Never, General Baynes afterwards declared, did fever come and go so pleasantly as that attack to which we have seen Mrs. General advert in her letter to her sister, Mrs. Major MacWhirter. The cold fit was merely a lively, pleasant chatter and rattle of the teeth; the hot fit an agreeable warmth; and though the ensuing sleep, with which I believe such aguish attacks are usually concluded, was enlivened by several dreams of death, demons, and torture, how felicitous it was to wake and find that dreadful thought of ruin removed which had always, for the last few months, ever since Dr. Firmin’s flight and the knowledge of his own imprudence, pursued the good-natured gentleman! What, this boy might go to college, and that get his commission; and their meals need be embittered by no more dreadful thoughts of the morrow, and their walks no longer were dogged by imaginary baliffs, or presented a gaol in the vista? It was too much bliss; and again and again the old soldier said his thankful prayers, and blessed his benefactor.
Philip thought no more of his act of kindness, except to be very grateful, and very happy that he had rendered other people so. He could no more have taken the old man’s all, and plunged that innocent family into poverty, than he could have stolen the forks off my table. But other folks were disposed to rate his virtue much more highly; and amongst these was my wife, who chose positively to worship this young gentleman, and I believe would have let him smoke in her drawing-room if he had been so minded, and though her genteelest acquaintances were in the room. Goodness knows what a noise and what piteous looks are produced if ever the master of the house chooses to indulge in a cigar after dinner; but then, you understand, I have never declined to claim mine and my children’s right because an old gentleman would be inconvenienced: and this is what I tell Mrs. Pen. If I order a coat from my tailor, must I refuse to pay him because a rogue steals it, and ought I to expect to be let off? Women won’t see matters of fact in a matter-of-fact point of view; and justice, unless it is tinged with a little romance, gets no respect from them.
So, forsooth, because Philip has performed this certainly most generous, most dashing, most reckless piece of extravagance, he is to be held up as a perfect preux chevalier. The most riotous dinners are ordered for him. We are to wait until he comes to breakfast, and he is pretty nearly always late. The children are to be sent round to kiss uncle Philip, as he is now called. The children? I wonder the mother did not jump up and kiss him too. Elle en était capable. As for the osculations which took place between Mrs. Pendennis and her new-found young friend, Miss Charlotte Baynes, they were perfectly ridiculous; two school children could not have behaved more absurdly; and I don’t know which seemed to be the younger of these two. There were colloquies, assignations, meetings on the ramparts, on the pier, where know I? — and the servants and little children of the two establishments were perpetually trotting to and fro with letters from dearest Laura to dearest Charlotte, and dearest Charlotte to her dearest Mrs. Pendennis. Why, my wife absolutely went the length of saying that dearest Charlotte’s mother, Mrs. Baynes, was a worthy, clever woman, and a good mother — a woman whose tongue never ceased clacking about the regiment, and all the officers and all the officers’ wives, of whom, by the way, she had very little good to tell.
“A worthy mother, is she, my dear?” I say. “But, oh, mercy! Mrs. Baynes would be an awful mother in-law!”
I shuddered at the thought of having such a commonplace, hard, ill-bred woman in a state of quasi authority over me.
On this Mrs. Laura must break out in quite a petulant tone — “Oh, how stale this kind of thing is Arthur, from a man qui veut passer pour un homme d’esprit! You are always attacking mothers-in-law!”
“Witness Mrs. Mackenzie, my love — Clive Newcome’s mother-in-law. That’s a nice creature; not selfish, not wicked, not — ”
“Not nonsense, Arthur!”
“Mrs. Baynes knew Mrs. Mackenzie in the West Indies, as she knew all the female army. She considers Mrs. Mackenzie was a most elegant, handsome, dashing woman — only a little too fond of the admiration of our sex. There was, I own, a fascination about Captain Goby. Do you remember, my love, that man with the stays and dyed hair, who — ”
“Oh, Arthur! When our girls marry, I suppose you will teach their husbands to abuse, and scorn, and mistrust their mother-in-law. Will he, my darlings? will he, my blessings?” (This apart to the children, if you please.) “Go! I have no patience with such talk!”
“Well, my love, Mrs. Baynes is a most agreeable woman; and when I have heard that story about the Highlanders at the Cape of Good Hope a few times more” (I do not tell it here, for it has nothing to do with the present history), “I daresay I shall begin to be amused by it.”
“Ah! here comes Charlotte, I’m glad to say. How pretty she is! What a colour! What a dear creature!”
To all which, of course, I could not say a contradictory word, for a prettier, fresher lass than Miss Baynes, with a sweeter voice, face, laughter, it was difficult to see.
“Why does mamma like Charlotte better than she likes us?” says our dear and justly indignant eldest girl. “I could not love her better if I were her mother-in-law,” says Laura, running to her young friend, casting a glance at me over her shoulder; and that kissing nonsense begins between the two young ladies. To be sure, the girl looks uncommonly bright and pretty with her pink cheeks, her bright eyes, her slim form, and that charming white India shawl which her father brought home for her.
To this osculatory party enters presently Mr. Philip Firmin, who has been dawdling about the ramparts ever since breakfast. He says he has been reading law there. He has found a jolly quiet place to read. Law, has he? And much good may it do him! Why has he not gone back to his law, and his reviewing?
“You must — you must stay on a little longer. You have only been here five days. Do, Charlotte, ask Philip to stay a little.”
All the children sing in a chorus, “Oh, do, uncle Philip, stay a little longer!” Miss Baynes says, “I hope you will stay, Mr. Firmin,” and looks at him.
“Five days has he been here? Five years. Five lives. Five hundred years. What do you mean? In that little time of — let me see, a hundred and twenty hours, and at least a half of them for sleep and dinner (for Philip’s appetite was very fine) — do you mean that in that little time his heart, cruelly stabbed by a previous monster in female shape, has healed, got quite well, and actually begun to be wounded again? Have two walks on the pier, as many visits to the Tintelleries (where he hears the story of the Highlanders at the Cape of Good Hope with respectful interest), a word or two about the weather, a look or two, a squeezekin, perhaps, of a little handykin — I say, do you mean that this absurd young idiot, and that little round-faced girl, pretty, certainly, but only just out of the school-room — do you mean to say that they have — Upon my word, Laura, this is too bad. Why, Philip has not a penny-piece in the world.”
“Yes, he has two hundred pounds, and expects to sell his mare for ninety at least. He has excellent talents. He can easily write three articles a week in the Pall Mall Gazette. I am sure no one writes so well, and it is much better done and more amusing than it used to be. That is three hundred a year. Lord Ringwood must be applied to, and must and shall get him something. Don’t you know that Captain Baynes stood by Colonel Ringwood’s side at Busaco, and that they were the closest friends? And pray, how did we get on, I should like to know? How did we get on, baby?”
“How did we det on?” says the baby.
“Oh, woman! woman!” yells the father of the family. “Why, Philip Firmin has all the habits of a rich man with the pay of a mechanic. Do you suppose he ever sate in a second-class carriage in his life, or denied himself any pleasure to which he had a mind? He gave five francs to a beggar girl yesterday.”
“He had always a noble heart,” says my wife. “He gave a fortune to a whole family a week ago; and” (out comes the pocket-handkerchief — oh, of course, the pocket-handkerchief) — “and — ‘God loves a cheerful giver!’”
“He is careless; he is extravagant; he is lazy; — I do not know that he is remarkably clever — ”
“Oh, yes! he is your friend, of course. Now, abuse him — do, Arthur!”
“And, pray, when did you become acquainted with this astounding piece of news?” I inquire.
“When? From the very first moment when I saw Charlotte looking at him, to be sure. The poor child said to me only yesterday, ‘Oh, Laura! he is our preserver!’ And their preserver he has been, under heaven.”
“Yes. But he has not got a five-pound note!” I cry.
“Arthur, I am surprised at you. Oh, men, men are awfully worldly! Do you suppose heaven will not send him help at its good time, and be kind to him who has rescued so many from ruin? Do you suppose the prayers, the blessings of that father, of those little ones, of that dear child, will not avail him? Suppose he has to wait a year, ten years, have they not time, and will not the good day come?”
Yes. This was actually the talk of a woman of sense and discernment when her prejudices and romance were not in the way, and she looked forward to the marriage of these folks, some ten years hence, as confidently as if they were both rich, and going to St. George’s tomorrow.
As for making a romantic story of it, or spinning out love conversation between Jenny and Jessamy, or describing moonlight raptures and passionate outpourings of two young hearts and so forth — excuse me, s’il vous plait. I am a man of the world, and of a certain age. Let the young people fill in this outline, and colour it as they please. Let the old folks who read, lay down the book a minute, and remember. It is well remembered, isn’t it, that time? Yes, good John Anderson, and Mrs. John. Yes, good Darby and Joan. The lips won’t tell now what they did once. To-day is for the happy, and to-morrow for the young, and yesterday, is not that dear and here too?
I was in the company of an elderly gentleman, not very long since, who was perfectly sober, who is not particularly handsome, or healthy, or wealthy, or witty; and who, speaking of his past life, volunteered to declare that he would gladly live every minute of it over again. Is a man, who can say that, a hardened sinner, not aware how miserable he ought to be by rights, and therefore really in a most desperate and deplorable condition; or is he fortunatus nimium, and ought his statue to be put up in the most splendid and crowded thoroughfare of the town? Would you, who are reading this, for example, like to live your life over again? What has been its chief joy? What are to-day’s pleasures? Are they so exquisite that you would prolong them for ever? Would you like to have the roast beef on which you have dined brought back again to table, and have more beef, and more, and more? Would you like to hear yesterday’s sermon over and over again — eternally voluble? Would you like to get on the Edinburgh mail, and travel outside for fifty hours as you did in your youth? You might as well say you would like to go into the flogging-room, and take a turn under the rods: you would like to be thrashed over again by your bully at school: you would like to go to the dentist’s, where your dear parents were in the habit of taking you: you would like to be taking hot Epsom salts, with a piece of dry bread to take away the taste: you would like to be jilted by your first love: you would like to be going in to your father to tell him you had contracted debts to the amount of x + y + z, whilst you were at the university. As I consider the passionate griefs of childhood, the weariness and sameness of shaving, the agony of corns, and the thousand other ills to which flesh is heir, I cheerfully say for one, I am not anxious to wear it for ever. No. I do not want to go to school again. I do not want to hear Trotman’s sermon over again. Take me out and finish me. Give me the cup of hemlock at once. Here’s a health to you, my lads. Don’t weep, my Simmias. Be cheerful, my Phædon. Ha! I feel the co-o-ld stealing, stealing upwards. Now it is in my ancles — no more gout in my foot: now my knees are numb. What, is — is that poor executioner crying too? Good-by. Sacrifice a cock to Æscu — to Æscula — . . . Have you ever read the chapter in Grote’s History? Ah? When the Sacred Ship returns from Delos, and is telegraphed as entering into port, may we be at peace and ready!
What is this funeral chant, when the pipes should be playing gaily, as Love, and Youth, and Spring, and Joy are dancing under the windows? Look you. Men not so wise as Socrates have their demons, who will be heard and whisper in the queerest times and places. Perhaps I shall have to tell of a funeral presently, and shall be outrageously cheerful; or of an execution, and shall split my sides with laughing. Arrived at my time of life, when I see a penniles young friend falling in love and thinking of course of committing matrimony, what can I do but be melancholy? How is a man to marry who has not enough to keep ever so miniature a brougham — ever so small a house — not enough to keep himself, let alone a wife and family? Gracious powers! is it not blasphemy to marry without fifteen hundred a year? Poverty, debt, protested bills, duns, crime, fall assuredly on the wretch who has not fifteen — say at once two thousand a year; for you can’t live decently in London for less. And a wife whom you have met a score of times at balls or breakfasts, and with her best dresses and behaviour at a country house; — how do you know how she will turn out; what her temper is; what her relations are likely to be? Suppose she has poor relations, or loud coarse brothers who are always dropping in to dinner? What is her mother like; and can you bear to have that woman meddling and domineering over your establishment? Old General Baynes was very well; a weak, quiet, and presentable old man: but Mrs. General Baynes, and that awful Mrs. Major MacWhirter, — and those hobbledehoys of boys in creaking shoes, hectoring about the premises? As a man of the world I saw all these dreadful liabilities impending over the husband of Miss Charlotte Baynes, and could not view them without horror. Gracefully and slightly, but wittily and in my sarcastic way, I thought it my duty to show up the oddities of the Baynes family to Philip. I mimicked the boys, and their clumping blucher-boots. I touched off the dreadful military ladies, very smartly and cleverly as I thought, and as if I never supposed that Philip had any idea of Miss Baynes. To do him justice, he laughed once or twice; then he grew very red. His sense of humour is very limited; that even Laura allows. Then he came out with strong expressions, and said it was a confounded shame, and strode off with his cigar. And when I remarked to my wife how susceptible he was in some things, and how little in the matter of joking, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Philip not only understood perfectly well what I said, but would tell it all to Mrs. General and Mrs. Major on the first opportunity.” And this was the fact, as Mrs. Baynes took care to tell me afterwards. She was aware who was her enemy. She was aware who spoke ill of her, and her blessed darling behind our backs. And “do you think it was to see you or any one belonging to your stuck-up house, sir, that we came to you so often, which we certainly did, day and night, breakfast and supper, and no thanks to you? No, sir! ha, ha!” I can see her flaunting out of my sitting-room as she speaks, with a strident laugh, and snapping her dingily-gloved fingers at the door. Oh, Philip, Philip! To think that you were such a coward as to go and tell her! But I pardon him. From my heart I pity and pardon him.
For the step which he is meditating, you may be sure that the young man himself does not feel the smallest need of pardon or pity. He is in a state of happiness so crazy that it is useless to reason with him. Not being at all of a poetical turn originally, the wretch is actually perpetrating verse in secret, and my servants found fragments of his manuscript on the dressing-table in his bedroom. Heart and art, sever and for ever, and so on; what stale rhymes are these? I do not feel at liberty to give in entire the poem which our maid found in Mr. Philip’s room, and brought sniggering to my wife, who only said, “Poor thing!” The fact is, it was too pitiable. Such maundering rubbish! Such stale rhymes, and such old thoughts! But then, says Laura, “I daresay all people’s love-making is not amusing to their neighbours; and I know who wrote not very wise love-verses when he was young.” No, I won’t publish Philip’s verses, until some day he shall mortally offend me. I can recal some of my own written under similar circumstances with twinges of shame; and shall drop a veil of decent friendship over my friend’s folly.
Under that veil, meanwhile, the young man is perfectly contented, nay, uproariously happy. All earth and nature smile round about him. “When Jove meets his Juno, in Homer, sir,” says Philip, in his hectoring way, “don’t immortal flowers of beauty spring up around them, and rainbows of celestial hues bend over their heads? Love, sir, flings a halo round the loved one. Where she moves, rise roses, hyacinths, and ambrosial odours. Don’t talk to me about poverty, sir! He either fears his fate too much or his desert is small, who dares not put it to the touch and win or lose it all! Haven’t I endured poverty? Am I not as poor now as a man can be — and what is there in it? Do I want for anything? Haven’t I got a guinea in my pocket? Do I owe any man anything? Isn’t there manna in the wilderness for those who have faith to walk in it? That’s where you fail, Pen. By all that is sacred, you have no faith; your heart is cowardly, sir; and if you are to escape, as perhaps you may, I suspect it is by your wife that you will be saved. Laura has a trust in heaven, but Arthur’s morals are a genteel atheism. Just reach me that claret — the wine’s not bad. I say your morals are a genteel atheism, and I shudder when I think of your condition. Talk to me about a brougham being necessary for the comfort of a woman! A broomstick to ride to the moon! And I don’t say that a brougham is not a comfort, mind you; but that, when it is a necessity, mark you, heaven will provide it! Why, sir, hang it, look at me! Ain’t I suffering in the most abject poverty? I ask you is there a man in London so poor as I am? And since my father’s ruin do I want for anything? I want for shelter for a day or two. Good. There’s my dear Little Sister ready to give it to me. I want for money. Does not that sainted widow’s cruse pour its oil out for me? Heaven bless and reward her. Boo!” (Here, for reasons which need not be named, the orator squeezes his fists into his eyes.) “I want shelter; ain’t I in good quarters? I want work; haven’t I got work, and did you not get it for me? You should just see, sir, how I polished off that book of travels this morning. I read some of the article to Char — to Miss — to some friends, in fact. I don’t mean to say that they are very intellectual people, but your common humdrum average audience is the public to try. Recollect Molière and his housekeeper, you know.”
“By the housekeeper, do you mean Mrs. Baynes?” I ask, in my amontillado manner. (By the way, who ever heard of amontillado in the early days of which I write?) “In manner she would do, and I daresay in accomplishments; but I doubt her temper.”
“You’re almost as wordly as the Twysdens, by George, you are! Unless persons are of a certain monde, you don’t value them. A little adversity would do you good, Pen; and I heartily wish you might get it, except for the dear wife and children. You measure your morality by May Fair standards; and if an angel unawares came to you in pattens and a cotton umbrella, you would turn away from her. You would never have found out the Little Sister. A duchess — God bless her! A creature of an imperial generosity, and delicacy, and intrepidity, and the finest sense of humour, but she drops her h’s often, and how could you pardon such a crime? Sir, you are my better in wit and a dexterous application of your powers; but I think, sir,” says Phil, curling the flaming mustachios, “I am your superior in a certain magnanimity; though, by Jove! old fellow, man and boy, you have always been one of the best fellows in the world to P. F.; one of the best fellows, and the most generous, and the most cordial, — that you have: only you do rile me when you sing in that confounded May Fair twang.”
Here one of the children summoned us to tea — and “Papa was laughing, and uncle Philip was flinging his hands about and pulling his beard off,” said the little messenger.
“I shall keep a fine lock of it for you, Nelly, my dear,” says uncle Philip. On which the child said, “Oh, no! I know to whom you’ll give it, don’t I, mamma?” and she goes up to her mamma, and whispers.
Miss Nelly knows? At what age do those little match-makers begin to know, and how soon do they practise the use of their young eyes, their little smiles, wiles, and ogles? This young woman, I believe, coquetted whilst she was yet a baby in arms, over her nurse’s shoulder. Before she could speak, she could be pround of her new vermilion shoes, and would point out the charms of her blue sash. She was jealous in the nursery, and her little heart had beat for years and years before she left off pinafores.
For whom will Philip keep a lock of that red, red gold which curls round his face? Can you guess? Of what colour is the hair in that little locket which the gentleman himself occultly wears? A few months ago, I believe, a pale, straw-coloured wisp of hair occupied that place of honour; now it is a chestnut-brown, as far as I can see, of precisely the same colour as that which waves round Charlott Baynes’ pretty face, and tumbles in clusters on her neck, very nearly the colour of Mrs. Paynter’s this last season. So, you see, we chop and we change: straw gives place to chestnut, and chestnut is succeeded by ebony; and, for our own parts, we defy time; and if you want a lock of my hair, Belinda, take this pair of scissors, and look in that cupboard, in the bandbox marked No. 3, and cut off a thick glossy piece, darling, and wear it, dear, and my blessings go with thee! What is this? Am I sneering because Corydon and Phyllis are wooing and happy? You see I pledged myself not to have any sentimental nonsense. To describe love-making is immoral and immodest; you know it is. To describe it as it really is, or would appear to you and me as lookers-on, would be to describe the most dreary farce, to chronicle the most tautological twaddle. To take a note of sighs, hand-squeezes, looks at the moon, and so forth — does this business become our dignity as historians? Come away from those foolish young people — they don’t want us; and dreary as their farce is, and tautological as their twaddle, you may be sure it amuses them, and that they are happy enough without us. Happy? Is there any happiness like it, pray? Was it not rapture to watch the messenger, to seize the note, and fee the bearer? — to retire out of sight of all prying eyes and read:— “Dearest! Mamma’s cold is better this morning. The Joneses came to tea, and Julia sang. I did not enjoy it, as my dear was at his horrid dinner, where I hope he amused himself. Send me a word by Buttles, who brings this, if only to say you are your Louisa’s own, own,” That used to be the kind of thing. In such coy lines artless Innocence used to whisper its little vows. So she used to smile; so she used to warble; so she used to prattle. Young people, at present engaged in the pretty sport, be assured your middle-aged parents have played the game, and remember the rules of it. Yes, under papa’s bow-window of a waistcoat is a heart which took very violent exercise when that waist was slim. Now he sits tranquilly in his tent, and watches the lads going in for their innings. Why, look at grandmamma in her spectacles reading that sermon. In her old heart there is a corner as romantic still as when she used to read the Wild Irish Girl or the Scottish Chiefs in the days of her misshood. And as for your grandfather, my dears, to see him now you would little suppose that that calm, polished, dear old gentleman was once as wild — as wild as Orson. . . . Under my windows, as I write, there passes an itinerant flower-merchant. He has his roses and geraniums on a cart drawn by a quadruped — a little long-eared quadruped, which lifts up its voice, and sings after its manner. When I was young, donkeys used to bray precisely in the same way; and others will heehaw so, when we are silent and our ears hear no more.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00