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is as high as any mother can desire—but Pen's answer quite frightened me, it was so indignant. Recollect he is a man now; and be very—very cautious," said the widow, laying a fair long hand on the Major's sleeve.
He took it up, kissed it gallantly, and looked in her alarmed face with wonder, and a scorn which he was too polite to show. "Bon Dku!" thought the old negotiator, "the boy has actually talked the woman round, and she'd get him a wife as she would a toy if Master cried for it. Why are there no such things as lettres-de-cachet—and a Bastille for young fellows of family?" The Major lived in such good company that he might be excused for feeling like an Earl.—He kissed the widow's timid hand, pressed it in both his, and laid it down on the table with one of his own over it, as he smiled and looked her in the face.
"Confess," said he, "now, that you are thinking how you possibly can make it up to your conscience to let the boy have his own way."
She blushed, and was moved in the usual manner of females. "I am thinking that he is very unhappy—and I am too "—
"To contradict him or to let him have his own wish?" asked the other; and added, with great comfort to his inward self, "I'm d—d if he shall."
"To think that he should have formed so foolish and cruel and fatal an attachment," the widow said, "which can but end in pain whatever be the issue." .
"The issue shan't be marriage, my dear sister," the Major said resolutely. "We're not going to have a Pendennis, the head of the house, marry a strolling mountebank from a booth. No, no, we won't marry into Greenwich Fair, ma'am."
"If the match is broken suddenly off," the widow interposed, "I don't know what may be the consequence. I know Arthur's ardent temper, the intensity of his affections, the agony of his pleasures and disappointments, and I tremble at this one if it must be. Indeed, indeed, it must not come on him too suddenly."
"My dear madam," the Major said, with an air of the deepest commiseration, "I've no doubt Arthur will have to suffer confoundedly before he gets over the little disappointment. But is he, think you, the only person who has been so rendered miserable?"
"No, indeed," said Helen, holding down her eyes. She was thinking of her own case, and was at that moment seventeen again, and most miserable.
"I, myself," whispered her brother-in-law, "have undergone a disappointment in early life. A young woman with fifteen thousand pounds, niece to an Earl—most accomplished creature—a third of her money would have run up my promotion in no time, and I should have been a lieutenant-colonel at thirty: but it might not be. I was but a penniless lieutenant: her parents interfered: and I embarked for India, where I had the honour of being secretary to Lord Buckley, when Commander-in-Chief—without her. What happened? We returned our letters, sent back our locks of hair (the Major here passed his fingers through his wig), we suffered—but we recovered. She is now a baronet's wife with thirteen grown-up children; altered, it is true, in person; but her daughters remind me of what she was, and the third is to be presented early next week."
Helen did not answer. She was still thinking of old times. I suppose if one lives to be a hundred, there are certain passages of one's early life whereof the recollection will always carry us back to youth again, and that Helen was thinking of one of these.
"Look at my own brother, my dear creature," the Major continued gallantly: "he himself, you know, had a little disappointment when he started in the—the medical profession—an eligible opportunity presented itself. Miss Balls, I remember the name, was daughter of an apoth—a practitioner in very large practice; my brother had very nearly succeeded in his suit.—But difficulties arose: disappointments supervened, and—and I am sure he had no reason to regret the disappointment which gave him this hand," said the Major, and he once more politely pressed Helen's fingers.
"Those marriages between people of such different rank and age," said Helen, "are sad things. I have known them produce a great deal of unhappiness.—Laura's father, my cousin, who—who was brought up with me "—she added, in a low voice, "was an instance of that."
"Most injudicious," cut in the Major. "I don't know anything more painful than for a man to marry his superior in age or his inferior in station. Fancy marrying a woman of a low rank of life, and having your house filled with her confounded tag-rag-and-bobtail relations! Fancy your wife attached to a mother who dropped her h's, or called Maria Marire! How are you to introduce her into society? My dear Mrs. Pendennis, I will name no names, but in the very best circles of London society I have seen men suffering the most excruciating agony, I have known them to be cut, to be lost utterly, from the vulgarity of their wives' connections. What did Lady Snapperton do last year at her dejeuner dansant after the Bohemian Ball? She told Lord Brouncker that he might bring his daughters or send them with a proper chaperon, but that she would not receive Lady Brouncker: who was a druggist's daughter, or some such thing, and as Tom Wagg remarked of her, never wanted medicine certainly, for she never had an h in her life. Good Ged, what would have been the trifling pang of a separation in the first instance to the enduring infliction of a constant misalliance and intercourse with low people?"
"What, indeed!" said Helen, dimly disposed towards laughter, but yet checking the inclination, because she remembered in what prodigious respect her deceased husband held Major Pendennis and his stories of the great world.
"Then this fatal woman is ten years older than that silly young scapegrace of an Arthur. What happens in such cases, my dear creature? I don't mind telling you now we are alone: that in the highest state of society, misery, undeviating misery, is the result. Look at Lord Clodworthy come into a room with his wife—why, good Ged, she looks like Clodworthy's mother. What's the case between Lord and Lady Willowbank, whose love-match was notorious? He has already cut her down twice when she has hanged herself out of jealousy for Mademoiselle de Sainte Cunegonde, the dancer; and mark my words, good Ged, one day he'll not cut the old woman down. No, my dear madam, you are not in the .world, but I am: you are a little romantic and sentimental (you know you are—women with those large beautiful eyes always are); you must leave this matter to my experience. Marry this woman! Marry at eighteen an actress of thirty— bah, bah!—I would as soon he sent into the kitchen and married the cook."
"I know the evils of premature engagements," sighed out Helen: and as she has made this allusion no less than thrice in the course of the above conversation, and seems to be so oppressed with the notion of long engagements and unequal marriages, and as the circumstance we have to relate will explain what perhaps some persons are anxious to know, namely who little Laura is, who has appeared more than once before us, it will be as well to clear up these points in another chapter.
IN WHICH PEN IS KEPT WAITING AT THE DOOR, WHILE THE READER IS INFORMED WHO LITTLE LAURA WAS.
NCE upon a time, then, there was a young gentleman of Cambridge University who came to pass the long vacation at the village where young Helen Thistlewood was living with her mother, the widow of the lieutenant slain at Copenhagen. This gentleman, whose name was the Reverend Francis Bell, was nephew to Mrs. Thistlewood, and by consequence, own cousin to Miss Helen, so that it was very right that he should take lodgings in his aunt's house, who lived in a very small way; and there he passed the long vacation, reading with three or four pupils who accompanied him to the village. Mr. Bell was fellow of a college, and famous in the University for his learning and skill as a tutor. His two kinswomen understood pretty early that the