« ZurückWeiter »
vague and cursory way, and concluded that it was some ceremony performed corporally upon rebellious university youth, "I wonder you can look me in the face after such a disgrace, sir," he said; "I wonder you submitted to it as a gentleman."
"I couldn't help it, sir. I did my classical papers well enough: it was those infernal mathematics, which I have always neglected."
"Was it — was it done in public, sir?" the Major said.
"The—the plucking?" asked the guardian, looking Pen anxiously in the face.
Pen perceived the error under which his guardian was laboring, and in the midst of his misery the blunder caused the poor wretch a faint smile, and served to bring down the conversation from the tragedy-key, in which Pen had been disposed to carry it on. He explained to his uncle that he had gone in to pass his examination, and failed. On which the Major said, that though he had expected far better things of his nephew, there was no great misfortune iu this, and no dishonor as far as he saw, and that Pen must try again.
"Me again at Oxbridge," Pen thought, "after such a humiliation as that!" He felt that, except he went down to burn the place, he could not enter it.
But it was when he came to tell his uncle of his debts that the other felt surprise and anger most keenly, and broke out into speeches most severe upon Pen, which the lad bore, as best he might, without flinching. He had determined to make a clean breast, and had formed a full, true, and complete list of all his bills and liabilities at the university, and in London. They consisted of various items, such as, —
Haberdasher, for shirts and gloves.
Crump, for desserts.
Wine Merchant in London.
Oxbridge Wine Merchant
Bill for horses.
Hairdresser and Perfumery.
All which items the reader may fill in at his pleasure — such accounts have been inspected by the parents of many university youth, — and it appeared that Mr. Pen's bills in all amounted to about seven hundred pounds; and, furthermore, it was calculated that he had had more than twice that sum of ready money during his stay at Oxbridge. This sum he had spent, and for it had to show — what?
"You need not press a man who is down, sir," Pen said to his uncle, gloomily. "I know very well how wicked and idle I have been. My mother won't like to see me dishonored, sir," he continued, with his voice failing; "and I know she will pay these accounts. But I shall ask her for no more money."
"As you like, sir," the Major said. "You are of age, and my hands are washed of your affairs. But you can't live without money, and have no means of making it that I see, though you have a fine talent in spending it, and it is my belief that you will proceed as you have begun, and ruin your mother before you are five years older. — Good morning; it is time for me to go to breakfast. My engagements won't permit me to see you much during the time that you stay in London. I presume that you will acquaint your mother with the news which you have just conveyed to me."
And pulling on his hat, and trembling in his limbs somewhat, Major Pendennis walked out of his lodgings before his nepbew, and went ruefully off to take his accustomed corner at the Club. He saw the Oxbridge examination-lists in the morning papers, and read over the names, not understanding the business, with mournful accuracy. He consulted various old fogies of his acquaintance, in the course of the day, at his Clubs; Wenham, a Dean, various Civilians; and, as it is called, "took their opinion," showing to some of them the amount of his nephew's debts, which he had dotted down on the back of a card, and asking what was to be done, and whether such debts were not monstrous, preposterous? What was to be done? — There was nothing for it but to pay. Wenham and the others told the Major of young men who owed twice as much—five times as much — as Arthur, and with no means at all to pay. The consultations, and calculations, and opinions, comforted the Major somewhat. After all, he was not to pay.
But he thought bitterly of the many plans he had formed to make a man of his nephew, of the sacrifices which he had made, and of the manner in which he was disappointed. And he wrote off a letter to Dr. Portman, informing him of the direful events which had taken place, and begging the Doctor to break them to Helen. For the orthodox old gentleman preserved the regular routine in all things, and was of opinion that it was more correct to "break" a piece of bad news to a person by means of a (possibly maladroit and unfeeling) messenger, than to convey it simply to its destination by a note. So the Major wrote to Dr. Portman, and then went out to dinner, one of the saddest men in any London dining-room that day.
Pen, too, wrote his letter, and skulked about London streets for the rest of the day, fancying that everybody was looking at him and whispering to his neighbor, "That is Pendennis of Boniface, who was plucked yesterday." His letter to his mother was full of tenderness and remorse; he wept the bitterest tears over it — and the repentance and passion soothed him to some degree.
He saw a party of roaring young blades from Oxbridge in the coffee-room of his hotel, and slunk away from them, and paced the streets. He remembers, he says, the prints which he saw hanging up at Ackermann's window in the rain, and a book which he read at a stall near the Temple: at night he went to the pit of the play, and saw Miss Fotheringay, but he does n't in the least recollect in what piece.
On the second day there came a kind letter from his tutor, containing many grave and appropriate remarks upon the event which had befallen him, but strongly urging Pen not to take his name off the university books, and to retrieve a disaster which, everybody knew, was owing to his own carelessness alone, and which he might repair by a month's application. He said he had ordered Pen's skip to pack up some trunks of the young gentleman's wardrobe, which duly arrived with fresh copies of all Pen's bills laid on the top.
On the third day there arrived a letter from Home; which Pen read in his bedroom, and the result of which was that he fell down on his knees, with his head in the bed-clothes, and there prayed out his heart, and humbled himself; and having gone down stairs and eaten an immense breakfast, he sallied forth and took his place at the Bull and Mouth, Piccadilly, by the Chatteris coach for that evening.
Such a letter as the Major wrote, of course sent Doctor Portman to Fairoaks, and he went off with that alacrity which a good man shows when he has disagreeable news to communicate. He wishes the deed were done, and done quickly. He is sorry, but que voulez-voua? the tooth must be taken out, and he has you into the chair, and it is surprising with what courage and vigor of wrist he applies the forceps. Perhaps he would not be quite so active or eager if it were his tooth; but, in fine, it is your duty to have it out. So the Doctor, having read the epistle out to Mira and Mrs. Portman, with many damnatory comments upon the young scapegrace who was going deeper and deeper into perdition, left those ladies to spread the news through the Clavering society, which they did with their accustomed accuracy and despatch, and strode over to Fairoaks to break the intelligence to the widow.
She had the news already. She had read Pen's letter, and it had relieved her somehow. A gloomy presentiment of evil had been hanging over her for many, many months past . She knew the worst now, and her darling boy was come back to her repentant and tender-hearted. Did she want more? All that the Rector could say (and his remarks were both dictated by common sense, and made respectable by