The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXX

In which Pendennis counts his Eggs

Our friend had arrived in London on that day only, though but for a brief visit; and having left some fellow-travellers at an hotel to which he had convoyed them from the West, he hastened to the Chambers in Lamb Court, which were basking in as much sun as chose to visit that dreary but not altogether comfortless building. Freedom stands in lieu of sunshine in chambers; and Templars grumble, but take their ease in their Inn. Pen’s domestic announced to him that Warrington was in Chambers too, and, of course, Arthur ran up to his friend’s room straightway, and found it, as of old, perfumed with the pipe, and George once more at work with his newspapers and reviews. The pair greeted each other with the rough cordiality which young Englishmen use one to another: and which carries a great deal of warmth and kindness under its rude exterior. Warrington smiled and took his pipe out of his mouth, and said, “Well, young one!” Pen advanced and held out his hand, and said, “How are you, old boy?” And so this greeting passed between two friends who had not seen each other for months. Alphonse and Frederic would have rushed into each other’s arms and shrieked Ce bon coeur! ce cher Alphonse! over each other’s shoulders. Max and Wilhelm would have bestowed half a dozen kisses, scented with Havannah, upon each other’s mustachios. “Well, young one!” “How are you, old boy?” is what two Britons say: after saving each other’s lives, possibly, the day before. To-morrow they will leave off shaking hands, and only wag their heads at one another as they come to breakfast. Each has for the other the very warmest confidence and regard: each would share his purse with the other: and hearing him attacked would break out in the loudest and most enthusiastic praise of his friend; but they part with a mere Good-bye, they meet with a mere How-d’you-do? and they don’t write to each other in the interval. Curious, modesty, strange stoical decorum of English friendship! “Yes, we are not demonstrative like those confounded foreigners,” says Hardman: who not only shows no friendship, but never felt any all his life long.

“Been in Switzerland?” says Pen.

“Yes,” says Warrington.

“Couldn’t find a bit of tobacco fit to smoke till we came to Strasburg, where I got some caporal.” The man’s mind is full, very likely, of the great sights which he has seen, of the great emotions with which the vast works of nature have inspired it. But his enthusiasm is too coy to show itself, even to his closest friend, and he veils it with a cloud of tobacco. He will speak more fully of confidential evenings, however, and write ardently and frankly about that which he is shy of saying. The thoughts and experience of his travel will come forth in his writings; as the learning, which he never displays in talk, enriches his style with pregnant allusion and brilliant illustration, colours his generous eloquence, and points his wit.

The elder gives a rapid account of the places which he has visited in his tour. He has seen Switzerland, North Italy, and the Tyrol — he has come home by Vienna, and Dresden, and the Rhine. He speaks about these places in a shy sulky voice, as if he had rather not mention them at all, and as if the sight of them had rendered him very unhappy. The outline of the elder man’s tour thus gloomily sketched out, the young one begins to speak. He has been in the country — very much bored — canvassing uncommonly slow — he is here for a day or two, and going on to — to the neighbourhood of Tunbridge Wells, to some friends that will be uncommonly slow, too. How hard it is to make an Englishman acknowledge that he is happy!

“And the seat in Parliament, Pen? Have you made it all right?” asks Warrington.

“All right — as soon as Parliament meets and a new writ can be issued, Clavering retires, and I step into his shoes,” says Pen.

“And under which king does Bezonian speak or die?” asked Warrington. “Do we come out as Liberal Conservative, or as Government man, or on our own hook?”

“Hem! There are no politics now; every man’s politics, at least, are pretty much the same. I have not got acres enough to make me a Protectionist; nor could I be one, I think, if I had all the land in the county. I shall go pretty much with Government, and in advance of them upon some social questions which I have been getting up during the vacation; — don’t grin, you old cynic, I have been getting up the Blue Books, and intend to come out rather strong on the Sanitary and Colonisation questions.”

“We reserve to ourselves the liberty of voting against Government, though we are generally friendly. We are, however, friends of the people avant tout. We give lectures at the Clavering Institute, and shake bands with the intelligent mechanics. We think the franchise ought to be very considerably enlarged; at the same time we are free to accept office some day, when the House has listened to a few crack speeches from us, and the Administration perceives our merit.”

“I am not Moses,” said Pen, with, as usual, somewhat of melancholy in his voice. “I have no laws from Heaven to bring down to the people from the mountain. I don’t belong to the mountain at all, or set up to be a leader and reformer of mankind. My faith is not strong enough for that; nor my vanity, nor my hypocrisy, great enough. I will tell no lies, George, that I promise you; and do no more than coincide in those which are necessary and pass current, and can’t be got in without recalling the whole circulation. Give a man at least the advantage of his sceptical turn. If I find a good thing to say in the House, I will say it; a good measure, I will support it; a fair place, I will take it, and be glad of my luck. But I would no more flatter a great man than a mob; and now you know as much about my politics as I do. What call have I to be a Whig? Whiggism is not a divine institution. Why not vote with the Liberal Conservatives? They have done for the nation what the Whigs would never have done without them. Who converted both? — the Radicals and the country outside. I think the Morning Post is often right, and Punch is often wrong. I don’t profess a call, but take advantage of a chance. Parlons d’autre chose.”

“The next thing at your heart, after ambition is love, I suppose?” Warrington said. “How have our young loves prospered? Are we going to change our condition, and give up our chambers? Are you going to divorce me, Arthur, and take unto yourself a wife?”

“I suppose so. She is very good-natured and lively. She sings, and she don’t mind smoking. She’ll have a fair fortune — I don’t know how much — but my uncle augurs everything from the Begum’s generosity, and says that she will come down very handsomely. And I think Blanche is dev’lish fond of me,” said Arthur, with a sigh.

“That means that we accept her caresses and her money.”

“Haven’t we said before that life was a transaction?” Pendennis said. “I don’t pretend to break my heart about her. I have told her pretty fairly what my feelings are — and — and have engaged myself to her. And since I saw her last, and for the last two months especially, whilst I have been in the country, I think she has been growing fonder and fonder of me; and her letters to me, and especially to Laura, seem to show it. Mine have been simple enough — no raptures, nor vows, you understand — but looking upon the thing as an affaire faite; and not desirous to hasten or defer the completion.”

“And Laura? how is she?” Warrington asked frankly.

“Laura, George,” said Pen, looking his friend hard in the face —“by heaven, Laura is the best, and noblest, and dearest girl the sun ever shone upon.” His own voice fell as he spoke: it seemed as if he could hardly utter the words: he stretched out his hand to his comrade, who took it and nodded his head.

“Have you only found out that now, young un?” Warrington said after a pause.

“Who has not learned things too late, George?” cried Arthur, in his impetuous way, gathering words and emotion as he went on. “Whose life is not a disappointment? Who carries his heart entire to the grave without a mutilation? I never knew anybody who was happy quite: or who has not had to ransom himself out of the hands of Fate with the payment of some dearest treasure or other. Lucky if we are left alone afterwards, when we have paid our fine, and if the tyrant visits us no more. Suppose I have found out that I have lost the greatest prize in the world, now that it can’t be mine — that for years I had an angel under my tent, and let her go? — am I the only one — ah, dear old boy, am I the only one? And do you think my lot is easier to bear because I own that I deserve it? She’s gone from us. God’s blessing be with her! She might have stayed, and I lost her; it’s like Undine: isn’t it, George?”

“She was in this room once,” said George.

He saw her there — he heard the sweet low voice — he saw the sweet smile and eyes shining so kindly — the face remembered so fondly — thought of in what night-watches — blest and loved always — gone now! A glass that had held a nosegay — a bible with Helen’s handwriting — were all that were left him of that brief flower of his life. Say it is a dream: say it passes: better the recollection of a dream than an aimless waking from a blank stupor.

The two friends sate in silence a while, each occupied with his own thoughts and aware of the other’s. Pen broke it presently, by saying that he must go and seek for his uncle, and report progress to the old gentleman. The Major had written in a very bad humour; the Major was getting old. “I should like to see you in Parliament, and snugly settled with a comfortable house and an heir to the name before I make my bow. Show me these,” the Major wrote, “and then, let old Arthur Pendennis make room for the younger fellows; he has walked the Pall Mall pave long enough.”

“There is a kindness about the old heathen,” said Warrington. “He cares for somebody besides himself, at least for some other part of himself besides that which is buttoned into his own coat; — for you and your race. He would like to see the progeny of the Pendennises multiplying and increasing, and hopes that they may inherit the land. The old patriarch blesses you from the Club window of Bays’s, and is carried off and buried under the flags of St. James’s Church, in sight of Piccadilly, and the cabstand, and the carriages going to the levee. It is an edifying ending.”

“The new blood I bring into the family,” mused Pen, “is rather tainted. If I had chosen, I think my father-inlaw Amory would not have been the progenitor I should have desired for my race; nor my grandfather-inlaw Snell; nor our Oriental ancestors. By the way, who was Amory? Amory was lieutenant of an Indiaman. Blanche wrote some verses about him, about the storm, the mountain wave, the seaman’s grave, the gallant father, and that sort of thing. Amory was drowned commanding a country ship between Calcutta and Sydney; Amory and the Begum weren’t happy together. She has been unlucky in her selection of husbands, the good old lady, for, between ourselves, a more despicable creature than Sir Francis Clavering, of Clavering Park, Baronet, never ——” “Never legislated for his country,” broke in Warrington; at which Pen blushed rather.

“By the way, at Baden,” said Warrington, “I found our friend the Chevalier Strong in great state, and wearing his orders. He told me that he had quarrelled with Clavering, of whom he seemed to have almost as bad an opinion as you have, and in fact, I think, though I will not be certain, confided to me his opinion, that Clavering was an utter scoundrel. That fellow Bloundell, who taught you card-playing at Oxbridge, was with Strong; and time, I think, has brought out his valuable qualities, and rendered him a more accomplished rascal than he was during your undergraduateship. But the king of the place was the famous Colonel Altamont, who was carrying all before him, giving flies to the whole society, and breaking the bank, it was said.”

“My uncle knows something about that fellow — Clavering knows something about him. There’s something louche regarding him. But come! I must go to Bury Street, like a dutiful nephew.” And, taking his hat, Pen prepared to go.

“I will walk, too,” said Warrington. And they descended the stairs, stopping, however, at Pen’s chambers, which, as the reader has been informed, were now on the lower story.

Here Pen began sprinkling himself with eau-de-Cologne, and carefully scenting his hair and whiskers with that odoriferous water.

“What is the matter? You’ve not been smoking. Is it my pipe that has poisoned you?” growled Warrington.

“I am going to call upon some women,” said Pen. “I’m — I’m going to dine with ’em. They are passing through town, and are at an hotel in Jermyn Street.”

Warrington looked with good-natured interest at the young fellow dandifying himself up to a pitch of completeness; and appearing at length in a gorgeous shirt-front and neckcloth, fresh gloves, and glistening boots. George had a pair of thick high-lows, and his old shirt was torn about the breast, and ragged at the collar, where his blue beard had worn it.

“Well, young un,” said he, simply, “I like you to be a buck; somehow. When I walk about with you, it is as if I had a rose in my button-hole. And you are still affable. I don’t think there is any young fellow in the Temple turns out like you; and I don’t believe you were ever ashamed of walking with me yet.”

“Don’t laugh at me, George.” said Pen.

“I say, Pen,” continued the other, sadly, “if you write — if you write to Laura, I wish you would say ‘God bless her’ from me.”

Pen blushed; and then looked at Warrington; and then — and then burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughing.

“I’m going to dine with her,” he said. “I brought her and Lady Rockminster up from the country today — made two days of it — slept last night at Bath — I say, George, come and dine, too. I may ask any one I please, and the old lady is constantly talking about you.”

George refused. George had an article to write. George hesitated; and oh, strange to say! at last he agreed to go. It was agreed that they should go and call upon the ladies; and they marched away in high spirits to the hotel in Jermyn Street. Once more the dear face shone upon him; once more the sweet voice spoke to him, and the tender hand pressed a welcome.

There still wanted half an hour to dinner. “You will go and see your uncle now, Mr. Pendennis,” old Lady Rockminster said. “You will not bring him to dinner-no — his old stories are intolerable; and I want to talk to Mr. Warrington; I daresay he will amuse us. I think we have heard all your stories. We have been together for two whole days, and I think we are getting tired of each other.”

So, obeying her ladyship’s orders, Arthur went downstairs and walked to his uncle’s lodgings.

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