The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy

By William Makepeace Thackeray | Go to book overview

Fairoaks, where the porteress and gardener's wife reverentially greeted him: and, still more respectfully, Mr. Morgan, his man.

Helen was on the look-out for this expected guest, and saw him from her window. But she did not come forward immediately to greet him. She knew the Major did not like to be seen at a surprise, and required a little preparation before he cared to be visible. Pen, when a boy, had incurred sad disgrace by carrying off from the Major's dressing-table a little morocco box, which it must be confessed contained the Major's back teeth, which he naturally would leave out of his jaws in a jolting mail-coach, and without which he would not choose to appear. Morgan, his man, made a mystery of mystery of his wigs: curling them in private places: introducing them mysteriously to his master's room; -- nor without his head of hair would the Major care to show himself to any member of his family, or any acquaintance. He went to his apartment then and supplied these deficiencies; he groaned, and moaned, and wheezed, and cursed Morgan through his toilet, as an old buck will, who has been up all night with rheumatism, and has a long duty to perform. And finally being belted, curled, and set straight, he descended upon the drawing-room, with a grave, majestic air such as befitted one who was at once a man of business and a man of fashion.

Pen was not there, however; only Helen, and little Laura sewing at her knees; and to whom he never presented more than a forefinger, as he did on this occasion after saluting his sister-in-law. Laura took the finger trembling and dropped it -- and then fled out of the room. Major Pendennis did not want to keep her, or indeed to have her in the house at all, and had his private reason for disapproving of her; which we may mention on some future occasion. Meanwhile Laura disappeared, and wandered about the premises seeking for Pen: whom she presently found in the orchard, pacing up andown a walk there in earnest conversation with Mr. Smirke. He was so occupied that he did not hear Laura's clear voice singing out, until Smirke pulled him by the coat, and pointed towards her as she came running.

She ran up and put her hand into his. "Come in, Pen," she said, "there's somebody come; Uncle Arthur's come."

"He is, is he?" said Pen, and she felt him grasp her little hand. He looked round at Smirke with uncommon fierceness, as much as to say, I am ready for him or any man. Mr. Smirke cast up his eyes as usual, and heaved a gentle sigh.

"Lead on, Laura," Pen said, with a half fierce, half comic air. -- Lead on, and say I wait upon my uncle." But he was laughing in order to hide a great anxiety: and was screwing his courage inwardly to face the ordeal which he knew was now before him.

Pen had taken Smirke into his confidence in the last two days, and after the outbreak attendant on the discovery of Doctor Portman, and during every one of those forty-eight hours which he had passed in Mr. Smirke's society, had done nothing but talk to his tutor about Miss Fotheringay -- Miss Emily Fotheringay -- Emily, &c., to all which talk Smirke listened without difficulty, for he was in love himself, most anxious in all things to propitiate Pen, and indeed very much himself enraptured by the personal charms of this goddess, whose like, never having been before at a theatrical representation, he had not beheld until now. Pen's fire and volubility, his hot eloquence and rich poetical tropes and figures, his manly heart, kind, ardent, and hopeful, refusing to see any defects in the person he loved, any difficulties in their position that he might not overcome, had half convinced Mr. Smirke that the arrangement proposed by Mr. Pen was a very feasible and prudent one, and that it would be a great comfort to have Emily settled at Fairoaks, Captain Costigan in the yellow room, established for life there, and Pen married at eighteen.

And it is a fact that in these two days, the boy had almost talked over his mother, too; had parried all her objections one after another with that indignant

-45-

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