If Philip and his friend had happened to pass through High Street, Marylebone, on their way to Thornhaugh Street to reconnoitre the Little Sister’s house, they would have seen the Reverend Mr. Hunt, in a very dirty, battered, crestfallen and unsatisfactory state marching to Marylebone from the station, where the reverend gentleman had passed the night, and under the custody of the police. A convoy of street boys followed the prisoner and his guard, making sarcastic remarks on both. Hunt’s appearance was not improved since we had the pleasure of meeting him on the previous evening. With a grizzled beard and hair, a dingy face, a dingy shirt, and a countenance mottled with dirt and drink, we may fancy the reverend man passing in tattered raiment through the street to make his appearance before the magistrate.
You have no doubt forgotten the narrative which appeared in the morning papers two days after the Thornhaugh Street incident, but my clerk has been at the pains to hunt up and copy the police report, in which events connected with our history are briefly recorded.
“Marylebone, Wednesday. — Thomas Tufton Hunt, professing to be a clergyman, but wearing an appearance of extreme squalor, was brought before Mr. Beaksby at this office, charged by Z 25, with being drunk and very disorderly on Tuesday se’nnight, and endeavouring by force and threats to effect his reentrance into a house in Thornhaugh Street, from which he had been previously ejected in a most unclerical and inebriated state.”
“On being taken to the station-house, the reverend gentleman lodged a complaint on his own side, and averred that he had been stupefied and hocussed in the house in Thornhaugh Street by means of some drug, and that whilst in this state he had been robbed of a bill for 386l. 4s. 3d., drawn by a person in New York, and accepted by Mr. P. Firmin, barrister, of Parchment Buildings, Temple.”
“Mrs. Brandon, the landlady of the house, No. — Thornhaugh Street, has been in the habit of letting lodgings for many years past, and several of her friends, including Mr. Firmin, Mr. Ridley, the Rl. Acad., and other gentlemen, were in attendance to speak to her character, which is most respectable. After Z 25 had given evidence, the servant deposed that Hunt had been more than once disorderly and drunk before that house, and had been forcibly ejected from it. On the night when the alleged robbery was said to have taken place, he had visited the house in Thornhaugh Street, had left it in an inebriated state, and returned some hours afterwards vowing that he had been robbed of the document in question.”
“Mr. P. Firmin said: ‘I am a barrister, and have chambers at Parchment Buildings, Temple, and know the person calling himself Hunt. I have not accepted any bill of exchange, nor is my signature affixed to any such document."’
“At this stage the worthy magistrate interposed, and said that this only went to prove that the bill was not completed by Mr. F.’s acceptance, and would by no means conclude the case set up before him. Dealing with it, however, on the merits, and looking at the way in which the charge had been preferred, and the entire absence of sufficient testimony to warrant him in deciding that even a piece of paper had been abstracted in that house, or by the person accused, and believing that if he were to commit, a conviction would be impossible, he dismissed the charge.”
“The lady left the court with her friends, and the accuser, when called upon to pay a fine for drunkenness, broke out into very unclerical language, in the midst of which he was forcibly removed.”
Philip Firmin’s statement that he had given no bill of exchange, was made not without hesitation on his part, and indeed at his friends’ strong entreaty. It was addressed not so much to the sitting magistrate, as to that elderly individual at New York, who was warned no more to forge his son’s name. I fear a coolness ensued between Philip and his parent in consequence of the younger man’s behaviour. The doctor had thought better of his boy than to suppose that, at a moment of necessity, Philip would desert him. He forgave Philip, nevertheless. Perhaps since his marriage other influences were at work upon him, The parent made further remarks in this strain. A man who takes your money is naturally offended if you remonstrate; you wound his sense of delicacy by protesting against his putting his hand in your pocket. The elegant doctor in New York continued to speak of his unhappy son with a mournful shake of the head; he said, perhaps believed, that Philip’s imprudence was in part the cause of his own exile. “This is not the kind of entertainment to which I would have invited you at my own house in England,” he would say. “I thought to have ended my days there, and to have left my son in comfort, nay splendour. I am an exile in poverty: and he — but I will use no hard words.” And to his female patients he would say: “No, my dear madam! Not a syllable of reproach shall escape these lips regarding that misguided boy! But you can feel for me; I know you can feel for me.” In the old days, a high-spirited highwayman, who took a coach-passenger’s purse, thought himself injured, and the traveller a shabby fellow, if he secreted a guinea or two under the cushions. In the doctor’s now rare letters, he breathed a manly sigh here and there, to think that he had lost the confidence of his boy. I do believe that certain ladies of our acquaintance were inclined to think that the elder Firmin had been not altogether well used, however much they loved and admired the Little Sister for her lawless act in her boy’s defence. But this main point we had won. The doctor at New York took the warning, and wrote his son’s signature upon no more bills of exchange. The good Goodenough’s loan was carried back to him in the very coin which he had supplied. He said that his little nurse Brandon was splendide mendax, and that her robbery was a sublime and courageous act of war.
In so far, since his marriage, Mr. Philip had been pretty fortunate. At need, friends had come to him. In moments of peril he had had succour and relief. Though he had married without money, fate had sent him a sufficiency. His flask had never been empty, and there was always meal in his bin. But now hard trials were in store for him: hard trials which we have said were endurable, and which he has long since lived through. Any man who has played the game of life or whist, knows how for one while he will have a series of good cards dealt him, and again will get no trumps at all. After he got into his house in Milman Street and quitted the Little Sister’s kind roof, our friend’s good fortune seemed to desert him. “Perhaps it was a punishment for my pride, because I was haughty with her, and — and jealous of that dear good little creature,” poor Charlotte afterwards owned in conversation with other friends:— “but our fortune seemed to change when we were away from her, and that I must own.”
Perhaps, when she was yet under Mrs. Brandon’s roof, the Little Sister’s provident care had done a great deal more for Charlotte than Charlotte knew. Mrs. Philip had the most simple tastes in the world, and upon herself never spent an unnecessary shilling. Indeed, it was a wonder, considering her small expenses, how neat and nice Mrs. Philip ever looked. But she never could deny herself when the children were in question; and had them arrayed in all sorts of fine clothes; and stitched and hemmed all day and night to decorate their little prsons; and in reply to the remonstrances of the matrons her friends, showed how it was impossible children could be dressed for less cost. If anything ailed them, quick, the doctor must be sent for. Not worthy Goodenough, who came without a fee, and pooh-poohed her alarms and anxieties; but dear Mr. Bland, who had a feeling heart, and was himself a father of children, and who supported those children by the produce of the pills, draughts, powders, visits, which he bestowed on all families into whose doors he entered. Bland’s sympathy was very consolatory; but it was found to be very costly at the end of the year. “And, what then?” says Charlotte, with kindling cheeks. “Do you suppose we should grudge that money, which was to give health to our dearest, dearest babies? No. You can’t have such a bad opinion of me as that!” And accordingly Mr. Bland received a nice little annuity from our friends. Philip had a joke about his wife’s housekeeping which perhaps may apply to other young women who are kept by over-watchful mothers too much in statu pupillari. When they were married, or about to be married, Philip asked Charlotte what she would order for dinner? She promptly said she would order leg of mutton. “And after leg of mutton?” “Leg of beef, to be sure!” says Mrs. Charlotte, looking very pleased, and knowing. And the fact is, as this little housekeeper was obliged demurely to admit, their household bills increased prodigiously after they left Thornhaugh Street. “And I can’t understand, my dear, how the grocer’s book should mount up so; and the butterman’s, and the beer,” We have often seen the pretty little head bent over the dingy volumes, puzzling, puzzling: and the eldest child would hold up a warning finger to ours, and tell them to be very quiet, as mamma was at her “atounts.”
And now, I grieve to say, money became scarce for the payment of these accounts; and though Philip fancied he hid his anxieties from his wife, be sure she loved him too much to be deceived by one of the clumsiest hypocrites in the world. Only, being a much cleverer hypocrite than her husband, she pretended to be deceived, and acted her part so well that poor Philip was mortified with her gaiety, and chose to fancy his wife was indifferent to their misfortunes. She ought not to be so smiling and happy, he thought; and, as usual, bemoaned his lot to his friends. “I come home, racked with care, and thinking of those inevitable bills: I shudder, sir, at every note that lies on the hall table, and would tremble as I dashed them open as they do on the stage. But I laugh and put on a jaunty air, and humbug Char. And I hear her singing about the house and laughing and cooing with the children, by Jove. She’s not aware of anything. She does not know how dreadfully the res domi is squeezing me. But before marriage she did, I tell you. Then, if anything annoyed me, she divined it. If I felt ever so little unwell, you should have seen the alarm in her face! It was ‘Philip, dear, how pale you are;’ or, ‘Philip, how flushed you are;’ or, ‘I am sure you have had a letter from your father. Why do you conceal anything from me, sir? You never should — never!’ And now when the fox is gnawing at my side under my cloak, I laugh and grin so naturally that she believes I am all right, and she comes to meet me flouncing the children about in my face, and wearing an air of consummate happiness! I would not deceive her for the world, you know. But it’s mortifying. Don’t tell me. It is mortifying to be tossing awake all night, and racked with care all day, and have the wife of your bosom chattering and singing and laughing, as if there were no cares, or doubts, or duns in the world. If I had the gout and she were to laugh and sing, I should not call that sympathy. If I were arrested for debt, and she were to come grinning and laughing to the sponging-house, I should not call that consolation. Why doesn’t she feel? She ought to feel. There’s Betsy, our parlour-maid. There’s the old fellow who comes to clean the boots and knives. They know how hard up I am. And my wife sings and dances whilst I am on the verge of ruin, by Jove; and giggles and laughs as if life was a pantomime!”
Then the man and woman into whose ears poor Philip roared out his confessions and griefs, hung down their blushing heads in humbled silence. They are tolerably prosperous in life, and, I fear, are pretty well satisfied with themselves and each other. A woman who scarcely ever does any wrong, and rules and governs her own house and family, as my — as the wife of the reader’s humble servant most notoriously does, often becomes — must it be said? — to certain of her own virtue, and is too sure of the correctness of her own opinion. We virtuous people give advice a good deal, and set a considerable value upon that advice. We meet a certain man who has fallen among thieves, let us say. We succour him readily enough. We take him kindly to the inn, and pay his score there: but we say to the landlord, “You must give this poor man his bed; his medicine at such a time, and his broth at such another. But, mind you, he must have that physic, and no other; that broth when we order it. We take his case in hand, you understand. Don’t listen to him or anybody else. We know all about everything. Good-by. Take care of him. Mind the medicine and the broth!” and Mr. Benefactor or Lady Bountiful goes away, perfectly self-satisfied.
Do you take this allegory? When Philip complained to us of his wife’s friskiness and gaiety; when he bitterly contrasted her levity and carelessness with his own despondency and doubt, Charlotte’s two principal friends were smitten by shame. “Oh, Philip! dear Philip!” his female adviser said (having looked at her husband once or twice as Firmin spoke, and in vain endeavoured to keep her gilty eyes down on her work), “Charlotte has done this, because she is humble, and because she takes the advice of friends who are not. She knows everything, and more than everything; for her dear tender heart is filled with apprehension. But we told her to show no sign of care, lest her husband should be disturbed. And she trusted in us; and she puts her trust elsewhere, Philip; and she has hidden her own anxieties, lest yours should be increased; and has met you gaily when her heart was full of dread. We think she has done wrong now; but she did so because she was so simple, and trusted in us who advised her wrongly. Now we see that there ought to have been perfect confidence always between you; and that it is her simplicity and faith in us which have misled her.”
Philip hung down his head for a moment, and hid his eyes; and we knew, during that minute when his face was concealed from us, how his grateful heart was employed.
“And you know, dear Philip — ” says Laura, looking at her husband, and nodding to that person, who certainly understood the hint.
“And I say, Firmin,” breaks in the lady’s husband, “You understand, if you are at all — that is, if you — that is, if we can — ”
“Hold your tongue!” shouts Firmin, with a face beaming over with happiness. “I know what you mean. You beggar, you are going to offer me money! I see it in your face; bless you both! But we’ll try and do without, please heaven. And — and it’s worth feeling a pinch of poverty to find such friends as I have had, and to share it with such a — such a — dash — dear little thing as I have at home. And I won’t try and humbug Char any more. I’m bad at that sort of business. And good-night, and I’ll never forget your kindness, never!” And he is off a moment afterwards, and jumping down the steps of our door, and so into the park. And though there were not five pounds in the poor little house in Milman Street, there were not two happier people in London that night than Charlotte and Philip Firmin. If he had his troubles, our friend had his immense consolations. Fortunate he, however poor, who has friends to help, and love to console him in his trials.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00