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They seldom occurred in his presence. However frisky they were before, mother and child were hushed and quiet when Mr. Pendennis walked into the drawing-room, his newspaper under his arm. . . . And here, while little Pen, buried in a great chair, read all the books of which he could lay hold, the Squire perused his own articles in the Gardener’s Gazette, or took a solemn hand at piquet with Mrs. Pendennis, or an occasional friend from the village.
Pendennis usually took care that at least one of his grand dinners should take place when his brother, the Major, who, on the return of his regiment from India and New South Wales, had sold out and gone upon half-pay, came to pay his biennial visit to Fairoaks. “ My brother, Major Pendennis,” was a constant theme of the retired Doctor’s conversation. All the family delighted in my brother the Major. He was the link which bound them to the great world of London, and the fashion. He always brought down the last news of the nobility, and spoke of such with soldier-like respect and decorum. He would say, “ My Lord Bareacres has been good enough to invite me to Bareacres for the pheasant shooting,” or, “ My Lord Steyne is so kind as to wish for my presence at Stillbrook for the Easter holidays; ” and you may be sure the whereabouts of my brother the Major was carefully made known by worthy Mr. Pendennis to his friends at the Clavering Reading-room, at J ustice-meetings, or at the County-town. Their carriages would come from ten miles roundto call upon Major Pendennis in his visits to Fairoaks; the fame of his fashion as a man about town was established throughout the county. There was a talk of his marrying Miss Hunkle, of Lilybank, old Hunkle the Attorney’s daughter, with at least fifteen hundred a year to her fortune; but my brother the Major declined. “ As a bachelor,” he said, “nobody cares how poor I am. I have the happiness to live with people who are so highly placed in the world, that a few hundreds or thousands a year more or less can make no difference in the estimation in which they are pleased to hold me. Miss Hunkle, though a most respectable lady, is not in possession of either the birth or the manners which would entitle her to be received into the sphere in which I have the honour to move. I shall live and die an old bachelor, John : and your worthy friend, Miss Hunkle, I have no doubt, will find some more worthy object of her affection, than a worn-out old soldier on half-pay.” Time showed the correctness of the surmise; Miss Hunkle married a young French nobleman, and is now at this moment living at Lilybank, under the title of Baroness de Carambole, having been separated from her wild young scapegrace of a Baron very shortly after their union.
The Major had a sincere liking and regard for his sisterin-law, whom he pronounced, and with perfect truth, to be as fine a lady as any in England. Indeed, Mrs. Pendennis’s tranquil beauty, her natural sweetness and kindness, and that simplicity and dignity which a perfect purity and innocence are sure to bestow upon a handsome woman, rendered her quite worthy of her brother’s praises. I think it is not national prejudice which makes me believe that a high-bred English lady is the most complete of all Heaven’s subjects in this world. In whom else do you see so much grace, and so much virtue; so much faith, and so much tenderness ; with such a perfect refinement and chastity ? And by high-bred ladies I don’t mean duchesses and countesses. Be they ever so high in station, they can be but ladies, and no more. But almost every man who lives in the world has the happiness, let us hope, of counting a few such persons amongst his circle of acquaintance—women in whose angelical natures there is something awful, as well as beautiful, to contemplate; at whose feet the wildest and fiercest of us must fall down and humble ourselves, in admiration of that adorable purity which never seems to do or to think wrong.
Arthur Pendennis had the good fortune to have such a mother. During his childhood and youth, the boy thought of her as little less than an angel—a supernatural being, all Wisdom, love, and beauty. When her husband drove her into the county town, to the assize balls or concerts, he would step into the assembly with his wife on his arm, and look the great folks in the face, as much as to say, “ Look at that, my Lord; can any of you show me a woman like that? ” She enraged some country ladies with three times her money, by a sort of
VOL. I. 0 3
desperate perfection ‘which they found in her. Miss Pybus said she was cold and haughty; Miss Pierce, that she was too proud for her station; Mrs. Wapshot, as a doctor of divinity’s lady, would have the pas of her, who was only the wife of a medical practitioner. In the meanwhile, this lady moved through the world quite regardless of all the comments that were made in her praise or disfavour. She did not seem to know that she was admired or hated for being so perfect; but carried on calmly through life, saying her prayers, loving her family, helping her neighbours, and doing her duty.
That even a woman should be faultless, however, is an arrangement not permitted by nature, which assigns to us mental defects, as it awards to us headaches, illnesses, or death: without which the scheme of the world could not be carried on,—nay, some of the best qualities of mankind could not be brought into exercise. As pain produces or elicits fortitude and endurance; difficulty, perseverance; poverty, industry and ingenuity; danger, courage and what not; so the very virtues, on the other hand, will generate some vices; and, in fine, Mrs. Pendennis had that vice which Miss Pybus and Miss Pierce discovered in her, namely, that of pride ; which did not vest itself so much in her own person, as in that of her family. She spoke about Mr. Pendennis (a worthy little gentleman enough, but there are others as good as he) with an awful reverence, as if he had been the Pope of Rome on his throne, and she a cardinal kneeling at his feet, and giving him incense. The Major she held to be a sort of Bayard among Majors: and as for her son Arthur, she worshipped that youth with an ardour which the young scapegrace accepted almost as coolly as the statue of the Saint in St. Peter’s receives the rapturous osculations which the faithful deliver on his toe
This unfortunate superstition and idol-worship of this good woman was the cause of a great deal of the misfortune which befell the young gentleman who is the hero of this history, and deserves therefore to be mentioned at the outset of his story.
Arthur Pendennis’s schoolfellows at the Grey Friars School state that, as a boy, he was in no ways remarkable either as a dunce or as a scholar. He never read to improve himself out of school-hours, but, on the contrary, devoured all the novels, plays, and poetry, on which he could lay his hands. He never was flogged, but it was a wonder how he escaped the whipping-post. When he had money he spent it royally in tarts for himself and his friends; he has been known to disburse nine and sixpence out of ten shillings awarded to him in a single day. When he had no funds he went on tick. When he could get no credit he went without, and was almost as happy. He has been known to take a thrashing for a crony without saying a word; but a blow, ever so slight, from a friend, would make him roar. To fighting he was averse from
his earliest youth, as indeed to physio, the Greek Grammar, ,
or any other exertion, and would engage in none of them, except at the last extremity. He seldom if ever told lies, and never bullied little boys. Those masters or seniors who were kind to him, he loved with boyish ardour. And though the Doctor, when he did not know his Horace, or could not construe his Greek play, said that that boy Pendennis was a disgrace to the school, a candidate for ruin in this world, and perdition in the next; a profligate who would most likely bring his venerable father to ruin and his mother to a dishonoured grave, and the like—yet as the Doctor made use of these compliments to most of the boys in the place (which has not turned out an unusual number of felons and pickpockets), little Pen, at first uneasy and terrified by these charges, became gradually accustomed to hear them; and he has not, in fact, either murdered his parents, or committed any act worthy of transportation or hanging up to the present day.
There were many of the upper boys, among the Cistercians with whom Pendennis was educated, who assumed all the privileges of men long before they quitted that seminary. Many of them, for example, smoked cigars—and some had already begun the practice of inebriation. One had fought a duel with an Ensign in a marching regiment in consequence of a row at the theatre—another actually kept a buggy and horse at a livery stable in Covent Garden, and might be seen driving any Sunday in Hyde Park with a groom with squared arms and armorial buttons by his side. Many of the seniors were in love, ‘and showed each other in confidence poems addressed to, or letters and locks of hair received from, young
ladies—but Pen, a modest and timid youth, rather envied these than imitated them as yet. He had not got beyond the theory as yet—the practice of life was all to come. And by the way, ye tender mothers and sober fathers of Christian families, a prodigious thing that theory of life is as orally learned at a great public school. Why, if you could hear those boys of fourteen who blush before mothers‘ and sneak off in silence in the presence of their daughters, talking among each other—it would be the woman’s turn to blush then. Before he was twelve years old little Pen had heard talk
, enough to make him quite awfully wise upon certain points——
and so, Madam, has your pretty little rosy-cheeked son, who is coming home from school for the ensuing holidays. I don’t say that the boy is lost, or that the innocence has left him which he had from “ Heaven, which is our home,” but that the shades of the prison-house are closing very fast over him, and that we are helping as much as possible to corrupt him.
Well—Pen had just made his public appearance in a coat with a tail, or cauda-virilis, and was looking most anxiously in his little study-glass to see if his whiskers were growing, like those of more fortunate youths his companions; and, instead of the treble voice with which he used to speak and sing (for his singing voice was a very sweet one, and he used when little to be made to perform “Home, sweet Home,” “My pretty Page,” and a French song or two which his mother had taught him, and other ballads for the delectation of the senior boys), had suddenly plunged into a deep bass diversified by a squeak, which set master and scholars laughIng—he was about sixteen years old in a word, when he was suddenly called away from his academic studies.
It was at the close of the forenoon school, and Pen had been unnoticed all the previous part of the morning till now, when the Doctor put him on to construe in a Greek play. He did not know a word of it, though little Timmins, his form-fellow, was prompting him with all his might. Pen had made a sad blunder or two—when the awful chief broke out upon him.
“Pendennis, sir,” he said, “your idleness is incorrigible and your stupidity beyond example. You are a disgrace to