The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LX

Explanations

Almost a year, as the reader will perceive, has passed since an event described a few pages back. Arthur’s black coat is about to be exchanged for a blue one. His person has undergone other more pleasing and remarkable changes. His wig has been laid aside, and his hair, though somewhat thinner, has returned to public view. And he has had the honour of appearing at Court in the uniform of a Cornet of the Clavering troop of the —— shire Yeomanry Cavalry, being presented to the Sovereign by the Marquis of Steyne.

This was a measure strongly and pathetically urged by Arthur’s uncle. The Major would not hear of a year passing before this ceremony of gentlemanhood was gone through. The old gentleman thought that his nephew should belong to some rather more select Club than the Megatherium; and has announced everywhere in the world his disappointment that the young man’s property has turned out not by any means as well as he could have hoped, and is under fifteen hundred a year.

That is the amount at which Pendennis’s property is set down in the world — where his publishers begin to respect him much more than formerly, and where even mammas are by no means uncivil to him. For if the pretty daughters are, naturally, to marry people of very different expectations — at any rate, he will be eligible for the plain ones: and if the brilliant and fascinating Myra is to hook an Earl, poor little Beatrice, who has one shoulder higher than the other, must hang on to some boor through life, and why should not Mr. Pendennis be her support? In the very first winter after the accession to his mother’s fortune, Mrs. Hawxby in a country-house caused her Beatrice to learn billiards from Mr. Pendennis and would be driven by nobody but him in the pony carriage, because he was literary and her Beatrice was literary too, and declared that the young man, under the instigation of his horrid old uncle, had behaved most infamously in trifling with Beatrice’s feelings. The truth is the old gentleman, who knew Mrs. Hawxby’s character, and how desperately that lady would practise upon unwary young men, had come to the country-house in question and carried Arthur out of the danger of her immediate claws, though not out of the reach of her tongue. The elder Pendennis would have had his nephew pass a part of the Christmas at Clavering, whither the family had returned; but Arthur had not the heart for that. Clavering was too near poor old Fairoaks; and that was too full of sad recollections for the young man.

We have lost sight of the Claverings, too, until their reappearance upon the Epsom race-ground, and must give a brief account of them in the interval. During the past year, the world has not treated any member of the Clavering family very kindly; Lady Clavering, one of the best-natured women that ever enjoyed a good dinner, or made a slip in grammar, has had her appetite and good-nature sadly tried by constant family grievances, and disputes such as make the efforts of the best French cook unpalatable, and the most delicately-stuffed sofa-cushion hard to lie on. “I’d rather have a turnip, Strong, for dessert, than that pineapple, and all them Muscatel grapes, from Clavering,” says poor Lady Clavering, looking at her dinner-table, and confiding her grief to her faithful friend, “if I could but have a little quiet to eat it with. Oh, how much happier I was when I was a widow and before all this money fell in to me!”

The Clavering family had indeed made a false start in life, and had got neither conduct, nor position, nor thanks for the hospitalities which they administered, nor a return of kindness from the people whom they entertained. The success of their first London season was doubtful; and their failure afterwards notorious. “Human patience was not great enough to put up with Sir Francis Clavering,” people said. “He was too hopelessly low, dull, and disreputable. You could not say what, but there was a taint about the house and its entourages. Who was the Begum, with her money, and without her h’s, and where did she come from? What an extraordinary little piece of conceit the daughter was, with her Gallicised graces and daring affectations, not fit for well-bred English girls to associate with! What strange people were those they assembled round about them! Sir Francis Clavering was a gambler, living notoriously in the society of blacklegs and profligates. Hely Clinker, who was in his regiment, said that he not only cheated at cards, but showed the white feather. What could Lady Rockminster have meant by taking her up? After the first season, indeed, Lady Rockminster, who had taken up Lady Clavering, put her down; the great ladies would not take their daughters to her parties; the young men who attended them behaved with the most odious freedom and scornful familiarity; and poor Lady Clavering herself avowed that she was obliged to take what she called ‘the canal’ into her parlour, because the tip-tops wouldn’t come.”

She had not the slightest ill-will towards “the canal,” the poor dear lady, or any pride about herself, or idea, that she was better than her neighbour; but she had taken implicitly the orders which on her entry into the world her social godmother had given her: she had been willing to know whom they knew, and ask whom they asked. The “canal,” in fact, was much pleasanter than what is called “society;” but, as we said before, that to leave a mistress is easy, while, on the contrary, to be left by her is cruel: so you may give up society without any great pang, or anything but a sensation of relief at the parting; but severe are the mortifications and pains you have if society gives up you.

One young man of fashion we have mentioned, who at least it might have been expected would have been found faithful amongst the faithless, and Harry Foker, Esq., was indeed that young man. But he had not managed matters with prudence, and the unhappy passion at first confided to Pen became notorious and ridiculous to the town, was carried to the ears of his weak and fond mother; and finally brought under the cognisance of the bald-headed and inflexible Foker senior.

When Mr. Foker learned this disagreeable news, there took place between him and his son a violent and painful scene, which ended in the poor little gentleman’s banishment from England for a year, with a positive order to return at the expiration of that time and complete his marriage with his cousin, or to retire into private life and three hundred a year altogether, and never see parent or brewery more. Mr. Henry Foker went away then, carrying with him that grief and care which passes free at the strictest Custom-houses, and which proverbially accompanies the exile; and with this crape over his eyes, even the Parisian Boulevard looked melancholy to him, and the sky of Italy black.

To Sir Francis Clavering, that year was a most unfortunate one. The events described in the last chapter came to complete the ruin of the year. It was that year of grace in which, as our sporting readers may remember, Lord Harrowhill’s horse (he was a classical young nobleman, and named his stud out of the Iliad)— when Podasokus won the Derby, to the dismay of the knowing ones, who pronounced the winning horse’s name in various extraordinary ways, and who backed Borax, who was nowhere in the race. Sir Francis Clavering, who was intimate with some of the most rascally characters of the turf, and, of course, had “valuable information,” had laid heavy odds against the winning horse, and backed the favourite freely, and the result of his dealings was, as his son correctly stated to poor Lady Clavering, a loss of seven thousand pounds.

Indeed, it was a cruel blow upon the lady, who had discharged her husband’s debts many times over; who had received as many times his oaths and promises of amendment; who had paid his money-lenders and horse-dealers; who had furnished his town and country houses, and who was called upon now instantly to meet this enormous sum, the penalty of her cowardly husband’s extravagance.

It has been described in former pages how the elder Pendennis had become the adviser of the Clavering family, and, in his quality of intimate friend of the house, had gone over every room of ii, and even seen that ugly closet which we all of us have, and in which, according to the proverb, the family skeleton is locked up. About the Baronet’s pecuniary matters, if the Major did not know, it was because Clavering himself did not know them, and hid them from himself and others in such a hopeless entanglement of lies that it was impossible for adviser or attorney or principal to get an accurate knowledge of his affairs. But, concerning Lady Clavering, the Major was much better informed; and when the unlucky mishap of the Derby arose, he took upon himself to become completely and thoroughly acquainted with all her means, whatsoever they were; and was now accurately informed of the vast and repeated sacrifices which the widow Amory had made in behalf of her present husband.

He did not conceal — and he had won no small favour from Miss Blanche by avowing it — his opinion, that Lady Clavering’s daughter had been hardly treated at the expense of her son, by her second marriage: and in his conversations with Lady Clavering had fairly hinted that he thought Miss Blanche ought to have a better provision. We have said that he had already given the widow to understand that he knew all the particulars of her early and unfortunate history, having been in India at the time when — when the painful circumstances occurred which had ended in her parting from her first husband. He could tell her where to find the Calcutta newspaper which contained the account of Amory’s trial, and he showed, and the Begum was not a little grateful to him for his forbearance, how, being aware all along of this mishap which had befallen her, he had kept all knowledge of it to himself, and been constantly the friend of her family.

“Interested motives, my dear Lady Clavering,” he said, “of course I may have had. We all have interested motives, and mine, I don’t conceal from you, was to make a marriage between my nephew and your daughter.” To which Lady Clavering, perhaps with some surprise that the Major should choose her family for a union with his own, said she was quite willing to consent.

But frankly he said, “My dear lady, my boy has but five hundred a year, and a wife with ten thousand pounds to her fortune would scarcely better him. We could do better for him than that, permit me to say, and he is a shrewd, cautious young fellow who has sown his wild oats now — who has very good parts and plenty of ambition — and whose object in marrying is to better himself. If you and Sir Francis chose — and Sir Francis, take my word for it, will refuse you nothing — you could put Arthur in a way to advance very considerably in the world, and show the stuff which he has in him. Of what use is that seat in Parliament to Clavering, who scarcely ever shows his face in the House, or speaks a word there? I’m told by gentlemen who heard my boy at Oxbridge, that he was famous as an orator, begad! — and once put his foot into the stirrup and mount him, I’ve no doubt he won’t be the last of the field, ma’am. I’ve tested the chap, and know him pretty well, I think. He is much too lazy, and careless, and flighty a fellow, to make a jog-trot journey, and arrive, as your lawyers do, at the end of their lives! but give him a start and good friends, and an opportunity, and take my word for it, he’ll make himself a name that his sons shall be proud of. I don’t see any way for a fellow like him to parvenir, but by making a prudent marriage — not with a beggarly heiress — to sit down for life upon a miserable fifteen hundred a year — but with somebody whom he can help, and who can help him forward in the world, and whom he can give a good name and a station in the country, begad, in return for the advantages which she brings him. It would be better for you to have a distinguished son-inlaw, than to keep your husband on in Parliament, who’s of no good to himself or to anybody else there, and that’s, I say, why I’ve been interested about you, and offer you what I think a good bargain for both.”

“You know I look upon Arthur as one of the family almost now,” said the good-natured Begum; “he comes and goes when he likes; and the more I think of his dear mother, the more I see there’s few people so good — none so good to me. And I’m sure I cried when I heard of her death, and would have gone into mourning for her myself, only black don’t become me. And I know who his mother wanted him to marry — Laura, I mean — whom old Lady Rockminster has taken such a fancy to, and, no wonder. She’s a better girl than my girl. I know both. And my Betsy — Blanche, I mean — ain’t been a comfort to me, Major. It’s Laura Pen ought to marry.

“Marry on five hundred a year! My dear good soul, you are mad!” Major Pendennis said. “Think over what I have said to you. Do nothing in your affairs with that unhappy husband of yours without consulting me; and remember that old Pendennis is always your friend.”

For some time previous, Pen’s uncle had held similar language to Miss Amory. He had pointed out to her the convenience of the match which he had at heart, and was bound to say, that mutual convenience was of all things the very best in the world to marry upon — the only thing. “Look at your love-marriages, my dear young creature. The love-match people are the most notorious of all for quarrelling afterwards; and a girl who runs away with Jack to Gretna Green, constantly runs away with Tom to Switzerland afterwards. The great point in marriage is for people to agree to be useful to one another. The lady brings the means, and the gentleman avails himself of them. My boy’s wife brings the horse, and begad Pen goes in and wins the plate. That’s what I call a sensible union. A couple like that have something to talk to each other about when they come together. If you had Cupid himself to talk to — if Blanche and Pen were Cupid and Psyche, begad — they’d begin to yawn after a few evenings, if they had nothing but sentiment to speak on.”

As for Miss Amory, she was contented enough with Pen as long as there was nobody better. And how many other young ladies are like her? — and how many love-marriages carry on well to the last? — and how sentimental firms do not finish in bankruptcy? — and how many heroic passions don’t dwindle down into despicable indifference, or end in shameful defeat?

These views of life and philosophy the Major was constantly, according to his custom, inculcating to Pen, whose mind was such that he could see the right on both sides of many questions, and, comprehending the sentimental life which was quite out of the reach of the honest Major’s intelligence, could understand the practical life too, and accommodate himself, or think he could accommodate himself, to it. So it came to pass that during the spring succeeding his mother’s death he became a good deal under the influence of his uncle’s advice, and domesticated in Lady Clavering’s house; and in a measure was accepted by Miss Amory without being a suitor, and was received without being engaged. The young people were extremely familiar, without being particularly sentimental, and met and parted with each other in perfect good-humour. “And I,” thought Pendennis, “am the fellow who eight years ago had a Grand passion, and last year was raging in a fever about Briseis!”

Yes, it was the same Pendennis, and time had brought to him, as to the rest of us, its ordinary consequences, consolations, developments. We alter very little. When we talk of this man or that woman being no longer the same person whom we remember in youth, and remark (of course to deplore) changes in our friends, we don’t, perhaps, calculate that circumstance only brings out the latent defect or quality, and does not create it. The selfish languor and indifference of today’s possession is the consequence of the selfish ardour of yesterday’s pursuit: the scorn and weariness which cries vanitas vanitatum is but the lassitude of the sick appetite palled with pleasure: the insolence of the successful parvenu is only the necessary continuance of the career of the needy struggler: our mental changes are like our grey hairs or our wrinkles — but the fulfilment of the plan of mortal growth and decay: that which is snow-white now was glossy black once; that which is sluggish obesity today was boisterous rosy health a few years back; that calm weariness, benevolent, resigned, and disappointed, was ambition, fierce and violent, but a few years since, and has only settled into submissive repose after many a battle and defeat. Lucky he who can bear his failure so generously, and give up his broken sword to Fate the Conqueror with a manly and humble heart! Are you not awestricken, you, friendly reader, who, taking the page up for a moment’s light reading, lay it down, perchance, for a graver reflection — to think how you, who have consummated your success or your disaster, may be holding marked station, or a hopeless and nameless place, in the crowd — who have passed through how many struggles of defeat, success, crime, remorse, to yourself only known! — who may have loved and grown cold, wept and laughed again, how often! — to think how you are the same, You, whom in childhood you remember, before the voyage of life began? It has been prosperous, and you are riding into port, the people huzzaing and the guns saluting — and the lucky captain bows from the ship’s side, and there is a care under the star on his breast which nobody knows of: or you are wrecked, and lashed, hopeless, to a solitary spar out at sea:— the sinking man and the successful one are thinking each about home, very likely, and remembering the time when they were children; alone on the hopeless spar, drowning out of sight; alone in the midst of the crowd applauding you.

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