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Now, Miss Laura, since she had learned to think for herself (and in the past two years her mind and her person had both developed themselves considerably), had only been half pleased with Pen's general conduct and bearing. His letters to his mother at home had become of late very rare and short. It was in vain that the fond widow urged how constant Arthur's occupations and studies were, and how many his engagements. “It is better that he should lose a prize,” Laura said, “than forget his mother: and indeed, Mamma, I don't see that he gets many prizes. Why doesn't he come home and stay with you, instead of passing his vacations at his great friends' fine houses ? There is nobody there will love him half as much as—as you do.” “As I do only, Laura,” sighed out Mrs. Pendennis. Laura declared stoutly that she did not love Pen a bit when he did not do his duty to his mother: nor would she be convinced by any of Helen's fond arguments, that the boy must make his way in the world; that his uncle was most desirous that Pen should cultivate the acquaintance of persons who were likely to befriend him in life; that men had a thousand ties and calls which women could not understand, and so forth. Perhaps Helen no more believed in these excuses than her adopted daughter did; but she tried to believe that she believed them, and comforted herself with the maternal infatuation. And that is a point whereon I suppose many a gentleman has reflected, that, do what we will, we are pretty sure of the woman's love that once has been ours; and that that untiring tenderness and forgiveness never fail us.
Also, there had been that freedom, not to say audacity, in Arthur's latter talk and ways which had shocked and displeased Laura. Not that he ever offended her by rudeness, or addressed to her a word which she ought not to hear, for Mr. Pen was a gentleman, and by nature and education polite to every woman high and low; but he spoke lightly and laxly of women in general; was less courteous in his actions than in his words-neglectful in sundry ways, and in many of the little offices of life. It offended Miss Laura that he should smoke his horrid pipes in the house; that he should refuse to go to church with his mother, or on walks or visits with
her, and be found yawning over his novel in his dressinggown, when the gentle widow returned from those duties. The hero of Laura's early infancy, about whom she had passed so many many nights talking with Helen (who recited endless stories of the boy's virtues, and love, and bravery, when he was away at school), was a very different person from the young man whom now she knew; bold and brilliant, sarcastic and defiant, seeming to scorn the simple occupations or pleasures, or even devotions, of the women with whom he lived, and whom he quitted on such light pretexts.
The Fotheringay affair, too, when Laura came to hear of it (which she did first by some sarcastic allusions of Major Pendennis when on a visit to Fairoaks, and then from their neighbours at Clavering, who had plenty of information to give her on this head), vastly shocked and outraged Miss Laura. A Pendennis Aling himself away on such a woman as that! Helen's boy galloping away from home day after day, to fall on his knees to an actress, and drink with her horrid father! A good son want to bring such a man and such a woman into his house, and set her over his mother ! “I would have run away, mamma; I would, if I had had to walk barefoot through the snow,” Laura said.
“And you would have left me too, then?” Helen answered ; on which, of course, Laura withdrew her previous observation, and the two women rushed into each other's embraces with that warmth which belonged to both their natures, and which characterises not a few of their sex. Whence comes all this indignation of Miss Laura about Arthur's passion ? Perhaps she did not know, that, if men throw themselves away upon women, women throw themselves away upon men, too; and that there is no more accounting for love, than for any other physical liking or antipathy: perhaps she had been misinformed by the Clavering people and old Mrs. Portman, who was vastly bitter against Pen, especially since his impertinent behaviour to the Doctor, and since the wretch had smoked cigars in church-time: perhaps, finally, she was jealous ; but this is a vice in which it is said the ladies very seldom indulge.
Albeit she was angry with Pen, against his mother she had no such feeling ; but devoted herself to Helen with the utmost force of her girlish affection-such affection as women, whose hearts are disengaged, are apt to bestow upon a near female friend. It was devotion—it was passion-it was all sorts of fondness and folly ; it was a profusion of caresses, tender epithets and endearments, such as it does not become sober historians with beards to narrate. Do not let us men despise these instincts because we cannot feel them. These women were made for our comfort and delectation, gentlemen, -with all the rest of the minor animals.
But as soon as Miss Laura heard that Pen was unfortunate and unhappy, all her wrath against him straightway vanished, and gave place to the most tender and unreasonable compassion. He was the Pen of old days once more restored to her, the frank and affectionate, the generous and tender-hearted. She at once took side with Helen against Doctor Portman, when he outcried at the enormity of Pen's transgressions. Debts ? what were his debts ? they were a trifle; he had been thrown into expensive society by his uncle's order, and of course was obliged to live in the same manner as the young gentlemen whose company he frequented. Disgraced by not getting his degree? the poor boy was ill when he went in for the examinations: he couldn't think of his mathematics and stuff on account of those very debts which oppressed him; very likely some of the odious tutors and masters were jealous of him, and had favourites of their own whom they wanted to put over his head. Other people disliked him and were cruel to him, and were unfair to him, she was very sure. And so, with flushing cheeks and eyes bright with anger, this young creature reasoned; and she went up and seized Helen's hand, and kissed her in the Doctor's presence, and her looks braved the Doctor, and seemed to ask how he dared to say a word against her darling mother's Pen?
When that divine took his leave, not a little discomfited and amazed at the pertinacious obstinacy of the women, Laura repeated her embraces and arguments with tenfold fervour to Helen, who felt that there was a great deal of cogency in most of the latter. There must be some jealousy against Pen. She felt quite sure that he had offended some of the examiners, who had taken a mean revenge of him— nothing more likely. Altogether, the announcement of the misfortune vexed these two ladies very little indeed. Pen, who was plunged in his shame and grief in London, and torn with great remorse for thinking of his mother's sorrow, would have wondered had he seen how easily she bore the calamity. Indeed, calamity is welcome to women if they think it will bring truant affection home again : and if you have reduced your mistress to a crust, depend upon it that she won't repine, and only take a very little bit of it for herself, provided you will eat the remainder in her company.
And directly the Doctor was gone, Laura ordered fires to be lighted in Mr. Arthur's rooms, and his bedding to be aired; and had these preparations completed by the time Helen had finished a most tender and affectionate letter to Pen: when the girl, smiling fondly, took her mamma by the hand, and led her into those apartments where the fires were blazing so cheerfully, and there the two kind creatures sate down on the bed, and talked about Pen ever so long. Laura added a postscript to Helen's letter, in which she called him her dearest Pen, and bade him come home instantly, with two of the handsomest dashes under the word, and be happy with his mother and his affectionate sister Laura.
In the middle of the night-as these two ladies, after reading their bibles a great deal during the evening, and after taking just a look into Pen's room as they passed to their own—in the middle of the night, I say, Laura, whose head not unfrequently chose to occupy that pillow which the nightcap of the late Pendennis had been accustomed to press, cried out suddenly, “ Mamma, are you awake?”
Helen stirred and said, “Yes, I'm awake.” The truth is, though she had been lying quite still and silent, she had not been asleep one instant, but had been looking at the nightlamp in the chimney, and had been thinking of Pen for hours and hours.
Then Miss Laura (who had been acting with similar hypocrisy, and lying, occupied with her own thoughts, as motionless as Helen's brooch, with Pen's and Laura's hair in it, on the frilled white pincushion on the dressing-table) began to tell Mrs. Pendennis of a notable plan which she had been forming in her busy little brains; and by which all Pen's embarrassments would be made to vanish in a moment, and without the least trouble to anybody.
“You know, Mamma,” this young lady said, “ that I have been living with you for ten years, during which time you have never taken any of my money, and have been treating me just as if I was a charity girl. Now, this obligation has offended me very much, because I am proud and do not like to be beholden to people. And as, if I had gone to schoolonly I wouldn't-it must have cost me at least fifty pounds a year, it is clear that I owe you fifty times ten pounds, which I know you have put into the bank at Chatteris for me, and which doesn't belong to me a bit. Now, to-morrow we will go to Chatteris, and see that nice old Mr. Rowdy, with the bald head, and ask him for it,—not for his head, but for the five hundred pounds : and I dare say he will lend you two more, which we will save and pay back; and we will send the money to Pen, who can pay all his debts without hurting anybody, and then we will live happy ever after.”
What Helen replied to this speech need not be repeated, as the widow's answer was made up of a great number of incoherent ejaculations, embraces, and other irrelative matter. But the two women slept well after that talk; and when the night-lamp went out with a splutter, and the sun rose gloriously over the purple hills, and the birds began to sing and pipe cheerfully amid the leafless trees and glistening evergreens on Fairoaks lawn, Helen woke too, and as she looked at the sweet face of the girl sleeping beside her, her lips parted with a smile, blushes on her cheeks, her spotless bosom heaving and falling with gentle undulations, as if happy dreams were sweeping over it-Pen's mother felt happy and grateful beyond all power of words, save such as pious women offer up to the Beneficent Dispenser of love and mercy-in Whose honour à chorus of such praises is constantly rising up all round the world.
Although it was January and rather cold weather, so sincere was Mr. Pen's remorse, and so determined his plans of economy, that he would not take an inside place in the