You know that, in some parts of India, infanticide is the common custom. It is part of the religion of the land, as, in other districts, widow-burning used to be. I can’t imagine that ladies like to destroy either themselves or their children, though they submit with bravery, and even cheerfulness, to the decrees of that religion which orders them to make away with their own or their young ones’ lives. Now, suppose you and I, as Europeans, happened to drive up where a young creature was just about to roast herself, under the advice of her family and the highest dignitaries of her church; what could we do? Rescue her? No such thing. We know better than to interfere with her, and the laws and usages of her country. We turn away with a sigh from the mournful scene; we pull out our pocket-handkerchiefs, tell coachman to drive on, and leave her to her sad fate.
Now about poor Agnes Twysden: how, in the name of goodness, can we help her? You see she is a well brought up and religious young woman of the Brahminical sect. If she is to be sacrificed, that old Brahmin her father, that good and devout mother, that most special Brahmin her brother, and that admirable girl her strait-laced sister, all insist upon her undergoing the ceremony, and deck her with flowers ere they lead her to that dismal altar flame. Suppose, I say, she has made up her mind to throw over poor Philip, and take on with some one else? What sentiment ought our virtuous bosoms to entertain towards her? Anger? I have just been holding a conversation with a young fellow in rags and without shoes, whose bed is commonly a dry arch, who has been repeatedly in prison, whose father and mother were thieves, and whose grandfathers were thieves; — are we to be angry with him for following the paternal profession? With one eye brimming with pity, the other steadily keeping watch over the family spoons, I listen to his artless tale. I have no anger against that child; nor towards thee, Agnes, daughter of Talbot the Brahmin.
For though duty is duty, when it comes to the pinch, it is often hard to do. Though dear papa and mamma say that here is a gentleman with ever so many thousands a year, an undoubted part in So-and-So-shire, and whole islands in the western main, who is wildly in love with your fair skin and blue eyes, and is ready to fling all his treasures at your feet; yet, after all, when you consider that he is very ignorant though very cunning; very stingy though very rich; very ill-tempered, probably, if faces and eyes and mouths can tell truth: and as for Philip Firmin — though actually his legitimacy is dubious, as we have lately heard, in which case his maternal fortune is ours — and as for his paternal inheritance, we don’t know whether the doctor is worth thirty thousand pounds or a shilling; — yet, after all — as for Philip — he is a man; he is a gentleman; he has brains in his head, and a great honest heart of which he has offered to give the best feelings to his cousin; — I say, when a poor girl has to be off with that old love, that honest and fair love, and be on with the new one, the dark one, I feel for her; and though the Brahmins are, as we know, the most genteel sect in Hindostan, I rather wish the poor child could have belonged to some lower and less rigid sect. Poor Agnes! to think that he has sat for hours, with mamma and Blanche or the governess, of course, in the room (for, you know, when she and Philip were quite wee wee things dear mamma had little amiable plans in view); has sat for hours by Miss Twysden’s side pouring out his heart to her; has had, mayhap, little precious moments of confidential talk — little hasty whispers in corridors, on stairs, behind window curtains, and — and so forth in fact. She must remember all this past; and can’t, without some pang, listen on the same sofa, behind the same window-curtains, to her dark suitor pouring out his artless tales of barracks, boxing, horseflesh, and the tender passion. He is dull, he is mean, he is ill-tempered, he is ignorant, and the other was . . .; but she will do her duty: oh, yes! she will do her duty! Poor Agnes! C’est à fendre le coeur. I declare I quite feel for her.
When Philip’s temper was roused, I have been compelled, as his biographer, to own how very rude and disagreeable he could be; and you must acknowledge that a young man has some reason to be displeased, when he finds the girl of his heart hand in hand with another young gentleman in an occult and shady recess of the woodwork of Brighton Pier. The green waves are softly murmuring: so is the officer of the Life Guards Green. The waves are kissing the beach. Ah, agonizing thought! I will not pursue the simile, which may be but a jealous man’s mad fantasy. Of this I am sure, no pebble on that beach is cooler than polished Agnes. But, then, Philip drunk with jealousy is not a reasonable being like Philip sober. “He had a dreadful temper,” Philip’s dear aunt said of him afterwards, — “I trembled for my dear, gentle child, united for ever to a man of that violence. Never, in my secret mind, could I think that their union could be a happy one. Besides, you know, the nearness of their relationship. My scruples on that score, dear Mrs. Candour, never, never could be quite got over.” And these scruples came to weigh whole tons, when Mangrove Hall, the house in Berkeley Square, and Mr. Woolcomb’s West India island were put into the scale along with them.
Of course there was no good in remaining amongst those damp, reeking timbers, now that the pretty little tête-à-tête was over. Little Brownie hung fondling and whining round Philip’s ankles, as the party ascended to the upper air. “My child, how pale you look!” cries Mrs. Penfold, putting down her volume. Out of the captain’s opal eyeballs shot lurid flames, and hot blood burned behind his yellow cheeks. In a quarrel, Mr. Philip Firmin could be particularly cool and self-possessed. When Miss Agnes rather piteously introduced him to Mrs. Penfold, he made a bow as polite and gracious as any performed by his royal father. “My little dog knew me,” he said, caressing the animal. “She is a faithful little thing, and she led me down to my cousin; and — Captain Woolcomb, I think, is your name, sir?”
As Philip curls his moustache and smiles blandly, Captain Woolcomb pulls his and scowls fiercely. “Yes, sir,” he mutters, “my name is Woolcomb.” Another bow and a touch of the hat from Mr. Firmin. A touch? — a gracious wave of the hat; acknowledged by no means so gracefully by Captain Woolcomb.
To these remarks, Mrs. Penfold says, “Oh!” In fact, “Oh!” is about the best thing that could be said under the circumstances.
“My cousin, Miss Twysden, looks so pale because she was out very late dancing last night. I hear it was a very pretty ball. But ought she to keep such late hours, Mrs. Penfold, with her delicate health? Indeed, you ought not, Agnes! Ought she to keep late hours, Brownie? There — don’t, you little foolish thing! I gave my cousin the dog: and she’s very fond of me — the dog is — still. You were saying, Captain Woolcomb, when I came up, that you would give Miss Twysden a dog on whose nose you could hang your — I beg pardon?”
Mr. Woolcomb, as Philip made this second allusion to the peculiar nasal formation of the pug, ground his little white teeth together, and let slip a most improper monosyllable. More acute bronchial suffering was manifested on the part of Miss Twysden. Mrs. Penfold said, “The day is clouding over. I think, Agnes, I will have my chair, and go home.”
“May I be allowed to walk with you as far as your house?” says Philip, twiddling a little locket which he wore at his watch-chain. It was a little gold locket, with a little pale hair inside. Whose hair could it have been that was so pale and fine? As for the pretty hieroglyphical A. T. at the back, those letters might indicate Alfred Tennyson, or Anthony Trollope, who might have given a lock of their golden hair to Philip, for I know he is an admirer of their works.
Agnes looked guiltily at the little locket. Captain Woolcomb pulled his moustache so, that you would have thought he would have pulled it off; and his opal eyes glared with fearful confusion and wrath.
“Will you please to fall back and let me speak to you, Agnes? Pardon me, Captain Woolcomb, I have a private message for my cousin; and I came from London expressly to deliver it.”
“If Miss Twysden desires me to withdraw, I fall back in one moment,” says the captain, clenching the little lemon-coloured gloves.
“My cousin and I have lived together all our lives, and I bring her a family message. Have you any particular claim to hear it, Captain Woolcomb?”
“Not if Miss Twysden don’t want me hear it. . . . D— the little brute.”
“Don’t kick poor little harmless Brownie! He shan’t kick you, shall he, Brownie?”
“If the brute comes between my shins, I’ll kick her!” shrieks the captain. “Hang her, I’ll throw her into the sea!”
“Whatever you do to my dog, I swear I will do to you!” whispers Philip to the captain.
“Where are you staying?” shrieks the captain. “Hang you, you shall hear from me.”
“Quiet — Bedford Hotel. Easy, or I shall think you want the ladies to overhear.”
“Your conduct is horrible, sir,” says Agnes, rapidly, in the French language. “Mr. does not comprehend it.”
“ — it! If you have any secrets to talk, I’ll withdraw fast enough, Miss Agnes,” says Othello.
“Oh, Grenville! can I have any secrets from you? Mr. Firmin is my first-cousin. We have lived together all our lives. Philip, I— I don’t know whether mamma announced to you my — my engagement with Captain Grenville Woolcomb.” The agitation has brought on another severe bronchial attack. Poor, poor little Agnes! What it is to have a delicate throat!
The pier tosses up to the skies, as though it had left its moorings — the houses on the cliff dance and reel, as though an earthquake was driving them — the sea walks up into the lodging-houses — and Philip’s legs are failing from under him: it is only for a moment. When you have a large, tough double tooth out, doesn’t the chair go up to the ceiling, and your head come off too? But, in the next instant, there is a grave gentleman before you, making you a bow, and concealing something in his right sleeve. The crash is over. You are a man again. Philip clutches hold of the chain pier for a minute: it does not sink under him. The houses, after reeling for a second or two, reassume the perpendicular, and bulge their bow windows towards the main. He can see the people looking from the windows, the carriages passing, Professor Spurrier riding on the cliff with eighteen young ladies, his pupils. In long after days he remembers those absurd little incidents with a curious tenacity.
“This news, “Philip says, “was not — not altogether unexpected. I congratulate my cousin, I am sure. Captain Woolcomb, had I known this for certain, I am sure I should not have interrupted you. You were going, perhaps, to ask me to your hospitable house, Mrs. Penfold?”
“Was she though?” cries the captain.
“I have asked a friend to dine with me at the Bedford, and shall go to town, I hope, in the morning. Can I take anything for you, Agnes? Good-by:” and he kisses his hand in quite a dégagé manner, as Mrs. Penfold’s chair turns eastward and he goes to the west. Silently the tall Agnes sweeps along, a fair hand laid upon her friend’s chair.
It’s over! it’s over! She has done it. He was bound, and kept his honour, but she did not: it was she who forsook him. And I fear very much Mr. Philip’s heart leaps with pleasure and an immense sensation of relief at thinking he is free. He meets half a dozen acquaintances on the cliff. He laughs, jokes, shakes hands, invites two or three to dinner in the gayest manner. He sits down on that green, not very far from his inn, and is laughing to himself, when he suddenly feels something nestling at his knee, — rubbing, and nestling, and whining plaintively. “What, is that you?” It is little Brownie, who has followed him. Poor little rogue!
Then Philip bent down his head over the dog, and as it jumped on him, with little bleats, and whines, and innocent caresses, he broke out into a sob, and a great refreshing rain of tears fell from his eyes. Such a little illness! Such a mild fever! Such a speedy cure! Some people have the complaint so mildly that they are scarcely ever kept to their beds. Some bear its scars for ever.
Philip sat resolutely at the hotel all night, having given special orders to the porter to say that he was at home, in case any gentleman should call. He had a faint hope, he afterwards owned, that some friend of Captain Woolcomb might wait on him on that officer’s part. He had a faint hope that a letter might come explaining that treason, — as people will have a sick, gnawing, yearning, foolish desire for letters — letters which contain nothing, which never did contain anything — letters which, nevertheless, you — You know, in fact, about those letters, and there is no earthly use in asking to read Philip’s . Have we not all read those love-letters which, after love-quarrels, come into court sometimes? We have all read them; and how many have written them? Nine o’clock. Ten o’clock. Eleven o’clock. No challenge from the captain; no explanation from Agnes. Philip declares he slept perfectly well. But poor little Brownie the dog made a piteous howling all night in the stables. She was not a well-bred dog. You could not have hung the least hat on her nose.
We compared anon our dear Agnes to a Brahmin lady, meekly offering herself up to sacrifice according to the practice used in her highly respectable caste. Did we speak in anger or in sorrow? — surely in terms of respectful grief and sympathy. And if we pity her, ought we not likewise to pity her highly respectable parents? When the notorious Brutus ordered his sons to execution, you can’t suppose he was such a brute as to be pleased? All three parties suffered by the transaction: the sons, probably, even more than their austere father; but it stands to reason that the whole trio were very melancholy. At least, were I a poet or musical composer depicting that business, I certainly should make them so:— the sons, piping in a very minor key indeed; the father’s manly basso, accompanied by deep wind instruments, and interrupted by appropriate sobs. Though pretty fair Agnes is being led to execution, I don’t suppose she likes it, or that her parents are happy, who are compelled to order the tragedy.
That the rich young proprietor of Mangrove Hall should be fond of her, was merely a coincidence, Mrs. Twysden afterwards always averred. Not for mere wealth — ah, no! not for mines of gold — would they sacrifice their darling child. But when that sad Firmin affair happened, you see it also happened that Captain Woolcomb was much struck by dear Agnes, whom he met everywhere. Her scapegrace of a cousin would go nowhere. He preferred his bachelor associates, and horrible smoking and drinking habits, to the amusements and pleasures of more refined society. He neglected Agnes. There is not the slightest doubt he neglected and mortified her, and his wilful and frequent absence showed how little he cared for her. Would you blame the dear girl for coldness to a man who himself showed such indifference to her? “No, my good Mrs. Candour. Had Mr. Firmin been ten times as rich as Mr. Woolcomb, I should have counselled my child to refuse him. I take the responsibility of the measure entirely on myself — I, and her father, and her brother.” So Mrs. Twysden afterwards spoke, in circles where an absurd and odious rumour ran, that the Twysdens had forced their daughter to jilt young Mr. Firmin in order to marry a young quadroon. People will talk, you know, de me, de te. If Woolcomb’s dinners had not gone off so after his marriage, I have little doubt the scandal would have died away, and he and his wife might have been pretty generally respected and visited.
Nor must you suppose, as we have said, that dear Agnes gave up her first love without a pang. That bronchitis showed how acutely the poor thing felt her position. It broke out very soon after Mr. Woolcomb’s attentions became a little particular; and she actually left London in consequence. It is true that he could follow her without difficulty, but so, for the matter of that, could Philip, as we have seen, when he came down and behaved so rudely to Captain Woolcomb. And before Philip came, poor Agnes could plead, “My father pressed me sair,” as in the case of the notorious Mrs. Robin Gray.
Father and mother both pressed her sair. Mrs. Twysden, I think I have mentioned, wrote an admirable letter, and was aware of her accomplishment. She used to write reams of gossip regularly every week to dear uncle Ringwood when he was in the country: and when her daughter Blanche married, she is said to have written several of her new son’s sermons. As a Christian mother, was she not to give her daughter her advice at this momentous period of her life? That advice went against poor Philip’s chances with his cousin, who was kept acquainted with all the circumstances of the controversy of which we have just seen the issue. I do not mean to say that Mrs. Twysden gave an impartial statement of case. What parties in a lawsuit do speak impartily on their own side or their adversaries’? Mrs. Twysden’s view, as I have learned subsequently, and as imparted to her daughter, was this:— That most unprincipled man, Dr. Firmin, who had already attempted, and unjustly, to deprive the Twysdens of a part of their property, had commenced in quite early life his career of outrage and wickedness against the Ringwood family. He had led dear Lord Ringwood’s son, poor dear Lord Cinqbars, into a career of vice and extravagance which caused the premature death of that unfortunate young nobleman. Mr. Firmin had then made a marriage, in spite of the tears and entreaties of Mrs. Twysden, with her late unhappy sister, whose whole life had been made wretched by the doctor’s conduct. But the climax of outrage and wickedness was, that when he — he, a low, penniless adventurer — married Colonel Ringwood’s daughter, he was married already, as could be sworn by the repentant clergyman who had been forced, by threats of punishment which Dr. Firmin held over him, to perform the rite! “The mind” — Mrs. Talbot Twysden’s fine mind — “shuddered at the thought of such wickedness.” But most of all (for to think ill of any one whom she had once loved gave her pain) there was reason to believe that the unhappy Philip Firmin was his father’s accomplice, and that he knew of his own illegitimacy, which he was determined to set aside by any fraud or artifice — (she trembled, she wept to have to say this: O heaven! that there should be such perversity in thy creatures!) And so little store did Philip set by his mother’s honour, that he actually visited the abandoned woman who acquiesced in her own infamy, and had brought such unspeakable disgrace on the Ringwood family! The thought of this crime had caused Mrs. Twysden and her dear husband nights of sleepless anguish — had made them years and years older — had stricken their hearts with a grief which must endure to the end of their days. With people so unscrupulous, so grasping, so artful as Dr. Firmin and (must she say?) his son, they were bound to be on their guard; and though they had avoided Philip, she had deemed it right, on the rare occasions when she and the young man whom she must now call her illegitimate nephew met, to behave as though she knew nothing of this most dreadful controversy.
“And now, dearest child” . . . Surely the moral is obvious? The dearest child “must see at once that any foolish plans which were formed in childish days and under former delusions must be cast aside for ever as impossible, as unworthy of a Twysden — of a Ringwood. Be not concerned for the young man himself,” wrote Mrs. Twysden — “I blush that he should bear that dear father’s name who was slain in honour on Busaco’s glorious field. P. F. has associates amongst whom he has ever been much more at home than in our refined circle, and habits which will cause him to forget you only too easily. And if near you is one whose ardour shows itself in his every word and action, whose wealth and property may raise you to a place worthy of my child, need I say, a mother’s, a father’s blessing go with you.” This letter was brought to Miss Twysden, at Brighton, by a special messenger; and the superscription announced that it was “honoured by Captain Grenville Woolcomb.”
Now when Miss Agnes has had a letter to this effect, from a mother in whose prudence and affection a child could surely confide; when she remembers all the abuse her brother lavishes against Philip, as, heaven bless some of them! dear relatives can best do; when she thinks how cold he has of late been — how he will come smelling of cigars — how he won’t conform to the usages du monde, and has neglected all the decencies of society — how she often can’t understand his strange rhapsodies about poetry, painting, and the like, nor how he can live with such associates as those who seem to delight him — and now how he is showing himself actually unprincipled and abetting his horrid father; when we consider mither pressing sair, and all these points in mither’s favour, I don’t think we can order Agnes to instant execution for the resolution to which she is coming. She will give him up — she will give him up. Good-by, Philip. Good-by the past. Be forgotten, be forgotten, fond words spoken in not unwilling ears! Be still and breathe not, eager lips, that have trembled so near to one another! Unlock, hands, and part for ever, that seemed to be formed for life’s long journey! Ah, to part for ever is hard; but harder and more humiliating still to part without regret!
That papa and mamma had influenced Miss Twysden in her behaviour my wife and I could easily imagine, when Philip, in his wrath and grief, came to us and poured out the feelings of his heart. My wife is a repository of men’s secrets, and untiring consoler and comforter; and she knows many a sad story which we are not at liberty to tell, like this one of which this person, Mr. Firmin, has given us possession.
“Father and mother’s orders,” shouts Philip, “I daresay, Mrs. Pendennis; but the wish was father to the thought of parting, and it was for the blackamoor’s parks and acres that the girl jilted me. Look here. I told you just now that I slept perfectly well on that infernal night after I had said farewell to her. Well, I didn’t. It was a lie. I walked ever so many times the whole length of the cliff, from Hove to Rottingdean almost, and then went to bed afterwards, and slept a little out of sheer fatigue. And as I was passing by Horizontal Place ( — I happened to pass by there two or three times in the moonlight, like a great jackass — ) you know those verses of mine which I have hummed here sometimes?” (hummed! he used to roar them!) “‘When the locks of burnished gold, lady, shall to silver turn!’ Never mind the rest. You know the verses about fidelity and old age? She was singing them on that night, to that negro. And I heard the beggar’s voice say, ‘Bravo!’ through the open windows.”
“Ah, Philip! it was cruel,” says my wife, heartily pitying our friend’s anguish and misfortune. “It was cruel indeed. I am sure we can feel for you. But think what certain misery a marriage with such a person would have been! Think of your warm heart given away for ever to that heartless creature.”
“Laura, Laura, have you not often warned me not to speak ill of people?” says Laura’s husband.
“I can’t help it sometimes,” cries Laura in a transport. “I try and do my best not to speak ill of my neighbours; but the worldliness of those people shocks me so that I can’t bear to be near them. They are so utterly tied and bound by conventionalities, so perfectly convinced of their own excessive high-breeding, that they seem to me more odious and more vulgar than quite low people; and I am sure Mr. Philip’s friend, the Little Sister, is infinitely more ladylike than his dreary aunt or either of his supercilious cousins!” Upon my word, when this lady did speak her mind, there was no mistaking her meaning.
I believe Mr. Firmin took a considerable number of people into his confidence regarding this love affair. He is one of those individuals who can’t keep their secrets; and when hurt he roars so loudly that all his friends can hear. It has been remarked that the sorrows of such persons do not endure very long; nor surely was there any great need in this instance that Philip’s heart should wear a lengthened mourning. Ere long he smoked his pipes, he played his billiards, he shouted his songs; he rode in the Park for the pleasure of severely cutting his aunt and cousins when their open carriage passed, or of riding down Captain Woolcomb or his cousin Ringwood, should either of those worthies come in his way.
One day, when the old Lord Ringwood came to town for his accustomed spring visit, Philip condescended to wait upon him, and was announced to his lordship just as Talbot Twysden and Ringwood his son were taking leave of their noble kinsman. Philip looked at them with a flashing eye and a distended nostril, according to his swaggering wont. I daresay they on their part bore a very mean and hangdog appearance; for my lord laughed at their discomfiture, and seemed immensely amused as they slunk out of the door when Philip came hectoring in.
“So, sir, there has been a family row. Heard all about it: at least, their side. Your father did me the favour to marry my niece, having another wife already?”
“Having no other wife already, sir — though my dear relations wish to show that he had.”
“Wanted your money; thirty thousand pounds is not a trifle. Ten thousand apiece for those children. And no more need of any confounded pinching and scraping, as they have to do at Beaunash Street. Affair off between you and Agnes? Absurd affair. So much the better.”
“Yes, sir, so much the better.”
“Have ten thousand apiece. Would have twenty thousand if they got yours. Quite natural to want it.”
“Woolcomb a sort of negro, I understand. Fine property here: besides the West India rubbish. Violent man — so people tell me. Luckily Agnes seems a cool, easy-going woman, and must put up with the rough as well as the smooth in marrying a property like that. Very lucky for you that that woman persists there was no marriage with your father. Twysden says the doctor bribed her. Take it he’s not got much money to bribe, unless you gave some of yours.”
“I don’t bribe people to bear false witness, my lord — and if —
“Don’t be in a huff; I didn’t say so. Twysden says so — perhaps thinks so. When people are at law they believe anything of one another.”
“I don’t know what other people may do, sir. If I had another man’s money, I should not be easy until I had paid him back. Had my share of my grandfather’s property not been lawfully mine — and for a few hours I thought it was not — please God, I would have given it up to its rightful owners — at least, my father would.”
“Why, hang it all, man, you don’t mean to say your father has not settled with you?”
Philip blushed a little. He had been rather surprised that there had been no settlement between him and his father.
“I am only of age a few months, sir. I am not under any apprehension. I get my dividends regularly enough. One of my grandfather’s trustees, General Baynes, is in India. He is to return almost immediately, or we should have sent a power of attorney out to him. There’s no hurry about the business.”
Philip’s maternal grandfather, and Lord Ringwood’s brother, the late Colonel Philip Ringwood, had died possessed of but trifling property of his own; but his wife had brought him a fortune of sixty thousand pounds, which was settled on their children, and in the names of trustees — Mr. Briggs, a lawyer, and Colonel Baynes, an East India officer, and friend of Mrs. Philip Ringwood’s family. Colonel Baynes had been in England some eight years before; and Philip remembered a kind old gentleman coming to see him at school, and leaving tokens of his bounty behind. The other trustee, Mr. Briggs, a lawyer of considerable county reputation, was dead long since, having left his affairs in an involved condition. During the trustee’s absence and the son’s minority, Philip’s father received the dividends on his son’s property, and liberally spent them on the boy, Indeed, I believe that for some little time at college, and during his first journeys abroad, Mr. Philip spent rather more than the income of his maternal inheritance, being freely supplied by his father, who told him not to stint himself. He was a sumptuous man, Dr.Firmin — openhanded — subscribing to many charities — a lover of solemn good cheer. The doctor’s dinners and the doctor’s equipages were models in their way; and I remember the sincere respect with which my uncle the major (the family guide in such matters) used to speak of Dr. Firmin’s taste. “No duchess in London, sir,” he would say, “drove better horses than Mrs. Firmin. Sir George Warrender, sir, could not give a better dinner, sir, than that to which we sat down yesterday.” And for the exercise of these civic virtues the doctor had the hearty respect of the good major.
“Don’t tell me, sir,” on the other hand, Lord Ringwood would say; “I dined with the fellow once — a swaggering fellow, sir; but a servile fellow. The way he bowed and flattered was perfectly absurd. Those fellows think we like it — and we may. Even at my age, I like flattery — any quantity of it; and not what you call delicate, but strong, sir. I like a man to kneel down and kiss my shoestrings. I have my own opinion of him afterwards, but that is what I like — what all men like; and that is what Firmin gave in quantities. But you could see that his house was monstrously expensive. His dinner was excellent, and you saw it was good every day — not like your dinners, my good Maria; not like your wines, Twysden, which, hang it, I can’t swallow, unless I send ’em in myself. Even at my own house, I don’t give that kind of wine on common occasions which Firmin used to give. I drink the best myself, of course, and give it to some who know; but I don’t give it to common fellows, who come to hunting dinners, or to girls and boys who are dancing at my balls.”
“Yes; Mr. Firmin’s dinners were very handsome — and a pretty end came of the handsome dinners!” sighed Mrs. Twysden.
“That’s not the question; I am only speaking about the fellow’s meat and drink, and they were both good. And it’s my opinion, that fellow will have a good dinner wherever he goes.”
I had the fortune to be present at one of these feasts, which Lord Ringwood attended, and at which I met Philip’s trustee, General Baynes, who had just arrived from India. I remember now the smallest details of the little dinner, — the brightness of the old plate, on which the doctor prided himself, and the quiet comfort, not to say splendour, of the entertainment. The general seemed to take a great liking to Philip, whose grandfather had been his special friend and comrade in arms. He thought he saw something of Philip Ringwood in Philip Firmin’s face.
“Ah, indeed!” growls Lord Ringwood.
“You ain’t a bit like him,” says the downright general. “Never saw a handsomer or more openlooking fellow than Philip Ringwood.”
“Oh! I daresay I looked pretty open myself forty years ago,” said my lord; “now I’m shut, I suppose. I don’t see the least likeness in this young man to my brother.”
“That is some sherry as old as the century,” whispers the host; “it is the same the Prince Regent liked so at a Mansion House dinner, five-and-twenty years ago.”
“Never knew anything about wine; was always tippling liqueurs and punch. What do you give for this sherry, doctor?”
The doctor sighed, and looked up to the chandelier. “Drink it while it lasts, my good lord; but don’t ask me the price. The fact is, I don’t like to say what I gave for it.”
“You need not stint yourself in the price of sherry, doctor,” cries the general gaily; “you have but one son, and he has a fortune of his own, as I happen to know. You haven’t dipped it, master Philip?”
“I fear, sir, I may have exceeded my income sometimes, in the last three years; but my father has helped me.”
“Exceeded nine hundred a-year! Upon my word! When I was a sub, my friends gave me fifty pounds a year, and I never was a shilling in debt! What are men coming to now?”
“If doctors drink Prince Regent’s sherry at ten guineas a dozen, what can you expect of their sons, General Baynes?” grumbles my lord.
“My father gives you his best, my lord,” says Philip gaily; “if you know of any better, he will get it for you. Si non, his utere mecum! Please to pass me that decanter, Pen!”
I thought the old lord did not seem ill pleased at the young man’s freedom; and now, as I recal it, think I can remember, that a peculiar silence and anxiety seemed to weigh upon our host — upon him whose face was commonly so anxious and sad.
The famous sherry, which had made many voyages to Indian climes before it acquired its exquisite flavour, had travelled some three or four times round the doctor’s polished table, when Brice, his man, entered with a letter on his silver tray. Perhaps Philip’s eyes and mine exchanged glances in which ever so small a scintilla of mischief might sparkle. The doctor often had letters when he was entertaining his friends; and his patients had a knack of falling ill at awkward times.
“Gracious heavens!” cries the doctor, when he read the despatch — it was a telegraphic message. “The poor Grand Duke!”
“What Grand Duke?” asks the surly lord of Ringwood.
“My earliest patron and friend — the Grand Duke of Groningen! Seized this morning at eleven at Potzendorff! Has sent for me. I promised to go to him if ever he had need of me. I must go! I can save the night-train yet. General! our visit to city must be deferred till my return. Get a portmanteau, Brice; and call a cab at once. Philip will entertain my friends for the evening. My dear lord, you won’t mind an old doctor leaving you to attend an old patient? I will write from Groningen. I shall be there on Friday morning. Farewell, gentlemen! Brice, another bottle of that sherry! I pray, don’t let anybody stir! God bless you, Philip, my boy!” And with this the doctor went up, took his son by the hand, and laid the other very kindly on the young man’s shoulder. Then he made a bow round the table to his guests — one of his graceful bows, for which he was famous. I can see the sad smile on his face now, and the light from the chandelier over the dining-table glancing from his shining forehead, and casting deep shadows on to his cheek from his heavy brows.
The departure was a little abrupt, and, of course, cast somewhat of a gloom upon the company.
“My carriage ain’t ordered till ten — must go on sitting here, I suppose. Confounded life doctor’s must be! Called up any hour in the night! Get their fees! Must go!” growled the great man of the party.
“People are glad enough to have them when they are ill, my lord. I think I have heard that once, when you were at Ryde — ”
The great man started back as if a little shock of cold water had fallen on him; and then looked at Philip with not unfriendly glances. “Treated for gout — so he did. Very well, too!” said my lord; and whispered, not inaudibly, “Cool hand, that boy!” And then his lordship fell to talk with General Baynes about his campaigning, and his early acquaintance with his own brother, Philip’s grandfather.
The general did not care to brag about his own feats of arms, but was loud in praises of his old comrade. Philip was pleased to hear his grandsire so well spoken of. The general had known Dr. Firmin’s father also, who likewise had been a colonel in the famous old Peninsular army. “A Tartar that fellow was, and no mistake!” said the good officer. “Your father has a strong look of him; and you have a glance of him at times. But you remind me of Philip Ringwood not a little; and you could not belong to a better man.”
“Ha!” says my lord. There has been differences between him and his brother. He may have been thinking of days when they were friends. Lord Ringwood now graciously asked if General Baynes was staying in London? But the general had only come to do this piece of business, which must now be delayed. He was too poor to live in London. He must look out for a country place, where he and his children could live cheaply. “Three boys at school, and one at college, Mr. Philip — you know what that must cost; though, thank my stars, my college boy does not spend nine hundred a year. Nine hundred! Where should we be if he did?” In fact, the days of nabobs are long over, and the general had come back to his native country with only very small means for the support of a great family.
When my lord’s carriage came, he departed, and the other guests presently took their leave. The general, who was a bachelor for the nonce, remained awhile, and we three prattled over cheroots in Philip’s smokingroom. It was a night like a hundred I have spent there, and yet how well I remember it! We talked about Philip’s future prospects, and he communicated his intentions to us in his lordly way. As for practising at the bar: No, sir! he said, in reply to General Baynes’ queries, he should not make much hand of that: shouldn’t if he were ever so poor. He had his own money, and his father’s, and he condescended to say that he might, perhaps, try for Parliament, should an eligible opportunity offer. “Here’s a fellow born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” says the general, as we walked away together. “A fortune to begin with; a fortune to inherit. My fortune was two thousand pounds and the price of my two first commissions; and when I die my children will not be quite so well off as their father was when he began!”
Having parted with the old officer at his modest sleeping quarters near his club, I walked to my own home, little thinking that yonder cigar, of which I had shaken some of ashes in Philip’s smoking-room, was to be the last tobacco I ever should smoke there. The pipe was smoked out. The wine was drunk. When that door closed on me, it closed for the last time — at least, was never more to admit me as Philip’s, as Dr. Firmin’s, guest and friend. I pass the place often now. My youth comes back to me as I gaze at those blank, shining windows. I see myself a boy, and Philip a child; and his fair mother; and his father, the hospitable, the melancholy, the magnificent. I wish I could have helped him. I wish somehow he had borrowed money. He never did. He gave me his often. I have never seen him since that night when his own door closed upon him.
On the second day after the doctor’s departure, as I was at breakfast with my family, I received the following letter:—
My dear Pendennis,
Could I have seen you in private on Tuesday night, I might have warned you of the calamity which was hanging over my house. But to what good end? That you should know a few weeks, hours before, what all the world will ring with to-morrow? Neither you nor I, nor one whom we both love, would have been the happier for knowing my misfortunes a few hours sooner. In four-and-twenty hours every club in London will be busy with talk of the departure of the celebrated Dr. Firmin — the wealthy Dr. Firmin; a few months more and (I have strict and confidential reason to believe) hereditary rank would have been mine, but Sir George Firmin would have been an insolvent man, and his son Sir Philip a beggar. Perhaps the thought of this honour has been one of the reasons which has determined me on expatriating myself sooner than I otherwise needed to have done.
George Firmin, the honoured, the wealthy physician, and his son a beggar? I see you are startled at the news! You wonder how, with a great practice, and no great ostensible expenses, such ruin should have come upon me — upon him. It has seemed as if for years past Fate has been determined to make war upon George Brand Firmin; and who can battle against Fate? A man universally admitted to be of good judgment, I have embarked in mercantile speculations the most promising. Everything upon which I laid my hand has crumbled to ruin; but I can say with the Roman bard, “Impavidum ferient ruinæ.” And, almost penniless, almost aged, an exile driven from my country, I seek another where I do not despair — I even have a firm belief that I small be enabled to repair my shattered fortunes! My race has never been deficient in courage, and Philip and Philip’s father must use all theirs, so as to be enabled to face the dark times which menace them. Si celeres quatit pennas Fortuna, we must resign what she gave us, and bear our calamity with unshaken hearts!
There is a man, I own to you, whom I cannot, I must not face. General Baynes has just come from India, with but very small savings, I fear; and these are jeopardized by his imprudence and my most cruel and unexpected misfortune. I need not tell you that my all would have been my boy’s . My will, made long since, will be found in the tortoiseshell secretaire standing in my consulting-room under the picture of Abraham offering up Isaac. In it you will see that everything, except annuities to old and deserving servants and a legacy to one excellent and faithful woman whom I own I have wronged — my all, which once was considerable, is left to my boy.
I am now worth less than nothing, and have compromised Philip’s property along with my own. As a man of business, General Baynes, Colonel Ringwood’s old companion in arms, was culpably careless, and I— alas! that I must own it — deceived him. Being the only surviving trustee (Mrs. Philip Ringwood’s other trustee was an unprincipled attorney who has been long dead), General B. signed a paper authorizing, as he imagined, my bankers to receive Philip’s dividends, but, in fact, giving me the power to dispose of the capital sum. On my honour, as a man, as a gentleman, as a father, Pendcnnis, I hoped to replace it! I took it; I embarked it in speculations in which it sank down with ten times the amount of my own private property. Half-year after halfyear, with straitened means and with the greatest difficulty to myself, my poor boy has had his dividend; and he at least has never known what was want or anxiety until now. Want? Anxiety? Pray heaven he never may suffer the sleepless anguish, the racking care which has pursued me! “Post equitem sedet atra cura,” our favourite poet says. Ah! how truly, too, does he remark, “Patriæ quis exul se quoque fugit?” Think you where I go grief and remorse will not follow me? They will never leave me until I shall return to this country — for that I shall return, my heart tells me — until I can reimburse General Baynes, who stands indebted to Philip through his incautiousness and my overpowering necessity; and my heart — an erring but fond father’s heart — tells me that my boy will not eventually lose a penny by my misfortune.
I own, between ourselves, that this illness of the Grand Duke of Groningen was a pretext which I put forward. You will hear of me cre long from the place whither for some time past I have determined on bending my steps. I placed 2001. on Saturday, to Philip’s credit, at his banker’s I take little more than that sum with me; depressed, yet full of hope; having done wrong, yet determined to retrieve it, and vowing that ere I die my poor boy shall not have to blush at bearing the name of
George Brand Firmin.
Good-by, dear Philip! Your old friend will tell you of my misfortunes. When I write again, it will be to tell you where to address me; and wherever I am, or whatever misfortunes oppress me, think of me always as your fond.
I had scarce read this awful letter when Philip Firmin himself came into our breakfast-room, looking very much disturbed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00