The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXV

A Chapter of Match-making

Upon the platform at Tunbridge, Pen fumed and fretted until the arrival of the evening train to London, a full half-hour — six hours it seemed to him; but even this immense interval was passed, the train arrived, the train sped on, the London lights came in view — a gentleman who forgot his carpet-bag in the train rushed at a cab, and said to the man, “Drive as hard as you can go to Jermyn Street.” The cabman, although a hansom-cabman, said Thank you for the gratuity which was put into his hand, and Pen ran up the stairs of the hotel to Lady Rockminster’s apartments. Laura was alone in the drawing-room, reading, with a pale face, by the lamp. The pale face looked up when Pen opened the door. May we follow him? The great moments of life are but moments like the others. Your doom is spoken in a word or two. A single look from the eyes; a mere pressure of the hand may decide it; or of the lips, though they cannot speak.

When Lady Rockminster, who has had her after-dinner nap, gets up and goes into her sitting-room, we may enter with her ladyship.

“Upon my word, young people!” are the first words she says, and her attendant makes wondering eyes over her shoulder. And well may she say so; and well may the attendant cast wondering eyes; for the young people are in an attitude; and Pen in such a position as every young lady who reads this has heard tell of, or has seen, or hopes, or at any rate deserves to see.

In a word, directly he entered the room, Pen went up to Laura of the pale face, who had not time even to say, What, back so soon? and seizing her outstretched and trembling hand just as she was rising from her chair, fell down on his knees before her, and said quickly, “I have seen her. She has engaged herself to Harry Foker — and — and Now, Laura?”

The hand gives a pressure — the eyes beam a reply — the quivering lips answer, though speechless. Pen’s head sinks down in the girl’s lap, as he sobs out, “Come and bless us, dear mother,” and arms as tender as Helen’s once more enfold him.

In this juncture it is that Lady Rockminster comes in and says, “Upon my word, young people! Beck! leave the room. What do you want poking your nose in here?”

Pen starts up with looks of triumph, still holding Laura’s hand. “She is consoling me for my misfortune, ma’am,” he says.

“What do you mean by kissing her hand? I don’t know what you will be next doing.”

Pen kissed her Ladyship’s. “I have been to Tunbridge,” he says, “and seen Miss Amory; and find on my arrival that — that a villain has transplanted me in her affections,” he says with a tragedy air.

“Is that all? Is that what you were whimpering on your knees about?” says the old lady, growing angry. “You might have kept the news till tomorrow.”

“Yes — another has superseded me,” goes on Pen; “but why call him villain? He is brave, he is constant, he is young, he is wealthy, he is beautiful.”

“What stuff are you talking, sir?” cried the old lady. “What has happened?”

“Miss Amory has jilted me, and accepted Henry Foker, Esq. I found her warbling ditties to him as he lay at her feet; presents had been accepted, vows exchanged, these ten days. Harry was old Mrs. Planter’s rheumatism, which kept dearest Laura out of the house. He is the most constant and generous of men. He has promised the living of Logwood to Lady Ann’s husband, and given her a splendid present on her marriage; and he rushed to fling himself at Blanche’s feet the instant he found he was free.”

“And so, as you can’t get Blanche, you put up with Laura; is that it, sir?” asked the old lady.

“He acted nobly,” Laura said.

“I acted as she bade me,” said Pen. “Never mind how, Lady Rockminster; but to the best of my knowledge and power. And if you mean that I am not worthy of Laura, I know it, and pray Heaven to better me; and if the love and company of the best and purest creature in the world can do so, at least I shall have these to help me.”

“Hm, hm,” replied the old lady to this, looking with rather an appeased air at the young people. “It is all very well; but I should have preferred Bluebeard.”

And now Pen, to divert the conversation from a theme which was growing painful to some parties present, bethought him of his interview with Huxter in the morning, and of Fanny Bolton’s affairs, which he had forgotten under the immediate pressure and excitement of his own. And he told the ladies how Huxter had elevated Fanny to the rank of wife, and what terrors he was in respecting the arrival of his father. He described the scene with considerable humour, taking care to dwell especially upon that part of it which concerned Fanny’s coquetry and irrepressible desire of captivating mankind; his meaning being, “You see, Laura, I was not so guilty in that little affair; it was the girl who made love to me, and I who resisted. As I am no longer present, the little siren practises her arts and fascinations upon others. Let that transaction be forgotten in your mind, if you please; or visit me with a very gentle punishment for my error.”

Laura understood his meaning under the eagerness of his explanations. “If you did any wrong, you repented, dear Pen,” she said; “and you know,” she added, with meaning eyes and blushes, “that I have no right to reproach you.”

“Hm!” grumbled the old lady; “I should have preferred Bluebeard.”

“The past is broken away. The morrow is before us. I will do my best to make your morrow happy, dear Laura,” Pen said. His heart was humbled by the prospect of his happiness: it stood awestricken in the contemplation of her sweet goodness and purity. He liked his wife better that she had owned to that passing feeling for Warrington, and laid bare her generous heart to him. And she — very likely she was thinking, “How strange it is that I ever should have cared for another! I am vexed almost to think I care for him so little, am so little sorry that he is gone away. Oh, in these past two months how I have learned to love Arthur! I care about nothing but Arthur: my waking and sleeping thoughts are about him; he is never absent from me. And to think that he is to be mine, mine! and that I am to marry him, and not to be his servant as I expected to be only this morning; for I would have gone down on my knees to Blanche to beg her to let me live with him. And now — Oh, it is too much. Oh, mother! mother, that you were here!” Indeed, she felt as if Helen were there — by her actually, though invisibly. A halo of happiness beamed from her.

She moved with a different step, and bloomed with a new beauty. Arthur saw the change; and the old Lady Rockminster remarked it with her shrewd eyes.

“What a sly demure little wretch you have been,” she whispered to Laura — while Pen, in great spirits, was laughing, and telling his story about Huxter —“and how you have kept your secret!”

“How are we to help the young couple?” said Laura. Of course Miss Laura felt an interest in all young couples, as generous lovers always love other lovers.

“We must go and see them,” said Pen.

“Of course we must go and see them,” said Laura. “I intend to be very fond of Fanny. Let us go this instant. Lady Rockminster, may I have the carriage?”

“Go now! — why, you stupid creature, it is eleven o’clock at night. Mr. and Mrs. Huxter have got their nightcaps on, I dare say. And it is time for you to go now. Good night, Mr. Pendennis.”

Arthur and Laura begged for ten minutes more.

“We will go tomorrow morning, then. I will come and fetch you with Martha.”

“An earl’s coronet,” said Pen, who, no doubt, was pleased himself, “will have a great effect in Lamb Court and Smithfield. Stay — Lady Rockminster, will you join us in a little conspiracy?”

“How do you mean conspiracy, young man?”

“Will you please to be a little ill tomorrow; and when old Mr. Huxter arrives, will you let me call him in? If he is put into a good humour at the notion of attending a baronet in the country, what influence won’t a countess have on him? When he is softened — when he is quite ripe, we will break the secret upon him; bring in the young people, extort the paternal benediction, and finish the comedy.”

“A parcel of stuff,” said the old lady. “Take your hat, sir. Come away, miss. There — my head is turned another way. Good night, young people.” And who knows but the old lady thought of her own early days as she went away on Laura’s arm, nodding her head and humming to herself?

With the early morning came Laura and Martha according to appointment; and the desired sensation was, let us hope, effected in Lamb Court, whence the three proceeded to wait upon Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Huxter, at their residence in Charterhouse Lane.

The two ladies looked at each other with great interest, and not a little emotion on Fanny’s part. She had not seen her “guardian,” as she was pleased to call Pen in consequence of his bequest, since the event had occurred which had united her to Mr. Huxter.

“Samuel told me how kind you had been,” she said. “You were always very kind, Mr. Pendennis. And — and I hope your friend is better, who was took ill in Shepherd’s Inn, ma’am.”

“My name is Laura,” said the other, with a blush. “I am — that is, I was — that is, I am Arthur’s sister; and we shall always love you for being so good to him when he was ill. And when we live in the country, I hope we shall see each other. And I shall be always happy to hear of your happiness, Fanny.”

“We are going to do what you and Huxter have done, Fanny. — Where is Huxter? What nice, snug lodgings you’ve got! What a pretty cat!”

While Fanny is answering these questions in reply to Pen, Laura says to herself —“Well, now really! is this the creature about whom we were all so frightened? What could he see in her? She’s a homely little thing, but such manners! Well, she was very kind to him — bless her for that.”

Mr. Samuel had gone out to meet his Pa. Mrs. Huxter said that the old gentleman was to arrive that day at the Somerset Coffee-house, in the Strand; and Fanny confessed that she was in a sad tremor about the meeting. “If his parent casts him off, what are we to do?” she said. “I shall never pardon myself for bringing ruing on my ‘usband’s ‘ead. You must intercede for us, Mr. Arthur. If mortal man can, you can bend and influence Mr. Huxter senior.” Fanny still regarded Pen in the light of a superior being, that was evident. No doubt Arthur thought of the past, as he marked the solemn little tragedy-airs and looks, the little ways, the little trepidations, vanities, of the little bride. As soon as the interview was over, entered Messrs. Linton and Blades, who came, of course, to visit Huxter, and brought with them a fine fragrance of tobacco. They had watched the carriage at the baker’s door, and remarked the coronet with awe. They asked of Fanny who was that uncommonly heavy swell who had just driven off? and pronounced the countess was of the right sort. And when they heard that it was Mr. Pendennis and his sister, they remarked that Pen’s father was only a sawbones; and that he gave himself confounded airs; they had been in Huxter’s company on the night of his little altercation with Pen in the Back Kitchen.

Returning homewards through Fleet Street, and as Laura was just stating to Pen’s infinite amusement that Fanny was very well, but that really there was no beauty in her — there might be, but she could not see it — as they were locked near Temple Bar, they saw young Huxter returning to his bride. “The governor had arrived; was at the Somerset Coffee-house — was in tolerable good-humour — something about the railway: but he had been afraid to speak about — about that business. Would Mr. Pendennis try it on?”

Pen said he would go and call at that moment upon Mr. Huxter, and see what might be done. Huxter junior would lurk outside whilst that awful interview took place. The coronet on the carriage inspired his soul also with wonder; and old Mr. Huxter himself beheld it with delight, as he looked from the coffee-house window on that Strand which it was always a treat to him to survey.

“And I can afford to give myself a lark, sir,” said Mr. Huxter, shaking hands with Pen. “Of course you know the news? we have got our bill, sir. We shall have our branch line — our shares are up, sir — and we buy your three fields along the Brawl, and put a pretty penny into your pocket, Mr. Pendennis.”

“Indeed! — that was good news.” Pen remembered that there was a letter from Mr. Tatham, at Chambers, these three days; but he had not opened the communication, being interested with other affairs.

“I hope you don’t intend to grow rich, and give up practice,” said Pen. “We can’t lose you at Clavering, Mr. Huxter; though I hear very good accounts of your son. My friend, Dr. Goodenough speaks most highly of his talents. It is hard that a man of your eminence, though, should be kept in a country town.”

“The metropolis would have been my sphere of action, sir,” said Mr. Huxter, surveying the Strand. “But a man takes his business where he finds it; and I succeeded to that of my father.”

“It was my father’s, too,” said Pen. “I sometimes wish I had followed it.”

“You, sir, have taken a more lofty career,” said the old gentleman. “You aspire to the senate: and to literary honours. You wield the poet’s pen, sir, and move in the circles of fashion. We keep an eye upon you at Clavering. We read your name in the lists of the select parties of the nobility. Why, it was only the other day that my wife was remarking how odd it was that at a party at the Earl of Kidderminster’s your name was not mentioned. To what member of the aristocracy may I ask does that equipage belong from which I saw you descend? The Countess Dowager of Rockminster? How is her Ladyship?”

“Her Ladyship is not very well; and when I heard that you were coming to town, I strongly urged her to see you, Mr. Huxter,” Pen said. Old Huxter felt, if he had a hundred votes for Clavering, he would give them all to Pen.

“There is an old friend of yours in the carriage — a Clavering lady, too — will you come out and speak to her?” asked Pen. The old surgeon was delighted to speak to a coroneted carriage in the midst of the full Strand: he ran out bowing and smiling. Huxter junior, dodging about the district, beheld the meeting between his father and Laura, saw the latter put out her hand, and presently, after a little colloquy with Pen, beheld his father actually jump into the carriage, and drive away with Miss Bell.

There was no room for Arthur, who came back, laughing, to the young surgeon, and told him whither his parent was bound. During the whole of the journey, that artful Laura coaxed, and wheedled, and cajoled him so adroitly, that the old gentleman would have granted her anything; and Lady Rockminster achieved the victory over him by complimenting him on his skill, and professing her anxiety to consult him. What were her Ladyship’s symptoms? Should he meet her Ladyship’s usual medical attendant? Mr. Jones was called out of town? He should be delighted to devote his very best energies and experience to her Ladyship’s service.

He was so charmed with his patient, that he wrote home about her to his wife and family; he talked of nothing but Lady Rockminster to Samuel, when that youth came to partake of beefsteak and oyster-sauce and accompany his parent to the play. There was a simple grandeur, a polite urbanity, a high-bred grace about her Ladyship, which he had never witnessed in any woman. Her symptoms did not seem alarming; he had prescribed — Spir: Ammon: Aromat: with a little Spir: Menth: Pip: and orange-flower, which would be all that was necessary.

“Miss Bell seemed to be on the most confidential and affectionate footing with her Ladyship. She was about to form a matrimonial connexion. All young people ought to marry. Such were her Ladyship’s words; and the Countess condescended to ask respecting my own family, and I mentioned you by name to her Ladyship, Sam, my boy. I shall look in tomorrow, when, if the remedies which I have prescribed for her Ladyship have had the effect which I anticipate, I shall probably follow them up by a little Spir: Lavend: Comp:— and so set my noble patient up. What is the theatre which is most frequented by the — by the higher classes in town, hey, Sam! and to what amusement will you take an old country doctor to-night, hey, sir?”

On the next day, when Mr. Huxter called in Jermyn Street at twelve o’clock, Lady Rockminster had not yet left her room, but Miss Bell and Mr. Pendennis were in waiting to receive him. Lady Rockminster had had a most comfortable night, and was getting on as well as possible. How had Mr. Huxter amused himself? at the theatre? with his son? What a capital piece it was, and how charmingly Mrs. O’Leary looked and sang it! and what a good fellow young Huxter was! liked by everybody, an honour to his profession. He has not his father’s manners, I grant you, or that old-world tone which is passing away from us, but a more excellent, sterling fellow never lived. “He ought to practise in the country whatever you do, sir,” said Arthur —“he ought to marry — other people are going to do so — and settle.”

“The very words that her Ladyship used yesterday, Mr. Pendennis. He ought to marry. Sam should marry, sir.”

“The town is full of temptations, sir,” continued Pen. The old gentleman thought of that houri, Mrs. O’Leary.

“There is no better safeguard for a young man than an early marriage with an honest affectionate creature.”

“No better, sir, no better.”

“And love is better than money, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is,” said Miss Bell.

“I agree with so fair an authority,” said the old gentleman, with a bow.

“And — and suppose, sir,” Pen said, “that I had a piece of news to communicate to you.”

“God bless my soul, Mr. Pendennis! what do you mean?” asked the old gentleman.

“Suppose I had to tell you that a young man, carried away by an irresistible passion for an admirable and most virtuous young creature — whom everybody falls in love with — had consulted the dictates of reason and his heart, and had married. Suppose I were to tell you that that man is my friend; that our excellent, our truly noble friend the Countess Dowager of Rockminster is truly interested about him (and you may fancy what a young man can do in life when THAT family is interested for him); suppose I were to tell you that you know him — that he is here — that he is ——”

“Sam married! God bless my soul, sir, you don’t mean that!”

“And to such a nice creature, dear Mr. Huxter.”

“Her Ladyship is charmed with her,” said Pen, telling almost the first fib which he has told in the course of this story.

“Married! the rascal, is he?” thought the old gentleman.

“They will do it, sir,” said Pen; and went and opened the door. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Huxter issued thence, and both came and knelt down before the old gentleman. The kneeling little Fanny found favour in his sight. There must have been some thing attractive about her, in spite of Laura’s opinion.

“Will never do so any more, sir,” said Sam.

“Get up, sir,” said Mr. Huxter. And they got up, and Fanny came a little nearer and a little nearer still, and looked so pretty and pitiful, that somehow Mr. Huxter found himself kissing the little crying-laughing thing, and feeling as if he liked it.

“What’s your name, my dear?” he said, after a minute of this sport.

“Fanny, papa,” said Mrs. Samuel.

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