The Adventures of Philip on his way through the World, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 8

Nec Plena Cruoris Hirudo.

The reading of this precious letter filled Philip’s friend with an inward indignation which it was very hard to control or disguise. It is no pleasant task to tell a gentleman that his father is a rogue. Old Firmin would have been hanged a few years earlier, for practices like these. As you talk with a very great scoundrel, or with a madman, has not the respected reader sometimes reflected, with a grim self-humiliation, how the fellow is of our own kind; and homo est? Let us, dearly beloved, who are outside — I mean outside the hulks or the asylum — be thankful that we have to pay a barber for snipping our hair, and are entrusted with the choice of the cut of our own jerkins. As poor Philip read his father’s letter, my thought was: “And I can remember the soft white hand of that scoundrel, which has just been forging his own son’s name, putting sovereigns into my own palm when I was a schoolboy.” I always liked that man:— but the story is not de me — it regards Philip.

“You won’t pay this bill?” Philip’s friend indignantly said, then.

“What can I do?” says poor Phil, shaking a sad head.

“You are not worth five hundred pounds in the world,” remarks the friend.

“Who ever said I was? I am worth this bill: or my credit is,” answers the victim.

“If you pay this, he will draw more.”

“I daresay he will:” that Firmin admits.

“And he will continue to draw, as long as there is a drop of blood to be had out of you.”

“Yes,” owns poor Philip, putting a finger to his lip. He thought I might be about to speak. His artless wife and mine were conversing at that moment upon the respective merits of some sweet chintzes which they had seen at Shoolbred’s, in Tottenham Court Road, and which were so cheap and pleasant, and lively to look at! Really those drawing-room curtains would cost scarcely anything! Our Regulus, you see, before stepping into his torture-tub, was smiling on his friends, and talking upholstery with a cheerful, smirking countenance. On chintz, or some other household errand, the ladies went prattling off: but there was no care, save for husband and children, in Charlotte’s poor little innocent heart just then.

“Nice to hear her talking about sweet drawing-room chintzes, isn’t it?” says Philip. “Shall we try Shoolbred’s, or the other shop?” And then he laughs. It was not a very lively laugh.

“You mean that you are determined, then, on — ”

“On acknowledging my signature? Of course,” says Philip, “if ever it is presented to me, I would own it.” And having formed and announced this resolution, I knew my stubborn friend too well to think that he ever would shirk it.

The most exasperating part of the matter was, that however generously Philip’s friends might be disposed towards him, they could not in this case give him a helping hand. The doctor would draw more bills, and more. As sure as Philip supplied, the parent would ask; and that devouring dragon of a doctor had stomach enough for the blood of all of us, were we inclined to give it. In fact, Philip saw as much, and owned everything with his usual candour. “I see what is going on in your mind, old boy!” the poor fellow said, “as well as if you spoke. You mean that I am helpless and irreclaimable, and doomed to hopeless ruin. So it would seem. A man can’t escape his fate, friend, and my father has made mine for me. If I manage to struggle through the payment of this bill, of course he will draw another. My only chance of escape is, that he should succeed in some of his speculations. As he is always gambling, there may be some luck for him one day or another. He won’t benefit me, then. That is not his way. If he makes a coup, he will keep the money, or spend it. He won’t give me any. But he will not draw upon me as he does now, or send forth fancy imitations of the filial autograph. It is a blessing to have such a father, isn’t it? I say, Pen, as I think from whom I am descended, and look at your spoons, I am astonished I have not put any of them in my pocket. You leave me in the room with ’em quite unprotected. I say it is quite affecting the way in which you and your dear wife have confidence in me.” And with a bitter execration at his fate, the poor fellow pauses for a moment in his lament.

His father was his fate, he seemed to think, and there were no means of averting it. “You remember that picture of Abraham and Isaac in the doctor’s study in Old Parr Street?” he would say. “My patriarch has tied me up, and had the knife in me repeatedly. He does not sacrifice me at one operation; but there will be a final one some day, and I shall bleed no more. It’s gay and amusing, isn’t it? Especially when one has a wife and children.” I, for my part, felt so indignant, that I was minded to advertise in the papers that all acceptances drawn in Philip’s name were forgeries; and let his father take the consequences of his own act. But the consequences would have been life imprisonment for the old man, and almost as much disgrace and ruin for the young one, as were actually impending. He pointed out his clearly enough; nor could we altogether gainsay his dismal logic. It was better, at any rate, to meet this bill, and give the doctor warning for the future. Well: perhaps it was; only suppose the doctor should take the warning in good part, accept the rebuke with perfect meekness, and at an early opportunity commit another forgery? To this Philip replied, that no man could resist his fate: that he had always expected his own doom through his father: that when the elder went to America he thought possibly the charm was broken; “but you see it is not,” groaned Philip, “and my father’s emissaries reach me, and I am still under the spell.” The bearer of the bowstring, we know, was on his way, and would deliver his grim message ere long.

Having frequently succeeded in extorting money from Dr. Firmin, Mr. Tufton Hunt thought he could not do better than follow his banker across the Atlantic: and we need not describe the annoyance and rage of the doctor on finding this black care still behind his back. He had not much to give; indeed the sum which he took away with him, and of which he robbed his son and his other creditors, was but small: but Hunt was bent upon having a portion of this; and, of course, hinted that, if the doctor refused, he would carry to the New York press the particulars of Firmin’s early career and latest defalcations. Mr. Hunt had been under the gallery of the House of Commons half a dozen times, and knew our public men by sight. In the course of a pretty long and disreputable career he had learned anecdotes regarding members of the aristocracy, turf-men, and the like; and he offered to sell this precious knowledge of his to more than one American paper, as other amiable exiles from our country have done. But Hunt was too old, and his stories too stale for the New York public. They dated from George IV., and the boxing and coaching times. He found but little market for his wares; and the tipsy parson reeled from tavern to bar, only the object of scorn to younger reprobates who despised his old-fashioned stories, and could top them with blackguardism of a much more modern date.

After some two years’ sojourn in the United States, this worthy felt the passionate longing to revisit his native country which generous hearts often experience, and made his way from Liverpool to London; and when in London directed his steps to the house of the Little Sister, of which he expected to find Philip still an inmate. Although Hunt had been once kicked out of the premises, he felt little shame now about re-entering them. He had that in his pocket which would insure him respectful behaviour from Philip. What were the circumstances under which that forged bill was obtained? Was it a speculation between Hunt and Philip’s father? Did Hunt suggest that, to screen the elder Firmin from disgrace and ruin, Philip would assuredly take the bill up? That a forged signature was, in fact, a better document than a genuine acceptance? We shall never know the truth regarding this transaction now. We have but the statements of the two parties concerned; and as both of them, I grieve to say, are entirely unworthy of credit, we must remain in ignorance regarding this matter. Perhaps Hunt forged Philip’s acceptance: perhaps his unhappy father wrote it: perhaps the doctor’s story that the paper was extorted from him was true, perhaps false. What matters? Both the men have passed away from amongst us, and will write and speak no more lies.

Caroline was absent from home when Hunt paid his first visit after his return from America. Her servant described the man, and his appearance. Mrs. Brandon felt sure that Hunt was her visitor, and foreboded no good to Philip from the parson’s arrival. In former days we have seen how the Little Sister had found favour in the eyes of this man. The besotted creature, shunned of men, stained with crime, drink, debt, had still no little vanity in his composition, and gave himself airs in the tavern parlours which he frequented. Because he had been at the University thirty years ago, his idea was that he was superior to ordinary men who had not had the benefit of an education at Oxford or Cambridge; and that the “snobs,” as he called them, respected him. He would assume grandiose airs in talking to a tradesman ever so wealthy; speak to such a man by his surname; and deem that he honoured him by his patronage and conversation. The Little Sister’s grammar, I have told you, was not good; her poor little h’s were sadly irregular. A letter was a painful task to her. She knew how ill she performed it, and that she was for ever making blunders.

She would invent a thousand funny little pleas and excuses for her faults of writing. With all the blunders of spelling, her little letters had a pathos which somehow brought tears into the eyes. The Rev. Mr. Hunt believed himself to be this woman’s superior. He thought his University education gave him a claim upon her respect, and draped himself and swaggered before her and others in his dingy college gown. He had paraded his Master of Arts degree in many thousand tavern parlours, where his Greek and learning had got him a kind of respect. He patronized landlords, and strutted by hostesses’ bars with a vinous leer or a tipsy solemnity. He must have been very far gone and debased indeed when he could still think that he was any living man’s better:— he, who ought to have waited on the waiters, and blacked boots’s own shoes. When he had reached a certain stage of liquor he commonly began to brag about the University, and recite the titles of his friends of early days. Never was kicking more righteously administered than that which Philip once bestowed on this miscreant. The fellow took to the gutter as naturally as to his bed, Firmin used to say; and vowed that the washing there was a novelty which did him good.

Brandon soon found that her surmises were correct regarding her nameless visitor. Next day, as she was watering some little flowers in her window, she looked from it into the street, where she saw the shambling parson leering up at her. When she saw him he took off his greasy hat and made her a bow. At the moment she saw him, she felt that he was come upon some errand hostile to Philip. She knew he meant mischief as he looked up with that sodden face, those bloodshot eyes, those unshorn, grinning lips.

She might have been inclined to faint, or disposed to scream, or to hide herself from the man, the sight of whom she loathed. She did not faint, or hide herself, or cry out; but she instantly nodded her head and smiled in the most engaging manner on that unwelcome, dingy stranger. She went to her door; she opened it (though her heart beat so that you might have heard it, as she told her friend afterwards). She stood there a moment archly smiling at him, and she beckoned him into her house with a little gesture of welcome. “Law bless us” (these, I have reason to believe, were her very words) — “Law bless us, Mr. Hunt, where ever have you been this ever so long?” And a smiling face looked at him resolutely from under a neat cap and fresh ribbon. Why, I know some women can smile, and look at ease, when they sit down in a dentist’s chair.

“Law bless me, Mr. Hunt,” then says the artless creature, “who ever would have thought of seeing you, I do declare!” And she makes a nice cheery little curtsey, and looks quite gay, pleased, and pretty; and so did Judith look gay, no doubt, and smile, and prattle before Holofernes; and then of course she said, “Won’t you step in?” And then Hunt swaggered up the steps of the house, and entered the little parlour, into which the kind reader has often been conducted, with its neat little ornaments, its pictures, its glistening corner cupboard, and its well-scrubbed, shining furniture.

“How is the captain?” asks the man (alone in the company of this Little Sister, the fellow’s own heart began to beat, and his bloodshot eyes to glisten).

He had not heard about poor Pa? “That shows how long you have been away!” Mrs. Brandon remarks, and mentions the date of her father’s fatal illness. Yes: she was alone now, and had to care for herself; and straightway, I have no doubt, Mrs. Brandon asked Mr. Hunt whether he would “take” anything. Indeed, that good little woman was for ever pressing her friends to “take” something, and would have thought the laws of hospitality violated unless she had made this offer.

Hunt was never known to refuse a proposal of this sort. He would take a taste of something — of something warm. He had had fever and ague at New York, and the malady hung about him. Mrs. Brandon was straightway very much interested to hear about Mr. Hunt’s complaint, and knew that a comfortable glass was very efficacious in removing threatening fever. Her nimble, neat little hands mixed him a cup. He could not but see what a trim little housekeeper she was. “Ah, Mrs. Brandon, if I had had such a kind friend watching over me, I should not be such a wreck as I am!” he sighed. He must have advanced to a second, nay, a third glass, when he sighed and became sentimental regarding his own unhappy condition; and Brandon owned to her friends afterwards that she made those glasses very strong.

Having “taken something” in considerable quantities, then, Hunt condescended to ask how his hostess was getting on, and how were her lodgers? How she was getting on? Brandon drew the most cheerful picture of herself and her circumstances. The apartments let well, and were never empty. Thanks to good Dr. Goodenough and other friends, she had as much professional occupation as she could desire. Since you know who has left the country, she said, her mind had been ever so much easier. As long as he was near, she never felt secure. But he was gone, and bad luck go with him! said this vindictive Little Sister.

“Was his son still lodging up-stairs?” asked Mr. Hunt.

On this, what does Mrs. Brandon do but begin a most angry attack upon Philip and his family. He lodge there? No, thank goodness! She had had enough of him and his wife, with her airs and graces, and the children crying all night, and the furniture spoiled, and the bills not even paid! “I wanted him to think that me and Philip was friends no longer; and heaven forgive me for telling stories! I know this fellow means no good to Philip; and before long I will know what he means, that I will,” she vowed.

For, on the very day when Mr. Hunt paid her a visit, Mrs. Brandon came to see Philip’s friends, and acquaint them with Hunt’s arrival. We could not be sure that he was the bearer of the forged bill with which poor Philip was threatened. As yet Hunt had made no allusion to it. But, though we are far from sanctioning deceit or hypocrisy, we own that we were not very angry with the Little Sister for employing dissimulation in the present instance, and inducing Hunt to believe that she was by no means an accomplice of Philip. If Philip’s wife pardoned her, ought his friends to be less forgiving? To do right, you know you must not do wrong; though I own this was one of the cases in which I am inclined not to deal very hardly with the well-meaning little criminal.

Now, Charlotte had to pardon (and for this fault, if not for some others, Charlotte did most heartily pardon) our little friend, for this reason, that Brandon most wantonly maligned her. When Hunt asked what sort of wife Philip had married? Mrs. Brandon declared that Mrs. Philip was a pert, odious little thing; that she gave herself airs, neglected her children, bullied her husband, and what not; and, finally, Brandon vowed that she disliked Charlotte, and was very glad to get her out of the house: and that Philip was not the same Philip since he married her, and that he gave himself airs, and was rude, and in all things led by his wife; and to get rid of them was a good riddance.

Hunt gracefully suggested that quarrels between landladies and tenants were not unusual; that lodgers sometimes did not pay their rent punctually; at others were unreasonably anxious about the consumption of their groceries, liquors, and so forth; and little Brandon, who, rather than steal a pennyworth from her Philip, would have cut her hand off, laughed at her guest’s joke, and pretended to be amused with his knowing hints that she was a rogue. There was not a word he said but she received it with a gracious acquiescence: she might shudder inwardly at the leering familiarity of the odious tipsy wretch, but she gave no outward sign of disgust or fear. She allowed him to talk as much as he would, in hopes that he would come to a subject which deeply interested her. She asked about the doctor and what he was doing, and whether it was likely that he would ever be able to pay back any of that money which he had taken from his son? And she spoke with an indifferent tone, pretending to be very busy over some work at which she was stitching.

“Oh, you are still hankering after him,” says the chaplain, winking a bloodshot eye.

“Hankering after that old man! What should I care for him? As if he haven’t done me harm enough already!” cries poor Caroline.

“Yes. But women don’t dislike a man the worse for a little ill-usage,” suggests Hunt. No doubt the fellow had made his own experiments on woman’s fidelity.

“Well, I suppose,” says Brandon, with a toss of her head, “women may get tired as well as men, mayn’t they? I found out that man, and wearied of him years and years ago. Another little drop out of the green bottle, Mr. Hunt! It’s very good for ague-fever, and keeps the cold fit off wonderful!”

And Hunt drank, and he talked a little more — much more: and he gave his opinion of the elder Firmin, and spoke of his chances of success, and of his rage for speculations, and doubted whether he would ever be able to lift his head again — though he might, he might still. He was in the country where, if ever a man could retrieve himself, he had a chance. And Philip was giving himself airs, was he? He was always an arrogant chap, that Mr. Philip. And he had left her house? and was gone ever so long? and where did he live now?

Then I am sorry to say Mrs. Brandon asked, how should she know where Philip lived now? She believed it was near Gray’s Inn, or Lincoln’s Inn, or somewhere; and she was for turning the conversation away from this subject altogether: and sought to do so by many lively remarks and ingenious little artifices which I can imagine, but which she only in part acknowledged to me — for you must know that as soon as her visitor took leave — to turn into the “Admiral Byng” public-house, and renew acquaintance with the worthies assembled in the parlour of that tavern, Mrs. Brandon ran away to a cab, drove in it to Philip’s house in Milman Street, where only Mrs. Philip was at home — and after a banale conversation with her, which puzzled Charlotte not a little, for Brandon would not say on what errand she came, and never mentioned Hunt’s arrival and visit to her — the Little Sister made her way to another cab, and presently made her appearance at the house of Philip’s friends in Queen Square. And here she informed me, how Hunt had arrived, and how she was sure he meant no good to Philip, and how she had told certain — certain stories which were not founded in fact — to Mr. Hunt; for the telling of which fibs I am not about to endeavour to excuse her.

Though the interesting clergyman had not said one word regarding that bill of which Philip’s father had warned him, we believed that the document was in Hunt’s possession, and that it would be produced in due season. We happened to know where Philip dined, and sent him word to come to us.

“What can he mean?” the people asked at the table — a bachelors’ table at the Temple (for Philip’s good wife actually encouraged him to go abroad from time to time, and make merry with his friends). “What can this mean?” and they read out the scrap of paper which he had cast down as he was summoned away.

Philip’s correspondent wrote: “Dear Philip, — I believe the BEARER OF THE BOWSTRING has arrived; and has been with the L. S. this very day.”

The L. S? — the bearer of the bowstring? Not one of the bachelors dining in Parchment Buildings could read the riddle. Only after receiving the scrap of paper Philip had jumped up and left the room; and a friend of ours, a sly wag and Don Juan of Pump Court, offered to take odds that there was a lady in the case.

At the hasty little council which was convened at our house on the receipt of the news, the Little Sister, whose instinct had not betrayed her, was made acquainted with the precise nature of the danger which menaced Philip; and exhibited a fine hearty wrath when she heard how he proposed to meet the enemy. He had a certain sum in hand. He would borrow more of his friends, who knew that he was an honest man. This bill he would meet, whatever might come; and avert at least this disgrace from his father.

What? Give in to those rogues? Leave his children to starve, and his poor wife to turn drudge and house-servant, who was not fit for anything but a fine lady? (There was no love lost, you see, between these two ladies, who both loved Mr. Philip). It was a sin and a shame! Mrs. Brandon averred, and declared she thought Philip had been a man of more spirit. Philip’s friend has before stated his own private sentiments regarding the calamity which menaced Firmin. To pay this bill was to bring a dozen more down upon him. Philip might as well resist now as at a later day. Such, in fact, was the opinion given by the reader’s very humble servant at command.

My wife, on the other hand, took Philip’s side. She was very much moved at his announcement that he would forgive his father this once at least, and endeavour to cover his sin.

“As you hope to be forgiven yourself, dear Philip, I am sure you are doing right,” Laura said; “I am sure Charlotte will think so.”

“Oh, Charlotte, Charlotte!” interposes the Little Sister, rather peevishly; “of course, Mrs. Philip thinks whatever her husband tells her!”

“In his own time of trial Philip has been met with wonderful succour and kindness,” Laura urged. “See how one thing after another has contributed to help him! When he wanted, there were friends always at his need. If he wants again, I am sure my husband and I will share with him.” (I may have made a wry face at this; for with the best feelings towards a man, and that kind of thing, you know it is not always convenient to be lending him five or six hundred pounds without security). “My dear husband and I will share with him,” goes on Mrs. Laura; “won’t we, Arthur? Yes, Brandon, that we will. Be sure, Charlotte and the children shall not want because Philip covers his father’s wrong, and hides it from the world! God bless you, dear friend!” and what does this woman do next, and before her husband’s face? Actually she goes up to Philip; she takes his hand — and — Well, what took place before my own eyes, I do not choose to write down.

“She’s encouraging him to ruin the children for the sake of that — that wicked old brute!” cries Mrs. Brandon. “It’s enough to provoke a saint, it is!” And she seizes up her bonnet from the table, and claps it on her head, and walks out of our room in a little tempest of wrath.

My wife, clasping her hands, whispers a few words, which say: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.”

“Yes,” says Philip, very much moved. “It is the Divine order. You are right, dear Laura. I have had a weary time; and a terrible gloom of doubt and sadness over my mind whilst I have been debating this matter, and before I had determined to do as you would have me. But a great weight is off my heart since I have been enabled to see what my conduct should be. What hundreds of struggling men as well as myself have met with losses, and faced them! I will pay this bill, and I will warn the drawer to — to spare me for the future.”

Now that the Little Sister had gone away in her fit of indignation, you see I was left in a minority in the council of war, and the opposition was quite too strong for me. I began to be of the majority’s opinion. I daresay I am not the only gentleman who has been led round by a woman. We men of great strength of mind very frequently are. Yes: my wife convinced me with passages from her text-book, admitting of no contradiction according to her judgment, that Philip’s duty was to forgive his father.

“And how lucky it was we did not buy the chintzes that day!” says Laura with a laugh. “Do you know there were two which were so pretty that Charlotte could not make up her mind which of the two she would take?”

Philip roared out one of his laughs, which made the windows shake. He was in great spirits. For a man who was going to ruin himself, he was in the most enviable good-humour. Did Charlotte know about this — this claim which was impending over him? No. It might make her anxious, — poor little thing. Philip had not told her. He had thought of concealing the matter from her. What need was there to disturb her rest, poor innocent child? You see, we all treated Mrs. Charlotte more or less like a child. Philip played with her. J. J., the painter, coaxed and dandled her, so to speak. The Little Sister loved her, but certainly with a love that was not respectful; and Charlotte took everybody’s good-will with a pleasant meekness and sweet smiling content. It was not for Laura to give advice to man and wife (as if the woman was not always giving lectures to Philip and his young wife!); but in the present instance she thought Mrs. Philip certainly ought to know what Philip’s real situation was; what danger was menacing; “and how admirable and right, and Christian — and you will have your reward for it, dear Philip!” interjects the enthusiastic lady — “your conduct has been!”

When we came, as we straightway did in a cab, to Charlotte’s house, to expound the matter to her, goodness bless us! she was not shocked, or anxious, or frightened at all. Mrs. Brandon had just been with her, and told her of what was happening, and she had said, “Of course, Philip ought to help his father; and Brandon had gone away quite in a tantrum of anger, and had really been quite rude; and she should not pardon her, only she knew how dearly the Little Sister loved Philip; and of course they must help Dr. Firmin; and what dreadful, dreadful distress he must have been in to do as he did! But he had warned Philip, you know,” and so forth. “And as for the chintzes, Laura, why I suppose we must go on with the old shabby covers. You know, they will do very well till next year.” This was the way in which Mrs. Charlotte received the news which Philip had concealed from her, lest it should terrify her. As if a loving woman was ever very much frightened at being called upon to share her husband’s misfortune!

As for the little case of forgery, I don’t believe the young person could ever be got to see the heinous nature of Dr. Firmin’s offence. The desperate little logician seemed rather to pity the father than the son in the business. “How dreadfully pressed he must have been when he did it, poor man!” she said. “To be sure, he ought not to have done it at all; but think of his necessity! That is what I said to Brandon. Now, there’s little Philip’s cake in the cupboard which you brought him. Now suppose papa was very hungry, and went and took some without asking Philly, he wouldn’t be so very wrong, I think, would he? A child is glad enough to give for his father, isn’t he? And when I said this to Brandon, she was so rude and violent, I really have no patience with her! And she forgets that I am a lady, and” So it appeared the Little Sister had made a desperate attempt to bring over Charlotte to her side, was still minded to rescue Philip in spite of himself, and had gone off in wrath at her defeat.

We looked to the doctor’s letters, and ascertained the date of the bill. It had crossed the water and would be at Philip’s door in a very few days. Had Hunt brought it? The rascal would have it presented through some regular channel, no doubt; and Philip and all of us totted up ways and means, and strove to make the slender figures look as big as possible, as the thrifty housewife puts a patch here and a darn there, and cuts a little slice out of this old garment, so as to make the poor little frock serve for winter wear. We had so much at the banker’s . A friend might help with a little advance. We would fairly ask a loan from the Review. We were in a scrape, but we would meet it. And so with resolute hearts, we would prepare to receive the Bearer of the Bowstring.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07