Of course any man of the world, who is possessed of decent prudence, will perceive that the idea of marrying on four hundred and fifty pounds a year so secured as was Master Philip’s income, was preposterous and absurd. In the first place, you can’t live on four hundred and fifty pounds a year, that is a certainty. People do live on less, I believe. But a life without a brougham, without a decent house, without claret for dinner, and a footman to wait, can hardly be called existence. Philip’s income might fail any day. He might not please the American paper. He might quarrel with the Pall Mall Gazette. And then what would remain to him? Only poor little Charlotte’s fifty pounds a year! So Philip’s most intimate male friend — a man of the world, and with a good deal of experience — argued. Of course I was not surprised that Philip did not choose to take my advice: though I did not expect he would become so violently angry, call names almost, and use most rude expressions, when, at his express desire, this advice was tendered to him. If he did not want it, why did he ask for it? The advice might be unwelcome to him, but why did he choose to tell me at my own table, over my own claret, that it was the advice of a sneak and a worldling? My good fellow, that claret, though it is a second growth, and I can afford no better, costs seventy-two shillings a dozen. How much is six times three hundred and sixty-five? A bottle a day is the least you can calculate (the fellow would come to my house and drink two bottles to himself, with the utmost nonchalance). A bottle per diem of that light charet — of that second-growth stuff — costs one hundred and four guineas a year, do you understand? or, to speak plainly with you, one hundred and nine pounds four shillings!
“Well,” says Philip, “après? We’ll do without. Meantime I will take what I can get!” and he tosses off about a pint as he speaks (these mousseline glasses are not only enormous, but they break by dozens.) He tosses off a pint of my Larose, and gives a great roar of laughter, as if he had said a good thing.
Philip Firmin is coarse and offensive at times, and Bickerton in holding this opinion is not altogether wrong.
“I’ll drink claret when I come to you, old boy,” he says, grinning; “and at home I will have whiskey-and-water.”
“But suppose Charlotte is ordered claret?”
“Well, she can have it,” says this liberal lover; “a bottle will last her a week.”
“Don’t you see,” I shriek out, “that even a bottle a week costs something like — sixty by fifty-two — eighteen pounds a year?” (I own it is really only fifteen twelve; but, in the hurry of argument, a man may stretch a figure or so.) “Eighteen pounds for Charlotte’s claret; as much, at least, you great boozy toper, for your whisky and beer. Why, you actually want a tenth part of your income for the liquor you consume! And then clothes; and then lodging; and then coals; and then doctor’s bills; and then pocket-money; and then sea-side for the little dears. Just have the kindness to add these things up, and you will find that you have about two-and-ninepence left to pay the grocer and the butcher.”
“What you call prudence,” says Philip, thumping the table, and, of course, breaking a glass, “I call cowardice — I call blasphemy! Do you mean, as a Christian man, to tell me that two young people, and a family if it should please heaven to send them one, cannot subsist upon five hundred pounds a year? Look round, sir, at the myriads of God’s creatures who live, love, are happy and poor, and be ashamed of the wicked doubt which you utter!” And he starts up, and strides up and down the dining-room, curling his flaming moustache, and rings the bell fiercely, and says, “Johnson, I’ve broke a glass. Get me another.”
In the drawing-room, my wife asks what we two were fighting about? And, as Charlotte is up-stairs, telling the children stories as they are put to bed, or writing to her dear mamma, or what not, our friend bursts out with more rude and violent expressions than he had used in the dining-room over my glasses which he was smashing, tells my own wife that I am an atheist, or at best a miserable sceptic and Sadducee: that I doubt of the goodness of heaven, and am not thankful for my daily bread. And, with one of her kindling looks directed towards the young man, of course my wife sides with him. Miss Char presently came down from the young folks, and went to the piano, and played us Beethoven’s Dream of Saint Jerome, which always soothes me, and charms me, so that I fancy it is a poem of Tennyson in music. And our children, as they sink off to sleep over-head, like to hear soft music, which soothes them into slumber, Miss Baynes says. And Miss Charlotte looks very pretty at her piano: and Philip lies gazing at her, with his great feet and hands tumbled over one of our arm-chairs. And the music, with its solemn cheer, makes us all very happy and kind-hearted, and ennobles us somehow as we listen. And my wife wears her benedictory look whenever she turns towards these young people. She has worked herself up to the opinion that yonder couple ought to marry. She can give chapter and verse for her belief. To doubt about the matter at all is wicked according to her notions. And there are certain points upon which, I humbly own, that I don’t dare to argue with her.
When the women of the house have settled a matter, is there much use in man’s resistance? If my harem orders that I shall wear a yellow coat and pink trousers, I know that, before three months are over, I shall be walking about in rose-tendre and canary-coloured garments. It is the perseverance which conquers, the daily return to the object desired. Take my advice, my dear sir, when you see your womankind resolute about a matter, give up at once, and have a quiet life. Perhaps to one of these evening entertainments, where Miss Baynes played the piano, as she did very pleasantly, and Mr. Philip’s great clumsy fist turned the leaves, little Mrs. Brandon would come tripping in, and as she surveyed the young couple, her remark would be, “Did you ever see a better suited couple?” When I came home from chambers, and passed the dining-room door, my eldest daughter with a knowing face would bar the way and say,“You mustn’t go in there, papa! Miss Grigsby is there, and Master Philip is not to be disturbed at his lessons!” Mrs. Mugford had begun to arrange marriages between her young people and ours from the very first day she saw us; and Mrs. M.’s ch. filly Toddles, rising two years, and our three-year old colt Billyboy, were rehearsing in the nursery the endless little comedy which the grown-up young persons were performing in the drawing-room.
With the greatest frankness Mrs. Mugford gave her opinion that Philip, with four or five hundred a year, would be no better than a sneak if he delayed to marry. How much had she and Mugford when they married, she would like to know? “Emily Street, Pentonville, was where we had apartments,” she remarked; “we were pinched sometimes; but we owed nothing: and our housekeeping books I can show you.” I believe Mrs. M. actually brought these dingy relics of her honeymoon for my wife’s inspection. I tell you, my house was peopled with these friends of matrimony. Flies were for ever in requisition, and our boys were very sulky at having to sit for an hour at Shoolbred’s, while certain ladies lingered there over blankets, tablecloths, and what not. Once I found my wife and Charlotte flitting about Wardour Street, the former lady much interested in a great Dutch cabinet, with a glass cupboard and corpulent drawers. And that cabinet was, ere long, carted off to Mrs. Brandon’s, Thornhaugh Street; and in that glass cupboard there was presently to be seen a neat set of china for tea and breakfast. The end was approaching. That event, with which the third volume of the old novels used to close, was at hand. I am afraid our young people can’t drive off from St. George’s in a chaise and four, and that no noble relative will lend them his castle for the honeymoon. Well: some people cannot drive to happiness, even with four horses; and other folks can reach the goal on foot. My venerable Muse stoops down, unlooses her cothurnus with some difficulty, and prepares to fling that old shoe after the pair.
Tell, venerable Muse! what were the marriage gifts which friendship provided for Philip and Charlotte? Philip’s cousin, Ringwood Twysden, came simpering up to me at Bays’s Club one afternoon, and said: “I hear my precious cousin is going to marry. I think I shall send him a broom to sweep a crossin’.” I was nearly going to say, “This was a piece of generosity to be expected from your father’s son;” but the fact is, that I did not think of this withering repartee until I was crossing St. James’s Park on my way home, when Twysden of course was out of ear-shot. A great number of my best witticisms have been a little late in making their appearance in the world. If we could but hear the unspoken jokes, how we should all laugh; if we could but speak them, how witty we should be! When you have left the room, you have no notion what clever things I was going to say when you balked me by going away. Well, then, the fact is, the Twysden’s family gave Philip nothing on his marriage, being the exact sum of regard which they professed to have for him.
Mrs. Major MacWhirter gave the bride an Indian brooch, representing the Taj Mahal at Agra, which General Baynes had given to his sister-in-law in old days. At a later period, it is true, Mrs. Mac asked Charlotte for the brooch back again; but this was when many family quarrels had raged between the relatives — quarrels which to describe at length would be to tax too much the writer and the readers of this history.
Mrs. Mugford presented an elegant plated coffee-pot, six drawing-room almanacs (spoils of the Pall Mall Gazette), and fourteen richly cut jelly-glasses, most useful for negus, if the young couple gave evening parties, which dinners they would not be able to afford.
Mrs. Barndon made an offering of two tablecloths and twelve dinner napkins, most beautifully worked, and I don’t know how much house linen.
The Lady of the Present Writer — Twelve teaspoons in bullion, and a pair of sugar-tongs. Mrs. Baynes, Philip’s mother-in-law, sent him also a pair of sugar-tongs, of a light manufacture, easily broken. He keeps a tong to the present day, and speaks very satirically regarding that relic.
Philip’s Inn of Court — A bill for commons and Inn taxes, with the Treasurer’s compliments.
And these, I think, formed the items of poor little Charlotte’s meagre trousseau. Before Cinderella went to the ball she was almost as rich as our little maid. Charlotte’s mother sent a grim consent to the child’s marriage, but declined herself to attend it. She was ailing and poor. Her year’s widowhood was just over. She had her other children to look after. My impression is that Mrs. Baynes thought that she could be out of Philip’s power so long as she remained abroad, and that the general’s savings would be secure from him. So she delegated her authority to Philip’s friends in London, and sent her daughter a moderate wish for her happiness, which may or may not have profited the young people.
“Well, my dear? You are rich compared to what I was, when I married,” little Mrs. Brandon said to her young friend. “You will have a good husband. That is more than I had. You will have good friends; and I was almost alone for a time,until it pleased God to befriend me.” It was not without a feeling of awe that we saw these young people commence that voyage of life on which henceforth they were to journey together; and I am sure that of the small company who accompanied them to the silent little chapel where they were joined in marriage there was not one who did not follow them with tender good wishes and heartfelt prayers. They had a little purse provided for a month’s holiday. They had health, hope, good spirits, good friends. I have never learned that life’s trials were over after marriage; only lucky is he who has a loving companion to share them. As for the lady with whom Charlotte had stayed before her marriage, she was in a state of the most lachrymose sentimentality. She sate on the bed in the chamber which the little maid had vacated. Her tears flowed copiously. She knew not why, she could not tell how the girl had wound herself round her maternal heart. And I think if heaven had decreed this young creature should be poor, it had sent her many blessings and treasures in compensation.
Every respectable man and woman in London will, of course, pity these young people, and reprobate the mad risk which they were running, and yet, by the influence and example of a sentimental wife probably, so madly sentimental have I become, that I own sometimes I almost fancy these misguided wretches are to be envied.
A melancholy little chapel it is where they were married, and stands hard by our house. We did not decorate the church with flowers, or adorn the beadles with white ribbons. We had, I must confess, a dreary little breakfast, not in the least enlivened by Mugford’s jokes, who would make a speech de circonstance, which was not, I am thankful to say, reported in the Pall Mall Gazette. “We shan’t charge you for advertising the marriage there, my dear,” Mrs. Mugford said. “And I’ve already took it myself to Mr. Burjoyce.” Mrs. Mugford had insisted upon pinning a large white favour upon John, who drove from Hampstead: but that was the only ornament present at the nuptial ceremony, much to the disappointment of the good lady. There was a very pretty cake, with two doves in sugar, on the top, which the Little Sister made and sent, and no other hymeneal emblem. Our little girls as bridesmaids appeared, to be sure, in new bonnets and dresses, but everybody else looked so quiet and demure, that when we went into the church, three or four street urchins knocking about the gate, said,“Look at ’em. They’re going to be ‘ung.” And so the words are spoken, and the indissoluble knot is tied. Amen. For better, for worse, for good days or evil, love each other, cling to each other, dear friends, Fulfil your course, and accomplish your life’s toil. In sorrow, soothe each other; in illness, watch and tend. Cheer, fond wife, the husband’s struggle; lighten his gloomy hours with your tender smiles, and gladden his home with your love. Husband, father, whatsoever your lot, be your heart pure, your life honest. For the sake of those who bear your name, let no bad action sully it. As you look at those innocent faces which ever tenderly greet you, be yours, too, innocent, and your conscience without reproach. As the young people kneel before the altar-railing, some such thoughts as these pass through a friend’s mind who witnesses the ceremony of their marriage. Is not all we hear in that place meant to apply to ourselves, and to be carried away for everyday cogitation?
After the ceremony we sign the book, and walk back demurely to breakfast. And Mrs. Mugford does not conceal her disappointment at the small preparations made for the reception of the marriage party. “I call it shabby, Brandon; and I speak my mind. No favours. Only your cake. No speeches to speak of. No lobster-salad: and wine on the side-board. I thought your Queen Square friends knew how to do the thing better! When one of my gurls is married, I promise you we shan’t let her go out of the back-door; and at least we shall have the best four greys that Newman’s can furnish. It’s my belief your young friend is getting too fond of money, Brandon, and so I have told Mugford.” But these, you see, were only questions of taste. Good Mrs. Mugford’s led her to a green satin dress and a pink turban, when other ladies were in gray or quiet colours. The intimacy between our two families dwindled immediately after Philip’s marriage; Mrs. M., I am sorry to say setting us down as shabby-genteel people, and she couldn’t bear screwing — never could!
Well: the speeches were spoken. The bride was kissed, and departed with her bridegroom: they had not even a valet and lady’s -maid to bear them company. The route of the happy pair was to be Canterbury, Folkestone, Boulogne, Amiens, Paris, and Italy perhaps, if their little stock of pocket-money would serve them so far. But the very instant when half was spent, it was agreed that these young people should turn their faces homeward again; and meanwhile the printer and Mugford himself agreed that they would do Mr. Sub-editor’s duty. How much had they in the little purse for their pleasure-journey? That is no business of ours, surely; but with youth, health, happiness, love, amongst their possessions, I don’t think our young friends had need to be discontented. Away then they drive in their cab to the railway station. Farewell, and heaven bless you, Charlotte and Philip! I have said how I found my wife crying in her favourite’s vacant bed-room. The marriage table did coldly furnish forth a funeral kind of dinner. The cold chicken choked us all, and the jelly was but a sickly compound to my taste, though it was the Little Sister’s most artful manufacture. I own for one I was quite miserable. I found no comfort at clubs, nor could the last new novel fix my attention. I saw Philip’s eyes, and heard the warble of Charlotte’s sweet voice. I walked off from Bays’s, and through Old Parr Street, where Philip had lived, and his parents entertained me as a boy; and then tramped to Thornhaugh Street, rather ashamed of myself. The maid said mistress was in Mr. Philip’s rooms, the two pair, — and what was that I heard on the piano as I entered the apartment? Mrs. Brandon sat there hemming some chintz window curtains, or bed curtains, or what not: by her side sate my own eldest girl stitching away very resolutely; and at the piano — the Piano which Philip had bought — there sat my own wife picking out that Dream of St. Jerome of Beethoven, which Charlotte used to play so delicately. We had tea out of Philip’s tea-things, and a nice hot cake, which consoled some of us. But I have known few evenings more melancholy than that. It felt like the first night at school after the holidays, when we all used to try and appear cheerful, you know. But ah! how dismal the gaiety was; and how dreary that lying awake in the night, and thinking of the happy days just over!
The way in which we looked forward for letters from our bride and bridegroom was quite a curiosity. At length a letter arrived from these personages: and as it contains no secret, I take the liberty to print it in extenso.
“Amiens, Friday. Paris, Saturday.”
“Dearest Friends, — (For the dearest friends you are to us, and will continue to be as long as we live) — We perform our promise of writing to you to say that we are well, and safe, and happy! Philip says I mustn’t use dashes, but I can’t help it. He says, he supposes I am dashing off a letter. You know his joking way. Oh, what a blessing it is to see him so happy! And if he is happy I am. I tremble to think how happy. He sits opposite me, smoking his cigar, looking so noble! I like it, and I went to our room and brought him this one. He says, ‘Char, if I were to say, bring me your head, you would order a waiter to cut it off.’ Pray, did I not promise three days age to love, honour, and obey him, and am I going to break my promise already? I hope not. I pray not. All my life I hope I shall be trying to keep that promise of mine. We liked Canterbury almost as much as dear Westminster. We had an open carriage and took a glorious drive to Folkestone, and in the crossing Philip was ill, and I wasn’t. And he looked very droll; and he was in a dreadful bad humour; and that was my first appearance as nurse. I think I should like him to be a little ill sometimes, so that I may sit up and take care of him. We went through the cords at the custom-house at Boulogne; and I remembered how, two years ago, I passed through those very cords with my poor papa, and he stood outside and saw us! We went to the Hôtel des Bains. We walked about the town. We went to the Tintelleries, where we used to live, and to your house in the Haute Ville, where I remember everything as if it was yesterday. Don’t you remember, as we were walking one day, you said, ‘Charlotte, there is the steamer coming, there is the smoke of his funnel;’ and I said, ‘What steamer?’ and you said, ‘The Philip, to be sure.’ And he came up, smoking his pipe! We passed over and over the old grounds where we used to walk. We went to the pier, and gave money to the poor little hunchback who plays the guitar, and he said, ‘Merci, madame.’ How droll it sounded! And that good kind Marie at the Hôtel des Bains remembered us, and called us ‘mes enfans.’ And if you were not the most good-natured woman in the world, I think I should be ashamed to write such nonsense.”
“Think of Mrs. Brandon having knitted me a purse, which she gave me as we went away from dear, dear Queen Square; and when I opened it, there were five sovereigns in it! When we found what the purse contained, Philip used one of his great jurons (as he always does when he is most tender-hearted), and he said that woman was an angel, and that we would keep those five sovereigns, and never change them. Ah! I am thankful my husband has such friends! I will love all who love him — you most of all. For were not you the means of bringing this noble heart to me? I fancy I have known bigger people, since I have known you, and some of your friends. Their talk is simpler, their thoughts are greater than — those with whom I used to live. P. says, heaven has given Mrs. Brandon such a great heart, that she must have a good intellect. If loving my Philip be wisdom, I know some one who will be very wise!”
“If I was not in a very great hurry to see mamma, Philip said we might stop a day at Amiens. And we went to the Cathedral, and to whom, do you think, it is dedicated? to my saint: to Saint Firmin! and oh! I prayed to heaven to give me strength to devote my life to my saint’s service, to love him always, as a pure, true wife: in sickness to guard him, in sorrow to soothe him. I will try and learn and study, not to make my intellect equal to his — very few women can hope for that — but that I may better comprehend him, and give him a companion more worthy of him. I wonder whether there are many men in the world as clever as our husbands? though Philip is so modest, he says he is not clever at all. Yet I know he is, and grander somehow than other men. I said nothing, but I used to listen at Queen Square; and some who came who thought best of themselves, seemed to me pert, and worldly, and small; and some were like princes somehow. My Philip is one of the princes. Ah, dear friend! may I not give thanks where thanks are due, that I am chosen to be the wife of a true gentleman? Kind and brave, and loyal Philip! Honest and generous — above deceit or selfish scheme. Oh! I hope it is not wrong to be so happy!”
“We wrote to mamma and dear Madame Smolensk to say we were coming. Mamma finds Madame de Valentionois’ boarding-house even dearer than dear Madame Smolensk’s . I don’t mean a pun! She says she has found out that Madame de Valentinois’ real name is Cornichon; that she was a person of the worst character, and that cheating at écarté was practised at her house. She took up her own two francs and another two-franc piece from the card-table, saying that Colonel Boulotte was cheating, and by rights the money was hers. She is going to leave Madame de Valentinois at the end of her month, or as soon as our children, who have the measles, can move. She desired that on no account I would come to see her at Madame V.’s; and she brought Philip 12l. 10s. in five-franc pieces, which she laid down on the table before him, and said it was my first quarter’s payment. It is not due yet, I know. ‘But do you think I will be beholden,’ says she, ‘to a man like you!’ And P. shrugged his shoulders, and put the rouleau of silver pieces into a drawer. He did not say a word, but, of course, I saw he was ill-pleased. ‘What shall we do with your fortune, Char?’ he said, when mamma went away. And a part we spent at the opera and at Véry’s restaurant, where we took our dear kind Madame Smolensk. Ah, how good that woman was to me! Ah, how I suffered in that house when mamma wanted to part me from Philip! We walked by and saw the windows of the room where that horrible, horrible tragedy was performed, and Philip shook his fist at the green jalousies. ‘Good heavens!’ he said: ‘how, my darling, how I was made to suffer there! I bear no malice. I will do no injury. But I never can forgive: never!’ I can forgive mamma, who made my husband so unhappy; but can I love her again? Indeed and indeed I have tried. Often and often in my dreams that horrid tragedy is acted over again; and they are taking him from me, and I feel as if I should die. When I was with you I used often to be afraid to go to sleep for fear of that dreadful dream; and I kept one of his letters under my pillow so that I might hold it in the night. And now! No one can part us! — oh, no one! — until the end comes!
“He took me about to all his old bachelor haunts; to the Hôtel Poussin, where he used to live, which is very dingy but comfortable. And he introduced me to the landlady, in a Madras handkerchief, and to the landlord (in earrings and with no coat on), and to the little boy who frottes the floors. And he said, ‘Tiens’ and ‘merci, madame!’ as we gave him a five-franc piece out of my fortune. And then we went to the café opposite the Bourse, where Philip used to write his letters; and then we went to the Palais Royal, where Madame de Smolensk was in waiting for us. And then we went to the play. And then we went to Tortoni’s to take ices. And then we walked a part of the way home with Madame Smolensk under a hundred million blazing stars; and then we walked down the Champs Elysées’ avenues, by which Philip used to come to me, and beside the plashing fountains shining under the silver moon. And, oh, Laura! I wonder under the silver moon was anybody so happy as your loving and grateful
“P.S.” [In the handwriting of Philip Firmin, Esq.] — “My dear Friends. — I’m so jolly that it seems like a dream. I have been watching Charlotte scribble, scribble for an hour past; and wondered and thought, Is it actually true? and gone and convinced myself of the truth by looking at the paper and the dashes which she will put under the words. My dear friends, what have I done in life that I am to be made a present of a little angel? Once there was so much wrong in me, and my heart was so black and revengeful, that I knew not what might happen to me. She came and rescued me. The love of this creature purifies me — and — and I think that is all. I think I only want to say that I am the happiest man in Europe. That Saint Firmin at Amiens! Didn’t it seem like a good omen? By St. George! I never heard of St. F. until I lighted on him in the cathedral. When shall we write next? Where shall we tell you to direct? We don’t know where we are going. We don’t want letters. But we are not the less grateful to dear, kind friends; and our names are
P. AND C. F.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00