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

By William Makepeace Thackeray | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI.
CONTAINS BOTH LOVE AND WAR.

CICERO and Euripides did not occupy Mr. Pen much for some time after this, and honest Mr. Smirke had a very easy time with his pupil. Rebecca was the animal who suffered most in the present state of Pen's mind, for, besides those days when he could publicly announce his intention of going to Chatteris to take a fencinglesson, and went thither with the knowledge of his mother, whenever he saw three hours clear before him, the young rascal made a rush for the city, and found his way to Prior's Lane. He was as frantic with vexation when Rebecca went lame, as Richard at Bosworth, when his horse was killed under him: and he got deeply into the books of the man who kept the hunting stables at Chatteris for the doctor. ing of his own, and the hire of another animal.

Then, and perhaps once in a week, under pretence of going to read a Greek play with Smirke, this young reprobate set off so as to be in time for the Competitor down coach, stayed a couple of hours in Chatteris, and returned on the Rival, which left for London at ten at night. Once his secret was nearly lost by Smirke's simplicity, of whom Mrs. Pendennis asked whether they had read a great deal the night before, or a question to that effect. Smirke was about to tell the truth, that he had never seen Mr. Pen at all, when the latter's boot-heel came grinding down on Mr. Smirke's toe under the table, and warned the curate not to betray him.

They had had conversations on the tender subject, of course. It is good sport (if you are not yourself engaged in the conversation) to hear two men in love talk. There must be a confidant and depositary somewhere. When informed, under the most solemn vows of secrecy, of Pen's condition of mind, the curate said, with no small tremor, "that he hoped it was no unworthy object -- no unlawful attachment, which Pen had formed" -- for if so, the poor fellow felt it would be his duty to break his vow and inform Pen's mother, and then there would be a quarrel, he felt, with sickening apprehension, and he would never again have a chance of seeing what he most liked in the world.

"Unlawful, unworthy!" Pen bounced out at the curate's question. "She is as pure as she is beautiful; I would give my heart to no other woman. I keep the matter a secret in my family, because -- because -- there are reasons of a weighty nature which I am not at liberty to disclose. But any man who breathes a word against her purity insults both her honour and mine, and -- and, dammy, I won't stand it."

Smirke, with a faint laugh, only said, "Well, well, don't call me out, Arthur, for you know I can't fight:" but by this compromise the wretched curate was put more than ever into the power of his pupil, and the Greek and mathematics suffered correspondingly.

If the reverend gentleman had had much discernment, and looked into the Poet's Corner of the County Chronicle, as it arrived in the Wednesday's bag, he might have seen, "Mrs. Haller," "Passion and Genius," "Lines to Miss Fotheringay, of the Theatre Royal," appearing every week; and other verses of the most gloomy, thrilling, and passionate cast. But as these poems were no longer signed NEP by their artful composer, but subscribed EROS; neither the tutor nor Helen, the good soul, who cut all her son's verses out of the paper, knew that Nep was no other than that flaming Eros, who sang so vehemently the character of the new actress.

"Who is the lady," at last asked Mrs. Pendennis, "whom your rival is always singing in the County Chronicle? He writes something like you, dear Pen, but yours is much the best. Have you seen Miss Fotheringay?"

Pen said yes, he had; that night he went to see "The Stranger," she acted Mrs.

-37-

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