« VorigeDoorgaan »
that Laura his sister was near, Pen felt rather guilty. His wish was to stand higher in her esteem, perhaps, than in that of any other person in the world. She was his mother's legacy to him. He was to be her patron and protector in some sort. How would she brave the news which he had to tell her; and how should he explain the plans which he was meditating? He felt as if neither he nor Blanche could bear Laura's dazzling glance of calm scrutiny, and as if he would not dare to disclose his worldly hopes and ambitions to that spotless judge. At her arrival at Baymouth, he wrote a letter thither which contained a great number of fine phrases and protests of affection, and a great deal of easy satire and raillery; in the midst of all which Mr. Pen could not help feeling that he was in a panic, and that he was acting like a rogue and hypocrite.
How was it that a simple country-girl should be the object of fear and trembling to such an accomplished gentleman as Mr. Pen? His worldly tactics and diplomacy, his satire and knowledge of the world, could not bear the test of her purity, he felt somehow. And he had to own to himself that his affairs were in such a position, that he could not tell the truth to that honest soul. As he rode from Clavering to Baymouth, he felt as guilty as a school-boy, who doesn't know his lesson and is about to face the awful master. For is not truth the master always, and does she not have the power and hold the book?
Under the charge of her kind, though somewhat wayward and absolute, patroness, Lady Rockminster, Laura had seen somewhat of the world in the last year, had gathered some accomplishments, and profited by the lessons of society. Many a girl who had been accustomed to that too great tenderness in which Laura's early life had been passed, would have been unfitted for the changed existence which she now had to lead. Helen worshipped her two children, and thought, as homebred women will, that all the world was made for them, or to be considered after them. She tended Laura with a watchfulness of affection which never left her. If she had a head-ache, the widow was as
alarmed as if there had never been an aching head before in the world. She slept and woke, read and moved, under her mother's fond superintendence, which was now withdrawn from her, along with the tender creature whose anxious heart would beat no more. And painful moments of grief and depression no doubt Laura had, when she stood in the great careless world alone. Nobody heeded her griefs or her solitude. She was not quite the equal, in social rank, of the lady whose companion she was, or of the friends and relatives of the imperious, but kind old dowager. Some very likely bore her no good-will-some, perhaps, slighted her: it might have been that servants were occasionally rude? their mistress certainly was often. Laura not seldom found herself in family meetings, the confidence and familiarity of which she felt were interrupted by her intrusion; and her sensitiveness of course was wounded at the idea that she should give or feel this annoyance. How many governesses are there in the world, thought cheerful Laura,-how many ladies, whose necessities make them slaves and companions by profession! What bad tempers and coarse unkindness have not these to encounter! How infinitely better my lot is with these really kind and affectionate people than that of thousands of unprotected girls! It was with this cordial spirit that our young lady adapted herself to her new position; and went in advance of her fortune with a trustful smile.
Did you ever know a person who met Fortune in that way, whom the goddess did not regard kindly? Are not even bad people won by a constant cheerfulness and a pure and affectionate heart? When the babes in the wood, in the ballad, looked up fondly and trustfully at those notorious rogues whom their uncle had set to make away with the little folks, we all know how one of the rascals relented, and made away with the other-not having the heart to be cruel to so much innocence and beauty. Oh happy they who have that virgin loving trust and sweet smiling confidence in the world, and fear no evil because they think none! Miss Laura Bell was one of these fortunate persons; and be
sides the gentle widow's little cross, which, as we have seen, Pen gave her, had such a sparkling and brilliant kohinoor in her bosom, as is even more precious than that famous jewel; for it not only fetches a price, and is retained by its owner in another world where diamonds are stated to be of no value, but here, too, is of inestimable worth to its possessor; is a talisman against evil, and lightens up the darkness of life, like Cogia Hassan's famous stone.
So that before Miss Bell had been a year in Lady Rockminster's house, there was not a single person in it whose love she had not won by the use of this talisman. From the old lady to the lowest dependent of her bounty, Laura had secured the good-will of every body. With a mistress of such a temper, my Lady's woman (who had endured her mistress for forty years, and had been clawed and scolded and jibed every day and night in that space of time), could not be expected to have a good temper of her own; and was at first angry against Miss Laura, as she had been against her ladyship's fifteen preceding companions. But when Laura was ill at Paris, this old woman nursed her in spite of her mistress, who was afraid of catching the fever, and absolutely fought for her medicine with Martha from Fairoaks, now advanced to be Miss Laura's own maid. As she was recovering Grandjean the chef wanted to kill her by the numbers of delicacies which he dressed for her, and wept when she ate her first slice of chicken. The Swiss major-domo of the house celebrated Miss Bell's praises in almost every European language, which he spoke with indifferent incorrectness; the coachman was happy to drive her out; the page cried when he heard she was ill; and Calverley and Coldstream (those two footmen, so large, so calm ordinarily, and so difficult to move), broke out into extraordinary hilarity at the news of her convalescence, and intoxicated the page at a wine shop, to feter Laura's recovery. Even Lady Diana Pynsent (our former acquaintance Mr. Pynsent had married by this time), Lady Diana, who had had a considerable dislike to Laura for some time, was so enthusiastic as to say that
she thought Miss Bell was a very agreeable person, and that grandmamma had a great trouvaille in her. All this kindness Laura had acquired, not by any arts, not by any flattery, but by the simple force of good-nature, and by the blessed gift of pleasing and being pleased.
On the one or two occasions when he had seen Lady Rockminster, the old lady, who did not admire him, had been very pitiless and abrupt with our young friend, and perhaps Pen expected when he came to Baymouth, to find Laura installed in her house in the quality of humble companion, and treated no better than himself. When she heard of his arrival she came running down stairs, and I am not sure that she did not embrace him in the presence of Calverley and Coldstream: not that those gentlemen ever told: if the fractus orbis had come to a smash, if Laura, instead of kissing Pen, had taken her scissors and snipped off his head-Calverley and Coldstream would have looked on impavidly, without allowing a grain of powder to be disturbed by the calamity,
Laura had so much improved in health and looks that Pen could not but admire her. The frank eyes which met his, beamed with good health; the cheek which he kissed blushed with beauty. As he looked at her, artless and graceful, pure and candid, he thought he had never seen her so beautiful. Why should he remark her beauty now so much, and remark too to himself that he had not remarked it sooner? He took her fair trustful hand and kissed it fondly: he looked in her bright clear eyes, and read in them that kindling welcome which he was always sure to find there. He was affected and touched by the tender tone and the pure sparkling glance; their innocenc smote him somehow and moved him.
thur, last year, before we parted. Are you very happy now, or are you in trouble, which is it?" and she looked at him with an arch glance." Do you like going into Parliament? Do you intend to distinguish yourself there? How I shall tremble for your first speech !"
"Do you know about the Parliament plan, then?" Pen asked.
"Know?- all the world knows! I have heard it talked about many times. Lady Rockminster's doctor talked about it to-day. I daresay it will be in the Chatteris paper to-morrow. It is all over the county that Sir Francis Clavering, of Clavering, is going to retire, in behalf of Mr. Arthur Pendennis, of Fairoaks; and that the young and beautiful Miss Blanche Amory is--"
"What! that too?" asked Pendennis. "That, too, dear Arthur. Tout se sait, as somebody would say, whom I intend to be very fond of; and who, I am sure, is very clever and pretty. I have had a letter from Blanche. The kindest of letters. She speaks so warmly of you, Arthur! I hope-I know she feels what she writes.-When is it to be, Arthur? Why did you not tell me? I may come and live with you then, mayn't I?”
"My home is yours, dear Laura, and everything I have," Pen said. did not tell you it was because-because -I do not know: nothing is decided yet. No words have passed between But you think Blanche could be happy with me-don't you? Not a romantic fondness, you know. I have no heart, I think; I've told her so: only a sobersided attachment :-and want my wife on one side of the fire and my sister on the other,-parliament in the session, and Fairoaks in the holidays; and my Laura never to leave me until somebody who has a right comes to take her away."
Somebody who has a right-somebody with a right! Why did Pen, as he looked at the girl and slowly uttered the words, begin to feel angry and jealous of the invisible somebody with the right to take her away? Anxious, but a minute ago, how she would take the news regarding his probable arrangements with Blanche, Pen was hurt somehow that she received the intelli
gence so easily, and took his happiness for granted.
"Until somebody comes," Laura said, with a laugh, "I will stay at home and be aunt Laura, and take care of the children when Blanche is in the world. I have arranged it all. I am an excellent housekeeper. Do you know I have been to market at Paris with Mrs. Beck, and have taken some lessons from M. Grandjean? And I have had some lessons in Paris in singing too, with the money which you sent me, you kind boy; and I can sing much better now: and I have learned to dance, though not so well as Blanche; and when you become a minister of state, Blanche shall present me :" and with this, and with a provoking good-humour, she performed for him the last Parisian curtsey.
Lady Rockminster came in whilst this curtsey was being performed, and gave to Arthur one finger to shake; which he took and over which he bowed as well as he could, which, in truth, was very clumsily.
"So you are going to be married, sir," said the old lady.
Scold him, Lady Rockminster, for not telling us,' "Laura said, going away: which, in truth, the old lady began instantly to do. "So you are going to marry and to go into Parliament in place of that good-for-nothing Sir Francis Clavering. I wanted him to give my grandson his seat-why did he not give my grandson his seat? I hope you are to have a great deal of money with Miss Amory.I wouldn't take her without a great deal.'
"Sir Francis Clavering is tired of Parliament," Pen said, wincing, "and -and I rather wish to attempt that career. The rest of the story is at least premature.
"I wonder, when you had Laura at home, you could take up with such an affected little creature as that," the old lady continued.
"I am very sorry Miss Amory does not please your ladyship," said Pen, smiling.
"You mean-that it is no affair of mine, and that I am not going to marry her. Well, I'm not; and I'm very glad I am not a little odious thing-when I
think that a man could prefer her to my Laura, I've no patience with him, and so I tell you, Mr. Arthur Pendennis."
"I am very glad you see Laura with such favourable eyes," Pen said.
"You are very glad, and you are very sorry. What does it matter, sir, whether you are very glad or very sorry? A young man who prefers Miss Amory to Miss Bell has no business to be sorry or glad. A young an who takes up with such a crooked lump of affectation as that little Amory, for she is crooked, I tell you she is,-after seeing my Laura, has no right to hold up his head again. Where is your friend Bluebeard? The tall young man, I mean,-Warrington, isn't his name? Why does he not come down, and marry Laura? What do the young men mean by not marrying such a girl as that? They all marry for money now. You are all selfish and cowards. We ran away with each other, and made foolish matches in my time. I have no patience with the young men ! When I was at Paris in the winter, I asked all the three attaches at the Embassy why they did not fall in love with Miss Bell? They laughed-they said they wanted money. You are all selfish -you are all cowards."
"I hope before you offered Miss Bell to the attaches," said Pen, with some heat, "you did her the favour to consult her."
"Miss Bell has only a little money. Miss Bell must marry soon. Somebody must make a match for her, sir; and a girl can't offer herself," said the old dowager, with great state. "Laura, my dear, I've been telling your cousin that all the young men are selfish; and that there is not a pennyworth of romance left among them. He is as bad as the rest."
"Have you been asking Arthur why he won't marry me?" said Laura with a smile, coming back and taking her cousin's hand. (She had been away, perhaps, to hide some traces of emotion, which she did not wish others to see.) "He is going to marry somebody else; and I intend to be very fond of her, and to go and live with them, provided he then does not ask every bachelor who
comes to his house, why he does not marry me?"
The terrors of Pen's conscience being thus appeased, and his examination before Laura over without any reproaches on the part of the latter, Pen began to find that his duty and inclination led him constantly to Baymouth, where Lady Rockminster informed him that a place was always reserved for him at her table. "And I recommend you to come often," the old lady said, "for Grandjean is an excellent cook, and to be with Laura and me will do your manners good. It is easy to see that you are always thinking about yourself. Don't blush and stammer-almost all young men are always thinking about themselves. My sons and grandsons always were until I cured them. Come here, and let us teach you to behave properly; you will not have to carve, that is done at the side-table. Hecker will give you as much wine as is good for you; and on days when you are very good and amusing you shall have some Champagne. Hecker, mind what I say. Mr. Pendennis is Miss Laura's brother; and you will make him comfortable, and see that he does not have too much wine, or disturb me whilst I am taking my nap after dinner. You are selfish; I intend to cure you of being selfish. You will dine here when you have no other engagements; and if it rains you had better put up at the hotel." As long as the good lady could order everybody round about her, she was not hard to please; and all the slaves and subjects of her little dowager court trembled before her, but loved her.
She did not receive a very numerous or brilliant society. The doctor, of course, was admitted as a constant and faithful visitor; the vicar and his curate; and on public days the vicar's wife and daughters, and some of the season visitors at Baymouth were received at the old lady's entertainments: but generally the company was a small one, and Mr. Arthur drank his wine by himself, when Lady Rockminster retired to take her doze, and to be played and sung to sleep by Laura after dinner.
"If my music can give her a nap,"
In consequence of his relationship, Pen was free to walk and ride with his cousin constantly, and in the course of those walks and rides, could appreciate the sweet frankness of her disposition, and the truth, simplicity, and kindliness, of her fair and spotless heart. In their mother's lifetime, she had never spoken so openly or so cordially as now. The desire of poor Helen to make an union between her two children, had caused a reserve on Laura's part towards Pen; for which, under the altered circumstances of Arthur's life, there was now no necessity. He was engaged to another woman; and Laura became his sister at once, hiding, or banishing from herself, any doubts which she might have as to his choice; striving to look cheerfully forward, and hope for his prosperity; promising herself to do all that affection might do to make her mother's darling happy.
Their talk was often ab the departed mother. And it was from a thousand stories which Laura told him that Arthur was made aware how constant and absorbing that silent maternal devotion had been; which had accompanied him present and absent through life, and had only ended with the fond widow's last breath. One day the people in Clavering saw a lad in charge of a couple of horses at the churchyard gate: and it