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At last things came to a crisis, and the new attachment was discovered. Francis owned it, cared not to disguise it, rebuked Martha with her violent temper and angry imperiousness, and, worst of all, with her inferiority and her age.
Her reply was, that if he did not keep his promise she would carry his letters into every court in the kingdom – letters in which his love was pledged to her ten thousand times; and, after exposing him to the world as the perjurer and traitor he was, she would kill herself.
Frank had one more interview with Helen, whose mother was dead then, and who was living companion with old Lady Pontypool, - one more interview, where it was resolved that he was to do his duty; that is, to redeem his vow; that is, to pay a debt cozened from him by a sharper; that is, to make two honest people miserable. So the two judged their duty to be, and they parted.
The living fell in only too soon; but yet Frank Bell was quite a gray and worn-out man when he was inducted into it. Helen wrote him a letter on his marriage, beginning, “My dear Cousin," and ending “ always truly yours.” She sent him back the other letters, and the lock of his hair - all but a small piece. She had it in her desk when she was talking to the Major.
Bell lived for three or four years in his living, at the end of which time, the Chaplainship of Coventry Island falling vacant, Frank applied for it privately, and having procured it, announced the appointment to his wife. She objected, as she did to everything. He told her bitterly that he did not want her to come: so she went. Bell went out in Governor Crawley's time, and was very intimate with that gentleman in
his later years. And it was in Coventry Island, years after his own marriage, and five years after he had heard of the birth of Helen's boy, that his own daughter was born. She was not the daughter of the first Mrs. Bell, who died of island fever very soon after Helen Pendennis and her husband, to whom Helen had told everything, wrote to inform Bell of the birth of their child. “I was old, was I?” said Mrs. Bell the first; “I was old, and her inferior, was I? but I married you, Mr. Bell, and kept you from marrying her?” and hereupon she died. Bell married a colonial lady, whom he loved fondly. But he was not doomed to prosper in love; and, this lady dying in child-birth, Bell gave up too: sending his little girl home to Helen Pendennis and her husband, with a parting prayer that they would befriend her. The little thing came to Fairoaks from Bristol, which is not very far off, dressed in black, and in company of a soldier's wife, her nurse, at parting from whom she wept bitterly. But she soon dried up her grief under Helen's motherly care. Round her neck she had a locket with hair, which Helen had given, ah, how many years ago! to poor Francis, dead and buried. This child was all that was left of him, and she cherished, as so tender a creature would, the legacy which he had bequeathed to her. The girl's name, as his dying letter stated, was Helen Laura. But John Pendennis, though he accepted the trust, was always rather jealous of the orphan; and gloomily ordered that she should be called by her own mother's name; and not by that first one which her father had given her. She was afraid of Mr. Pendennis, to the last moment of his life. And it was only when her husband was gone
that Helen dared openly to indulge in the tenderness which she felt for the little girl.
Thus it was that Laura Bell became Mrs. Pendennis's daughter. Neither her husband nor that gentleman's brother, the Major, viewed her with very favorable eyes. She reminded the first of circumstances in his wife's life which he was forced to accept, but would have forgotten much more willingly : and as for the second, how could he regard her? She was neither related to his own family of Pendennis, nor to any nobleman in this empire, and she had but a couple of thousand pounds for her fortune.
And now let Mr. Pen come in, who has been waiting all this while.
Having strung up his nerves, and prepared himself, without at the door, for the meeting, he came to it, determined to face the awful uncle. He had settled in his mind that the encounter was to be a fierce one, and was resolved on bearing it through with all the courage and dignity of the famous family which he represented. And he flung open the door and entered with the most severe and warlike expression, armed cap-à-pie as it were, with lance couched and plumes displayed, and glancing at his adversary, as if to say, “Come on, I'm ready."
The old man of the world, as he surveyed the boy's demeanor, could hardly help a grin at his admirable pompous simplicity. Major Pendennis too had examined his ground; and finding that the widow was already half won over to the enemy, and having a shrewd notion that threats and tragic exhortations would have no effect upon the boy, who was inclined to be perfectly stubborn and awfully serious, the Major laid aside the authoritative manner at once, and with the most good-humored natural smile in the world, held out his hands to Pen, shook the lad's passive fingers gayly, and said, “Well, Pen, my boy, tell us all about it."
Helen was delighted with the generosity of the Major's good-humor. On the contrary, it quite took aback and disappointed poor Pen, whose nerves were strung up for a tragedy, and who felt that his grand entrée was altogether balked and ludicrous. He blushed and winced with mortified vanity and bewilderment. He felt immensely inclined to begin to cry. “I-I-I did n't know that you were come till just now," he said: “is — is -- town very full I suppose?”
If Pen could hardly gulp his tears down, it was all the Major could do to keep from laughter. He turned round and shot a comical glance at Mrs. Pen. dennis, who too felt that the scene was at once ridiculous and sentimental. And so, having nothing to say, she went up and kissed Mr. Pen: as he thought of her tenderness and soft obedience to his wishes, it is very possible too the boy was melted.
“What a couple of fools they are,” thought the old guardian. “If I had n't come down, she would have driven over in state to pay a visit and give her blessing to the young lady's family.”
“Come, come,” said he, still grinning at the couple, “ let us have as little sentiment as possible, and Pen, my good fellow, tell us the whole story.”
Pen got back at once to his tragic and heroical air. “The story is, sir,” said he, “as I have written it to you before. I have made the acquaintance of a most beautiful and most virtuous lady; of a high family, although in reduced circumstances; I have found the woman in whom I know that the happiness of my life is centred; I feel that I never, never can think about any woman but her. I am aware of the difference of our ages and other difficulties in my way. But my affection was so great that I felt I could surmount all these ; – that we both could : and she has consented to unite her lot with mine, and to accept my heart and my fortune.”
“How much is that, my boy?" said the Major. “Has anybody left you some money? I don't know that you are worth a shilling in the world."
“ You know what I have is his,” cried out Mrs. Pendennis.
“Good heavens, Madam, hold your tongue !” was what the guardian was disposed to say; but he kept his temper, not without a struggle. “No doubt, no doubt," he said. “You would sacrifice anything for him. Everybody knows that. But it is, after all, then, your fortune which Pen is offering to the young lady; and of which he wishes to take possession at eighteen."
"I know my mother will give me anything," Pen said, looking rather disturbed.
“Yes, my good fellow, but there is reason in all things. If your mother keeps the house, it is but fair that she should select her company. When you give her house over her head, and transfer her banker's account to yourself for the benefit of Miss What-d'you-call-'em – Miss Costigan - don't you think you should at least have consulted my sister as one of the principal parties in the transaction ? I am speaking to you, you see, without the least anger or assumption of authority, such as the law and your father's will give me over you for three years to come — but as one man of the world to another, — and I ask you, if you think that, because you can do what you like with your mother, therefore you have a right to do