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submit to your choice, but you can’t suppose that she will be happy under it. I have often fancied, entre nous, that my sister had it in her eye to make a marriage between you and that little ward of hers—Flora, Laura—what’s her name? And I always determined to do my small endeavour to prevent any such match. The child has but two thousand pounds, I am given to understand. It is only with the utmost economy and care that my sister can provide for the decent maintenance of her house, and for your appearance and education as a gentleman; and I don’t care to own to you that I had other and much higher views for you. With your name and birth, sir—with your talents, which I suppose are respectable, with the friends whom I have the honour to possess, I could have placed you in an excellent position—a remarkable position for a young man of such exceeding small means, and had hoped to see you, at least, try to restore the honours of 0111‘ name. Your mother’s softness stopped one prospect, or you might have been a general like our gallant ancestor who fought at Ramillies and Malplaquet. I had another plan in View: my excellent and kind friend, Lord Bagwig, who is very well disposed towards me, would, I have little doubt, have attached you to his mission at Pumpernickel, and you might have advanced in the diplomatic service. But, pardon me for recurring to the subject ; how is a man to serve a young gentleman of eighteen, who proposes to marry a lady of thirty, whom he has selected from a booth in a fair ?—well, not a fair,—barn. That profession at once is closed to you. The public service is closed to you. Society is closed to you. You see, my good friend, to what you bring yourself. You may get on at the bar to be sure, where I am given to understand that gentlemen of merit occasionally marry out of their kitchens; but in no other profession. Or you may come and live down here—down here, mon Dieu. ’ for ever” (said the Major, with a dreary shrug, as he thought with inexpressible fondness of Pall Mall), “where your mother will receive the Mrs. Arthur that is to be, with perfect kindness; where the good people of the county won’t visit you; and where, by Gad, sir, I shall be shy of visiting you myself, for I’m a plainSpoken man, and I own to you that I like to live with gentle
men for my companions; where you will have to live, with rum-and-water drinking gentlemen-farmers, and drag through your life the young husband of an old woman, who, if she doesn’t quarrel with your mother, will at least cost that lady her position in society, and drag her down into that dubious caste into which you must inevitably fall. It is no affair of mine, my good sir. I am not angry. Your downfall will not hurt me farther than that it will extinguish the hopes I had of seeing my family once more taking its place in the world. It is only your mother and yourself that will be ruined. And I pity you both from my soul. Pass the claret: it is some I sent to your poor father; I remember I bought it at poor Lord Levant’s sale. But of course,” added the Major, smacking the wine, “having engaged yourself, you will do what becomes you as a man of honour, however fatal your promise may be. However, promise us on your side, my boy, what I set out by entreating you to grant,—that there shall be nothing clandestine, that you will pursue your studies, that you will only visit your interesting friend at proper intervals. Do you write to her much ? ”
Pen blushed and said, “ Why, yes, he had written.”
“ I suppose verses, eh! as well as prose ? I was a dab at verses myself. I recollect when I first joined, I used to write verses for the fellows in the regiment; and did some pretty things in that way. I was talking to my old friend General Hobbler about some lines I dashed off for him in the year 1806, when we were at the Cape, and, Gad, he remembered every line of them still; for he’d used ’em so often, the old rogue, and had actually tried ’em on Mrs. Hobbler, sir—who brought him sixty thousand pounds. I suppose you’ve tried verses, eh Pen ? ”
Pen blushed again, and said, “Why, yes, he had written verses.”
“And does the fair one respond in poetry or prose?” asked the Major, eyeing his nephew with the queerest expression, as much as to say, “0 Moses and Green Spectacles! what a fool the boy is.”
Pen blushed again. She had written, but not in verse, the young lover owned, and he gave his breast-pocket the benefit of a squeeze with his left arm, which the Major remarked, according to his wont.
“ You have got the letters there, I see,” said the old campaigner, nodding at Pen and pointing to his own chest (which was manfully wadded with cotton by Mr. Stultz). “You know you have. I would give twopence to see ’em.”
“ Why,” said Pen, twiddling the stalks of the strawberries, “ 1—1,” but this sentence was never finished; for Pen’s face was so comical and embarrassed, as the Major watched it, that the elder could contain his gravity no longer, and burst into a fit of laughter, in which chorus Pen himself was obliged to join after a minute: when he broke out fairly into a guffaw.
It sent them with great good humour into Mrs. Pendennis’s drawing-room. She was pleased to hear them laughing in the hall as they crossed it.
“ You sly rascal ! ” said the Major, putting his arm gaily on Pen’s shoulder, and giving a playful push at the boy’s breastpocket. He felt the papers crackling there sure enough. The young fellow was delighted—conceited—triumphant—and in one word, a spoony.
The pair came to the tea-table in the highest spirits. The Major’s politeness was beyond expression. He had never tasted such good tea, and such bread was only to be had in the country. He asked Mrs. Pendennis for one of her charming songs. He then made Pen sing, and was delighted and astonished at the beauty of the boy’s voice: he made his nephew fetch his maps and drawings, and praised them as really remarkable works of talent in a young fellow: he complimented him on his French pronunciation: he flattered the simple boy as adroitly as ever lover flattered a mistress: and when bed time came, mother and son went to their several rooms perfectly enchanted with the kind Major.
When they had reached those apartments, I suppose Helen took to her knees as usual: and Pen read over his letters before going to bed: just as if he didn’t know every word of them by heart already. In truth there were but three of those documents: and to learn their contents required no great effort of memory.
In No. 1, Miss Fotheringay presents grateful compliments to Mr. Pendennis, and in her papa’s name and her own begs to thank him for his most beautiful presents. They will always be kept carefully; and Miss F. and Captain C. will never forget the delightful evening which they passed on Tuesday last.
No. 2 said—Dear Sir, we shall have a small quiet party of social friends at our humble board, next Tuesday evening, at an early tca, when I shall wear the beautiful scarf which, with its accompanying delightful verses, I shall ever, ever cherish : and papa bids me say how happy he will be if you will join “the feast of reason and the flow of soul ” in our festive little party, as I am sure will be your truly grateful EMILY FOTHERINGAY.
No. 3 was somewhat more confidential, and showed that matters had proceeded rather far. You were odious yesterday night, the letter said. Why did you not come to the stagedoor? Papa could not escort me on account of his eye; he had an accident, and fell down over a loose carpet on the stair on Sunday night. I saw you looking at Miss Diggle all night; and you were so enchanted with Lydia Languish you scarcely once looked at Julia. I could have crushed Bingley, I was so angry. I play Ella Rosenberg on Friday: will you come then ? Miss Diggle perf0rms.—Ever your E. F.
These three letters Mr. Pen used to read at intervals, during the day and night, and embrace with that delight and fervour which such beautiful compositions surely warranted. A thousand times at least he had kissed fondly the musky satin paper, made sacred to him by the handof Emily Fotheringay. This was all he had in return for his passion and flames, his vows and protests, his rhymes and similes,
‘ his wakeful nights and endless thoughts, his fondness, fears
and folly. The young wiseacre had pledged away his all for this: signed his name to endless promissory notes, conferring his heart upon the bearer: bound himself for life, and got back twopence as an equivalent. For Miss Costigan was a young lady of such perfect good conduct and self-command, that she never would have thought of giving more, and re
served the treasures of her affection until she could transfer them lawfully at church.
Howbeit, Mr. Pen was content with what tokens of regard he had got, and mumbled over his three letters in a rapture of high spirits, and went to sleep delighted with his kind old uncle from London, who must evidently yield to his wishes in time; and, in a word, in a preposterous state of contentment with himself and all the world.