The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXVIII

In which the Major is bidden to Stand and Deliver

Any gentleman who has frequented the Wheel of Fortune public-house, where it may be remembered that Mr. James Morgan’s Club was held, and where Sir Francis Clavering had an interview with Major Pendennis, is aware that there are three rooms for guests upon the ground floor, besides the bar where the landlady sits. One is a parlour frequented by the public at large; to another room gentlemen in livery resort; and the third apartment, on the door of which “Private” is painted, is that hired by the Club of “The Confidentials,” of which Messrs Morgan and Lightfoot were members.

The noiseless Morgan had listened to the conversation between Strong and Major Pendennis at the latter’s own lodgings, and had carried away from it matter for much private speculation; and a desire of knowledge had led him to follow his master when the Major came to the Wheel of Fortune, and to take his place quietly in the Confidential room, whilst Pendennis and Clavering had their discourse in the parlour. There was a particular corner in the Confidential room from which you could hear almost all that passed in the next apartment; and as the conversation between the two gentlemen there was rather angry, and carried on in a high key, Morgan had the benefit of overhearing almost the whole of it and what he heard, strengthened the conclusions which his mind had previously formed.

“He knew Altamont at once, did he, when he saw him in Sydney? Clavering ain’t no more married to my Lady than I am! Altamont’s the man: Altamont’s a convict; young Harthur comes into Parlyment, and the Gov’nor promises not to split. By Jove, what a sly old rogue it is, that old Gov’nor! No wonder he’s anxious to make the match between Blanche and Harthur: why, she’ll have a hundred thousand if she’s a penny, and bring her man a seat in Parlyment into the bargain.” Nobody saw, but a physiognomist would have liked to behold, the expression of Mr. Morgan’s countenance, when this astounding intelligence was made clear to him. “But for my hage, and the confounded preudices of society,” he said, surveying himself in the glass, “dammy, James Morgan, you might marry her yourself.” But if he could not marry Miss Blanche and her fortune, Morgan thought he could mend his own by the possession of this information, and that it might be productive of benefit to him from very many sources. Of all the persons whom the secret affected, the greater number would not like to have it known. For instance, Sir Francis Clavering, whose fortune it involved, would wish to keep it quiet; Colonel Altamont, whose neck it implicated, would naturally be desirous to hush it: and that young hupstart beast, Mr. Harthur, who was for getting’ into Parlyment on the strenth of it, and was as proud as if he was a duke with half a millium a year (such, we grieve to say, was Morgan’s opinion of his employer’s nephew), would pay anythink sooner than let the world know that he was married to a convick’s daughter, and had got his seat in Parlyment by trafficking with this secret. As for Lady C., Morgan thought, if she’s tired of Clavering, and wants to get rid of him, she’ll pay: if she’s frightened about her son, and fond of the little beggar, she’ll pay all the same: and Miss Blanche will certainly come down handsome to the man who will put her into her rights, which she was unjustly defrauded of them, and no mistake. “Dammy,” concluded the valet, reflecting upon this wonderful hand which luck had given him to play, “with such cards as these, James Morgan, you are a made man. It may be a reg’lar enewity to me. Every one of ’em must susscribe. And with what I’ve made already, I may cut business, give my old Gov’nor warning, turn gentleman, and have a servant of my own, begad.” Entertaining himself with calculations such as these, that were not a little likely to perturb a man’s spirit, Mr. Morgan showed a very great degree of self-command by appearing and being calm, and by not allowing his future prospects in any way to interfere with his present duties.

One of the persons whom the story chiefly concerned, Colonel Altamont, was absent from London when Morgan was thus made acquainted with his history. The valet knew of Sir Francis Clavering’s Shepherd’s Inn haunt, and walked thither an hour or two after the Baronet and Pendennis had had their conversation together. But that bird was flown; Colonel Altamont had received his Derby winnings, and was gone to the Continent. The fact of his absence was exceedingly vexatious to Mr. Morgan. “He’ll drop all that money at the gambling-shops on the Rhind,” thought Morgan, “and I might have had a good bit of it. It’s confounded annoying to think he’s gone and couldn’t have waited a few days longer.” Hope, triumphant or deferred, ambition or disappointment, victory or patient ambush, Morgan bore all alike, with similar equable countenance. Until the proper day came, the Major’s boots were varnished and his hair was curled, his early cup of tea was brought to his bedside, his oaths, rebukes, and senile satire borne, with silent, obsequious fidelity. Who would think, to see him waiting upon his master, packing and shouldering his trunks, and occasionally assisting at table, at the country-houses where he might be staying, that Morgan was richer than his employer, and knew his secrets and other people’s? In the profession Mr. Morgan was greatly respected and admired, and his reputation for wealth and wisdom got him much renown at most supper-tables: the younger gentlemen voted him stoopid, a feller of no idears, and a fogey, in a word: but not one of them would not say amen to the heartfelt prayer which some of the most serious-minded among the gentlemen uttered, “When I die may I cut up as well as Morgan Pendennis!”

As became a man of fashion, Major Pendennis spent the autumn passing from house to house of such country friends as were at home to receive him; and if the Duke happened to be abroad, the Marquis in Scotland, condescending to sojourn with Sir John or the plain Squire. To say the truth, the old gentleman’s reputation was somewhat on the wane: many of the men of his time had died out, and the occupants of their halls and the present wearers of their titles knew not Major Pendennis: and little cared for his traditions of “the wild Prince and Poins,” and of the heroes of fashion passed away. It must have struck the good man with melancholy as he walked by many a London door, to think how seldom it was now opened for him, and how often he used to knock at it — to what banquets and welcome he used to pass through it — a score of years back. He began to own that he was no longer of the present age, and dimly to apprehend that the young men laughed at him. Such melancholy musings must come across many a Pall Mall philosopher. The men, thinks he, are not such as they used to be in his time: the old grand manner and courtly grace of life are gone: what is Castlewood House and the present Castlewood, compared to the magnificence of the old mansion and owner? The late lord came to London with four postchaises and sixteen horses: all the North Road hurried out to look at his cavalcade: the people in London streets even stopped as his procession passed them. The present lord travels with five bagmen in a railway carriage, and sneaks away from the station, smoking a cigar in a brougham. The late lord in autumn filled Castlewood with company, who drank claret till midnight: the present man buries himself in a hut on a Scotch mountain, and passes November in two or three closets in an entresol at Paris, where his amusements are a dinner at a cafe and a box at a little theatre. What a contrast there is between his Lady Lorraine, the Regent’s Lady Lorraine, and her little ladyship of the present era! He figures to himself the first, beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent in diamonds and velvets, daring in rouge, the wits of the world (the old wits, the old polished gentlemen — not the canaille of today with their language of the cabstand, and their coats smelling of smoke) bowing at her feet; and then thinks of today’s Lady Lorraine — a little woman in a black silk gown, like a governess, who talks astronomy, and labouring classes, and emigration, and the deuce knows what, and lurks to church at eight o’clock in the morning. Abbots-Lorraine, that used to be the noblest house in the county, is turned into a monastery — a regular La Trappe. They don’t drink two glasses of wine after dinner, and every other man at table is a country curate, with a white neckcloth, whose talk is about Polly Higson’s progress at school, or widow Watkins’s lumbago. “And the other young men, those lounging guardsmen and great lazy dandies — sprawling over sofas and billiard-tables, and stealing off to smoke pipes in each other’s bedrooms, caring for nothing, reverencing nothing, not even an old gentleman who has known their fathers and their betters, not even a pretty woman — what a difference there is between these men, who poison the very turnips and stubble-fields with their tobacco, and the gentlemen of our time!” thinks the Major; “the breed is gone — there’s no use for ’em; they’re replaced by a parcel of damned cotton — spinners and utilitarians, and young sprigs of parsons with their hair combed down their barks. I’m getting old: they’re getting past me: they laugh at us old boys,” thought old Pendennis. And he was not far wrong; the times and manners which he admired were pretty nearly gone — the gay young men “larked” him irreverently, whilst the serious youth had a grave pity and wonder at him; which would have been even more painful to bear, had the old gentleman been aware of its extent. But he was rather simple: his examination of moral questions had never been very deep; it had never struck him perhaps, until very lately, that he was otherwise than a most respectable and rather fortunate man. Is there no old age but his without reverence? Did youthful folly never jeer at other bald pates? For the past two or three years, he had begun to perceive that his day was well-nigh over, and that the men of the new time had begun to reign.

After a rather unsuccessful autumn season, then, during which he was faithfully followed by Mr. Morgan, his nephew Arthur being engaged, as we have seen, at Clavering, it happened that Major Pendennis came back for a while to London, at the dismal end of October, when the fogs and the lawyers come to town. Who has not looked with interest at those loaded cabs, piled boxes, and crowded children, rattling through the streets on the dun October evenings; stopping at the dark houses, where they discharge nurse and infant, girls, matron and father, whose holidays are over? Yesterday it was France and sunshine, or Broadstairs and liberty; today comes work and a yellow fog; and, ye gods! what a heap of bills there lies in Master’s study! And the clerk has brought the lawyer’s papers from Chambers; and in half an hour the literary man knows that the printer’s boy will be in the passage; and Mr. Smith with that little account (that particular little account) has called presentient of your arrival, and has left word that he will call tomorrow morning at ten. Who amongst us has not said Good-bye to his holiday; returned to dun London, and his fate; surveyed his labours and liabilities laid out before him, and been aware of that inevitable little account to settle? Smith and his little account in the morning, symbolise duty, difficulty, struggle, which you will meet, let us hope, friend, with a manly and honest heart. — And you think of him, as the children are slumbering once more in their own beds, and the watchful housewife tenderly pretends to sleep.

Old Pendennis had no special labours or bills to encounter on the morrow, as he had no affection at home to soothe him. He had always money in his desk sufficient for his wants; and being by nature and habit tolerably indifferent to the wants of other people, these latter were not likely to disturb him. But a gentleman may be out of temper though he does not owe a shilling and though he may be ever so selfish, he must occasionally feel dispirited and lonely. He had had two or three twinges of gout in the country-house where he had been staying: the birds were wild and shy, and the walking over the ploughed fields had fatigued him deucedly: the young men had laughed at him, and he had been peevish at table once or twice: he had not been able to get his whist of an evening: and, in fine, was glad to come away. In all his dealings with Morgan, his valet, he had been exceedingly sulky and discontented. He had sworn at him and abused him for many days past. He had scalded his mouth with bad soup at Swindon. He had left his umbrella in the railroad carriage: at which piece of forgetfulness, he was in such a rage, that he cursed Morgan more freely than ever. Both, the chimneys smoked furiously in his lodgings; and when he caused the windows to be flung open, he swore so acrimoniously, that Morgan was inclined to fling him out of window too, through that opened casement. The valet swore after his master, as Pendennis went down the street on his way to the Club.

Bays’s was not at all pleasant. The house had been new painted, and smelt of varnish and turpentine, and a large streak of white paint inflicted itself on the back of the old boy’s fur-collared surtout. The dinner was not good: and the three most odious men in all London — old Hawkshaw, whose cough and accompaniments are fit to make any man uncomfortable; old Colonel Gripley, who seizes on all the newspapers; and that irreclaimable old bore Jawkins, who would come and dine at the next table to Pendennis, and describe to him every inn-bill which he had paid in his foreign tour: each and all of these disagreeable personages and incidents had contributed to make Major Pendennis miserable; and the Club waiter trod on his toe as he brought him his coffee. Never alone appear the Immortals. The Furies always hunt in company: they pursued Pendennis from home to the Club, and from the Club home.

Whilst the Major was absent from his lodgings, Morgan had been seated in the landlady’s parlour, drinking freely of hot brandy-and-water, and pouring out on Mrs. Brixham some of the abuse which he had received from his master upstairs. Mrs. Brixham was Mr. Morgan’s slave. He was his landlady’s landlord. He had bought the lease of the house which she rented; he had got her name and her son’s to acceptances, and a bill of sale which made him master of the luckless widow’s furniture. The young Brixham was a clerk in an insurance office, and Morgan could put him into what he called quod any day. Mrs. Brixham was a clergyman’s widow, and Mr. Morgan, after performing his duties on the first floor, had a pleasure in making the old lady fetch him his bootjack and his slippers. She was his slave. The little black profiles of her son and daughter; the very picture of Tiddlecot Church, where she was married, and her poor dear Brixham lived and died, was now Morgan’s property, as it hung there over the mantelpiece of his back-parlour. Morgan sate in the widow’s back-room, in the ex-curate’s old horse-hair study-chair, making Mrs. Brixham bring supper for him, and fill his glass again and again.

The liquor was bought with the poor woman’s own coin, and hence Morgan indulged in it only the more freely; and he had eaten his supper and was drinking a third tumbler, when old Pendennis returned from the Club, and went upstairs to his rooms. Mr. Morgan swore very savagely at him and his bell, when he heard the latter, and finished his tumbler of brandy before he went up to answer the summons.

He received the abuse consequent on this delay in silence, nor did the Major condescend to read in the flushed face and glaring eyes of the man, the anger under which he was labouring. The old gentleman’s foot-bath was at the fire; his gown and slippers awaiting him there. Morgan knelt down to take his boots off with due subordination: and as the Major abused him from above, kept up a growl of maledictions below at his feet. Thus, when Pendennis was crying “Confound you, sir, mind that strap — curse you, don’t wrench my foot off,” Morgan sotto voce below was expressing a wish to strangle him, drown him, and punch his head off.

The boots removed, it became necessary to divest Mr. Pendennis of his coat: and for this purpose the valet had necessarily to approach very near to his employer; so near that Pendennis could not but perceive what Mr. Morgan’s late occupation had been; to which he adverted in that simple and forcible phraseology which men are sometimes in the habit of using to their domestics; informing Morgan that he was a drunken beast, and that he smelt of brandy.

At this the man broke out, losing patience, and flinging up all subordination, “I’m drunk, am I? I’m a beast, am I? I’m d —— d, am I? you infernal old miscreant. Shall I wring your old head off, and drownd yer in that pail of water? Do you think I’m a-goin’ to bear your confounded old harrogance, you old Wigsby! Chatter your old hivories at me, do you, you grinning old baboon! Come on, if you are a man, and can stand to a man. Ha! you coward, knives, knives!”

“If you advance a step, I’ll send it into you,” said the Major, seizing up a knife that was on the table near him. “Go downstairs, you drunken brute, and leave the house; send for your book and your wages in the morning, and never let me see your insolent face again. This d —— d impertinence of yours has been growing for some months past. You have been growing too rich. You are not fit for service. Get out of it, and out of the house.”

“And where would you wish me to go, pray, out of the ’ouse?” asked the man, “and won’t it be equal convenient tomorrow mornin’? — tootyfay mame shose, sivvaplay, munseer?”

“Silence, you beast, and go!” cried out the Major.

Morgan began to laugh, with rather a sinister laugh. “Look yere, Pendennis,” he said, seating himself; “since I’ve been in this room you’ve called me beast, brute, dog: and d —— d me, haven’t you? How do you suppose one man likes that sort of talk from another? How many years have I waited on you, and how many damns and cusses have you given me, along with my wages? Do you think a man’s a dog, that you can talk to him in this way? If I choose to drink a little, why shouldn’t I? I’ve seen many a gentleman drunk form’ly, and peraps have the abit from them. I ain’t a-goin’ to leave this house, old feller, and shall I tell you why? The house is my house, every stick of furnitur’ in it is mine, excep’ your old traps, and your shower-bath, and your wigbox. I’ve bought the place, I tell you, with my own industry and perseverance. I can show a hundred pound, where you can show a fifty, or your damned supersellious nephew either. I’ve served you honourable, done everythink for you these dozen years, and I’m a dog, am I? I’m a beast, am I? That’s the language for gentlemen, not for our rank. But I’ll bear it no more. I throw up your service; I’m tired on it; I’ve combed your old wig and buckled your old girths and waistbands long enough, I tell you. Don’t look savage at me, I’m sitting in my own chair, in my own room, a-telling the truth to you. I’ll be your beast, and your brute, and your dog, no more, Major Pendennis Alf Pay.”

The fury of the old gentleman, met by the servant’s abrupt revolt, had been shocked and cooled by the concussion, as much as if a sudden shower-bath or a pail of cold water had been flung upon him. That effect produced, and his anger calmed, Morgan’s speech had interested him, and he rather respected his adversary, and his courage in facing him; as of old days, in the fencing-room, he would have admired the opponent who hit him.

“You are no longer my servant,” the Major said, “and the house may be yours; but the lodgings are mine, and you will have the goodness to leave them. To-morrow morning, when we have settled our accounts, I shall remove into other quarters. In the meantime, I desire to go to bed, and have not the slightest wish for your further company.”

“We’ll have a settlement, don’t you be afraid,” Morgan said, getting up from his chair. “I ain’t done with you yet; nor with your family, nor with the Clavering family, Major Pendennis; and that you shall know.”

“Have the goodness to leave the room, sir — I’m tired,” said the Major.

“Hah! you’ll be more tired of me afore you’ve done,” answered the man, with a sneer, and walked out of the room; leaving the Major to compose himself as best he might, after the agitation of this extraordinary scene.

He sate and mused by his fireside over the past events, and the confounded impudence and ingratitude of servants; and thought how he should get a new man: how devilish unpleasant it was for a man of his age, and with his habits, to part with a fellow to whom he had been accustomed: how Morgan had a receipt for boot-varnish, which was incomparably better and more comfortable to the feet than any he had ever tried: how very well he made mutton-broth, and tended him when he was unwell. “Gad, it’s a hard thing to lose a fellow of that sort: but he must go,” thought the Major. “He has grown rich, and impudent since he has grown rich. He was horribly tipsy and abusive to-night. We must part, and I must go out of the lodgings. Dammy, I like the lodgings; I’m used to ’em. It’s very unpleasant, at my time of life, to change my quarters.” And so on, mused the old gentleman. The shower-bath had done him good: the testiness was gone: the loss of the umbrella, the smell of paint at the Club, were forgotten under the superior excitement. “Confound the insolent villain!” thought the old gentleman. “He understood my wants to a nicety: he was the best servant in England.” He thought about his servant as a man thinks of a horse that has carried him long and well, and that has come down with him, and is safe no longer. How the deuce to replace him? Where can he get such another animal?

In these melancholy cogitations the Major, who had donned his own dressing-gown and replaced his head of hair (a little grey had been introduced into the coiffure of late by Mr. Truefitt, which had given the Major’s head the most artless and respectable appearance); in these cogitations, we say, the Major, who had taken off his wig and put on his night-handkerchief, sate absorbed by the fireside, when a feeble knock came at his door, which was presently opened by the landlady of the lodgings.

“God bless my soul, Mrs. Brixham!” cried out the Major, startled that a lady should behold him in the simple appareil of his night-toilet. “It — it’s very late, Mrs. Brixham.”

“I wish I might speak to you, sir,” said the landlady, very piteously.

“About Morgan, I suppose? He has cooled himself at the pump. Can’t take him back, Mrs. Brixham. Impossible. I’d determined to part with him before, when I heard of his dealings in the discount business — I suppose you’ve heard of them, Mrs. Brixham? My servant’s a capitalist, begad.”

“Oh, sir,” said Mrs. Brixham, “I know it to my cost. I borrowed from him a little money five years ago; and though I have paid him many times over, I am entirely in his power. I am ruined by him, sir. Everything I had is his. He’s a dreadful man.”

“Eh, Mrs. Brixham? tout pis — dev’lish sorry for you, and that I must quit your house after lodging here so long: there’s no help for it. I must go.”

“He says we must all go, sir,” sobbed out the luckless widow. He came downstairs from you just now — he had been drinking, and it always makes him very wicked — and he said that you had insulted him, sir, and treated him like a dog, and spoken to him unkindly; and he swore he would be revenged, and — and I owe him a hundred and twenty pounds, sir — and he has a bill of sale of all my furniture — and says he will turn me out of my house, and send my poor George to prison. He has been the ruin of my family, that man.”

“Dev’lish sorry, Mrs. Brixham; pray take a chair. What can I do?”

“Could you not intercede with him for us? George will give half his allowance; my daughter can send something. If you will but stay on, sir, and pay a quarter’s rent in advance ——”

“My good madam, I would as soon give you a quarter in advance as not, if I were going to stay in the lodgings. But I can’t; and I can’t afford to fling away twenty pounds, my good madam. I’m a poor half-pay officer, and want every shilling I have, begad. As far as a few pounds goes — say five pounds — I don’t say — and shall be most happy, and that sort of thing: and I’ll give it you in the morning with pleasure: but — but it’s getting late, and I have made a railroad journey.”

“God’s will be done, sir,” said the poor woman, drying her tears. I must bear my fate.”

“And a dev’lish hard one it is, and most sincerely I pity you, Mrs. Brixham. I— I’ll say ten pounds, if you will permit me. Good night.”

“Mr. Morgan, sir, when he came downstairs, and when — when I besought him to have pity on me, and told him he had been the ruin of my family, said something which I did not well understand — that he would ruin every family in the house — that he knew something would bring you down too — and that you should pay him for your — your insolence to him. I— I must own to you, that I went down on my knees to him, sir; and he said, with a dreadful oath against you, that he would have you on your knees.”

“Me? — by Gad, that is too pleasant! Where is the confounded fellow?”

“He went away, sir. He said he should see you in the morning. Oh, pray try and pacify him, and save me and my poor boy.” And the widow went away with this prayer, to pass her night as she might, and look for the dreadful morrow.

The last words about himself excited Major Pendennis so much, that his compassion for Mrs. Brixham’s misfortunes was quite forgotten in the consideration of his own case.

“Me on my knees?” thought he, as he got into bed: “confound his impudence! Who ever saw me on my knees? What the devil does the fellow know? Gad, I’ve not had an affair these twenty years. I defy him.” And the old compaigner turned round and slept pretty sound, being rather excited and amused by the events of the day — the last day in Bury Street, he was determined it should be. “For it’s impossible to stay on with a valet over me, and a bankrupt landlady. What good can I do this poor devil of a woman? I’ll give her twenty pound — there’s Warrington’s twenty pound, which he has just paid — but what’s the use? She’ll want more, and more, and more, and that cormorant Morgan will swallow all. No, dammy, I can’t afford to know poor people; and tomorrow I’ll say Good-bye — to Mrs. Brixham and Mr. Morgan.”

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