The poor Little Sister trudged away from Milman Street, exasperated with Philip, with Philip’s wife, and with the determination of the pair to accept the hopeless ruin impending over them. “Three hundred and eighty-six pounds four and threepence,” she thought, “to pay for that wicked old villain! It is more than poor Philip is worth, with all his savings and his little sticks of furniture. I know what he will do: he will borrow of the money-lenders, and give those bills, and renew them, and end by ruin. When he have paid this bill, that old villain will forge another, and that precious wife of his will tell him to pay that, I suppose; and those little darlings will be begging for bread, unless they come and eat mine, to which — God bless them! — they are always welcome.” She calculated — it was a sum not difficult to reckon — the amount of her own little store of saved ready money. To pay four hundred pounds out of such an income as Philip’s, she felt, was an attempt vain and impossible. “And he mustn’t have my poor little stocking now,” she argued; “they will want that presently when their pride is broken down — as it will be — and my darlings are hungering for their dinner!” Revolving this dismal matter in her mind, and scarce knowing where to go for comfort and counsel, she made her way to her good friend, Dr. Goodenough, and found that worthy man, who had always a welcome for his Little Sister.
She found Goodenough alone in his great dining-room, taking a very slender meal, after visiting his hospital and his fifty patients, among whom I think there were more poor than rich: and the good sleepy doctor woke up with a vengeance, when he heard his little nurse’s news, and fired off a volley of angry language against Philip and his scoundrel of a father; “which it was a comfort to hear him,” little Brandon told us afterwards. Then Goodenough trotted out of the dining-room into the adjoining library and consulting-room, whither his old friend followed him. Then he pulled out a bunch of keys and opened a secretaire, from which he took a parchment-covered volume, on which J. Goodenough, Esq., M.D., was written in a fine legible hand, — and which, in fact, was a banker’s book. The inspection of the MS. volume in question must have pleased the worthy physician: for a grin came over his venerable features, and he straightway drew out of the desk a slim volume of grey paper, on each page of which were inscribed the highly respectable names of Messrs. Stumpy, Rowdy and Co., of Lombard Street, Bankers. On a slip of grey paper the doctor wrote a prescription for a draught, statim sumendus — (a draught — mark my pleasantry) — which he handed over to his little friend.
“There, you little fool!” said he. “The father is a rascal, but the boy is a fine fellow; and you, you little silly thing, I must help in this business myself, or you will go and ruin yourself; I know you will! Offer this to the fellow for his bill. Or, stay! How much money is there in the house? Perhaps the sight of notes and gold will tempt him more than a cheque.” And the doctor emptied his pockets of all the fees which happened to be therein — I don’t know how many fees of shining shillings and sovereigns, neatly wrapped up in paper; and he emptied a drawer in which there was more silver and gold: and he trotted up to his bedroom, and came panting, presently, downstairs with a fat little pocket-book, containing a bundle of notes, and, with one thing or another, he made up a sum of — I won’t mention what; but this sum of money, I say, he thrust into the Little Sister’s hand, and said, “Try the fellow with this, Little Sister; and see if you can get the bill from him. Don’t say it’s my money, or the scoundrel will be for having twenty shillings in the pound. Say it’s yours, and there’s no more where that came from; and coax him, and wheedle him, and tell him plenty of lies, my dear. It won’t break your heart to do that. What an immortal scoundrel Brummell Firmin is, to be sure! Though, by the way, in two more cases at the hospital I have tried that — ” And here the doctor went off into a professional conversation with his favourite nurse, which I could not presume to repeat to any non-medical man.
The Little Sister bade God bless Doctor Goodenough, and wiped her glistening eyes with her handkerchief, and put away the notes and gold with a trembling little hand, and trudged off with a lightsome step and a happy heart. Arrived at Tottenham Court Road, she though, shall I go home, or shall I go to poor Mrs. Philip and take her this money? No. Their talk that day had not been very pleasant: words, very like high words, had passed between them, and our Little Sister had to own to herself that she had been rather rude in her late colloquy with Charlotte. And she was a proud Little Sister: at least she did not care for to own that she had been hasty or disrespectful in her conduct to that young woman. She had too much spirit for that. Have we ever said that our little friend was exempt from the prejudices and vanities of this wicked world? Well, to rescue Philip, to secure the fatal bill, to go with it to Charlotte, and say, “There, Mrs. Philip, there’s your husband’s liberty.” It would be a rare triumph, that it would! And Philip would promise, on his honour, that this should be the last and only bill he would pay for that wretched old father. With these happy thoughts swelling in her little heart, Mrs. Brandon made her way to the familiar house in Thornhaugh Street, and would have a little bit of supper, so she would. And laid her own little cloth; and set forth her little forks and spoons, which were as bright as rubbing could make them; and I am authorized to state that her repast consisted of two nice little lamb chops, which she purchased from her neighbour Mr. Chump, in Tottenham Court Road, after a pleasant little conversation with that gentleman and his good lady. And, with her bit of supper, after a day’s work, our little friend would sometimes indulge in a glass — a little glass — of something comfortable. The case-bottle was in the cupboard, out of which her poor Pa had been wont to mix his tumblers for many a long day. So, having prepared it with her own hands, down she sat to her little meal, tired and happy; and as she thought of the occurrences of the day, and of the rescue which had come so opportunely to her beloved Philip and his children, I am sure she said a grace before her meat.
Her candles being lighted and her blind up, any one in the street could see that her chamber was occupied; and at about ten o’clock at night there came a heavy step clinking along the pavement, the sound of which, I have no doubt, made the Little Sister start a little. The heavy foot paused before her window, and presently clattered up the steps of her door. Then, as her bell rang — I consider it is most probable that her cheek flushed a little. She went to her hall door and opened it herself. “Lor, is it you, Mr. Hunt? Well, I never! that is, I thought you might come. Really, now” — and with the moonlight behind him, the dingy Hunt swaggered in.
“How comfortable you looked at your little table,” says Hunt, with his hat over his eye.
“Won’t you step in and set down to it, and take something?” asks the smiling hostess.
Of course, Hunt would take something. And the greasy hat is taken off his head with a flourish, and he struts into the poor Little Sister’s little room, pulling a wisp of grizzling hair and endeavouring to assume a careless, fashionable look. The dingy hand had seized the case-bottle in a moment. “What! you do a little in this way, do you?” he says, and winks amiably at Mrs. Brandon and the bottle. She takes ever so little, she owns; and reminds him of days which he must remember, when she had a wine-glass out of poor Pa’s tumbler. A bright little kettle is singing on the fire, — will not Mr. Hunt mix a glass for himself? She takes a bright beaker from the corner-cupboard, which is near her, with her keys hanging from it.
“Oh, ho! that’s where we keep the ginnums, is it?” says the graceful Hunt, with a laugh.
“My papa always kep it there,” says Caroline, meekly. And whilst her back is turned to fetch a canister from the cupboard, she knows that the astute Mr. Hunt has taken the opportunity to fill a good large measure from the square bottle. “Make yourself welcome,” says the Little Sister, in her gay, artless way; “there’s more where that came from!” And Hunt drinks his hostess’s health: and she bows to him, and smiles, and sips a little from her own glass; and the little lady looks quite pretty, and rosy, and bright. Her cheeks are like apples, her figure is trim and graceful, and always attired in the neatest-fitting gown. By the comfortable light of the candles on her sparkling tables, you scarce see the silver lines in her light hair, or the marks which time has made round her eyes. Hunt’s gaze on her with admiration.
“Why,” says he, “I vow you look younger and prettier than when — when I saw you first.”
“Ah, Mr. Hunt?” cries Mrs. Brandon, with a flush on her cheek, which becomes it, “don’t recal that time, or that — that wretch who served me so cruel!”
“He was a scoundrel, Caroline, to treat as he did such a woman as you! The fellow has no principle; he was a bad one from the beginning. Why, he ruined me as well as you: got me to play; run me into debt by introducing me to his fine companions. I was a simple young fellow then, and thought it was a fine thing to live with fellow commoners and noblemen who drove their tandems and gave their grand dinners. It was he that led me astray, I tell you. I might have been Fellow of my college — had a living — married a good wife — risen to be a bishop, by George! — for I had great talents, Caroline; only I was so confounded idle, and fond of the cards and the bones.”
“The bones?” cries Caroline, with a bewildered look.
“The dice, my dear! ‘Seven’s the main’ was my ruin. ‘Seven’s the main’ and eleven’s the nick to seven. That used to be the little game!” And he made a graceful gesture with his empty wine-glass, as though he was tossing a pair of dice on the table. “The man next to me in lecture is a bishop now, and I could knock his head off in Greek iambics and Latin hexameters, too. In my second year I got the Latin declamation prize, I tell you — ”
“Brandon always said you were one of the cleverest men at the college. He always said that, I remember,” remarks the lady, very respectfully.
“Did he? He did say a good word for me, then? Brummell Firmin wasn’t a clever man; he wasn’t a reading man. Whereas I would back myself for a sapphic ode against any man in my college — against any man! Thank you. You do mix it so uncommon hot and well, there’s no saying no; indeed, there ain’t! Though I have had enough — upon my honour, I have.”
“Lor! I thought you men could drink anything! And Mr. Brandon — Mr. Firmin you said?”
“Well, I said Brummell Firmin was a swell somehow. He had a sort of grand manner with him — ”
“Yes, he had,” sighed Caroline. And I daresay her thoughts wandered back to a time long, long ago, when this grand gentleman had captivated her.
“And it was trying to keep up with him that ruined me! I quarrelled with my poor old governor about money, of course; grew idle, and lost my Fellowship. Then the bills came down upon me. I tell you, there are some of my college ticks ain’t paid now.”
“College ticks? Law!” ejaculates the lady. “And — ”
“Tailor’s ticks, tavern ticks, livery-stable ticks — for there were famous hacks in our days, and I used to hunt with the tip-top men. I wasn’t bad across country, I wasn’t. But we can’t keep the pace with those rich fellows. We try, and they go ahead — they ride us down. Do you think, if I hadn’t been very hard up, I would have done what I did to you, Caroline? You poor little innocent suffering thing. It was a shame. It was a shame!”
“Yes, a shame it was,” cries Caroline. “And that I never gainsay.” You did deal hard with a poor girl, both of you.
“It was rascally. But Firmin was the worst. He had me in his power. It was he led me wrong. It was he drove me into debt, and then abroad, and then into qu — into gaol, perhaps: and then into this kind of thing.” (“This kind of thing” has before been explained elegantly to signify a tumbler of hot grog). “And my father wouldn’t see me on his death-bed; and my brothers and sisters broke with me; and I owe it all to Brummell Firmin — all. Do you think, after ruining me, he oughtn’t to pay me?” and again he thumps a dusky hand upon the table. It made dingy marks on the poor Little Sister’s spotless table-cloth. It rubbed its owner’s forehead and lank, grizzling hair.
“And me, Mr. Hunt? What do he owe me?” asks Hunt’s hostess.
“Caroline!” cries Hunt, “I have made Brummell Firmin pay me a good bit back already, but I’ll have more;” and he thumped his breast, and thrust his hand into his breast-pocket as he spoke, and clutched at something within.
“It is there!” thought Caroline. She might turn pale; but he did not remark her pallor. He was all intent on drink, on vanity, on revenge.
“I have him,” I say. “He owes me a good bit; and he has paid me a good bit; and he shall pay me a good bit more. Do you think I am a fellow who will be ruined and insulted, and won’t revenge myself? You should have seen his face when I turned up at New York at the Astor House, and said, ‘Brummell, old fellow, here I am,’ I said: and he turned as white — as white as this table-cloth. ‘I’ll never leave you, my boy,’ I said. ‘Other fellows may go from you, but old Tom Hunt will stick to you. Let’s go into the bar and have a drink!’ and he was obliged to come. And I have him now in my power, I tell you. And when I say to him, ‘Brummell, have a drink,’ drink he must. His bald old head must go into the pail!” And Mr. Hunt laughed a laugh which I daresay was not agreeable.
After a pause he went on: “Caroline! Do you hate him, I say? or do you like a fellow who deserted you and treated you like a scoundrel? Some women do. I could tell of women who do. I could tell you of other fellows, perhaps, but I won’t. Do you hate Brummell Firmin, that bald-headed Brum — hypocrite, and that — that insolent rascal who laid his hand on a clergyman, and an old man, by George! and hit me — and hit me in that street. Do you hate him, I say? Hoo! hoo! hick! I’ve got ’em both! — here, in my pocket — both!”
“You have got — what?” gasped Caroline.
“I have got their — hallo! stop, what’s that to you what I’ve got?” And he sinks back in his chair, and winks, and leers, and triumphantly tosses his glass.
“Well, it ain’t much to me; I— I never got any good out of either of ’em yet,” says poor Caroline, with a sinking heart. “Let’s talk about somebody else than them two plagues. Because you were a little merry one night — and I don’t mind what a gentleman says when he has had a glass — for a great big strong man to hit an old one — ”
“To strike a clergyman!” yells Hunt.
“It was a shame — a cowardly shame! And I gave it him for it, I promise you!” cries Mrs. Brandon.
“On your honour, now, do you hate ’em?” cries Hunt, starting up, and clenching his fist, and dropping again into his chair.
“Have I any reason to love ’em, Mr. Hunt? Do sit down and have a little — ”
“No: you have no reason to like ’em. You hate ’em — I hate ’em. Look here. Promise — ‘pon your honour, now, Caroline — I’ve got ’em both, I tell you. Strike a clergyman, will he? What do you say to that?”
And starting from his chair once more, and supporting himself against the wall (where hung one of J. J.’s pictures of Philip), Hunt pulls out the greasy pocket-book once more, and fumbles amongst the greasy contents; and as the papers flutter on to the floor and the table, he pounces down on one with a dingy hand, and yells a laugh, and says, “I’ve cotched you! That’s it. What do you say to that? — London, July 4th. — Five months after date, I promise to pay to — No, you don’t.”
“La! Mr. Hunt, won’t you let me look at it?” cries the hostess. “Whatever is it? A bill? My Pa had plenty of’em.”
“What? with candles in the room? No, you don’t, I say.”
“What is it? Won’t you tell me?”
“It’s the young one’s acceptance of the old man’s draft,” says Hunt, hissing and laughing.
“For how much?”
“Three hundred and eighty-six four three — that’s all; and I guess I can get more where that came from!” says Hunt, laughing more and more cheerfully.
“What will you take for it? I’ll buy it of you,” cries the Little Sister. “I— I’ve seen plenty of my Pa’s bills; and I’ll — I’ll discount this, if you like.”
“What! are you a little discounter? Is that the way you make your money, and the silver spoons, and the nice supper, and everything delightful about you? A little discountess, are you — you little rogue? Little discountess, by George! How much will you give, little discountess?” And the reverend gentleman laughs, and winks, and drinks, and laughs, and tears twinkle out of his tipsy old eyes, as he wipes them with one hand, and again says, “How much will you give, little discountess?”
When poor Caroline went to her cupboard, and from it took the notes and the gold which she had had we know from whom, and added to these, out of a cunning box, a little heap of her own private savings, and with trembling hands poured the notes, and the sovereigns, and the shillings into a dish on the table, I never heard accurately how much she laid down. But she must have spread out everything she had in the world; for she felt her pockets and emptied them; and, tapping her head, she again applied to the cupboard, and took from thence a little store of spoons and forks, and then a brooch, and then a watch; and she piled these all up in a dish, and she said, “Now, Mr. Hunt, I will give you all these for that bill;” and looked up at Philip’s picture, which hung over the parson’s blood-shot, satyr face. “Take these,” she said, “and give me that! There’s two hundred pound, I know; and there’s thirty-four, and two eighteen, thirty-six eighteen, and there’s the plate and watch, and I want that bill.”
“What? have you got all this, you little dear?” cried Hunt, dropping back into his chair again. “Why, you’re a little fortune, by Jove! — a pretty little fortune, a little discountess, a little wife, a little fortune. I say, I’m a university man; I could write alcaics once as well as any man. I’m a gentleman. I say, how much have you got? Count it over again, my dear.”
And again she told him the amount of the gold, and the notes, and the silver, and the number of the poor little spoons.
A thought came across the fellow’s boozy brain:— “If you offer so much,” says he, “and you’re a little discountess, the bill’s worth more; that fellow must be making his fortune! Or do you know about it? I say, do you know about it? No. I’ll have my bond. I’ll have my bond!” And he gave a tipsy imitation of Shylock, and lurched back into his chair, and laughed.
“Let’s have a little more, and talk about things,” said the poor Little Sister; and she daintily heaped her little treasures and arranged them in her dish, and smiled upon the parson laughing in his chair.
“Caroline,” says he, after a pause, “you are still fond of that old bald-headed scoundrel! That’s it! Just like you women — just like, but I won’t tell. No, no, I won’t tell! You are fond of that old swindler still, I say! Wherever did you get that lot of money? Look here now — with that, and this little bill in my pocket, there’s enough to carry us on for ever so long. And when this money’s gone, I tell you I know who’ll give us more, and who can’t refuse us, I tell you. Look here, Caroline, dear Caroline! I’m an old fellow, I know; but I’m a good fellow: I’m a classical scholar: and I’m a gentleman.”
The classical scholar and gentleman bleared over his words as he uttered them, and with his vinous eyes and sordid face gave a leer which must have frightened the poor little lady to whom he proffered himself as a suitor, for she started back with a pallid face, and an aspect of such dislike and terror, that even her guest remarked it.
“I said I was a scholar and gentleman,” he shrieked again. “Do you doubt it? I’m as good a man as Brummell Firmin, I say. I ain’t so tall. But I’ll do a copy of Latin alcaics or Greek iambics against him or any man of my weight. Do you mean to insult me? Don’t I know who you are? Are you better than a Master of Arts and a clergyman? He went out in medicine, Firmin did. Do you mean, when a Master of Arts and classical scholar offers you his hand and fortune, that you’re above him and refuse him, by George?”
The Little Sister was growing bewildered and frightened by the man’s energy and horrid looks. “Oh, Mr. Hunt!” she cried, “see here, take this! See — there are two hundred and thirty — thirty-six pounds and all these things! Take them, and give me that paper.”
“Sovereigns, and notes, and spoons, and a watch, and what I have in my pocket — and that ain’t much — and Firmin’s bill! Three hundred and eighty-six four three. It’s a fortune, my dear, with economy! I won’t have you going on being a nurse and that kind of thing. I’m a scholar and a gentleman — I am — and that place ain’t fit for Mrs. Hunt. We’ll first spend your money. No: we’ll first spend my money — three hundred and eighty-six and — and hang the change — and when that’s gone, we’ll have another bill from that bald-headed old scoundrel: and his son who struck a poor cler — We will, I say, Caroline — we — ”
The wretch was suiting actions to his words, and rose once more, advancing towards his hostess, who shrank back, laughing half-hysterically, and retreating as the other neared her. Behind her was that cupboard which had contained her poor little treasure and other stores, and appended to the lock of which her keys were still hanging. As the brute approached her, she flung back the cupboard-door smartly upon him. The keys struck him on the head; and bleeding, and with a curse and a cry, he fell back on his chair.
In the cupboard was that bottle which she had received from America not long since; and about which she had talked with Goodenough on that very day. It had been used twice or thrice by his direction, by hospital surgeons, and under her eye. She suddenly seized this bottle. As the ruffian before her uttered his imprecations of wrath, she poured out a quantity of the contents of the bottle on her handkerchief. She said, “Oh! Mr. Hunt, have I hurt you? I didn’t mean it. But you shouldn’t — you shouldn’t frighten a lonely woman so! Here, let me bathe you! Smell this! It will — it will do you — good — it will — it will, indeed.” The handkerchief was over his face. Bewildered by drink before, the fumes of the liquor which he was absorbing served almost instantly to overcome him. He struggled for a moment or two. “Stop — stop! you’ll be better in a moment,” she whispered. “Oh, yes! better, quite better!” She squeezed more of the liquor from the bottle on to the handkerchief. In a minute Hunt was quite inanimate.
Then the little pale woman leant over him, and took the pocket-book out of his pocket, and from it the bill which bore Philip’s name. As Hunt lay in stupor before her, she now squeezed more of the liquor over his head; and then thrust the bill into the fire, and saw it burn to ashes. Then she put back the pocket-book into Hunt’s breast. She said afterwards that she never should have thought about that Chloroform, but for her brief conversation with Dr. Goodenough, that evening, regarding a case in which she had employed the new remedy under his orders.
How long did Hunt lie in that stupor? It seemed a whole long night to Caroline. She said afterwards that the thought of that act that night made her hair grow grey. Poor little head! Indeed, she would have laid it down for Philip.
Hunt, I suppose, came to himself when the handkerchief was withdrawn, and the fumes of the potent liquor ceased to work on his brain. He was very much frightened and bewildered. “What was it? Where am I?” he asked, in a husky voice.
“It was the keys struck in the cupboard-door when you — you ran against it,” said pale Caroline. “Look! you are all bleeding on the head. Let me dry it.”
“No; keep off!” cried the terrified man.
“Will you have a cab to go home? The poor gentleman hit himself against the cupboard-door, Mary. You remember him here before, don’t you, one night?” And Caroline, with a shrug, pointed out to her maid, whom she had summoned, the great square bottle of spirits still on the table, and indicated that there lay the cause of Hunt’s bewilderment.
“Are you better now? Will you — will you — take a little more refreshment?” asked Caroline.
“No!” he cried with an oath, and with glaring, bloodshot eyes he lurched towards his hat.
“Lor, mum! what ever is it? And this smell in the room, and all this here heap of money and things on the table?”
Caroline flung open her window. “It’s medicine, which Dr. Goodenough has ordered for one of his patients. I must go and see her to night,” she said. And at midnight, looking as pale as death, the Little Sister went to the doctor’s house, and roused him up from his bed, and told him the story here narrated. “I offered him all you gave me,” she said, “and all I had in the world besides, and he wouldn’t — and — ” Here she broke out into a fit of hysterics. The doctor had to ring up his servants; to administer remedies to his little nurse; to put her to bed in his own house.
“By the immortal Jove,” he said afterwards, “I had a great mind to beg her never to leave it! But that my housekeeper would tear Caroline’s eyes out, Mrs. Brandon should be welcome to stay for ever. Except her h’s, that woman has every virtue: constancy, gentleness, generosity, cheerfulness, and the courage of a lioness! To think of that fool, that dandified idiot, that triple ass, Firmin” — (there were few men in the world for whom Goodenough entertained a greater scorn than for his late confrère, Firmin, of Old Parr Street) — “think of the villain having possessed such a treasure — let alone his having deceived and deserted her — of his having possessed such a treasure and flung it away! Sir, I always admired Mrs. Brandon; but I think ten thousand times more highly of her, since her glorious crime, and most righteous robbery. If the villain had died, dropped dead in the street — the drunken miscreant, forger, housebreaker, assassin — so that no punishment could have fallen upon poor Brandon, I think I could have respected her only the more!”
At an early hour Dr. Goodenough had thought proper to send off messengers to Philip and myself, and to make us acquainted with the strange adventure of the previous night. We both hastened to him. I myself was summoned, no doubt, in consequence of my profound legal knowledge, which might be of use in poor little Caroline’s present trouble. And Philip came because she longed to see him. By some instinct, she knew when he arrived. She crept down from the chamber where the doctor’s housekeeper had laid her on a bed. She knocked at the doctor’s study, where we were all in consultation. She came in quite pale, and tottered towards Philip, and flung herself into his arms, with a burst of tears that greatly relieved her excitement and fever. Firmin was scarcely less moved.
“You’ll pardon me for what I have done, Philip,” she sobbed. “If they — if they take me up, you won’t forsake me?”
“Forsake you? Pardon you? Come and live with us, and never leave us!” cried Philip.
“I don’t think Mrs. Philip would like that, dear,” said the little woman sobbing on his arm; “but ever since the Grey Friars school, when you was so ill, you have been like a son to me, and somehow I couldn’t help doing that last night to that villain — I couldn’t.”
“Serve the scoundrel right. Never deserved to come to life again, my dear,” said Dr. Goodenough. “Don’t you be exciting yourself, little Brandon! I must have you sent back to lie down on your bed. Take her up’ Philip, to the little room next mine: and order her to lie down and be as quiet as a mouse. You are not to move till I give you leave, Brandon — mind that, and come back to us, Firmin, or we shall have the patients coming.”
So Philip led away this poor Little Sister; and trembling, and clinging to his arm, she returned to the room assigned to her.
“She wants to be alone with him,” the doctor said; and he spoke a brief word or two of that strange delusion under which the little woman laboured, that this was her dead child come back to her.
“I know that is in her mind,” Goodenough said; “she never got over that brain fever in which I found her. If I were to swear her on the book, and say, ‘Brandon, don’t you believe he is your son alive again?’ she would not dare to say no. She will leave him everthing she has got. I only gave her so much less than that scoundrel’s bill yesterday, because I knew she would like to contribute her own share. It would have offended her mortally to have been left out of the subscription. They like to sacrifice themselves. Why, there are women in India who, if not allowed to roast with their dead husbands, would die of vexation.” And by this time Mr. Philip came striding back into the room again, rubbing a pair of very red eyes.
“Long ere this, no doubt, that drunken ruffian is sobered, and knows that the bill is gone. He is likely enough to accuse her of the robbery,” says the doctor.
“Suppose,” says Philip’s other friend, “I had put a pistol to your head, and was going to shoot you, and the doctor took the pistol out of my hand and flung it into the sea? would you help me to prosecute the doctor for robbing me of the pistol?”
“You don’t suppose it will be a pleasure to me to pay that bill?” said Philip. “I said, if a certain bill were presented to me, purporting to be accepted by Philip Firmin, I would pay it. But if that scoundrel, Hunt, only says that he had such a bill, and has lost it; I will cheerfully take my oath that I have never signed any bill at all — and they can’t find Brandon guilty of stealing a thing which never existed.”
“Let us hope, then, that the bill was not in duplicate!”
And to this wish all three gentlemen heartily said Amen!
And now the doctor’s door-bell began to be agitated by arriving patients. His dining-room was already full of them. The Little Sister must lie still, and the discussion of her affairs must be deferred to a more convenient hour; and Philip and his friend agreed to reconnoitre the house in Thornhaugh Street, and see if anything had happened since its mistress had left it.
Yes: something had happened. Mrs. Brandon’s maid, who ushered us into her mistress’s little room, told us that in the early morning that horrible man who had come over-night, and been so tipsy, and behaved so ill, — the very same man who had come there tipsy afore once, and whom Mr. Philip had flung into the street — had come battering at the knocker, and pulling at the bell, and swearing and cursing most dreadful, and calling for “Mrs. Brandon! Mrs. Brandon! Mrs. Brandon!” and frightening the whole street. After he had rung, he knocked and battered ever so long. Mary looked out at him from her upper window, and told him to go along home, or she would call the police. On this the man roared out that he would call the police himself if Mary did not let him in; and as he went on calling “Police!” and yelling from the door, Mary came down-stairs, and opened the hall-door, keeping the chain fastened, and asked him what he wanted?
Hunt, from the steps without, began to swear and rage more loudly, and to demand to be let in. He must and would see Mrs. Brandon.
Many, from behind her chain barricade, said that her mistress was not at home, but that she had been called out that night to a patient of Dr. Goodenough’s .
Hunt, with more shrieks and curses, said it was a lie; and that she was at home; and that he would see her; and that he must go into her room; and that he had left something there; that he had lost something; and that he would have it.
“Lost something here?” cried Mary. “Why here? when you reeled out of this house, you couldn’t scarce walk, and you almost fell into the gutter, which I have seen you there before. Get away, and go home! You are not sober yet, you horrible man!”
On this, clinging on to the area-railings, and demeaning himself like a madman, Hunt continued to call out, “Police, police! I have been robbed, I’ve been robbed! Police!” until astonished heads appeared at various windows in the quiet street, and a policeman actually came up.
When the policeman appeared, Hunt began to sway and pull at the door, confined by it’s chain: and he frantically reiterated his charge, that he had been robbed and hocussed in that house, that night, by Mrs. Brandon.
The policeman, by a familiar expression, conveyed his utter disbelief of the statement, and told the dirty, disreputable man to move on, and go to bed. Mrs. Brandon was known and respected all round the neighbourhood. She had befriended numerous poor round about; and was known for a hundred charities. She attended many respectable families. In that parish there was no woman more esteemed. And by the word “Gammon,” the policeman expressed his sense of the utter absurdity of the charge against the good lady.
Hunt still continued to yell out that he had been robbed and hocussed; and Mary from behind her door repeated to the officer (with whom she perhaps had relations not unfriendly) her statement that the beast had gone reeling away from the house the night before, and if he had lost anything, who knows where he might not have lost it?
“It was taken out of this pocket, and out of this pocket-book,” howled Hunt, clinging to the rail. “I give her in charge. I give the house in charge! It’s a den of thieves!”
During this shouting and turmoil, the sash of a window in Ridley’s studio was thrown up. The painter was going to his morning work. He had appointed an early model. The sun could not rise too soon for Ridley; and, as soon as ever it gave its light, found
him happy at his labour. He had heard from his bedroom the brawl going on about the door.
“Mr. Ridley!” says the policeman, touching the glazed hat with much respect — (in fact, and out of uniform, Z 25 has figured in more than one of J. J.’s pictures) — “here’s a fellow disturbing the whole street, and shouting out that Mrs. Brandon have robbed and hocussed him!”
Ridley ran downstairs in a high state of indignation. He is nervous, like men of his tribe; quick to feel, to pity, to love, to be angry. He undid the chain, and ran into the street.
“I remember that fellow drunk here before,” said the painter; “and lying in that very gutter.”
“Drunk and disorderly! Come along!” cries Z 25; and his hand was quickly fastened on the parson’s greasy collar, and under its strong grasp Hunt is forced to move on. He goes, still yelling out that he has been robbed.
“Tell that to his worship,” says the incredulous Z. And this was the news which Mrs. Brandon’s friends received from her maid, when they called at her house.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00