On the next morning, at an hour so early that Old Parr Street was scarce awake, and even the maids who wash the broad steps of the houses of the tailors and medical gentlemen who inhabit that region had not yet gone down on their knees before their respective doors, a ring was heard at Dr. Firmin’s night-bell, and when the door was opened by the yawning attendant, a little person in a grey gown and a black bonnet made her appearance, handed a note to the servant, and said the case was most urgent and the doctor must come at once. Was not Lady Humandhaw the noble person whom we last mentioned, as the invalid about whom the doctor and the nurse had spoken a few words on the previous evening? The Little Sister, for it was she, used the very same name to the servant, who retired grumbling to waken up his master and deliver the note.
Nurse Brandon sate awhile in the great gaunt dining-room where hung the portrait of the doctor in his splendid black collar and cuffs, and contemplated this masterpiece until an invasion of housemaids drove her from the apartment, when she took refuge in that other little room to which Mrs. Firmin’s portrait had been consigned.
“That’s like him ever so many years and years ago,” she thinks. “It is a little handsomer; but it has his wicked look that I used to think so killing, and so did my sisters both of them — they were ready to tear out each other’s eyes for jealousy. And that’s Mrs. Firmin’s! Well, I suppose the painter haven’t flattered her. If he have she could have been no great things, Mrs. F. couldn’t.” And the doctor, entering softly by the opened door and over the thick Turkey carpet, comes up to her noiseless, and finds the Little Sister gazing at the portrait of the departed lady.
“Oh, it’s you, is it? I wonder whether you treated her no better than you treated me, Dr. F.? I’ve a notion she’s not the only one. She don’t look happy, poor thing,” says the little lady.
“What is it, Caroline?” asks the deep-voiced doctor; “and what brings you so early?”
The Little Sister then explains to him. “Last night after he went away Hunt came, sure enough. He had been drinking. He was very rude, and Philip wouldn’t bear it. Philip had a good courage of his own and a hot blood. And Philip thought Hunt was insulting her, the Little Sister. So he up with his hand, and down goes Mr. Hunt on the pavement. Well, when he was down he was in a dreadful way, and he called Philip a deadful name.”
“A name? what name?” Then Caroline told the doctor the name Mr. Hunt had used; and if Firmin’s face usually looked wicked, I daresay it did not seem very angelical when he heard how this odious name had been applied to his son. “Can he do Philip a mischief?” Caroline continued. “I thought I was bound to tell his father. Look here, Dr. F., I don’t want to do my dear boy a harm. — But suppose what you told me last night isn’t true — as I don’t think you much mind! — mind — saying things as are incorrect you know, when us women are in the case. But suppose when you played the villain, thinking only to take in a poor innocent girl of sixteen, it was you who were took in, and that I was your real wife after all? There would be a punishment!”
“I should have an honest and good wife, Caroline,” said the doctor, with a groan.
“This would be a punishment, not for you, but for my poor Philip,” the woman goes on. “What has he done, that his honest name should be took from him — and his fortune perhaps? I have been lying broad awake all night thinking of him. Ah, George Brandon! Why, why did you come to my poor old father’s house, and bring this misery down on me, and on your child unborn?”
“On myself, the worst of all,” says the doctor.
“You deserve it. But it’s us innocent that has had, or will have to suffer most. O George Brandon! Think of a poor child, flung away, and left to starve and die, without even so much as knowing your real name! Think of your boy, perhaps brought to shame and poverty through your fault!”
“Do you suppose I don’t often think of my wrong?” says the doctor. “That it does not cause me sleepless nights, and hours of anguish? Ah! Caroline!” and he looks in the glass. — “I am not shaved, and it’s very unbecoming,” he thinks; that is, if I may dare to read his thoughts, as I do to report his unheard words.
“You think of your wrong now it may be found out, I daresay!” says Caroline. “Suppose this Hunt turns against you? He is desperate; mad for drink and money; has been in gaol — as he said this very night to me and my papa. He’ll do or say anything. If you treat him hard, and Philip have treated him hard — not harder than served him right though — he’ll pull the house down and himself under it, but he’ll be revenged. Perhaps he drank so much last night, that he may have forgot. But I fear he means mischief, and I came here to say so, and hoping that you might be kept on your guard, Doctor F., and if you have to quarrel with him, I don’t know what you ever will do, I am sure — no more than if you had to fight a chimney-sweep in the street. I have been awake all night thinking, and as soon as ever I saw the daylight, I determined I would run and tell you.”
“When he called Philip that name, did the boy seem much disturbed?” asked the doctor.
“Yes; he referred to it again and again — though I tried to coax him out of it. But it was on his mind last night, and I am sure he will think of it the first thing this morning. Ah, yes, doctor! conscience will sometimes let a gentleman doze; but after discovery has come, and opened your curtains, and said, ‘You desired to be called early!’ there’s little use in trying to sleep much. You look very much frightened, Doctor F.” the nurse continues. “You haven’t such a courage as Philip has; or as you had when you were a young man, and came a leading poor girls astray. You used to be afraid of nothing then. Do you remember that fellow on board the steamboat in Scotland in our wedding-trip? and, la, I thought you was going to kill him. That poor little Lord Cinqbars told me ever so many stories then about your courage and shooting peple. It wasn’t very courageous, leaving a poor girl without even a name, and scarce a guinea, was it? But I ain’t come to call up old stories — only to warn you. Even in old times, when he married us, and I thought he was doing a kindness, I never could abide this horrible man. In Scotland, when you was away shooting with your poor little lord, the things Hunt used to say and look was deadful. I wonder how ever you, who were gentlemen, could put up with such a fellow! Ah, that was a sad honeymoon of ours! I wonder why I’m a thinking of it now? I suppose it’s from having seen the picture of the other one — poor lady!”
“I have told you, Caroline, that I was so wild and desperate at that unhappy time, I was scarcely accountable for my actions. If I left you, it was because I had no other resource but flight. I was a ruined penniless man, but for my marriage with Louisa Ringwood. You don’t suppose the marriage was happy? Happy! when have I ever been happy? My lot is to be wretched, and bring wretchedness down on those I love! — on you, on my father, on my wife, on my boy — I am a doomed man. Ah, that the innocent should suffer for me!” And our friend looks askance in the glass, at the blue chin and hollow eyes which make his guilt look the more haggard.
“I never had my lines,” the little sister continued, “I never knew there were papers, or writings, or anything but a ring and a clergyman, when you married me. But I’ve heard tell that people in Scotland don’t want a clergyman at all; and if they call themselves man and wife, they are man and wife. Now, sir, Mr. and Mrs. Brandon certainly did travel together in Scotland — witness that man whom you were going to throw into the lake for being rude to your wife — and . . . La! Don’t fly out so! It wasn’t me, a poor girl of sixteen, who did wrong. It was you, a man of the world, who was years and years older.”
When Brandon carried off his poor little victim and wife, there had been a journey to Scotland, where Lord Cinqbars, then alive, had sporting quarters. His lordship’s chaplain, Mr. Hunt, had been of the party, which fate very soon afterwards separated. Death seized on Cinqbars at Naples. Debt caused Firmin — Brandon, as he called himself then — to fly the country. The chaplain wandered from gaol to gaol. And as for poor little Caroline Brandon, I suppose the husband who had married her under a false name thought that to escape her, leave her, and disown her altogether was an easier and less dangerous plan than to continue relations with her. So one day, four months after their marriage, the young couple being then at Dover, Caroline’s husband happened to go out for a walk. But he sent away a portmanteau by the back door when he went out for the walk, and as Caroline was waiting for her little dinner some hours after, the porter who carried the luggage came with a little note from her dearest G. B.; and it was full of little fond expressions of regard and affection, such as gentlemen put into little notes; but dearest G. B. said the bailiffs were upon him, and one of them had arrived that morning, and he must fly: and he took half the money he had, and left half for his little Carry. And he would be back soon, and arrange matters; or tell her where to write and follow him. And she was to take care of her little health, and to write a great deal to her Georgy. And she did not know how to write very well then; but she did her best, and improved a great deal; for, indeed, she wrote a great deal, poor thing. Sheets and sheets of paper she blotted with ink and tears. And then the money was spent; and the next money; and no more came, and no more letters. And she was alone at sea, sinking, sinking, when it pleased heaven to send that friend who rescued her. It is such a sad, sad little story, that in fact I don’t like dwelling on it; not caring to look upon poor innocent, trusting creatures in pain.
. . . Well, then, when Caroline exclaimed, “La! don’t fly out so, Dr. Firmin!” I suppose the doctor had been crying out, and swearing fiercely, at the recollections of his friend Mr. Brandon, and at the danger which possibly hung over that gentleman. Marriage ceremonies are dangerous risks in jest or in earnest. You can’t pretend to marry even a poor old bankrupt lodging-house-keeper’s daughter without some risk of being brought subsequently to book. If you have a vulgar wife alive, and afterwards choose to leave her and marry an earl’s niece, you will come to trouble, however well connected you are and highly placed in society. If you have had thirty thousand pounds with wife No. 2, and have to pay it back on a sudden, the payment may be inconvenient. You may be tried for bigamy, and sentenced, goodness knows to what punishment. At any rate, if the matter is made public, and you are a most respectable man, moving in the highest scientific and social circles, those circles may be disposed to request you to walk out of their circumference. A novelist, I know, ought to have no likes, dislikes, pity, partiality for his characters; but I declare I cannot help feeling a respectful compassion for a gentleman, who, in consequence of a youthful, and, I am sure, sincerely regretted folly, may be liable to lose his fortune, his place in society, and his considerable practice. Punishment hasn’t a right to come with such a pede claudo. There ought to be limitations; and it is shabby and revengeful of Justice to present her little bill when it has been more than twenty years owing . . . Having had his talk out with the Little Sister, having a long past crime suddenly taken down from the shelf; having a remorse, long since supposed to be dead and buried, suddenly starting up in the most blustering, boisterous, inconvenient manner; having a rage and terror tearing him within; I can fancy this most respectable physician going about his day’s work, and most sincerely sympathize with him. Who is to heal the physician? Is he not more sick at heart than most of his patients that day? He has to listen to Lady Megrim cackling for half an hour at least, and describing her little ailments. He has to listen, and never once to dare to say, “Confound you, old chatterbox! What are you prating about your ailments to me, who am suffering real torture whilst I am smirking in your face?” He has to wear the inspiriting smile, to breathe the gentle joke, to console, to whisper hope, to administer remedy; and all day, perhaps, he sees no one so utterly sick, so sad, so despairing, as himself.
The first person on whom he had to practise hypocrisy that day was his own son, who chose to come to breakfast — a meal of which son and father seldom now partook in company. “What does he know, and what does he suspect?” are the father’s thoughts; but a louring gloom is on Philip’s face, and the father’s eyes look into the son’s, but cannot penetrate their darkness.
“Did you stay late last night, Philip?” says papa.
“Yes, sir, rather late,” answers the son.
“No, sir, stupid. Your friend Mr. Hunt wanted to come in. He was drunk, and rude to Mrs. Brandon, and I was obliged to put him out of the door. He was dreadfully violent and abusive.”
“Swore a good deal, I suppose?”
“Fiercely, sir, and called names.”
I daresay Philip’s heart beat so when he said these last words, that they were inaudible: at all events, Philip’s father did not appear to pay much attention to the words, for he was busy reading the Morning Post, and behind that sheet of fashionable news hid whatever expression of agony there might be on his face. Philip afterwards told his present biographer of this breakfast meeting and dreary tête-á-tête. “I burned to ask what was the meaning of that scoundrel’s words of the past night,” Philip said to his biographer; “but I did not dare, somehow. You see, Pendennis, it is not pleasant to say point-blank to your father, ‘Sir, are you a confirmed scoundrel, or are you not? Is it possible that you have made a double marriage, as yonder other rascal hinted; and that my own legitimacy and my mother’s fair fame, as well as poor, harmless Caroline’s honour and happiness, have been destroyed by your crime?’ But I had lain awake all night thinking about that scoundrel Hunt’s words, and whether there was any meaning beyond drunken malice in what he said.” So we find that three people had passed a bad night in consequence of Mr. Firmin’s evil behaviour of five-and-twenty years back, which surely was a most unreasonable punishment for a sin of such old date. I wish, dearly beloved brother sinners, we could take all the punishment for our individual crimes on our individual shoulders: but we drag others down with us — that is the fact; and when Macheath is condemned to hang, it is Polly and Lucy who have to weep and suffer and wear piteous mourning in their hearts long after the dare-devil rogue has jumped off the Tyburn ladder.
“Well, sir, he did not say a word,” said Philip, recounting the meeting to his friend; “not a word, at least, regarding the matter both of us had on our heart. But about fashion, parties, politics, he discoursed much more freely than was usual with him. He said I might have had Lord Ringwood’s seat for Whipham but for my unfortunate politics. What made a radical of me, he asked, who was naturally one of the most haughty men? (and that, I think, perhaps I am,” says Phil, “and a good many liberal fellows are”). I should calm down, he was sure — I should calm down, and be of the politics des hommes du monde.”
Philip could not say to his father, “Sir, it is seeing you cringe before great ones that has set my own back up.” There were countless points about which father and son could not speak; and an invisible, unexpressed, perfectly unintelligible mistrust, always was present when those two were tête-à-tête.
Their meal was scarce ended when entered to them Mr. Hunt, with his hat on. I was not present at the time, and cannot speak as a certainty; but I should think at his ominous appearance Philip may have turned red and his father pale. “Now is the time,” both, I daresay, thought; and the doctor remembered his stormy young days of foreign gambling, intrigue, and duel, when he was put on his ground before his adversary, and bidden, at a given signal, to fire. One, two, three! Each man’s hand was armed with malice and murder. Philip had plenty of pluck for his part, but I should think on such an occasion might be a little nervous and fluttered, whereas his father’s eye was keen, and his aim rapid and steady.
“You and Philip had a difference last night, Philip tells me,” said the doctor.
“Yes, and I promised he should pay me,” said the clergyman.
“And I said I should desire no better,” says Mr. Phil.
“He struck his senior, his father’s friend — a sick man, a clergyman,” gasped Hunt.
“Were you to repeat what you did last night, I should repeat what I did,” said Phil. “You insulted a good woman.”
“It’s a lie, sir!” cries the other.
“You insulted a good woman, a lady in her own house, and I turned you out of it,” said Phil.
“I say, again, it is a lie, sir!” screams Hunt, with a stamp on the table.
“That you should give me the lie, or otherwise, is perfectly immaterial to me. But whenever you insult Mrs. Brandon, or any harmless woman in my presence, I shall do my best to chastise you,” cries Philip of the red moustaches, curling them with much dignity.
“You hear him, Firmin?” says the parson.
“Faith, I do, Hunt!” says the physician; “and I think he means what he says, too.”
“Oh! you take that line, do you?” cries Hunt of the dirty hands, the dirty teeth, the dirty neckcloth.
“I take what you call that line; and whenever a rudeness is offered to that admirable woman in my son’s hearing, I shall be astonished if he does not resent it,” says the doctor. “Thank you, Philip!”
The father’s resolute speech and behaviour gave Philip great momentary comfort. Hunt’s words of the night before had been occupying the young man’s thoughts. Had Firmin been criminal, he could not be so bold.
“You talk this way in presence of your son? You have been talking over the matter together before?” asks Hunt.
“We have been talking over the matter before — yes. We were engaged on it when you came into breakfast,” said the doctor. “Shall we go on with the conversation where we left it off?”
“Well, do — that is, if you dare,” said the clergyman, somewhat astonished.
“Philip, my dear, it is ill for a man to hide his head before his own son; but if I am to speak — and speak I must one day or the other — why not now?”
“Why at all, Firmin?” asks the clergyman, astonished at the other’s rather sudden resolve.
“Why? Because I am sick and tired of you, Mr. Tufton Hunt,” cries the physician, in his most lofty manner, “of you and your presence in my house; your blackguard behaviour and your rascal extortions — because you will force me to speak one day or the other — and now, Philip, if you like, shall be the day.”
“Hang it, I say! Stop a bit!” cries the clergyman.
“I understand you want some more money from me.”
“I did promise Jacobs I would pay him to-day, and that was what made me so sulky last night; and, perhaps, I took a little too much. You see my mind was out of order; and what’s the use of telling a story that is no good to any one, Firmin — least of all to you,” cries the parson, darkly.
“Because, you ruffian, I’ll bear with you no more,” cries the doctor, the veins of his forehead swelling as he looks fiercely at his dirty adversary. “In the last nine months, Philip, this man has had nine hundred pounds from me.”
“The luck has been so very bad, so bad, upon my honour, now,” grumbles the parson.
“To-morrow he will want more; and the next day more; and the next day more; and, in fine, I won’t live with this accursed man of the sea round my neck. You shall have the story; and Mr. Hunt shall sit by and witness against his own crime and mine. I had been very wild at Cambridge, when I was a young man. I had quarrelled with my father, lived with a dissipated set, and beyond my means; and had had my debts paid so often by your grandfather, that I was afraid to ask for more. He was stern to me; I was not dutiful to him. I own my fault. Mr. Hunt can bear witness to what I say.
“I was in hiding at Margate, under a false name. You know the name.”
“Yes, sir, I think I know the name,” Philip said, thinking he liked his father better now than he had ever liked him in his life, and sighing, “Ah, if he had always been frank and true with me!”
“I took humble lodgings with an obscure family.” (If Dr. Firmin had a prodigious idea of his own grandeur and importance, you see I cannot help it — and he was long held to be such a respectable man.) “And there I found a young girl — one of the most innocent beings that ever a man played with and betrayed. Betrayed, I own it, heaven forgive me! The crime has been the shame of my life, and darkened my whole career with misery. I got a man worse than myself, if that could be. I got Hunt for a few pounds, which he owed me, to make a sham marriage between me and poor Caroline. My money was soon gone. My creditors were after me. I fled the country, and I left her.”
“A sham marriage! a sham marriage!” cries the clergyman. “Didn’t you make me perform it by holding a pistol to my throat? A fellow won’t risk transportation for nothing. But I owed him money for cards, and he had my bill, and he said he would let me off, and that’s why I helped him. Never mind. I am out of the business now, Mr. Brummell Firmin, and you are in it. I have read the Act, sir. The clergyman who performs the marriage is liable to punishment, if informed against within three years, and it’s twenty years or more. But you, Mr. Brummell Firmin — your case is different; and you, my young gentleman, with the fiery whiskers, who strike down old men of a night — you may find some of us know how to revenge ourselves, though we are down.” And with this, Hunt rushed to his greasy hat, and quitted the house, discharging imprecations at his hosts as he passed through the hall.
Son and father sate awhile silent, after the departure of their common enemy. At last the father spoke.
“This is the sword that has always been hanging over my head, and it is now falling, Philip.”
“What can the man do? Is the first marriage a good marriage?” asked Philip, with alarmed face.
“It’s is no marriage. It is void to all intents and purposes. You may suppose I have taken care to learn the law about that. Your legitimacy is safe, sure enough. But that man can ruin me, or nearly so. He will try to-morrow, if not to-day. As long as you or I can give him a guinea, he will take it to the gambling-house. I had the mania on me myself once. My poor father quarrelled with me in consequence, and died without seeing me. I married your mother — Heaven help her, poor soul! and forgive me for being but a harsh husband to her — with a view of mending my shattered fortunes. I wished she had been more happy, poor thing. But do not blame me utterly, Philip. I was desperate, and she wished for the marriage so much! I had good looks and high spirits in those days. People said so.” (And here he glances obliquely at his own handsome portrait.) “Now I am a wreck, a wreck!”
“I conceive, sir, that this will annoy you; but how can it ruin you?” asked Philip.
“What becomes of my practice as a family physician? The practice is not now what it was, between ourselves, Philip, and the expenses greater than you imagine. I have made unlucky speculations. If you count upon much increase of wealth from me, my boy, you will be disappointed; though you were never mercenary, no, never. But the story bruited about by this rascal, of a physician of eminence engaged in two marriages, do you suppose my rivals won’t hear it, and take advantage of it — my patients hear it, and avoid me?”
“Make terms with the man at once, then, sir, and silence him.”
“To make terms with a gambler is impossible. My purse is always there open for him to thrust his hand into when he loses. No man can withstand such a temptation. I am glad you have never fallen into it. I have quarrelled with you sometimes for living with people below your rank: perhaps you were right, and I was wrong. I have liked, always did, I don’t disguise it, to live with persons of station. And these, when I was at the university, taught me play and extravagance; and in the world haven’t helped me much. Who would? Who would?” and the doctor relapsed into meditation.
A little catastrophe presently occurred, after which Mr. Philip Firmin told me the substance of this story. He described his father’s long acquiescence in Hunt’s demands, and sudden resistance to them, and was at a loss to account for the change. I did not tell my friend in express terms, but I fancied I could account for the change of behaviour. Dr. Firmin, in his interviews with Caroline, had had his mind set at rest about one part of his danger. The doctor need no longer fear the charge of a double marriage. The Little Sister resigned her claims past, present, future.
If a gentleman is sentenced to be hung, I wonder is it a matter of comfort to him or not to know beforehand the day of the operation? Hunt would take his revenge. When and how? Dr. Firmin asked himself. Nay, possibly, you will have to learn that this eminent practitioner walked about with more than one danger hanging imminent over him. Perhaps it was a rope: perhaps it was a sword: some weapon of execution, at any rate, as we presently may see. A day passes: no assassin darts at the doctor as he threads the dim opera-colonnade passage on his way to his club. A week goes by: no stiletto is plunged into his well-wadded breast as he steps from his carriage at some noble patient’s door. Philip says he never knew his father more pleasant, easy, good-humoured, and affable than during this period, when he must have felt that a danger was hanging over him of which his son at this time had no idea. I dined in Old Parr Street once in this memorable period (memorable it seemed to me from immediately subsequent events). Never was the dinner better served: the wine more excellent: the guests and conversation more gravely respectable than at this entertainment: and my neighbour remarked with pleasure how the father and son seemed to be on much better terms than ordinary. The doctor addressed Philip pointedly once or twice; alluded to his foreign travels; spoke of his mother’s family — it was most gratifying to see the pair together. Day after day passes so. The enemy has disappeared. At least, the lining of his dirty hat is no longer visible on the broad marble table of Dr. Firmin’s hall.
But one day — it may be ten days after the quarrel — a little messenger comes to Philip, and says, “Philip dear, I am sure there is something wrong; that horrible Hunt has been here with a very quiet, soft-spoken old gentleman, and they have been going on with my poor Pa about my wrongs and his — his, indeed! — and they have worked him up to believe that somebody has cheated his daughter out of great fortune; and who can that somebody be but your father? And whenever they see me coming, papa and that horrid Hunt go off to the ‘Admiral Byng:’ and one night when Pa came home he said, ‘Bless you, bless you, my poor, innocent, injured child; and blessed you will be, mark a fond father’s words!’ They are scheming something against Philip and Philip’s father. Mr. Bond the soft-spoken old gentleman’s name is: and twice there has been a Mr. Walls to inquire if Mr. Hunt was at our house.”
“Mr. Bond? — Mr. Walls? — A gentleman of the name of Bond was uncle Twysden’s attorney. An old gentleman, with a bald head, and one eye bigger than the other?”
“Well, this old man has one smaller than the other, I do think,” says Caroline. “First man who came was Mr. Walls — a rattling young fashionable chap, always laughing, talking about theatres, operas, everything — came home from the ‘Byng’ along with Pa and his new friend — oh! I do hate him, that man, that Hunt! — then he brought the old man, this Mr. Bond. What are they scheming against you, Philip? I tell you this matter is all about you and your father.”
Years and years ago, in the poor mother’s lifetime, Philip remembred an outbreak of wrath on his father’s part, who called uncle Twysden a swindling miser, and this very Mr. Bond a scoundrel who deserved to be hung, for interfering in some way in the management of a part of the property which Mrs. Twysden and her sister inherited from their own mother. That quarrel had been made up, as such quarrels are. The brothers-in-law had continued to mistrust each other; but there was no reason why the feud should descend to the children; and Philip and his aunt, and one of her daughters at least, were on good terms together. Philip’s uncle’s lawyers engaged with his father’s debtor and enemy against Dr. Firmin: the alliance boded no good.
“I won’t tell you what I think, Philip,” said the father. “You are fond of your cousin?”
“Oh! for ev — ”
“For ever, of course! At least until we change our mind, or one of us grows tired, or finds a better mate.”
“Ah, sir!” cries Philip, but suddenly stops in his remonstrance.
“What were you going to say, Philip, and why do you pause?”
“I was going to say, father, if I might without offending, that I think you judge hardly of women. I know two who have been very faithful to you.”
“And I traitor to both of them. Yes; and my remorse, Philip, my remorse!” says his father in his deepest tragedy voice, clutching his hand over a heart that I believe beat very coolly. But, psha! why am I, Philip’s biographer, going out of the way to abuse Philip’s papa? Is not the threat of bigamy and exposure enough to disturb any man’s equanimity? I say again, suppose there is another sword — a rope, if you will so call it — hanging over the head of our Damocles of Old Parr Street? . . . Howbeit, the father and the son met and parted in these days with unusual gentleness and cordiality. And these were the last days in which they were to meet together. Nor could kindness and cordiality.
Why were these the last days son and father were to pass together? Dr. Firmin is still alive. Philip is a very tolerably prosperous gentleman. He and his father parted good friends, and it is the biographer’s business to narrate how and wherefore. When Philip told his father that Messrs. Bond and Selby, his uncle Twysden’s attorneys, were suddenly interested about Mr. Brandon and his affairs, the father instantly guessed, though the son was too simple as yet to understand how it was that these gentlemen interfered. If Mr. Brandon-Firmin’s marriage with Miss Ringwood was null, her son was illegitimate, and her fortune went to her sister. Painful as such a duty might be to such tender-hearted people as our Twysden acquaintances to deprive a dear nephew of his fortune, yet, after all, duty is duty, and a parent must sacrifice everything for justice and his own children. “Had I been in such a case,” Talbot Twysden subsequently and repeatedly declared, “I should never have been easy a moment if I thought I possessed wrongfully a beloved nephew’s property. I could not have slept in peace; I could not have shown my face at my own club, or to my own conscience, had I the weight of such an injustice on my mind.” In a word, when he found that there was a chance of annexing Philip’s share of the property to his own, Twysden saw clearly that his duty was to stand by his own wife and children.
The information upon which Talbot Twysden, Esq., acted, was brought to him at his office by a gentleman in dingy black, who, after a long interview with him, accompanied him to his lawyer, Mr. Bond, before mentioned. Here, in South Square, Gray’s Inn, the three gentlemen held a consultation, of which the results began quickly to show themselves. Messrs. Bond and Selby had an exceedingly lively, cheerful, jovial, and intelligent confidential clerk, who combined business and pleasure with the utmost affability, and was acquainted with a thousand queer things, and queer histories about queer people in this town; who lent money; who wanted money; who was in debt; and who was outrunning the constable; whose diamonds were in pawn; whose estates were over-mortgaged; who was over-building himself; who was casting eyes of longing at what pretty opera dancer — about races, fights, bill brokers, quicquid agunt homines. This Tom Walls had a deal of information, and imparted it so as to make you die of laughing.
The Reverend Tufton Hunt brought this jolly fellow first to the “Admiral Byng,” where his amiability won all hearts at the club. At the “Byng” it was not very difficult to gain Captain Gann’s easy confidence. And this old man was, in the course of a very trifling consumption of rum-and-water, brought to see that his daughter had been the object of a wicked conspiracy, and was the rightful and most injured wife of a man who ought to declare her fair fame before the world and put her in possession of a portion of his great fortune.
A great fortune? How great a fortune? Was it three hundred thousand, say? Those doctors, many of them, had fifteen thousand a year. Mr. Walls (who perhaps knew better) was not at liberty to say what the fortune was: but it was a shame that Mrs. Brandon was kept out of her rights, that was clear.
Old Gann’s excitement, when this matter was first broached to him (under vows of profound secrecy), was so intense, that his old reason tottered on its rickety old throne. He well nigh burst with longing to speak upon this mystery. Mr. and Mrs. Oves, the esteemed landlord and lady of the “Byng,” never saw him so excited. He had a great opinion of the judgment of his friend, Mr. Ridley; in fact, he must have gone to Bedlam, unless he had talked to somebody on this most nefarious transaction, which might make the blood of every Briton curdle with horror — as he was free to say.
Old Mr. Ridley was of a much cooler temperament, and altogether a more cautious person. The doctor rich? He wished to tell no secrets, nor to meddle in no gentleman’s affairs: but he have heard very different statements regarding Dr. Firmin’s affairs.
When dark hints about treason, wicked desertion, rights denied, “and a great fortune which you are kept out of, my poor Caroline, by a rascally wolf in sheep’s clothing, you are; and I always mistrusted him, from the moment I saw him, and said to your mother, ‘Emily, that Brandon is a bad fellow, Brandon is;’ and bitterly, bitterly I’ve rued ever receiving him under my roof:" — when speeches of this nature were made to Mrs. Caroline, strange to say, the little lady made light of them. “Oh, nonsense, Pa! Don’t be bringing that sad old story up again. I have suffered enough from it already. If Mr. F. left me, he wasn’t the only one who flung me away; and I have been able to live, thank mercy, through it all.”
This was a hard hit, and not to be parried. The truth is, that when poor Caroline, deserted by her husband, had come back, in wretchedness, to her father’s door, the man, and the wife who then ruled him, had thought fit to thrust her away. And she had forgiven them: and had been enabled to heap a rare quantity of coals on that old gentleman’s head.
When the captain remarked his daughter’s indifference and unwillingness to reopen this painful question of her sham marriage with Firmin, his wrath was moved and his suspicion excited. “Ha!” says he, “have this man been a tampering with you again?”
“Nonsense, Pa!” once more says Caroline. “I tell you, it is this fine-talking lawyer’s clerk has been tampering with you. You’re made a tool of, Pa! and you’ve been made a tool of all your life!”
“Well, now, upon my honour, my honour, my good madam!” interposes Mr. Walls.
“Don’t talk to me, sir! I don’t want any lawyers’ clerks to meddle in my business!” cries Mrs. Brandon, very briskly. “I don’t know what you’re come about. I don’t want to know, and I’m most certain it is for no good.”
I suppose it was the ill success of his ambassador that brought Mr. Bond himself to Thornhaugh Street; and a more kind, fatherly little man never looked than Mr. Bond, although he may have had one eye smaller than the other. “What is this, my dear madam, I hear from my confidential clerk, Mr. Walls?” he asked of the Little Sister. “You refuse to give him your confidence because he is only a clerk? I wonder whether you will accord it to me, as a principal?”
“She may, sir, she may — every confidence!” says the captain, laying his hand on that snuffy satin waistcoat which all his friends so long admired on him. “She might have spoken to Mr. Walls.”
“Mr. Walls is not a family man. I am. I have children at home, Mrs. Brandon, as old as you are,” says the benevolent Bond. “I would have justice done them, and for you too.”
“You’re very good to take so much trouble about me all of a sudden, to be sure,” says Mrs. Brandon demurely. “I suppose you don’t do it for nothing.”
“I should not require much fee to help a good woman to her rights; and a lady I don’t think needs much persuasion to be helped to her advantage,” remarks Mr. Bond.
“That depends who the helper is.”
“Well, if I can do you no harm, and help you possibly to a name, to a fortune, to a high place in the world, I don’t think you need be frightened. I don’t look very wicked or very artful, do I?”
“Many is that don’t look so. I’ve learned as much as that about you gentlemen,” remarks Mrs. Brandon.
“You have been wronged by one man, and doubt all.”
“Not all. Some, sir!”
“Doubt about me if I can by any possibility injure you. But how and why should I? Your good father knows what has brought me here. I have no secret from him. Have I, Mr. Gann, or Captain Gann, as I have heard you addressed?”
“Mr., sir, — plain Mr. — No, sir; your conduct have been most open, honourable, and like a gentleman. Neither would you, sir, do aught to disparage Mrs. Brandon; neither would I, her father. No ways, I think, would a parent do harm to his own child. May I offer you any refreshment, sir?” and a shaky, a dingy, but a hospitable hand, is laid upon the glossy cupboard, in which Mrs. Brandon keeps her modest little store of strong waters.
“Not one drop, thank you! You trust me, I think, more than Mrs. Firm — I beg your pardon — Mrs. Brandon, is disposed to do.”
At the utterance of that monosyllable Firm, Caroline became so white, and trembled so, that her interlocutor stopped, rather alarmed at the effect of his word — his word! — his syllable of a word.
The old lawyer recovered himself with much grace.
“Pardon me, madam,” he said; “I know your wrongs; I know your most melancholy history; I know your name, and was going to use it, but it seemed to renew painful recollections to you, which I would not needlessly recal.”
Captain Gann took out a snuffy pocket-handkerchief, wiped two red eyes and a shirt-front, and winked at the attorney, and gasped in a pathetic manner.
“You know my story and name, sir, who are a stranger to me. Have you told this old gentleman all about me and my affairs, Pa?” asks Caroline, with some asperity. “Have you told him that my Ma never gave me a word of kindness — that I toiled for you and her like a servant — and when I came back to you, after being deceived and deserted, that you and Ma shut the door in my face? You did! you did! I forgive you; but a hundred thousand billion years can’t mend that injury, father, while you broke a poor child’s heart with it that day! My Pa has told you all this, Mr. What’s-your-name? I’m s’prized he didn’t find something pleasanter to talk about, I’m sure!”
“My love!” interposed the captain.
“Pretty love! to go and tell a stranger in a public-house, and ever so many there beside, I suppose, your daughter’s misfortunes, Pa. Pretty love! That’s what I’ve had from you!”
“Not a soul, on the honour of a gentleman, except me and Mr. Walls.”
“Then what do you come to talk about me at all for? and what scheme on hearth are you driving at? and what brings this old man here?” cries the landlady of Thornhaugh Street, stamping her foot.
“Shall I tell you frankly, my good lady? I called you Mrs. Firmin now because, on my honour and word, I believe such to be your rightful name — because you are the lawful wife of George Brand Firmin. If such be your lawful name, others bear it who have no right to bear it — and inherit property to which they can lay no just claim. In the year 1827, you, Caroline Gann, a child of sixteen, were married by a clergyman whom you know, to George Brand Firmin, calling himself George Brandon. He was guilty of deceiving you; but you were guilty of no deceit. He was a hardened and wily man; but you were an innocent child out of a school-room. And though he thought the marriage was not binding upon him, binding it is by Act of Parliament and judges’ decision; and you are as assuredly George Firmin’s wife, madam, as Mrs. Bond is mine!”
“You have been cruelly injured, Caroline,” says the captain, wagging his old nose ever his handkerchief.
Caroline seemed to be very well versed in the law of the transaction. “You mean, sir,” she said slowly, “that if me and Mr. Brandon was married to each other, he knwoing that he was only playing at marriage, and me believing that it was all for good, we are really married.”
“Undoubtedly you are, madam — my client has — that is, I have had advice on the point.”
“But if we both knew that it was — was only a sort of a marriage — an irregular marriage, you know?”
“Then the Act says that to all intents and purposes the marriage is null and void.”
“But you didn’t know, my poor innocent child!” cries Mr. Gann. “How should you? How old was you? She was a child in the nursery, Mr. Bond, when the villain inveigled her away from her poor old father. She knew nothing of irregular marriages.”
“Of course she didn’t the poor creature,” cries the old gentleman, rubbing his hands together with perfect good-humour. “Poor young thing, poor young thing!”
As he was speaking, Caroline, very pale and still, sate looking at Ridley’s sketch of Philip, which hung in her little room. Presently she turned round on the attorney, folding her little hands over her work.
“Mr. Bond,” she said, “girls, though they may be ever so young, know more than some folks fancy. I was more than sixteen when that — that business happened. I wasn’t happy at home, and was eager to get away. I knew that a gentleman of rank wouldn’t be likely really to marry a poor Cinderella out of a lodging-house, like me. If the truth must be told, I— I knew it was no marriage — never thought it was a marriage — not for good, you know.”
And she folds her little hands together as she utters the words, and I daresay once more looks at Philip’s portrait.
“Gracious goodness, madam, you must be under some error!” cries the attorney. “How should a child like you know that the marriage was irregular?”
“Because I had no lines!” cries Caroline quickly. “Never asked for none! And our maid we had then said to me, ‘Miss Carry, where’s your lines? And it’s no good without.’ And I knew it wasn’t! And I’m ready to go before the Lord Chancellor to-morrow and say so!” cries Caroline, to the bewilderment of her father and her cross-examinant.
“Pause, pause! my good madam!” exclaims the meek old gentleman, rising from his chair.
“Go and tell this to them as sent you, sir!” cries Caroline, very imperiously, leaving the lawyer amazed, and her father’s face in a bewilderment, over which we will fling his snuffy old pocket-handkerchief.
“If such is unfortunately the case — if you actually mean to abide by this astonishing confession — which deprives you of a high place in society — and — and casts down the hope we had formed of redressing your injured reputation — I have nothing for it! I take my leave, madam! Good morning, Mr. Hum! — Mr. Gann!” And the old lawyer walks out of the Little Sister’s room.
“She won’t own to the marriage! She is fond of some one else — the little suicide!” thinks the old lawyer, as he clatters down the street to a neighbouring house, where his anxious principal is waiting. “She’s fond of some one else!”
Yes. But the some one else whom Caroline loved was Brand Firmin’s son: and it was to save Philip from ruin that the poor Little Sister chose to forget her marriage to his father.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00