The Adventures of Philip on his way through the World, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 12

In which We Reach the Last Stage but One of this Journey.

Although poverty was knocking at Philip’s humble door, little Charlotte in all her trouble never knew how menacing the grim visitor had been. She did not quite understand that her husband in his last necessity sent to her mother for his due, and that the mother turned away and refused him. “Ah,” thought poor Philip, groaning in his despair, “I wonder whether the thieves who attacked the man in the parable were robbers of his own family, who knew that he carried money with him to Jerusalem, and waylaid him on the journey?” But again and again he has thanked God, with grateful heart, for the Samaritans whom he has met on life’s road, and if he has not forgiven, it must be owned he has never done any wrong to those who robbed him.

Charlotte did not know that her husband was at his last guinea, and a prey to dreadful anxiety for her dear sake, for after the birth of her child a fever came upon her; in the delirium consequent upon which the poor thing was ignorant of all that happened round her. A fortnight with a wife in extremity, with crying infants, with hunger menacing at the door, passed for Philip somehow. The young man became an old man in this time. Indeed, his fair hair was streaked with white at the temples afterwards. But it must not be imagined that he had not friends during his affliction, and he always can gratefully count up the names of many persons to whom he might have applied had he been in need. He did not look or ask for these succours from his relatives. Aunt and uncle Twysden shrieked and cried out at his extravagance, imprudence, and folly. Sir John Ringwood said he must really wash his hands of a young man who meanaced the life of his own son. Grenville Woolcomb, with many oaths, in which brother-in-law Ringwood joined chorus, cursed Philip, and said he didn’t care, and the beggar ought to be hung, and his father ought to be hung. But I think I know half-a-dozen good men and true who told a different tale, and who were ready with their sympathy and succour. Did not Mrs. Flanagan, the Irish laundress, in a voice broken by sobs and gin, offer to go and chare at Philip’s house for nothing, and nurse the dear children? Did not Goodenough say, “If you are in need, my dear fellow, of course you know where to come;” and did he not actually give two prescriptions, one for poor Charlotte, one for fifty pounds to be taken immediately, which he handed to the nurse by mistake? You may be sure she did not appropriate the money, for of course you know that the nurse was Mrs. Brandon. Charlotte has one remorse in her life. She owns she was jealous of the Little Sister. And now when that gentle life is over, when Philip’s poverty trials are ended, when the children go sometimes and look wistfully at the grave of their dear Caroline, friend Charlotte leans her head against her husband’s shoulder, and owns humbly how good, how brave, how generous a friend heaven sent them in that humble defender.

Have you ever felt the pinch of poverty? In many cases it is like the dentist’s chair, more dreadful in the contemplation than in the actual suffering. Philip says he never was fairly beaten, but on that day when, in reply to his solicitation to have his due, Mrs. Baynes’s friend, Captain Swang, brought him the open ten-pound note. It was not much of a blow; the hand which dealt it made the hurt so keen. “I remember,” says he, “bursting out crying at school, because a big boy hit me a slight tap, and other boys said, ‘Oh, you coward.’ It was that I knew the boy at home, and my parents had been kind to him. It seemed to me a wrong that Bumps should strike me,” said Philip; and he looked, while telling the story, as if he could cry about this injury now. I hope he has revenged himself by presenting coals of fire to his wife’s relations. But this day, when he is enjoying good health, and competence, it is not safe to mention mothers-in-law in his presence. He fumes, shouts, and rages against them, as if all were like his; and his, I have been told, is a lady perfectly well satisfied with herself and her conduct in this world; and as for the next — but our story does not dare to point so far. It only interests itself about a little clique of people here below — their griefs, their trials, their weaknesses, their kindly hearts.

People there are in our history who do not seem to me to have kindly hearts at all; and yet, perhaps, if a biography could be written from their point of view, some other novelist might show how Philip and his biographer were a pair of selfish worldlings unworthy of credit: how uncle and aunt Twysden were most exemplary people, and so forth. Have I not told you how many people at New York shook their heads when Philip’s name was mentioned, and intimated a strong opinion that he used his father very ill? When he fell wounded and bleeding, patron Tregarvan dropped him off his horse, and cousin Ringwood did not look behind to see how he fared. But these, again, may have had their opinion regarding our friend, who may have been misrepresented to them — I protest as I look back at the past portions of this history, I begin to have qualms, and ask myself whether the folks of whom we have been prattling have had justice done to them; whether Agnes Twysden is not a suffering martyr justly offended by Philip’s turbulent behaviour, and whether Philip deserves any particular attention or kindness at all. He is not transcendently clever; he is not gloriously beautiful. He is not about to illuminate the darkness in which the peoples grovel, with the flashing emanations of his truth. He sometimes owes money, which he cannot pay. He slips, stumbles, blunders, brags. Ah! he sins and repents — pray heaven — of faults, of vanities, of pride, of a thousand shortcomings! This I say — Ego — as my friend’s biographer. Perhaps I do not understand the other characters round about him so well, and have overlooked a number of their merits, and caricatured and exaggerated their little defects.

Among the Samaritans who came to Philip’s help in these his straits, he loves to remember the name of J. J., the painter, whom he found sitting with the children one day making drawings for them, which the good painter never tired to sketch.

Now if those children would but have kept Ridley’s sketches, and waited for a good season at Christy’s, I have no doubt they might have got scores of pounds for the drawings, but then, you see, they chose to improve the drawings with their own hands. They painted the soldiers yellow, the horses blue, and so forth. On the horses they put soldiers of their own construction. Ridley’s landscapes were enriched with representations of “Omnibuses,” which the children saw and admired in the neighbouring New Road. I dare say, as the fever left her, and as she came to see things as they were, Charlotte’s eyes dwelt fondly on the pictures of the omnibuses inserted in Mr. Ridley’s sketches, and she put some aside and showed them to her friends, and said, “Doesn’t our darling show extraordinary talent for drawing? Mr. Ridley says he does. He did a great part of this etching.”

But, beside the drawings, what do you think Master Ridley offered to draw for his friends? Besides the prescriptions of medicine, what drafts did Dr. Goodenough prescribe? When nurse Brandon came to Mrs. Philip in her anxious time, we know what sort of payment she proposed for her services. Who says the world is all cold? There is the sun and the shadow. And the heaven which ordains poverty and sickness, sends pity, and love, and succour.

During Charlotte’s fever and illness, the Little Sister had left her but for one day, when her patient was quiet, and pronounced to be mending. It appears that Mrs. Charlotte was very ill indeed on this occasion; so ill that Dr. Goodenough thought she might have given us all the slip: so ill that, but for Brandon, she would, in all probability, have escaped out of this troublous world and left Philip and her orphaned little ones. Charlotte mended then: could take food and liked it, and was specially pleased with some chickens which her nurse informed her were “from the country.” “From Sir John Ringwood, no doubt?” said Mrs. Firmin, remembering the presents sent from Berkeley Square, and the mutton and the turnips.

“Well, eat and be thankful!” says the Little Sister, who was as gay as a little sister could be, and who had prepared a beautiful bread sauce for the fowl; and who had tossed the baby, and who showed it to its admiring brother and sister ever so many times; and who saw that Mr. Philip had his dinner comfortable; and who never took so much as a drop of porter — at home a little glass sometimes was comfortable, but on duty, never, never! No, not if Dr. Goodenough ordered it! she vowed. And the Doctor wished he could say as much, or believe as much, of all his nurses.

Milman Street is such a quiet little street that our friends had not carpeted it in the usual way; and three days after her temporary absence, as nurse Brandon sits by her patient’s bed, powdering the back of a small pink infant that makes believe to swim upon her apron, a rattle of wheels is heard in the quiet street — of four wheels, of one horse, of a jingling carriage, which stops before Philip’s door. “It’s the trap,” says nurse Brandon, delighted. “It must be those kind Ringwoods,” says Mrs. Philip. “But stop, Brandon. Did not they, did not we? — oh, how kind of them!” She was trying to recal the past. Past and present for days had been strangely mingled in her fevered brain. “Hush, my dear, you are to be kep’ quite still,” says the nurse — and then proceeded to finish the polishing and powdering of the pink frog on her lap.

The bedroom window was open towards the sunny street: but Mrs. Philip did not hear a female voice say, “‘Old the ‘orses ‘ead, Jim,” or she might have been agitated. The horse’s head was held, and a gentleman and a lady with a great basket containing pease, butter, greens, flowers, and other rural produce, descended from the vehicle and rang at the bell.

Philip opened it; with his little ones, as usual, trotting at his knees.

“Why, my darlings, how you air grown!” cries the lady.

“Bygones be bygones. Give us your ‘and, Firmin: here’s mine. My missus has brought some country butter and things for your dear good lady. And we hope you liked the chickens. And God bless you, old fellow, how are you?” the tears were rolling down the good man’s cheeks as he spoke. And Mrs. Mugford was likewise exceedingly hot, and very much affected. And the children said to her, “Mamma is better now: and we have a little brother, and he is crying now upstairs.”

“Bless you, my darlings!” Mrs. Mugford was off by this time. She put down her peace-offering of carrots, chickens, bacon, butter. She cried plentifully. “It was Brandon came and told us,” she said; “and when she told us how all your great people had flung you over, and you’d been quarrelling again, you naughty fellar, I says to Mugford, let’s go and see after that dear thing, Mugford, I says. And here we are. And year’s two nice cakes for your children” (after a forage in the cornucopia), “and, ‘lor, how they are grown!”

A little nurse from the upstairs regions here makes her appearance, holding a bundle of cashmere shawls, part of which is removed, and discloses a being pronounced to be ravishingly beautiful, and “jest like Mrs. Mugford’s Emaly!”

“I say,” says Mugford, “the ‘old shop’s still open to you. T’other chap wouldn’t do at all. He was wild when he got the drink on board. Hirish. Pitched into Bickerton, and black’d ‘is eye. It was Bickerton who told you lies about that poor lady. Don’t see ’em no more now. Borrowed some money of me; haven’t seen him since. We were both wrong, and we must make it up — the missus says we must.”

“Amen!” said Philip, with a grasp of the honest fellow’s hand. And next Sunday he and a trim little sister, and two children, went to an old church in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, which was fashionable in the reign of Queen Anne, when Richard Steele kept house, and did not pay rent, hard by. And when the clergyman in the Thanksgiving particularized those who desired now to “offer up their praises and thanksgiving for late mercies vouchsafed to them,” once more Philip Firmin said “Amen,” on his knees, and with all his heart.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00