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A History of Pendennis. Volume 1. His fortunes and misfortunes, his friends and his greatest enemy
No man, for instance, went more regularly to church, when in the country, than the old bachelor. "It don't matter so much in town, Pen," he said, "for there the women go, and the men are not missed. But when a gentleman is sur ses terres, he must give an example to the country people; and if I could turn a tune, I even think I should sing. The Duke of Saint David's, whom I have the honor of knowing, always sings in the country, and let me tell you, it has a doosed fine effect from the family pew. And you are somebody down here. As long as the Claverings are away you are the first man in the parish; and as good as any. You might represent the town if you played your cards well. Your poor dear father would have done so had he lived; so might you. – Not if you marry a lady, however amiable, whom the country people won't meet. – Well, well: it's a painful subject. Let us change it, my boy." But if Major Pendennis changed the subject once, he recurred to it a score of times in the day; and the moral of his discourse always was, that Pen was throwing himself away. Now it does not require much coaxing or wheedling to make a simple boy believe that he is a very fine fellow.
Pen took his uncle's counsels to heart. He was glad enough, we have said, to listen to his elder's talk. The conversation of Captain Costigan became by no means pleasant to him, and the idea of that tipsy old father-in-law haunted him with terror. He couldn't bring that man, unshaven and reeking of punch, to associate with his mother. Even about Emily – he faltered when the pitiless guardian began to question him. "Was she accomplished?" He was obliged to own, no. "Was she clever?" Well, she had a very good average intellect: but he could not absolutely say she was clever. "Come, let us see some of her letters." So Pen confessed that he had but those three of which we have made mention – and that they were but trivial invitations or answers.
"She is cautious enough," the major said, drily. "She is older than you, my poor boy;" and then he apologized with, the utmost frankness and humility, and flung himself upon Pen's good feelings, begging the lad to excuse a fond old uncle, who had only his family's honor in view – for Arthur was ready to flame up in indignation whenever Miss Costigan's honesty was doubted, and swore that he would never have her name mentioned lightly, and never, never would part from her.
He repeated this to his uncle and his friends at home, and also, it must be confessed, to Miss Fotheringay and the amiable family at Chatteries, with whom he still continued to spend some portion of his time. Miss Emily was alarmed when she heard of the arrival of Pen's guardian, and rightly conceived that the major came down with hostile intentions to herself. "I suppose ye intend to leave me, now your grand relation, has come down from town. He'll carry ye off, and you'll forget your poor Emily, Mr. Arthur!"
Forget her! In her presence, in that of Miss Rouncy, the Columbine and Milly's confidential friend, of the company, in the presence of the captain himself, Pen swore he never could think of any other woman but his beloved Miss Fotheringay; and the captain, looking up at his foils, which were hung as a trophy on the wall of the room where Pen and he used to fence, grimly said, he would not advoise any man to meddle rashly with the affections of his darling child; and would never believe his gallant young Arthur, whom he treated as his son, whom he called his son, would ever be guilty of conduct so revolting to every idaya of honor and humanity.
He went up and embraced Pen after speaking. He cried, and wiped his eye with one large dirty hand as he clasped Pen with the other. Arthur shuddered in that grasp, and thought of his uncle at home. His father-in-law looked unusually dirty and shabby; the odor of whisky-and-water was even more decided than in common. How was he to bring that man and his mother together? He trembled when he thought that he had absolutely written to Costigan (inclosing to him a sovereign, the loan of which the worthy gentleman had need), saying, that one day he hoped to sign himself his affectionate son, Arthur Pendennis. He was glad to get away from Chatteries that day; from Miss Rouncy the confidante; from the old toping father-in-law; from the divine Emily herself. "O Emily, Emily," he cried inwardly, as he tattled homeward on Rebecca, "you little know what sacrifices I am making for you! – for you who are always so cold, so cautious, so mistrustful;" and he thought of a character in Pope to whom he had often involuntarily compared her.
Pen never rode over to Chatteries upon a certain errand, but the major found out on what errand the boy had been. Faithful to his plan, Major Pendennis gave his nephew no let or hindrance; but somehow the constant feeling that the senior's eye was upon him, an uneasy shame attendant upon that inevitable confession which the evening's conversation would be sure to elicit in the most natural, simple manner, made Pen go less frequently to sigh away his soul at the feet of his charmer than he had been wont to do previous to his uncle's arrival. There was no use trying to deceive him: there was no pretext of dining with Smirke, or reading Greek plays with Foker; Pen felt, when he returned from one of his flying visits, that every body knew whence he came, and appeared quite guilty before his mother and guardian, over their books or their game at picquet.
Once having walked out half a mile, to the Fairoaks Inn, beyond the lodge gates, to be in readiness for the Competitor coach, which changed horses there, to take a run for Chatteries, a man on the roof touched his hat to the young gentleman: it was his uncle's man, Mr. Morgan, who was going on a message for his master, and had been took up at the lodge, as he said. And Mr. Morgan came back by the Rival, too; so that Pen had the pleasure of that domestic's company both ways. Nothing was said at home. The lad seemed to have every decent liberty; and yet he felt himself dimly watched and guarded, and that there were eyes upon him even in the presence of his Dulcinea.
In fact, Pen's suspicions were not unfounded, and his guardian had sent forth to gather all possible information regarding the lad and his interesting young friend. The discreet and ingenious Mr. Morgan, a London confidential valet, whose fidelity could be trusted, had been to Chatteries more than once, and made every inquiry regarding the past history and present habits of the captain and his daughter. He delicately cross-examined the waiters, the ostlers, and all the inmates of the bar at the George, and got from them what little they knew respecting the worthy captain. He was not held in very great regard there, as it appeared. The waiters never saw the color of his money, and were warned not to furnish the poor gentleman with any liquor for which some other party was not responsible. He swaggered sadly about the coffee-room there, consumed a tooth-pick, and looked over the paper, and if any friend asked him to dinner, he staid. Morgan heard at the George of Pen's acquaintance with Mr. Foker, and he went over to Baymouth to enter into relations with that gentleman's man: but the young student was gone to a Coast Regatta, and his servant, of course, traveled in charge of the dressing-case.
From the servants of the officers at the barracks Mr. Morgan found that the captain had so frequently and outrageously inebriated himself there, that Colonel Swallowtail had forbidden him the mess-room. The indefatigable Morgan then put himself in communication with some of the inferior actors at the theater, and pumped them over their cigars and punch, and all agreed that Costigan was poor, shabby, and given to debt and to drink. But there was not a breath upon the reputation of Miss Fotheringay; her father's courage was reported to have displayed itself on more than one occasion toward persons disposed to treat his daughter with freedom. She never came to the theater but with her father; in his most inebriated moments, that gentleman kept a watch over her; finally Mr. Morgan, from his own experience, added that he had been to see her hact, and was uncommon delighted with the performance, besides thinking her a most splendid woman.
Mrs. Creed, the pew-opener, confirmed these statements to Doctor Portman, who examined her personally, and threatened her with the terrors of the Church, one day after afternoon service. Mrs. Creed had nothing unfavorable to her lodger to divulge. She saw nobody; only one or two ladies of the theater. The captain did intoxicate himself sometimes, and did not always pay his rent regularly, but he did when he had money, or rather Miss Fotheringay did. Since the young gentleman from Clavering had been and took lessons in fencing, one or two more had come from the barracks: Sir Derby Oaks, and his young friend, Mr. Foker, which was often together: and which was always driving over from Baymouth in the tandem. But on the occasions of the lessons, Miss F. was very seldom present, and generally came down stairs to Mrs. Creed's own room.
The doctor and the major consulting together as they often did, groaned in spirit over that information. Major Pendennis openly expressed his disappointment; and, I believe the divine himself was ill-pleased at not being able to pick a hole in poor Miss Fotheringay's reputation.
Even about Pen himself, Mrs. Creed's reports were desperately favorable. "Whenever he come," Mrs. Creed said, "she always have me or one of the children with her. And Mrs. Creed, marm, says she, if you please marm, you'll on no account leave the room when that young gentleman's here. And many's the time I've seen him a lookin' as if he wished I was away, poor young man: and he took to coming in service-time, when I wasn't at home, of course: but she always had one of the boys up if her pa wasn't at home, or old Mr. Bowser with her a teaching of her her lesson, or one of the young ladies of the theayter."