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Part 1 Chapter 12 Damocles

On the next morning, at an hour so early that Old Parr Street was scarce awake, and even the maids who wash the broad steps of the houses of the tailors and medical gentlemen who inhabit that region had not yet gone down on their knees before their respective doors, a ring was heard at Dr. Firmin’s night-bell, and when the door was opened by the yawning attendant, a little person in a grey gown and a black bonnet made her appearance, handed a note to the servant, and said the case was most urgent and the doctor must come at once. Was not Lady Humandhaw the noble person whom we last mentioned, as the invalid about whom the doctor and the nurse had spoken a few words on the previous evening? The Little Sister, for it was she, used the very same name to the servant, who retired grumbling to waken up his master and deliver the note.

Nurse Brandon sate awhile in the great gaunt dining-room where hung the portrait of the doctor in his splendid black collar and cuffs, and contemplated this masterpiece until an invasion of housemaids drove her from the apartment, when she took refuge in that other little room to which Mrs. Firmin’s portrait had been consigned.

“That’s like him ever so many years and years ago,” she thinks. “It is a little handsomer; but it has his wicked look that I used to think so killing, and so did my sisters both of them — they were ready to tear out each other’s eyes for jealousy. And that’s Mrs. Firmin’s! Well, I suppose the painter haven’t flattered her. If he have she could have been no great things, Mrs. F. couldn’t.” And the doctor, entering softly by the opened door and over the thick Turkey carpet, comes up to her noiseless, and finds the Little Sister gazing at the portrait of the departed lady.

“Oh, it’s you, is it? I wonder whether you treated her no better than you treated me, Dr. F.? I’ve a notion she’s not the only one. She don’t look happy, poor thing,” says the little lady.

“What is it, Caroline?” asks the deep-voiced doctor; “and what brings you so early?”

The Little Sister then explains to him. “Last night after he went away Hunt came, sure enough. He had been drinking. He was very rude, and Philip wouldn’t bear it. Philip had a good courage of his own and a hot blood. And Philip thought Hunt was insulting her, the Little Sister. So he up with his hand, and down goes Mr. Hunt on the pavement. Well, when he was down he was in a dreadful way, and he called Philip a deadful name.”

“A name? what name?” Then Caroline told the doctor the name Mr. Hunt had used; and if Firmin’s face usually looked wicked, I daresay it did not seem very angelical when he heard how this odious name had been applied to his son. “Can he do Philip a mischief?” Caroline continued. “I thought I was bound to tell his father. Look here, Dr. F., I don’t want to do my dear boy a harm. — But suppose what you told me last night isn’t true — as I don’t think you much mind! — mind — saying things as are incorrect you know, when us women are in the case. But suppose when you played the villain, thinking only to take in a poor innocent girl of sixteen, it was you who were took in, and that I was your real wife after all? There would be a punishment!”

“I should have an honest and good wife, Caroline,” said the doctor, with a groan.

“This would be a punishment, not for you, but for my poor Philip,” the woman goes on. “What has he done, that his honest name should be took from him — and his fortune perhaps? I have been lying broad awake all night thinking of him. Ah, George Brandon! Why, why did you come to my poor old father’s house, and bring this misery down on me, and on your child unborn?”

“On myself, the worst of all,” says the doctor.

“You deserve it. But it’s us innocent that has had, or will have to suffer most. O George Brandon! Think of a poor child, flung away, and left to starve and die, without even so much as knowing your real name! Think of your boy, perhaps brought to shame and poverty through your fault!”

“Do you suppose I don’t often think of my wrong?” says the doctor. “That it does not cause me sleepless nights, and hours of anguish? Ah! Caroline!” and he looks in the glass. — “I am not shaved, and it’s very unbecoming,” he thinks; that is, if I may dare to read his thoughts, as I do to report his unheard words.

“You think of your wrong now it may be found out, I daresay!” says Caroline. “Suppose this Hunt turns against you? He is desperate; mad for drink and money; has been in gaol — as he said this very night to me and my papa. He’ll do or say anything. If you treat him hard, and Philip have treated him hard — not harder than served him right though — he’ll pull the house down and himself under it, but he’ll be revenged. Perhaps he drank so much last night, that he may have forgot. But I fear he means mischief, and I came here to say so, and hoping that you might be kept on your guard, Doctor F., and if you have to quarrel with him, I don’t know what you ever will do, I am sure — no more than if you had to fight a chimney-sweep in the street. I have been awake all night thinking, and as soon as ever I saw the daylight, I determined I would run and tell you.”

“When he called Philip that name, did the boy seem much disturbed?” asked the doctor.

“Yes; he referred to it again and again — though I tried to coax him out of it. But it was on his mind last night, and I am sure he will think of it the first thing this morning. Ah, yes, doctor! conscience will sometimes let a gentleman doze; but after discovery has come, and opened your curtains, and said, ‘You desired to be called early!’ there’s little use in trying to sleep much. You look very much frightened, Doctor F.” the nurse continues. “You haven’t such a courage as Philip has; or as you had when you were a young man, and came a leading poor girls astray. You used to be afraid of nothing then. Do you remember that fellow on board the steamboat in Scotland in our wedding-trip? and, la, I thought you was going to kill him. That poor little Lord Cinqbars told me ever so many stories then about your courage and shooting peple. It wasn’t very courageous, leaving a poor girl without even a name, and scarce a guinea, was it? But I ain’t come to call up old stories — only to warn you. Even in old times, when he married us, and I thought he was doing a kindness, I never could abide this horrible man. In Scotland, when you was away shooting with your poor little lord, the things Hunt used to say and look was deadful. I wonder how ever you, who were gentlemen, could put up with such a fellow! Ah, that was a sad honeymoon of ours! I wonder why I’m a thinking of it now? I suppose it’s from having seen the picture of the other one — poor lady!”

“I have told you, Caroline, that I was so wild and desperate at that unhappy time, I was scarcely accountable for my actions. If I left you, it was because I had no other resource but flight. I was a ruined penniless man, but for my marriage with Louisa Ringwood. You don’t suppose the marriage was happy? Happy! when have I ever been happy? My lot is to be wretched, and bring wretchedness down on those I love! — on you, on my father, on my wife, on my boy — I am a doomed man. Ah, that the innocent should suffer for me!” And our friend looks askance in the glass, at the blue chin and hollow eyes which make his guilt look the more haggard.

“I never had my lines,” the little sister continued, “I never knew there were papers, or writings, or anything but a ring and a clergyman, when you married me. But I’ve heard tell that people in Scotland don’t want a clergyman at all; and if they call themselves man and wife, they are man and wife. Now, sir, Mr. and Mrs. Brandon certainly did travel together in Scotland — witness that man whom you were going to throw into the lake for being rude to your wife — and ... La! Don’t fly out so! It wasn’t me, a poor girl of sixteen, who did wrong. It was you, a man of the world, who was years and years older.”

When Brandon carried off his poor little victim and wife, there had been a journey to Scotland, where Lord Cinqbars, then alive, had sporting quarters. His lordship’s chaplain, Mr. Hunt, had been of the party, which fate very soon afterwards separated. Death seized on Cinqbars at Naples. Debt caused Firmin — Brandon, as he called himself then — to fly the country. The chaplain wandered from gaol to gaol. And as for poor little Caroline Brandon, I suppose the husband who had married her under a false name thought that to escape her, leave her, and disown her altogether was an easier and less dangerous plan than to continue relations with her. So one day, four months after their marriage, the young couple being then at Dover, Caroline’s husband happened to go out for a walk. But he sent away a portmanteau by the back door when he went out for the walk, and as Caroline was waiting for her little dinner some hours after, the porter who carried the luggage came with a little note from her dearest G. B.; and it was full of little fond expressions of regard and affection, such as gentlemen put into little notes; but dearest G. B. said the bailiffs were upon him, and one of them had arrived that morning, and he must fly: and he took half the money he had, and left half for his little Carry. And he would be back soon, and arrange matters; or tell her where to write and follow him. And she was to take care of her little health, and to write a great deal to her Georgy. And she did not know how to write very well then; but she did her best, and improved a great deal; for, indeed, she wrote a great deal, poor thing. Sheets and sheets of paper she blotted with ink and tears. And then the money was spent; and the next money; and no more came, and no more letters. And she was alone at sea, sinking, sinking, when it pleased heaven to send that friend who rescued her. It is such a sad, sad little story, that in fact I don’t like dwelling on it; not caring to look upon poor innocent, trusting creatures in pain.

... Well, then, when Caroline exclaimed, “La! don’t fly out so, Dr. Firmin!” I suppose the doctor had been crying out, and swearing fiercely, at the recollections of his friend Mr. Brandon, and at the danger which possibly hung over that gentleman. Marriage ceremonies are dangerous risks in jest or in earnest. You can’t pretend to marry even a poor old bankrupt lodging-house-keeper’s daughter without some risk of being brought subsequently to book. If you have a vulgar wife alive, and afterwards choose to leave her and marry an earl’s niece, you will come to trouble, however well connected you are and highly placed in society. If you have had thirty thousand pounds with wife No. 2, and have to pay it back on a sudden, the payment may be inconvenient. You may be tried for bigamy, and sentenced, goodness knows to what punishment. At any rate, if the matter is made public, and you are a most respectable man, moving in the highest scientific and social circles, those circles may be disposed to request you to walk out of their circumference. A novelist, I know, ought to have no likes, dislikes, pity, partiality for his characters; but I declare I cannot help feeling a respectful compassion for a gentleman, who, in consequence of a youthful, and, I am sure, sincerely regretted folly, may be liable to lose his fortune, his place in society, and his considerable practice. Punishment hasn’t a right to come with such a pede claudo. There ought to be limitations; and it is shabby and revengeful of Justice to present her little bill when it has been more than twenty years owing ... Having had his talk out with the Little Sister, having a long past crime suddenly taken down from the shelf; having a remorse, long since supposed to be dead and buried, suddenly starting up in the most blustering, boisterous, inconvenient manner; having a rage and terror tearing him within; I can fancy this most respectable physician going about his day’s work, and most sincerely sympathize with him. Who is to heal the physician? Is he not more sick at heart than most of his patients that day? He has to listen to Lady Megrim cackling for half an hour at least, and describing her little ailments. He has to listen, and never once to dare to say, “Confound you, old chatterbox! What are you prating about your ailments to me, who am suffering real torture whilst I am smirking in your face?” He has to wear the inspiriting smile, to breathe the gentle joke, to console, to whisper hope, to administer remedy; and all day, perhaps, he sees no one so utterly sick, so sad, so despairing, as himself.

The first person on whom he had to practise hypocrisy that day was his own son, who chose to come to breakfast — a meal of which son and father seldom now partook in company. “What does he know, and what does he suspect?” are the father’s thoughts; but a louring gloom is on Philip’s face, and the father’s eyes look into the son’s, but cannot penetrate their darkness.

“Did you stay late last night, Philip?” says papa.

“Yes, sir, rather late,” answers the son.

“Pleasant party?”

“No, sir, stupid. Your friend Mr. Hunt wanted to come in. He was drunk, and rude to Mrs. Brandon, and I was obliged to put him out of the door. He was dreadfully violent and abusive.”

“Swore a good deal, I suppose?”

“Fiercely, sir, and called names.”

I daresay Philip’s heart beat so when he said these last words, that they were inaudible: at all events, Philip’s father did not appear to pay much attention to the words, for he was busy reading the Morning Post, and behind that sheet of fashionable news hid whatever expression of agony there might be on his face. Philip afterwards told his present biographer of this breakfast meeting and dreary tête-á-tête. “I burned to ask what was the meaning of that scoundrel’s words of the past night,” Philip said to his biographer; “but I did not dare, somehow. You see, Pendennis, it is not pleasant to say point-blank to your father, ‘Sir, are you a confirmed scoundrel, or are you not? Is it possible that you have made a double marriage, as yonder other rascal hinted; and that my own legitimacy and my mother’s fair fame, as well as poor, harmless Caroline’s honour and happiness, have been destroyed by your crime?’ But I had lain awake all night thinking about that scoundrel Hunt’s words, and whether there was any meaning beyond drunken malice in what he said.” So we find that three people had passed a bad night in consequence of Mr. Firmin’s evil behaviour of five-and-twenty years back, which surely was a most unreasonable punishment for a sin of such old date. I wish, dearly beloved brother sinners, we could take all the punishment for our individual crimes on our individual shoulders: but we drag others down with us — that is the fact; and when Macheath is condemned to hang, it is Polly and Lucy who have to weep and suffer and wear piteous mourning in their hearts long after the dare-devil rogue has jumped off the Tyburn ladder.

“Well, sir, he did not say a word,” said Philip, recounting the meeting to his friend; “not a word, at least, regarding the matter both of us had on our heart. But about fashion, parties, politics, he discoursed much more freely than was usual with him. He said I might have had Lord Ringwood’s seat for Whipham but for my unfortunate politics. What made a radical of me, he asked, who was naturally one of the most haughty men? (and that, I think, perhaps I am,” says Phil, “and a good many liberal fellows are”). I should calm down, he was sure — I should calm down, and be of the politics des hommes du monde.”

Philip could not say to his father, “Sir, it is seeing you cringe before great ones that has set my own back up.” There were countless points about which father and son could not speak; and an invisible, unexpressed, perfectly unintelligible mistrust, always was present when those two were tête-à-tête.

Their meal was scarce ended when entered to them Mr. Hunt, with his hat on. I was not present at the time, and cannot speak as a certainty; but I should think at his ominous appearance Philip may have turned red and his father pale. “Now is the time,” both, I daresay, thought; and the doctor remembered his stormy young days of foreign gambling, intrigue, and duel, when he was put on his ground before his adversary, and bidden, at a given signal, to fire. One, two, three! Each man’s hand was armed with malice and murder. Philip had plenty of pluck for his part, but I should think on such an occasion might be a little nervous and fluttered, whereas his father’s eye was keen, and his aim rapid and steady.

“You and Philip had a difference last night, Philip tells me,” said the doctor.

“Yes, and I promised he should pay me,” said the clergyman.

“And I said I should desire no better,” says Mr. Phil.

“He struck his senior, his father’s friend — a sick man, a clergyman,” gasped Hunt.

“Were you to repeat what you did last night, I should repeat what I did,” said Phil. “You insulted a good woman.”

“It’s a lie, sir!” cries the other.

“You insulted a good woman, a lady in her own house, and I turned you out of it,” said Phil.

“I say, again, it is a lie, sir!” screams Hunt, with a stamp on the table.

“That you should give me the lie, or otherwise, is perfectly immaterial to me. But whenever you insult Mrs. Brandon, or any harmless woman in my presence, I shall do my best to chastise you,” cries Philip of the red moustaches, curling them with much dignity.

“You hear him, Firmin?” says the parson.

“Faith, I do, Hunt!” says the physician; “and I think he means what he says, too.”

“Oh! you take that line, do you?” cries Hunt of the dirty hands, the dirty teeth, the dirty neckcloth.

“I take what you call that line; and whenever a rudeness is offered to that admirable woman in my son’s hearing, I shall be astonished if he does not resent it,” says the doctor. “Thank you, Philip!”

The father’s resolute speech and behaviour gave Philip great momentary comfort. Hunt’s words of the night before had been occupying the young man’s thoughts. Had Firmin been criminal, he could not be so bold.

“You talk this way in presence of your son? You have been talking over the matter together before?” asks Hunt.

“We have been talking over the matter before — yes. We were engaged on it when you came into breakfast,” said the doctor. “Shall we go on with the conversation where we left it off?”

“Well, do — that is, if you dare,” said the clergyman, somewhat astonished.

“Philip, my dear, it is ill for a man to hide his head before his own son; but if I am to speak — and speak I must one day or the other — why not now?”

“Why at all, Firmin?” asks the clergyman, astonished at the other’s rather sudden resolve.

“Why? Because I am sick and tired of you, Mr. Tufton Hunt,” cries the physician, in his most lofty manner, “of you and your presence in my house; your blackguard behaviour and your rascal extortions — because you will force me to speak one day or the other — and now, Philip, if you like, shall be the day.”

“Hang it, I say! Stop a bit!” cries the clergyman.

“I understand you want some more money from me.”

“I did promise Jacobs I would pay him to-day, and that was what made me so sulky last night; and, perhaps, I took a little too much. You see my mind was out of order; and what’s the use of telling a story that is no good to any one, Firmin — least of all to you,” cries the parson, darkly.

“Because, you ruffian, I’ll bear with you no more,” cries the doctor, the veins of his forehead swelling as he looks fiercely at his dirty adversary. “In the last nine months, Philip, this man has had nine hundred pounds from me.”

“The luck has been so very bad, so bad, upon my honour, now,” grumbles the parson.

“To-morrow he will want more; and the next day more; and the next day more; and, in fine, I won’t live with this accursed man of the sea round my neck. You shall have the story; and Mr. Hunt shall sit by and witness against his own crime and mine. I had been very wild at Cambridge, when I was a young man. I had quarrelled with my father, lived with a dissipated set, and beyond my means; and had had my debts paid so often by your grandfather, that I was afraid to ask for more. He was stern to me; I was not dutiful to him. I own my fault. Mr. Hunt can bear witness to what I say.

“I was in hiding at Margate, under a false name. You know the name.”

“Yes, sir, I think I know the name,” Philip said, thinking he liked his father better now than he had ever liked him in his life, and sighing, “Ah, if he had always been frank and true with me!”

“I took humble lodgings with an obscure family.” (If Dr. Firmin had a prodigious idea of his own grandeur and importance, you see I cannot help it — and he was long held to be such a respectable man.) “And there I found a young girl — one of the most innocent beings that ever a man played with and betrayed. Betrayed, I own it, heaven forgive me! The crime has been the shame of my life, and darkened my whole career with misery. I got a man worse than myself, if that could be. I got Hunt for a few pounds, which he owed me, to make a sham marriage between me and poor Caroline. My money was soon gone. My creditors were after me. I fled the country, and I left her.”

“A sham marriage! a sham marriage!” cries the clergyman. “Didn’t you make me perform it by holding a pistol to my throat? A fellow won’t risk transportation for nothing. But I owed him money for cards, and he had my bill, and he said he would let me off, and that’s why I helped him. Never mind. I am out of the business now, Mr. Brummell Firmin, and you are in it. I have read the Act, sir. The clergyman who performs the marriage is liable to punishment, if informed against within three years, and it’s twenty years or more. But you, Mr. Brummell Firmin — your case is different; and you, my young gentleman, with the fiery whiskers, who strike down old men of a night — you may find some of us know how to revenge ourselves, though we are down.” And with this, Hunt rushed to his greasy hat, and quitted the house, discharging imprecations at his hosts as he passed through the hall.

Son and father sate awhile silent, after the departure of their common enemy. At last the father spoke.

“This is the sword that has always been hanging over my head, and it............

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