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come to the point, felt very grave, and by no means elated, and, indeed, thought it was a great sacrifice he was going to perform.
It was Miss Laura’s custom, upon her garden excursions, to wear a sort of uniform, which, though homely, was thought by many people to be not unbecoming. She had a large straw hat, with a streamer of broad ribbon, which was useless probably, but the hat sufficiently protected the owner’s pretty face from the sun. Over her accustomed gown she wore a blouse or pinafore, which, being fastened round her little waist by a smart belt, looked extremely well, and her hands were guaranteed from the thorns of her favourite rose-bushes by a
pair of gauntlets, which‘ gave this young lady a military and x
Somehow she had the very same smile with which she had laughed at him on the night previous, and the recollection of his disaster again ofiended Pen. But Laura, though she saw him coming down the walk looking so gloomy and full of care, accorded to him a smile of the most perfect and provoking good-humour, and went to meet him, holding one of the gauntlets to him, so that he might shake it if he liked— and Mr. Pen condescended to do so. His face, however, did not lose its tragic expression in consequence of this favour, and he continued to regard her with a dismal and solemn air.
“Excuse my glove,” said Laura, with a laugh, pressing Pen’s hand kindly with it. “We are not angry again, are we, Pen ? ”
“Why do you laugh at me?” said Pen. “You did the other night, and made a fool of me to the people at Baymouth.”
“My dear Arthur, I meant you no wrong,” the girl answered. “You and Miss Roundle looked so droll as you— as you met with your little accident, that I could not make a tragedy of it. Dear Pen, it wasn’t a serious fall. And, besides, it was Miss Roundle who was the most unfortunate.”
“ Confound Miss Roundle,” bellowed out Pen.
“ I’m sure she looked so,” said Laura, archly. “ You were up in an instant; but that poor lady sitting on the ground in her red crape dress, and looking about her with that piteous face—can I ever forget her?”—and Laura began to make a face in imitation of Miss Boundle’s under the disaster, but she checked herself repentantly, saying, “Well, we must not laugh at her, but I am sure we ought to laugh at you, Pen, if you were angry about such a trifle.”
“ You should not laugh at me, Laura,” said Pen, with some bitterness; “ not you, of all people.”
“And why not? Are you such a great man?” asked Laura.
“Ah no, Laura, I’m such a poor one,” Pen answered. “Haven’t you baited me enough already?”
“ My dear Pen, and how?” cried Laura. “ Indeed, indeed, I didn’t think to vex you by such a trifle. I thought such a clever man as you could bear a harmless little joke from his sister,” she said, holding her hand out again. “Dear Arthur, if I have hurt you, I beg your pardon.”
“It is your kindness that humiliates me more even than your laughter, Laura,” Pen said. “You are always my superlor.”
“What! superior to the great Arthur Pendennis? How can it be possible?” said Miss Laura, who may have had a little wickedness as well as a great deal of kindness in her composition. “You can’t mean that any woman is your equal ? ”
“ Those who confer benefits should not sneer,” said Pen. “ I don’t like my benefactor to laugh at me, Laura; it makes the obligation very hard to bear. You scorn me because I have taken your money, and I am worthy to be scorned; but the blow is hard coming from you.”
“Money! Obligation! For shame, Pen! this is ungenerous,” Laura said, flushing red. “May not our mother claim everything that belongs to us ? Don’t I owe her all my happiness in this world, Arthur ? What matters about a few paltry guineas, if we can set her tender heart at rest, and ease her mind regarding you? I would dig in the fields, I would go out and be a servant—I would die for her. You know I would,” said Miss Laura, kindling up; “ and you call this paltry money an obligation? Oh, Pen, it’s cruel—it’s unworthy of you to take it so! If my brother may not share with me my superfluity, who may ?—Mine ?—I tell you it was not mine; it was all mamma’s to do with as she chose, and so is everything I have,” said Laura; “my life is hers.” And the enthusiastic girl looked towards the windows of the widow’s room, and blessed in her heart the kind creature within.
Helen was looking, unseen, out of that window towards which Laura’s eyes and heart were turned as she spoke, and was watching her two children with the deepest interest and emotion, longing and hoping that the prayer of her life might be fulfilled; and if Laura had spoken as Helen hoped, who
VOL. I. A A s
knows what temptations Arthur Pendennis might have been spared, or what different trials he would have had to undergo? He might have remained at Fairoaks all his days, and died a country gentleman. But would he have escaped then? Temptation is an obsequious servant that has no objection to the country, and we know that it takes up its lodgings in hermitages as well as in cities; and that in the most remote and inaccessible desert it keeps company with the fugitive solitary.
“ Is your life my mother’s,” said Pen, beginning to tremble, and speak in a very agitated manner. “ You know, Laura, what the great object of hers is?” And he took her hand once more. ’
“What, Arthur?” she said, dropping it, and looking at him, at the window again, and then dropping her eyes to the ground, so that they avoided Pen’s gaze. She, too, trembled, for she felt that the crisis for which she had been secretly preparing was come.
“ Our mother has one wish above all others in the world, Laura,” Pen said, “and I think you know it. I own to you that she has spoken to me of it; and if you will fulfil it, dear sister, I am ready. I am but very young as yet; but I have had so many pains and disappointments, that I am old and weary. I think I have hardly got a heart to offer. Before I have almost begun the race in life, I am a tired man. My career has been a failure; I have been protected by those whom I by right should have protected. I own that your nobleness and generosity, dear Laura, shame me, whilst they render me grateful. When I heard from our mother what you had done for me—that it was you who armed me and bade me go out for one struggle more, I longed to go and throw myself at your feet, and say, ‘Laura, will you come and share the contest with me? Your sympathy will cheer me while it lasts. I shall have one of the tenderest and most generous creatures under heaven to aid and bear me company.’ Will you take me, dear Laura, and make our mother happy ? ”
“ Do you think mamma would be happy if you were otherwise, Arthur ? ” Laura said in a low sad voice.
“ And why should I not be,” asked Pen eagerly, “ with so
dear a creature as you by my side ? I have not my first love to give you. I am a broken man. But indeed I would love you fondly and truly. I have lost many an illusion and ambition, but I am not without hope still. Talents I know I have, wretchedly as I have misapplied them: they may serve me yet: they would, had I a motive for action. Let me go away and think that I am pledged to return to you. Let me go and work, and hope that you will share my success if I gain it. You have given me so much, dear Laura, will you take from me nothing ? ”
“What have you got to give, Arthur ? ” Laura said with a grave sadness of tone, which made Pen start, and see that his words had committed him. Indeed, his declaration had not been such as he would have made it two days earlier, when, full of hope and gratitude, he had run over to Laura, his liberatress, to thank her for his recovered freedom. Had he been permitted to speak then, he had spoken, and she, perhaps, had listened differently. It would have been a grateful heart asking for hers ; not a weary one ofiered to her, to take or to leave. Laura was ofiended with the terms in which Pen offered himself to her. He had, in fact, said that he had no love, and yet would take no denial. “I give myself to you to please my mother,” he had said: “take me, as she wishes that I should make this sacrifice.” The girl’s spirit would brook a husband under no such conditions: she was not minded to run forward because Pen chose to hold out the handkerchief, and her tone, in reply to Arthur, showed her determination to be independent.
“No, Arthur,” she said, “our marriage would not make mamma happy, as she fancies; for it would not content you very long.‘ ‘I, too, have known what her wishes were; for she is too open to conceal anything she has at heart: and once, perhaps, I thought—but that is over now—that I could have made you—that it might have been as she wished.”
“You have seen somebody else,” said Pen, angry at her tone, and recalling the incidents of the past days.
“That allusion might have been spared,” Laura replied, flinging up her head. “A heart which has worn out love at three-and-twenty, as yours has, you say, should have survived