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the gate. She called to her mother, who was busy in the upper apartment, " Mamma, Mamma !" and ran to the wicket at once, and opened it, pushing aside the other children. How she blushed as she gave her hand to him! How affably he took off his white hat as he came in; the children staring up at him! He asked Mrs. Bolton if she had slept well after the fatigues of the night, and hoped she had no headache; and he said that as he was going that way, he could not pass the door without asking news of his little partner.
Mrs. Bolton was perhaps rather shy and suspicious about these advances; but Mr. Pen's good humour was inexhaustible; he could not see that he was unwelcome. He looked about the premises for a seat, and none being disengaged— for a dish-cover was on one, a workbox on the other, and so forth—he took one of the children's chairs, and perched himself upon that uncomfortable eminence. At this, the children began laughing, the child Fanny louder than all—at least, she was more amused than any of them, and amazed at his Royal Highness's condescension. He to sit down in that chair—that little child's chair!—Many and many a time after, she regarded it: haven't we almost all such furniture in our rooms, that our fancy peoples with dear figures, that our memory fills with sweet smiling faces, which may never look on us more?
So Pen sate down and talked away with great volubility to Mrs. Bolton. He asked about the undertaking business, and how many mutes went down with Lady Estrich's remains; and about the Inn, and who lived there. He seemed very much interested about Mr. Campion's cab and horse, and had met that gentleman in society. He thought he should like shares in the Polwheedle and Tredyddlum: did Mrs. Bolton do for those chambers? Were there any chambers to let in the Inn? It was better than the Temple: he should like to come to live in Shepherd's Inn. As for Captain Strong, and— Colonel Altamont was his name?—he was deeply interested in them too. The Captain was an old friend at home. He had dined with him at chambers here, before the Colonel came to live with him. What sort of man was the Colonel? Wasn't he a stout man, with a large quantity of jewellery, and a wig and large black whiskers—very black (here Pen was immensely waggish, and caused hysterical giggles of delight from the ladies)—very black indeed; in fact, blue black; that is to say, a rich greenish purple? That was the man; he had met him, too, at Sir Fr . . .—in society.
"Oh, we know," said the ladies. "Sir F is Sir F.
Clavering. He's often here: two or three times a week with the Captain. My little boy has been out for bill-stamps for him. Oh Lor! I beg pardon, I shouldn't have mentioned no secrets," Mrs. Bolton blurted out, being talked perfectly into good-nature by this time. "But we know you to be a gentleman, Mr. Pendennis, for I'm sure you have shown that you can beayve as such. Hasn't Mr. Pendennis, Fanny?"
Fanny loved her mother for that speech. She cast up her dark eyes to the low ceiling and said, "Oh, that he has, I'm sure, Ma," with a voice full of meaning.
Pen was rather curious about the bill-stamps, and concerning the transactions in Strong's chambers. And he asked, when Altamont came and joined the Chevalier, whether he too sent out for bill-stamps, who he was, whether he saw many people, and so forth. These questions, put with considerable adroitness by Pen, who was interested about Sir Francis Clavering's doings from private motives of his own, were artlessly answered by Mrs. Bolton, and to the utmost of her knowledge and ability, which, in truth, were not very great.
These questions answered, and Pen being at a loss for more, luckily recollected his privilege as a member of the Press, and asked the ladies whether they would like any orders for the play? The play was their delight, as it is almost always the delight of every theatrical person. When Bolton was away professionally (it appeared that of late the porter of Shepherd's Inn had taken a serious turn, drank a good deal, and otherwise made himself unpleasant to the ladies of his family), they would like of all things to slip out and go to the theatre—little Barney, their son, keeping the lodge; and Mr. Pendennis's most generous and most genteel compliment of orders was received with boundless gratitude by both mother and daughter.
Fanny clapped her hands with pleasure: her face beamed with it. She looked and nodded, and laughed at her mamma, who nodded and laughed in her turn. Mrs. Bolton was not superannuated for pleasure yet, or by any means too old for admiration, she thought. And very likely Mr. Pendennis, in his conversation with her, had insinuated some compliments, or shaped his talk so as to please her. At first against Pen, and suspicious of him, she was his partisan now, and almost as enthusiastic about him as her daughter. When two women get together to like a man, they help each other on—each pushes the other forward—and the second, out of sheer sympathy, becomes as eager as the principal: at least, so it is said by philosophers who have examined this science.
So the offer of the play-tickets, and other pleasantries, put all parties into perfect good-humour, except for one brief moment, when one of the younger children, hearing the name of "Astley's" pronounced, came forward and stated that she should like very much to go too; on which Fanny said "Don't bother!' rather sharply; and Mamma said, "Git-'long, Betsy-Jane, do now, and play in the court:" so that the two little ones, namely, Betsy-Jane and Ameliar-Ann, went away in their little innocent pinafores, and disported in the courtyard on the smooth gravel, round about the statue of Shepherd the Great.
And here, as they were playing, they very possibly communicated with an old friend of theirs and dweller in the Inn; for while Pen was making himself agreeable to the ladies at the lodge, who were laughing delighted at his sallies, an old gentleman passed under the archway from the Inn-square, and came and looked in at the door of the lodge.
He made a very blank and rueful face when he saw Mr. Arthur seated upon a table, like Macheath in the play, in easy discourse with Mrs. Bolton and her daughter.
"What! Mr. Bows? How d'you do, Bows?" cried out Pen, in a cheery, loud voice. "I was coming to see you, and was asking your address of these ladies."
"You were coming to see me, were you, sir?" Bows said, and came in with a sad face, and shook hands with Arthur. "Plague on that old man!" somebody thought in the room: and so, perhaps, some one else besides her.
UR friend Pen said, "How d'ye do, Mr. Bows?" in a loud cheery voice on perceiving that gentleman, and saluted him in a dashing offhand manner, yet you could have seen a blush upon Arthur's face (answered by Fanny, whose cheek straightway threw out a similar fluttering red signal); and after Bows and Arthur had shaken hands, and the former had ironically accepted the other's assertion that he was about to pay Mr. Costigan's chambers a visit, there was a gloomy and rather guilty silence in the company, which Pen presently tried to dispel by making a great rattling and noise. The silence of course departed at Mr. Arthur's noise, but the gloom remained and deepened, as the darkness does in a vault if you light up a single taper in it. Pendennis tried to describe, in a jocular manner, the transactions of the night previous, and attempted to give an imitation of Costigan vainly expostulating with the checktaker at Vauxhall. It was not a good imitation. What stranger can imitate that perfection? Nobody laughed. Mrs. Bolton did not in the least understand what part Mr. Pendennis was performing, and whether it was the check-taker or the Captain he was taking off. Fanny wore an alarmed face, and tried a timid giggle; old Mr. Bows looked as glum as when he fiddled in the orchestra, or played a difficult piece upon the old piano at the Back Kitchen. Pen felt that his story was a failure; his voice sank and dwindled away dismally at the end of it—flickered, and went out; and it was all dark again. You could hear the ticket-porter, who lolls about Shepherd's Inn, as he passed on the flags under the archway: the clink of his boot-heels was noted by everybody.
"You were coming to see me, sir," Mr. Bows said. "Won't you have the kindness to walk up to my chambers with me? You do them a great honour, I am sure. They are rather high up; but"
"Oh! I live in a garret myself, and Shepherd's Inn is twice as cheerful as Lamb Court," Mr. Pendennis broke in.
"I knew that you had third-floor apartments," Mr. Bows said; "and was going to say—you will please not take my remark as discourteous—that the air up three pair of stairs is wholesomer for gentlemen than the air of a porter's lodge."
"Sir!" said Pen, whose candle flamed up again in his wrath, and who was disposed to be as quarrelsome as men are when they are in the wrong. "Will you permit me to choose my society without"
"You were so polite as to say that you were about to honour my 'umble domicile with a visit," Mr. Bows said, with his sad voice. "Shall I show you the way? Mr. Pendennis and I are old friends, Mrs. Bolton—very old acquaintances; and at the earliest dawn of his life we crossed each other."
The old man pointed towards the door with a trembling finger, and a hat in the other hand, and in an attitude slightly theatrical; so were his words when he spoke somewhat artificial, and chosen from the vocabulary which he had heard all Vol. n. K 4