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Pen read Costigan's letter and its inclosure mechanically, hardly knowing what was before his eyes. He looked up wildly, and saw his mother and uncle regarding him with sad faces. Helen's, indeed, was full of tender maternal anxiety.
"What—what is this?" Pen said. "It's some joke. This is not her writing. This is some servant's writing. Who's playing these tricks upon me?"
"It comes under her father's envelope," the Major said. "Those letters you had before were not in her hand: that is hers."
"How do you know?" said Pen very fiercely.
"I saw her write it," the uncle answered, as the boy started up; and his mother, coming forward, took his hand. He put her away.
"How came you to see her? How came you between me and her? What have I ever done to you that you should? Oh, it's not true; it's not true !"—Pen broke out with a wild execration. "She can't have done it of her own accord. She can't mean it. She's pledged to me. Who has told her lies to break her from me?"
"Lies are not told in the family, Arthur," Major Pendennis replied. "I told her the truth, which was, that you had no money to maintain her, for her foolish father had represented you to be rich. And when she knew how poor you were, she withdrew at once, and without any persuasion of mine. She was quite right. She is ten years older than you are. She is perfectly unfitted to be your wife, and knows it. Look at that handwriting, and ask yourself, is such a woman fitted to be the companion of your mother?"
"I will know from herself if it is true," Arthur said, crumpling up the paper.
"Won't you take my word of honour? Her letters were written by a confidante of hers, who writes better than she can—look here. Here's one from the lady to your friend, Mr. Foker. You have seen her with Miss Costigan, as whose amanuensis she acted "—the Major said, with ever so little of a sneer, and laid down a certain billet which Mr. Foker had given to him.
"It's not that," said Pen, burning with shame and rage. "I suppose what you say is true, sir, but I'll hear it from herself.""Arthur!" appealed his mother."I will see her," said Arthur. "I'll ask her to marry me, once more. I will. No one shall prevent me."
"What, a woman who spells affection with one f? Nonsense, sir. Be a man, and remember that your mother is a lady. She was never made to associate with that tipsy old swindler or his daughter. Be a man and forget her, as she does you."
"Be a man and comfort your mother, my Arthur," Helen said, going and embracing him: and seeing that the pair were greatly moved, Major Pendennis went out of the room and shut the door upon them, wisely judging that they were best alone.
He had won a complete victory. He actually had brought away Pen's letters in his portmanteau from Chatteris: having complimented Mr. Costigan, when he returned them, by giving him the little promissory note which had disquieted himself and Mr. Garbetts: and for which the Major settled with Mr. Tatham.
Pen rushed wildly off to Chatteris that day, but in vain attempted to see Miss Fotheringay, for whom he left a letter, inclosed to her father. The inclosure was returned by Mr. Costigan, who begged that all correspondence might end; and after one or two further attempts of the lad's, the indignant General desired that their acquaintance might cease. He cut Pen in the street. As Arthur and Foker were pacing the Castle walk, one day, they came upon Emily on her father's arm. She passed without any nod of recognition. Foker felt poor Pen trembling on his arm. His uncle wanted him to travel, to quit the country for a while, and his mother urged him too: for he was growing very ill, and suffered severely. But he refused, and said point-blank he would not go. He would not obey in this instance: and his mother was too fond, and his uncle too wise to force him. Whenever Miss Fotheringay acted, he rode over to the Chatteris Theatre and saw her. One night