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Part 1 Chapter 10 In which We Visit the “Admiral Byng”

From long residence in Bohemia, and fatal love of bachelor ease and habits, Master Philip’s pure tastes were so destroyed, and his manners so perverted, that he was actually indifferent to the pleasures of the refined home we have just been describing; and, when Agnes was away, sometimes even when she was at home, was quite relieved to get out of Beaunash Street. He is hardly twenty yards from the door, when out of his pocket there comes a case; out of the case there jumps an aromatic cigar, which is scattering fragrance around as he is marching briskly northwards to his next house of call. The pace is even more lively now than when he is hastening on what you call the wings of love to Beaunash Street. At the house whither he is now going, he and the cigar are always welcome. There is no need of munching orange chips, or chewing scented pills, or flinging your weed away half a mile before you reach Thornhaugh Street — the low, vulgar place. I promise you Phil may smoke at Brandon’s , and find others doing the same. He may set the house on fire, if so minded, such a favourite is he there; and the Little Sister, with her kind, beaming smile, will be there to bid him welcome. How that woman loved Phil, and how he loved her, is quite a curiosity; and both of them used to be twitted with this attachment by their mutual friends, and blush as they acknowledged it. Ever since the little nurse had saved his life as a schoolboy, it was à la vie à la mort between them. Phil’s father’s chariot used to come to Thornhaugh Street sometimes — at rare times — and the doctor descend thence and have colloquies with the Little Sister. She attended a patient or two of his. She was certainly very much better off in her money matters in these late years, since she had known Dr. Firmin. Do you think she took money from him? As a novelist, who knows everything about his people, I am constrained to say, Yes. She took enough to pay some little bills of her weak-minded old father, and send the bailiff’s hand from his old collar. But no more. “I think you owe him as much as that,” she said to the doctor. But as for compliments between them — “Dr. Firmin, I would die rather than be beholden to you for anything,” she said, with her little limbs all in a tremor, and her eyes flashing anger. “How dare you, sir, after old days, be a coward, and pay compliments to me; I will tell your son of you, sir!” and the little woman looked as if she could have stabbed the elderly libertine there as he stood. And he shrugged his handsome shoulders: blushed a little too, perhaps: gave her one of his darkling looks, and departed. She had believed him once. She had married him as she fancied. He had tired of her; forsaken her: left her — left her even without a name. She had not known his for long years after her trust and his deceit. “No, sir, I wouldn’t have your name now, not if it were a lord’s , I wouldn’t, and a coronet on your carriage. You are beneath me now, Mr. Brand Firmin!” she had said.

How came she to love the boy so? Years back, in her own horrible extremity of misery, she could remember a week or two of a brief, strange, exquisite happiness, which came to her in the midst of her degradation and desertion, and for a few days a baby in her arms, with eyes like Philip’s . It was taken from her, after a few days — only sixteen days. Insanity came upon her, as her dead infant was carried away:— insanity, and fever, and struggle — ah! who knows how dreadful? She never does. There is a gap in her life which she never can recal quite. But George Brand Firmin, Esq., M.D., knows how very frequent are such cases of mania, and that women who don’t speak about them often will cherish them for years after they appear to have passed away. The Little Sister says, quite gravely, sometimes, “They are allowed to come back. They do come back. Else what’s the good of little cherubs bein’ born, and smilin’, and happy, and beautiful — say, for sixteen days, and then an end? I’ve talked about it to many ladies in grief sim’lar to mine was, and it comforts them. And when I saw that child on his sick bed, and he lifted his eyes, I knew him, I tell you, Mrs. Ridley. I don’t speak about it; but I knew him, ma’am; my angel came back again. I know him by the eyes. Look at ’em. Did you ever see such eyes? They look as if they had seen heaven. His father’s don’t.” Mrs. Ridley believes this theory solemnly, and I think I know a lady, nearly connected with myself, who can’t be got quite to disown it. And this secret opinion to women in grief and sorrow over their new-born lost infants Mrs. Brandon persists in imparting. “I know a case,” the nurse murmurs, “of a poor mother who lost her child at sixteen days old; and sixteen years after, on the very day, she saw him again.”

Philip knows so far of the Little Sister’s story, that he is the object of this delusion, and, indeed, it very strangely and tenderly affects him. He remembers fitfully the illness through which the Little Sister tended him, the wild paroxysms of his fever, his head throbbing on her shoulders — cool tamarind drinks which she applied to his lips — great gusty night shadows flickering through the bare school dormitory — the little figure of the nurse gliding in and out of the dark. He must be aware of the recognition, which we know of, and which took place at his bedside, though he has never mentioned it — not to his father, not to Caroline. But he clings to the woman and shrinks from the man. Is it instinctive love and antipathy? The special reason for his quarrel with his father the junior Firmin has never explicitly told me then or since. I have known sons much more confidential, and who, when their fathers tripped and stumbled, would bring their acquaintances to jeer at the patriarch in his fall.

One day, as Philip enters Thornhaugh Street, and the Sister’s little parlour there, fancy his astonishment on finding his father’s dingy friend, the Rev. Tufton Hunt, at his ease by the fireside.

“Surprised to see me here, eh?” says the dingy gentleman, with a sneer at Philip’s lordly face of wonder and disgust. “Mrs. Brandon and I turn out to be very old friends.”

“Yes, sir, old acquaintances,” says the Little Sister, very gravely.

“The captain brought me home from the club at the Byngs. Jolly fellows the Byngs. My service to you, Mr. Gann and Mrs. Brandon.” And the two persons addressed by the gentleman, who is “taking some refreshment,” as the phrase is, make a bow, in acknowledgment of this salutation.

“You should have been at Mr. Philip’s call supper, Captain Gann,” the divine resumes. “That was a night! Tiptop swells — noblemen — first-rate claret. That claret of your father’s , Philip, is pretty nearly drunk down. And your song was famous. Did you ever hear him sing, Mrs. Brandon?”

“Who do you mean by him?” says Philip, who always boiled with rage before this man.

Caroline divines the antipathy. She lays a little hand on Philip’s arm. “Mr. Hunt has been having too much, I think,” she says. “I did know him ever so long ago, Philip!”

“What does he mean by Him?” again says Philip, snorting at Tufton Hunt.

“Him? — Dr. Luther’s hymn! ‘Wein, Weiber und Gesang,’ to be sure!” cries the clergyman, humming the tune. “I learned it in Germany myself — passed a good deal of time in Germany, Captain Gann — six months in a specially shady place — Quod Strasse, in Frankfort-on-the-Maine — being persecuted by some wicked Jews there. And there was another poor English chap in the place, too, who used to chirp that song behind the bars, and died there and disappointed the Philistines. I’ve seen a deal of life, I have; and met with a precious deal of misfortune; and borne it pretty stoutly, too, since your father and I were at college together, Philip. You don’t do anything in this way? Not so early, eh? It’s good rum, Gann, and no mistake.” And again the chaplain drinks to the captain, who waves the dingy hand of hospitality towards his dark guest.

For several months past Hunt had now been a resident in London, and a pretty constant visitor to Dr. Firmin’s house. He came and went at his will. He made the place his house of call; and in the doctor’s trim, silent, orderly mansion, was perfectly free, talkative, dirty, and familiar. Philip’s loathing for the man increased till it reached a pitch of frantic hatred. Mr. Phil, theoretically a Radical, and almost a Republican (in opposition, perhaps, to his father, who of course held the highly-respectable line of politics) — Mr. Sansculotte Phil was personally one of the most aristocratic and overbearing of young gentlemen; and had a contempt and hatred for mean people, for base people, for servile people, and especially for too familiar people, which was not a little amusing sometimes, which was provoking often, but which he never was at the least pains of disguising. His uncle and cousin Twysden, for example, he treated not half so civilly as their footmen. Little Talbot humbled himself before Phil, and felt not always easy in his company. Young Twysden hated him, and did not disguise his sentiments at the club, or to their mutual acquaintance behind Phil’s broad back. And Phil, for his part, adopted towards his cousin a kick-me-down-stairs manner, which I own must have been provoking to that gentleman, who was Phil’s senior by three years, a clerk in a public office, a member of several good clubs, and altogether a genteel member of society. Phil would often forget Ringwood Twysden’s presence, and pursue his own conversation entirely regardless of Ringwood’s observations. He was very rude, I own. We have all of us our little failings, and one of Philip’s was an ignorant impatience of bores, parasites, and pretenders.

So no wonder my young gentleman was not very fond of his father’s friend, the dingy gaol chaplain. I, who am the most tolerant man in the world, as all my friends know, liked Hunt little better than Phil did. The man’s presence made me uneasy. His dress, his complexion, his teeth, his leer at women — Que sais-je? — everything was unpleasant about this Mr. Hunt, and his gaiety and familiarity more specially disgusting than even his hostility. The wonder was that battle had not taken place between Philip and the gaol clergyman, who, I suppose, was accustomed to be disliked, and laughed with cynical good-humour at the other’s disgust.

Hunt was a visitor of many tavern parlours; and one day, strolling out of the “Admiral Byng,” he saw his friend Dr. Firmin’s well-known equipage stopping at a door in Thornhaugh Street, out of which the doctor presently came. “Brandon” was on the door. Brandon, Brandon! Hunt remembered a dark transaction of more than twenty years ago — of a woman deceived by this Firmin, who then chose to go by the name of Brandon. He lives with her still, the old hypocrite, or he has gone back to her, thought the parson. Oh, you old sinner! And the next time he called in Old Parr Street on his dear old college friend, Mr. Hunt was specially jocular, and frightfully unpleasant and familiar.

“Saw your trap Tottenham Court Road way,” says the slang parson, nodding to the physician.

“Have some patients there. People are ill in Tottenham Court Road,” remarks the doctor.

“Pallida mors ?quo pede — hey, doctor? What used Flaccus to say, when we were undergrads?”

“?quo pede,” sighs the doctor, casting up his fine eyes to the ceiling.

“Sly old fox! Not a word will he say about her!” thinks the clergyman. “Yes, yes, I remember. And, by Jove! Gann was the name.”

Gann was also the name of that queer old man who frequented the “Admiral Byng,” where the ale was so good — the old boy whom they called the Captain. Yes; it was clear now. That ugly business was patched up. The astute Hunt saw it all. The doctor still kept up a connection with the — the party. And that is her old father, sure enough. “The old fox, the old fox! I’ve earthed him, have I? This is a good game. I wanted a little something to do, and this will excite me,” thinks the clergyman.

I am describing what I never could have seen or heard, and can guarantee only verisimilitude, not truth, in my report of the private conversation of these worthies. The end of scores and scores of Hunt’s conversations with his friend was the same — an application for money. If it rained when Hunt parted from his college chum, it was, “I say, doctor, I shall spoil my new hat, ............

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