The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXVI

In which Pen begins his Canvass

Melancholy as the great house at Clavering Park had been in the days before his marriage, when its bankrupt proprietor was a refugee in foreign lands, it was not much more cheerful now when Sir Francis Clavering came to inhabit it. The greater part of the mansion was shut up, and the Baronet only occupied a few of the rooms on the ground floor, where his housekeeper and her assistant from the lodge-gate waited upon the luckless gentleman in his forced retreat, and cooked a part of the game which he spent the dreary mornings in shooting. Lightfoot, his man, had passed over to my Lady’s service; and, as Pen was informed in a letter from Mr. Smirke, who performed the ceremony, had executed his prudent intention of marrying Mrs. Bonner, my Lady’s woman, who, in her mature years, was stricken with the charms of the youth, and endowed him with her savings and her mature person.

To be landlord and landlady of the Clavering Arms was the ambition of both of them; and it was agreed that they were to remain in Lady Clavering’s service until quarter-day arrived, when they were to take possession of their hotel. Pen graciously promised that he would give his election dinner there, when the Baronet should vacate his seat in the young man’s favour; and, as it had been agreed by his uncle, to whom Clavering seemed to be able to refuse nothing, Arthur came down in September on a visit to Clavering Park, the owner of which was very glad to have a companion who would relieve his loneliness, and perhaps would lend him a little ready money.

Pen furnished his host with these desirable supplies a couple of days after he had made his appearance at Clavering: and no sooner were these small funds in Sir Francis’s pocket, than the latter found he had business at Chatteris and at the neighbouring watering-places, of which ——— shire boasts many, and went off to see to his affairs, which were transacted, as might be supposed, at the county race-grounds and billiard-rooms. Arthur could live alone well enough, having many mental resources and amusements which did not require other persons’ company: he could walk with the gamekeeper of a morning, and for the evenings there was a plenty of books and occupation for a literary genius like Mr. Arthur, who required but a cigar and a sheet of paper or two to make the night pass away pleasantly. In truth, in two or three days he had found the society of Sir Francis Clavering perfectly intolerable; and it was with a mischievous eagerness and satisfaction that he offered Clavering the little pecuniary aid which the latter according to his custom solicited, and supplied him with the means of taking flight from his own house.

Besides, our ingenious friend had to ingratiate himself with the townspeople of Clavering, and with the voters of the borough which he hoped to represent; and he set himself to this task with only the more eagerness, remembering how unpopular he had before been in Clavering, and determined to vanquish the odium which he had inspired amongst the simple people there. His sense of humour made him delight in this task. Naturally rather reserved and silent in public, he became on a sudden as frank, easy, and jovial as Captain Strong. He laughed with everybody who would exchange a laugh with him, shook hands right and left, with what may be certainly called a dexterous cordiality; made his appearance at the market-day and the farmers’ ordinary; and, in fine, acted like a consummate hypocrite, and as gentlemen of the highest birth and most spotless integrity act when they wish to make themselves agreeable to their constituents, and have some end to gain of the country-folks. How is it that we allow ourselves not to be deceived, but to be ingratiated so readily by a glib tongue, a ready laugh, and a frank manner? We know, for the most part, that it is false coin, and we take it we know that it is flattery, which it costs nothing to distribute to everybody, and we had rather have it than be without it. Friend Pen went about at Clavering, laboriously simple and adroitly pleased, and quite a different being from the scornful and rather sulky young dandy whom the inhabitants remembered ten years ago.

The Rectory was shut up. Doctor Portman was gone, with his gout and his family, to Harrogate — an event which Pen deplored very much in a letter to the Doctor, in which, in a few kind and simple words, he expressed his regret at not seeing his old friend, whose advice he wanted and whose aid he might require some day: but Pen consoled himself for the Doctor’s absence by making acquaintance with Mr. Simcoe, the opposition preacher, and with the two partners of the cloth-factory at Chatteris, and with the Independent preacher there, all of whom he met at Clavering Athenaeum, which the Liberal party had set up in accordance with the advanced spirit of the age, and perhaps in opposition to the aristocratic old reading-room, into which the Edinburgh Review had once scarcely got an admission, and where no tradesmen were allowed an entrance. He propitiated the younger partner of the cloth-factory, by asking him to dine in a friendly way at the Park; he complimented the Honourable Mrs. Simcoe with hares and partridges from the same quarter, and a request to read her husband’s last sermon; and being a little unwell one day, the rascal took advantage of the circumstance to show his tongue to Mr. Huxter, who sent him medicines and called the next morning. How delighted old Pendennis would have been with his pupil! Pen himself was amused with the sport in which he was engaged, and his success inspired him with a wicked good-humour.

And yet, as he walked out of Clavering of a night, after “presiding” at a meeting of the Athenaeum, or working through an evening with Mrs. Simcoe, who, with her husband, was awed by the young Londoner’s reputation, and had heard of his social successes; as he passed over the old familiar bridge of the rushing Brawl, and heard that well-remembered sound of waters beneath, and saw his own cottage of Fairoaks among the trees, their darkling outlines clear against the starlit sky, different thoughts no doubt came to the young man’s mind, and awakened pangs of grief and shame there. There still used to be a light in the windows of the room which he remembered so well, and in which the Saint who loved him had passed so many hours of care and yearning and prayer. He turned away his gaze from the faint light which seemed to pursue him with its wan reproachful gaze, as though it was his mother’s spirit watching and warning. How clear the night was! How keen the stars shone! how ceaseless the rush of the flowing waters! the old home trees whispered, and waved gently their dark heads and branches over the cottage roof. Yonder, in the faint starlight glimmer, was the terrace where, as a boy, he walked of summer evenings, ardent and trustful, unspotted, untried, ignorant of doubts or passions; sheltered as yet from the world’s contamination in the pure and anxious bosom of love. The clock of the near town tolling midnight, with a clang, disturbs our wanderer’s reverie, and sends him onwards towards his night’s resting-place, through the lodge into Clavering avenue, and under the dark arcades of the rustling limes.

When he sees the cottage the next time, it is smiling in sunset; those bedroom windows are open where the light was burning the night before; and Pen’s tenant, Captain Stokes, of the Bombay Artillery (whose mother, old Mrs. Stokes, lives in Clavering), receives his landlord’s visit with great cordiality: shows him over the grounds and the new pond he has made in the back-garden from the stables; talks to him confidentially about the roof and chimneys, and begs Mr. Pendennis to name a day when he will do himself and Mrs. Stokes the pleasure to, etc. Pen, who has been a fortnight in the country, excuses himself for not having called sooner upon the Captain by frankly owning that he had not the heart to do it. “I understand you, sir,” the Captain says; and Mrs. Stokes, who had slipped away at the ring of the bell (how odd it seemed to Pen to ring the bell!), comes down in her best gown, surrounded by her children. The young ones clamb about Stokes: the boy jumps into an arm-chair. It was Pen’s father’s arm-chair; and Arthur remembers the days when he would as soon have thought of mounting the king’s throne as of seating himself in that arm-chair. He asks if Miss Stokes — she is the very image of her mamma — if she can play? He should like to hear a tune on that piano. She plays. He hears the notes of the old piano once more, enfeebled by age, but he does not listen to the player. He is listening to Laura singing as in the days of their youth, and sees his mother bending and beating time over the shoulder of the girl.

The dinner at Fairoaks given in Pen’s honour by his tenant, and at which old Mrs. Stokes, Captain Glanders, Squire Hobnel and the clergyman and his lady from Tinckleton, were present, was very stupid and melancholy for Pen, until the waiter from Clavering (who aided the captain’s stable-boy and Mrs. Stokes’s butler) whom Pen remembered as a street boy, and who was now indeed barber in that place, dropped a plate over Pen’s shoulder, on which Mr. Hobnell (who also employed him) remarked, “I suppose, Hodson, your hands are slippery with bear’s-grease. He’s always dropping the crockery about, that Hodson is — haw, haw!” On which Hodson blushed, and looked so disconcerted, that Pen burst out laughing; and good-humour and hilarity were the order of the evening. For the second course, there was a hare and partridges top and bottom, and when after the withdrawal of the servants Pen said to the Vicar of Tinckleton, “I think, Mr. Stooks, you should have asked Hodson to cut the hare,” the joke was taken instantly by the clergyman, who was followed in the course of a few minutes by Captains Stokes and Glanders, and by Mr. Hobnell, who arrived rather late, but with an immense guffaw.

* * * * * *

While Mr. Pen was engaged in the country in the above schemes, it happened that the lady of his choice, if not of his affections, came up to London from the Tunbridge villa bound upon shopping expeditions or important business, and in company of old Mrs. Bonner, her mother’s maid, who had lived and quarrelled with Blanche many times since she was an infant, and who now being about to quit Lady Clavering’s service for the hymeneal state, was anxious like a good soul to bestow some token of respectful kindness upon her old and young mistress before she quitted them altogether, to take her post as the wife of Lightfoot, and landlady of the Clavering Arms.

The honest woman took the benefit of Miss Amory’s taste to make the purchase which she intended to offer her ladyship; and, requested the fair Blanche to choose something for herself that should be to her liking, and remind her of her old nurse who had attended her through many a wakeful night, and eventful teething, and childish fever, and who loved her like a child of her own a’most. These purchases were made, and as the nurse insisted on buying an immense Bible for Blanche, the young lady suggested that Bonner should purchase a large Johnson’s Dictionary for her mamma. Each of the two women might certainly profit by the present made to her.

Then Mrs. Bonner invested money in some bargains in linen-drapery, which might be useful at the Clavering Arms, and bought a red and yellow neck-handkerchief, which Blanche could see at once was intended for Mr. Lightfoot. Younger than herself by at least five-and-twenty years, Mrs. Bonner regarded that youth with a fondness at once parental and conjugal, and loved to lavish ornaments on his person, which already glittered with pins, rings, shirt-studs, and chains and seals, purchased at the good creature’s expense.

It was in the Strand that Mrs. Bonner made her purchases, aided by Miss Blanche, who liked the fun very well; and when the old lady had bought everything that she desired, and was leaving the shop, Blanche, with a smiling face, and a sweet bow to one of the shopmen, said, “Pray, sir, will you have the kindness to show us the way to Shepherd’s Inn?”

Shepherd’s Inn was but a few score of yards off, Old Castle Street was close by, the elegant young shopman pointed out the turning which the young lady was to take, and she and her companion walked off together.

“Shepherd’s Inn! what can you want in Shepherd’s Inn, Miss Blanche?” Bonner inquired. “Mr. Strong lives there. Do you want to go and see the Captain?”

“I should like to see the Captain very well. I like the Captain; but it is not him I want. I want to see a dear little good girl, who was very kind to — to Mr. Arthur when he was so ill last year, and saved his life almost; and I want to thank her and ask her if she would like anything. I looked out several of my dresses on purpose this morning, Bonner!” and she looked at Bonner as if she had a right to admiration, and had performed an act of remarkable virtue. Blanche, indeed, was very fond of sugar-plums; she would have fed the poor upon them, when she had had enough, and given a country girl a ball-dress, when she had worn it and was tired of it.

“Pretty girl — pretty young woman!” mumbled Mrs. Bonner. “I know I want no pretty young women to come about Lightfoot,” and in imagination she peopled the Clavering Arms with a harem of the most hideous chambermaids and barmaids.

Blanche, with pink and blue, and feathers, and flowers, and trinkets (that wondrous invention, a chatelaine, was not extant yet, or she would have had one, we may be sure), and a shot-silk dress, and a wonderful mantle, and a charming parasol, presented a vision of elegance and beauty such as bewildered the eyes of Mrs. Bolton, who was scrubbing the lodge-floor of Shepherd’s Inn and caused Betsy-Jane and Ameliar-Ann to look with delight.

Blanche looked on them with a smile of ineffable sweetness and protection; like Rowena going to see Rebecca; like Marie Antoinette visiting the poor in the famine; like the Marchioness of Carabas alighting from her carriage-and-four at a pauper-tenant’s door, and taking from John No II. the packet of Epsom salts for the invalid’s benefit, carrying it with her own imperial hand into the sick-room — Blanche felt a queen stepping down from her throne to visit a subject, and enjoyed all the bland consciousness of doing a good action.

“My good woman! I want to see Fanny — Fanny Bolton; is she here?”

Mrs. Bolton had a sudden suspicion, from the splendour of Blanche’s appearance, that it must be a play-actor, or something worse.

“What do you want with Fanny, pray?” she asked.

“I am Lady Clavering’s daughter — you have heard of Sir Francis Clavering? And I wish very much indeed to see Fanny Bolton.”

“Pray step in, miss. — Betsy-Jane, where’s Fanny?”

Betsy-Jane said Fanny had gone into No. 3 staircase, on which Mrs. Bolton said she was probably in Strong’s rooms, and bade the child go and see if she was there.

“In Captain Strong’s rooms! oh, let us go to Captain Strong’s rooms,” cried out Miss Blanche. “I know him very well. You dearest little girl, show us the way to Captain Strong!” cried out Miss Blanche, for the floor reeked with the recent scrubbing, and the goddess did not like the smell of brown-soap.

And as they passed up the stairs, a gentleman by the name of Costigan, who happened to be swaggering about the court, and gave a very knowing look with his “oi” under Blanche’s bonnet, remarked to himself, “That’s a devilish foine gyurll, bedad, goan up to Sthrong and Altamont: they’re always having foine gyurlls up their stairs.”

“Hallo — hwhat’s that?” he presently said, looking up at the windows: from which some piercing shrieks issued.

At the sound of the voice of a distressed female the intrepid Cos rushed up the stairs as fast as his old legs would carry him, being nearly overthrown by Strong’s servant, who was descending the stair. Cos found the outer door of Strong’s chambers opened, and began to thunder at the knocker. After many and fierce knocks, the inner door was partially unclosed, and Strong’s head appeared.

“It’s oi, me boy. Hwhat’s that noise, Sthrong?” asked Costigan.

“Go to the d ——!” was the only answer, and the door was shut on Cos’s venerable red nose: and he went downstairs muttering threats at the indignity offered to him, and vowing that he would have satisfaction. In the meanwhile the reader, more lucky than Captain Costigan, will have the privilege of being made acquainted with the secret which was withheld from that officer.

It has been said of how generous a disposition Mr. Altamont was, and when he was well supplied with funds how liberally he spent them. Of a hospitable turn, he had no greater pleasure than drinking in company with other people; so that there was no man more welcome at Greenwich and Richmond than the Emissary of the Nawaub of Lucknow.

Now it chanced that on the day when Blanche and Mrs. Bonner ascended the staircase to Strong’s room in Shepherd’s Inn, the Colonel had invited Miss Delaval of the ——— Theatre Royal, and her mother, Mrs. Hodge, to a little party down the river, and it had been agreed that they were to meet at Chambers, and thence walk down to a port in the neighbouring Strand to take water. So that when Mrs. Bonner and Mes Larmes came to the door, where Grady, Altamont’s servant, was standing, the domestic said, “Walk in, ladies,” with the utmost affability, and led them into the room, which was arranged as if they had been expected there. Indeed, two bouquets of flowers, bought at Covent Garden that morning, and instances of the tender gallantry of Altamont, were awaiting his guests upon the table. Blanche smelt at the bouquet, and put her pretty little dainty nose into it, and tripped about the room, and looked behind the curtains, and at the books and prints, and at the plan of Clavering estate hanging up on the wall; and had asked the servant for Captain Strong, and had almost forgotten his existence and the errand about which she had come, namely, to visit Fanny Bolton; so pleased was she with the new adventure, and the odd, strange, delightful, droll little idea of being in a bachelor’s chambers in a queer old place in the city!

Grady meanwhile, with a pair of ample varnished boots, had disappeared into his master’s room. Blanche had hardly the leisure to remark how big the boots were, and how unlike Mr. Strong’s.

“The women’s come,” said Grady, helping his master to the boots.

“Did you ask ’em if they would take a glass of anything?” asked Altamont.

Grady came out —“He says, will you take anything to drink?” the domestic asked of them; at which Blanche, amused with the artless question, broke out into a pretty little laugh, and asked of Mrs. Bonner, “Shall we take anything to drink?”

“Well, you may take it or lave it,” said Mr. Grady, who thought his offer slighted, and did not like the contemptuous manners of the new-comers, and so left them.

“Will we take anything to drink?” Blanche asked again: and again began to laugh.

“Grady,” bawled out a voice from the chamber within:— a voice that made Mrs. Bonner start.

Grady did not answer: his song was heard from afar off, from the kitchen, his upper room, where Grady was singing at his work.

“Grady, my coat!” again roared the voice from within.

“Why, that is not Mr. Strong’s voice,” said the Sylphide, still half laughing. “Grady my coat! — Bonner, who is Grady my coat? We ought to go away.”

Bonner still looked quite puzzled at the sound of the voice which she had heard.

The bedroom door here opened and the individual who had called out “Grady, my coat,” appeared without the garment in question.

He nodded to the women, and walked across the room. “I beg your pardon, ladies. Grady, bring my coat down, sir! Well, my dears, it’s a fine day, and we’ll have a jolly lark at ——”

He said no more; for here Mrs. Bonner, who had been looking at him with scared eyes, suddenly shrieked out, “Amory! Amory!” and fell back screaming and fainting in her chair.

The man, so apostrophised, looked at the woman an instant, and, rushing up to Blanche, seized her and kissed her. “Yes, Betsy,” he said, “by G— it is me. Mary Bonner knew me. What a fine gal we’ve grown! But it’s a secret, mind. I’m dead, though I’m your father. Your poor mother don’t know it. What a pretty gal we’ve grown! Kiss me — kiss me close, my Betsy? D—— it, I love you: I’m your old father.”

Betsy or Blanche looked quite bewildered, and began to scream too — once, twice, thrice; and it was her piercing shrieks which Captain Costigan heard as he walked the court below.

At the sound of these shrieks the perplexed parent clasped his hands (his wristbands were open, and on one brawny arm you could see letters tattooed in blue), and, rushing to his apartment, came back with an eau-de-Cologne bottle from his grand silver dressing-case, with the fragrant contents of which he began liberally to sprinkle Bonner and Blanche.

The screams of these women brought the other occupants of the chambers into the room: Grady from his kitchen, and Strong from his apartment in the upper story. The latter at once saw from the aspect of the two women what had occurred.

“Grady, go and wait in the court,” he said, “and if anybody comes — you understand me.”

“Is it the play-actress and her mother?” said Grady.

“Yes — confound you — say that there’s nobody in chambers, and the party’s off for today.”

“Shall I say that, sir? and after I bought them bokays?” asked Grady of his master.

“Yes,” said Amory, with a stamp of his foot; and Strong going to the door, too, reached it just in time to prevent the entrance of Captain Costigan, who had mounted the stair.

The ladies from the theatre did not have their treat to Greenwich, nor did Blanche pay her visit to Fanny Bolton on that day. And Cos, who took occasion majestically to inquire of Grady what the mischief was, and who was crying? — had for answer that ’twas a woman, another of them, and that they were, in Grady’s opinion, the cause of ‘most all the mischief in the world.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter66.html

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