The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXII

In which the Decks begin to clear

When, arrayed in his dressing-gown, Pen walked up, according to custom, to Warrington’s chambers next morning, to inform his friend of the issue of the last night’s interview with his uncle, and to ask, as usual, for George’s advice and opinion, Mrs. Flanagan, the laundress, was the only person whom Arthur found in the dear old chambers. George had taken a carpet-bag, and was gone. His address was to his brother’s house, in Suffolk. Packages addressed to the newspaper and review for which he wrote lay on the table, awaiting delivery.

“I found him at the table, when I came, the dear gentleman!” Mrs. Flanagan said, “writing at his papers, and one of the candles was burned out; and hard as his bed is, he wasn’t in it all night, sir.”

Indeed, having sat at the Club until the brawl there became intolerable to him, George had walked home, and had passed the night finishing some work on which he was employed, and to the completion of which he bent himself with all his might. The labour was done, and the night was worn away somehow, and the tardy November dawn came and looked in on the young man as he sate over his desk. In the next day’s paper, or quarter’s review, many of us very likely admired the work of his genius, the variety of his illustration, the fierce vigour of his satire, the depth of his reason. There was no hint in his writing of the other thoughts which occupied him, and always accompanied him in his work — a tone more melancholy than was customary, a satire more bitter and impatient than that which he afterwards showed, may have marked the writings of this period of his life to the very few persons who knew his style or his name. We have said before, could we know the man’s feelings as well as the author’s thoughts — how interesting most books would be! — more interesting than merry. I suppose harlequin’s face behind his mask is always grave, if not melancholy — certainly each man who lives by the pen, and happens to read this, must remember, if he will, his own experiences, and recall many solemn hours of solitude and labour. What a constant care sate at the side of the desk and accompanied him! Fever or sickness were lying possibly in the next room: a sick child might be there, with a wife watching over it terrified and in prayer: or grief might be bearing him down, and the cruel mist before the eyes rendering the paper scarce visible as he wrote on it, and the inexorable necessity drove on the pen. What man among us has not had nights and hours like these? But to the manly heart — severe as these pangs are, they are endurable: long as the night seems, the dawn comes at last, and the wounds heal, and the fever abates, and rest comes, and you can afford to look back on the past misery with feelings that are anything but bitter.

Two or three books for reference, fragments of torn-up manuscript, drawers open, pens and inkstand, lines half visible on the blotting-paper, a bit of sealing-wax twisted and bitten and broken into sundry pieces — such relics as these were about the table, and Pen flung himself down in George’s empty chair — noting things according to his wont, or in spite of himself. There was a gap in the bookcase (next to the old College Plato, with the Boniface Arms), where Helen’s bible used to be. He has taken that with him, thought Pen. He knew why his friend was gone. Dear, dear old George!

Pen rubbed his hand over his eyes. Oh, how much wiser, how much better, how much nobler he is than I! he thought. Where was such a friend, or such a brave heart? Where shall I ever hear such a frank voice, and kind laughter? Where shall I ever see such a true gentleman? No wonder she loved him. God bless him! What was I compared to him? What could she do else but love him? To the end of our days we will be her brothers, as fate wills that we can be no more. We’ll be her knights, and wait on her: and when we’re old, we’ll say how we loved her. Dear, dear old George!

When Pen descended to his own chambers, his eye fell on the letter-box of his outer door, which he had previously overlooked, and there was a little note to A. P., Esq., in George’s well-known handwriting, George had put into Pen’s box probably as he was going away.

“Dear Pen — I shall be half-way home when you breakfast, and intend
to stay over Christmas, in Norfolk, or elsewhere.

“I have my own opinion of the issue of matters about which we talked
in J——— St. yesterday; and think my presence de trop.

“Vale. G. W.”

“Give my very best regards and adieux to your cousin.”

And so George was gone, and Mrs. Flanagan, the laundress, ruled over his empty chambers.

Pen of course had to go and see his uncle on the day after their colloquy, and not being admitted, he naturally went to Lady Rockminster’s apartments, where the old lady instantly asked for Bluebeard, and insisted that he should come to dinner.

“Bluebeard is gone,” Pen said, and he took out poor George’s scrap of paper, and handed it to Laura, who looked at it — did not look at Pen in return, but passed the paper back to him, and walked away. Pen rushed into an eloquent eulogium upon his dear old George to Lady Rockminster, who was astonished at his enthusiasm. She had never heard him so warm in praise of anybody; and told him with her usual frankness, that she didn’t think it had been in his nature to care so much about any other person.

As Mr. Pendennis was passing in Waterloo Place, in one of his many walks to the hotel where Laura lived, and whither duty to his uncle carried Arthur every day, Arthur saw issuing from Messrs. Gimcrack’s celebrated shop an old friend, who was followed to his brougham by an obsequious shopman bearing parcels. The gentleman was in the deepest mourning: the brougham, the driver, and the horse were in mourning. Grief in easy circumstances and supported by the comfortablest springs and cushions, was typified in the equipage and the little gentleman, its proprietor.

“What, Foker! Hail, Foker!” cried out Pen — the reader, no doubt, has likewise recognised Arthur’s old schoolfellow — and he held out his hand to the heir of the late lamented John Henry Foker, Esq., the master of Logwood and other houses, the principal partner in the great brewery of Foker and Co.: the greater portion of Foker’s Entire.

A little hand, covered with a glove of the deepest ebony, and set off by three inches of a snowy wristband, was put forth to meet Arthur’s salutation. The other little hand held a little morocco case, containing, no doubt, something precious, of which Mr. Foker had just become proprietor in Messrs. Gimcrack’s shop. Pen’s keen eyes and satiric turn showed him at once upon what errand Mr. Foker had been employed; and he thought of the heir in Horace pouring forth the gathered wine of his father’s vats; and that human nature is pretty much the same in Regent Street as in the Via Sacra.

“Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!” said Arthur.

“Ah!” said the other. “Yes. Thank you — very much obliged. How do you do, Pen? — very busy — good-bye!” and he jumped into the black brougham, and sate like a little black Care behind the black coachman. He had blushed on seeing Pen, and shown other signs of guilt and perturbation, which Pen attributed to the novelty of his situation; and on which he began to speculate in his usual sardonic manner.

“Yes: so wags the world,” thought Pen. “The stone closes over Harry the Fourth, and Harry the Fifth reigns in his stead. The old ministers at the brewery come and kneel before him with their books; the draymen, his subjects, fling up their red caps, and shout for him. What a grave deference and sympathy the bankers and the lawyers show! There was too great a stake at issue between those two that they should ever love each other very cordially. As long as one man keeps another out of twenty thousand a year, the younger must be always hankering after the crown, and the wish must be the father to the thought of possession. Thank Heaven, there was no thought of money between me and our dear mother, Laura.”

“There never could have been. You would have spurned it!” cried Laura. “Why make yourself more selfish than you are, Pen; and allow your mind to own for an instant that it would have entertained such — such dreadful meanness? You make me blush for you, Arthur: you make me ——” her eyes finished this sentence, and she passed her handkerchief across them.

“There are some truths which women will never acknowledge,” Pen said, “and from which your modesty always turns away. I do not say that I ever knew the feeling, only that I am glad I had not the temptation. Is there any harm in that confession of weakness?”

“We are all taught to ask to be delivered from evil, Arthur,” said Laura, in a low voice. “I am glad if you were spared from that great crime; and only sorry to think that you could by any possibility have been led into it. But you never could; and you don’t think you could. Your acts are generous and kind: you disdain mean actions. You take Blanche without money, and without a bribe. Yes, thanks be to Heaven, dear brother. You could not have sold yourself away; I knew you could not when it came to the day, and you did not. Praise be — be where praise is due. Why does this horrid scepticism pursue you, my Arthur? Why doubt and sneer at your own heart — at every one’s? Oh, if you knew the pain you give me — how I lie awake and think of those hard sentences, dear brother, and wish them unspoken, unthought!”

“Do I cause you many thoughts and many tears, Laura?” asked Arthur. The fulness of innocent love beamed from her in reply. A smile heavenly pure, a glance of unutterable tenderness, sympathy, pity, shone in her face — all which indications of love and purity Arthur beheld and worshipped in her, as you would watch them in a child, as one fancies one might regard them in an angel.

“I— I don’t know what I have done,” he said, simply, “to have merited such regard from two such women. It is like undeserved praise, Laura — or too much good fortune, which frightens one — or a great post, when a man feels that he is not fit for it. Ah, sister, how weak and wicked we are; how spotless, and full of love and truth, Heaven made you! I think for some of you there has been no fall,” he said, looking at the charming girl with an almost paternal glance of admiration. “You can’t help having sweet thoughts, and doing good actions. Dear creature! they are the flowers which you bear.”

“And what else, sir?” asked Laura. “I see a sneer coming over your face. What is it? Why does it come to drive all the good thoughts away?”

“A sneer, is there? I was thinking, my dear, that nature in making you so good and loving did very well: but ——”

“But what? What is that wicked but? and why are you always calling it up?”

“But will come in spite of us. But is reflection. But is the sceptic’s familiar, with whom he has made a compact; and if he forgets it, and indulges in happy day-dreams, or building of air-castles, or listens to sweet music let us say, or to the bells ringing to church, But taps at the door, and says, Master, I am here. You are my master; but I am yours. Go where you will you can’t travel without me. I will whisper to you when you are on your knees at church. I will be at your marriage pillow. I will sit down at your table with your children. I will be behind your deathbed curtain. That is what But is,” Pen said.

“Pen, you frighten me,” cried Laura.

“Do you know what But came and said to me just now, when I was looking at you? But said, If that girl had reason as well as love, she would love you no more. If she knew you as you are — the sullied, selfish being which you know — she must part from you, and could give you no love and no sympathy. Didn’t I say,” he added fondly, “that some of you seem exempt from the fall? Love you know; but the knowledge of evil is kept from you.”

“What is this you young folks are talking about?” asked Lady Rockminster, who at this moment made her appearance in the room, having performed, in the mystic retirement of her own apartments, and under the hands of her attendant, those elaborate toilet-rites without which the worthy old lady never presented herself to public view. “Mr. Pendennis, you are always coming here.”

“It is very pleasant to be here,” Arthur said; “and we were talking, when you came in, about my friend Foker, whom I met just now; and who, as your ladyship knows, has succeeded to his father’s kingdom.”

“He has a very fine property, he has fifteen thousand a year. He is my cousin. He is a very worthy young man. He must come and see me,” said Lady Rockminster, with a look at Laura.

“He has been engaged for many years past to his cousin,” Lady ——”

“Lady Ann is a foolish little chit,” Lady Rockminster said, with much dignity; “and I have no patience with her. She has outraged every feeling of society. She has broken her father’s heart, and thrown away fifteen thousand a year.”

“Thrown away? What has happened?” asked Pen.

“It will be the talk of the town in a day or two; and there is no need why I should keep the secret any longer,” said Lady Rockminster, who had written and received a dozen letters on the subject. “I had a letter yesterday from my daughter, who was staying at Drummington until all the world was obliged to go away on account of the frightful catastrophe which happened there. When Mr. Foker came home from Nice, and after the funeral, Lady Ann went down on her knees to her father, said that she never could marry her cousin, that she had contracted another attachment, and that she must die rather than fulfil her contract. Poor Lord Rosherville, who is dreadfully embarrassed, showed his daughter what the state of his affairs was, and that it was necessary that the arrangements should take place; and in fine, we all supposed that she had listened to reason, and intended to comply with the desires of her family. But what has happened? — last Thursday she went out after breakfast with her maid, and was married in the very church in Drummington Park to Mr. Hobson, her father’s own chaplain and her brother’s tutor; a red-haired widower with two children. Poor dear Rosherville is in a dreadful way: he wishes Henry Foker should marry Alice or Barbara; but Alice is marked with the small-pox, and Barbara is ten years older than he is. And, of course, now the young man is his own master, he will think of choosing for himself. The blow on Lady Agnes is very cruel. She is inconsolable. She has the house in Grosvenor Street for her life, and her settlement, which was very handsome. Have you not met her? Yes, she dined one day at Lady Clavering’s — the first day I saw you, and a very disagreeable young man I thought you were. But I have formed you. We have formed him, haven’t we, Laura? Where is Bluebeard? let him come. That horrid Grindley, the dentist, will keep me in town another week.”

To the latter part of her ladyship’s speech Arthur gave no ear. He was thinking for whom could Foker be purchasing those trinkets which he was carrying away from the jeweller’s? Why did Harry seem anxious to avoid him? Could he be still faithful to the attachment which had agitated him so much, and sent him abroad eighteen months back? Psha! The bracelets and presents were for some of Harry’s old friends of the Opera or the French theatre. Rumours from Naples and Paris, rumours such as are borne to Club smoking-rooms, had announced that the young man had found distractions; or, precluded from his virtuous attachment, the poor fellow had flung himself back upon his old companions and amusements — not the only man or woman whom society forces into evil, or debars from good; not the only victim of the world’s selfish and wicked laws.

As a good thing when it is to be done cannot be done too quickly, Laura was anxious that Pen’s marriage intentions should be put into execution as speedily as possible, and pressed on his arrangements with rather a feverish anxiety. Why could she not wait? Pen could afford to do so with perfect equanimity, but Laura would hear of no delay. She wrote to Pen: she implored Pen: she used every means to urge expedition. It seemed as if she could have no rest until Arthur’s happiness was complete.

She offered herself to dearest Blanche to come and stay at Tunbridge with her, when Lady Rockminster should go on her intended visit to the reigning house of Rockminster; and although the old dowager scolded, and ordered, and commanded, Laura was deaf and disobedient: she must go to Tunbridge, she would go to Tunbridge: she who ordinarily had no will of her own, and complied smilingly with anybody’s whim and caprices, showed the most selfish and obstinate determination in this instance. The dowager lady must nurse herself in her rheumatism, she must read herself to sleep, if she would not hear her maid, whose voice croaked, and who made sad work of the sentimental passages in the novels — Laura must go — and be with her new sister. In another week, she proposed, with many loves and regards to dear Lady Clavering, to pass some time with dearest Blanche.

Dearest Blanche wrote instantly in reply to dearest Laura’s No. 1, to say with what extreme delight she should welcome her sister: how charming it would be to practise their old duets together, to wander o’er the grassy sward, and amidst the yellowing woods of Penshurst and Southborough! Blanche counted the hours till she should embrace her dearest friend.

Laura, No. 2, expressed her delight at dearest Blanche’s affectionate reply. She hoped that their friendship would never diminish; that the confidence between them would grow in after years; that they should have no secrets from each other; that the aim of the life of each would be to make one person happy.

Blanche, No. 2, followed in two days. “How provoking! Their house was very small, the two spare bedrooms were occupied by that horrid Mrs. Planter and her daughter, who had thought proper to fall ill (she always fell ill in country-houses), and she could not or would not be moved for some days.”

Laura, No. 3. “It was indeed very provoking. L. had hoped to hear one of dearest B.‘s dear songs on Friday; but she was the more consoled to wait, because Lady R. was not very well, and liked to be nursed by her. Poor Major Pendennis was very unwell, too, in the same hotel — too unwell even to see Arthur, who was constant in his calls on his uncle. Arthur’s heart was full of tenderness and affection. She had known Arthur all her life. She would answer”— yes, even in italics she would answer —“for his kindness, his goodness, and his gentleness.”

Blanche, No. 3. “What is this most surprising, most extraordinary letter from A. P.? What does dearest Laura know about it? What has happened? What, what mystery is enveloped under his frightful reserve?”

Blanche, No. 3, requires an explanation; and it cannot be better given than in the surprising and mysterious letter of Arthur Pendennis.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter72.html

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