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His university debts were large, and the tutor had nothing to do, and of course Pen did not acquaint him, with his London debts. What man ever does tell all when pressed by his friends about his liabilities? The tutor learned enough to know that Pen was poor, that he had spent a handsome, almost a magnificent allowance, and had raised around him such a fine crop of debts, as it would be very hard work for any man to mow down; for there is no plant that grows so rapidly when once it has taken root.
Perhaps it was because she was so tender and good that Pen was terrified lest his mother should know of his sins. "I can't bear to break it to her," he said to the tutor in an agony of grief, "Oh! sir, I've been a villain to her" — and he repented, and he wished he had the time to come over again, and he asked himself, "Why, why did his uncle insist upon the necessity of living with great people, and in how much did all his grand acquaintance profit him?"
They were not shy, but Pen thought they were, and slunk from them during his last terms at college. He was as gloomy as a death's-head at parties, which he avoided of his own part, or to which his young friends soon ceased to invite him. Everybody knew that Pendennis was "hard up." That man Bloundell, who could pay nobody, and who was obliged to go down after three terms, was his ruin, the men said. His melancholy figure might be seen shirking about the lonely quadrangles in his battered old cap and torn gown, and he who had been the pride of the university but a year before, the man whom all the young ones loved to look at, was now the object of conversation at freshmen's wine parties, and they spoke of him with wonder and awe.
At last came the Degree Examinations. Many a young man of his year whose hob-nailed shoes Pen had derided, and whose face or coat he had caricatured — many a man whom he had treated with scorn in the lecture-room or crushed with his eloquence in the debating club — many of his own set who had not half his brains, but a little regularity and constancy of occupation, took high places in the honors or passed with decent credit. And where in the list was Pen the superb, Pen the wit and dandy, Pen the poet and orator? Ah, where was Pen the widow's darling and sole pride? Let us hide our heads, and shut iip the page. The lists came out; and a dreadful rumor rushed through the university, that Pendennis of Boniface was plucked.
PLIGHT AFTER DEFEAT.
During the latter part of Pen's residence at the University of Oxbridge, his uncle's partiality had greatly increased for the lad. The Major was proud of Arthur, who had high spirits, frank manners, a good person, and high gentlemanlike bearing. It pleased the old London bachelor to see Pen walking with the young patricians of his university, and he (who was never known to entertain his friends, and whose stinginess had passed into a sort of byword among some wags at the Club, who envied his many engagements, and did not choose to consider his poverty) was charmed to give his nephew and the young lords snug little dinners at his lodgings, and to regale them with good claret and his very best bons mots and stories: some of which would be injured by the repetition, for the Major's manner of telling them was incomparably neat and careful; and others, whereof the repetition would do good to nobody. He paid his court to their parents through the young men, and to himself as it were by their company. He made more than one visit to Oxbridge, where the young fellows were amused by entertaining the old gentleman, and gave parties and breakfasts and fetes, partly to joke him and partly to do him honor. He plied them with his stories. He made himself juvenile and hilarious in the company of the young lords. He went to hear Pen at a grand debate at the Union, crowed and cheered, and rapped his stick in chorus with the cheers of the men, and was astounded at the boy's eloquence and fire. He thought he had got a young Pitt for a nephew. He had an almost paternal fondness for Pen. He wrote to the lad letters with playful advice and the news of the town. He bragged about Arthur at his Clubs, and introduced him with pleasure into his conversation; saying, that, Egad, the young fellows were putting the old ones to the wall; that the lads who were coming up, young Lord Plinlimmon, a friend of my boy, young Lord Magnus Charters, a chum of my scrapegrace, etc., would make a greater figure in the world than ever their fathers had done before them. He asked permission to bring Arthur to a grand fete at Gaunt House; saw him with ineffable satisfaction dancing with the sisters of the young noblemen before mentioned; and gave himself as much trouble to procure cards of invitation for the lad to some good houses, as if he had been a mamma with a daughter to marry, and not an old half-pay officer in a wig. And he boasted everywhere of the boy's great talents, and remarkable oratorical powers; and of the brilliant degree he was going to take. Lord Runnymede would take him on his embassy, or the Duke would bring him in for one of his boroughs, he wrote over and over again to Helen; who, for her part, was too ready to believe anything that anybody chose to say in favor of her son.
And all this pride and affection of uncle and mother had been trampled down by Pen's wicked extravagance and idleness! I don't envy Pen's feelings (as the phrase is), as he thought of what he had done. He had slept, and the tortoise had won the race. He had marred at its outset what might have been a brilliant career. He had dipped ungenerously into a