The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLVI

Miss Amory’s Partners

The noble Henry Foker, of whom we have lost sight for a few pages, has been in the meanwhile occupied, as we might suppose a man of his constancy would be, in the pursuit and indulgence of his all-absorbing passion of love.

I wish that a few of my youthful readers who are inclined to that amusement would take the trouble to calculate the time which is spent in the pursuit, when they would find it to be one of the most costly occupations in which a man can possibly indulge. What don’t you sacrifice to it, indeed, young gentlemen and young ladies of ill-regulated minds? Many hours of your precious sleep in the first place, in which you lie tossing and thinking about the adored object, whence you come down late to breakfast, when noon is advancing and all the family is long since away to its daily occupations. Then when you at length get to these occupations you pay no attention to them, and engage in them with no ardour — all your thoughts and powers of mind being fixed elsewhere. Then the day’s work being slurred over, you neglect your friends and relatives, your natural companions and usual associates in life, that you may go and have a glance at the dear personage, or a look up at her windows, or a peep at her carriage in the Park. Then at night the artless blandishments of home bore you; mamma’s conversation palls upon you; the dishes which that good soul prepares for the dinner of her favourite are sent away untasted — the whole meal of life, indeed, except one particular plat, has no relish. Life, business, family ties, home, all things useful and dear once, become intolerable, and you are never easy except when you are in pursuit of your flame.

Such I believe to be not unfrequently the state of mind amongst ill-regulated young gentlemen, and such indeed was Mr. H. Foker’s condition, who, having been bred up to indulge in every propensity towards which he was inclined, abandoned himself to this one with his usual selfish enthusiasm. Nor because he had given his friend Arthur Pendennis a great deal of good advice on a former occasion, need men of the world wonder that Mr. Foker became passion’s slave in his turn. Who among us has not given a plenty of the very best advice to his friends? Who has not preached, and who has practised? To be sure, you, madam, are perhaps a perfect being, and never had a wrong thought in the whole course of your frigid and irreproachable existence: or sir, you are a great deal too strong-minded to allow any foolish passion to interfere with your equanimity in chambers or your attendance on ‘Change; you are so strong that you don’t want any sympathy. We don’t give you any, then; we keep ours for the humble and weak, that struggle and stumble and get up again, and so march with the rest of mortals. What need have you of a hand who never fall? Your serene virtue is never shaded by passion, or ruffled by temptation, or darkened by remorse; compassion would be impertinence for such an angel: but then with such a one companionship becomes intolerable; you are, from the elevation of your very virtue and high attributes, of necessity lonely; we can’t reach up and talk familiarly with such potentatess good-bye, then; our way lies with humble folks, and not with serene highnesses like you; and we give notice that there are no perfect characters in this history, except, perhaps, one little one, and that one is not perfect either, for she never knows to this day that she is perfect, and with a deplorable misapprehension and perverseness of humility, believes herself to be as great a sinner as need be.

This young person does not happen to be in London at the present period of our story, and it is by no means for the like of her that Mr. Henry Foker’s mind is agitated. But what matters a few failings? Need we be angels, male or female, in order to be worshipped as such? Let us admire the diversity of the tastes of mankind; and the oldest, the ugliest, the stupidest and most pompous, the silliest and most vapid, the greatest criminal, tyrant booby, Bluebeard, Catherine Hayes, George Barnwell, amongst us, we need never despair. I have read of the passion of a transported pickpocket for a female convict (each of them advanced in age, being repulsive in person, ignorant, quarrelsome, and given to drink), that was as magnificent as the loves of Cleopatra and Antony, or Lancelot and Guinever. The passion which Count Borulawski, the Polish dwarf, inspired in the bosom of the most beautiful Baroness at the Court of Dresden, is a matter with which we are all of us acquainted: the flame which burned in the heart of young Cornet Tozer but the other day, and caused him to run off and espouse Mrs. Battersby, who was old enough to be his mamma — all these instances are told in the page of history or the newspaper column. Are we to be ashamed or pleased to think that our hearts are formed so that the biggest and highest-placed Ajax among us may some day find himself prostrate before the pattens of his kitchen-maid; as that there is no poverty or shame or crime, which will not be supported, hugged even with delight, and cherished more closely than virtue would be, by the perverse fidelity and admirable constant folly of a woman?

So then Henry Foker, Esquire, longed after his love, and cursed the fate which separated him from her. When Lord Gravesend’s family retired to the country (his lordship leaving his proxy with the venerable Lord Bagwig), Harry still remained lingering on in London, certainly not much to the sorrow of Lady Ann, to whom he was affianced, and who did not in the least miss him. Wherever Miss Clavering went, this infatuated young fellow continued to follow her; and being aware that his engagement to his cousin was known in the world, he was forced to make a mystery of his passion, and confine it to his own breast, so that it was so pent in there and pressed down, that it is a wonder he did not explode some day with the stormy secret, and perish collapsed after the outburst.

There had been a grand entertainment at Gaunt House on one beautiful evening in June, and the next day’s journals contained almost two columns of the names of the most closely printed nobility and gentry who had been honoured with invitations to the ball. Among the guests were Sir Francis and Lady Clavering and Miss Amory, for whom the indefatigable Major Pendennis had procured an invitation, and our two young friends Arthur and Harry. Each exerted himself, and danced a great deal with Miss Blanche. As for the worthy Major, he assumed the charge of Lady Clavering, and took care to introduce her to that department of the mansion where her ladyship specially distinguished herself, namely, the refreshment-room, where, amongst pictures of Titian and Giorgione, and regal portraits of Vandyke and Reynolds, and enormous salvers of gold and silver, and pyramids of large flowers, and constellations of wax candles — in a manner perfectly regardless of expense, in a word — a supper was going on all night. Of how many creams, jellies, salads, peaches, white soups, grapes, pates, galantines, cups of tea, champagne, and so forth, Lady Clavering partook, it does not become us to say. How much the Major suffered as he followed the honest woman about, calling to the solemn male attendants and lovely servant-maids, and administering to Lady Clavering’s various wants with admirable patience, nobody knows; — he never confessed. He never allowed his agony to appear on his countenance in the least; but with a constant kindness brought plate after plate to the Begum.

Mr. Wagg counted up all the dishes of which Lady Clavering partook as long as he could count (but as he partook very freely himself of champagne during the evening, his powers of calculation were not to be trusted at the close of the entertainment), and he recommended Mr. Honeyman, Lady Steyne’s medical man, to look carefully after the Begum, and to call and get news of her ladyship the next day.

Sir Francis Clavering made his appearance, and skulked for a while about the magnificent rooms; but the company and the splendour which he met there were not to the Baronet’s taste, and after tossing off a tumbler of wine or two at the buffet, he quitted Gaunt House for the neighbourhood of Jermyn Street, where his friends Loder, Punter, little Moss Abramns, and Captain Skewball were assembled at the familiar green table. In the rattle of the box, and of their agreeable conversation, Sir Francis’s spirits rose to their accustomed point of feeble hilarity.

Mr. Pynsent, who had asked Miss Amory to dance, came up on one occasion to claim her hand, but scowls of recognition having already passed between him and Mr. Arthur Pendennis in the dancing-room, Arthur suddenly rose up and claimed Miss Amory as his partner for the present dance, on which Mr. Pynsent, biting his lips and scowling yet more savagely, withdrew with a profound bow, saying that he gave up his claim. There are some men who are always falling in one’s way in life. Pynsent and Pen had this view of each other; and each regarded other accordingly.

“What a confounded conceited provincial fool that is!” thought the one. “Because he has written a twopenny novel, his absurd head is turned, and a kicking would take his conceit out of him.”

“What an impertinent idiot that man is!” remarked the other to his partner. “His soul is in Downing Street; his neckcloth is foolscap; his hair is sand; his legs are rulers; his vitals are tape and sealing-wax; he was a prig in his cradle; and never laughed since he was born, except three times at the same joke of his chief. I have the same liking for that man, Miss Amory, I have for that cold boiled veal.” Upon which Blanche of course remarked, that Mr. Pendennis was wicked, mechant, perfectly abominable, and wondered what he would say when her back was turned.

“Say! — Say that you have the most beautiful figure, and the slimmest waist in the world, Blanche — Miss Amory, I mean. I beg your pardon. Another turn; this music would make an alderman dance.”

“And you have left off tumbling when you waltz now?” Blanche asked, archly looking up at her partner’s face.

“One falls and one gets up again in life, Blanche; you know I used to call you so in old times, and it is the prettiest name in the world. Besides, I have practised since then.”

“And with a great number of partners, I’m afraid,” Blanche said, with a little sham sigh, and a shrug of the shoulders. And so in truth Mr. Pen had practised a good deal in this life; and had undoubtedly arrived at being able to dance better.

If Pendennis was impertinent in his talk, Foker, on the other hand, so bland and communicative on most occasions, was entirely mum and melancholy when he danced with Miss Amory. To clasp her slender waist was a rapture, to whirl round the room with her was a delirium; but to speak to her, what could he say that was worthy of her? What pearl of conversation could he bring that was fit for the acceptance of such a Queen of love and wit as Blanche? It was she who made the talk when she was in the company of this love-stricken partner. It was she who asked him bow that dear little pony was, and looked at him and thanked him with such a tender kindness and regret, and refused the dear little pony with such a delicate sigh when he offered it. “I have nobody to ride with in London,” she said. “Mamma is timid, and her figure is not pretty on horseback. Sir Francis never goes out with me. He loves me like — like a stepdaughter. Oh, how delightful it must be to have a father — a father, Mr. Foker!”

“Oh, uncommon,” said Mr. Harry, who enjoyed that blessing very calmly, upon which, and forgetting the sentimental air which she had just before assumed, Blanche’s grey eyes gazed at Foker with such an arch twinkle that both of them burst out laughing, and Harry enraptured and at his ease began to entertain her with a variety of innocent prattle — good kind simple Foker talk, flavoured with many expressions by no means to be discovered in dictionaries, and relating to the personal history of himself or horses, or other things dear and important to him, or to persons in the ballroom then passing before them, and about whose appearance or character Mr. Harry spoke with artless freedom, and a considerable dash of humour.

And it was Blanche who, when the conversation flagged, and the youth’s modesty came rushing back and overpowering him, knew how to reanimate her companion: asked him questions about Logwood, and whether it was a pretty place? Whether he was a hunting man, and whether he liked women to hunt? (in which case she was prepared to say that she adored hunting)— but Mr. Foker expressing his opinion against sporting females, and pointing out Lady Bullfinch, who happened to pass by, as a horse-godmother, whom he had seen at cover with a cigar in her face, Blanche too expressed her detestation of the sports of the field, and said it would make her shudder to think of a dear sweet little fox being killed, on which Foker laughed and waltzed with renewed vigour and grace.

And at the end of the waltz — the last waltz they had on that night — Blanche asked him about Drummington, and whether it was a fine house. His cousins, she had heard, were very accomplished: Lord Erith she had met, and which of his cousins was his favourite? Was it not Lady Ann? Yes, she was sure it was she; sure by his looks and his blushes. She was tired of dancing; it was getting very late; she must go to mamma; — and, without another word, she sprang away from Harry Foker’s arm, and seized upon Pen’s, who was swaggering about the dancing-room, and again said, “Mamma, mamma! — take me to mamma, dear, Mr. Pendennis!” transfixing Harry with a Parthian shot, as she fled from him.

My Lord Steyne, with garter and ribbon, with a bald head and shining eyes, and a collar of red whiskers round his face, always looked grand upon an occasion of state; and made a great effect upon Lady Clavering, when he introduced himself to her at the request of the obsequious Major Pendennis. With his own white and royal hand, he handed to her ladyship a glass of wine, said he had heard of her charming daughter, and begged to be presented to her; and, at this very juncture, Mr. Arthur Pendennis came up with the young lady on his arm.

The peer made a profound bow, and Blanche the deepest curtesy that ever was seen. His lordship gave Mr. Arthur Pendennis his hand to shake; said he had read his book, which was very wicked and clever; asked Miss Blanche if she had read it — at which Pen blushed and winced. Why, Blanche was one of the heroines of the novel. Blanche, in black ringlets and a little altered, was the Neaera of ‘Walter Lorraine.’

Blanche had read it: the language of the eyes expressed her admiration and rapture at the performance. This little play being achieved, the Marquis of Steyne made other two profound bows to Lady Clavering and her daughter, and passed on to some other of his guests at the splendid entertainment.

Mamma and daughter were loud in their expressions of admiration of the noble Marquis so soon as his broad back was turned upon them. “He said they make a very nice couple,” whispered major Pendennis to Lady Clavering. Did he now, really? Mamma thought they would; Mamma was so flustered with the honour which had just been shown to her, and with other intoxicating events of the evening, that her good-humour knew no bounds. She laughed, she winked, and nodded knowingly at Pen; she tapped him on the arm with her fan; she tapped Blanche; she tapped the Major; — her contentment was boundless, and her method of showing her joy equally expansive.

As the party went down the great staircase of Gaunt House, the morning had risen stark and clear over the black trees of the square; the skies were tinged with pink; and the cheeks of some of the people at the ball, — ah, how ghastly they looked! That admirable and devoted Major above all — who had been for hours by Lady Clavering’s side, ministering to her and feeding her body with everything that was nice, and her ear with everything that was sweet and flattering — oh! what an object he was! The rings round his eyes were of the colour of bistre; those orbs themselves were like the plovers’ eggs whereof Lady Clavering and Blanche had each tasted; the wrinkles in his old face were furrowed in deep gashes; and a silver stubble, like an elderly morning dew was glittering on his chin, and alongside the dyed whiskers now limp and out of curl.

There he stood, with admirable patience, enduring, uncomplainingly, a silent agony; knowing that people could see the state of his face (for could he not himself perceive the condition of others, males and females, of his own age?)— longing to go to rest for hours past; aware that suppers disagreed with him, and yet having eaten a little so as to keep his friend, Lady Clavering, in good-humour; with twinges of rheumatism in the back and knees; with weary feet burning in his varnished boots — so tired, oh, so tired and longing for bed! If a man, struggling with hardship and bravely overcoming it, is an object of admiration for the gods, that Power in whose chapels the old Major was a faithful worshipper must have looked upwards approvingly upon the constancy of Pendennis’s martyrdom. There are sufferers in that cause as in the other: the negroes in the service of Mumbo Jumbo tattoo and drill themselves with burning skewers with great fortitude; and we read that the priests in the service of Baal gashed themselves and bled freely. You who can smash the idols, do so with a good courage; but do not be too fierce with the idolaters — they worship the best thing they know.

The Pendennises, the elder and the younger, waited with Lady Clavering and her daughter until her ladyship’s carriage was announced, when the elder’s martyrdom may be said to have come to an end, for the good-natured Begum insisted upon leaving him at his door in Bury Street; so he took the back seat of the carriage after a feeble bow or two, and speech of thanks, polite to the last, and resolute in doing his duty. The Begum waved her dumpy little hand by way of farewell to Arthur and Foker, and Blanche smiled languidly out upon the young men, thinking whether she looked very wan and green under her rose-coloured hood, and whether it was the mirrors at Gaunt House, or the fatigue and fever of her own eyes, which made her fancy herself so pale.

Arthur, perhaps, saw quite well how yellow Blanche looked, but did not attribute that peculiarity of her complexion to the effect of the looking-glasses, or to any error in his sight or her own. Our young man of the world could use his eyes very keenly, and could see Blanche’s face pretty much as nature had made it. But for poor Foker it had a radiance which dazzled and blinded him: he could see no more faults in it than in the sun, which was now flaring over the house-tops.

Amongst other wicked London habits which Pen had acquired, the moralist will remark that he had got to keep very bad hours; and often was going to bed at the time when sober country-people were thinking of leaving it. Men get used to one hour as to another. Editors of newspapers, Covent Garden market-people, night cabmen and coffee-sellers, chimney-sweeps, and gentlemen and ladies of fashion who frequent balls, are often quite lively at three or four o’clock of a morning, when ordinary mortals are snoring. We have shown in the last chapter how Pen was in a brisk condition of mind at this period, inclined to smoke his cigar at ease, and to speak freely.

Foker and Pen walked away from Gaunt House, then, indulging in both the above amusements: or rather Pen talked, and Foker looked as if he wanted to say something. Pen was sarcastic and dandified when he had been in the company of great folks; he could not help imitating some of their airs and tones, and having a most lively imagination, mistook himself for a person of importance very easily. He rattled away, and attacked this person and that; sneered at Lady John Turnbull’s bad French, which her ladyship will introduce into all conversations in spite of the sneers of everybody; at Mrs. Slack Roper’s extraordinary costume and sham jewels; at the old dandies and the young ones; — at whom didn’t he sneer and laugh?

“You fire at everybody, Pen — you’re grown awful, that you are,” Foker said. “Now you’ve pulled about Blondel’s yellow wig, and Colchicum’s black one, why don’t you have a shy at a brown one, hay? you know whose I mean. It got into Lady Clavering’s carriage.”

“Under my uncle’s hat? My uncle is a martyr, Foker, my boy. My uncle has been doing excruciating duties all night. He likes to go to bed rather early. He has a dreadful headache if he sits up and touches supper. He always has the gout if he walks or stands much at a ball. He has been sitting up, and standing up, and supping. He has gone home to the gout and the headache, and for my sake. Shall I make fun of the old boy? no, not for Venice!”

“How do you mean that he has been doing it for your sake?” Foker asked, looking rather alarmed.

“Boy! canst thou keep a secret if I impart it to thee?” Pen cried out, in high spirits. “Art thou of good counsel? Wilt thou swear? Wilt thou be mum, or wilt thou preach? Wilt thou be silent and hear, or wilt thou speak and die?” And as he spoke, flinging himself into an absurd theatrical attitude, the men in the cabstand in Piccadilly wondered and grinned at the antics of the two young swells.

“What the doose are you driving at?” Foker asked, looking very much agitated.

Pen, however, did not remark this agitation much, but continued in the same bantering and excited vein. “Henry, friend of my youth,” he said, “and witness of my early follies, though dull at thy books, yet thou art not altogether deprived of sense — nay, blush not, Henrico, thou hast a good portion of that, and of courage and kindness too, at the service of thy friends. Were I in a strait of poverty, I would come to my Foker’s purse. Were I in grief, I would discharge my grief upon his sympathising bosom ——”

“Gammon, Pen — go on,” Foker said.

“I would, Henrico, upon thy studs, and upon thy cambric worked by the hands of beauty, to adorn the breast of valour! Know then, friend of my boyhood’s days, that Arthur Pendennis of the Upper Temple, student-at-law, feels that he is growing lonely and old Care is furrowing his temples, and Baldness is busy with his crown. Shall we stop and have a drop of coffee at this stall, it looks very hot and nice? Look how that cabman is blowing at his saucer. No, you won’t? Aristocrat! I resume my tale. I am getting on in life. I have got devilish little money. I want some. I am thinking of getting some, and settling in life. I’m thinking of settling. I’m thinking of marrying, old boy. I’m thinking of becoming a moral man; a steady port and sherry character: with a good reputation in my quartier, and a moderate establishment of two maids and a man — with an occasional brougham to drive out Mrs. Pendennis, and a house near the Parks for the accommodation of the children. Ha! what sayest thou? Answer thy friend, thou worthy child of beer. Speak, I adjure thee by all thy vats.

“But you ain’t got any money, Pen,” said the other, still looking alarmed.

“I ain’t? No, but she ave. I tell thee there is gold in store for me — not what you call money, nursed in the lap of luxury, and cradled on grains, and drinking in wealth from a thousand mash-tubs. What do you know about money? What is poverty to you, is splendour to the hardy son of the humble apothecary. You can’t live without an establishment, and your houses in town and country. A snug little house somewhere off Belgravia, a brougham for my wife, a decent cook, and a fair bottle of wine for my friends at home sometimes; these simple necessaries suffice for me, my Foker.” And here Pendennis began to look more serious. Without bantering further, Pen continued, “I’ve rather serious thoughts of settling and marrying. No man can get on in the world without some money at his back. You must have a certain stake to begin with, before you can go in and play the great game. Who knows that I’m not going to try, old fellow? Worse men than I have won at it. And as I have not got enough capital from my fathers, I must get some by my wife — that’s all.”

They were walking down Grosvenor Street, as they talked, or rather as Pen talked, in the selfish fulness of his heart; and Mr. Pen must have been too much occupied with his own affairs to remark the concern and agitation of his neighbour, for he continued: “We are no longer children, you know, you and I, Harry. Bah! the time of our romance has passed away. We don’t marry for passion, but for prudence and for establishment. What do you take your cousin for? Because she is a nice girl, and an Earl’s daughter, and the old folks wish it, and that sort of thing.”

“And you, Pendennis,” asked Foker, “you ain’t very fond of the girl — you’re going to marry?”

Pen shrugged his shoulders. “Comme ca,” said he; “I like her well enough. She’s pretty enough; she’s clever enough. I think she’ll do very well. And she has got money enough — that’s the great point. Psha! you know who she is, don’t you? I thought you were sweet on her yourself one night when we dined with her mamma. It’s little Amory.”

“I— I thought so,” Foker said; “and has she accepted you!”

“Not quite,” Arthur replied, with a confident smile, which seemed to say, I have but to ask, and she comes to me that instant.

“Oh, not quite,” said Foker; and he broke out with such a dreadful laugh, that Pen, for the first time, turned his thoughts from himself towards his companion, and was struck by the other’s ghastly pale face.

“My dear fellow, Fo! what’s the matter? You’re ill,” Pen said, in a tone of real concern.

“You think it was the champagne at Gaunt House, don’t you? It ain’t that. Come in; let me talk to you for a minute. I’ll tell you what it is. D—— it, let me tell somebody,” Foker said.

They were at Mr. Foker’s door by this time, and, opening it, Harry walked with his friend into his apartments, which were situated in the back part of the house, and behind the family dining-room where the elder Foker received his guests, surrounded by pictures of himself, his wife, his infant son on a donkey, and the late Earl of Gravesend in his robes as a Peer. Foker and Pen passed by this chamber, now closed with death-like shutters, and entered into the young man’s own quarters. Dusky streams of sunbeams were playing into that room, and lighting up poor Harry’s gallery of dancing-girls and opera nymphs with flickering illuminations.

“Look here! I can’t help telling you, Pen,” he said. Ever since the night we dined there, I’m so fond of that girl, that I think I shall die if I don’t get her. I feel as if I should go mad sometimes. I can’t stand it, Pen. I couldn’t bear to hear you talking about her, just now, about marrying her only because she’s money. Ah, Pen! that ain’t the question in marrying. I’d bet anything it ain’t. Talking about money and such a girl as that, it’s — it’s — what-d’ye-call-’em — you know what I mean — I ain’t good at talking — sacrilege, then. If she’d have me, I’d take and sweep a crossing, that I would!”

“Poor Fo! I don’t think that would tempt her,” Pen said, eyeing his friend with a great deal of real good-nature and pity. “She is not a girl for love and a cottage.”

“She ought to be a duchess, I know that very well, and I know she wouldn’t take me unless I could make her a great place in the world — for I ain’t good for anything myself much — I ain’t clever and that sort of thing,” Foker said sadly. “If I had all the diamonds that all the duchesses and marchionesses had on to-night, wouldn’t I put ’em in her lap? But what’s the use of talking? I’m booked for another race. It’s that kills me, Pen. I can’t get out of it; though I die, I can’t get out of it. And though my cousin’s a nice girl, and I like her very well, and that, yet I hadn’t seen this one when our Governors settled that matter between us. And when you talked, just now, about her doing very well, and about her having money enough for both of you, I thought to myself it isn’t money or mere liking a girl, that ought to be enough to make a fellow marry. He may marry, and find he likes somebody else better. All the money in the world won’t make you happy then. Look at me; I’ve plenty of money, or shall have out of the mash-tubs, as you call ’em. My Governor thought he’d made it all right for me in settling my marriage with my cousin. I tell you it won’t do; and when Lady Ann has got her husband, it won’t be happy for either of us, and she’ll have the most miserable beggar in town.”

“Poor old fellow!” Pen said, with rather a cheap magnanimity, “I wish I could help you. I had no idea of this, and that you were so wild about the girl. Do you think she would have you without your money? No. Do you think your father would agree to break off your engagement with your cousin? You know him very well, and that he would cast you off rather than do so.”

The unhappy Foker only groaned a reply, flinging himself prostrate on a sofa, face forwards, his head in his hands.

“As for my affair,” Pen went on, “my dear fellow, if I had thought matters were so critical with you, at least I would not have pained you by choosing you as my confidant. And my business is not serious, at least not as yet. I have not spoken a word about it to Miss Amory. Very likely she would not have me if I asked her. Only I have had a great deal of talk about it with my uncle, who says that the match might be an eligible one for me. I’m ambitious and I’m poor. And it appears Lady Clavering will give her a good deal of money, and Sir Francis might be got to never mind the rest. Nothing is settled, Harry. They are going out of town directly. I promise you I won’t ask her before she goes. There’s no hurry: there’s time for everybody. But, suppose you got her, Foker. Remember what you said about marriages just now, and the misery of a man who doesn’t care for his wife; and what sort of a wife would you have who didn’t care for her husband?”

“But she would care for me,” said Foker, from his sofa —“that is, I think she would. Last night only, as we were dancing, she said ——”

“What did she say?” Pen cried, starting up in great wrath. But he saw his own meaning more clearly than Foker, and broke off with a laugh —“Well, never mind what she said, Harry. Miss Amory is a clever girl, and says numbers of civil things — to you — to me, perhaps — and who the deuce knows to whom besides? Nothing’s settled, old boy. At least, my heart won’t break if I don’t get her. Win her if you can, and I wish you joy of her. Good-bye! Don’t think about what I said to you. I was excited, and confoundedly thirsty in those hot rooms, and didn’t, I suppose, put enough Seltzer-water into the champagne. Good night! I’ll keep your counsel too. ‘Mum’ is the word between us; and ‘let there be a fair fight, and let the best man win,’ as Peter Crawley says.”

So saying, Mr. Arthur Pendennis, giving a very queer and rather dangerous look at his companion, shook him by the hand, with something of that sort of cordiality which befitted his just repeated simile of the boxing-match, and which Mr. Bendigo displays when he shakes hands with Mr. Gaunt before they fight each other for the champion’s belt and two hundred pounds a side. Foker returned his friend’s salute with an imploring look, and a piteous squeeze of the hand, sank back on his cushions again, and Pen, putting on his hat, strode forth into the air, and almost over the body of the matutinal housemaid, who was rubbing the steps at the door.

“And so he wants her too, does be?” thought Pen as he marched along — and noted within himself with a fatal keenness of perception and almost an infernal mischief, that the very pains and tortures which that honest heart of Foker’s was suffering gave a zest and an impetus to his own pursuit of Blanche: if pursuit might be called which had been no pursuit as yet, but mere sport and idle dallying. “She said something to him, did she? perhaps she gave him the fellow flower to this;” and he took out of his coat and twiddled in his thumb and finger a poor little shrivelled crumpled bud that had faded and blackened with the heat and flare of the night —“I wonder to how many more she has given her artless tokens of affection — the little flirt”— and he flung his into the gutter, where the water may have refreshed it, and where any amateur of rosebuds may have picked it up. And then bethinking him that the day was quite bright, and that the passers-by by might be staring at his beard and white neckcloth, our modest young gentleman took a cab and drove to the Temple.

Ah! is this the boy that prayed at his mother’s knee but a few years since, and for whom very likely at this hour of morning she is praying? Is this jaded and selfish worldling the lad who, a short while back, was ready to fling away his worldly all, his hope, his ambition, his chance of life, for his love? This is the man you are proud of, old Pendennis. You boast of having formed him: and of having reasoned him out of his absurd romance and folly — and groaning in your bed over your pains and rheumatisms, satisfy yourself still by thinking, that, at last, that lad will do something to better himself in life, and that the Pendennises will take a good place in the world. And is he the only one, who in his progress through this dark life goes wilfully or fatally astray, whilst the natural truth and love which should illumine him grow dim in the poisoned air, and suffice to light him no more?

When Pen was gone away, poor Harry Foker got up from the sofa, and taking out from his waistcoat — the splendidly buttoned, but the gorgeously embroidered, the work of his mamma — a little white rosebud, he drew from his dressing-case, also the maternal present, a pair of scissors, with which he nipped carefully the stalk of the flower, and placing it in a glass of water opposite his bed, he sought refuge there from care and bitter remembrances.

It is to be presumed that Miss Blanche Amory had more than one rose in her bouquet, and why should not the kind young creature give out of her superfluity, and make as many partners as possible happy?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter46.html

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