The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLVIII

A Visit of Politeness

Costigan never roused Pen from his slumbers; there was no hostile message from Mr. Huxter to disturb him; and when Pen woke, it was with a brisker and more lively feeling than ordinarily attends that moment in the day of the tired and blase London man. A City man wakes up to care and consols, and the thoughts of ‘Change and the counting-house take possession of him as soon as sleep flies from under his night-cap; a lawyer rouses himself with the early morning to think of the case that will take him all his day to work upon, and the inevitable attorney to whom he has promised his papers ere night. Which of us has not his anxiety instantly present when his eyes are opened, to it and to the world, after his night’s sleep? Kind strengthener that enables us to face the day’s task with renewed heart! Beautiful ordinance of Providence that creates rest as it awards labour!

Mr. Pendennis’s labour, or rather his disposition, was of that sort that his daily occupations did not much interest him, for the excitement of literary composition pretty soon subsides with the hired labourer, and the delight of seeing one’s-self in print only extends to the first two or three appearances in the magazine or newspaper page. Pegasus put into harness, and obliged to run a stage every day, is as prosaic as any other hack, and won’t work without his whip or his feed of corn. So, indeed, Mr. Arthur performed his work at the Pall Mall Gazette (and since his success as a novelist with an increased salary), but without the least enthusiasm, doing his best or pretty nearly, and sometimes writing ill and sometimes well. He was a literary hack, naturally fast in pace, and brilliant in action.

Neither did society, or that portion which he saw, excite or amuse him over much. In spite of his brag and boast to the contrary, he was too young as yet for women’s society, which probably can only be had in perfection when a man has ceased to think about his own person, and has given up all designs of being a conqueror of ladies; he was too young to be admitted as an equal amongst men who had made their mark in the world, and of whose conversation he could scarcely as yet expect to be more than a listener. And he was too old for the men of pleasure of his own age; too much a man of pleasure for the men of business; destinied in a word to be a good deal alone. Fate awards this lot of solitude to many a man; and many like it from taste, as many without difficulty bear it. Pendennis, in reality, suffered it very equanimously; but in words, and according to his wont, grumbled over it not a little.

“What a nice little artless creature that was,” Mr. Pen thought at the very instant of waking after the Vauxhall affair; “what a pretty natural manner she has; how much pleasanter than the minauderies of the young ladies in the ballrooms” (and here he recalled to himself some instances of what he could not help seeing was the artful simplicity of Miss Blanche, and some of the stupid graces of other young ladies in the polite world); “who could have thought that such a pretty rose could grow in a porter’s lodge, or bloom in that dismal old flower-pot of a Shepherd’s Inn? So she learns to sing from old Bows? If her singing voice is as sweet as her speaking voice, it must be pretty. I like those low voilees voices. ‘What would you like me to call you?’ indeed, poor little Fanny! It went to my heart to adopt the grand air with her and tell her to call me, ‘Sir.’ But we’ll have no nonsense of that sort — no Faust and Margaret business for me. That old Bows! So he teaches her to sing, does he? He’s a dear old fellow, old Bows: a gentleman in those old clothes: a philosopher, and with a kind heart, too. How good he was to me in the Fotheringay business. He, too, has had his griefs and his sorrows. I must cultivate old Bows. A man ought to see people of all sorts. I am getting tired of genteel society. Besides, there’s nobody in town. Yes, I’ll go and see Bows, and Costigan too; what a rich character! begad, I’ll study him, and put him into a book.” In this way our young anthropologist talked with himself, and as Saturday was the holiday of the week, the Pall Mall Gazette making its appearance upon that day, and the contributors to that journal having no further calls upon their brains or ink-bottles, Mr. Pendennis determined he would take advantage of his leisure, and pay a visit to Shepherd’s Inn — of course to see old Bows.

The truth is, that if Arthur had been the most determined roue and artful Lovelace who ever set about deceiving a young girl, he could hardly have adopted better means for fascinating and overcoming poor little Fanny Bolton than those which he had employed on the previous night. His dandified protecting air, his conceit, generosity, and good-humour, the very sense of good and honesty which had enabled him to check the tremulous advances of the young creature, and not to take advantage of that little fluttering sensibility — his faults and his virtues at once contributed to make her admire him; and if we could peep into Fanny’s bed (which she shared in a cupboard, along with those two little sisters to whom we have seen Mr. Costigan administering gingerbread and apples), we should find the poor little maid tossing upon her mattress, to the great disturbance of its other two occupants, and thinking over all the delights and events of that delightful, eventful night, and all the words, looks, and actions of Arthur, its splendid hero. Many novels had Fanny read, in secret and at home, in three volumes and in numbers. Periodical literature had not reached the height which it has attained subsequently, and the girls of Fanny’s generation were not enabled to purchase sixteen pages of excitement for a penny, rich with histories of crime, murder, oppressed virtue, and the heartless seductions of the aristocracy; but she had had the benefit of the circulating library which, in conjunction with her school and a small brandy-ball and millinery business, Miss Minifer kept — and Arthur appeared to her at once as the type and realisation of all the heroes of all those darling greasy volumes which the young girl had devoured. Mr. Pen, we have seen, was rather a dandy about shirts and haberdashery in general. Fanny had looked with delight at the fineness of his linen, at the brilliancy of his shirt-studs, at his elegant cambric pocket-handkerchief and white gloves, and at the jetty brightness of his charming boots. The Prince had appeared and subjugated the poor little handmaid. His image traversed constantly her restless slumbers; the tone of his voice, the blue light of his eyes, the generous look, half love, half pity — the manly protecting smile, the frank, winning laughter — all these were repeated in the girl’s fond memory. She felt still his arm encircling her, and saw him smiling so grand as he filled up that delicious glass of champagne. And then she thought of the girls, her friends, who used to sneer at her — of Emma Baker, who was so proud, forsooth, because she was engaged to a cheesemonger, in a white apron, near Clare Market; and of Betsy Rodgers, who make such a to-do about her young man — an attorney’s clerk, indeed, that went about with a bag!

So that, at about two o’clock in the afternoon — the Bolton family having concluded their dinner (and Mr. B., who besides his place of porter of the Inn, was in the employ of Messrs. Tressler, the eminent undertakers of the Strand, being absent in the country with the Countess of Estrich’s hearse), when a gentleman in a white hat and white trousers made his appearance under the Inn archway, and stopped at the porter’s wicket, Fanny was not in the least surprised, only delightful, only happy, and blushing beyond all measure. She knew it could be no other than He. She knew He’d come. There he was; there was His Royal Highness beaming upon her from the gate. She called to her mother, who was busy in the upper apartment, “Mamma, mamma,” and ran to the wicket at once, and opened it, pushing aside the other children. How she blushed as she gave her hand to him! How affably he took off his white hat as he came in; the children staring up at him! He asked Mrs. Bolton if she had slept well, after the fatigues of the night, and hoped she had no headache; and he said that as he was going that way, he could not pass the door without asking news of his little partner.

Mrs. Bolton was perhaps rather shy and suspicious about these advances; but Mr. Pen’s good-humour was inexhaustible, he could not see that he was unwelcome. He looked about the premises for a seat, and none being disengaged, for a dish-cover was on one, a workbox on the other, and so forth, he took one of the children’s chairs, and perched himself upon that uncomfortable eminence. At this, the children began laughing, the child Fanny louder than all — at least, she was more amused than any of them, and amazed at His Royal Highness’s condescension. He to sit down in that chair — that little child’s chair! — Many and many a time after, she regarded it: haven’t we almost all, such furniture in our rooms, that our fancy peoples with dear figures, that our memory fills with sweet smiling faces, which may never look on us more?

So Pen sate down and talked away with great volubility to Mrs. Bolton. He asked about the undertaking business, and how many mutes went down with Lady Estrich’s remains; and about the Inn, and who lived there. He seemed very much interested about Mr. Campion’s cab and horse, and had met that gentleman in society. He thought he should like shares in the Polwheedle and Tredyddlum; did Mrs. Bolton do for those chambers? Were there any chambers to let in the Inn? It was better than the Temple: he should like to come to live in Shepherd’s Inn. As for Captain Strong, and — Colonel Altamont — was his name? he was deeply interested in them too. The Captain was an old friend at home. He had dined with him at chambers here, before the Colonel came to live with him. What sort of man was the Colonel? Wasn’t he a stout man, with a large quantity of jewellery, and a wig and large black whiskers — very black (here Pen was immensely waggish, and caused hysteric giggles of delight from the ladies)— very black indeed; in fact, blue black; that is to say, a rich greenish purple? That was the man; he had met him, too, at Sir Fr —— in Society.

“Oh, we know,” said the ladies, “Sir F—— is Sir F. Clavering he’s often here: two or three times a week with the Captain. My little boy has been out for bill-stamps for him. O Lor! I beg pardon, I shouldn’t have mentioned no secrets,” Mrs. Bolton blurted out, being talked perfectly into good-nature by this time. “But we know you to be a gentleman, Mr. Pendennis, for I’m sure you have shown that you can beayve as such. Hasn’t Mr. Pendennis, Fanny?”

Fanny loved her mother for that speech. She cast up her dark eyes to the low ceiling and said, “Oh, that he has, I’m sure, Ma,” with a voice full of feeling.

Pen was rather curious about the bill-stamps, and concerning the transactions in Strong’s chambers. And he asked, when Altamont came and joined the Chevalier, whether he too was out for bill-stamps, who he was, whether he saw many people, and so forth. These questions, put with considerable adroitness by Pen who was interested about Sir Francis Clavering’s doings from private motives of his own, were artlessly answered by Mrs. Bolton, and to the utmost of her knowledge and ability, which, in truth, were not very great.

These questions answered, and Pen being at a loss for more, luckily recollected his privilege as a member of the Press, and asked the ladies whether they would like any orders for the play? The play was their delight, as it is almost always the delight of every theatrical person. When Bolton was away professionally (it appeared that of late the porter of Shepherd’s Inn had taken a serious turn, drank a good deal, and otherwise made himself unpleasant to the ladies of his family), they would like of all things to slip out and go to the theatre — little Barney, their son, keeping the lodge; and Mr. Pendennis’s most generous and most genteel compliment of orders was received with boundless gratitude by both mother and daughter.

Fanny clapped her hands with pleasure: her faced beamed with it. She looked and nodded, and laughed at har mamma, who nodded and laughed in her turn. Mrs. Bolton was not superannuated for pleasure yet, or by any means too old for admiration, she thought. And very likely Mr. Pendennis, in his conversation with her, had insinuated some compliments, or shaped his talk so as to please her. At first against Pen, and suspicious of him, she was his partisan now, and almost as enthusiastic about him as her daughter. When two women get together to like a man, they help each other on — each pushes the other forward — and the second, out of sheer sympathy, becomes as eager as the principal:— at least, so it is said by philosophers who have examined this science.

So the offer of the play-tickets, and other pleasantries; put all parties into perfect good-humour, except for one brief moment, when one of the younger children, hearing the name of ‘Astley’s’ pronounced, came forward and stated that she should like very much to go, too; on which, Fanny said, “Don’t bother!” rather sharply; and Mamma said, “Git-long, Betsy-Jane, do now, and play in the court:” so that the two little ones, namely, Betsy-Jane and Ameliar — Ann, went away in their little innocent pinafores, and disported in the courtyard on the smooth gravel, round about the statue of Shepherd the Great.

And here, as they were playing, they very possibly communicated with an old friend of theirs and dweller in the Inn; for while Pen was making himself agreeable to the ladies at the lodge, who were laughing delighted at his sallies, an old gentleman passed under the archway from the Inn-square, and came and looked in at the door of the lodge.

He made a very blank and rueful face when he saw Mr. Arthur seated upon a table, like Macheath in the play, in easy discourse with Mrs. Bolton and her daughter.

“What! Mr. Bows? How d’you do, Bows?” cried out Pen, in a cheery, loud voice. “I was coming to see you, and was asking your address of these ladies.”

“You were coming to see me, were you, sir?” Bows said, and came in with a sad face, and shook hands with Arthur. “Plague on that old man!” somebody thought in the room: and so, perhaps, some one else besides her.

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