Our dear friend Mrs. Baynes was suffering under the influence of one of those panics which sometimes seized her, and during which she remained her husband’s most obedient Eliza and vassal. When Baynes wore a certain expression of countenance, we have said that his wife knew resistance to be useless. That expression, I suppose, he assumed, when he announced Charlotte’s departure to her mother, and ordered Mrs. General Baynes to make the necessary preparations for the girl. “She might stay some time with her aunt,” Baynes stated. “A change of air would do the child a great deal of good. Let everything necessary in the shape of hats, bonnets, winter clothes, and so forth, be got ready.” “Was Char, then, to stay away so long?” asked Mrs. B. “She has been so happy here that you want to keep her, and fancy she can’t be happy without you!” I can fancy the general grimly replying to the partner of his existence. Hanging down her withered head, with a tear mayhap trickling down her cheek, I can fancy the old woman silently departing to do the bidding of her lord. She selects a trunk out of the store of Baynes’s baggage. A young lady’s trunk was a trunk in those days. Now it is a two or three storied edifice of wood, in which two or three full-grown bodies of young ladies (without crinoline) might be packed. I saw a little old countrywoman at the Folkestone station last year with her travelling baggage contained in a band-box tied up in an old cotton handkerchief hanging on her arm; and she surveyed Lady Knightsbridge’s twenty-three black trunks, each well nigh as large as her ladyship’s opera-box. Before these great edifices that old woman stood wondering dumbly. That old lady and I had lived in a time when crinoline was not; and yet, I think, women looked even prettier in that time than they do now. Well, a trunk and a band-box were fetched out of the baggage heap for little Charlotte, and I daresay her little brothers jumped and danced on the box with much energy to make the lid shut, and the general brought out his hammer and nails, and nailed a card on the box with “Mademoiselle Baynes” thereon printed. And mamma had to look on and witness those preparations. And Hely Walsingham had called; and he wouldn’t call again, she knew; and that fair chance for the establishment of her child was lost by the obstinacy of her self-willed, reckless husband. That woman had to water her soup with her furtive tears, to sit of nights behind hearts and spades, and brood over her crushed hopes. If I contemplate that wretched old Niobe much longer, I shall begin to pity her. Away softness! Take out thy arrows, the poisoned, the barbed, the rankling, and prod me the old creature well, god of the silver bow! Eliza Baynes had to look on, then, and see the trunks packed; to see her own authority over her own daughter wrested away from her; to see the undutiful girl prepare with perfect delight and alacrity to go away, without feeling a pang at leaving a mother who had nursed her through adverse illnesses, who had scolded her for seventeen years.
The general accompanied the party to the diligence office. Little Char was very pale and melancholy indeed when she took her place in the coupé. “She should have a corner: she had been ill, and ought to have a corner,” uncle Mac said, and cheerfully consented to be bodkin. Our three special friends are seated. The other passengers clamber into their places. Away goes the clattering team, as the general waves an adieu to his friends. “Monstrous fine horses those grey Normans; famous breed, indeed,” he remarks to his wife on his return.
“Indeed,” she echoes. “Pray, in what part of the carriage was Mr. Firmin,” she presently asks.
“In no part of the carriage at all!” Baynes answers fiercely, turning beet-root red. And thus, though she had been silent, obedient, hanging her head, the woman showed that she was aware of her master’s schemes, and why her girl had been taken away. She knew; but she was beaten. It remained for her but to be silent and bow her head. I daresay she did not sleep one wink that night. She followed the diligence in its journey. “Char is gone,” she thought. “Yes; in due time he will take from me the obedience of my other children, and tear them out of my lap.” He — that is, the general — was sleeping meanwhile. He had had in the last few days four awful battles — with his child, with his friends, with his wife — in which latter combat he had been conqueror. No wonder Baynes was tired, and needed rest. Any one of those engagements was enough to weary the veteran.
If we take the liberty of looking into double-bedded rooms, and peering into the thoughts which are passing under private nightcaps, may we not examine the coupé of a jingling diligence with an open window, in which a young lady sits wide awake by the side of her uncle and aunt! These perhaps are asleep; but she is not. Ah! she is thinking of another journey! that blissful one from Boulogne, when he was there yonder in the imperial, by the side of the conductor. When the MacWhirter party had come to the diligence office, how her little heart had beat! How she had looked under the lamps at all the people lounging about the court! How she had listened when the clerk called out the names of the passengers; and, mercy, what a fright she had been in, lest he should be there after all, while she stood yet leaning on her father’s arm! But there was no — well, names, I think, need scarcely be mentioned. There was no sign of the individual in question. Papa kissed her, and sadly said good-by. Good Madame Smolensk came with an adieu and an embrace for her dear Miss, and whispered, “Courage, mon enfant,” and then said, “Hold, I have brought you some bonbons.” There they were in a little packet. Little Charlotte put the packet into her little basket. Away goes the diligence, but the individual had made no sign.
Away goes the diligence; and every now and then Charlotte feels the little packet in her little basket. What does it contain — oh, what? If Charlotte could but read with her heart, she would see in that little packet — the sweetest bonbon of all perhaps it might be, or, ah me! the bitterest almond! Through the night goes the diligence, passing relay after relay. Uncle Mac sleeps. I think I have said he snored. Aunt Mac is quite silent, and Char sits plaintively with her lonely thoughts and her bonbons, as miles, hours, relays pass.
“These ladies, will they descend and take a cup of coffee, a cup of bouillon?” at last cries a waiter at the coupé door, as the carriage stops in Orleans. “By all means a cup of coffee,” says Aunt Mac. “The little Orleans wine is good,” cries Uncle Mac. “Descendons!” “This way, madame,” says the waiter. “Charlotte, my love, some coffee?”
“I will — I will stay in the carriage. I don’t want anything, thank you,” says Miss Charlotte. And the instant her relations are gone, entering the gate of the Lion Noir, where, you know, are the Bureaux des Messageries, Lafitte, Caillard et Cie — I say, on the very instant when her relations have disappeared, what do you think Miss Charlotte does?
She opens that packet of bonbons with fingers that tremble — tremble so, I wonder how she could undo the knot of the string (or do you think she had untied that knot under her shawl in the dark? I can’t say. We never shall know). Well; she opens the packet. She does not care one fig for the lollipops, almonds, and so forth. She pounces on a little scrap of paper, and is going to read it by the lights of the steaming stable lanterns, when — oh, what made her start so? —
In those old days there used to be two diligences which travelled nightly to Tours, setting out at the same hour, and stopping at almost the same relays. The diligence of Lafitte and Caillard supped at the Lion Noir at Orleans — the diligence of the Messageries Royales stopped at the Ecu de France, hard by.
Well, as the Messageries Royales are supping at the Ecu de France, a passenger strolls over from that coach, and strolls and strolls until he comes to the coach of Lafitte, Caillard, and Company, and to the coupé window where Miss Baynes is trying to decipher her bonbon.
He comes up — and as the night-lamps fall on his face and beard — his rosy face, his yellow beard — oh! — What means that scream of the young lady in the coupé of Lafitte, Caillard et Compagnie! I declare she has dropped the letter which she was about to read. It has dropped into a pool of mud under the diligence off fore-wheel. And he with the yellow beard, and a sweet happy laugh, and a tremble in his deep voice, says, “You need not read it. It was only to tell you what you know.”
Then the coupé window says, “Oh, Philip! Oh, my — ”
My what? You cannot hear the words, because the grey Norman horses come squealing and clattering up to their coach-pole with such accompanying cries and imprecations from the horsekeepers and postilions, that no wonder the little warble is lost. It was not intended for you and me to hear; but perhaps you can guess the purport of the words. Perhaps in quite old, old days, you may remember having heard such little whispers, in a time when the song-birds in your grove carolled that kind of song very pleasantly and freely. But this, my good madam, is written in February. The birds are gone: the branches are bare: the gardener has actually swept the leaves off the walks: and the whole affair is an affair of a past year, you understand. Well! carpe diem, fugit hora, There, for one minute, for two minutes, stands Philip over the diligence off fore-wheel, talking to Charlotte at the window, and their heads are quite close — quite close. What are those two pairs of lips warbling, whispering? “Hi! Gare! Ohé!” The horsekeepers, I say, quite prevent you from hearing; and here come the passengers out of the Lion Noir, aunt Mac still munching a great slice of bread-and-butter. Charlotte is quite comfortable, and does not want anything, dear aunt, thank you. I hope she nestles in her corner, and has a sweet slumber. On the journey the twin diligences pass and repass each other. Perhaps Charlotte looks out of her window sometimes and towards the other carriage. I don’t know. It is a long time ago. What used you to do in old days, ere railroads were, and when diligences ran? They were slow enough: but they have got to their journey’s end somehow. They were tight, hot, dusty, dear, stuffy, and uncomfortable; but, for all that, travelling was good sport sometimes. And if the world would have the kindness to go back for five-and-twenty or thirty years, some of us who have travelled on the Tours and Orleans Railway very comfortably would like to take the diligence journey now.
Having myself seen the city of Tours only last year, of course I don’t remember much about it. A man remembers boyhood, and the first sight of Calais, and so forth. But after much travel or converse with the world, to see a new town is to be introduced to Jones. He is like Brown: he is not unlike Smith: in a little while you hash him up with Thompson. I dare not be particular, then, regarding Mr. Firmin’s life at Tours, lest I should make topographical errors, for which the critical schoolmaster would justly inflict chastisement. In the last novel I read about Tours, there were blunders from the effect of which you know the wretched author never recovered. It was by one Scott, and had young Quentin Durward for a hero, and Isabel de Croye for a heroine; and she sate in her hostel, and sang, “Ah, County Guy, the hour is nigh.” A pretty ballad enough: but what ignorance, my dear sir! What descriptions of Tours, of Liege, are in that fallacious story! Yes, so fallacious and misleading, that I remember I was sorry, not because the description was unlike Tours, but because Tours was unlike the description.
So Quentin Firmin went and put up at the snug little hostel of the Faisan; and Isabel de Baynes took up her abode with her uncle the Sire de MacWhirter; and I believe Master Firmin had no more money in his pocket than the Master Durward whose story the Scottish novelist told some forty years since. And I cannot promise you that our young English adventurer shall marry a noble heiress of vast property, and engage the Boar of Ardennes in a hand-to-hand combat; that sort of Boar, madam, does not appear in our modern drawing-room histories. Of others, not wild, there be plenty. They gore you in clubs. They seize you by the doublet, and pin you against posts in public streets. They run at you in parks. I have seen them sit at bay after dinner, ripping, gashing, tossing a whole company. These our young adventurer had in good sooth to encounter, as is the case with most knights. Who escapes them? I remember an eminent person talking to me about bores for two hours once. O you stupid eminent person! You never knew that you yourself had tusks, little eyes in your hure; a bristly mane to cut into tooth-brushes; and a curly-tail! I have a notion that the multitude of bores is enormous in the world. If a man is a bore himself, when he is bored — and you can’t deny this statement — then what am I, what are you, what your father, grandfather, son — all your amiable acquaintance, in a word? Of this I am sure, Major and Mrs. MacWhirter were not brilliant in conversation. What would you and I do, or say, if we listen to the tittle-tattle of Tours. How the clergyman was certainly too fond of cards and going to the café; how the dinners those Popjoys gave were too absurdly ostentatious; and Popjoy, we know, in the Bench last year; how Mrs. Flights, going on with that Major of French Carabiniers, was really too “How could I endure those people?” Philip would ask himself, when talking of that personage in after days, as he loved, and loves to do. “How could I endure them, I say? Mac was a good man; but I knew secretly in my heart, sir, that he was a bore. Well: I loved him. I liked his old stories. I liked his bad old dinners: there is a very comfortable Touraine wine, by the way — a very warming little wine, sir. Mrs. Mac you never saw, my good Mrs. Pendennis. Be sure of this, you never would have liked her. Well, I did. I liked her house, though it was damp, in a damp garden, frequented by dull people. I should like to go and see that old house now. I am perfectly happy with my wife, but I sometimes go away from her to enjoy the luxury of living over our old days again. With nothing in the world but an allowance which was precarious, and had been spent in advance; with no particular plans for the future, and a few five-franc pieces for the present, — by Jove, sir, how did I dare to be so happy? What idiots we were, my love, to be happy at all! We were mad to marry. Don’t tell me! With a purse which didn’t contain three months’ consumption, would we dare to marry now? We should be put into the mad ward of the workhouse: that would be the only place for us. Talk about trusting in heaven. Stuff and nonsense, ma’am! I have as good a right to go and buy a house in Belgrave Square, and trust to heaven for the payment, as I had to marry when I did. We were paupers, Mrs. Char, and you know that very well!”
“Oh, yes. We were very wrong: very!” says Mrs. Charlotte, looking up to her chandelier (which, by the way, is of very handsome Venetian old glass). “We were very wrong, were not we, my dearest?” And herewith she will begin to kiss and fondle two or more babies that disport in her room — as if two or more babies had anything to do with Philip’s argument, that a man has no right to marry who has no pretty well-assured means of keeping a wife.
Here, then, by the banks of the Loire, although Philip had but a very few francs in his pocket, and was obliged to keep a sharp look-out on his expenses at the Hotel of the Golden Pheasant, he passed a fortnight of such happiness as I, for my part, wish to all young folks who read his veracious history. Though he was so poor, and ate and drank so modestly in the house, the maids, waiters, the landlady of the Pheasant, were as civil to him — yes, as civil as they were to the gouty old Marchioness of Carabas herself, who stayed here on her way to the south, occupied the grand apartments, quarrelled with her lodging, dinner, breakfast, bread- and-butter in general, insulted the landlady in bad French, and only paid her bill under compulsion. Philip’s was a little bill, but he paid it cheerfully. He gave only a small gratuity to the servants, but he was kind and hearty, and they knew he was poor. He was kind and hearty, I suppose, because he was so happy. I have known the gentleman to be by no means civil; and have heard him storm, and hector, and browbeat landlord and waiters, as fiercely as the Marquis of Carabas himself. But now Philip the Bear was the most gentle of bears, because his little Charlotte was leading him.
Away with trouble and doubt, with squeamish pride and gloomy care! Philip had enough money for a fortnight, during which Tom Glazier, of the Monitor, promised to supply Philip’s letters for the Pall Mall Gazette. All the designs of France, Spain, Russia, gave that idle “own correspondent” not the slightest anxiety. In the morning it was Miss Baynes; in the afternoon it was Miss Baynes. At six it was dinner and Charlotte; at nine it was Charlotte and tea. “Anyhow, love-making does not spoil his appetite,” Major MacWhirter correctly remarked. Indeed, Philip had a glorious appetite; and health bloomed in Miss Charlotte’s cheek, and beamed in her happy little heart. Dr. Firmin, in the height of his practice, never completed a cure more skilfully than that which was performed by Dr. Firmin, Junior.
“I ran the thing so close, sir,” I remember Philip bawling out, in his usual energetic way, whilst describing this period of his life’s greatest happiness to his biographer, “that I came back to Paris outside the diligence, and had not money enough to dine on the road. But I bought a sausage, sir, and a bit of bread — and a brutal sausage it was, sir — and I reached my lodgings with exactly two sous in my pocket.” Roger Bontemps himself was not more content than our easy philosopher.
So Philip and Charlotte ratified and sealed a treaty of Tours, which they determined should never be broken by either party. Marry without papa’s consent? Oh, never! Marry anybody but Philip? Oh, never — never! Not if she lived to be a hundred, when Philip would in consequence be in his hundred and ninth or tenth year, would this young Joan have any but her present Darby. Aunt Mac, though she may not have been the most accomplished or highly-bred of ladies, was a warm-hearted and affectionate aunt Mac. She caught in a mild form the fever from these young people. She had not much to leave, and Mac’s relations would want all he could spare when he was gone. But Charlotte should have her garnets, and her teapot, and her India shawl — that she should. [Note: I am sorry to say that in later days, after Mrs. Major MacWhirter’s decease, it was found that she had promised these treasures in writing to several members of her husband’s family, and that much heart-burning arose in consequence. But our story has nothing to do with these painful disputes.] And with many blessings this enthusiastic old lady took leave of her future nephew-in-law when he returned to Paris and duty. Crack your whip and scream your hi! and be off quick, postilion and diligence! I am glad we have taken Mr. Firmin out of that dangerous, lazy, love-making place. Nothing is to me so sweet as sentimental writing. I could have written hundreds of pages describing Philip and Charlotte, Charlotte and Philip. But a stern sense of duty intervenes. My modest Muse puts a finger on her lip, and says, “Hush about that business!” Ah, my worthy friends, you little know what soft-hearted people those cynics are! If you could have come on Diogenes by surprise, I daresay you might have found him reading sentimental novels and whimpering in his tub. Philip shall leave his sweetheart and go back to his business, and we will not have one word about tears, promises, raptures, parting. Never mind about these sentimentalities, but please, rather, to depict to yourself our young fellow so poor that when the coach stops for dinner at Orleans he can only afford to purchase a penny loaf and a sausage for his own hungry cheek. When he reached the Hôtel Poussin, with his meagre carpet-bag, they served him a supper which he ate to the admiration of all beholders in the little coffee-room. He was in great spirits and gaiety. He did not care to make any secret of his poverty, and how he had been unable to afford to pay for dinner. Most of the guests at Hôtel Poussin knew what it was to be poor. Often and often they had dined on credit when they put back their napkins into their respective pigeon-holes. But my landlord knew his guests. They were poor men — honest men. They paid him in the end, and each could help his neighbour in a strait.
After Mr. Firmin’s return to Paris he did not care for a while to go to the Elysian Fields. They were not Elysian for him, except in Miss Charlotte’s company. He resumed his newspaper correspondence, which occupied but a day in each week, and he had the other six — nay, he scribbled on the seventh day likewise, and covered immense sheets of letter-paper with remarks upon all manner of subjects, addressed to a certain Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle Baynes, chez M. le Major Mac, On these sheets of paper Mr. Firmin could talk so long, so loudly, so fervently, so eloquently to Miss Baynes, that she was never tired of hearing, or he of holding forth. He began imparting his dreams and his earliest sensations to his beloved before breakfast. At noon-day he gave her his opinion of the contents of the morning papers. His packet was ordinarily full and brimming over by post-time, so that his expressions of love and fidelity leaped from under the cover, or were squeezed into the queerest corners, where, no doubt, it was a delightful task for Miss Baynes to trace out and detect those little cupids which a faithful lover despatched to her. It would be, “I have found this little corner unoccupied. Do you know what I have to say in it? Oh, Charlotte, I,” My sweet young lady, you can guess, or will one day guess, the rest; and will receive such dear, delightful, nonsensical double letters, and will answer them with that elegant propriety which I have no doubt Miss Baynes showed in her replies. Ah! if all who are writing and receiving such letters, or who have written and received such, or who remember writing and receiving such, would order a copy of this novel from the publishers, what reams, and piles, and pyramids of paper our ink would have to blacken! Since Charlotte and Philip had been engaged to each other, he had scarcely, except in those dreadful, ghastly days of quarrel, enjoyed the luxury of absence from his soul’s blessing — the exquisite delight of writing to her. He could do few things in moderation, this man — and of this delightful privilege of writing to Charlotte he now enjoyed his heart’s fill.
After brief enjoyment of the weeks of this rapture, when winter was come on Paris, and icicles hung on the bough, how did it happen that one day, two days, three days passed, and the postman brought no little letter in the well-known little handwriting for Monsieur, Monsieur Philip Firmin, à Paris? Three days, four days, and no letter. Oh, torture, could she be ill? Could her aunt and uncle have turned against her, and forbidden her to write, as her father and mother had done before? Oh, grief, and sorrow, and rage! As for jealousy, our leonine friend never knew such a passion. It never entered into his lordly heart to doubt of his little maiden’s love. But still four, five days have passed, and not one word has come from Tours. The little Hôtel Poussin was in a commotion. I have said that when our friend felt any passion very strongly he was sure to speak of it. Did Don Quixote lose any opportunity of declaring to the world that Dulcinea del Toboso was peerless among women? Did not Antar bawl out in battle, “I am the lover of Ibla?” Our knight had taken all the people of the hotel into his confidence somehow. They all knew of his condition — all, the painter, the poet, the half-pay Polish officer, the landlord, the hostess, down to the little knife-boy who used to come in with, “The factor comes of to pass — no letter this morning.”
No doubt Philip’s political letters became, under this outward pressure, very desponding and gloomy. One day, as he sate gnawing his mustachios at his desk, the little Anatole enters his apartment and cries, “Tenez, M. Philippe. That lady again!” And the faithful, the watchful, the active Madame Smolensk once more made her appearance in his chamber.
Philip blushed and hung his head for shame. “Ungrateful brute that I am,” he thought; “I have been back more than a week, and never thought a bit about that good, kind soul who came to my succour. I am an awful egotist. Love is always so.”
As he rose up to greet his friend, she looked so grave, and pale, and sad, that he could not but note her demeanour. “Bon Dieu! had anything happened?”
“Ce pauvre général is ill, very ill Philip,” Smolensk said, in her grave voice.
He was so gravely ill, madame said, that his daughter had been sent for.
“Had she come?” asked Philip, with a start.
“You think but of her — you care not for the poor old man. You are all the same, you men. All egotists — all. Go! I know you! I never knew one that was not,” said madame.
Philip has his little faults: perhaps egotism is one of his defects. Perhaps it is yours, or even mine.
“You have been here a week since Thursday last, and you have never written or sent to a woman who loves you well. Go! It was not well, Monsieur Philippe.”
As soon as he saw her, Philip felt that he had been neglectful and ungrateful. We have owned so much already. But how should madame know that he had returned on Thursday week? When they looked up after her reproof, his eager eyes seemed to ask this question.
“Could she not write to me and tell me that you were come back? Perhaps she knew that you would not do so yourself. A woman’s heart teaches her these experiences early,” continued the lady, sadly; then she added: “I tell you, you are good-for-nothings, all of you! And I repent me, see you, of having had the bêtise to pity you!”
“I shall have my quarter’s pay on Saturday, I was coming to you then,” said Philip.
“Was it that I was speaking of? What! you are all cowards, men, all! Oh, that I have been beast, beast, to think at last I had found a man of heart!”
How much or how often this poor Ariadne had trusted and been forsaken, I have no means of knowing, or desire of inquiring. Perhaps it is as well for the polite reader, who is taken into my entire confidence, that we should not know Madame de Smolensk’s history from the first page to the last. Granted that Ariadne was deceived by Theseus: but then she consoled herself, as we may all read in Smith’s Dictionary; and then she must have deceived her father in order to run away with Theseus. I suspect — I suspect, I say — that these women who are so very much betrayed, are — but we are speculating on this French lady’s antecedents, when Charlotte, her lover, and her family are the persons with whom we have mainly to do.
These two, I suppose, forgot self, about which each for a moment had been busy, and madame resumed:— “Yes, you have reason; Miss is here. It was time. Hold! Here is a note from her.” And Philip’s kind messenger once more put a paper into his hands. —
“My dearest father is very, very ill. Oh, Philip! I am so unhappy; and he is so good, and gentle, and kind, and loves me so!”
“It is true,” madame resumed. “Before Charlotte came, he thought only of her. When his wife comes up to him, he turns from her. I have not loved her much, that lady, that is true. But to see her now, it is navrant. He will take no medicine from her. He pushed her away. Before Charlotte came, he sent for me, and spoke as well as his poor throat would let him, this poor general! His daughter’s arrival seemed to comfort him. But he says, ‘Not my wife! not my wife!’ And the poor thing has to go away and cry in the chamber at the side. He says — in his French, you know — he has never been well since Charlotte went away. He has often been out. He has dined but rarely at our table, and there has always been a silence between him and Madame la Générale. Last week he had a great inflammation of the chest. Then he took to bed, and Monsieur the Doctor came — the little doctor whom you know. Then a quinsy has declared itself and he now is scarce able to speak. His condition is most grave. He lies suffering, dying, perhaps — yes, dying, do you hear? And you are thinking of your little school-girl! Men are all the same. Monsters! Go!”
Philip, who, I have said, is very fond of talking about Philip, surveys his own faults with great magnanimity and good humour, and acknowledges them without the least intention to correct them. “How selfish we are!” I can hear him say, looking at himself in the glass. “By George! sir, when I heard simultaneously the news of that poor old man’s illness, and of Charlotte’s return, I felt that I wanted to see her that instant. I must go to her, and speak to her. The old man and his suffering did not seem to affect me. It is humiliating to have to own that we are selfish beasts. But we are, sir — we are brutes, by George! and nothing else," — And he gives a finishing twist to the ends of his flaming mustachois as he surveys them in the glass.
Poor little Charlotte was in such affliction that of course she must have Philip to console her at once. No time was to be lost. Quick! a cab this moment: and, coachman, you shall have an extra for drink if you go quick to the Avenue de Marli! Madame puts herself into the carriage, and as they go along tells Philip more at length of the gloomy occurrences of the last few days. Four days since, the poor general was so bad with his quinsy that he thought he should not recover, and Charlotte was sent for. He was a little better on the day of her arrival; but yesterday the inflammation had increased; he could not swallow; he could not speak audibly; he was in very great suffering and danger. He turned away from his wife. The unhappy generaless had been to Madame Bunch in her tears and grief, complaining that after twenty years’ fidelity and attachment her husband had withdrawn his regard from her. Baynes attributed even his illness to his wife; and at other times said it was a just punishment for his wicked conduct in breaking his word to Philip and Charlotte. If he did not see his dear child again, he must beg her forgiveness for having made her suffer so. He had acted wickedly and ungratefully, and his wife had forced him to do what he did. He prayed that heaven might pardon him. And he had behaved with wicked injustice towards Philip, who had acted most generously towards his family. And he had been a scoundrel — he knew he had — and Bunch, and MacWhirter, and the doctor all said so — and it was that woman’s doing. And he pointed to the scared wife as he painfully hissed out these words of anger and contrition:— “When I saw that child ill, and almost made mad, because I broke my word, I felt I was a scoundrel, Martin; and I was; and that woman made me so; and I deserve to be shot; and I shan’t recover; I tell you I shan’t.” Dr. Martin, who attended the general, thus described his patient’s last talk and behaviour to Philip.
It was the doctor who sent madame in quest of the young man. He found poor Mrs. Baynes with hot, tearless eyes and livid face, a wretched sentinel outside the sick chamber. “You will find General Baynes very ill, sir,” she said to Philip, with a ghastly calmness, and a gaze he could scarcely face. “My daughter is in the room with him. It appears I have offended him, and he refuses to see me.” And she squeezed a dry handkerchief which she held, and put on her spectacles again, and tried again to read the Bible in her lap.
Philip hardly knew the meaning of Mrs. Baynes’ words as yet. He was agitated by the thought of the general’s illness, perhaps by the notion that the beloved was so near. Her hand was in his a moment afterwards: and, even in that sad chamber, each could give the other a soft pressure, a fond, silent signal of mutual love and faith.
The poor man laid the hands of the young people together, and his own upon them. The suffering to which he had put his daughter seemed to be the crime which specially affected him. He thanked heaven he was able to see he was wrong. He whispered to his little maid a prayer for pardon in one or two words, which caused poor Charlotte to sink on her knees and cover his fevered hand with tears and kisses. Out of all her heart she forgave him. She had felt that the parent she loved and was accustomed to honour had been mercenary and cruel. It had wounded her pure heart to be obliged to think that her father could be other than generous, and just, and good. That he should humble himself before her, smote her with the keenest pang of tender commiseration. I do not care to pursue this last scene. Let us close the door as the children kneel by the sufferer’s bedside, and to the old man’s petition for forgiveness, and to the young girl’s sobbing vows of love and fondness, say a reverent Amen.
By the following letter, which he wrote a few days before the fatal termination of his illness, the worthy general, it would appear, had already despaired of his recovery:— “My dear Mac, — I speak and breathe with such difficulty as I write this from my bed, that I doubt whether I shall ever leave it. I do not wish to vex poor Eliza, and in my state cannot enter into disputes which I know would ensue regarding settlement of property. When I left England there was a claim hanging over me (young Firmin’s ) at which I was needlessly frightened, as having to satisfy it would swallow up much more than everything I possessed in the world. Hence made arrangements for leaving everything in Eliza’s name and the children after. Will with Smith and Thompson, Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn. Think Char won’t be happy for a long time with her mother. To break from F., who has been most generous to us, will break her heart. Will you and Emily keep her for a little? I gave F. my promise. As you told me, I have acted ill by him, which I own and deeply lament. If Char marries, she ought to have her share. May God bless her, her father prays, in case he should not see her again. And with best love to Emily, am yours, dear Mac, sincerely, — Charles Baynes.”
On the receipt of this letter, Charlotte disobeyed her father’s wish, and set forth from Tours instantly, under her worthy uncle’s guardianship. The old soldier was in his comrade’s room when the general put the hands of Charlotte and her lover together. He confessed his fault, though it is hard for those who expect love and reverence to have to own to wrong and to ask pardon. Old knees are stiff to bend. Brother reader, young or old, when our last hour comes, may ours have grace to do so!
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55