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

Chapter 16


The children trotted up to their friend with outstretched hands and their usual smiles of welcome. Philip patted their heads, and sate down with very wobegone aspect at the family table. “Ah, friends,” said he, “do you know all?”

“Yes, we do,” said Laura, sadly, who has ever compassion for others’ misfortunes.

“What! is it all over the town already?” asked poor Philip.

“We have a letter from your father this morning.” And we brought the letter to him, and showed him the affectionate special message for himself.

“His last thought was for you, Philip!” cries Laura. “See here, those last kind words!”

Philip shook his head. “It is not untrue, what is written here: but it is not all the truth.” And Philip Firmin dismayed us by the intelligence which he proceeded to give. There was an execution in the house in Old Parr Street. A hundred clamorous creditors had already appeared there. Before going away, the doctor had taken considerable sums from those dangerous financiers to whom he had been of late resorting. They were in possession of numberless lately-signed bills, upon which the desperate man had raised money. He had professed to share with Philip, but he had taken the great share, and left Philip two hundred pounds of his own money. All the rest was gone. All Philip’s stock had been sold out. The father’s fraud had made him master of the trustee’s signature: and Philip Firmin, reputed to be so wealthy, was a beggar, in my room. Luckily he had few, or very trifling, debts. Mr. Philip had a lordly impatience of indebtedness, and, with a good bachelor-income, had paid for all his pleasures as he enjoyed them.

Well! He must work. A young man ruined at two-and-twenty, with a couple of hundred pounds yet in his pocket, hardly knows that he is ruined. He will sell his horses — live in chambers — has enough to go on for a year. “When I am very hard put to it,” says Philip, “I will come and dine with the children at one. I daresay you haven’t dined much at Williams’s in the Old Bailey? You can get a famous dinner there for a shilling — beef, bread, potatoes, beer, and a penny for the waiter.” Yes, Philip seemed actually to enjoy his discomfiture. It was long since we had seen him in such spirits. “The weight is off my mind now. It has been throttling me for some time past. Without understanding why or wherefore, I have always been looking out for this. My poor father had ruin written in his face: and when those bailiffs made their appearance in Old Parr Street yesterday, I felt as if I had known them before. I had seen their hooked beaks in my dreams.”

“That unlucky General Baynes, when he accepted your mother’s trust, took it with its consequences. If the sentry falls asleep on his post, he must pay the penalty,” says Mr. Pendennis, very severely.

“Great powers! you would not have me come down on an old man with a large family, and ruin them all?” cries Philip.

“No: I don’t think Philip will do that,” says my wife, looking exceedingly pleased.

“If men accept trusts they must fulfil them, my dear,” cries the master of the house.

“And I must make that old gentleman suffer for my father’s wrong? If I do, may I starve! there!” cries Philip.

“And so that poor Little Sister has made her sacrifice in vain!” sighed my wife. “As for the father — oh, Arthur! I can’t tell you how odious that man was to me. There was something dreadful about him. And in his manner to women — oh! — ”

“If he had been a black draught, my dear, you could not have shuddered more naturally.”

“Well, he was horrible; and I know Philip will be better now he is gone.”

Women often make light of ruin. Give them but the beloved objects, and poverty is a trifling sorrow to bear. As for Philip, he, as we have said, is gayer than he has been for years past. The doctor’s flight occasions not a little club talk: but, now he is gone, many people see quite well that they were aware of his insolvency, and always knew it must end so. The case is told, is canvassed, is exaggerated as such cases will be. I daresay it forms a week’s talk. But people know that poor Philip is his father’s largest creditor, and eye the young man with no unfriendly looks when he comes to his club after his mishap, — with burning cheeks, and a tingling sense of shame, imagining that all the world will point at and avoid him as the guilty fugitive’s son.

No: the world takes very little heed of his misfortune. One or two old acquaintances are kinder to him than before. A few say his ruin, and his obligation to work, will do him good. Only a very, very few avoid him, and look unconscious as he passes them by. Amongst these cold countenances, you, of course, will recognize the faces of the whole Twysden family. Three statues, with marble eyes, could not look more stony-calm than aunt Twysden and her two daughters, as they pass in the stately barouche. The gentlemen turn red when they see Philip. It is rather late times for uncle Twysden to begin blushing, to be sure. “Hang the fellow! he will, of course, be coming for money. Dawkins, I am not at home, mind, when young Mr. Firmin calls.” So says Lord Ringwood, regarding Philip fallen among thieves. Ah, thanks to heaven, travellers find Samaritans as well as Levites on life’s hard way! Philip told us with much humour of a rencontre which he had had with his cousin, Ringwood Twysden, in a public place. Twysden was enjoying himself with some young clerks of his office; but as Philip advanced upon him, assuming his fiercest scowl and most hectoring manner, the other lost heart, and fled. And no wonder. “Do you suppose,” says Twysden, “I will willingly sit in the same room with that cad, after the manner in which he has treated my family! No, sir!” And so the tall door in Beaunash Street is to open for Philip Firmin no more.

The tall door in Beaunash Street flies open readily enough for another gentleman. A splendid cab-horse reins up before it every day. A pair of varnished boots leap out of the cab, and spring up the broad stairs, where somebody is waiting with a smile of genteel welcome — the same smile — on the same sofa — the same mamma at her table writing her letters. And beautiful bouquets from Covent Garden decorate the room. And after half an hour mamma goes out to speak to the housekeeper, vous comprenez. And there is nothing particularly new under the sun. It will shine to-morrow upon pretty much the same flowers, sports, pastimes, which it illuminated yesterday. And when your love-making days are over, miss, and you are married, and advantageously established, shall not your little sisters, now in the nursery, trot down and play their little games? Would you, on your conscience, now — you who are rather inclined to consider Miss Agnes Twysden’s conduct as heartless — would you, I say, have her cry her pretty eyes out about a young man who does not care much for her, for whom she never did care much herself, and who is now, moreover, a beggar, with a ruined and disgraced father and a doubtful legitimacy? Absurd! That dear girl is like a beautiful fragrant bower-room at the Star and Garter at Richmond, with honeysuckles mayhap trailing round the windows, from which you behold one of the most lovely and pleasant of wood and river scenes. The tables are decorated with flowers, rich winecups sparkle on the board, and Captain Jones’s party have everything they can desire. Their dinner over, and that company gone, the same waiters, the same flowers, the same cups and crystals, array themselves for Mr. Brown and his party. Or, if you won’t have Agnes Twysden compared to the Star and Garter Tavern, which must admit mixed company, liken her to the chaste moon who shines on shepherds of all complexions, swarthy or fair.

When, oppressed by superior odds, a commander is forced to retreat, we like him to show his skill by carrying off his guns, treasure, and camp equipages. Doctor Firmin, beaten by fortune and compelled to fly, showed quite a splendid skill and coolness in his manner of decamping, and left the very smallest amount of spoils in the hands of the victorious enemy. His wines had been famous amongst the grave epicures with whom he dined: he used to boast, like a worthy bon vivant who knows the value of wine-conversation after dinner, of the quantities which he possessed, and the rare bins which he had in store; but when the executioners came to arrange his sale, there was found only a beggarly account of empty bottles, and I fear some of the unprincipled creditors put in a great quantity of bad liquor which they endeavoured to foist off on the public as the genuine and carefully selected stock of a well-known connoisseur. News of this dishonest proceeding reached Dr. Firmin presently in his retreat; and he showed by his letter a generous and manly indignation at the manner in which his creditors had tampered with his honest name and reputation as a bon vivant. He have bad wine! For shame! He had the best from the best wine-merchant, and paid, or rather owed, the best prices for it; for of late years the doctor had paid no bills at all: and the wine-merchant appeared in quite a handsome group of figures in his schedule. In like manner his books were pawned to a book auctioneer; and Brice, the butler, had a bill of sale for the furniture. Firmin retreated, we will say with the honours of war, but as little harmed as possible by defeat. Did the enemy want the plunder of the city? He had smuggled almost all his valuable goods over the wall. Did they desire his ships? He had sunk them: and when at length the conquerors poured into his stronghold, he was far beyond the reach of their shot. Don’t we often hear still that Nana Sahib is alive and exceedingly comfortable? We do not love him; but we can’t help having a kind of admiration for that slippery fugitive who has escaped from the dreadful jaws of the lion. In a word, when Firmin’s furniture came to be sold, it was a marvel how little his creditors benefited by the sale. Contemptuous brokers declared there never was such a shabby lot of goods. A friend of the house and poor Philip bought in his mother’s picture for a few guineas; and as for the doctor’s own state portrait, I am afraid it went for a few shillings only, and in the midst of a roar of Hebrew laughter. I saw in Wardour Street, not long after, the doctor’s sideboard, and what dealers cheerfully call the sarcophagus cellaret. Poor doctor! his wine was all drunken; his meat was eaten up; but his own body had slipped out of the reach of the hookbeaked birds of prey.

We had spoken rapidly in under tones, innocently believing that the young people round about us were taking no heed of our talk. But in a lull of the conversation, Mr. Pendennis junior, who had always been a friend to Philip, broke out with — “Philip! if you are so very poor, you’ll be hungry, you know, and you may have my piece of bread and jam. And I don’t want it, mamma,” he added; “and you know Philip has often and often given me things.”

Philip stooped down and kissed this good little Samaritan. “I’m not hungry, Arty, my boy,” he said; “and I’m not so poor but I have got — look here — a fine new shilling for Arty!”

“Oh, Philip, Philip!” cried mamma.

“Don’t take the money, Arthur,” cried papa.

And the boy, with a rueful face but a manly heart, prepared to give back the coin. “It’s quite a new one; and it’s a very pretty one: but I won’t have it, Philip, thank you,” he said, turning very red.

“If he won’t, I vow I will give it to the cabman,” said Philip.

“Keeping a cab all this while? Oh, Philip, Philip!” again cries mamma the economist.

“Loss of time is loss of money, my dear lady,” says Philip, very gravely. “I have ever so many places to go to. When I am set in for being ruined, you shall see what a screw I will become! I must go to Mrs. Brandon, who will be very uneasy, poor dear, until she knows the worst.”

“Oh, Philip, I should like so to go with you!” cries Laura. “Pray, give her our very best regards and respects.”

“Merci!” said the young man, and squeezed Mrs. Pendennis’s hand in his own big one. “I will take your message to her, Laura. J’aime qu’on I’aime, savezvous?”

“That means, I love those who love her,” cries little Laura; “but, I don’t know,” remarked this little person afterwards to her paternal confidant, “that I like all people to love my mamma. That is, I don’t like her to like them, papa — only you may, papa, and Ethel may, and Arthur may, and I think, Philip may, now he is poor and quite, quite alone — and we will take care of him, won’t we? And, I think, I’ll buy him something with my money which aunt Ethel gave me.”

“And I’ll give him my money,” cries a boy.

“And I’ll div him my — my — ” Psha! what matters what the little sweet lips prattled in their artless kindness? But the soft words of love and pity smote the mother’s heart with an exquisite pang of gratitude and joy: and I know where her thanks were paid for those tender words and thoughts of her little ones.

Mrs. Pendennis made Philip promise to come to dinner, and also to remember not to take a cab — which promise Mr. Firmin had not much difficulty in executing, for he had but a few hundred yards to walk across the Park from his club; and I must say that my wife took a special care of our dinner that day, preparing for Philip certain dishes which she knew he liked, and enjoining the butler of the establishment (who also happened to be the owner of the house) to fetch from his cellar the very choicest wine in his possession.

I have previously described our friend and his boisterous, impetuous, generous nature. When Philip was moved, he called to all the world to witness his emotion. When he was angry, his enemies were all the rogues and scoundrels in the world. He vowed he would have no mercy on them, and desired all his acquaintances to participate in his anger. How could such an open-mouthed son have had such a close-spoken father? I daresay you have seen very well-bred young people, the children of vulgar and ill-bred parents; the swaggering father have a silent son; the loud mother a modest daughter. Our friend is not Amadis or Sir Charles Grandison; and I don’t set him up for a moment as a person to be revered or imitated; but try to draw him faithfully, and as nature made him. As nature made him, so he was. I don’t think he tried to improve himself much. Perhaps few people do. They suppose they do: and you read, in apologetic memoirs, and fond biographies, how this man cured his bad temper, and t’other worked and strove until he grew to be almost faultless. Very well and good, my good people. You can learn a language; you can master a science; I have heard of an old square-toes of sixty who learned, by study and intense application, very satisfactorily to dance; but can you, by taking thought, add to your moral stature? Ah me! the doctor who preaches is only taller than most of us by the height of the pulpit: and when he steps down, I daresay he cringes to the duchess, growls at his children, scolds his wife about the dinner. All is vanity, look you: and so the preacher is vanity, too.

Well, then, I must again say that Philip roared his griefs: he shouted his laughter: he bellowed his applause: he was extravagant in his humility as in his pride, in his admiration of his friends and contempt for his enemies: I daresay not a just man, but I have met juster men not half so honest; and certainly not a faultless man, though I know better men not near so good. So, I believe, my wife thinks: else, why should she be so fond of him? Did we not know boys who never went out of bounds, and never were late for school, and never made a false concord or quantity, and never came under the ferule; and others who were always playing truant, and blundering, and being whipped; and yet, somehow, was not Master Naughtyboy better liked than Master Goodchild? When Master Naughtyboy came to dine with us on the first day of his ruin, he bore a face of radiant happiness — he laughed, he bounced about, he caressed the children; now he took a couple on his knees; now he tossed the baby to the ceiling; now he sprawled over a sofa, and now he rode upon a chair; never was a penniless gentleman more cheerful. As for his dinner, Phil’s appetite was always fine, but on this day an ogre could scarcely play a more terrible knife and fork. He asked for more and more, until his entertainers wondered to behold him. “Dine for to-day and to-morrow too; can’t expect such fare as this every day, you know. This claret, how good it is! May I pack some up in paper, and take it home with me?” The children roared with laughter at this admirable idea of carrying home wine in a sheet of paper. I don’t know that it is always at the best jokes that children laugh — children and wise men too.

When we three were by ourselves, and freed from the company of servants and children, our friend told us the cause of his gaiety. “By George!” he swore, “it is worth being ruined to find such good people in the world. My dear, kind Laura” — here the gentleman brushes his eyes with his fist — “it was as much as I could do this morning to prevent myself from hugging you in my arms, you were so generous, and — and so kind, and so tender, and so good, by George. And after leaving you, where do you think I went?”

“I think I can guess, Philip,” says Laura.

“Well,” says Philip, winking his eyes again, and tossing off a great bumper of wine, “I went to her, of course. I think she is the best friend I have in the world. The old man was out, and I told her about everything that had happened. And what do you think she has done? She says she has been expecting me — she has; and she has gone and fitted up a room with a nice little bed at the top of the house, with everything as neat and trim as possible; and she begged and prayed I would go and stay with her — and I said I would, to please her. And then she takes me down to her room; and she jumps up to a cupboard, which she unlocks; and she opens and takes three-and-twenty pounds out of a — out of a tea — out of a tea-caddy — confound me! — and she says, ‘Here, Philip,’ she says, and — Boo! what a fool I am!” and here the orator fairly broke down in his speech.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00