The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLIV

In which the Colonel narrates some of his Adventures

Early in the forenoon of the day after the dinner in Grosvenor Place, at which Colonel Altamont had chosen to appear, the Colonel emerged from his chamber in the upper story at Shepherd’s Inn, and entered into Strong’s sitting-room, where the Chevalier sate in his easy-chair with the newspaper and his cigar. He was a man who made his tent comfortable wherever he pitched it, and long before Altamont’s arrival, had done justice to a copious breakfast of fried eggs and broiled rashers, which Mr. Grady had prepared secundum artem. Good-humoured and talkative, he preferred any company rather than none; and though he had not the least liking for his fellow-lodger, and would not have grieved to hear that the accident had befallen him which Sir Francis Clavering desired so fervently, yet kept on fair terms with him. He had seen Altamont to bed with great friendliness on the night previous, and taken away his candle for fear of accidents; and finding a spirit-bottle empty, upon which he had counted for his nocturnal refreshment, had drunk a glass of water with perfect contentment over his pipe, before he turned into his own crib and to sleep. That enjoyment never failed him: he had always an easy temper, a faultless digestion, and a rosy cheek; and whether he was going into action the next morning or to prison (and both had been his lot), in the camp or the Fleet, the worthy Captain snored healthfully through the night, and woke with a good heart and appetite, for the struggles or difficulties or pleasures of the day.

The first act of Colonel Altamont was to bellow to Grady for a pint of pale ale, the which he first poured into a pewter flagon, whence he transferred it to his own lips. He put down the tankard empty, drew a great breath, wiped his mouth in his dressing-gown (the difference of the colour of his beard from his dyed whiskers had long struck Captain Strong, who had seen too that his hair was fair under his black wig, but made no remarks upon these circumstances)— the Colonel drew a great breath, and professed himself immensely refreshed by his draught. “Nothing like that beer,” he remarked, “when the coppers are hot. Many a day I’ve drunk a dozen of Bass at Calcutta, and — and ——”

“And at Lucknow, I suppose,” Strong said with a laugh. “I got the beer for you on purpose: knew you’d want it after last night.” And the Colonel began to talk about his adventures of the preceding evening.

“I cannot help myself,” the Colonel said, beating his head with his big hand. “I’m a madman when I get the liquor on board me; and ain’t fit to be trusted with a spirit-bottle. When I once begin I can’t stop till I’ve emptied it; and when I’ve swallowed it, Lord knows what I say or what I don’t say. I dined at home here quite quiet. Grady gave me just my two tumblers, and I intended to pass the evening at the Black and Red as sober as a parson. Why did you leave that confounded sample-bottle of Hollands out of the cupboard, Strong? Grady must go out too, and leave me the kettle a-boiling for tea. It was of no use, I couldn’t keep away from it. Washed it all down, sir, by Jove. And it’s my belief I had some more, too, afterwards at that infernal little thieves’ den.”

“What, were you there too?” Strong asked, “and before you came to Grosvenor Place? That was beginning betimes.”

“Early hours to be drunk and cleared out before nine o’clock, eh? But so it was. Yes, like a great big fool, I must go there; and found the fellows dining, Blackland and young Moss, and two or three more of the thieves. If we’d gone to Rouge et Noir, I must have won. But we didn’t try the black and red. No, hang ’em, they know’d I’d have beat ’em at that — I must have beat ’em — I can’t help beating ’em, I tell you. But they was too cunnin for me. That rascal Blackland got the bones out, and we played hazard on the dining-table. And I dropped all the money I had from you in the morning, be hanged to my luck. It was that that set me wild, and I suppose I must have been very hot about the head, for I went off thinking to get some more money from Clavering, I recollect; and then — and then I don’t much remember what happened till I woke this morning, and heard old Bows at No. 4 playing on his pianner.”

Strong mused for a while as he lighted his cigar with a coal, “I should like to know how you always draw money from Clavering, Colonel,” he said.

The Colonel burst out with a laugh —“Ha, ha! he owes it me,” he said.

“I don’t know that that’s a reason with Frank for paying,” Strong answered. “He owes plenty besides you.”

“Well, he gives it me because he is so fond of me,” the other said with the same grinning sneer. “He loves me like a brother; you know he does, Captain. — No? — He don’t? — Well, perhaps he don’t; and if you ask me no questions, perhaps I’ll tell you no lies, Captain Strong — put that in your pipe and smoke it, my boy.”

“But I’ll give up that confounded brandy-bottle,” the Colonel continued, after a pause. “I must give it up, or it’ll be the ruin of me.”

“It makes you say queer things,” said the Captain, looking Altamont hard in the face. “Remember what you said last night, at Clavering’s table.”

“Say? What did I say?” asked the other hastily. “Did I split anything? Dammy, Strong, did I split anything?”

“Ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies,” the Chevalier replied on his part. Strong thought of the words Mr. Altamont had used, and his abrupt departure from the Baronet’s dining-table and house as soon as he recognised Major Pendennis, or Captain Beak, as he called the Major. But Strong resolved to seek an explanation of these words otherwise than from Colonel Altamont, and did not choose to recall them to the other’s memory. “No,” he said then, “you didn’t split as you call it, Colonel; it was only a trap of mine to see if I could make you speak; but you didn’t say a word that anybody could comprehend — you were too far gone for that.”

So much the better, Altamont thought; and heaved a great sigh, as if relieved. Strong remarked the emotion, but took no notice, and the other being in a communicative mood, went on speaking.

“Yes, I own to my faults,” continued the Colonel. “There is some things I can’t, do what I will, resist: a bottle of brandy, a box of dice, and a beautiful woman. No man of pluck and spirit, no man as was worth his salt ever could, as I know of. There’s hardly p’raps a country in the world in which them three ain’t got me into trouble.”

“Indeed?” said Strong.

“Yes, from the age of fifteen, when I ran away from home, and went cabin-boy on board an Indiaman, till now, when I’m fifty year old, pretty nigh, them women have always been my ruin. Why, it was one of ’em, and with such black eyes and jewels on her neck, and Battens and ermine like a duchess, I tell you — it was one of ’em at Paris that swept off the best part of the thousand pound as I went off with. Didn’t I ever tell you of it? Well, I don’t mind. At first I was very cautious and having such a lot of money kept it close and lived like a gentleman — Colonel Altamont, Meurice’s hotel, and that sort of thing — never played, except at the public tables, and won more than I lost. Well, sir, there was a chap that I saw at the hotel and the Palace Royal too, a regular swell fellow, with white kid gloves and a tuft to his chin, Bloundell-Bloundell his name was, as I made acquaintance with somehow, and he asked me to dinner, and took me to Madame the Countess de Foljambe’s soirees — such a woman, Strong! — such an eye! such a hand at the pianner. Lor bless you, she’d sit down and sing to you, and gaze at you, until she warbled your soul out of your body a’most. She asked me to go to her evening parties every Toosday; and didn’t I take opera-boxes and give her dinners at the restauranteur’s, that’s all? But I had a run of luck at the tables, and it was not in the dinners and opera-boxes that poor Clavering’s money went. No, be hanged to it, it was swept off in another way. One night, at the Countess’s, there was several of us at supper — Mr. Bloundell-Bloundell, the Honourable Deuceace, the Marky de la Tour de Force — all tip-top nobs, sir, and the height of fashion, when we had supper, and champagne you may be sure in plenty, and then some of that confounded brandy. I would have it — I would it go on at it — the Countess mixed the tumblers of punch for me, and we had cards as well as grog after supper, and I played and drank until I don’t know what I did. I was like I was last night. I was taken away and put to bed somehow, and never woke until the next day, to a roaring headache, and to see my servant, who said the Honourable Deuceace wanted to see me, and was waiting in the sitting-room. ‘How are you, Colonel?’ says he, a coming into my bedroom. ‘How long did you stay last night after I went away? The play was getting too high for me, and I’d lost enough to you for one night.’”

“‘To me,’ says I, ‘how’s that, my dear feller? (for though he was an Earl’s son, we was as familiar as you and me). How’s that, my dear feller?’ says I, and he tells me, that he had borrowed thirty louis of me at vingt-et-un, that he gave me an I.O.U. for it the night before, which I put into my pocket-book before he left the room. I takes out my card-case — it was the Countess as worked it for me — and there was the I.O.U. sure enough, and he paid me thirty louis in gold down upon the table at my bedside. So I said he was a gentleman, and asked him if he would like to take anything, when my servant should get it for him; but the Honourable Deuceace don’t drink of a morning, and he went away to some business which he said he had.

“Presently there’s another ring at my outer door; and this time it’s Bloundell-Bloundell and the Marky that comes in. ‘Bong jour, Marky,’ says I. ‘Good morning — no headache?’ says he. So I said I had one; and how I must have been uncommon queer the night afore; but they both declared I didn’t show no signs of having had too much, but took my liquor as grave as a judge.

“‘So,’ says the Marky, ‘Deuceace has been with you; we met him in the Palais Royal as we were coming from breakfast. Has he settled with you? Get it while you can: he’s a slippery card; and as he won three ponies of Bloundell, I recommend you to get your money while he has some.’

“‘He has paid me,’ says I; ‘but I knew no more than the dead that he owed me anything, and don’t remember a bit about lending him thirty louis.’

“The Marky and Bloundell looks and smiles at each other at this; and Bloundell says, ‘Colonel, you are a queer feller. No man could have supposed, from your manners, that you had tasted anything stronger than tea all night, and yet you forget things in the morning. Come, come — tell that to the marines, my friend — we won’t have it at any price.’

“‘En efet,’ says the Marky, twiddling his little black mustachios in the chimney-glass, and making a lunge or two as he used to do at the fencing-school. (He was a wonder at the fencing-school, and I’ve seen him knock down the image fourteen times running, at Lepage’s.) ‘Let us speak of affairs. Colonel, you understand that affairs of honour are best settled at once: perhaps it won’t be inconvenient to you to arrange our little matters of last night.’

“‘What little matters?’ says I. ‘Do you owe me any money, Marky?’

“‘Bah!’ says he; ‘do not let us have any more jesting. I have your note of hand for three hundred and forty louis. La voia!’ says he, taking out a paper from his pocket-book.

“‘And mine for two hundred and ten,’ says Bloundell-Bloundell, and he pulls out his bit of paper.

“I was in such a rage of wonder at this, that I sprang out of bed, and wrapped my dressing-gown round me. ‘Are you come here to make a fool of me?’ says I. ‘I don’t owe you two hundred, or two thousand, or two louis; and I won’t pay you a farthing. Do you suppose you can catch me with your notes of hand? I laugh at ’em and at you; and I believe you to be a couple ——.’

“‘A couple of what?’ says Mr. Bloundell. ‘You, of course, are aware that we are a couple of men of honour, Colonel Altamont, and not come here to trifle or to listen to abuse from you. You will either pay us or we will expose you as a cheat, and chastise you as a cheat, too,’ says Bloundell.

“‘Oui, parbleu,’ says the Marky — but I didn’t mind him, for I could have thrown the little fellow out of the window; but it was different with Bloundell — he was a large man, that weighs three stone more than me, and stands six inches higher, and I think he could have done for me.

“‘Monsieur will pay, or Monsieur will give me the reason why. I believe you’re little better than a polisson, Colonel Altamont,’— that was the phrase he used — Altamont said with a grin — and I got plenty more of this language from the two fellows, and was in the thick of the row with them, when another of our party came in. This was a friend of mine — a gent I had met at Boulogne, and had taken to the Countess’s myself. And as he hadn’t played at all on the previous night, and had actually warned me against Bloundell and the others, I told the story to him, and so did the other two.

“‘I am very sorry,’ says he. ‘You would go on playing: the Countess entreated you to discontinue. These gentlemen offered repeatedly to stop. It was you that insisted on the large stakes, not they.’ In fact he charged dead against me: and when the two others went away, he told me how the Marky would shoot me as sure as my name was — was what it is. ‘I left the Countess crying, too,’ said he. ‘She hates these two men; she has warned you repeatedly against them’( which she actually had done, and often told me never to play with them), ‘and now, Colonel, I have left her in hysterics almost, lest there should be any quarrel between you, and that confounded Marky should put a bullet through your head. Its my belief,’ says my friend, ‘that that woman is distractedly in love with you.’

“‘Do you think so?’ says I; upon which my friend told me how she had actually gone down on her knees to him and ‘Save Colonel Altamont!’

“As soon as I was dressed, I went and called upon that lovely woman. She gave a shriek and pretty near fainted when she saw me. She called me Ferdinand — I’m blest if she didn’t.”

“I thought your name was Jack,” said Strong, with a laugh; at which the Colonel blushed very much behind his dyed whiskers.

“A man may have more names than one, mayn’t he, Strong?” Altamont asked. “When I’m with a lady, I like to take a good one. She called me by my Christian name. She cried fit to break your heart. I can’t stand seeing a woman cry — never could — not whilst I’m fond of her. She said she could bear not to think of my losing so much money in her house. Wouldn’t I take her diamonds and necklaces, and pay part?

“I swore I wouldn’t touch a farthing’s worth of her jewellery, which perhaps I did not think was worth a great deal — but what can a woman do more than give you her all? That’s the sort I like, and I know there’s plenty of ’em. And I told her to be easy about the money, for I would not pay one single farthing.

“‘Then they’ll shoot you,’ says she; ‘they’ll kill my Ferdinand.’”

“They’ll kill my Jack wouldn’t have sounded well in French,” Strong said, laughing.

“Never mind about names,” said the other, sulkily; “a man of honour may take any name he chooses, I suppose.”

“Well, go on with your story,” said Strong. “She said they would kill you.”

“‘No,’ says I, ‘they won’t: for I will not let that scamp of a Marquis send me out of the world; and if he lays a hand on me, I’ll brain him, Marquis as he is.’

“At this the Countess shrank back from me as if I had said something very shocking. ‘Do I understand Colonel Altamont aright?’ says she: ‘and that a British officer refuses to meet any person who provokes him to the field of honour?’

“‘Field of honour be hanged, Countess,’ says I. ‘You would not have me be a target for that little scoundrel’s pistol practice.’

“‘Colonel Altamont,’ says the Countess, ‘I thought you were a man of honour — I thought, I— but no matter. Good-bye, sir.’— And she was sweeping out of the room, her voice regular choking in her pocket-handkerchief.

“‘Countess!’ says I, rushing after her and seizing her hand.

“‘Leave me, Monsieur le Colonel,’ says she, shaking me off, ‘my father was a General of the Grand Army. A soldier should know how to pay all his debts of honour.’

“What could I do? Everybody was against me. Caroline said I had lost the money: though I didn’t remember a syllable about the business. I had taken Deuceace’s money too; but then it was because he offered it to me you know, and that’s a different thing. Every one of these chaps was a man of fashion and honour; and the Marky and the Countess of the first families in France. And, by Jove, sir, rather than offend her, I paid the money up five hundred and sixty gold Napoleons, by Jove: besides three hundred which I lost when I had my revenge.

“And I can’t tell you at this minute whether I was done or not,” concluded the Colonel, musing. “Sometimes I think I was: but then Caroline was so fond of me. That woman would never have seen me done: never, I’m sure she wouldn’t: at least, if she would, I’m deceived in woman.”

Any further revelations of his past life which Altamont might have been disposed to confide to his honest comrade the Chevalier, were interrupted by a knocking at the outer door of their chambers; which, when opened by Grady the servant, admitted no less a person than Sir Francis Clavering into the presence of the two worthies.

“The Governor, by Jove,” cried Strong, regarding the arrival of his patron with surprise. “What’s brought you here?” growled Altamont, looking sternly from under his heavy eyebrows at the Baronet. “It’s no good, I warrant.” And indeed, good very seldom brought Sir Francis Clavering into that or any other place.

Whenever he came into Shepherd’s Inn it was money that brought the unlucky baronet into those precincts; and there was commonly a gentleman of the money-dealing world in waiting for him at Strong’s chambers, or at Campion’s below; and a question of bills to negotiate or to renew. Claverng was a man who had never looked his debts fairly in the face, familiar as he had been with them all his life; as long as he could renew a bill, his mind was easy regarding it; and he would sign almost anything for tomorrow, provided today could be left unmolested. He was a man whom scarcely any amount of fortune could have benefited permanently, and who was made to be ruined to cheat small tradesmen, to be the victim of astuter sharpers: to be niggardly and reckless, and as destitute of honesty as the people who cheated him, and a dupe, chiefly because he was too mean to be a successful knave. He had told more lies in his time, and undergone more baseness of stratagem in order to stave off a small debt, or to swindle a poor creditor, than would have sufficed to make a fortune for a braver rogue. He was abject and a shuffler in the very height of his prosperity. Had he been a Crown Prince — he could not have been more weak, useless, dissolute or ungrateful. He could not move through life except leaning on the arm of somebody: and yet he never had an agent but he mistrusted him; and marred any plans which might be arranged for his benefit, and secretly acting against the people whom he employed. Strong knew Clavering and judged him quite correctly. It was not as friends that this pair met: but the Chevalier worked for his principal, as he would when in the army have pursued a harassing march, or undergone his part in the danger and privations of a siege; because it was his duty, and because he had agreed to it. “What is it he wants?” thought the officers of the Shepherd’s Inn garrison when the Baronet came among them.

His pale face expressed extreme anger and irritation. “So sir,” he said, addressing Altamont, “you’ve been at your old tricks.”

“Which of ‘um?” asked Altamont, with a sneer.

“You have been at the Rouge et Noir: you were there last night,” cried the Baronet.

“How do you know — were you there?” the other said. “I was at the Club but it wasn’t on the colours I played — ask the Captain — I’ve been telling him of it. It was with the bones. It was at hazard, Sir Francis, upon my word and honour it was;” and he looked at the Baronet with a knowing humorous mock humility, which only seemed to make the other more angry.

“What the deuce do I care, sir, how a man like you loses his money, and whether it is at hazard or roulette?” screamed the Baronet, with a multiplicity of oaths, and at the top of his voice. “What I will not have, sir, is that you should use my name, or couple it with yours. — Damn him, Strong, why don’t you keep him in better order? I tell you he has gone and used my name again, sir — drawn a bill upon me, and lost the money on the table — I can’t stand it — I won’t stand it. Flesh and blood won’t bear it — Do you know how much I have paid for you, sir?”

“This was only a very little ’un, Sir Francis — only fifteen pound, Captain Strong, they wouldn’t stand another: and it oughtn’t to anger you, Governor. Why, it’s so trifling I did not even mention it to Strong — did I now, Captain? I protest it had quite slipped my memory, and all on account of that confounded liquor I took.”

“Liquor or no liquor, sir, it is no business of mine. I don’t care what you drink, or where you drink it — only it shan’t be in my house. And I will not have you breaking into my house of a night, and a fellow like you intruding himself on my company: how dared you show yourself in Grosvenor Place last night, sir — and — and what do you suppose my friends must think of me when they see a man of your sort walking into my dining-room uninvited, and drunk, and calling for liquor as if you were the master of the house?”

“They’ll think you know some very queer sort of people, I dare say,” Altamont said with impenetrable good-humour. “Look here, Baronet, I apologise; on my honour I do, and ain’t an apology enough between two gentlemen? It was a strong measure I own, walking into your cuddy, and calling for drink as if I was the Captain: but I had had too much before, you see, that’s why I wanted some more; nothing can be more simple — and it was because they wouldn’t give me no more money upon your name at the Black and Red, that I thought I would come down and speak to you about it. To refuse me was nothing: but to refuse a bill drawn on you that have been such a friend to the shop, and are a baronet and a member of parliament, and a gentleman and no mistake — Damme, its ungrateful.”

“By heavens, if ever you do it again — if ever you dare show to yourself in my house; or give my name at a gambling-house or at any other house, by Jove — at any other house — or give any reference at all to me, or speak to me in the street, by God, or anywhere else until I speak to you — I disclaim you altogether — I won’t give you another shilling.”

“Governor, don’t be provoking,” Altamont said surlily. “Don’t talk to me about daring to do this thing or t’other, or when my dander is up it’s the very thing to urge me on. I oughtn’t to have come last night, I know I oughtn’t: but I told you I was drunk, and that ought to be sufficient between gentleman and gentleman.”

“You a gentleman! dammy, sir,” said the Baronet, “how dares a fellow like you to call himself a gentleman?”

“I ain’t a baronet, I know,” growled the other; and I’ve forgotten how to be a gentleman almost now, but — but I was one, once, and my father was one, and I’ll not have this sort of talk from you, Sir F. Clavering, that’s flat. I want to go abroad again. Why don’t you come down with the money, and let me go? Why the devil are you to be rolling in riches, and me to have none? Why should have a house and a table covered with plate, and me be in a garret here in this beggarly Shepherd’s Inn? We’re partners, ain’t we? I’d as good a right to be rich as you have, haven’t I? Tell the story to Strong here, if you like; and ask him to be umpire between us. I don’t mind letting my secret out to a man that won’t split. Look here, Strong — perhaps you guess the story already — the fact is, me and the Governor ——”

“D— — hold your tongue,” shrieked out the Baronet in a fury. “You shall have the money as soon as I can get it. I ain’t made of money. I’m so pressed and badgered, I don’t know where to turn. I shall go mad; by Jove, I shall. I wish I was dead, for I’m the most miserable brute alive. I say, Mr. Altamont, don’t mind me. When I’m out of health — and I’m devilish bilious this morning — hang me, I abuse everybody, and don’t know what I say. Excuse me if I’ve offended you. I— I’ll try and get that little business done. Strong shall try. Upon my word he shall. And I say, Strong, my boy, I want to speak to you. Come into the office for a minute.”

Almost all Clavering’s assaults ended in this ignominious way, and in a shameful retreat. Altamont sneered after the Baronet as he left the room, and entered into the office, to talk privately with his factotum.

“What is the matter now?” the latter asked of him. “It’s the old story, I suppose.”

“D—— it, yes,” the Baronet said. “I dropped two hundred in ready money at the Little Coventry last night, and gave a cheque for three hundred more. On her ladyship’s bankers, too, for tomorrow; and I must meet it, for there’ll be the deuce to pay else. The last time she paid my play-debts, I swore I would not touch a dice-box again, and she’ll keep her word, Strong, and dissolve partnership, if I go on. I wish I had three hundred a year, and was away. At a German watering-place you can do devilish well with three hundred a year. But my habits are so d ——— reckless: I wish I was in the Serpentine. I wish I was dead, by Gad I wish I was. I wish I had never touched those confounded bones. I had such a run of luck last night, with five for the main, and seven to five all night, until those ruffians wanted to pay me with Altamont’s bill upon me. The luck turned from that minute. Never held the box again for three mains, and came away cleared out, leaving that infernal cheque behind me. How shall I pay it? Blackland won’t hold it over. Hulker and Bullock will write about it directly to her ladyship. By Jove, Ned, I’m the most miserable brute in all England.”

It was necessary for Ned to devise some plan to console the Baronet under this pressure of grief; and no doubt he found the means of procuring a loan for his patron, for he was closeted at Mr. Campion’s offices that day for some time. Altamont had once more a guinea or two in his pocket, with a promise of a further settlement; and the Baronet had no need to wish himself dead for the next two or three months at least. And Strong, putting together what he had learned from the Colonel and Sir Francis, began to form in his own mind a pretty accurate opinion as to the nature of the tie which bound the two men together.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter44.html

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