The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VI

Contains both Love and War

Cicero and Euripides did not occupy Mr. Pen much for some time after this, and honest Mr. Smirke had a very easy time with his pupil. Rebecca was the animal who suffered most in the present state of Pen’s mind, for, besides those days when he could publicly announce his intention of going to Chatteris to take a fencing-lesson, and went thither with the knowledge of his mother, whenever he saw three hours clear before him, the young rascal made a rush for the city, and found his way to Prior’s Lane. He was as frantic with vexation when Rebecca went lame, as Richard at Bosworth, when his horse was killed under him: and got deeply into the books of the man who kept the hunting-stables at Chatteris for the doctoring of his own, and the hire of another animal.

Then, and perhaps once in a week, under pretence of going to read a Greek play with Smirke, this young reprobate set off so as to be in time for the Competitor down coach, stayed a couple of hours in Chatteris, and returned on the Rival which left for London at ten at night. Once his secret was nearly lost by Smirke’s simplicity, of whom Mrs. Pendennis asked whether they had read a great deal the night before, or a question to that effect. Smirke was about to tell the truth, that he had never seen Mr. Pen at all, when the latter’s boot-heel came grinding down on Mr. Smirke’s toe under the table, and warned the curate not to betray him.

They had had conversations on the tender subject, of course. It is good sport (if you are not yourself engaged in the conversation) to hear two men in love talk. There must be a confidant and depositary somewhere. When informed, under the most solemn vows of secrecy, of Pen’s condition of mind, the curate said, with no small tremor, “that he hoped it was no unworthy object — no unlawful attachment, which Pen had formed”— for if so, the poor fellow felt it would be his duty to break his vow and inform Pen’s mother, and then there would be a quarrel, he felt, with sickening apprehension, and he would never again have a chance of seeing what he most liked in the world.

“Unlawful, unworthy!” Pen bounced out at the curate’s question. “She is as pure as she is beautiful; I would give my heart to no other woman. I keep the matter a secret in my family, because — because — there are reasons of a weighty nature which I am not at liberty to disclose. But any man who breathes a word against her purity insults both her honour and mine, and — and dammy, I won’t stand it.”

Smirke, with a faint laugh, only said, “Well, well, don’t call me out, Arthur, for you know I can’t fight;” but by this compromise the wretched curate was put more than ever into the power of his pupil, and the Greek and mathematics suffered correspondingly.

If the reverend gentleman had had much discernment, and looked into the Poet’s Corner of the County Chronicle, as it arrived in the Wednesday’s bag, he might have seen ‘Mrs. Haller,’ ‘Passion and Genius,’ ‘Lines to Miss Fotheringay, of the Theatre Royal,’ appearing every week; and other verses of the most gloomy, thrilling, and passionate cast. But as these poems were no longer signed NEP by their artful composer, but subscribed EROS, neither the tutor nor Helen, the good soul, who cut all her son’s verses out of the paper, knew that Nep was no other than that flaming Eros, who sang so vehemently the character of the new actress.

“Who is the lady,” at last asked Mrs. Pendennis, “whom your rival is always singing in the County Chronicle? He writes something like you, dear Pen, but yours is much the best. Have you seen Miss Fotheringay?”

Pen said yes, he had; that night he went to see the “Stranger,” she acted Mrs. Haller. By the way, she was going to have a benefit, and was to appear in Ophelia — suppose we were to go — Shakspeare, you know, mother — we can get horses from the Clavering Arms. Little Laura sprang up with delight, she longed for a play.

Pen introduced “Shakspeare, you know,” because the deceased Pendennis, as became a man of his character, professed an uncommon respect for the bard of Avon, in whose works he safely said there was more poetry than in all ‘Johnson’s Poets’ put together. And though Mr. Pendennis did not much read the works in question, yet he enjoined Pen to peruse them, and often said what pleasure he should have, when the boy was of a proper age, in taking him and mother to see some good plays of the immortal poet.

The ready tears welled up in the kind mother’s eyes as she remembered these speeches of the man who was gone. She kissed her son fondly, and said she would go. Laura jumped for joy. Was Pen happy? — was he ashamed? As he held his mother to him, he longed to tell her all, but he kept his counsel. He would see how his mother liked her; the play should be the thing, and he would try his mother like Hamlet’s.

Helen, in her good humour, asked Mr. Smirke to be of the party. That ecclesiastic had been bred up by a fond parent at Clapham, who had an objection to dramatic entertainments, and he had never yet seen a play. But, Shakspeare! — but to go with Mrs. Pendennis in her carriage, and sit a whole night by her side! — he could not resist the idea of so much pleasure, and made a feeble speech, in which he spoke of temptation and gratitude, and finally accepted Mrs. Pendennis’s most kind offer. As he spoke he gave her a look, which made her exceedingly uncomfortable. She had seen that look more than once, of late, pursuing her. He became more positively odious every day in the widow’s eyes.

We are not going to say a great deal about Pen’s courtship of Miss Fotheringay, for the reader has already had a specimen of her conversation, much of which need surely not be reported. Pen sate with her hour after hour, and poured forth all his honest boyish soul to her. Everything he knew, or hoped, or felt, or had read, or fancied, he told to her. He never tired of talking and longing. One after another, as his thoughts rose in his hot eager brain, he clothed them in words, and told them to her. Her part of the tete-a-tete was not to talk, but to appear as if she understood what Pen talked (a difficult matter, for the young fellow blurted out no small quantity of nonsense), and to look exceedingly handsome and sympathising. The fact is, whilst he was making one of his tirades — and delighted, perhaps, and wondering at his own eloquence, the lad would go on for twenty minutes at a time — the lovely Emily, who could not comprehend a tenth part of his talk, had leisure to think about her own affairs, and would arrange in her own mind how they should dress the cold mutton, or how she would turn the black satin, or make herself out of her scarf a bonnet like Miss Thackthwaite’s new one, and so forth. Pen spouted Byron and Moore; passion and poetry: her business was to throw up her eyes, or fixing them for a moment on his face, to cry, “Oh, ’tis beautiful! Ah, how exquisite! Repeat those lines again.” And off the boy went, and she returned to her own simple thoughts about the turned gown, or the hashed mutton.

In fact Pen’s passion was not long a secret from the lovely Emily or her father. Upon his second visit, his admiration was quite evident to both of them, and on his departure the old gentleman said to his daughter, as he winked at her over his glass of grog, “Faith, Milly darling, I think ye’ve hooked that chap.”

“Pooh, ’tis only a boy, papa dear,” Milly remarked. “Sure he’s but a child.” Pen would have been very much pleased if he had heard that phrase — he was galloping home wild with pleasure, and shouting out her name as he rode.

“Ye’ve hooked ‘um any how,” said the Captain, “and let me tell ye he’s not a bad fish. I asked Tom at the George, and Flint, the grocer, where his mother dales — fine fortune — drives in her chariot — splendid park and grounds — Fairoaks Park — only son — property all his own at twenty-one — ye might go further and not fare so well, Miss Fotheringay.”

“Them boys are mostly talk,” said Milly, seriously. “Ye know at Dublin how ye went on about young Poldoody, and I’ve a whole desk full of verses he wrote me when he was in Trinity College; but he went abroad, and his mother married him to an Englishwoman.”

“Lord Poldoody was a young nobleman; and in them it’s natural: and ye weren’t in the position in which ye are now, Milly dear. But ye mustn’t encourage this young chap too much, for, bedad, Jack Costigan won’t have any thrilling with his daughter.”

“No more will his daughter, papa, you may be sure of that,” Milly said. “A little sip more of the punch — sure, ’tis beautiful. Ye needn’t be afraid about the young chap — I think I’m old enough to take care of myself, Captain Costigan.”

So Pen used to come day after day, rushing in and galloping away, and growing more wild about the girl with every visit. Sometimes the Captain was present at their meetings; but having a perfect confidence in his daughter, he was more often inclined to leave the young couple to themselves, and cocked his hat over his eye, and strutted off on some errand when Pen entered. How delightful those interviews were! The Captain’s drawing-room was a low wainscoted room, with a large window looking into the Dean’s garden. There Pen sate and talked — and talked — Emily, looking beautiful as she sate at her work — looking beautiful and calm, and the sunshine came streaming in at the great windows, and lighted up her superb face and form. In the midst of the conversation, the great bell would begin to boom, and he would pause smiling, and be silent until the sound of the vast music died away — or the rooks in the cathedral elms would make a great noise towards sunset — or the sound of the organ and the choristers would come over the quiet air, and gently hush Pen’s talking.

By the way, it must be said that Miss Fotheringay, in a plain shawl and a close bonnet and veil, went to church every Sunday of her life, accompanied by her indefatigable father, who gave the responses in a very rich and fine brogue, joined in the psalms and chanting, and behaved in the most exemplary manner.

Little Bows, the house-friend of the family, was exceedingly wroth at the notion of Miss Fotheringay’s marriage with a stripling seven or eight years her junior. Bows, who was a cripple, and owned that he was a little more deformed even than Bingley the manager, so that he could not appear on the stage, was a singular wild man of no small talents and humour. Attracted first by Miss Fotheringay’s beauty, he began to teach her how to act. He shrieked out in his cracked voice the parts, and his pupil learned them from his lips by rote, and repeated them in her full rich tones. He indicated the attitudes, and set and moved those beautiful arms of hers. Those who remember this grand actress on the stage can recall how she used always precisely the same gestures, looks, and tones; how she stood on the same plank of the stage in the same position, rolled her eyes at the same instant and to the same degree, and wept with precisely the same heart-rending pathos and over the same pathetic syllable. And after she had come out trembling with emotion before the audience, and looking so exhausted and tearful that you fancied she would faint with sensibility, she would gather up her hair the instant she was behind the curtain, and go home to a mutton-chop and a glass of brown stout; and the harrowing labours of the day over, she went to bed and snored as resolutely and as regularly as a porter.

Bows then was indignant at the notion that his pupil should throw her chances away in life by bestowing her hand upon a little country squire. As soon as a London manager saw her he prophesied that she would get a London engagement, and a great success. The misfortune was that the London managers had seen her. She had played in London three years before, and failed from utter stupidity. Since then it was that Bows had taken her in hand and taught her part after part. How he worked and screamed, and twisted, and repeated lines over and over again, and with what indomitable patience and dulness she followed him! She knew that he made her: and let herself be made. She was not grateful, or ungrateful, or unkind, or ill-humoured. She was only stupid; and Pen was madly in love with her.

The post-horses from the Clavering Arms arrived in due time, and carried the party to the theatre at Chatteris, where Pen was gratified in perceiving that a tolerably large audience was assembled. The young gentlemen from Baymouth had a box, in the front of which sate Mr. Foker and his friend Mr. Spavin, splendidly attired in the most full-blown evening costume. They saluted Pen in a cordial manner, and examined his party, of which they approved, for little Laura was a pretty little red-cheeked girl with a quantity of shining brown ringlets, and Mrs. Pendennis, dressed in black velvet with the diamond cross which she sported on great occasions, looked uncommonly handsome and majestic. Behind these sate Mr. Arthur, and the gentle Smirke with the curl reposing on his fair forehead, and his white tie in perfect order. He blushed to find himself in such a place — but how happy was he to be there! He and Mrs. Pendennis brought books of ‘Hamlet’ with them to follow the tragedy, as is the custom of honest countryfolks who go to a play in state. Samuel, coachman, groom, and gardener to Mr. Pendennis, took his place in the pit, where Mr. Foker’s man was also visible. It was dotted with non-commissioned officers of the Dragoons, whose band, by kind permission of Colonel Swallowtail, were, as usual, in the orchestra; and that corpulent and distinguished warrior himself, with his Waterloo medal and a number of his young men, made a handsome show in the boxes.

“Who is that odd-looking person bowing to you, Arthur?” Mrs. Pendennis asked of her son.

Pen blushed a great deal. “His name is Captain Costigan, ma’am,” he said —“a Peninsular officer.” In fact it was the Captain in a new shoot of clothes, as he called them, and with a large pair of white kid gloves, one of which he waved to Pendennis, whilst he laid the other sprawling over his heart and coat-buttons. Pen did not say any more. And how was Mrs. Pendennis to know that Mr. Costigan was the father of Miss Fotheringay?

Mr. Hornbull, from London, was the Hamlet of the night, Mr. Bingley modestly contenting himself with the part of Horatio, and reserving his chief strength for William in ‘Black-Eyed Susan,’ which was the second piece.

We have nothing to do with the play: except to say that Ophelia looked lovely, and performed with admirable wild pathos laughing, weeping, gazing wildly, waving her beautiful white arms, and flinging about her snatches of flowers and songs with the most charming madness. What an opportunity her splendid black hair had of tossing over her shoulders! She made the most charming corpse ever seen; and while Hamlet and Laertes were battling in her grave, she was looking out from the back scenes with some curiosity towards Pen’s box, and the family party assembled in it.

There was but one voice in her praise there. Mrs. Pendennis was in ecstasies with her beauty. Little Laura was bewildered by the piece, and the Ghost, and the play within the play (during which, as Hamlet lay at Ophelia’s knee, Pen felt that he would have liked to strangle Mr. Hornbull), but cried out great praises of that beautiful young creature. Pen was charmed with the effect which she produced on his mother — and the clergyman, for his part, was exceedingly enthusiastic.

When the curtain fell upon that group of slaughtered personages, who are despatched so suddenly at the end of ‘Hamlet,’ and whose demise astonished poor little Laura not a little, there was an immense shouting and applause from all quarters of the house; the intrepid Smirke, violently excited, clapped his hands, and cried out “Bravo, Bravo,” as loud as the Dragoon officers themselves. These were greatly moved — ils s’agitaient sur leurs bancs — to borrow a phrase from our neighbours. They were led cheering into action by the portly Swallowtail, who waved his cap — the non-commissioned officers in the pit, of course, gallantly following their chiefs. There was a roar of bravos rang through the house; Pen bellowing with the loudest, “Fotheringay! Fotheringay!” and Messrs. Spavin and Foker giving the view-halloo from their box. Even Mrs. Pendennis began to wave about her pocket-handkerchief, and little Laura danced, laughed, clapped, and looked up at Pen with wonder.

Hornbull led the beneficiaire forward, amidst bursts of enthusiasm — and she looked so handsome and radiant, with her hair still over her shoulders, that Pen hardly could contain himself for rapture: and he leaned over his mother’s chair, and shouted, and hurrayed, and waved his hat. It was all he could do to keep his secret from Helen, and not say, “Look! That’s the woman! Isn’t she peerless? I tell you I love her.” But he disguised these feelings under an enormous bellowing and hurraying.

As for Miss Fotheringay and her behaviour, the reader is referred to a former page for an account of that. She went through precisely the same business. She surveyed the house all round with glances of gratitude; and trembled, and almost sank with emotion, over her favourite trap-door. She seized the flowers (Foker discharged a prodigious bouquet at her, and even Smirke made a feeble shy with a rose, and blushed dreadfully when it fell into the pit). She seized the flowers and pressed them to her swelling heart — etc., etc. — in a word — we refer the reader to earlier pages. Twinkling in her breast poor old Pen saw a locket which he had bought of Mr. Nathan in High Street, with the last shilling he was worth, and a sovereign borrowed from Smirke.

‘Black-Eyed Susan’ followed, at which sweet story our gentle-hearted friends were exceedingly charmed and affected: and in which Susan, with a russet gown and a pink ribbon in her cap, looked to the full as lovely as Ophelia. Bingley was great in William. Goll, as the Admiral, looked like the figure-head of a seventy-four; and Garbetts, as Captain Boldweather, a miscreant who forms a plan for carrying off Black-eyed Susan, and waving an immense cocked hat says, “Come what may, he will be the ruin of her”— all these performed their parts with their accustomed talent; and it was with a sincere regret that all our friends saw the curtain drop down and end that pretty and tender story.

If Pen had been alone with his mother in the carriage as they went home, he would have told her all, that night; but he sate on the box in the moonshine smoking a cigar by the side of Smirke, who warmed himself with a comforter. Mr. Foker’s tandem and lamps whirled by the sober old Clavering posters as they were a couple of miles on their road home, and Mr. Spavin saluted Mrs. Pendennis’s carriage with some considerable variations of Rule Britannia on the key-bugle.

It happened two days after the above gaieties that Mr. Dean of Chatteris entertained a few select clerical friends at dinner at his Deanery Home. That they drank uncommonly good port wine, and abused the Bishop over their dessert, are very likely matters: but with such we have nothing at present to do. Our friend Doctor Portman, of Clavering, was one of the Dean’s guests, and being a gallant man, and seeing from his place at the mahogany the Dean’s lady walking up and down the grass, with her children sporting around her, and her pink parasol over her lovely head — the Doctor stept out of the French windows of the dining-room into the lawn, which skirts that apartment, and left the other white neckcloths to gird at my lord Bishop. Then the Doctor went up and offered Mrs. Dean his arm, and they sauntered over the ancient velvet lawn, which had been mowed and rolled for immemorial Deans, in that easy, quiet, comfortable manner, in which people of middle age and good temper walk after a good dinner, in a calm golden summer evening, when the sun has but just sunk behind the enormous cathedral-towers, and the sickle-shaped moon is growing every instant brighter in the heavens.

Now at the end of the Dean’s garden there is, as we have stated, Mrs. Creed’s house, and the windows of the first-floor room were open to admit the pleasant summer air. A young lady of six-and-twenty, whose eyes were perfectly wide open, and a luckless boy of eighteen, blind with love and infatuation, were in that chamber together; in which persons, as we have before seen them in the same place, the reader will have no difficulty in recognising Mr. Arthur Pendennis and Miss Costigan.

The poor boy had taken the plunge. Trembling with passionate emotion, his heart beating and throbbing fiercely, tears rushing forth in spite of him, his voice almost choking with feeling, poor Pen had said those words which he could withhold no more, and flung himself and his whole store of love, and admiration, and ardour at the feet of this mature beauty. Is he the first who has done so? Have none before or after him staked all their treasure of life, as a savage does his land and possessions against a draught of the fair-skins’ fire-water, or a couple of bauble eyes?

“Does your mother know of this, Arthur?” said Miss Fotheringay, slowly. He seized her hand madly and kissed it a thousand times. She did not withdraw it. “Does the old lady know it?” Miss Costigan thought to herself, “well, perhaps she may,” and then she remembered what a handsome diamond cross Mrs. Pendennis had on the night of the play, and thought, “Sure ’twill go in the family.”

“Calm yourself, dear Arthur,” she said, in her low rich voice, and sniffled sweetly and gravely upon him. Then, with her disengaged hand, she put the hair lightly off his throbbing forehead. He was in such a rapture and whirl of happiness that he could hardly speak. At last he gasped out, “My mother has seen you, and admires you beyond measure. She will learn to love you soon: who can do otherwise? She will love you because I do.”

“‘Deed then, I think you do,” said Miss Costigan, perhaps with a sort of pity for Pen.

Think she did! Of course here Mr. Pen went off into a rhapsody through which, as we have perfect command over our own feelings, we have no reason to follow the lad. Of course, love, truth, and eternity were produced: and words were tried but found impossible to plumb the tremendous depth of his affection. This speech, we say, is no business of ours. It was most likely not very wise, but what right have we to overhear? Let the poor boy fling out his simple heart at the woman’s feet, and deal gently with him. It is best to love wisely, no doubt: but to love foolishly is better than not to be able to love at all. Some of us can’t: and are proud of our impotence too.

At the end of his speech Pen again kissed the imperial hand with rapture — and I believe it was at this very moment, and while Mrs. Dean and Doctor Portman were engaged in conversation, that young Master Ridley Roset, her son, pulled his mother by the back of her capacious dress and said —

“I say, ma! look up there”— and he waggled his innocent head.

That was, indeed, a view from the Dean’s garden such as seldom is seen by Deans — or is written in Chapters. There was poor Pen performing a salute upon the rosy fingers of his charmer, who received the embrace with perfect calmness and good humour. Master Ridley looked up and grinned, little Miss Rosa looked at her brother, and opened the mouth of astonishment. Mrs. Dean’s countenance defied expression, and as for Dr. Portman, when he beheld the scene, and saw his prime favourite and dear pupil Pen, he stood mute with rage and wonder.

Mrs. Haller spied the party below at the same moment, and gave a start and a laugh. “Sure there’s somebody in the Dean’s garden,” she cried out; and withdrew with perfect calmness, whilst Pen darted away with his face glowing like coals. The garden party had re-entered the house when he ventured to look out again. The sickle moon was blazing bright in the heavens then, the stars were glittering, the bell of the cathedral tolling nine, the Dean’s guests (all save one, who had called for his horse Dumpling, and ridden off early) were partaking of tea and buttered cakes in Mrs. Dean’s drawing-room — when Pen took leave of Miss Costigan.

Pen arrived at home in due time afterwards, and was going to slip off to bed, for the poor lad was greatly worn and agitated, and his high-strung nerves had been at almost a maddening pitch when a summons came to him by John the old footman, whose countenance bore a very ominous look, that his mother must see him below.

On this he tied on his neckcloth again, and went downstairs to the drawing-room. There sate not only his mother, but her friend, the Reverend Doctor Portman. Helen’s face looked very pale by the light of the lamp — the Doctor’s was flushed, on the contrary, and quivering with anger and emotion.

Pen saw at once that there was a crisis, and that there had been a discovery. “Now for it,” he thought.

“Where have you been, Arthur?” Helen said in a trembling voice.

“How can you look that — that dear lady, and a Christian clergyman in the face, sir?” bounced out the Doctor, in spite of Helen’s pale, appealing looks. “Where has he been? Where his mother’s son should have been ashamed to go. For your mother’s an angel, sir, an angel. How dare you bring pollution into her house, and make that spotless creature wretched with the thoughts of your crime?”

“Sir!” said Pen.

“Don’t deny it, sir,” roared the Doctor. “Don’t add lies, sir, to your other infamy. I saw you myself, sir. I saw you from the Dean’s garden. I saw you kissing the hand of that infernal painted ——”

“Stop,” Pen said, clapping his fist on the table, till the lamp flickered up and shook, “I am a very young man, but you will please to remember that I am a gentleman — I will hear no abuse of that lady.”

“Lady, sir,” cried the Doctor, “that a lady — you — you — you stand in your mother’s presence and call that — that woman a lady! ——”

“In anybody’s presence,” shouted out Pen. “She is worthy of any place. She is as pure as any woman. She is as good as she is beautiful. If any man but you insulted her, I would tell him what I thought; but as you are my oldest friend, I suppose you have the privilege to doubt of my honour.”

“No, no, Pen, dearest Pen,” cried out Helen in an excess of joy. “I told, I told you, Doctor, he was not — not what you thought:” and the tender creature coming trembling forward flung herself on Pen’s shoulder.

Pen felt himself a man, and a match for all the Doctors in Doctordom. He was glad this explanation had come. “You saw how beautiful she was,” he said to his mother, with a soothing, protecting air, like Hamlet with Gertrude in the play. “I tell you, dear mother, she is as good. When you know her you will say so. She is of all, except you, the simplest, the kindest, the most affectionate of women. Why should she not be on the stage? — She maintains her father by her labour.”

“Drunken old reprobate,” growled the Doctor, but Pen did not hear or heed.

“If you could see, as I have, how orderly her life is, how pure and pious her whole conduct, you would — as I do — yes, as I do”—(with a savage look at the Doctor)—“spurn the slanderer who dared to do her wrong. Her father was an officer, and distinguished himself in Spain. He was a friend of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, and is intimately known to the Duke of Wellington, and some of the first officers of our army. He has met my uncle Arthur at Lord Hill’s, he thinks. His own family is one of the most ancient and respectable in Ireland, and indeed is as good as our own. The Costigans were kings of Ireland.”

“Why, God bless my soul,” shrieked out the Doctor, hardly knowing whether to burst with rage or laughter, “you don’t mean to say you want to marry her?”

Pen put on his most princely air. “What else, Dr. Portman,” he said, “do you suppose would be my desire?”

Utterly foiled in his attack, and knocked down by this sudden lunge of Pen’s, the Doctor could only gasp out, “Mrs. Pendennis, ma’am, send for the Major.”

“Send for the Major? with all my heart,” said Arthur Prince of Pendennis and Grand Duke of Fairoaks, with a most superb wave of the hand. And the colloquy terminated by the writing of those two letters which were laid on Major Pendennis’s breakfast-table, in London, at the commencement of Prince Arthur’s most veracious history.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter6.html

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