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Part 1 Chapter 15 Contains Two of Philip’s Mishaps

You know that, in some parts of India, infanticide is the common custom. It is part of the religion of the land, as, in other districts, widow-burning used to be. I can’t imagine that ladies like to destroy either themselves or their children, though they submit with bravery, and even cheerfulness, to the decrees of that religion which orders them to make away with their own or their young ones’ lives. Now, suppose you and I, as Europeans, happened to drive up where a young creature was just about to roast herself, under the advice of her family and the highest dignitaries of her church; what could we do? Rescue her? No such thing. We know better than to interfere with her, and the laws and usages of her country. We turn away with a sigh from the mournful scene; we pull out our pocket-handkerchiefs, tell coachman to drive on, and leave her to her sad fate.

Now about poor Agnes Twysden: how, in the name of goodness, can we help her? You see she is a well brought up and religious young woman of the Brahminical sect. If she is to be sacrificed, that old Brahmin her father, that good and devout mother, that most special Brahmin her brother, and that admirable girl her strait-laced sister, all insist upon her undergoing the ceremony, and deck her with flowers ere they lead her to that dismal altar flame. Suppose, I say, she has made up her mind to throw over poor Philip, and take on with some one else? What sentiment ought our virtuous bosoms to entertain towards her? Anger? I have just been holding a conversation with a young fellow in rags and without shoes, whose bed is commonly a dry arch, who has been repeatedly in prison, whose father and mother were thieves, and whose grandfathers were thieves; — are we to be angry with him for following the paternal profession? With one eye brimming with pity, the other steadily keeping watch over the family spoons, I listen to his artless tale. I have no anger against that child; nor towards thee, Agnes, daughter of Talbot the Brahmin.

For though duty is duty, when it comes to the pinch, it is often hard to do. Though dear papa and mamma say that here is a gentleman with ever so many thousands a year, an undoubted part in So-and-So-shire, and whole islands in the western main, who is wildly in love with your fair skin and blue eyes, and is ready to fling all his treasures at your feet; yet, after all, when you consider that he is very ignorant though very cunning; very stingy though very rich; very ill-tempered, probably, if faces and eyes and mouths can tell truth: and as for Philip Firmin — though actually his legitimacy is dubious, as we have lately heard, in which case his maternal fortune is ours — and as for his paternal inheritance, we don’t know whether the doctor is worth thirty thousand pounds or a shilling; — yet, after all — as for Philip — he is a man; he is a gentleman; he has brains in his head, and a great honest heart of which he has offered to give the best feelings to his cousin; — I say, when a poor girl has to be off with that old love, that honest and fair love, and be on with the new one, the dark one, I feel for her; and though the Brahmins are, as we know, the most genteel sect in Hindostan, I rather wish the poor child could have belonged to some lower and less rigid sect. Poor Agnes! to think that he has sat for hours, with mamma and Blanche or the governess, of course, in the room (for, you know, when she and Philip were quite wee wee things dear mamma had little amiable plans in view); has sat for hours by Miss Twysden’s side pouring out his heart to her; has had, mayhap, little precious moments of confidential talk — little hasty whispers in corridors, on stairs, behind window curtains, and — and so forth in fact. She must remember all this past; and can’t, without some pang, listen on the same sofa, behind the same window-curtains, to her dark suitor pouring out his artless tales of barracks, boxing, horseflesh, and the tender passion. He is dull, he is mean, he is ill-tempered, he is ignorant, and the other was ...; but she will do her duty: oh, yes! she will do her duty! Poor Agnes! C’est à fendre le coeur. I declare I quite feel for her.

When Philip’s temper was roused, I have been compelled, as his biographer, to own how very rude and disagreeable he could be; and you must acknowledge that a young man has some reason to be displeased, when he finds the girl of his heart hand in hand with another young gentleman in an occult and shady recess of the woodwork of Brighton Pier. The green waves are softly murmuring: so is the officer of the Life Guards Green. The waves are kissing the beach. Ah, agonizing thought! I will not pursue the simile, which may be but a jealous man’s mad fantasy. Of this I am sure, no pebble on that beach is cooler than polished Agnes. But, then, Philip drunk with jealousy is not a reasonable being like Philip sober. “He had a dreadful temper,” Philip’s dear aunt said of him afterwards, — “I trembled for my dear, gentle child, united for ever to a man of that violence. Never, in my secret mind, could I think that their union could be a happy one. Besides, you know, the nearness of their relationship. My scruples on that score, dear Mrs. Candour, never, never could be quite got over.” And these scruples came to weigh whole tons, when Mangrove Hall, the house in Berkeley Square, and Mr. Woolcomb’s West India island were put into the scale along with them.

Of course there was no good in remaining amongst those damp, reeking timbers, now that the pretty little tête-à-tête was over. Little Brownie hung fondling and whining round Philip’s ankles, as the party ascended to the upper air. “My child, how pale you look!” cries Mrs. Penfold, putting down her volume. Out of the captain’s opal eyeballs shot lurid flames, and hot blood burned behind his yellow cheeks. In a quarrel, Mr. Philip Firmin could be particularly cool and self-possessed. When Miss Agnes rather piteously introduced him to Mrs. Penfold, he made a bow as polite and gracious as any performed by his royal father. “My little dog knew me,” he said, caressing the animal. “She is a faithful little thing, and she led me down to my cousin; and — Captain Woolcomb, I think, is your name, sir?”

As Philip curls his moustache and smiles blandly, Captain Woolcomb pulls his and scowls fiercely. “Yes, sir,” he mutters, “my name is Woolcomb.” Another bow and a touch of the hat from Mr. Firmin. A touch? — a gracious wave of the hat; acknowledged by no means so gracefully by Captain Woolcomb.

To these remarks, Mrs. Penfold says, “Oh!” In fact, “Oh!” is about the best thing that could be said under the circumstances.

“My cousin, Miss Twysden, looks so pale because she was out very late dancing last night. I hear it was a very pretty ball. But ought she to keep such late hours, Mrs. Penfold, with her delicate health? Indeed, you ought not, Agnes! Ought she to keep late hours, Brownie? There — don’t, you little foolish thing! I gave my cousin the dog: and she’s very fond of me — the dog is — still. You were saying, Captain Woolcomb, when I came up, that you would give Miss Twysden a dog on whose nose you could hang your — I beg pardon?”

Mr. Woolcomb, as Philip made this second allusion to the peculiar nasal formation of the pug, ground his little white teeth together, and let slip a most improper monosyllable. More acute bronchial suffering was manifested on the part of Miss Twysden. Mrs. Penfold said, “The day is clouding over. I think, Agnes, I will have my chair, and go home.”

“May I be allowed to walk with you as far as your house?” says Philip, twiddling a little locket which he wore at his watch-chain. It was a little gold locket, with a little pale hair inside. Whose hair could it have been that was so pale and fine? As for the pretty hieroglyphical A. T. at the back, those letters might indicate Alfred Tennyson, or Anthony Trollope, who might have given a lock of their golden hair to Philip, for I know he is an admirer of their works.

Agnes looked guiltily at the little locket. Captain Woolcomb pulled his moustache so, that you would have thought he would have pulled it off; and his opal eyes glared with fearful confusion and wrath.

“Will you please to fall back and let me speak to you, Agnes? Pardon me, Captain Woolcomb, I have a private message for my cousin; and I came from London expressly to deliver it.”

“If Miss Twysden desires me to withdraw, I fall back in one moment,” says the captain, clenching the little lemon-coloured gloves.

“My cousin and I have lived together all our lives, and I bring her a family message. Have you any particular claim to hear it, Captain Woolcomb?”

“Not if Miss Twysden don’t want me hear it. ... D— the little brute.”

“Don’t kick poor little harmless Brownie! He shan’t kick you, shall he, Brownie?”

“If the brute comes between my shins, I’ll kick her!” shrieks the captain. “Hang her, I’ll throw her into the sea!”

“Whatever you do to my dog, I swear I will do to you!” whispers Philip to the captain.

“Where are you staying?” shrieks the captain. “Hang you, you shall hear from me.”

“Quiet — Bedford Hotel. Easy, or I shall think you want the ladies to overhear.”

“Your conduct is horrible, sir,” says Agnes, rapidly, in the French language. “Mr. does not comprehend it.”

“ — it! If you have any secrets to talk, I’ll withdraw fast enough, Miss Agnes,” says Othello.

“Oh, Grenville! can I have any secrets from you? Mr. Firmin is my first-cousin. We have lived together all our lives. Philip, I— I don’t know whether mamma announced to you my — my engagement with Captain Grenville Woolcomb.” The agitation has brought on another severe bronchial attack. Poor, poor little Agnes! What it is to have a delicate throat!

The pier tosses up to the skies, as though it had left its moorings — the houses on the cliff dance and reel, as though an earthquake was driving them — the sea walks up into the lodging-houses — and Philip’s legs are failing from under him: it is only for a moment. When you have a large, tough double tooth out, doesn’t the chair go up to the ceiling, and your head come off too? But, in the next instant, there is a grave gentleman before you, making you a bow, and concealing something in his right sleeve. The crash is over. You are a man again. Philip clutches hold of the chain pier for a minute: it does not sink under him. The houses, after reeling for a second or two, reassume the perpendicular, and bulge their bow windows towards the main. He can see the people looking from the windows, the carriages passing, Professor Spurrier riding on the cliff with eighteen young ladies, his pupils. In long after days he remembers those absurd little incidents with a curious tenacity.

“This news, “Philip says, “was not — not altogether unexpected. I congratulate my cousin, I am sure. Captain Woolcomb, had I known this for certain, I am sure I should not have interrupted you. You were going, perhaps, to ask me to your hospitable house, Mrs. Penfold?”

“Was she though?” cries the captain.

“I have asked a friend to dine with me at the Bedford, and shall go to town, I hope, in the morning. Can I take anything for you, Agnes? Good-by:” and he kisses his hand in quite a dégagé manner, as Mrs. Penfold’s chair turns eastward and he goes to the west. Silently the tall Agnes sweeps along, a fair hand laid upon her friend’s chair.

It’s over! it’s over! She has done it. He was bound, and kept his honour, but she did not: it was she who forsook him. And I fear very much Mr. Philip’s heart leaps with pleasure and an immense sensation of relief at thinking he is free. He meets half a dozen acquaintances on the cliff. He laughs, jokes, shakes hands, invites two or three to dinner in the gayest manner. He sits down on that green, not very far from his inn, and is laughing to himself, when he suddenly feels something nestling at his knee, — rubbing, and nestling, and whining plaintively. “What, is that you?” It is little Brownie, who has followed him. Poor little rogue!

Then Philip bent down his head over the dog, and as it jumped on him, with little bleats, and whines, and innocent caresses, he broke out into a sob, and a great refreshing rain of tears fell from his eyes. Such a little illness! Such a mild fever! Such a speedy cure! Some people have the complaint so mildly that they are scarcely ever kept to their beds. Some bear its scars for ever.

Philip sat resolutely at the hotel all night, having given special orders to the porter to say that he was at home, in case any gentleman should call. He had a faint hope, he afterwards owned, that some friend of Captain Woolcomb might wait on him on that officer’s part. He had a faint hope that a letter might come explaining that treason, — as people will have a sick, gnawing, yearning, foolish desire for letters — letters which contain nothing, which never did contain anything — letters which, nevertheless, you — You know, in fact, about those letters, and there is no earthly use in asking to read Philip’s . Have we not all read those love-letters which, after love-quarrels, come into court sometimes? We have all read them; and how many have written them? Nine o’clock. Ten o’clock. Eleven o’clock. No challenge from the captain; no explanation from Agnes. Philip declares he slept perfectly well. But poor little Brownie the dog made a piteous howling all night in the stables. She was not a well-bred dog. You could not have hung the least hat on her nose.

We compared anon our dear Agnes to a Brahmin lady, meekly offering herself up to sacrifice according to the practice used in her highly respectable caste. Did we speak in anger or in sorrow? — surely in terms of respectful grief and sympathy. And if we pity her, ought we not likewise to pity her highly respectable parents? When the notorious Brutus ordered his sons to execution, you can’t suppose he was such a brute as to be pleased? All three parties suffered by the transaction: the sons, probably, even more than their austere father; but it stands to reason that the whole trio were very melancholy. At least, were I a poet or musical composer depicting that business, I certainly should make them so:— the sons, piping in a very minor key indeed; the father’s manly basso, accompanied by deep wind instruments, and interrupted by appropriate sobs. Though pretty fair Agnes is being led to execution, I don’t suppose she likes it, or that her parents are happy, who are compelled to order the tragedy.

That the rich young proprietor of Mangrove Hall should be fond of her, was merely a coincidence, Mrs. Twysden afterwards always averred. Not for mere wealth — ah, no! not for mines of gold — would they sacrifice their darling child. But when that sad Firmin affair happened, you see it also happened that Captain Woolcomb was much struck by dear Agnes, whom he met everywhere. Her scapegrace of a cousin would go nowhere. He preferred his bachelor associates, and horrible smoking and drinking habits, to the amusements and pleasures of more refined society. He neglected Agnes. There is not the slightest doubt he neglected and mortified her, and his wilful and frequent absence showed how little he cared for her. Would you blame the dear girl for coldness to a man who himself showed such indifference to her? “No, my good Mrs. Candour. Had Mr. Firmin been ten times as rich as Mr. Woolcomb, I should have counselled my child to refuse him. I take the responsibility of the measure entirely on myself — I, and her father, and her brother.” So Mrs. Twysden afterwards spoke, in circles where an absurd and odious rumour ran, that the Twysdens had forced their daughter to jilt young Mr. Firmin in order to marry a young quadroon. People will talk, you know, de me, de te. If Woolcomb’s dinners had not gone off so after his marriage, I have little doubt the scandal would have died away, and he and his wife might have been pretty generally respected and visited.

Nor must you suppose, as we have said, that dear Agnes gave up her first love without a pang. That bronchitis showed how acutely the poor thing felt her position. It broke out very soon after Mr. Woolcomb’s attentions became a little particular; and she actually left London in consequence. It is true that he could follow her without difficulty, but so, for the matter of that, could Philip, as we have seen, when he came down and behaved so rudely to Captain Woolcomb. And before Philip came, poor Agnes could plead, “My father pressed me sair,” as in the case of the notorious Mrs. Robin Gray.

Father and mother both pressed her sair. Mrs. Twysden, I think I have mentioned, wrote an admirable letter, and was aware of her accomplishment. She used to write reams of gossip regularly every week to dear uncle Ringwood when he was in the country: and when her daughter Blanche married, she is said to have written several of her new son’s sermons. As a Christian mother, was she not to give her daughter her advice at this momentous period of her life? That advice went against poor Philip’s chances with his cousin, who was kept acquainted with all the circumstances of the controversy of which we have just seen the issue. I do not mean to say that Mrs. Twysden gave an impartial statement of case. What parties in a lawsuit do speak impartily on their own side or their adversaries’? Mrs. Twysden’s view, as I have learned subsequently, and as imparted to her daughter, was this:— That most unprincipled man, Dr. Firmin, who had already attempted, and unjustly, to deprive the Twysdens of a part of their property, had commenced in quite early life his career of outrage and wickedness against the Ringwood family. He had led dear Lord Ringwood’s son, poor dear Lord Cinqbars, into a career of vice and extravagance which caused the premature death of that unfortunate young nobleman. Mr. Firmin had then made a marriage, in spite of the tears and entreaties of Mrs. Twysden, with her late unhappy sister, whose whole life had been made wretched by the doctor’s conduct. But the climax of outrage and wickedness was, that when he — he, a low, penniless adventurer — married Colonel Ringwood’s daughter, he was married already, as could be sworn by the repentant clergyman who had been forced, by threats of punishment which Dr. Firmin held over him, to perform the rite! “The mind” — Mrs. Talbot Twysden’s fine mind — “shuddered at the thought of such wickedness.” But most of all (for to think ill of any one whom she had once loved gave her pain) there was reason to believe that the unhappy Philip Firmin was his father’s accomplice, and that he knew of his own illegitimacy, which he was determined to set aside by any fraud or artifice — (she trembled, she wept to have to say this: O heaven! that there should be such perversity in thy creatures!) And so little store did Philip set by his mother’s honour, that he actually visited the abandoned woman who acquiesced in her own infamy, and had brought such unspeakable disgrace on the Ringwood family! The thought of this crime had caused Mrs. Twysden and her dear husband nights of sleepless anguish — had made them years and years older — had stricken their hearts with a grief which must endure to the end of their days. With people so unscrupulous, so grasping, so artful as Dr. Firmin and (must she say?) his son, they were bound to be on their guard; and though they had avoided Philip, she had deemed it right, on the rare occasions when she and the young man whom she must now call her illegitimate nephew met, to behave as though she knew nothing of this most dreadful controversy.

“And now, dearest child” ... Surely the moral is obvious? The dearest child “must see at once that any foolish plans which were formed in childish days and under former delusions must be cast aside for ever as impossible, as unworthy of a Twysden — of a Ringwood. Be not concerned for the young man himself,” wrote Mrs. Twysden — “I blush that he should bear that dear father’s name who was slain in honour on Busaco’s glorious field. P. F. has associates amongst whom he has ever been much more at home than in our refined circle, and habits which will cause him to forget you only too easily. And if near you is one whose ardour shows itself in his every word and action, whose wealth and property may raise you to a place worthy of my child, need I say, a mother’s , a father’s blessing go with you.” This letter was brought to Miss Twysden, at Brighton, by a special messenger; and the superscription announced that it was “honoured by Captain Grenville Woolcomb.”

Now when Miss Agnes has had a letter to this effect, from a mother in whose prudence and affection a child could surely confide; when she remembers all the abuse her brother lavishes against Philip, as, heaven bless some of them! dear relatives can best do; when she thinks how cold he has of late been — how he will come smelling of cigars — how he won’t conform to the usages du monde, and has neglected all the decencies of society — how she often can’t understand his strange rhapsodies about poetry, painting, and the like, nor how he can live with such associates as those who seem to delight him — and now how he is showing himself actually unprincipled and abetting his horrid father; when we consider mither pressing sair, and all these points in mither’s favour, I don’t think we can order Agnes to instant execution for the resolution to which she is coming. She will give him up — she will give him up. Good-by, Philip. Good-by the past. Be forgotten, be forgotten, fond words spoken in not unwilling ears! Be still and breathe not, eager lips, that have trembled so near to one another! Unlock, hands, and part for ever, that seemed to be formed for life’s long journey! Ah, to part for ever is hard; but harder and more humiliating still to part without regret!

That papa and mamma had influenced Miss Twysden in her behaviour my wife and I could easily imagine, when Philip, in his wrath and grief, came to us and poured out the feelings of his heart. My wife is a repository of men’s secrets, and untiring consoler and comforter; and she knows many a sad story which we are not at liberty to tell, like this one of which this person, M............

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