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Part 2 Chapter 1 Brevis Esse Laboro

Never, General Baynes afterwards declared, did fever come and go so pleasantly as that attack to which we have seen Mrs. General advert in her letter to her sister, Mrs. Major MacWhirter. The cold fit was merely a lively, pleasant chatter and rattle of the teeth; the hot fit an agreeable warmth; and though the ensuing sleep, with which I believe such aguish attacks are usually concluded, was enlivened by several dreams of death, demons, and torture, how felicitous it was to wake and find that dreadful thought of ruin removed which had always, for the last few months, ever since Dr. Firmin’s flight and the knowledge of his own imprudence, pursued the good-natured gentleman! What, this boy might go to college, and that get his commission; and their meals need be embittered by no more dreadful thoughts of the morrow, and their walks no longer were dogged by imaginary baliffs, or presented a gaol in the vista? It was too much bliss; and again and again the old soldier said his thankful prayers, and blessed his benefactor.

Philip thought no more of his act of kindness, except to be very grateful, and very happy that he had rendered other people so. He could no more have taken the old man’s all, and plunged that innocent family into poverty, than he could have stolen the forks off my table. But other folks were disposed to rate his virtue much more highly; and amongst these was my wife, who chose positively to worship this young gentleman, and I believe would have let him smoke in her drawing-room if he had been so minded, and though her genteelest acquaintances were in the room. Goodness knows what a noise and what piteous looks are produced if ever the master of the house chooses to indulge in a cigar after dinner; but then, you understand, I have never declined to claim mine and my children’s right because an old gentleman would be inconvenienced: and this is what I tell Mrs. Pen. If I order a coat from my tailor, must I refuse to pay him because a rogue steals it, and ought I to expect to be let off? Women won’t see matters of fact in a matter-of-fact point of view; and justice, unless it is tinged with a little romance, gets no respect from them.

So, forsooth, because Philip has performed this certainly most generous, most dashing, most reckless piece of extravagance, he is to be held up as a perfect preux chevalier. The most riotous dinners are ordered for him. We are to wait until he comes to breakfast, and he is pretty nearly always late. The children are to be sent round to kiss uncle Philip, as he is now called. The children? I wonder the mother did not jump up and kiss him too. Elle en était capable. As for the osculations which took place between Mrs. Pendennis and her new-found young friend, Miss Charlotte Baynes, they were perfectly ridiculous; two school children could not have behaved more absurdly; and I don’t know which seemed to be the younger of these two. There were colloquies, assignations, meetings on the ramparts, on the pier, where know I? — and the servants and little children of the two establishments were perpetually trotting to and fro with letters from dearest Laura to dearest Charlotte, and dearest Charlotte to her dearest Mrs. Pendennis. Why, my wife absolutely went the length of saying that dearest Charlotte’s mother, Mrs. Baynes, was a worthy, clever woman, and a good mother — a woman whose tongue never ceased clacking about the regiment, and all the officers and all the officers’ wives, of whom, by the way, she had very little good to tell.

“A worthy mother, is she, my dear?” I say. “But, oh, mercy! Mrs. Baynes would be an awful mother in-law!”

I shuddered at the thought of having such a commonplace, hard, ill-bred woman in a state of quasi authority over me.

On this Mrs. Laura must break out in quite a petulant tone — “Oh, how stale this kind of thing is Arthur, from a man qui veut passer pour un homme d’esprit! You are always attacking mothers-in-law!”

“Witness Mrs. Mackenzie, my love — Clive Newcome’s mother-in-law. That’s a nice creature; not selfish, not wicked, not — ”

“Not nonsense, Arthur!”

“Mrs. Baynes knew Mrs. Mackenzie in the West Indies, as she knew all the female army. She considers Mrs. Mackenzie was a most elegant, handsome, dashing woman — only a little too fond of the admiration of our sex. There was, I own, a fascination about Captain Goby. Do you remember, my love, that man with the stays and dyed hair, who — ”

“Oh, Arthur! When our girls marry, I suppose you will teach their husbands to abuse, and scorn, and mistrust their mother-in-law. Will he, my darlings? will he, my blessings?” (This apart to the children, if you please.) “Go! I have no patience with such talk!”

“Well, my love, Mrs. Baynes is a most agreeable woman; and when I have heard that story about the Highlanders at the Cape of Good Hope a few times more” (I do not tell it here, for it has nothing to do with the present history), “I daresay I shall begin to be amused by it.”

“Ah! here comes Charlotte, I’m glad to say. How pretty she is! What a colour! What a dear creature!”

To all which, of course, I could not say a contradictory word, for a prettier, fresher lass than Miss Baynes, with a sweeter voice, face, laughter, it was difficult to see.

“Why does mamma like Charlotte better than she likes us?” says our dear and justly indignant eldest girl. “I could not love her better if I were her mother-in-law,” says Laura, running to her young friend, casting a glance at me over her shoulder; and that kissing nonsense begins between the two young ladies. To be sure, the girl looks uncommonly bright and pretty with her pink cheeks, her bright eyes, her slim form, and that charming white India shawl which her father brought home for her.

To this osculatory party enters presently Mr. Philip Firmin, who has been dawdling about the ramparts ever since breakfast. He says he has been reading law there. He has found a jolly quiet place to read. Law, has he? And much good may it do him! Why has he not gone back to his law, and his reviewing?

“You must — you must stay on a little longer. You have only been here five days. Do, Charlotte, ask Philip to stay a little.”

All the children sing in a chorus, “Oh, do, uncle Philip, stay a little longer!” Miss Baynes says, “I hope you will stay, Mr. Firmin,” and looks at him.

“Five days has he been here? Five years. Five lives. Five hundred years. What do you mean? In that little time of — let me see, a hundred and twenty hours, and at least a half of them for sleep and dinner (for Philip’s appetite was very fine) — do you mean that in that little time his heart, cruelly stabbed by a previous monster in female shape, has healed, got quite well, and actually begun to be wounded again? Have two walks on the pier, as many visits to the Tintelleries (where he hears the story of the Highlanders at the Cape of Good Hope with respectful interest), a word or two about the weather, a look or two, a squeezekin, perhaps, of a little handykin — I say, do you mean that this absurd young idiot, and that little round-faced girl, pretty, certainly, but only just out of the school-room — do you mean to say that they have — Upon my word, Laura, this is too bad. Why, Philip has not a penny-piece in the world.”

“Yes, he has two hundred pounds, and expects to sell his mare for ninety at least. He has excellent talents. He can easily write three articles a week in the Pall Mall Gazette. I am sure no one writes so well, and it is much better done and more amusing than it used to be. That is three hundred a year. Lord Ringwood must be applied to, and must and shall get him something. Don’t you know that Captain Baynes stood by Colonel Ringwood’s side at Busaco, and that they were the closest friends? And pray, how did we get on, I should like to know? How did we get on, baby?”

“How did we det on?” says the baby.

“Oh, woman! woman!” yells the father of the family. “Why, Philip Firmin has all the habits of a rich man with the pay of a mechanic. Do you suppose he ever sate in a second-class carriage in his life, or denied himself any pleasure to which he had a mind? He gave five francs to a beggar girl yesterday.”

“He had always a noble heart,” says my wife. “He gave a fortune to a whole family a week ago; and” (out comes the pocket-handkerchief — oh, of course, the pocket-handkerchief) — “and — ‘God loves a cheerful giver!’”

“He is careless; he is extravagant; he is lazy; — I do not know that he is remarkably clever — ”

“Oh, yes! he is your friend, of course. Now, abuse him — do, Arthur!”

“And, pray, when did you become acquainted with this astounding piece of news?” I inquire.

“When? From the very first moment when I saw Charlotte looking at him, to be sure. The poor child said to me only yesterday, ‘Oh, Laura! he is our preserver!’ And their preserver he has been, under heaven.”

“Yes. But he has not got a five-pound note!” I cry.

“Arthur, I am surprised at you. Oh, men, men are awfully worldly! Do you suppose heaven will not send him help at its good time, and be kind to him who has rescued so many from ruin? Do you suppose the prayers, the blessings of that father, of those little ones, of that dear child, will not avail him? Suppose he has to wait a year, ten years, have they not time, and will not the good day come?”

Yes. This was actually the talk of a woman of sense and discernment when her prejudices and romance were not in the way, and she looked forward to the marriage of these folks, some ten years hence, as confidently as if they were both rich, and going to St. George’s tomorrow.

As for making a romantic story of it, or spinning out love conversation between Jenny and Jessamy, or describing moonlight raptures and passionate outpourings of two young hearts and so forth — excuse me, s’il vous plait. I am a man of the world, and of a certain age. Let the young people fill in this outline, and colour it as they please. Let the old folks who read, lay down the book a minute, and remember. It is well remembered, isn’t it, that time? Yes, good John Anderson, and Mrs. John. Yes, good Darby and Joan. The lips won’t tell now what they did once. To-day is for the happy, and to-morrow for the young, and yesterday, is not that dear and here too?

I was in the company of an elderly gentleman, not very long since, who was perfectly sober, who is not particularly handsome, or healthy, or wealthy, or witty; and who, speaking of his past life, volunteered to declare that he would gladly live every minute of it over again. Is a man, who can say that, a hardened sinner, not aware how miserable he ought to be by rights, and therefore really in a most desperate and deplorable condition; or is he fortunatus nimium, and ought his statue to be put up in the most splendid and crowded thoroughfare of the town? Would you, who are reading this, for example, like to live your life over again? What has been its chief joy? What are to-day’s pleasures? Are they so exquisite that you would prolong them for ever? Would you like to have the roast beef on which you have dined brought back again to table, and have more beef, and more, and more? Would you like to hear yesterday’s sermon over and over again — eternally voluble? Would you like to get on the Edinburgh mail, and travel outside for fifty hours as you did in your youth? You might as well say you would like to go into the flogging-room, and take a turn under the rods: you would like to be thrashed over again by your bully at school: you would like to go to the dentist’s , where your dear parents were in the habit of taking you: you would like to be taking hot Epsom salts, with a piece of dry bread to take away the taste: you would like to be jilted by your first love: you would like to be going in to your father to tell him you had contracted debts to the amount of x + y + z, whilst you were at the university. As I consider the passionate griefs of childhood, the weariness and sameness of shaving, the agony of corns, and the thousand other ills to which flesh is heir, I cheerfully say for one, I am not anxious to wear it for ever. No. I do not want to go to school again. I do not want to hear Trotman’s sermon over again. Take me out and finish me. Give me the cup of hemlock at once. Here’s a health to you, my lads. Don’t weep, my Simmias. Be cheerful, my Ph?don. Ha! I feel the co-o-ld stealing, stealing upwards. Now i............

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