Whilst the battle is raging, the old folks and ladies peep over the battlements, to watch the turns of the combat and the behaviour of the knights. To princesses in old days, whose lovely hands were to be bestowed upon the conqueror, it must have been a matter of no small interest to know whether the slim young champion with the lovely eyes on the milk-white steed should vanquish, or the dumpy, elderly, square-shouldered, squinting, carroty whiskerando of a warrior who was laying about him so savagely; and so in this battle, on the issue of which depended the keeping or losing of poor Philip’s inheritance, there were several non-combatants deeply interested. Or suppose we withdraw the chivalrous simile (as, in fact, the conduct and views of certain parties engaged in the matter were anything but what we call chivalrous), and imagine a wily old monkey who engages a cat to take certain chestnuts out of the fire, and pussy putting her paw through the bars, seizing the nut and then dropping it? Jacko is disappointed and angry, shows his sharp teeth, and bites if he dares. When the attorney went down to do battle for Philip’s patrimony, some of those who wanted it were spectators of the fight, and lurking up a tree hard by. When Mr. Bond came forward to try and seize Phil’s chestnuts, there was a wily old monkey who thrust the cat’s paw out, and proposed to gobble up the smoking prize.
If you have ever been at the “Admiral Byng,” you know, my dear madam, that the parlour where the club meets is just behind Mrs. Oves’s bar; so that by lifting up the sash of the window which communicates between the two apartments, that good-natured woman may put her face into the club-room, and actually be one of the society. Sometimes, for company, old Mr. Ridley goes and sits with Mrs. O— in her bar, and reads the paper there. He is slow at his reading. The long words puzzle the worthy gentleman. As he has plenty of time to spare, he does not grudge it to the study of his paper.
On the day when Mr. Bond went to persuade Mrs. Brandon in Thornhaugh Street to claim Dr. Firmin for her husband, and to disinherit poor Philip, a little gentleman wrapt most solemnly and mysteriously in a great cloak appeared at the bar of the “Admiral Byng,” and said in an aristocratic manner, “You have a parlour; show me to it:” and being introduced to the parlour (where there are fine pictures of Oves, and Mrs. O — and Spotty-nose, their favourite defunct bull-dog), sat down and called for a glass of sherry and a newspaper.
The civil and intelligent potboy of the “Byng” took the party The Advertiser of yesterday (which to-day’s paper was in ‘and); and when the gentleman began to swear over the old paper, Frederick gave it as his opinion to his mistress that the new comer was a harbitrary gent — as, indeed, he was, with the omission, perhaps, of a single letter; a man who bullied everybody who would submit to be bullied. In fact, it was our friend Talbot Twysden, Esq., Commissioner of the Powder and Pomatum Office; and I leave those who know him to say whether he is arbitrary or not.
To him presently came that bland old gentleman, Mr. Bond, who also asked for a parlour and some sherry and water; and this is how Philip and his veracious and astute biographer came to know for a certainty that dear uncle Talbot was the person who wished to — to have Philip’s chestnuts.
Mr. Bond and Mr. Twysden had been scarcely a minute together, when such a storm of imprecations came clattering through the glass-window which communicates with Mrs. Oves’s bar, that I daresay they made the jugs and tumblers clatter on the shelves, and Mr. Ridley, a very modest-spoken man, reading his paper, lay it down with a scared face, and say, “Well, I never.” Nor did he often, I dare to say.
This volley was fired by Talbot Twysden, in consequence of his rage at the news which Mr. Bond brought him.
“Well, Mr. Bond; well, Mr. Bond! What does she say?” he asked of his emissary.
“She will have nothing to do with the business, Mr. Twysden. We can’t touch it; and I don’t see how we can move her. She denies the marriage as much as Firmin does: says she knew it was a mere sham when the ceremony was performed.”
“Sir you didn’t bribe her enough,” shrieked Mr. Twysden. “You have bungled this business; by George, you have, sir.”
“Go and do it yourself, sir, if you are not ashamed to appear in it,” says the lawyer. “You don’t suppose I did it because I liked it; or want to take that poor young fellow’s inheritance from him, as you do?”
“I wish justice and the law, sir. If I were wrongfully detaining his property I would give it up. I would be the first to give it up. I desire justice and law, and employ you because you are a law agent. Are you not?”
“And I have been on your errand, and shall send in my bill in due time; and there will be an end of my connection with you as your law agent, Mr. Twysden,” cried the old lawyer.
“You know, sir, how badly Firmin acted to me in the last matter.”
“Faith, sir, if you ask my opinion as a law agent, I don’t think there was much to choose between you. How much is the sherry and water? — keep the change. Sorry I’d no better news to bring you, Mr. T., and as you are dissatisfied, again recommend you to employ another law agent.”
“My good sir, I— ”
“My good sir, I have had other dealings with your family, and am no more going to put up with your highti-tightiness than I would with Lord Ringwood’s, when I was one of his law agents. I am not going to tell Mr. Philip Firmin that his uncle and aunt propose to ease him of his property; but if anybody else does — that good little Mrs. Brandon — or that old goose Mr. Whatdyoucallem, her father — I don’t suppose he will be over well pleased. I am speaking as a gentleman now, not as a law agent. You and your nephew had each a half share of Mr. Philip Firmin’s grand-father’s property, and you wanted it all, that’s the truth, and set a law agent to get it for you; and swore at him because he could not get it from its right owner. And so, sir, I wish you a good morning, and recommend you to take your papers to some other agent, Mr. Twysden.” And with this, exit Mr. Bond. And now, I ask you, if that secret could be kept which was known through a trembling glass-door to Mrs. Oves of the “Admiral Byng,” and to Mr. Ridley, the father of J. J., and the obsequious husband of Mrs. Ridley.? On that very afternoon, at tea-time, Mrs. Ridley was made acquainted by her husband (in his noble and circumlo cutory manner) with the conversation which he had overheard. It was agreed that an embassy should be sent to J. J. on the business, and his advice taken regarding it; and J. J.’s opinion was that the conversation certainly should be reported to Mr. Philip Firmin, who might afterwards act upon it as he should think best.
What? His own aunt, cousins, and uncle agreed in a scheme to overthrow his legitimacy, and deprive him of his grandfather’s inheritance? It seemed impossible. Big with the tremendous news, Philip came to his adviser, Mr. Pendennis, of the Temple, and told him what had occurred on the part of father, uncle, and Little Sister. Her abnegation had been so noble, that you may be sure Philip appreciated it; and a tie of friendship was formed between the young man and the little lady even more close and tender than that which had bound them previously. But the Twysdens, his kinsfolk, to employ a lawyer in order to rob him of his inheritance! — Oh, it was dastardly! Philip bawled and stamped, and thumped his sense of the wrong in his usual energetic manner. As for his cousin Ringwood Twysden, Phil had often entertained a strong desire to wring his neck and pitch him downstairs. As for uncle Talbot: that he is an old pump, that he is a pompous old humbug, and the queerest old sycophant, I grant you; but I couldn’t have believed him guilty of this. And as for the girls — oh, Mrs. Pendennis, you who are good, you who are kind, although you hate them, I know you do — you can’t say, you won’t say, that they were in the conspiracy?
“But suppose Twysden was asking only for what he conceives to be his rights?” asked Mr. Pendennis. “Had your father been married to Mrs. Brandon, you would not have been Dr. Firmin’s legitimate son. Had you not been his legitimate son, you had no right to a half-share of your grandfather’s property. Uncle Talbot acts only the part of honour and justice in the transaction. He is Brutus, and he orders you off to death, with a bleeding heart.”
“And he orders his family out of the way,” roars Phil, “so that they mayn’t be pained by seeing the execution! I see it all now. I wish somebody would send a knife through me at once, and put an end to me. I see it all now. Do you know that for the last week I have been to Beaunash Street, and found nobody? Agnes had the bronchitis, and her mother was attending to her; Blanche came for a minute or two, and was as cool — as cool as I have seen Lady Iceberg be cool to her. Then they must go away for change of air. They have been gone these three days: whilst uncle Talbot and that viper of a Ringwood have been closeted with that nice new friend, Mr. Hunt. O conf —! I beg your pardon, ma’am; but I know you always allow for the energy of my language.”
“I should like to see that Little Sister, Mr. Firmin. She has not been selfish, or had any scheme but for your good,” remarks my wife.
“A little angel who drops her h’s — a little heart, so good and tender that I melt as I think of it,” says Philip, drawing his big hand over his eyes. “What have men done to get the love of some women? We don’t earn it; we don’t deserve it, perhaps. We don’t return it. They bestow it on us. I have given nothing back for all this love and kindness, but I look a little like my father of old days, for whom — for whom she had an attachment. And see now how she would die to serve me! You are wonderful, women are! your fidelities and your ficklenesses alike marvellous. What can any woman have found to adore in the doctor? Do you think my father could ever have been adorable, Mrs. Pendennis? And yet I have heard my poor mother say she was obliged to marry him. She knew it was a bad match, but she couldn’t resist it. In what was my father so irresistible? He is not to my taste. Between ourselves, I think he is a — well, never mind what.”
“I think we had best not mind what,” says my wife, with a smile.
“Quite right — quite right; only I blurt out everything that is on my mind. Can’t keep it in,” cries Phil, gnawing his mustachios. “If my fortune depended on my silence I should be a beggar, that’s the fact. And, you see, if you had such a father as mine, you yourself would find it rather difficult to hold your tongue about him. But now, tell me: this ordering away of the girls and aunt Twysden, whilst the little attack upon my property is being carried on — isn’t it queer?”
“The question is at an end,” said Mr. Pendennis. “You are restored to your atavis regibus and ancestral honours. Now that uncle Twysden can’t get the property without you, have courage, my boy — he may take it, along with the encumbrance.”
Poor Phil had not known — but some of us, who are pretty clear-sighted when our noble selves are not concerned, had perceived that Philip’s dear aunt was playing fast and loose with the lad, and when his back was turned was encouraging a richer suitor for her daughter.
Hand on heart I can say of my wife, that she meddles with her neighbours as little as any person I ever knew; but when treacheries in love affairs are in question, she fires up at once, and would persecute to death almost the heartless male or female criminal who would break love’s sacred laws. The idea of a man or woman trifling with that holy compact awakens in her a flame of indignation. In curtain confidences (of which let me not vulgarize the arcana), she had given me her mind about some of Miss Twysden’s behaviour with that odious blackamoor, as she chose to call Captain Woolcomb, who, I own, had a very slight tinge of complexion; and when, quoting the words of Hamlet regarding his father and, mother, I asked, “Could she on this fair mountain leave to feed, and batten on this Moor?” Mrs. Pendennis cried out that this matter was all too serious for jest, and wondered how her husband could make word-plays about it. Perhaps she has not the exquisite sense of humour possessed by some folks; or is it that she has more reverence? In her creed, if not in her church, marriage is a sacrament; and the fond believer never speaks of it without awe.
Now, as she expects both parties to the marriage engagement to keep that compact holy, she no more understands trifling with it than she could comprehend laughing and joking in a church. She has no patience with flirtations as they are called. “Don’t tell me, sir,” says the enthusiast, “a light word between a man and a married woman ought not to be permitted.” And this is why she is harder on the woman than the man, in cases where such dismal matters happen to fall under discussion. A look, a word from a woman, she says, will check a libertine thought or word in a man; and these cases might be stopped at once if the woman but showed the slightest resolution. She is thus more angry (I am only mentioning the peculiarities, not defending the ethics of this individual moralist) — she is, I say, more angrily disposed towards the woman than the man in such delicate cases; and, I am afraid, considers that women are for the most part only victims because they choose to be so.
Now, we had happened during this season to be at several entertainments, routs, and so forth, where poor Phil, owing to his unhappy Bohemian preferences and love of tobacco, was not present — and where we saw Miss Agnes Twysden carrying on such a game with the tawny Woolcomb, as set Mrs. Laura in a tremor of indignation. What though Agnes’s blue-eyed mamma sat near her blue-eyed daughter and kept her keen clear orbs perfectly wide open and cognizant of all that happened? So much the worse for her, the worse for both. It was a shame and a sin that a Christian English mother should suffer her daughter to deal lightly with the most holy, the most awful of human contracts; should be preparing her child who knows for what after misery of mind and soul. Three months ago, you saw how she encouraged poor Philip, and now see her with this mulatto!
“Is he not a man and a brother, my dear?” perhaps at this Mr. Pendennis interposes.
“Oh, for shame, Pen, no levity on this — no sneers and laughter on this the most sacred subject of all.” And here, I daresay, the woman falls to caressing her own children and hugging them to her heart as her manner was when moved. Que voulez-vous? There are some women in the world to whom love and truth are all in all here below. Other ladies there are who see the benefit of a good jointure, a town and country house, and so forth, and who are not so very particular as to the character, intellect, or complexion of gentlemen who are in a position to offer their dear girls these benefits. In fine, I say that regarding this blue-eyed mother and daughter, Mrs. Laura Pendennis was in such a state of mind, that she was ready to tear their blue eyes out.
Nay, it was with no little difficulty that Mrs. Laura could be induced to hold her tongue upon the matter and not give Philip her opinion. “What?” she would ask, “the poor young man is to be deceived and cajoled; to be taken or left as it suits these people; to be made miserable for life certainly if she marries him; and his friends are not to dare to warn him? The cowards! The cowardice of you men, Pen, upon matters of opinion, of you masters and lords of creation, is really despicable, sir! You dare not have opinions, or holding them you dare not declare them, and act by them. You compromise with crime every day because you think it would be officious to declare yourself and interfere. You are not afraid of outraging morals, but of inflicting ennui upon society, and losing your popularity. You are as cynical as — as, what was the name of the horrid old man who lived in the tub — Demosthenes? — well, Diogenes, then, and the name does not matter a pin, sir. You are as cynical, only you wear fine ruffled shirts and wristbands, and you carry your lantern dark. It is not right to ‘put your oar in,’ as you say in your jargon (and even your slang is a sort of cowardice, sir, for you are afraid to speak the feelings of your heart:— ) it is not right to meddle and speak the truth, not right to rescue a poor soul who is drowning — of course not. What call have you fine gentlemen of the world to put your oar in? Let him perish! What did he in that galley? That is the language of the world, baby darling. And, my poor, poor child, when you are sinking, nobody is to stretch out a hand to save you!” As for that wife of mine, when she sets forth the maternal plea, and appeals to the exuberant school of philosophers, I know there is no reasoning with her. I retire to my books, and leave her to kiss out the rest of the argument over the children.
Philip did not know the extent of the obligation which he owed to his little friend and guardian, Caroline; but he was aware that he had no better friend than herself in the world; and, I daresay, returned to her, as the wont is in such bargains between man and woman — woman and man, at least — a sixpence for that pure gold treasure, her sovereign affection. I suppose Caroline thought her sacrifice gave her a little authority to counsel Philip; for she it was who, I believe, first bid him to inquire whether that engagement which he had virtually contracted with his cousin was likely to lead to good, and was to be binding upon him but not on her? She brought Ridley to add his doubts to her remonstrances. She showed Philip that not only his uncle’s conduct, but his cousin’s, was interested, and set him to inquire into it further.
That peculiar form of bronchitis under which poor dear Agnes was suffering was relieved by absence from London. The smoke, the crowded parties and assemblies, the late hours, and, perhaps, the gloom of the house in Beaunash Street, distressed the poor dear child; and her cough was very much soothed by that fine, cutting east wind, which blows so liberally along the Brighton cliffs, and which is so good for coughs, as we all know. But there was one fault in Brighton which could not be helped in her bad case; it is too near London. The air, that chartered libertine, can blow down from London quite easily; or people can come from London to Brighton, bringing, I dare say, the insidious London fog along with them. At any rate, Agnes, if she wished for quiet, poor thing, might have gone farther and fared better. Why, if you owe a tailor a bill, he can run down and present it in a few hours. Vulgar, inconvenient acquaintances thrust themselves upon you at every moment and corner. Was ever such a tohubohu of people as there assembles? You can’t be tranquil, if you will. Organs pipe and scream without cease at your windows. Your name is put down in the papers when you arrive; and everybody meets everybody ever so many times a day.
On finding that his uncle had set lawyers to work, with the charitable purpose of ascertaining whether Philip’s property was legitimately his own, Philip was a good deal disturbed in mind. He could not appreciate that high sense of moral obligation by which Mr. Twysden was actuated. At least, he thought that these inquiries should not have been secretly set a-foot; and as he himself was perfectly open — a great deal too open, perhaps — in his words and his actions, he was hard with those who attempted to hoodwink or deceive him.
It could not be; ah! no, it never could be, that Agnes the pure and gentle was privy to this conspiracy. But then, how very — very often of late she had been from home; how very, very cold aunt Twysden’s shoulder had somehow become. Once, when he reached the door, a fishmonger’s boy was leaving a fine salmon at the kitchen, — a salmon and a tub of ice. Once, twice, at five o’clock, when he called, a smell of cooking pervaded the hall, — that hall which culinary odours very seldom visited. Some of those noble Twysden dinners were on the tapis, and Philip was not asked. Not to be asked. was no great deprivation; but who were the guests? To be sure, these were trifles light as air; but Philip smelt mischief in the steam of those Twysden dinners. He chewed that salmon with a bitter sauce as he saw it sink down the area steps and disappear (with its attendant lobster) in the dark kitchen regions.
Yes; eyes were somehow averted that used to look into his very frankly; a glove somehow had grown over a little hand which once used to lie very comfortably in his broad palm. Was anybody else going to seize it, and was it going to paddle in that blackamoor’s unblest fingers? Ah! fiends and tortures! a gentleman may cease to love, but does he like a woman to cease to love him? People carry on ever so long for fear of that declaration that all is over. No confession is more dismal to make. The sun of love has set. We sit in the dark — I mena you, dear madam, and Corydon, or I and Amaryllis — uncomfortabley, with nothing more to say to one another; with the night dew falling, and a risk of catching cold, drearily contemplating the fading west, with “the cold remains of lustre gone, of fire long past away.” Sink, fire of love! Rise, gentle moon, and mists of chilly evening. And, my good Madam Amaryllis, let us go home to some tea and a fire.
So Philip determined to go and seek his cousin. Arrived at his hotel (and if it were the — I can’t conceive Philip in much better quarters), he had the opportunity of inspecting those delightful newspaper arrivals, a perusal of which has so often edified us at Brighton. Mr. and Mrs. Penfold, he was informed, continued their residence, No. 96, Horizontal Place; and it was with those guardians he knew his Agnes was staying. He speeds to Horizontal Place. Miss Twysden is out. He heaves a sigh, and leaves a card. Has it ever happened to you to leave a card at that house — that house which was once THE house — almost your own; where you were ever welcome; where the kindest hand was ready to grasp yours, the brightest eye to greet you? And now your friendship has dwindled away to a little bit of pasteboard, shed once a year, and poor dear Mrs. Jones (it is with J. you have quarrelled) still calls on the ladies of your family and slips her husband’s ticket upon the hall table. O life and time, that it should have come to this! O gracious powers! Do you recal the time when Arabella Briggs was Arabella Thompson? You call and talk fadaises to her (at first she is rather nervous, and has the children in); you talk rain and fine weather; the last novel; the next party. Thompson in the City? Yes, Mr. Thompson is in the City. He’s pretty well, thank you. Ah! Daggers, ropes, and poisons, has it come to this? You are talking about the weather, and another man’s health, and another man’s children, of which she is mother, to her? Time was the weather, was all a burning sunshine, in which you and she basked; or if clouds gathered, and a storm fell, such a glorious rainbow haloed round you, such delicious tears fell and refreshed you, that the storm was more ravishing than the calm. And now another man’s children are sitting on her knee — their mother’s knee; and once a year Mr. and Mrs. John Thompson request the honour of Mr. Brown’s company at dinner; and once a year you read in The Times, “In Nursery Street, the wife of J. Thompson, Esq., of a Son.” To come to the once-beloved one’s door, and find the knocker tied up with a white kid glove, is humiliating — say what you will, it is humiliating.
Philip leaves his card, and walks on to the Cliff, and of course, in three minutes, meets Clinker. Indeed, who ever went to Brighton for half an hour without meeting Clinker?
“Father pretty well? His old patient, Lady Geminy, is down here with the children; what a number of them there are, to be sure! Come to make any stay? See your cousin, Miss Twysden, is here with the Penfolds. Little party at the Grigsons’ last night; she looked uncommonly well; danced ever so many times with the Black Prince, Woolcomb of the Greens. Suppose I may congratulate you. Six thousand five hundred a year now, and thirteen thousand when his grandmother dies; but those negresses live for ever. I suppose the thing is settled. I saw them on the pier just now, and Mrs. Penfold was reading a book in the arbour. Book of sermons it was — pious woman, Mrs. Penfold. I dare say they are on the pier still.” Striding with hurried steps Philip Firmin makes for the pier. The breathless Clinker cannot keep alongside of his face. I should like to have seen it when Clinker said that “the thing” was settled between Miss Twysden and the cavalry gentleman.
There were a few nursery governesses, maids, and children, paddling about at the end of the pier; and there was a fat woman reading a book in one of the arbours — but no Agnes, no Woolcomb. Where can they be? Can they be weighing each other? or buying those mad pebbles, which people are known to purchase? or having their silhouettes done in black? Ha! ha! Woolcomb would hardly have his face done in black. The idea would provoke odious comparisons. I see Philip is in a dreadfully bad sarcastic humour.
Up there comes from one of those trap-doors which lead down from the pier-head to the green sea-waves ever restlessly jumping below — up there comes a little Skye-terrier dog with a red collar, who, as soon as she sees Philip, sings, squeaks, whines, runs, jumps, flumps up on him, if I may use the expression, kisses his hands, and with eyes, tongue, paws, and tail shows him a thousand marks of welcome and affection. What, Brownie, Brownie! Philip is glad to see the dog, an old friend who has many a time licked his hand and bounced upon his knee.
The greeting over, Brownie, wagging her tail with prodigious activity, trots before Philip — trots down an opening, down the steps under which the waves shimmer greenly, and into quite a quiet remote corner just over the water, whence you may command a most beautiful view of the sea, the shore, the Marine Parade, and the Albion Hotel, and where, were I five-and-twenty say, with nothing else to do, I would gladly pass a quarter of an hour talking about Glaucus or the Wonders of the Deep with the object of my affections.
Here, amongst the labyrinth of piles, Brownie goes flouncing along till she comes to a young couple who are looking at the view just described. In order to view it better, the young man has laid his hand, a pretty little hand most delicately gloved, on the lady’s hand; and Brownie comes up and nuzzles against her, and whines and talks, as much as to say, “Here’s somebody,” and the lady says, “Down, Brownie, miss.”
“It’s no good, Agnes, that dog,” says the gentleman (he has very curly, not to say woolly hair, under his natty little hat). “I’ll give you a pug with a nose you can hang your hat on. I do know of one now. My man Rummins knows of one. Do you like pugs?”
“I adore them,” says the lady.
“I’ll give you one, if I have to pay fifty pounds for it. And they fetch a good figure, the real pugs do, I can tell you. Once in London there was an exhibition of ’em, and — ”
“Brownie, Brownie, down!” cries Agnes. The dog was jumping at a gentleman, a tall gentleman with red mustachios and beard, who advances through the chequered shade, under the ponderous beams, over the translucent sea.
“Pray don’t mind, Brownie won’t hurt me,” says a perfectly well-known voice, the sound of which sends all the colours shuddering out of Miss Agnes’ pink cheeks.
“You see I gave my cousin this dog, Captain Woolcomb,” says the gentleman; “and the little slut remembers me. Perhaps Miss Twysden likes the pug better.”
“If it has a nose you can hang your hat on, it must be a very pretty dog, and I suppose you intend to hang your hat on it a good deal.”
“Oh, Philip!” says the lady; but an attack of that dreadful coughing stops further utterance.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00