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A CHAPTER OF MATCH-MAKING.
PON the platform at Tunbridge, Pen fumed and fretted until the arrival of the evening train to London, a full half-hour,— six hours it seemed to him; but even this immense interval was passed, the train arrived, the train sped on, the London lights came in view—a gentleman who forgot his carpet-bag in the train rushed at a cab, and said to the man, "Drive as hard as you can go to Jermyn Street." The cabman, although a Hansom cabman, said "Thank you" for the gratuity which was put into his hand, and Pen ran up the stairs of the hotel to Lady Eockminster's apartments. Laura was alone in the drawing-room, reading, with a pale face, by the lamp. The pale face looked up when Pen opened the door. May we follow him? The great moments of life are but moments like the others. Your doom is spoken in a word or two. A single look from the eyes; a mere pressure of the hand, may decide it; or of the lips, though they cannot speak.
When Lady Eockminster, who has had her after-dinner nap, gets up and goes into her sitting-room, we may enter with her Ladyship.
"Upon my word, young people!" are the first words she says, and her attendant makes wondering eyes over her shoulder. And well may she say so; and well may the u, tendant cast wondering eyes; for the young people are in an attitude; and Pen in such a position as every young lady who reads this has heard tell of, or has seen, or hopes, or at any rate deserves to see.
In a word, directly he entered the room, Pen went up to Laura of the pale face, who had not time even to say, What, back so soon? and seizing her outstretched and trembling hand just as she was rising from her chair, fell down on his knees before her, and said quickly, "I have seen her. She has engaged herself to Harry Foker—and—and Now, Laura?"
The hand gives a pressure—the eyes beam a reply—the quivering lips answer, though speechless. Pen's head sinks down in the girl's lap, as he sobs out, "Come and bless us, dear mother!" and arms as tender as Helen's once more enfold him.
In this juncture it is that Lady Eockminster comes in and says, "Upon my word, young people! Beck! leave the room. What do you want poking your nose in here?"
Pen starts up with looks of triumph, still holding Laura's hand. "She is consoling me for my misfortune, ma'am," he says.
"What do you mean by kissing her hand? I don't know what you will be next doing."
Pen kissed her Ladyship's. "I have been to Tunbridge," he says, "and seen Miss Amory; and find on my arrival that '—that a villain has transplanted me in her affections," he says with a tragedy air.
"Is that all? Is that what you were whimpering on your knees about?" says the old lady, growing angry. "You might have kept the news till to-morrow."
"Yes—another has superseded me," goes on Pen; "but why call him villain? He is brave, he is constant, he is young, he is wealthy, he is beautiful."
"What stuff are you talking, sir?" cried the old lady. "What has happened?"
"Miss Amory has jilted me, and accepted Henry Foker, Esquire. I found her warbling ditties to him as he lay at her feet; presents had been accepted, vows exchanged, these ten days. Harry was old Mrs. Planter's rheumatism., which kept dearest Laura out of the house. He is the most constant and generous of men. He has promised the living of Logwood to Lady Ann's husband, and given her a splendid present on her marriage; and he rushed to fling himself at Blanche's feet the instant he found he was free."
"And so, as you can't get Blanche, you put up with Laura: is that it, sir?" asked the old lady.
"He acted nobly," Laura said.
"I acted as she bade me," said Pen. "Never mind how, Lady Eockminster: but to the best of my knowledge and power. And if you mean that I am not worthy of Laura, I know it, and pray Heaven to better me; and if the love and company of the best and purest creature in the world can do so, at least I shall have these to help me."
"Hm, hm," replied the old lady to this, looking with rather an appeased air at the young people. "It is all very well; but I should have preferred Bluebeard."
And now Pen, to divert the conversation from a theme which was growing painful to some parties present, bethought him of his interview with Huxter in the morning, and of Fanny Bolton's affairs, which he had forgotten under the immediate pressure and excitement of his own. And he told the ladies how Huxter had elevated Fanny to the rank of wife, and what terrors he was in respecting the arrival of his father. He described the scene with considerable humour, taking care to dwell especially upon that part of it which concerned Fanny's coquetry and irrepressible desire of captivating mankind; his meaning being, "You see, Laura, I was not so guilty in that little affair; it was the girl who made love to me, and I who resisted. As I am no longer present, the little Siren practises her arts and fascinations upon others. Let that transaction be forgotten in your mind, if you please; or visit me with a very gentle punishment for my error."
Laura understood his meaning under the eagerness of his explanations. "If you did any wrong, you repented, dear Pen," she said, "and you know," she added, with meaning eyes and blushes, "that I have no right to reproach you."
"Hm! " grumbled the old lady; "I should have preferred Bluebeard."
"The past is broken away. The morrow is before us. I will do my best to make your morrow happy, dear Laura," Pen said. His heart was humbled by the prospect of his happiness: it stood awe-stricken in the contemplation of her sweet goodness and purity. He liked his wife better that she had owned to that passing feeling for Warrington, and laid bare her generous heart to him. And she—very likely she was thinking, "How strange it is that I ever should have cared for another; I am vexed almost to think I care for him so little, am so little sorry that he is gone away. Oh, in these past two months how I have learned to love Arthur! I care about nothing but Arthur; my waking and sleeping thoughts are about him; he is never absent from me. And to think that he is to be mine, mine! and that I am to marry him, and not to be his servant as I expected to be only this morning; for I would have gone down on my knees to Blanche to beg her to let me live with him. And now—Oh, it is too much. Oh, mother! mother, that you were here!" Indeed, she felt as if Helen were there—by her actually, though invisibly. A halo of happiness beamed from her. She moved with a different step, and bloomed with a new beauty. Arthur saw the change; and the old Lady Eockminster remarked it with her shrewd eyes.
"What a sly demure little wretch you have been," she whispered to Laura—while Pen, in great spirits, was laughing, and telling his story about Huxter—" and how you have kept your secret!"
"How are we to help the young couple?" said Laura. Of course Miss Laura felt an interest in all young couples, as generous lovers always love other lovers.
<:We must go and see them," said Pen.
"Of course we must go and see them," said Laura. "I intend to be very fond of Fanny. Let us go this instant. Lady Kockminster, may I have the carriage?"
"Go now !—Why, you stupid creature, it is eleven o'clock at night. Mr. and Mrs. Huxter have got their nightcaps on, I dare say. And it is time for you to go now. Good-night, Mr. Pendennis."
Arthur and Laura begged for ten minutes more. "We will go to-morrow morning, then. I will come and fetch you with Martha."
"An earl's coronet," said Pen, who, no doubt, was pleased himself, "will have a great effect in Lamb Court and Smithfield. Stay—Lady Eockminster, will you join us in a little conspiracy?"
"How do you mean conspiracy, young man?" "Will you please to be a little ill to-morrow; and when old Mr. Huxter arrives, will you let me call him in? If he is put into a good humour at the notion of attending a baronet in the country, what influence won't a countess have on him? -When he is softened—when he is quite ripe, we will break the secret upon him; bring in the young people, extort the paternal benediction, and finish the comedy."
"A parcel of stuff," said the old lady. "Take your hat, sir. Come away, miss. There—my head is turned another way. Good-night, young people." And who knows but the old lady thought of her own early days as she went away on Laura's arm, nodding her head, and humming to herself?
With the early morning came Laura and Martha, according to appointment; and the desired sensation was, let us hope, effected in Lamb Court, whence the three proceeded to wait upon Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Huxter, at their residence in Charterhouse Lane.
The two ladies looked at each other with great interest, and not a little emotion on Fanny's part. She had not seen her "guardian," as she was pleased to call Pen in consequence of his bequest, since the event had occurred which had united her to Mr. Huxter.
"Samuel told me how kind you had been," she said. "You were always very kind, Mr. Pendennis. And—and I Vol. n. H H 4