The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLIX

In Shepherd’s Inn

Our friend Pen said “How d’ye do, Mr. Bows,” in a loud cheery voice on perceiving that gentleman, and saluted him in a dashing off-hand manner, yet you could have seen a blush upon Arthur’s face (answered by Fanny, whose cheek straightway threw out a similar fluttering red signal); and after Bows and Arthur had shaken hands, and the former had ironically accepted the other’s assertion that he was about to pay Mr. Costigan’s chambers a visit, there was a gloomy and rather guilty silence in the company, which Pen presently tried to dispel by making a great rattling noise. The silence of course departed at Mr. Arthur’s noise, but the gloom remained and deepened, as the darkness does in a vault if you light up a single taper in it. Pendennis tried to describe, in a jocular manner, the transactions of the previous night, and attempted to give an imitation of Costigan vainly expostulating with the check-taker at Vauxhall. It was not a good imitation. What stranger can imitate that perfection? Nobody laughed. Mrs. Bolton did not in the least understand what part Mr. Pendennis was performing, and whether it was the check-taker or the Captain he was taking off. Fanny wore an alarmed face, and tried a timid giggle; old Mr. Bows looked as glum as when he fiddled in the orchestra, or played a difficult piece upon the old piano at the Back Kitchen. Pen felt that his story was a failure; his voice sank and dwindled away dismally at the end of it — flickered, and went out; and it was all dark again. You could hear the ticket-porter, who lolls about Shepherd’s Inn, as he passed on the flags under the archway: the clink of his boot-heels was noted by everybody.

“You were coming to see me, sir,” Mr. Bows said. “Won’t you have the kindness to walk up to my chambers with me? You do them a great honour, I am sure. They are rather high up; but ——”

“Oh! I live in a garret myself, and Shepherd’s Inn is twice as cheerful as Lamb Court,” Mr. Pendennis broke in.

“I knew that you had third-floor apartments,” Mr. Bows said; “and was going to say — you will please not take my remark as discourteous — that the air up three pair of stairs is wholesomer for gentlemen, than the air of a porter’s lodge.”

“Sir!” said Pen, whose candle flamed up again in his wrath, and who was disposed to be as quarrelsome as men are when they are in the wrong. “Will you permit me to choose my society without ——?

“You were so polite as to say that you were about to honour my umble domicile with a visit,” Mr. Bows said, with his sad voice. “Shall I show you the way? Mr. Pendennis and I are old friends, Mrs. Bolton — very old acquaintances; and at the earliest dawn of his life we crossed each other.”

The old man pointed towards the door with a trembling finger, and a hat in the other hand, and in an attitude slightly theatrical; so were his words when he spoke somewhat artificial, and chosen from the vocabulary which he had heard all his life from the painted lips of the orators before the stage-lamps. But he was not acting or masquerading, as Pen knew very well, though he was disposed to pooh-pooh the old fellow’s melodramatic airs. “Come along, sir,” he said, “as you are so very pressing. Mrs. Bolton, I wish you a good day. Good-bye, Miss Fanny; I shall always think of our night at Vauxhall with pleasure; and be sure I will remember the theatre tickets.” And he took her hand, pressed it, was pressed by it, and was gone.

“What a nice young man, to be sure!” cried Mrs. Bolton.

“D’you think so, ma?” said Fanny.

“I was a-thinkin who he was like. When I was at the Wells with Mrs. Serle,” Mrs. Bolton continued, looking through the window-curtain after Pen, as he went up the court with Bows, “there was a young gentleman from the city, that used to come in a tilbry, in a white at, the very image of him, only his whiskers was black, and Mr. P.‘s is red.”

“Law, ma! they are a most beautiful hawburn,” Fanny said.

“He used to come for Emly Budd, who danced Columbine in ‘Arleykin Ornpipe, or the Battle of Navarino,’ when Miss De la Bosky was took ill — a pretty dancer, and a fine stage figure of a woman — and he was a great sugar-baker in the city, with a country ouse at Omerton; and he used to drive her in the tilbry down Goswell Street Road; and one day they drove and was married at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Smithfield, where they ad their bands read quite private; and she now keeps her carriage, and I sor her name in the paper as patroness of the Manshing-House Ball for the Washywomen’s Asylum. And look at Lady Mirabel — capting Costigan’s daughter — she was profeshnl, as all very well know.” Thus, and more to this purpose, Mrs. Bolton spoke, now peeping through the window-curtain, now cleaning the mugs and plates, and consigning them to their place in the corner cupboard; and finishing her speech as she and Fanny shook out and folded up the dinner-cloth between them, and restored it to its drawer in the table.

Although Costigan had once before been made pretty accurately to understand what Pen’s pecuniary means and expectations were, I suppose Cos had forgotten the information acquired at Chatteris years ago, or had been induced by his natural enthusiasm to exaggerate his friend’s income. He had described Fairoaks Park in the most glowing terms to Mrs. Bolton, on the preceding evening, as he was walking about with her during Pen’s little escapade with Fanny, had dilated upon the enormous wealth of Pen’s famous uncle, the Major, and shown an intimate acquaintance with Arthur’s funded and landed property. Very likely Mrs. Bolton, in her wisdom, had speculated upon these matters during the night; and had had visions of Fanny driving in her carriage, like Mrs. Bolton’s old comrade, the dancer of Sadler’s Wells.

In the last operation of table-cloth folding, these two foolish women, of necessity, came close together; and as Fanny took the cloth and gave it the last fold, her mother put her finger under the young girl’s chin, and kissed her. Again the red signal flew out, and fluttered on Fanny’s cheek. What did it mean? It was not alarm this time. It was pleasure which caused the poor little Fanny to blush so. Poor little Fanny! What? is love sin? that it is so pleasant at the beginning, and so bitter at the end?

After the embrace, Mrs. Bolton thought proper to say that she was a-goin out upon business, and that Fanny must keep the lodge; which Fanny, after a very faint objection indeed, consented to do. So Mrs. Bolton took her bonnet and market-basket, and departed; and the instant she was gone, Fanny went and sae by the window which commanded Bows’s door, and never once took her eyes away from that quarter of Shepherd’s Inn.

Betsy-Jane and Ameliar-Ann were buzzing in one corner of the place, and making believe to read out of a picture-book, which one of them held topsy-turvy. It was a grave and dreadful tract, of Mr. Bolton’s collection. Fanny did not hear her sisters prattling over it. She noticed nothing but Bows’s door.

At last she gave a little shake, and her eyes lighted up. He had come out. He would pass the door again. But her poor little countenance fell in an instant more. Pendennis, indeed, came out; but Bows followed after him. They passed under the archway together. He only took off his hat, and bowed as he looked in. He did not stop to speak.

In three or four minutes — Fanny did not know how long, but she looked furiously at him when he came into the lodge — Bows returned alone, and entered into the porter’s room.

“Where’s your Ma, dear?” he said to Fanny.

“I don’t know,” Fanny said, with an angry toss. “I don’t follow Ma’s steps wherever she goes, I suppose, Mr. Bows.”

“Am I my mother’s keeper?” Bows said, with his usual melancholy bitterness. “Come here, Betsy-Jane and Amelia-Ann; I’ve brought a cake for the one who can read her letters best, and a cake for the other who can read them the next best.”

When the young ladies had undergone the examination through which Bows put them, they were rewarded with their gingerbread medals, and went off to discuss them in the court. Meanwhile Fanny took out some work, and pretended to busy herself with it, her mind being in great excitement and anger, as she plied her needle. Bows sate so that he could command the entrance from the lodge to the street. But the person whom, perhaps, he expected to see, never made his appearance again. And Mrs. Bolton came in from market, and found Mr. Bows in place of the person whom she had expected to see. The reader perhaps can guess what was his name?

The interview between Bows and his guest, when those two mounted to the apartment occupied by the former in common with the descendant of the Milesian kings, was not particularly satisfactory to either party. Pen was sulky. If Bows had anything on his mind, he did not care to deliver himself of his thoughts in the presence of Captain Costigan, who remained in the apartment during the whole of Pen’s visit; having quitted his bedchamber, indeed, but a very few minutes before the arrival of that gentleman. We have witnessed the deshahille of Major Pendennis: will any man wish to be valet-de-chambre to our other hero, Costigan? It would seem that the Captain, before issuing from his bedroom, scented himself with otto-of-whisky. A rich odour of that delicious perfume breathed from out him, as he held out the grasp of cordiality to his visitor. The hand which performed that grasp shook wofully: it was a wonder how it could hold the razor with which the poor gentleman daily operated on his chin.

Bows’s room was as neat, on the other hand, as his comrade’s was disorderly. His humble wardrobe hung behind a curtain. His books and manuscript music were trimly arranged upon shelves. A lithographed portrait of Miss Fotheringay, as Mrs. Haller, with the actress’s sprawling signature at the corner, hung faithfully over the old gentleman’s bed. Lady Mirabel wrote much better than Miss Fotheringay had been able to do. Her Ladyship had laboured assiduously to acquire the art of penmanship since her marriage; and, in a common note of invitation or acceptance, acquitted herself very genteelly. Bows loved the old handwriting best, though; the fair artist’s earlier manner. He had but one specimen of the new style, a note in reply to a song composed and dedicated to Lady Mirabel, by her most humble servant Robert Bows; and which document was treasured in his desk amongst his other state papers. He was teaching Fanny Bolton now to sing and to write, as he had taught Emily in former days. It was the nature of the man to attach himself to something. When Emily was torn from him he took a substitute: as a man looks out for a crutch when he loses a leg; or lashes himself to a raft when he has suffered shipwreck. Latude had given his heart to a woman, no doubt, before he grew to be so fond of a mouse in the Bastille. There are people who in their youth have felt and inspired an heroic passion, and end by being happy in the caresses, or agitated by the illness of a poodle. But it was hard upon Bows, and grating to his feelings as a man and a sentimentalist, that he should find Pen again upon his track, and in pursuit of this little Fanny.

Meanwhile, Costigan had not the least idea but that his company was perfectly welcome to Messrs. Pendennis and Bows, and that the visit of the former was intended for himself. He expressed himself greatly pleased with that mark of poloightness and promised, in his own mind, that he would repay that obligation at least — which was not the only debt which the Captain owed in life — by several visits to his young friend. He entertained him affably with news of the day, or rather of ten days previous; for Pen, in his quality of Journalist, remembered to have seen some of the Captain’s opinions in the Sporting and Theatrical Newspaper, which was Costigan’s oracle. He stated that Sir Charles and Lady Mirabel were gone to Baden-Baden, and were most pressing in their invitations that he should join them there. Pen replied with great gravity, that he had heard that Baden was very pleasant, and the Grand Duke exceedingly hospitable to English. Costigan answered, that the laws of hospitalitee bekeam a Grand Juke; that he sariously would think about visiting him; and made some remarks upon the splendid festivities at Dublin Castle, when his Excellency the Earl of Portansherry held the Viceraygal Coort there, and of which he, Costigan, had been a humble but pleased spectator. And Pen — as he heard these oft-told well-remembered legends — recollected the time when he had given a sort of credence to them, and had a certain respect for the Captain. Emily and first love, and the little room at Chatteris, and the kind talk with Bows on the bridge, came back to him. He felt quite kindly disposed towards his two old friends; and cordially shook the hands of both of them when he rose to go away.

He had quite forgotten about little Fanny Bolton whilst the Captain was talking, and Pen himself was absorbed in other selfish meditations. He only remembered her again as Bows came hobbling down the stairs after him, bent evidently upon following him out of Shepherd’s Inn.

Mr. Bows’s precaution was not a lucky one. The wrath of Mr. Arthur Pendennis rose at the poor old fellow’s feeble persecution. Confound him, what does he mean by dogging me? thought Pen. And he burst out laughing when he was in the Strand and by himself, as he thought of the elder’s stratagem. It was not an honest laugh, Arthur Pendennis. Perhaps the thought struck Arthur himself, and he blushed at his own sense of humour.

He went off to endeavour to banish the thoughts which occupied him, whatever those thoughts might be, and tried various places of amusement with but indifferent success. He struggled up the highest stairs of the Panorama; but when he had arrived, panting at the height of the eminence, Care had come up with him, and was bearing him company. He went to the Club, and wrote a long letter home, exceedingly witty and sarcastic, and in which, if he did not say a single word about Vauxhall and Fanny Bolton, it was because he thought that subject, however interesting to himself, would not be very interesting to his mother and Laura. Nor could the novels or the library table fix his attention, nor the grave and respectable Jawkins (the only man in town), who wished to engage him in conversation; nor any of the amusements which he tried, after flying from Jawkins. He passed a Comic Theatre on his way home, and saw ‘Stunning Farce,’ ‘Roars of Laughter,’ ‘Good Old English Fun and Frolic,’ placarded in vermilion letters on the gate. He went into the pit, and saw the lovely Mrs. Leary, as usual, in a man’s attire; and that eminent buffo actor, Tom Horseman, dressed as a woman. Horseman’s travesty seemed to him a horrid and hideous degradation; Mrs. Leary’s glances and ankles had not the least effect. He laughed again, and bitterly, to himself, as he thought of the effect which she had produced upon him, on the first night of his arrival in London, a short time — what a long long time ago!

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