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his degree, and was driving homewards in triumph in his yellow postchaise. He caught a sight of the figure, madly gesticulating as he worked up the hill, and of poor Pen’s pale and ghastly face as the chaise whirled by him.
“ Wo ! ” roared Mr. Spavin to the postboy, and the horses stopped in their mad career, and the carriage pulled up some fifty yards before Pen. He presently heard his own name shouted, and beheld the upper half of the body of Mr. Spavin thrust out of the side-window of the vehicle, and beckoning Pen vehemently towards it.
Pen stopped, hesitated—nodded his head fiercely, and pointed onwards, as if desirous that the postilion should proceed. He did not speak: but his countenance must have looked very desperate, for young Spavin, having stared at him with an expression of blank alarm, jumped out of the carriage presently, ran towards Pen holding out his hand, and grasping Pen’s said, “I say—hullo, old boy, where are you going, and what’s the row now ? ”
“I’m going where I deserve to go,” said Pen, with an imprecation.
“ This ain’t the way,’ said Mr. Spavin, smiling. “This is the Fenbury road. I say, Pen, don’t take on because you are plucked. It’s nothing when you are used to it. I’ve been plucked three times, old boy—and after the first time I didn’t care. Glad it’s over, though. You’ll have better luck next time.”
Pen looked at his early acquaintance,—who had been plucked, who had been rusticated, who had only, after repeated failures, learned to read and write correctly, and who, in spite of all these drawbacks, had attained the honour of a degree. “This man has passed,” he thought, “ and I have failed! ” It was almost too much for him to bear.
“ Good-bye, Spavin,” said he ; “ I’m very glad you are through. Don’t let me keep you; I’m in a hurry—I’m going to town to-night.”
“Gammon,” said Mr. Spavin. “This ain’t the way to town; this is the Fenbury road, I tell you.”
“ I was just going to turn back,” Pen said.
“All the coaches are full with the men going down,”
Spavin said. Pen winced. “ You’d not get a place for a tenpound note. Get into my yellow; I’ll drop you at Mudford, where you have a chance of the Fenbury mail. I’ll lend you a hat and coat; I’ve got lots. Come along; jump in, old boyr —go it, Leathers! ”—and in this way Pen found himself in
Mr. Spavin’s postchaise, and rode with that gentleman as far as the Ram Inn at Mudford, fifteen miles from Oxbridge ; where the Fenbury mail changed horses, and where Pen got a place on to London.
The next day there was an immense excitement in Boniface College, Oxbridge, where, for some time, a rumour pre
vailed, to the terror of Pen’s tutor and tradesmen, that Pendennis, maddened at losing his degree, had made away with himself—a battered cap, in which his name was almost discernible, together with a seal bearing his crest of an eagle looking at a now extinct sun, had been found three miles on the Fenbury road, near a mill stream; and for four and twenty hours it was supposed that poor Pen had flung himself into the stream, until letters arrived from him bearing the London postmark.
The mail reached London at the dreary hour of five; and he hastened to the inn at Covent Garden, at which he was accustomed to put up, where the ever-wakeful porter admitted him, and‘ showed him to a bed. Pen looked hard at the man, and wondered whether Boots knew he was plucked? When in bed he could not sleep there. He tossed about until the appearance of the dismal London daylight, when he sprang up desperately, and walked off to his uncle’s lodgings in Bury Street; where the maid, who was scouring the steps, looked up suspiciously at him, as he came with an unshaven face, and yesterday’s linen. He thought she knew of his mishap, too.
“ Good ’evens! Mr. Harthur, what ’as ’appened, sir?” Mr. Morgan, the valet, asked, who had just arranged the wellbrushed clothes and shiny boots at the door of his master’s bedroom, and was carrying in his wig to the Major.
“ I want to see my uncle,” he cried, in a ghastly voice, and flung himself down on a chair.
Morgan backed before the pale and desperate-looking young man, with terrified and wondering glances, and disappeared into his master’s apartment.
The Major put his head out of the bedroom door, as soon as he had his wig on.
“What? examination over? Senior Wrangler, double First Class, hay ? ” said the old gentleman—“ I’ll come directly; ” and the head disappeared.
“They don’t know what has happened,” groaned Pen; “ what will they say when they know all? ”
Pen had been standing with his back to the window, and to such a dubious light as Bury Street enjoys of a foggy January morning, so that his uncle could not see the expression of the young man’s countenance, or the looks of gloom and despair which even Mr. Morgan had remarked.
But when the Major came out of his dressing-room neat and radiant, and preceded by faint odours from Delcroix’s shop, from which emporium Major Pendennis’s wig and his pocket-handkerchief got their perfume, he held out one of his hands to Pen, and was about addressing him in his cheery high-toned voice, when he caught sight of the boy’s face at length, and dropping his hand, said, “ Good God! Pen, what’s the matter ? ”
“ You’ll see it in the papers at breakfast, sir,” Pen said.
“ See what?”
“ My name isn’t there, sir.”
“Hang it, why should it be?” asked the Major, more perplexed.
“I have lost everything, sir,” Pen groaned out; “ my honour’s gone; I’m ruined irretrievably; I can’t go back to Oxbridge.”
“ Lost your honour?” screamed out the Major. “ Heaven alive! you don’t mean to say you have shown the white feather ? ”
Pen laughed bitterly at the word feather, and repeated it. “ No, it isn’t that, sir. I’m not afraid of being shot; I wish to God anybody would shoot me. I have not got my degree. I—I’m plucked, sir.”
The Major had heard of plucking, but in a very vague and cursory way, and concluded that it was some ceremony performed corporally upon rebellious university youth. “I wonder you can look me in the face after such a disgrace, sir,” he said; “I wonder you submitted to it as a gentleman.”
“I couldn’t help it, sir. I did my classical papers well enough: it was those infernal mathematics, which I have always neglected.”
“ Was it—was it done in public, sir ? ” the Major said.
“ What ? ”
“ The—the plucking ? ” asked the guardian, looking Pen anxiously in the face.
Pen perceived the error under which his guardian was labouring, and in the midst of his misery the blunder caused the poor wretch a faint smile, and served to bring down the conversation from the tragedy-key in which Pen had been disposed to carry it on. He explained to his uncle that he had gone in to pass his examination, and failed. On which the Major said, that though he had expected far better things of his nephew, there was no great misfortune in this, and no dishonour as far as he saw, and that Pen must try again.
“Me again at Oxbridge,” Pen thought, “after such a humiliation as that!” He felt that, except he went down to burn the place, he could not enter it.
But it was when he came to tell his uncle of his debts that the other felt surprise and anger most keenly, and broke out into speeches most severe upon Pen, which the lad bore, as best he might, without flinching. He had determined to make a clean breast, and had formed a full, true and complete list of all his bills and liabilities at the university, and in London. They consisted of various items, such as
London Tailor. Oxbridge do.
Wine Merchant in London.
All which items the reader may fill in at his pleasure—such accounts have been inspected by the parents of many university youth,—and it appeared that Mr. Pen’s bills in all amounted to about seven hundred pounds; and, furthermore, it was calculated that he had had more than twice that sum of ready money during his stay at Oxbridge. This sum he had spent, and for it had to show—what ?
“You need not press a man who is down, sir,” Pen said to his uncle, gloomily. “ I know very well how wicked and idle I have been. My mother won’t like to see me