The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLV

A Chapter of Conversations

Every day, after the entertainment at Grosvenor Place and Greenwich, of which we have seen Major Pendennis partake, the worthy gentleman’s friendship and cordiality for the Clavering family seemed to increase. His calls were frequent; his attentions to the lady of the house unremitting. An old man about town, he had the good fortune to be received in many houses, at which a lady of Lady Clavering’s distinction ought to be seen. Would her ladyship not like to be present at the grand entertainment at Gaunt House? There was to be a very pretty breakfast ball at Viscount Marrowfat’s, at Fulham. Everybody was to be there (including august personages of the highest rank), and there was to be a Watteau quadrille, in which Miss Amory would surely look charming. To these and other amusements the obsequious old gentleman kindly offered to conduct Lady Clavering, and was also ready to make himself useful to the Baronet in any way agreeable to the latter.

In spite of his present station and fortune, the world persisted in looking rather coldly upon Clavering, and strange suspicious rumours followed him about. He was blackballed at two clubs in succession. In the House of Commons, he only conversed with a few of the most disreputable members of that famous body, having a happy knack of choosing bad society, and adapting himself naturally to it, as other people do to the company of their betters. The name all the senators with whom Clavering consorted, would be invidious. We may mention only a few. There was Captain Raff, the honourable member for Epsom, who retired after the last Goodwood races, having accepted, as Mr. Hotspur, the whip of the party, said, a mission to the Levant; there was Hustingson, the patriotic member for Islington, whose voice is never heard now denunciating corruption, since his appointment to the Governorship of Coventry Island; there was Bob Freeny, of the Booterstown Freenys, who is a dead shot, and of whom we therefore wish to speak with every respect; and of all these gentlemen, with whom in the course of his professional duty Mr. Hotspur had to confer, there was none for whom he had a more thorough contempt and dislike than for Sir Francis Clavering, the representative of an ancient race, who had sat for their own borough of Clavering time out of mind in the House. “If that man is wanted for a division,” Hotspur said, “ten to one he is to be found in a hell. He was educated in the Fleet, and he has not heard the end of Newgate yet, take my word for it. He’ll muddle away the Begum’s fortune at thimble-rig, be caught picking pockets, and finish on board the hulks.” And if the high-born Hotspur, with such an opinion of Clavering, could yet from professional reasons be civil to him, why should not Major Pendennis also have reasons of his own for being attentive to this unlucky gentleman?

“He has a very good cellar and a very good cook,” the Major said; “as long as he is silent he is not offensive, and he very seldom speaks. If he chooses to frequent gambling-tables, and lose his money to blacklegs, what matters to me? Don’t look too curiously into any man’s affairs, Pen, my boy; every fellow has some cupboard in his house, begad, which he would not like you and me to peep into. Why should we try, when the rest of the house is open to us? And a devilish good house, too, as you and I know. And if the man of the family is not all one could wish, the women are excellent. The Begum is not over-refined, but as kind a woman as ever lived, and devilish clever too; and as for the little Blanche, you know my opinion about her, you rogue; you know my belief is that she is sweet on you, and would have you for the asking. But you are growing such a great man, that I suppose you won’t be content under a Duke’s daughter — Hey, sir? I recommend you to ask one of them, and try.”

Perhaps Pen was somewhat intoxicated by his success in the world; and it may also have entered into the young man’s mind (his uncle’s perpetual hints serving not a little to encourage the notion) that Miss Amory was tolerably well disposed to renew the little flirtation which had been carried on in the early days of both of them, by the banks of the rural Brawl. But he was little disposed to marriage, he said, at that moment, and, adopting some of his uncle’s worldly tone, spoke rather contemptuously of the institution, and in favour of a bachelor life.

“You are very happy, sir,” said he, “and you get on very well alone, and so do I. With a wife at my side, I should lose my place in society; and I don’t, for my part, much fancy retiring into the country with a Mrs. Pendennis; or taking my wife into lodgings to be waited upon by the servant-of-all-work. The period of my little illusions is over. You cured me of my first love who, certainly was a fool, and would have had a fool for her husband, and a very sulky discontented husband too if she had taken me. We young fellows live fast, sir; and I feel as old at five-and-twenty as many of the old fo — the old bachelors — whom I see in the bow-window at Bays’s. Don’t look offended, I only mean that I am blase about love matters, and that I could no more fan myself into a flame for Miss Amory now, than I could adore Lady Mirabel over again. I wish I could; I rather like old Mirabel for his infatuation about her, and think his passion is the most respectable part of his life.”

“Sir Charles Mirabel was always a theatrical man, sir,” the Major said, annoyed that his nephew should speak flippantly of any person of Sir Charles’s rank and station. “He has been occupied with theatricals since his early days. He acted at Carlton House when he was Page to the Prince; he has been mixed up with that sort of thing: he could afford to marry whom he chooses; and Lady Mirabel is a most respectable woman, received everywhere — everywhere, mind. The Duchess of Connaught receives her, Lady Rockminster receives her — it doesn’t become young fellows to speak lightly of people in that station. There’s not a more respectable woman in England than Lady Mirabel:— and the old fogies, as you call them, at Bays’s, are some of the first gentlemen in England, of whom you youngsters had best learn a little manners, and a little breeding, and a little modesty.” And the Major began to think that Pen was growing exceedingly pert and conceited, and that the world made a great deal too much of him.

The Major’s anger amused Pen. He studied his uncle’s peculiarities with a constant relish, and was always in a good humour with his worldly old Mentor. “I am a youngster of fifteen years’ standing, sir,” he said, adroitly, “and if you think that we are disrespectful, you should see those of the present generation. A protege of yours came to breakfast with me the other day. You told me to ask him, and I did it to please you. We had a day’s sights together, and dined at the club, and went to the play. He said the wine at the Polyanthus was not so good as Ellis’s wine at Richmond, smoked Warrington’s cavendish after breakfast, and when I gave him a sovereign as a farewell token, said he had plenty of them, but would take it to show he wasn’t proud.”

“Did he? — did you ask young Clavering?” cried the Major, appeased at once —“fine boy, rather wild, but a fine boy — parents like that sort of attention, and you can’t do better than pay it to our worthy friends of Grosvenor Place. And so you took him to the play and tipped him? That was right, sir, that was right:” with which Mentor quitted Telemachus, thinking that the young men were not so very bad, and that he should make something of that fellow yet.

As Blaster Clavering grew into years and stature, he became too strong for the authority of his fond parents and governess; and rather governed them than permitted himself to be led by their orders. With his papa he was silent and sulky, seldom making his appearance, however, in the neighbourhood of that gentleman; with his mamma be roared and fought when any contest between them arose as to the gratification of his appetite, or other wish of his heart; and in his disputes with his governess over his book, he kicked that quiet creature’s shins so fiercely, that she was entirely overmastered and subdued by him. And he would have so treated his sister Blanche, too, and did on one or two occasions attempt to prevail over her; but she showed an immense resolution and spirit on her part, and boxed his ears so soundly, that he forbore from molesting Miss Amory, as he did the governess and his mamma, and his mamma’s maid.

At length, when the family came to London, Sir Francis gave forth his opinion, that “the little beggar had best be sent to school.” Accordingly the young son and heir of the house of Clavering was despatched to the Rev. Otto Rose’s establishment at Twickenham, where young noblemen and gentlemen were received preparatory to their introduction to the great English public schools.

It is not our intention to follow Master Clavering in his scholastic career; the paths to the Temple of Learning were made more easy to him than they were to some of us of earlier generations. He advanced towards that fane in a carriage-and-four, so to speak, and might halt and take refreshment almost whenever he pleased. He wore varnished boots from the earliest period of youth, and had cambric handkerchiefs and lemon-coloured kid gloves, of the smallest size ever manufactured by Privat. They dressed regularly at Mr. Rose’s to come down to dinner; the young gentlemen had shawl dressing-gowns, fires in their bedrooms, horse and carriage exercise occasionally, and oil for their hair. Corporal punishment was altogether dispensed with by the Principal, who thought that moral discipline was entirely sufficient to lead youth; and the boys were so rapidly advanced in many branches of learning, that they acquired the art of drinking spirits and smoking cigars, even before they were old enough to enter a public school. Young Frank Clavering stole his father’s Havannahs, and conveyed them to school, or smoked them in the stables, at a surprisingly early period of life, and at ten years old drank his champagne almost as stoutly as any whiskered cornet of dragoons could do.

When this interesting youth came home for his vacations Major Pendennis was as laboriously civil and gracious to him as he was to the rest of the family; although the boy had rather a contempt for old Wigsby, as the Major was denominated, mimicked him behind his back, as the polite Major bowed and smirked with Lady Clavering or Miss Amory; and drew rude caricatures, such as are designed by ingenious youths, in which the Major’s wig, his nose, his tie, etc., were represented with artless exaggeration. Untiring in his efforts to be agreeable, the Major wished that Pen, too, should take particular notice of this child; incited Arthur to invite him to his chambers, to give him a dinner at the club, to take him to Madame Tussaud’s, the Tower, the play, and so forth, and to tip him, as the phrase is, at the end of the day’s pleastres. Arthur, who was good-natured and fond of children, went through all these ceremonies one day; had the boy to breakfast at the Temple, where he made the most contemptuous remarks regarding the furniture, the crockery, and the tattered state of Warrington’s dressing-gown; and smoked a short pipe, and recounted the history of a fight between Tuffy and Long Biggings, at Rose’s, greatly to the edification of the two gentlemen his hosts.

As the Major rightly predicted, Lady Clavering was very grateful for Arthur’s attention to the boy; more grateful than the lad himself, who took attentions as a matter of course, and very likely had more sovereigns in his pocket than poor Pen, who generously gave him one of his own slender stock of those coins.

The Major, with the sharp eyes with which Nature endowed him, and with the glasses of age and experience, watched this boy, and surveyed his position in the family without seeming to be rudely curious about their affairs. But, as a country neighbour, one who had many family obligations to the Claverings, an old man of the world, he took occasion to find out what Lady Clavering’s means were, how her capital was disposed, and what the boy was to inherit. And setting himself to work — for what purposes will appear, no doubt, ulteriorly — he soon had got a pretty accurate knowledge of Lady Clavering’s affairs and fortune, and of the prospects of her daughter and son. The daughter was to have but a slender provision; the bulk of the property was, as before has been said, to go to the son — his father did not care for him or anybody else — his mother was dotingly fond of him as the child of her latter days — his sister disliked him. Such may be stated in round numbers, to be the result of the information which Major Pendennis got. “Ah! my dear madam,” he would say, patting the head of the boy, “this boy may wear a baron’s coronet on his head on some future coronation, if matters are but managed rightly, and if Sir Francis Clavering would but play his cards well,”

At this the widow Amory heaved a deep sigh. “He plays only much of his cards, Major, I’m afraid,” she said. The Major owned that he knew as much; did not disguise that he had heard of Sir Francis Clavering’s unfortunate propensity to play; pitied Lady Clavering sincerely; but spoke with such genuine sentiment and sense, that her ladyship, glad to find a person of experience to whom she could confide her grief and her condition, talked about them pretty unreservedly to Major Pendennis, and was eager to have his advice and consolation. Major Pendennis became the Begum’s confidante and house-friend, and as a mother, a wife, and a capitalist, she consulted him.

He gave her to understand (showing at the same time a great deal of respectful sympathy) that he was acquainted with some of the circumstances of her first unfortunate marriage, and with even the person of her late husband, whom he remembered in Calcutta — when she was living in seclusion with her father. The poor lady, with tears of shame more than of grief in her eyes, told her version of her story. Going back a child to India after two years at a European school, she had met Amory, and foolishly married him. “Oh, you don’t know how miserable that man, made me,” she said, “or what a life I passed betwixt him and my father. Before I saw him I had never seen a man except my father’s clerks and native servants. You know we didn’t go into society in India on account of ——” (“I know,” said Major Pendennis, with a bow) “I was a wild romantic child, my head was full of novels which I’d read at school — I listened to his wild stories and adventures, for he was a daring fellow, and I thought he talked beautifully of those calm nights on the passage out, when he used to ——. Well, I married him, and I was wretched from that day — wretched with my father, whose character you know, Major Pendennis, and I won’t speak of: but he wasn’t a good man, sir — neither to my poor mother, nor to me, except that he left me his money — nor to no one else that I ever heard of: and he didn’t do many kind actions in his lifetime, I’m afraid. And as for Amory, he was almost worse; he was a spendthrift when my father was close: he drank dreadfully, and was furious when in that way. He wasn’t in any way a good or a faithful husband to me, Major Pendennis, and if he’d died in the gaol before this trial, instead of afterwards he would have saved me a deal of shame and of unhappiness since, sir.” Lady Clavering added: “For perhaps I should not have married at all if I had not been so anxious to change his horrid name, and I have not been happy in my second husband, as I suppose you know, sir. Ah, Major Pendennis, I’ve got money to be sure, and I’m a lady, and people fancy I’m very happy, but I ain’t. We all have our cares, and griefs, and troubles: and many’s the day that I sit down to one of my grand dinners with an aching heart, and many a night do I lay awake on my fine bed a great deal more unhappy than the maid that makes for it. I’m not a happy woman, Major, for all the world says; and envies the Begum her diamonds, and carriages, and the great company that comes to my house. I’m not happy in my husband; I’m not in my daughter. She ain’t a good girl like that dear Laura Bell at Fairoaks. She’s cost me many a tear though you don’t see ’em; and she sneers at her mother because I haven’t had learning and that. How should I? I was brought up amongst natives till I was twelve, and went back to India when I was fourteen. Ah, Major, I should have been a good woman if I had had a good husband. And now I must go upstairs and wipe my eyes, for they’re red with cryin. And Lady Rockminster’s a comin, and we’re goin to ave a drive in the Park. And when Lady Rockminster made her appearance, there was not a trace of tears or vexation on Lady Clavering’s face, but she was full of spirits, and bounced out with her blunders and talk, and murdered the king’s English with the utmost liveliness and good-humour.

“Begad, she is not such a bad woman!” the Major thought within himself. “She is not refined, certainly, and calls ‘Apollo’ ‘Apoller;’ but she has some heart, and I like that sort of thing, and a devilish deal of money, too. Three stars in India Stock to her name, begad! which that young cub is to have — is he?” And he thought how he should like to see a little of the money transferred to Miss Blanche, and, better still, one of those stars shining in the name of Mr. Arthur Pendennis.

Still bent upon pursuing his schemes, whatsoever they might be, the old negotiator took the privilege of his intimacy and age, to talk in a kindly and fatherly manner to Miss Blanche, when he found occasion to see her alone. He came in so frequently at luncheon-time, and became so familiar with the ladies, that they did not even hesitate to quarrel before him; and Lady Clavering, whose tongue was loud, and temper brusque, had many a battle with the Sylphide in the family friend’s presence. Blanche’s wit seldom failed to have the mastery in these encounters, and the keen barbs of her arrows drove her adversary discomfited away. “I am an old fellow,” the Major said; “I have nothing to do in life. I have my eyes open. I keep good counsel. I am the friend of both of you; and if you choose to quarrel before me, why, I shan’t tell any one. But you are two good people, and I intend to make it up between you. I have between lots of people — husbands and wives, fathers and sons, daughters and mammas, before this. I like it; I’ve nothing else to do.”

One day, then, the old diplomatist entered Lady Clavering’s drawing-room, just as the latter quitted it, evidently in a high state of indignation, and ran past him up the stairs to her own apartments. “She couldn’t speak to him now,” she said; “she was a great deal too angry with that — that — that little, wicked”— anger choked the rest of the words, or prevented their utterance until Lady Clavering had passed out of hearing.

“My dear, good Miss Amory,” the Major said, entering the drawing-room, “I see what is happening. You and mamma have been disagreeing. Mothers and daughters disagree in the best families. It was but last week that I healed up a quarrel between Lady Clapperton and her daughter Lady Claudia. Lady Lear and her eldest daughter have not spoken for fourteen years. Kinder and more worthy people than these I never knew in the whole course of my life; for everybody but each other admirable. But they can’t live together: they oughtn’t to live together: and I wish, my dear creature, with all my soul, that I could see you with an establishment of your own — for there is no woman in London who could conduct one better — with your own establishment, making your own home happy.”

“I am not very happy in this one,” said the Sylphide; “and the stupidity of mamma is enough to provoke a saint.”

“Precisely so; you are not suited to one another. Your mother committed one fault in early life — or was it Nature, my dear, in your case? — she ought not to have educated you. You ought not to have been bred up to become the refined and intellectual being you are, surrounded, as I own you are, by those who have not your genius or your refinement. Your place would be to lead in the most brilliant circles, not to follow, and take a second place in any society. I have watched you, Miss Amory: you are ambitious; and your proper sphere is command. You ought to shine; and you never can in this house, I know it. I hope I shall see you in another and a happier one, some day, and the mistress of it.”

The Sylphide shrugged her lily shoulders with a look of scorn. “Where is the Prince, and where is the palace, Major Pendennis?” she said. “I am ready. But there is no romance in the world now, no real affection.”

“No, indeed,” said the Major, with the most sentimental and simple air which he could muster.

“Not that I know anything about it,” said Blanche, casting her eyes down “except what I have read in novels.”

“Of course not,” Major Pendennis cried; “how should you, my dear young lady? and novels ain’t true, as you remark admirably, and there is no romance left in the world. Begad, I wish I was a young fellow like my nephew.”

“And what,” continued Miss Amory, musing, “what are the men whom we see about at the balls every night — dancing guardsmen, penniless treasury clerks — boobies! If I had my brother’s fortune, I might have such an establishment as you promise me — but with my name, and with my little means, what am I to look to! A country parson, or a barrister in a street near Russell Square, or a captain in a dragoon regiment, who will take lodgings for me, and come home from the mess tipsy and smelling of smoke like Sir Francis Clavering. That is how we girls are destined to end life. O Major Pendennis, I am sick of London, and of balls, and of young dandies with their chin-tips, and of the insolent great ladies who know us one day and cut us the next — and of the world altogether. I should like to leave it and to go into a convent, that I should. I shall never find anybody to understand me. And I live here as much alone in my family and in the world, as if I were in a cell locked up for ever. I wish there were Sisters of Charity here, and that I could be one and catch the plague, and die of it — I wish to quit the world. I am not very old: but I am tired, I have suffered so much — I’ve been so disillusionated — I’m weary, I’m weary — O that the Angel of Death would come and beckon me away!”

This speech may be interpreted as follows. A few nights since a great lady, Lady Flamingo, had cut Miss Amory and Lady Clavering. She was quite mad because she could not get an invitation to Lady Drum’s ball: it was the end of the season and nobody had proposed to her: she had made no sensation at all, she who was so much cleverer than any girl of the year, and of the young ladies forming her special circle. Dora who had but five thousand pounds, Flora who had nothing, and Leonora who had red hair, were going to be married, and nobody had come for Blanche Amory!

“You judge wisely about the world, and about your position, my dear Miss Blanche,” the Major said. “The Prince don’t marry nowadays, as you say: unless the Princess has a doosid deal of money in the funds, or is a lady of his own rank. — The young folks of the great families marry into the great families: if they haven’t fortune they have each other’s shoulders, to push on in the world, which is pretty nearly as good. — A girl with your fortune can scarcely hope for a great match: but a girl with your genius and your admirable tact and fine manners, with a clever husband by her side, may make any place for herself in the world. — We are grown doosid republican. Talent ranks with birth and wealth now, begad: and a clever man with a clever wife, may take any place they please.”

Miss Amory did not of course in the least understand what Major Pendennis meant. — Perhaps she thought over circumstances in her mind and asked herself, could he be a negotiator for a former suitor of hers, and could he mean Pen? No, it was impossible — He had been civil, but nothing more. — So she said laughing, “Who is the clever man, and when will you bring him to me, Major Pendennis? I am dying to see him.”

At this moment a servant threw open the door, and announced Mr. Henry Foker: at which name, and at the appearance of our friend, both the lady and the gentleman burst out laughing.

“That is not the man,” Major Pendennis said. “He is engaged to his cousin, Lord Gravesend’s daughter. — Good-bye, my dear Miss Amory.”

* * * * *

Was Pen growing worldly, and should a man not get the experience of the world and lay it to his account? “He felt, for his part,” as he said, “that he was growing very old very soon.” “How this town forms and changes us,” he said once to Warrington. Each had come in from his night’s amusement; and Pen was smoking his pipe, and recounting, as his habit was, to his friend the observations and adventures of the evening just past. “How I am changed,” he said, “from the simpleton boy at Fairoaks, who was fit to break his heart about his first love! Lady Mirabel had a reception to-night, and was as grave and collected as if she had been born a Duchess, and had never seen a trap-door in her life. She gave me the honour of a conversation, and patronised me about ‘Walter Lorraine,’ quite kindly.”

“What condescension!” broke in Warrington.

“Wasn’t it?” Pen said, simply — at which the other burst out laughing according to his wont. “Is it possible,” he said, “that anybody should think of patronising the eminent author of ‘Walter Lorraine?’”

“You laugh at both of us,” Pen said, blushing a little —“I was coming to that myself. She told me that she had not read the book (as indeed I believe she never read a book in her life), but that Lady Rockminster had, and that the Duchess of Connaught pronounced it to be very clever. In that case, I said, I should die happy, for that to please those two ladies was in fact the great aim of my existence, and having their approbation, of course I need look for no other. Lady Mirabel looked at me solemnly out of her fine eyes, and said, ‘Oh, indeed,’ as if she understood me, and then she asked me whether I went to the Duchess’s Thursdays, and when I said No, hoped she should see me there, and that I must try and get there, everybody went there — everybody who was in society: and then we talked of the new ambassador from Timbuctoo, and how he was better than the old one; and how Lady Mary Billington was going to marry a clergyman quite below her in rank; and how Lord and Lady Ringdove had fallen out three months after their marriage about Tom Pouter of the Blues, Lady Ringdove’s cousin — and so forth. From the gravity of that woman you would have fancied she had been born in a palace, and lived all the seasons of her life in Belgrave Square.”

“And you, I suppose you took your part in the conversation pretty well, as the descendant of the Earl your father, and the heir of Fairoaks Castle?” Warrington said. “Yes, I remember reading of the festivities which occurred when you came of age. The Countess gave a brilliant tea soiree to the neighbouring nobility; and the tenantry were regaled in the kitchen with a leg of mutton and a quart of ale. The remains of the banquet were distributed amongst the poor of the village, and the entrance to the park was illuminated until old John put the candle out on retiring to rest at his usual hour.”

“My mother is not a countess,” said Pen, “though she has very good blood in her veins too — but commoner as she is, I have never met a peeress who was more than her peer, Mr. George; and if you will come to Fairoaks Castle you shall judge for yourself of her and of my cousin too. They are not so witty as the London women, but they certainly are as well bred. The thoughts of women in the country are turned to other objects than those which occupy your London ladies. In the country a woman has her household and her poor, her long calm days and long calm evenings.”

“Devilish long,” Warrington said, “and a great deal too calm; I’ve tried ’em.”

“The monotony of that existence must be to a certain degree melancholy — like the tune of a long ballad; and its harmony grave and gentle, sad and tender: it would be unendurable else. The loneliness of women in the country makes them of necessity soft and sentimental. Leading a life of calm duty, constant routine, mystic reverie — a sort of nuns at large — too much gaiety or laughter would jar upon their almost sacred quiet, and would be as out of place there as in a church.”

“Where you go to sleep over the sermon,” Warrington said.

“You are a professed misogynist, and hate the sex because, I suspect, you know very little about them,” Mr. Pen continued, with an air of considerable self-complacency. “If you dislike the women in the country for being too slow, surely the London woman ought to be fast enough for you. The pace of London life is enormous: how do people last at it, I wonder — male and female? Take a woman of the world: follow her course through the season; one asks how she can survive it? or if she tumbles into a sleep at the end of August, and lies torpid until the spring? She goes into the world every night, and sits watching her marriageable daughters dancing till long after dawn. She has a nursery of little ones, very likely, at home, to whom she administers example and affection; having an eye likewise to bread-and-milk, catechism, music and French, and roast leg of mutton at one o’clock; she has to call upon ladies of her own station, either domestically or in her public character, in which she sits upon Charity Committees, or Ball Committees, or Emigration Committees, or Queen’s College Committees, and discharges I don’t know what more duties of British stateswomanship. She very likely keeps a poor-visiting list; has conversations with the clergyman about soup or flannel, or proper religious teaching for the parish; and (if she lives in certain districts) probably attends early church. She has the newspapers to read, and, at least, must know what her husband’s party is about, so as to be able to talk to her neighbour at dinner; and it is a fact that she reads every new book that comes out; for she can talk, and very smartly and well, about them all, and you see them all upon her drawing-room table. She has the cares of her household besides — to make both ends meet; to make the girls’ milliner’s bills appear not too dreadful to the father and paymaster of the family; to snip off, in secret, a little extra article of expenditure here and there, and convey it, in the shape of a bank-note, to the boys at college or at sea; to check the encroachments of tradesmen and housekeepers’ financial fallacies; to keep upper and lower servants from jangling with one another, and the household in order. Add to this, that she has a secret taste for some art or science, models in clay, makes experiments in chemistry, or plays in private on the violoncello — and I say, without exaggeration, many London ladies are doing this — and you have a character before you such as our ancestors never heard of, and such as belongs entirely to our era and period of civilisation. Ye gods! how rapidly we live and grow! In nine months, Mr. Paxton grows you a pineapple as large as a portmanteau, whereas a little one, no bigger than a Dutch cheese, took three years to attain his majority in old times; and as the race of pineapples so is the race of man. Hoiaper — what’s the Greek for a pineapple, Warrington?”

“Stop, for mercy’s sake, stop with the English and before you come to the Greek,” Warrington cried out, laughing. “I never heard you make such a long speech, or was aware that you had penetrated so deeply into the female mysteries. Who taught you all this, and into whose boudoirs and nurseries have you been peeping, whilst I was smoking my pipe, and reading my book, lying on my straw bed?”

“You are on the bank; old boy, content to watch the waves tossing in the winds, and the struggles of others at sea,” Pen said. “I am in the stream now, and by Jove I like it. How rapidly we go down it, hey? Strong and feeble, old and young — the metal pitchers and the earthen pitchers — the pretty little china boat swims gaily till the big bruised brazen one bumps him and sends him down — eh, vogue la galere! — you see a man sink in the race, and say good-bye to him — look, he has only dived under the other fellow’s legs, and comes up shaking his pole, and striking out ever so far ahead. Eh, vogue la galere, I say. It’s good sport, Warrington — not winning merely, but playing.”

“Well, go in and win, young ’un. I’ll sit and mark the game,” Warrington said, surveying the ardent young fellow with an almost fatherly pleasure. “A generous fellow plays for the play, a sordid one for the stake; an old fogy sits by and smokes the pipe of tranquillity, while Jack and Tom are pummelling each other in the ring.”

“Why don’t you come in, George, and have a turn with the gloves? You are big enough and strong enough,” Pen said. “Dear old boy, you are worth ten of me.”

“You are not quite as tall as Goliath, certainly,” the other answered, with a laugh that was rough and yet tender. “As for me, I am disabled. I had a fatal hit in early life. I will tell you about it some day. You may, too, meet with your master. Don’t be too eager, or too confident, or too worldly, my boy.”

Was Pendennis becoming worldly, or only seeing the worldly, or both? and is a man very wrong for being after all only a man? Which is the most reasonable, and does his duty best: he who stands aloof from the struggle of life, calmly contemplating, or he who descends to the ground, and takes his part in the contest? “That philosopher,” Pen said, “had held a great place amongst the leaders of the world, and enjoyed to the full what it had to give of rank and riches, renown and pleasure, who came, weary-hearted, out of it, and said that all was vanity and vexation of spirit. Many a teacher of those whom we reverence, and who steps out of his carriage up to his carved cathedral place, shakes his lawn ruffles over the velvet cushions, and cries out, that the whole struggle is an accursed one, and the works of the world are evil. Many a conscience-stricken mystic flies from it altogether, and shuts himself out from it within convent walls (real or spiritual), whence he can only look up to the sky, and contemplate the heaven out of which there is no rest, and no good.

“But the earth, where our feet are, is the work of the same Power as the immeasurable blue yonder, in which the future lies into which we would peer. Who ordered toil as the condition of life, ordered weariness, ordered sickness, ordered poverty, failure, success — to this man a foremost place, to the other a nameless struggle with the crowd — to that a shameful fall, or paralysed limb, or sudden accident — to each some work upon the ground he stands on, until he is laid beneath it.” While they were talking, the dawn came shining through the windows of the room, and Pen threw them open to receive the fresh morning air. “Look, George,” said he; “look and see the sun rise: he sees the labourer on his way a-field; the work-girl plying her poor needle; the lawyer at his desk, perhaps; the beauty smiling asleep upon her pillow of down; or the jaded reveller reeling to bed; or the fevered patient tossing on it; or the doctor watching by it, over the throes of the mother for the child that is to be born into the world; — to be born and to take his part in the suffering and struggling, the tears and laughter, the crime, remorse, love, folly, sorrow, rest.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter45.html

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