Charlotte (and the usual little procession of nurse, baby, once made their appearance at our house in Queen Square, where they were ever welcome by the lady of the mansion. The young woman was in a great state of elation, and when we came to hear the cause of her delight, her friends too opened the eyes of wonder. She actually announced that Dr. Firmin had sent over a bill of forty pounds (I may be incorrect as to the sum) from New York. It had arrived that morning, and she had seen the bill, and Philip had told her that his father had sent it; and was it not a comfort to think that poor Doctor Firmin was endeavouring to repair some of the evil which he had done; and that he was repenting, and, perhaps, was going to become quite honest and good? This was indeed an astounding piece of intelligence: and the two women felt joy at the thought of that sinner repenting, and some one else was accused of cynicism, scepticism, and so forth, for doubting the corrctness of the information. “You believe in no one, sir. You are always incredulous about good,” was the accusation brought against the reader’s very humble servant. Well, about the contrition of this sinner, I confess I still continued to have doubts; and thought a present of forty pounds to a son, to whom he owed thousands, was no great proof of the doctor’s amendment.
And oh! how vexed some people were, when the real story came out at last! Not for the money’s sake — not because they were wrong in argument, and I turned out to be right. Oh, no! But because it was proved that this unhappy doctor had no present intention of repenting at all. This brand would not come out of the burning, whatever we might hope; and the doctor’s supporters were obliged to admit as much when they came to know the real story. “Oh, Philip,” cries Mrs. Laura, when next she saw Mr. Firmin. “How pleased I was to hear of that letter!”
“That letter?” asks the gentleman.
“That letter from your father at New York,” says the lady.
“Oh,” says the gentleman addressed, with a red face.
“What then? Is it not — is it not all true?” we ask.
“Poor Charlotte does not understand about business,” says Philip; “I did not read the letter to her. Here it is.” And he hands over the document to me, and I have the liberty to publish it.
“New York —
“And so, my dear Philip, I may congratulate myself on having achieved ancestral honour, and may add grandfather to my titles? How quickly this one has come! I feel myself a young man still, in spite of the blows of misfortune — at least, I know I was a young man but yesterday, when I may say with our dear old poet, Non sine gloriâ militavi. Suppose I too were to tire of solitary widowhood and re-enter the married state? There are one or two ladies here who would still condescend to look not unfavourably on the retired English gentleman. Without vanity I may say it, a man of birth and position in England acquires a polish and refinement of manner which dollars cannot purchase, and many a Wall Street millionary might envy!”
“Your wife has been pronounced to be an angel by a little correspondent of mine, who gives me much fuller intelligence of my family than my son condescends to furnish. Mrs. Philip I hear is gentle; Mrs. Brandon says she is beautiful, — she is all good-humoured. I hope you have taught her to think not very badly of her husband’s father? I was the dupe of villains who lured me into their schemes; who robbed me of a life’s earnings; who induced me by their false representations to have such confidence in them, that I embarked all my own property, and yours, my poor boy, alas! in their undertakings. Your Charlotte will take the liberal, the wise, the just view of the case, and pity rather than blame my misfortune. Such is the view, I am happy to say, generally adopted in this city; where there are men of the world who know the vicissitudes of a mercantile career, and can make allowances for misfortune! What made Rome at first great and prosperous? Were its first colonists all wealthy patricians? Nothing can be more satisfactory than the disregard shown here to mere pecuniary difficulty. At the same time, to be a gentleman is to possess no trifling privilege in this society, where the advantages of birth, respected name, and early education always tell in the possessor’s favour. Many persons whom I visit here have certainly not these advantages; and in the highest society of the city I could point out individuals who have had pecuniary misfortunes like myself, who have gallantly renewed the combat after their fall, and are now fully restored to competence, to wealth, and the respect of the world! I was in a house in Fifth Avenue last night. Is Washington White shunned by his fellow-men because he has been a bankrupt three times? Anything more elegant or profuse than his entertainment I have not witnessed on this continent. His lady had diamonds which a duchess might envy. The most costly wines, the most magnificent supper, and myriads of canvas-backed ducks covered his board. Dear Charlotte, my friend Captain Colpoys brings you over three brace of these from your father-in-law, who hopes they will furnish your little dinner-table! We eat currant jelly with them here, but I like an old English lemon and cayenne sauce better.
“By the way, dear Philip, I trust you will not be inconvenienced by a little financial operation, which necessity (alas!) has compelled me to perform. Knowing that your quarter with the Upper Ten Thousand Gazette was now due, I have made so bold as to request Colonel — to pay it over to me. Promises to pay must be met here as with us — an obdurate holder of an unlucky acceptance of mine (I am happy to say there are very few such) would admit of no delay, and I have been compelled to appropriate my poor Philip’s earnings. I have only put you off for ninety days: with your credit and wealthy friends you can easily negotiate the bill enclosed, and I promise you that when presented it shall be honoured by my Philip’s ever affectionate father,
G. B. F.”
“By the way, your Philalethes’ letters are not quite spicy enough, my worthy friend the colonel says. They are elegant and gay, but the public here desires to have more personal news; a little scandal about Queen Elizabeth, you understand? Can’t you attack somebody! Look at the letters and articles published by my respected friend of the New York Emerald! The readers here like a high-spiced article: and I recommend P. F. to put a little more pepper in his dishes. What a comfort to me it is to think that I have procured this place for you, and have been enabled to help my son and his young family!
G. B. F.”
Enclosed in this letter was a slip of paper which poor Philip supposed to be a cheque when he first beheld it, but which turned out to be his papa’s promissory note, payable at New York four months after date. And this document was to represent the money which the elder Firmin had received in his son’s name! Philip’s eyes met his friend’s when they talked about this matter. Firmin looked almost as much ashamed as if he himself had done the wrong.
“Does the loss of this money annoy you?” asked Philip’s friend.
“The manner of the loss does,” said poor Philip. “I don’t care about the money. But he should not have taken this. He should not have taken this. Think of poor Charlotte and the child being in want possibly! Oh, friend, it’s hard to bear, isn’t it? I’m an honest fellow, ain’t I? I think I am. I pray heaven I am. In any extremity of poverty could I have done this? Well. It was my father who introduced me to these people. I suppose he thinks he has a right to my earnings: and if he is in want, you know, so he has.”
“Had you not better write to the New York publisher and beg them henceforth to remit to you directly?” asks Philip’s friend.
“That would be to tell them that he has disposed of the money,” groans Philip. “I can’t tell them that my father is a — ”
“No; but you can thank them for having handed over such a sum on your account to the doctor: and warn them that you will draw on them from this country henceforth. They won’t in this case pay the next quarter to the doctor.”
“Suppose he is in want, ought I not to supply him?” Firmin said. “As long as there are four crusts in the house, the doctor ought to have one. Ought I to be angry with him for helping himself, old boy?” and he drinks a glass of wine, poor fellow, with a rueful smile. By the way, it is my duty to mention here, that the elder Firmin was in the habit of giving very elegant little dinner-parties at New York, where little dinner-parties are much more costly than in Europe — “in order,” he said, “to establish and keep up his connection as a physician.” As a bon-vivant, I am informed, the doctor began to be celebrated in his new dwelling-place, where his anecdotes of the British aristocracy were received with pleasure in certain circles.
But it would be as well henceforth that Philip should deal directly with his American correspondents, and not employ the services of so very expensive a broker. To this suggestion he could not but agree. Meanwhile, — and let this be a warning to men never to deceive their wives in any the slightest circumstances; to tell them everything they wish to know, to keep nothing hidden from those dear and excellent beings — you must know, ladies, that when Philip’s famous ship of dollars arrived from America, Firmin had promised his wife that baby should have a dear delightful white cloak trimmed with the most lovely tape, on which poor Charlotte had often cast a longing eye as she passed by the milliner and curiosity shops in Hanway Yard, which, I own, she loved to frequent. Well: when Philip told her that his father had sent home forty pounds, or what not, thereby deceiving his fond wife, the little lady went away straight to her darling shop in the Yard — (Hanway Yard has become a street now, but ah! it is always delightful) — Charlotte, I say, went off, ran off to Hanway Yard, pavid with fear lest the darling cloak should be gone, found it — oh, joy! — still in Miss Isaacson’s window; put it on baby straightway then and there; kissed the dear infant, and was delighted with the effect of the garment, which all the young ladies at Miss Isaacson’s pronounced to be perfect; and took the cloak away on baby’s shoulders, promising to send the money, five pounds, if you please, next day. And in this cloak baby and Charlotte went to meet papa when he came home; and I don’t know which of them, mamma or baby, was the most pleased and absurd and happy baby of the two. On his way home from his newspaper, Mr. Philip had orders to pursue a certain line of streets, and when his accustomed hour for returning from his business drew nigh, Mrs. Char went down Thornhaugh Street, down Charlotte Street, down Rathbone Place, with Betsy the nursekin and baby in the new cloak. Behold, he comes at last — papa — striding down the street. He sees the figures: he sees the child, which laughs, and holds out its little pink hands, and crows a recognition. And “Look — look, papa,” cries the happy mother. (Away! I cannot keep up the mystery about the baby any longer, and though I had forgotten for a moment the child’s sex, remembered it the instant after, and that it was a girl to be sure, and that its name was Laura Caroline). “Look, look, papa!” cries the happy mother. “She has got another little tooth since the morning, such a beautiful little tooth — and look here, sir, don’t you observe anything?”
“Any what?” asks Philip.
“La! sir,” says Betsy, giving Laura Caroline a great toss, so that her white cloak floats in the air.
“Isn’t it a dear cloak?” cries mamma: “and doesn’t baby look like an angel in it? I bought it at Miss Isaacson’s to-day, as you got your money from New York; and oh, my dear, it only cost five guineas.”
“Well, it’s a week’s work,” sighs poor Philip; “and I think I need not grudge that to give Charlotte pleasure.” And he feels his empty pockets rather ruefully.
“God bless you, Philip,” says my wife, with her eyes full. “They came here this morning, Charlotte and the nurse and the baby in the new — the new — .” Here the lady seized hold of Philip’s hand, and fairly broke out into tears. Had she embraced Mr. Firmin before her husband’s own eyes, I should not have been surprised. Indeed she confessed that she was on the point of giving way to this most sentimental outbreak.
And now, my brethren, see how one crime is the parent of many, and one act of duplicity leads to a whole career of deceit. In the first place, you see, Philip had deceived his wife — with the pious desire, it is true, of screening his father’s little peculiarities — but, ruat coelum, we must tell no lies. No: and from this day forth I order John never to say Not at home to the greatest bore, dun, dawdle of my acquaintance. If Philip’s father had not deceived him, Philip would not have deceived his wife; if he had not deceived his wife, she would not have given five guineas for that cloak for the baby. If she had not given five guineas for the cloak, my wife would never have entered into a secret correspondence with Mr. Firmin, which might but for my own sweetness of temper have bred jealousy, mistrust, and the most awful quarrels — nay, duels — between the heads of the two families. Fancy Philip’s body lying stark upon Hampstead Heath with a bullet through it, despatched by the hand of his friend! Fancy a cab driving up to my own house, and from it — under the eyes of the children at the parlour-windows — their father’s bleeding corpse ejected! — Enough of this dreadful pleasantry! Two days after the affair of the cloak, I found a letter in Philip’s handwriting addressed to my wife, and thinking that the note had reference to a matter of dinner then pending between our families, I broke open the envelope and read as follows:—
“Thornhaugh Street, Thursday.
“My dear, kind Godmamma, — As soon as ever I can write and speak, I will thank you for being so kind to me. My mamma says she is very jealous, and as she bought my cloak she can’t think of allowing you to pay for it. But she desires me never to forget your kindness to us, and though I don’t know anything about it now, she promises to tell me when I am old enough. Meanwhile I am your grateful and affectionate little goddaughter,
L. C. F.”
Philip was persuaded by his friends at home to send out the request to his New York employers to pay his salary henceforth to himself; and I remember a dignified letter came from his parent, in which the matter was spoken of in sorrow rather than in anger; in which the doctor pointed out that this precautionary measure seemed to imply a doubt on Philip’s side of his father’s honour; and surely, surely, he was unhappy enough and unfortunate enough already without meriting this mistrust from his son. The duty of a son to honour his father and mother was feelingly pointed out, and the doctor meekly trusted that Philip’s children would give him more confidence than he seemed to be inclined to award to his unfortunate father. Never mind. He should bear no malice. If Fortune ever smiled on him again, and something told him she would, he would show Philip that he could forgive; although he might not perhaps be able to forget that in his exile, his solitude, his declining years, his misfortune, his own child had mistrusted him. This, he said, was the most cruel blow of all for his susceptible heart to bear.
This letter of paternal remonstrance was enclosed in one from the doctor to his old friend the Little Sister, in which he vaunted a discovery which he and some other scientific gentlemen were engaged in perfecting — of a medicine which was to be extraordinarily efficacious in cases in which Mrs. Brandon herself was often specially and professionally engaged, and he felt sure that the sale of this medicine would go far to retrieve his shattered fortune. He pointed out the complaints in which this medicine was most efficacious. He would send some of it, and details regarding its use, to Mrs. Brandon, who might try its efficacy upon her patients. He was advancing slowly, but steadily, in his medical profession, he said; though, of course, he had to suffer from the jealousy of his professional brethren. Never mind. Better times, he was sure, were in store for all; when his son should see that a wretched matter of forty pounds more should not deter him from paying all just claims upon him. Amen! We all heartily wished for the day when Philip’s father should be able to settle his little accounts. Meanwhile the proprietors of the Gazette of the Upper Ten Thousand were instructed to write directly to their London correspondent.
Although Mr. Firmin prided himself, as we have seen, upon his taste and dexterity as sub-editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, I must own that he was a very insubordinate officer, with whom his superiors often had cause to be angry. Certain people were praised in the Gazette — certain others were attacked. Very dull books were admired, and very lively works attacked. Some men were praised for everything they did; some others were satirized, no matter what their works were. “I find,” poor Philip used to say, with a groan, “that in matters of criticism especially, there are so often private reasons for the praise and the blame administered, that I am glad, for my part, my only duty is to see the paper through the press. For instance, there is Harrocks, the tragedian of Drury Lane: every piece in which he appears is a masterpiece, and his performance the greatest triumph ever witnessed. Very good. Harrocks and my excellent employer are good friends, and dine with each other; and it is natural that Mugford should like to have his friend praised, and to help him in every way. But Balderson, of Covent Garden, is also a very fine actor. Why can’t our critic see his merit as well as Harrocks’? Poor Balderson is never allowed any merit at all. He is passed over with a sneer, or a curt word of cold commendation, while columns of flattery are not enough for his rival.”
“Why, Mr. F., what a flat you must be, askin’ your pardon,” remarked Mugford, in reply to his sub-editor’s simple remonstrance. “How can we praise Balderson, when Harrocks is our friend? Me and Harrocks are thick. Our wives are close friends. If I was to let Balderson be praised, I should drive Harrocks mad. I can’t praise Balderson, don’t you see, out of justice to Harrocks!”
Then there was a certain author whom Bickerton was for ever attacking. They had had a private quarrel, and Bickerton revenged himself in this way. In reply to Philip’s outcries and remonstrances, Mr. Mugford only laughed: “The two men are enemies, and Bickerton hits him whenever he can. Why, that’s only human nature, Mr. F.,” says Philip’s employer.
“Great heavens!” bawls out Firmin, “do you mean to say that the man is base enough to strike at his private enemies through the press?”
“Private enemies! private gammon, Mr. Firmin!” cries Philip’s employer. “If I have enemies — and I have, there’s no doubt about that — I serve them out whenever and wherever I can. And let me tell you I don’t half relish having my conduct called base. Its only natural; and it’s right. Perhaps you would like to praise your enemies, and abuse your friend? If that’s your line, let me tell you you won’t do in the noospaper business, and had better take to some other trade.” And the employer parted from his subordinate in some heat.
Mugford, indeed, feelingly spoke to me about this insubordination of Philip. “What does the fellow mean by quarrelling with his bread and butter?” Mr. Mugford asked. “Speak to him, and show him what’s what, Mr. P., or we shall come to a quarrel, mind you — and I don’t want that, for the sake of his little wife, poor little delicate thing. Whatever is to happen to them, if we don’t stand by them?”
What was to happen to them, indeed? Any one who knew Philip’s temper, as we did, was aware how little advice or remonstrance were likely to affect that gentleman. “Good heavens?” he said to me, when I endeavoured to make him adopt a conciliatory tone towards his employer, “do you want to make me Mugford’s galley-slave? I shall have him standing over me and swearing at me as he does at the printers. He looks into my room at times when he is in a passion, and glares at me, as if he would like to seize me by the throat; and after a word or two he goes off, and I hear him curse the boys in the passage. One day it will be on me that he will turn, I feel sure of that. I tell you the slavery is beginning to be awful. I wake of a night and groan and chafe, and poor Char, too, wakes and asks, ‘What is it, Philip?’ I say it is rheumatism. Rheumatism!” Of course to Philip’s malady his friends tried to apply the commonplace anodynes and consolations. He must be gentle in his bearing. He must remember that his employer had not been bred a gentleman, and that though rough and coarse in language, Mugford had a kind heart. “There is no need to tell me he is not a gentleman, I know that,” says poor Phil. “He is kind to Char and the child, that is the truth, and so is his wife. I am a slave for all that. He is my driver. He feeds me. He hasn’t beat me yet. When I was away at Paris I did not feel the chain so much. But it is scarcely tolerable now, when I have to see my gaoler four or five times a week. My poor little Char, why did I drag you into this slavery?”
“Because you wanted a consoler, I suppose,” remarks one of Philip’s comforters. “And do you suppose Charlotte would be happier if she were away from you? Though you live up two pair of stairs, is any home happier than yours, Philip? You often own as much, when you are in happier moods. Who has not his work to do, and his burden to bear? You say sometimes that you are imperious and hot-tempered. Perhaps your slavery, as you call it, may be good for you.”
“I have doomed myself and her to it,” says Philip, hanging down his head.
“Does she ever repine?” asks his adviser. “Does she not think herself the happiest little wife in the world? See, here, Philip, here is a note from her yesterday in which she says as much. Do you want to know what the note is about, sir?” says the lady, with a smile. “Well, then, she wanted a receipt for that dish which you liked so much on Friday, and she and Mrs. Brandon will make it for you.”
“And if it consisted of minced Charlotte,” says Philip’s other friend, “you know she would cheerfully chop herself up, and have herself served with a little cream-sauce and sippets of toast for your honour’s dinner.”
This was undoubtedly true. Did not Job’s friends make many true remarks when they visited him in his affliction? Patient as he was, the patriarch groaned and lamented, and why should not poor Philip be allowed to grumble, who was not a model of patience at all? He was not broke in as yet. The mill-horse was restive and kicked at his work. He would chafe not seldom at the daily drudgery, and have his fits of revolt and despondency. Well? Have others not had to toil, to bow the proud head, and carry the daily burden? Don’t you see Pegasus, who was going to win the plate, a weary, broken-knee’d, broken-down old cab hack shivering in the rank; or a sleek gelding, mayhap, pacing under a corpulent master in Rotten Row? Philip’s crust began to be scanty, and was dipped in bitter waters. I am not going to make a long story of this part of his career, or parade my friend as too hungry and poor. He is safe now, and out of all peril, heaven be thanked! but he had to pass through hard times and to look out very wistfully lest the wolf should enter at the door. He never laid claim to be a man of genius, nor was he a successful quack who could pass as a man of genius. When there were French prisoners in England, we know how stout old officers who had plied their sabres against Mamelouks, or Russians, or Germans, were fain to carve little gimcracks in bone with their penknives, or make baskets and boxes of chipped straw, and piteously sell them to casual visitors to their prison. Philip was poverty’s prisoner. He had to make such shifts, and do such work, as he could find in his captivity. I do not think men who have undergone the struggle, and served the dire task-master, like to look back and recal the grim apprenticeship. When Philip says now, “What fools we were to marry, Char,” she looks up radiantly, with love and happiness in her eyes — looks up to heaven, and is thankful; but grief and sadness come over her husband’s face at the thought of those days of pain and gloom. She may soothe him, and he may be thankful too; but the wounds are still there which were dealt to him in the cruel battle with fortune. Men are ridden down in it. Men are poltroons and run. Men maraud, break ranks, are guilty of meanness, cowardice, shabby plunder. Men are raised to rank and honour, or drop and perish unnoticed on the field. Happy he who comes from it with his honour pure! Philip did not win crosses and epaulets. He is like us, my dear sir, not a heroic genius at all. And it is to be hoped that all three have behaved with an average pluck, and have been guilty of no meanness, or treachery, or desertion. Did you behave otherwise, what would wife and children say? As for Mrs. Philip, I tell you she thinks to this day that there is no man like her husband, and is ready to fall down and worship the boots in which he walks.
How do men live? How is rent paid? How does the dinner come day after day? As a rule, there is dinner. You might live longer with less of it, but you can’t go without it and live long. How did my neighbour 23 earn his carriage, and how did 24 pay for his house? As I am writing this sentence, Mr. Cox, who collects the taxes in this quarter, walks in. How do you do, Mr. Cox? We are not in the least afraid of meeting one another. Time was — two, three years of time — when poor Philip was troubled at the sight of Cox; and this troublous time his biographer intends to pass over in a very few pages.
At the end of six months the Upper Ten Thousand of New York heard with modified wonder that the editor of that fashionable journal had made a retreat from the city, carrying with him the scanty contents of the till; so the contributions of Philalethes never brought our poor friend any dollars at all. But though one fish is caught and eaten, are there not plenty more left in the sea? At this very time, when I was in a natural state of despondency about poor Philip’s affairs, it struck Tregarvan, the wealthy Cornish member of Parliament, that the Government and the House of Commons slighted his speeches and his views on foreign politics; that the wife of the Foreign Secretary had been very inattentive to Lady Tregarvan; that the designs of a certain Great Power were most menacing and dangerous, and ought to be exposed and counteracted; and that the peerage which he had long desired ought to be bestowed on him. Sir John Tregarvan applied to certain literary and political gentlemen with whom he was acquainted. He would bring out the European Review. He would expose the designs of that Great Power which was menacing Europe. He would show up in his proper colours a Minister who was careless of the country’s honour, and forgetful of his own: a Minister whose arrogance ought no longer to be tolerated by the country gentlemen of England. Sir John, a little man in brass buttons, and a tall head, who loves to hear his own voice, came and made a speech on the above topics to the writer of the present biography; that writer’s lady was in his study as Sir John expounded his views at some length. She listened to him with the greatest attention and respect. She was shocked to hear of the ingratitude of Government; astounded and terrified by his exposition of the designs of — of that Great Power whose intrigues were so menacing to European tranquillity. She was most deeply interested in the idea of establishing the Review. He would, of course, be himself the editor; and — and — (here the woman looked across the table at her husband with a strange triumph in her eyes) — she knew, they both knew, the very man of all the world who was most suited to act as sub-editor under Sir John — a gentleman, one of the truest that ever lived — a university man; a man remarkably versed in the European languages — that is, in French most certainly. And now the reader, I dare say, can guess who this individual was. “I knew it at once,” says the lady, after Sir John had taken his leave. “I told you that those dear children would not be forsaken.” And I would no more try and persuade her that the European Review was not ordained of all time to afford maintenance to Philip, than I would induce her to turn Mormon, and accept all the consequences to which ladies must submit when they make profession of that creed.
“You see, my love,” I say to the partner of my existence, “what other things must have been ordained of all time as well as Philip’s appointment to be sub-editor of the European Review. It must have been decreed ab initio that Lady Plinlimmon should give evening parties, in order that she might offend Lady Tregarvan by not asking her to those parties. It must have been ordained by fate that Lady Tregarvan should be of a jealous disposition, so that she might hate Lady Plinlimmon, and was to work upon her husband, and inspire him with anger and revolt against his chief. It must have been ruled by destiny that Tregarvan should be rather a weak and wordy personage, fancying that he had a talent for literary composition. Else he would not have thought of setting up the Review. Else he would never have been angry with Lord Plinlimmon for not inviting him to tea. Else he would not have engaged Philip as sub-editor. So, you see, in order to bring about this event, and put a couple of hundreds a year into Philip Firmin’s pocket, the Tregarvans have to be born from the earliest times; the Plinlimmons have to spring up in the remotest ages, and come down to the present day: Dr. Firmin has to be a rogue, and undergo his destiny of cheating his son of money:— all mankind up to the origin of our race are involved in your proposition, and we actually arrive at Adam and Eve, who are but fulfilling their destiny, which was to be the ancestors of Philip Firmin.”
“Even in our first parents there was doubt and scepticism and misgiving,” says the lady, with strong emphasis on the words. “If you mean to say that there is no such thing as a Superior Power watching over us, and ordaining things for our good, you are an atheist — and such a thing as an atheist does not exist in the world, and I would not believe you if you said you were one twenty times over.”
I mention these points by the way, and as samples of lady-like logic. I acknowledge that Philip himself, as he looks back at his past career, is very much moved. “I do not deny,” he says, gravely, “that these things happened in the natural order. I say I am grateful for what happened; and look back at the past not without awe. In great grief and danger maybe, I have had timely rescue. Under great suffering I have met with supreme consolation. When the trial has seemed almost too hard for me it has ended, and our darkness has been lightened.” Ut vivo et valeo — si valeo, I know by Whose permission this is, — and would you forbid me to be thankful? to be thankful for my life; to be thankful for my children; to be thankful for the daily bread which has been granted to me, and the temptation from which I have been rescued? As I think of the past and its bitter trials, I bow my head in thanks and awe. I wanted succour, and I found it. I fell on evil times, and good friends pitied and helped me — good friends like yourself, your dear wife, many another I could name. In what moments of depression, old friend, have you not seen me, and cheered me? Do you know in the moments of our grief the inexpressible value of your sympathy? Your good Samaritan takes out only twopence maybe for the wayfarer whom he has rescued, but the little timely supply saves a life. You remember dear old Ned St. George — dead in the West Indies years ago? Before he got his place, Ned was hanging on in London, so utterly poor and ruined, that he had not often a shilling to buy a dinner. He used often to come to us, and my wife and our children loved him; and I used to leave a heap of shillings on my study-table, so that he might take two or three as he wanted them. Of course you remember him. You were at the dinner which we gave him on his getting his place. I forget the cost of that dinner; but I remember my share amounted to the exact number of shillings which poor Ned had taken off my table. He gave me the money then and there at the tavern at Blackwall. He said it seemed providential. But for those shillings, and the constant welcome at our poor little table, he said he thought he should have made away with his life. I am not bragging of the twopence which I gave, but thanking God for sending me there to give it. Benedico benedictus. I wonder sometimes am I the I of twenty years ago? before our heads were bald, friend, and when the little ones reached up to our knees? Before dinner you saw me in the library reading in that old European Review which your friend Tregarvan established. I came upon an article of my own, and a very dull one, on a subject which I knew nothing about. “Persian politics, and the intrigues at the Court of Teheran.” It was done to order. Tregarvan had some special interest about Persia, or wanted to vex Sir Thomas Nobbles, who was Minister there. I breakfasted with Tregarvan in the Albany, the facts (we will call them facts) and papers were supplied to me, and I went home to point out the delinquencies of Sir Thomas, and the atrocious intrigues of the Russian Court. Well, sir, Nobbles, Tregarvan, Teheran, all disappeared as I looked at the text in the old volume of the Review. I saw a deal table in a little room, and a reading lamp, and a young fellow writing at it, with a sad heart, and a dreadful apprehension torturing him. One of our children was ill in the adjoining room, and I have before me the figure of my wife coming in from time to time to my room and saying, “She is asleep now, and the fever is much lower.”
Here our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a tall young lady, who says, “Papa, the coffce is quite cold: and the carriage will be here very soon, and both mamma and my godmother say they are growing very angry. Do you know you have been talking here for two hours?”
Had two hours actually slipped away, as we sate prattling about old times? As I narrate them, I prefer to give Mr. Firmin’s account of his adventures in his own words, where I can recal or imitate them. Both of us are graver and more reverend seigniors than we were at the time of which I am writing. Has not Firmin’s girl grown up to be taller than her godmother? Veterans both, we love to prattle about the merry days when we were young — (the merry days? no, the past is never merry) — about the days when we were young; and do we grow young in talking of them, or only indulge in a senile cheerfulness and prolixity?
Tregarvan sleeps with his Cornish fathers: Europe for many years has gone on without her Review: but it is a certainty that the establishment of that occult organ of opinion tended very much to benefit Philip Firmin, and helped for a while to supply him and several innocent people dependent on him with their daily bread. Of course, as they were so poor, this worthy family increased and multiplied; and as they increased, and as they multiplied, my wife insists that I should point out how support was found for them. When there was a second child in Philip’s nursery, he would have removed from his lodgings in Thornhaugh Street, but for the prayers and commands of the affectionate Little Sister, who insisted that there was plenty of room in the house for everybody, and who said that if Philip went away she would cut off her little godchild with a shilling. And then indeed it was discovered for the first time, that this faithful and affectionate creature had endowed Philip with all her little property. These are the rays of sunshine in the dungeon. These are the drops of water in the desert. And with a full heart our friend acknowledges how comfort came to him in his hour of need.
Though Mr. Firmin has a very grateful heart, it has been admitted that he was a loud, disagreeable Firmin at times, impetuous in his talk, and violent in his behaviour: and we are now come to that period of his history, when he had a quarrel in which I am sorry to say Mr. Philip was in the wrong. Why do we consrot with those whom we dislike? Why is it that men will try and associate between whom no love is? I think it was the ladies who tried to reconcile Philip and his master; who brought them together, and strove to make them friends; but the more they met the more they disliked each other; and now the Muse has to relate their final and irreconcilable rupture.
Of Mugford’s wrath the direful tale relate, O Muse! and Philip’s pitiable fate. I have shown how the men had long been inwardly envenomed one against another. “Because Firmin is as poor as a rat, that’s no reason why he should adopt that hawhaw manner, and them high and mighty airs towards a man who gives him the bread he eats,” Mugford argued not unjustly. “What do I care for his being a university man? I am as good as he is. I am better than his old scamp of a father, who was a college man too, and lived in fine company. I made my own way in the world, independent, and supported myself since I was fourteen years of age, and helped my mother and brothers too, and that’s more than my sub-editor can say, who can’t support himself yet. I could get fifty sub-editors as good as he is, by calling out of the window into the street, I could. I say, hang Firmin! I’m a-losing all patience with him.” On the other hand, Mr. Philip was in the habit of speaking his mind with equal candour. “What right has that person to call me Firmin?” he asked. “I am Firmin to my equals and friends. I am this man’s labourer at four guineas a week. I give him his money’s worth, and on every Saturday evening we are quits. Call me Philip indeed, and strike me in the side! I choke, sir, as I think of the confounded familiarity!” “Confound his impudence!” was the cry, and the not unjust cry of the labourer and his employer. The men should have been kept apart: and it was a most mistaken Christian charity and female conspiracy which brought them together. “Another invitation from Mugford. It was agreed that I was never to go again, and I won’t go,” says Philip to his meek wife. “Write and say we are engaged, Charlotte.”
“It is for the 18th of next month, and this is the 23rd,” said poor Charlotte. “We can’t well say that we are engaged so far off.”
“It is for one of his grand ceremony parties,” urged the Little Sister. “You can’t come to no quarrelling there. He has a good heart. So have you. There’s no good quarrelling with him. Oh, Philip, do forgive, and be friends!” Philip yielded to the remonstrances of the women, as we all do; and a letter was sent to Hampstead, announcing that Mr. and Mrs. P. F. would have the honour,
In his quality of newspaper proprietor, musical professors and opera singers paid much court to Mr. Mugford; and he liked to entertain them at his hospitable table; to brag about his wines, cookery, plate, garden, prosperity, and private virtue, during dinner, whilst the artists sate respectfully listening to him; and to go to sleep and snore, or wake up and join cheerfully in a chorus, when the professional people performed in the drawing-room. Now, there was a lady who was once known on the theatre by the name of Mrs. Ravenswing, and who had been forced on to the stage by the misconduct of her husband, a certain Walker, one of the greatest scamps who ever entered a gaol. On Walker’s death, this lady married a Mr. Woolsey, a wealthy tailor, who retired from his business, as he caused his wife to withdraw from hers.
Now, more worthy and honourable people do not live than Woolsey and his wife, as those know who were acquainted with their history. Mrs. Woolsey is loud. Her h’s are by no means where they should be; her knife at dinner is often where it should not be. She calls men aloud by their names, and without any prefix of courtesy. She is very fond of porter, and has no scruple in asking for it. She sits down to play the piano, and to sing with perfect good nature, and if you look at her hands as they wander over the keys — well, I don’t wish to say anything unkind, — but I am forced to own that those hands are not so white as the ivory which they thump. Woolsey sits in perfect rapture listening to his wife. Mugford presses her to take a glass of “somethink” afterwards; and the good-natured soul says she will take something ‘ot. She sits and listens with infinite patience and good-humour whilst the little Mugfords go through their horrible little musical exercises; and these over, she is ready to go back to the piano again, and sing more songs, and drink more ‘ot.
I do not say that this was an elegant woman, or a fitting companion for Mrs. Philip; but I know that Mrs. Woolsey was a good, clever, and kindly woman, and that Philip behaved rudely to her. He never meant to be rude to her, he said; but the truth is, he treated her, her husband, Mugford, and Mrs. Mugford, with a haughty ill-humour which utterly exasperated and perplexed them.
About this poor lady, who was modest and innocent as Susannah, Philip had heard some wicked elders at wicked clubs tell wicked stories in old times. There was that old Trail, for instance, what woman escaped from his sneers and slander? There were others who could be named, and whose testimony was equally untruthful. On an ordinary occasion Philip would never have cared or squabbled about a question of precedence, and would have taken any place assigned to him at any table. But when Mrs. Woolsey, in crumpled satins and blowsy lace made her appearance, and was eagerly and respectfully saluted by the host and hostess, Philip remembered those early stories about the poor lady: his eyes flashed wrath, and his breast beat with an indignation which almost choked him. Ask that woman to meet my wife? he thought to himself, and looked so ferocious and desperate that the timid little wife gazed with alarm at her Philip, and crept up to him and whispered, “What is it, dear?”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Mugford and Mrs. Woolsey were in full colloquy about the weather, the nursery, and so forth — and Woolsey and Mugford giving each other the hearty grasp of friendship. Philip, then, scowling at the newly arrived guests, turning his great hulking back upon the company and talking to his wife, presented a not agreeable figure to his entertainer.
“Hang the fellow’s pride!” thought Mugford. “He chooses to turn his back upon my company, because Woolsey was a tradesman. An honest tailor is better than a bankrupt, swindling doctor, I should think. Woolsey need not be ashamed to show his face, I suppose. Why did you make me ask that fellar again, Mrs. M.? Don’t you see our society ain’t good enough for him?”
Philip’s conduct, then, so irritated Mugford, that when dinner was announced, he stepped forward and offered his arm to Mrs. Woolsey; having intended in the first instance to confer that honour upon Charlotte. “I’ll show him,” thought Mugford, “that an honest tradesman’s lady who pays his way, and is not afraid of anybody, is better than my sub-editor’s wife, the daughter of a bankrupt swell.” Though the dinner was illuminated by Mugford’s grandest plate, and accompanied by his very best wine, it was a gloomy and weary repast to several people present, and Philip and Charlotte, and I daresay Mugford, thought it never would be done. Mrs. Woolsey, to be sure, placidly ate her dinner, and drank her wine; whilst, remembering these wicked legends against her, Philip sate before the poor unconscious lady, silent, with glaring eyes, insolent and odious; so much so, that Mrs. Woolsey imparted to Mrs. Mugford her surmise that the tall gentleman must have got out of bed the wrong leg foremost.
Well, Mrs. Woolsey’s carriage and Mr. Firmin’s cab were announced at the same moment; and immediately Philip started up and beckoned his wife away. But Mrs. Woolsey’s carriage and lamps of course had the precedence; and this lady Mr. Mugford accompanied to her carriage step.
He did not pay the same attention to Mrs. Firmin. Most likely he forgot. Possibly he did not think etiquette required he should show that sort of politeness to a sub-editor’s wife: at any rate, he was not so rude as Philip himself had been during the evening, but he stood in the hall looking at his guests departing in their cab, when, in a sudden gust of passion, Philip stepped out of the carriage, and stalked up to his host, who stood there in his own hall confronting him, Philip declared, with a most impudent smile on his face.
“Come back to light a pipe I suppose? Nice thing for your wife, ain’t it?” said Mugford, relishing his own joke.
“I am come back, sir,” said Philip, glaring at Mugford, “to ask how you dared invite Mrs. Philip Firmin to meet that woman?”
Here, on his side, Mr. Mugford lost his temper, and from this moment his wrong begins. When he was in a passion, the language used by Mr. Mugford was not, it appears, choice. We have heard that when angry, he was in the habit of swearing freely at his subordinates. He broke out on this occasion also with many oaths. He told Philip that he would stand his impudence no longer; that he was as good as a swindling doctor’s son; that though he hadn’t been to college he could buy and pay them as had; and that if Philip liked to come into the back yard for ten minutes, he’d give him one — two, and show him whether he was a man or not. Poor Charlotte, who, indeed, fancied that her husband had gone back to light his cigar, sat awhile unconscious in her cab, and supposed that the two gentlemen were engaged on newspaper business. When Mugford began to pull his coat off, she sat wondering, but not in the least understanding the meaning of the action. Philip had described his employer as walking about his office without a coat and using energetic language.
But when, attracted by the loudness of the talk, Mrs. Mugford came forth from her neighbouring drawing-room, accompanied by such of her children as had not yet gone to roost — when seeing Mugford pulling off his dress-coat, she began to scream — when, lifting his voice over hers, Mugford poured forth oaths, and frantically shook his fists at Philip, asking how that blackguard dared insult him in his own house, and proposing to knock his head off at that moment — then poor Char, in a wild alarm, sprang out of the cab, ran to her husband, whose whole frame was throbbing, whose nostrils were snorting with passion. Then Mrs. Mugford springing forward, placed her ample form before her husband’s, and calling Philip a great cowardly beast, asked him if he was going to attack that little old man? Then Mugford dashing his coat down to the ground, called with fresh oaths to Philip to come on. And, in fine, there was a most unpleasant row, occasioned by Mr. Philip Firmin’s hot temper.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00