The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLI

Carries the Reader both to Richmond and Greenwich

Poor Foker found the dinner at Richmond to be the most dreary entertainment upon which ever mortal man wasted his guineas. “I wonder how the deuce I could ever have liked these people,” he thought in his own mind. “Why, I can see the crow’s-feet under Rougemont’s eyes, and the paint on her cheeks is laid on as thick as Clown’s in a pantomime! The way in which that Calverley talks slang, is quite disgusting. I hate chaff in a woman. And old Colchicum! that old Col, coming down here in his brougham, with his coronet on it, and sitting bodkin between Mademoiselle Coralie and her mother! It’s too bad. An English peer, and a horse-rider of Franconi’s! — It won’t do; by Jove, it won’t do. I ain’t proud; but it will not do!”

“Twopence-halfpenny for your thoughts, Fokey!” cried out Miss Rougemont, taking her cigar from her truly vermilion lips, as she beheld the young fellow lost in thought, seated at the head of his table, amidst melting ices, and cut pineapples, and bottles full and empty, and cigar-ashes scattered on fruit, and the ruins of a dessert which had no pleasure for him.

“Does Foker ever think?” drawled out Mr. Poyntz. “Foker, here is a considerable sum of money offered by a fair capitalist at this end of the table for the present emanations of your valuable and acute intellect, old boy!”

“What the deuce is that Poyntz a talking about?” Miss Calverley asked of her neighbour. “I hate him. He’s a drawlin’, sneerin’ beast.”

“What a droll of a little man is that little Fokare, my lor’,” Mademoiselle Coralie said, in her own language, and with the rich twang of that sunny Gascony in which her swarthy cheeks and bright black eyes had got their fire. “What a droll of a man! He does not look to have twenty years.”

“I wish I were of his age,” said the venerable Colchicum, with a sigh, as he inclined his purple face towards a large goblet of claret.

“C’te Jeunesse. Peuh! je m’en fiche” said Madame Brack, Coralie’s mamma, taking a great pinch out of Lord Colchicum’s delicate gold snuff-box. “Je m’aime que les hommes faits, moi. Comme milor. Coralie! n’est-ce pas que tu n’aimes que les hommes faits, ma bichette?”

My lord said, with a grin, “You flatter me, Madame Brack.”

“Taisez-vous, Maman, vous n’etes qu’une bete,” Coralie cried, with a shrug of her robust shoulders; upon which, my lord said that she did not flatter at any rate; and pocketed his snuff-box, not desirous that Madame Brack’s dubious fingers should plunge too frequently into his Mackabaw.

There is no need to give a prolonged detail of the animated conversation which ensued during the rest of the banquet; a conversation which would not much edify the reader. And it is scarcely necessary to say, that all ladies of the corps de dance are not like Miss Calverley, any more than that all peers resemble that illustrious member of their order, the late lamented Viscount Colchicum. But there have been such in our memories who have loved the society of riotous youth better than the company of men of their own age and rank, and have given the young ones the precious benefit of their experience and example; and there have been very respectable men too who have not objected so much to the kind of entertainment as to the publicity of it. I am sure, for instance, that our friend Major Pendennis would have made no sort of objection to join the a party of pleasure, provided that it were en petit comite, and that such men as my Lord Steyne and my Lord Colchicum were of the society. “Give the young men their pleasures,” this worthy guardian said to Pen more than once. “I’m not one of your strait-laced moralists, but an old man of the world, begad; and I know that as long as it lasts young men will be young men.” And there were some young men to whom this estimable philosopher accorded about seventy years as the proper period for sowing their wild oats: but they were men of fashion.

Mr. Foker drove his lovely guests home to Brompton in the drag that night; but he was quite thoughtful and gloomy during the whole of the little journey from Richmond; neither listening to the jokes of the friends behind him and on the box by his side nor enlivening them as was his wont, by his own facetious sallies. And when the ladies whom he had conveyed alighted at the door of their house, and asked their accomplished coachman whether he would not step in and take something to drink, he declined with so melancholy an air, that they supposed that the Governor and he had had a difference or that some calamity had befallen him; and he did not tell these people what the cause of his grief was, but left Mesdames Rougemont and Calverley, unheeding the cries of the latter, who hung over her balcony like Jezebel, and called out to him to ask him to give another party soon.

He sent the drag home under the guidance of one of the grooms, and went on foot himself; his hands in his pockets, plunged in thought. The stars and moon shining tranquilly overhead, looked down upon Mr. Foker that night, as he in his turn sentimentally regarded them. And he went and gazed upwards at the house in Grosvenor Place, and at the windows which he supposed to be those of the beloved object; and he moaned and he sighed in a way piteous and surprising to witness, which Policeman X did, who informed Sir Francis Clavering’s people, as they took the refreshment of beer on the coach-box at the neighbouring public-house, after bringing home their lady from the French play, that there had been another chap hanging about the premises that evening — a little chap, dressed like a swell.

And now with that perspicuity and ingenuity and enterprise which only belongs to a certain passion, Mr. Foker began to dodge Miss Amory through London, and to appear wherever he could meet her. If Lady Clavering went to the French play, where her ladyship had a box, Mr. Foker, whose knowledge of the language, as we have heard, was not conspicuous, appeared in a stall. He found out where her engagements were (it is possible that Anatole, his man, was acquainted with Sir Francis Clavering’s gentleman, and so got a sight of her ladyship’s engagement-book), and at many of these evening parties Mr. Foker made his appearance — to the surprise of the world, and of his mother especially, whom he ordered to apply for cards to these parties, for which until now he had shown a supreme contempt. He told the pleased and unsuspicious lady that he went to parties because it was right for him to see the world: he told her that he went to the French play because he wanted to perfect himself in the language, and there was no such good lesson as a comedy or vaudeville — and when one night the astonished Lady Agnes saw him stand up and dance, and complimented him upon his elegance and activity, the mendacious little rogue asserted that he had learned to dance in Paris, whereas Anatole knew that his young master used to go off privily to an academy in Brewer Street, and study there for some hours in the morning. The casino of our modern days was not invented, or was in its infancy as yet; and gentlemen of Mr. Foker’s time had not the facilities of acquiring the science of dancing which are enjoyed by our present youth.

Old Pendennis seldom missed going to church. He considered it to be his duty as a gentleman to patronise the institution of public worship and that it was quite a correct thing to be seen at church of a Sunday. One day it chanced that he and Arthur went thither together: the latter, who was now in high favour, had been to breakfast with his uncle, from whose lodging they walked across the park to a church not far from Belgrave Square. There was a charity sermon at Saint James’s, as the Major knew by the bills posted on the pillars of his parish church, which probably caused him, for he was a thrifty man, to forsake it for that day: besides he had other views for himself and Pen. “We will go to church, sir, across the Park; and then, begad, we will go to the Claverings’ house and ask them for lunch in a friendly way. Lady Clavering likes to be asked for lunch, and is uncommonly kind, and monstrous hospitable.”

“I met them at dinner last week, at Lady Agnes Foker’s, sir,” Pen said, “and the Begum was very kind indeed. So she was in the country: so she is everywhere. But I share your opinion about Miss Amory; one of your opinions, that is, uncle, for you were changing the last time we spoke about her.”

“And what do you think of her now?” the elder said.

“I think her the most confounded little flirt in London,” Pen answered, laughing “She made a tremendous assault upon Harry Foker, who sat next to her; and to whom she gave all the talk, though I took her down.”

“Bah! Henry Foker is engaged to his cousin all the world knows it: not a bad coup of Lady Rosherville’s, that. I should say, that the young man at his father’s death, and old Foker’s life’s devilish bad: you know he had a fit at Arthur’s, last year: I should say, that young Foker won’t have less than fourteen thousand a year from the brewery, besides Logwood and Norfolk property. I’ve no pride about me, Pen. I like a man of birth certainly, but dammy, I like a brewery which brings in a man fourteen thousand a year; hey, Pen? Ha, ha, that’s the sort of man for me. And I recommend you now that you are lanced in the world, to stick to fellows of that sort, to fellows who have a stake in the country, begad.”

“Foker sticks to me, sir,” Arthur answered. He has been at our chambers several times lately. He has asked me to dinner. We are almost as great friends, as we used to be in our youth: and his talk is about Blanche Amory from morning till night. I’m sure he’s sweet upon her.”

“I’m sure he is engaged to his cousin, and that they will keep the young man to his bargain,” said the Major. “The marriages in these families are affairs of state. Lady Agnes was made to marry old Foker by the late Lord, although she was notoriously partial to her cousin who was killed at Albuera afterwards, and who saved her life out of the lake at Drummington. I remember Lady Agnes, sir, an exceedingly fine woman. But what did she do? — of course she married her father’s man. Why, Mr. Foker sate for Drummington till the Reform Bill, and paid dev’lish well for his seat, too. And you may depend upon this, sir, that Foker senior, who is a parvenu, and loves a great man, as all parvenus do, has ambitious views for his son as well as himself, and that your friend Harry must do as his father bids him. Lord bless you! I’ve known a hundred cases of love in young men and women: hey, Master Arthur, do you take me? They kick, sir, they resist, they make a deuce of a riot and that sort of thing, but they end by listening to reason, begad.”

“Blanche is a dangerous girl, sir,” Pen said. “I was smitten with her myself once, and very far gone, too,” he added; “but that is years ago.”

“Were you? How far did it go? Did she return it?” asked the Major, looking hard at Pen.

Pen, with a laugh, said “that at one time he did think he was pretty well in Miss Amory’s good graces. But my mother did not like her, and the affair went off.” Pen did not think it fit to tell his uncle all the particulars of that courtship which had passed between himself and the young lady.

“A man might go farther and fare worse, Arthur,” the Major said, still looking queerly at his nephew.

“Her birth, sir; her father was the mate of a ship, they say: and she has not money enough,” objected Pen, in a dandified manner. “What’s ten thousand pound and a girl bred up like her?”

“You use my own words, and it is all very well. But, I tell you in confidence, Pen — in strict honour, mind — that it’s my belief she has a devilish deal more than ten thousand pound: and from what I saw of her the other day, and — and have heard of her — I should say she was a devilish accomplished, clever girl: and would make a good wife with a sensible husband.”

“How do you know about her money?” Pen asked, smiling. “You seem to have information about everybody, and to know about all the town.”

“I do know a few things, sir, and I don’t tell all I know. Mark that,” the uncle replied. “And as for that charming Miss Amory — for charming, begad! she is — if I saw her Mrs. Arthur Pendennis, I should neither be sorry nor surprised, begad! and if you object to ten thousand pound, what would you say, sir, to thirty, or forty, or fifty?” and the Major looked still more knowingly, and still harder at Pen.

“Well, sir,” he said to his godfather and namesake, “make her Mrs. Arthur Pendennis. You can do it as well as I.”

“Psha! you are laughing at me, sir,” the other replied rather peevishly, “and you ought not to laugh so near a church gate. Here we are at St. Benedict’s. They say Mr. Oriel is a beautiful preacher.”

Indeed, the bells were tolling, the people were trooping into the handsome church, the carriages of the inhabitants of the lordly quarter poured forth their pretty loads of devotees, in whose company Pen and his uncle, ending their edifying conversation, entered the fane. I do not know whether other people carry their worldly affairs to the church door. Arthur, who, from habitual reverence and feeling, was always more than respectful in a place of worship, thought of the incongruity of their talk, perhaps; whilst the old gentleman at his side was utterly unconscious of any such contrast. His hat was brushed: his wig was trim: his neckcloth was perfectly tied. He looked at every soul in the congregation, it is true: the bald heads and the bonnets, the flowers and the feathers: but so demurely that he hardly lifted up his eyes from his book — from his book which he could not read without glasses. As for Pen’s gravity, it was sorely put to the test when, upon looking by chance towards the seats where the servants were collected, he spied out, by the side of a demure gentleman in plush, Henry Foker, Esquire, who had discovered this place of devotion. Following the direction of Harry’s eye, which strayed a good deal from his book, Pen found that it alighted upon a yellow bonnet and a pink one: and that these bonnets were on the heads of Lady Clavering and Blanche Amory. If Pen’s uncle is not the only man who has talked about his worldly affairs up to the church door, is poor Harry Foker the only one who has brought his worldly love into the aisle?

When the congregation issued forth at the conclusion of the service, Foker was out amongst the first, but Pen came up with him presently, as he was hankering about the entrance, which he was unwilling to leave, until my lady’s barouche, with the bewigged coachman, had borne away its mistress and her daughter from their devotions.

When the two ladies came out, they found together the Pendennises, uncle and nephew, and Harry Foker, Esquire, sucking the crook of his stick, standing there in the sunshine. To see and to ask to eat were simultaneous with the good-natured Begum, and she invited the three gentlemen to luncheon straightway.

Blanche was, too, particularly gracious. “O! do come,” she said to Arthur, “if you are not too great a man. I want so to talk to you about — but we mustn’t say what, here, you know. What would Mr. Oriel say?” And the young devotee jumped into the carriage after her mamma. —“I’ve read every word of it. It’s adorable,” she added, still addressing herself to Pen.

“I know who is,” said Mr. Arthur, making rather a pert bow.

“What’s the row about?” asked Mr. Foker, rather puzzled.

“I suppose Miss Clavering means ‘Walter Lorraine,’” said the Major, looking knowing, and nodding at Pen.

“I suppose so, sir. There was a famous review in the Pall Mall this morning. It was Warrington’s doing though, and I must not be too proud.”

“A review in Pall Mall? — Walter Lorraine? What the doose do you mean?” Foker asked. “Walter Lorraine died of the measles, poor little beggar, when we were at Grey Friars. I remember his mother coming up.”

“You are not a literary man, Foker,” Pen said, laughing, and hooking his arm into his friend’s. “You must know I have been writing a novel, and some of the papers have spoken very well of it. Perhaps you don’t read the Sunday Papers?”

“I read Bell’s Life regular, old boy,” Mr Foker answered: at which Pen laughed again, and the three gentlemen proceeded in great good-humour to Lady Clavering’s house.

The subject of the novel was resumed after luncheon by Miss Amory, who indeed loved poets and men of letters if she loved anything, and was sincerely an artist in feeling. “Some of the passages in the book made me cry, positively they did,” she said.

Pen said, with some fatuity, “I am happy to think I have a part of vos larmes, Miss Blanche,”— and the Major (who had not read more than six pages of Pen’s book) put on his sanctified look, saying, “Yes, there are some passages quite affecting, mons’ous affecting:” and — “Oh, if it makes you cry,”— Lady Amory declared she would not read it, “that she wouldn’t.”

“Don’t, mamma,” Blanche said, with a French shrug of her shoulders; and then she fell into a rhapsody about the book, about the snatches of poetry interspersed in it about the two heroines, Leonora and Neaera; about the two heroes, Walter Lorraine and his rival the young Duke —“and what good company you introduce us to,” said the young lady archly “quel ton! How much of your life have you passed at court, and are you a prime minister’s son, Mr. Arthur?”

Pen began to laugh —“It is as cheap for a novelist to create a Duke as to make a Baronet,” he said. “Shall I tell you a secret, Miss Amory? I promoted all my characters at the request of the publisher. The young Duke was only a young Baron when the novel was first written; his false friend, the Viscount, was a simple commoner and so on with all the characters of the story.”

“What a wicked, satirical, pert young man you have become! Comme vous voila forme!” said the young lady. “How different from Arthur Pendennis of the country! Ah! I think I like Arthur Pendennis of the country best, though!” and she gave him the full benefit of her eyes — both of the fond appealing glance into his own, and of the modest look downwards towards the carpet, which showed off her dark eyelids and long fringed lashes.

Pen of course protested that he had not changed in the least, to which the young lady replied by a tender sigh; and thinking that she had done quite enough to make Arthur happy or miserable (as the case might be), she proceeded to cajole his companion, Mr. Harry Foker, who during the literary conversation had sate silently imbibing the head of his cane, and wishing that he was a clever chap like that Pen.

If the Major thought that by telling Miss Amory of Mr. Foker’s engagement to his cousin, Lady Ann Milton (which information the old gentleman neatly conveyed to the girl as he sate by her side at luncheon below-stairs) — if, we say, the Major thought that the knowledge of this fact would prevent Blanche from paying any further attention to the young heir of Foker’s Entire, he was entirely mistaken. She became only the more gracious to Foker: she praised him, and everything belonging to him; she praised his mamma; she praised the pony which he rode in the Park; she praised the lovely breloques or gimcracks which the young gentleman wore at his watch-chain, and that dear little darling of a cane, and those dear little delicious monkeys’ heads with ruby eyes, which ornamented Harry’s shirt, and formed the buttons of his waistcoat. And then, having praised and coaxed the weak youth until he blushed and tingled with pleasure, and until Pen thought she really had gone quite far enough, she took another theme.

“I am afraid Mr. Foker is a very sad young man,” she said, turning round to Pen.

“He does not look so,” Pen answered with a sneer.

“I mean we have heard sad stories about him. Haven’t we, mamma? What was Mr. Poyntz saying here, the other day, about that party at Richmond? O you naughty creature!” But here, seeing that Harry’s countenance assumed a great expression of alarm, while Pen’s wore a look of amusement, she turned to the latter and said, “I believe you are just as bad: I believe you would have liked to have been there — wouldn’t you? I know you would: yes — and so should I.”

“Lor, Blanche!” mamma cried.

“Well, I would. I never saw an actress in my life. I would give anything to know one; for I adore talent. And I adore Richmond, that I do; and I adore Greenwich, and I say, I should like to go there.”

“Why should not we three bachelors,” the Major here broke out, gallantly, and to his nephew’s special surprise, “beg these ladies to honour us with their company at Greenwich? Is Lady Clavering to go on for ever being hospitable to us, and may we make no return? Speak for yourselves, young men — eh, begad! Here is my nephew, with his pockets full of money — his pockets full, begad! and Mr. Henry Foker, who, as I have heard say, is pretty well to do in the world — how is your lovely cousin, Lady Ann, Mr. Foker? — here are these two young ones — and they allow an old fellow like me to speak. Lady Clavering, will you do me the favour to be my guest? and Miss Blanche shall be Arthur’s, if she will be so good.”

“Oh, delightful!” cried Blanche.

“I like a bit of fun too,” said Lady Clavering; and we will take some day when Sir Francis ——”

“When Sir Francis dines out — yes, mamma,” the daughter said, “it will be charming.”

And a charming day it was. The dinner was ordered at Greenwich, and Foker, though he did not invite Miss Amory, had some delicious opportunities of conversation with her during the repast, and afterwards on the balcony of their room at the hotel, and again during the drive home in her ladyship’s barouche. Pen came down with his uncle, in Sir Hugh Trumpington’s brougham, which the Major borrowed for the occasion. “I am an old soldier, begad,” he said, “and I learned in early life to make myself comfortable.”

And, being an old soldier, he allowed the two young men to pay for the dinner between them, and all the way home in the brougham he rallied Pen, about Miss Amory’s evident partiality for him: praised her good looks, spirits, and wit: and again told Pen in the strictest confidence, that she would be a devilish deal richer than people thought.

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