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Part 3 Chapter 2 Narrates that Famous Joke About Miss Grigsby

For once Philip found that he had offended without giving general offence. In the confidence of female intercourse, Mrs. Mugford had already, in her own artless but powerful language, confirmed her husband’s statement regarding Mr. Bickerton, and declared that B. was a beast, and she was only sorry that Mr. F. had not hit him a little harder. So different are the opinions which different individuals entertain of the same event! I happen to know that Bickerton, on his side, went away, averring that we were quarrelsome, underbred people; and that a man of any refinement had best avoid that kind of society. He does really and seriously believe himself our superior, and will lecture almost any gentleman on the art of being one. This assurance is not at all uncommon with your parvenu. Proud of his newly-acquired knowledge of the art of exhausting the contents of an egg, the well-known little boy of the apologue rushed to impart his knowledge to his grandmother, who had been for many years familiar with the process which the child had just discovered. Which of us has not met with some such instructors? I know men who would be ready to step forward and teach Taglioni how to dance, Tom Sayers how to box, or the Chevalier Bayard how to be a gentleman. We most of us know such men, and undergo, from time to time, the ineffable benefit of their patronage.

Mugford went away from our little entertainment vowing, by George, that Philip shouldn’t want for a friend at the proper season; and this proper season very speedily arrived. I laughed one day, on going to the Pall Mall Gazette office, to find Philip installed in the sub-editor’s room, with a provision of scissors, wafers, and paste-pots, snipping paragraphs from this paper and that, altering, condensing, giving titles, and so forth; and, in a word, in regular harness. The three-headed calves, the great prize gooseberries, the old maiden ladies of wonderful ages, who at length died in country places — it was wonderful (considering his little experience) how Firmin hunted out these. He entered into all the spirit of his business. He prided himself on the clever titles which he found for his paragraphs. When his paper was completed at the week’s end, he surveyed it fondly — not the leading articles, or those profound and yet brilliant literary essays which appeared in the Gazette — but the births, deaths, marriages, markets, trials, and what not. As a shop-boy, having decorated his master’s window, goes into the street, and pleased surveys his work; so the fair face of the Pall Mall Gazette rejoiced Mr. Firmin, and Mr. Bince, the printer of the paper. They looked with an honest pride upon the result of their joint labours. Nor did Firmin relish pleasantry on the subject. Did his friends allude to it, and ask if he had shot any especially fine canard that week? Mr. Philip’s brow would corrugate and his cheeks redden. He did not like jokes to be made at his expense. Was not his a singular antipathy?

In his capacity of sub-editor, the good fellow had the privilege of taking and giving away countless theatre orders, and panorama and diorama tickets: the Pall Mall Gazette was not above accepting such little bribes in those days, and Mrs. Mugford’s familiarity with the names of opera singers, and splendid appearance in an opera-box, was quite remarkable. Friend Philip would bear away a heap of these cards of admission, delighted to carry off our young folks to one exhibition or another. But once at the diorama, where our young people sat in the darkness, very much frightened as usual, a voice from out the midnight gloom cried out: “Who has come in with orders from the Pall Mall Gazette?” A lady, two scared children, and Mr. Sub-editor Philip, all trembled at this dreadful summons. I think I should not dare to print the story even now, did I not know that Mr. Firmin was travelling abroad. It was a blessing the place was dark, so that none could see the poor sub-editor’s blushes. Rather than cause any mortification to this lady, I am sure Philip would have submitted to rack and torture. But, indeed, her annoyance was very slight, except in seeing her friend annoyed. The humour of the scene surpassed the annoyance in the lady’s mind, and caused her to laugh at the mishap; but I own our little boy (who is of an aristocratic turn, and rather too sensitive to ridicule from his schoolfellows) was not at all anxious to talk upon the subject, or to let the world know that he went to a place of public amusement “with an order.”

As for Philip’s landlady, the Little sister, she, you know, had been familiar with the press and press-men, and orders for the play for years past. She looked quite young and pretty, with her kind smiling face and neat tight black dress, as she came to the theatre — it was to an Easter piece — on Philip’s arm, one evening. Our children saw her from their cab, as they, too, were driving to the same performance. It was “Look, mamma! There’s Philip and the Little Sister!” And then came such smiles, and nods, and delighted recognitions from the cab to the two friends on foot! Of course I have forgotten what was the piece which we all saw on that Easter evening. But those children will never forget; no, though they live to be a hundred years old, and though their attention was distracted from the piece by constant observation of Philip and his companion in the public boxes opposite.

Mr. Firmin’s work and pay were both light, and he accepted both very cheerfully. He saved money out of his little stipend. It was surprising how economically he could live with his little landlady’s aid and counsel. He would come to us, recounting his feats of parsimony with a childish delight. He loved to contemplate his sovereigns, as week by week the little pile accumulated. He kept a sharp eye upon sales, and purchased now and again articles of furniture. In this way he broght home a piano to his lodgings, on which he could no more play than he could on the tight-rope; but he was given to understand that it was a very fine instrument; and my wife played on it one day when we went to visit him, and he sat listening, with his great hands on his knees, in ecstasies. He was thinking how one day, please heaven, he should see other hands touching the keys — and player and instrument disappeared in a mist before his happy eyes. His purchases were not always lucky. For example, he was sadly taken in at an auction about a little pearl ornament. Some artful Hebrews at the sale conspired and ran him up, as the phrase is, to a price more than equal to the value of the trinket. “But you know who it was for, ma’am,” one of Philip’s apologists said. “If she would like to wear his ten fingers he would cut ’em off and send ’em to her. But he keeps ’em to write her letters and verses — and most beautiful they are, too.”

“And the dear fellow, who was bred up in splendour and luxury, Mrs. Mugford, as you, ma’am, know too well — he won’t drink no wine now. A little whiskey and a glass of beer is all he takes. And his clothes — he used to be so grand — you see how he is now, ma’am. Always the gentleman, and, indeed, a finer or grander looking gentleman never entered a room; but he is saving — you know for what, ma’am.”

And, indeed, Mrs. Mugford did know; and so did Mrs. Pendennis and Mrs. Brandon. And these three women worked themselves into a perfect fever, interesting themselves for Mr. Firmin. And Mugford, in his rough, funny way, used to say, “Mr. P., a certain Mr. Heff has come and put our noses out of joint. He has, as sure as my name is Hem. And I am getting quite jealous of our sub-editor, and that is the long and short of it. But it’s good to see him haw-haw Bickerton if ever they meet in the office, that it is! Bickerton won’t bully him any more, I promise you!”

The conclaves and conspiracies of these women were endless in Philip’s behalf. One day I let the Little Sister out of my house, with a handkerchief to her eyes, and in a great state of flurry and excitement, which perhaps communicates itself to the gentleman who passes her at his own door. The gentleman’s wife is on her part not a little moved and excited. “What do you think Mrs. Brandon says? Philip is learning shorthand. He says he does not think he is clever enough to be a writer of any mark; — but he can be a reporter, and with this and his place at Mr. Mugford’s , he thinks he can earn enough to — Oh, he is a fine fellow!” I suppose feminine emotion stopped the completion of this speech. But when Mr. Philip slouched into dinner that day, his hostess did homage before him: she loved him: she treated him with a tender respect and sympathy which her like are ever wont to bestow upon brave and honest men in misfortune.

Why should not Mr. Philip Firmin, barrister-at-law, bethink him that he belonged to a profession which has helped very many men to competence, and not a few to wealth and honours? A barrister might surely hope for as good earnings as could be made by a newspaper reporter. We all knew instances of men who, having commenced their careers as writers for the press, had carried on the legal profession simultaneously, and attained the greatest honours of the bar and the bench. “Can I sit in a Pump-court garret waiting for attorneys?” asked poor Phil; “I shall break my heart before they come. My brains are not worth much: I should addle them altogether in poring over law books. I am not at all a clever fellow, you see; and I haven’t the ambition and obstinate will to succeed which carry on many a man with no greater capacity than my own. I may have as good brains as Bickerton, for example; but I am not so bumptious as he is. By claiming the first place wherever he goes, he gets it very often. My dear friends, don’t you see how modest I am? There never was a man less likely to get on than myself — you must own that; and I tell you that Charlotte and I must look forward to a life of poverty, of cheeseparings, and secondfloor lodgings at Pentonville or Islington. That’s about my mark. I would let her off, only I know she would not take me at my word — the dear little thing. She has set her heart upon a hulking pauper, that’s the truth. And I tell you what I am going to do. I am going seriously to learn the profession of poverty, and make myself master of it. What’s the price of cowheel and tripe? You don’t know. I do; and the right place to buy ’em. I am as good a judge of sprats as any man in London. My tap in life is to be small beer henceforth, and I am growing quite to like it, and think it is brisk and pleasant, and wholesome.” There was not a little truth in Philip’s account of himself, and his capacities and incapacities. Doubtless, he was not born to make a great name for himself in the world. But do we like those only who are famous? As well say we will only give our regard to men who have ten thousand a year, or are more than six feet high.

While, of his three female friends and advisers, my wife admired Philip’s humility, Mrs. Brandon and Mrs. Mugford were rather disappointed at his want of spirit, and to think that he aimed so low. I shall not say which side Firmin’s biographer took in this matter. Was it my business to applaud or rebuke him for being humble-minded, or was I called upon to advise at all? My amiable reader, acknowledge that you and I in life pretty much go our own way. We eat the dishes we like, because we like them; not because our neighbour relishes them. We rise early, or sit up late; we work, idle, smoke, or what not, because we choose so to do, not because the doctor orders. Philip, then, was like you and me, who will have our own way when we can. Will we not? If you won’t, you do not deserve it. Instead of hungering after a stalled ox, he was accustoming himself to be content with a dinner of herbs. Instead of braving the tempest, he chose to take in sail, creep along shore, and wait for calmer weaher.

So, on Tuesday of every week let us say, it was this modest sub-editor’s duty to begin snipping and pasting paragraphs for the ensuing Saturday’s issue. He cut down the parliamentary speeches, giving due favouritism to the orators of the Pall Mall Gazette party, and meagre outlines of their opponents’ discourses. If the leading public men on the side of the Pall Mall Gazette gave entertainments, you may be sure they were duly chronicled in the fashionable intelligence; if one of their party wrote a book it was pretty sure to get praise from the critic. I am speaking of simple old days, you understand. Of course there is no puffing, or jobbing, or false praise, or unfair censure now. Every critic knows what he is writing about, and writes with no aim but to tell truth.

Thus Philip, the dandy of two years back, was content to wear the shabbiest old coat; Philip, the Philippus of one-and-twenty, who rode showy horses, and rejoiced to display his horse and person in the Park, now humbly took his place in an omnibus, and only on occasions indulged in a cab. From the roof of the larger vehicle he would salute his friends with perfect affability, and stare down on his aunt as she passed in her barouche. He never could be quite made to acknowledge that she purposely would not see him: or he would attribute her blindness to the quarrel which they had had, not to his poverty and present position. As for his cousin Ringwood, “That fellow would commit any baseness,” Philip acknowledged; “and it is I who have cut him,” our friend averred.

A real danger was lest our friend should in his poverty become more haughty and insolent than he had been in his days of better fortune, and that he should make companions of men who were not his equals. Whether was it better for him to be slighted in a fashionable club, or to swagger at the head of the company in a tavern parlour? This was the danger we might fear for Firmin. It was impossible not to confess that he was choosing to take a lower place in the world than that to which he had been born.

“Do you mean that Philip is lowered, because he is poor?” asked an angry lady, to whom this remark was made by her husband — man and wife being both very good friends to Mr. Firmin.

“My dear,” replies the worlding of a husband, “suppose Philip were to take a fancy to buy a donkey and sell cabbages? He would be doing no harm; but there is no doubt he would lower himself in the world’s estimation.”

“Lower himself!” says the lady, with a toss of her head. “No man lowers himself by pursuing an honest calling. No man!”

“Very good. There is Grundsell, the greengrocer, out of Tuthill Street, who waits at our dinners. Instead of asking him to wait, we should beg him to sit down at table; or perhaps we should wait, and stand with a napkin behind Grundsell.”


“Grundsell’s calling is strictly honest, unless he abuses his opportunities, and smuggles away — ”

“ — smuggles away stuff and nonsense!”

“Very good; Grundsell is not a fitting companion, then, for us, or the nine little Grundsells for our children. Then why should Philip give up the friends of his youth, and forsake a club for a tavern parlour? You can’t say our little friend, Mrs. Brandon, good as she is, is a fitting companion for him?”

“If he had a good little wife, he would have a companion of his own degree; and he would be twice as happy; and he would be out of all danger and temptation — and the best thing he can do is to marry directly!” cries the lady. “And, my dear, I think I shall write to Charlotte and ask her to come and stay with us.”

There was no withstanding this argument. As long as Charlotte was with us we were sure that Philip would be out of harm’s way, and seek for no other company. There was a snug little bedroom close by the quarters inhabited by our own children. My wife pleased herself by adorning this chamber, and uncle Mac happening to come to London on business about this time, the young lady came over to us under his convoy, and I should like to describe the meeting between her and Mr. Philip in our parlour. No doubt it was very edifying. But my wife and I were not present, vous concevez. We only heard one shout of surprise and delight from Philip as he went into the room where the young lady was waiting. We had but said, “Go into the parlour, Philip. You will find your old friend, Major Mac, there. He has come to London on business, and has news of — ” There was no need to speak, for here Philip straightway bounced into the room.

And then came the shout. And then out came Major Mac, with such a droll twinkle in his eyes! What artifices and hypocrisies had we not to practise previously, so as to keep our secret from our children, who assuredly would have discovered it! I must tell you that the paterfamilias had guarded against the innocent prattle and inquiries of the children regarding the preparation of the little bedroom, by informing them that it was intended for Miss Grigsby, the governess, with whose advent they had long been threatened. And one of our girls, when the unconscious Philip arrived, said, “Philip, if you go into the parlour, you will find Miss Grigsby, the governess, there.” And then Philip entered into that parlour, and then arose that shout, and then out came uncle Mac, and then And we called Charlotte Miss Grigsby all dinner-time; and we called her Miss Grigsby next day; and the more we called her Miss Grigsby the more we all laughed. And the baby, who could not speak plain yet, called her Miss Gibby, and laughed loudest of all; and it was such fun. But I think Philip and Charlotte had the best of the fun, my dears, though they may not have laughed quite so loud as we did.

As for Mrs. Brandon, who, you may be sure, speedily came to pay us a visit, Charlotte blushed, and looked quite beautiful when she went up and kissed the Little Sister. “He have told you about me, then!” she said, in her soft little voice, smoothing the young lady’s brown hair. “Should I have known him at all but for you, and did you not save his life for me when he was ill?” asked Miss Baynes. “And mayn’t I love everybody who loves him?” she asked. And we left these women alone for a quarter of an hour, during which they became the most intimate friends in the world. And all our household, great and small, including the nurse (a woman of a most jealous, domineering, and uncomfortable fidelity), thought well of our gentle young guest, and welcomed Miss Grigsby.

Charlotte, you see, is not so exceedingly handsome as to cause other women to perjure themselves by protesting that she is no great things after all. At the period with which we are concerned, she certainly had a lovely complexion, which her black dress set off, perhaps. And when Philip used to come into the room, she had always a fine garland of roses ready to offer him, and growing upon her cheeks, the moment he appeared. Her manners are so entirely unaffected and simple that they can’t be otherwise than good: for is she not grateful, truthful, unconscious of self, easily pleased, and interested in others? Is she very witty? I never said so — though that she appreciated some men’s wit (whose names need not be mentioned) I cannot doubt. “I say,” cries Philip, on that memorable first night of her arrival, and when she and other ladies had gone to bed, “by George! isn’t she glorious, I say! What can I have done to win such a pure little heart as that? Non sum dignus. It is too much happiness — too much, by George!” And his voice breaks behind his pipe, and he squeezes two fists into eyes that are brimful of joy and thanks. Where Fortune bestows such a bounty as this, I think we need not pity a man for what she withdraws. As Philip walks away at midnight (walks away? is turned out of doors; or surely he would have gone on talking till dawn), with the rain beating in his face, and fifty or a hundred pounds for all his fortune in his pocket, I think there goes one of the happiest of men — the happiest and richest. For is he not possessor of a treasure which he could not buy, or would not sell, for all the wealth of the world?

My wife may say what she will, but she assuredly is answerable for the invitation to Miss Baynes, and for all that ensued in consequence. At a hint that she would be a welcome guest in our house, in London, where all her heart and treasure lay, Charlotte Baynes gave up straightway her dear aunt, at Tours, who had been kind to her; her dear uncle, her dear mamma, and all her dear brothers — following that natural law which ordains that a woman, under certain circumstances, shall resign home, parents, brothers, sisters, for the sake of that one individual who is henceforth to be dearer to her than all. Mrs. Baynes, the widow, growled a complaint at her daughter’s ingratitude, but did not refuse her consent. She may have known that little Hely, Charlotte’s volatile admirer, had fluttered off to another flower by this time, and that a pursuit of that butterfly was in vain: or she may have heard that he was going to pass the spring — the butterfly season — in London, and hoped that he perchance might again light on her girl. Howbeit, she was glad enough that her daugh............

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