The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LVI

In which Fanny engages a new Medical Man

Could Helen have suspected that, with Pen’s returning strength, his unhappy partiality for little Fanny would also reawaken? Though she never spoke a word regarding that young person, after her conversation with the Major, and though, to all appearances, she utterly ignored Fanny’s existence, yet Mrs. Pendennis kept a particularly close watch upon all Master Arthur’s actions; on the plea of ill-health would scarcely let him out of her sight; and was especially anxious that he should be spared the trouble of all correspondence for the present at least. Very likely Arthur looked at his own letters with some tremor; very likely, as he received them at the family table, feeling his mother’s watch upon him (though the good soul’s eye seemed fixed upon her teacup or her book), he expected daily to see a little handwriting, which he would have known, though he had never seen it yet, and his heart beat as he received the letters to his address. Was he more pleased or annoyed, that, day after day, his expectations were not realised; and was his mind relieved, that there came no letter from Fanny? Though, no doubt, in these matters, when Lovelace is tired of Clarissa (or the contrary) it is best for both parties to break at once, and each, after the failure of the attempt at union, to go his own way, and pursue his course through life solitary; yet our self-love, or our pity, or our sense of decency, does not like that sudden bankruptcy. Before we announce to the world that our firm of Lovelace and Co. can’t meet its engagements, we try to make compromises: we have mournful meetings of partners: we delay the putting up of the shutters, and the dreary announcement of the failure. It must come: but we pawn our jewels to keep things going a little longer. On the whole, I dare say, Pen was rather annoyed that he had no remonstrances from Fanny. What! could she part from him, and never so much as once look round? could she sink, and never once hold a little hand out, or cry, “Help, Arthur?” Well, well: they don’t all go down who venture on that voyage. Some few drown when the vessel founders; but most are only ducked, and scramble to shore. And the reader’s experience of A. Pendennis, Esquire, of the Upper Temple, will enable him to state whether that gentleman belonged to the class of persons who were likely to sink or to swim.

Though Pen was as yet too weak to walk half a mile; and might not, on account of his precious health, be trusted to take a drive in a carriage by himself, and without a nurse in attendance; yet Helen could not keep watch over Mr. Warrington too, and had no authority to prevent that gentleman from going to London if business called him thither. Indeed, if he had gone and stayed, perhaps the widow, from reasons of her own, would have been glad; but she checked these selfish wishes as soon as she ascertained or owned them; and, remembering Warrington’s great regard and services, and constant friendship for her boy, received him as a member of her family almost, with her usual melancholy kindness and submissive acquiescence. Yet somehow, one morning when his affairs called him to town, she divined what Warrington’s errand was, and that he was gone to London to get news about Fanny for Pen.

Indeed, Arthur had had some talk with his friend, and told him more at large what his adventures had been with Fanny (adventures which the reader knows already), and what were his feelings respecting her. He was very thankful that he had escaped the great danger, to which Warrington said Amen heartily: that he had no great fault wherewith to reproach himself in regard of his behaviour to her, but that if they parted, as they must, he would be glad to say a God bless her, and to hope that she would remember him kindly. In his discourse with Warrington he spoke upon these matters with so much gravity, and so much emotion, that George, who had pronounced himself most strongly for the separation too, began to fear that his friend was not so well cured as he boasted of being; and that, if the two were to come together again, all the danger and the temptation might have to be fought once more. And with what result? “It is hard to struggle, Arthur, and it is easy to fall,” Warrington said: “and the best courage for us poor wretches is to fly from danger. I would not have been what I am now, had I practised what I preach.

“And what did you practise, George?” Pen asked, eagerly. “I knew there was something. Tell us about it, Warrington.”

“There was something that can’t be mended, and that shattered my whole fortunes early,” Warrington answered. “I said I would tell you about it some day, Pen: and will, but not now. Take the moral without the fable now, Pen, my boy; and if you want to see a man whose whole life has been wrecked, by an unlucky rock against which he struck as a boy — here he is, Arthur: and so I warn you.”

We have shown how Mr. Huxter, in writing home to his Clavering friends, mentioned that there was a fashionable club in London of which he was an attendant, and that he was there in the habit of meeting an Irish officer of distinction, who, amongst other news, had given that intelligence regarding Pendennis, which the young surgeon had transmitted to Clavering. This club was no other than the Back Kitchen, where the disciple of Saint Bartholomew was accustomed to meet the General, the peculiarities of whose brogue, appearance, disposition, and general conversation, greatly diverted many young gentlemen who used the Back Kitchen as a place of nightly entertainment and refreshment. Huxter, who had a fine natural genius for mimicking everything, whether it was a favourite tragic or comic actor, or a cock on a dunghill, a corkscrew going into a bottle and a cork issuing thence, or an Irish officer of genteel connexions who offered himself as an object of imitation with only too much readiness, talked his talk, and twanged his poor old long bow whenever drink, a hearer, and an opportunity occurred, studied our friend the General with peculiar gusto, and drew the honest fellow out many a night. A bait, consisting of sixpennyworth of brandy-and-water, the worthy old man was sure to swallow: and under the influence of this liquor, who was more happy than he to tell his stories of his daughter’s triumphs and his own, in love, war, drink, and polite society? Thus Huxter was enabled to present to his friends many pictures of Costigan: of Costigan fighting a jewel in the Phaynix — of Costigan and his interview with the Juke of York — of Costigan at his sonunlaw’s teeble, surrounded by the nobilitee of his countree — of Costigan, when crying drunk, at which time he was in the habit of confidentially lamenting his daughter’s ingratichewd, and stating that his grey hairs were hastening to a praymachure greeve. And thus our friend was the means of bringing a number of young fellows to the Back Kitchen, who consumed the landlord’s liquors whilst they relished the General’s peculiarities, so that mine host pardoned many of the latter’s foibles, in consideration of the good which they brought to his house. Not the highest position in life was this — certainly, or one which, if we had a reverence for an old man, we would be anxious that he should occupy: but of this aged buffoon it may be mentioned that he had no particular idea that his condition of life was not a high one, and that in his whiskied blood there was not a black drop, nor in his muddled brains a bitter feeling, against any mortal being. Even his child, his cruel Emily, he would have taken to his heart and forgiven with tears; and what more can one say of the Christian charity of a man than that he is actually ready to forgive those who have done him every kindness, and with whom he is wrong in a dispute!

There was some idea amongst the young men who frequented the Back Kitchen, and made themselves merry with the society of Captain Costigan, that the Captain made a mystery regarding his lodgings for fear of duns, or from a desire of privacy, and lived in some wonderful place. Nor would the landlord of the premises, when questioned upon this subject, answer any inquiries; his maxim being that he only knew gentlemen who frequented that room, in that room; that when they quitted that room, having paid their scores as gentlemen, and behaved as gentlemen, his communication with them ceased; and that, as a gentleman himself, he thought it was only impertinent curiosity to ask where any other gentleman lived. Costigan, in his most intoxicated and confidential moments, also evaded any replies to questions or hints addressed to him on this subject: there was no particular secret about it, as we have seen, who have had more than once the honour of entering his apartments, but in the vicissitudes of a long life he had been pretty often in the habit of residing in houses where privacy was necessary to his comfort, and where the appearance of some visitors would have brought him anything but pleasure. Hence all sorts of legends were formed by wags or credulous persons respecting his place of abode. It was stated that he slept habitually in a watch-box in the city: in a cab at a mews, where a cab-proprietor gave him a shelter: in the Duke of York’s Column etc, the wildest of these theories being put abroad by the facetious and imaginative Huxter. For Huxey, when not silenced by the company of “swells,” and when in the society of his own friends, was a very different fellow to the youth whom we have seen cowed by Pen’s impertinent airs, and, adored by his family at home, was the life and soul of the circle whom he met, either round the festive board or the dissecting table. On one brilliant September morning, as Huxter was regaling himself with a cup of coffee at a stall in Covent Garden, having spent a delicious night dancing at Vauxhall, he spied the General reeling down Henrietta Street, with a crowd of hooting blackguard boys at his heels, who had left their beds under the arches of the river betimes, and were prowling about already for breakfast, and the strange livelihood of the day. The poor old General was not in that condition when the sneers and jokes of these young beggars had much effect upon him: the cabmen and watermen at the cabstand knew him and passed their comments upon him: the policemen gazed after him and warned the boys off him, with looks of scorn and pity; what did the scorn and pity of men, the jokes of ribald children, matter to the General? He reeled along the street with glazed eyes, having just sense enough to know whither he was bound, and to pursue his accustomed beat homewards. He went to bed not knowing how he had reached it, as often as any man in London. He woke and found himself there, and asked no questions, and he was tacking about on this daily though perilous voyage, when, from his station at the coffee-stall, Huxter spied him. To note his friend, to pay his twopence (indeed, he had but eightpence left, or he would have had a cab from Vauxhall to take him home), was with the eager Huxter the work of an instant — Costigan dived down the alleys by Drury Lane Theatre, where gin-shops, oyster-shops, and theatrical wardrobes abound, the proprietors of which were now asleep behind their shutters, as the pink morning lighted up their chimneys; and through these courts Huxter followed the General, until he reached Oldcastle Street, in which is the gate of Shepherd’s Inn.

Here, just as he was within sight of home, a luckless slice of orange-peel came between the General’s heel and the pavement, and caused the poor old fellow to fall backwards.

Huxter ran up to him instantly, and after a pause, during which the veteran, giddy with his fall and his previous whisky, gathered, as he best might, his dizzy brains together, the young surgeon lifted up the limping General, and very kindly and good-naturedly offered to conduct him to his home. For some time, and in reply to the queries which the student of medicine put to him, the muzzy General refused to say where his lodgings were and declared that they were hard by, and that he could reach them without difficulty; and he disengaged himself from Huxter’s arm, and made a rush as if to get to his own home unattended: but he reeled and lurched so, that the young surgeon insisted upon accompanying him, and, with many soothing expressions and cheering and consolatory phrases, succeeded in getting the General’s dirty old hand under what he called his own fin, and led the old fellow, moaning piteously, across the street. He stopped when he came to the ancient gate, ornamented with the armorial bearings of the venerable Shepherd. “Here ’tis,” said he, drawing up at the portal, and he made a successful pull at the gate bell, which presently brought out old Mr. Bolton, the porter, scowling fiercely, and grumbling as he was used to do every morning when it became his turn to let in that early bird.

Costigan tried to hold Bolton for a moment in genteel conversation, but the other surlily would not. “Don’t bother me,” said he; “go to your hown bed Capting, and don’t keep honest men out of theirs.” So the Captain tacked across the square and reached his own staircase, up which he stumbled with the worthy Huxter at his heels. Costigan had a key of his own, which Huxter inserted into the keyhole for him, so that there was no need to call up little Mr. Bows from the sleep into which the old musician had not long since fallen, and Huxter having aided to disrobe his tipsy patient, and ascertained that no bones were broken, helped him to bed and applied compresses an water to one of his knees and shins, which, with the pair of trousers which encased them, Costigan had severely torn in his fall. At the General’s age, and with his habit of body, such wounds as he had inflicted on himself are slow to heal: a good deal of inflammation ensued, and the old fellow lay ill for some days, suffering both pain and fever.

Mr. Huxter undertook the case of his interesting patient with great confidence and alacrity, and conducted it with becoming skill. He visited his friend day after day, and consoled him with lively rattle and conversation for the absence of the society which Costigan needed, and of which he was an ornament; and he gave special instructions to the invalid’s nurse about the quantity of whisky which the patient was to take — instructions which, as the poor old fellow could not for many days get out of his bed or sofa himself, he could not by any means infringe. Bows, Mrs. Bolton, and our little friend Fanny, when able to do so, officiated at the General’s bedside, and the old warrior was made as comfortable as possible under his calamity.

Thus Huxter, whose affable manners and social turn made him quickly intimate with persons in whose society he fell, and whose over-refinement did not lead them to repulse the familiarities of this young gentleman, became pretty soon intimate in Shepherd’s Inn, both with our acquaintances in the garrets and those in the porter’s lodge. He thought he had seen Fanny somewhere: he felt certain that he had: but it is no wonder that he should not accurately remember her, for the poor little thing never chose to tell him where she had met him: he himself had seen her at a period, when his own views both of persons and of right and wrong were clouded by the excitement of drinking and dancing, and also little Fanny was very much changed and worn by the fever and agitation, and passion and despair, which the past three weeks had poured upon the head of that little victim. Borne down was the head now, and very pale and wan the face; and many and many a time the sad eyes had looked into the postman’s, as he came to the Inn, and the sickened heart had sunk as he passed away. When Mr. Costigan’s accident occurred, Fanny was rather glad to have an opportunity of being useful and doing something kind — something that would make her forget her own little sorrows perhaps: she felt she bore them better whilst she did her duty, though I dare say many a tear dropped into the old Irishman’s gruel. Ah, me! stir the gruel well, and have courage, little Fanny! If everybody who has suffered from your complaint were to die of it straightway, what a fine year the undertakers would have!

Whether from compassion for his only patient, or delight in his society, Mr. Huxter found now occasion to visit Costigan two or three times in the day at least, and if any of the members of the porter’s lodge family were not in attendance on the General, the young doctor was sure to have some particular directions to address to those at their own place of habitation. He was a kind fellow; he made or purchased toys for the children; he brought them apples and brandy-balls; he brought a mask and frightened them with it, and caused a smile upon the face of pale Fanny. He called Mrs. Bolton Mrs. B., and was very intimate, familiar, and facetious with that lady, quite different from that “aughty, artless beast,” as Mrs. Bolton now denominated a certain young gentleman of our acquaintance, and whom she now vowed she never could abear.

It was from this lady, who was very free in her conversation, that Huxter presently learnt what was the illness which was evidently preying upon little Fan, and what had been Pen’s behaviour regarding her. Mrs. Bolton’s account of the transaction was not, it may be imagined, entirely an impartial narrative. One would have thought from her story that the young gentleman had employed a course of the most persevering and flagitious artifices to win the girl’s heart, had broken the most solemn promises made to her and was a wretch to be hated and chastised by every champion of woman. Huxter, in his present frame of mind respecting Arthur, and suffering under the latter’s contumely, was ready, of course, to take all for granted that was said in the disfavour of this unfortunate convalescent. But why did he not write home to Clavering, as he had done previously, giving an account of Pen’s misconduct, and of the particulars regarding it, which had now come to his knowledge? He soon, in a letter to his brother-inlaw, announced that that nice young man, Mr. Pendennis, had escaped narrowly from a fever, and that no doubt all Clavering, where he was so popular, would be pleased at his recovery; and he mentioned that he had an interesting case of compound fracture, an officer of distinction, which kept him in town; but as for Fanny Bolton, he made no more mention of her in his letters — no more than Pen himself had made mention of her. O you mothers at home, how much do you think you know about your lads? How much do you think you know?

But with Bows, there was no reason why Huxter should not speak his mind, and so, a very short time after his conversation with Mrs. Bolton, Mr. Sam talked to the musician about his early acquaintance with Pendennis; described him as a confounded conceited blackguard, and expressed a determination to punch his impudent head as soon as ever he should be well enough to stand up like a man.

Then it was that Bows on his part spoke and told his version of the story, whereof Arthur and little Fan were the hero and heroine; how they had met by no contrivance of the former, but by a blunder of the old Irishman, now in bed with a broken shin — how Pen had acted with manliness and self-control in the business — how Mrs Bolton was an idiot; and he related the conversation which he, Bows, had had with Pen, and the sentiments uttered by the young man. Perhaps Bow’s story caused some twinges of conscience in the breast of Pen’s accuser, and that gentleman frankly owned that he had been wrong with regard to Arthur, and withdrew his project for punching Mr. Pendennis’s head.

But the cessation of his hostility for Pen did not diminish Huxter’s attentions to Fanny, which unlucky Mr Bows marked with his usual jealousy and bitterness of spirit, “I have but to like anybody” the old fellow thought, “and somebody is sure to come and be preferred to me. It has been the same ill-luck with me since I was a lad, until now that I am sixty years old. What can such a man as I am expect better than to be laughed at? It is for the young to succeed, and to be happy, and not for old fools like me. I’ve played a second fiddle through life,” he said, with a bitter laugh; “how can I suppose the luck is to change after it has gone against me so long?” This was the selfish way in which Bows looked at the state of affairs: though few persons would have thought there was any cause for his jealousy, who looked at the pale and grief-stricken countenance of the hapless little girl, its object. Fanny received Huxter’s good-natured efforts at consolation and kind attentions kindly. She laughed now and again at his jokes and games with her little sisters, but relapsed quickly into a dejection which ought to have satisfied Mr. Bows that the new-comer had no place in her heart as yet, had jealous Mr. Bows been enabled to see with clear eyes.

But Bows did not. Fanny attributed Pen’s silence somehow to Bows’s interference. Fanny hated him. Fanny treated Bows with constant cruelty and injustice. She turned from him when he spoke — she loathed his attempts at consolation. A hard life had Mr. Bows, and a cruel return for his regard.

When Warrington came to Shepherd’s Inn as Pen’s ambassador, it was for Mr. Bows’s apartments he inquired (no doubt upon a previous agreement with the principal for whom he acted in this delicate negotiation), and he did not so much as catch a glimpse of Miss Fanny when he stopped at the Inn-gate and made his inquiry. Warrington was, of course, directed to the musician’s chambers, and found him tending the patient there, from whose chamber he came out to wait upon his guest. We have said that they had been previously known to one another, and the pair shook hands with sufficient cordiality. After a little preliminary talk, Warrington said that he had come from his friend Arthur Pendennis, and from his family, to thank Bows for his attention at the commencement of Pen’s illness, and for his kindness in hastening into the country to fetch the Major.

Bows replied that it was but his duty: he had never thought to have seen the young gentleman alive again when he went in search of Pen’s relatives, and he was very glad of Mr. Pendennis’s recovery, and that he had his friends with him. “Lucky are they who have friends, Mr. Warrington,” said the musician. “I might be up in this garret and nobody would care for me, or mind whether I was alive or dead.”

“What! not the General, Mr. Bows?” Warrington asked.

“The General likes his whisky-bottle more than anything in life,” the other answered; “we live together from habit and convenience; and he cares for me no more than you do. What is it you want to ask me, Mr. Warrington? You ain’t come to visit me, I know very well. Nobody comes to visit me. It is about Fanny, the porter’s daughter, you are come — I see that — very well. Is Mr. Pendennis, now he has got well, anxious to see her again? Does his lordship the Sultan propose to throw his ‘andkerchief to her? She has been very ill, sir, ever since the day when Mrs. Pendennis turned her out of doors — kind of a lady, wasn’t it? The poor girl and myself found the young gentleman raving in a fever, knowing nobody, with nobody to tend him but his drunken laundress — she watched day and night by him. I set off to fetch his uncle. Mamma comes and turns Fanny to the right-about. Uncle comes and leaves me to pay the cab. Carry my compliments to the ladies and gentleman, and say we are both very thankful, very. Why, a countess couldn’t have behaved better, and for an apothecary’s lady, as I’m given to understand Mrs. Pendennis was — I’m sure her behaviour is most uncommon aristocratic and genteel. She ought to have a double-gilt pestle and mortar to her coach.”

It was from Mr. Huxter that Bows had learned Pen’s parentage, no doubt, and if he took Pen’s part against the young surgeon, and Fanny’s against Mr. Pendennis, it was because the old gentleman was in so savage a mood, that his humour was to contradict everybody.

Warrington was curious, and not ill pleased at the musician’s taunts and irascibility. “I never heard of these transactions,” he said, “or got but a very imperfect account of them from Major Pendennis. What was a lady to do? I think (I have never spoken with her on the subject) she had some notion that the young woman and my friend Pen were on — on terms of — of an intimacy which Mrs. Pendennis could not, of course, recognise ——”

“Oh, of course not, sir. Speak out, sir; say what you mean at once, that the young gentleman of the Temple had made a victim of the girl of Shepherd’s Inn, eh? And so she was turned to be out of doors — or brayed alive in the double-gilt pestle and mortar, by Jove! No, Mr. Warrington, there was no such thing: there was no victimising, or if there was, Mr. Arthur was the victim, not the girl. He is an honest fellow, he is, though he is conceited, and a puppy sometimes. He can feel like a man, and run away from temptation like a man. I own it, though I suffer by it, I own it. He has a heart, he has: but the girl hasn’t, sir. That girl will do anything to win a man, and fling him away without a pang, sir. If she’s flung away herself, sir, she’ll feel it and cry. She had a fever when Mrs. Pendennis turned her out of doors; and she made love to the Doctor, Doctor Goodenough, who came to cure her. Now she has taken on with another chap — another sawbones, ha, ha! d —— it, sir, she likes the pestle and mortar, and hangs round the pill-boxes, she’s so fond of ’em, and she has got a fellow from Saint Bartholomew’s, who grins through a horse-collar for her sisters, and charms away her melancholy. Go and see, sir: very likely he’s in the lodge now. If you want news about Miss Fanny, you must ask at the Doctor’s shop, sir, not of an old fiddler like me — Good-bye, sir. There’s my patient calling.”

And a voice was heard from the Captain’s bedroom, a well-known voice, which said, “I’d loike a dthrop of dthrink, Bows, I’m thirstee.” And not sorry, perhaps, to hear that such was the state of things, and that Pen’s forsaken was consoling herself, Warrington took his leave of the irascible musician.

As luck would have it, he passed the lodge door just as Mr. Huxter was in the act of frightening the children with the mask whereof we have spoken, and Fanny was smiling languidly at his farces. Warrington laughed bitterly. “Are all women like that?” he thought. “I think there’s one that’s not,” he added, with a sigh.

At Piccadilly, waiting for the Richmond omnibus, George fell in with Major Pendennis, bound in the same direction, and he told the old gentleman of what he had seen and heard respecting Fanny.

Major Pendennis was highly delighted: and as might be expected of such a philosopher, made precisely the same observation as that which had escaped from Warrington. “All women are the same,” he said. “La petite se console. Daymy, when I used to read ‘Telemaque’ at school, Calypso ne pouvait se consoler — you know the rest, Warrington — I used to say it was absard. Absard, by Gad, and so it is. And so she’s got a new soupirant, has she, the little porteress? Dayvlish nice little girl. How mad Pen will be — eh, Warrington? But we must break it to him gently, or he’ll be in such a rage that he will be going after her again. We must menager the young fellow.”

“I think Mrs. Pendennis ought to know that Pen acted very well in the business. She evidently thinks him guilty, and according to Mr. Bows, Arthur behaved like a good fellow,” Warrington said.

“My dear Warrington,” said the Major, with a look of some alarm, “in Mrs. Pendennis’s agitated state of health and that sort of thing, the best way, I think, is not to say a single word about the subject — or, stay, leave it to me: and I’ll talk to her — break it to her gently, you know, and that sort of thing. I give you my word I will. And so Calypso’s consoled, is she,” And he sniggered over this gratifying truth, happy in the corner of the omnibus during the rest of the journey.

Pen was very anxious to hear from his envoy what had been the result of the latter’s mission; and as soon as the two young men could be alone, the ambassador spoke in reply to Arthur’s eager queries.

“You remember your poem, Pen, of Ariadne in Naxos,” Warrington said; “devilish bad poetry it was, to be sure.”

“Apres?” asked Pen, in a great state of excitement.

“When Theseus left Ariadne, do you remember what happened to her, young fellow?”

“It’s a lie, it’s a lie! You don’t mean that!” cried out Pen, starting up, his face turning red.

“Sit down, stoopid,” Warrington said, and with two fingers pushed Pen back into his seat again. “It’s better for you as it is, young one,” he said sadly, in reply to the savage flush in Arthur’s face.

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