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was a paragon of virtue and delicacy! she was as sensitive as the most timid maiden; she was as pure as the unsullied snow; she had the finest manners, the most graceful wit and genius, the most charming refinement, and justness of appreciation in all matters of taste; she had the most admirable temper and devotion to her father, a good old gentleman of high family and fallen fortunes, who had lived, however, with the best society in Europe he was in no hurry, and could afford to wait any time,-till he was oneand-twenty. But he felt (and here his face assumed an awful and harrowing solemnity) that he was engaged in the one only passion of his life, and that DEATH alone could close it
Helen told him, with a sad smile and shake of the head, that people survived these passions, and as for long engagements contracted between very young men and old women-she knew an instance in her own family-Laura's poor father was an instance-how fatal they were.
Mr. Pen, however, was resolved that death must be his doom in case of disappointment, and rather than thisrather than baulk him in fact-this lady would have submitted to any sacrifice or personal pain, and would have gone down on her knees and have kissed the feet of a Hottentot daughter-in-law.
Arthur knew his power over the widow, and the young tyrant was touched whilst he exercised it. In those two days he brought her almost into submission, and patronised her very kindly; and he passed one evening with the lovely pie-maker at Chatteris, in which he bragged of his influence over his mother; and he spent the other night in composing a most flaming and conceited copy of verses to his divinity, in which he vowed, like Montrose, that he would make her famous with his sword and glorious by his pen, and that he would love her as no mortal woman had been adored since the creation of womankind.
It was on that night, long after midnight, that wakeful Helen, passing stealthily by her son's door, saw a light streaming through the chink of the door
into the dark passage, and heard Pen tossing and tumbling and mumbling verses in his bed. She waited outside for a while, anxiously listening to him. In infantile fevers and early boyish illnesses, many a night before, the kind soul had so kept watch. She turned the lock very softly now, and went in so gently, that Pen for a moment did not see her. His face was turned from her. His papers on his desk were scattered about, and more were lying on the bed round him. He was biting a pencil and thinking of rhymes and all sorts of follies and passions. He was Hamlet jumping into Ophelia's grave: he was the Stranger taking Mrs. Haller to his arms, beautiful Mrs. Haller, with the raven ringlets falling over her shoulders. Despair and Byron, Thomas Moore and all the Loves of the Angels, Waller and Herrick, Beranger and all the love-songs he had ever read, were working and seething in this young gentleman's mind, and he was at the very height and paroxysm of the imaginative phrensy, when his mother found him.
"Arthur," said the mother's soft silver voice and he started up and turned round. He clutched some of the papers and pushed them under the pillow.
Why don't you go to sleep, my dear?" she said, with a sweet tender smile, and sat down on the bed and took one of his hot hands.
Pen looked at her wildly for an instant-"I couldn't sleep," he said-"I -I was writing."-And hereupon he flung his arms round her neck and said, "O mother, I love her, I love her!"How could such a kind soul as that help soothing and pitying him? The gentle creature did her best: and thought with a strange wonderment and tenderness, that it was only yesterday that he was a child in that bed: and how she used to come and say her prayers over it before he woke upon holiday mornings.
They were very grand verses, no doubt, although Miss Fotheringay did not understand them; but old Cos, with a wink and a knowing finger on his nose said, "Put them up with th' other letthers, Milly darling. Poldoody's poems was nothing to this." So Milly locked up the manuscripts.
When, then, the Major being dressed and presentable, presented himself to Mrs. Pendennis, he found in the course of ten minutes' colloquy that the poor widow was not merely distressed at the idea of the marriage contemplated by Pen, but actually more distressed at thinking that the boy himself was unhappy about it, and that he and his uncle should have any violent altercation on the subject. She besought Major Pendennis to be very gentle with Arthur: "He has a very high spirit, and will not brook unkind words," she hinted. "Doctor Portman spoke to him rather roughly and I must own unjustly, the other night-for my dearest boy's honour is as high as any mother can desire-but Pen's answer quite frightened me, it was so indignant. Recollect he is a man now; and be very-very cautious," said the widow, laying a fair long hand on the Major's sleeve.
He took it up, kissed it gallantly and looked in her alarmed face with wonder, and a scorn which he was too polite to show. "Bon Dieu!" thought the old negotiator, "the boy has actually talked the woman round, and she 'd get him a wife as she would a toy if Master cried for it. Why are there no such things as lettres-de-cachet-and a Bastille for
young fellows of family?" The Major lived in such good company that he might be excused for feeling like an Earl. He kissed the widow's timid hand, pressed it in both of his, and laid it down on the table with one of his own over it, as he smiled and looked her in the face.
"Confess," said he, " now, that you are thinking how you possibly can make it up to your conscience to let the boy have his own way."
She blushed and was moved in the usual manner of females. "I am thinking that he is very unhappy-and I am too"
"To contradict him or to let him have his own wish?" asked the other; and added, with great comfort to his inward self, "I'm d-d if he shall."
To think that he should have formed so foolish and cruel and fatal an attachment." the widow said, "which can but end in pain whatever be the issue."
"The issue shan't be marriage, my dear sister," the Major said resolutely. "We're not going to have a Pendennis, the head of the house, marry a strolling mountebank from a booth. No, no, we won't marry into Greenwich Fair, ma'am."
"If the match is broken suddenly off," the widow interposed, "I don't know what may be the consequence. I know Arthur's ardent temper, the intensity of his affections, the agony of his pleasures and disappointments, and I tremble at this one if it must be.. Indeed, indeed, it must not come on him too suddenly.
"My dear madam," the Major said, with an air of the deepest commiseration, "I've no doubt Arthur will have to suffer confoundedly before he gets over the little disappointment. But is he, think you, the only person who has been so rendered miserable?"
No, indeed," said Helen, holding down her eyes. She was thinking of her own case, and was at that moment seventeen again, and most miserable.
"I, myself," whispered her brotherin-law, have undergone a disappointment in early life. A young woman with fifteen thousand pounds, niece to an Earl-most accomplished creaturea third of her money would have run up my promotion in no time, and I should have been a lieutenant-colonel at thirty: but it might not be. I was but a penniless lieutenant: her parents interfered: and I embarked for India, where I had the honour of being secretary to Lora Buckley, when Commander-in-Chiefwithout her. What happened? We returned our letters, sent back our locks of hair (the Major here passed his fingers through his wig,) we suffered-but we recovered. She is now a baronet's wife with thirteen grown-up children; altered, it is true, in person; but her daughters remind me of what she was, and the third is to be presented early next week."
Helen did not answer.
She was still
thinking of old times. I suppose if one lives to be a hundred, there are certain passages of one's early life whereof the recollection will always carry us back to youth again, and that Helen was thinking of one of these.
"Look at my own brother, my dear creature, the Major continued gallantly: "he himself, you know, had a little disappointment when he started in the-the medical profession-an eligible opportunity presented itself. Miss Balls, I remember the name, was daughter of an apoth-a practitioner in very large practice; my brother had very nearly succeeded in his suit.-But difficulties arose disappointments supervened, and -and I am sure he had no reason to regret the disappointment, which gave him this hand," said the Major, and he once more politely pressed Helen's fingers.
Those marriages between people of such different rank and age," said Helen, 66 are sad things. I have known them produce a great deal of unhappiness.Laura's father, my cousin, who-who was brought up with me"-she added, in a low voice, was an instance of that.
"Most injudicious," cut in the Major. "I don't know anything more painful than for a man to marry his superior in age or his inferior in station. Fancy marrying a woman of a low rank of life, and having your house filled with her confounded tag-rag-and-bobtail relations! Fancy your wife attached to a mother who dropped her h's, or called Maria Marire! How are you to introduce her into society? My dear Mrs. Pendennis, I will name no names, but in the very best circles of London society I have seen men suffering the most excruciating agony, I have known them to be cut, to be lost utterly, from the vulgarity of their wives' connections. What did Lady Snapperton do last year at her dejeune dansant after the Bohemian Ball? She told Lord Brouncker that he might bring his daughters or send them with a proper chaperon, but that she would not receive Lady Brouncker: who was a druggist's daughter, or some such thing, and as Tom Wagg remarked of her, never wanted medicine certainly, for she never had an h in her life. Good Ged, what would have been the trifling pang of a separation in the first instance to the enduring affliction of a constant misalliance and intercourse with low people?"
What, indeed!" said Helen, dimly
disposed towards laughter, but yet checking the inclination, because she remembered in what prodigious respect her deceased husband held Major Pendennis and his stories of the great world.
"Then this fatal woman is ten years older than that silly young scapegrace of an Arthur. What happens in such cases, my dear creature? I don't mind telling you, now we are alone: that in the highest state of society, misery, undeviating misery, is the result. Look at Lord Clodworthy come into a room with his wife-why, good Ged, she looks like Clodworthy's mother. What's the case between Lord and Lady Willowbank, whose love match was notorious? He has already cut her down twice when she has hanged herself out of jealousy for Mademoiselle de Sainte Cunegonde, the dancer; and mark my words, good Ged, one day he'll not cut the old woman down. No, my dear madam, you are not in the world, but I am you are a little romantic and sentimental (you know you are-women with those large beautiful eyes always are); you must leave this matter to my experience. Marry this woman! Marry at eighteen an actress of thirty-bah bah!-I would as soon be sent into the kitchen and married the cook."
"I know the evils of premature engagements," sighed out Helen and as she has made this allusion no less than thrice in the course of the above conversation, and seems to be so oppressed with the notion of long engagements and unequal marriages, and as the circumstance we have to relate will explain what perhaps some persons are anxious to know, namely who little Laura is, who has appeared more than once before us, it will be as well to clear up these points in another chapter.
IN WHICH PEN IS KEPT WAITING AT THE DOOR, WHILE THE READER IS INFORMED WHO LITTLE LAURA WAS.
ONCE upon a time, then, there was a young gentleman of Cambridge Univer
sity who came to pass the long_vacation at the village where young Helen Thistlewood was living with her mother, the widow of the lieutenant slain at Copenhagen. This gentleman, whose name was the Reverend Francis Bell, was nephew to Mrs. Thistlewood, and by consequence, own cousin to Miss Helen, so that it was very right that he should take lodgings in his aunt's house, who lived in a very small way; and there he passed the long vacation, reading with three or four pupils who accompanied him to the village. Mr. Bell was fellow of a college, and famous in the University for his learning and skill as a tutor.
His two kinswomen understood pretty early that the reverend gentleman was engaged to be married, and was only waiting for a college living to enable him to fulfil his engagement. His intended bride was the daughter of another parson, who had acted as Mr. Bell's own private tutor in Bell's early life, and it was whilst under Mr. Coacher's roof, indeed, and when only a boy of seventeen or eighteen years of age, that the impetuous young Bell had flung himself at the feet of Miss Martha Coacher, whom he was helping to pick peas in the garden. On his knees, before those peas and her, he pledged himself to an endless affection.
Miss Coacher was by many years the young fellow's senior: and her own heart had been lacerated by many previous disappointments in the matrimonial line. No less than three pupils of her father had trifled with those young affections. The apothecary of the village had despicably jilted her. The Dragoon officer, with whom she had danced so many many times during that happy season which she passed at Bath with her gouty grandmamma, one day gaily shook his bridle-rein and galloped away, never to return. Wounded by the shafts of repeated ingratitude, can it be wondered at that the heart of Martha Coacher should pant to find rest somewhere? She listened to the proposals of the gawky gallant honest boy, with great kindness and good-humour; at the end of his speech she said, "Law Bell, I'm sure you are too young to think of such things;" but intimated that she too
would revolve them in her own virgin bosom. She could not refer Mr. Bell to her mamma, for Mr. Coacher was a widower, and being immersed in his books, was of course unable to take the direction of so frail and wondrous an article as a lady's heart, which Miss Martha had to manage for herself.
A lock of her hair, tied up in a piece of blue ribbon, conveyed to the happy Bell the result of the Vestal's conference with herself. Thrice before had she snipt off one of her auburn ringlets, and given them away. Martha had indeed occasion to say that men were deceivers, when she handed over this token of love to the simple boy.
Number 6, however, was an exception to former passions-Francis Bell was the most faithful of lovers. When his time arrived to go to college, and it became necessary to acquaint Mr. Coacher of the arrangements that had been made, the latter cried, "God bless my soul, I hadn't the least idea what was going on;" as was indeed very likely, for he had been taken in three times before in precisely a similar manner: and Francis went to the University resolved to conquer honours, so as to be able to lay them at the feet of his beloved Martha.
This prize in view made him labour prodigiously. News came, term after term, of the honors he had won. He sent the prize-books for his college essays to old Coacher, and his silver declamation cup to Miss Martha. In due season he was high among the Wranglers, and a fellow of his college; and during all the time of these transactions a constant tender correspondence was kept up with Miss Coacher, to whose influence, and perhaps with justice, he attributed the successes which he had won.
By the time, however, when the Rev. Francis Bell, M.A., and Fellow and Tutor of his College, was twenty-six years of age, it happened that Miss Coacher was thirty-four, nor had her charms, her manners, or her temper improved since that sunny day in the spring-time of life when he found her picking peas in the garden. Having achieved his honors, he relaxed the ardour of his studies, and his judgment and tastes also perhaps became cooler.
The sunshine of the pea-garden faded away from Miss Martha, and poor Bell found himself engaged-and his hand pledged to that bond in a thousand letters to a coarse, ill-tempered, ill-favoured, ill-mannered, middle-aged woman.
It was in consequence of one of many altercations, (in which Martha's eloquence shone, and in which therefore she was frequently pleased to indulge) that Francis refused to take his pupils to Bearleader's Green, where Mr. Coacher's living was, and where Bell was in the habit of spending the summer: and he bethought him that he would pass the vacation at his aunt's village, which he had not seen for many years-not since little Helen was a girl, and used to sit on his knee. Down then he came and lived with them. Helen was grown a beautiful young woman now. The cousins were nearly four months together, from June to October. They walked in the summer evenings: they met in the early morn. They read out of the same book when the old lady dozed at night over the candles. What little Helen knew, Frank taught her. She sang to him: she gave her artless heart to him. She was aware of all his story. Had he any secret?-had he not shown the picture of the woman to whom he was engaged, and with a blush,-her letters, hard, eager, and cruel?-The days went on and on, happier and closer, with more kindness, more confidence, and more pity. At last one morning in October came when Francis went back to college, and the poor girl felt that her tender heart was gone with him.
Frank too wakened up from the delightful mid summer-dream to the horrible reality of his own pain. He gnashed and tore at the chain which bound him. He was frantic to break it and be free. Should he confess?-give his savings to the woman to whom he was bound, and beg his release?-there was time yethe temporised. No living might fall in for years to come. The cousins went on corresponding sadly and fondly: the betrothed woman, hard, jealous, and dissatisfied, complaining bitterly, and with reason, of her Francis's altered tone.
At last things came to a crisis, and the new attachment was discovered.
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 grey 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.