You know — all good boys and girls at Christmas know — that, before the last scene of the pantomime, when the Good Fairy ascends in a blaze of glory, and Harlequin and Columbine take hands, having danced through all their tricks and troubles and tumbles, there is a dark, brief, seemingly meaningless penultimate scene, in which the performers appear to grope about perplexed, whilst the music of bassoons and trombones, and the like, groans tragically. As the actors, with gestures of dismay and outstretched arms, move hither and thither, the wary frequenter of pantomimes sees the illuminators of the Abode of Bliss and Hall of Prismatic Splendour nimbly moving behind the canvas, and streaking the darkness with twinkling fires — fires which shall blaze out presently in a thousand colours round the Good Fairy in the Revolving Temple of Blinding Bliss. Be happy, Harlequin! Love and be happy and dance, pretty Columbine! Children, mamma bids you put your shawls on. And Jack and Mary (who are young and love pantomimes,) look lingeringly still over the ledge of the box, whilst the fairy temple yet revolves, whilst the fireworks play, and ere the Great Dark Curtain descends.
My dear young people, who have sate kindly through the scenes during which our entertainment has lasted, be it known to you that last chapter was the dark scene. Look to your cloaks, and tie up your little throats, for I tell you the great baize will soon fall down. Have I had any secrets from you all through the piece? I tell you the house will be empty and you will be in the cold air. When the boxes have got their nightgowns on, and you are all gone, and I have turned off the gas, and am in the empty theatre alone in the darkness, I promise you I shall not be merry. Never mind! We can make jokes though we are ever so sad. We can jump over head and heels, though I declare the pit is half emptied already, and the last orange-woman has slunk away. Encore une pirouette, Colombine! Saute, Arlequin, mon ami! Though there are but five bars more of the music, my good people, we must jump over them briskly, and then go home to supper and bed.
Philip Firmin, then, was immensely moved by this magnanimity and kindness on the part of his old employer, and has always considered Mugford’s arrival and friendliness as a special interposition in his favour. He owes it all to Brandon, he says. It was she who bethought herself of his condition, represented it to Mugford, and reconciled him to his enemy. Others were most ready with their money. It was Brandon who brought him work rather than alms, and enabled him to face fortune cheerfully. His interval of poverty was so short, that he actually had not occasion to borrow. A week more, and he could not have held out, and poor Brandon’s little marriage present must have gone to the coenotaph of sovereigns — the dear Little Sister’s gift which Philip’s family cherish to this hour.
So Philip, with a humbled heart and demeanour, clambered up on his sub-editorial stool once more at the Pall Mall Gazette, and again brandished the paste pot and the scissors. I forget whether Bickerton still remained in command at the Pall Mall Gazette, or was more kind to Philip than before, or was afraid of him, having heard of his exploits as a fire-eater; but certain it is, the two did not come to a quarrel, giving each other a wide berth, as the saying is, and each doing his own duty. Good-by, Monsieur Bickerton. Except, mayhap, in the final group round the Fairy Chariot (when, I promise you, there will be such a blaze of glory that he will be invisible), we shall never see the little spiteful envious creature more. Let him pop down his appointed trap-door; and, quick fiddles! let the brisk music jig on.
Owing to the coolness which had arisen between Philip and his father on account of their different views regarding the use to be made of Philip’s signature, the old gentleman drew no further bills in his son’s name, and our friend was spared from the unpleasant persecution. Mr. Hunt loved Dr. Firmin so ardently that he could not bear to be separated from the doctor long. Without the doctor, London was a dreary wilderness to Hunt. Unfortunate remembrances of past pecuniary transactions haunted him here. We were all of us glad when he finally retired from the Covent Garden taverns and betook himself to the Bowery once more.
And now friend Philip was at work again, hardly earning a scanty meal for self, wife, servant, children. It was indeed a meagre meal, and a small wage. Charlotte’s illness, and other mishaps, had swept away poor Philip’s little savings. It was determined that we would let the elegantly furnished apartments on the first floor. You might have fancied the proud Mr. Firmin rather repugnant to such a measure. And so he was on the score of convenience, but of dignity, not a whit. To this day, if necessity called, Philip would turn a mangle with perfect gravity. I believe the thought of Mrs. General Baynes’s horror at the idea of her son-in-law letting lodgings greatly soothed and comforted Philip. The lodgings were absolutely taken by our country acquaintance, Miss Pybus, who was coming up for the May meetings, and whom we persuaded (heaven be good to us) that she would find a most desirable quiet residence in the house of a man with three squalling children. Miss P. came, then, with my wife to look at the apartments; and we allured her by describing to her the delightful musical services at the Foundling hard by; and she was very much pleased with Mrs. Philip, and did not even wince at the elder children, whose pretty faces won the kind old lady’s heart: and I am ashamed to say we were mum about the baby: and Pybus was going to close for the lodgings, when Philip burst out of his little room, without his coat, I believe, and objurgated a little printer’s boy, who was sitting in the hall, waiting for some “copy” regarding which he had made a blunder; and Philip used such violent language towards the little lazy boy, that Pybus said “she never could think of taking apartments in that house,” and hurried thence in a panic. When Brandon heard of this project of letting lodgings, she was in a fury. She might let lodgin’s, but it wasn’t for Philip to do so. “Let lodgin’s, indeed! Buy a broom, and sweep a crossin’!” Brandon always thought Charlotte a poor-spirited creature, and the way she scolded Mrs. Firmin about this transaction was not a little amusing. Charlotte was not angry. She liked the scheme as little as Brandon. No other person ever asked for lodgings in Charlotte’s house. May and its meetings came to an end. The old ladies went back to their country towns. The missionaries returned to Caffraria. (Ah! where are the pleasant-looking Quakeresses of our youth, with their comely faces, and pretty dove-coloured robes? They say the goodly sect is dwindling — dwindling.) The Quakeresses went out of town: then the fashionable world began to move: the Parliament went out of town. In a word, everybody who could, made away for a holiday, whilst poor Philip remained at his work, snipping and pasting his paragraphs, and doing his humble drudgery.
A sojourn on the sea-shore was prescribed by Dr. Goodenough, as absolutely necessary for Charlotte and her young ones, and when Philip pleaded certain cogent reasons why the family could not take the medicine prescribed by the doctor, that eccentric physician had recourse to the same pocket-book which we have known him to produce on a former occasion; and took from it, for what I know, some of the very same notes which he had formerly given to the Little Sister. “I suppose you may as well have them as that rascal Hunt?” said the doctor, scowling very fiercely. “Don’t tell me. Stuff and nonsense. Pooh! Pay me when you are a rich man!” And this Samaritan had jumped into his carriage, and was gone, before Philip or Mrs. Philip could say a word of thanks. Look at him as he is going off. See the green brougham drive away, and turn westward, and mark it well. A shoe go after thee, John Goodenough; we shall see thee no more in this story. You are not in the secret, good reader: but I, who have been living with certain people for many months past, and have a hearty liking for some of them, grow very soft when the hour for shaking hands comes, to think we are to meet no more. Go to! when this tale began, and for some months after, a pair of kind old eyes used to read these pages, which are now closed in the sleep appointed for all of us. And so page is turned after page, and behold Finis and the volume’s end.
So Philip and his young folks came down to Periwinkle Bay, where we were staying, and the girls in the two families nursed the baby, and the child and mother got health and comfort from the fresh air, and Mr. Mugford — who believes himself to be the finest sub-editor in the world — and I can tell you there is a great art in sub-editing a paper — Mr. Mugford, I say, took Philip’s scissors and paste-pot, whilst the latter enjoyed his holiday. And J. J. Ridley, R.A., came and joined us presently, and we had many sketching parties, and my drawings of the various points about the bay, viz., Lobster Head, the Mollusc Rocks, are considered to be very spirited, though my little boy (who certainly has not his father’s taste for art) mistook for the rock a really capital portrait of Philip, in a gray hat and paletot, sprawling on the sand.
Some twelve miles inland from the bay is the little town of Whipham Market, and Whipham skirts the park palings of that castle where Lord Ringwood had lived, and where Philip’s mother was born and bred. There is a statue of the late lord in Whipham marketplace. Could he have had his will, the borough would have continued to return two members to Parliament, as in the good old times before us. In that ancient and grass-grown little place, where your footsteps echo as you pass through the street, where you hear distinctly the creaking of the sign of the “Ringwood Arms” hotel and posting-house, and the opposition creaking of the “Ram Inn” over the way — where the half-pay captain, the curate, and the medical man stand before the fly-blown window-blind of the “Ringwood Institute” and survey the strangers — there is still a respect felt for the memory of the great lord who dwelt behind the oaks in yonder hall. He had his faults. His lordship’s life was not that of an anchorite. The company his lordship kept, especially in his latter days, was not of that select description which a nobleman of his lordship’s rank might command. But he was a good friend to Whipham. He was a good landlord to a good tenant. If he had his will, Whipham would have kept its own. His lordship paid half the expense after the burning of the town-hall. He was an arbitrary man, certainly, and he flogged Alderman Duffle before his own shop, but he apologized for it most handsome afterwards. Would the gentlemen like port or sherry? Claret not called for in Whipham; not at all: and no fish, because all the fish at Periwinkle Bay is bought up and goes to London. Such were the remarks made by the landlord of the Ringwood Arms to three cavaliers who entered that hostelry. And you may be sure he told us about Lord Ringwood’s death in the postchaise as he came from Turreys Regum; and how his lordship went through them gates (pointing to a pair of gates and lodges which skirt the town), and was drove up to the castle and laid in state; and his lordship never would take the railway, never; and he always travelled like a nobleman, and when he came to a hotel and changed horses, he always called for a bottle of wine, and only took a glass, and sometimes not even that. And the present Sir John has kept no company here as yet; and they say he is close of his money, they say he is. And this is certain, Whipham haven’t seen much of it, Whipham haven’t.
We went into the inn yard, which may have been once a stirring place, and then sauntered up to the park gate, surmounted by the supporters and armorial bearings of the Ringwoods. “I wonder whether my poor mother came out of that gate when she eloped with my father?” said Philip. “Poor thing, poor thing!” The great gates were shut. The westering sun cast shadows over the sward where here and there the deer were browsing, and at some mile distance lay the house, with its towers and porticos and vanes flaming in the sun. The smaller gate was open, and a girl was standing by the lodge door. Was the house to be seen?
“Yes,” says a little red-cheeked girl, with a curtsey.
“No!” calls out a harsh voice from within, and an old woman comes out from the lodge and looks at us fiercely. “Nobody is to go to the house. The family is a-coming.”
That was provoking. Philip would have liked to behold the great house where his mother and her ancestors were born.
“Marry, good dame,” Philip’s companion said to the old beldam, “this goodly gentleman hath a right of entrance to yonder castle, which, I trow, ye wot not of. Heard ye never tell of one Philip Ringwood, slain at Busaco’s glorious fi — ”
“Hold your tongue, and don’t chaff her, Pen,” growled Firmin.
“Nay, and she knows not Philip Ringwood’s grandson,” the other wag continued, in a softened tone. “This will convince her of our right to enter. Canst recognize this image of your queen?”
“Well, I suppose ‘ee can go up,” said the old woman, at the sight of this talisman. “There’s only two of them staying there, and they’re out a-drivin.”
Philip was bent on seeing the halls of his ancestors. Gray and huge, with towers, and vanes, and porticos, they lay before us a mile off, separated from us by a streak of glistening river. A great chestnut avenue led up to the river, and in the dappled grass the deer were browsing.
You know the house, of course. There is a picture of it in Watts, bearing date 1783. A gentleman in a cocked hat and pigtail is rowing a lady in a boat on the shining river. Another nobleman in a cocked hat is angling in the glistening river from the bridge, over which a postchaise is passing.
“Yes, the place is like enough,” said Philip; “but I miss the post-chaise going over the bridge, and the lady in the punt with the tall parasol. Don’t you remember the print in our housekeeper’s room in Old Parr Street? My poor mother used to tell me about the house, and I imagined it grander than the palace of Aladdin. It is a very handsome house,” Philip went on. “‘It extends two hundred and sixty feet by seventy-five, and consists of a rustic basement and principal story, with an attic in the centre, the whole executed in stone. The grand front towards the park is adorned with a noble portico of the Corinthian order, and may with propriety be considered one of the finest elevations in the — ’ I tell you I am quoting out of Watts’s Seats of the Nobility and Gentry, published by John and Josiah Boydell, and lying in our drawing-room. Ah, dear me! I painted the boat and the lady and gentleman in the drawing-room copy, and my father boxed my ears, and my mother cried out, poor dear soul! And this is the river, is it? And over this the postchaise went with the club-tailed horses, and here was the pig-tailed gentleman fishing. It gives one a queer sensation,” says Philip, standing on the bridge, and stretching out his big arms. “Yes, there are the two people in the punt by the rushes. I can see them, but you can’t; and I hope, sir, you will have good sport.” And here he took off his hat to an imaginary gentleman supposed to be angling from the balustrade for ghostly gudgeon. We reach the house presently. We ring at a door in the basement under the portico. The porter demurs, and says some of the family is down, but they are out, to be sure. The same half-crown argument answers with him which persuaded the keeper at the lodge. We go through the show-rooms of the stately but somewhat faded and melancholy palace. In the cedar dining-room there hangs the grim portrait of the late earl; and that fair-haired officer in red? that must be Philip’s grandfather. And those two slim girls embracing, surely those are his mother and his aunt. Philip walks softly through the vacant rooms. He gives the porter a gold piece ere he goes out of the great hall, forty feet cube, ornamented with statues brought from Rome by John first Baron, namely, Heliogabalus. Nero’s mother, a priestess of Isis, and a river god; the pictures over the doors by Pedimento; the ceiling by Leotardi, and in a window in the great hall there is a table with a visitors’ book, in which Philip writes his name. As we went away, we met a carriage which drove rapidly towards the house, and which no doubt contained the members of the Ringwood family, regarding whom the porteress had spoken. After the family differences previously related, we did not care to face these kinsfolks of Philip, and passed on quickly in twilight beneath the rustling umbrage of the chestnuts. J. J. saw a hundred fine pictorial effects as we walked; the palace reflected in the water; the dappled deer under the chequered shadow of the trees. It was, “Oh, what a jolly bit of colour!” and, “I say, look, how well that old woman’s red cloak comes in!” and so forth. Painters never seem tired of their work. At seventy they are students still, patient, docile, happy. May we too, my good sir, live for fourscore years, and never be too old to learn! The walk, the brisk accompanying conversation, amid stately scenery around, brought us with good appetites and spirits to our inn, where we were told that dinner would be served when the omnibus arrived from the railway.
At a short distance from the Ringwood Arms, and on the opposite side of the street, is the Ram Inn, neat postchaises and farmers’ ordinary; a house, of which the pretensions seemed less, though the trade was somewhat more lively. When the tooting of the horn announced the arrival of the omnibus from the railway, I should think a crowd of at least fifteen people assembled at various doors of the High Street and Market. The half-pay captain and the curate came out from the Ringwood Athenæum. The doctor’s apprentice stood on the step of the surgery door, and the surgeon’s lady looked out from the first floor. We shared the general curiosity. We and the waiter stood at the door of the Ringwood Arms. We were mortified to see that of the five persons conveyed by the ‘bus, one was a tradesman, who descended at his door (Mr. Packwood, the saddler, so the waiter informed us), three travellers were discharged at the Ram, and only one came to us.
“Mostly bagmen goes to the Ram,” the waiter said, with a scornful air; and these bagmen, and their bags, quitted the omnibus.
Only one passenger remained for the Ringwood Arms Hotel, and he presently descended under the porte cochère; and the omnibus — I own, with regret, it was but a one-horse machine — drove rattling into the court-yard, where the bells of the “Star,” the “George,” the “Rodney,” the “Dolphin,” and so on, had once been wont to jingle, and the court had echoed with the noise and clatter of hoofs and ostlers, and the cries of “First and second, turn out.”
Who was the merry-faced little gentleman in black, who got out of the omnibus, and cried, when he saw us, “What, you here?” It was Mr. Bradgate, that lawyer of Lord Ringwood’s with whom we made a brief acquaintance just after his lordship’s death.” “What, you here?” cries Bradgate, then, to Philip. Come down about this business, of course? Very glad that you and — and certain parties have made it up. Thought you weren’t friends.
What business? What parties? We had not heard the news? We had only come over from Periwinkle Bay by chance, in order to see the house.
“How very singular! Did you meet the — the people who were staying there?”
We said we had seen a carriage pass, but did not remark who was in it. What, however, was the news? Well. It would be known immediately, and would appear in Tuesday’s Gazette. The news was that Sir John Ringwood was going to take a peerage, and that the seat for Whipham would be vacant. And herewith our friend produced from his travelling bag a proclamation, which he read to us, and which was addressed —
“To the worthy and independent electors of the borough of Ringwood.”
“Gentlemen, — A gracious Sovereign having been pleased to order that the family of Ringwood should continue to be represented in the House of Peers, I take leave of my friends and constituents who have given me their kind confidence hitherto, and promise them that my regard for them will never cease, or my interest in the town and neighbourhood where my family have dwelt for many centuries. The late lamented Lord Ringwood’s brother died in the service of his Sovereign in Portugal, following the same flag under which his ancestors for centuries have fought and bled. My own son serves the Crown in a civil capacity. It was natural that one of our name and family should continue the relations which so long have subsisted between us and this loyal, affectionate, but independent borough. Mr. Ringwood’s onerous duties in the office which he holds are sufficient to occupy his time. A gentleman united to our family by the closest ties will offer himself as a candidate for your suffrages — ”
“Why, who is it? He is not going to put in uncle Twysden, or my sneak of a cousin?”
“No,” says Mr. Bradgate.
“Well, bless my soul! he can’t mean me,” said Philip. “Who is the dark horse he has in his stable!”
Then Mr. Bradgate laughed. “Dark horse you may call him. The new member is to be Grenville Woolcomb, Esq., your West India relative, and no other.”
Those who know the extreme energy of Mr. P. Firmin’s language when he is excited, may imagine the explosion of Philippine wrath which ensued as our friend heard this name. “That miscreant: that skinflint: that wealthy crossing-sweeper: that ignoramus who scarce could do more than sign his name! Oh, it was horrible, shameful! Why, the man is on such ill terms with his wife that they say he strikes her. When I see him I feel inclined to choke him, and murder him. That brute going into Parliament, and the republican Sir John Ringwood sending him there! It’s monstrous!”
“Family arrangements. Sir John, or, I should say, my Lord Ringwood is one of the most affectionate of parents,” Mr. Bradgate remarked. “He has a large family by his second marriage, and his estates go to his eldest son. We must not quarrel with Lord Ringwood for wishing to provide for his young ones. I don’t say that he quite acts up to the extreme Liberal principle of which he was once rather fond of boasting. But if you were offered a peerage, what would you do; what would I do? If you wanted money for your young ones, and could get it, would you not take it? Come, come, don’t let us have too much of this Spartan virtue! If we were tried, my good friend, we should not be much worse or better than our neighbours. Is my fly coming, waiter?” We asked Mr. Bradgate to defer his departure, and to share our dinner. But he declined, and said he must go up to the great house, where he and his client had plenty of business to arrange, and where no doubt he would stay for the night. He bade the inn servants put his portmanteau into his carriage when it came. “The old lord had some famous port wine,” he said; “I hope my friends have the key of the cellar.”
The waiter was just putting our meal on the table, as we stood in the bow-window of the Ringwood Arms coffee-room, engaged in this colloquy. Hence we could see the street, and the opposition inn of the Ram, where presently a great placard was posted. At least a dozen street boys, shopmen, and rustics were quickly gathered round this manifesto, and we ourselves went out to examine it. The Ram placard denounced, in terms of unmeasured wrath, the impudent attempt from the Castle to dictate to the free and independent electors of the borough. Freemen were invited not to promise their votes; to show themselves worthy of their name; to submit to no Castle dictation. A county gentleman of property, of influence, of liberal principles — no West Indian, no Castle Flunkey, but a True English Gentleman, would come forward to rescue them from the tyranny under which they laboured. On this point the electors might rely on the word of A Briton.
“This was brought down by the clerk from Bedloe’s . He and a newspaper man came down in the train with me; a Mr. — ”
As he spoke, there came forth from the Ram the newspaper man of whom Mr. Bradgate spoke — an old friend and comrade of Philip, that energetic man and able reporter, Phipps of the Daily Intelligencer, who recognized Philip, and cordially greeting him, asked what he did down here, and supposed he had come to support his family.
Philip explained that we were strangers, had come from a neighbouring watering place to see the home of Philip’s ancestors, and was not even aware, until then, that an electioneering contest was pending in the place, or that Sir John Ringwood was about to be promoted to the peerage. Meanwhile, Mr. Bradgate’s fly had driven out of the hotel yard of the Ringwood Arms, and the lawyer running to the house for a bag of papers, jumped into the carriage and called to the coachman to drive to the castle.
“Bon appétit!” says he, in a confident tone, and he was gone.
“Would Phipps dine with us?” Phipps whispered, “I am on the other side, and the Ram is our house.”
We, who were on no side, entered into the Ringwood Arms, and sat down to our meal — to the mutton and the catsup, cauliflower and potatoes, the copper-edged side dishes, and the watery melted butter, with which strangers are regaled in inns in declining towns. The town badauds, who had read the placard at the Ram, now came to peruse the proclamation in our window. I daresay thirty pairs of clinking boots stopped before the one window and the other, the while we ate tough mutton and drank fiery sherry. And J. J., leaving his dinner, sketched some of the figures of the townsfolk staring at the manifesto, with the old-fashioned Ram Inn for a background — a picturesque gable enough.
Our meal was just over, when, somewhat to our surprise, our friend Mr. Bradgate the lawyer returned to the Ringwood Arms. He wore a disturbed countenance He asked what he could have for dinner? Mutton, neither hot nor cold. Hum! That must do. So he had not been invited to dine at the Park? We rallied him with much facetiousness on this disappointment.
Little Bradgate’s eyes started with wrath. “What a churl the little black fellow is!” he cried. “I took him his papers. I talked with him till dinner was laid in the very room where we were. French beans and neck of venison — I saw the housekeeper and his man bring them in!” And Mr. Woolcomb did not so much as ask me to sit down to dinner — but told me to come again at nine o’clock! Confound this mutton — it’s neither hot nor cold! The little skinflint! The glasses of fiery sherry which Bradgate now swallowed served rather to choke than appease the lawyer. We laughed, and this jocularity angered him more. “Oh,” said he, “I am not the only person Woolcomb was rude to. He was in a dreadful ill-temper. He abused his wife: and when he read somebody’s name in the stranger’s book, I promise you, Firmin, he abused you. I had a mind to say to him, ‘Sir, Mr. Firmin is dining at the Ringwood Arms, and I will tell him what you say of him.’ What india rubber mutton this is! What villanous sherry! Go back to him at nine o’clock, indeed! Be hanged to his impudence!”
“You must not abuse Woolcomb before Firmin,” said one of our party. “Philip is so fond of his cousin’s husband, that he cannot bear to hear the black man abused.”
This was not a very brilliant joke, but Philip grinned at it with much savage satisfaction.
“Hit Woolcomb as hard as you please, he has no friends here, Mr. Bradgate,” growled Philip. “So he is rude to his lawyer, is he?”
“I tell you he is worse than the old earl,” cried the indignant Bradgate. “At least the old man was a peer of England, and could be a gentleman when he wished. But to be bullied by a fellow who might be a black footman, or ought to be sweeping a crossing! It’s monstrous!”
“Don’t speak ill of a man and a brother, Mr. Bradgate. Woolcomb can’t help his complexion.”
“But he can help his confounded impudence, and shan’t practise it on me!” the attorney cried.
As Bradgate called out from his box, puffing and fuming, friend J. J. was scribbling in the little sketchbook which he always carried. He smiled over his work. “I know,” he said, “the Black Prince well enough. I have often seen him driving his chestnut mares in the Park, with that bewildered white wife by his side. I am sure that woman is miserable, and poor thing — ”
“Serve her right! What did an English lady mean by marrying such a fellow!” cries Bradgate.
“A fellow who does not ask his lawyer to dinner!” remarks one of the company: perhaps the reader’s very humble servant. “But what an imprudent lawyer he has chosen — a lawyer who speaks his mind.”
“I have spoken my mind to his betters, and be hanged to him! Do you think I am going to be afraid of him?” bawls the irascible solicitor.
“Contempsi Catilinæ gladios — do you remember the old quotation at school, Philip.” And here there was a break in our conversation, for chancing to look at friend J. J.’s sketch-book, we saw that he had made a wonderful little drawing, representing Woolcomb and Woolcomb’s wife, grooms, phaeton, and chestnut mares, as they were to be seen any afternoon in Hyde Park, during the London season.
Admirable! Capital! Everybody at once knew the likeness of the dusky charioteer. Iracundus himself smiled and sniggered over it. “Unless you behave yourself, Mr. Bradgate, Ridley will make a picture of you,” says Philip. Bradgate made a comical face and retreated into his box, of which he pretended to draw the curtain. But the sociable little man did not long remain in his retirement; he emerged from it in a short time, his wine decanter in his hand, and joined our little party; and then we fell to talking of old times; and we all remembered a famous drawing by H. B., of the late Earl of Ringwood, in the old-fashioned swallow-tailed coat and tight trowsers, on the old-fashioned horse, with the old-fashioned groom behind him, as he used to be seen pounding along Rotten Row.
“I speak my mind, do I?” says Mr. Bradgate presently. “I know somebody who spoke his mind to that old man, and who would have been better off if he had held his tongue.”
“Come, tell me, Bradgate,” cried Philip. “It is all over and past now. Had Lord Ringwood left me something? I declare I thought at one time that he intended to do so.”
“Nay, has not your friend here been rebuking me for speaking my mind? I am going to be as mum as a mouse. Let us talk about the election,” and the provoking lawyer would say no more on a subject possessing a dismal interest for poor Phil.
“I have no more right to repine,” said that philosopher, “than a man would have who drew number x in the lottery, when the winning ticket was number y. Let us talk, as you say, about the election. Who is to oppose Mr. Woolcomb?”
Mr. Bradgate believed a neighbouring squire, Mr. Hornblow, was to be the candidate put forward against the Ringwood nominee.
“Hornblow! what, Hornblow of Grey Friars?” cries Philip. “A better fellow never lived. In this case he shall have our vote and interest; and I think we ought to go over and take another dinner at the Ram.”
The new candidate actually turned out to be Philip’s old school and college friend, Mr. Hornblow. After dinner we met him with a staff of canvassers on the tramp through the little town. Mr. Hornblow was paying his respects to such tradesmen as had their shops yet open. Next day being market day he proposed to canvass the market-people. “If I meet the black man, Firmin,” said the burly squire, “I think I can chaff him off his legs. He is a bad one at speaking, I am told.”
As if the tongue of Plato would have prevailed in Whipham and against the nominee of the great house! The hour was late to be sure, but the companions of Mr. Hornblow on his canvass augured ill of his success after half-an-hour’s walk at his heels. Baker Jones would not promise no how: that meant Jones would vote for the Castle, Mr. Hornblow’s legal aide-de-camp, Mr. Batley, was forced to allow. Butcher Brown was having his tea, — his shrill-voiced wife told us, looking out from her glazed back parlour: Brown would vote for the Castle. Saddler Briggs would see about it. Grocer Adams fairly said he would vote against us — against us? — against Hornblow, whose part we were taking already. I fear the flattering promises of support of a great body of free and unbiassed electors, which had induced Mr. Hornblow to come forward and, were but inventions of that little lawyer, Batley, who found his account in having a contest in the borough. When the polling-day came — you see, I disdain to make any mysteries in this simple and veracious story — Mr. Grenville Woolcomb, whose solicitor and agent spoke for him, Mr. Grenville Woolcomb, who could not spell or speak two sentences of decent English, and whose character for dulness, ferocity, penuriousness, jealousy, almost fatuity, was notorious to all the world, was returned by an immense majority, and the country gentleman brought scarce a hundred votes to the poll.
We who were in nowise engaged in the contest, nevertheless, found amusement from it in a quiet country place where little else was stirring. We came over once or twice from Periwinkle Bay. We mounted Hornblow’s colours openly. We drove up ostentatiously to the Ram, forsaking the Ringwood Arms, where Mr. Grenville Woolcomb’s Committee Room was now established in that very coffee-room where we had dined in Mr. Bradgate’s company. We warmed in the contest. We met Bradgate and his principal more than once, and our Montagus and Capulets defied each other in the public street. It was fine to see Philip’s great figure and noble scowl when he met Woolcomb at the canvass. Gleams of mulatto hate quivered from the eyes of the little captain. Darts of fire flashed from beneath Philip’s eyebrows as he elbowed his way forward, and hustled Woolcomb off the pavement. Mr. Philip never disguised any sentiment of his. Hate the little ignorant, spiteful, vulgar, avaricious beast? Of course I hate him, and I should like to pitch him into the river. Oh, Philip! Charlotte pleaded. But there was no reasoning with this savage when in wrath. I deplored, though perhaps I was amused by, his ferocity.
The local paper on our side was filled with withering epigrams against this poor Woolcomb, of which, I suspect, Philip was the author. I think I know that fierce style and tremendous invective. In the man whom he hates he can see no good; and in his friend no fault. When we met Bradgate apart from his principal, we were friendly enough. He said we had no chance in the contest. He did not conceal his dislike and contempt for his client. He amused us in later days (when he actually became Philip’s man of law) by recounting anecdotes of Woolcomb, his fury, his jealousy, his avarice, his brutal behaviour. Poor Agnes had married for money, and he gave her none. Old Twysden, in giving his daughter to this man, had hoped to have the run of a fine house; to ride in Woolcomb’s carriages, and feast at his table. But Woolcomb was so stingy that he grudged the meat which his wife ate, and would give none to her relations. He turned those relations out of his doors. Talbot and Ringwood Twysden, he drove them both away. He lost a child, because he would not send for a physician. His wife never forgave him that meanness. Her hatred for him became open and avowed. They parted, and she led a life into which we will look no farther. She quarrelled with parents as well as husband. “Why,” she said, “did they sell me to that man?” Why did she sell herself? She required little persuasion from father and mother when she committed that crime. To be sure, they had educated her so well to worldliness, that when the occasion came she was ready.
We used to see this luckless woman, with her horses and servants decked with Woolcomb’s ribbons, driving about the little town, and making feeble efforts to canvass the townspeople. They all knew how she and her husband quarrelled. Reports came very quickly from the Hall to the town. Woolcomb had not been at Whipham a week when people began to hoot and jeer at him as he passed in his carriage. “Think how weak you must be,” Bradgate said, “when we can win with this horse! I wish he would stay away, though. We could manage much better without him. He has insulted I don’t know how many free and independent electors, and infuriated others, because he will not give them beer when they come to the house. If Woolcomb would stay in the place, and we could have the election next year, I think your man might win. But, as it is, he may as well give in, and spare the expense of a poll.” Meanwhile Hornblow was very confident. We believe what we wish to believe. It is marvellous what faith an enthusiastic electioneering agent can inspire in his client. At any rate, if Hornblow did not win this time, he would at the next election. The old Ringwood domination in Whipham was gone henceforth for ever.
When the day of election arrived, you may be sure we came over from Periwinkle Bay to see the battle. By this time Philip had grown so enthusiastic in Hornblow’s cause — (Philip, by the way, never would allow the possibility of a defeat) — that he had his children decked in the Hornblow ribbons, and drove from the bay, wearing a cockade as large as a pancake. He, I, and Ridley the painter, went together in a dog-cart. We were hopeful, though we knew the enemy was strong; and cheerful, though ere we had driven five miles the rain began to fall.
Philip was very anxious about a certain great roll of paper which we carried with us. When I asked him what it contained, he said it was a gun; which was absurd. Ridley smiled in his silent way. When the rain came, Philip cast a cloak over his artillery, and sheltered his powder. We little guessed at the time what strange game his shot would bring down.
When we reached Whipham, the polling had continued for some hours. The confounded black miscreant, as Philip called his cousin’s husband, was at the head of the poll, and with every hour his majority increased. The free and independent electors did not seem to be in the least influenced by Philip’s articles in the county paper, or by the placards which our side had pasted over the little town, and in which freemen were called upon to do their duty, to support a fine old English gentleman, to submit to no Castle nominee, and so forth. The pressure of the Ringwood steward and bailiffs was too strong. However much they disliked the black man, tradesman after tradesman, and tenant after tenant, came up to vote for him. Our drums and trumpets at the Ram blew loud defiance to the brass band at the Ringwood Arms. From our balcony, I flatter myself, we made much finer speeches than the Ringwood people could deliver. Hornblow was a popular man in the county. When he came forward to speak, the market-place echoed with applause. The farmers and small tradesmen touched their hats to him kindly, but slunk off sadly to the polling-booth and voted according to order. A fine, healthy, handsome, redcheeked squire, our champion’s personal appearance enlisted all the ladies in his favour.
“If the two men,” bawled Philip, from the Ram window, “could decide the contest with their coats off before the market-house yonder, which do you think would win — the fair man or the darkey?” (Loud cries of “Hornblow for iver!” or, “Mr. Philip, we’ll have yew.") “But you see, my friends, Mr. Woolcomb does not like a fair fight. Why doesn’t he show at the Ringwood Arms and speak? I don’t believe he can speak — not English. Are you men? Are you Englishmen. Are you white slaves to be sold to that fellow?” Immense uproar. Mr. Finch, the Ringwood agent, in vain tries to get a hearing from the balcony of the Ringwood Arms. “Why does not Sir John Ringwood — my Lord Ringwood now — come down amongst his tenantry and back the man he has sent down? I suppose he is ashamed to look his tenants in the face. I should be, if I ordered them to do such a degrading job. You know, gentlemen, that I am a Ringwood myself. My grandfather lies buried — no, not buried — in yonder church. His tomb is there. His body lies on the glorious field of Busaco!” (“Hurray!") “I am a Ringwood.” (Cries of “Hoo — down. No Ringwoods year. We wunt have un!") “And before George, if I had a vote, I would give it for the gallant, the good, the admirable, the excellent Hornblow. Some one holds up the state of the poll, and Woolcomb is ahead! I can only say, electors of Whipham, the more shame for you!” “Hooray! Bravo!” The boys, the people, the shouting are all on our side. The voting, I regret to say, steadily continues in favour of the enemy.
As Philip was making his speech, an immense banging of drums and blowing of trumpets arose from the balcony of the Ringwood Arms, and a something resembling the song of triumph called, “See the Conquering Hero comes,” was performed by the opposition orchestra. The lodge-gates of the park were now decorated with the Ringwood and Woolcomb flags. They were flung open, and a dark green chariot with four grey horses issued from the park. On the chariot was an earl’s coronet, and the people looked rather scared as it came towards us, and said — “Do’ee look now, ’tis my lard’s own postchaise!” On former days Mr. Woolcomb and his wife, as his aide-de-camp, had driven through the town in an open barouche, but, to-day being rainy, preferred the shelter of the old chariot, and we saw, presently, within, Mr. Bradgate, the London agent, and by his side the darkling figure of Mr. Woolcomb. He had passed many agonizing hours, we were told subsequently, in attempting to learn a speech. He cried over it. He never could get it by heart. He swore like a frantic child at his wife who endeavoured to teach him his lesson.
“Now’s the time, Mr. Briggs!” Philip said to Mr. B., our lawyer’s clerk, and the intelligent Briggs sprang downstairs to obey his orders. “Clear the road there! make way!” was heard from the crowd below us. The gates of our inn courtyard, which had been closed, were suddenly flung open, and, amidst the roar of the multitude, there issued out a cart drawn by two donkeys, and driven by a negro, beasts and man all wearing Woolcomb’s colours. In the cart was fixed a placard, on which a most undeniable likeness of Mr. Woolcomb was designed: who was made to say, “Vote for me! Am I Not a Man and a Brudder?” “This cart trotted out of the yard of the Ram, and, with a cortège of shouting boys, advanced into the market-place, which Mr. Woolcomb’s carriage was then crossing.”
Before the market-house stands the statue of the late earl, whereof mention has been made. In his peer’s robes, a hand extended, he points towards his park gates. An inscription, not more mendacious than many other epigraphs, records his rank, age, virtues, and the esteem in which the people of Whipham held him. The mulatto who drove the team of donkeys was an itinerant tradesman who brought fish from the bay to the little town; a jolly wag, a fellow of indifferent character, a frequenter of all the alehouses in the neighbourhood, and rather celebrated for his skill as a bruiser. He and his steeds streamed with Woolcomb ribbons. With ironical shouts of “Woolcomb for ever!” Yellow Jack urged his cart towards the chariot with the white horses. He took off his hat with mock respect to the candidate sitting within the green chariot. From the balcony of the Ram we could see the two vehicles approaching each other; and Yellow Jack waving his ribboned hat, kicking his bandy legs here and there, and urging on his donkeys. What with the roar of the people, and the banging and trumpeting of the rival bands, we could hear but little: but I saw Woolcomb thrust his yellow head out of his chaise-window — he pointed towards that impudent donkey-cart, and urged, seemingly, his postilions to ride it down. Plying their whips, the postboys galloped towards Yellow Jack and his vehicle, a yelling crowd scattering from before the horses, and rallying behind them, to utter execrations at Woolcomb. His horses were frightened, no doubt; for just as Yellow Jack wheeled nimbly round one side of the Ringwood statue, Woolcomb’s horses were all huddled together and plunging in confusion beside it, the fore-wheel came in abrupt collision with the stonework of the statue railing: and then we saw the vehicle turn over altogether, one of the wheelers down with its rider, and the leaders kicking, plunging, lashing out right and left, wild and maddened with fear. Mr. Philip’s countenance, I am bound to say, wore a most guilty and queer expression. This accident, this collision, this injury, perhaps death of Woolcomb and his lawyer, arose out of our fine joke about the Man and the Brother.
We dashed down the stairs from the Ram — Hornblow, Philip, and half-a-dozen more — and made a way through the crowd towards the carriage, with its prostrate occupants. The mob made way civilly for the popular candidate — the losing candidate. When we reached the chaise, the traces had been cut: the horses were free: the fallen postilion was up and rubbing his leg: and, as soon as the wheelers were taken out of the chaise, Woolcomb emerged from it. He had said from within (accompanying his speech with many oaths, which need not be repeated, and showing a just sense of his danger), “Cut the traces, hang you! And take the horses away: I can wait until they’re gone. I’m sittin’ on my lawyer; I ain’t goin’ to have my head kicked off my those wheelers.” And just as we reached the fallen postchaise he emerged from it, laughing, and saying, “Lie still, you old beggar!” to Mr. Bradgate, who was writhing underneath him. His issue from the carriage was received with shouts of laughter, which increased prodigiously when Yellow Jack, nimbly clambering up the statue-railings, thrust the outstretched arm of the statue through the picture of the Man and the Brother, and left that cartoon flapping in the air over Woolcomb’s head.
Then a shout arose, the like of which has seldom been heard in that quiet little town. Then Woolcomb, who had been quite good-humoured as he issued out of the broken postchaise, began to shriek, curse, and revile more shrilly than before; and was heard, in the midst of his oaths and wrath, to say, “He would give any man a shillin’ who would bring him down that confounded thing!” Then, scared, bruised, contused, confused, poor Mr. Bradgate came out of the carriage, his employer taking not the least notice of him.
Hornblow hoped Woolcomb was not hurt, on which the little gentleman turned round, and said, “Hurt? no; who are you! Is no fellah goin’ to bring me down that confounded thing? I’ll give a shillin’, I say, to the fellah who does!”
“A shilling is offered for that picture!” shouts Philip, with a red face, and wild with excitement. “Who will take a whole shilling for that beauty?”
On which Woolcomb began to scream, curse, and revile more bitterly than before. “You here? Hang you, why are you here? Don’t come bullyin’ me. Take that fellah away, some of you fellahs. Bradgate, come to my committee room. I won’t stay here, I say. Let’s have the beast of a carriage, and — Well, what’s up now?”
While he was talking, shrieking, and swearing, half a dozen shoulders in the crowd had raised the carriage up on its three wheels. The panel which had fallen towards the ground had split against a stone, and a great gap was seen in the side. A lad was about to thrust his hand into the orifice, when Woolcomb turned upon him.
“Hands off, you little beggar!” he cried, “no priggin’! Drive away some of these fellahs, you postboys! Don’t stand rubbin’ your knee there, you great fool. What’s this?” and he thrust his own hand into the place where the boy had just been marauding.
In the old travelling carriages there used to be a well or sword-case, in which travellers used to put swords and pistols in days when such weapons of defence were needful on the road. Out of this sword-case of Lord Ringwood’s old post-chariot, Woolcomb did not draw a sword, but a foolscap paper folded and tied with a red tape. And he began to read the superscription — “Will of the Right Honourable John, Earl of Ringwood. Bradgate, Smith and Burrows.”
“God bless my soul! It’s the will he had back from my office, and which I thought he had destroyed.” My dear fellow, I congratulate you with all my heart!’ And herewith Mr. Bradgate the lawyer began to shake Philip’s hand with much warmth. “Allow me to look at that paper. Yes, this is in my handwriting. Let us come into the Ringwood Arms — the Ram — anywhere, and read it to you!”
. . . Here we looked up to the balcony of the Ringwood Arms, and beheld a great placard announcing the state of the poll at 1 o’clock.
Woolcomb 216 Hornblow 92
“We are beaten,” said Mr. Hornblow, very goodnaturedly. “We may take our flag down. Mr. Woolcomb, I congratulate you.”
“I knew we should do it,” said Mr. Woolcomb, putting out a little yellow-kidded hand. Had all the votes beforehand — knew we should do the trick. I say. Hi! you — Whatdoyoucallem — Bradgate! What is it about, that will? It does not do any good to that beggar, does it?” and with laughter and shouts, and cries of “Woolcomb for ever,” and “Give us something to drink, your honour,” the successful candidate marched into his hotel.
And was the tawny Woolcomb the fairy who was to rescue Philip from grief, debt, and poverty? Yes. And the old postchaise of the late Lord Ringwood was the fairy chariot. You have read in a past chapter how the old lord, being transported with anger against Philip, desired his lawyer to bring back a will in which he had left a handsome legacy to the young man, as his mother’s son. My lord had intended to make a provision for Mrs. Firmin, when she was his dutiful niece, and yet under his roof. When she eloped with Mr. Firmin, Lord Ringwood vowed he would give his niece nothing. But he was pleased with the independent and forgiving spirit exhibited by her son; and, being a person of much grim humour, I daresay chuckled inwardly at thinking how furious the Twysdens would be, when they found Philip was the old lord’s favourite. Then Mr. Philip chose to be insubordinate, and to excite the wrath of his great-uncle, who desired to have his will back again. He put the document into his carriage, in the secret box, as he drove away on that last journey, in the midst of which death seized him. Had he survived, would he have made another will, leaving out all mention of Philip? Who shall say? My lord made and cancelled many wills. This certainly, duly drawn and witnessed, was the last he ever signed; and by it Philip is put in possession of a sum of money which is sufficient to ensure a provision for those whom he loves. Kind readers, I know not whether the fairies be rife now, or banished from this work-a-day earth, but Philip’s biographer wishes you some of those blessings which never forsook Philip in his trials: a dear wife and children to love you, a true friend or two to stand by you, and in health or sickness, a clear conscience, and a kindly heart. If you fall upon the way, may succour reach you. And may you, in your turn, have help and pity in store for the unfortunate whom you overtake on life’s journey.
Would you care to know what happened to the other personages of our narrative? Old Twysden is still babbling and bragging at clubs, and though aged is not the least venerable. He has quarrelled with his son for not calling Woolcomb out, when that unhappy
difference arose between the Black Prince and his wife. He says his family has been treated with cruel injustice by the late Lord Ringwood, but as soon as Philip had a little fortune left him he instantly was reconciled to his wife’s nephew. There are other friends of Firmin’s who were kind enough to him in his evil days, but cannot pardon his prosperity. Being in that benevolent mood which must accompany any leave-taking, we will not name these ill-wishers of Philip, but wish that all readers of his story may have like reason to make some of their acquaintances angry.
Our dear Little Sister would never live with Philip and his Charlotte, though the latter especially and with all her heart besought Mrs. Brandon to come to them. That pure and useful and modest life ended a few years since. She died of a fever caught from one of her patients. She would not allow Philip or Charlotte to come near her. She said she was justly punished for being so proud as to refuse to live with them. All her little store she left to Philip. He has now in his desk the five guineas which she gave him at his marriage; and J. J. has made a little picture of her, with her sad smile and her sweet face, which hangs in Philip’s drawing-room, where father, mother, and children talk of the Little Sister as though she were among them still.
She was dreadfully agitated when the news came from New York of Dr. Firmin’s second marriage. “His second? His third!” she said. “The villain, the villain!” That strange delusion which we have described as sometimes possessing her increased in intensity after this news. More than ever, she believed that Philip was her own child. She came wildly to him, and cried that his father had forsaken them. It was only when she was excited that she gave utterance to this opinion. Doctor Goodenough says that though generally silent about it, it never left her.
Upon his marriage Dr. Firmin wrote one of his long letters to his son, announcing the event. He described the wealth of the lady (a widow from Norfolk, in Virginia) to whom he was about to be united. He would pay back, ay, with interest, every pound, every dollar, every cent, he owed his son. Was the lady wealthy? We had only the poor doctor’s word.
Three months after his marriage he died of yellow fever, on his wife’s estate. It was then the Little Sister came to see us in widow’s mourning, very wild and flushed. She bade our servant say, “Mrs. Firmin was at the door;” to the astonishment of the man, who knew her. She had even caused a mourning-card to be printed. Ah, there is rest now for that little fevered brain, and peace, let us pray, for that fond, faithful heart.
The mothers in Philip’s household and mine have already made a match between our children. We had a great gathering the other day at Roehampton, at the house of our friend Mr. Clive Newcome (whose tall boy, my wife says, was very attentive to our Helen), and, having been educated at the same school, we sat ever so long at dessert, telling old stories, whilst the children danced to piano music on the lawn. Dance on the lawn, young folks, whilst the elders talk in the shade! What? The night is falling: we have talked enough over our wine: and it is time to go home? Good night. Good night, friends, old and young! The night will fall: the stories must end: and the best friends must part.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13