Every man and woman amongst us has made his voyage to Lilliput, and his tour in the kingdom of Brobdingnag. When I go to my native country town, the local paper announces our arrival; the labourers touch their hats as the pony-chaise passes, the girls and old women drop curtsies; Mr. Hicks, the grocer and hatter, comes to his door, and makes a bow, and smirks and smiles. When our neighbour Sir John arrives at the hall, he is a still greater personage; the bell-ringers greet the hall family with a peal; the rector walks over on an early day, and pays his visit; and the farmers at market press round for a nod of recognition. Sir John at home is in Lilliput: in Belgrave Square he is in Brobdingnag, where almost everybody we meet is ever so much taller than ourselves. “Which do you like best, to be a giant amongst the pigmies, or a pigmy among the giants?” I know what sort of company I prefer myself: but that is not the point. What I would hint is, that we possibly give ourselves patronizing airs before small people, as folks higher placed than ourselves give themselves airs before us. Patronizing airs? Old Miss Mumbles, the half-pay lieutenant’s daughter, who lives over the plumber’s, with her maid, gives herself in her degree more airs than any duchess in Belgravia, and would leave the room if a tradesman’s wife sat down in it.
Now it has been said that few men in this city of London are so simple in their manners as Philip Firmin, and that he treated the patron whose bread he ate, and the wealthy relative who condescended to visit him, with a like freedom. He is blunt but not familiar, and is not a whit more polite to my lord than to Jack or Tom at the coffee-house. He resents familiarity from vulgar persons, and those who venture on it retire maimed and mortified after coming into collision with him. As for the people he loves, he grovels before them, worships their boot-tips, and their gown-hems. But he submits to them, not for their wealth or rank, but for love’s sake. He submitted very magnanimously at first to the kindnesses and caresses of Lady Ringwood and her daughters, being softened and won by the regard which they showed for his wife and children.
Although Sir John was for the Rights of Man everywhere, all over the world, and had pictures of Franklin, Lafayette, and Washington in his library, he likewise had portraits of his own ancestors in that apartment, and entertained a very high opinion of the present representative of the Ringwood family. The character of the late chief of the house was notorious. Lord Ringwood’s life had been irregular and his morals loose. His talents were considerable, no doubt, but they had not been devoted to serious study or directed to useful ends. A wild man in early life, he had only changed his practices in later life in consequence of ill health, and became a hermit as a Certain Person became a monk. He was a frivolous person to the end, and was not to be considered as a public man and statesman; and this light-minded man of pleasure had been advanced to the third rank of the peerage, whilst his successor, his superior in intellect and morality, remained a Baronet still. How blind the Ministry was which refused to recognize so much talent and worth! Had there been public virtue or common sense in the governors of the nation, merits like Sir John’s never could have been overlooked. But Ministers were notoriously a family clique, and only helped each other. Promotion and patronage were disgracefully monopolized by the members of a very few families who were not better men of business, men of better character, men of more ancient lineage (though birth, of course, was a mere accident) than Sir John himself. In a word, until they gave him a peerage, he saw very little hope for the cabinet or the country.
In a very early page of this history mention was made of a certain Philip Ringwood, to whose protection Philip Firmin’s mother confided her boy when he was first sent to school. Philip Ringwood was Firmin’s senior by seven years; he came to Old Parr Street twice or thrice during his stay at school, condescended to take the “tips,” of which the poor doctor was liberal enough, but never deigned to take any notice of young Firmin, who looked up to his kinsman with awe and trembling. From school Philip Ringwood speedily departed to college, and then entered upon public life. He was the eldest son of Sir John Ringwood, with whom our friend has of late made acquaintance.
Mr. Ringwood was a much greater personage than the baronet his father. Even when the latter succeeded to Lord Ringwood’s estates and came to London, he could scarcely be said to equal his son in social rank; and the younger patronized his parent. What is the secret of great social success? It is not to be gained by beauty, or wealth, or birth, or wit, or valour, or eminence of any kind. It is a gift of Fortune, bestowed, like that goddess’s favours, capriciously. Look, dear madam, at the most fashionable ladies at present reigning in London. Are they better bred, or more amiable, or richer, or more beautiful than yourself? See, good sir, the men who lead the fashion, and stand in the bow window at Black’s; are they wiser, or wittier, or more agreeable people than you? And yet you know what your fate would be if you were put up at that club. Sir John Ringwood never dared to be proposed there, even after his great accession of fortune on the earl’s death. His son did not encourage him. People even said that Ringwood would blackball his father if he dared to offer himself as a candidate.
I never, I say, could understand the reason of Philip Ringwood’s success in life, though you must acknowledge that he is one of our most eminent dandies. He is affable to dukes. He patronizes marquises. He is not witty. He is not clever. He does not give good dinners. How many baronets are there in the British empire? Look to your book, and see. I tell you there are many of these whom Philip Ringwood would scarcely admit to wait at one of his bad dinners. By calmly asserting himself in life, this man has achieved his social eminence. We may hate him; but we acknowledge his superiority. For instance, I should as soon think of asking him to dine with me, as I should of slapping the Archbishop of Canterbury on the back.
Mr. Ringwood has a meagre little house in May Fair, and belongs to a public office, where he patronizes his chef. His own family bow down before him; his mother is humble in his company; his sisters are respectful; his father does not brag of his own liberal principles, and never alludes to the rights of man in the son’s presence. He is called “Mr. Ringwood” in the family. The person who is least in awe of him is his younger brother, who has been known to make faces behind the elder’s back. But he is a dreadfully headstrong and ignorant child, and respects nothing. Lady Ringwood, by the way, is Mr. Ringwood’s stepmother. His own mother was the daughter of a noble house, and died in giving birth to this paragon.
Philip Firmin, who had not set eyes upon his kinsman since they were at school together, remembered some stories which were current about Ringwood, and by no means to that eminent dandy’s credit — stories of intrigue, of play, of various libertine exploits on Mr. Ringwood’s part. One day, Philip and Charlotte dined with Sir John, who was talking and chirping, and laying down the law, and bragging away according to his wont, when his son entered and asked for dinner. He had accepted an invitation to dine at Garterton House. The duke had one of his attacks of gout just before dinner. The dinner was off. If Lady Ringwood would give him a slice of mutton, he would be very much obliged to her. A place was soon found for him. “And, Philip, this is your namesake, and, our cousin, Mr. Philip Firmin,” said the baronet, presenting his son to his kinsman.
“Your father used to give me sovereigns, when I was at school. I have a faint recollection of you, too. Little white-headed boy, weren’t you? How is the doctor, and Mrs. Firmin? All right?”
“Why, don’t you know his father ran away?” calls out the youngest member of the family. “Don’t kick me, Emily. He did run away!”
Then Mr. Ringwood remembered, and a faint blush tinged his face. “Lapse of time. I know. Shouldn’t have asked after such a lapse of time.” And he mentioned a case in which a duke, who was very forgetful, had asked a marquis about his wife who had run away with an earl, and made inquiries about the duke’s son, who, as everbody knew, was not on terms with his father.
“This is Mrs. Firmin — Mrs. Philip Firmin!” cried Lady Ringwood, rather nervously; and I suppose Mrs. Philip blushed, and the blush became her; for Mr. Ringwood afterwards condescended to say to one of his sisters, that their new-found relative seemed one of your rough-and-ready sort of gentlemen, but his wife was really very well bred, and quite a pretty young woman, and presentable anywhere — really anywhere. Charlotte was asked to sing one or two of her little songs after dinner. Mr. Ringwood was delighted. Her voice was perfectly true. What she sang, she sang admirably. And he was good enough to hum over one of her songs (during which performance he showed that his voice was not exempt from little frailties), and to say he had heard Lady Philomela Shakerley sing that very song at Glenmavis, last autumn; and it was such a favourite that the duchess asked for it every night — actually every night. When our friends were going home, Mr. Ringwood gave Philip almost the whole of one finger to shake; and while Philip was inwardly raging at his impertinence, believed that he had entirely fascinated his humble relatives, and that he had been most good-natured and friendly.
I cannot tell why this man’s patronage chafed and goaded our worthy friend so as to drive him beyond the bounds of all politeness and reason. The artless remarks of the little boy, and the occasional simple speeches of the young ladies, had only tickled Philip’s humour, and served to amuse him when he met his relatives. I suspect it was a certain free-and-easy manner which Mr. Ringwood chose to adopt towards Mrs. Philip, which annoyed her husband. He had said nothing at which offence could be taken: perhaps he was quite unconscious of offending; nay, thought himself eminently pleasing: perhaps he was not more impertinent towards her than towards other women: but in talking about him, Mr. Firmin’s eyes flashed very fiercely, and he spoke of his new acquaintance and relative, with his usual extreme candour, as an upstart, and an arrogant conceited puppy, whose ears he would like to pull.
How do good women learn to discover men who are not good? Is it by instinct? How do they learn those stories about men? I protest I never told my wife anything good or bad regarding this Mr. Ringwood, though of course, as a man about town, I have heard — who has not? — little anecdotes regarding his career. His conduct in that affair with Miss Willowby was heartless and cruel; his behaviour to that unhappy Blanche Painter nobody can defend. My wife conveys her opinion regarding Philip Ringwood, his life, principles, and morality, by looks and silences which are more awful and killing than the bitterest words of sarcasm or reproof. Philip Firmin, who knows her ways, watches her features, and, as I have said, humbles himself at her feet, marked the lady’s awful looks, when he came to describe to us his meeting with his cousin, and the magnificent patronizing airs which Mr. Ringwood assumed.
“What?” he said, “you don’t like him any more than I do? I thought you would not; and I am so glad.”
Philip’s friend said she did not know Mr. Ringwood, and had never spoken a word to him in her life.
“Yes; but you know of him,” cries the impetuous Firmin. “What do you know of him, with his monstrous puppyism and arrogance?” Oh, Mrs. Laura knew very little of him. She did not believe — she had much rather not believe — what the world said about Mr. Ringwood.
“Suppose we were to ask the Woolcombs their opinion of your character, Philip?” cries the gentleman’s biographer, with a laugh.
“My dear!” says Laura, with a yet severer look, the severity of which glance I must explain. The differences of Woolcomb and his wife were notorious. Their unhappiness was known to all the world. Society was beginning to look with a very, very cold face upon Mrs. Woolcomb. After quarrels, jealousies, battles, reconciliations, scenes of renewed violence and furious language, had come indifference, and the most reckless gaiety on the woman’s part. Her home was splendid, but mean and miserable; all sorts of stories were rife regarding her husband’s brutal treatment of poor Agnes, and her own imprudent behaviour. Mrs. Laura was indignant when this unhappy woman’s name was ever mentioned, except when she thought how our warm, true-hearted Philip had escaped from the heartless creature. “What a blessing it was that you were ruined, Philip, and that she deserted you!” Laura would say. “What fortune would repay you for marring such a woman?”
“Indeed it was worth all I had to lose her,” says Philip, “and so the doctor and I are quits. If he had not spent my fortune, Agnes would have married me. If she had married me, I might have turned Othello, and have been hung for smothering her. Why, if I had not been poor, I should never have been married to little Char — and fancy not being married to Char!” The worthy fellow here lapses into silence, and indulges in an inward rapture at the idea of his own excessive happiness. Then he is scared again at the thought which his own imagination has raised.
“I say! Fancy being without the kids and Char!” he cries with a blank look.
“That horrible father — that dreadful mother — pardon me, Philip; but when I think of the worldliness of those unhappy people, and how that poor unhappy woman has been bred in it, and ruined by it — I am so, so, so — enraged, that I can’t keep my temper!” cries the lady. “Is the woman answerable, or the parents, who hardened her heart, and sold her — sold her to that — O!” Our illustrious friend Woolcomb was signified by “that O,” and the lady once more paused, choked with wrath as she thought about that O, and that O’s wife.
“I wonder he has not Othello’d her,” remarks Philip, with his hands in his pockets. “I should, if she had been mine, and gone on as they say she is going on.”
“It is dreadful, dreadful to contemplate!” continues the lady. “To think she was sold by her own parents, poor thing, poor thing! The guilt is with them who led her wrong.”
“Nay,” says one of the three interlocutors. “Why stop at poor Mr. and Mrs. Twysden? Why not let them off, and accuse their parents? who lived worldly too in their generation. Or, stay; they descend from William the Conqueror. Let us absolve poor Weldone Twysden, and his heartless wife, and have the Norman into court.”
“Ah, Arthur! Did not our sin begin with the beginning,” cries the lady, “and have we not its remedy? Oh, this poor creature, this poor creature! May she know where to take refuge from it, and learn to repent in time!”
The Georgian and Circassian girls, they say, used to submit to their lot very complacently, and were quite eager to get to market at Constantinople and be sold. Mrs. Woolcomb wanted nobody to tempt her away from poor Philip. She hopped away from the old love, as soon as ever the new one appeared with his bag of money. She knew quite well to whom she was selling herself, and for what. The tempter needed no skill, or artifice, or eloquence. He had none. But he showed her a purse, and three fine houses — and she came. Innocent child, forsooth! She knew quite as much about the world as papa and mamma; and the lawyers did not look to her settlement more warily, and coolly, than she herself did. Did she not live on it afterwards? I do not say she lived reputably, but most comfortably: as Paris, and Rome, and Naples, and Florence can tell you, where she is well known; where she receives a great deal of a certain kind of company; where she is scorned and flattered, and splendid, and lonely, and miserable. She is not miserable when she sees children: she does not care for other persons’ children, as she never did for her own, even when they were taken from her. She is of course hurt and angry, when quite common, vulgar people, not in society, you understand, turn away from her, and avoid her, and won’t come to her parties. She gives excellent dinners which jolly fogeys, rattling bachelors, and doubtful ladies frequent: but she is alone and unhappy — unhappy because she does not see parents, sister, or brother? Allons, mon bon monsieur! She never cared for parents, sister, or brother; or for baby: or for man (except once for Philip a little, little bit, when her pulse would sometimes go up two beats in a minute at his appearance). But she is unhappy, because she is losing her figure, and from tight lacing her nose has become very red, and the pearl powder won’t lie on it somehow. And though you may have thought Woolcomb an odious, ignorant, and underbred little wretch, you must own that at least he had red blood in his veins. Did he not spend a great part of his fortune for the possession of this cold wife. For whom did she ever make a sacrifice, or feel a pang? I am sure a greater misfortune than any which has befallen friend Philip might have happened to him, and so congratulate him on his escape.
Having vented his wrath upon the arrogance and impertinence of this solemn puppy of a Philip Ringwood, our friend went away somewhat soothed to his club in St. James’s Street. The Megatherium Club is only a very few doors from the much more aristocratic establishment of Black’s . Mr. Philip Ringwood and Mr. Woolcomb were standing on the steps of Black’s. Mr. Ringwood waved a graceful little kid-gloved hand to Philip, and smiled on him. Mr. Woolcomb glared at our friend out of his opal eyeballs. Philip had once proposed to kick Woolcomb into the sea. He somehow felt as if he would like to treat Ringwood to the same bath. Meanwhile, Mr. Ringwood laboured under the notion that he and his new-found acquaintance were on the very best possible terms.
At one time poor little Woolcomb loved to be seen with Philip Ringwood. He thought he acquired distinction from the companionship of that man of fashion, and would hang on Ringwood as they walked the Pall Mall pavement.
“Do you know that great hulking, overbearing brute?” says Woolcomb to his companion on the steps of Black’s . Perhaps somebody overheard them from the bow-window. (I tell you everything is overheard in London, and a great deal more too.)
“Brute, is he?” says Ringwood; “seems a rough, overbearing sort of chap.”
“Blackguard doctor’s son. Bankrupt father ran away,” says the dusky man with the opal eyeballs.
“I have heard he was a rogue — the doctor; but I like him. Remember he gave me three sovereigns when I was at school. Always like a fellow who tips you when you are at school.” And here Ringwood beckoned his brougham which was in waiting.
“Shall we see you at dinner? Where are you going?” asked Mr. Woolcomb. “If you are going towards — ”
“Towards Gray’s Inn, to see my lawyer; have an appointment there; be with you at eight!” And Mr. Ringwood skipped into his little brougham and was gone.
Tom Eaves told Philip. Tom Eaves belongs to Black’s Club, to Bays’s, to the Megatherium, I don’t know to how many clubs in St. James’s Street. Tom Eaves knows everybody’s business, and all the scandal of all the clubs for the last forty years. He knows who has lost money and to whom; what is the talk of the opera box and what the scandal of the coulisses; who is making love to whose daughter. Whatever men and women are doing in May Fair, is the farrago of Tom’s libel. He knows so many stories, that of course he makes mistakes in names sometimes, and says that Jones is on the verge of ruin, when he is thriving and prosperous, and it is poor Brown who is in difficulties; or informs us that Mrs. Fanny is flirting with Captain Ogle when both are as innocent of a flirtation as you and I are. Tom certainly is mischievous, and often is wrong; but when he speaks of our neighbours he is amusing.
“It is as good as a play to see Ringwood and Othello together,” says Tom to Philip. “How proud the black man is to be seen with him! Heard him abuse you to Ringwood. Ringwood stuck up for you and for your poor governor — spoke up like a man — like a man who sticks up for a fellow who is down. How the black man brags about having Ringwood to dinner! Always having him to dinner. You should have seen Ringwood shake him off! Said he was going to Gray’s Inn. Heard him say Gray’s Inn Lane to his man. Don’t believe a word of it.”
Now I dare say you are much too fashionable to know that Milman Street is a little cul de sac of a street, which leads into Guildford Street, which leads into Gray’s Inn Lane. Philip went his way homewards, shaking off Tom Eaves, who, for his part, trolled off to his other clubs, telling people how he had just been talking with that bankrupt doctor’s son, and wondering how Philip should get money enough to pay his club subscription. Philip then went on his way, striding homewards at his usual manly pace.
Whose black brougham was that? — the black brougham with the chestnut horse walking up and down Guildford Street. Mr. Ringwood’s crest was on the brougham. When Philip entered his drawing-room, having opened the door with his own key, there sat Mr. Ringwood, talking to Mrs. Charlotte, who was taking a cup of tea at five o’clock. She and the children liked that cup of tea. Sometimes it served Mrs. Char for dinner when Philip dined from home.
“If I had known you were coming here, you might have brought me home and saved me a long walk,” said Philip, wiping a burning forehead.
“So I might — so I might!” said the other. “I never thought of it. I had to see my lawyer in Gray’s Inn; and it was then I thought of coming on to see you, as I was telling Mrs. Firmin; and a very nice quiet place you live in!”
This was very well. But for the first and only time of his life, Philip was jealous.
“Don’t drub so with your feet! Don’t like to ride when you jog so on the floor,” said Philip’s eldest darling, who had clambered on papa’s knee. “Why do you look so? Don’t squeeze my arm, papa!”
Mamma was utterly unaware that Philip had any cause for agitation. “You have walked all the way from Westminster, and the club, and you are quite hot and tired!” she said. “Some tea, my dear?”
Philip nearly choked with the tea. From under his hair, which fell over his forehead, he looked into his wife’s face. It wore such a sweet look of innocence and wonder, that, as he regarded her, the spasm of jealousy passed off. No: there was no look of guilt in those tender eyes. Philip could only read in them the wife’s tender love and anxiety for himself.
But what of Mr. Ringwood’s face? When the first little blush and hesitation had passed away, Mr. Ringwood’s pale countenance reassumed that calm selfsatisfied smile, which it customarily wore. “The coolness of the man maddened me,” said Philip, talking about the little occurrence afterwards, and to his usual confidant.
“Gracious powers,” cried the other. “If I went to see Charlotte and the children, would you be jealous of me, you bearded Turk? Are you prepared with sack and bowstring for every man who visits Mrs. Firmin? If you are to come out in this character, you will lead yourself and your wife pretty lives. Of course you quarrelled with Lovelace then and there, and threatened to throw him out of window then and there? Your custom is to strike when you are hot; witness — ”
“Oh, dear, no!” cried Philip, interrupting me. “I have not quarrelled with him yet.” And he ground his teeth, and gave a very fierce glare with his eyes. “I sate him out quite civilly. I went with him to the door; and I have left directions that he is never to pass it again — that’s all. But I have not quarrelled with him in the least. Two men never behaved more politely than we did. We bowed and grinned at each other quite amiably. But I own, when he held out his hand, I was obliged to keep mine behind my back, for they felt very mischievous, and inclined to — Well, never mind. Perhaps it is, as you say; and he means no sort of harm.”
Where, I say again, do women learn all the mischief they know? Why should my wife have such a mistrust and horror of this gentleman? She took Philip’s side entirely. She said she thought he was quite right in keeping that person out of his house. What did she know about that person? Did I not know myself? He was a libertine, and led a bad life. He had led young men astray, and taught them to gamble, and helped them to ruin themselves. We have all heard stories about the late Sir Philip Ringwood; that last scandal in which he was engaged, three years ago, and which brought his career to an end at Naples, I need not, of course, allude to. But fourteen or fifteen years ago, about which time this present portion of our little story is enacted, what did she know about Ringwood’s misdoings?
No: Philip Firmin did not quarrel with Philip Ringwood on this occasion. But he shut his door on Mr. Ringwood. He refused all invitations to Sir John’s house, which, of course, came less frequently, and which then ceased to come at all. Rich folks do not like to be so treated by the poor. Had Lady Ringwood a notion of the reason why Philip kept away from her house? I think it is more than possible. Some of Philip’s friends knew her; and she seemed only pained, not surprised or angry, at a quarrel which somehow did take place between the two gentlemen not very long after that visit of Mr. Ringwood to his kinsman in Milman Street.
“Your friend seems very hot-headed and violent-tempered,” Lady Ringwood said, speaking of that very quarrel. “I am sorry he keeps that kind of company. I am sure it must be too expensive for him.”
As luck would have it, Philip’s old school friend, Lord Ascot, met us a very few days after the meeting and parting of Philip and his cousin in Milman Street, and invited us to a bachelor’s dinner on the river. Our wives (without whose sanction no good man would surely ever look a whitebait in the face) gave us permission to attend this entertainment, and remained at home, and partook of a tea-dinner (blessings on them!) with the dear children. Men grow young again when they meet at these parties. We talk of flogging, proctors, old cronies; we recite old school and college jokes. I hope that some of us may carry on these pleasant entertainments until we are fourscore, and that our toothless old gums will mumble the old stories, and will laugh over the old jokes with ever-renewed gusto. Does the kind reader remember the account of such a dinner at the commencement of this history? On this afternoon, Ascot, Maynard, Burroughs (several of the men formerly mentioned), re-assembled. I think we actually like each other well enough to be pleased to hear of each other’s successes. I know that one or two good fellows, upon whom fortune has frowned, have found other good fellows in that company to help and aid them; and that all are better for that kindly freemasonry.
Before the dinner was served, the guests met on the green of the hotel, and examined that fair landscape, which surely does not lose its charm in our eyes because it is commonly seen before a good dinner. The crested elms, the shining river, the emerald meadows, the painted parterres of flowers around, all wafting an agreeable smell of friture, of flowers and flounders exquisitely commingled. Who has not enjoyed these delights? May some of us, I say, live to drink the ‘58 claret in the year 1900! I have no doubt that the survivors of our society will still laugh at the jokes which we used to relish when the present century was still only middle-aged. Ascot was going to be married. Would he be allowed to dine next year? Frank Berry’s wife would not let him come. Do you remember his tremendous fight with Biggs? Remember? who didn’t? Marston was Berry’s bottle-holder; poor Marston, who was killed in India. And Biggs and Berry were the closest friends in life ever after. Who would ever have thought of Brackley becoming serious, and being made an archdeacon? Do you remember his fight with Ringwood? What an infernal bully he was, and how glad we all were when Brackley thrashed him. What different fates await men! Who would ever have imagined Nosey Brackley a curate in the mining districts, and ending by wearing a rosette in his hat? Who would ever have thought of Ringwood becoming such a prodigious swell and leader of fashion? He was a very shy fellow; not at all a good-looking fellow: and what a wild fellow he had become, and what a lady-killer. Isn’t he some connection of yours, Firmin? Philip said yes, but that he had scarcely met Ringwood at all. And one man after another told anecdotes of Ringwood; how he had young men to play in his house; how he had played in that very “Star and Garter;” and how he always won. You must please to remember that our story dates back some sixteen years, when the dice-box still rattled occasionally, and the king was turned.
As this old school gossip is going on, Lord Ascot arrives, and with him this very Ringwood about whom the old schoolfellows had just been talking. He came down in Ascot’s phaeton. Of course, the greatest man of the party always waits for Ringwood. “If we had had a duke at Grey Friars,” says some grumbler, “Ringwood would have made the duke bring him down.”
Philip’s friend, when he beheld the arrival of Mr. Ringwood, seized Firmin’s big arm, and whispered —
“Hold your tongue. No fighting. No quarrels. Let bygones be bygones. Remember, there can be no earthly use in a scandal.”
“Leave me alone,” says Philip, “and don’t be afraid.”
I thought Ringwood seemed to start back for a moment, and perhaps fancied that he looked a little pale, but he advanced with a gracious smile towards Philip, and remarked, “It is a long time since we have seen you at my father’s .”
Philip grinned and smiled too. “It was a long time since he had been in Hill Street.” But Philip’s smile was not at all pleasing to behold. Indeed, a worse performer of comedy than our friend does not walk the stage of this life.
On this the other gaily remarked he was glad Philip had leave to join the bachelor’s party. Meeting of old schoolfellows very pleasant. Hadn’t been to one of them for a long time: though the “Friars” was an abominable hole; that was the truth. Who was that in the shovel-hat? a bishop? what bishop?”
It was Brackley, the Archdeacon, who turned very red on seeing Ringwood. For the fact is, Brackley was talking to Pennystone, the little boy about whom the quarrel and fight had taken place at school, when Ringwood had proposed forcibly to take Pennystone’s money from him. “I think, Mr. Ringwood, that Pennystone is big enough to hold his own now, don’t you?” said the Archdeacon; and with this the Venerable man turned on his heel, leaving Ringwood to face the little Pennystone of former years; now a gigantic country squire, with health ringing in his voice, and a pair of great arms and fists that would have demolished six Ringwoods in the field.
The sight of these quondam enemies rather disturbed Mr. Ringwood’s tranquillity.
“I was dreadfully bullied at that school,” he said, in an appealing manner, to Mr. Pennystone. “I did as others did. It was a horrible place, and I hate the name of it. I say, Ascot, don’t you think that Barnaby’s motion last night was very ill-timed, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered him very neatly?”
This became a cant phrase amongst some of us wags afterwards. Whenever we wished to change a conversation, it was, “I say, Ascot, don’t you think Barnaby’s motion was very ill-timed; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered him very neatly?” You know Mr. Ringwood would scarcely have thought of coming amongst such common people as his old schoolfellows, but seeing Lord Ascot’s phaeton at Black’s, he condescended to drive down to Richmond with his lordship, and I hope a great number of his friends in St. James’s Street saw him in that noble company.
Windham was the chairman of the evening — elected to that post because he is very fond of making speeches to which he does not in the least expect you to listen. All men of sense are glad to hand over this office to him: and I hope, for my part, a day will soon arrive (but I own, mind you, that I do not carve well) when we shall have the speeches done by a skilled waiter at the side table, as we now have the carving. Don’t you find that you splash the gravy, that you mangle the meat, that you can’t nick the joint in helping the company to a dinner-speech? I, for my part, own that I am in a state of tremor and absence of mind before the operation; in a condition of imbecility during the business; and that I am sure of a headache and indigestion the next morning. What then? Have I not seen one of the bravest men in the world, at a city-dinner last year, in a state of equal panic? — I feel that I am wandering from Philip’s adventures to his biographer’s, and confess I am thinking of the dismal fiasco I myself made on this occasion at the Richmond dinner.
You see, the order of the day at these meetings is to joke at everything — to joke at the chairman, at all the speakers, at the army and navy, at the venerable the legislature, at the bar and bench, and so forth. If we toast a barrister we show how admirably he would have figured in the dock: if a sailor, how lamentably sea-sick he was: if a soldier, how nimbly he ran away. For example, we drank the Venerable Archdeacon Brackley and the army. We deplored the perverseness which had led him to adopt a black coat instead of a red. War had evidently been his vocation, as he had shown by the frequent battles in which he had been engaged at school. For what was the other great warrior of the age famous? for that Roman feature in his face, which distinguished, which gave a name to, our Brackley — a name by which we fondly clung (cries of “Nosey, Nosey!") Might that feature ornament ere long the face of — of one of the chiefs of that army of which he was a distinguished field-officer! Might — Here I confess I fairly broke down, lost the thread of my joke — at which Brackley seemed to look rather severe — and finished the speech with a gobble about regard, esteem, everybody respect you, and good health, old boy — which answered quite as well as a finished oration, however the author might be discontented with it.
The Archdeacon’s little sermon was very brief, as the discourses of sensible divines sometimes will be. He was glad to meet old friends — to make friends with old foes (loud cries of “Bravo, Nosey!") In the battle of life, every man must meet with a blow or two; and every brave one would take his facer with good humour. Had he quarrelled with any old schoolfellow in old times? He wore peace not only on his coat, but in his heart. Peace and good-will were the words of the day in the army to which he belonged; and he hoped that all officers in it were animated by one esprit de corps.
A silence ensued, during which men looked towards Mr. Ringwood, as the “old foe” towards whom the Archdeacon had held out the hand of amity: but Ringwood, who had listened to the Archdeacon’s speech with an expression of great disgust, did not rise from his chair — only remarking to his neighbour Ascot, “Why should I get up? Hang him, I have nothing to say. I say, Ascot, why did you induce me to come into this kind of thing?”
Fearing that a collision might take place between Philip and his kinsman, I had drawn Philip away from the place in the room to which Lord Ascot beckoned him, saying, “Never mind, Philip, about sitting by the lord,” by whose side I knew perfectly well that Mr. Ringwood would find a place. But it was our lot to be separated from his lordship by merely the table’s breadth, and some intervening vases of flowers and fruits through which we could see and hear our opposite neighbours. When Ringwood spoke “of this kind of thing,” Philip glared across the table, and started as if he was going to speak; but his neighbour pinched him on the knee, and whispered to him, “Silence — no scandal. Remember!” The other fell back, swallowed a glass of wine, and made me far from comfortable by performing a tattoo on my chair.
The speeches went on. If they were not more eloquent they were more noisy and lively than before. Then the aid of song was called in to enliven the banquet. The Archdeacon, who had looked a little uneasy for the last half hour, rose up at the call for a song, and quitted the room. “Let us go too, Philip,” said Philip’s neighbour. “You don’t want to hear those dreadful old college songs over again?” But Philip sulkily said, “You go, I should like to stay.”
Lord Ascot was seeing the last of his bachelor life. He liked those last evenings to be merry; he lingered over them, and did not wish them to end too quickly. His neighbour was long since tired of the entertainment, and sick of our company. Mr. Ringwood had lived of late in a world of such fashion that ordinary mortals were despicable to him. He had no affectionate remembrance of his early days, or of anybody belonging to them. Whilst Philip was singing his song of Doctor Luther, I was glad that he could not see the face of surprise and disgust which his kinsman bore. Other vocal performances followed, including a song by Lord Ascot, which, I am bound to say, was hideously out of tune; but was received by his near neighbour complacently enough.
The noise now began to increase, the choruses were fuller, the speeches were louder and more incoherent. I don’t think the company heard a speech by little Mr. Vanjohn, whose health was drunk as representative of the British Turf, and who said that he had never known anything about the turf or about play, until their old schoolfellow, his dear friend — his swell friend, if he might be permitted the expression — Mr. Ringwood, taught him the use of cards; and once, in his own house, in May Fair, and once in this very house, the “Star and Garter,” showed him how to play the noble game of Blind Hookey.
“The men are drunk. Let us go away, Ascot. I didn’t come for this kind of thing!” cried Ringwood, furious, by Lord Ascot’s side.
This was the expression which Mr. Ringwood had used a short time before, when Philip was about to interrupt him. He had lifted his gun to fire then, but his hand had been held back. The bird passed him once more, and he could not help taking aim.
“This kind of thing is very dull, isn’t it, Ringwood?” he called across the table, pulling away a flower, and glaring at the other through the little open space.
“Dull, old boy? I call it doosed good fun,” cries Lord Ascot, in the height of good humour.
“Dull? What do you mean?” asked my lord’s neighbour.
“I mean, you would prefer having a couple of packs of cards, and a little room, where you could win three or four hundred from a young fellow? It’s more profitable and more quiet than ‘this kind of thing."’
“I say, I don’t know what you mean!” cries the other.
“What! You have forgotten already? Has not Vanjohn just told you, how you and Mr. Deuceace brought him down here, and won his money from him; and then how you gave him his revenge at your own house in — ”
“Did I come here to be insulted by that fellow?” cries Mr. Ringwood, appealing to his neighbour.
“If that is an insult, you may put it in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Ringwood!” cries Philip.
“Come away, come away, Ascot! Don’t keep me here listening to this bla — ”
“If you say another word,” says Philip, “I’ll send this decanter at your head!”
“Come, come — nonsense! No quarrelling! Make it up! Everybody has had too much! Get the bill, and order the omnibus round!” A crowd was on one side of the table, and the other. One of the cousins had not the least wish that the quarrel should proceed any further.
When, being in a quarrel, Philip Firmin assumes the calm and stately manner, he is perhaps in his most dangerous state. Lord Ascot’s phaeton (in which Mr. Ringwood showed a great unwillingness to take a seat by the driver) was at the hotel gate, an omnibus and a private carriage or two were in readiness to take home the other guests of the feast. Ascot went into the hotel to light a final cigar, and now Philip springing forward, caught by the arm the gentleman sitting on the front seat of the phaeton.
“Stop!” he said. “You used a word just now — ”
“What word? I don’t know anything about words!” cries the other, in a loud voice.
“You said ‘insulted,"’ murmured Philip, in the gentlest tone.
“I don’t know what I said,” said Ringwood, peevishly.
“I said, in reply to the words which you forget, ‘that I would knock you down,’ or words to that effect. If you feel in the least aggrieved, you know where my chambers are — with Mr. Vanjohn, whom you and your mistress inveigled to play cards when he was a boy. You are not fit to come into an honest man’s house. It was only because I wished to spare a lady’s feelings that I refrained from turning you out of mine. Good-night, Ascot!” and with great majesty Mr. Philip returned to his companion and the Hansom cab which was waiting to convey these two gentlemen to London.
I was quite correct in my surmise that Philip’s antagonist would take no further notice of the quarrel to Philip, personally. Indeed, he affected to treat it as a drunken brawl, regarding which no man of sense would allow himself to be seriously disturbed. A quarrel between two men of the same family; — between Philip and his own relative who had only wished him well? — It was absurd and impossible. What Mr. Ringwood deplored was the obstinate ill-temper and known violence of Philip, which were for ever leading him into these brawls, and estranging his family from him. A man seized by the coat, insulted, threatened with a decanter! A man of station so treated by a person whose own position was most questionable, whose father was a fugitive, and who himself was struggling for precarious subsistence! The arrogance was too great. With the best wishes for the unhappy young man, and his amiable (but empty-headed) little wife, it was impossible to take further notice of them. Let the visits cease. Let the carriage no more drive from Berkeley Square to Milman Street. Let there be no presents of game, poultry, legs of mutton, old clothes and what not. Henceforth, therefore, the Ringwood carriage was unknown in the neighbourhood of the Foundling, and the Ringwood footmen no more scented with their powdered heads the Firmins’ little hall-ceiling. Sir John said to the end that he was about to procure a comfortable place for Philip, when his deplorable violence obliged Sir John to break off all relations with the most misguided young man.
Nor was the end of the mischief here. We have all read how the gods never appear alone — the gods bringing good or evil fortune. When two or three little pieces of good luck had befallen our poor friend, my wife triumphantly cried out, “I told you so! Did I not always say that heaven would befriend that dear, innocent wife and children; that brave, generous, imprudent father?” And now when the evil days came, this monstrous logician insisted that poverty, sickness, dreadful doubt and terror, hunger and want almost, were all equally intended for Philip’s advantage, and would work for good in the end. So that rain was good, and sunshine was good; so that sickness was good, and health was good; that Philip ill was to be as happy as Philip well, and as thankful for a sick house and an empty pocket as for a warm fireside and a comfortable larder. Mind, I ask no Christian philosopher to revile at his ill-fortunes, or to despair. I will accept a toothache (or any evil of life) and bear it without too much grumbling. But I cannot say that to have a tooth pulled out is a blessing, or fondle the hand which wrenches at my jaw.
“They can live without their fine relations, and their donations of mutton and turnips,” cries my wife with a toss of her head. “The way in which those people patronized Philip and dear Charlotte was perfectly intolerable. Lady Ringwood knows how dreadful the conduct of that Mr. Ringwood is, and — and I have no patience with her!” How, I repeat, do women know about men? How do they telegraph to each other their notices of alarm and mistrust? and fly as birds rise up with a rush and a skurry when danger appears to be near? All this was very well. But Mr. Tregarvan heard some account of the dispute between Philip and Mr. Ringwood, and applied to Sir John for further particulars; and Sir John — liberal man as he was and ever had been, and priding himself little, heaven knew, on the privilege of rank, which was merely adventitious — was constrained to confess that this young man’s conduct showed a great deal too much laissez aller. He had constantly, at Sir John’s own house, manifested an independence which had bordered on rudeness; he was always notorious for his quarrelsome disposition, and lately had so disgraced himself in a scene with Sir John’s eldest son, Mr. Ringwood — had exhibited such brutality, ingratitude and — and inebriation, that Sir John was free to confess he had forbidden the gentleman his door.
“An insubordinate, ill-conditioned fellow, certainly!” thinks Tregarvan. (And I do not say, though Philip is my friend, that Tregarvan and Sir John were altogether wrong regarding their protégé.) Twice Tregarvan had invited him to breakfast, and Philip had not appeared. More than once he had contradicted Tregarvan about the Review. He had said that the Review was not getting on, and if you asked Philip his candid opinion, it would not get on. Six numbers had appeared, and it did not meet with that attention which the public ought to pay to it. The public was careless as to the designs of that Great Power which it was Tregarvan’s aim to defy and confound. He took counsel with himself. He walked over to the publisher’s and inspected the books; and the result of that inspection was so disagreeable, that he went home straightway and wrote a letter to Philip Firmin, Esq., New Milman Street, Guildford Street, which that poor fellow brought to his usual advisers.
That letter contained a cheque for a quarter’s salary, and bade adieu to Mr. Firmin. The writer would not recapitulate the causes of dissatisfaction which he felt respecting the conduct of the Review. He was much disappointed in its progress, and dissatisfied with its general management. He thought an opportunity was lost which never could be recovered for exposing the designs of a Power which menaced the liberty and tranquillity of Europe. Had it been directed with proper energy that Review might have been an aegis to that threatened liberty, a lamp to lighten the darkness of that menaced freedom. It might have pointed the way to the cultivation bonarum literarum; it might have fostered rising talent; it might have chastised the arrogance of so-called critics; it might have served the cause of truth. Tregarvan’s hopes were disappointed: he would not say by whose remissness or fault. He had done his utmost in the good work, and finally, would thank Mr. Firmin to print off the articles already purchased and paid for, and to prepare a brief notice for the next number, announcing the discontinuance of the Review; and Tregarvan showed my wife a cold shoulder for a considerable time afterwards, nor were we asked to his tea-parties, I forget for how many seasons.
This to us was no great loss or subject of annoyance: but to poor Philip? It was a matter of life and almost death to him. He never could save much out of his little pittance. Here were fifty pounds in his hand, it is true; but bills, taxes, rent, the hundred little obligations of a house, were due and pressing upon him; and in the midst of his anxiety our dear little Mrs. Philip was about to present him with a third ornament to his nursery. Poor little Tertius arrived duly enough, and, such hypocrites were we, that the poor mother was absolutely thinking of calling the child Tregarvan Firmin, as a compliment to Mr. Tregarvan, who had been so kind to them, and Tregarvan Firmin would be such a pretty name she thought. We imagined the Little Sister knew nothing about Philip’s anxieties. Of course, she attended Mrs. Philip through her troubles, and we vow that we never said a word to her regarding Philip’s own. But Mrs. Brandon went in to Philip one day, as he was sitting very grave and sad with his two first-born children, and she took both his hands, and said, “You know, dear Philip, I have saved ever so much: and I always intended it for — you know who.” And here she loosened one hand from him, and felt in her pocket for a purse, and put it into Philip’s hand, and wept on his shoulder. And Philip kissed her, and thanked God for sending him such a dear friend, and gave her back her purse, though indeed he had but five pounds left in his own when this benefactress came to him.
Yes: but there were debts owing to him. There was his wife’s little portion of fifty pounds a year, which had never been paid since the second quarter after their marriage, which had happened now more than three years ago. As Philip had scarce a guinea in the world, he wrote to Mrs. Baynes, his wife’s mother, to explain his extreme want, and to remind her that this money was due. Mrs. General Baynes was living at Jersey at this time in a choice society of half-pay ladies, clergymen, captains, and the like, among whom I have no doubt she moved as a great lady. She wore a large medallion of the deceased General on her neck. She wept dry tears over that interesting cameo at frequent tea-parties. She never could forgive Philip for taking away her child from her, and if any one would take away others of her girls, she would be equally unforgiving. Endowed with that wonderful logic with which women are blessed, I believe she never admitted, or has been able to admit to her own mind, that she did Philip or her daughter a wrong. In the tea-parties of her acquaintance she groaned over the extravagance of her son-in-law and his brutal treatment of her blessed child. Many good people agreed with her and shook their respectable noddles when the name of that prodigal Philip was mentioned over her muffins and Bohea. He was prayed for; his dear widowed mother-in-law was pitied, and blessed with all the comfort reverend gentlemen could supply on the spot. “Upon my honour, Firmin, Emily and I were made to believe that you were a monster, sir,” the stout Major MacWhirter once said; “and now I have heard your story, by Jove, I think it is you, and not Eliza Baynes, who were wronged. She has a deuce of a tongue, Eliza has: and a temper — poor Charles knew what that was!” In fine, when Philip, reduced to his last guinea, asked Charlotte’s mother to pay her debt to her sick daughter, Mrs. General B. sent Philip a ten-pound note, open, by Captain Swang, of the Indian army, who happened to be coming to England. And that, Philip says, of all the hard knocks of fate, has been the very hardest which he had had to endure.
But the poor little wife knew nothing of this cruelty, nor, indeed, of the very poverty which was hemming round her curtain; and in the midst of his griefs, Philip Firmin was immensely consoled by the tender fidelity of the friends whom God had sent him. Their griefs were drawing to an end now. Kind readers all, may your sorrows, may mine, leave us with hearts not embittered, and humbly acquiescent to the Great Will!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00