The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LVII

Foreign Ground

Worthy Major Pendennis fulfilled his promise to Warrington so far as to satisfy his own conscience, and in so far to ease poor Helen with regard to her son, as to make her understand that all connexion between Arthur and the odious little gatekeeper was at an end, and that she need have no further anxiety with respect to an imprudent attachment or a degrading marriage on Pen’s part. And that young fellow’s mind was also relieved (after he had recovered the shock to his vanity) by thinking that Miss Fanny was not going to die of love for him, and that no unpleasant consequences were to be apprehended from the luckless and brief connexion.

So the whole party were free to carry into effect their projected Continental trip, and Arthur Pendennis, rentier, voyageant avec Madame Pendennis and Mademoiselle Bell, and George Warrington, particulier, age de 32 ans, taille 6 pieds (Anglais), figure ordinaire, cheveux noirs, barbe idem, etc., procured passports from the consul of H.M. the King of the Belgians at Dover, and passed over from that port to Ostend, whence the party took their way leisurely, visiting Bruges and Ghent on their way to Brussels and the Rhine. It is not our purpose to describe this oft-travelled tour, or Laura’s delight at the tranquil and ancient cities which she saw for the first time, or Helen’s wonder and interest at the Beguine convents which they visited, or the almost terror with which she saw the black-veiled nuns with outstretched arms kneeling before the illuminated altars, and beheld the strange pomps and ceremonials of the Catholic worship. Barefooted friars in the streets; crowned images of Saints and Virgins in the churches before which people were bowing down and worshipping, in direct defiance, as she held, of the written law; priests in gorgeous robes, or lurking in dark confessionals; theatres opened, and people dancing on Sundays — all these new sights and manners shocked and bewildered the simple country lady; and when the young men after their evening drive or walk returned to the widow and her adopted daughter, they found their books of devotion on the table, and at their entrance Laura would commonly cease reading some of the psalms or the sacred pages which, of all others, Helen loved. The late events connected with her son had cruelly shaken her; Laura watched with intense, though hidden anxiety, every movement of her dearest friend; and poor Pen was most constant and affectionate in waiting upon his mother, whose wounded bosom yearned with love towards him, though there was a secret between them, and an anguish or rage almost on the mother’s part, to think that she was dispossessed somehow of her son’s heart, or that there were recesses in it which she must not or dared not enter. She sickened as she thought of the sacred days of boyhood when it had not been so — when her Arthur’s heart had no secrets, and she was his all in all: when he poured his hopes and pleasures, his childish griefs, vanities, triumphs into her willing and tender embrace; when her home was his nest still; and before fate, selfishness, nature, had driven him forth on wayward wings — to range his own flight — to sing his own song — and to seek his own home and his own mate. Watching this devouring care and racking disappointment in her friend, Laura once said to Helen, “If Pen had loved me as you wished, I should have gained him, but I should have lost you, mamma, I know I should; and I like you to love me best. Men do not know what it is to love as we do, I think,”— and Helen, sighing, agreed to this portion of the young lady’s speech, though she protested against the former part. For my part I suppose Miss Laura was right in both statements, and with regard to the latter assertion especially, that it is an old and received truism — love is an hour with us: it is all night and all day with a woman. Damon has taxes, sermon, parade, tailors’ bills, parliamentary duties, and the deuce knows what to think of; Delia has to think about Damon — Damon is the oak (or the post) and stands up, and Delia is the ivy or the honeysuckle whose arms twine about him. Is it not so, Delia? Is it not your nature to creep about his feet and kiss them, to twine round his trunk and hang there; and Damon’s to stand like a British man with his hands in his breeches pocket, while the pretty fond parasite clings round him?

Old Pendennis had only accompanied our friends to the water’s edge, and left them on board the boat, giving the chief charge of the little expedition to Warrington. He himself was bound on a brief visit to the house of a great man, a friend of his, after which sojourn he proposed to join his sister-inlaw at the German watering-place, whither the party was bound. The Major himself thought that his long attentions to his sick family had earned for him a little relaxation — and though the best of the partridges were thinned off, the pheasants were still to be shot at Stillbrook, where the noble owner still was; old Pendennis betook himself to that hospitable mansion and disported there with great comfort to himself. A royal Duke, some foreigners of note, some illustrious statesmen, and some pleasant people visited it: it did the old fellow’s heart good to see his name in the Morning Post amongst the list of the distinguished company which the Marquis of Steyne was entertaining at his country-house at Stillbrook. He was a very useful and pleasant personage in a country-house. He entertained the young men with queer little anecdotes and grivoises stories on their shooting-parties or in their smoking-room, where they laughed at him and with him. He was obsequious with the ladies of a morning, in the rooms dedicated to them. He walked the new arrivals about the park and gardens, and showed them the carte du pays, and where there was the best view of the mansion, and where the most favourable point to look at the lake: he showed, where the timber was to be felled, and where the old road went before the new bridge was built, and the hill cut down; and where the place in the wood was where old Lord Lynx discovered Sir Phelim O’Neal on his knees before her ladyship, etc. etc.; he called the lodge-keepers and gardeners by their names; he knew the number of domestics that sat down in the housekeeper’s room, and how many dined in the servants’-hall; he had a word for everybody, and about everybody, and a little against everybody. He was invaluable in a country-house, in a word: and richly merited and enjoyed his vacation after his labours. And perhaps whilst he was thus deservedly enjoying himself with his country friends, the Major was not ill pleased at transferring to Warrington the command of the family expedition to the Continent, and thus perforce keeping him in the service of the ladies — a servitude which George was only too willing to undergo, for his friend’s sake, and for that of a society which he found daily more delightful. Warrington was a good German scholar, and was willing to give Miss Laura lessons in the language, who was very glad to improve herself, though Pen, for his part, was too weak or lazy now to resume his German studies. Warrington acted as courier and interpreter; Warrington saw the baggage in and out of ships, inns and carriages, managed the money matters, and put the little troop into marching order. Warrington found out where the English church was, and, if Mrs. Pendennis and Miss Laura were inclined to go thither, walked with great decorum along with them. Warrington walked by Mrs. Pendennis’s donkey, when that lady went out on her evening excursions; or took carriages for her; or got ‘Galignani’ for her; or devised comfortable seats under the lime-trees for her, when the guests paraded after dinner, and the Kursaal band at the bath, where our tired friends stopped, performed their pleasant music under the trees. Many a fine whiskered Prussian or French dandy, come to the bath for the ‘Trente-et-quarante,’ cast glances of longing towards the pretty fresh-coloured English girl who accompanied the pale widow, and would have longed to take a turn with her at the galop or the waltz. But Laura did not appear in the ballroom, except once or twice, when Pen vouchsafed to walk with her; and as for Warrington, that rough diamond had not had the polish of a dancing-master, and he did not know how to waltz — though he would have liked to learn, if he could have had such a partner as Laura. — Such a partner! psha, what had a stiff bachelor to do with partners and waltzing? what was he about, dancing attendance here? drinking in sweet pleasure at a risk he knows not of what after-sadness, and regret, and lonely longing? But yet he stayed on. You would have said he was the widow’s son, to watch his constant care and watchfulness of her; or that he was an adventurer, and wanted to marry her fortune, or, at any rate, that he wanted some very great treasure or benefit from her — and very likely he did — for ours, as the reader has possibly already discovered, is a Selfish Story, and almost every person, according to his nature, more or less generous than George, and according to the way of the world as it seems to us, is occupied about Number One. So Warrington selfishly devoted himself to Helen, who selfishly devoted herself to Pen, who selfishly devoted himself to himself at this present period, having no other personage or object to occupy him, except, indeed, his mother’s health, which gave him a serious and real disquiet; but though they, sate together, they did not talk much, and the cloud was always between them.

Every day Laura looked for Warrington, and received him with more frank and eager welcome. He found himself talking to her as he didn’t know himself that he could talk. He found himself performing acts of gallantry which astounded him after the performance: he found himself looking blankly in the glass at the crow’s feet round his eyes, and at some streaks of white in his hair, and some intrusive silver bristles in his grim, blue beard. He found himself looking at the young bucks at the bath — at the bland, tight-waisted Germans — at the capering Frenchmen, with their lacquered mustachios and trim varnished boots — at the English dandies, Pen amongst them, with their calm domineering air, and insolent languor: and envied each one of these some excellence or quality of youth, or good looks, which he possessed, and of which Warrington felt the need. And every night, as the night came, he quitted the little circle with greater reluctance; and, retiring to his own lodging in their neighbourhood, felt himself the more lonely and unhappy. The widow could not help seeing his attachment. She understood, now, why Major Pendennis (always a tacit enemy of her darling project) had been so eager that Warrington should be of their party. Laura frankly owned her great, her enthusiastic, regard for him: and Arthur would make no movement. Arthur did not choose to see what was going on; or did not care to prevent, or actually encouraged, it. She remembered his often having said that he could not understand how a man proposed to a woman twice. She was in torture — at secret feud with her son, of all objects in the world the dearest to her — in doubt, which she dared not express to herself, about Laura — averse to Warrington, the good and generous. No wonder that the healing waters of Rosenbad did not do her good, or that Doctor von Glauber, the bath physician, when he came to visit her, found that the poor lady made no progress to recovery. Meanwhile Pen got well rapidly; slept with immense perseverance twelve hours out of the twenty-four; ate huge meals; and, at the end of a couple of months, had almost got back the bodily strength and weight which he had possessed before his illness.

After they had passed some fifteen days at their place of rest and refreshment, a letter came from Major Pendennis announcing his speedy arrival at Rosenbad, and, soon after the letter, the Major himself made his appearance accompanied by Morgan his faithful valet, without whom the old gentleman could not move. When the Major travelled he wore a jaunty and juvenile travelling costume; to see his back still you would have taken him for one of the young fellows whose slim waist and youthful appearance Warrington was beginning to envy. It was not until the worthy man began to move, that the observer remarked that Time had weakened his ancient knees, and had unkindly interfered to impede the action of the natty little varnished boots in which the gay old traveller still pinched his toes. There were magnates both of our own country and of foreign nations present that autumn at Rosenbad. The elder Pendennis read over the strangers’ list with great gratification on the night of his arrival, was pleased to find several of his acquaintances among the great folks, and would have the honour of presenting his nephew to a German Grand Duchess, a Russian Princess, and an English Marquis, before many days were over: nor was Pen by any means averse to making the acquaintance of these great personages, having a liking for polite life, and all the splendours and amenities belonging to it. That very evening the resolute old gentleman, leaning on his nephew’s arm, made his appearance in the halls of the Kursaal, and lost or won a napoleon or two at the table of ‘Trente-et-quarante.’ He did not play to lose, he said, or to win, but he did as other folks did, and betted his napoleon and took his luck as it came. He pointed out the Russians and Spaniards gambling for heaps of gold, and denounced their eagerness as something sordid and barbarous; an English gentleman should play where the fashion is play, but should not elate or depress himself at the sport; and he told how he had seen his friend the Marquis of Steyne, when Lord Gaunt, lose eighteen thousand at a sitting, and break the bank three nights running at Paris, without ever showing the least emotion at his defeat or victory. “And that’s what I call being an English gentleman, Pen, my dear boy,” the old gentleman said, warming as he prattled about his recollections —“what I call the great manner only remains with us and with a few families in France.” And as Russian Princesses passed him, whose reputation had long ceased to be doubtful, and damaged English ladies, who are constantly seen in company of their faithful attendant for the time being in these gay haunts of dissipation, the old Major, with eager garrulity and mischievous relish, told his nephew wonderful particulars regarding the lives of these heroines; and diverted the young man with a thousand scandals. Egad, he felt himself quite young again, he remarked to Pen, as, rouged and grinning, her enormous chasseur behind her bearing her shawl, the Princess Obstropski smiled and recognised and accosted him. He remembered her in ‘14 when she was an actress of the Paris Boulevard, and the Emperor Alexander’s aide-de-camp Obstropski (a man of great talents, who knew a good deal about the Emperor Paul’s death, and was a devil to play) married her. He most courteously and respectfully asked leave to call upon the Princess, and to present to her his nephew, Mr. Arthur Pendennis; and he pointed out to the latter a half-dozen of other personages whose names were as famous, and whose histories were as satisfying. What would poor Helen have thought, could she have heard those tales, or known to what kind of people her brother-inlaw was presenting her son? Only once, leaning on Arthur’s arm, she had passed through the room where the green tables were prepared for play, and the croaking croupiers were calling out their fatal words of Rouge gagne and Couleur perd. She had shrunk terrified out of the pandemonium, imploring Pen, extorting from him a promise, on his word of honour, that he would never play at those tables; and the scene which so frightened the simple widow, only amused the worldly old veteran, and made him young again! He could breathe the air cheerfully which stifled her. Her right was not his right: his food was her poison. Human creatures are constituted thus differently, and with this variety the marvellous world is peopled. To the credit of Mr. Pen, let it be said, that he kept honestly the promise made to his mother, and stoutly told his uncle of his intention to abide by it.

When the Major arrived, his presence somehow cast a damp upon at least three of the persons of our little party — upon Laura who had anything but respect for him; upon Warrington, whose manner towards him showed an involuntary haughtiness and contempt; and upon the timid and alarmed widow, who dreaded lest he should interfere with her darling, though almost desperate, projects for her boy. And, indeed, the Major, unknown to himself, was the bearer of tidings which were to bring about a catastrophe in the affairs of all our friends.

Pen with his two ladies had apartments in the town of Rosenbad; honest Warrington had lodgings hard by; the Major, on arrival at Rosenbad, had, as befitted his dignity, taken his quarters at one of the great hotels, at the Roman Emperor or the Four Seasons, where two or three hundred gamblers, pleasure-seekers, or invalids, sate down and over-ate themselves daily at the enormous table-d’hote. To this hotel Pen went on the morning after the Major’s arrival, dutifully to pay his respects to his uncle, and found the latter’s sitting-room duly prepared and arranged by Mr. Morgan, with the Major’s hats brushed, and his coats laid out: his despatch-boxes and umbrella-cases, his guidebooks, passports, maps, and other elaborate necessaries of the English traveller, all as trim and ready as they could be in their master’s own room in Jermyn Street. Everything was ready, from the medicine-bottle fresh filled from the pharmacien’s, down to the old fellow’s prayer-book, without which he never travelled, for he made a point of appearing at the English church at every place which he honoured with a stay “Everybody did it,” he said; “every English gentleman did it,” and this pious man would as soon have thought of not calling upon the English ambassador in a Continental town, as of not showing himself at the national place of worship.

The old gentleman had been to take one of the baths for which Rosenbad is famous, and which everybody takes, and his after-bath toilet was not yet completed when Pen arrived. The elder called out to Arthur in a cheery voice from the inner apartment, in which he and Morgan were engaged, and the valet presently came in, bearing a little packet to Pen’s address — Mr. Arthur’s letters and papers, Morgan said, which he had brought from Mr. Arthur’s chambers in London, and which consisted chiefly of numbers of the Pall Mall Gazette, which our friend Mr. Finucane thought his collaborateur would like to see. The papers were tied together: the letters in an envelope, addressed to Pen, in the last-named gentleman’s handwriting.

Amongst the letters there was a little note addressed, as a former letter we have heard of had been, to “Arther Pendennis, Esquire,” which Arthur opened with a start and a blush, and read with a very keen pang of interest, and sorrow, and regard. She had come to Arthur’s house, Fanny Bolton said — and found that he was gone — gone away to Germany without ever leaving a word for her — or answer to her last letter, in which she prayed but for one word of kindness — or the books which he had promised her in happier times, before he was ill, and which she should like to keep in remembrance of him. She said she would not reproach those who had found her at his bedside when he was in the fever, and knew nobody, and who had turned the poor girl away without a word. She thought she should have died, she said, of that, but Doctor Goodenough had kindly tended her, and kept her life, when, perhaps, the keeping of it was of no good, and she forgave everybody and as for Arthur, she would pray for him for ever. And when he was so ill, and they cut off his hair, she had made so free as to keep one little lock for herself, and that she owned. And might she still keep it, or would his mamma order that that should be gave up too? She was willing to obey him in all things, and couldn’t but remember that once he was so kind, oh! so good and kind! to his poor Fanny.

When Major Pendennis, fresh and smirking from his toilet, came out of his bedroom to his sitting-room, he found Arthur, with this note before him, and an expression of savage anger on his face, which surprised the elder gentleman. “What news from London, my boy?” he rather faintly asked; “are the duns at you that you look so glum?”

“Do you know anything about this letter, sir?” Arthur asked.

“What letter, my good sir?” said the other dryly, at once perceiving what had happened.

“You know what I mean — about, about Miss — about Fanny Bolton — the poor dear little girl,” Arthur broke out. “When she was in my room? Was she there when I was delirious — I fancied she was — was she? Who sent her out of my chambers? who intercepted her letters to me? Who dared to do it? Did you do it, uncle?”

“It’s not my practice to tamper with gentlemen’s letters, or to answer damned impertinent questions,” Major Pendennis cried out, in a great tremor of emotion and indignation. “There was a girl in your rooms when I came up at great personal inconvenience, daymy — and to meet with a return of this kind for my affection to you, is not pleasant, by Gad, sir — not at all pleasant.”

“That’s not the question, sir,” Arthur said hotly —“and I beg your pardon, uncle. You were, you always have been, most kind to me: but I say again, did you say anything harsh to this poor girl? Did you send her away from me?”

“I never spoke a word to the girl,” the uncle said, “and I never sent her away from you, and know no more about her, and wish to know no more about her, than about the man in the moon.”

“Then it’s my mother that did it,” Arthur broke out. “Did my mother send that poor child away?”

“I repeat I know nothing about it, sir,” the elder said testily. “Let’s change the subject, if you please.”

“I’ll never forgive the person who did it,” said Arthur, bouncing up and seizing his hat.

The Major cried out, “Stop, Arthur, for God’s sake, stop;” but before he had uttered his sentence Arthur had rushed out of the room, and at the next minute the Major saw him striding rapidly down the street that led towards his home.

“Get breakfast!” said the old fellow to Morgan, and he wagged his head and sighed as he looked out of the window. “Poor Helen — poor soul! There’ll be a row. I knew there would: and begad all the fat’s in the fire.”

When Pen reached home he only found Warrington in the ladies’ drawing-room, waiting their arrival in order to conduct them to the room where the little English colony at Rosenbad held their Sunday church. Helen and Laura had not appeared as yet; the former was ailing, and her daughter was with her. Pen’s wrath was so great that he could not defer expressing it. He flung Fanny’s letter across the table to his friend. “Look there, Warrington,” he said; “she tended me in my illness, she rescued me out of the jaws of death, and this is the way they have treated the dear little creature. They have kept her letters from me; they have treated me like a child, and her like a dog, poor thing! My mother has done this.”

“If she has, you must remember it is your mother,” Warrington interposed.

“It only makes the crime the greater, because it is she who has done it,” Pen answered. “She ought to have been the poor girl’s defender, not her enemy: she ought to go down on her knees and ask pardon of her. I ought! I will! I am shocked at the cruelty which has been shown her. What? She gave me her all, and this is her return! She sacrifices everything for me, and they spurn her.”

“Hush!” said Warrington, “they can hear you from the next room.”

“Hear? let them hear!” Pen cried out, only so much the louder. “Those may overhear my talk who intercept my letters. I say this poor girl has been shamefully used, and I will do my best to right her; I will.”

The door of the neighbouring room opened, and Laura came forth with a pale and stern face. She looked at Pen with glances from which beamed pride, defiance, aversion. “Arthur, your mother is very ill,” she said; “it is a pity that you should speak so loud as to disturb her.”

“It is a pity that I should have been obliged to speak at all,” Pen answered. “And I have more to say before I have done.”

“I should think what you have to say will hardly be fit for me to hear,” Laura said, haughtily.

“You are welcome to hear it or not, as you like,” said Mr. Pen. “I shall go in now and speak to my mother.”

Laura came rapidly forward, so that she should not be overheard by her friend within. “Not now, sir,” she said to Pen. “You may kill her if you do. Your conduct has gone far enough to make her wretched.”

“What conduct?” cried out Pen, in a fury. “Who dares impugn it? Who dares meddle with me? Is it you who are the instigator of this persecution?”

“I said before it was a subject of which it did not become me to hear or to speak,” Laura said. “But as for mamma, if she had acted otherwise than she did with regard to — to the person about whom you seem to take such an interest, it would have been I that must have quitted your house, and not that — that person.”

“By heavens! this is too much,” Pen cried out, with a violent execration.

“Perhaps that is what you wished,” Laura said, tossing her head up. “No more of this, if you please; I am not accustomed to hear such subjects spoken of in such language,” and with a stately curtsey the young lady passed to her room, looking her adversary full in the face as she retreated and closed the door upon him.

Pen was bewildered with wonder, perplexity, fury, at this monstrous and unreasonable persecution. He burst out into a loud and bitter laugh as Laura quitted him, and with sneers and revilings, as a man who jeers under an operation, ridiculed at once his own pain and his persecutor’s anger. The laugh, which was one of bitter humour, and no unmanly or unkindly expression of suffering under most cruel and unmerited torture, was heard in the next apartment, as some of his unlucky previous expressions had been, and, like them, entirely misinterpreted by the hearers. It struck like a dagger into the wounded and tender heart of Helen; it pierced Laura, and inflamed the high-spirited girl with scorn and anger. “And it was to this hardened libertine,” she thought —“to this boaster of low intrigues, that I had given my heart away.” “He breaks the most sacred laws,” thought Helen. “He prefers the creature of his passion to his own mother; and when he is upbraided, he laughs, and glories in his crime. ‘She gave me her all,’ I heard him say it,” argued the poor widow, “and he boasts of it, and laughs, and breaks his mother’s heart.” The emotion, the shame, the grief, the mortification almost killed her. She felt she should die of his unkindness.

Warrington thought of Laura’s speech —“Perhaps that is what you wished.” “She loves Pen still,” he said. “It was jealousy made her speak.”—“Come away, Pen. Come away, and let us go to church and get calm. You must explain this matter to your mother. She does not appear to know the truth: nor do you quite, my good fellow. Come away, and let us talk about it.” And again he muttered to himself, “‘Perhaps that is what you wished.’ Yes, she loves him. Why shouldn’t she love him? Whom else would I have her love? What can she be to me but the dearest and the fairest and the best of women?”

So, leaving the women similarly engaged within, the two gentlemen walked away, each occupied with his own thought, and silent for a considerable space. “I must set this matter right,” thought honest George “as she loves him still — I must set his mind right about the other woman.” And with this charitable thought, the good fellow began to tell more at large what Bows had said to him regarding Miss Bolton’s behaviour and fickleness, and he described how the girl was no better than a little light-minded flirt; and, perhaps, he exaggerated the good-humour and contentedness which he had himself, as he thought, witnessed in her behaviour in the scene with Mr. Huxter.

Now, all Bows’s statements had been coloured by an insane jealousy and rage on that old man’s part; and instead of allaying Pen’s renascent desire to see his little conquest again, Warrington’s accounts inflamed and angered Pendennis, and made him more anxious than before to set himself right, as he persisted in phrasing it, with Fanny. They arrived at the church door presently; but scarce one word of the service, and not a syllable of Mr. Shamble’s sermon, did either of them comprehend, probably — so much was each engaged with his own private speculations. The Major came up to them after the service, with his well-brushed hat and wig, and his jauntiest, most cheerful air. He complimented them upon being seen at church; again he said that every comme-il faut person made a point of attending the English service abroad; and he walked back with the young men, prattling to them in garrulous good-humour, and making bows to his acquaintances as they passed; and thinking innocently that Pen and George were both highly delighted by his anecdotes, which they suffered to run on in a scornful and silent acquiescence.

At the time of Mr. Shamble’s sermon (an erratic Anglican divine, hired for the season at places of English resort, and addicted to debts, drinking, and even to roulette, it was said), Pen, chafing under the persecution which his womankind inflicted upon him, had been meditating a great act of revolt and of justice, as he had worked himself up to believe; and Warrington on his part had been thinking that a crisis in his affairs had likewise come, and that it was necessary for him to break away from a connexion which every day made more and more wretched and dear to him. Yes, the time was come. He took those fatal words, “Perhaps that is what you wished,” as a text for a gloomy homily, which he preached to himself, in the dark pew of his own heart, whilst Mr. Shamble was feebly giving utterance to his sermon.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter57.html

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