The friends to whom we were engaged in England were Florac and his wife, Madame la Princesse de Moncontour, who were determined to spend the Christmas holidays at the Princess’s country seat. It was for the first time since their reconciliation, that the Prince and Princess dispensed their hospitalities at the latter’s chateau. It is situated, as the reader has already been informed, at some five miles from the town of Newcome; away from the chimneys and smoky atmosphere of that place, in a sweet country of rural woodlands; over which quiet villages, grey church spires, and ancient gabled farmhouses are scattered: still wearing the peaceful aspect which belonged to them when Newcome was as yet but an antiquated country town, before mills were erected on its river-banks, and dyes and cinders blackened its stream. Twenty years since Newcome Park was the only great house in that district; now scores of fine villas have sprung up in the suburb lying between the town and park. Newcome New Town, as everybody knows, has grown round the park-gates, and the New Town Hotel (where the railway station is) is a splendid structure in the Tudor style, more ancient in appearance than the park itself; surrounded by little antique villas with spiked gables, stacks of crooked chimneys, and plate-glass windows looking upon trim lawns; with glistening hedges of evergreens, spotless gravel walks, and Elizabethan gig-houses. Under the great railway viaduct of the New Town, goes the old tranquil winding London highroad, once busy with a score of gay coaches, and ground by innumerable wheels: but at a few miles from the New Town Station the road has become so mouldy that the grass actually grows on it; and Rosebury, Madame de Moncontour’s house, stands at one end of a village-green, which is even more quiet now than it was a hundred years ago.
When first Madame de Florac bought the place, it scarcely ranked amongst the country-houses; and she, the sister of manufacturers at Newcome and Manchester, did not of course visit the county families. A homely little body, married to a Frenchman from whom she was separated, may or may not have done a great deal of good in her village, have had pretty gardens, and won prizes at the Newcome flower and fruit shows; but, of course, she was nobody in such an aristocratic county as we know ——— shire is. She had her friends and relatives from Newcome. Many of them were Quakers — many were retail shopkeepers. She even frequented the little branch Ebenezer, on Rosebury Green; and it was only by her charities and kindness at Christmas-time, that the Rev. Dr. Potter, the rector at Rosebury, knew her. The old clergy, you see, live with the county families. Good little Madame de Florac was pitied and patronised by the Doctor, treated with no little superciliousness by Mrs. Potter, and the young ladies, who only kept the first society. Even when her rich brother died, and she got her share of all that money Mrs. Potter said poor Madame de Florac did well in not trying to move out of her natural sphere (Mrs. P. was the daughter of a bankrupt hatter in London, and had herself been governess in a noble family, out of which she married Mr. P., who was private tutor). Madame de Florac did well, she said, not to endeavour to leave her natural sphere, and that The County never would receive her. Tom Potter, the rector’s son, with whom I had the good fortune to be a fellow-student at Saint Boniface College, Oxbridge — a rattling, forward, and it must be owned, vulgar youth — asked me whether Florac was not a billiard-marker by profession? and was even so kind as to caution his sisters not to speak of billiards before the lady of Rosebury. Tom was surprised to learn that Monsieur Paul de Florac was a gentleman of lineage incomparably better than that of any, except two or three families in England (including your own, my dear and respected reader, of course, if you hold to your pedigree). But the truth is, heraldically speaking, that union with the Higgs of Manchester was the first misalliance which the Florac family had made for long long years. Not that I would wish for a moment to insinuate that any nobleman is equal to an English nobleman; nay, that an English snob, with a coat-of-arms bought yesterday, or stolen out of Edmonton, or a pedigree purchased from a peerage-maker, has not a right to look down upon any of your paltry foreign nobility.
One day the carriage-and-four came in state from Newcome Park, with the well-known chaste liveries of the Newcomes, and drove up Rosebury Green, towards the parsonage gate, when Mrs. and the Miss Potters happened to be standing, cheapening fish from a donkey-man, with whom they were in the habit of dealing. The ladies were in their pokiest old head-gear and most dingy gowns, when they perceived the carriage approaching; and considering, of course, that the visit of the Park people was intended for them, dashed into the rectory to change their clothes, leaving Rowkins, the costermonger, in the very midst of the negotiation about the three mackerel. Mamma got that new bonnet out of the bandbox; Lizzy and Liddy skipped up to their bedroom, and brought out those dresses which they wore at the dejeuner at the Newcome Athenaeum, when Lord Leveret came down to lecture; into which they no sooner had hooked their lovely shoulders, than they reflected with terror that mamma had been altering one of papa’s flannel waistcoats and had left it in the drawing-room, when they were called out by the song of Rowkins, and the appearance of his donkey’s ears over the green gate of the rectory. To think of the Park people coming, and the drawing-room in that dreadful state!
But when they came downstairs the Park people were not in the room — the woollen garment was still on the table (how they plunged it into the chiffonier!)— and the only visitor was Rowkins, the costermonger, grinning at the open French windows, with the three mackerel, and crying, “Make it sixpence, miss — don’t say fippens, maam, to a pore fellow that has a wife and family.” So that the young ladies had to cry —“Impudence!” “Get away, you vulgar insolent creature! — Go round, sir, to the back door!” “How dare you?” and the like; fearing lest Lady Anne Newcome, and Young Ethel, and Barnes should enter in the midst of this ignoble controversy.
They never came at all — those Park people. How very odd! They passed the rectory gate; they drove on to Madame de Florac’s lodge. They went in. They stayed for half an hour; the horses driving round and round the gravel road before the house; and Mrs. Potter and the girls speedily going to the upper chambers, and looking out of the room where the maids slept, saw Lady Anne, Ethel, and Barnes walking with Madame de Florac, going into the conservatories, issuing thence with MacWhirter, the gardener, bearing huge bunches of grapes and large fasces of flowers; they saw Barnes talking in the most respectful manner to Madame de Florac: and when they went downstairs and had their work before them — Liddy her gilt music-book, Lizzy her embroidered altar-cloth, mamma her scarlet cloak for one of the old women — they had the agony of seeing the barouche over the railings whisk by, with the Park people inside, and Barnes driving the four horses.
It was on that day when Barnes had determined to take up Madame de Florac; when he was bent upon reconciling her to her husband. In spite of all Mrs. Potter’s predictions, the county families did come and visit the manufacturer’s daughter; and when Madame de Florac became Madame la Princesse de Moncontour, when it was announced that she was coming to stay at Rosebury for Christmas, I leave you to imagine whether the circumstance was or was not mentioned in the Newcome Sentinel and the Newcome Independent; and whether Rev. G. Potter, D.D., and Mrs. Potter did or did not call on the Prince and Princess. I leave you to imagine whether the lady did or did not inspect all the alterations which Vineer’s people from Newcome were making at Rosebury House — the chaste yellow satin and gold of the drawing-room — the carved oak for the dining-room — the chintz for the bedrooms — the Princess’s apartment — the Prince’s apartment — the guests’ apartments — the smoking-room, gracious goodness! — the stables (these were under Tom Potter’s superintendence), “and I’m finished,” says he one day, “if here doesn’t come a billiard-table!”
The house was most comfortably and snugly appointed from top to bottom; and thus it will be seen that Mr. and Mrs. Pendennis were likely to be in very good quarters for Christmas of 184-.
Tom Potter was so kind as to call on me two days after our arrival; and to greet me in the Princess’s pew at church on the previous day. Before desiring to be introduced to my wife, he requested me to present him to my friend the Prince. He called him your Highness. His Highness, who had behaved with exemplary gravity, save once when he shrieked an “ah!” as Miss Liddy led off the children in the organ-loft in a hymn, and the whole pack went woefully out of tune, complimented Monsieur Tom on the sermon of monsieur his father. Tom walked with us to Rosebury lodge-gate. “Will you not come in, and make a party of billiard with me?” says His Highness. “Ah Pardon! I forgot, you do not play the billiard the Sunday!” “Any other day, Prince, I shall be delighted,” says Tom; and squeezed His Highness’s hand tenderly at parting. “Your comrade of college was he?” asks Florac. “My dear, what men are these comrades of college! What men are you English! My word of honour, there are some of them here — if I were to say to them wax my boots, they would take them and wax them! Didst thou see how the Reverend eyed us during the sermon? He regarded us over his book, my word of honour!”
Madame de Florac said simply, she wished the Prince would go and hear Mr. Jacob at the Ebenezer. Mr. Potter was not a good preacher, certainly.
“Savez-vows qu’elle est furieusement belle, la fille du Reverend?” whispered His Highness to me. “I have made eyes at her during the sermon. They will be of pretty neighbours these meess!” and Paul looked unutterably roguish and victorious as he spoke. To my wife, I am bound to say, Monsieur de Moncontour showed a courtesy, a respect and kindness, that could not be exceeded. He admired her. He paid her compliments innumerable, and gave me I am sure sincere congratulations at possessing such a treasure. I do not think he doubted about his power of conquering her, or any other of the daughters of women. But I was the friend of his misfortunes — his guest; and he spared me.
I have seen nothing more amusing, odd, and pleasant than Florac at this time of his prosperity. We arrived, as this veracious chronicle has already asserted, on a Saturday evening. We were conducted to our most comfortable apartments; with crackling fires blazing on the hearths, and every warmth of welcome. Florac expanded and beamed with good-nature. He shook me many times by the hand; he patted me; he called me his good — his brave.
He cried to his maitre d’hotel, “Frederic, remember monsieur is master here! Run before his orders. Prostrate thyself to him. He was good to me in the days of my misfortune. Hearest thou, Frederic? See that everything be done for Monsieur Pendennis — for madame sa charmante lady — for her angelic infant, and the bonne. None of thy garrison tricks with that young person, Frederic! vieux scelerat! Garde-toi de la, Frederic; si non, je t’envoie a Botani Bay; je te traduis devant le Lord Mare!”
“En Angleterre je me fais Anglais, vois-tu, mon ami,” continued the Prince. “Demain c’est Sunday, et tu vas voir! I hear the bell, dress thyself for the dinner — my friend!”; Here there was another squeeze of both hands from the good-natured fellow. “It do good to my art to ave you in my ouse! Heuh!” He hugged his guest; he had tears in his eyes as he performed this droll, this kind embrace. Not less kind in her way, though less expensive and embracive, was Madame de Moncontour to my wife, as I found on comparing notes with that young woman, when the day’s hospitalities were ended. The little Princess trotted from bedchamber to nursery to see that everything was made comfortable for her guests. She sate and saw the child washed and put to bed. She had never beheld such a little angel. She brought it a fine toy to play with. She and her grim old maid frightened the little creature at first, but it was very speedily reconciled to their countenances. She was in the nursery almost as early as the child’s mother. “Ah!” sighed the poor little woman, “how happy you must be to have one!” In fine, my wife was quite overcome by her goodness and welcome.
Sunday morning arrived in the course of time, and then Florac appeared as a most wonderful Briton indeed! He wore top-boots and buckskins; and after breakfast, when we went to church, a white great-coat with a little cape, in which garment he felt that his similarity to an English gentleman was perfect. In conversation with his grooms and servants he swore freely — not that he was accustomed to employ oaths in his own private talk, but he thought the employment of these expletives necessary as an English country gentleman. He never dined without a roast-beef, and insisted that the piece of meat should be bleeding, “as you love it, you others.” He got up boxing-matches: and kept birds for combats of cock. He assumed the sporting language with admirable enthusiasm — drove over to cover with a steppere — rode across countri like a good one — was splendid in the hunting-field in his velvet cap and Napoleon boots, and made the Hunt welcome at Rosebury where his good-natured little wife was as kind to the gentlemen in scarlet as she used to be of old to the stout Dissenting gentlemen in black, who sang hymns and spake sermons on her lawn. These folks, scared at the change which had taken place in the little Princess’s habits of life, lamented her falling away: but in the county she and her husband got a great popularity, and in Newcome town itself they were not less liked, for her benefactions were unceasing, and Paul’s affability the theme of all praise. The Newcome Independent and the Newcome Sentinel both paid him compliments; the former journal contrasting his behaviour with that of Sir Barnes, their member. Florac’s pleasure was to drive his Princess with four horses into Newcome. He called his carriage his “trappe,” his “drague.” The street-boys cheered and hurrayed the Prince as he passed through the town. One haberdasher had a yellow stock called the “Moncontour” displayed in his windows; another had a pink one marked “The Princely,” and as such recommended it to the young Newcome gents.
The drague conveyed us once to the neighbouring house of Newcome, whither my wife accompanied Madame de Moncontour at that lady’s own request, to whom Laura very properly did not think fit to confide her antipathy for Lady Clara Newcome. Coming away from a great house, how often she and I, egotistical philosophers, thanked our fates that our own home was a small one! How long will great houses last in this world? Do not their owners now prefer a lodging at Brighton, or a little entresol on the Boulevard, to the solitary ancestral palace in a park barred round with snow? We were as glad to get out of Newcome as out of a prison. My wife and our hostess skipped into the carriage, and began to talk freely as the lodge-gates closed after us. Would we be lords of such a place under the penalty of living in it? We agreed that the little angle of earth called Fairoaks was dearer to us than the clumsy Newcome-pile of Tudor masonry. The house had been fitted up in the time of George IV. and the quasi-Gothic revival. We were made to pass through Gothic dining-rooms, where there was now no hospitality — Gothic drawing-rooms shrouded in brown hollands, to one little room at the end of the dusky suite, where Lady Clara sate alone, or in the company of the nurses and children. The blank gloom of the place had fallen upon the poor lady. Even when my wife talked about children (good-natured Madame de Moncontour vaunting ours as a prodigy) Lady Clara did not brighten up! Her pair of young ones was exhibited and withdrawn. A something weighed upon the woman. We talked about Ethel’s marriage. She said it was fixed for the new year, she believed. She did not know whether Glenlivat had been very handsomely fitted up. She had not seen Lord Farintosh’s house in London. Sir Barnes came down once — twice — of a Saturday sometimes, for three or four days to hunt, to amuse himself, as all men do she supposed. She did not know when he was coming again. She rang languidly when we rose to take leave, and sank back on her sofa, where lay a heap of French novels. “She has chosen some pretty books,” says Paul, as we drove through the sombre avenues through the grey park, mists lying about the melancholy ornamental waters, dingy herds of huddled sheep speckling the grass here and there; no smoke rising up from the great stacks of chimneys of the building we were leaving behind us, save one little feeble thread of white which we knew came from the fire by which the lonely mistress of Newcome was seated. “Ouf!” cries Florac, playing his whip, as the lodge-gates closed on us, and his team of horses rattled merrily along the road, “what a blessing it is to be out of that vault of a place! There is something fatal in this house — in this woman. One smells misfortune there.”
The hotel which our friend Florac patronised on occasion of his visits to Newcome was the King’s Arms, and it happened, one day, as we entered that place of entertainment in company, that a visitor of the house was issuing through the hall, to whom Florac seemed as if he would administer one of his customary embraces, and to whom the Prince called out “Jack,” with great warmth and kindness as he ran towards the stranger.
Jack did not appear to be particularly well pleased on beholding us; he rather retreated from before the Frenchman’s advances.
“My dear Jack, my good, my brave Ighgate! I am delighted to see you!” Florac continues, regardless of the stranger’s reception, or of the landlord’s looks towards us, who was bowing the Prince into his very best room.
“How do you do, Monsieur de Florac?” growls the new comer, surlily; and was for moving on after this brief salutation; but having a second thought seemingly, turned back and followed Florac into the apartment where our host conducted us. “A la bonne heure!” Florac renewed his cordial greetings to Lord Highgate. “I knew not, mon bon, what fly had stung you,” says he to my lord. The landlord, rubbing his hands, smirking and bowing, was anxious to know whether the Prince would take anything after his drive. As the Prince’s attendant and friend, the lustre of his reception partially illuminated me. When the chief was not by, I was treated with great attention (mingled with a certain degree of familiarity) by my landlord.
Lord Highgate waited until Mr. Taplow was out of the room; and then said to Florac, “Don’t call me by my name here, please, Florac, I am here incog.”
“Plait-il?” asks Florac. “Where is incog.?” He laughed when the word was interpreted to him. Lord Highgate had turned to me. “There was no rudeness, you understand, intended, Mr. Pendennis, but I am down here on some business, and don’t care to wear the handle to my name. Fellows work it so, don’t you understand? never leave you at rest in a country town — that sort of thing. Heard of our friend Clive lately?”
“Whether you ave andle or no andle, Jack, you are always the bien venu to me. What is thy affair? Old monster! I wager ——”
“No, no, no such nonsense,” says Jack, rather eagerly. “I give you my honour, I— I want to — to raise a sum of money — that is, to invest some in a speculation down here — deuced good the speculations down here; and, by the way, if the landlord asks you, I’m Mr. Harris — I’m a civil engineer — I’m waiting for the arrival of the Canada at Liverpool from America, and very uneasy about my brother who is on board.”
“What does he recount to us there? Keep these stories for the landlord, Jack; to us ’tis not the pain to lie. My good Mr. Harris, why have we not seen you at Rosebury? The Princess will scold me if you do not come; and you must bring your dear brother when he arrive too. Do you hear?” The last part of this sentence was uttered for Mr. Taplow’s benefit, who had re-entered the George bearing a tray of wine and biscuit.
The Master of Rosebury and Mr. Harris went out presently to look at a horse which was waiting the former’s inspection in the stableyard of the hotel. The landlord took advantage of his business, to hear a bell which never was rung, and to ask me questions about the guest who had been staying at his house for a week past. Did I know that party? Mr. Pendennis said, “Yes, he knew that party.”
“Most respectable party, I have no doubt,” continues Boniface. “Do you suppose the Prince of Moncontour knows any but respectable parties?” asks Mr. Pendennis — a query of which the force was so great as to discomfit and silence our landlord, who retreated to ask questions concerning Mr. Harris of Florac’s grooms.
What was Highgate’s business here? Was it mine to know? I might have suspicions, but should I entertain them or communicate them, and had I not best keep them to myself? I exchanged not a word on the subject of Highgate with Florac, as we drove home: though from the way in which we looked at one another each saw that the other was acquainted with that unhappy gentleman’s secret. We fell to talking about Madame la Duchesse d’Ivry as we trotted on; and then of English manners by way of contrast, of intrigues, elopements, Gretna Grin, etc., etc. “You are a droll nation!” says Florac. “To make love well, you must absolutely have a chaise-de-poste, and a scandal afterwards. If our affairs of this kind made themselves on the grand route, what armies of postillions we should need!”
I held my peace. In that vision of Jack Belsize I saw misery, guilt, children dishonoured, homes deserted — ruin for all the actors and victims of the wretched conspiracy. Laura marked my disturbance when we reached home. She even divined the cause of it, and charged me with it at night, when we sate alone by our dressing-room fire, and had taken leave of our kind entertainers. Then, under her cross-examination, I own that I told what I had seen — Lord Highgate, under a feigned name staying at Newcome. It might be nothing. “Nothing! Gracious heavens! Could not this crime and misery be stopped?” “It might be too late,” Laura’s husband said sadly, bending down his head into the fire.
She was silent too for a while. I could see she was engaged where pious women ever will betake themselves in moments of doubt, of grief, of pain, of separation, of joy even, or whatsoever other trial. They have but to will, and as it were an invisible temple rises round them; their hearts can kneel down there; and they have an audience of the great, the merciful untiring Counsellor and Consoler. She would not have been frightened at Death near at hand. I have known her to tend the poor round about us, or to bear pain — not her own merely, but even her children’s and mine, with a surprising outward constancy and calm. But the idea of this crime being enacted close at hand, and no help for it — quite overcame her. I believe she lay awake all that night; and rose quite haggard and pale after the bitter thoughts which had deprived her of rest.
She embraced her own child with extraordinary tenderness that morning, and even wept over it, calling it by a thousand fond names of maternal endearment “Would I leave you, my darling — could I ever, ever, ever quit you, my blessing, and treasure!” The unconscious little thing, hugged to his mother’s bosom, and scared at her tones and tragic face, clung frightened and weeping round Laura’s neck. Would you ask what the husband’s feelings were as he looked at that sweet love, that sublime tenderness, that pure Saint blessing the life of him unworthy? Of all the gifts of Heaven to us below, that felicity is the sum and the chief. I tremble as I hold it lest I should lose it, and be left alone in the blank world without it: again, I feel humiliated to think that I possess it; as hastening home to a warm fireside and a plentiful table, I feel ashamed sometimes before the poor outcast beggar shivering in the street.
Breakfast was scarcely over when Laura asked for a pony carriage, and said she was bent on a private visit. She took her baby and nurse with her. She refused our company, and would not even say whither she was bound until she had passed the lodge-gate. I may have suspected what the object was of her journey. Florac and I did not talk of it. We rode out to meet the hounds of a cheery winter morning: on another day I might have been amused with my host — the, splendour of his raiment, the neatness of his velvet cap, the gloss of his hunting-boots; the cheers, shouts, salutations, to dog and man; the oaths and outcries of this Nimrod, who shouted louder than the whole field and the whole pack too — but on this morning — I was thinking of the tragedy yonder enacting, and came away early from the hunting-field, and found my wife already returned to Rosebury.
Laura had been, as I suspected, to Lady Clara. She did not know why, indeed. She scarce knew what she should say when she arrived — how she could say what she had in her mind. “I hoped, Arthur, that I should have something — something told me to say,” whispered Laura, with her head on my shoulder; and as I lay awake last night thinking of her, prayed — that is, hoped, I might find a word of consolation for that poor lady. Do you know, I think she has hardly ever heard a kind word? She said so; she was very much affected after we had talked together a little.
“At first she was very indifferent; cold and haughty in her manner; asked what had caused the pleasure of this visit, for I would go in, though at the lodge they told me her ladyship was unwell, and they thought received no company. I said I wanted to show our boy to her — that the children ought to be acquainted — I don’t know what I said. She seemed more and more surprised — then all of a sudden — I don’t know how — I said, ‘Lady Clara, I have had a dream about you and your children, and I was so frightened that I came over to you to speak about it.’ And I had the dream, Pen; it came to me absolutely as I was speaking to her.
“She looked a little scared, and I went on telling her the dream. ‘My dear’ I said, ‘I dreamed that I saw you happy with those children.’
“‘Happy!’ says she — the three were playing in the conservatory into which her sitting-room opens.
“‘And that a bad spirit came and tore them from you, and drove you out into the darkness; and I saw you wandering about quite lonely and wretched, and looking back into the garden where the children were playing. And you asked and implored to see them; and the Keeper at the gate said ‘No, never.’ And then — then I thought they passed by you, and they did not know you.’
“‘Ah!’ said Lady Clara.
“‘And then I thought, as we do in dreams, you know, that it was my child who was separated from me, and who would not know me: and oh, what a pang that was! Fancy that! Let us pray God it was only a dream. And worse than that, when you, when I implored to come to the child, and the man said, ‘No, never,’ I thought there came a spirit — an angel that fetched the child to heaven, and you said, ‘Let me come too; oh, let me come too, I am so miserable.’ And the angel said, ‘No, never, never.’
“By this time Lady Clara was looking very pale. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked of me,” Laura continued.
“‘Oh, dear lady, for the sake of the little ones, and Him who calls them to Him, go you with them. Never, never part from them! Cling to His knees, and take shelter there.’ I took her hands, and I said more to her in this way, Arthur, that I need not, that I ought not to speak again. But she was touched at length when I kissed her; and she said I was very kind to her, and no one had ever been so, and that she was quite alone in the world and had no friend to fly to; and would I go and stay with her? and I said ‘yes;’ and we must go, my dear. I think you should see that person at Newcome — see him, and warn him,” cried Laura, warming as she spoke, “and pray God to enlighten and strengthen him, and to keep him from this temptation, and implore him to leave this poor, weak, frightened, trembling creature; if he has the heart of a gentleman and the courage of a man, he will, I know he will.”
“I think he would, my dearest,” I said, “if he but heard the petitioner.” Laura’s cheeks were blushing, her eyes brightened, her voice rang with a sweet pathos of love that vibrates through my whole being sometimes. It seems to me as if evil must give way, and bad thoughts retire before that purest creature.
“Why has she not some of her family with her, poor thing!” my wife continued. “She perishes in that solitude. Her husband prevents her, I think — and — oh — I know enough of him to know what his life is. I shudder, Arthur, to see you take the hand of that wicked, selfish man. You must break with him, do you hear, sir?”
“Before or after going to stay at his house, my love?” asks Mr. Pendennis.
“Poor thing! she lighted up at the idea of any one coming. She ran and showed me the rooms we were to have. It will be very stupid; and you don’t like that. But you can write your book, and still hunt and shoot with our friends here. And Lady Anne Newcome must be made to come back again. Sir Barnes quarrelled with his mother and drove her out of the house on her last visit — think of that! The servants here know it. Martha brought me the whole story from the housekeeper’s room. This Sir Barnes Newcome is a dreadful creature, Arthur. I am so glad I loathed him from the very first moment I saw him.”
“And into this ogre’s den you propose to put me and my family, madam!” says the husband. “Indeed, where won’t I go if you order me? Oh, who will pack my portmanteau?”
Florac and the Princess were both in desolation when, at dinner, we announced our resolution to go away — and to our neighbours at Newcome! that was more extraordinary. “Que diable goest thou to do in this galley?” asks our host as we sat alone over our wine.
But Laura’s intended visit to Lady Clara was never to have a fulfilment, for on this same evening, as we sate at our dessert, comes a messenger from Newcome, with a note for my wife from the lady there:—
“Dearest, kindest Mrs. Pendennis,” Lady Clara wrote, with many italics, and evidently in much distress of mind. “Your visit is not to be. I spoke about it to Sir B., who arrived this afternoon, and who has already begun to treat me in his usual way. Oh, I am so unhappy! Pray, pray do not be angry at this rudeness — though indeed it is only a kindness to keep you from this wretched place! I feel as if I cannot bear this much longer. But, whatever happens, I shall always remember your goodness, your beautiful goodness and kindness; and shall worship you as an angel deserves to be worshipped. Oh, why had I not such a friend earlier! But alas! I have none — only this odious family thrust upon me for companions to the wretched, lonely, C. N.
“P.S. — He does not know of my writing. Do not be surprised if you get another note from me in the morning, written in a ceremonious style and regretting that we cannot have the pleasure of receiving Mr. and Mrs. Pendennis for the present at Newcome.
“P.S. — The hypocrite!”
This letter was handed to my wife at dinner-time, and she gave it to me as she passed out of the room with the other ladies.
I told Florac that the Newcomes could not receive us, and that we would remain, if he willed it, his guests for a little longer. The kind fellow was only too glad to keep us. “My wife would die without Bebi,” he said. “She becomes quite dangerous about Bebi.” It was gratifying that the good old lady was not to be parted as yet from the innocent object of her love.
My host knew as well as I the terms upon which Sir Barnes and his wife were living. Their quarrels were the talk of the whole county; one side brought forward his treatment of her, and his conduct elsewhere, and said that he was so bad that honest people should not know him. The other party laid the blame upon her, and declared that Lady Clara was a languid, silly, weak, frivolous creature; always crying out of season; who had notoriously taken Sir Barnes for his money and who as certainly had had an attachment elsewhere. Yes, the accusations were true on both sides. A bad, selfish husband had married a woman for her rank: a weak, thoughtless girl had been sold to a man for his money; and the union, which might have ended in a complete indifference, had taken an ill turn and resulted in misery, cruelty, fierce mutual recriminations, bitter tears shed in private, husband’s curses and maledictions, and open scenes of wrath and violence for servants to witness and the world to sneer at. We arrange such matches every day; we sell or buy beauty, or rank, or wealth; we inaugurate the bargain in churches with sacramental services, in which the parties engaged call upon Heaven to witness their vows — we know them to be lies, and we seal them with God’s name. “I, Barnes, promise to take you, Clara, to love and honour till death do us part” “I Clara, promise to take you, Barnes,” etc, etc. Who has not heard the ancient words; and how many of us have uttered them, knowing them to be untrue: and is there a bishop on the bench that has not amen’d the humbug in his lawn sleeves and called a blessing over the kneeling perjurers?
“Does Mr. Harris know of Newcome’s return?” Florac asked, when I acquainted him with this intelligence. “Ce scelerat de Highgate — Va!”
“Does Newcome know that Lord Highgate is here?” I thought within myself, admiring my wife’s faithfulness and simplicity, and trying to believe with that pure and guileless creature that it was not yet too late to save the unhappy Lady Clara.
“Mr. Harris had best be warned,” I said to Florac; “will you write him a word, and let us send a messenger to Newcome?”
At first Florac said, “Parbleu! No;” the affair was none of his, he attended himself always to this result of Lady Clara’s marriage. He had even complimented Jack upon it years before at Baden, when scenes enough tragic, enough comical, ma foi, had taken place apropos of this affair. Why should he meddle with it now?
“Children dishonoured,” said I, “honest families made miserable; for Heaven’s sake, Florac, let us stay this catastrophe if we can.” I spoke with much warmth, eagerly desirous to avert this calamity if possible, and very strongly moved by the tale which I had heard only just before dinner from that noble and innocent creature, whose pure heart had already prompted her to plead the cause of right and truth, and to try and rescue an unhappy desperate sister trembling on the verge of ruin.
“If you will not write to him,” said I, in some heat, “if your grooms don’t like to go out of a night” (this was one of the objections which Florac had raised), “I will walk.” We were talking over the affair rather late in the evening, the ladies having retreated to their sleeping apartments, and some guests having taken leave, whom our hospitable host and hostess had entertained that night, and before whom I naturally did not care to speak upon a subject so dangerous.
“Parbleu, what virtue, my friend! what a Joseph!” cries Florac, puffing his cigar. “One sees well that your wife had made you the sermon. My poor Pendennis! You are henpecked, my pauvre bon! You become the husband model. It is true my mother writes that thy wife is an angel!”
“I do not object to obey such a woman when she bids me do right,” I said; and would indeed at that woman’s request have gone out upon the errand, but that we here found another messenger. On days when dinner-parties were held at Rosebury, certain auxiliary waiters used to attend from Newcome whom the landlord of the King’s Arms was accustomed to supply; indeed, it was to secure these, and make other necessary arrangements respecting fish, game, etc., that the Prince de Moncontour had ridden over to Newcome on the day when we met Lord Highgate, alias Mr. Harris, before the bar of the hotel. Whilst we were engaged in the above conversation a servant enters, and says, “My lord, Jenkins and the other man is going back to Newcome in their cart,” and is there anything wanted?”
“It is the Heaven which sends him,” says Florac, turning round to me with a laugh; “make Jenkins to wait five minutes, Robert; I have to write to a gentleman at the King’s Arms.” And so saying, Florac wrote a line which he showed me, and having sealed the note, directed it to Mr. Harris at the King’s Arms. The cart, the note, and the assistant waiters departed on their way to Newcome. Florac bade me go to rest with a clear conscience. In truth, the warning was better given in that way than any other, and a word from Florac was more likely to be effectual than an expostulation from me. I had never thought of making it, perhaps; except at the expressed desire of a lady whose counsel in all the difficult circumstances of life I own I am disposed to take.
Mr. Jenkins’s horse no doubt trotted at a very brisk pace, as gentlemen’s horses will of a frosty night, after their masters have been regaled with plentiful supplies of wine and ale. I remember in my bachelor days that my horses always trotted quicker after I had had a good dinner; the champagne used to communicate itself to them somehow, and the claret get into their heels. Before midnight the letter for Mr. Harris was in Mr. Harris’s hands in the King’s Arms.
It has been said that in the Boscawen Room at the Arms, some of the jolly fellows of Newcome had a club, of which Parrot the auctioneer, Tom Potts the talented reporter, now editor of the Independent, Vidler the apothecary, and other gentlemen, were members.
When we first had occasion to mention that society, it was at an early stage of this history, long before Clive Newcome’s fine moustache had grown. If Vidler the apothecary was old and infirm then, he is near ten years older now; he has had various assistants, of course, and one of them of late years had his become his partner, though the firm continues to be known by Viller’s ancient and respectable name. A jovial fellow was this partner — a capital convivial member of the Jolly Britons, where he used to sit very late, so as to be in readiness for any night-work that might come in.
So the Britons were all sitting, smoking, drinking, and making merry, in the Boscawen Room, when Jenkins enters with a note, which he straightway delivers to Mr. Vidler’s partner. “From Rosebury? The Princess ill again, I suppose,” says the surgeon, not sorry to let the company know that he attends her. “I wish the old girl would be ill in the daytime. Confound it,” says he, “what’s this ——” and he reads out, “‘Sir Newcome est de retour. Bon voyage, mon ami. — F.’ What does this mean?”
“I thought you knew French, Jack Harris,” says Tom Potts; “you’re always bothering us with your French songs.”
“Of course I know French,” says the other; “but what’s the meaning of this?”
“Screwcome came back by the five o’clock train. I was in it, and his royal highness would scarcely speak to me. Took Brown’s fly from the station. Brown won’t enrich his family much by the operation,” says Mr. Potts.
“But what do I care?” cries Jack Harris; “we don’t attend him, and we don’t lose much by that. Howell attends him, ever since Vidler and he had that row.”
“Hulloh! I say, it’s a mistake,” cries Mr. Taplow, smoking in his chair. “This letter is for the party in the Benbow. The gent which the Prince spoke to him, and called him Jack the other day when he was here. Here’s a nice business, and the seal broke, and all. Is the Benbow party gone to bed? John, you must carry him in this here note.” John, quite innocent of the note and its contents, for he that moment had entered the clubroom with Mr. Potts’s supper, took the note to the Benbow, from which he presently returned to his master with a very scared countenance. He said the gent in the Benbow was a most harbitrary gent. He had almost choked John after reading the letter, and John wouldn’t stand it; and when John said he supposed that Mr. Harris in the Boscawen — that Mr. Jack Harris, had opened the letter, the other gent cursed and swore awful.
“Potts,” said Taplow, who was only too communicative on some occasions after he had imbibed too much of his own brandy-and-water, “it’s my belief that that party’s name is no more Harris than mine is. I have sent his linen to the wash, and there was two white pocket-handkerchiefs with H. and a coronet.”
On the next day we drove over to Newcome, hoping perhaps to find that Lord Highgate had taken the warning sent to him and quitted the place. But we were disappointed. He was walking in front of the hotel, where a thousand persons might see him as well as ourselves.
We entered into his private apartment with him, and there expostulated upon his appearance in the public street, where Barnes Newcome or any passer-by might recognise him. He then told us of the mishap which had befallen Florac’s letter on the previous night.
“I can’t go away now, whatever might have happened previously: by this time that villain knows that I am here. If I go, he will say I was afraid of him, and ran away. Oh, how I wish he would come and find me!” He broke out with a savage laugh.
“It is best to run away,” one of us interposed sadly.
“Pendennis,” he said with a tone of great softness, “your wife is a good woman. God bless her! God bless her for all she has said and done — would have done, if that villain had let her! Do you know the poor thing hasn’t a single friend in the world, not one, one — except me, and that girl they are selling to Farintosh, and who does not count for much. He has driven away all her friends from her: one and all turn upon her. Her relations, of course; when did they ever fail to hit a poor fellow or a poor girl when she was down? The poor angel! The mother who sold her comes and preaches at her; Kew’s wife turns up her little cursed nose and scorns her; Rooster, forsooth, must ride high the horse, now he is married and lives at Chanticlere, and give her warning to avoid my company or his! Do you know the only friend she ever had was that old woman with the stick — old Kew; the old witch whom they buried four months ago after nobbling her money for the beauty of the family? She used to protect her — that old woman; heaven bless her for it, wherever she is now, the old hag — a good word won’t do her any harm. Ha! ha!” His laughter was cruel to hear.
“Why did I come down?” he continued in reply to our sad queries. “Why did I come down, do you ask? Because she was wretched, and sent for me. Because if I was at the end of the world, and she was to say, ‘Jack, come!’ I’d come.”
“And if she bade you go?” asked his friends.
“I would go; and I have gone. If she told me to jump into the sea, do you think I would not do it? But I go; and when she is alone with him, do you know what he does? He strikes her. Strikes that poor little thing! He has owned to it. She fled from him and sheltered with the old woman who’s dead. He may be doing it now. Why did I ever shake hands with him? that’s humiliation sufficient, isn’t it? But she wished it; and I’d black his boots, curse him, if she told me. And because he wanted to keep my money in his confounded bank; and because he knew he might rely upon my honour and hers, poor dear child, he chooses to shake hands with me — me, whom he hates worse than a thousand devils — and quite right too. Why isn’t there a place where we can go and meet, like man to man, and have it over! If I had a ball through my brains I shouldn’t mind, I tell you. I’ve a mind to do it for myself, Pendennis. You don’t understand me, Viscount.”
“Il est vrai,” said Florac, with a shrug, “I comprehend neither the suicide nor the chaise-de-poste. What will you? I am not yet enough English, my friend. We make marriages of convenance in our country, que diable, and what follows follows; but no scandal afterwards! Do not adopt our institutions a demi, my friend. Vous ne me comprenez pas non plus, men pauvre Jack!”
“There is one way still, I think,” said the third of the speakers in this scene. “Let Lord Highgate come to Rosebury in his own name, leaving that of Mr. Harris behind him. If Sir Barnes Newcome wants you, he can seek you there. If you will go, as go you should, and God speed you, you can go, and in your own name, too.”
“Parbleu, c’est ca,” cries Florac, “he speaks like a book — the romancier!” I confess, for my part, I thought that a good woman might plead with him, and touch that manly not disloyal heart now trembling on the awful balance between evil and good.
“Allons! let us make to come the drague!” cries Florac. “Jack, thou returnest with us, my friend! Madame Pendennis, an angel, my friend, a quakre the most charming, shall roucoule to thee the sweetest sermons. My wife shall tend thee like a mother — a grandmother. Go make thy packet!”
Lord Highgate was very much pleased and relieved seemingly. He shook our hands, he said he should never forget our kindness, never! In truth, the didactic part of our conversation was carried on at much greater length than as here noted down: and he would come that evening, but not with us, thank you; he had a particular engagement, some letters he must write. Those done, he would not fail us, and would be at Rosebury by dinner-time.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00