The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXXVII

Where Pen appears in Town and Country

Let us be allowed to pass over a few months of the history of Mr. Arthur Pendennis’s lifetime, during the which, many events may have occurred which were more interesting and exciting to himself, than they would be likely to prove to the reader of his present memoirs. We left him, in his last chapter, regularly entered upon his business as a professional writer, or literary hack, as Mr. Warrington chooses to style himself and his friend; and we know how the life of any hack, legal or literary, in a curacy, or in a marching regiment, or at a merchant’s desk, is dull of routine, and tedious of description. One day’s labour resembles another much too closely. A literary man has often to work for his bread against time, or against his will, or in spite of his health, or of his indolence, or of his repugnance to the subject on which he is called to exert himself, just like any other daily toiler. When you want to make money by Pegasus (as he must, perhaps, who has no other saleable property), farewell poetry and aerial flights: Pegasus only rises now like Mr. Green’s balloon, at periods advertised beforehand, and when the spectator’s money has been paid. Pegasus trots in harness, over the stony pavement, and pulls a cart or a cab behind him. Often Pegasus does his work with panting sides and trembling knees, and not seldom gets a cut of the whip from his driver.

Do not let us, however, be too prodigal of our pity upon Pegasus. There is no reason why this animal should be exempt from labour, or illness, or decay, any more than any of the other creatures of God’s world. If he gets the whip, Pegasus often deserves it, and I for one am quite ready to protest my friend, George Warrington, against the doctrine which poetical sympathisers are inclined to put forward, viz., that of letters, and what is called genius, are to be exempt from prose duties of this daily, bread-wanting, tax-paying life, and not to be made to work and pay like their neighbours.

Well, then, the Pall Mall Gazette being duly established and Arthur Pendennis’s merits recognised as a flippant, witty, and amusing critic, he worked away hard every week, preparing reviews of such works as came into his department, and writing his reviews with flippancy certainly, but with honesty, and to the best of his power. It might be that a historian of threescore, who had spent a quarter of a century in composing a work of which our young gentleman disposed in the course of a couple of days’ reading at the British Museum, was not altogether fairly treated by such a facile critic; or that a poet who had been elaborating sublime sonnets and odes until he thought them fit for the public and for fame, was annoyed by two or three dozen pert lines in Mr. Pen’s review, in which the poet’s claims were settled by the critic, as if the latter were my lord on the bench and the author a miserable little suitor trembling before him. The actors at the theatres complained of him wofully, too, and very likely he was too hard upon them. But there was not much harm done after all. It is different now, as we know; but there were so few great historians, or great poets, or great actors, in Pen’s time, that scarce any at all came up for judgment his critical desk. Those who got a little whipping, got what in the main was good for them; not that the judge was any better or wiser than the persons whom he sentenced, or indeed ever fancied himself so. Pen had a strong sense of humour and justice, and had not therefore an overweening respect for his own works; besides, he had his friend Warrington at his elbow — a terrible critic if the young man was disposed to be conceited, and more savage over Pen than ever he was to those whom he tried at his literary assize.

By these critical labours, and by occasional contributions to leading articles of the journal, when, without wounding his paper, this eminent publicist could conscientiously speak his mind, Mr. Arthur Pendennis gained the sum of four pounds four shillings weekly, and with no small pains and labour. Likewise be furnished Magazines and Reviews with articles of his composition, and is believed to have been (though on this score he never chooses to speak) London correspondent of the Chatteris Champion, which at that time contained some very brilliant and eloquent letters from the metropolis. By these labours the fortunate youth was enabled to earn a sum very nearly equal to four hundred pounds a year; and on the second Christmas after his arrival in London, he actually brought a hundred pounds to his mother, as a dividend upon the debt which he owed to Laura. That Mrs. Pendennis read every word of her son’s works, and considered him to be the profoundest thinker and most elegant writer of the day; that she thought his retribution of the hundred pounds an act of angelic virtue; that she feared he was ruining his health by his labours, and was delighted when he told her of the society which he met, and of the great men of letters and fashion whom he saw, will be imagined by all readers who have seen son-worship amongst mothers, and that charming simplicity of love with which women in the country watch the career of their darlings in London. If John has held such and such a brief; if Tom has been invited to such and such a ball; or George has met this or that great and famous man at dinner; what a delight there is in the hearts of mothers and sisters at home in Somersetshire! How young Hopeful’s letters are read and remembered! What a theme for village talk they give, and friendly congratulation! In the second winter, Pen came for a very brief space, and cheered the widow’s heart, and lightened up the lonely house at Fairoaks. Helen had her son all to herself; Laura was away on a visit to old Lady Rockminster; the folks of Clavering Park were absent; the very few old friends of the house, Doctor Portman at their head, called upon Mr. Pen, and treated him with marked respect; between mother and son, it was all fondness, confidence, and affection. It was the happiest fortnight of the widow’s whole life; perhaps in the lives of both of them. The holiday was gone only too quickly; and Pen was back in the busy world, and the gentle widow alone again. She sent Arthur’s money to Laura: I don’t know why this young lady took the opportunity of leaving home when Pen was coming thither, or whether he was the more piqued or relieved by her absence.

He was by this time, by his own merits and his uncle’s introductions, pretty well introduced into London, and known both in literary and polite circles. Amongst the former his fashionable reputation stood him in no little stead; he was considered to be a gentleman of good present means and better expectations, who wrote for his pleasure, than which there cannot be a greater recommendation to a young literary aspirant. Bacon, Bungay and Co. were proud to accept his articles; Mr. Wenham asked him to dinner; Mr. Wagg looked upon him with a favourable eye; and they reported how they met him at the houses of persons of fashion, amongst whom he was pretty welcome, as they did not trouble themselves about his means, present or future; as his appearance and address were good; and as he had got a character for being a clever fellow. Finally, he was asked to one house, because he was seen at another house: and thus no small varieties of London life were presented to the young man: he was made familiar with all sorts of people from Paternoster Row to Pimlico, and was as much at home at Mayfair dining-tables as at those tavern boards where some of his companions of the pen were accustomed to assemble.

Full of high spirits and curiosity, easily adapting himself to all whom he met, the young fellow pleased himself in this strange variety and jumble of men, and made himself welcome, or at ease at least, wherever he went. He would breakfast, for instance, at Mr. Plover’s of a morning, in company with a Peer, a Bishop, a parliamentary orator, two blue ladies of fashion, a popular preacher, the author of the last new novel, and the very latest lion imported from Egypt or from America: and would quit this distinguished society for the back room at the newspaper office, where pens and ink and the wet proof-sheets were awaiting him. Here would be Finucane, the sub-editor, with the last news from the Row: and Shandon would come in presently, and giving a nod to Pen, would begin scribbling his leading article at the other end of the table, flanked by the pint of sherry, which, when the attendant boy beheld him, was always silently brought for the Captain: or Mr. Bludyer’s roaring voice would be heard in the front room, where that truculent critic would impound the books on the counter in spite of the timid remonstrances of Mr. Midge, the publisher, and after looking through the volumes would sell them at his accustomed bookstall, and having drunken and dined upon the produce of the sale in a tavern box, would call for ink and paper, and proceed to “smash” the author of his dinner and the novel. Towards evening Mr. Pen would stroll in the direction of his club, and take up Warrington there for a constitutional walk. This exercise freed the lungs, and gave an appetite for dinner, after which Pen had the privilege to make his bow at some very pleasant houses which were opened to him; or the town before him for amusement. There was the Opera; or the Eagle Tavern; or a ball to go to in Mayfair; or a quiet night with a cigar and a book and a long talk with Warrington; or a wonderful new song at the Back Kitchen; — at this time of his life Mr. Pen beheld all sorts of places and men; and very likely did not know how much he enjoyed himself until long after, when balls gave him no pleasure, neither did farces make him laugh; nor did the tavern joke produce the least excitement in him; nor did the loveliest dancer that ever showed her ankles cause him to stir from his chair after dinner. At his present mature age all these pleasures are over: and the times have passed away too. It is but a very very few years since — but the time is gone, and most of the men. Bludyer will no more bully authors or cheat landlords of their score. Shandon, the learned and thriftless, the witty and unwise, sleeps his last sleep. They buried honest Doolan the other day: never will he cringe or flatter, never pull long-bow or empty whisky-noggin any more.

The London season was now blooming in its full vigour, and the fashionable newspapers abounded with information regarding the grand banquets, routs, and balls which were enlivening the polite world. Our gracious Sovereign was holding levees and drawing-rooms at St. James’s: the bow-windows of the clubs were crowded with the heads of respectable red-faced newspaper-reading gentlemen: along the Serpentine trailed thousands of carriages: squadrons of dandy horsemen trampled over Rotten Row, everybody was in town, in a word; and of course Major Arthur Pendennis, who was somebody, was not absent.

With his head tied up in a smart bandana handkerchief and his meagre carcass enveloped in a brilliant Turkish dressing-gown, the worthy gentleman sate on a certain morning by his fireside letting his feet gently simmer in a bath, whilst he took his early cup of tea, and perused his Morning Post. He could not have faced the day without his two hours’ toilet, without his early cup of tea, without his Morning Post. I suppose nobody in the world except Morgan, not even Morgan’s master himself, knew how feeble and ancient the Major was growing, and what numberless little comforts he required.

If men sneer, as our habit is, at the artifices of an old beauty, at her paint, perfumes, ringlets; at those innumerable, and to us unknown, stratagems with which she is said to remedy the ravages of time and reconstruct the charms whereof years have bereft her; the ladies, it is to be presumed, are not on their side altogether ignorant that men are vain as well as they, and that the toilets of old bucks are to the full as elaborate as their own. How is it that old Blushington keeps that constant little rose-tint on his cheeks; and where does old Blondel get the preparation which makes his silver hair pass for golden? Have you ever seen Lord Hotspur get off his horse when he thinks nobody is looking? Taken out of his stirrups, his shiny boots can hardly totter up the steps of Hotspur House. He is a dashing young nobleman still as you see the back of him in Rotten Row; when you behold him on foot, what an old, old fellow! Did you ever form to yourself any idea of Dick Lacy (Dick has been Dick these sixty years) in a natural state, and without his stays? All these men are objects whom the observer of human life and manners may contemplate with as much profit as the most elderly Belgravian Venus, or inveterate Mayfair Jezebel. An old reprobate daddy-longlegs, who has never said his prayers (except perhaps in public) these fifty years: an old buck who still clings to as many of the habits of youth as his feeble grasp of health can hold by: who has given up the bottle, but sits with young fellows over it, and tells naughty stories upon toast-and-water — who has given up beauty, but still talks about it as wickedly as the youngest roue in company — such an old fellow, I say, if any parson in Pimlico or St. James’s were to order the beadles to bring him into the middle aisle, and there set him in an armchair, and make a text of him, and preach about him to the congregation, could be turned to a wholesome use for once in his life, and might be surprised to find that some good thoughts came out of him. But we are wandering from our text, the honest Major, who sits all this while with his feet cooling in the bath: Morgan takes them out of that place of purification, and dries them daintily, and proceeds to set the old gentleman on his legs, with waistband and wig, starched cravat, and spotless boots and gloves.

It was during these hours of the toilet that Morgan and his employer had their confidential conversations, for they did not meet much at other times of the day — the Major abhorring the society of his own chairs and tables in his lodgings; and Morgan, his master’s toilet over and letters delivered, had his time very much on his own hands.

This spare time the active and well-mannered gentleman bestowed among the valets and butlers of the nobility, his acquaintance; and Morgan Pendennis, as he was styled, for, by such compound names, gentlemen’s gentlemen are called in their private circles, was a frequent and welcome guest at some of the very highest tables in this town. He was a member of two influential clubs in Mayfair and Pimlico; and he was thus enabled to know the whole gossip of the town, and entertain his master very agreeably during the two hours’ toilet conversation. He knew a hundred tales and legends regarding persons of the very highest ton, whose valets canvass their august secrets, just, my dear Madam, as our own parlour-maids and dependants in the kitchen discuss our characters, our stinginess and generosity, our pecuniary means or embarrassments, and our little domestic or connubial tiffs and quarrels. If I leave this manuscript open on my table, I have not the slightest doubt Betty will read it, and they will talk it over in the lower regions to-night; and tomorrow she will bring in my breakfast with a face of such entire imperturbable innocence, that no mortal could suppose her guilty of playing the spy. If you and the Captain have high words upon any subject, which is just possible, the circumstances of the quarrel, and the characters of both of you, will be discussed with impartial eloquence over the kitchen tea-table; and if Mrs. Smith’s maid should by chance be taking a dish of tea with yours, her presence will not undoubtedly act as a restraint upon the discussion in question; her opinion will be given with candour; and the next day her mistress will probably know that Captain and Mrs. Jones have been a quarrelling as usual. Nothing is secret. Take it as a rule that John knows everything: and as in our humble world so in the greatest: a duke is no more a hero to his valet-de-chambre than you or I; and his Grace’s Man at his club, in company doubtless with other Men of equal social rank, talks over his master’s character and affairs with the ingenuous truthfulness which befits gentlemen who are met together in confidence. Who is a niggard and screws up his money-boxes: who is in the hands of the money-lenders, and is putting his noble name on the back of bills of exchange: who is intimate with whose wife: who wants whom to marry her daughter, and which he won’t, no not at any price:— all these facts gentlemen’s confidential gentlemen discuss confidentially, and are known and examined by every person who has any claim to rank in genteel society. In a word, if old Pendennis himself was said to know everything, and was at once admirably scandalous and delightfully discreet; it is but justice to Morgan to say, that a great deal of his master’s information was supplied to that worthy man by his valet, who went out and foraged knowledge for him. Indeed, what more effectual plan is there to get a knowledge of London society, than to begin at the foundation — that is, at the kitchen floor?

So Mr. Morgan and his employer conversed as the latter’s toilet proceeded. There had been a drawing-room on the previous day, and the Major read among the presentations that of Lady Clavering by Lady Rockminster, and of Miss Amory by her mother Lady Clavering — and in a further part of the paper their dresses were described, with a precision and in a jargon which will puzzle and amuse the antiquary of future generations. The sight of these names carried Pendennis back to the country. “How long have the Claverings been in London?” he asked; “pray, Morgan, have you seen any of their people?”

“Sir Francis have sent away his foring man, sir,” Mr. Morgan replied; “and have took a friend of mine as own man, sir. Indeed he applied on my reckmendation. You may recklect Towler, sir — tall red-aired man — but dyes his air. Was groom of the chambers in Lord Levant’s family till his Lordship broke hup. It’s a fall for Towler, sir; but pore men can’t be particklar,” said the valet, with a pathetic voice.

“Devilish hard on Towler, by gad!” said the Major, amused, “and not pleasant for Lord Levant — he, he!”

“Always knew it was coming, sir. I spoke to you of it Michaelmas was four years: when her Ladyship put the diamonds in pawn. It was Towler, sir, took ’em in two cabs to Dobree’s — and a good deal of the plate went the same way. Don’t you remember seeing of it at Blackwall, with the Levant arms and coronick, and Lord Levant settn oppsit to it at the Marquis of Steyne’s dinner? Beg your pardon; did I cut you, sir?”

Morgan was now operating upon the Major’s chin — he continued the theme while strapping the skilful razor. “They’ve took a house in Grosvenor Place, and are coming out strong, sir. Her Ladyship’s going to give three parties, besides a dinner a week, sir. Her fortune won’t stand it — can’t stand it.”

“Gad, she had a devilish good cook when I was at Fairoaks,” the Major said, with very little compassion for the widow Amory’s fortune.

“Marobblan was his name, sir; Marobblan’s gone away, sir,” Morgan said — and the Major, this time, with hearty sympathy, said, “he was devilish sorry to lose him.”

“There’s been a tremenjuous row about that Mosseer Marobblan,” Morgan continued “At a ball at Baymouth, sir, bless his impadence, he challenged Mr. Harthur to fight a jewel, sir, which Mr. Arthur was very near knocking him down, and pitchin’ him outawinder, and serve him right; but Chevalier Strong, sir, came up and stopped the shindy — I beg pardon, the holtercation, sir — them French cooks has as much pride and hinsolence as if they was real gentlemen.”

“I heard something of that quarrel,” said the Major; “but Mirobolant was not turned off for that?”

“No, sir — that affair, sir, which Mr. Harthur forgave it him and beayved most handsome, was hushed hup: it was about Miss Hamory, sir, that he ad is dismissial. Those French fellers, they fancy everybody is in love with ’em; and he climbed up the large grape vine to her winder, sir, and was a trying to get in, when he was caught, sir; and Mr. Strong came out, and they got the garden-engine and played on him, and there was no end of a row, sir.”

“Confound his impudence! You don’t mean to say Miss Amory encouraged him,” cried the Major, amazed at a peculiar expression in Mr. Morgan’s countenance.

Morgan resumed his imperturbable demeanour. “Know nothing about it, sir. Servants don’t know them kind of things the least. Most probbly there was nothing in it — so many lies is told about families — Marobblan went away, bag and baggage, saucepans, and pianna, and all — the feller ad a pianna, and wrote potry in French, and he took a lodging at Clavering, and he hankered about the primises, and it was said that Madam Fribsy, the milliner, brought letters to Miss Hamory, though I don’t believe a word about it; nor that he tried to pison hisself with charcoal, which it was all a humbug betwigst him and Madam Fribsy; and he was nearly shot by the keeper in the park.”

In the course of that very day, it chanced that the Major had stationed himself in the great window of Bays’s Club in Saint James’s Street, at the hour in the afternoon when you see a half-score of respectable old bucks similarly recreating themselves (Bays’s is rather an old-fashioned place of resort now, and many of its members more than middle-aged; but in the time of the Prince Regent, these old fellows occupied the same window, and were some of the very greatest dandies in this empire)— Major Pendennis was looking from the great window, and spied his nephew Arthur walking down the street in company with his friend Mr. Popjoy.

“Look!” said Popjoy to Pen, as they passed, “did you ever pass Bays’s at four o’clock, without seeing that collection of old fogies? It’s a regular museum. They ought to be cast in wax, and set up at Madame Tussaud’s —”

“— In a chamber of old horrors by themselves,” Pen said, laughing.

“— In the chamber of horrors! Gad, doosid good!” Pop cried. They are old rogues, most of ’em, and no mistake. There’s old Blondel; there’s my Uncle Colchicum, the most confounded old sinner in Europe; there’s — hullo! there’s somebody rapping the window and nodding at us.”

“It’s my uncle, the Major,” said Pen. “Is he an old sinner too?”

“Notorious old rogue,” Pop said, wagging his head. (“Notowious old wogue,” he pronounced the words, thereby rendering them much more emphatic.)—“He’s beckoning you in; he wants to speak to you.”

“Come in too,” Pen said.

“— Can’t,” replied the other. “Cut uncle Col. two years ago, about Mademoiselle Frangipane — Ta, ta,” and the young sinner took leave of Pen, and the club of the elder criminals, and sauntered into Blacquiere’s, an adjacent establishment, frequented by reprobates of his own age.

Colchicum, Blondel, and the senior bucks had just been conversing about the Clavering family, whose appearance in London had formed the subject of Major Pendennis’s morning conversation with his valet. Mr. Blondel’s house was next to that of Sir Francis Clavering, in Grosvenor Place: giving very good dinners himself, he had remarked some activity in his neighbour’s kitchen. Sir Francis, indeed, had a new chef, who had come in more than once and dressed Mr. Blondel’s dinner for him; that gentleman having only a remarkably expert female artist permanently engaged in his establishment, and employing such chiefs of note as happened to be free on the occasion of his grand banquets. “They go to a devilish expense and see devilish bad company as yet, I hear,” Mr. Blondel said, “they scour the streets, by gad, to get people to dine with ’em. Champignon says it breaks his heart to serve up a dinner to their society. What a shame it is that those low people should have money at all,” cried Mr. Blondel, whose grandfather had been a reputable leather-breeches maker, and whose father had lent money to the Princes.

“I wish I had fallen in with the widow myself” sighed Lord Colchicum, “and not been laid up with that confounded gout at Leghorn — I would have married the woman myself. — I’m told she has six hundred thousand pounds in the Threes.”

“Not quite so much as that — I knew her family in India,”— Major Pendennis said, “I knew her family in India; her father was an enormously rich old indigo-planter — know all about her; — Clavering has the next estate to ours in the country. — Ha! there’s my nephew walking with”— “With mine — the infernal young scamp,” said Lord Colchicum glowering at Popjoy out of his heavy eyebrows; and he turned away from the window as Major Pendennis tapped upon it.

The Major was in high good-humour. The sun was bright, the air brisk and invigorating. He had determined upon a visit to Lady Clavering on that day, and bethought him that Arthur would be a good companion for the walk across the Green Park to her ladyship’s door. Master Pen was not displeased to accompany his illustrious relative, who pointed out a dozen great men in that brief transit through St. James’s Street, and got bows from a Duke at a crossing, a Bishop (on a cob), and a Cabinet Minister with an umbrella. The Duke gave the elder Pendennis a finger of a pipe-clayed glove to shake, which the Major embraced with great veneration; and all Pen’s blood tingled as he found himself in actual communication, as it were, with this famous man (for Pen had possession of the Major’s left arm, whilst the gentleman’s other wing was engaged with his Grace’s right) and he wished all Grey Friars’ School, all Oxbridge University, all Paternoster Row and the Temple and Laura and his mother at Fairoaks, could be standing on each side of the street, to see the meeting between him and his uncle, and the most famous duke in Christendom.

“How do, Pendennis? — fine day,” were his Grace’s remarkable words, and with a nod of his august head he passed on — in a blue frock-coat and spotless white duck trousers, in a white stock, with a shining buckle behind.

Old Pendennis, whose likeness to his Grace has been remarked, began to imitate him unconsciously, after they had parted, speaking with curt sentences, after the manner of the great man. We have all of us, no doubt, met with more than one military officer who has so imitated the manner of a certain great Captain of the Age; and has, perhaps, changed his own natural character and disposition, because Fate had endowed him with an aquiline nose. In like manner have we not seen many another man pride himself on having a tall forehead and a supposed likeness to Mr. Canning? many another go through life swelling with self-gratification on account of an imagined resemblance (we say “imagined,” because that anybody should be really like that most beautiful and perfect of men is impossible) to the great and revered George IV.: many third parties, who wore low necks to their dresses because they fancied that Lord Byron and themselves were similar in appearance: and has not the grave closed but lately upon poor Tom Bickerstaff, who having no more imagination than Mr. Joseph Hume, looked in the glass and fancied himself like Shakspeare? shaved his forehead so as farther to resemble the immortal bard, wrote tragedies incessantly, and died perfectly crazy — actually perished of his forehead? These or similar freaks of vanity most people who have frequented the world must have seen in their experience. Pen laughed in his roguish sleeve at the manner in which his uncle began to imitate the great man from whom they had just parted but Mr. Pen was as vain in his own way, perhaps, as the elder gentleman, and strutted, with a very consequential air of his own, by the Major’s side.

“Yes, my dear boy,” said the old bachelor, as they sauntered through the Green Park, where many poor children were disporting happily, and errand-boys were playing at toss-halfpenny, and black sheep were grazing in the sunshine, and an actor was learning his part on a bench, and nursery-maids and their charges sauntered here and there, and several couples were walking in a leisurely manner; “yes, depend on it, my boy; for a poor man, there is nothing like having good acquaintances. Who were those men, with whom you saw me in the bow-window at Bays’s? Two were Peers of the realm. Hobananob will be a Peer, as soon as his grand-uncle dies, and he has had his third seizure; and of the other four, not one has less than his seven thousand a year. Did you see that dark blue brougham, with that tremendous stepping horse, waiting at the door of the club? You’ll know it again. It is Sir Hugh Trumpington’s; he was never known to walk in his life; never appears in the streets on foot — never: and if he is going two doors off, to see his mother, the old dowager (to whom I shall certainly introduce you, for she receives some of the best company in London), gad, sir — he mounts his horse at No. 23, and dismounts again at No. 25 A. He is now upstairs, at Bays’s, playing picquet with Count Punter: he is the second-best player in England — as well he may be; for he plays every day of his life, except Sundays (for Sir Hugh is an uncommonly religious man) from half-past three till half-past seven, when he dresses for dinner.

“A very pious manner of spending his time,” Pen said, laughing and thinking that his uncle was falling into the twaddling state.

“Gad, sir, that is not the question. A man of his estate may employ his time as he chooses. When you are a baronet, a county member, with ten thousand acres of the best land in Cheshire, and such a place as Trumpington (though he never goes there), you may do as you like.”

“And so that was his brougham, sir, was it?” the nephew said with almost a sneer.

“His brougham — O ay, yes! — and that brings me back to my point — revenons a nos moutons. Yes, begad! revenons a nous moutons. Well, that brougham is mine if I choose, between four and seven. Just as much mine as if I jobbed it from Tilbury’s, begad, for thirty pound a month. Sir Hugh is the best natured fellow in the world; and if it hadn’t been so fine an afternoon as it is, you and I would have been in that brougham at this very minute on our way to Grosvenor Place. That is the benefit of knowing rich men; — I dine for nothing, sir; — I go into the country, and I’m mounted for nothing. Other fellows keep hounds and gamekeepers for me. Sic vos, non vobis, as we used to say at Grey Friars, hey? I’m of the opinion of my old friend Leech, of the Forty-fourth; and a devilish good shrewd fellow he was, as most Scotchmen are. Gad, sir, Leech used to say, ‘He was so poor that he couldn’t afford to know a poor man.’”

“You don’t act up to your principles, uncle,” Pen said good-naturedly.

“Up to my principles; how, sir?” the Major asked, rather testily.

“You would have cut me in Saint James’s Street, sir,” Pen said, “were your practice not more benevolent than your theory; you who live with dukes and magnates of the land, and would take no notice of a poor devil like me.” By which speech we may see that Mr. Pen was getting on in the world, and could flatter as well as laugh in his sleeve.

Major Pendennis was appeased instantly, and very much pleased. He tapped affectionately his nephew’s arm on which he was leaning, and said — “you, sir, you are my flesh and blood! Hang it, sir, I’ve been very proud of you and very fond of you, but for your confounded follies and extravagances — and wild oats, sir, which I hope you’ve sown ’em. I hope you’ve sown ’em; begad! My object, Arthur, is to make a man of you — to see you well placed in the world, as becomes one of your name and my own, sir. You have got yourself a little reputation by your literary talents, which I am very far from undervaluing, though in my time, begad, poetry and genius and that sort of thing were devilish disreputable. There was poor Byron, for instance, who ruined himself, and contracted the worst habits by living with poets and newspaper-writers, and people of that kind: But the times are changed now — there’s a run upon literature — clever fellows get into the best houses in town, begad! Tempora mutantur, sir; and by Jove, I suppose whatever is is right, as Shakspeare says.”

Pen did not think fit to tell his uncle who was the author who had made use of that remarkable phrase, and here descending from the Green Park, the pair made their way into Grosvenor Place, and to the door of the mansion occupied there by Sir Francis and Lady Clavering.

The dining-room shutters of this handsome mansion were freshly gilded; the knockers shone gorgeous upon the newly painted door; the balcony before the drawing-room bloomed with a portable garden of the most beautiful plants, and with flowers, white, and pink, and scarlet; the windows of the upper room (the sacred chamber and dressing-room of my lady, doubtless), and even a pretty little casement of the third story, which keen-sighted Mr. Pen presumed to belong to the virgin bedroom of Miss Blanche Amory, were similarly adorned with floral ornaments, and the whole exterior face of the house presented the most brilliant aspect which fresh new paint, shining plate-glass, newly cleaned bricks, and spotless mortar, could offer to the beholder.

“How Strong must have rejoiced in organising all this splendour,” thought Pen. He recognised the Chevalier’s genius in the magnificence before him.

“Lady Clavering is going out for her drive,” the Major said. “We shall only have to leave our pasteboards, Arthur.” He used the word ‘pasteboards,’ having heard it from some of the ingenuous youth of the nobility about town, and as a modern phrase suited to Pen’s tender years. Indeed, as the two gentlemen reached the door, a landau drove up, a magnificent yellow carriage, lined with brocade or satin of a faint cream colour, drawn by wonderful grey horses, with flaming ribbons, and harness blazing all over with crests: no less than three of these heraldic emblems surmounted the coats-of-arms on the panels, and these shields contained a prodigious number of quarterings, betokening the antiquity and splendour of the house of Clavering and Snell. A coachman in a tight silver wig surmounted the magnificent hammer-cloth (whereon the same arms were worked in bullion), and controlled the prancing greys — a young man still, but of a solemn countenance, with a laced waistcoat and buckles in his shoes — little buckles, unlike those which John and Jeames, the footmen, wear, and which we know are large, and spread elegantly over the foot.

One of the leaves of the hall door was opened, and John — one of the largest of his race — was leaning against the door-pillar with his ambrosial hair powdered, his legs crossed; beautiful, silk-stockinged; in his hand his cane, gold-headed, dolichoskion. Jeames was invisible, but near at hand, waiting in the hall, with the gentleman who does not wear livery, and ready to fling down the roll of hair-cloth over which her ladyship was to step to her carriage. These things and men, the which to tell of demands time, are seen in the glance of a practised eye: and, in fact, the Major and Pen had scarcely crossed the street, when the second battant of the door flew open; the horse-hair carpet tumbled down the door-steps to those of the carriage; John was opening it on one side of the emblazoned door, and Jeames on the other, the two ladies, attired in the highest style of fashion, and accompanied by a third, who carried a Blenheim spaniel, yelping in a light blue ribbon, came forth to ascend the carriage.

Miss Amory was the first to enter, which she did with aerial lightness, and took the place which she liked best. Lady Clavering next followed, but her ladyship was more mature of age and heavy of foot, and one of those feet, attired in a green satin boot, with some part of a stocking, which was very fine, whatever the ankle might be which it encircled, might be seen swaying on the carriage-step, as her ladyship leaned for support on the arm of the unbending Jeames, by the enraptured observer of female beauty who happened to be passing at the time of this imposing ceremonial.

The Pendennises senior and junior beheld those charms as they came up to the door — the Major looking grave and courtly, and Pen somewhat abashed at the carriage and its owners; for he thought of sundry little passages at Clavering, which made his heart beat rather quick.

At that moment Lady Clavering, looking round the pair — she was on the first carriage-step, and would have been in the vehicle in another second, but she gave a start backwards (which caused some of the powder to fly from the hair of ambrosial Jeames), and crying out, “Lor, if it isn’t Arthur Pendennis and the old Major!” jumped back to terra firma directly, and holding out two fat hands, encased in tight orange-coloured gloves, the good-natured woman warmly greeted the Major and his nephew.

“Come in both of you. — Why haven’t you been before? — Get out, Blanche, and come and see your old friends. — O, I’m so glad to see you. We’ve been waitin and waitin for you ever so long. Come in, luncheon ain’t gone down,” cried out this hospitable lady, squeezing Pen’s hand in both hers (she had dropped the Major’s after a brief wrench of recognition), and Blanche, casting up her eyes towards the chimneys, descended from the carriage presently, with a timid, blushing, appealing look, and gave a little hand to Major Pendennis.

The companion with the spaniel looked about irresolute, and doubting whether she should not take Fido his airing; but she too turned right about face and entered the house, after Lady Clavering, her daughter, and the two gentlemen. And the carriage, with the prancing greys, was left unoccupied, save by the coachman in the silver wig.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter37.html

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