Our new friends lived for awhile contentedly enough at Boulogne, where they found comrades and acquaintances gathered together from those many regions which they had visited in the course of their military career. Mrs. Baynes, out of the field, was the commanding officer over the general. She ordered his clothes for him, tied his neckcloth into a neat bow, and, on teaparty evenings, pinned his brooch into his shirt-frill. She gave him to understand when he had had enough to eat or drink at dinner, and explained, with great frankness, how this or that dish did not agree with him. If he was disposed to exceed, she would call out, in a loud voice: “Remember, general, what you took this morning!” Knowing his constitution, as she said, she knew the remedies which were necessary for her husband, and administered them to him with great liberality. Resistance was impossible, as the veteran officer acknowledged. “The boys have fought about the medicine since we came home,” he confessed, “but she has me under her thumb, by George. She really is a magnificent physician, now. She has got some invaluable prescriptions, and in India she used to doctor the whole station.” She would have taken the present writer’s little household under her care, and proposed several remedies for my children, until their alarmed mother was obliged to keep them out of her sight. I am not saying this was an agreeable woman. Her voice was loud and harsh. The anecdotes which she was for ever narrating related to military personages in foreign countries with whom I was unacquainted, and whose history failed to interest me. She took her wine with much spirit, whilst engaged in this prattle. I have heard talk not less foolish in much finer company, and known people delighted to listen to anecdotes of the duchess and the marchioness who would yawn over the history of Captain Jones’s quarrels with his lady, or Mrs. Major Wolfe’s monstrous flirtations with young Ensign Kyd. My wife, with the mischievousness of her sex, would mimic the Baynes’ conversation very drolly, but always insisted that she was not more really vulgar than many much greater persons.
For all this, Mrs. General Baynes did not hesitate to declare that we were “stuck-up” people; and from the very first setting eyes on us, she declared, that she viewed us with a constant darkling suspicion. Mrs. P. was a harmless, washed-out creature with nothing in her. As for that high and mighty Mr. P. and his airs, she would be glad to know whether the wife of a British general officer who had seen service in every part of the globe, and met the most distinguished governors, generals, and their ladies, several of whom were noblemen — she would be glad to know whether such people were not good enough for, Who has not met with these difficulties in life, and who can escape them? “Hang it, sir,” Phil would say, twirling the red mustachios, “I like to be hated by some fellows;” and it must be owned that Mr. Philip got what he liked. I suppose Mr. Philip’s friend and biographer had something of the same feeling. At any rate, in regard of this lady the hypocrisy of politeness was very hard to keep up; wanting us for reasons of her own, she covered the dagger with which she would have stabbed us: but we knew it was there clenched in her skinny hand in her meagre pocket. She would pay us the most fulsome compliments with anger raging out of her eyes — a little hate-bearing woman, envious, malicious, but loving her cubs, and nursing them, and clutching them in her lean arms with a jealous strain. It was “Good-by, darling! I shall leave you here with your friends. Oh, how kind you are to her, Mrs. Pendennis! How can I ever thank you and Mr. P., I am sure?” and she looked as if she could poison both of us, as she went away, curtseying and darting dreary parting smiles.
This lady had an intimate friend and companion in arms, — Mrs. Colonel Bunch, in fact, of the — the Bengal Cavalry, — who was now in Europe with Bunch and their children, who were residing at Paris for the young folks’ education. At first, as we have heard, Mrs. Baynes’ predilections had been all for Tours, where her sister was living, and where lodgings were cheap and food reasonable in proportion. But Bunch happening to pass through Boulogne on his way to his wife at Paris, and meeting his old comrade, gave General Baynes such an account of the cheapness and pleasures of the French capital, as to induce the general to think of bending his steps thither. Mrs. Baynes would not hear of such a plan. She was all for her dear sister and Tours; but when, in the course of conversation, Colonel Bunch described a ball at the Tuileries, where he and Mrs. B. had been received with the most flattering politeness by the royal family, it was remarked that Mrs. Baynes’ mind underwent a change. When Bunch went on to aver that the balls at Government House at Calcutta were nothing compared to those at the Tuileries or the Prefecture of the Seine; that the English were invited and respected everywhere; that the ambassador was most hospitable; that the clergymen were admirable; and that at their boarding-house, kept by Madame la Générale Baronne de Smolensk, at the Petit Château d’Espagne, Avenue de Valmy, Champs Elysées, they had balls twice a month, the most comfortable apartments, the most choice society, and every comfort and luxury at so many francs per month, with an allowance for children — I say Mrs. Baynes was very greatly moved. “It is not,” she said, “in consequence of the balls at the ambassador’s or the Tuileries, for I am an old woman; and in spite of what you say, colonel, I can’t fancy, after Government House, anything more magnificent in any French palace. It is not for me, goodness knows, I speak: but the children should have education, and my Charlotte an entrée into the world; and what you say of the invaluable clergyman, Mr. X — I have been thinking of it all night: but above all, above all, of the chances of education for my darlings. Nothing should give way to that — nothing!” On this a long and delightful conversation and calculation took place. Bunch produced his bills at the Baroness de Smolensk’s . The two gentlemen jotted up accounts, and made calculations all through the evening. It was hard even for Mrs. Baynes to force the figures into such a shape as to make them accord with the general’s income; but, driven away by one calculation after another, she returned again and again to the charge, until she overcame the stubborn arithmetical difficulties, and the pounds, shillings, and pence lay prostrate before her. They could save upon this point; they could screw upon that; they must make a sacrifice to educate the children. “Sarah Bunch and her girls go to Court, indeed! Why shouldn’t mine go?” she asked. On which her general said, “By George, Eliza, that’s the point you are thinking of.” On which Eliza said, “No,” and repeated “No” a score of times, growing more angry as she uttered each denial. And she declared before heaven she did not want to go to any Court. Had she not refused to be presented at home, though Mrs. Colonel Flack went, because she did not choose to go to the wicked expense of a train? And it was base of the general, base and mean of him to say so. And there was a fine scene, as I am given to understand; not that I was present at this family fight: but my informant was Mr. Firmin; and Mr. Firmin had his information from a little person who, about this time, had got to prattle out all the secrets of her young heart to him; who would have jumped off the pier-head with her hand in his if he had said “Come;” without his hand if he had said “Go:” a little person whose whole life had been changed — changed for a month past — changed in one minute, that minute when she saw Philip’s fiery whiskers and heard his great big voice saluting her father amongst the commissioners on the quai before the custom-house.
Tours was, at any rate, a hundred and fifty miles farther off than Paris from — from a city where a young gentleman lived in whom Miss Charlotte Baynes felt an interest; hence, I suppose, arose her delight that her parents had determined upon taking up their residence in the larger and nearer city. Besides, she owned, in the course of her artless confidences to my wife, that, when together, mamma and aunt MacWhirter quarrelled unceasingly; and had once caused he old boys, the major and the general, to call each other out. She preferred, then, to live away from aunt Mac. She had never had such a friend as Laura, never. She had never been so happy as at Boulogne, never. She should always love everybody in our house, that she should, for ever and ever — and so forth, and so forth. The ladies meet; cling together; osculations are carried round the whole family circle, from our wondering eldest boy, who cries, “I say, hullo! what are you kissing me so about?” to darling baby, crowing and sputtering unconscious in the rapturous young girl’s embraces. I tell you, these two women were making fools of themselves, and they were burning with enthusiasm for the “preserver” of the Baynes family, as they called that big fellow yonder, whose biographer I have aspired to be. The lazy rogue lay basking in the glorious warmth and sunshine of early love. He would stretch his big limbs out in our garden; pour out his feelings with endless volubility; call upon hominum divumque voluptas, alma Venus; vow that he had never lived or been happy until now; declare that he laughed poverty to scorn and all her ills; and fume against his masters of the Pall Mall Gazette, because they declined to insert certain love verses which Mr. Philip now composed almost every day. Poor little Charlotte! And didst thou receive those treasures of song; and wonder over them, not perhaps comprehending them altogether; and lock them up in they heart’s inmost casket as well as in thy little desk; and take them out in quiet hours, and kiss them, and bless heaven for giving thee such jewels? I daresay. I can fancy all this without seeing it. I can read the little letters in the little desk, without picking lock or breaking seal. Poor little letters! Sometimes they are not spelt right, quite; but I don’t know that the style is worse for that. Poor little letters! You are flung to the winds sometimes and forgotten with all your sweet secrets and loving artless confessions; but not always — no, not always. As for Philip, who was the most careless creature alive, and left all his clothes and haberdashery sprawling on his bed-room floor, he had at this time a breast-pocket stuffed out with papers which crackled in the most ridiculous way. He was always looking down at this precious pocket, and putting one of his great hands over it as though he would guard it. The pocket did not contain bank-notes, you may be sure of that. It contained documents stating that mamma’s cold is better; the Joneses came to tea, and Julia sang, Ah, friend, however old you are now, however cold you are now, however tough, I hope you, too, remember how Julia sang, and the Joneses came to tea.
Mr. Philip stayed on week after week, declaring to my wife that she was a perfect angel for keeping him so long. Bunch wrote from his boarding-house more and more enthusiastic reports about the comforts of the establishment. For his sake, Madame la Baronne de Smolensk would make unheard-of sacrifices, in order to accommodate the general and his distinguished party. The balls were going to be perfectly splendid that winter. There were several old Indians living near; in fact, they could form a regular little club. It was agreed that Baynes should go and reconnoitre the ground. He did go. Madame de Smolensk, a most elegant woman, had a magnificent dinner for him — quite splendid, I give you my word, but only what they have every day. Soup, of course, my love; fish, capital wine, and, I should say, some five or six and thirty made dishes. The general was quite enraptured. Bunch had put his boys to a famous school, where they might “whop” the French boys, and learn all the modern languages. The little ones would dine early; the baroness would take the whole family at an astonishingly cheap rate. In a word, the Baynes’ column got the route for Paris shortly before our family-party was crossing the seas to return to London fogs and duty.
You have, no doubt, remarked how, under certain tender circumstances, women will help one another. They help where they ought not to help. When Mr. Darby ought to be separated from Miss Joan, and the best thing that could happen for both would be a lettre de cachet to whip off Mons. Darby to the Bastille for five years, and an order from her parents to lock up Mademoiselle Jeanne in a convent, some aunt, some relative, some pitying female friend is sure to be found, who will give the pair a chance of meeting, and turn her head away whilst those unhappy lovers are warbling endless good-byes close up to each other’s ears. My wife, I have said, chose to feel this absurd sympathy for the young people about whom we have been just talking. As the days for Charlotte’s departure drew near, this wretched, misguiding matron would take the girl out walking into I know not what unfrequented bye-lanes, quiet streets, rampart-nooks, and the like; and la! by the most singular coincidence, Mr. Philip’s hulking boots would assuredly come tramping after the women’s little feet. What will you say, when I tell you, that I myself, the father of the family, the renter of the oldfashioned house, Rue Roucoule, Haute Ville, Boulognesur-Mer — as I am going into my own study — am met at the threshold by Helen, my eldest daughter, who puts her little arms before the glass-door at which I was about to enter, and says, “You must not go in there, papa! Mamma says we none of us are to go in there.”
“And why, pray?” I ask.
“Because uncle Philip and Charlotte are talking secrets there; and nobody is to disturb them — nobody!”
Upon my word, wasn’t this too monstrous? Am I Sir Pandarus of Troy become? Am I going to allow a penniless young man to steal away the heart of a young girl who has not twopence half-penny to her fortune? Shall I, I say, lend myself to this most unjustifiable intrigue?
“Sir,” says my wife (we happened to have been bred up from childhood together, and I own to have had one or two foolish initiatory flirtations before I settled down to matrimonial fidelity) — “Sir,” says she, “when you were so wild — so spoony, I think is your elegant word — about Blanche, and used to put letters into a hollow tree for her at home, I used to see the letters, and I never disturbed them. These two people have much warmer hearts, and are a great deal fonder of each other, than you and Blanche used to be. I should not like to separate Charlotte from Philip now. It is too late, sir. She can never like anybody else as she likes him. If she lives to be a hundred, she will never forget him. Why should not the poor thing be happy a little, while she may?”
An old house, with a green old courtyard and an ancient mossy wall, through breaks of which I can see the roofs and gables of the quaint old town, the city below, the shining sea, and the white English cliffs beyond; a green old courtyard, and a tall old stone house rising up in it, grown over with many a creeper on which the sun casts flickering shadows; and under the shadows, and through the glass of a tall grey window, I can just peep into a brown twilight parlour, and there I see two hazy figures by a table. One slim figure has brown hair, and one has flame-coloured whiskers. Look! a ray of sunshine has just peered into the room, and is lighting the whiskers up!
“Poor little thing,” whispers my wife, very gently. “They are going away to-morrow. Let them have their talk out. She is crying her little eyes out, I am sure. Poor little Charlotte!”
Whilst my wife was pitying Miss Charlotte in this pathetic way, and was going, I daresay, to have recourse to her own pocket-handkerchief, as I live, there came a burst of laughter from the darkling chamber where the two lovers were billing and cooing. First came Mr. Philip’s great boom (such a roar — such a haw-haw, or hee-haw, I never heard any other two-legged animal perform). Then follows Miss Charlotte’s tinkling peal; and presently that young person comes out into the garden, with her round face not bedewed with tears at all, but perfectly rosy, fresh, dimpled, and good-humoured. Charlotte gives me a little curtsey, and my wife a hand and a kind glance. They retreat through the open casement, twining round each other, as the vine does round the window; though which is the vine and which is the window in this simile, I pretend not to say — I can’t see through either of them, that is the truth. They pass through the parlour, and into the street beyond, doubtless: and as for Mr. Philip, I presently see his head popped out of his window in the upper floor with his great pipe in his mouth. He can’t “work” without his pipe, he says; and my wife believes him. Work, indeed!
Miss Charlotte paid us another little visit that evening, when we happened to be alone. The children were gone to bed. The darlings! Charlotte must go up and kiss them. Mr. Philip Firmin was out. She did not seem to miss him in the least, nor did she make a single inquiry for him. We had been so good to her — so kind. How should she ever forget our great kindness? She had been so happy — oh! so happy! She had never been so happy before. She would write often and often, and Laura would write constantly — wouldn’t she? “Yes, dear child!” says my wife. And now a little more kissing, and it is time to go home to the Tintelleries. What a lovely night! Indeed, the moon was blazing in full round in the purple heavens, and the stars were twinkling by myriads.
“Good-by, dear Charlotte; happiness go with you!” I seize her hand. I feel a paternal desire to kiss her fair, round face. Her sweetness, her happiness, her artless good-humour, and gentleness have endeared her to us all. As for me, I love her with a fatherly affection. “Stay, my dear!” I cry, with a happy gallantry. “I’ll go home with you to the Tintelleries.”
You should have seen the fair round face then! Such a piteous expression came over it! She looked at my wife; and as for that Mrs. Laura she pulled the tail of my coat.
“What do you mean, my dear?” I ask.
“Don’t go out on such a dreadful night. You’ll catch cold!” says Laura.
“Cold, my love!” I say. “Why, it’s as fine a night as ever — ”
“Oh! you — you stoopid!” says Laura, and begins to laugh. And there goes Miss Charlotte tripping away from us without a word more!
Philip came in about half an hour afterwards. And do you know, I very strongly suspect that he had been waiting round the corner. Few things escape me, you see, when I have a mind to be observant. And, certainly, if I had thought of that possibility and that I might be spoiling sport, I should not have proposed to Miss Charlotte to walk home with her.
At a very early hour on the next morning my wife arose, and spent, in my opinion, a great deal of unprofitable time, bread, butter, cold beef, mustard and salt, in compiling a heap of sandwiches, which were tied up in a copy of the Pall Mall Gazette. That persistence in making sandwiches, in provding cakes and other refreshments for a journey, is a strange infatuation in women; as if there was not always enough to eat to be had at road inns and railway stations! What a good dinner we used to have at Montreuil in the old days, before railways were, and when the diligence spent four or six and twenty cheerful hours on its way to Paris! I think the finest dishes are not to be compared to that well-remembered fricandeau of youth, nor do wines of the most dainty vintage surpass the rough, honest, blue ordinaire which was served at the plenteous inn-table. I took our bale of sandwiches down to the office of the Messageries, whence our friends were to start. We saw six of the Baynes family packed into the interior of the diligence; and the boys climb cheerily into the rotonde. Charlotte’s pretty lips and hands wafted kisses to us from her corner. Mrs. General Baynes commanded the column, pushed the little ones into their places in the ark, ordered the general and young ones hither and thither with her parasol, declined to give the grumbling porters any but the smallest gratuity, and talked a shrieking jargon of French and Hindustanee to the people assembled round the carriage. My wife has that command over me that she actually made me demean myself so far as to deliver the sandwich parcel to one of the Baynes boys. I said, “Take this,” and the poor wretch held out his hand eagerly, evidently expecting that I was about to tip him with a five-franc piece or some such coin. Fouette, cocher! The horses squeal. The huge machine jingles over the road, and rattles down the street. Farewell, pretty Charlotte, with your sweet face, and sweet voice, and kind eyes! But why, pray, is Mr. Philip Firmin not here to say farewell too?
Before the diligence got under way, the Baynes boys had fought, and quarrelled, and wanted to mount on the imperial or cabriolet of the carriage, where there was only one passenger as yet. But the conductor called the lads off, saying that the remaining place was engaged by a gentleman, whom they were to take up on the road. And who should this turn out to be? Just outside the town a man springs up to the imperial; his light luggage, it appears, was on the coach already, and that luggage belonged to Philip Firmin. Ah, monsieur! and that was the reason, was it, why they were so merry yesterday — the parting day? Because, when they were not going to part just then. Because, when the time of execution drew near, they had managed to smuggle a little reprieve! Upon my conscience, I never heard of such imprudence in the whole course of my life! Why, it is starvation — certain misery to one and the other. “I don’t like to meddle in other people’s affairs,” I say to my wife; “but I have no patience with such folly, or with myself for not speaking to General Baynes on the subject. I shall write to the general.”
“My dear, the general knows all about it,” says Charlotte’s, Philip’s (in my opinion) most injudicious friend. “We have talked about it, and, like a man of sense, the general makes light of it. ‘Young folks will be young folks,’ he says; ‘and, by George! ma’am, when I married — I should say, when Mrs. B. ordered me to marry her — she had nothing, and I but my captain’s pay. People get on, somehow. Better for a young man to marry, and keep out of idleness and mischief; and, I promise you, the chap who marries my girl gets a treasure. I like the boy for the sake of my old friend Phil Ringwood. I don’t see that the fellows with the rich wives are much the happier, or that men should wait to marry until they are gouty old rakes.’ And, it appears, the general instanced several officers of his own acquaintance; some of whom had married when they were young and poor; some who had married when they were old and sulky; some who had never married at all. And he mentioned his comrade, my own uncle, the late Major Pendennis, whom he called a selfish old creature, and hinted that the major had jilted some lady in early life, whom he would have done much better to marry.”
And so Philip is actually gone after his charmer, and is pursuing her summá diligentiâ? The Baynes family has allowed this penniless young law student to make love to their daughter, to accompany them to Paris, to appear as the almost recognized son of the house. “Other people, when they were young, wanted to make imprudent marriages,” says my wife (as if that wretched tu quoque were any answer to my remark!) “This penniless law student might have a good sum of money if he choose to press the Baynes family to pay him what, after all, they owe him.” And so poor little Charlotte was to be her father’s ransom! To be sure, little Charlotte did not object to offer herself up in payment of her papa’s debt! And though I objected as a moral man and a prudent man, and a father of a family, I could not be very seriously angry. I am secretly of the disposition of the time-honoured père de famille in the comedies, the irascible old gentleman in the crop wig and George-the-Second coat, who is always menacing “Tom the young dog” with his cane. When the deed is done, and Miranda (the little slyboots!) falls before my squaretoes and shoe-buckles, and Tom the young dog kneels before me in his white ducks, and they cry out in a pretty chorus, “Forgive us, grandpapa!” I say, “Well, you rogue, boys will be boys. Take her, sirrah! Be happy with her; and, hark ye! in this pocket-book you will find ten thousand,” You all know the story: I cannot help liking it, however old it may be. In love, somehow, one is pleased that young people should dare a little. Was not Bessy Eldon famous as an economist, and Lord Eldon celebrated for wisdom and caution? and did not John Scott marry Elizabeth Surtees when they had scarcely twopence a year between them? “Of course, my dear,” I say to the partner of my existence, “now this madcap fellow is utterly ruined, now is the very time he ought to marry. The accepted doctrine is that a man should spend his own fortune, then his wife’s fortune, and then he may begin to get on at the bar. Philip has a hundred pounds, let us say; Charlotte has nothing; so that in about six weeks we may look to hear of Philip being in successful practice — ”
“Successful nonsense!” cries the lady. “Don’t go on like a cold-blooded calculating machine! You don’t believe a word of what you say, and a more imprudent person never lived than you yourself were as a young man.” This was departing from the question, which women will do. “Nonsense!” again says my romantic being of a partner-of-existence. “Don’t tell ME, sir. They WILL be provided for! Are we to be for ever taking care of the morrow, and not trusting that we shall be cared for? You may call your way of thinking prudence. I call it sinful worldliness, sir.” When my life-partner speaks in a certain strain, I know that remonstrance is useless, and argument unavailing; and I generally resort to cowardly subterfuges, and sneak out of the conversation by a pun, a side joke, or some other flippancy. Besides, in this case, though I argue against my wife, my sympathy is on her side. I know Mr. Philip is imprudent and headstrong, but I should like him to succeed, and be happy. I own he is a scapegrace, but I wish him well.
So, just as the diligence of Laffitte and Caillard is clearing out of Boulogne town, the conductor causes the carriage to stop, and a young fellow has mounted up on the roof in a twinkling; and the postilion says, “Hi!” to his horses, and away those squealing greys go clattering. And a young lady, happening to look out of one of the windows of the intérieur, has perfectly recognized the young gentleman who leaped up to the roof so nimbly; and the two boys who were in the rotonde would have recognized the gentleman, but that they were already eating the sandwiches which my wife had provided. And so the diligence goes on, until it reaches that hill, where the girls used to come and offer to sell you apples; and some of the passengers descend and walk, and the tall young man on the roof jumps down, and approaches the party in the interior, and a young lady cries out, “La!” and her mamma looks impenetrably grave, and not in the least surprised; and her father gives a wink of one eye, and says, “It’s him, is it, by George!” and the two boys coming out of the rotonde, their mouths full of sandwich, cry out, “Hullo! It’s Mr. Firmin.”
“How do you do, ladies?” he says, blushing as red as an apple, and his heart thumping — but that may be from walking up hill. And he puts a hand towards the carriage-window, and a little hand comes out and lights on his. And Mrs. General Baynes, who is reading a religious work, looks up and says, “Oh! how do you do, Mr. Firmin?” And this is the remarkable dialogue that takes place. It is not very witty; but Philip’s tones send a rapture into one young heart: and when he is absent, and has climbed up to his place in the cabriolet, the kick of his boots on the roof gives the said young heart inexpressible comfort and consolation. Shine stars and moon! Shriek grey horses through the calm night! Snore sweetly, papa and mamma, in your corners, with your pocket-handkerchiefs tied round your old fronts! I suppose, under all the stars of heaven, there is nobody more happy than that child in that carriage — that wakeful girl, in sweet maiden meditation — who has given her heart to the keeping of the champion who is so near her. Has he not been always their champion and preserver? Don’t they owe to his generosity everything in life? One of the little sisters wakes wildly, and cries in the night, and Charlotte takes the child into her arms and soothes her. “Hush, dear! He’s there — he’s there,” she whispers, as she bends over the child. Nothing wrong can happen with him there, she feels. If the robbers were to spring out from yonder dark pines, why, he would jump down, and they would all fly before him! The carriage rolls on through sleeping villages, and as the old team retires all in a halo of smoke, and the fresh horses come clattering up to their pole, Charlotte sees a well-known white face in the gleam of the carriage lanterns. Through the long avenues, the great vehicle rolls on its course. The dawn peers over the poplars: the stars quiver out of sight: the sun is up in the sky, and the heaven is all in a flame. The night is over — the night of nights. In all the round world, whether lighted by stars or sunshine, there were not two people more happy than these had been.
A very short time afterwards, at the end of October, our own little sea-side sojourn came to an end. That astounding bill for broken glass, chairs, crockery, was paid. The London steamer takes us all on board on a beautiful, sunny autumn evening, and lands us at the Custom-house Quay in the midst of a deep, dun fog, through which our cabs have to work their way over greasy pavements, and bearing two loads of silent and terrified children. Ah, that return, if but after a fortnight’s absence and holiday! Oh, that heap of letters lying in a ghastly pile, and yet so clearly visible in the dim twilight of master’s study! We cheerfully breakfast by candlelight for the first two days after my arrival at home, and I have the pleasure of cutting a part of my chin off because it is too dark to shave at nine o’clock in the morning.
My wife can’t be so unfeeling as to laugh and be merry because I have met with an accident which temporarily disfigures me? If the dun fog makes her jocular, she has a very queer sense of humour. She has a letter before her, over which she is perfectly radiant. When she is especially pleased I can see by her face and a particular animation and affectionateness towards the rest of the family. On this present morning her face beams out of the fog-clouds. The room is illuminated by it, and perhaps by the two candles which are placed one on either side of the urn. The fire crackles, and flames, and spits most cheerfully; and the sky without, which is of the hue of brown paper, seems to set off the brightness of the little interior scene.
“A letter from Charlotte, papa,” cries one little girl, with an air of consequence. “And a letter from uncle Philip, papa!” cries another; “and they like Paris so much,” continues the little reporter.
“And there, sir, didn’t I tell you?” cries the lady, handing me over a letter.
“Mamma always told you so,” echoes the child, with an important nod of the head; “and I shouldn’t be surprised if he were to be very rich, should you, mamma?” continues this arithmetician.
I would not put Miss Charlotte’s letter into print if I could, for do you know that little person’s grammar was frequently incorrect; there were three or four words spelt wrongly; and the letter was so scored and marked with dashes under every other word, that it is clear to me her education had been neglected; and as I am very fond of her, I do not wish to make fun of her. And I can’t print Mr. Philip’s letter, for I haven’t kept it. Of what use keeping letters? I say, Burn, burn, burn. No heart-pangs. No reproaches. No yesterday. Was it happy, or miserable? To think of it is always melancholy. Go to! I daresay it is the thought of that fog, which is making this sentence so dismal. Meanwhile there is Madam Laura’s face smiling out of the darkness, as pleased as may be; and no wonder, she is always happy when her friends are so.
Charlotte’s letter contained a full account of the settlement of the Baynes family at Madame Smolensk’s boarding-house, where they appear to have been really very comfortable, and to have lived at a very cheap rate. As for Mr. Philip, he made his way to a crib, to which his artist friends had recommended him, on the Faubourg St. Germain side of the water — the Hôtel Poussin, in the street of that name, which lies, you know, between the Mazarin Library and the Musée des Beaux Arts. In former days, my gentleman had lived in state and bounty in the English hotels and quarter. Now he found himself very handsomely lodged for thirty francs per month and with five or six pounds, he has repeatedly said since, he could carry through the month very comfortably. I don’t say, my young traveller, that you can be so lucky now-a-days. Are we not telling a story of twenty years ago? Aye marry. Ere steam-coaches had begun to scream on French rails; and when Louis Philippe was king.
As soon as Mr. Philip Firmin is ruined he must needs fall in love. In order to be near the beloved object, he must needs follow her to Paris, and give up his promised studies for the bar at home; where, to do him justice, I believe the fellow would never have done any good. And he has not been in Paris a fortnight when that fantastic jade Fortune, who had seemed to fly away from him, gives him a smiling look of recognition, as if to say, “Young gentleman, I have not quite done with you.”
The good fortune was not much. Do not suppose that Philip suddenly drew a twenty-thousand pound prize in a lottery. But, being in much want of money, he suddenly found himself enabled to earn some in a way pretty easy to himself.
In the first place, Philip found his friends Mr. and Mrs. Mugford in a bewildered state in the midst of Paris, in which city Mugford would never consent to have at laquais de place, being firmly convinced to the day of his death that he knew the French language quite sufficiently for all purposes of conversation. Philip, who had often visited Paris before, came to the aid of his friends in a two-franc dining-house, which he frequented for economy’s sake: and they, because they thought the banquet there provided not only cheap, but most magnificent and satisfactory. He interpreted for them, and rescued them from their perplexity, whatever it was. He treated them handsomely to caffy on the bullyvard, as Mugford said on returning home and in recounting the adventure to me. “He can’t forget that he had been a swell: and he does do things like a gentleman, that Firmin does. He came back with us to our hotel — Meurice’s,” said Mr. Mugford, “and who should drive into the yard and step out of his carriage but Lord Ringwood — you know Lord Ringwood; everybody knows him. As he gets out of his carriage — ‘What! is that you, Philip?’ says his lordship, giving the young fellow his hand. ‘Come and breakfast with me to-morrow morning.’ And away he goes most friendly.”
How came it to pass that Lord Ringwood, whose instinct of self-preservation was strong — who, I fear, was rather a selfish nobleman — and who, of late, as we have heard, had given orders to refuse Mr. Philip entrance at his door — should all of a sudden turn round and greet the young man with cordiality? In the first place, Philip had never troubled his lordship’s knocker at all; and second, as luck would have it, on this very day of their meeting his lordship had been to dine with that well-known Parisian resident and bon vivant, my Lord Viscount Trim, who had been governor of the Sago Islands when Colonel Baynes was there with his regiment, the gallant 100th. And the general and his old West India governor meeting at church, my lord Trim straightway asked General Baynes to dinner, where Lord Ringwood was present, along with other distinguished company, whom at present we need not particularize. Now it has been said that Philip Ringwood, my lord’s brother, and Captain Baynes in early youth had been close friends, and that the colonel had died in the captain’s arms. Lord Ringwood, who had an excellent memory when chose to use it, was pleased on this occasion to remember General Baynes and his intimacy with his brother in old days. And of those old times they talked; the general waxing more eloquent, I suppose, than his wont over Lord Trim’s excellent wine. And in the course of conversation Philip was named, and the general, warm with drink, poured out a most enthusiastic eulogium on his young friend, and mentioned how noble and self-denying Philip’s conduct had been in his own case. And perhaps Lord Ringwood was pleased at hearing these praises of his brother’s grandson; and perhaps he thought of old times, when he had a heart, and he and his brother loved each other. And though he might think Philip Firmin an absurd young blockhead for giving up any claims which he might have on General Baynes, at any rate I have no doubt his lordship thought, “This boy is not likely to come begging money from me!” Hence, when he drove back to his hotel on the very night after this dinner, and in the court-yard saw that Philip Firmin, his brother’s grandson the heart of the old nobleman was smitten with a kindly sentiment, and he bade Philip to come and see him.
I have described some of Philip’s oddities, and amongst these was a very remarkable change in his appearance, which ensued very speedily after his ruin. I know that the greater number of story readers are young, and those who are ever so old remember that their own young days occurred but a very, very short while ago. Don’t you remember, most potent, grave, and reverend senior, when you were a junior, and actually rather pleased with new clothes? Does a new coat or a waistcoat cause you any pleasure now? To a well-constituted middle-aged gentleman, I rather trust a smart new suit causes a sensation of uneasiness — not from the tightness of the fit, which may be a reason — but from the gloss and splendour. When my late kind friend, Mrs. — gave me the emerald tabinet waistcoat, with the gold shamrocks, I wore it once to go to Richmond to dine with her; but I buttoned myself so closely in an upper coat, that I am sure nobody in the omnibus saw what a painted vest I had on. Gold sprigs and emerald tabinet, what a gorgeous raiment! It has formed for ten years the chief ornament of my wardrobe; and though I have never dared to wear it since, I always think with a secret pleasure of possessing that treasure. Do women, when they are sixty, like handsome and fashionable attire, and a youthful appearance? Look at Lady Jezebel’s blushing cheek, her raven hair, her splendid garments! But this disquisition may be carried to too great a length. I want to note a fact which has occurred not seldom in my experience — that men who have been great dandies will often and suddenly give up their long-accustomed splendour of dress, and walk about, most happy and contented, with the shabbiest of coats and hats. No. The majority of men are not vain about their dress. For instance, within a very few years, men used to have pretty feet. See in what a resolute way they have kicked their pretty boots off almost to a man, and wear great, thick, formless, comfortable walking boots, of shape scarcely more graceful than a tub!
When Philip Firmin first came on the town there were dandies still; there were dazzling waistcoats of velvet and brocade, and tall stocks with cataracts of satin; there were pins, studs, neck-chains, I know not what fantastic splendours of youth. His varnished boots grew upon forests of trees. He had a most resplendent silver-gilt dressing-case, presented to him by his father (for which, it is true, the doctor neglected to pay, leaving that duty to his son). “It is a mere ceremony,” said the worthy doctor, “a cumbrous thing you may fancy at first; but take it about with you. It looks well on a man’s dressing-table at a country house. It poses a man, you understand. I have known women come in and peep at it. A trifle you may say, my boy; but what is the use of flinging any chance in life away?” Now, when misfortune came, young Philip flung away all these magnificent follies. He wrapped himself virtute suâ; and I am bound to say a more queer-looking fellow than friend Philip seldom walked the pavement of London or Paris. He could not wear the nap off all his coats, or rub his elbows into rags in six months; but, as he would say of himself with much simplicity, “I do think I run to seed more quickly than any fellow I ever knew. All my socks in holes, Mrs. Pendennis; all my shirt-buttons gone, I give you my word. I don’t know how the things hold together, and why they don’t tumble to pieces. I suspect I must have a bad laundress.” Suspect! My children used to laugh and crow as they sowed buttons on to him. As for the Little Sister, she broke into his apartments in his absence, and said that it turned her hair grey to see the state of his poor wardrobe. I believe that Mrs. Brandon put surreptitious linen into his drawers. He did not know. He wore the shirts in a contented spirit. The glossy boots began to crack and then to burst, and Philip wore them with perfect equanimity. Where were the beautiful lavender and lemon gloves of last year? His great naked hands (with which he gesticulates so grandly) were as brown as an Indian’s now. We had liked him heartily in his days of splendour; we loved him now in his thread-bare suit.
I can fancy the young man striding into the room where his lordship’s guests were assembled. In the presence of great or small, Philip has always been entirely unconcerned, and he is one of the half-dozen men I have seen in my life upon whom rank made no impression. It appears that, on occasion of this breakfast, there were one or two dandies present who were aghast at Philip’s freedom of behaviour. He engaged in conversation with a famous French statesman; contradicted him with much energy in his own language; and when the statesman asked whether monsieur was membre du Parlement? Philip burst into one of his roars of laughter, which almost breaks the glasses on a table, and said, “Je suis journaliste, monsieur, à vos ordres!” Young Timbury, of the Embassy, was aghast at Philip’s insolence; and Dr. Botts, his lordship’s travelling physician, looked at him with a terrified face. A bottle of claret was brought, which almost all the gentlemen present began to swallow, until Philip, tasting his glass, called out, “Faugh. It’s corked!” “So it is, and very badly corked,” growls my lord, with one of his usual oaths. “Why didn’t some of you fellows speak? Do you like corked wine?” There were gallant fellows round that table who would have drunk corked black dose, had his lordship professed to like senna. The old host was tickled and amused. “Your mother was a quiet soul, and your father used to bow like a dancing-master. You ain’t much like him. I dine at home most days. Leave word in the morning with my people, and come when you like, Philip,” he growled. A part of this news Philip narrated to us in his letter, and other part was given verbally by Mr. and Mrs. Mugford on their return to London. “I tell you, sir,” says Mugford, “he has been taken by the hand by some of the tiptop people, and I have booked him at three guineas a week for a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette.”
And this was the cause of my wife’s exultation and triumphant “Didn’t I tell you?” Philip’s foot was on the ladder; and who so capable of mounting to the top? When happiness and a fond and lovely girl were waiting for him there, would he lose heart, spare exertion, or be afraid to climb? He had no truer well-wisher than myself, and no friend who liked him better, though, I daresay, many admired him much more than I did. But these were women for the most part; and women become so absurdly unjust and partial to persons whom they love, when these latter are in misfortune, that I am surprised Mr. Philip did not quite lose his head in his poverty, with such fond flatterers and sycophants round about him. Would you grudge him the consolation to be had from these sweet uses of adversity? Many a heart would be hardened but for the memory of past griefs; when eyes, now averted, perhaps, were full of sympathy, and hands, now cold, were eager to soothe and succour.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00