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Part 3 Chapter 1 Returns to Old Friends

The three old comrades and Philip formed the little mourning procession which followed the general to his place of rest at Montmartre. When the service has been read, and the last volley has been fired over the buried soldier, the troops march to quarters with a quick step, and to a lively tune. Our veteran has been laid in the grave with brief ceremonies. We do not even prolong his obsequies with a sermon. His place knows him no longer. There are a few who remember him: a very, very few who grieve for him — so few that to think of them is a humiliation almost. The sun sets on the earth, and our dear brother has departed off its face. Stars twinkle; dews fall; children go to sleep in awe, and maybe tears; the sun rises on a new day, which he has never seen, and children wake hungry. They are interested about their new black clothes, perhaps. They are presently at their work, plays, quarrels. They are looking forward to the day when the holidays will be over, and the eyes which shone here yesterday so kindly are gone, gone, gone. A drive to the cemetery, followed by a coach with four acquaintances dressed in decorous black, who separate and go to their homes or clubs, and wear your crape for a few days after — can most of us expect much more? The thought is not ennobling or exhilarating, worthy sir. And, pray, why should we be proud of ourselves? Is it because we have been so good, or are so wise and great, that we expect to be beloved, lamented, remembered? Why, great Xerxes or blustering Bobadil must know in that last hour and resting-place how abject, how small, how low, how lonely they are, and what a little dust will cover them. Quick, drums and fifes, a lively tune! Whip the black team, coachman, and trot back to town again — to the world, and to business, and duty!

I am for saying no single unkindness of General Baynes which is not forced upon me by my storyteller’s office. We know, from Marlborough’s story, that the bravest man and greatest military genius is not always brave or successful in his battles with his wife, and that some of the greatest warriors have committed errors in accounts and the distribution of meum and tuum. We can’t disguise from ourselves the fact that Baynes permitted himself to be misled, and had weaknesses not quite consistent with the highest virtue.

When he became aware that his carelessness in the matter of Mrs. Firmin’s trust-money had placed him in her son’s power, we have seen how the old general, in order to avoid being called to account, fled across the water with his family and all his little fortune, and how terrified he was on landing on a foreign shore to find himself face to face with this dreadful creditor. Philip’s renunciation of all claims against Baynes, soothed and pleased the old man wonderfully. But Philip might change his mind, an adviser at Baynes’ side repeatedly urged. To live abroad was cheaper and safer than to live at home. Accordingly Baynes, his wife, family, and money, all went into exile, and remained there.

What savings the old man had I don’t accurately know. He and his wife were very dark upon this subject with Philip: and when the general died, his widow declared herself to be almost a pauper. It was impossible that Baynes should have left much money; but that Charlotte’s share should have amounted to — that sum which may or may not presently be stated — was a little too absurd! You see Mr. and Mrs. Firmin are travelling abroad just now. When I wrote to Firmin to ask if I might mention the amount of his wife’s fortune, he gave me no answer: nor do I like to enter upon these matters of calculation without his explicit permission. He is of a hot temper; he might, on his return, grow angry with the friend of his youth, and say, “Sir, how dare you to talk about my private affairs? and what has the public to do with Mrs. Firmin’s private fortune?”

When, the last rites over, good-natured uncle Mac proposed to take Charlotte back to Tours, her mother made no objection. The widow had tried to do the girl such an injury, that perhaps the latter felt forgiveness was impossible. Little Char loved Philip with all her heart and strength; had been authorized and encouraged to do so, as we have seen. To give him up now, because a richer suitor presented himself, was an act of treason from which her faithful heart revolted, and she never could pardon the instigator. You see, in this simple story, I scarcely care even to have reticence or secrets. I don’t want you to understand for a moment that Hely Walsingham was still crying his eyes out about Charlotte. Goodness bless you! It was two or three weeks ago — four or five weeks ago, that he was in love with her! He had not seen the Duchesse d’Ivry then, about whom you may remember he had the quarrel with Podichon, at the club in the Rue de Grammont. (He and the duchesse wrote poems to each other, each in the other’s native language.) The Charlotte had long passed out of the young fellow’s mind. That butterfly had fluttered off from our English rosebud, and had settled on the other elderly flower! I don’t know that Mrs. Baynes was aware of young Hely’s fickleness at this present time of which we are writing: but his visits had ceased, and she was angry and disappointed; and not the less angry because her labour had been in vain. On her part, Charlotte could also be resolutely unforgiving. Take her Philip from her? Never, never! Her mother force her to give up the man whom she had been encouraged to love? Mamma should have defended Philip, not betrayed him! If I command my son to steal a spoon, shall he obey me? And if he do obey and steal, and be transported, will he love me afterwards? I think I can hardly ask for so much filial affection.

So there was strife between mother and daughter; and anger not the less bitter, on Mrs. Baynes’ part, because her husband, whose cupidity or fear had, at first, induced him to take her side, had deserted her and gone over to her daughter. In the anger of that controversy Baynes died, leaving the victory and right with Charlotte. He shrank from his wife: would not speak to her in his last moments. The widow had these injuries against her daughter and Philip; and thus neither side forgave the other. She was not averse to the child’s going away to her uncle: put a lean, hungry face against Charlotte’s lip, and received a kiss which I fear had but little love in it. I don’t envy those children who remain under the widow’s lonely command; or poor Madame Smolensk, who has to endure the arrogance, the grief, the avarice of that grim woman. Nor did madame suffer under this tyranny long. Galignani’s Messenger very soon announced that she had lodgings to let, and I remember being edified by reading one day in the Pall Mall Gazette that elegant apartments, select society, and an excellent table were to be found in one of the most airy and fashionable quarters of Paris. Inquire of Madame la Baronne de S— sk, Avenue de Marli, Champs Elysées.

We guessed without difficulty how this advertisement found its way to the Pall Mall Gazette; and very soon after its appearance Madame de Smolensk’s friend, Mr. Philip, made his appearance at our tea-table in London. He was always welcome amongst us elders and children. He wore a crape on his hat. As soon as the young ones were gone, you may be sure he poured his story out; and enlarged upon the death, the burial, the quarrels, the loves, the partings we have narrated. How could he be put in a way to earn three or four hundred a year? That was the present question. Ere he came to see us, he had already been totting up ways and means. He had been with our friend Mrs. Brandon: was staying with her. The Little Sister thought three hundred would be sufficient. They could have her second floor — not for nothing; no, no, but at a moderate price, which would pay her. They could have her attics, if more rooms were needed. They could have her kitchen fire, and one maid, for the present, would do all their work. Poor little thing! She was very young. She would be past eighteen by the time she could marry; the Little Sister was for early marriages, against long courtships. “Heaven helps those as helps themselves,” she said. And Mr. Philip thought this excellent advice; and Mr. Philip’s friend, when asked for his opnion — “Candidly now, what’s your opinion?" — said, “Is she in the next room? Of course you mean you are married already.”

Philip roared one of his great laughs. No, he was not married already. Had he not said that Miss Baynes was gone away to Tours to her aunt and uncle? But that he wanted to be married; but that he could never settle down to work till he married; but that he could have no rest, peace, health, till he married that angel he was ready to confess. Ready? All the street might hear him calling out the name and expatiating on the angelic charms and goodness of his Charlotte. He spoke so loud and long on this subject that my wife grew a little tired; and my wife always likes to hear other women praised, that (she says) I know she does. But when a man goes on roaring for an hour about Dulcinea? You know such talk becomes fulsome at last; and, in fine, when he was gone, my wife said, “Well, he is very much in love; so were you — I mean long before my time, sir; but does love pay the housekeeping bills, pray?”

“No, my dear. And love is always controlled by other people’s advice:— always,” says Philip’s friend, who I hope you will perceive was speaking ironically.

Philip’s friends had listened not impatiently to Philip’s talk about Philip. Almost all women will give a sympathizing hearing to men who are in love. Be they ever so old, they grow young agian with that conversation, and renew their own early times. Men are not quite so generous: Tityrus tires of hearing Corydon discourse endlessly on the charms of his shepherdess. And yet egotism is good talk. Even dull biographies are pleasant to read: and if to read, why not to hear? Had Master Philip not been such an egotist, he would not have been so pleasant a companion. Can’t you like a man at whom you laugh a little? I had rather such an open-mouthed conversationist than your cautious jaws that never unlock without a careful application of the key. As for the entrance to Mr. Philip’s mind, that door was always open when he was awake, or not hungry, or in a friend’s company. Besides his love, and his prospects in life, his poverty, Philip had other favourite topics of conversation. His friend the Little Sister was a great theme with him; his father was another favourite subject of his talk. By the way, his father had written to the Little Sister. The doctor said he was sure to prosper in his newly adopted country. He and another physician had invented a new medicine, which was to effect wonders, and in a few years would assuredly make the fortune of both of them. He was never without one scheme or another for making that fortune which never came. Whenever he drew upon poor Philip for little sums, his letters were sure to be especially magniloquent and hopeful. “Whenever the doctor says he has invented the philosopher’s stone,” said poor Philip, “I am sure there will be a postscript to say that a little bill will be presented for so much, at so many days’ date.”

Had he drawn on Philip lately? Philip told us when, and how often. We gave him all the benefit of our virtuous indignation. As for my wife’s eyes, they gleamed with anger. What a man: what a father! Oh, he was incorrigible! “Yes, I am afraid he is,” says poor Phil, comically, with his hands roaming at ease in his pockets. They contained little else than those big hands. “My father is of a hopeful turn. His views regarding property are peculiar. It is a comfort to have such a distinguished parent, isn’t it? I am always surprised to hear that he is not married again. I sigh for a mother-in-law,” Philip continued.

“Oh, don’t, Philip!” cried Mrs. Laura, in a pet. “Be generous: be forgiving: be noble: be Christian! Don’t be cynical and imitating — you know whom!”

Whom could she possibly mean, I wonder? After flashes, there came showers in this lady’s eyes. From long habit I can understand her thoughts, although she does not utter them. She was thinking of these poor, noble, simple, friendless young people; and asking heaven’s protection for them. I am not in the habit of over-praising my friends, goodness knows. The foibles of this one I have described honestly enough. But if I write down here that he was courageous, cheerful in adversity, generous, simple, truth-loving, above a scheme — after having said that he was a noble young fellow — dixi; and I won’t cancel the words.

Ardent lover as he was, our friend was glad to be back in the midst of the London smoke, and wealth, and bustle. The fog agreed with his lungs, he said. He breathed more freely in our great city than in that little English village in the centre of Paris which he had been inhabiting. In his hotel, and at his café (where he composed his eloquent “Own Correspondence”), he had occasion to speak a little French, but it never came very trippingly from his stout English tongue. “You don’t suppose I would like to be taken for a Frenchman,” he would say with much gravity. I wonder who ever thought of mistaking friend Philip for a Frenchman?

As for that faithful Little Sister, her house and heart were still at the young man’s service. We have not visited Thornhaugh Street for some time. Mr. Philip, whom we have been bound to attend, has been too much occupied with his love-making to bestow much thought on his affectionate little friend. She has been trudging meanwhile on her humble course of life, cheerful, modest, laborious, doing her duty, with a helping little hand ready to relieve many a fallen wayfarer on her road. She had a room vacant in her house when Philip came. A room, indeed! Would she not have had a house vacant, if Philip wanted it? But in the interval since we saw her last, the Little Sister, too, has had to assume black robes. Her father, the old captain, has gone to his rest. His place is vacant in the little parlour: his bedroom is ready for Philip, as long as Philip will stay. She did not profess to feel much affliction for the loss of the captain. She talked of him constantly as though he were present; and made a supper for Philip, and seated him in her Pa’s chair. How she bustled about on the night when Philip arrived! What a beaming welcome there was in her kind eyes! Her modest hair was touched with silver now; but her cheeks were like apples; her little figure was neat, and light, and active; and her voice, with its gentle laugh, and little sweet bad grammar, has always seemed one of the sweetest of voices to me.

Very soon after Philip’s arrival in London, Mrs. Brandon paid a visit to the wife of Mr. Firmin’s humble servant and biographer; and the two women had a fine sentimental consultation. All good women, you know, are sentimental. The idea of young lovers, of match-making, of amiable poverty, tenderly excites and interests them. My wife, at this time, began to pour off fine long letters to Miss Baynes, to which the latter modestly and dutifully replied, with many expressions, of fervour and gratitude for the interest which her friend in London was pleased to take in the little maid. I saw by these answers that Charlotte’s union with Philip was taken as a received point by these two ladies. They discussed the ways and means. They did not talk about broughams, settlements, town and country houses, pin-moneys, trousseaux; and my wife, in computing their sources of income, always pointed out that Miss Charlotte’s fortune, though certainly small, would give a very useful addition to the young couple’s income. “Fifty pounds a year not much! Let me tell you, sir, that fifty pounds a year is a very pretty little sum: if Philip can but make three hundred a year himself, Mrs. Brandon says they ought to be able to live quite nicely.” You ask, my genteel friend, is it possible that people can live for four hundred a year? How do they manage, ces pauvres gens? They eat, they drink, they are clothed, they are warmed, they have roofs over their heads, and glass in their windows; and some of them are as good, happy, and well-bred as their neighbours who are ten times as rich. Then, besides this calculation of money, there is the fond woman’s firm belief that the day will bring its daily bread for those who work for it and ask for it in the proper quarter; against which reasoning many a man knows it is in vain to argue. As to my own little objections and doubts, my wife met them by reference to Philip’s former love affair with his cousin, Miss Twysden. “You had no objection in that case, sir,” this logician would say. “You would have had him take a creature without a heart. You would cheerfully have seen him made miserable for life, because you thought there was money enough and a genteel connection. Money indeed! Very happy Mrs. Woolcomb is with her money! Very creditably to all sides has that marriage turned out!” I need scarcely remind my readers of the unfortunate result of that marriage. Woolcomb’s behaviour to his wife was the agreeable talk of London society and of the London clubs very soon after the pair were joined together in holy matrimony. Do we not all remember how Woolcomb was accused of striking his wife, of starving his wife, and how she took refuge at home and came to her father’s house with a black eye? The two Twysdens were so ashamed of this transaction, that father and son left off coming to Bays’s , where I never heard their absence regretted but by one man, who said that Talbot owed him money for losses at whist for which he could get no settlement.

Should Mr. Firmin go and see his aunt in her misfortune? Bygones might be bygones, some of Philip’s advisers thought. Now, Mrs. Twysden was unhappy, her heart might relent to Philip, whom she certainly had loved as a boy. Philip ha............

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