The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXIV

Shows how Arthur had better have taken a Return-ticket

The train carried Arthur only too quickly to Tunbridge, though he had time to review all the circumstances of his life as he made the brief journey; and to acknowledge to what sad conclusions his selfishness and waywardness had led him. “Here is the end of hopes and aspirations,” thought he, “of romance and ambitions! Where I yield or where I am obstinate, I am alike unfortunate; my mother implores me, and I refuse an angel! Say I had taken her; forced on me as she was, Laura would never have been an angel to me. I could not have given her my heart at another’s instigation; I never could have known her as she is had I been obliged to ask another to interpret her qualities and point out her virtues. I yield to my uncle’s solicitations, and accept on his guarantee Blanche, and a seat in Parliament, and wealth, and ambition, and a career; and see! — fortune comes and leaves me the wife without the dowry, which I had taken in compensation of a heart. Why was I not more honest, or am I not less so? It would have cost my poor old uncle no pangs to accept Blanche’s fortune whencesoever it came; he can’t even understand, he is bitterly indignant, heart-stricken, almost, at the scruples which actuate me in refusing it. I dissatisfy everybody. A maimed, weak, imperfect wretch, it seems as if I am unequal to any fortune. I neither make myself nor any one connected with me happy. What prospect is there for this poor little frivolous girl, who is to take my obscure name and share my fortune? I have not even ambition to excite me, or self-esteem enough to console myself, much more her, for my failure. If I were to write a book that should go through twenty editions, why, I should be the very first to sneer at my reputation. Say I could succeed at the Bar, and achieve a fortune by bullying witnesses and twisting evidence; is that a fame which would satisfy my longings, or a calling in which my life would be well spent? How I wish I could be that priest opposite, who never has lifted his eyes from his breviary, except when we were in Reigate tunnel, when he could not see; or that old gentleman next him, who scowls at him with eyes of hatred over his newspaper. The priest shuts his eyes to the world, but has his thoughts on the book, which is his directory to the world to come. His neighbour hates him as a monster, tyrant, persecutor, and fancies burning martyrs, and that pale countenance looking on, and lighted up by the flame. These have no doubts; these march on trustfully, bearing their load of logic.”

“Would you like to look at the paper, sir?” here interposed the stout gentleman (it had a flaming article against the order of the black-coated gentleman who was travelling with them in the carriage), and Pen thanked him and took it, and pursued his reverie, without reading two sentences of the journal.

“And yet, would you take either of those men’s creeds, with its consequences?” he thought. “Ah me! you must bear your own burthen, fashion your own faith, think your own thoughts, and pray your own prayer. To what mortal ear could I tell all, if I had a mind? or who could understand all? Who can tell another’s shortcomings, lost opportunities, weigh the passions which overpower, the defects which incapacitate reason? — what extent of truth and right his neighbour’s mind is organised to perceive and to do? — what invisible and forgotten accident, terror of youth, chance or mischance of fortune, may have altered the whole current of life? A grain of sand may alter it, as the flinging of a pebble may end it. Who can weigh circumstances, passions, temptations, that go to our good and evil account, save One, before whose awful wisdom we kneel, and at whose mercy we ask absolution? Here it ends,” thought Pen; “this day or tomorrow will wind up the account of my youth; a weary retrospect, alas! a sad history, with many a page I would fain not look back on! But who has not been tired or fallen, and who has escaped without scars from that struggle?” And his head fell on his breast, and the young man’s heart prostrated itself humbly and sadly before that Throne where sits wisdom, and love, and pity for all, and made its confession. “What matters about fame or poverty!” he thought. “If I marry this woman I have chosen, may I have strength and will to be true to her, and to make her happy. If I have children, pray God teach me to speak and to do the truth among them, and to leave them an honest name. There are no splendours for my marriage. Does my life deserve any? I begin a new phase of it; a better than the last may it be, I pray Heaven!”

The train stopped at Tunbridge as Pen was making these reflections; and he handed over the newspaper to his neighbour, of whom he took leave, while the foreign clergyman in the opposite corner still sate with his eyes on his book. Pen jumped out of the carriage then, his carpet-bag in hand, and briskly determined to face his fortune.

A fly carried him rapidly to Lady Clavering’s house from the station; and, as he was transported thither, Arthur composed a little speech, which he intended to address to Blanche, and which was really as virtuous, honest, and well-minded an oration as any man of his turn of mind, and under his circumstances, could have uttered. The purport of it was —“Blanche, I cannot understand from your last letter what your meaning is, or whether my fair and frank proposal to you is acceptable or no. I think you know the reason which induces me to forgo the worldly advantages which a union with you offered, and which I could not accept without, as I fancy, being dishonoured. If you doubt of my affection, here I am ready to prove it. Let Smirke be called in, and let us be married out of hand; and with all my heart I purpose to keep my vow, and to cherish you through life, and to be a true and a loving husband to you.”

From the fly Arthur sprang out then to the hall-door, where he was met by a domestic whom he did not know. The man seemed to be surprised at the approach of the gentleman with the carpet-bag, which he made no attempt to take from Arthur’s hands. “Her Ladyship’s not at home, sir,” the man remarked.

“I am Mr. Pendennis,” Arthur said. “Where is Lightfoot?”

“Lightfoot is gone,” answered the man. “My Lady is out, and my orders was ——”

“I hear Miss Amory’s voice in the drawing-room,” said Arthur. “Take the bag to a dressing-room, if you please;” and, passing by the porter, he walked straight towards that apartment, from which, as the door opened, a warble of melodious notes issued.

Our little Siren was at her piano singing with all her might and fascinations. Master Clavering was asleep on the sofa, indifferent to the music; but near Blanche sat a gentleman who was perfectly enraptured with her strain, which was of a passionate and melancholy nature.

As the door opened, the gentleman started up with Hullo! the music stopped, with a little shriek from the singer; Frank Clavering woke up from the sofa, and Arthur came forward and said, “What, Foker! how do you do, Foker?” He looked at the piano, and there, by Miss Amory’s side, was just such another purple-leather box as he had seen in Harry’s hand three days before, when the heir of Logwood was coming out of a jeweller’s shop in Waterloo Place. It was opened, and curled round the white satin cushion within was, oh, such a magnificent serpentine bracelet, with such a blazing ruby head and diamond tail!

“How de-do, Pendennis?” said Foker. Blanche made many motions of the shoulders, and gave signs of unrest and agitation. And she put her handkerchief over the bracelet, and then she advanced, with a hand which trembled very much, to greet Pen.

“How is dearest Laura?” she said. The face of Foker looking up from his profound mourning — that face, so piteous and puzzled, was one which the reader’s imagination must depict for himself; also that of Master Frank Clavering, who, looking at the three interesting individuals with an expression of the utmost knowingness, had only time to ejaculate the words, “Here’s a jolly go!” and to disappear sniggering.

Pen, too, had restrained himself up to that minute; but looking still at Foker, whose ears and cheeks tingled with blushes, Arthur burst out into a fit of laughter, so wild and loud, that it frightened Blanche much more than any the most serious exhibition.

“And this was the secret, was it? Don’t blush and turn away, Foker, my boy. Why, man, you are a pattern of fidelity. Could I stand between Blanche and such constancy — could I stand between Miss Amory and fifteen thousand a year?”

“It is not that, Mr. Pendennis,” Blanche said, with great dignity. “It is not money, it is not rank, it is not gold that moves me; but it is constancy, it is fidelity, it is a whole trustful loving heart offered to me, that I treasure — yes, that I treasure!” And she made for her handkerchief, but, reflecting what was underneath it, she paused. “I do not disown, I do not disguise — my life is above disguise — to him on whom it is bestowed, my heart must be for ever bare — that I once thought I loved you — yes, thought I was beloved by you, I own! How I clung to that faith! How I strove, I prayed, I longed to believe it! But your conduct always — your own words so cold, so heartless, so unkind, have undeceived me. You trifled with the heart of the poor maiden! You flung me back with scorn the troth which I had plighted! I have explained all — all to Mr. Foker.”

“That you have,” said Foker, with devotion, and conviction in his looks.

“What, all?” said Pen, with a meaning look at Blanche. “It is I am in fault, is it? Well, well, Blanche, be it so. I won’t appeal against your sentence, and bear it in silence. I came down here looking to very different things, Heaven knows, and with a heart most truly and kindly disposed towards you. I hope you may be happy with another, as, on my word, it was my wish to make you so; and I hope my honest old friend here will have a wife worthy of his loyalty, his constancy, and affection. Indeed they deserve the regard of any woman — even Miss Blanche Amory. Shake hands, Harry; don’t look askance at me. Has anybody told you that I was a false and heartless character?”

“I think you’re a ——” Foker was beginning, in his wrath, when Blanche interposed.

“Henry, not a word! — I pray you let there be forgiveness!”

“You’re an angel, by Jove, you’re an angel!” said Foker, at which Blanche looked seraphically up to the chandelier.

“In spite of what has passed, for the sake of what has passed, I must always regard Arthur as a brother,” the seraph continued; “we have known each other years, we have trodden the same fields, and plucked the same flowers together. Arthur! Henry! I beseech you to take hands and to be friends! Forgive you! — I forgive you, Arthur, with my heart I do. Should I not do so for making me so happy?”

“There is only one person of us three whom I pity, Blanche,” Arthur said, gravely, “and I say to you again, that I hope you will make this good fellow, this honest and loyal creature, happy.”

“Happy! O Heavens!” said Harry. He could not speak. His happiness gushed out at his eyes. “She don’t know — she can’t know how fond I am of her, and — and who am I? a poor little beggar, and she takes me up and says she’ll try and I— I— love me. I ain’t worthy of so much happiness. Give us your hand, old boy, since she forgives you after your heartless conduct, and says she loves you. I’ll make you welcome. I tell you I’ll love everybody who loves her. By — — if she tells me to kiss the ground I’ll kiss it. Tell me to kiss the ground! I say, tell me. I love you so. You see I love you so.”

Blanche looked up seraphically again. Her gentle bosom heaved. She held out one hand as if to bless Harry, and then royally permitted him to kiss it. She took up the pocket-handkerchief and hid her own eyes, as the other fair hand was abandoned to poor Harry’s tearful embrace.

“I swear that is a villain who deceives such a loving creature as that,” said Pen.

Blanche laid down the handkerchief, and put hand No. 2 softly on Foker’s head, which was bent down kissing and weeping over hand No. 1. “Foolish boy?” she said, “it shall be loved as it deserves: who could help loving such a silly creature!”

And at this moment Frank Clavering broke in upon the sentimental trio.

“I say, Pendennis!” he said.

“Well, Frank!”

“The man wants to be paid, and go back. He’s had some beer.”

“I’ll go back with him,” cried Pen. “Good-bye, Blanche. God bless you, Foker, old friend. You know, neither of you want me here.” He longed to be off that instant.

“Stay — I must say one word to you. One word in private, if you please,” Blanche said. “You can trust us together, can’t you, Henry?” The tone in which the word Henry was spoken, and the appeal, ravished Foker with delight. “Trust you!” said he. “Oh, who wouldn’t trust you! Come along, Franky, my boy.”

“Let’s have a cigar,” said Frank, as they went into the hall.

“She don’t like it,” said Foker, gently.

“Law bless you — she don’t mind. Pendennis used to smoke regular,” said the candid youth.

“It was but a short word I had to say,” said Blanche to Pen, with great calm, when they were alone. “You never loved me, Mr. Pendennis.”

“I told you how much,” said Arthur. “I never deceived you.”

“I suppose you will go back and marry Laura,” continued Blanche.

“Was that what you had to say?” said Pen.

“You are going to her this very night, I am sure of it. There is no denying it. You never cared for me.”

“Et vous?”

“Et moi, c’est different. I have been spoilt early. I cannot live out of the world, out of excitement. I could have done so, but it is too late. If I cannot have emotions, I must have the world. You would offer me neither one nor the other. You are blase in everything, even in ambition. You had a career before you, and you would not take it. You give it up! — for what? — for a betise, for an absurd scruple. Why would you not have that seat, and be such a puritain? Why should you refuse what is mine by right, by right, entendez-vous?”

“You know all, then?” said Pen.

“Only within a month. But I have suspected ever since Baymouth — n’importe since when. It is not too late. He is as if he had never been; and there is a position in the world before you yet. Why not sit in Parliament, exert your talent, and give a place in the world to yourself, to your wife? I take celui-la. Il est bon. Il est riche. Il est — vous le connaissez autant que moi enfin. Think you that I would not prefer un homme qui fera parler de moi? If the secret appears I am rich a millions. How does it affect me? It is not my fault. It will never appear.”

“You will tell Harry everything, won’t you?”

“Je comprends. Vous refusez,” said Blanche, savagely. “I will tell Harry at my own time, when we are married. You will not betray me, will you? You, having a defenceless girl’s secret, will not turn upon her and use it? S’il me plait de le cacher, mon secret; pourquoi le donnerai je? Je l’aime, mon pauvre pere, voyez-vous? I would rather live with that man than with you fades intriguers of the world. I must have emotions — it m’en donne. Il m’ecrit. Il ecrit tres-bien, voyez-vous — comme un pirate — comme un Bohemien — comme un homme. But for this I would have said to my mother — Ma mere! quittons ce lache mari, cette lache societe — retournons a mon pere.”

“The pirate would have wearied you like the rest,” said Pen.

“Eh! Il me faut des emotions,” said Blanche. Pen had never seen her or known so much about her in all the years of their intimacy as he saw and knew now: though he saw more than existed in reality. For this young lady was not able to carry out any emotion to the full; but had a sham enthusiasm, a sham hatred, a sham love, a sham taste, a sham grief, each of which flared and shone very vehemently for an instant, but subsided and gave place to the next sham emotion.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter74.html

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