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accepted the trust, was always rather jealous of the orphan; and gloomily ordered that she should be called by her own mother’s name; and not by that first one which her father had given her. She was afraid of Mr. Pendennis, to the last moment of his life. And it was only when her husband was gone that Helen dared openly to‘indulge in the tenderness which she felt for the little girl.
Thus it was that Laura Bell became Mrs. Pendennis’s daughter. Neither her husband, nor that gentleman’s brother, the Major, viewed her with very favourable eyes. She reminded the first of circumstances in his wife’s life which he was forced to accept, but would have forgotten much more willingly: and as for the second, how could he regard her? She was neither related to his own family of Pendennis, nor to any nobleman in this empire, and she had but a couple of thousand pounds for her fortune.
And now let Mr. Pen come in, who has been waiting all this while.
Having strung up his nerves, and prepared himself, without at the door, for the meeting, he came to it, determined to face the awful uncle. He had settled in his mind that the encounter was to be a fierce one, and was resolved on bearing it through with all the courage and dignity of the famous family which he represented. And he flung open the door and entered with the most severe and warlike expression, armed cap-d-pie as it were, with lance couched and plumes displayed, and glancing at his adversary, as if to say, “ Come on, I’m ready.”
The old man of the world, as he surveyed the boy’s demeanour, could hardly help a grin at his admirable pompous simplicity.‘ Major Pendennis too had examined his ground; and finding that the widow was already half won over to the enemy, and having a shrewd notion that threats and tragic exhortations would have no effect upon the boy, who was inclined to be perfectly stubborn and awfully serious, the Major laid aside the authoritative manner at once, and with the most good humoured natural smile in the world, held out his hands to Pen, shook the lad’s passive fingers gaily, and said, “ Well, Pen, my boy, tell us all about it.”
Helen was delighted with the generosity of the Major’s good humour. On the contrary, it quite took aback and disappointed poor Pen, whose nerves were strung up for a tragedy, and who felt that his grand entrée was altogether baulked and ludicrous. He blushed and winced with mortified vanity and bewilderment. He felt immensely inclined to begin to cry. “ I—I—I didn’t know that you were come till just now,” he said: “ is—is—town very full I suppose ? ”
If Pen could hardly gulp his tears down, it was all the Major could do to keep from laughter. He turned round and shot a comical glance at Mrs. Pendennis, who too felt that the scene was at once ridiculous and sentimental. And so, having nothing to say, she went up and kissed Mr. Pen: as he thought of her tenderness and soft obedience to his wishes, it is very possible too the boy was melted.
“What a couple of fools they are!” thought the old guardian. “If I hadn’t come down, she would have driven over in state to pay a visit and give her blessing to the young lady’s family.”
“ Come, come,” said he, still grinning at the couple, “let us have as little sentiment as possible, and Pen, my good fellow, tell us the whole story.”
Pen got back at once to his tragic and heroical air. “The story is, sir,” said he, “ as I have written it to you before. I have made the acquaintance of a most beautiful and most virtuous lady; of a high family, although in reduced circumstances; I have found the woman in whom I know that the happiness of my life is centred; I feel‘that I never, never can think about any woman but her. I am aware of the difference of our ages and other difficulties in my way. But my affection was so great that I felt I could surmount all these;—that we both could: and she has consented to unite her lot with mine, and to accept my heart and my fortune.”
“How much is that, my boy?” said the Major. “Has anybody left you some money? I don’t know that you are worth a shilling in the world.”
“You know what I have is his,” cried out Mrs. Pendennis.
“Good heavens, madam, hold your tongue!” was what the guardian was disposed to say; but he kept his temper, not without a struggle. “No doubt, no doubt,” he said. “You would sacrifice anything for him. Everybody knows that. But it is, after all then, your fortune which Pen is offering to the young lady; and of which he wishes to take possession at eighteen.”
“I know my mother will give me anything,” Pen said, looking rather disturbed.
“Yes, my good fellow, but there is reason in all things. If your mother keeps the house, it is but fair that she should select her company. When you give her house over her head, and transfer her banker’s account to yourself for the benefit of Miss What-d’-you-call’-em—Miss Costigan—don’t you think you should at least have consulted my sister as one of the principal parties in the transaction ? I am speaking to you, you see, without the least anger or assumption of authority, such as the law and your father’s will give me over you for three years to come—but as one man of the world to another, —and I ask you, if you think that, because you can do what you like with your mother, therefore you have a right to do so ? As you are her dependant, would it not have been more generous to wait before you took this step, and at least to have paid her the courtesy to ask her leave ? ”
Pen held down his head, and began dimly to perceive that the action on which he had prided himself as a most romantic, generous instance of disinterested affection, was perhaps a very selfish and headstrong piece of folly.
“ I did it in a moment of passion,” said Pen, floundering; “ I was not aware what I was going to say or to do ” (and in this he spoke with perfect sincerity). “But now it is said, and I stand to it. No ; I neither can nor will recall it. I’ll die rather than do so. And I—I don’t want to burden my mother,” he continued. “I’ll work for myself. I’ll go on the stage, and act with her. She—she says I should do well there.”
“ But will she take you on those terms?” the Major interposed. “Mind, I do not say that Miss Costigan is not the most disinterested of women: but don’t you suppose, now,
fairly, that your position as a young gentleman of ancient birth and decent expectations, forms a part of the cause why she finds your addresses welcome ? ”
“I’ll die, I say, rather than forfeit my pledge to her,” said Pen, doubling his fists and turning red.
“ Who asks you, my dear friend?” answered the imperturbable guardian. “No gentleman breaks his word, of course, when it has been given freely. But, after all, you can wait. You owe something to your mother, something to your family—something to me as your father’s representative.”
“ Oh, of course,” Pen said, feeling rather relieved.
“Well, as you have pledged your word to her, give us another, will you, Arthur ‘P ”
“ What is it ? ” Arthur asked. ‘
“That you will make no private marriage—that you won’t be taking a trip to Scotland, you understand ? ”
“ That would be a falsehood. Pen never told his mother a falsehood,” Helen said.
Pen hung down his head again, and his eyes filled with tears of shame. Had not this whole intrigue been a falsehood to that tender and confiding creature who was ready to give up all for his sake ? He gave his uncle his hand.
“No, sir—on my word of honour, as a gentleman,” he said, “ I will never marry without my mother’s consent 1 ” and giving Helen a bright parting look of confidence and affection unchangeable, the boy went out of the drawing-room into his own study.
“He’s an angel—he’s an angel,” the mother cried out in one of her usual raptures.
“ He comes of a good stock, ma’am,” said her brother-inlaw—“of a good stock on both sides.” The Major was greatly pleased with the result of his diplomacy—so much so, that he once more saluted the tips of Mrs. Pendennis’s glove, and dropping the curt, manly, and straightforward tone in which he had conducted the conversation with the lad, assumed a certain drawl, which he always adopted when he was most conceited and fine.
“ My dear creature,” said he, in that his politest tone, “ I think it certainly as well that I came down, and I flatter my
self that last botta was a successful one. I tell you how I came to think of it. Three years ago my kind friend Lady Ferrybridge sent for me in the greatest state of alarm about her son Gretna, whose afiair you remember, and implored me to use my influence with the young gentleman, who was engaged in an afi'aire de occur with a Scotch clergyman’s daughter, Miss Mac Toddy. I implored, I entreated gentle measures. But Lord Ferrybridge was furious, and tried the high hand. Gretna was sulky and silent, and his parents thought they had conquered. But what was the fact, my dear creature? The young people had been married for three months before Lord Ferrybridge knew anything about it. And that was why I extracted the promise from Master Pen.”
“Arthur would never have done so,” Mrs. Pendennis said.
“ He hasn’t,—that is one comfort,” answered the brotherin-law.
Like a wary and patient man of the world, Major Pendennis did not press poor Pen any farther for the moment, but hoped the best from time, and that the young fellow’s eyes would be opened before long to see the absurdity of which he was guilty. And having found out how keen the boy’s point of honour was, he worked upon that kindly feeling with great skill, discoursing him over their wine after dinner, and pointing out to Pen the necessity of a perfect uprightness and openness in all his dealings, and entreating that his communications with his interesting young friend (as the Major politely called Miss Fotheringay) should be carried on with the knowledge, if not approbation, of Mrs. Pendennis. “ After all, Pen,” the Major said, with a convenient frankness that did not displease the boy, whilst it advanced the interests of the negotiator, “you must bear in mind that you are throwing yourself away. Your mother may submit to your marriage as she would to anything else you desired, if you did but cry long enough for it: but be sure of this, that it can never please her. You take a young woman off the boards of a country theatre and prefer her, for such is the case, to one of the finest ladies in England. And your mother will