The three old comrades and Philip formed the little mourning procession which followed the general to his place of rest at Montmartre. When the service has been read, and the last volley has been fired over the buried soldier, the troops march to quarters with a quick step, and to a lively tune. Our veteran has been laid in the grave with brief ceremonies. We do not even prolong his obsequies with a sermon. His place knows him no longer. There are a few who remember him: a very, very few who grieve for him — so few that to think of them is a humiliation almost. The sun sets on the earth, and our dear brother has departed off its face. Stars twinkle; dews fall; children go to sleep in awe, and maybe tears; the sun rises on a new day, which he has never seen, and children wake hungry. They are interested about their new black clothes, perhaps. They are presently at their work, plays, quarrels. They are looking forward to the day when the holidays will be over, and the eyes which shone here yesterday so kindly are gone, gone, gone. A drive to the cemetery, followed by a coach with four acquaintances dressed in decorous black, who separate and go to their homes or clubs, and wear your crape for a few days after — can most of us expect much more? The thought is not ennobling or exhilarating, worthy sir. And, pray, why should we be proud of ourselves? Is it because we have been so good, or are so wise and great, that we expect to be beloved, lamented, remembered? Why, great Xerxes or blustering Bobadil must know in that last hour and resting-place how abject, how small, how low, how lonely they are, and what a little dust will cover them. Quick, drums and fifes, a lively tune! Whip the black team, coachman, and trot back to town again — to the world, and to business, and duty!
I am for saying no single unkindness of General Baynes which is not forced upon me by my storyteller’s office. We know, from Marlborough’s story, that the bravest man and greatest military genius is not always brave or successful in his battles with his wife, and that some of the greatest warriors have committed errors in accounts and the distribution of meum and tuum. We can’t disguise from ourselves the fact that Baynes permitted himself to be misled, and had weaknesses not quite consistent with the highest virtue.
When he became aware that his carelessness in the matter of Mrs. Firmin’s trust-money had placed him in her son’s power, we have seen how the old general, in order to avoid being called to account, fled across the water with his family and all his little fortune, and how terrified he was on landing on a foreign shore to find himself face to face with this dreadful creditor. Philip’s renunciation of all claims against Baynes, soothed and pleased the old man wonderfully. But Philip might change his mind, an adviser at Baynes’ side repeatedly urged. To live abroad was cheaper and safer than to live at home. Accordingly Baynes, his wife, family, and money, all went into exile, and remained there.
What savings the old man had I don’t accurately know. He and his wife were very dark upon this subject with Philip: and when the general died, his widow declared herself to be almost a pauper. It was impossible that Baynes should have left much money; but that Charlotte’s share should have amounted to — that sum which may or may not presently be stated — was a little too absurd! You see Mr. and Mrs. Firmin are travelling abroad just now. When I wrote to Firmin to ask if I might mention the amount of his wife’s fortune, he gave me no answer: nor do I like to enter upon these matters of calculation without his explicit permission. He is of a hot temper; he might, on his return, grow angry with the friend of his youth, and say, “Sir, how dare you to talk about my private affairs? and what has the public to do with Mrs. Firmin’s private fortune?”
When, the last rites over, good-natured uncle Mac proposed to take Charlotte back to Tours, her mother made no objection. The widow had tried to do the girl such an injury, that perhaps the latter felt forgiveness was impossible. Little Char loved Philip with all her heart and strength; had been authorized and encouraged to do so, as we have seen. To give him up now, because a richer suitor presented himself, was an act of treason from which her faithful heart revolted, and she never could pardon the instigator. You see, in this simple story, I scarcely care even to have reticence or secrets. I don’t want you to understand for a moment that Hely Walsingham was still crying his eyes out about Charlotte. Goodness bless you! It was two or three weeks ago — four or five weeks ago, that he was in love with her! He had not seen the Duchesse d’Ivry then, about whom you may remember he had the quarrel with Podichon, at the club in the Rue de Grammont. (He and the duchesse wrote poems to each other, each in the other’s native language.) The Charlotte had long passed out of the young fellow’s mind. That butterfly had fluttered off from our English rosebud, and had settled on the other elderly flower! I don’t know that Mrs. Baynes was aware of young Hely’s fickleness at this present time of which we are writing: but his visits had ceased, and she was angry and disappointed; and not the less angry because her labour had been in vain. On her part, Charlotte could also be resolutely unforgiving. Take her Philip from her? Never, never! Her mother force her to give up the man whom she had been encouraged to love? Mamma should have defended Philip, not betrayed him! If I command my son to steal a spoon, shall he obey me? And if he do obey and steal, and be transported, will he love me afterwards? I think I can hardly ask for so much filial affection.
So there was strife between mother and daughter; and anger not the less bitter, on Mrs. Baynes’ part, because her husband, whose cupidity or fear had, at first, induced him to take her side, had deserted her and gone over to her daughter. In the anger of that controversy Baynes died, leaving the victory and right with Charlotte. He shrank from his wife: would not speak to her in his last moments. The widow had these injuries against her daughter and Philip; and thus neither side forgave the other. She was not averse to the child’s going away to her uncle: put a lean, hungry face against Charlotte’s lip, and received a kiss which I fear had but little love in it. I don’t envy those children who remain under the widow’s lonely command; or poor Madame Smolensk, who has to endure the arrogance, the grief, the avarice of that grim woman. Nor did madame suffer under this tyranny long. Galignani’s Messenger very soon announced that she had lodgings to let, and I remember being edified by reading one day in the Pall Mall Gazette that elegant apartments, select society, and an excellent table were to be found in one of the most airy and fashionable quarters of Paris. Inquire of Madame la Baronne de S— sk, Avenue de Marli, Champs Elysées.
We guessed without difficulty how this advertisement found its way to the Pall Mall Gazette; and very soon after its appearance Madame de Smolensk’s friend, Mr. Philip, made his appearance at our tea-table in London. He was always welcome amongst us elders and children. He wore a crape on his hat. As soon as the young ones were gone, you may be sure he poured his story out; and enlarged upon the death, the burial, the quarrels, the loves, the partings we have narrated. How could he be put in a way to earn three or four hundred a year? That was the present question. Ere he came to see us, he had already been totting up ways and means. He had been with our friend Mrs. Brandon: was staying with her. The Little Sister thought three hundred would be sufficient. They could have her second floor — not for nothing; no, no, but at a moderate price, which would pay her. They could have her attics, if more rooms were needed. They could have her kitchen fire, and one maid, for the present, would do all their work. Poor little thing! She was very young. She would be past eighteen by the time she could marry; the Little Sister was for early marriages, against long courtships. “Heaven helps those as helps themselves,” she said. And Mr. Philip thought this excellent advice; and Mr. Philip’s friend, when asked for his opnion — “Candidly now, what’s your opinion?" — said, “Is she in the next room? Of course you mean you are married already.”
Philip roared one of his great laughs. No, he was not married already. Had he not said that Miss Baynes was gone away to Tours to her aunt and uncle? But that he wanted to be married; but that he could never settle down to work till he married; but that he could have no rest, peace, health, till he married that angel he was ready to confess. Ready? All the street might hear him calling out the name and expatiating on the angelic charms and goodness of his Charlotte. He spoke so loud and long on this subject that my wife grew a little tired; and my wife always likes to hear other women praised, that (she says) I know she does. But when a man goes on roaring for an hour about Dulcinea? You know such talk becomes fulsome at last; and, in fine, when he was gone, my wife said, “Well, he is very much in love; so were you — I mean long before my time, sir; but does love pay the housekeeping bills, pray?”
“No, my dear. And love is always controlled by other people’s advice:— always,” says Philip’s friend, who I hope you will perceive was speaking ironically.
Philip’s friends had listened not impatiently to Philip’s talk about Philip. Almost all women will give a sympathizing hearing to men who are in love. Be they ever so old, they grow young agian with that conversation, and renew their own early times. Men are not quite so generous: Tityrus tires of hearing Corydon discourse endlessly on the charms of his shepherdess. And yet egotism is good talk. Even dull biographies are pleasant to read: and if to read, why not to hear? Had Master Philip not been such an egotist, he would not have been so pleasant a companion. Can’t you like a man at whom you laugh a little? I had rather such an open-mouthed conversationist than your cautious jaws that never unlock without a careful application of the key. As for the entrance to Mr. Philip’s mind, that door was always open when he was awake, or not hungry, or in a friend’s company. Besides his love, and his prospects in life, his poverty, Philip had other favourite topics of conversation. His friend the Little Sister was a great theme with him; his father was another favourite subject of his talk. By the way, his father had written to the Little Sister. The doctor said he was sure to prosper in his newly adopted country. He and another physician had invented a new medicine, which was to effect wonders, and in a few years would assuredly make the fortune of both of them. He was never without one scheme or another for making that fortune which never came. Whenever he drew upon poor Philip for little sums, his letters were sure to be especially magniloquent and hopeful. “Whenever the doctor says he has invented the philosopher’s stone,” said poor Philip, “I am sure there will be a postscript to say that a little bill will be presented for so much, at so many days’ date.”
Had he drawn on Philip lately? Philip told us when, and how often. We gave him all the benefit of our virtuous indignation. As for my wife’s eyes, they gleamed with anger. What a man: what a father! Oh, he was incorrigible! “Yes, I am afraid he is,” says poor Phil, comically, with his hands roaming at ease in his pockets. They contained little else than those big hands. “My father is of a hopeful turn. His views regarding property are peculiar. It is a comfort to have such a distinguished parent, isn’t it? I am always surprised to hear that he is not married again. I sigh for a mother-in-law,” Philip continued.
“Oh, don’t, Philip!” cried Mrs. Laura, in a pet. “Be generous: be forgiving: be noble: be Christian! Don’t be cynical and imitating — you know whom!”
Whom could she possibly mean, I wonder? After flashes, there came showers in this lady’s eyes. From long habit I can understand her thoughts, although she does not utter them. She was thinking of these poor, noble, simple, friendless young people; and asking heaven’s protection for them. I am not in the habit of over-praising my friends, goodness knows. The foibles of this one I have described honestly enough. But if I write down here that he was courageous, cheerful in adversity, generous, simple, truth-loving, above a scheme — after having said that he was a noble young fellow — dixi; and I won’t cancel the words.
Ardent lover as he was, our friend was glad to be back in the midst of the London smoke, and wealth, and bustle. The fog agreed with his lungs, he said. He breathed more freely in our great city than in that little English village in the centre of Paris which he had been inhabiting. In his hotel, and at his café (where he composed his eloquent “Own Correspondence”), he had occasion to speak a little French, but it never came very trippingly from his stout English tongue. “You don’t suppose I would like to be taken for a Frenchman,” he would say with much gravity. I wonder who ever thought of mistaking friend Philip for a Frenchman?
As for that faithful Little Sister, her house and heart were still at the young man’s service. We have not visited Thornhaugh Street for some time. Mr. Philip, whom we have been bound to attend, has been too much occupied with his love-making to bestow much thought on his affectionate little friend. She has been trudging meanwhile on her humble course of life, cheerful, modest, laborious, doing her duty, with a helping little hand ready to relieve many a fallen wayfarer on her road. She had a room vacant in her house when Philip came. A room, indeed! Would she not have had a house vacant, if Philip wanted it? But in the interval since we saw her last, the Little Sister, too, has had to assume black robes. Her father, the old captain, has gone to his rest. His place is vacant in the little parlour: his bedroom is ready for Philip, as long as Philip will stay. She did not profess to feel much affliction for the loss of the captain. She talked of him constantly as though he were present; and made a supper for Philip, and seated him in her Pa’s chair. How she bustled about on the night when Philip arrived! What a beaming welcome there was in her kind eyes! Her modest hair was touched with silver now; but her cheeks were like apples; her little figure was neat, and light, and active; and her voice, with its gentle laugh, and little sweet bad grammar, has always seemed one of the sweetest of voices to me.
Very soon after Philip’s arrival in London, Mrs. Brandon paid a visit to the wife of Mr. Firmin’s humble servant and biographer; and the two women had a fine sentimental consultation. All good women, you know, are sentimental. The idea of young lovers, of match-making, of amiable poverty, tenderly excites and interests them. My wife, at this time, began to pour off fine long letters to Miss Baynes, to which the latter modestly and dutifully replied, with many expressions, of fervour and gratitude for the interest which her friend in London was pleased to take in the little maid. I saw by these answers that Charlotte’s union with Philip was taken as a received point by these two ladies. They discussed the ways and means. They did not talk about broughams, settlements, town and country houses, pin-moneys, trousseaux; and my wife, in computing their sources of income, always pointed out that Miss Charlotte’s fortune, though certainly small, would give a very useful addition to the young couple’s income. “Fifty pounds a year not much! Let me tell you, sir, that fifty pounds a year is a very pretty little sum: if Philip can but make three hundred a year himself, Mrs. Brandon says they ought to be able to live quite nicely.” You ask, my genteel friend, is it possible that people can live for four hundred a year? How do they manage, ces pauvres gens? They eat, they drink, they are clothed, they are warmed, they have roofs over their heads, and glass in their windows; and some of them are as good, happy, and well-bred as their neighbours who are ten times as rich. Then, besides this calculation of money, there is the fond woman’s firm belief that the day will bring its daily bread for those who work for it and ask for it in the proper quarter; against which reasoning many a man knows it is in vain to argue. As to my own little objections and doubts, my wife met them by reference to Philip’s former love affair with his cousin, Miss Twysden. “You had no objection in that case, sir,” this logician would say. “You would have had him take a creature without a heart. You would cheerfully have seen him made miserable for life, because you thought there was money enough and a genteel connection. Money indeed! Very happy Mrs. Woolcomb is with her money! Very creditably to all sides has that marriage turned out!” I need scarcely remind my readers of the unfortunate result of that marriage. Woolcomb’s behaviour to his wife was the agreeable talk of London society and of the London clubs very soon after the pair were joined together in holy matrimony. Do we not all remember how Woolcomb was accused of striking his wife, of starving his wife, and how she took refuge at home and came to her father’s house with a black eye? The two Twysdens were so ashamed of this transaction, that father and son left off coming to Bays’s, where I never heard their absence regretted but by one man, who said that Talbot owed him money for losses at whist for which he could get no settlement.
Should Mr. Firmin go and see his aunt in her misfortune? Bygones might be bygones, some of Philip’s advisers thought. Now, Mrs. Twysden was unhappy, her heart might relent to Philip, whom she certainly had loved as a boy. Philip had the magnanimity to call upon her; and found her carriage waiting at the door. But a servant, after keeping the gentleman waiting in the dreary, well-remembered hall, brought him word that his mistress was out, smiled in his face with an engaging insolence, and proceeded to put cloaks, courtguides, and other female gear into the carriage in the presence of this poor deserted nephew. This visit, it must be owned, was one of Mrs. Laura’s romantic efforts at reconciling enemies: as if, my good creature, the Twysdens ever let a man into their house who was poor or out of fashion! They lived in a constant dread lest Philip should call to borrow money of them. As if they ever lent money to a man who was in need! If they ask the respected reader to their house, depend on it they think he is well to do. On the other hand, the Twysdens made a very handsome entertainment for the new lord of Whipham and Ringwood who now reigned after his kinsman’s death. They affably went and passed Christmas with him in the country; and they cringed and bowed before Sir John Ringwood as they had bowed and cringed before the earl in his time. The old earl had been a Tory in his latter days, when Talbot Twysden’s views were also very conservative. The present lord of Ringwood was a Whig. It is surprising how liberal the Twysdens grew in the course of a fortnight’s after-dinner conversation and pheasant-shooting talk at Ringwood. “Hang it! you know,” young Twysden said, in his office afterwards, “a fellow must go with the politics of his family, you know!” and he bragged about the dinners, wines, splendours, cooks, and preserves of Ringwood as freely as in the time of his noble grand-uncle. Any one who has kept a house-dog in London, which licks your boots and your platter, and fawns for the bones in your dish, knows how the animal barks and flies at the poor who come to the door. The Twysdens, father and son, were of this canine species: and there are vast packs of such dogs here and elsewhere.
If Philip opened his heart to us, and talked unreservedly regarding his hopes and his plans, you may be sure he had his little friend, Mrs. Brandon, also in his confidence, and that no person in the world was more eager to serve him. Whilst we were talking about what was to be done, this little lady was also at work in her favourite’s behalf. She had a firm ally in Mrs. Mugford, the proprietor’s lady of the Pall Mall Gazette. Mrs. Mugford had long been interested in Philip, his misfortunes and his love affairs. These two good women had made a sentimental hero of him. Ah! that they could devise some feasible scheme to help him! And such a chance actually did very soon present itself to these delighted women.
In almost all the papers of the new year appeared a brilliant advertisement, announcing the speedy appearance in Dublin of a new paper. It was to be called The Shamrock, and its first number was to be issued on the ensuing St. Patrick’s day. I need not quote at length the advertisement which heralded the advent of this new periodical. The most famous pens of the national party in Ireland were, of course, engaged to contribute to its columns. Those pens would be hammered into steel of a different shape when the opportunity should offer. Beloved prelates, authors of world-wide fame, bards, the bold strings of whose lyres had rung through the isle already, and made millions of noble hearts to beat, and, by consequence, double the number of eyes to fill; philosophers, renowned for science; and illustrious advocates, whose manly voices had ever spoken the language of hope and freedom to an would be found rallying round the journal, and proud to wear the symbol of The Shamrock. Finally, Michael Cassidy, Esq., was chosen to be the editor of this new journal.
This was the M. Cassidy, Esq., who appeared, I think, at Mr. Firmin’s call-supper; and who had long been the sub-editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. If Michael went to Dame Street, why should not Philip be sub-editor at Pall Mall? Mrs. Brandon argued. Of course there would be a score of candidates for Michael’s office. The editor would like the patronage. Barnet, Mugford’s partner in the Gazette, would wish to appoint his man. Cassidy, before retiring, would assuredly intimate his approaching resignation to scores of gentlemen of his nation, who would not object to take the Saxon’s pay until they finally shook his yoke off, and would eat his bread until the happy moment arrived when they could knock out his brains in fair battle. As soon as Mrs. Brandon heard of the vacant place, that moment she determined that Philip should have it. It was surprising what a quantity of information our little friend possessed about artists, and pressmen, and their lives, families, ways and mean. Many gentlemen of both professions came to Mr. Ridley’s chambers, and called on the Little Sister on their way to and fro. How Tom Smith had left the Herald, and gone to the Post: what price Jack Jones had for his picture, and who sat for the principal figures. — I promise you Madam Brandon had all these interesting details by heart; and I think I have described this little person very inadequately if I have not made you understand that she was as intrepid a little jobber as ever lived, and never scrupled to go any length to serve a friend. To be Archbishop of Canterbury, to be professor of Hebrew, to be teacher of a dancing-school, to be organist for a church: for any conceivable place or function this little person would have asserted Philip’s capability. “Don’t tell me! He can dance or preach (as the case may be), or write beautiful! And as for being unfit to be a sub-editor, I want to know, has he not as good a head and as good an education as that Cassidy, indeed? And is not Cambridge College the best college in the world? It is, I say. And he went there ever so long. And he might have taken the very best prize, only money was no object to him then, dear fellow, and he did not like to keep the poor out of what he didn’t want!”
Mrs. Mugford had always considered the young man as very haughty, but quite the gentleman, and speedily was infected by her gossip’s enthusiasm about him. My wife hired a fly, packed several of the children into it, called upon Mrs. Mugford, and chose to be delighted with that lady’s garden, with that lady’s nursery — with everything that bore the name of Mugford. It was a curiosity to remark in what a flurry of excitement these women plunged, and how they schemed, and coaxed, and caballed, in order to get this place for their protégé. My wife thought — she merely happened to surmise: nothing more, of course — that Mrs. Mugford’s fond desire was to shine in the world. “Could we not ask some people — with — with what you call handles to their names, — I think I before heard you use some such term, sir, — to meet the Mugfords? Some of Philip’s old friends, who I am sure would be very happy to serve him.” Some such artifice was, I own, practised. We coaxed, cajoled, fondled the Mugfords for Philip’s sake, and heaven forgive Mrs. Laura her hypocrisy. We had an entertainment then, I own. We asked our finest company, and Mr. and Mrs. Mugford to meet them: and we prayed that unlucky Philip to be on his best behaviour to all persons who were invited to the feast.
Before my wife this lion of a Firmin was as a lamb. Rough, captious, and overbearing in general society, with those whom he loved and esteemed Philip was of all men the most modest and humble. He would never tire of playing with our children, joining in their games, laughing and roaring at their little sports. I have never had such a laugher at my jokes as Philip Firmin. I think my wife liked him for that noble guffaw with which he used to salute those pieces of wit. He arrived a little late sometimes with his laughing chorus, but ten people at table were not so loud as this faithful friend. On the contrary, when those people for whom he has no liking venture on a pun or other pleasantry, I am bound to own that Philip’s acknowledgment of their waggery must be anything but pleasant or flattering to them. Now, on occasion of this important dinner, I enjoined him to be very kind, and very civil, and very much pleased with everybody, and to stamp upon nobody’s corns, as indeed, why should he, in life? Who was he, to be censor morum? And it has been said that no man could admit his own faults with a more engaging candour than our friend.
We invited, then, Mugford, the proprietor of the Pall Mall Gazette, and his wife; and Bickerton, the editor of that periodical; Lord Ascot, Philip’s old college friend; and one or two more gentlemen. Our invitations to the ladies were not so fortunate. Some were engaged, others away in the country keeping Christmas. In fine, we considered ourselves rather lucky in securing old Lady Hixie, who lives hard by in Westminste, and who will pass for a lady of fashion when no person of greater note is present. My wife told her that the object of the dinner was to make our friend Firmin acquainted with the editor and proprietor of the Pall Mall Gazette, with whom it was important that he should be on the most amicable footing. Oh! very well. Lady Hixie promised to be quite gracious to the newpaper gentleman and his wife; and kept her promise most graciously during the evening. Our good friend Mrs. Mugford was the first of our guests to arrive. She drove “in her trap” from her villa in the suburbs; and after putting up his carriage at a neighbouring livery-stable, her groom volunteered to help our servants in waiting at dinner. His zeal and activity were remarkable. China smashed, and dish-covers clanged in the passage. Mrs. Mugford said that “Sam was at his old tricks;” and I hope the hostess showed she was mistress of herself amidst that fall of china. Mrs. Mugford came before the appointed hour, she said, in order to see our children. “With our late London dinner hours,” she remarked, “children was never seen now.” At Hampstead, hers always appeared at the dessert, and enlivened the table with their innocent outcries for oranges, and struggles for sweetmeats. In the nursery, where one little maid, in her crisp, long night-gown, was saying her prayers; where another little person, in the most airy costume, was standing before the great barred fire; where a third Lilliputian was sitting up in its night-cap and surplice, surveying the scene below from its crib; — the ladies found our dear Little Sister installed. She had come to see her little pets (she had known two or three of them from the very earliest times). She was a great favourite amongst them all; and, I believe, conspired with the cook down below in preparing certain delicacies for the table. A fine conversation then ensued about our children, about the Mugford children, about babies in general. And then the artful women (the house mistress and the Little Sister) brought Philip on the tapis, and discoursed à qui mieux, about his virtues, his misfortunes, his engagement, and that dear little creature to whom he was betrothed. This conversation went on until carriage-wheels were heard in the square, and the knocker (there were actually knockers in that old-fashioned place and time) began to peal. “Oh, bother! There’s the company a-comin’,” Mrs. Mugford said; and arranging her cap and flounces, with neat-handed Mrs. Brandon’s aid, came down-stairs, after taking a tender leave of the little people, to whom she sent a present next day of a pile of fine Christmas books, which had come to the Pall Mall Gazette for review. The kind woman had been coaxed, wheedled, and won over to our side, to Philip’s side. He had her vote for the sub-editorship, whatever might ensue.
Most of our guests had already arrived, when at length Mrs. Mugford was announced. I am bound to say that she presented a remarkable appearance, and that the splendour of her attire was such as is seldom beheld.
Bickerton and Philip were presented to one another, and had a talk about French politics before dinner, during which conversation Philip behaved with perfect discretion and politeness. Bickerton had happened to hear Philip’s letters well spoken of — in a good quarter, mind; and his cordiality increased when Lord Ascot entered, called Philip by his surname, and entered into a perfectly free conversation with him. Old Lady Hixie went into perfectly good society, Bickerton condescended to acknowledge. “As for Mrs. Mugford,” says he, with a glance of wondering compassion at that lady, “of course, I need not tell you that she is seen nowhere — nowhere.” This said, Mr. Bickerton stepped forward, and calmly patronized my wife, gave me a good-natured nod for my own part, reminded Lord Ascot that he had had the pleasure of meeting him at Egham; and then fixed on Tom Page, of the Bread-and-Butter Office (who, I own, is one of our most genteel guests), with whom he entered into a discussion of some political matter of that day — I forget what: but the main point was that he named two or three leading public men with whom he had discussed the question, whatever it might be. He named very great names, and led us to understand that with the proprietors of those very great names he was on the most intimate and confidential footing. With his owners — with the proprietor of the Pall Mall Gazette, he was on the most distant terms, and indeed I am afraid that his behaviour to myself and my wife was scarcely respectful. I fancied I saw Philip’s brow gathering wrinkles as his eye followed this man strutting from one person to another, and patronizing each. The dinner was a little late, from some reason best known in the lower regions. “I take it,” says Bickerton, winking at Philip, in a pause of the conversation, “that our good friend and host is not much used to giving dinners. The mistress of the house is evidently in a state of perturbation.” Philip gave such a horrible grimace that the other at first thought he was in pain.
“You, who have lived a good deal with old Ringwood, know what a good dinner is,” Bickerton continued, giving Firmin a knowing look.
“Any dinner is good which is accompanied with such a welcome as I get here,” said Philip.
“Oh! very good people, very good people, of course!” cries Bickerton.
I need not say he thinks he has perfectly succeeded in adopting the air of a man of the world. He went off to Lady Hixie and talked with her about the last great party at which he had met her; and then he turned to the host, and remarked that my friend, the doctor’s son, was a fierce-looking fellow. In five minutes he had the good fortune to make himself hated by Mr. Firmin. He walks through the world patronizing his betters. “Our good friend is not much used to giving dinners,” — isn’t he? I say, what do you mean by continuing to endure this man? Tom Page, of the Bread-and-Butter Office, is a well-known diner-out; Lord Ascot is a peer; Bickerton, in a pretty loud voice, talked to one or other of these during dinner and across the table. He sat next to Mrs. Mugford, but he turned his back on that bewildered woman, and never condescended to address a word to her personally. “Of course, I understand you, my dear fellow,” he said to me when on the retreat of the ladies we approached within whispering distance. “You have these people at dinner for reasons of state. You have a book coming out, and want to have it noticed in the paper. I make a point of keeping these people at a distance — the only way of dealing with them, I give you my word.”
Not one offensive word had Philip said to the chief writer of the Pall Mall Gazette; and I began to congratulate myself that our dinner would pass without any mishap, when some one unluckily happening to praise the wine, a fresh supply was ordered. “Very good claret. Who is your wine-merchant? Upon my word I get better claret here than I do in Paris — don’t you think so, Mr. Fermor? Where do you generally dine in Paris?”
“I generally dine for thirty sous, and three francs on grand days, Mr. Beckerton,” growls Philip.
“My name is Bickerton.” (“What a vulgar thing for a fellow to talk about his thirty-sous dinners!” murmured my neighbour to me). “Well, there is no accounting for tastes. When I go to Paris I dine at the Trois Frères. Give me the Burgundy at Trois Frères.”
“That is because you great leader writers are paid better than poor correspondents. I shall be delighted to be able to dine better.” And with this Mr. Firmin smiles at Mr. Mugford, his master and owner.
“Nothing so vulgar as talking shop,” says Bickerton, rather loud.
“I am not ashamed of the shop I keep. Are you of yours, Mr. Bickerton?” growls Philip.
“F. had him there,” says Mr. Mugford.
Mr. Bickerton got up from table, turning quite pale. “Do you mean to be offensive, sir?” he asked.
“Offensive, sir? No, sir. Some men are offensive without meaning it. You have been several times tonight!” says Lord Philip.
“I don’t see that I am called upon to bear this kind of thing at any man’s table!” cried Mr. Bickerton. “Lord Ascot, I wish you good-night!”
“I say, old boy, what’s the row about?” asked his lordship. And we were all astonished as my guest rose and left the table in great wrath.
“Serve him right, Firmin, I say!” said Mr. Mugford, again drinking off a glass.
“Why, don’t you know?” says Tom Page. “His father keeps a haberdasher’s shop at Cambridge, and sent him to Oxford, where he took a good degree.”
And this had come of a dinner of conciliation — a dinner which was to advance Philip’s interest in life!
“Hit him again, I say,” cried Mugford, whom wine had rendered eloquent. “He’s a supercilious beast, that Bickerton is, and I hate him, and so does Mrs. M.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00