Who was the first to spread the report that Philip was a prodigal, and had ruined his poor confiding father? I thought I knew a person who might be interested in getting under any shelter, and sacrificing even his own son for his own advantage. I thought I knew a man who had done as much already, and surely might do so again; but my wife flew into one of her tempests of indignation, when I hinted something of this, clutched her own children to her heart, according to her maternal wont, asked me was there any power would cause me to belie them? and sternly rebuked me for daring to be so wicked, heartless, and cynical. My dear creature, wrath is no answer. You call me heartless and cynic, for saying men are false and wicked. Have you never heard to what lengths some bankrupts will go? To appease the wolves who chase them in the winter forest, have you not read how some travellers will cast all their provisions out of the sledge? then, when all the provisions are gone, don’t you know that they will fling out perhaps the sister, perhaps the mother, perhaps the baby, the little, dear, tender innocent? Don’t you see him tumbling among the howling pack, and the wolves gnashing, gnawing, crashing, gobbling him up in the snow? Oh, horror — horror! My wife draws all the young ones to her breast as I utter these fiendish remarks. She hugs them in her embrace, and says, “For shame!” and that I am a monster, and so on. Go to! Go down on your knees, woman, and acknowledge the sinfulness of our humankind. How long had our race existed ere murder and violence began? and how old was the world ere brother slew brother?
Well, my wife and I came to a compromise. I might have my opinion, but was there any need to communicate it to poor Philip? No, surely. So I never sent him the extract from the New York Emerald; though, of course, some other good-natured friend did, and I don’t think my magnanimous friend cared much. As for supposing that his own father, to cover his own character, would lie away his son’s — such a piece of artifice was quite beyond Philip’s comprehension, who has been all his life slow in appreciating roguery, or recognizing that there is meanness and double-dealing in the world. When he once comes to understand the fact; when he once comprehends that Tartuffe is a humbug and swelling Bufo is a toady; then my friend becomes as absurdly indignant and mistrustful as before he was admiring and confiding. Ah, Philip! Tartuffe has a number of good, respectable qualities; and Bufo, though an underground odious animal, may have a precious jewel in his head. ’Tis you are cynical. I see the good qualities in these rascals whom you spurn. I see. I shrug my shoulders. I smile: and you call me cynic. It was long before Philip could comprehend why Charlotte’s mother turned upon him, and tried to force her daughter to forsake him. “I have offended the old woman in a hundred ways,” he would say. “My tobacco annoys her; my old clothes offend her; the very English I speak is often Greek to her, and she can no more construe my sentences than I can the Hindostanee jargon she talks to her husband at dinner.” “My dear fellow, if you had ten thousand a year she would try and construe your sentences, or accept them even if not understood,” I would reply. And some men, whom you and I know to be mean, and to be false, and to be flatterers and parasites, and to be inexorably hard and cruel in their own private circles, will surely pull a long face to-morrow, and say, “Oh! the man’s so cynical!”
I acquit Baynes of what ensued. I hold Mrs. B. to have been the criminal — the stupid criminal. The husband, like many other men extremely brave in active life, was at home timid and irresolute. Of two heads that lie side by side on the same pillow for thirty years, one must contain the stronger power, the more enduring resolution. Baynes, away from his wife, was shrewd, courageous, gay at times; when with her he was fascinated, torpid under the power of this baleful superior creature. “Ah, when we were subs together in camp in 1803, what a lively fellow Charley Baynes was!” his comrade, Colonel Bunch, would say. “That was before he ever saw his wife’s yellow face; and what a slave she has made of him!”
After that fatal conversation which ensued after the ball, Philip did not come to dinner at madame’s according to his custom. Mrs. Baynes told no family stories, and Colonel Bunch, who had no special liking for the young gentleman, did not trouble himself to make any inquiries about him. One, two, three days passed, and no Philip. At last the colonel says to the general, with a sly look at Charlotte, “Baynes, where is our young friend with the mustachios? We have not seen him these three days.” And he gives an arch look at poor Charlotte. A burning blush flamed up in little Charlotte’s pale face, as she looked at her parents and then at their old friend. “Mr. Firmin does not come, because papa and mamma have forbidden him,” says Charlotte. “I suppose he only comes where he is welcome.” And, having made this audacious speech, I suppose the little maid tossed her little head up; and wondered, in the silence which ensued, whether all the company could hear her heart thumping.
Madame, from her central place, where she is carving, sees, from the looks of her guests, the indignant flushes on Charlotte’s face, the confusion on her father’s, the wrath on Mrs. Baynes’s, that some dreadful words are passing; and in vain endeavours to turn the angry current of talk. “Un petit canard dèlicieux, goûtez-en, madame!” she cries. Honest Colonel Bunch sees the little maid with eyes flashing with anger, and trembling in every limb. The offered duck having failed to create a diversion, he, too, tries a feeble commonplace. “A little difference, my dear,” he says in an under voice. “There will be such in the best regulated families. Canard sauvage tres bong, madame, avec — ” but he is allowed to speak no more, for —
“What would you do, Colonel Bunch,” little Charlotte breaks out with her poor little ringing, trembling voice — “that is, if you were a young man, if another young man struck you, and insulted you?” I say she utters this in such a clear voice, that Françoise, the femme-de-chambre, that Auguste, the footman, that all the guests hear, that all the knives and forks stop their clatter.
“Faith, my dear, I’d knock him down, if I could,” says Bunch; and he catches hold of the little maid’s sleeve, and would stop her speaking if he could.
“And that is what Philip did,” cries Charlotte aloud; “and mamma has turned him out of the house — yes, out of the house, for acting like a man of honour!”
“Go to your room this instant, miss!” shrieks mamma. As for old Baynes, his stained old uniform is not more dingy-red than his wrinkled face and his throbbing temples. He blushes under his wig, no doubt, could we see beneath that ancient artifice.
“What is it? madame your mother dismisses you of my table? I will come with you, my dear Miss Charlotte!” says madame, with much dignity. “Serve the sugared plate, Auguste! My ladies, you will excuse me! I go to attend the dear miss, who seems to me ill.” And she rises up, and she follows poor little blushing, burning, weeping Charlotte: and again, I have no doubt, takes her in her arms, and kisses, and cheers, and caresses her — at the threshold of the door — there by the staircase, among the cold dishes of the dinner, where Moira and MacGrigor had one moment before been marauding.
“Courage, ma fille, courage, mon enfant! Tenez! Behold something to console thee!” and madame takes out of her pocket a little letter, and gives it to the girl, who at sight of it kisses the superscription, and then in an anguish of love, and joy, and grief, falls on the neck of the kind woman, who consoles her in her misery. Whose writing is it Charlotte kisses? Can you guess by any means? Upon my word, Madame Smolensk, I never recommend ladies to take daughters to your boarding-house. And I like you so much, I would not tell of you, but you know the house is shut up this many a long day. Oh! the years slip away fugacious; and the grass has grown over graves; and many and many joys and sorrows have been born and have died since then for Charlotte and Philip: but that grief aches still in their bosoms at times; and that sorrow throbs at Charlotte’s heart again whenever she looks at a little yellow letter in her trinket-box: and she says to her children, “Papa wrote that to me before we were married, my dears.” There are scarcely half-a-dozen words in the little letter, I believe; and two of them are “for ever.”
I could draw a ground-plan of madame’s house in the Champs Elysées if I liked, for has not Philip shown me the place and described it to me many times? In front, and facing the road and garden, were madame’s room and the salon; to the back was the salle-à-manger; and a stair ran up the house (where the dishes used to be laid during dinner-time, and where Moira and MacGrigor fingered the meats and puddings). Mrs. General Baynes’s rooms were on the first floor, looking on the Champs Elysées, and into the garden-court of the house below. And on this day, as the dinner was necessarily short (owing to unhappy circumstances), and the gentlemen were left alone glumly drinking their wine or grog, and Mrs. Baynes had gone upstairs to her own apartment, had slapped her boys, and was looking out of window — was it not provoking that of all days in the world young Hely should ride up to the house on his capering mare, with his flower in his button-hole, with his little varnished toe-tips just touching his stirrups, and after performing various caracolades and gambadoes in the garden, kiss his yellow-kidded hand to Mrs. General Baynes at the window, hope Miss Baynes was quite well, and ask if he might come in and take a cup of tea? Charlotte, lying on madame’s bed in the ground-floor room, heard Mr. Hely’s sweet voice asking after her health, and the crunching of his horse’s hoofs on the gravel, and she could even catch glimpses of that little form as the horse capered about in the court, though of course he could not see her where she was lying on the bed with her letter in her hand. Mrs. Baynes at her window had to wag her withered head from the casement, to groan out, “My daughter is lying down, and has a bad headache, I am sorry to say,” and then she must have had the mortification to see Hely caper off, after waving her a genteel adieu. The ladies in the front salon, who assembled after dinner, witnessed the transaction, and Mrs. Bunch, I daresay, had a grim pleasure at seeing Eliza Baynes’s young spring of fashion, of whom Eliza was for ever bragging, come at last, and obliged to ride away, not bootless, certainly, for where were feet more beautifully chaussés? but after a bootless errand.
Meanwhile the gentlemen sate awhile in the dining-room, after the British custom which such veterans liked too well to give up. Other two gentlemen boarders went away, rather alarmed by that storm and outbreak in which Charlotte had quitted the dinner-table, and left the old soldiers together, to enjoy, according to their after-dinner custom, a sober glass of “something hot,” as the saying is. In truth, madame’s wine was of the poorest; but what better could you expect for the money?
Baynes was not eager to be alone with Bunch, and I have no doubt began to blush again when he found himself tête-à-tête with his old friend. But what was to be done? The general did not dare to go up-stairs to his own quarters, where poor Charlotte was probably crying, and her mother in one of her tantrums. Then in the salon there were the ladies of the boarding-house party, and there Mrs. Bunch would be sure to be at him. Indeed, since the Bayneses were launched in the great world, Mrs. Bunch was untiringly sarcastic in her remarks about lords, ladies, attachés, ambassadors, and fine people in general. So Baynes sate with his friend, in the falling evening, in much silence, dipping his old nose in the brandy-and-water.
Litte square-faced, red-faced, whisker-dyed Colonel Bunch sate opposite his old companion, regarding him not without scorn. Bunch had a wife. Bunch had feelings. Do you suppose those feelings had not been worked upon by that wife in private colloquies? Do you suppose — when two old women have lived together in pretty much the same rank of life, — if one suddenly gets promotion, is carried off to higher spheres, and talks of her new friends, the countesses, duchesses, ambassadresses, as of course she will — do you suppose, I say, that the unsuccessful woman will be pleased at the successful woman’s success? Your knowledge of your own heart, my dear lady, must tell you the truth in this matter. I don’t want you to acknowledge that you are angry because your sister has been staying with the Duchess of Fitzbattleaxe, but you are, you know. You have made sneering remarks, to your husband on the subject, and such remarks, I have no doubt, were made by Mrs. Colonel Bunch to her husband, regarding her poor friend Mrs. General Baynes.
During this parenthesis we have left the general dipping his nose in the brandy-and-water. He can’t keep it there for ever. He must come up for air presently. His face must come out of the drink, and sigh over the table.
“What’s this business, Baynes?” says the colonel. “What’s the matter with poor Charley?”
“Family affairs — differences will happen,” says the general.
“I do hope and trust nothing has gone wrong with her and young Firmin, Baynes?”
The general does not like those fixed eyes staring at him under those bushy eyebrows, between those bushy, blackened whiskers.
“Well, then, yes, Bunch, something has gone wrong; and given me and — and Mrs. Baynes — a deuced deal of pain too. The young fellow has acted like a blackguard, brawling and fighting at an ambassador’s ball, bringing us all to ridicule. He’s not a gentleman; that’s the long and short of it, Bunch; and so let’s change the subject.”
“Why, consider the provocation he had!” cries the other, disregarding entirely his friend’s prayer. “I heard them talking about the business at Galignani’s this very day. A fellow swears at Firmin; runs at him; brags that he has pitched him over; and is knocked down for his pains. By George! I think Firmin was quite right. Were any man to do as much to me or you, what should we do, even at our age?”
“We are military men. I said I didn’t wish to talk about the subject, Bunch,” says the general in rather a lofty manner.
“You mean that Tom Bunch has no need to put his oar in?”
“Precisely so,” says the other, curtly.
“Mum’s the word! Let us talk about the dukes and duchesses at the ball. That’s more in your line, now,” says the colonel, with rather a sneer.
“What do you mean by duchesses and dukes? What do you know about them, or what the deuce do I care?” asks the general.
“Oh, they are tabooed too! Hang it! there’s no satisfying you,” growls the colonel.
“Look here, Bunch,” the general broke out; “I must speak, since you won’t leave me alone. I am unhappy. You can see that well enough. For two or three nights past I have had no rest. This engagement of my child and Mr. Firmin can’t come to any good. You see what he is — an overbearing, ill-conditioned, quarrelsome fellow. What chance has Charley of being happy with such a fellow?”
“I hold my tongue, Baynes. You told me not to put my oar in,” growls the colonel.
“Oh, if that’s the way you take it, Bunch, of course there’s no need for me to go on any more,” cries General Baynes. “If an old friend won’t give an old friend advice, by George, or help him in a strait, or say a kind word when he’s unhappy, I have done. I have known you for forty years, and I am mistaken in you — that’s all.”
“There’s no contenting you. You say, Hold your tongue, and I shut my mouth. I hold my tongue, and you say, Why don’t you speak? Why don’t I? Because you won’t like what I say, Charles Baynes: and so, what’s the good of more talking?”
“Confound it!” cries Baynes, with a thump of his glass on the table, “but what do you say?”
“I say, then, as you will have it,” cries the other, clenching his fists in his pockets — “I say you are wanting a pretext for breaking off this match, Baynes. I don’t say it is a good one, mind; but your word is passed, and your honour engaged to a young fellow to whom you are under deep obligation.”
“What obligation? Who has talked to you about my private affairs?” cries the general, reddening. “Has Philip Firmin been bragging about his —?”
“You have yourself, Baynes. When you arrived here, you told me over and over again what the young fellow had done: and you certainly thought he acted like a gentleman then. If you choose to break your word to him now — ”
“Break my word! Great powers, do you know what you are saying, Bunch?”
“Yes, and what you are doing, Baynes.”
“Doing? and what?”
“A damned shabby action; that’s what you are doing, if you want to know. Don’t tell me. Why, do you suppose Fanny — do you suppose everybody doesn’t see what you are at? You think you can get a better match for the girl, and you and Eliza are going to throw the young fellow over: and the fellow who held his hand, and might have ruined you if he liked. I say it is a cowardly action!”
“Colonel Bunch, do you dare to use such a word to me?” calls out the general, starting to his feet.
“Dare be hanged! I say it’s a shabby action!” roars the other, rising too.
“Hush! unless you wish to disturb the ladies! Of course you know what your expression means, Colonel Bunch?” and the general drops his voice and sinks back to his chair.
“I know what my words mean, and I stick to ’em, Baynes,” growls the other; “which is more than you can say of yours.”
“I am dee’d if any man alive shall use this language to me,” says the general in the softest whisper, “without accounting to me for it.”
“Did you ever find me backward, Baynes, at that kind of thing?” growls the colonel, with a face like a lobster and eyes starting from his head.
“Very good, sir. To-morrow, at your earliest convenience. I shall be at Galignani’s from eleven till one. With a friend if possible. — What is it, my love? A game at whist? Well, no, thank you; I think I won’t play cards to-night.”
It was Mrs. Baynes who entered the room when the two gentlemen were quarrelling; and the bloodthirsty hypocrites instantly smoothed their ruffled brows and smiled on her with perfect courtesy.
“Whist — no! I was thinking should we send out to meet him. He has never been in Paris.”
“Never been in Paris?” said the general, puzzled.
“He will be here to-night, you know. Madame has a room ready for him.”
“The very thing, the very thing!” cries General Baynes, with great glee. And Mrs. Baynes, all unsuspicious of the quarrel between the old friends, proceeds to inform Colonel Bunch that Major MacWhirter was expected that evening. And then that tough old Colonel Bunch knew the cause of Baynes’s delight. A second was provided for the general — the very thing Baynes wanted.
We have seen how Mrs. Baynes, after taking counsel with her general, had privately sent for MacWhirter. Her plan was that Charlotte’s uncle should take her for a while to Tours, and make her hear reason. Then Charley’s foolish passion for Philip would pass away. Then, if he dared to follow her so far, her aunt and uncle, two dragons of virtue and circumspection, would watch and guard her. Then, if Mrs. Hely was still of the same mind, she and her son might easily take the post to Tours, where, Philip being absent, young Walsingham might plead his passion. The best part of the plan, perhaps, was the separation of our young couple. Charlotte would recover. Mrs. Baynes was sure of that. The little girl had made no outbreak until that sudden insurrection at dinner which we have witnessed; and her mother, who had domineered over the child all her life, thought she was still in her power. She did not know that she had passed the bounds of authority, and that with her behaviour to Philip her child’s allegiance had revolted.
Bunch then, from Baynes’s look and expression, perfectly understood what his adversary meant, and that the general’s second was found. His own he had in his eye — a tough little old army surgeon of Peninsular and Indian times, who lived hard by, who would aid as second and doctor too, if need were — and so kill two birds with one stone, as they say. The colonel would go forth that very instant and seek for Dr. Martin, and be hanged to Baynes, and a plague on the whole transaction and the folly of two old friends burning powder in such a quarrel. But he knew what a bloodthirsty little fellow that henpecked, silent Baynes was when roused; and as for himself — a fellow use that kind of language to me? By George, Tom Bunch was not going to baulk him!
Whose was that tall figure prowling about madame’s house in the Champs Elysées when Colonel Bunch issued forth in quest of his friend; who has been watched by the police and mistaken for a suspicious character; who had been looking up at madame’s windows now that the evening shades had fallen? Oh, you goose of a Philip! (for of course, my dears, you guess the spy was P. F. Esq.) you look up at the premier, and there is the Beloved in madame’s room on the ground floor; — in yonder room, where a lamp is burning and casting a faint light across the bars of the jalousie. If Philip knew she was there, he would be transformed into a clematis, and climb up the bars of the window, and twine round them all night. But you see he thinks she is on the first floor; and the glances of his passionate eyes are taking aim at the wrong windows. And now Colonel Bunch comes forth in his stout strutting way, in his little military cape — quick march — and Philip is startled like a guilty thing surprised, and dodges behind a tree in the avenue.
The colonel departed on his murderous errand. Philip still continues to ogle the window of his heart (the wrong window), defiant of the policeman, who tells him to circuler. He has not watched here many minutes more, ere a hackney-coach drives up with portmanteaux on the roof and a lady and gentleman within.
You see Mrs. MacWhirter thought she as well as her husband might have a peep at Paris. As Mac’s coachhire was paid, Mrs. Mac could afford a little outlay of money. And if they were to bring Charlotte back — Charlotte in grief and agitation, poor child — a matron, an aunt, would be a much fitter companion for her than a major, however gentle. So the pair of MacWhirters journeyed from Tours — a long journey it was before railways were invented — and after four-and-twenty hours of squeeze in the diligence, presented themselves at nightfall at Madame Smolensk’s .
The Baynes’ boys dashed into the garden at the sound of wheels. “Mamma — mamma! it’s uncle Mac!” these innocents cried, as they ran to the railings. “Uncle Mac! what could bring him? Oh! they are going to send me to him! they are going to send me to him!” thought Charlotte, starting on her bed. And on this, I daresay, a certain locket was kissed more vehemently than ever.
“I say, Ma!” cries the ingenious Moira, jumping back to the house; “it’s uncle Mac, and aunt Mac, too!”
“What?” cries mamma, with anything but pleasure in her voice; and then turning to the dining-room, where her husband still sate, she called out, “General! here’s MacWhirter and Emily!”
Mrs. Baynes gave her sister a very grim kiss.
“Dearest Eliza, I thought it was such a good opportunity of coming, and that I might be so useful, you know!” pleads Emily.
“Thank you. How do you do, Mac Whirter?” says the grim générale.
“Glad to see you, Baynes, my boy!”
“How d’ye do, Emily? Boys, bring your uncle’s traps. Didn’t know Emily was coming, Mac. Hope there’s room for her!” sighs the general, coming forth from his parlour.
The major was struck by the sad looks and pallor of his brother-in-law. “By George! Baynes, you look as yellow as a guinea. How’s Tom Bunch?”
“Come into this room along with me. Have some brandly-and-water, Mac. — Auguste! O de vie, O sho!” calls the general; and Auguste, who out of the new comer’s six packages has daintily taken one very small mackintosh cushion, says, “Comment? encore du grog, général and, shrugging his shoulders, disappears to procure the refreshment at his leisure.
The sisters disappear to their embraces; the brothers-in-law retreat to the salle-à-manger, where General Baynes has been sitting, gloomy and lonely, for half an hour past, thinking of his quarrel with his old comrade, Bunch. He and Bunch have been chums for more than forty years. They have been in action together, and honourably mentioned in the same report. They have had a great regard for each other; and each knows the other is an obstinate old mule, and, in a quarrel, will die rather than give way. They have had a dispute out of which there is only one issue. Words have passed which no man, however old, by George! can brook from any friend, however intimate, by Jove! No wonder Baynes is grave. His family is large; his means are small. To-morrow he may be under fire of an old friend’s pistol. In such an extremity he knows how each will behave. No wonder, I say, the general is solemn.
“What’s in the wind now, Baynes?” asks the major, after a little drink and a long silence. “How is poor little Char?”
“Infernally ill — I mean behaved infernally ill,” says the general, biting his lips.
“Bad business! Bad business! Poor little child!” cries the major.
“Insubordinate little devil!” says the pale general, grinding his teeth. “We’ll see which shall be master!”
“What! you have had words?”
“At this table, this very day. She sat here and defied her mother and me, by George! and flung out of the room like a tragedy queen. She must be tamed, Mac, or my name’s not Baynes.”
Mac Whirter knew his relative of old, and that this quiet, submissive man, when angry, worked up to a white heat as it were. “Sad affair; hope you’ll both come round, Baynes,” sighs the major, trying bootless common-places; and seeing this last remark had no effect, he bethought him of recurring to their mutual friend. “How’s Tom Bunch?” the major asked, cheerily.
At this question Baynes grinned in such a ghastly way that MacWhirter eyed him with wonder. “Colonel Bunch is very well,” the general said, in dismal voice; “at least, he was, half an hour ago. He was sitting there;” and he pointed to an empty spoon lying in an empty beaker, whence the spirit and water had departed.
“What has been the matter, Baynes?” asked the major. “Has anything happened between you and Tom?”
“I mean that, half an hour ago, Colonel Bunch used words to me which I’ll bear from no man alive: and you have arrived just in the nick of time, Mac Whirter, to take my message to him. Hush! here’s the drink.”
“Voici, Messieurs!” Auguste at length has brought up a second supply of brandy-and-water. The veterans mingled their jorums; and whilst his brother-in-law spoke, the alarmed MacWhirter sipped occasionally, intentusque ora tenebat.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13