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Our characters are all a month older than they were when the last-described adventures and conversations occurred, and a great number of the personages of our story have chanced to reassemble at the little country town where we were first introduced to them. Frederic Lightfoot, formerly maitre d'hotel in the service of Sir Francis Clavering, of Clavering Park, Bart., has begged leave to inform the nobility and gentry of ----shire that he has taken that well-known and comfortable hotel, the Clavering Arms, in Clavering, where he hopes for the continued patronage of the gentlemen and families of the county. "This ancient and well-established house," Mr. Lightfoot's manifesto states, "has been repaired and decorated in a style of the greatest comfort. Gentlemen hunting with the Dumplingbeare hounds will find excellent stabling and loose-boxes for horses at the Clavering Arms. A commodious billiard-room has been attached to the hotel, and the cellars have been furnished with the choicest wines and spirits, selected, without regard to expense, by C. L. Commercial gentlemen will find the Clavering Arms a most comfortable place of resort: and the scale of charges has been regulated for all, so as to meet the economical spirit of the present times."
Indeed, there is a considerable air of liveliness about the old inn. The Clavering arms have been splendidly repainted over the gateway. The coffee-room windows are bright and fresh, and decorated with Christmas holly; the magistrates have met in petty sessions in the card-room of the old Assembly. The farmers' ordinary is held as of old, and frequented by increased numbers, who are pleased with Mrs. Lightfoot's cuisine. Her Indian curries and Mulligatawny soup are especially popular: Major Stokes, the respected tenant of Fairoaks Cottage, Captain Glanders, H.P., and other resident gentry, have pronounced in their favour, and have partaken of them more than once both in private and at the dinner of the Clavering Institute, attendant on the incorporation of the reading-room, and when the chief inhabitants of that flourishing little town met together and did justice to the hostess's excellent cheer. The chair was taken by Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., supported by the esteemed rector, Dr. Portman; the vice chair being ably filled by Barker, Esq. (supported by the Rev. J. Simcoe and the Rev. S. Jowls), the enterprising head of the ribbon factory in Clavering, and chief director of the Clavering and Chatteris Branch of the Great Western Railway, which will be opened in another year, and upon the works of which the engineers and workmen are now busily engaged.
"An interesting event, which is likely to take place in the life of our talented townsman, Arthur Pendennis, Esq., has, we understand, caused him to relinquish the intentions which he had of offering himself as a candidate for our borough: and rumour whispers" (says the Chatteris Champion, Clavering Agriculturist, and Baymouth Fisherman,--that independent county paper, so distinguished for its unswerving principles and loyalty to the British oak, and so eligible a medium for advertisements)--rumour states, says the C. C. C. A. and B. F., "that should Sir Francis Clavering's failing health oblige him to relinquish his seat in Parliament, he will vacate it in favour of a young gentleman of colossal fortune and related to the highest aristocracy of the empire, who is about to contract a matrimonial alliance with an accomplished and lovely lady, connected by the nearest ties with the respected family at Clavering Park. Lady Clavering and Miss Amory have arrived at the Park for the Christmas holidays; and we understand that a large number of the aristocracy are expected, and that festivities of a peculiarly interesting nature will take place there at the commencement of the new year."
The ingenious reader will be enabled, by the help of the above announcement, to understand what has taken place during the little break which has occurred in our narrative. Although Lady Rockminster grumbled a little at Laura's preference for Pendennis over Bluebeard, those who are aware of the latter's secret will understand that the young girl could make no other choice, and the kind old lady who had constituted herself Miss Bell's guardian was not ill pleased that she was to fulfil the great purpose in life of young ladies and marry. She informed her maid of the interesting event that very night, and of course Mrs. Beck, who was perfectly aware of every single circumstance, and kept by Martha, of Fairoaks, in the fullest knowledge of what was passing, was immensely surprised and delighted. "Mr. Pendennis's income is so much; the railroad will give him so much more, he states; Miss Bell has so much, and may probably have a little more one day. For persons in their degree, they will be able to manage very well. And I shall speak to my nephew Pynsent, who I suspect was once rather attached to her,--but of course that was out of the question ('Oh! of course, my lady; I should think so indeed!')--not that you know anything whatever about it, or have any business to think at all on the subject,--I shall speak to George Pynsent, who is now chief secretary of the Tape and Sealing Wax Office, and have Mr. Pendennis made something. And, Beck, in the morning you will carry down my compliments to Major Pendennis, and say that I shall pay him a visit at one o'clock."--"Yes," muttered the old lady, "the Major must be reconciled, and he must leave his fortune to Laura's children."
Accordingly, at one o'clock, the Dowager Lady Rockminster appeared at Major Pendennis's, who was delighted, as may be imagined, to receive so noble a visitor. The Major had been prepared, if not for the news which her Ladyship was about to give him, at least with the intelligence that Pen's marriage with Miss Amory was broken off. The young gentleman bethinking him of his uncle, for the first time that day it must be owned, and meeting his new servant in the hall of the hotel, asked after the Major's health from Mr. Frosch; and then went into the coffee-room of the hotel, where he wrote a half-dozen lines to acquaint his guardian with what had occurred. "Dear uncle," he said, "if there has been any question between us, it is over now. I went to Tunbridge Wells yesterday, and found that somebody else had carried off the prize about which we were hesitating. Miss A., without any compunction for me, has bestowed herself upon Harry Foker, with his fifteen thousand a year. I came in suddenly upon their loves, and found and left him in possession.
"And you'll be glad to hear, Tatham writes me, that he has sold three of my fields at Fairoaks to the Railroad Company, at a great figure. I will tell you this, and more when we meet; and am always your affectionate, --A. P."
"I think I am aware of what you were about to tell me," the Major said, with a most courtly smile and bow to Pen's ambassadress. "It was a very great kindness of your Ladyship to think of bringing me the news. How well you look! How very good you are! How very kind you have always been to that young man!"
"It was for the sake of his uncle," said Lady Rockminster, most politely.
"He has informed me of the state of affairs, and written me a nice note, --yes, a nice note," continued the old gentleman; "and I find he has had an increase to his fortune,--yes; and, all things considered, I don't much regret that this affair with Miss Amory is manquee, though I wished for it once, in fact, all things considered, I am very glad of it."
"We must console him, Major Pendennis," continued the lady; "we must get him a wife." The truth then came across the Major's mind, and he saw for what purpose Lady Rockminster had chosen to assume the office of ambassadress.
It is not necessary to enter into the conversation which ensued, or to tell at any length how her Ladyship concluded a negotiation which, in truth, was tolerably easy. There could be no reason why Pen should not marry according to his own and his mother's wish; and as for Lady Rockminster, she supported the marriage by intimations which had very great weight with the Major, but of which we shall say nothing, as her ladyship (now, of course, much advanced in years) is still alive, and the family might be angry; and, in fine, the old gentleman was quite overcome by the determined graciousness of the lady, and her fondness for Laura. Nothing, indeed, could be more bland and kind than Lady Rockminster's whole demeanour, except for one moment when the Major talked about his boy throwing himself away, at which her ladyship broke out into a little speech, in which she made the Major understand, what poor Pen and his friends acknowledge very humbly, that Laura was a thousand times too good for him. Laura was fit to be the wife of a king,--Laura was a paragon of virtue and excellence. And it must be said, that when Major Pendennis found that a lady of the rank of the Countess of Rockminster seriously admired Miss Bell, he instantly began to admire her himself.
So that when Herr Frosch was requested to walk upstairs to Lady Rockminster's apartments, and inform Miss Bell and Mr. Arthur Pendennis that the Major would receive them, and Laura appeared blushing and happy as she hung on Pen's arm, the Major gave a shaky hand to one and the other, with unaffected emotion and cordiality, and then went through another salutation to Laura, which caused her to blush still more. Happy blushes! bright eyes beaming with the light of love! The story-teller turns from this group to his young audience, and hopes that one day their eyes may all shine so.
Pen having retreated in the most friendly manner, and the lovely Blanche having bestowed her young affections upon a blushing bridegroom with fifteen thousand a year, there was such an outbreak of happiness in Lady Clavering's heart and family as the good Begum had not known for many a year, and she and Blanche were on the most delightful terms of cordiality and affection. The ardent Foker pressed onwards the happy day, and was as anxious as might be expected to abridge the period of mourning which had put him in possession of so many charms and amiable qualities, of which he had been only, as it were, the heir-apparent, not the actual owner, until then. The gentle Blanche, everything that her affianced lord could desire, was not averse to gratify the wishes of her fond Henry. Lady Clavering came up from Tunbridge. Milliners and jewellers were set to work and engaged to prepare the delightful paraphernalia of Hymen. Lady Clavering was in such a good humour, that Sir Francis even benefited by it, and such a reconciliation was effected between this pair, that Sir Francis came to London, sate at the head of his own table once more, and appeared tolerably flush of money at his billiard-rooms and gambling-houses again. One day, when Major Pendennis and Arthur went to dine in Grosvenor Place, they found an old acquaintance established in the quality of major-domo, and the gentleman in black, who, with perfect politeness and gravity, offered them their choice of sweet or dry champagne, was no other than Mr. James Morgan. The Chevalier Strong was one of the party; he was in high spirits and condition, and entertained the company with accounts of his amusements abroad.
"It was my Lady who invited me," said Strong to Arthur, under his voice-- "that fellow Morgan looked as black as thunder when I came in. He is about no good here. I will go away first, and wait for you and Major Pendennis at Hyde Park Gate."
Mr. Morgan helped Major Pendennis to his great-coat when he was quitting the house; and muttered something about having accepted a temporary engagement with the Clavering family.
"I have got a paper of yours, Mr. Morgan," said the old gentleman.
"Which you can show, if you please, to Sir Francis, sir, and perfectly welcome," said Mr. Morgan, with downcast eyes. "I'm very much obliged to you, Major Pendennis, and if I can pay you for all your kindness I will."
Arthur overheard the sentence, and saw the look of hatred which accompanied it, suddenly cried out that he had forgotten his handkerchief, and ran upstairs to the drawing-room again. Foker was still there; still lingering about his siren. Pen gave the siren a look full of meaning, and we suppose that the siren understood meaning looks, for when, after finding the veracious handkerchief of which he came in quest, he once more went out, the siren, with a laughing voice, said, "Oh, Arthur--Mr. Pendennis--I want you to tell dear Laura something!" and she came out to the door.
"What is it?" she asked, shutting the door.
"Have you told Harry? Do you know that villain Morgan knows all?"
"I know it," she said.
"Have you told Harry?"
"No, no," she said. "You won't betray me?"
"Morgan will," said Pen.
"No, he won't," said Blanche. "I have promised him--n'importe. Wait until after our marriage--Oh, until after our marriage--Oh, how wretched I am," said the girl, who had been all smiles, and grace, and gaiety during the evening.
Arthur said, "I beg and implore you to tell Harry. Tell him now. It is no fault of yours. He will pardon you anything. Tell him to-night."
"And give her this--Il est la--with my love, please; and I beg your pardon for calling you back; and if she will be at Madame Crinoline's at half-past three, and if Lady Rockminster can spare her, I should so like to drive with her in the park;" and she went in, singing and kissing her little hand, as Morgan the velvet-footed came up the carpeted stair.
Pen heard Blanche's piano breaking out into brilliant music as he went down to join his uncle; and they walked away together. Arthur briefly told him what he had done. "What was to be done?" he asked.
"What is to be done, begad?" said the old gentleman. "What is to be done but to leave it alone? Begad, let us be thankful," said the old fellow, with a shudder, "that we are out of the business, and leave it to those it concerns."
"I hope to Heaven she'll tell him," said Pen.
"Begad, she'll take her own course," said the old man. "Miss Amory is a dev'lish wide-awake girl, sir, and must play her own cards; and I'm doosid glad you are out of it--doosid glad, begad. Who's this smoking? Oh, it's Mr. Strong again. He wants to put in his oar, I suppose. I tell you, don't meddle in the business, Arthur."
Strong began once or twice, as if to converse upon the subject, but the Major would not hear a word. He remarked on the moonlight on Apsley House, the weather, the cabstands--anything but that subject. He bowed stiffly to Strong, and clung to his nephew's arm, as he turned down St. James's Street, and again cautioned Pen to leave the affair alone. "It had like to have cost you so much, sir, that you may take my advice," he said.
When Arthur came out of the hotel, Strong's cloak and cigar were visible a few doors off. The jolly Chevalier laughed as they met. "I'm an old soldier, too," he said. "I wanted to talk to you, Pendennis. I have heard of all that has happened, and all the chops and changes that have taken place during my absence. I congratulate you on your marriage, and I congratulate you on your escape, too,--you understand me. It was not my business to speak, but I know this, that a certain party is as arrant a little--well--well, never mind what. You acted like a man and a trump, and are well out of it."
"I have no reason to complain," said Pen. "I went back to beg and entreat poor Blanche to tell Foker all: I hope, for her sake, she will; but I fear not. There is but one policy, Strong, there is but one."
"And lucky he that can stick to it," said the Chevalier. "That rascal Morgan means mischief. He has been lurking about our chambers for the last two months: he has found out that poor mad devil Amory's secret. He has been trying to discover where he was: he has been pumping Mr. Bolton, and making old Costigan drunk several times. He bribed the Inn porter to tell him when we came back: and he has got into Clavering's service on the strength of his information. He will get very good pay for it, mark my words, the villain."
"Where is Amory?" asked Pen.
"At Boulogne, I believe. I left him there, and warned him not to come back. I have broken with him, after a desperate quarrel, such as one might have expected with such a madman. And I'm glad to think that he is in my debt now, and that I have been the means of keeping him out of more harms than one."
"He has lost all his winnings, I suppose," said Pen.
"No: he is rather better than when he went away, or was a fortnight ago. He had extraordinary luck at Baden: broke the bank several nights, and was the fable of the place. He lied himself there with a fellow by the name of Bloundell, who gathered about him a society of all sorts of sharpers, male and female, Russians, Germans, French, English. Amory got so insolent, that I was obliged to thrash him one day within an inch of his life. I couldn't help myself; the fellow has plenty of pluck, and I had nothing for it but to hit out."
"And did he call you out?" said Pen.
"You think if I had shot him I should have done nobody any harm? No, sir; I waited for his challenge, but it never came and the next time I met him he begged my pardon, and said, 'Strong, I beg your pardon; you whopped me and you served me right.' I shook hands: but I couldn't live with him after that. I paid him what I owed him the night before," said Strong with a blush, "I pawned everything to pay him, and then I went with my last ten florins, and had a shy at the roulette. If I had lost, I should have let him shoot me in the morning. I was weary of my life. By Jove, sir, isn't it a shame that a man like me, who may have had a few bills out, but who never deserted a friend, or did an unfair action, shouldn't be able to turn his hand to anything to get bread? I made a good night, sir, at roulette, and I've done with that. I'm going into the wine business. My wife's relations live at Cadiz. I intend to bring over Spanish wine and hams; there's a fortune to be made by it, sir,--a fortune--here's my card. If you want any sherry or hams, recollect Ned Strong is your man." And the Chevalier pulled out a handsome card, stating that Strong and Company, Shepherd's Inn, were sole agents of the celebrated Diamond Manzanilla of the Duke of Garbanzos, Grandee of Spain of the First Class; and of the famous Toboso hams, fed on acorns only in the country of Don Quixote. "Come and taste 'em, sir,--come and try 'em at my chambers. You see, I've an eye to business, and by Jove this time I'll succeed."
Pen laughed as he took the card. "I don't know whether I shall be allowed to go to bachelors' parties," he said. "You know I'm going to----"
"But you must have sherry, sir. You must have sherry."
"I will have it from you, depend on it," said the other. "And I think you are very well out of your other partnership. That worthy Altamont and his daughter correspond, I hear," Pen added after a pause.
"Yes; she wrote him the longest rigmarole letters, that I used to read: the sly little devil; and he answered under cover to Mrs. Bonner. He was for carrying her off the first day or two, and nothing would content him but having back his child. But she didn't want to come, as you may fancy; and he was not very eager about it." Here the Chevalier burst out in a laugh. "Why, sir, do you know what was the cause of our quarrel and boxing match? There was a certain widow at Baden, a Madame la Baronne de la Cruche-cassee, who was not much better than himself, and whom the scoundrel wanted to marry; and would, but that I told her he was married already. I don't think that she was much better than he was. I saw her on the pier at Boulogne the day I came to England."
And now we have brought up our narrative to the point, whither the announcement in the Chatteris Champion had already conducted us.
It wanted but very, very few days before that blissful one when Foker should call Blanche his own; the Clavering folks had all pressed to see the most splendid new carriage in the whole world, which was standing in the coach-house at the Clavering Arms; and shown, in grateful return for drink, commonly, by Mr. Foker's head-coachman. Madame Fribsby was occupied in making some lovely dresses for the tenants' daughters, who were to figure as a sort of bridesmaids' chorus at the breakfast and marriage ceremony. And immense festivities were to take place at the Park upon this delightful occasion.
"Yes, Mr. Huxter, yes; a happy tenantry, its country's pride, will assemble in the baronial hall, where the beards will wag all. The ox shall be slain, and the cup they'll drain; and the bells shall peal quite genteel; and my father-in-law, with the tear of sensibility bedewing his eye, shall bless us at his baronial porch. That shall be the order of proceedings, I think, Mr. Huxter; and I hope we shall see you and your lovely bride by her husband's side; and what will you please to drink, sir? Mrs. Lightfoot, madam, you will give to my excellent friend and body-surgeon, Mr. Huxter, Mr. Samuel Huxter, M.R.C.S., every refreshment that your hostel affords, and place the festive amount to my account; and Mr. Lightfoot, sir, what will you take? though you've had enough already, I think; yes, ha."
So spoke Harry Foker in the bar of the Clavering Arms. He had apartments at that hotel, and had gathered a circle of friends round him there. He treated all to drink who came. He was hail-fellow with every man. He was so happy! He danced round Madame Fribsby, Mrs. Lightfoot's great ally, as she sate pensive in the bar. He consoled Mrs. Lightfoot, who had already begun to have causes of matrimonial disquiet; for the truth must be told, that young Lightfoot, having now the full command of the cellar, had none over his own unbridled desires, and was tippling and tipsy from morning till night. And a piteous sight it was for his fond wife to behold the big youth reeling about the yard and coffee-room, or drinking with the farmers and tradesmen his own neat wines and carefully selected stock of spirits.
When he could find time, Mr. Morgan the butler came from the Park, and took a glass at the expense of the landlord of the Clavering Arms. He watched poor Lightfoot's tipsy vagaries with savage sneers. Mrs. Lightfoot felt always doubly uncomfortable when her unhappy spouse was under his comrade's eye. But a few months married, and to think he had got to this! Madame Fribsby could feel for her. Madame Fribsby could tell her stories of men every bit as bad. She had had her own woes too, and her sad experience of men. So it is that nobody seems happy altogether; and that there's bitters, as Mr. Foker remarked, in the cup of every man's life. And yet there did not seem to be any in his, the honest young fellow! It was brimming over with happiness and good-humour.
Mr. Morgan was constant in his attentions to Foker. "And yet I don't like him somehow," said the candid young man to Mrs. Lightfoot. "He always seems as if he was measuring me for my coffin somehow. Pa-in-law's afraid of him; pa-in-law's," ahem! never mind, but ma-in-law's a trump, Mrs. Lightfoot."
"Indeed my Lady was," and Mrs. Lightfoot owned, with a sigh, that perhaps it had been better for her had she never left her mistress.
"No, I do not like thee, Dr. Fell; the reason why I cannot tell," continued Mr. Foker; "and he wants to be taken as my head man. Blanche wants me to take him. Why does Miss Amory like him so?"
"Did Miss Blanche like him so?" The notion seemed to disturb Mrs. Lightfoot very much; and there came to this worthy landlady another cause for disturbance. A letter, bearing the Boulogne postmark, was brought to her one morning, and she and her husband were quarrelling over it as Foker passed down the stairs by the bar, on his way to the Park. His custom was to breakfast there, and bask a while in the presence of Armida; then, as the company of Clavering tired him exceedingly, and he did not care for sporting, he would return for an hour or two to billiards and the society of the Clavering Arms; then it would be time to ride with Miss Amory, and, after dining with her, he left her and returned modestly to his inn.
Lightfoot and his wife were quarrelling over the letter. What was that letter from abroad? Why was she always having letters from abroad? Who wrote 'em?--he would know. He didn't believe it was her brother. It was no business of his? It was a business of his; and, with a curse, he seized hold of his wife, and dashed at her pocket for the letter.
The poor woman gave a scream; and said, "Well, take it." Just as her husband seized on the letter, and Mr. Foker entered at the door, she gave another scream at seeing him, and once more tried to seize the paper. Lightfoot opened it, shaking her away, and an enclosure dropped down on the breakfast-table.
"Hands off, man alive!" cried little Harry, springing in. "Don't lay hands on a woman, sir. The man that lays his hand upon a woman, save in the way of kindness, is a--hallo! it's a letter for Miss Amory. What's this, Mrs. Lightfoot?"
Mrs. Lightfoot began, in piteous tones of reproach to her husband,--"You unmanly! to treat a woman so who took you off the street. Oh, you coward, to lay your hand upon your wife! Why did I marry you? Why did I leave my Lady for you? Why did I spend eight hundred pound in fitting up this house that you might drink and guzzle?"
"She gets letters, and she won't tell me who writes letters," said Mr. Lightfoot, with a muzzy voice; "it's a family affair, sir. Will you take anything, sir?"
"I will take this letter to Miss Amory, as I am going to the Park," said Foker, turning very pale; and taking it up from the table, which was arranged for the poor landlady's breakfast, he went away.
"He's comin'--dammy, who's a-comin'? Who's J. A., Mrs. Lightfoot--curse me, who's J. A.?" cried the husband.
Mrs. Lightfoot cried out, "Be quiet, you tipsy brute, do," and running to her bonnet and shawl, threw them on, saw Mr. Foker walking down the street, took the by-lane which skirts it, and ran as quickly as she could to the lodge-gate, Clavering Park. Foker saw a running figure before him, but it was lost when he got to the lodge-gate. He stopped and asked, "Who was that who had just come in? Mrs. Bonner, was it?" He reeled almost in his walk: the trees swam before him. He rested once or twice against the trunks of the naked limes.
Lady Clavering was in the breakfast-room with her son, and her husband yawning over his paper. "Good morning, Harry," said the Begum. "Here's letters, lots of letters; Lady Rockminster will be here on Tuesday instead of Monday, and Arthur and the Major come to-day; and Laura is to go to Dr. Portman's, and come to church from there: and--what's the matter, my dear? What makes you so pale, Harry?"
"Where is Blanche!" asked Harry, in a sickening voice--"not down yet?"
"Blanche is always the last," said the boy, eating muffins; "she's a regular dawdle, she is. When you're not here, she lays in bed till lunch-time."
"Be quiet, Frank," said the mother.
Blanche came down presently, looking pale, and with rather an eager look towards Foker; then she advanced and kissed her mother, and had a face beaming with her very best smiles on when she greeted Harry.
"How do you do, sir?" she said, and put out both her hands.
"I'm ill," answered Harry. "I--I've brought a letter for you, Blanche."
"A letter, and from whom is it, pray? Voyons," she said.
"I don't know--I should like to know," said Foker.
"How can I tell until I see it?" asked Blanche.
"Has Mrs. Bonner not told you?" he said, with a shaking voice;--"there's some secret. You give her the letter, Lady Clavering."
Lady Clavering, wondering, took the letter from poor Foker's shaking hand, and looked at the superscription. As she looked at it, she too began to shake in every limb, and with a scared face she dropped the letter, and running up to Frank, clutched the boy to her, and burst out with a sob--"Take that away--it's impossible, it's impossible."
"What is the matter?" cried Blanche, with rather a ghastly smile; "the letter is only from--from a poor pensioner and relative of ours."
"It's not true, it's not true," screamed Lady Clavering. "No, my Frank-- is it, Clavering?"
Blanche had taken up the letter, and was moving with it towards the fire, but Foker ran to her and clutched her arm--"I must see that letter," he said; "give it me. You shan't burn it."
"You--you shall not treat Miss Amory so in my house," cried the Baronet; "give back the letter, by Jove!"
"Read it--and look at her," Blanche cried, pointing to her mother; "it-- it was for her I kept the secret! Read it, cruel man!"
And Foker opened and read the letter:--
"I have not wrote, my darling Betsy, this three weeks; but this is to give her a father's blessing, and I shall come down pretty soon as quick as my note, and intend to see the ceremony, and my son-in-law. I shall put up at Bonner's. I have had a pleasant autumn, and am staying here at an hotel where there is good company, and which is kep' in good style. I don't know whether I quite approve of your throwing over Mr. P. for Mr. F., and don't think Foker's such a pretty name, and from your account of him he seems a muff, and not a beauty. But he has got the rowdy, which is the thing.
So no more, my dear little Betsy, till we meet, from your
J. Amory Altamont."
"Read it, Lady Clavering; it is too late to keep it from you now," said poor Foker; and the distracted woman, having cast her eyes over it, again broke out into hysterical screams, and convulsively grasped her son.
"They have made an outcast of you, my boy," she said. "They've dishonoured your old mother; but I'm innocent, Frank; before God, I'm innocent. I didn't know this, Mr. Foker; indeed, indeed, I didn't."
"I'm sure you didn't," said Foker, going up and kissing her hand.
"Generous, generous Harry!" cried out Blanche, in an ecstasy. But he withdrew his hand, which was upon her side, and turned from her with a quivering lip. "That's different," he says.
"It was for her sake--for her sake, Harry." Again Miss Amory is in an attitude.
"There was something to be done for mine," said Foker. "I would have taken you, whatever you were. Everything's talked about in London. I knew that your father had come to--to grief. You don't think it was--it was for your connexion I married you? D--- it all! I've loved you with all my heart and soul for two years, and you've been playing with me, and cheating me," broke out the young man, with a cry. "Oh, Blanche, Blanche, it's a hard thing, a hard thing!" and he covered his face with his hands, and sobbed behind them.
Blanche thought, "Why didn't I tell him that night when Arthur warned me?"
"Don't refuse her, Harry," cried out Lady Clavering. "Take her, take everything I have. It's all hers, you know, at my death. This boy's disinherited."--(Master Frank, who had been looking as scared at the strange scene, here burst into a loud cry.) "Take every shilling. Give me just enough to live, and to go and hide my head with this child, and to fly from both. Oh, they've both been bad, bad men. Perhaps he's here now. Don't let me see him. Clavering, you coward, defend me from him."
Clavering started up at this proposal. "You ain't serious, Jemima? You don't mean that?" he said. "You won't throw me and Frank over? I didn't know it, so help me ---. Foker, I'd no more idea of it than the dead-- until the fellow came and found me out, the d----d escaped convict scoundrel."
"The what?" said Foker. Blanche gave a scream.
"Yes," screamed out the Baronet in his turn, "yes, a d----d runaway convict--a fellow that forged his father-in-law's name--a d----d attorney, and killed a fellow in Botany Bay, hang him--and ran into the Bush, curse him; I wish he'd died there. And he came to me, a good six years ago, and robbed me; and I've been ruining myself to keep him, the infernal scoundrel! And Pendennis knows it, and Strong knows it, and that d----d Morgan knows it, and she knows it, ever so long; and I never would tell it, never: and I kept it from my wife."
"And you saw him, and you didn't kill him, Clavering, you coward?" said the wife of Amory. "Come away, Frank; your father's a coward. I am dishonoured, but I'm your old mother, and you'll--you'll love me, won't you?"
Blanche, eploree, went up to her mother; but Lady Clavering shrank from her with a sort of terror. "Don't touch me," she said; "you've no heart; you never had. I see all now. I see why that coward was going to give up his place in Parliament to Arthur; yes, that coward! and why you threatened that you would make me give you half Frank's fortune. And when Arthur offered to marry you without a shilling, because he wouldn't rob my boy, you left him, and you took poor Harry. Have nothing to do with her, Harry. You're good, you are. Don't marry that--that convict's daughter. Come away, Frank, my darling; come to your poor old mother. We'll hide ourselves; but we're honest, yes, we are honest."
All this while a strange feeling of exultation had taken possession of Blanche's mind. That month with poor Harry had been a weary month to her. All his fortune and splendour scarcely sufficed to make the idea of himself supportable. She was wearied of his simple ways, and sick of coaxing and cajoling him.
"Stay, mamma; stay, madam!" she cried out, with a gesture which was always appropriate, though rather theatrical; "I have no heart, have I? I keep the secret of my mother's shame. I give up my rights to my half-brother and my bastard brother, yes, my rights and my fortune. I don't betray my father, and for this I have no heart. I'll have my rights now, and the laws of my country shall give them to me. I appeal to my country's laws--yes, my country's laws! The persecuted one returns this day. I desire to go to my father." And the little lady swept round her hand, and thought that she was a heroine.
"You will, will you?" cried out Clavering, with one of his usual oaths. "I'm a magistrate, and dammy, I'll commit him. Here's a chaise coming; perhaps it's him. Let him come."
A chaise was indeed coming up the avenue; and the two women shrieked each their loudest, expecting at that moment to see Altamont arrive.
The door opened, and Mr. Morgan announced Major Pendennis and Mr. Pendennis, who entered, and found all parties engaged in this fierce quarrel. A large screen fenced the breakfast-room from the hall; and it is probable that, according to his custom, Mr. Morgan had taken advantage of the screen to make himself acquainted with all that occurred.
It had been arranged on the previous day that the young people should ride; and at the appointed hour in the afternoon, Mr. Foker's horses arrived from the Clavering Arms. But Miss Blanche did not accompany him on this occasion. Pen came out and shook hands with him on the door-steps; and Harry Foker rode away, followed by his groom in mourning. The whole transactions which have occupied the most active part of our history were debated by the parties concerned during those two or three hours. Many counsels had been given, stories told, and compromises suggested; and at the end, Harry Foker rode away, with a sad "God bless you!" from Pen. There was a dreary dinner at Clavering Park, at which the lately installed butler did not attend; and the ladies were both absent. After dinner, Pen said, "I will walk down to Clavering and see if he is come." And he walked through the dark avenue, across the bridge and road by his own cottage,--the once quiet and familiar fields of which were flaming with the kilns and forges of the artificers employed on the new railroad works; and so he entered the town, and made for the Clavering Arms.
It was past midnight when he returned to Clavering Park. He was exceedingly pale and agitated. "Is Lady Clavering up yet?" he asked. Yes, she was in her own sitting-room. He went up to her, and there found the poor lady in a piteous state of tears and agitation.
"It is I,--Arthur," he said, looking in; and entering, he took her hand very affectionately and kissed it. "You were always the kindest of friends to me, dear Lady Clavering," he said. "I love you very much. I have got some news for you."
"Don't call me by that name," she said, pressing his hand. "You were always a good boy, Arthur; and it's kind of you to come now,--very kind. You sometimes look very like your ma, my dear."
"Dear good Lady Clavering," Arthur repeated, with particular emphasis, "something very strange has happened."
"Has anything happened to him?" gasped Lady Clavering. "Oh, it's horrid to think I should be glad of it--horrid!"
"He is well. He has been and is gone, my dear lady. Don't alarm yourself;--he is gone, and you are Lady Clavering still."
"Is it true? what he sometimes said to me," she screamed out,-- "that he----"
"He was married before he married you," said Pen. "He has confessed it to-night. He will never come back." There came another shriek from Lady Clavering, as she flung her arms round Pen, and kissed him, and burst into tears on his shoulder.
What Pen had to tell, through a multiplicity of sobs and interruptions, must be compressed briefly, for behold our prescribed limit is reached, and our tale is coming to its end. With the Branch Coach from the railroad, which had succeeded the old Alacrity and Perseverance, Amory arrived, and was set down at the Clavering Arms. He ordered his dinner at the place under his assumed name of Altamont; and, being of a jovial turn, he welcomed the landlord, who was nothing loth, to a share of his wine. Having extracted from Mr. Lightfoot all the news regarding the family at the Park, and found, from examining his host, that Mrs. Lightfoot, as she said, had kept his counsel, he called for more wine of Mr. Lightfoot; and at the end of this symposium, both, being greatly excited, went into Mrs. Lightfoot's bar.
She was there taking tea with her friend, Madame Fribsby; and Lightfoot was by this time in such a happy state as not to be surprised at anything which might occur, so that, when Altamont shook hands with Mrs. Lightfoot as an old acquaintance, the recognition did not appear to him to be in the least strange, but only a reasonable cause for further drinking. The gentlemen partook then of brandy-and-water, which they offered to the ladies, not heeding the terrified looks of one or the other.
Whilst they were so engaged, at about six o'clock in the evening, Mr. Morgan, Sir Francis Clavering's new man, came in, and was requested to drink. He selected his favourite beverage, and the parties engaged in general conversation.
After a while Mr. Lightfoot began to doze. Mr. Morgan had repeatedly given hints to Mrs. Fribsby to quit the premises; but that lady, strangely fascinated, and terrified it would seem, or persuaded by Mrs. Lightfoot not to go, kept her place. Her persistence occasioned much annoyance to Mr. Morgan, who vented his displeasure in such language as gave pain to Mrs. Lightfoot, and caused Mr. Altamont to say, that he was a rum customer, and not polite to the sex.
The altercation between the two gentlemen became very painful to the women, especially to Mrs. Lightfoot, who did everything to soothe Mr. Morgan; and, under pretence of giving a pipe-light to the stranger, she handed him a paper on which she had privily written the words, "He knows you. Go." There may have been something suspicious in her manner of handing, or in her guest's of reading, the paper; for when he got up a short time afterwards, and said he would go to bed, Morgan rose too, with a laugh, and said it was too early to go to bed.
The stranger then said he would go to his bedroom. Morgan said he would show him the way.
At this the guest said, "Come up. I've got a brace of pistols up there to blow out the brains of any traitor or skulking spy," and glared so fiercely upon Morgan, that the latter, seizing hold of Lightfoot by the collar, and waking him, said, "John Amory, I arrest you in the Queen's name. Stand by me, Lightfoot. This capture is worth a thousand pounds."
He put forward his hand as if to seize his prisoner, but the other, doubling his fist, gave Morgan with his left hand so fierce a blow on the chest, that it knocked him back behind Mr. Lightfoot. That gentleman, who was athletic and courageous, said he would knock his guest's head off, and prepared to do so, as the stranger, tearing off his coat, and cursing both of his opponents, roared to them to come on.
But with a piercing scream Mrs. Lightfoot flung herself before her husband, whilst with another and louder shriek Madame Fribsby ran to the stranger, and calling out "Armstrong, Johnny Armstrong!" seized hold of his naked arm, on which a blue tattooing of a heart and M. F. were visible.
The ejaculation of Madame Fribsby seemed to astound and sober the stranger. He looked down upon her, and cried out, "it's Polly, by Jove."
Mrs. Fribsby continued to exclaim, "This is not Amory. This is Johnny Armstrong, my wicked--wicked husband, married to me in St. Martin's Church, mate on board an Indiaman, and he left me two months after, the wicked wretch. This is John Armstrong--here's the mark on his arm which he made for me."
The stranger said, "I am John Armstrong, sure enough, Polly. I'm John Armstrong, Amory, Altamont--and let 'em all come on, and try what they can do against a British sailor. Hurray, who's for it?"
Morgan still called out, "Arrest him!" But Mrs. Lightfoot said, "Arrest him! arrest you, you mean spy! What! stop the marriage and ruin my lady, and take away the Clavering Arms from us?"
"Did he say he'd take away the Clavering Arms from us?" asked Mr. Lightfoot, turning round. "Hang him, I'll throttle him."
"Keep him, darling, till the coach passes to the up train. It'll be here now directly."
"D--- him, I'll choke him if he stirs," said Lightfoot. And so they kept Morgan until the coach came, and Mr. Amory or Armstrong went away back to London.
Morgan had followed him: but of this event Arthur Pendennis did not inform Lady Clavering, and left her invoking blessings upon him at her son's door, going to kiss him as he was asleep. It had been a busy day.
We have to chronicle the events of but one day more, and that was a day when Mr. Arthur, attired in a new hat, a new blue frock-coat and blue handkerchief, in a new fancy waistcoat, new boots, and new shirt-studs (presented by the Right Honourable the Countess Dowager of Rockminster), made his appearance at a solitary breakfast-table, in Clavering Park, where he could scarce eat a single morsel of food. Two letters were laid by his worship's plate; and he chose to open the first, which was in a round clerk-like hand, in preference to the second more familiar superscription.
Note 1 ran as follows:--
"Garbanzos Wine Company, Shepherd's Inn.--Monday.
"My Dear Pendennis,--In congratulating you heartily upon the event which is to make you happy for life, I send my very kindest remembrances to Mrs. Pendennis, whom I hope to know even longer than I have already known her. And when I call her attention to the fact, that one of the most necessary articles to her husband's comfort is pure sherry, I know I shall have her for a customer for your worship's sake.
"But I have to speak to you of other than my own concerns. Yesterday afternoon, a certain J. A. arrived at my chambers from Clavering, which he had left under circumstances of which you are doubtless now aware. In spite of our difference, I could not but give him food and shelter (and he partook freely both of the Garbanzos Amontillado and the Toboso ham), and he told me what had happened to him, and many other surprising adventures. The rascal married at sixteen, and has repeatedly since performed that ceremony--in Sydney, in New Zealand, in South America, in Newcastle, he says, first, before he knew our poor friend the milliner. He is a perfect Don Juan.
"And it seemed as if the commendatore had at last overtaken him, for, as we were at our meal, there came three heavy knocks at my outer door, which made our friend start. I have sustained a siege or two here, and went to my usual place to reconnoitre. Thank my stars I have not a bill out in the world, and besides, those gentry do not come in that way. I found that it was your uncle's late valet, Morgan, and a policeman (I think a sham policeman), and they said they had a warrant to take the person of John Armstrong, alias Amory, alias Altamont, a runaway convict, and threatened to break in the oak.
"Now, sir, in my own days of captivity I had discovered a little passage along the gutter into Bows and Costigan's window, and I sent Jack Alias along this covered way, not without terror of his life, for it had grown very cranky; and then, after a parley, let in Mons. Morgan and friend.
"The rascal had been instructed about that covered way, for he made for the room instantly, telling the policeman to go downstairs and keep the gate; and he charged up my little staircase as if he had known the premises. As he was going out of the window we heard a voice that you know, from Bows's garret, saying, 'Who are ye, and hwhat the divvle are ye at? You'd betther leave the gutther; bedad there's a man killed himself already.'
"And as Morgan, crossing over and looking into the darkness, was trying to see whether this awful news was true, he took a broomstick, and with a vigorous dash broke down the pipe of communication--and told me this morning, with great glee, that he was reminded of that 'aisy sthratagem by remembering his dorling Emilie, when she acted the pawrt of Cora in the Plee--and by the bridge in Pezawro, bedad.' I wish that scoundrel Morgan had been on the bridge when the General tried his 'sthratagem.'
"If I hear more of Jack Alias I will tell you. He has got plenty of money still, and I wanted him to send some to our poor friend the milliner; but the scoundrel laughed, and said he had no more than he wanted, but offered to give anybody a lock of his hair. Farewell--be happy! and believe me always truly yours, E. Strong."
"And now for the other letter," said Pen. "Dear old fellow!" and he kissed the seal before he broke it.
"I must not let the day pass over without saying a God bless you, to both of you. May Heaven make you happy, dear Arthur, and dear Laura. I think, Pen, that you have the best wife in the world; and pray that, as such, you will cherish her and tend her. The chambers will be lonely without you, dear Pen; but if I am tired, I shall have a new home to go to in the house of my brother and sister. I am practising in the nursery here, in order to prepare for the part of Uncle George.
Farewell! make your wedding tour, and come back to your affectionate
Pendennis and his wife read this letter together after Doctor Portman's breakfast was over, and the guests were gone; and when the carriage was waiting amidst the crowd at the Doctor's outer gate. But the wicket led into the churchyard of St. Mary's, where the bells were pealing with all their might, and it was here, over Helen's green grass, that Arthur showed his wife George's letter. For which of those two--for grief was it or for happiness, that Laura's tears abundantly fell on the paper? And once more, in the presence of the sacred dust, she kissed and blessed her Arthur.
There was only one marriage on that day at Clavering Church; for in spite of Blanche's sacrifices for her dearest mother, honest Harry Foker could not pardon the woman who had deceived her husband, and justly argued that she would deceive him again. He went to the Pyramids and Syria, and there left his malady behind him, and returned with a fine beard, and a supply of tarbooshes and nargillies, with which he regales all his friends. He lives splendidly, and, through Pen's mediation, gets his wine from the celebrated vintages of the Duke of Garbanzos.
As for poor Cos, his fate has been mentioned in an early part of this story. No very glorious end could be expected to such a career. Morgan is one of the most respectable men in the parish of St. James's, and in the present political movement has pronounced himself like a man and a Briton. And Bows,--on the demise of Mr. Piper, who played the organ at Clavering, little Mrs. Sam Hunter, who has the entire command of Doctor Portman, brought Bows down from London to contest the organ-loft, and her candidate carried the chair. When Sir Francis Clavering quitted this worthless life, the same little indefatigable canvasser took the borough by storm, and it is now represented by Arthur Pendennis, Esq. Blanche Amory, it is well known, married at Paris, and the saloons of Madame la Comtesse de Montmorenci de Valentinois were amongst the most suivis of that capital. The duel between the Count and the young and fiery Representative of the Mountain, Alcide de Mirobo, arose solely from the latter questioning at the Club the titles borne by the former nobleman. Madame de Montmorenci de Valentinois travelled after the adventure: and Bungay bought her poems, and published them, with the Countess's coronet emblazoned on the Countess's work.
Major Pendennis became very serious in his last days, and was never so happy as when Laura was reading to him with her sweet voice, or listening to his stories. For this sweet lady is the friend of the young and the old: and her life is always passed in making other lives happy.
"And what sort of a husband would this Pendennis be?" many a reader will ask, doubting the happiness of such a marriage and the fortune of Laura. The querists, if they meet her, are referred to that lady herself, who, seeing his faults and wayward moods--seeing and owning that there are men better than he--loves him always with the most constant affection. His children or their mother have never heard a harsh word from him; and when his fits of moodiness and solitude are over, welcome him back with a never-failing regard and confidence. His friend is his friend still,-- entirely heart-whole. That malady is never fatal to a sound organ. And George goes through his part of godpapa perfectly, and lives alone. If Mr. Pen's works have procured him more reputation than has been acquired by his abler friend, whom no one knows, George lives contented without the fame. If the best men do not draw the great prizes in life, we know it has been so settled by the Ordainer of the lottery. We own, and see daily, how the false and worthless live and prosper, while the good are called away, and the dear and young perish untimely,--we perceive in every man's life the maimed happiness, the frequent falling, the bootless endeavour, the struggle of Right and Wrong, in which the strong often succumb and the swift fail: we see flowers of good blooming in foul places, as, in the most lofty and splendid fortunes, flaws of vice and meanness, and stains of evil; and, knowing how mean the best of us is, let us give a hand of charity to Arthur Pendennis, with all his faults and shortcomings, who does not claim to be a hero, but only a man and a brother.
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