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suffice to show how it was that a good woman, occupied solely in doing her duty to her neighbour and her children, and an honest, brave lad, impetuous, and full of good, and wishing well to every mortal alive, found enemies and detractors amongst people to whom they were superior, and to whom they had never done anything like harm. The Clavering curs were yelping all round the house of Fairoaks, and delighted to pull Pen down.
Doctor Portman and Smirke were both cautious of informing the widow of the constant outbreak of calumny which was pursuing poor Pen, though Glanders, who was a friend of the house, kept him au coumnt. It may be imagined what his indignation was: was there any man in the village whom he could call to account? Presently some wags began to chalk up “ Fotheringay for ever!” and other sarcastic allusions to late transactions, at Fairoaks gate. Another' brought a large play-bill from Chatteris, and wafered it there one night. On one occasion Pen, riding through the Low Town, fancied he heard the Factory boys jeer him; and finally, going through the Doctor’s gate into the churchyard, where some of Wapshot’s boys were lounging, the biggest of them, a young gentleman about twenty years of age, son of a neighbouring small Squire, who lived in the doubtful capacity of parlourboarder with Mr. Wapshot, flung himself into a theatrical attitude near a newly-made grave, and began repeating Hamlet’s verses over Ophelia, with a hideous leer at Pen.
The young fellow was so enraged that he rushed at Hobnell Major with a shriek very much resembling an oath, cut him furiously across the face with the riding-whip which he carried, flung it away, calling upon the cowardly villain to defend himself, and in another minute knocked the bewildered young ruflian into the grave which was just waiting for a different lodger.
Then, with his fists clenched, and his face quivering with passion and indignation, he roared out to Mr. Hobnell’s gaping companions, to know if any of the blackguards would come on ? But they held back with agrowl, and retreated, as Doctor Portman came up to his wicket, and Mr. Hobnell, with his nose and lip bleeding piteously, emerged from the grave.
Pen, looking death and defiance at the lads, who retreated towards their side of the churchyard, walked back again through the Doctor’s wicket, and was interrogated by that gentleman. The young fellow was so agitated he could scarcely speak. His voice broke into a sob as he answered. “The — coward insulted me, sir,” he said ; and the Doctor passed over the oath, and respected the emotion of the honest suffering young heart.
Pendennis the elder, who, like a real man of the world, had a proper and constant dread of the opinion of his neighbour, was prodigiously annoyed by the absurd little tempest which was blowing in Chatteris, and tossing about Master Pen’s reputation. Doctor Portman and Captain Glanders had to support the charges of the whole Clavering society against the young reprobate, who was looked upon as a monster of crime. Pen did not say anything about the churchyard scuflle at home; but went over to Baymouth, and took counsel with his friend Harry Foker, Esq., who drove over his drag presently to the Clavering Arms, whence he sent Stoopid with a note to Thomas Hobnell,‘ Esq., at the Rev. J. Wapshot’s, and a civil message to ask when he should wait upon that gentleman.
Stoopid brought back word that the note had been opened by Mr. Hobnell, and read to half-a-dozen of the big boys, on whom it seemed to make a great impression; and that after consulting together and laughing, Mr. Hobnell said he would send an answer “ arter arternoon school, which the bell was a ringing: and Mr. Wapshot, he came out in his Master’s gownd.” Stoopid was learned in academical costume, having attended Mr. Foker at St. Boniface.
Mr. Foker went out to see the curiosities of Clavering meanwhile; but not having a taste for architecture, Doctor Portman’s fine church did not engage his attention much, and he pronounced the tower to be as mouldy as an old Stilton cheese. He walked down the street and looked at the few shops there; he saw Captain Glanders at the window of the Reading-room, and having taken a good stare at that gentleman, he wagged his head at him in token of satisfac
tion; he inquired the price of meat at the butcher’s with an air of the greatest interest, and asked “ when was next killing day ? ” he flattened his little nose against Madame Fribsby’s window to see if haply there was a pretty workwoman in her premises; but there was no face more comely than the doll’s
or dummy’s wearing the French cap in the window, only that of Madame Fribsby herself, dimly visible in the parlour, reading a novel. That object was not of sufficient interest to keep Mr. Foker very long in contemplation, and so having exhausted the town and the inn stables, in which there were no cattle, save the single old pair of posters that earned a scanty livelihood by transporting the gentry round about to the county dinners, Mr. Foker was giving himself up to ennui entirely, when a messenger from Mr. Hobnell was at length announced.
It was no other than Mr. Wapshot himself, who came with an air of great indignation, and holding Pen’s missive in his hand, asked Mr. Foker “how dared he bring such an unchristian message as a challenge to a boy of his school?”
In fact Pen had written a note to his adversary of the day before, telling him that if after the chastisement which his insolence richly deserved, he felt inclined to ask the reparation which was usually given amongst gentlemen, Mr. Arthur Pendennis’s friend, Mr. Henry Foker, was empowered to make any arrangements for the satisfaction of Mr. Hobnell.
“And so he sent you with the answer—did he, sir ?” Mr. Foker said, surveying the Schoolmaster in his black coat and clerical costume.
“ If he had accepted this wicked challenge, I should have flogged him,” Mr. Wapshot said, and gave Mr. Foker a glance which seemed to say, “and I should like very much to flog you too.”
“ Uncommon kind of you, sir, I’m sure,” said Pen’s emissary. “ I told my principal that I didn’t think the other man would fight,” he continued with a great air of dignity. “ He prefers being flogged to fighting, sir, I dare say. May I offer you any refreshment, Mr. —? I haven’t the advantage of your name.”
“ My name is Wapshot, sir, and I am Master of the Grammar School of this town, sir,” cried the other: “and I want no refreshment, sir, I thank you, and have no desire to make your acquaintance, sir.”
“I didn’t seek yours, sir, I’m sure,” replied Mr. Foker. “ In affairs of this sort, you see, I think it is a pity that the clergy should be called in, but there’s no accounting for tastes, sir.”
“ I think it’s a pity that boys should talk about committing murder, sir, as lightly as you do,” roared the Schoolmaster: “ and if I had you in my school‘——-”
“I dare say you would teach me better, sir,” Mr. Foker
said, with a bow. “Thank you, sir. I’ve finished my education, sir, and ain’t a-going back to school, sir—when I do, I’ll remember your kind offer, sir. John, show this gentleman downstairs—and, of course, as Mr. Hobnell likes being thrashed, we can have no objection, sir, and we shall be very happy to accommodate him, whenever he comes our way.”
And with this, the young fellow bowed the elder gentleman out of the room, and sate down and wrote a note off to Pen, in which he informed the latter, that Mr. Hobnell was not disposed to fight, and proposed to put up with the caning which Pen had administered to him.