That time, that merry time, of Brandon’s, of Bohemia, of oysters, of idleness, of smoking, of song at night and profuse soda-water in the morning, of a pillow, lonely and bachelor it is true, but with few cares for bed-fellows, of plenteous pocket-money, of ease for to-day and little heed for to-morrow, was often remembered by Philip in after days. Mr. Phil’s views of life were not very exalted, were they? The fruits of this world, which he devoured with such gusto, I must own were of the common kitchen-garden sort; and the lazy rogue’s ambition went no farther than to stroll along the sunshiny wall, eat his fill, and then repose comfortably in the arbour under the arched vine. Why did Phil’s mother’s parents leave her thirty thousand pounds? I daresay some misguided people would be glad to do as much for their sons; but, if I have ten, I am determined they shall either have a hundred thousand apiece, or else bare bread and cheese. “Man was made to labour, and to be lazy,” Phil would affirm, with his usual energy of expression. “When the Indian warrior goes on the hunting path, he is sober, active, indomitable. No dangers fright him, and no labours tire. He endures the cold of the winter; he couches on the forest leaves; he subsists on frugal roots or the casual spoil of his bow. When he returns to his village, he gorges to repletion; he sleeps, perhaps, to excess. When the game is devoured, and the fire-water exhausted, again he sallies forth into the wilderness; he outclimbs the possum and he throttles the bear. I am the Indian: and this haunt is my wigwam! Barbara, my squaw, bring me oysters; bring me a jug of the frothing black beer of the palefaces, or I will hang up thy scalp on my tent-pole?” And old Barbara, the good old attendant of this Haunt of Bandits, would say, “Law, Mr. Philip, how you do go on, to be sure!” Where is the Haunt now? and where are the merry men all who there assembled? The sign is down; the song is silent; the sand is swept from the floor; the pipes are broken, and the ashes are scattered.
A little more gossip about his merry days, and we have done. He, Philip, was called to the bar in due course, and at his call-supper we assembled a dozen of his elderly and youthful friends. The chambers in Parchment Buildings were given up to him for this day. Mr. Vanjohn, I think, was away attending a steeplechase; but Mr. Cassidy was with us, and several of Philip’s acquaintances of school, college, and the world. There was Philip’s father, and Philip’s uncle Twysden, and I, Phil’s revered and respectable school senior, and others of our ancient seminary. There was Burroughs, the second wrangler of his year, great in metaphysics, greater with the knife and fork. There was Stackpole, Eblana’s favourite child — the glutton of all learning, the master of many languages, who stuttered and blushed when he spoke his own. There was Pinkerton, who, albeit an ignoramus at the university, was already winning prodigious triumphs at the Parliamentary bar, and investing in Consols to the admiration of all his contemporaries. There was Rosebury the beautiful, the May Fair pet and delight of Almack’s, the cards on whose mantelpiece made all men open the eyes of wonder, and some of us dart the scowl of envy. There was my Lord Ascot, Lord Egham of former days. There was Tom Dale, who, having carried on his university career too splendidly, had come to grief in the midst of it, and was now meekly earning his bread in the Reporters’ Gallery, alongside of Cassidy. There was Macbride, who, having thrown up his Fellowship and married his cousin, was now doing a brave battle with poverty, and making literature feed him until law should reward him more splendidly. There was Haythorn, the country gentleman, who ever remembered his old college chums and kept the memory of that friendship up by constant reminders of pheasants and game in the season. There were Raby and Maynard from the Guards’ Club (Maynard sleeps now under Crimean snows), who preferred arms to the toga; but carried into their military life the love of their old books, the affection of their old friends. Most of these must be mute personages in our little drama. Could any chronicler remember the talk of all of them?
Several of the guests present were members of the Inn of Court (the Upper Temple), which had conferred on Philip the degree of Barrister-at-Law. He had dined in his wig and gown (Blackmore’s wig and gown) in the hall that day, in company with other members of his inn; and, dinner over, we adjourned to Phil’s chambers in Parchment Buildings, where a dessert was served, to which Mr. Firmin’s friends were convoked.
The wines came from Dr. Firmin’s cellar. His servants were in attendance to wait upon the company. Father and son both loved splendid hospitalities, and, as far as creature comforts went, Philip’s feast was richly provided. “A supper, I love a supper, of all things! And in order that I might enjoy yours, I only took a single mutton-chop for dinner!” cried Mr. Twysden, as he greeted Philip. Indeed, we found him, as we arrived from Hall, already in the chambers, and eating the young barrister’s dessert. “He’s been here ever so long,” says Mr. Brice, who officiated as butler, “pegging away at the olives and maccaroons. Shouldn’t wonder if he has pocketed some.” There was small respect on the part of Brice for Mr. Twysden, whom the worthy butler frankly pronounced to be a stingy ‘umbug. Meanwhile, Talbot believed that the old man respected him, and always conversed with Brice, and treated him with a cheerful cordiality.
The outer Philistines quickly arrived, and but that the wine and men were older, one might have fancied oneself at a college wine-party. Mr. Twysden talked for the whole company. He was radiant. He felt himself in high spirits. He did the honours of Philip’s table. Indeed, no man was more hospitable with other folk’s wine. Philip himself was silent and nervous. I asked him if the awful ceremony, which he had just undergone, was weighing on his mind?
He was looking rather anxiously towards the door; and, knowing somewhat of the state of affairs at home, I thought that probably he and his father had had one of the disputes which of late days had become so frequent between them.
The company were nearly all assembled and busy with their talk, and drinking the doctor’s excellent claret, when Brice entering, announced Dr. Firmin and Mr. Tufton Hunt.
“Hang Mr. Tufton Hunt,” Philip grumbled; but he started up, went forward to his father, and greeted him very respectfully. He then gave a bow to the gentleman introduced as Mr. Hunt, and they found places at the table, the doctor taking his with his usual handsome grace.
The conversation, which had been pretty brisk until Dr. Firmin came, drooped a little after his appearance. “We had an awful row two days ago,” Philip whispered to me. “We shook hands and are reconciled, as you see. He won’t stay long. He will be sent for in half an hour or so. He will say he has been sent for by a duchess, and go and have tea at the club.”
Dr. Firmin bowed, and smiled sadly at me, as Philip was speaking. I daresay I blushed somewhat, and felt as if the doctor knew what his son was saying to me. He presently engaged in conversation with Lord Ascot; he hoped his good father was well?
“You keep him so, doctor. You don’t give a fellow a chance,” says the young lord.
“Pass the bottle, you young men! Hey! We intend to see you all out!” cries Talbot Twysden, on pleasure bent and of the frugal mind.
“Well said, sir,” says the stranger introduced as Mr. Hunt; “and right good wine. Ha, Firmin! I think I know the tap!” and he smacked his lips over the claret. “It’s your twenty-five, and no mistake.”
“The red-nosed individual seems a connoisseur,” whispered Rosebury at my side.
The stranger’s nose, indeed, was somewhat rosy. And to this I may add that his clothes were black, his face pale, and not well shorn, his white neckcloth dingy, and his eyes bloodshot.
“He looks as if he had gone to bed in his clothes, and carries a plentiful flue about his person. Who is your father’s esteemed friend?” continues the wag, in an under voice.
“You heard his name, Rosebury,” says the young barrister, gloomily.
“I should suggest that your father is in difficulties, and attended by an officer of the sheriff of London, or perhaps subject to mental aberration, and placed under the control of a keeper.”
“Leave me alone, do!” groaned Philip. And here Twysden, who was longing for an opportunity to make a speech, bounced up from his chair, and stopped the facetious barrister’s further remarks by his own eloquence. His discourse was in praise of Philip, the
new-made barrister. “What! if no one else will give that toast, your uncle will, and many a heartfelt blessing go with you too, my boy!” cried the little man. He was prodigal of benedictions. He dashed aside the teardrop of emotion. He spoke with perfect fluency, and for a considerable period. He really made a good speech, and was greeted with deserved cheers when at length he sat down.
Phil stammered a few words in reply to his uncle’s voluble compliments; and then Lord Ascot, a young nobleman of much familiar humour, proposed Phil’s father, his health, and song. The physician made a neat speech from behind his ruffled shirt. He was agitated by the tender feelings of a paternal heart, he said, glancing benignly at Phil, who was cracking filberts. To see his son happy; to see him surrounded by such friends; to know him embarked this day in a profession which gave the greatest scope for talents, the noblest reward for industry, was a proud and happy moment to him, Dr. Firmin. What had the poet observed? “Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes” (hear, hear!) “emollit mores," — yes, “emollit mores.” He drank a bumper to the young barrister (he waved his ring, with a thimbleful of wine in his glass). He pledged the young friends whom he saw assembled to cheer his son on his onward path. He thanked them with a father’s heart! He passed his emerald ring across his eyes for a moment, and lifted them to the ceiling, from which quarter he requested a blessing on his boy. As though spirits (of whom, perhaps, you have read in the Cornhill Magazine) approved of his invocation, immense thumps came from above, along with the plaudits which saluted the doctor’s speech from the gentlemen round the table. But the upper thumps were derisory, and came from Mr. Buffers, of the third floor, who chose this method of mocking our harmless little festivities.
I think these cheers from the facetious Buffers, though meant in scorn of our party, served to enliven it and make us laugh. Spite of all the talking, we were dull; and I could not but allow the force of my neighbour’s remark, that we were sate upon and smothered by the old men. One or two of the younger gentlemen chafed at the licence for tobacco-smoking not being yet accorded. But Philip interdicted this amusement as yet.
“Don’t,” he said; “my father don’t like it. He has to see patients to-night; and they can’t bear the smell of tobacco by their bedsides.”
The impatient youths waited with their cigar-cases by their sides. They longed for the withdrawal of the obstacle to their happiness.
“He won’t go, I tell you. He’ll be sent for,” growled Philip to me.
The doctor was engaged in conversation to the right and left of him, and seemed not to think of a move. But, sure enough, at a few minutes after ten o’clock, Dr. Firmin’s footman entered the room with a note, which Firmin opened and read, as Philip looked at me, with a grim humour in his face. I think Phil’s father knew that we knew he was acting. However, he went through the comedy quite gravely.
“A physician’s time is not his own,” he said, shaking his handsome melancholy head. “Good-by, my dear lord! Pray remember me at home! Good-night, Philip, my boy, and good speed to you in your career! Pray, pray don’t move.”
And he is gone, waving the fair hand and the broad-brimmed hat, with the beautiful white lining. Phil conducted him to the door, and heaved a sigh as it closed upon his father — a sigh of relief, I think, that he was gone.
“Exit Governor. What’s the Latin for Governor?” says Lord Ascot, who possessed much native humour, but not very profound scholarship. “A most venerable old parent, Firmin. That hat and appearance would command any sum of money.”
“Excuse me,” lisps Rosebury, “but why didn’t he take his elderly friend with him — the dilapidated clerical gentleman who is drinking claret so freely? And also, why did he not remove your avuncular orator? Mr. Twysden, your interesting young neophyte has provided us with an excellent specimen of the cheerful produce of the Gascon grape.”
“Well, then, now the old gentleman is gone, let us pass the bottle and make a night of it. Hey, my lord?” cries Twysden. “Philip, your claret is good! I say, do you remember some Château Margaux I had, which Winton liked so? It must be good if he praised it, I can tell you. I imported it myself, and gave him the address of the Bordeaux merchant; and he said he had seldom tasted any like it. Those were his very words. I must get you fellows to come and taste it some day.”
“Some day! What day? Name it, generous Amphitryon!” cries Rosebury.
“Some day at seven o’clock. With a plain, quiet dinner — a clear soup, a bit of fish, a couple of little entrées, a and a nice little roast. That’s my kind of dinner. And we’ll taste that claret, young men. It is not a heavy wine. It is not a first-class wine. I don’t mean even to say it is a dear wine, but it has a bouquet and a pureness. What, you will smoke, you fellows?”
“We will do it, Mr. Twysden. Better do as the rest of us do. Try one of these.”
The little man accepts the proffered cigar from the young nobleman’s box, lights it, hems and hawks, and lapses into silence.
“I thought that would do for him,” murmurs the facetious Ascot. “It is strong enough to blow his old head off, and I wish it would. That cigar,” he continues, “was given to my father by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had it out of the Queen of Spain’s own box. She smokes a good deal, but naturally likes ’em mild. I can give you a stronger one.”
“Oh, no. I dare say this is very fine. Thank you!” says poor Talbot.
“Leave him alone, can’t you?” says Philip. “Don’t make a fool of him before the young men, Ascot.”
Philip still looked very dismal in the midst of the festivity. He was thinking of his differences with his absent parent.
We might all have been easily consoled, if the doctor had taken away with him the elderly companion whom he had introduced to Phil’s feast. He could not have been very welcome to our host, for Phil scowled at his guest, and whispered, “Hang Hunt!” to his neighbour.
“Hang Hunt” — the Reverend Tufton Hunt was his name — was in nowise disconcerted by the coolness of his reception. He drank his wine very freely; addressed himself to his neighbours affably; and called out a loud “Hear, hear,” to Twysden, when that gentleman announced his intention of making a night of it. As Mr. Hunt warmed with wine he spoke to the table. He talked a great deal about the Ringwood family, had been very intimate at Wingate, in old days, as he told Mr. Twysden, and an intimate friend of poor Cinqbars, Lord Ringwood’s only son. Now, the memory of the late Lord Cinqbars was not an agreeable recollection to the relatives of the house of Ringwood. He was in life a dissipated and disreputable young lord. His name was seldom mentioned in his family; never by his father, with whom he had had many quarrels.
“You know I introduced Cinqbars to your father, Philip?” calls out the dingy clergyman.
“I have heard you mention the fact,” says Philip.
“They met at a wine in my rooms in Corpus. Brummell Firmin we used to call your father in those days. He was the greatest buck in the university — always a dressy man, kept hunters, gave the best dinners in Cambridge. We were a wild set. There was Cinqbars, Brand Firmin, Beryl, Toplady, about a dozen of us, almost all noblemen or fellow-commoners — fellows who all kept their horses and had their private servants.”
This speech was addressed to the company, who yet did not seem much edified by the college recollections of the dingy elderly man.
“Almost all Trinity men, sir! We dined with each other week about. Many of them had their tandems. Desperate fellow across country your father was. And, but we won’t tell tales out of school, hey?”
“No; please don’t sir,” said Philip, clenching his fists, and biting his lips. The shabby, ill-bred, swaggering man was eating Philip’s salt; Phil’s lordly ideas of hospitality did not allow him to quarrel with the guest under his tent.
“When he went out in medicine, we were all of us astonished. Why, sir, Brand Firmin, at one time, was the greatest swell in the university,” continued Mr. Hunt, “and such a plucky fellow! So was poor Cinqbars, though he had no stamina. He, I, and Firmin, fought for twenty minutes before Caius’ Gate with about twenty bargemen, and you should have seen your father hit out! I was a handy one in those days, too, with my fingers. We learned the noble art of self-defence in my time, young gentlemen! We used to have Glover, the boxer, down from London, who gave us lessons. Cinqbars was a pretty sparrer — but no stamina. Brandy killed him, sir — brandy killed him! Why, this is some of your governor’s wine! He and I have been drinking it to-night in Parr Street, and talking over old times.”
“I am glad, sir, you found the wine to your taste,” says Philip, gravely.
“I did, Philip, my boy! And when your father said he was coming to your wine, I said I’d come to.”
“I wish somebody would fling him out of window,” groaned Philip.
“A most potent, grave, and reverend senior,” whispered Rosebury to me. “I read billards, Boulogne, gambling-houses, in his noble lineaments. Has he long adorned your family circle, Firmin?”
“I found him at home about a month ago, in my father’s ante-room, in the same clothes, with a pair of mangy moustaches on his face; and he has been at our house every day since.”
“Échappé de Toulon,” says Rosebury, blandly, looking towards the stranger. “Cela se voit. Homme parfaitement distingué. You are quite right, sir. I was speaking of you; and asking our friend Philip where it was I had the honour of meeting you abroad last year? This courtesy,” he gently added, “will disarm tigers.”
“I was abroad, sir, last year,” said the other, nodding his head.
“Three to one he was in Boulogne gaol, or perhaps officiating chaplain at a gambling-house. Stop, I have it! Baden Baden, sir?”
“I was there, safe enough,” says the clergyman. “It is a very pretty place; but the air of the Après kills you. Ha! ha! Your father used to shake his elbow when he was a youngster, too, Philip! I can’t help calling you Philip. I’ve known your father these thirty years. We were college chums, you know.”
“Ah! what would I give,” sighs Rosebury, “if that venerable being would but address me by my Christian name! Philip, do something to make your party go. The old gentlemen are throttling it? Sing something, somebody! or let us drown our melancholy in wine. You expressed your approbation of this claret, sir, and claimed a previous acquaintance with it?”
“I’ve drunk two dozen of it in the last month,” says Mr. Hunt, with a grin.
“Two dozen and four, sir,” remarks Mr. Brice, putting a fresh bottle on the table.
“Well said, Brice! I make the Firmin Arms my head-quarters; and honour the landlord with a good deal of my company,” remarks Mr. Hunt.
“The Firmin Arms are honoured by having such supporters!” says Phil, glaring and with a heaving chest. At each moment he was growing more and more angry with that parson.
At a certain stage of conviviality Phil was fond of talking of his pedigree; and, though a professor of very liberal opinions, was not a little proud of some of his ancestors.
“Oh, come, I say! Sink the heraldry!” cries Lord Ascot.
“I am very sorry! I would do anything to oblige you, but I can’t help being a gentleman!” growls Philip.
“Oh, I say! If you intend to come King Richard III. over us — ” breaks out my lord.
“Ascot! your ancestors were sweeping counters when mine stood by King Richard in that righteous fight!” shouts Philip.
That monarch had conferred lands upon the Ringwood family. Richard III. was Philip’s battle-horse; when he trotted it after dinner he was splendid in his chivalry.
“Oh, I say! If you are to saddle White Surrey, fight Bosworth Field, and murder the kids in the Tower!” continues Lord Ascot.
“Serve the little brutes right!” roars Phil. “They were no more heirs of the blood royal of England than — ”
“I daresay! Only I’d rather have a song now the old boy is gone. I say; you fellows; chant something, — do now! Bar all this row about Bosworth Field and Richard the Third! Always does it when he’s beer on board — always does it, give you my honour!” whispers the young nobleman to his neighbour.
“I am a fool! I am a fool!” cries Phil, smacking his forehead. “There are moments when the wrongs of my race will intervene. It’s not your fault, Mr. What-d’ye-call-’em, that you alluded to my arms in a derisive manner. I bear you no malice! Nay, I ask your pardon! Nay! I pledge you in this claret, which is good, though it’s my governor’s. In our house everything isn’t, hum — Bosh! it’s twenty-five claret, sir! Ascot’s father gave him a pipe of it for saving a life which might be better spent; and I believe the apothecary would have pulled you through, Ascot, just as well as my governor. But the wine’s good! Good! Brice, some more claret! A song! Who spoke of a song? Warble us something, Tom Dale! A song, a song, a song!”
Whereupon the exquisite ditty of “Moonlight on the Tiles” was given by Tom Dale with all his accustomed humour. Then politeness demanded that our host should sing one of his songs, and as I have heard him perform it many times, I have the privilege of here reprinting it: premising that the tune and chorus were taken from a German song-book, which used to delight us melodious youth in bygone days. Philip accordingly lifted up his great voice and sang:—
“For the souls’ edification Of this decent congregation, Worthy people! by your grant, I will sing a holy chant, I will sing a holy chant. If the ditty sound but oddly, ’Twas a father, wise and godly, Sang it so long ago. Then sing as Doctor Luther sang, As Doctor Luther sang, Who loves not wine, woman, and song, He is a fool his whole life long.
“He, by custom patriarchal, Loved to see the beaker sparkle, And he thought the wine improved, Tasted by the wife he loved, By the kindly lips he loved. Friends! I wish this custom pious Duly were adopted by us, To combine love, song, wine; And sing as Doctor Luther sang, As Doctor Luther sang, Who loves not wine, woman, and song, He is a fool his whole life long.
“Who refuses this our credo, And demurs to drink as we do, Were he holy as John Knox, I’d pronounce him heterodox, I’d pronounce him heterodox. And from out this congregation, With a solemn commination, Banish quick the heretic, Who would not sing as Luther sang, As Doctor Luther sang, Who loves not wine, woman, and song, He is a fool his whole life long.” The reader’s humble servant was older than most of the party assembled at this symposium; but as I listened to the noise, the fresh laughter, the songs remembered out of old university days, the talk and cant phrases of the old school of which most of us had been disciples, dear me, I felt quite young again, and when certain knocks came to the door about midnight, enjoyed quite a refreshing pang of anxious interest for a moment, deeming the proctors were rapping, having heard our shouts in the court below. The late comer, however, was only a tavern waiter, bearing a supper-tray; and we were free to speechify, shout, quarrel, and be as young as we liked, with nobody to find fault, except, perchance, the bencher below, who, I daresay, was kept awake with our noise.
When that supper arrived, poor Talbot Twysden, who had come so far to enjoy it, was not in a state to partake of it. Lord Ascot’s cigar had proved too much for him; and the worthy gentleman had been lying on a sofa, in a neighbouring room, for some time past in a state of hopeless collapse. He had told us, whilst yet capable of speech, what a love and regard he had for Philip; but between him and Philip’s father there was but little love. They had had that worst and most irremediable of quarrels, a difference about twopence half-penny in the division of the property of their late father-in-law. Firmin still thought Twysden a shabby curmudgeon; and Twysden considered Firmin an unprincipled man. When Mrs. Firmin was alive, the two poor sisters had had to regulate their affections by the marital orders, and to be warm, cool, moderate, freezing, according to their husbands’ state for the time being. I wonder are there many real reconciliations? Dear Tomkins and I are reconciled, I know. We have met and dined at Jones’s . And ah! how fond we are of each other! Oh, very! So with Firmin and Twysden. They met, and shook hands with perfect animosity. So did Twysden junior and Firmin junior. Young Twysden was the elder, and thrashed and bullied Phil as a boy, until the latter arose and pitched his cousin downstairs. Mentally, they were always kicking each other downstairs. Well, poor Talbot could not partake of the supper when it came, and lay in a piteous state on the neighbouring sofa of the absent Mr. Vanjohn.
Who would go home with him, where his wife must be anxious about him? I agreed to convoy him, and the parson said he was going our way, and would accompany us. We supported this senior through the Temple, and put him on the front seat of a cab. The cigar had disgracefully overcome him; and any lecturer on the evils of smoking might have pointed his moral on the helpless person of this wretched gentleman.
The evening’s feasting had only imparted animation to Mr. Hunt, and occasioned an agreeable abandon in his talk. I had seen the man before in Dr. Firmin’s house, and own that his society was almost as odious to me as to doctor’s son Philip. On all subjects and persons, Phil was accustomed to speak his mind out a great deal too openly; and Mr. Hunt had been an object of special dislike to him ever since he had known Hunt. I tried to make the best of the matter. Few men of kindly feeling and good station are without a dependent or two. Men start together in the race of life; and Jack wins, and Tom falls by his side. The successful man succours and reaches a friendly hand to the unfortunate competitor. Remembrance of early times gives the latter a sort of right to call on his luckier comrade; and a man finds himself pitying, then enduring, then embracing a companion for whom, in old days, perhaps, he never had had any regard or esteem. A prosperous man ought to have followers: if he has none, he has a hard heart.
This philosophizing was all very well. It was good for a man not to desert the friends of his boyhood. But to live with such a cad as that — with that creature, low, servile, swaggering, besotted — How could his father, who had fine tastes, and loved grand company, put up with such a fellow? asked Phil. “I don’t know when the man is the more odious, when he is familiar or when he is respectful; when he is paying compliments to my father’s guests in Parr Street, or telling hideous old stale stories, as he did at my call-supper.”
The wine of which Mr. Hunt freely partook on that occasion made him, as I have said, communicative. “Not a bad fellow, our host,” he remarked, on his part, when we came away together. “Bumptious, goodlooking, speaks his mind, hates me, and I don’t care. He must be well to do in the world, Master Philip.”
I said I hoped and thought so.
“Brummell Firmin must make four or five thousand a year. He was a wild fellow in my time, I can tell you — in the days of the wild Prince and Poyns — stuck at nothing, spent his own money, ruined himself, fell on his legs somehow, and married a fortune. Some of us have not been so lucky. I had nobody to pay my debts. I missed my Fellowship by idling and dissipating with those confounded hats and silver-laced gowns. I liked good company in those days — always did when I could get it. If you were to write my adventures, now, you would have to tell some queer stories. I’ve been everywhere; I’ve seen high and low — ‘specially low. I’ve tried schoolmastering, bear-leading, newspapering, America, West Indies. I’ve been in every city in Europe. I haven’t been as lucky as Brummell Firmin. He rolls in his coach, he does, and I walk in my highlows. Guineas drop into his palm every day, and are uncommonly scarce in mine, I can tell you; and poor old Tufton Hunt is not much better off at fifty odd than he was when he was an undergraduate at eighteen. How do you do, old gentleman? Air do you good? Here we are at Beaunash Street; hope you’ve got the key, and missis won’t see you.” A large butler, too well bred to express astonishment at any event which occurred out of doors, opened Mr. Twysden’s and let in that lamentable gentleman. He was very pale and solemn. He gasped out a few words, intimating his intention to fix a day to ask us to come and dine soon, and taste that wine that Winton liked so. He waved an unsteady hand to us. If Mrs. Twysden was on the stairs to see the condition of her lord, I hope she took possession of the candle. Hunt grumbled as we came out: “He might have offered us some refreshment after bringing him all that way home. It’s only half-past one. There’s no good in going to bed so soon as that. Let us go and have a drink somewhere. I know a very good crib close by. No, you wont? I say” (here he burst into a laugh which startled the sleeping street), “I know what you’ve been thinking all the time in the cab. You are a swell, — you are, too! You have been thinking, ‘This dreary old parson will try and borrow money from me.’ But I won’t, my boy. I’ve got a banker. Look here! Fee, faw, fum. You understand. I can get the sovereigns out of my medical swell in Old Parr Street. I prescribe bleeding for him — I drew him to-night. He is a very kind fellow, Brummell Firmin is. He can’t deny such a dear old friend anything. Bless him!” And as he turned away to some midnight haunt of his own, he tossed up his hand in the air. I heard him laughing through the silent street, and policeman X, tramping on his beat, turned round and suspiciously eyed him.
Then I thought of Dr. Firmin’s dark, melancholy face and eyes. Was a benevolent remembrance of old times the bond of union between these men? All my house had long been asleep, when I opened and gently closed my house door. By the twinkling night-lamp I could dimly see child and mother softly breathing. Oh, blessed they on whose pillow no remorse sits! Happy you who have escaped temptation!
I may have been encouraged in my suspicions of the dingy clergyman by Philip’s own surmises regarding him, which were expressed with the speaker’s usual candour. “The fellow calls for what he likes at the Firmin Arms,” said poor Phil; “and when my father’s bigwigs assemble, I hope the reverend gentleman dines with them. I should like to see him hobnobbing with old Bumpsher, or slapping the bishop on the back. He lives in Sligo Street, round the corner, so as to be close to our house and yet preserve his own elegant independence. Otherwise, I wonder he has not installed himself in Old Parr Street, where my poor mother’s bedroom is vacant. The doctor does not care to use that room. I remember now how silent they were when together, and how terrified she always seemed before him. What has he done? I know of one affair in his early life. Does this Hunt know of any more. They have been accomplices in some conspiracy, sir; I daresay with that young Cinqbars, of whom Hunt is for ever bragging: the worthy son of the worthy Ringwood. I say, does wickedness run in the blood? My grandfathers, I have heard, were honest men. Perhaps they were only not found out; and the family taint will show in me some day. There are times when I feel the devil so strong within me, that I think some day he must have the mastery. I’m not quite bad yet: but I tremble lest I should go. Suppose I were to drown, and go down? It’s not a jolly thing, Pendennis, to have such a father as mine. Don’t humbug me with your charitable palliations and soothing surmises. You put me in mind of the world then, by Jove, you do! I laugh, and I drink, and I make merry, and sing, and smoke endless tobacco; and I tell you I always feel as if a little sword was dangling over my skull which will fall some day and split it. Old Parr Street is mined, sir, — mined! And some morning we shall be blown into blazes — into blazes, sir; mark my words! That’s why I’m so careless and so idle, for which you fellows are always bothering and scolding me. There’s no use in settling down until the explosion is over, don’t you see? Incedo per ignes suppositos, and, by George! sir, I feel my bootsoles already scorching. Poor thing! poor mother” (he apostrophized his mother’s picture which hung in the room where we were talking,)“were you aware of the secret, and was it the knowledge of that which made your poor eyes always look so frightened! She was always fond of you, Pen. Do you remember how pretty and graceful she used to look as she lay on her sofa upstairs, or smiled out of her carriage as she kissed her hand to us boys? I say, what if a woman marries, and is coaxed and wheedled by a soft tongue, and runs off, and afterwards finds her husband has a cloven foot?”
“What is to be the lot of the son of such a man? Is my hoof cloven, too?” It was on the stove, as he talked, extended in American fashion. “Suppose there’s no escape for me, and I inherit my doom, as another man does gout or consumption? Knowing this fate, what is the use, then, of doing anything in particular? I tell you, sir, the whole edifice of our present life will crumble in and smash.” (Here he flings his pipe to the ground with an awful shatter.) “And until the catastrophe comes, what on earth is the use of setting to work, as you call it? You might as well have told a fellow, at Pompeii, to select a profession the day before the eruption.”
“If you know that Vesuvius is going to burst over Pompeii,” I said, somewhat alarmed, “why not go to Naples, or farther, if you will?”
“Were there not men in the sentry-boxes at the city gates,” asked Philip, “who might have run, and yet remained to be burned there? Suppose, after all, the doom isn’t hanging over us, — and the fear of it is only a nervous terror of mine? Suppose it comes, and I survive it? The risk of the game gives a zest to it, old boy. Besides, there is Honour: and some One Else is in the case, from whom a man could not part in an hour of danger.” And here he blushed a fine red, heaved a great sigh, and emptied a bumper of claret.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00