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be—there might be somebody else," said Laura, with a repetition of the blush.
"And if there is," broke in Arthur, "and if I am free once again, will the best and dearest of all women"
"You are not free, dear brother," Laura said calmly. "You belong to another; of whom I own it grieves me to think ill. But I can't do otherwise. It is very odd that in this letter she does not urge you to tell her the reason why you have broken arrangements which would have been so advantageous to you; and avoids speaking on the subject. She somehow seems to write as if she knows her father's secret."
Pen said, "Yes, she must know it;" and told the story, which he had just heard from Huxter, of the interview at Shepherd's Inn.
"It was not so that she described the meeting," said Laura; and going to her desk, produced from it that letter of Blanche's which mentioned her visit to Shepherd's Inn. "Another disappointment—only the Chevalier Strong and a friend of his in the room." This was all that Blanche had said. "But she was bound to keep her father's secret, Pen," Laura added. "And yet, and yet—it is very puzzling."
The puzzle was this, that for three weeks after this eventful discovery Blanche had been only too eager about her dearest Arthur; was urging, as strongly as so much modesty could urge, the completion of the happy arrangements which were to make her Arthur's forever; and now it seemed as if something had interfered to mar these happy arrangements—as if Arthur poor was not quite so agreeable to Blanche as Arthur rich and a member of Parliament—as if there was some mystery. At last she said—
"Tunbridge Wells is not very far off, is it, Arthur? Hadn't you better go and see her?"
They had been in town a week, and neither had thought of that simple plan before!
SHOWS HOW ARTHUR HAD BETTER HAVE TAKEN A
HE train carried Arthur only too quickly to Tunbridge, though he had time to review all the circumstances of his life as he made the brief journey; and to acknowledge to what sad conclusions his selfishness and waywardness had led him. "Here is the end of hopes and aspirations," thought he, "of romance and ambitions! Where I yield or where I am obstinate, I am alike unfortunate; my mother implores me, and I refuse an angel! Say I had taken her; forced on me as she was, Laura would never have been an angel to me. I could not have given her my heart at another's instigation; I could never have known her as she is, had I been obliged to ask another to interpret her qualities and point out her virtues. I yield to my uncle's solicitations, and accept on his guarantee Blanche, and a seat in Parliament, and wealth, and ambition and a career; and see!—fortune comes and leaves me the wife without the dowry, which I had taken in compensation of a heart. Why was I not more honest, or am I not less so? It would have cost my poor old uncle no pangs to accept Blanche's fortune whencesoever it came; he can't even understand, he is bitterly indignant, heart-stricken almost, at the scruples which actuate me in refusing it. I dissatisfy everybody. A maimed, weak, imperfect wretch, it seems as if I am unequal to any fortune. I neither make myself nor anyone connected with me happy. What prospect is there for this poor little frivolous girl, who is to take my obscure name and share my fortune? I have not even ambition to excite me, or self-esteem enough to console myself, much more her, for my failure. If I were to write a book that should go through twenty editions, why, I should be the very first to sneer at my reputation. Say I could succeed at the Bar, and achieve a fortune by bullying witnesses and twisting evidence; is that a fame which would satisfy my longings, or a calling in which my life would be well spent? How I wish I could be that priest opposite, who never has lifted his eyes from his breviary, except when we were in Reigate tunnel, when he could not see: or that old gentleman next him, who scowls at him with eyes of hatred over his newspaper. The priest shuts his eyes to the world, but has his thoughts on the book, which is his directory to the world to come. His neighbour hates him as a monster, tyrant, persecutor, and fancies burning martyrs, and that pale countenance looking on, and lighted up by the flame. These have no doubts; these march on trustfully, bearing their load of logic."
"Would you like to look at the paper, sir?" here interposed the stout gentleman (it had a flaming article against the order of the black-coated gentleman who was travelling with them in the carriage), and Pen thanked him and took it, and pursued his reverie, without reading two sentences of the journal.
"And yet, would you take either of those men's creeds, with its consequences?" he thought. "Ah me! you must bear your own burthen, fashion your own faith, think your own thoughts, and pray your own prayer. To what mortal ear could I tell all, if I had a mind? or who could understand all? Who can tell another's shortcomings, lost opportunities, weigh the passions which overpower, the defects which incapacitate reason ?—what extent of truth and right his neighbour's mind is organised to perceive and to do ?—what invisible and forgotten accident, terror of youth, chance or mischance of fortune, may have altered the current of life? A grain of sand may alter it, as the flinging of a pebble may end it. Who can weigh circumstances, passions, temptations, that go to our good and evil account, save One, before whose awful wisdom we kneel, and at whose mercy we ask absolution? Here it ends," thought Pen; "this day or to-morrow will wind up the account of my youth; a weary retrospect, alas! a sad history, with many a page I would fain not look back on! But who has not been tired or fallen, and who has escaped without scars from that struggle?" And his head fell on his breast, and the young man's heart prostrated itself humbly and sadly before that Throne where sits wisdom, and love, and pity for all, and made its confession. "What matters about fame or poverty?" he thought. "If I marry this woman I have chosen, may I have strength and will to be true to her, and to make her happy! If I have children, pray God teach me to speak and to do the truth among them, and to leave them an honest name. There are no splendours for my marriage. Does my life deserve any? I begin a new phase of it; a better than the last may it be, I pray Heaven!"
The train stopped at Tunbridge as Pen was making these reflections: and he handed over the newspaper to his neighbour, of whom he took leave, while the foreign clergyman in the opposite corner still sate with his eyes on his book. Pen jumped out of the carriage then, his carpet-bag in hand, and briskly determined to face his fortune.
A fly carried him rapidly to Lady Clavering's house from the station; and, as he was transported thither, Arthur composed a little speech, which he intended to address to Blanche, and which was really as virtuous, honest, and well-minded an oration as any man of his turn of mind, and under his circumstances, could have uttered. The purport of it was— "Blanche, I cannot understand from your last letter what your meaning is, or whether my fair and frank proposal to you is acceptable or no. I think you know the reason which induces me to forego the worldly advantages which a union with you offered, and which I could not accept without, as I fancy, being dishonoured. If you doubt of my affection, here I am ready to prove it. Let Smirke be called in, and let us be married out of hand; and with all my heart I purpose to keep my vow, and to cherish you through life, and to be a true and a loving husband to you."
From the fly Arthur sprang out then to the hall-door, where he was met by a domestic whom he did not know. The man seemed to be surprised at the approach of the gentleman with the carpet-bag, which he made no attempt to take from Arthur's hands. "Her ladyship's not at home, sir," the man remarked.
"I am Mr. Pendennis," Arthur said. "Where is Lightfoot?""Lightfoot is gone," answered the man. "My Lady is out, and my orders was"
"I hear Miss Amory's voice in the drawing-room," said Arthur. "Take the bag to a dressing-room, if you please;" and, passing by the porter, he walked straight towards that apartment, from which, as the door opened, a warble of melodious notes issued.
Our little Siren was at her piano, singing with all her might and fascinations. Master Clavering was asleep on the sofa, indifferent to the music: but near Blanche sat a gentleman who was perfectly enraptured with her strain, which was of a passionate and melancholy nature.
As the door opened, the gentleman started up with a Hullo! the music stopped, with a little shriek from the singer; Frank Clavering woke up from the sofa, and Arthur came forward and said, "What, Foker! how do you do, Foker?" He looked at the piano, and there, by Miss Amory's side, was just such another purple-leather box as he had seen in Harry's hand three days before, when the heir of Logwood was coming out of a jeweller's shop in Waterloo Place. It was opened, and curled round the white satin cushion within was, oh, such a magnificent serpentine bracelet, with such a blazing ruby head and diamond tail!
"How de-do, Pendennis?" said Foker. Blanche made many motions of the shoulders, and gave signs of interest