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And here let us speak very tenderly and in the strictest confidence of an event which befel him, and to which he never liked an allusion. During his delirium the ruthless Goodenough ordered ice to be put to his head, and all his lovely hair to be cut. It was done in the time of—of the other nurse, who left every single hair of course in a paper for the widow to count and treasure up. She never believed but that the girl had taken away some of it, but then women are so suspicious upon these matters.
When this direful loss was made visible to Major Pendennis, as of course it was the first time the elder saw the poor young man's shorn pate, and when Pen was quite out of danger, and gaining daily vigour, the Major, with something like blushes and a queer wink of his eyes, said he knew of a—a person—a coiffeur, in fact—a good man, whom he would send down to the Temple, and who would—a—apply—a—a temporary remedy to that misfortune.
Laura looked at Warrington with the archest sparkle in her eyes—Warrington fairly burst out into a boohoo of laughter: even the widow was obliged to laugh; and the Major erubescent confounded the impudence of the young folks, and said when he had his hair cut he would keep a lock of it for Miss Laura.
Warrington voted that Pen should wear a barrister's wig. There was Sibwright's down below, which would become him hugely. Pen said "Stuff," and seemed as confused as his uncle; and the end was that a gentleman from Burlington Arcade waited next day upon Mr. Pendennis, and had a private interview with him in his bedroom; and a week afterwards the same individual appeared with a box under his arm, and an ineffable grin of politeness on his face, and announced that he had brought 'ome Mr. Pendennis's 'ead of 'air.
It must have been a grand but melancholy sight to see Pen in the recesses of his apartment, sadly contemplating his ravaged beauty and the artificial means of hiding its ruin. He appeared at length in the 'ead of 'air; but Warrington laughed so that Pen grew sulky, and went back for his velvet cap, a neat turban which the fondest of mammas had worked for him. Then Mr. Warrington and Miss Bell got some flowers off the ladies' bonnets and made a wreath, with which they decorated the wig and brought it out in procession, and did homage before it. In fact they indulged in a hundred sports, jocularities, waggeries and petits jeux innocens: so that the second and third floors of Number 6, Lamb Court, Temple, rang with more cheerfulness and laughter than had been known in those precincts for many a long day.
At last, after about ten days of this life, one evening when the little spy of the court came out to take her usual post of observation at the lamp, there was no music from the second-floor window, there were no lights in the third-story chambers, the windows of each were open, and the occupants were gone. Mrs. Flanagan, the laundress, told Fanny what had happened. The ladies and all the party had gone to Richmond for change of air. The antique travelling chariot was brought out again and cushioned with many pillows for Pen and his mother; and Miss Laura went in the most affable manner in the omnibus under the guardianship of Mr. George Warrington. He came back and took possession of his old bed that night in the vacant and cheerless chambers, and to his old books and his old pipes, but not perhaps to his old sleep.
The widow had left a jar full of flowers upon his table, prettily arranged, and when he entered they filled the solitary room with odour. They were memorials of the kind, gentle souls who had gone away, and who had decorated for a little while that lonely, cheerless place. He had had the happiest days of his whole life, George felt—he knew it now they were just gone: he went and took up the flowers and put his face to them, smelt them—perhaps kissed them. As he put them down, he rubbed his rough hand across his eyes with a bitter word and laugh. He would have given his whole life and soul to win that prize which Arthur rejected. Did she want fame? He would have won it for her:—devotion ?—a great heart full of pent-up tenderness and manly love and gentleness was there for her, if she might take it. But it might not be. Fate had ruled otherwise. "Even if I could, she would not have me," George thought. "What has an ugly, rough old fellow like me, to make any woman like him? I'm getting old, and I've made no mark in life. I've neither good looks, nor youth, nor money, nor reputation. A man must be able to do something besides stare at her and offer on his knees his uncouth devotion, to make a woman like him. What can I do? Lots of young fellows have passed me in the race—what they call the prizes of life didn't seem to me worth the trouble of the struggle. But for her. If she had been mine and liked a diamond—ah! shouldn't she have worn it! Psha, what a fool I am to brag of what I would have done! We are the slaves of destiny. Our lots are shaped for us, and mine is ordained long ago. Come, let us have a pipe, and put the smell of these flowers out of court. Poor little silent flowers! You'll be dead to-morrow. What business had you to show your red cheeks in this dingy place?"
By his bed-side George found a new Bible which the widow had placed there, with a note inside saying that she had not seen the book amongst his collection in a room where she had spent a number of hours, and where God had vouchsafed to Iier prayers the life of her son, and that she gave to Arthur's friend the best thing she could, and besought him to read in the volume sometimes, and to keep it as a token of a grateful mother's regard and affection. Poor George mournfully kissed the book as he had done the flowers; and the morning found him still reading in its awful pages, in which so many stricken hearts, in which so many tender and faithful souls have found comfort under calamity, and refuge and hope in affliction.
CHAPTER XVI. Fanny's Occupation's Gone.
OOD Helen, ever since her son's illness, had taken, as we have seen, entire possession of the young man, of his drawers and closets and all which they contained: whether shirts that wanted huttons, or stockings that required mending, or, must it be owned? letters that lay amongst those articles of raiment, and which of course it was necessary that somebody should answer during Arthur's weakened and incapable condition. Perhaps Mrs. Pendennis was laudably desirous to have some explanations about the dreadful Fanny Bolton mystery, regarding which she had never breathed a word to her son, though it was present in her mind always, and occasioned her inexpressible anxiety and disquiet. She had caused the brass knocker to be screwed off the inner door of the chambers, whereupon the postman's startling double rap would, as she justly argued, disturb the rest of her patient,