The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXIII

Mr. and Mrs. Sam Huxter

“Dear Blanche,” Arthur wrote, “you are always reading and dreaming pretty dramas, and exciting romances in real life: are you now prepared to enact a part of one? And not the pleasantest part, dear Blanche, that in which the heroine takes possession of her father’s palace and wealth, and introducing her husband to the loyal retainers and faithful vassals, greets her happy bridegroom with ‘All of this is mine and thine,’— but the other character, that of the luckless lady, who suddenly discovers that she is not the Prince’s wife, but Claude Melnotte’s the beggar’s: that of Alnaschar’s wife, who comes in just as her husband has kicked over the tray of porcelain which was to be the making of his fortune — But stay; Alnaschar, who kicked down the china, was not a married man; he had cast his eye on the Vizier’s daughter, and his hopes of her went to the ground with the shattered bowls and tea-cups.

“Will you be the Vizier’s daughter, and refuse and laugh to scorn Alnaschar, or will you be the Lady of Lyons, and love the penniless Claude Melnotte? I will act that part if you like. I will love you my best in return. I will do my all to make your humble life happy: for humble it will be: at least the odds are against any other conclusion; we shall live and die in a poor prosy humdrum way. There will be no stars and epaulettes for the hero of our story. I shall write one or two more stories, which will presently be forgotten. I shall be called to the Bar, and try to get on in my profession: perhaps some day, if I am very lucky, and work very hard (which is absurd), I may get a colonial appointment, and you may be an Indian Judge’s lady. Meanwhile. I shall buy back the Pall Mall Gazette; the publishers are tired of it since the death of poor Shandon, and will sell it for a small sum. Warrington will be my right hand, and write it up to a respectable sale. I will introduce you to Mr. Finucane the sub-editor, and I know who in the end will be Mrs. Finucane — a very nice gentle creature, who has lived sweetly through a sad life and we will jog on, I say, and look out for better times, and earn our living decently. You shall have the opera-boxes, and superintend the fashionable intelligence, and break your little heart in the poet’s corner. Shall we live over the offices? — there are four very good rooms, a kitchen, and a garret for Laura, in Catherine Street in the Strand; or would you like a house in the Waterloo Road? — it would be very pleasant, only there is that halfpenny toll at the Bridge. The boys may go to King’s College, mayn’t they? Does all this read to you like a joke?

“Ah, dear Blanche, it is no joke, and I am sober and telling the truth. Our fine day-dreams are gone. Our carriage has whirled out of sight like Cinderella’s: our house in Belgravia has been whisked away into the air by a malevolent Genius, and I am no more a member of Parliament than I am a Bishop on his bench in the House of Lords, or a Duke with a garter at his knee. You know pretty well what my property is, and your own little fortune: we may have enough with those two to live in decent comfort; to take a cab sometimes when we go out to see our friends, and not to deny ourselves an omnibus when we are tired. But that is all: is that enough for you, my little dainty lady? I doubt sometimes whether you can bear the life which I offer you — at least, it is fair that you should know what it will be. If you say, ‘Yes, Arthur, I will follow your fate whatever it may be, and be a loyal and loving wife to aid and cheer you’ — come to me, dear Blanche, and may God help me so that I may do my duty to you. If not, and you look to a higher station, I must not bar Blanche’s fortune — I will stand in the crowd, and see your ladyship go to Court when you are presented, and you shall give me a smile from your chariot window. I saw Lady Mirabel going to the drawing-room last season: the happy husband at her side glittered with stars and cordons. All the flowers in the garden bloomed in the coachman’s bosom. Will you have these and the chariot, or walk on foot and mend your husband’s stockings?

“I cannot tell you now — afterwards I might, should the day come when we may have no secrets from one another — what has happened within the last few hours which has changed all my prospects in life: but so it is, that I have learned something which forces me to give up the plans which I had formed, and many vain and ambitious hopes in which I had been indulging. I have written and despatched a letter to Sir Francis Clavering, saying that I cannot accept his seat in Parliament until after my marriage; in like manner I cannot and will not accept any larger fortune with you than that which has always belonged to you since your grandfather’s death, and the birth of your half-brother. Your good mother is not in the least aware — I hope she never may be — of the reasons which force me to this very strange decision. They arise from a painful circumstance, which is attributable to none of our faults; but, having once befallen, they are as fatal and irreparable as that shock which overset honest Alnaschar’s porcelain, and shattered all his hopes beyond the power of mending. I write gaily enough, for there is no use in bewailing such a hopeless mischance. We have not drawn the great prize in the lottery, dear Blanche: but I shall be contented enough without it, if you can be so; and I repeat, with all my heart, that I will do my best to make you happy.

“And now, what news shall I give you? My uncle is very unwell, and takes my refusal of the seat in Parliament in sad dudgeon: the scheme was his, poor old gentleman, and he naturally bemoans its failure. But Warrington, Laura, and I had a council of war: they know this awful secret, and back me in my decision. You must love George as you love what is generous and upright and noble; and as for Laura — she must be our Sister, Blanche, our Saint, our good Angel. With two such friends at home, what need we care for the world without; or who is member for Clavering, or who is asked or not asked to the great balls of the season?”

To this frank communication came back the letter from Blanche to Laura, and one to Pen himself, which perhaps his own letter justified. “You are spoiled by the world,” Blanche wrote; “you do not love your poor Blanche as she would be loved, or you would not offer thus lightly to take her or to leave her, no, Arthur, you love me not — a man of the world, you have given me your plighted troth, and are ready to redeem it; but that entire affection, that love whole and abiding, where — where is that vision of my youth? I am but a pastime of your life, and I would be its all; — but a fleeting thought, and I would be your whole soul. I would have our two hearts one; but ah, my Arthur, how lonely yours is! how little you give me of it! You speak of our parting with a smile on your lip; of our meeting, and you care not to hasten it! Is life but a disillusion, then, and are the flowers of our garden faded away? I have wept — I have prayed — I have passed sleepless hours — I have shed bitter, bitter tears over your letter! To you I bring the gushing poesy of my being — the yearnings of the soul that longs to be loved — that pines for love, love, love, beyond all! — that flings itself at your feet, and cries, Love me, Arthur! Your heart beats no quicker at the kneeling appeal of my love! — your proud eye is dimmed by no tear of sympathy! — you accept my soul’s treasure as though ’twere dross! not the pearls from the unfathomable deeps of affection! not the diamonds from the caverns of the heart. You treat me like a slave, and bid me bow to my master! Is this the guerdon of a free maiden — is this the price of a life’s passion? Ah me! when was it otherwise? when did love meet with aught but disappointment? Could I hope (fond fool!) to be the exception to the lot of my race; and lay my fevered brow on a heart that comprehended my own? Foolish girl that I was! One by one, all the flowers of my young life have faded away; and this, the last, the sweetest, the dearest, the fondly, the madly loved, the wildly cherished — where is it? But no more of this. Heed not my bleeding heart. — Bless you, bless you always, Arthur!

“I will write more when I am more collected. My racking brain renders thought almost impossible. I long to see Laura! She will come to us directly we return from the country, will she not? And you, cold one!

B.”

The words of this letter were perfectly clear, and written in Blanche’s neatest hand upon her scented paper; and yet the meaning of the composition not a little puzzled Pen. Did Blanche mean to accept or to refuse his polite offer? Her phrases either meant that Pen did not love her, and she declined him, or that she took him, and sacrificed herself to him, cold as he was. He laughed sardonically over the letter, and over the transaction which occasioned it. He laughed to think how Fortune had jilted him, and how he deserved his slippery fortune. He turned over and over the musky gilt-edged riddle. It amused his humour: he enjoyed it as if it had been a funny story.

He was thus seated, twiddling the queer manuscript in his hand, joking grimly to himself, when his servant came in with a card from a gentleman, who wished to speak to him very particularly. And if Pen had gone out into the passage, he would have seen, sucking his stick, rolling his eyes, and showing great marks of anxiety, his old acquaintance, Mr. Samuel Huxter.

“Mr. Huxter on particular business! Pray, beg Mr. Huxter to come in,” said Pen, amused rather; and not the less so when poor Sam appeared before him.

“Pray take a chair, Mr. Huxter,” said Pen, in his most superb manner. “In what way can I be of service to you?”

“I had rather not speak before the flunk — before the man, Mr. Pendennis:” on which Mr. Arthur’s attendant quitted the room.

“I’m in a fix,” said Mr. Huxter, gloomily.

“Indeed.”

“She sent me to you,” continued the young surgeon.

“What, Fanny? Is she well? I was coming to see her, but I have had a great deal of business since my return to London.”

“I heard of you through my governor and Jack Hobnell,” broke in Huxter. “I wish you joy, Mr. Pendennis, both of the borough and the lady, sir. Fanny wishes you joy, too,” he added, with something of a blush.

“There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip! Who knows what may happen, Mr. Huxter, or who will sit in Parliament for Clavering next session?”

“You can do anything with my governor,” continued Mr. Huxter. “You got him Clavering Park. The old boy was very much pleased, sir, at your calling him in. Hobnell wrote me so. Do you think you could speak to the governor for me, Mr. Pendennis?”

“And tell him what?”

“I’ve gone and done it, sir,” said Huxter, with a particular look.

“You — you don’t mean to say you have — you have done any wrong to that dear little creature, sir?” said Pen, starting up in a great fury.

“I hope not,” said Huxter, with a hangdog look: “but I’ve married her. And I know there will be an awful shindy at home. It was agreed that I should be taken into partnership when I had passed the College, and it was to have been Huxter and Son. But I would have it, confound it. It’s all over now, and the old boy’s wrote me that he’s coming up to town for drugs: he will be here tomorrow, and then it must all come out.”

“And when did this event happen?” asked Pen, not over well pleased, most likely, that a person who had once attracted some portion of his royal good graces should have transferred her allegiance, and consoled herself for his loss.

“Last Thursday was five weeks — it was two days after Miss Amory came to Shepherd’s Inn,” Huxter answered.

Pen remembered that Blanche had written and mentioned her visit. “I was called in,” Huxter said. “I was in the Inn looking after old Cos’s leg; and about something else too, very likely: and I met Strong, who told me there was a woman taken ill in Chambers, and went up to give her my professional services. It was the old lady who attends Miss Amory — her housekeeper, or some such thing. She was taken with strong hysterics: I found her kicking and screaming like a good one — in Strong’s chamber, along with him and Colonel Altamont, and Miss Amory crying and as pale as a sheet; and Altamont fuming about — a regular kick-up. They were two hours in the Chambers; and the old woman went whooping off in a cab. She was much worse than the young one. I called in Grosvenor Place next day to see if I could be of any service, but they were gone without so much as thanking me: and the day after I had business of my own to attend to — a bad business too,” said Mr. Huxter, gloomily. “But it’s done, and can’t be undone; and we must make the best of it”

She has known the story for a month, thought Pen, with a sharp pang of grief, and a gloomy sympathy — this accounts for her letter of today. She will not implicate her father, or divulge his secret; she wishes to let me off from the marriage — and finds a pretext — the generous girl!

“Do you know who Altamont is, sir?” asked Huxter, after the pause during which Pen had been thinking of his own affairs. “Fanny and I have talked him over, and we can’t help fancying that it’s Mrs. Lightfoot’s first husband come to life again, and she who has just married a second. Perhaps Lightfoot won’t be very sorry for it,” sighed Huxter, looking savagely at Arthur, for the demon of jealousy was still in possession of his soul; and now, and more than ever since his marriage, the poor fellow fancied that Fanny’s heart belonged to his rival.

“Let us talk about your affairs,” said Pen. “Show me how I can be of any service to you, Huxter. Let me congratulate you on your marriage. I am thankful that Fanny, who is so good, so fascinating, so kind a creature, has found an honest man, and a gentleman who will make her happy. Show me what I can do to help you.”

“She thinks you can, sir,” said Huxter, accepting Pen’s proffered hand, “and I’m very much obliged to you, I’m sure; and that you might talk over my father, and break the business to him, and my mother, who always has her back up about being a clergyman’s daughter. Fanny ain’t of a good family, I know, and not up to us in breeding and that — but she’s a Huxter now.”

“The wife takes the husband’s rank, of course,” said Pen.

“And with a little practice in society,” continued Huxter, imbibing his stick, “she’ll be as good as any girl in Clavering. You should hear her sing and play on the piano. Did you ever? Old Bows taught her. And she’ll do on the stage, if the governor was to throw me over; but I’d rather not have her there. She can’t help being a coquette, Mr. Pendennis, she can’t help it. Dammy, sir! I’ll be bound to say, that two or three of the Bartholomew chaps, that I’ve brought into my place, are sitting with her now: even Jack Linton, that I took down as my best man, is as bad as the rest, and she will go on singing and making eyes at him. It’s what Bows says, if there were twenty men in a room, and one not taking notice of her, she wouldn’t be satisfied until the twentieth was at her elbow.”

“You should have her mother with her,” said Pen, laughing.

“She must keep the lodge. She can’t see so much of her family as she used. I can’t, you know, sir, go on with that lot. Consider my rank in life,” said Huxter, putting a very dirty hand up to his chin.

“Au fait,” said Mr. Pen, who was infinitely amused, and concerning whom mutato nomine (and of course concerning nobody else in the world) the fable might have been narrated.

As the two gentlemen were in the midst of this colloquy, another knock came to Pen’s door, and his servant presently announced Mr. Bows. The old man followed slowly, his pale face blushing, and his hand trembling somewhat as he took Pen’s. He coughed, and wiped his face in his checked cotton pocket-handkerchief, and sate down with his hands on his knees, the sunshining on his bald head. Pen looked at the homely figure with no small sympathy and kindness. This man, too, has had his griefs and his wounds, Arthur thought. This man, too, has brought his genius and his heart, and laid them at a woman’s feet; where she spurned them. The chance of life has gone against him, and the prize is with that creature yonder. Fanny’s bridegroom, thus mutely apostrophised, had winked meanwhile with one eye at old Bows, and was driving holes in the floor with the cane which he loved.

“So we have lost, Mr. Bows, and here is the lucky winner,” Pen said, looking hard at the old man.

“Here is the lucky winner, sir, as you say.”

“I suppose you have come from my place?” asked Huxter, who, having winked at Bows with one eye, now favoured Pen with a wink of the other — a wink which seemed to say, “Infatuated old boy — you understand — over head and ears in love with her poor old fool.”

“Yes, I have been there ever since you went away. It was Mrs. Sam who sent me after you: who said that she thought you might be doing something stupid — something like yourself, Huxter.”

“There’s as big fools as I am,” growled the young surgeon.

“A few, p’raps,” said the old man; “not many, let us trust. Yes, she sent me after you for fear you should offend Mr. Pendennis; and I daresay because she thought you wouldn’t give her message to him, and beg him to go and see her; and she knew I would take her errand. Did he tell you that, sir?”

Huxter blushed scarlet, and covered his confusion with an imprecation. Pen laughed; the scene suited his bitter humour more and more.

“I have no doubt Mr. Huxter was going to tell me,” Arthur said, “and very much flattered I am sure I shall be to pay my respects to his wife.”

“It’s in Charterhouse Lane, over the baker’s, on the right hand side as you go from St. John’s Street,” continued Bows, without any pity. “You know Smithfield, Mr. Pendennis? St. John’s Street leads into Smithfield. Doctor Johnson has been down the street many a time with ragged shoes, and a bundle of penny-a-lining for the Gent’s Magazine. You literary gents are better off now — eh? You ride in your cabs, and wear yellow kid gloves now.”

“I have known so many brave and good men fail, and so many quacks and impostors succeed, that you mistake me if you think I am puffed up by my own personal good luck, old friend,” Arthur said, sadly. “Do you think the prizes of life are carried by the most deserving? and set up that mean test of prosperity for merit? You must feel that you are as good as I. I have never questioned it. It is you that are peevish against the freaks of fortune, and grudge the good luck that befalls others. It’s not the first time you have unjustly accused me, Bows.”

“Perhaps you are not far wrong, sir,” said the old fellow, wiping his bald forehead. “I am thinking about myself and grumbling; most men do when they get on that subject. Here’s the fellow that’s got the prize in the lottery; here’s the fortunate youth.”

“I don’t know what you are driving at,” Huxter said, who had been much puzzled as the above remarks passed between his two companions.

“Perhaps not,” said Bows, drily. “Mrs. H. sent me here to look after you, and to see that you brought that little message to Mr. Pendennis, which you didn’t, you see, and so she was right. Women always are; they have always a reason for everything. Why, sir,” he said, turning round to Pen with a sneer, “she had a reason even for giving me that message. I was sitting with her after you left us, very quiet and comfortable; I was talking away, and she was mending your shirts, when your two young friends, Jack Linton and Bob Blades, looked in from Bartholomew’s; and then it was she found out that she had this message to send. You needn’t hurry yourself, she don’t want you back again; they’ll stay these two hours, I daresay.”

Huxter arose with great perturbation at this news, and plunged his stick into the pocket of his paletot, and seized his hat.

“You’ll come and see us, sir, won’t you?” he said to Pen. “You’ll talk over the governor, won’t you, sir, if I can get out of this place and down to Clavering?”

“You will promise to attend me gratis if ever I fall ill at Fairoaks, will you, Huxter?” Pen said, good-naturedly. “I will do anything I can for you. I will come and see Mrs. Huxter immediately, and we will conspire together about what is to be done.”

“I thought that would send him out, sir,” Bows said, dropping into his chair again as soon as the young surgeon had quitted the room. “And it’s all true, sir — every word of it. She wants you back again, and sends her husband after you. She cajoles everybody, the little devil. She tries it on you, on me, on poor Costigan, on the young chaps from Bartholomew’s. She’s got a little court of ’em already. And if there’s nobody there, she practises on the old German baker in the shop, or coaxes the black sweeper at the crossing.”

“Is she fond of that fellow?” asked Pen.

“There is no accounting for likes and dislikes,” Bows answered.

“Yes, she is fond of him; and having taken the thing into her head, she would not rest until she married him. They had their banns published at St. Clement’s, and nobody heard it or knew any just cause or impediment. And one day she slips out of the porter’s lodge and has the business done, and goes off to Gravesend with Lothario; and leaves a note for me to go and explain all things to her Ma. Bless you! the old woman knew it as well as I did, though she pretended ignorance. And so she goes, and I’m alone again. I miss her, sir, tripping along that court, and coming for her singing lesson; and I’ve no heart to look into the porter’s lodge now, which looks very empty without her, the little flirting thing. And I go and sit and dangle about her lodgings, like an old fool. She makes ’em very trim and nice, though; gets up all Huxter’s shirts and clothes: cooks his little dinner, and sings at her business like a little lark. What’s the use of being angry? I lent ’em three pound to go on with: for they haven’t got a shilling till the reconciliation, and Pa comes down.”

When Bows had taken his leave, Pen carried his letter from Blanche, and the news which he had just received, to his usual adviser, Laura. It was wonderful upon how many points Mr. Arthur, who generally followed his own opinion, now wanted another person’s counsel. He could hardly so much as choose a waistcoat without referring to Miss Bell: if he wanted to buy a horse he must have Miss Bell’s opinion; all which marks of deference tended greatly to the amusement of the shrewd old lady with whom Miss Bell lived, and whose plans regarding her protegee we have indicated.

Arthur produced Blanche’s letter then to Laura, and asked her to interpret it. Laura was very much agitated and puzzled by the contents of the note.

“It seems to me,” she said, “as if Blanche is acting very artfully.”

“And wishes so to place matters that she may take me or leave me? Is it not so?”

“It is, I am afraid, a kind of duplicity which does not augur well for your future happiness; and is a bad reply to your own candour and honesty, Arthur. Do you know, I think, I think — I scarcely like to say what I think,” said Laura with a deep blush; but of course the blushing young lady yielded to her cousin’s persuasion, and expressed what her thoughts were. “It looks to me, Arthur, as if there might be — there might be somebody else,” said, Laura, with a repetition of the blush.

“And if there is,” broke in Arthur, “and if I am free once again, will the best and dearest of all women ——”

“You are not free, dear brother,” Laura said calmly. “You belong to another; of whom I own it grieves me to think ill. But I can’t do otherwise. It is very odd that in this letter she does not urge you to tell her the reason why you have broken arrangements which would have been so advantageous to you; and avoids speaking on the subject. She somehow seems to write as if she knows her father’s secret.”

Pen said, “Yes, she must know it;” and told the story, which he had just heard from Huxter, of the interview at Shepherd’s Inn.

“It was not so that she described the meeting,” said Laura; and, going to her desk, produced from it that letter of Blanche’s which mentioned her visit to Shepherd’s Inn. ‘Another disappointment — only the Chevalier Strong and a friend of his in the room.’ This was all that Blanche had said. “But she was bound to keep her father’s secret, Pen,” Laura added. “And yet, and yet — it is very puzzling.”

The puzzle was this, that for three weeks after this eventful discovery Blanche had been only too eager about her dearest Arthur; was urging, as strongly as so much modesty could urge, the completion of the happy arrangements which were to make her Arthur’s for ever; and now it seemed as if something had interfered to mar these happy arrangements — as if Arthur poor was not quite so agreeable to Blanche as Arthur rich and a member of Parliament — as if there was some mystery. At last she said:

“Tunbridge Wells is not very far off, is it, Arthur? Hadn’t you better go and see her?”

They had been in town a week, and neither had thought of that simple plan before!

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