Philip had long divined a part of his dear little friend’s history. An uneducated young girl had been found, cajoled, deserted by a gentleman of the world. And poor Caroline was the victim, and Philip’s own father the seducer. He easily guessed as much as this of the sad little story. Dr. Firmin’s part in it was enough to shock his son with a thrill of disgust, and to increase the mistrust, doubt, alienation, with which the father had long inspired the son. What would Philip feel, when all the pages of that dark book were opened to him, and he came to hear of a false marriage, and a ruined and outcast woman, deserted for years by the man to whom he himself was most bound? In a word, Philip had considered this as a mere case of early libertinism, and no more: and it was as such, in the very few words which he may have uttered to me respecting this matter, that he had chosen to regard it. I knew no more than my friend had told me of the story as yet; it was only by degrees that I learned it, and as events, now subsequent, served to develop and explain it.
The elder Firmin, when questioned by his old acquaintance, and, as it appeared, accomplice of former days, regarding the end of a certain intrigue at Margate, which had occurred some four or five and twenty years back, and when Firmin, having reason to avoid his college creditors, chose to live away and bear a false name, had told the clergyman a number of falsehoods, which appeared to satisfy him. What had become of that poor little thing about whom he had made such a fool of himself? Oh, she was dead, dead ever so many years before. He had pensioned her off. She had married, and died in Canada — yes, in Canada. Poor little thing! Yes, she was a good little thing, and, at one time, he had been very soft about her. I am sorry to have to state of a respectable gentleman, that he told lies, and told lies habitually and easily. But, you see, if you commit a crime, and break a seventh commandment let us say, or an eighth, or choose any number you will — you will probably have to back the lie of action by the lie of the tongue, and so you are fairly warned, and I have no help for you. If I murder a man, and the policeman inquires, “Pray, sir, did you cut this here gentleman’s throat?” I must bear false witness, you see, out of self-defence, though I may be naturally a most reliable, truth-telling man. And so with regard to many crimes which gentlemen commit — it is painful to have to say respecting gentlemen, but they become neither more nor less than habitual liars, and have to go lying on through life to you, to me, to the servants, to their wives, to their children, to — oh, awful name! I bow and humble myself. May we kneel, may we kneel, nor strive to speak our falsehoods before Thee!
And so, my dear sir, seeing that after committing any infraction of the moral laws, you must tell lies in order to back yourself out of your scrape, let me ask you, as a man of honour and a gentleman, whether you had not better forego the crime, so as to avoid the unpleasant, and daily-recurring necessity of the subsequent perjury? A poor young girl of the lower orders, cajoled, or ruined, more or less, is of course no great matter. The little baggage is turned out of doors — worse luck for her — or she gets a place, or she marries one of her own class, who does not care to remember bygones, — and there is an end of her. But if you marry her privately and irregularly yourself, and then throw her off, and then marry somebody else, you are brought to book in all sorts of unpleasant ways. I am writing of quite an old story, be pleased to remember. The first part of the history, I myself printed some twenty years ago; and if you fancy I allude to any more modern period, madam, you are entirely out in your conjecture.
It must have been a most unpleasant duty for a man of fashion, honour, and good family, to lie to a poor tipsy, disreputable bankrupt merchant’s daughter, such as Caroline Gann; but George Brand Firmin, Esq., M.D., had no other choice, and when he lied, — as in severe cases, when he administered calomel — he thought it best to give the drug freely. Thus he lied to Hunt, saying that Mrs. Brandon was long since dead in Canada; and he lied to Caroline, prescribing for her the very same pill, as it were, and saying that Hunt was long since dead in Canada too. And I can fancy few more painful and humiliating positions for a man of rank and fashion and reputation, than to have to demean himself so far as to tell lies to a little low-bred person, who gets her bread as nurse of the sick, and has not the proper use of her h’s .
“Oh, yes, Hunt!” Firmin had said to the Little Sister, in one of those sad little colloquies which sometimes took place between him and his victim, his wife of old days. “A wild, bad man, Hunt was — in days when I own I was little better! I have deeply repented since, Caroline; of nothing more than of my conduct to you; for you were worthy of a better fate, and you loved me truly — madly.”
“Yes,” says Caroline.
“I was wild, then! I was desperate! I had ruined my fortunes, estranged my father from me, was hiding from my creditors under an assumed name — that under which I saw you. Ah, why did I ever come to your house, my poor child? The mark of the demon was upon me. I did not dare to speak of marriage before my father. You have yours, and tend him with your ever constant goodness. Do you know that my father would not see me when he died? Oh, it’s a cruel thing to think of!” And the suffering creature slaps his tall forehead with his trembling hand; and some of his grief about his own father, I dare say, is sincere, for he feels the shame and remorse of being alienated from his own son.
As for the marriage — that it was a most wicked and unjustifiable deceit, he owned; but he was wild when it took place, wild with debt and with despair at his father’s estrangement from him — but the fact was, it was no marriage.
“I am glad of that!” sighed the poor Little Sister.
“Why?” asked the other eagerly. His love was dead, but his vanity was still hale and well. “Did you care for somebody else, Caroline? Did you forget your George, whom you used to — ”
“No!” said the little woman, bravely. “But I couldn’t live with a man who behaved to any woman so dishonest as you behaved to me. I liked you because I thought you was a gentleman. My poor painter was, whom you used to despise and trample to hearth — and my dear, dear Philip is, Mr. Firmin. But gentlemen tell the truth! Gentlemen don’t deceive poor innocent girls, and desert ’em without a penny!”
“Caroline! I was driven by my creditors. I— ”
“Never mind. It’s over now. I bear you no malice, Mr. Firmin, but I wouldn’t marry you, no, not to be doctor’s wife to the queen!”
This had been the Little Sister’s language when there was no thought of the existence of Hunt, the clergyman who had celebrated their marriage; and I don’t know whether Firmin was most piqued or pleased at the divorce which the little woman pronounced of her own decree. But when the ill-omened Hunt made his appearance, doubts and terrors filled the physician’s mind. Hunt was needy, greedy, treacherous, unscrupulous, desperate. He could hold this marriage over the doctor. He could threaten, extort, expose, perhaps invalidate Philip’s legitimacy. The first marriage, almost certainly, was null, but the scandal would be fatal to Firmin’s reputation and practice. And the quarrel with his son entailed consequences not pleasant to think of. You see George Firmin, Esq., M.D., was a man with a great development of the back head; when he willed a thing, he willed it so fiercely that he must have it, never mind the consequences. And so he had willed to make himself master of poor little Caroline: and so he had willed, as a young man, to have horses, splendid entertainments, roulette and écarté, and so forth; and the bill came at its natural season, and George Firmin, Esq., did not always like to pay. But for a grand, prosperous, highly-bred gentleman in the best society — with a polished forehead and manners, and universally looked up to — to have to tell lies to a poor little timid, un-complaining, sick-room nurse, it was humiliating, wasn’t it? And I can feel for Firmin.
To have to lie to Hunt was disgusting: but somehow not so exquisitely mean and degrading as to have to cheat a little trusting, humble, houseless creature, over the bloom of whose gentle young life his accursed foot had already trampled. But then this Hunt was such a cad and ruffian that there need be no scruple about humbugging him; and if Firmin had had any humour he might have had a grim sort of pleasure in leading the dirty clergyman a dance thoro’ bush thoro’ briar. So, perhaps (of course I have no means of ascertaining the fact), the doctor did not altogether dislike the duty which now devolved on him of hoodwinking his old acquaintance and accomplice. I don’t like to use such a vulgar phrase regarding a man in Doctor Firmin’s high social position, as to say of him and the gaol-chaplain that it was “thief catch thief;” but at any rate Hunt is such a low, graceless, friendless vagabond, that if he comes in for a few kicks, or is mystified, we need not be very sorry. When Mr. Thurtell is hung we don’t put on mourning. His is a painful position for the moment; but, after all, he has murdered Mr. William Weare.
Firmin was a bold and courageous man, hot in pursuit, fierce in desire, but cool in danger, and rapid in action. Some of his great successes as a physician arose from his daring and successful practice in sudden emergency. While Hunt was only lurching about the town an aimless miscreant, living from dirty hand to dirty mouth, and as long as he could get drink, cards, and shelter, tolerably content, or at least pretty easily appeased by a guinea-dose or two — Firmin could adopt the palliative system; soothe his patient with an occasional bounty; set him to sleep with a composing draught of claret or brandy; and let the day take care of itself. He might die; he might have a fancy to go abroad again; he might be transported for forgery or some other rascaldom, Dr. Firmin would console himself; and he trusted to the chapter of accidents to get rid of his friend. But Hunt, aware that the woman was alive whom he had actually, though unlawfully, married to Firmin, became an enemy whom it was necessary to subdue, to cajole, or to bribe, and the sooner the doctor put himself on his defence the better. What should the defence be? Perhaps the most effectual was a fierce attack on the enemy; perhaps it would be better to bribe him. The course to be taken would be best ascertained after a little previous reconnoitring.
“He will try and inflame Caroline,” the doctor thought, “by representing her wrongs and her rights to her. He will show her that, as my wife, she has a right to my name and a share of my income. A less mercenary woman never lived than this poor little creature. She disdains money, and, except for her father’s sake, would have taken none of mine. But to punish me for certainly rather shabby behaviour; to claim and take her own right and position in the world as an honest woman, may she not be induced to declare war against me, and stand by her marriage? After she left home, her two Irish half-sisters deserted her and spat upon her; and when she would have returned, the heartless women drove her from the door. Oh, the vixens! And now to drive by them in her carriage, to claim a maintenance from me, and to have a right to my honourable name, would she not have her dearest revenge over her sisters by so declaring her marriage?”
Firmin’s noble mind misgave him very considerably on this point. He knew women, and how those had treated their little sister. Was it in human nature not to be revenged? These thoughts rose straightway in Firmin’s mind, when he heard that the much dreaded meeting between Caroline and the chaplain had come to pass.
As he ate his dinner with his guest, his enemy, opposite to him, he was determining on his plan of action. The screen was up, and he was laying his guns behind it, so to speak. Of course he was as civil to Hunt as the tenant to his landlord when he comes with no rent. So the doctor laughed, joked, bragged, talked his best, and was thinking the while what was to be done against the danger.
He had a plan which might succeed. He must see Caroline immediately. He knew the weak point of her heart, and where she was most likely to be vulnerable. And he would act against her as barbarians of old acted against their enemies, when they brought the captive wives and children in front of the battle, and bade the foe strike through them. He knew how Caroline loved his boy. It was through that love he would work upon her. As he washes his pretty hands for dinner, and bathes his noble brow, he arranges his little plan. He orders himself to be sent for soon after the second bottle of claret — and it appears the doctor’s servants were accustomed to the delivery of these messages from their master to himself. The plan arranged, now let us take our dinner and our wine, and make ourselves comfortable until the moment of action. In his wild-oats days, when travelling abroad with wild and noble companions, Firmin had fought a duel or two, and was always remarkable for his gaiety of conversation and the fine appetite which he showed at breakfast before going on to the field. So, perhaps, Hunt, had he not been stupefied by previous drink, might have taken the alarm by remarking Firmin’s extra courtesy and gaiety, as they dined together. It was nunc vinum, cras æquor.
When the second bottle of claret was engaged, Dr. Firmin starts. He has an advance of half-an-hour at least on his adversary, or on the man who may be his adversary. If the Little Sister is at home, he will see her — he will lay bare his candid heart to her, and make a clean breast of it. The Little Sister was at home.
“I want to speak to you very particularly about that case of poor Lady Humandhaw,” says he, dropping his voice.
“I will step out, my dear, and take a little fresh air,” says Captain Gann; meaning that he will be off to the “Admiral Byng;” and the two are together.
“I have had something on my conscience. I have deceived you, Caroline,” says the doctor, with the beautiful shining forehead and hat.
“Ah, Mr. Firmin,” says she, bending over her work; “you’ve used me to that.”
“A man whom you knew once, and who tempted me for his own selfish ends to do a very wrong thing by you — a man whom I thought dead is alive:— Tufton Hunt, who performed that — that illegal ceremony at Margate, of which so often and often on my knees I have repented, Caroline!”
The beautiful hands are clasped, the beautiful deep voice thrills lowly through the room; and if a tear or two can be squeezed out of the beautiful eyes, I daresay the doctor will not be sorry.
“He has been here to-day. Him and Mr. Philip was here and quarrelled. Philip has told you, I suppose, sir?”
“Before heaven, on the word of a gentleman, when I said he was dead, Caroline, I thought he was dead! Yes, I declare, at our college, Maxwell — Dr. Maxwell — who had been at Cambridge with us, told me that our old friend Hunt had died in Canada.” (This, my beloved friends and readers, may not have been the precise long bow which George Firmin, Esq., M.D., pulled; but that he twanged a famous lie out, whenever there was occasion for the weapon, I assure you is an undoubted fact.) “Yes, Dr. Maxwell told me our old friend was dead. Our old friend? My worst enemy and yours! But let that pass. It was he, Caroline, who led me into crimes which I have never ceased to deplore.”
“Ah, Mr. Firmin,” sighs the Little Sister, “since I’ve known you, you was big enough to take care of yourself in that way.”
“I have not come to excuse myself, Caroline,” says the deep sweet voice. “I have done you enough wrong, and I feel it here — at this heart. I have not come to speak about myself, but of some one I love the best of all the world — the only being I do love — some one you love, you good and generous soul — about Philip.”
“What is it about Philip?” asks Mrs. Brandon, very quickly.
“Do you want harm to happen to him?”
“Oh, my darling boy, no!” cries the Little Sister, clasping her little hands.
“Would you keep him from harm?”
“Ah, sir, you know I would. When he had the scarlet fever, didn’t I pour the drink down his poor throat, and nurse him, and tend him, as if, as if — as a mother would her own child?”
“You did, you did, you noble, noble woman; and heaven bless you for it! A father does. I am not all heartless, Caroline, as you deem me, perhaps.”
“I don’t think it’s much merit, your loving him,” says Caroline, resuming her sewing. And, perhaps, she thinks within herself, “What is he a coming to?” You see she was a shrewd little person, when her passions and partialities did not overcome her reason; and she had come to the conclusion that this elegant Dr. Firmin whom she had admired so once was a — not altogether veracious gentleman. In fact, I heard her myself say afterwards, “La! he used to talk so fine, and slap his hand on his heart, you know; but I usedn’t to believe him, no more than a man in a play.” “It’s not much merit your loving that boy,” says Caroline, then. “But what about him, sir?”
Then Firmin explained. This man Hunt was capable of any crime for money or revenge. Seeing Caroline was alive —
“I ‘spose you told him I was dead too, sir,” says she, looking up from the work.
“Spare me, spare me! Years ago, perhaps, when I had lost sight of you, I may, perhaps, have thought — ”
“And it’s not to you, George Brandon — it’s not to you,” cries Caroline, starting up, and speaking with her sweet, innocent, ringing voice; “it’s to kind, dear friends, — it’s to my good God that I owe my life, which you had flung it away. And I paid you back by guarding your boy’s dear life, I did, under — under Him who giveth and taketh. And bless His name!”
“You are a good woman, and I am a bad, sinful man, Caroline,” says the other. “You saved my Philip’s — our Philip’s life, at the risk of your own. Now I tell you that another immense danger menaces him, and may come upon him any day as long as yonder scoundrel is alive. Suppose his character is assailed; suppose, thinking you dead, I married another — ”
“Ah, George, you never thought me dead; though, perhaps, you wished it, sir. And many would have died,” added the poor Little Sister.
“Look, Caroline! If I was married to you, my wife — Philip’s mother — was not my wife, and he is her natural son. The property he inherits does not belong to him. The children of his grandfather’s other daughter claim it, and Philip is a beggar. Philip, bred as he has been — Philip, the heir to a mother’s large fortune.”
“And — and his father’s, too?” asks Caroline, anxiously.
“I daren’t tell you — though, no, by heavens! I can trust you with everything. My own great gains have been swallowed up in speculations which have been almost all fatal. There has been a fate hanging over me, Caroline — a righteous punishment for having deserted you. I sleep with a sword over my head, which may fall and destroy me. I walk with a volcano under my feet, which may burst any day and annihilate me. And people speak of the famous Dr. Firmin, the rich Dr. Firmin, the prosperous Dr. Firmin! I shall have a title soon, I believe. I am believed to be happy, and I am alone, and the wretchedest man alive.”
“Alone, are you?” said Caroline. “There was a woman once would have kept by you, only you — you flung her away. Look here, George Brandon. It’s over with us. Years and years ago it lies where a little cherub was buried. But I love my Philip; and I won’t hurt him, no, never, never, never.”
And as the doctor turned to go away, Caroline followed him wistfully into the hall, and it was there that Philip found them.
Caroline’s tender “never, never,” rang in Philip’s memory as he sat at Ridley’s party, amidst the artists and authors there assembled. Phil was thoughtful and silent. He did not laugh very loud. He did not praise or abuse anybody outrageously, as was the wont of that most emphatic young gentleman. He scarcely contradicted a single person; and perhaps, when Larkins said Scumble’s last picture was beautiful, or Bogle, the critic of the Connoisseur, praised Bowman’s last novel, contented himself with a scornful “Ho!” and a pull at his whiskers by way of protest and denial. Had he been in his usual fine spirits, and enjoying his ordinary flow of talk, he would have informed Larkins and the assembled company not only that Scumble was an impostor, but that he, Larkins, was an idiot for admiring him. He would have informed Bogle that he was infatuated about that jackass Bowman, that cockney, that wretched ignoramus, who didn’t know his own or any other language. He would have taken down one of Bowman’s stories from the shelf, and proved the folly, imbecility, and crass ignorance of that author. (Ridley has a simple little stock of novels and poems in an old cabinet in his studio, and reads them still with much artless wonder and respect.) Or, to be sure, Phil would have asserted propositions the exact contrary of those here maintained, and declared that Bowman was a genius, and Scumble a most accomplished artist. But then, you know, somebody else must have commenced by taking the other side. Certainly a more paradoxical, and provoking, and obstinate, and contradictory disputant than Mr. Phil, I never knew. I never met Dr. Johnson, who died before I came up to town; but I do believe Phil Firmin would have stood up and argued even with him.
At these Thursday divans the host provided the modest and kindly refreshment, and Betsy the maid, or Virgilio the model, travelled to and fro with glasses and water. Each guest brought his own smoke, and I promise you there were such liberal contributions of the article, that the studio was full of it; and new comers used to be saluted by a roar of laughter as you heard, rather than saw, them entering, and choking in the fog. It was, “Holloa, Prodgers! is that you, old boy?” and the beard of Prodgers (that famous sculptor) would presently loom through the cloud. It was, “Newcome, how goes?” and Mr. Clive Newcome (a mediocre artist I must own, but a famous good fellow, with an uncommonly pretty villa and pretty and rich wife at Wimbledon) would make his appearance, and be warmly greeted by our little host. It was, “Is that you, F. B.? would you like a link, old boy, to see you through the fog?” And the deep voice of Frederick Bayham, Esquire (the eminent critic on Art), would boom out of the tobaccomist, and would exclaim, “A link? I would like a drink.” Ah, ghosts of youth, again ye draw near! Old figures glimmer through the cloud. Old songs echo out of the distance. What were you saying anon about Dr. Johnson, boys? I am sure some of us must remember him. As for me, I am so old, that I might have been at Edial school — the other pupil along with little Davy Garrick and his brother.
We had a bachelor’s supper in the Temple so lately that I think we must pay but a very brief visit to a smoking party in Thornhaugh Street, or the ladies will say that we are too fond of bachelor habits, and keep our friends away from their charming and amiable society. A novel must not smell of cigars much, nor should its refined and genteel page be stained with too frequent brandy and water. Please to imagine, then, the prattle of the artists, authors, and amateurs assembled at Ridley’s divan. Fancy Jarman, the miniature painter, drinking more liquor than any man present, asking his neighbour (sub voce) why Ridley does not give his father (the old butler) five shillings to wait; suggesting that perhaps the old man is gone out, and is getting seven-and-sixpence elsewhere; praising Ridley’s picture aloud, and sneering at it in an undertone; and when a man of rank happens to enter the room, shambling up to him, and fawning on him, and cringing to him with fulsome praise and flattery. When the gentleman’s back is turned, Jarman can spit epigrams at it. I hope he will never forgive Ridley, and always continue to hate him; for hate him Jarman will, as long as he is prosperous, and curse him as long as the world esteems him. Look at Pym, the incumbent of Saint Bronze hard by, coming in to join the literary and artistic assembly, and choking in his white neckcloth to the diversion of all the company who can see him! Sixteen, eighteen, twenty men are assembled. Open the windows, or sure they will all be stifled with the smoke! Why, it fills the whole house so, that the Little Sister has to open her parlour window on the ground-floor, and gasp for fresh air.
Phil’s head and cigar are thrust out from a window above, and he lolls there, musing about his own affairs, as his smoke ascends to the skies. Young Mr. Philip Firmin is known to be wealthy, and his father gives very good parties in Old Parr Street, so Jarman sidles up to Phil and wants a little fresh air too. He enters into conversation by abusing Ridley’s picture that is on the easel.
“Everybody is praising it; what do you think of it, Mr. Firmin? Very queer drawing about those eyes, isn’t there?”
“Is there?” growls Phil.
“Very loud colour.”
“Oh!” says Phil.
“The composition is so clearly prigged from Raphael.”
“I beg your pardon. I don’t think you know who I am,” continues the other, with a simper.
“Yes, I do,” says Phil, glaring at him. “You’re a painter, and your name is Mr. Envy.”
“Sir!” shrieks the painter; but he is addressing himself to the tails of Phil’s coat, the superior half of Mr. Firmin’s body is stretching out of the window. Now, you may speak of a man behind his back, but not to him. So Mr. Jarman withdraws, and addresses himself, face to face, to somebody else in the company. I daresay he abuses that upstart, impudent, bumptious young doctor’s son. Have I not owned that Philip was often very rude? and to-night he is in a specially bad humour.
As he continues to stare into the street, who is that who has just reeled up to the railings below, and is talking in at Mrs. Brandon’s window? Whose black-guard voice and laugh are those which Phil recognizes with a shudder? It is the voice and laugh of our friend Mr. Hunt, whom Philip left, not very long since, near his father’s house in Old Parr Street; and both of those familiar sounds are more vinous, more odious, more impudent than they were even two hours ago.
“Holloa! I say!” he calls out with a laugh and a curse. “Pst! Mrs. Whatdyoucallem! Hang it! don’t shut the window. Let a fellow in!” and as he looks towards the upper window, where Philip’s head and bust appear dark before the light, Hunt cries out, “Holloa! what game’s up now, I wonder? Supper and ball. Shouldn’t be surprised.” And he hiccups a waltz tune, and clatters time to it with his dirty boots.
“Mrs. Whadyoucall! Mrs. B—!” the sot then recommences to shriek out. “Must see you — most particular business. Private and confidential. Hear of something to your advantage.” And rap, rap, rap, he is now thundering at the door. In the clatter of twenty voices few hear Hunt’s noise except Philip; or, if they do, only imagine that another of Ridley’s guests is arriving.
At the hall door there is talk and altercation, and the high shriek of a well-known odious voice. Philip moves quickly from his window, shoulders friend Jarman at the studio door, and hustling past him obtains, no doubt, more good wishes from that ingenious artist. Philip is so rude and overbearing that I really have a mind to depose him from his place of hero, only, you see, we are committed. His name is on the page overhead, and we can’t take it down and put up another. The Little Sister is standing in her hall by the just opened door, and remonstrating with Mr. Hunt, who appears to wish to force his way in.
“Pooh! shtuff, my dear! If he’s here I musht see him — particular business — get out of that!” and he reels forward against little Caroline’s shoulder.
“Get away, you brute, you!” cries the little lady. “Go home, Mr. Hunt; you are worse than you were this morning.” She is a resolute little woman, and puts out a firm little arm against this odious invader. She has seen patients in hospital raging in fever: she is not frightened by a tipsy man. “La! is it you, Mr. Philip? Whoever will take this horrid man? He ain’t fit to go upstairs among the gentlemen; indeed he ain’t.”
“You said Firmin was here — and it isn’t the father. It’s the cub! I want the doctor. Where’s the doctor?” hiccups the chaplain, lurching against the wall; and then he looks at Philip with bloodshot eyes, that twinkle hate. “Who wantsh you, I shlike to know? Had enough of you already to-day. Conceited brute. Don’t look at me in that sortaway! I ain’t afraid of you — ain’t afraid anybody. Time was when I was a young man fight you as soon as look at you. I say, Philip!”
“Go home, now. Do go home, there’s a good man,” says the landlady.
“I say! Look here — hic — hi! Philip! On your word as a gentleman, your father’s not here? He’s a sly old boots, Brummell Firmin is — Trinity man — I’m not a Trinity man — Corpus man. I say, Philip, give us your hand. Bear no malice. Look here — something very particular. After dinner — went into Air Street — you know — rouge gagne, et couleur — cleaned out, on the honour of a gentleman and Master of Arts of the university of Cambridge. So was your father — no, he went out in medicine. I say, Philip, hand us out five sovereigns, and let’s try the luck again! What, you won’t? It’s mean, I say. Don’t be mean.
“Oh, here’s five shillings! Go and have a cab. Fetch a cab for him, Virgilio, do!” cries the mistress of the house.
“That’s not enough, my dear!” cries the chaplain, advancing towards Mrs. Brandon, with such a leer and air, that Philip, half choked with passion, runs forward, grips Hunt by the collar, and crying out, “You filthy scoundrel; as this is not my house, I may kick you out of it!" — in another instant has run Hunt through the passage, hurled him down the steps, and sent him sprawling into the kennel.
“Row down below,” says Rosebury, placidly, looking from above. “Personal conflict. Intoxicated individual — in gutter. Our impetuous friend has floored him.”
Hunt, after a moment, sits up and glares at Philip. He is not hurt. Perhaps the shock has sobered him. He thinks, perhaps, Philip is going to strike again. “Hands off, BASTARD!” shrieks out the prostrate wretch.
“O Philip, Philip! He’s mad, he’s tipsy!” cries out the Little Sister, running into the street. She puts her arms round Philip. “Don’t mind him, dear — he’s mad! Policeman! The gentleman has had too much. Come in, Philip; come in!”
She took him into her little room. She was pleased with the gallantry of the boy. she Liked to see him just now, standing over her enemy, courageous, victorious, her champion. “La! how savage he did look; and how brave and strong you are! But the little wretch ain’t fit to stand before such as you!” And she passed her little hand down his arm, of which the muscles were all in a quiver from the recent skirmish.
“What did the scoundrel mean by calling me bastard?” said Philip, the wild blue eyes glaring round about with more than ordinary fierceness.
“Nonsense, dear! Who minds anything he says, that beast? His language is always horrid; he’s not a gentleman. He had had too much this morning when he was here. What matters what he says? He won’t know anything about it to-morrow. But it was kind of my Philip to rescue his poor little nurse, wasn’t it? Like a novel. Come in, and let me make you some tea. Don’t go to no more smoking: you have had enough. Come in and talk to me.”
And, as a mother, with sweet pious face, yearns to her little children from her seat, she fondles him, she watches him; she fills her teapot from her singing kettle. She talks — talks in her homely way, and on this subject and that. It is a wonder how she prattles on, who is generally rather silent. She won’t see Phil’s eyes, which are following her about very strangely and fiercely. And when again he mutters, “What did he mean by — ” “La, my dear, how cross you are!” she breaks out. “It’s always so; you won’t be happy without your cigar. Here’s a cheeroot, a beauty! Pa brought it home from the club. A China captain gave him some. You must light it at the little end. There!” And if I could draw the picture which my mind sees of her lighting Phil’s cheroot for him, and smiling the while, — of the little innocent Dalilah coaxing and wheedling this young Samson, I know it would be a pretty picture. I wish Ridley would sketch it for me.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00