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He must come and see me," said Lady Eockminster, with a look at Laura.
"He has been engaged for many years past to his cousin, Lady"
"Lady Ann is a foolish little chit," Lady Eockminster said, with much dignity: "and I have no patience with her. She has outraged every feeling of society. She has broken her father's heart, and thrown away fifteen thousand a-year."
"Thrown away! What has happened?" asked Pen.
"It will be the talk of the town in a day or two; and there is no need why I should keep the secret any longer," said Lady Eockminster, who had written and received a dozen letters on the subject. "I had a letter yesterday from my daughter, who was staying at Drummington until all the world was obliged to go away on account of the frightful catastrophe which happened there. When Mr. Foker came home from Nice, and after the funeral, Lady Ann went down on her knees to her father, said that she never could marry her cousin, that she had contracted another attachment, and that she must die rather than fulfil her contract. Poor Lord Eosherville, who is dreadfully embarrassed, showed his daughter what the state of his affairs was, and that it was necessary that the arrangements should take place; and, in fine, we all supposed that she had listened to reason, and intended to comply with the desires of her family. But what has happened—last Thursday she went out after breakfast with her maid, and was married in the very church in Drummington Park to Mr. Hobson, her father's own chaplain and her brother's tutor; a red-haired widower with two children. Poor dear Eosherville is in a dreadful way: he wishes Henry Foker should marry Alice or Barbara; but Alice is marked with the smallpox, and Barbara is ten years older than he is. And, of course, now the young man is his own master, he will think of choosing for himself. The blow on Lady Agnes is very cruel. She is inconsolable. She has the house in Grosvenor Street for her life, and her settlement, which was very handsome. Have you not met her? Yes, she dined one day at Lady Clavering's—the first day I saw you, and a very disagreeable young man I thought you were. But I have formed you. We have formed him, haven't we, Laura? Where is Bluebeard? let him come. That horrid Grindley, the dentist, will keep me in town another week."
To the latter part of her Ladyship's speech Arthur gave no ear. He was thinking for whom could Foker be purchasing those trinkets which he was carrying away from the jeweller's? Why did Harry seem anxious to avoid him? Could he be still faithful to the attachment which had agitated- him so much, and sent him abroad eighteen months back? Psha! The bracelets and presents were for some of Harry's old friends of the Opera or the French Theatre. Rumours from Naples and Paris, rumours such as are borne to Club smoking-rooms, had announced that the young man had found distractions; or, precluded from his virtuous attachment, the poor fellow had flung himself back upon his old companions and amusements—not the only man or woman whom society forces into evil, or debars from good: not the only victim of the world's selfish and wicked laws.
As a good thing when it is to be done cannot be done too quickly, Laura was anxious that Pen's marriage intentions should be put into execution as speedily as possible, and pressed on his arrangements with rather a feverish anxiety. Why could she not wait? Pen could afford to do so with perfect equanimity, but Laura would hear of no delay. She wrote to Pen: she implored Pen: she used every means to urge expedition. It seemed as if she could have no rest until Arthur's happiness was complete.
She offered herself to dearest Blanche to come and stay at Tunbridge with her, when Lady Eockminster should go on her intended visit to the reigning house of Eockminster; and although the old dowager scolded, and ordered, and commanded, Laura was deaf and disobedient; she must go to Tunbridge, she would go to Tunbridge; she who ordinarily had no will of her own, and complied smilingly with anybody's whim and caprice, showed the most selfish and obstinate determination in this instance. The dowager lady must nurse herself in her rheumatism, she must read herself to sleep, if she would not hear her maid, whose voice croaked, and who made sad work of the sentimental passages in the novelsLaura must go, and be with her new sister. In another week, she proposed, with many loves and regards to dear Lady Clavering, to pass some time with dearest Blanche.
Dearest Blanche wrote instantly in reply to dearest Laura's No. 1, to say with what extreme delight she should welcome her sister: how charming it would be to practise their old duets together, to wander o'er the grassy sward, and amidst the yellowing woods of Penshurst and Southborough! Blanche counted the hours till she should embrace her dearest friend.
Laura, No. 2, expressed her delight at dearest Blanche's affectionate reply. She hoped that their friendship would never diminish; that the confidence between them would grow in after years; that they should have no secrets from each other; that the aim of the life of each would be to make one person happy.
Blanche, No. 2, followed in two days. "How provoking! Their house was very small, the two spare bedrooms were occupied by that horrid Mrs. Planter and her daughter, who had thought proper to fall ill (she always fell ill in country houses), and she could not or would not be moved for some days."
Laura, No. 8. "It was indeed very provoking. L. had hoped to hear one of dearest B.'s dear songs on Friday: but she was the more consoled to wait, because Lady B. was not very well, and liked to be nursed by her. Poor Major Pendennis was very unwell too, in the same hotel—too unwell even to see Arthur, who was constant in his calls on his uncle. Arthur's heart was full of tenderness and affection. She had known Arthur all her life. She would answer "—yes, even in italics she would answer—"for his kindness, his goodness, and his gentleness."
Blanche, No. 8. "What is this most surprising, most extraordinary letter from A. P.? What does dearest Laura know about it? What has happened? What, what mystery is enveloped under his frightful reserve?"
Blanche, No. 8, requires an explanation; and it cannot be better given than in the surprising and mysterious letter of Arthur Pendennis.
MR. AND MRS. SAM HUXTEB.
EAE BLANCHE," Arthur wrote, "you are always reading and dreaming pretty dramas, and exciting romances in real life, are you now prepared to enact a part of one? And not the pleasantest part, dear Blanche, that in which the heroine takes possession of her father's palace and wealth, and, introducing her husband to the loyal retainers and faithful vassals, greets her happy bridegroom with 'AH of this is mine and thine,'—but the other character, that of the luckless lady, who suddenly discovers that she is not the Prince's wife, but Claude Melnotte's the beggar's: that of Alnaschar's wife, who comes in just as her husband has kicked over the tray of porcelain which was to be the making of his fortune.—But stay; Alnaschar, who kicked down the china, was not a married man; he had cast his eye on the Vizier's daughter, and his hopes of her went to the ground with the shattered bowls and teacups.
"Will you be the Vizier's daughter, and refuse and laugh to scorn Alnaschar, or will you be the Lady of Lyons, and love the penniless Claude Melnotte? I will act that part if you like. I will love you my best in return. I will do my all to make your humble life happy: for humble it will be: at least the odds are against any other conclusion; we shall live and die in a poor, prosy, humdrum way. There will be no stars and epaulettes for the hero of our story. I shall write one or two more stories, which will presently be forgotten. I shall be called to the Bar, and try to get on in my profession; perhaps some day, if I am very lucky, and work very hard (which is absurd), I may get a colonial appointment, and you may be an Indian Judge's lady. Meanwhile I shall buy the Pall Mall Gazette; the publishers are tired of it since the death of poor Shandon, and will sell it for a small sum. Warrington will be my right hand, and write it up to a respectable sale. I will introduce you to Mr. Finucane the subeditor, and I know who in the end will be Mrs. Finucane,—a very nice gentle creature, who has lived sweetly through a sad life—and we will jog on, I say, and look out for better times, and earn our living decently. You shall have the opera-boxes, and superintend the fashionable intelligence, and break your little heart in the poet's corner. Shall we live over the offices? —there are four very good rooms, a kitchen, and a garret for Laura, in Catherine Street in the Strand; or would you like a house in the Waterloo Eoad ?—it would be very pleasant, only there is that halfpenny toll at the Bridge. The boys may go to King's College, mayn't they? Does this all read to you like a joke?
"Ah, dear Blanche, it is no joke, and I am sober and telling the truth. Our fine day-dreams are gone. Our carriage has whirled out of sight like Cinderella's: our house in Belgravia has been whisked away into the air by a malevolent Genius, and I am no more a Member of Parliament than I am a Bishop on his bench in the House of Lords, or a Duke with a Garter at his knee. You know pretty well what my property is, and your own little fortune: we may have enough with those two to live in decent comfort: to take a cab sometimes when we go out to see our friends, and not to deny ourselves 'an omnibus when we are tired. But that is all: is that enough for you, my little dainty lady? I doubt sometimes whether