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"What, sir?" shouted out the old Major, rising to his feet and clasping his cane, and looking so fiercely, that the Baronet's tone instantly changed towards him.
"No, no," said Clavering, piteously; "I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to be angry, or say anything unkind, only you're so damned harsh to me, Major Pendennis. What is it you want of me? Why have you been hunting me so? Do you want money out of me too? By Jove, you know I've not got a shilling,"—and so Clavering, according to his custom, passed from a curse into a whimper.
Major Pendennis saw, from the other's tone, that Clavering knew his secret was in the Major's hands.
"I've no errand from anybody, or no design upon you," Pendennis said, "but an endeavour, if it's not too late, to save you and your family from utter ruin, through the infernal recklessness of your courses. I knew your secret—"
"I didn't know it when I married her; upon my oath I didn't know it till the d d scoundrel came back and told me himself;and it's the misery about that which makes me so reckless, Pendennis; indeed it is," the Baronet cried, clasping his hands.
"I knew your secret from the very first day when I saw Amory come drunk into your dining-room in Grosvenor Place. I never forget faces. I remember that fellow in Sydney a convict, and he remembers me. I know his trial, the date of his marriage, and of his reported death in the bush. I could swear to him. And I know you are no more married to Lady Clavering than I am. I've kept your secret well enough, for I've not told a single soul that I know it,—not your wife, not yourself till now."
"Poor Lady C, it would cut her up dreadfully," whimpered Sir Francis; "and it wasn't my fault, Major; you know it wasn't."
"Rather than allow you to go on ruining her as you do, I will tell her, Clavering, and tell all the world too; that is what I swear I will do, unless I can come to some terms with you, and put some curb on your infernal folly. By play, debt, and extravagance of all kinds, you've got through half your wife's fortune, and that of her legitimate heirs, mind—her legitimate heirs. Here it must stop. You can't live together. You're not fit to live in a great house like Clavering; and before three years more were over, would not leave a shilling to carry on. I've settled what must be done. You shall have six hundred a year; you shall go abroad and live on that. You must give up Parliament, and get on as well as you can. If you refuse, I give you my word I'll make the real state of things known to-morrow; I'll swear to Amory, who, when identified, will go back to the country from whence he came, and will rid the widow of you and himself together. And so that boy of yours loses at once all title to old Snell's property, and it goes to your wife's daughter. Ain't I making myself pretty clearly understood?"
"You wouldn't be so cruel to that poor boy, would you, Pendennis?" asked the father, pleading piteously; "hang it, think about him. He's a nice boy; though he's dev'lish wild, I own—he's dev'lish wild."
"It's you who are cruel to him," said the old moralist. "Why, sir, you'll ruin him yourself inevitably in three years."
"Yes, but perhaps I won't have such dev'lish bad luck, you know;—the luck must turn: and I'll reform, by Gad, I'll reform. And if you were to split on me, it would cut up my wife so; you know it would, most infernally."
"To be parted from you," said the old Major, with a sneer; "you know she won't live with you again."
"But why can't Lady C. live abroad, or at Bath, or at Tunbridge, or at the doose, and I go on here?" Clavering continued. "I like being here better than abroad, and I like being in Parliament. It's dev'lish convenient being in Parliament. There's very few seats like mine left; and if I gave it 'em, I should not wonder the Ministry would give me an island to govern, or some dev'lish good thing; for you know I'm a gentleman of dev'lish good family, and have a handle to my name, and—and that sort of thing, Major Pendennis. Eh, don't you see? Don't you think they'd give me something dev'lish good if I was to play my cards well? And then, you know, I'd save money, and be kept out of the way of the confounded hells and rouge et noir—and—and so I'd rather not give up Parliament, please." For at one instant to hate and defy a man, at the next to weep before him, and at the next to be perfectly confidential and friendly with him, was not an unusual process with our versatile-minded Baronet.
"As for your seat in Parliament," the Major said, with something of a blush on his cheek, and a certain tremor, which the other did not see, "you must part with that, Sir Francis Clavering, to—to me."
"What! are you going into the House, Major Pendennis?""No—not I; but my nephew, Arthur, is a very clever fellow, and would make a figure there: and when Clavering had two Members, his father might very likely have been one; and—and I should like Arthur to be there," the Major said.
"Dammy, does he know it, too?" cried out Clavering.
"Nobody knows anything out of this room," Pendennis answered; "and if you do this favour for me, I hold my tongue. If not, I'm a man of my word, and will do what I have said."
"I say, Major," said Sir Francis, with a peculiarly humble smile, "you—you couldn't get me my first quarter in advance, could you, like the best of fellows? You can do anything with Lady Clavering; and, upon my oath, I'll take up that bill of Abrams. The little dam scoundrel, I know he'll do me in the business—he always does; and if you could do this for me, we'd see, Major."
"And I think your best plan would be to go down in September to Clavering to shoot, and take my nephew with you, and introduce him. Yes, that will be the best time. And we will try and manage about the advance." (Arthur may lend him that, thought old Pendennis. Confound him, a seat in Parliament is worth a hundred and fifty pounds.) "And, Clavering, you understand, of course, my nephew knows nothing about this business. You have a mind to retire: he is a Clavering man and a good representative for the borough; you introduce him, and your people vote for him—you see."
"When can you get me the hundred and fifty, Major? When shall I come and see you? Will you be at home this evening or to-morrow morning? Will you have anything here? They've got some dev'lish good bitters in the bar. I often have a glass of bitters, it sets one up so."
The old Major would take no refreshment; but rose and took his leave of the Baronet, who walked with him to the door of the "Wheel of Fortune," and then strolled into the bar, where he took a glass of gin-and-bitters with the landlady there: and a gentleman connected with the ring (who boarded at the "Wheel of F.") coming in, he and Sir Francis Clavering and the landlord talked about the fights and the news of the sporting world in general; and at length Mr. Moss Abrams arrived with the proceeds of the Baronet's bill, from which his own handsome commission was deducted, and out of the remainder Sir Francis "stood" a dinner at Greenwich to his distinguished friend, and passed the evening gaily at Vauxhall.
Meanwhile Major Pendennis, calling a cab in Piccadilly, drove to Lamb Court, Temple, where he speedily was closeted with his nephew in deep conversation.
After their talk they parted on very good terms, and it was in consequence of that unreported conversation, whereof the reader nevertheless can pretty well guess the bearing, that Arthur expressed himself as we have heard in the colloquy with Warrington, which is reported in the last chapter.
When a man is tempted to do a tempting thing, he can find a hundred ingenious reasons for gratifying his liking: and Arthur thought very much that he would like to be in Parliament, and that he would like to distinguish himself there, and that he need not care much what side he took, as there was falsehood and truth on every side. And on this and on other matters he thought he would compromise with his conscience, and that Sadduceeism was a very convenient and good-humoured profession of faith.
PHILLIS AND CORYDON.
N a picturesque common in the neighbourhood of Tunbridge Wells, Lady Clavering had found a pretty villa, whither she retired after her conjugal disputes at the end of that unlucky London season. Miss Amory, of course, accompanied her mother, and Master Clavering came home for the holidays, with whom Blanche's chief occupation was to fight and quarrel. But this was only a home pastime, and the young school-boy was not fond of home sports. He found cricket, and horses, and plenty of friends at Tunbridge. The good-natured Begum's house was filled with a constant society of young gentlemen of thirteen, who ate and drank much too copiously of tarts and champagne, who rode races on the lawn, and frightened the fond mother, who smoked and made themselves sick, and the dining-room unbearable to Miss Blanche. She did not like the society of young gentlemen of thirteen.
As for that fair young creature, any change as long as it was change was pleasant to her; and for a week or two she would have liked poverty and a cottage, and bread and cheese;