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Part 2 Chapter 7 In which We Still Hover About the Elysian Fi

The describer and biographer of my friend Mr. Philip Firmin has tried to extenuate nothing; and, I hope, has set down naught in malice. If Philip’s boots had holes in them, I have written that he had holes in his boots. If he had a red beard, there it is red in this story. I might have oiled it with a tinge of brown, and painted it a rich auburn. Towards modest people he was very gentle and tender; but I must own that in general society he was not always an agreeable companion. He was often haughty and arrogant: he was impatient of old stories: he was intolerant of commonplaces. Mrs. Baynes’ anecdotes of her garrison experiences in India and Europe got a very impatient hearing from Mr. Philip; and though little Charlotte gently remonstrated with him, saying, “Do, do let mamma tell her story out; and don’t turn away and talk about something else in the midst of it; and don’t tell her you have heard the story before, you rude man! If she is not pleased with you, she is angry with me, and I have to suffer when you are gone away," — Miss Charlotte did not say how much she had to suffer when Philip was absent; how constantly her mother found fault with him; what a sad life, in consequence of her attachment to him, the young maiden had to lead; and I fear that clumsy Philip, in his selfish thoughtlessness, did not take enough count of the sufferings which his behaviour brought on the girl. You see I am acknowledging that there were many faults on his side, which, perhaps, may in some degree excuse or account for those which Mrs. General Baynes certainly committed towards him. She did not love Philip naturally; and do you suppose she loved him because she was under great obligations to him? Do you love your creditor because you owe him more than you can ever pay? If I never paid my tailor, should I be on good terms with him? I might go, on ordering suits of clothes from now to the year nineteen hundred; but I should hate him worse year after year. I should find fault with his cut and his cloth: I daresay I should end by thinking his bills extortionate, though I never paid them. Kindness is very indigestible. It disagrees with very proud stomachs. I wonder was that traveller who fell among the thieves grateful afterwards to the Samaritan who rescued him? He gave money certainly; but he didn’t miss it. The religious opinions of Samaritans are lamentably heterodox. O brother! may we help the fallen still though they never pay us, and may we lend without exacting the usury of gratitude!

Of this I am determined, that whenever I go courting again, I will not pay my addresses to my dear creature — day after day, and from year’s end to year’s end, very likely, with the dear girl’s mother, father, and half a dozen young brothers and sisters in the room. I shall begin by being civil to the old lady, of course. She is flattered at first by having a young fellow coming courting to her daughter. She calls me “dear Edward;” works me a pair of braces; writes to mamma and sisters, and so forth. Old gentleman says, “Brown, my boy” (I am here fondly imagining myself to be a young fellow named Edward Brown, attached, let us say, to Miss Kate Thompson) — Thompson, I say, says, “Brown, my boy, come to dinner at seven. Cover laid for you always;” and of course, delicious thought! that cover is by dearest Kate’s side. But the dinner is bad sometimes. Sometimes I come late. Sometimes things are going badly in the city. Sometimes Mrs. Thompson is out of humour; — she always thought Kate might have done better. And in the midst of these doubts and delays, suppose Jones appears, who is older, but of a better temper, a better family, and — plague on him! — twice as rich? What are engagements? What are promises? It is sometimes an affectionate mother’s Duty to break her promise, and that duty the resolute matron will do.

Then Edward is Edward no more, but Mr. Brown; or, worse still, nameless in the house. Then the knife and fork are removed from poor Kate’s side, and she swallows her own sad meal in tears. Then if one of the little Thompsons says, artlessly, “Papa, I met Teddy Brown in Regent Street; he looked so — ” “Hold your tongue, unfeeling wretch!” cries mamma. “Look at that dear child!” Kate is swooning. She has salvolatile. The medical man is sent for. And presently — Charles Jones is taking Kate Thompson to dinner. Long voyages are dangerous; so are long courtships. In long voyages passengers perpetually quarrel (for that Mrs. General could vouch); in long courtships the same danger exists; and how much the more when in that latter ship you have a mother who is for ever putting in her oar! And then to think of the annoyance of that love voyage, when you and the beloved and beloved’s papa, mamma, half a dozen brothers and sisters, are all in one cabin! For economy’s sake the Bayneses had no sitting-room at madame’s — for you could not call that room on the second floor a sittingroom which had two beds in it, and in which the young ones practised the piano, with poor Charlotte as their mistress. Philip’s courting had to take place for the most part before the whole family; and to make love under such difficulties would have been horrible and maddening and impossible almost, only we have admitted that our young friends had little walks in the Champs Elysées; and then you must own that it must have been delightful for them to write each other perpetual little notes, which were delivered occultly under the very nose of papa and mamma, and in the actual presence of the other boarders at madame’s , who, of course, never saw anything that was going on. Yes, those sly monkeys actually made little post-offices about the room. There was, for instance, the clock on the mantelpiece in the salon on which was carved the old French allegory, “Le temps fait passer l’amour.” One of those artful young people would pop a note into Time’s boat, where you may be sure no one saw it. The trictrac board was another post-office. So was the drawer of the music-stand. So was the Sèvres China flower-pot, to each of which repositories in its turn the lovers confided the delicious secrets of their wooing.

Have you ever looked at your love-letters to Darby, when you were courting, dear Joan? They are sacred pages to read. You have his tied up somewhere in a faded ribbon. You scarce need spectacles as you look at them. The hair grows black; the eyes moisten and brighten; the cheeks fill and blush again. I protest there is nothing so beautiful as Darby and Joan in the world. I hope Philip and his wife will be Darby and Joan to the end. I tell you they are married; and don’t want to make any mysteries about the business. I disdain that sort of artifice. In the days of the old three-volume novels, didn’t you always look at the end, to see that Louisa and the earl (or young clergyman, as the case might be) were happy? If they died, or met with other grief, for my part I put the book away. This pair, then, are well; are married; are, I trust, happy: but before they married, and afterwards, they had great griefs and troubles; as no doubt you have had, dear sir, or madam, since you underwent that ceremony. Married? Of course they are. Do you suppose I would have allowed little Charlotte to meet Philip in the Champs Elysées with only a giddy little boy of a brother for a companion, who would turn away to see Punch, Guignol, the soldiers marching by, the old woman’s gingerbread and toffy stall and so forth? Do you, I say, suppose I would have allowed those two to go out together, unless they were to be married afterwards? Out walking together they did go; and, once, as they were arm-in-arm in the Champs Elysées, whom should they see in a fine open carriage but young Twysden and Captain and Mrs. Woolcomb, to whom, as they passed, Philip doffed his hat with a profound bow, and whom he further saluted with a roar of immense laughter. Woolcomb must have heard the peal. I daresay it brought a little blush into Mrs. Woolcomb’s cheek; and — and so, no doubt, added to the many attractions of that elegant lady. I have no secrets about my characters, and speak my mind about them quite freely. They said that Woolcomb was the most jealous, stingy, ostentatious, cruel little brute; that he led his wife a dismal life. Well? If he did? I’m sure, I don’t care. “There is that swaggering bankrupt beggar Firmin!” cries the tawny bridegroom, biting his moustache. “Impudent ragged blackguard,” says Twysden minor, “I saw him.”

“Hadn’t you better stop the carriage, and abuse him to himself, and not to me?” says Mrs. Woolcomb, languidly, flinging herself back on her cushions.

“Go on. Hang you! Ally! Vite!” cry the gentlemen in the carriage to the laquais de place on the box.

“I can fancy you don’t care about seeing him,” resumes Mrs. Woolcomb. “He has a violent temper, and I would not have you quarrel for the world.” So I suppose Woolcomb again swears at the laquais de place: and the happy couple, as the saying is, roll away to the Bois de Boulogne.

“What makes you laugh so?” says little Charlotte, fondly, as she trips along by her lover’s side.

“Because I am so happy, my dearest!” says the other, squeezing to his heart the little hand that lies on his arm. As he thinks on yonder woman, and then looks into the pure eager face of the sweet girl beside him, the scornful laughter occasioned by the sudden meeting which is just over hushes; — and an immense feeling of thankfulness fills the breast of the young man:— thankfulness for the danger from which he has escaped, and for the blessed prize which has fallen to him.

But Mr. Philip’s walks were not to be as pleasant as this walk; and we are now coming to history of wet, slippery roads, bad times, and winter weather. All I can promise about this gloomy part is, that it shall not be a long story. You will acknowledge we made very short work with the love-making, which I give you my word I consider to be the very easiest part of the novel-writer’s business. As those rapturous scenes between the captain and the heroine are going on, a writer who knows his business may be thinking about anything else — about the ensuing chapter, or about what he is going to have for dinner, or what you will; therefore, as we passed over the raptures and joys of the courting so very curtly, you must please to gratify me by taking the grief in a very short measure. If our young people are going to suffer, let the pain be soon over. Sit down in the chair, Miss Baynes, if you please, and you, Mr. Firmin, in this. Allow me to examine you; just open your mouth if you please; and — oh, oh, my dear miss — there it is out! A little eau-de-Cologne and water, my dear. And now, Mr. Firmin, if you please, we will — what fangs! what a big one! Two guineas. Thank you. Good morning. Come to me once a year. John, show in the next party. About the ensuing painful business, then, I protest I don’t intend to be much longer occupied than the humane and dexterous operator to whom I have made so bold as to liken myself. If my pretty Charlotte is to have a tooth out, it shall be removed as gently as possible, poor dear. As for Philip, and his great red-bearded jaw, I don’t care so much if the tug makes him roar a little. And yet they remain, they remain and throb in after life, those wounds of early days. Have I not said how, as I chanced to walk with Mr. Firmin in Paris, many years after the domestic circumstances here recorded, he paused before the window of that house near the Champs Elysées where Madame Smolensk once held her pension, shook his fist at a jalousie of the now dingy and dilapidated mansion, and intimated to me that he had undergone severe sufferings in the chamber lighted by yonder window? So have we all suffered; so, very likely, my dear young miss, or master, who peruses this modest page, will you have to suffer in your time. You will not die of the operation, most probably: but it is painful: it makes a gap in the mouth, voyez-vous? and years and years, maybe, after, as you think of it, the smart is renewed, and the dismal tragedy enacts itself over again.

Philip liked his little maiden to go out, to dance, to laugh, to be admired, to be happy. In her artless way she told him of her balls, her tea-parties, her pleasures, her partners. In a girl’s first little season nothing escapes her. Have you not wondered to hear them tell about the events of the evening, about the dresses of the dowagers, about the compliments of the young men, about the behaviour of the girls, and what not?

Little Charlotte used to enact the over-night’s comedy for Philip, pouring out her young heart in her prattle as her little feet skipped by his side. And to hear Philip roar with laughter! It would have done you good. You might have heard him from the Obelisk to the Etoile. People turned round to look at him, and shrugged their shoulders wonderingly, as good-natured French folks will do. How could a man who had been lately ruined, a man who had just been disappointed of a great legacy from the earl his great uncle, a man whose boots were in that lamentable condition, laugh so, and have such high spirits? To think of such an impudent ragged blackguard (as Ringwood Twysden called his cousin) daring to be happy! The fact is, that clap of laughter smote those three Twysden people like three boxes on the ear, and made all their cheeks tingle and blush at once. At Philip’s merriment, clouds which had come over Charlotte’s sweet face would be chased away. As she clung to him doubts which throbbed at the girl’s heart would vanish. When she was acting those scenes of the past night’s entertainment, she was not always happy. As she talked and prattled, her own spirits would rise; and hope and natural joy would spring in her heart again, and come flushing up to her cheek. Charlotte was being a hypocrite, as, thank heaven, all good women sometimes are. She had griefs: she hid them from him. She had doubts and fears: they fled when he came in view, and she clung to his strong arm, and looked in his honest blue eyes. She did not tell him of those painful nights when her eyes were wakeful and tearful. A yellow old woman in a white jacket, with a nightcap and a night-light, would come, night after night, to the side of her little bed; and there stand, and with her grim voice bark against Philip. That old woman’s lean finger would point to all the rents in poor Philip’s threadbare paletot of a character — point to the holes, and tear them wider open. She would stamp on those muddy boots. She would throw up a peaked nose at the idea of the poor fellow’s pipe — his pipe, his great companion and comforter when his dear little mistress was away. She would discourse on the partners of the night; the evident attentions of this gentleman, the politeness and high breeding of that.

And when that dreary nightly torture was over, and Charlotte’s mother had left the poor child to herself, sometimes Madame Smolensk, sitting up over her ledgers and bills, and wakeful with her own cares, would steal up and console poor Charlotte; and bring her some tisane, excellent for the nerves; and talk to her about — about the subject of which Charlotte best liked to hear. And though Smolensk was civil to Mrs. Baynes in the morning, as her professional duty obliged her to be, she has owned that she often felt a desire to strangle Madame la Générale for her conduct to her little angel of a daughter; and all because Monsieur Philippe smells the pipe, parbleu! “What? a family that owes you the bread which they eat; and they draw back for a pipe! The cowards, the cowards! A soldier’s daughter is not afraid of it. Merci! Tenez, M. Philippe,” she said to our friend when matters came to an extremity. “Do you know what in your place I would do? To a Frenchman I would not say so; that understands itself. But these things make themselves otherwise in England. I have no money, but I have a cachemire. Take him; and if I were you, I would make a little voyage to Gretna Grin.”

And now, if you please, we will quit the Champs Elysées. We will cross the road from madame’s boarding-house. We will make our way into the Faubourg St. Honoré, and actually enter a gate over which the L-on, the Un-c-rn, and the R-y-l Cr-wn and A-ms of the Three K-ngd-ms are sculptured, and going under the porte-cochére, and turning to the right, ascend a little stair, and ask of the attendant on the landing, who is in the chancellerie? The attendant says that several of those messieurs y sont. In fact, on entering the room, you find Mr. Motcomb, — let us say — Mr. Lowndes, Mr. Halkin, and our young friend Mr. Walsingham Hely, seated at their respective tables in the midst of considerable smoke. Smoking in the midst of these gentlemen, and bestriding his chair, as though it were his horse, sits that gallant young Irish chieftain, The O’Rourke. Some of the gentlemen are copying, in a large handwriting, despatches on foolscap paper. I would rather be torn to pieces by O’Rourke’s wildest horses, than be understood to hint at what those despatches, at what those despatch-boxes contain. Perhaps they contain some news from the Court of Spain, where some intrigues are carried on, a knowledge of which would make your hair start off your head; perhaps that box, for which a messenger is waiting in a neighbouring apartment, has locked up twenty-four yards of Chantilly lace for Lady Belweather, and six new French farces for Tom Tiddler of the Foreign Office, who is mad about the theatre. It is years and years ago; how should I know what there is in those despatch-boxes?

But the work, whatever it may be, is not very pressing — for there is only Mr. Chesham — [Did I say Chesham before, by the way? You may call him Mr. Sloanestreet if you like]. There is only Chesham (and he always takes things to the grand serious) who seems to be much engaged in writing; and the conversation goes on.

“Who gave it?” asks Motcomb.

“The black man, of course, gave it. We would not pretend to compete with such a long purse as his. You should have seen what faces he made at the bill! Thirty francs a bottle for Rhine wine. He grinned with the most horrible agony when he read the addition. He almost turned yellow. He sent away his wife early. How long that girl was hanging about London; and think of her hooking a millionnaire at last! Othello is a frightful screw, and diabolically jealous of his wife.”

“What is the name of the little man who got so dismally drunk, and began to cry about old Ringwood?”

“Twysden — the woman’s brother. Don’t you know Humbug Twysden, the father? The youth is more offensive than the parent.”

“A most disgusting little beast. Would come to the Variétés, because we said we were going: would go to Lamoignon’s , where the Russians gave a dance and a lansquenet. Why didn’t you come, Hely?”

Mr. Hely. — I tell you I hate the whole thing. Those painted old actresses give me the horrors. What do I want with winning Motcomb’s money who hasn’t got any? Do you think it gives me any pleasure to dance with old Carodol? She puts me in mind of my grandmother — only she is older. Do you think I want to go and see that insane old Boutzoff leering at Corinne and Palmyrine, and making a group of three old women together? I wonder how you fellows can go on. Aren’t you tired of truffles and écrevisses á la Bordelaise; and those old opera people, whose withered old carcases are stuffed with them?

The O’R. — There was Cérisette, I give ye me honour. Ye never saw. She feel asleep in her cheer —

Mr. Lowndes. — In her hwhat, O’ R.?

The O’R. — Well, in her Chair then! And Figaroff smayred her feece all over with the craym out of a Charlotte Roose. She’s a regular bird, and mustache, you know, Cérisette has.

Mr. Hely. — Charlotte, Charlotte! Oh! (He clutches his hair madly. His elbows are on the table.)

Mr. Lowndes. — It’s that girl he meets at the teaparties, where he goes to be admired.

Mr. Hely. — It is better to drink tea than, like you fellows, to muddle what brains you have with bad champagne. It is better to look, and to hear, and to see, and to dance with a modest girl, than, like you fellows, to be capering about in taverns with painted old hags like that old Cérisette, who has got a face like pomme cuite, and who danced before Lord Malmesbury at the Peace of Amiens. She did, I tell you; and before Napoleon.

Mr. Chesham. — (Looks up from his writing.) — There was no Napoleon then. It is of no consequence, but —

Lowndes. — Thank you, I owe you one. You’re a most valuable man, Chesham, and a credit to your father and mother.

Mr. Chesham. — Well, the First Consul was Bonaparte.

Lowndes. — I am obliged to you. I say I am obliged to you, Chesham, and if you would like any refreshment order it meis sumptibus, old boy — at my expense.

Chesham. — These fellows will never be serious. (He resumes his writing.)

Hely. — (Iterum, but very low.) — Oh, Charlotte, Char —

Mr. Lowndes. — Hely is raving about that girl — that girl with the horrible old mother in yellow, don’t you remember? and old fa............

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