We beg the gracious reader to remember that Mr. Philip’s business at Paris was only with a weekly London paper as yet; and hence that he had on his hands a great deal of leisure. He could glance over the state of Europe; give the latest news from the salons, imparted to him, I do believe, for the most part, by some brother hireling scribes; be present at all the theatres by deputy; and smash Louis Philippe or Messieurs Guizot and Thiers in a few easily turned paragraphs, which cost but a very few hours’ labour to that bold and rapid pen. A wholesome though humiliating thought it must be to great and learned public writers, that their eloquent sermons are but for the day; and that, having read what the philosophers say on Tuesday or Wednesday, we think about their yesterday’s sermons or essays no more. A score of years hence, men will read the papers of 1861 for the occurrences narrated — births, marriages, bankruptcies, elections, murders, deaths, and so forth; and not for the leading articles. “Though there were some of my letters,” Mr. Philip would say, in after times, “that I fondly fancied the world would not willingly let die. I wanted to have them or see them reprinted in a volume, but I could find no publisher willing to undertake the risk. A fond being, who fancies there is genius in everything I say or write, would have had me reprint my letters to the Pall Mall Gazette; but I was too timid, or she, perhaps, was too confident. The letters never were republished. Let them pass.” They have passed. And he sighs, in mentioning this circumstance; and I think tries to persuade himself, rather than others, that he is an unrecognized genius.
“And then, you know,” he pleads, “I was in love, sir, and spending all my days at Omphale’s knees. I didn’t do justice to my powers. If I had had a daily paper, I still think I might have made a good public writer; and that I had the stuff in me — the stuff in me, sir!”
The truth is that, if he had had a daily paper, and ten times as much work as fell to his lot, Mr. Philip would have found means of pursuing his inclination, as he ever through life has done. The being, whom a young man wishes to see, he sees. What business is superior to that of seeing her? Does a little Hellespontine matter keep Leander from his Hero? He would die rather than not see her. Had he swum out of that difficulty on that stormy night, and carried on a few months later, it might have been, “Beloved! my cold and rheumatism are so severe that the doctor says I must not think of cold bathing at-night;” or, “Dearest! we have a party at tea, and you mustn’t expect your ever fond Lambda to-night,” and so forth, and so forth. But in the heat of his passion water could not stay him; tempests could not frighten him; and in one of them he went down, while poor Hero’s lamp was twinkling and spending its best flame in vain. So Philip came from Sestos to Abydos daily — across one of the bridges, and paying a halfpenny toll very likely — and, late or early, poor little Charlotte’s virgin lamps were lighted in her eyes, and watching for him.
Philip made many sacrifices, mind you: sacrifices which all men are not in the habit of making. When Lord Ringwood was in Paris, twice, thrice he refused to dine with his lordship, until that nobleman smelt a rat, as the saying is — and said, “Well, youngster, I suppose you are going where there is metal more attractive. When you come to twelve lustres, my boy, you’ll find vanity and vexation in that sort of thing, and a good dinner better, and cheaper, too, than the best of them.” And when some of Philip’s rich college friends met him in his exile, and asked him to the Rocher or the Trois Freres, he would break away from those banquets; and as for meeting at those feasts doubtful companions, whom young men will sometimes invite to their entertainments, Philip turned from such with scorn and anger. His virtue was loud, and he proclaimed it loudly. He expected little Charlotte to give him credit for it, and told her of his self-denial. And she believed anything he said; and delighted in everything he wrote; and copied out his articles for the Pall Mall Gazette; and treasured his poems in her desk of desks: and there never was in all Sestos, in all Abydos, in all Europe, in all Asia Minor or Asia Major, such a noble creature as Leander, Hero thought; never, never! I hope, young ladies, you may all have a Leander on his way to the tower where the light of your love is burning steadfastly. I hope, young gentlemen, you have each of you a beacon in sight, and may meet with no mishap in swimming to it.
From my previous remarks regarding Mrs. Baynes, the reader has been made aware that the general’s wife was no more faultless than the rest of her fellowcreatures; and having already candidly informed the public that the writer and his family were no favourites of this lady, I have now the pleasing duty of recording my own opinions regarding her Mrs. General B. was an early riser. She was a frugal woman; fond of her young, or, let us say, anxious to provide for their maintenance; and here, with my best compliments, I think the catalogue of her good qualities is ended. She had a bad, violent temper; a disagreeable person, attired in very bad taste; a shrieking voice; and two manners, the respectful and the patronizing, which were both alike odious. When she ordered Baynes to marry her, gracious powers! why did he not run away? Who dared first to say that marriages are made in heaven? We know that there are not only blunders, but roguery in the marriage office. Do not mistakes occur every day, and are not the wrong people coupled? Had heaven anything to do with the bargain by which young Miss Blushrose was sold to old Mr. Hoarfrost? Did heaven order young Miss Tripper to throw over poor Tom Spooner, and marry the wealthy Mr. Bung? You may as well say that horses are sold in heaven, which, as you know, are groomed, are doctored, are chanted on to the market, and warranted by dexterous horse-vendors, as possessing every quality of blood, pace, temper, age. Against these Mr. Greenhorn has his remedy sometimes; but against a mother who sells you a warranted daughter, what remedy is there? You have been jockeyed by false representation into bidding for the Cecilia, and the animal is yours for life. She shies, kicks, stumbles, has an infernal temper, is a crib-biter — and she was warranted to you by her mother as the most perfect, good-tempered creature, whom the most timid might manage! You have bought her. She is yours. Heaven bless you! Take her home, and be miserable for the rest of your days. You have no redress. You have done the deed. Marriages were made in heaven, you know; and in yours you were as much sold as Moses Primrose was when he bought the gross of green spectacles.
I don’t think poor General Baynes ever had a proper sense of his situation, or knew how miserable he ought by rights to have been. He was not uncheerful at times: a silent man, liking his rubber and his glass of wine; a very weak person in the common affairs of life, as his best friends must own; but, as I have heard, a very tiger in action. “I know your opinion of the general,” Philip used to say to me, in his grandiloquent way. “You despise men who don’t bully their wives; you do, sir! You think the general weak, I know, I know. Other brave men were so about women, as I daresay you have heard. This man, so weak at home, was mighty on the war-path; and in his wigwam are the scalps of countless warriors.”
“In his wig what?” say I. The truth is, on his meek head the general wore a little curling chestnut top-knot, which looked very queer and out of place over that wrinkled and war-worn face.
“If you choose to laugh at your joke, pray do,” says Phil, majestically. “I make a noble image of a warrior: You prefer a barber’s pole. Bon! Pass me the wine. The veteran whom I hope to salute as father ere long — the soldier of twenty battles; — who saw my own brave grandfather die at his side — die at Busaco, by George; you laugh at an account of his wig. It’s a capital joke.” And here Phil scowled and slapped the table, and passed his hand across his eyes, as though the death of his grandfather, which occurred long before Philip was born, caused him a very serious pang of grief. Philip’s newspaper business brought him to London on occasions. I think it was on one of these visits, that we had our talk about General Baynes. And it was at the same time Philip described the boarding-house to us, and its inmates, and the landlady, and the doings there.
For that struggling landlady, as for all women in distress, our friend had a great sympathy and liking; and she returned Philip’s kindness by being very good to Mademoiselle Charlotte, and very forbearing with the general’s wife and his other children. The appetites of those little ones were frightful, the temper of Madame la Générale was almost intolerable, but Charlotte was an angel, and the general was a mutton — a true mutton. Her own father had been so. The brave are often muttons at home. I suspect that, though madame could have made but little profit by the general’s family, his monthly payments were very welcome to her meagre little exchequer. “Ah! if all my locataires were like him!” sighed the poor lady. “That Madame Boldero, whom the generaless treats always as Honourable, I wish I was as sure of her! And others again!”
I never kept a boarding-house, but I am sure there must be many painful duties attendant on that profession. What can you do if a lady or gentleman doesn’t pay his bill? Turn him or her out? Perhaps the very thing that lady or gentleman would desire. They go. Those trunks which you have insanely detained, and about which you have made a fight and a scandal, do not contain a hundred francs’ worth of goods, and your creditors never come back again. You do not like to have a row in a boarding-house any more than you would like to have a party with scarlet-fever in your best bedroom. The scarlet-fever party stays, and the other boarders go away. What, you ask, do I mean by this mystery? I am sorry to have to give up names, and titled names. I am sorry to say the Honourable Mrs. Boldero did not pay her bills. She was waiting for remittances, which the Honourable Boldero was dreadfully remiss in sending. A dreadful man! He was still at his lordship’s at Gaberlunzie Castle, shooting the wild deer and hunting the roe. And though the Honourable Mrs. B.’s heart was in the Highlands, of course, how could she join her Highland chief without the money to pay madame? The Highlands, indeed! One dull day it came out that the Honourable Boldero was amusing himself in the Highlands of Hesse Homburg; and engaged in the dangerous sport which is to be had in the green plains about Loch Badenbadenoch!
“Did you ever hear of such depravity? The woman is a desperate and unprincipled adventuress! I wonder madame dares to put me and my children and my general down at table with such people as those, Philip!” cries madame la générale. “I mean those opposite — that woman and her two daughters who haven’t paid madame a shilling for three months — who owes me five hundred francs, which she borrowed until next Tuesday, expecting a remittance — a pretty remittance indeed — from Lord Strongitharm. Lord Strongitharm, I daresay! And she pretends to be most intimate at the embassy; and that she would introduce us there, and at the Tuileries: and she told me Lady Estridge had the small-pox in the house; and when I said all ours had been vaccinated, and I didn’t mind, she fobbed me off with some other excuse; and it’s my belief the woman’s a humbug. Overhear me! I don’t care if she does overhear me. No. You may look as much as you like, my Honourable Mrs. Boldero; and I don’t care if you do overhear me. Ogoost! Pomdytare pour le général! How tough madame’s boof is, and it’s boof, boof, boof every day, till I’m sick of boof. Ogoost! why don’t you attend to my children?” And so forth.
By this report of the worthy woman’s conversation, you will see that the friendship which had sprung up between the two ladies had come to an end, in consequence of painful pecuniary disputes between them; that to keep a boarding-house can’t be a very pleasant occupation; and that even to dine in a boarding-house must be very bad fun when the company is frightened and dull, and when there are two old women at table ready to fling the dishes at each other’s fronts. At the period of which I now write, I promise you, there was very little of the piano-duet business going on after dinner. In the first place, everybody knew the girls’ pieces; and when they began, Mrs. General Baynes would lift up a voice louder than the jingling old instrument, thumped Minna and Brenda ever so loudly. “Perfect strangers to me, Mr. Clancy, I assure you. Had I known her, you don’t suppose I would have lent her the money. Honourable Mrs. Boldero, indeed! Five weeks she has owed me five hundred frongs. Bong swor, Monsieur Bidois! Sang song frong pas payy encor! Prommy, pas payy!” Fancy, I say, what a dreary life that must have been at the select boarding-house, where these two parties were doing battle daily after dinner! Fancy, at the select soirées, the general’s lady seizing upon one guest after another, and calling out her wrongs, and pointing to the wrong-doer; and poor Madame Smolensk, smirking, and smiling, and flying from one end of the salon to the other, and thanking M. Pivoine for his charming romance, and M. Brumm for his admirable performance on the violoncello, and even asking those poor Miss Bolderos to perform their duet — for her heart melted towards them. Not ignorant of evil, she had learned to succour the miserable. She knew what poverty was, and had to coax scowling duns, and wheedle vulgar creditors. “Tenez, Monsieur Philippe,” she said, “the générale is too cruel. There are others here who might complain, and are silent.” Philip felt all this; the conduct of his future mother-in-law filled him with dismay and horror. And some time after these remarkable circumstances, he told me, blushing as he spoke, a humiliating secret. “Do you know, sir,” says he, “that autumn I made a pretty good thing of it with one thing or another. I did my work for the Pall Mall Gazette: and Smith of the Daily Intelligencer, wanting a month’s holiday, gave me his letter and ten francs a day. And at that very time I met Redman, who had owed me twenty pounds ever since we were at college, and who was just coming back flush from Homburg, and paid me. Well, now. Swear you won’t tell. Swear on your faith as a Christian man! With this money I went, sir, privily to Mrs. Boldero. I said if she would pay the dragon — I mean Mrs. Baynes — I would lend her the money. And I did lend her the money, and the Boldero never paid back Mrs. Baynes. Don’t mention it. Promise me you won’t tell Mrs. Baynes. I never expected to get Redman’s money you know, and am no worse off than before. One day of the Grandes Eaux we went to Versailles I think, and the Honourable Mrs. Boldero gave us the slip. She left the poor girls behind her in pledge, who, to do them justice, cried and were in a dreadful way; and when Mrs. Baynes, on our return, began shrieking about her ‘sang song frong,’ Madame Smolensk fairly lost patience for once, and said, ‘Mais, madame, vous nous fatiguez avec vos cinq cents francs;’ on which the other muttered something about ‘Ansolong,’ but was briskly taken up by her husband, who said, ‘By George, Eliza, madame is quite right. And I wish the five hundred francs were in the sea.’”
Thus you understand, if Mrs. General Baynes thought some people were “stuck-up people,” some people can — and hereby do by these presents — pay off Mrs. Baynes, by furnishing the public with a candid opinion of that lady’s morals, manners, and character. How could such a shrewd woman be dazzled so repeatedly by ranks and titles? There used to dine at Madame Smolensk’s boarding-house a certain German baron, with a large finger-ring, upon a dingy finger, towards whom the lady was pleased to cast the eye of favour, and who chose to fall in love with her pretty daughter; young Mr. Clancy, the Irish poet, was also smitten with the charms of the fair young lady; and this intrepid mother encouraged both suitors, to the unspeakable agonies of Philip Firmin, who felt often that whilst he was away at his work these inmates of Madame Smolensk’s house were near his charmer — at her side at lunch, ever handing her the cup at breakfast, on the watch for her when she walked forth in the garden; and I take the pangs of jealousy to have formed a part of those unspeakable sufferings which Philip said he endured in the house whither he came courting.
Little Charlotte, in one or two of her letters to her friends in Queen Square, London, meekly complained of Philip’s tendency to jealousy. “Does he think, after knowing him, I can think of these horrid men?” she asked. “I don’t understand what Mr. Clancy is talking about, when he comes to me with his ‘pomes and potry;’ and who can read poetry like Philip himself? Then the German baron — who does not even call himself a baron: it is mamma who will insist upon calling him so — has such very dirty things, and smells so of cigars, that I don’t like to come near him. Philip smokes too, but his cigars are quite pleasant. Ah, dear friend, how could he ever think such men as these were to be put in comparison with him! And he scolds so; and scowls at the poor men in the evening when he comes! and his temper is so high! Do say a word to him — quite cautiously and gently, you know — in behalf of your fondly attached and most happy — only he will make me unhappy sometimes; but you’ll prevent him, won’t you? — Charlotte B.”
I could fancy Philip hectoring through the part of Othello, and his poor young Desdemona not a little frightened at his black humours. Such sentiments as Mr. Philip felt strongly, he expressed with an uproar. Charlotte’s correspondent, as usual, made light of these little domestic confidences and grievances. “Women don’t dislike a jealous scolding,” she said. “It may be rather tiresome, but it is always a compliment. Some husbands think so well of themselves, that they can’t condescend to be jealous.” Yes, I say, women prefer to have tyrants over them. A scolding you think is a mark of attention. Hadn’t you better adopt the Russian system at once, and go out and buy me a whip, and present it to me with a curtsey, and your compliments; and a meek prayer that I should use it. “Present you a whip! present you a goose!” says the lady, who encourages scolding in other husbands, it seems, but won’t suffer a word from her own.
Both disputants had set their sentimental hearts on the marriage of this young man and this young woman. Little Charlotte’s heart was so bent on the match, that it would break, we fancied, if she were disappointed; and in her mother’s behaviour we felt, from the knowledge we had of the woman’s disposition, there was a serious cause for alarm. Should a better offer present itself, Mrs. Baynes, we feared, would fling over poor Philip: or, it was in reason and nature, that he would come to a quarrel with her, and in the course of the pitched battle which must ensue between them, he would fire off expressions mortally injurious. Are there not many people, in every one’s acquaintance, who, as soon as they have made a bargain, repent of it? Philip, as “preserver” of General Baynes, in the first fervour of family gratitude for that act of self-sacrifice on the young man’s part, was very well. But gratitude wears out; or suppose a woman says, “It is my duty to my child to recal my word; and not allow her to fling herself away on a beggar.” Suppose that you and I, strongly inclined to do a mean action, get a good, available, and moral motive for it? I trembled for poor Philip’s course of true love, and little Charlotte’s chances, when these surmises crossed my mind. There was a hope still in the honour and gratitude of General Baynes. He would not desert his young friend and benefactor. Now General Baynes was a brave man of war, and so was John of Marlborough a brave man of war; but it is certain that both were afraid of their wives.
We have said by whose invitation and encouragement General Baynes was induced to bring his family to the boarding-house at Paris; the instigation, namely, of his friend and companion in arms, the gallant Colonel Bunch. When the Baynes family arrived, the Bunches were on the steps of madame’s house, waving a welcome to the new-comers. It was, “Here we are, Bunch, my boy.”
“Glad to see you, Baynes. Right well you’re looking, and so’s Mrs. B.”
And the general replies, “And so are you, Bunch; and so do you, Mrs. B.”
“How do, boys? Hoy d’you do, Miss Charlotte? Come to show the Paris fellows what a pretty girl is, hey? Blooming like a rose, Baynes!”
“I’m telling the general,” cries the colonel to the general’s lady, “the girl’s the very image of her mother.”
In this case poor Charlotte must have looked like a yellow rose, for Mrs. Baynes was of a bilious temperament and complexion, whereas Miss Charlotte was as fresh pink and white as — what shall we say? — as the very freshest strawberries mingled with the very nicest cream.
The two old soldiers were of very great comfort to one another. They toddled down to Galignani’s together daily, and read the papers there. They went and looked at the reviews in the Carrousel, and once or twice to the Champ de Mars; — recognizing here and there the numbers of the regiments against which they had been engaged in the famous ancient wars. They did not brag in the least about their achievements, they winked and understood each other. They got their old uniforms out of their old boxes, and took a voiture de remise, by Jove! and went to be presented to Louis Philippe. They bought a catalogue; and went to the Louvre, and wagged their honest old heads before the pictures; and, I daresay, winked and nudged each other’s brave old sides at some of the nymphs in the statue gallery. They went out to Versailles with their families; loyally stood treat to the ladies at the restaurateur’s . (Bunch had taken down a memorandum in his pocket-book from Benyon, who had been the duke’s aide-de-camp in the last campaign, to “go to Beauvillier’s,” only Beauvillier’s had been shut up for twenty years.) They took their families and Charlotte to the Théâtre Français, to a tragedy; and they had books: and they said it was the most confounded nonsense they ever saw in their lives; and I am bound to say that Bunch, in the back of the box, snored so, that, though in retirement, he created quite a sensation. “Corneal,” he owns, was too much for him: give him Shakspeare: give him John Kemble: give him Mrs. Siddons: give him Mrs. Jordan. But as for this sort of thing? “I think our play days are over, Baynes — hey?” And I also believe that Miss Charlotte Baynes, whose knowledge of the language was slight as yet, was very much bewildered during the tragedy, and could give but an imperfect account of it. But then Philip Firmin was in the orchestra stalls; and had he not sent three bouquets for the three ladies, regretting that he could not come to see somebody in the Champs Elysées, because it was his post day, and he must write his letter for the Pall Mall Gazette? There he was, her Cid; her peerless champion: and to give up father and mother for him? our little Chimène thought such a sacrifice not too difficult. After that dismal attempt at the theatre, the experiment was not repeated. The old gentlemen preferred their whist, to those pompous Alexandrines sung through the nose, which Colonel Bunch, a facetious little colonel, used to imitate, and, I am given to understand, very badly.
The worthy officers compared madame’s to an East Indian ship, quarrels and all. Selina went on just in that way on board the Burrumpooter. Always rows about precedence, and the services, and the deuce knows what. Women always will. Selina Bunch went on in that way: and Eliza Baynes also went on in that way: but I should think, from the most trustworthy information, that Eliza was worse than Selina.
“About any person with a title, that woman will make a fool of herself to the end of the chapter,” remarked Selina of her friend. “You remember how she used to go on at Barrackpore about that little shrimp Stoney Battersby, because he was an Irish viscount’s son? See how she flings herself at the head of this Mrs. Boldero — with her airs, and her paint, and her black front! I can’t bear the woman! I know she has not paid madame. I know she is no better than she should be; and to see Eliza Baynes coaxing her, and sidling up to her, and flattering her:— it’s too bad, that it is! A woman who owes ever so much to madame! a woman who doesn’t pay her washer-woman!”
“Just like the Burrumpooter over again, my dear,” cries Colonel Bunch. “You and Eliza Baynes were always quarrelling; that’s the fact. Why did you ask her to come here? I knew you would begin again, as soon as you met.” And the truth was that these ladies were always fighting and making up again.
“So you and Mrs. Bunch were old acquaintances?” asked Mrs. Boldero of her new friend. “My dear Mrs. Baynes! I should hardly have thought it: your manners are so different! Your friend, if I may be so free as to speak, has the camp manner. You have not the camp manner at all. I should have thought you — excuse me the phrase, but I’m so open, and always speak my mind out — you haven’t the camp manner at all. You seem as if you were one of us. Minna! doesn’t Mrs. Baynes put you in mind of Lady Hm —?” (The name is inaudible, in consequence of Mrs. Boldero’s exceeding shyness in mentioning names; but the girls see the likeness to dear Lady Hm — at once.) “And when you bring your dear girl to London, you’ll know the lady I mean, and judge for yourself. I assure you I am not disparaging you, my dear Mrs. Baynes, in comparing you to her!”
And so the conversation goes on. If Mrs. Major MacWhirter at Tours chose to betray secrets, she could give extracts from her sister’s letters to show how profound was the impression created in Mrs. General Baynes’ mind by the professions and conversation of the Scotch lady.
“Didn’t the general shoot and love deer-stalking? The dear general must come to Gaberlunzie Castle, where she would promise him a Highland welcome. Her brother Strongitharm was the most amiable of men; adored her and her girls: there was talk even of marrying Minna to the captain, but she for her part could not endure the marriage of first-cousins. There was a tradition against such marriages in their family. Of three Bolderos and Strongitharms who married their first-cousins, one was drowned in Gaberlunzie lake three weeks after the marriage; one lost his wife by a galloping consumption, and died a monk at Rome; and the third married a fortnight before the battle of Culloden, where he was slain at the head of the Strongitharms. Mrs. Baynes had no idea of the splendour of Gaberlunzie Castle; seventy bedrooms and thirteen company rooms, besides the picture gallery! In Edinburgh, and Strongitharm had the right to wear his bonnet in the presence of his sovereign.” A bonnet! how very odd, my dear! But with ostrich plumes, I daresay it may look well, especially as the Highlanders wear frocks too. “Lord Strongitharm had no house in London, having almost ruined himself in building his princely castle in the north. Mrs. Baynes must come there and meet their noble relatives and all the Scottish nobility.” Nor do I care about these vanities, my dear, but to bring my sweet Charlotte into the world: is it not a mother’s duty?
Not only to her sister, but likewise to Charlotte’s friends of Queen Square, did Mrs. Baynes impart these delightful news. But this is in the first ardour of the friendship which arises between Mrs. Baynes and Mrs. Boldero, and before those unpleasant money disputes of which we have spoken.
Afterwards, when the two ladies have quarrelled regarding the memorable “sang song frong,” I think Mrs. Bunch came round to Mrs. Boldero’s side. “Eliza Baynes is too hard on her. It is too cruel to insult her before those two unhappy daughters. The woman is an odious woman, and a vulgar woman, and a schemer, and I always said so. But to box her ears before her daughters — her honourable friend of last week! it’s a shame of Eliza!”
“My dear, you’d better tell her so!” says Bunch drily. “But if you do, tell her when I’m out of the way, please!” And accordingly, one day when the two old officers return from their stroll, Mrs. Bunch informs the colonel that she has had it out with Eliza; and Mrs. Baynes, with a heated face, tells the general that she and Mrs. Colonel Bunch have quarrelled; and she is determined it shall be for the last time. So that poor Madame de Smolensk has to interpose between Mrs. Baynes and Mrs. Boldero; between Mrs. Baynes and Mrs. Bunch; and to sit surrounded by glaring eyes, and hissing inuendoes, and in the midst of feuds unhealable. Of course, from the women the quarrelling will spread to the gentlemen. That always happens. Poor Madame trembles. Again Bunch gives his neighbour his word that it is like the Burrumpooter East Indiaman — the Burrumpooter in very bad weather, too.
“At any rate, we won’t be lugged into it, Baynes, my boy!” says the colonel, who is of a sanguine temperament, to his friend.
“Hey, hey! don’t be too sure, Bunch; don’t be too sure!” sighs the other veteran, who, it may be, is of a more desponding turn, as, after a battle at luncheon, in which the Amazons were fiercely engaged, the two old warriors take their walk to Galignani’s .
Towards his Charlotte’s relatives poor Philip was respectful by duty and a sense of interest, perhaps. Before marriage, especially, men are very kind to the relatives of the beloved object. They pay compliments to mamma; they listen to papa’s old stories, and laugh appositely; they bring presents for the innocent young ones, and let the little brothers kick their shins. Philip endured the juvenile Bayneses very kindly: he took the boys to Franconi’s, and made his conversation as suitable as he could to the old people. He was fond of the old general, a simple and worthy old man; and had, as we have said, a hearty sympathy and respect for Madame Smolensk, admiring her constancy and goodhumour under her many trials. But those who have perused his memoirs are aware that Mr. Firmin could make himself, on occasions, not a little disagreeable. When sprawling on a sofa, engaged in conversation with his charmer, he would not budge when other ladies entered the room. He scowled at them, if he did not like them. He was not at the least trouble to conceal his likes or dislikes. He had a manner of fixing his glass in his eye, putting his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, and talking and laughing very loudly at his own jokes or conceits, which was not pleasant or respectful to ladies.
“Your loud young friend, with the cracked boots, is very maurais ton, my dear Mrs. Baynes,” Mrs. Boldero remarked to her new friend, in the first ardour of their friendship. “A relative of Lord Ringwood’s, is he? Lord Ringwood is a very queer person. A son of that dreadful Dr. Firmin, who ran away after cheating everybody? Poor young man! He can’t help having such a father, as you say, and most good, and kind, and generous of you to say so. And the general and the Honourable Philip Ringwood were early companions together, I daresay. But, having such an unfortunate father as Dr. Firmin, I think Mr. Firmin might be a little less prononcé; don’t you? And to see him in cracked boots, sprawling over the sofas, and hear him, when my loves are playing their duets, laughing and talking so very loud, — I confess isn’t pleasant to me. I am not used to that kind of monde, nor are my dear loves. You are under great obligations to him, and he has behaved nobly, you say? Of course. To get into your society an unfortunate young man will be on his best behaviour, though he certainly does not condescend to be civil to us. But . . . What! That young man engaged to that lovely, innocent, charming child, your daughter? My dear creature, you frighten me! A man, with such a father; and, excuse me, with such a manner; and without a penny in the world, engaged to Miss Baynes! Goodness, powers! It must never be. It shall not be, my dear Mrs. Baynes. Why, I have written to my nephew Hector to come over, Strongitharm’s favourite son and my favourite nephew. I have told him that there is a sweet young creature here, whom he must and ought to see. How well that dear child would look presiding at Strongitharm Castle? And you are going to give her to that dreadful young man with the loud voice and the cracked boots — that smoky young man — oh, impossible!”
Madame had, no doubt, given a very favourable report of her new lodgers to the other inmates of her house; and she and Mrs. Boldero had concluded that all general officers returning from India were immensely rich. To think that her daughter might be the Honourable Mrs. Strongitharm, Baroness Strongitharm, and walk in a coronation in robes, with a coronet in her hand! Mrs. Baynes yielded in loyalty to no woman, but I fear her wicked desires compassed a speedy royal demise, as this thought passed through her mind of the Honourable Lenox Strongitharm. She looked him out in the Peerage, and found that young nobleman designated as the Captain of Strongitharm. Charlotte might be the Honourable Mrs. Captain of Strongitharm! When poor Phil stalked in after dinner that evening in his shabby boots and smoky paletot, Mrs. Baynes gave him but a grim welcome. He went and prattled unconsciously by the side of his little Charlotte, whose tender eyes dwelt upon his, and whose fair cheeks flung out their blushes of welcome. He prattled away. He laughed out loud whilst Minna and Brenda were thumping their duet. “Taisez-vous donc, Monsieur Philippe,” cries madame, putting her finger to her lip. The Honourable Mrs. Boldero looked at dear Mrs. Baynes, and shrugged her shoulders. Poor Philip! would he have laughed so loudly (and so rudely, too, as I own) had he known what was passing in the minds of those women? Treason was passing there: and before that glance of knowing scorn, shot from the Honourable Mrs. Boldero’s eyes, dear Mrs. General Baynes faltered. How very curt and dry she was with Philip! how testy with Charlotte! Poor Philip, knowing that his charmer was in the power of her mother, was pretty humble to this dragon; and attempted, by uncouth flatteries, to soothe and propitiate her. She had a queer, dry humour, and loved a joke; but Phil’s fell very flat this night. Mrs. Baynes received his pleasantries with an “Oh, indeed!” She was sure she heard one of the children crying in their nursery. “Do, pray, go and see, Charlotte, what that child is crying about.” And away goes poor Charlotte, having but dim presentiment of misfortune as yet. Was not mamma often in an ill humour; and were they not all used to her scoldings?
As for Mrs. Colonel Bunch, I am sorry to say that, up to this time, Philip was not only no favourite with her, but was heartily disliked by that lady. I have told you our friend’s faults. He was loud: he was abrupt: he was rude often: and often gave just cause of annoyance by his laughter, his disrespect, and his swaggering manner. To those whom he liked he was as gentle as a woman; and treated them with an extreme tenderness and touching rough respect. But those persons about whom he was indifferent, he never took the least trouble to conciliate or please. If they told long stories, for example, he would turn on his heel, or interrupt them by observations of his own on some quite different subject. Mrs. Colonel Bunch, then, positively disliked that young man, and I think had very good reasons for her dislike. As for Bunch, Bunch said to Baynes, “Cool hand, that young fellow!” and winked. And Baynes said to Bunch, “Queer chap. Fine fellow, as I have reason to know pretty well. I play a club. No club? I mark honours and two tricks.” And the game went on. Clancy hated Philip: a meek man, whom Firmin had yet managed to offend. “That man,” the pote Clancy remarked, “has a manner of treading on me corrans which is intolerable to me!”
The truth is, Philip was always putting his foot on some other foot, and trampling it. And as for the Boldero clan, Mr. Firmin treated them with the most amusing insolence, and ignored them as if they were out of existence altogether. So you see the poor fellow had not with his poverty learned the least lesson of humility, or acquired the very earliest rudiments of the art of making friends. I think his best friend in the house was its mistress, Madame Smolensk. Mr. Philip treated her as an equal: which mark of affability he was not in the habit of bestowing on all persons. Some great people, some rich people, some would-be-fine people, he would patronize with an insufferable audacity. Rank or wealth do not seem somehow to influence this man, as they do common mortals. He would tap a bishop on the waistcoat, and contradict a duke at their first meeting. I have seen him walk out of church during a stupid sermon, with an audible remark perhaps to that effect, and as if it were a matter of course that he should go. If the company bored him at dinner, he would go to sleep in the most unaffected manner. At home we were always kept in a pleasant state of anxiety, not only by what he did and said, but by the idea of what he might do or say next. He did not go to sleep at madame’s boarding-house, preferring to keep his eyes open to look at pretty Charlotte’s . And were there ever such sapphires as his? she thought. And hers? Ah! if they have tears to shed, I hope a kind fate will dry them quickly!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00