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

By William Makepeace Thackeray | Go to book overview

wondered at it. He was three inches taller than his father. Was it possible that any man could grow to be three inches taller than Mr. Pendennis?

You may be certain he never went back to school; the discipline of the establishment did not suit him, and he liked being at home much better. The question of his return was debated, and his uncle was for his going back. The Doctor wrote his opinion that it was most important for Arthur's success in after life that he should know a Greek play thoroughly, but Pen adroitly managed to hint to his mother what a dangerous place Grey Friars was, and what sad wild fellows some of the chaps there were, and the timid soul, taking alarm at once, acceded to his desire to stay at home.

Then Pen's uncle offered to use his influence with His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, who was pleased to be very kind to him, and proposed to get Pen a commission in the Foot Guards. Pen's heart leaped at this: he had been to hear the band at St. James's play on a Sunday, when he went out to his uncle. He had seen Tom Ricketts, of the fourth form, who used to wear a jacket and trousers so ludicrously tight, that the elder boys could not forbear using him in the quality of a butt or "cockshy' -- he had seen this very Ricketts arrayed in crimson and gold, with an immense boarskin cap on his head, staggering under the colours of the regiment. Tom had recognised him, and gave him a patronising nod; -- Tom, a little wretch whom he had cut over the back with a hockeystick last quarter -- and there he was in the centre of the square, rallying round the flag of his country, surrounded by bayonets, cross-belts, and scarlet, the band blowing trumpets and banging cymbals -- talking familiarly to immense warriors with tufts to their chins and Waterloo medals. What would not Pen have given to wear such epaulettes and enter such a service?

But Helen Pendennis, when this point was proposed to her by her son, put on a face full of terror and alarm. She said "she did not quarrel with others who thought differently, but that in her opinion a Christian had no right to make the army a profession. Mr. Pendennis never, never would have permitted his son to be a soldier. Finally, she would be very unhappy if he thought of it." Now Pen would as soon cut off his nose and ears, as deliberately, and of aforethought malice, made his mother unhappy; and, as he was of such a generous disposition that he would give away anything to any one, he instantly made a present of his visionary red coat and epaulettes and his ardour for military glory to his mother.

She thought him the noblest creature in the world. But Major Pendennis, when the offer of the commission was acknowledged and refused, wrote back a curt and somewhat angry letter to the widow, and thought his nephew was rather a spooney.

He was contented, however, when he saw the boy's performances out hunting at Christmas, when the Major came down as usual to Fairoaks. Pen had a very good mare, and rode her with uncommon pluck and grace. He took his fences with great coolness, and yet with judgment, and without bravado. He wrote to the chaps at school about his top-boots, and his feats across country. He began to think seriously of a scarlet coat: and his mother must own that she thought it would become him remarkably well; though, of course, she passed hours of anguish during his absence, and daily expected to see him brought home on a shutter.

With these amusements, in rather too great plenty, it must not be assumed that Pen neglected his studies altogether. He had a natural taste for reading every possible kind of book which did not fall into his school course. It was only when they forced his head into the waters of knowledge that he refused to drink. He devoured all the books at home, from Inchbald's Theatre to White's Farriery; he ransacked the neighbouring bookcases. He found at Clavering an old cargo of French novels, which he read with all his might; and he would sit for hours perched up on the topmost bar of Doctor Portman's library steps with a folio on

-15-

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