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and he hoped to get Pendennis's interest here. He spoke of Pen's triumph as an orator at Oxbridge, and asked was he coming into parliament too? He talked on very pleasantly, and greatly to Laura's satisfaction, until Pen himself appeared, and as has been said, found these gentlemen.
Pen behaved very courteously to the pair, now that they had found their way into his quarters; and though he recollected with some twinges a conversation at Oxbridge, when Pynsent was present, and in which, after a great debate at the Union, and in the midst of considerable excitement, produced by a supper and champagne-cup, —he had announced his intention of coming in for his native county, and had absolutely returned thanks in a fine speech as the future member; yet Mr. Pynsent's manner was so frank and cordial, that Pen hoped Pynsent might have forgotten his little fanfaronnade, and any other braggadocio speeches or actions which he might have made. He suited himself to the tone of the visitors then, and talked about Plinlimmon and Magnus Charters, and the old set at Oxbridge, with careless familiarity and high-bred ease, as if he lived with marquises every day, and a duke was no more to him than a village curate.
But at this juncture, and it being then six o'clock in the evening, Betsy, the maid, who did not know of the advent of strangers, walked into the room without any preliminary but that of flinging the door wide open before her, and bearing in her arms a tray, containing three tea-cups, a tea-pot, and a plate of thick bread-and-butter. All Pen's splendour and magnificence vanished away at this—and he faltered and became quite abashed. "What will they think of us?" he thought: and, indeed, Wagg thrust his tongue in his cheek, thought the tea utterly contemptible, and leered and winked at Pynsent to that effect.
But to Mr. Pynsent the transaction appeared perfectly simple—there was no reason present to his mind why people should not drink tea at six if they were minded, as well as at any other hour; and he asked of Mr. Wagg, when they went away, "What the devil he was grinning and winking at, and what amused him?"
"Didn't you see how the cub was ashamed of the thick Vol. 1. y 3
bread-and-butter? I dare say they're going to have treacle if they are good. I'll take an opportunity of telling old Pendennis when we get back to town," Mr. Wagg chuckled out.
"Don't see the fun," said Mr. Pynsent.
"Never thought you did," growled Wagg between his teeth; and they walked home rather sulkily.
Wagg told the story at dinner very smartly, with wonderful accuracy of observation. He described old John, the clothes that were drying, the clogs in the hall, the drawing-room, and its furniture and pictures; "Old man with a beak and bald head—feu Pendennis I bet two to one; sticking-plaster full-length of a youth in a cap and gown—the present Marquis of Fairoaks, of course; the widow when young in miniature, Mrs. Mee; she had the gown on when we came, or in a dress made the year after, and the tips cut off the fingers of her gloves which she stitches her son's collars with; and then the sarving maid came in with their teas; so we left the Earl and the Countess to their bread-and-butter."
Blanche, near whom he sate as he told this story, and who adored les hommes d''esprit, burst out laughing, and called him such an odd droll creature. But Pynsent, who began to be utterly disgusted with him, broke out in a loud voice, and said, "I don't know, Mr. Wagg, what sort of ladies you are accustomed to meet in your own family, but by gad, as far as a first acquaintance can show, I never met two better-bred women in my life, and I hope, ma'am, you'll call upon 'em," he added, addressing Lady Rockminster, who was seated at Sir Francis Clavering's right hand.
Sir Francis turned to the guest on his left, and whispered, "That's what I call a sticker for Wagg." And Lady Clavering, giving the young gentleman a delighted tap with her fan, winked her black eyes at him, and said, "Mr. Pynsent, you're a good feller."
After the affair with Blanche, a difference ever so slight, a tone of melancholy, perhaps a little bitter, might be perceived in Laura's converse with her cousin. She seemed to weigh him, and find him wanting too; the widow saw the girl's clear and honest eyes watching the young man at times, and a look of almost scorn pass over her face, as he lounged in the room with the women, or lazily sauntered smoking upon the lawn, or lolled under a tree there over a book, which he was too listless to read.
"What has happened between you?" eager-sighted Helen asked of the girl. "Something has happened. Has that wicked little Blanche been making mischief? Tell me, Laura."
"Nothing has happened at all," Laura said."Then why do you look at Pen so?" asked his mother quickly.
"Look at him, dear mother!" said the girl. "We two women are no society for him: we don't interest him; we are not clever enough for such a genius as Pen. He wastes his life and energies away among us, tied to our apron-strings. He interests himself in nothing: he scarcely cares to go beyond the garden-gate. Even Captain Glanders and Captain Strong pall upon him," she added with a bitter laugh; "and they are men you know, and our superiors. He will never be happy while he is here. Why is he not facing the world, and without a profession?"
"We have got enough, with great economy," said the widow, her heart beginning to beat violently. "Pen has spent nothing for months. I'm sure he is very good. I am sure he might be very happy with us."
"Don't agitate yourself so, dear mother," the girl answered. "I don't like to see you so. You should not be sad because Pen is unhappy here. All men are so. They must work. They must make themselves names and a place in the world. Look, the two captains have fought and seen battles: that Mr. Pynsent, who came here, and who will be very rich, is in a public office; he works very hard, he aspires to a name and a reputation. He says Pen was one of the best speakers at Oxbridge, and had as great a character for talent as any of the young gentlemen there. Pen himself laughs at Mr. Wagg's celebrity (and indeed he is a horrid person), and says he is a dunce, and that anybody could write his books."
"Iam sure they are odious," interposed the widow.
"Yet he has a reputation.—You see the County Chronicle says, 'The celebrated Mr. Wagg has been sojourning at Baymouth—let our fashionables and eccentrics look out for something from his caustic pen.' If Pen can write better than this gentleman, and speak better than Mr. Pynsent, why doesn't he? Mamma, he can't make speeches to us; or distinguish himself here. He ought to go away, indeed he ought."
"Dear Laura," said Helen, taking the girl's hand. "Is it kind of you to hurry him so? I have been waiting. I have been saving up money these many months—to—to pay back your advance to us."
"Hush, mother!" Laura cried, embracing her friend hastily. "It was your money, not mine. Never speak about that again. How much money have you saved?"
Helen said there were more than two hundred pounds at the bank, and that she would be enabled to pay off all Laura's money by the end of the next year.
"Give it him—let him have the two hundred pounds. Let him go to London and be a lawyer: be something, be worthy of his mother—and of mine, dearest mamma," said the good girl; upon which, and with her usual tenderness and emotion, the fond widow declared that Laura was a blessing to her, and the best of girls—and I hope no one in this instance will be disposed to contradict her.
The widow and her daughter had more than one conversation on this subject: the elder gave way to the superior reason of the honest and stronger-minded girl; and, indeed, whenever there was a sacrifice to be made on her part, this kind lady was only too eager to make it. But she took her own way, and did not lose sight of the end she had in view, in imparting these new plans to Pen. One day she told him of these projects, and who it was that had formed them; how it was Laura who insisted upon his going to London and studying; howit was Laura who would not hear of the—the money arrangements when he came back from Oxbridge—being settled just then: how it was Laura whom he had to thank, if indeed he thought he ought to go.
At that news Pen's countenance blazed up with pleasure, and he hugged his mother to his heart with an ardour that I fear disappointed the fond lady; but she rallied when he said, "By heaven! she is a noble girl, and may God Almighty bless her! O mother! I have been wearying myself away for months here, longing to work, and not knowing how. I've been fretting over the thoughts of my shame, and my debts, and my past cursed extravagance and follies. I've suffered infernally. My heart has been half-broken—never mind about that. If I can get a chance to redeem the past, and to do my duty to myself and the best mother in the world, indeed, indeed, I will. I'll be worthy of you yet. Heaven bless you! God bless Laura! Why isn't she here, that I may go and thank her?" Pen went on with more incoherent phrases; paced up and down the room, drank glasses of water, jumped about his mother with a thousand embraces—began to laugh—began to sing—was happier than she had seen him since he was a boy—since he had tasted of the fruit of that awful Tree of Life which, from the beginning, has tempted all mankind.
Laura was not at home. Laura was on a visit to the stately Lady Rockminster, daughter to my Lord Bareacres, sister to the late Lady Pontypool, and by consequence a distant kinswoman of Helen's, as her ladyship, who was deeply versed in genealogy, was the first graciously to point out to the modest country lady. Mr. Pen was greatly delighted at the relationship being acknowledged, though perhaps not over well pleased that Lady Rockminster took Miss Bell home with her for a couple of days to Baymouth, and did not make the slightest invitation to Mr. Arthur Pendennis. There was to be a ball at Baymouth, and it was to be Miss Laura's first appearance. The dowager came to fetch her in her carriage, and she went off with a white dress in her box, happy and blushing, like the rose to which Pen compared her.
This was the night of the ball—a public entertainment at the Baymouth Hotel. "By Jove!" said Pen, "I'll ride over—No, I won't ride, but I'll go too." His mother was charmed that he should do so; and, as he was debating about the conveyance in which he should start for Baymouth, Captain Strong called opportunely, said he was going himself, and that he would put his horse, The Butcher Boy, into the gig, and drive Pen over.