsy speech, in which he announced to Mrs. Shandon, that, hearing sixty-five pounds would set her husband free, he was ready to advance that sum of money, deducting it from the Captain’s salary, and that he would give it to her on condition that she would personally settle with the creditors regarding her husband’s liberation.

I think this was the happiest day that Mrs. Shandon and Mr. Finucane had had for a long time. “Bedad, Bungay, you’re a trump!” roared out Fin, in an overpowering brogue and emotion. “Give us your fist, old boy: and won’t we send the Pall Mall Gazette up to ten thousand a week, that’s all!” and he jumped about the room, and tossed up little Mary, with a hundred frantic antics.

“If I could drive you anywhere in my carriage, Mrs. Shandon — I’m sure it’s quite at your service,” Mrs. Bungay said, looking out at a one-horsed vehicle which had just driven up, and in which this lady took the air considerably — and the two ladies, with little Mary between them (whose tiny hand Maecenas’s wife kept fixed in her great grasp), with the delighted Mr. Finucane on the back seat, drove away from Paternoster Row, as the owner of the vehicle threw triumphant glances at the opposite windows at Bacon’s.

“It won’t do the Captain any good,” thought Bungay, going back to his desk and accounts, “but Mrs. B. becomes reglar upset when she thinks about her misfortune. The child would have been of age yesterday, if she’d lived. Flora told me so:” and he wondered how women did remember things.

We are happy to say that Mrs. Shandon sped with very good success upon her errand. She who had had to mollify creditors when she had no money at all, and only tears and entreaties wherewith to soothe them, found no difficulty in making them relent by means of a bribe of ten shillings in the pound; and the next Sunday was the last, for some time at least, which the Captain spent in prison.

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