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He had seen something of this, he had long thought his mother wanted to make this marriage—did Laura know anything of it? (Not she,—Mrs. Pendennis said—not for worlds would she have breathed a word of it to Laura)—“Well, well, there was time enough, his mother wouldn’t die,” Pen said, laughingly : “ he wouldn’t hear of any such thing, and as for the Muse, she is too grand a lady to think about poor little me—and as for Laura, who knows that she would have me ? She would do anything you told her, to be sure. But am I worthy of her ? ”
“Oh, Pen, you might be,” was the widow’s reply; not that Mr. Pen ever doubted that he was; and a feeling of indefinable pleasure and self-complacency came over him as he thought over this proposal, and imaged Laura to himself, as his memory remembered her for years past, always fair and open, kindly and pious, cheerful, tender, and true. He looked at her with brightening eyes as she came in from the garden at the end of this talk, her cheeks rather flushed, her looks frank and smiling—a basket of roses in her hand.
She took the finest of them and brought it to Mrs. Pendennis, who was refreshed by the odour and colour of these flowers; and hung over her fondly and gave it to her.
“And I might have this prize for the asking!” Pen thought, with a thrill of triumph, as he looked at the kindly girl. “Why, she is as beautiful and as generous as her roses.” The image of the two women remained for ever after in his mind, and he never recalled it but the tears came into his eyes.
Before very many weeks’ intimacy with her new acquaintance, however, Miss Laura was obliged to give in to Helen’s opinion, and own that the Muse was selfish, unkind, and inconstant.
Little Frank, for instance, might be very provoking, and might have deprived Blanche of her mamma’s affection, but this was no reason why Blanche should box the child’s ears because he upset a glass of water over her drawing, and why she should call him many opprobrious names in the English and French languages ; and the preference accorded to little
von. 1. x a
Frank was certainly no reason why Blanche should give herself imperial airs of command towards the boy’s governess, and send that young lady upon messages through the house to bring her book or to fetch her pocket-handkerchief. When a domestic performed an errand for honest Laura, she was always thank
ful and pleased; whereas, she could not but perceive that the little Muse had not the slightest scruple in giving her commands to all the world round about her, and in disturbing anybody’s ease or comfort, in order to administer to her own. It was Laura’s first experience in friendship; and it pained the kind creature’s heart to be obliged to give up as delusions, one by one, those charms and brilliant qualities in which her fancy had dressed her new friend, and to find that the fascinating little fairy was but a mortal, and not a very amiable mortal after all. What generous person is there that has not been so deceived in his time ?—what person, perhaps, that has not so disappointed others in his turn ?
After the scene with little Frank, in which that refractory son and heir of the house of Clavering had received the compliments in French and English, and the accompanying box on the car from his sister, Miss Laura, who had plenty of humour, could not help calling to mind some very touching and tender verses which the Muse had read to her out of “ Mes Larmes,” and which began, “My pretty baby brother, may angels guard thy rest,” in which the Muse, after complimenting the baby upon the station in life which it was about to occupy, and contrasting it with her own lonely condition, vowed nevertheless that the angel boy would never enjoy such affection as hers was, or find in the false world before him anything so constant and tender as a sister’s heart. “ It may be,” the forlorn one said, “it may be, you will slight it, my pretty baby sweet, You will spurn me from your bosom, I’ll cling around your feet! O let me, let me love you! the world will prove to you As false as ’tis to others, but I am ever true.” And behold the Muse was boxing the darling brother’s ears instead of kneeling at his feet, and giving Miss Laura her first lesson in the Cynical philosophy—not quite her first, however,—something like this selfishness and waywardness, something like this contrast between practice and poetry, between grand versified aspirations and every-day life, she had witnessed at home in the person of our young friend _/ Mr. Pen.
But then Pen was different. Pen was a man. It seemed natural, somehow, that he should be self-willed and should have his own way. And under his waywardness and selfishness, indeed, there was a kind and generous heart. Oh, it was hard that such a diamond should be changed away against such a false stone as this. In a word, Laura began to be tired of her admired Blanche. She had assayed her and found her not true; and her former admiration and delight,
which she had expressed with her accustomed generous artlessness, gave way to a feeling, which we shall not call contempt, but which was very near it; and which caused Laura to adopt towards Miss Amory a grave and tranquil tone of superiority, which was at first by no means to the Muse’s liking. Nobody likes to be found out, or, having held a high place, to submit to step down.
The consciousness that this event was impending did not serve to increase Miss Blanche’s good humour, and as it made her peevish and dissatisfied with herself, it probably rendered her even less agreeable to the persons round about her. So there arose, one fatal day, a battle-royal between dearest Blanche and dearest Laura, in which the friendship between them was all but slain outright. Dearest Blanche had been unusually capricious and wicked on this day. She had been insolent to her mother; savage with little Frank; odiously impertinent in her behaviour to the boy’s governess; and intolerably cruel to Pincott, her attendant. Not venturing to attack her friend (for the little tyrant was of a timid feline nature, and only used her claws upon those who were weaker than herself), she maltreated all these, and especially poor Pincott, who was menial, confidante, companion (slave always), according to the caprice of her young mistress.
This girl, who had been sitting in the room with the young ladies, being driven thence in tears, occasioned by the cruelty of her mistress, and raked with a parting sarcasm as she went sobbing from the door, Laura fairly broke out into a loud and indignant invective—wondered how one so young could forget the deference owing to her elders as well as to her inferiors in station; and professing so much sensibility of her own, could torture the feelings of others so wantonly. Laura told her friend that her conduct was absolutely wicked, and that she ought to ask pardon of Heaven on her knees for it. And having delivered herself of a hot and voluble speech whereof the delivery astonished the speaker as much almost as her auditor, she ran to her bonnet and shawl, and went home across the park in a great flurry and perturbation, and to the surprise of Mrs. Pendennis, who had not expected her until night.
Alone with Helen, Laura gave an account of the scene, and gave up her friend henceforth. “ O Mamma,” she said, “you were right; Blanche, who seems so soft and so kind, is, as you have said, selfish and cruel. She who is always speaking of her affections can have no heart. No honest girl would afflict a mother so, or torture a dependant; and—and, I give her up from this day, and I will have no other friend but you.”
On this the two ladies went through the osculatory ceremony which they were in the habit of performing, and Mrs. Pendennis got a great secret comfort from the little quarrel— for Laura’s confession seemed to say, “ That girl can never be a wife for Pen, for she is light-minded and heartless, and quite unworthy of our noble hero. He will be sure to find out her unworthiness for his own part, and then he will be saved from this flighty creature, and awake out of his delusion.”
But Miss Laura did not tell Mrs. Pendennis, perhaps did not acknowledge to herself, what had been the real cause of the day’s quarrel. Being in a very wicked mood, and bent upon mischief everywhere, the little wicked Muse of a Blanche had very soon begun her tricks. Her darling Laura had come
_ to pass a long day; and as they were sitting in her own room
together, had chosen to bring the conversation round to the subject of Mr. Pen.
“ I am afraid he is sadly fickle,” Miss Blanche observed; “Mrs. Pybus, and many more Clavering people, have told us all about the actress.”
“I was quite a child when it happened, and I don’t know anything about it,” Laura answered, blushing very much.
“He used her very ill,” Blanche said, wagging her little head. “ He was false to her.”
“ I am sure he was not,” Laura cried out ; “he acted most generously by her: he wanted to give up everything to marry her. It was she that was false to him. He nearly broke his heart about it: he—”
“I thought you didn’t know anything about the story, dearest,” interposed Miss Blanche.
“ Mamma has said so,” said Laura.