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

By William Makepeace Thackeray | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI.
FLIGHT AFTER DEFEAT.

EVERYBODY who has the least knowledge of Heraldry and the Peerage must be aware that the noble family of which, as we know, Helen Pendennis was a member, bears for a crest a nest full of little pelicans pecking at the ensanguined bosom of a big maternal bird, which plentifully supplies the little wretches with the nutriment on which, according to the heraldic legend, they are supposed to be brought up. Very likely female pelicans like so to bleed under the selfish little beaks of their young ones: it is certain that women do. There must be some sort of pleasure, which we men don't understand, which accompanies the pain of being scarified, and indeed I believe some women would rather actually so suffer than not. They like sacrificing themselves in behalf of the object which their instinct teaches them to love. Be it for a reckless husband, a dissipated son, a darling scapegrace of a brother, how ready their hearts are to pour out their best treasures for the benefit of the cherished person; and what a deal of this sort of enjoyment are we, on our side, ready to give the soft creatures. There is scarce a man that reads this but has administered pleasure in this fashion to his womankind, and has treated them to the luxury of forgiving him. They don't mind how they live themselves; but when the prodigal comes home they make a rejoicing, and kill the fatted calf for him: and at the very first hint that the sinner is returning, the kind angels prepare their festival, and Mercy and Forgiveness go smiling out to welcome him. I hope it may be so always for us all: if we have only Justice to look to, Heaven help us!

During the latter part of Pen's residence at the University of Oxbridge, his uncle's partiality had greatly increased for the lad. The Major was proud of Arthur, who had high spirits, frank manners, a good person, and high gentlemanlike bearing. It pleased the old London bachelor to see Pen walking with the young patricians of his University, and he (who was nevernown to entertain his friends, and whose stinginess had passed into a sort of byword among some wags at the Club, who envied his many engagements, and did not choose to consider his poverty) was charmed to give his nephew and the young lords snug little dinners at his lodgings, and to regale them with good claret, and his very best bons mots and stories: some of which would be injured by the repetition, for the Major's manner of telling them was incomparably neat and careful; and others, whereof the repetition would do good to nobody. He paid his court to their parents through the young men, and to himself as it were by their company. He made more than one visit to Oxbridge, where the young fellows were amused by entertaining the old gentleman, and gave parties and breakfasts, and fétes, partly to joke him and partly to do him honour. He plied them with his stories. He made himself juvenile and hilarious in the company of the young lords. He went to hear Pen at a grand debate at the Union, crowed and cheered, and rapped his stick in chorus with the cheers of the men, and was astounded at the boy's eloquence and fire. He thought he had got a young Pitt for a nephew. He had an almost paternal fondness for Pen. He wrote to the lad letters with playful advice and the news of the town. He bragged about Arthur at his Clubs, and introduced him with pleasure into his conversation; saying, that, Egad, the young fellows were putting the old ones to the wall; that the lads who were coming up, young Lord Plinlimmon, a friend of my boy, young Lord Magnus Charters, a chum of my scapegrace, &c., would make a greater figure in the world than ever their fathers had done before them. He asked permission to bring Arthur to a grand féte at Gaunt House; saw him with ineffable satisfaction dancing with the sisters of the young noblemen before mentioned; and gave himself as much trouble to

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