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"Stop," Pen said, clapping his fist on the table, till the lamp flickered up and shook, "I am a very young man, but you will please to remember that I am a gentleman — I will hear no abuse of that lady."
"Lady, sir," cried the Doctor, "that a lady —you
— you—you stand in your mother's presence and call that — that woman a lady!"
"In anybody's presence," shouted out Pen. "She is worthy of any place. She is as pure as any woman. She is as good as she is beautiful. If any man but you insulted her, I would tell him what I thought; but as you are my oldest friend, I suppose you have the privilege to doubt of my honor."
"No, no, Pen, dearest Pen," cried out Helen in an excess of joy. "I told, I told you, Doctor, he was not—not what you thought: "and the tender creature coming trembling forward flung herself on Pen's shoulder.
Pen felt himself a man, and a match for all the Doctors in Doctordom. He was glad this explanation had come. "You saw how beautiful she was," he said to his mother, with a soothing, protecting air, like Hamlet with Gertrude in the play. "I tell you, dear mother, she is as good. When you know her you will say so. She is of all, except you, the simplest, the kindest, the most affectionate of women. Why should she not be on the stage ? — She maintains her father by her labor."
"Drunken old reprobate," growled the Doctor, but Pen did not hear or heed.
"If you could see, as I have, how orderly her life is, how pure and pious her whole conduct, you would
— as I do — yes, as I do, —" (with a savage look at the Doctor) — " spurn the slanderer who dared to do her wrong. Her father was an officer, and distinguished himself in Spain. He was a friend of His Koyal Highness the Duke of Kent, and is intimately known to the Duke of Wellington, and some of the first officers of our army. He has met my uncle Arthur at Lord Hill's, he thinks. His own family is one of the most ancient and respectable in Ireland, and indeed is as good as our own. The — the Costigans were kings of Ireland."
"Why, God bless my soul," shrieked out the Doctor, hardly knowing whether to burst with rage or laughter, ".you don't mean to say you want to marry her?"
Pen put on his most princely air. "What else, Dr. Portman," he said, "do you suppose would be my desire?"
Utterly foiled in his attack, and knocked down by this sudden lunge of Pen's, the Doctor could only gasp out, "Mrs. Pendennis, Ma'am, send for the Major."
"Send for the Major? with all my heart," said Arthur, Prince of Pendennis and Grand Duke of Fairoaks, with a most superb wave of the hand. And the colloquy terminated by the writing of those two letters which were laid on Major Pendennis's breakfast-table, in London, at the commencement of Prince Arthur's most veracious history.
IN WHICH THE MAJOR MAKES HIS APPEARANCE.
Our acquaintance, Major Arthur Pendennis, arrived in due time at Fairoaks, after a dreary night passed in the mail-coach, where a stout fellow-passenger, swelling preternaturally with great-coats, had crowded him into a corner, and kept him awake by snoring indecently; where a widow lady, opposite, had not only shut out the fresh air by closing all the windows of the vehicle, but had filled the interior with fumes of Jamaica rum and water, which she sucked perpetually from a bottle in her reticule; where, whenever he caught a brief moment of sleep, the twanging of the horn at the turnpike gates, or the scuffling of his huge neighbor wedging him closer and closer, or the play of the widow's feet on his own tender toes, speedily woke up the poor gentleman to the horrors and realities of life — a life which has passed away now, and become impossible, and only lives in fond memories. Eight miles an hour, for twenty or five-and-twenty hours, a tight mail-coach, a hard seat, a gouty tendency, a perpetual change of coachmen grumbling because you did not fee them enough, a fellow-passenger partial to spirits-and-water, — who has not borne these evils in the jolly old times? and how could people travel under such difficulties? And yet they did. Night and morning passed, and the Major, with a yellow face, a bristly beard, a wig out of curl, and strong rheumatic griefs shooting through various limbs of his uneasy body, descended at the little lodge-gate at Fairoaks, where the porteress and gardener's wife reverentially greeted him; and, still more respectfully, Mr. Morgan, his man.
Helen was on the look-out for this expected guest, and saw him from her window. But she did not come forward immediately to greet him. She knew the Major did not like to be seen at a surprise, and required a little preparation before he cared to be visible. Pen, when a boy, had incurred sad disgrace, by carrying off from the Major's dressing-table a little morocco box, which it must be confessed contained the Major's back teeth, which he naturally would leave out of his jaws in a jolting mail-coach, and without which he would not choose to appear. Morgan, his man, made a mystery of mystery of his wigs: curling them in private places: introducing them privily to his master's room; — nor without his head of hair would the Major care to show himself to any member of his family, or any acquaintance. He went to his apartment then and supplied these deficiencies; he groaned, and moaned, and wheezed, and cursed Morgan through his toilet, as an old buck will, who has been up all night with a rheumatism, and has a long duty to perform. And finally being belted, curled, and set straight, he descended upon the drawing-room, with a grave majestic air, such as befitted one who was at once a man of business and a man of fashion.
Pen was not there, however; only Helen, and little Laura sewing at her knees; and to whom he never presented more than a forefinger, as he did on this occasion after saluting his sister-in-law. Laura took the finger trembling and dropped it — and then fled out of the t room. Major Pendennis did not want to keep her, or indeed to have her in the house at all, and had his private reason for disapproving of her; which we may mention on some future occasion. Meanwhile Laura disappeared, and wandered about the premises seeking for Pen: whom she presently found in the orchard, pacing up and down a walk there in earnest conversation with Mr. Smirke. He was so occupied that he did not hear Laura's clear voice singing out, until Smirke pulled him by the coat, and pointed towards her as she came running.
She ran up and put her hand into his. "Come in, Pen," she said, "there's somebody come; Uncle Arthur's come."
"He is, is he?" said Pen, and she felt him grasp her little hand. He looked round at Smirke with uncommon fierceness, as much as to say, I am ready for him or any man — Mr. Smirke cast up his eyes as usual, and heaved a gentle sigh.
"Lead on, Laura," Pen said, with a half fierce, half comic air— " lead on, and say I wait upon my uncle." But he was laughing in order to hide a great anxiety; and was screwing his courage inwardly to face the ordeal which he knew was now before him.
Pen had taken Smirke into his confidence in the last two days, and after the outbreak attendant on the discovery of Doctor Portman, and during every one of those forty-eight hours which he had passed in Mr. Smirke's society, had done nothing but talk to his tutor about Miss Fotheringay — Miss Emily Fotheringay — Emily, etc., to all which talk Smirke listened without difficulty, for he was in love himself, most anxious in all things to propitiate Pen, and indeed very much himself enraptured by the personal charms of this goddess, whose like, never having been before at a theatrical representation, he had not beheld until now. Pen's fire and volubility, his hot eloquence and