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Part 1 Chapter 16 Samaritans

The children trotted up to their friend with outstretched hands and their usual smiles of welcome. Philip patted their heads, and sate down with very wobegone aspect at the family table. “Ah, friends,” said he, “do you know all?”

“Yes, we do,” said Laura, sadly, who has ever compassion for others’ misfortunes.

“What! is it all over the town already?” asked poor Philip.

“We have a letter from your father this morning.” And we brought the letter to him, and showed him the affectionate special message for himself.

“His last thought was for you, Philip!” cries Laura. “See here, those last kind words!”

Philip shook his head. “It is not untrue, what is written here: but it is not all the truth.” And Philip Firmin dismayed us by the intelligence which he proceeded to give. There was an execution in the house in Old Parr Street. A hundred clamorous creditors had already appeared there. Before going away, the doctor had taken considerable sums from those dangerous financiers to whom he had been of late resorting. They were in possession of numberless lately-signed bills, upon which the desperate man had raised money. He had professed to share with Philip, but he had taken the great share, and left Philip two hundred pounds of his own money. All the rest was gone. All Philip’s stock had been sold out. The father’s fraud had made him master of the trustee’s signature: and Philip Firmin, reputed to be so wealthy, was a beggar, in my room. Luckily he had few, or very trifling, debts. Mr. Philip had a lordly impatience of indebtedness, and, with a good bachelor-income, had paid for all his pleasures as he enjoyed them.

Well! He must work. A young man ruined at two-and-twenty, with a couple of hundred pounds yet in his pocket, hardly knows that he is ruined. He will sell his horses — live in chambers — has enough to go on for a year. “When I am very hard put to it,” says Philip, “I will come and dine with the children at one. I daresay you haven’t dined much at Williams’s in the Old Bailey? You can get a famous dinner there for a shilling — beef, bread, potatoes, beer, and a penny for the waiter.” Yes, Philip seemed actually to enjoy his discomfiture. It was long since we had seen him in such spirits. “The weight is off my mind now. It has been throttling me for some time past. Without understanding why or wherefore, I have always been looking out for this. My poor father had ruin written in his face: and when those bailiffs made their appearance in Old Parr Street yesterday, I felt as if I had known them before. I had seen their hooked beaks in my dreams.”

“That unlucky General Baynes, when he accepted your mother’s trust, took it with its consequences. If the sentry falls asleep on his post, he must pay the penalty,” says Mr. Pendennis, very severely.

“Great powers! you would not have me come down on an old man with a large family, and ruin them all?” cries Philip.

“No: I don’t think Philip will do that,” says my wife, looking exceedingly pleased.

“If men accept trusts they must fulfil them, my dear,” cries the master of the house.

“And I must make that old gentleman suffer for my father’s wrong? If I do, may I starve! there!” cries Philip.

“And so that poor Little Sister has made her sacrifice in vain!” sighed my wife. “As for the father — oh, Arthur! I can’t tell you how odious that man was to me. There was something dreadful about him. And in his manner to women — oh! — ”

“If he had been a black draught, my dear, you could not have shuddered more naturally.”

“Well, he was horrible; and I know Philip will be better now he is gone.”

Women often make light of ruin. Give them but the beloved objects, and poverty is a trifling sorrow to bear. As for Philip, he, as we have said, is gayer than he has been for years past. The doctor’s flight occasions not a little club talk: but, now he is gone, many people see quite well that they were aware of his insolvency, and always knew it must end so. The case is told, is canvassed, is exaggerated as such cases will be. I daresay it forms a week’s talk. But people know that poor Philip is his father’s largest creditor, and eye the young man with no unfriendly looks when he comes to his club after his mishap, — with burning cheeks, and a tingling sense of shame, imagining that all the world will point at and avoid him as the guilty fugitive’s son.

No: the world takes very little heed of his misfortune. One or two old acquaintances are kinder to him than before. A few say his ruin, and his obligation to work, will do him good. Only a very, very few avoid him, and look unconscious as he passes them by. Amongst these cold countenances, you, of course, will recognize the faces of the whole Twysden family. Three statues, with marble eyes, could not look more stony-calm than aunt Twysden and her two daughters, as they pass in the stately barouche. The gentlemen turn red when they see Philip. It is rather late times for uncle Twysden to begin blushing, to be sure. “Hang the fellow! he will, of course, be coming for money. Dawkins, I am not at home, mind, when young Mr. Firmin calls.” So says Lord Ringwood, regarding Philip fallen among thieves. Ah, thanks to heaven, travellers find Samaritans as well as Levites on life’s hard way! Philip told us with much humour of a rencontre which he had had with his cousin, Ringwood Twysden, in a public place. Twysden was enjoying himself with some young clerks of his office; but as Philip advanced upon him, assuming his fiercest scowl and most hectoring manner, the other lost heart, and fled. And no wonder. “Do you suppose,” says Twysden, “I will willingly sit in the same room with that cad, after the manner in which he has treated my family! No, sir!” And so the tall door in Beaunash Street is to open for Philip Firmin no more.

The tall door in Beaunash Street flies open readily enough for another gentleman. A splendid cab-horse reins up before it every day. A pair of varnished boots leap out of the cab, and spring up the broad stairs, where somebody is waiting with a smile of genteel welcome — the same smile — on the same sofa — the same mamma at her table writing her letters. And beautiful bouquets from Covent Garden decorate the room. And after half an hour mamma goes out to speak to the housekeeper, vous comprenez. And there is nothing particularly new under the sun. It will shine to-morrow upon pretty much the same flowers, sports, pastimes, which it illuminated yesterday. And when your love-making days are over, miss, and you are married, and advantageously established, shall not your little sisters, now in the nursery, trot down and play their little games? Would you, on your conscience, now — you who are rather inclined to consider Miss Agnes Twysden’s conduct as heartless — would you, I say, have her cry her pretty eyes out about a young man who does not care much for her, for whom she never did care much herself, and who is now, moreover, a beggar, with a ruined and disgraced father and a doubtful legitimacy? Absurd! That dear girl is like a beautiful fragrant bower-room at the Star and Garter at Richmond, with honeysuckles mayhap trailing round the windows, from which you behold one of the most lovely and pleasant of wood and river scenes. The tables are decorated with flowers, rich winecups sparkle on the board, and Captain Jones’s party have everything they can desire. Their dinner over, and that company gone, the same waiters, the same flowers, the same cups and crystals, array themselves for Mr. Brown and his party. Or, if you won’t have Agnes Twysden compared to the Star and Garter Tavern, which must admit mixed company, liken her to the chaste moon who shines on shepherds of all complexions, swarthy or fair.

When, oppressed by superior odds, a commander is forced to retreat, we like him to show his skill by carrying off his guns, treasure, and camp equipages. Doctor Firmin, beaten by fortune and compelled to fly, showed quite a splendid skill and coolness in his manner of decamping, and left the very smallest amount of spoils in the hands of the victorious enemy. His wines had been famous amongst the grave epicures with whom he dined: he used to boast, like a worthy bon vivant who knows the value of wine-conversation after dinner, of the quantities which he possessed, and the rare bins which he had in store; but when the executioners came to arrange his sale, there was found only a beggarly account of empty bottles, and I fear some of the unprincipled creditors put in a great quantity of bad liquor which they endeavoured to foist off on the public as the genuine and carefully selected stock of a well-known connoisseur. News of this dishonest proceeding reached Dr. Firmin presently in his retreat; and he showed by his letter a generous and manly indignation at the manner in which his creditors had tampered with his honest name and reputation as a bon vivant. He have bad wine! For shame! He had the best from the best wine-merchant, and paid, or rather owed, the best prices for it; for of late years the doctor had paid no bills at all: and the wine-merchant appeared in quite a handsome group of figures in his schedule. In like manner his books were pawned to a book auc............

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