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

By William Makepeace Thackeray | Go to book overview

freehanded and careless, of course had his share, and though no great one, one quite enough to alarm his scrupulous and conscientious mother. She had some savings; Pen's magnificent self-denial, and her own economy, amounting from her great simplicity and avoidance of show to parsimony almost, had enabled her to put by a little sum of money, a part of which she delightedly consecrated to the paying off of the young gentleman's obligations. At this price, many a worthy youth and respected reader would hand over his correspondence to his parents; and perhaps there is no greater test of a man's regularity and easiness of conscience than his readiness to face the postman. Blessed is he who is made happy by the sound of the rat-tat! The good are eager for it: but the naughty tremble at the sound thereof. So it was very kind of Mrs. Pendennis doubly to spare Pen the trouble of hearing or answering letters during his illness.

There could have been nothing in the young man's chests of drawers and wardrobes which could be considered as inculpating him in any way, nor any satisfactory documents regarding the Fanny Bolton affair found there, for the widow had to ask her brother-in-law if he knew anything about the odious transaction, and the dreadful intrigue about which her son was engaged. When they were at Richmond one day, and Pen with Warrington had taken a seat on a bench on the terrace, the widow kept Major Pendennis in consultation, and laid her terrors and perplexities before him, such of them at least (for, as is the wont of men and women, she did not make quite a clean confession, and I suppose no spendthrift asked for a schedule of his debts, no lady of fashion asked by her husband for her dressmaker's bills, ever sent in the whole of them yet) -- such, we say, of her perplexities, at least, as she chose to confide to her Director for the time being.

When, then, she asked the Major what course she ought to pursue, about this dreadful -- this horrid affair, and whether he knew anything regarding it? the old gentleman puckered up his face, so that you could not tell whether he was smiling or not; gave the widow one queer look with his little eyes; cast them down to the carpet again, and said, "My dear, good creature, I don't know anything about it; and I don't wish to know anything about it; and, as you ask me my opinion, I think you had best know nothing about it too. Young men will be young men; and, begad, my good ma'am, if you think our boy is a Jo" --

"Pray, spare me this," Helen broke in, looking very stately.

"My dear creature, I did not commence the conversation, permit me to say," the Major said, bowing very blandly.

"I can't bear to hear such a sin -- such a dreadful sin -- spoken of in such away," the widow said, with tears of annoyance starting from her eyes. "I can't bear to think that my boy should commit such a crime. I wish he had died, almost, before he had done it. I don't know how I survive it myself; for it is breaking my heart, Major Pendennis, to think that his father's son -- my child -- whom I remember so good -- oh, so good, and full of honour! -- should be fallen so dreadfully low, as to -- as to" --

"As to flirt with a little grisette, my dear creature?" said the Major. "Egad, if all the mothers in England were to break their hearts because -- Nay, nay; upon my word and honour, now, don't agitate yourself, don't cry. I can't bear to see a woman's tears -- I never could -- never. But how do we know that anything serious has happened? Has Arthur said anything?"

"His silence confirms it," sobbed Mrs. Pendennis, behind her pockethandkerchief.

"Not at all. There are subjects, my dear, about which a young fellow cannot surely talk to his mamma," insinuated the brother-in-law.

"She has written to him," cried the lady, behind the cambric.

"What, before he was ill? Nothing more likely." "No, since," the mourner with the batiste mask gasped out; "not before; that is, I don't think so -- that is, I" --

-357-

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