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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Adventures of Philip on his way through the World > Part 2 Chapter 6 Pulvis Et Umbra Sumus
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Part 2 Chapter 6 Pulvis Et Umbra Sumus

The first and only Earl of Ringwood has submitted to the fate which peers and commoners are alike destined to undergo. Hastening to his magnificent seat of Whipham Market, where he proposed to entertain an illustrious Christmas party, his lordship left London scarcely recovered from an attack of gout to which he has been for many years a martyr. The disease must have flown to his stomach, and suddenly mastered him. At Turreys Regum, thirty miles from his own princely habitation, where he had been accustomed to dine on his almost royal progresses to his home, he was already in a state of dreadful suffering, to which his attendants did not pay the attention which his condition ought to have excited; for when labouring under this most painful malady his outcries were loud, and his language and demeanour exceedingly violent. He angrily refused to send for medical aid at Turreys, and insisted on continuing his journey homewards. He was one of the old school, who never would enter a railway (though his fortune was greatly increased by the passage of the railway through his property); and his own horses always met him at Popper’s Tavern, an obscure hamlet, seventeen miles from his princely seat. He made no sign on arriving at Popper’s , and spoke no word, to the now serious alarm of his servants. When they came to light his carriage-lamps, and look into his postchaise, the lord of many thousand acres, and, according to report, of immense wealth, was dead. The journey from Turreys had been the last stage of a long, a prosperous, and, if not a famous, at least a notorious and magnificent career.

“The late John George Earl and Baron Ringwood and Viscount Cinqbars entered into public life at the dangerous period before the French Revolution; and commenced his career as the friend and companion of the Prince of Wales. When his Royal Highness seceded from the Whig party, Lord Ringwood also joined the Tory side of politicians, and an earldom was the price of his fidelity. But on the elevation of Lord Steyne to a marquisate, Lord Ringwood quarrelled for awhile with his royal patron and friend, deeming his own services unjustly slighted as a like dignity was not conferred on himself. On several occasions he gave his vote against Government, and caused his nominees in the House of Commons to vote with the Whigs. He never was reconciled to his late Majesty George IV., of whom he was in the habit of speaking with characteristic bluntness. The approach of the Reform Bill, however, threw this nobleman definitively on the Tory side, of which he has ever since remained, if not an eloquent, at least a violent supporter. He was said to be a liberal landlord, so long as his tenants did not thwart him in his views. His only son died early; and his lordship, according to report, has long been on ill terms with his kinsman and successor, Sir John Ringwood, of Appleshaw, Baronet. The Barony has been in this ancient family since the reign of George I., when Sir John Ringwood was ennobled, and Sir Francis, his brother, a Baron of the Exchequer, was advanced to the dignity of a Baronet by the first of our Hanoverian sovereigns.”

This was the article which my wife and I read on the morning of Christmas eve, as our children were decking lamps and looking-glasses with holly and red berries for the approaching festival. I had despatched a hurried note, containing the news, to Philip on the night previous. We were painfully anxious about his fate now, when a few days would decide it. Again my business or curiosity took me to see Mr. Bradgate the lawyer. He was in possession of the news, of course. He was not averse to talk about it. The death of his client unsealed the lawyer’s lips partially: and I must say Bradgate spoke in a manner not flattering to his noble deceased client. The brutalities of the late nobleman had been very hard to bear. On occasion of their last meeting his oaths and disrespectful behaviour had been specially odious. He had abused almost every one of his relatives. His heir, he said, was a prating Republican humbug. He had a relative (whom Bradgate said he would not name) who was a scheming, swaggering, swindling lickspittle parasite, always cringing at his heels, and longing for his death. And he had another relative, the impudent son of a swindling doctor, who had insulted him two hours before in his own room; — a fellow who was a pauper, and going to propagate a breed for the workhouse; for, after his behaviour of that day, he would be condemned to the lowest pit of Acheron, before he (Lord Ringwood) would give that scoundrel a penny of his money. “And his lordship desired me to send him back his will,” said Mr. Bradgate. “And he destroyed that will before he went away: it was not the first he had burned. And I may tell you, now all is over, that he had left his brother’s grandson a handsome legacy in that will, which your poor friend might have had, but that he went to see my lord in his unlucky fit of gout.” Ah, mea culpa! mea culpa! And who sent Philip to see his relative in that unlucky fit of gout? Who was so worldly-wise — so Twysden-like, as to counsel Philip to flattery and submission? But for that advice he might be wealthy now; he might be happy; he might be ready to marry his young sweetheart. Our Christmas turkey choked me as I ate of it. The lights burned dimly, and the kisses and laughter under the mistletoe were but melancholy sport. But for my advice, how happy might my friend have been! I looked askance at the honest faces of my children. What would they say if they knew their father had advised a friend to cringe, and bow, and humble himself before a rich, wicked old man? I sate as mute at the pantomime as at a burial; the laughter of the little ones smote me as with a reproof. A burial? With plumes and lights, and upholsterers’ pageantry, and mourning by the yard measure, they were burying my Lord Ringwood, who might have made Philip Firmin rich but for me.

All lingering hopes regarding our friend were quickly put to an end. A will was found at Whipham, dated a year back, in which no mention was made of poor Philip Firmin. Small legacies — disgracefully shabby and small, Twysden said — were left to the Twysden family, with the full-length portrait of the late earl in his coronation robes, which, I should think, must have given but small satisfaction to his surviving relatives; for his lordship was but an ill-favoured nobleman, and the price of the carriage of the large picture from Whipham was a tax which poor Talbot made very wry faces at paying. Had the picture been accompanied by thirty or forty thousand pounds, or fifty thousand — why should he not have left them fifty thousand? — how different Talbot’s grief would have been! Whereas when Talbot counted up the dinners he had given to Lord Ringwood, all of which he could easily calculate by his cunning ledgers and journals in which was noted down every feast at which his lordship attended, every guest assembled, and every bottle of wine drunk, Twysden found that he had absolutely spent more money upon my lord than the old man had paid back in his will. But all the family went into mourning, and the Twysden coachman and footman turned out in black worsted epaulettes in honour of the illustrious deceased. It is not every day that a man gets a chance of publicly bewailing the loss of an earl his relative. I suppose Twysden took many hundred people into his confidence on this matter, and bewailed his uncle’s death and his own wrongs whilst clinging to many scores of button-holes.

And how did poor Philip bear the disappointment? He must have felt it, for I fear we ourselves had encouraged him in the hope that his grand-uncle would do something to relieve his necessity. Philip put a bit of crape round his hat, wrapped himself in his shabby old mantle, and declined any outward show of grief at all. If the old man had left him money, it had been well. As he did not, — a puff of cigar, perhaps, ends the sentence, and our philosopher gives no further thought to his disappointment. Was not Philip the poor as lordly and independent as Philip the rich? A struggle with poverty is a wholesome wrestling match at three or five and twenty. The sinews are young, and are braced by the contest. It is upon the aged that the battle falls hardly, who are weakened by failing health, and perhaps enervated by long years of prosperity.

Firmin’s broad back could carry a heavy burden, and he was glad to take all the work which fell in his way. Phipps, of the Daily Intelligencer, wanting an assistant, Philip gladly sold four hours of his day to Mr. Phipps: translated page after page of newspapers, French and German; took an occasional turn at the Chamber of Deputies, and gave an account of a sitting of importance, and made himself quite an active lieutenant. He began positively to save money. He wore dreadfully shabby clothes, to be sure: for Charlotte could not go to his chamber and mend his rags as the Little Sister had done: but when Mrs. Baynes abused him for his shabby appearance — and indeed it must have been mortifying sometimes to see the fellow in his old clothes swaggering about in Madame Smolensk’s apartments, talking loud, contradicting and laying down the law — Charlotte defended her maligned Philip. “Do you know why Monsieur Philip has those shabby clothes?” she asked of Madame de Smolensk. “Because he has been sending money to his father in America.” And Smolensk said that Monsieur Philip was a brave young man, and that he might come dressed like an Iroquois to her soirée, and he should be welcome. And Mrs. Baynes was rude to Philip when he was present, and scornful in her remarks when he was absent. And Philip trembled before Mrs. Baynes; and he took her boxes on the ear with much meekness; for was not his Charlotte a hostage in her mother’s hands, and might not Mrs. General B. make that poor little creature suffer?

One or two Indian ladies of Mrs. Baynes’ acquaintance happened to pass this winter in Paris, and these persons, who had furnished lodgings in the Faubourg St. Honoré, or the Champs Elysées, and rode in their carriages with, very likely, a footman on the box, rather looked down upon Mrs. Baynes for living in a boarding-house, and keeping no equipage. No woman likes to be looked down upon by any other woman, especially by such a creature as Mrs. Batters, the lawyer’s wife, from Calcutta, who was not in society, and did not go to Government House, and here was driving about in the Champs Elysées, and giving herself such airs, indeed! So was Mrs. Doctor Macoon, with her lady’s -maid, and her man-cook, and her open carriage, and her close carriage. (Pray read these words with the most withering emphasis which you can lay upon them.) And who was Mrs. Macoon, pray? Madame Béret, the French milliner’s daughter, neither more nor less. And this creature must scatter her mud over her betters who went on foot. “I am telling my poor girls, madame,” she would say to Madame Smolensk, “that if I had been a milliner’s girl, or their father had been a pettifogging attorney, and not a soldier, who has served his sovereign in every quarter of the world, they would be better dressed than they are now, poor chicks! — we might have a fine apartment in the Faubourg St. Honoré — we need not live at a boarding-house.”

“And if I had been a milliner, Madame la Générale,” cried Smolensk, with spirit, “perhaps I should not have had need to keep a boarding-house. My father was a general officer,............

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