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Part 2 Chapter 11 I Charge You, Drop Your Daggers!

General Baynes began the story which you and I have heard at length. He told it in his own way. He grew very angry with himself whilst defending himself. He had to abuse Philip very fiercely, in order to excuse his own act of treason. He had to show that his act was not his act; that, after all, he never had promised; and that, if he had promised, Philip’s atrocious conduct ought to absolve him from any previous promise. I do not wonder that the general was abusive, and out of temper. Such a crime as he was committing can’t be performed cheerfully by a man who is habitually gentle, generous, and honest. I do not say that men cannot cheat, cannot lie, cannot inflict torture, cannot commit rascally actions, without in the least losing their equanimity; but these are men habitually false, knavish, and cruel. They are accustomed to break their promises, to cheat their neighbours in bargains, and what not. A roguish word or action more or less is of little matter to them: their remorse only awakens after detection, and they don’t begin to repent till they come sentenced out of the dock. But here was an ordinarily just man withdrawing from his promise, turning his back on his benefactor, and justifying himself to himself by maligning the man whom he injured. It is not an uncommon event, my dearly beloved brethren and esteemed miserable sister sinners; but you like to say a preacher is “cynical” who admits this sad truth — and, perhaps, don’t care to hear about the subject on more than one day in the week.

So, in order to make out some sort of case for himself, our poor good old General Baynes chose to think and declare that Philip was so violent, ill-conditioned, and abandoned a fellow, that no faith ought to be kept with him; and that Colonel Bunch had behaved with such brutal insolence that Baynes must call him to account. As for the fact that there was another, a richer, and a much more eligible suitor, who was likely to offer for his daughter, Baynes did not happen to touch on this point at all; preferring to speak of Philip’s hopeless poverty, disreputable conduct, and gross and careless behaviour.

Now MacWhirter, having, I suppose, little to do at Tours, had read Mrs. Baynes’s letters to her sister Emily, and remembered them. Indeed, it was but very few months since Eliza Baynes’s letters had been full of praise of Philip, of his love for Charlotte, and of his noble generosity in foregoing the great claim which he had upon the general, his mother’s careless trustee. Philip was the first suitor Charlotte had had: in her first glow of pleasure, Charlotte’s mother had covered yards of paper with compliments, interjections, and those scratches or dashes under her words, by which some ladies are accustomed to point their satire or emphasize their delight. He was an admirable young man — wild, but generous, handsome, noble! He had forgiven his father thousands and thousands of pounds which the doctor owed him — all his mother’s fortune; and he had acted most nobly by her trustees — that she must say, though poor dear weak Baynes was one of them, Baynes who was as simple as a child! Major Mac and his wife had agreed that Philip’s forbearance was very generous and kind, but after all that there was no special cause for rapture at the notion of their niece marrying a struggling young fellow without a penny in the world; and they had been not a little amused with the change of tone in Eliza’s later letters, when she began to go out in the great world, and to look coldly upon poor, penniless Firmin, her hero of a few months since. Then Emily remembered how Eliza had always been fond of great people; how her head was turned by going to a few parties at Government House; how absurdly she went on with that little creature Fitzrickets (because he was an Honourable, forsooth) at Dumdum. Eliza was a good wife to Baynes; a good mother to the children; and made both ends of a narrow income meet with surprising dexterity; but Emily was bound to say of her sister Eliza, that a more, And when the news came at length that Philip was to be thrown overboard, Emily clapped her hands together, and said to her husband, “Now, Mac, didn’t I always tell you so? If she could get a fashionable husband for Charlotte, I knew my sister would put the doctor’s son to the door!” That the poor child would suffer considerably, her aunt was assured. Indeed, before her own union with Mac, Emily had undergone heartbreakings and pangs of separation on her own account. The poor child would want comfort and companionship. She would go to fetch her niece. And though the major said, “My dear, you want to go to Paris, and buy a new bonnet,” Mrs. MacWhirter spurned the insinuation, and came to Paris from a mere sense of duty.

So Baynes poured out his history of wrongs to his brother-in-law, who marvelled to hear a man, ordinarily chary of words and cool of demeanour, so angry and so voluble. If he had done a bad action, at least, after doing it, Baynes had the grace to be very much out of humour. If I ever, for my part, do anything wrong in my family, or to them, I accompany that action with a furious rage and blustering passion. I won’t have wife or children question it. No querulous Nathan of a family friend (or an incommodious conscience, may be) shall come and lecture me about my ill-doings. No — no. Out of the house with him! Away, you preaching bugbear, don’t try to frighten me! Baynes, I suspect, to browbeat, bully, and outtalk the Nathan pleading in his heart — Baynes will outbawl that prating monitor, and thrust that inconvenient preacher out of sight, out of hearing, drive him with angry words from our gate. Ah! in vain we expel him; and bid John say, not at home! There he is when we wake, sitting at our bed-foot. We throw him overboard for daring to put an oar in our boat. Whose ghastly head is that looking up from the water and swimming alongside us, row we never so swiftly? Fire at him. Brain him with an oar, one of you, and pull on! Flash goes the pistol. Surely that oar has stove the old skull in? See! there comes the awful companion popping up out of water again, and crying, “Remember, remember, I am here, I am here!” Baynes had thought to bully away one monitor by the threat of a pistol, and here was another swimming alongside of his boat. And would you have it otherwise, my dear reader, for you, for me? That you and I shall commit sins, in this, and ensuing years, is certain; but I hope — I hope they won’t be past praying for. Here is Baynes, having just done a bad action, in a dreadfully wicked, murderous, and dissatisfied state of mind. His chafing, bleeding temper is one raw; his whole soul one rage, and wrath, and fever. Charles Baynes, thou old sinner, I pray that heaven may turn thee to a better state of mind. I will kneel down by thy side, scatter ashes on my own bald pate, and we will quaver out Peccavimus together.

“In one word, the young man’s conduct has been so outrageous and disreputable that I can’t, Mac, as a father of a family, consent to my girl’s marrying. Out of a regard for her happiness, it is my duty to break off the engagement,” cries the general, finishing the story.

“Has he formally released you from that trust business?” asked the major.

“Good heavens, Mac!” cries the general, turning very red. “You know I am as innocent of all wrong towards him as you are!”

“Innocent — only you did not look to your trust — ”

“I think ill of him, sir. I think he is a wild, reckless, overbearing young fellow,” calls out the general, very quickly, “who would make my child miserable; but I don’t think he is such a blackguard as to come down on a retired elderly man with a poor family — a numerous family; a man who has bled and fought for his sovereign in the Peninsula, and in India, as the Army List will show you, by George. I don’t think Firmin will be such a scoundrel as to come down on me, I say; and I must say, MacWhirter, I think it most unhandsome of you to allude to it — most unhandsome, by George!”

“Why, you are going to break off your bargain with him; why should he keep his compact with you?” asks the gruff major.

“Because,” shouted the general, “it would be a sin and a shame that an old man with seven children, and broken health, who has served in every place — yes, in the West and East Indies, by George! — in Canada — in the Peninsula, and at New Orleans; — because he has been deceived and humbugged by a miserable scoundrel of a doctor into signing a sham paper, by George! should be ruined, and his poor children and wife driven to beggary, by Jove! as you seem to recommend young Firmin to do, Jack MacWhirter; and I’ll tell you what, Major MacWhirter, I take it dee’d unfriendly of you; and I’ll trouble you not to put your oar into my boat, and meddle with my affairs, that’s all, and I’ll know who’s at the bottom of it, by Jove! It’s the grey mare, Mac — it’s your better half, MacWhirter — it’s that confounded, meddling, sneaking, backbiting, domineering — ”

“What next?” roared the major. “Ha, ha, ha! Do you think I don’t know, Baynes, who has put you on doing what I have no hesitation in calling a most sneaking and rascally action — yes, a rascally action, by George! I am not going to mince matters! Don’t come your Major-General or your Mrs. Major-General over me! It’s Eliza that has set you on. And if Tom Bunch has been telling you that you have been breaking from your word, and are acting shabbily, Tom is right; and you may get somebody else to go out with you, General Baynes, for, by George, I won’t!”

“Have you come all the way from Tours, Mac, in order to insult me?” asks the general.

“I came to do you a friendly turn; to take charge of your poor girl, upon whom you are being very hard, Baynes. And this is the reward I get! Thank you. No more grog! What I have had is rather too strong for me already.” And the major looks down with an expression of scorn at the emptied beaker, the idle spoon before him.

As the warriors were quarrelling over their cups, there came to them a noise as of brawling and of female voices without. “Mais, madame!” pleads Madame Smolensk, in her grave way. “Taisez-vous, madame, laissez moi tranquille, s’il vous plais!” exclaims the well-known voice of Mrs. General Baynes, which I own was never very pleasant to me, either in anger or good-humour. “And your Little, — who tries to sleep in my chamber!” again pleads the mistress of the boarding-house. “Vous n’avez pas droit d’appeler Mademoiselle Baynes petite!” calls out the general’s lady. And Baynes, who was fighting and quarrelling himself just now, trembled when he heard her. His angry face assumed an alarmed expression. He looked for means of escape. He appealed for protection to Mac Whirter, whose nose he had been ready to pull anon. Samson was a mighty man, but he was a fool in the hands of a woman. Hercules was a brave man and a strong, but Omphale twisted him round her spindle. Even so Baynes, who had fought in India, Spain, America, trembled before the partner of his bed and name.

It was an unlucky afternoon. Whilst the husbands had been quarrelling in the dining-room over brandy-and-water, the wives, the sisters, had been fighting over their tea in the salon. I don’t know what the other boarders were about. Philip never told me. Perhaps they had left the room to give the sisters a free opportunity for embraces and confidential communication. Perhaps there were no lady boarders left. Howbeit, Emily and Eliza had tea; and before that refreshing meal was concluded, those dear women were fighting as hard as their husbands in the adjacent chamber.

Eliza, in the first place, was very angry at Emily’s coming without invitation. Emily, on her part, was angry with Eliza for being angry. “I am sure, Eliza,” said the spirited and injured MacWhirter, “that is the third time you have alluded to it since we have been here. Had you and all your family come to Tours, Mac and I would have made them welcome — children and all; and I am sure yours make trouble enough in a house.”

“A private house is not like a boarding-house, Emily. Here Madame makes us pay frightfully for extras,” remarks Mrs. Baynes.

“I am sorry I came, Eliza. Let us say no more about it. I can’t go away to-night,” says the other.

“And most unkind it is that speech to make, Emily. Any more tea?”

“Most unpleasant to have to make that speech, Eliza. To travel a whole day and night — and I never able to sleep in a diligence — to hasten to my sister because I thought she was in trouble, because I thought a sister might comfort her; and to be received as you — re — as you — oh, oh, oh — boh! How stoopid I am!” A handkerchief dries the tears: a smelling-bottle restores a little composure. “When you came to us at Dumdum, with two — o — o children in the whooping-cough, I am sure Mac and I gave you a very different welcome.”

The other was smitten with a remorse. She remembered her sister’s kindness in former days. “I did not mean, sister, to give you pain,” she said. “But I am very unhappy myself, Emily. My child’s conduct is making me most unhappy.”

“And very good reason you have to be unhappy, Eliza, if woman ever had!” says the other.

“Oh, indeed, yes!” gasps the general’s lady.

“If any woman ought to feel remorse, Eliza Baynes, I am sure it’s you. Sleepless nights! What was mine in the diligence, compared to the nights you must have? I said so to myself. ‘I am wretched,’ I said, ‘but what must she be?’”

“Of course, as a feeling mother, I feel that poor Charlotte is unhappy, my dear.”

“But what makes her so, my dear?” cries Mrs. MacWhirter, who presently showed that she was mistress of the whole controversy. “No wonder Charlotte is unhappy, dear love! Can a girl be engaged to a young man, a most interesting young man, a clever, accomplished, highly educated young man — ”

“What?” cries Mrs. Baynes.

“Haven’t I your letters? I have them all in my desk. They are in that hall now. Didn’t you tell me so over and over again; and rave about him, till I thought you were in love with him yourself almost?” cries Mrs. Mac.

“A most indecent observation!” cries out Eliza Baynes, in her deep, awful voice. “No woman, no sister, shall say that to me!”

“Shall I go and get the letters? It used to be, ‘Dear Philip has just left us. Dear Philip has been more than a son to me. He is our preserver!’ Didn’t you write all that to me over and over again? And because you have found a richer husband for Charlotte, you are going to turn your preserver out of doors!”

“Emily MacWhirter, am I to sit here and be accused of crimes, uninvited, mind — uninvited, mind, by my sister? Is a general officer’s lady to be treated in this way by a brevet-major’s wife? Though you are my senior in age, Emily, I am yours in rank. Out of any room in England, but this, I go before you! And if you have come uninvited all the way from Tours to insult me in my own house — ”

“House, indeed! pretty house! Everybody else’s house as well as yours!”

“Such as it is, I never asked you to come into it, Emily!”

“Oh, yes! You wish me to go out in the night. Mac! I say!”

“Emily!” cries the generaless.

“Mac, I say!” screams the majoress, flinging open the door of the salon, “my sister wishes me to go. Do you hear me?”

“Au nom de Dieu, madame, pensez à cette pauvre petite, qui souffre à c?tè,” cries the mistress of the house, pointing to her own adjoining chamber, in which, we have said, our poor little Charlotte was lying.

“Nappley pas Madamaselle Baynes petite, sivoplay!” booms out Mrs. Baynes’s contralto.

“MacWhirter, I say, Major MacWhirter!” cries Emily, flinging open the door of the dining-room where the two gentlemen were knocking their own heads together. “MacWhirter! My sister chooses to insult me, and say that a brevet-major’s wife — ”

“By George! are you fighting, too?” asks the general.

“Baynes, Emily MacWhirter has insulted me!” cries Mrs. Baynes.

“It seems to have been a settled thing beforehand,” yells the general. “Major MacWhirter has done the same thing by me! He has forgotten that he is a gentleman, and that I am.”

“He only insults you because he thinks you are his re............

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