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Part 2 Chapter 13 In the Departments of Seine, Loire, and Sty

Our dear friend Mrs. Baynes was suffering under the influence of one of those panics which sometimes seized her, and during which she remained her husband’s most obedient Eliza and vassal. When Baynes wore a certain expression of countenance, we have said that his wife knew resistance to be useless. That expression, I suppose, he assumed, when he announced Charlotte’s departure to her mother, and ordered Mrs. General Baynes to make the necessary preparations for the girl. “She might stay some time with her aunt,” Baynes stated. “A change of air would do the child a great deal of good. Let everything necessary in the shape of hats, bonnets, winter clothes, and so forth, be got ready.” “Was Char, then, to stay away so long?” asked Mrs. B. “She has been so happy here that you want to keep her, and fancy she can’t be happy without you!” I can fancy the general grimly replying to the partner of his existence. Hanging down her withered head, with a tear mayhap trickling down her cheek, I can fancy the old woman silently departing to do the bidding of her lord. She selects a trunk out of the store of Baynes’s baggage. A young lady’s trunk was a trunk in those days. Now it is a two or three storied edifice of wood, in which two or three full-grown bodies of young ladies (without crinoline) might be packed. I saw a little old countrywoman at the Folkestone station last year with her travelling baggage contained in a band-box tied up in an old cotton handkerchief hanging on her arm; and she surveyed Lady Knightsbridge’s twenty-three black trunks, each well nigh as large as her ladyship’s opera-box. Before these great edifices that old woman stood wondering dumbly. That old lady and I had lived in a time when crinoline was not; and yet, I think, women looked even prettier in that time than they do now. Well, a trunk and a band-box were fetched out of the baggage heap for little Charlotte, and I daresay her little brothers jumped and danced on the box with much energy to make the lid shut, and the general brought out his hammer and nails, and nailed a card on the box with “Mademoiselle Baynes” thereon printed. And mamma had to look on and witness those preparations. And Hely Walsingham had called; and he wouldn’t call again, she knew; and that fair chance for the establishment of her child was lost by the obstinacy of her self-willed, reckless husband. That woman had to water her soup with her furtive tears, to sit of nights behind hearts and spades, and brood over her crushed hopes. If I contemplate that wretched old Niobe much longer, I shall begin to pity her. Away softness! Take out thy arrows, the poisoned, the barbed, the rankling, and prod me the old creature well, god of the silver bow! Eliza Baynes had to look on, then, and see the trunks packed; to see her own authority over her own daughter wrested away from her; to see the undutiful girl prepare with perfect delight and alacrity to go away, without feeling a pang at leaving a mother who had nursed her through adverse illnesses, who had scolded her for seventeen years.

The general accompanied the party to the diligence office. Little Char was very pale and melancholy indeed when she took her place in the coupé. “She should have a corner: she had been ill, and ought to have a corner,” uncle Mac said, and cheerfully consented to be bodkin. Our three special friends are seated. The other passengers clamber into their places. Away goes the clattering team, as the general waves an adieu to his friends. “Monstrous fine horses those grey Normans; famous breed, indeed,” he remarks to his wife on his return.

“Indeed,” she echoes. “Pray, in what part of the carriage was Mr. Firmin,” she presently asks.

“In no part of the carriage at all!” Baynes answers fiercely, turning beet-root red. And thus, though she had been silent, obedient, hanging her head, the woman showed that she was aware of her master’s schemes, and why her girl had been taken away. She knew; but she was beaten. It remained for her but to be silent and bow her head. I daresay she did not sleep one wink that night. She followed the diligence in its journey. “Char is gone,” she thought. “Yes; in due time he will take from me the obedience of my other children, and tear them out of my lap.” He — that is, the general — was sleeping meanwhile. He had had in the last few days four awful battles — with his child, with his friends, with his wife — in which latter combat he had been conqueror. No wonder Baynes was tired, and needed rest. Any one of those engagements was enough to weary the veteran.

If we take the liberty of looking into double-bedded rooms, and peering into the thoughts which are passing under private nightcaps, may we not examine the coupé of a jingling diligence with an open window, in which a young lady sits wide awake by the side of her uncle and aunt! These perhaps are asleep; but she is not. Ah! she is thinking of another journey! that blissful one from Boulogne, when he was there yonder in the imperial, by the side of the conductor. When the MacWhirter party had come to the diligence office, how her little heart had beat! How she had looked under the lamps at all the people lounging about the court! How she had listened when the clerk called out the names of the passengers; and, mercy, what a fright she had been in, lest he should be there after all, while she stood yet leaning on her father’s arm! But there was no — well, names, I think, need scarcely be mentioned. There was no sign of the individual in question. Papa kissed her, and sadly said good-by. Good Madame Smolensk came with an adieu and an embrace for her dear Miss, and whispered, “Courage, mon enfant,” and then said, “Hold, I have brought you some bonbons.” There they were in a little packet. Little Charlotte put the packet into her little basket. Away goes the diligence, but the individual had made no sign.

Away goes the diligence; and every now and then Charlotte feels the little packet in her little basket. What does it contain — oh, what? If Charlotte could but read with her heart, she would see in that little packet — the sweetest bonbon of all perhaps it might be, or, ah me! the bitterest almond! Through the night goes the diligence, passing relay after relay. Uncle Mac sleeps. I think I have said he snored. Aunt Mac is quite silent, and Char sits plaintively with her lonely thoughts and her bonbons, as miles, hours, relays pass.

“These ladies, will they descend and take a cup of coffee, a cup of bouillon?” at last cries a waiter at the coupé door, as the carriage stops in Orleans. “By all means a cup of coffee,” says Aunt Mac. “The little Orleans wine is good,” cries Uncle Mac. “Descendons!” “This way, madame,” says the waiter. “Charlotte, my love, some coffee?”

“I will — I will stay in the carriage. I don’t want anything, thank you,” says Miss Charlotte. And the instant her relations are gone, entering the gate of the Lion Noir, where, you know, are the Bureaux des Messageries, Lafitte, Caillard et Cie — I say, on the very instant when her relations have disappeared, what do you think Miss Charlotte does?

She opens that packet of bonbons with fingers that tremble — tremble so, I wonder how she could undo the knot of the string (or do you think she had untied that knot under her shawl in the dark? I can’t say. We never shall know). Well; she opens the packet. She does not care one fig for the lollipops, almonds, and so forth. She pounces on a little scrap of paper, and is going to read it by the lights of the steaming stable lanterns, when — oh, what made her start so? —

In those old days there used to be two diligences which travelled nightly to Tours, setting out at the same hour, and stopping at almost the same relays. The diligence of Lafitte and Caillard supped at the Lion Noir at Orleans — the diligence of the Messageries Royales stopped at the Ecu de France, hard by.

Well, as the Messageries Royales are supping at the Ecu de France, a passenger strolls over from that coach, and strolls and strolls until he comes to the coach of Lafitte, Caillard, and Company, and to the coupé window where Miss Baynes is trying to decipher her bonbon.

He comes up — and as the night-lamps fall on his face and beard — his rosy face, his yellow beard — oh! — What means that scream of the young lady in the coupé of Lafitte, Caillard et Compagnie! I declare she has dropped the letter which she was about to read. It has dropped into a pool of mud under the diligence off fore-wheel. And he with the yellow beard, and a sweet happy laugh, and a tremble in his deep voice, says, “You need not read it. It was only to tell you what you know.”

Then the coupé window says, “Oh, Philip! Oh, my — ”

My what? You cannot hear the words, because the grey Norman horses come squealing and clattering up to their coach-pole with such accompanying cries and imprecations from the horsekeepers and postilions, that no wonder the little warble is lost. It was not intended for you and me to hear; but perhaps you can guess the purport of the words. Perhaps in quite old, old days, you may remember having heard such little whispers, in a time when the song-birds in your grove carolled that kind of song very pleasantly and freely. But this, my good madam, is written in February. The birds are gone: the branches are bare: the gardener has actually swept the leaves off the walks: and the whole affair is an affair of a past year, you understand. Well! carpe diem, fugit hora, There, for one minute, for two minutes, stands Philip over the diligence off fore-wheel, talking to Charlotte at the window, and their heads are quite close — quite close. What are those two pairs of lips warbling, whispering? “Hi! Gare! Ohé!” The horsekeepers, I say, quite prevent you from hearing; and here come the passengers out of the Lion Noir, aunt Mac still munching a great slice of bread-and-butter. Charlotte is quite comfortable, and does not want anything, dear aunt, thank you. I hope she nestles in her corner, and has a sweet slumber. On the journey the twin diligences pass and repass each other. Perhaps Charlotte looks out of her window sometimes and towards the other carriage. I don’t know. It is a long time ago. What used you to do in old days, ere railroads were, and when diligences ran? They were slow enough: but they have got to their journey’s end somehow. They were tight, hot, dusty, dear, stuffy, and uncomfortable; but, for all that, travelling was good sport sometimes. And if the world would have the kindness to go back for five-and-twenty or thirty years, some of us who have travelled on the Tours and Orleans Railway very comfortably would like to take the diligence journey now.

Having myself seen the city of Tours only last year, of course I don’t remember much about it. A man remembers boyhood, and the first sight of Calais, and so forth. But after much travel or converse with the world, to see a new town is to be introduced to Jones. He is like Brown: he is not unlike Smith: in a little while you hash him up with Thompson. I dare not be particular, then, regarding Mr. Firmin’s life at Tours, lest I should make topographical errors, for which the critical schoolmaster would justly inflict chastisement. In the last novel I read about Tours, there were blunders from the effect of which you know the wretched author never recovered. It was by one Scott, and had young Quentin Durward for a hero, and Isabel de Croye for a heroine; and she sate in her hostel, and sang, “Ah, County Guy, the hour is nigh.” A pretty ballad enough: but what ignorance, my dear sir! What descriptions of Tours, of Liege, are in that fallacious story! Yes, so fallacious and misleading, that I remember I was sorry, not because the description was unlike Tours, but because Tours was unlike the description.

So Quentin Firmin went and put up at the snug little hostel of the Faisan; and Isabel de Baynes took up her abode with her uncle the Sire de MacWhirter; and I believe Master Firmin had no more money in his pocket than the Master Durward whose story the Scottish novelist told some forty years since. And I cannot promise you that our young English adventurer shall marry a noble heiress of vast property, and engage the Boar of Ardennes in a hand-to-hand combat; that sort of Boar, madam, does not appear in our modern drawing-room histories. Of others, not wild, there be plenty. They gore you in clubs. They seize you by the doublet, and pin you against posts in public streets. They run at you in parks. I have seen them sit at bay after dinner, ripping, gashing, tossing a whole company. These our young adventurer had in good sooth to encounter, as is the case with most knights. Who escapes them? I remember an eminent person talking to me about bores for two hours once. O you stupid eminent person! You never knew that you yourself had tusks, little eyes in your hure; a bristly mane to cut into tooth-brushes; and a curly-tail! I have a notion that the multitude of bores is enormous in the world. If a man is a bore himself, when he is bored — and you can’t deny this statement — then what am I, what are you, what your father, grandfather, son — all your amiable acquaintance, in a word? Of this I am sure, Major and Mrs. MacWhirter were not brilliant in conversation. What would you and I do, or say, if we listen to the tittle-tattle of Tours. How the clergyman was certainly too fond of cards and going to the café; how the dinners those Popjoys gave were too absurdly ostentatious; and Popjoy, we know, in the Bench last year; how Mrs. Flights, going on with that Major of French Carabiniers, was really too “How could I endure those people?” Philip would ask himself, when talking of that personage in after days, as he loved, and loves to do. “How could I endure them, I say? Mac was a good man; but I knew secretly in my heart, sir, that he was a bore. Well: I loved him. I liked his old stories. I liked his bad old dinners: there is a very comfortable Touraine wine, by the way — a very warming little wine, sir. Mrs. Mac you never saw, my good Mrs. Pendennis. Be sure of this, you never would have liked her. Well, I did. I liked her house, though it was damp, in a damp garden, frequented by dull people. I should like to go and see that old house now. I am perfectly happy with my wife, but I sometimes go away from her to enjoy the luxury of living over our old days again. With nothing in the world but an allowance which was precarious, and had been spent in advance; with no particular plans for the future, and a few five-franc pieces for the present, — by Jove, sir, how did I dare to be so happy? What idiots we were, my love, to be happy at all! We were mad to marry. Don’t tell me! With a purse which didn’t contain three months’ consumption, would we dare to marry now? We should be put into the mad ward of the workhouse: that would be the only place for us. Talk about trusting in heaven. Stuff and nonsense, ma’am! I have as good a right to go and buy a house in Belgrave Square, and trust to heaven for the payment, as I had to marry when I did. We were paupers, Mrs. Char, and you know that very well!”

“Oh, yes. We were very wrong: very!” says Mrs. Charlotte, looking up to her chandelier (which, by the way, is of very handsome Venetian old glass). “We were very wrong, were not we, my dearest?” And herewith she will begin to kiss and fondle two or more babies that disport in her room — as if two or more babies had anything to do with Philip’s argument, that a man has no right to marry who has no pretty well-assured means of keeping a wife.

Here, then, by the banks of the Loire, although Philip had but a very few francs in his pocket, and was obliged to keep a sharp look-out on his expenses at the Hotel of the Golden Pheasant, he passed a fortnight of such happiness as I, for my part, wish to all young folks who read his veracious history. Though he was so poor, and ate and drank so modestly in the house, the maids, waiters, the landlady of the Pheasant, were as civil to him — yes, as civil as they were to the gouty old Marchioness of Carabas herself, who stayed here on her way to the south, occupied the grand apartments, quarrelled with her lodging, dinner, breakfast, bread- and-butter in general, insulted the landlady in bad French, and only paid her bill under compulsion. Philip’s was a little bill, but he paid it cheerfully. He gave only a small gratuity to the servants, but he was kind and hearty, and they knew he was poor. He was kind and hearty, I suppose, because he was so happy. I have known the gentleman to be by no means civil; and have heard him storm, and hector, and browbeat landlord and waiters, as fiercely as the Marquis of Carabas himself. But now Philip the Bear was the most gentle of bears, because his little Charlotte was leading him.

Away with trouble and doubt, with squeamish pride and gloomy care! Philip had enough money for a fortnight, during which Tom Glazier, of the Monitor, promised to supply Philip’s letters for the Pall Mall Gazette. All the designs of France, Spain, Russia, gave that idle “own correspondent” not the slightest anxiety. In the morning it was Miss Baynes; in the afternoon it was Miss Baynes. At six it was dinner and Charlotte; at nine it was Charlotte and tea. “Anyhow, love-making does not spoil his appetite,” Major MacWhirter correctly remarked. Indeed, Philip had a glorious appetite; and health bloomed in Miss Charlotte’s cheek, and beamed in her happy little heart. Dr. Firmin, in the height of his practice, never completed a cure more skilfully than that which was performed by Dr. Firmin, Junior.

“I ............

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