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Part 1 Chapter 9 Contains One Riddle which is Solved, and Per

Mine is a modest muse, and as the period of the story arrives when a description of love-making is justly due, my Mnemosyne turns from the young couple, drops a little curtain over the embrasure where they are whispering, heaves a sigh from her elderly bosom, and lays a finger on her lip. Ah, Mnemosyne dear! we will not be spies on the young people. We will not scold them. We won’t talk about their doings much. When we were young, we too, perhaps, were taken in under Love’s tent; we have eaten of his salt, and partaken of his bitter, his delicious bread. Now we are padding the hoof lonely in the wilderness, we will not abuse our host, will we? We will couch under the stars, and think fondly of old times, and to-morrow resume the staff and the journey.

And yet, if a novelist may chronicle any passion, its flames, its raptures, its whispers, its assignations, its sonnets, its quarrels, sulks, reconciliations, and so on, the history of such a love as this first of Phil’s may be excusable in print, because I don’t believe it was a real love at all, only a little brief delusion of the senses, from which I give you warning that our hero will recover before many chapters are over. What! my brave boy, shall we give your heart away for good and all, for better or for worse, till death do you part? What! my Corydon and sighing swain, shall we irrevocably bestow you upon Phyllis, who, all the time you are piping and paying court to her, has Meliboeus in the cupboard, and ready to be produced should he prove to be a more eligible shepherd than t’other? I am not such a savage towards my readers or hero, as to make them undergo the misery of such a marriage.

Philip was very little of a club or society man. He seldom or ever entered the Megatherium, or when there stared and scowled round him savagely, and laughed strangely at the ways of the inhabitants. He made but a clumsy figure in the world, though, in person, handsome, active, and proper enough; but he would for ever put his great foot through the World’s flounced skirts, and she would stare, and cry out, and hate him. He was the last man who was aware of the Woolcomb flirtation, when hundreds of people, I dare say, were simpering over it.

“Who is that little man who comes to your house, and whom I sometimes see in the park, aunt — that little man with the very white gloves and the very tawny complexion?” asks Philip.

“That is Mr. Woolcomb, of the Life Guards Green,” aunt remembers.

“An officer, is he?” says Philip, turning round to the girls. “I should have thought he would have done better for the turban and cymbals.” And he laughs, and thinks he has said a very clever thing. Oh, those good things about people and against people! Never, my dear young friend, say them to anybody — not to a stranger, for he will go away and tell; not to the mistress of your affections, for you may quarrel with her, and then she will tell; not to your son, for the artless child will return to his schoolfellows and say: “Papa says Mr. Blenkinsop is a muff.” My child, or what not, praise everybody: smile on everybody: and everybody will smile on you in return, a sham smile, and hold you out a sham hand; and, in a word, esteem you as you deserve. No. I think you and I will take the ups and the downs, the roughs and the smooths of this daily existence and conversation. We will praise those whom we like, though nobody repeat our kind sayings; and say our say about those whom we dislike, though we are pretty sure our words will be carried by tale-bearers, and increased, and multiplied, and remembered long after we have forgotten them. We drop a little stone — a little stone that is swallowed up, and disappears, but the whole pond is set in commotion, and ripples in continually-widening circles long after the original little stone has popped down and is out of sight. Don’t your speeches of ten years ago — maimed, distorted, bloated, it may be out of all recognition — come strangely back to their author?

Phil, five minutes after he had made the joke, so entirely forgot his saying about the Black Prince and the cymbals, that, when Captain Woolcomb scowled at him with his fiercest eyes, young Firmin thought that this was the natural expression of the captain’s swarthy countenance, and gave himself no further trouble regarding it. “By George! sir,” said Phil afterwards, speaking of this officer, “I remarked that he grinned, and chattered, and showed his teeth; and remembering it was the nature of such baboons to chatter and grin, had no idea that this chimpanzee was more angry with me than with any other gentleman. You see, Pen, I am a white-skinned man, I am pronounced even red-whiskered by the ill-natured. It is not the prettiest colour. But I had no idea that I was to have a Mulatto for a rival. I am not so rich, certainly, but I have enough. I can read and spell correctly, and write with tolerable fluency. I could not, you know, could I, reasonably suppose that I need fear competition, and that the black horse would beat the bay one? Shall I tell you what she used to say to me? There is no kissing and telling, mind you. No, by George. Virtue and prudence were for ever on her lips! She warbled little sermons to me; hinted gently that I should see to safe investments of my property, and that no man, not even a father, should be the sole and uncontrolled guardian of it. She asked me, sir, scores and scores of little sweet, timid, innocent questions about the doctor’s property, and how much did I think it was, and how had he laid it out? What virtuous parents that angel had! How they brought her up, and educated her dear blue eyes to the main chance! She knows the price of housekeeping, and the value of railway shares; she invests capital for herself in this world and the next. She mayn’t do right always, but wrong? O fie, never! I say, Pen, an undeveloped angel with wings folded under her dress, not perhaps your mighty, snow-white, flashing pinions that spread out and soar up to the highest stars, but a pair of good, serviceable, drab, dove-coloured wings, that will support her gently and equably just over our heads, and help to drop her softly when she condescends upon us. When I think, sir, that I might have been married to a genteel angel, and am single still, — oh! it’s despair, it’s despair!”

But Philip’s little story of disappointed hopes and bootless passion must be told in terms less acrimonious and unfair than the gentleman would use, naturally of a sanguine swaggering talk, prone to exaggerate his own disappointments, and call out, roar — I daresay swear — if his own corn was trodden upon, as loudly as some men who may have a leg taken off.

This I can vouch for Miss Twysden, Mrs. Twysden, and all the rest of the family:— that if they, what you call, jilted Philip, they did so without the slightest hesitation or notion that they were doing a dirty action. Their actions never were dirty or mean: they were necessary, I tell you, and calmly proper. They ate cheese-parings with graceful silence: they cribbed from board-wages; they turned hungry servants out of doors; they remitted no chance in their own favour; they slept gracefully under scanty coverlids; they lighted niggard fires; they locked the caddy with the closest lock, and served the teapot with the smallest and least frequent spoon. But you don’t suppose they thought they were mean, or that they did wrong? Ah! it is admirable to think of many, many, ever so many respectable families of your acquaintance and mine, my dear friend, and how they meet together and humbug each other! “My dear, I have cribbed half an inch of plush out of James’s small-clothes.” “My love, I have saved a half-penny out of Mary’s beer. Isn’t it time to dress for the duchess’s; and don’t you think John might wear that livery of Thomas’s who only had it a year, and died of the small-pox? It’s a little tight for him, to be sure, but,” What is this? I profess to be an impartial chronicler of poor Phil’s fortunes, misfortunes, friendships, and what-nots, and am getting almost as angry with these Twysdens as Philip ever was himself.

Well, I am not mortally angry with poor Traviata tramping the pavement, with the gas-lamp flaring on her poor painted smile, else my indignant virtue and squeamish modesty would never walk Piccadilly, or get the air. But Lais, quite moral, and very neatly, primly, and straitly laced; — Phryne, not the least dishevelled, but with a fixature for her hair, and the best stays, fastened by mamma; — your High Church or Evangelical Aspasia, the model of all proprieties, and owner of all virgin purity blooms, ready to sell her cheek to the oldest old fogey who has money and a title; — these are the Unfortunates, my dear brother and sister sinners, whom I should like to see repentant and specially trounced first. Why, some of these are put into reformatories in Grosvenor Square. They wear a prison dress of diamonds and Chantilly lace. Their parents cry, and thank heaven as they sell them; and all sorts of revered bishops, clergy, relations, dowagers, sign the book, and ratify the ceremony. Come! let us call a midnight meeting of those who have been sold in marriage, I say; and what a respectable, what a genteel, what a fashionable, what a brilliant, what an imposing, what a multitudinous assembly we will have; and where’s the room in all Babylon big enough to hold them?

Look into that grave, solemn, dingy, somewhat naked but elegant drawing-room, in Beaunash Street, and with a little fanciful opera-glass you may see a pretty little group or two engaged at different periods of the day. It is after lunch, and before Rotten Row ride time (this story, you know, relates to a period ever so remote, and long before folks thought of riding in the park in the forenoon). After lunch, and before Rotten Row time, saunters into the drawing-room a fair-haired young fellow with large feet and chest, careless of gloves, with auburn whiskers blowing over a loose collar, and — must I confess it? — a most undeniable odour of cigars about his person. He breaks out regarding the debate of the previous night, or the pamphlet of yesterday, or the poem of the day previous, or the scandal of the week before, or upon the street-sweeper at the corner, or the Italian and monkey before the door — upon whatever, in a word, moves his mind for the moment. If Philip has had a bad dinner yesterday (and happens to remember it), he growls, grumbles, nay, I daresay, uses the most blasphemous language against the cook, against the waiters, against the steward, against the committee, against the whole society of the club where he has been dining. If Philip has met an organ girl with pretty eyes and a monkey in the street, he has grinned and wondered over the monkey; he has wagged his head, and sung all the organ’s tunes; he has discovered that the little girl is the most ravishing beauty eyes ever looked on, and that her scoundrelly Savoyard father is most likely an Alpine miscreant who has bartered away his child to a pedlar of the beggarly cheesy valleys, who has sold her to a friend qui fait la traite des hurdigurdies, and has disposed of her in England. If he has to discourse on the poem, pamphlet, magazine article — it is written by the greatest genius, or the greatest numskull that the world now exhibits. He write! A man who makes fire rhyme with Marire! This vale of tears and world which we inhabit does not contain such an idiot. Or have you seen Dobbins’s poem? Agnes, mark my words for it, there is a genius in Dobbins which some day will show what I have always surmised, what I have always imagined possible, what I have always felt to be more than probable, what, by George, I feel to be perfectly certain, and any man is a humbug who contradicts it, and a malignant miscreant, and the world is full of fellows who will never give another man credit, and I swear that to recognize and feel merit in poetry, painting, music, rope-dancing, anything, is the greatest delight and joy of my existence. I say — what was I saying?

“You were saying, Philip, that you love to recognize the merits of all men whom you see,” says gentle Agnes, “and I believe you do.”

“Yes!” cries Phil, tossing about the fair locks. “I think I do. Thank heaven, I do. I know fellows who can do many things better than I do — everything better than I do.”

“Oh, Philip!” sighs the lady.

“But I don’t hate ’em for it.”

“You never hated any one, sir. You are too brave! Can you fancy Philip hating any one, mamma?”

Mamma is writing, “Mr. and Mrs. Talbot Twysden request the honour of Admiral and Mrs. Davis Locker’s company at dinner on Thursday the so-and-so.” “Philip what?” says mamma, looking up from her card. “Philip hating any one! Philip eating any one! Philip! we have a little dinner on the 24th. We shall ask your father to dine. We must not have too many of the family. Come in afterwards, please.”

“Yes, aunt,” says downright Phil, “I’ll come, if you and the girls wish. You know tea is not my line; and I don’t care about dinners, except in my own way, and with — ”

“And with your own horrid set, sir!”

“Well,” ............

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