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Part 3 Chaptear 3 Ways and Means

Of course any man of the world, who is possessed of decent prudence, will perceive that the idea of marrying on four hundred and fifty pounds a year so secured as was Master Philip’s income, was preposterous and absurd. In the first place, you can’t live on four hundred and fifty pounds a year, that is a certainty. People do live on less, I believe. But a life without a brougham, without a decent house, without claret for dinner, and a footman to wait, can hardly be called existence. Philip’s income might fail any day. He might not please the American paper. He might quarrel with the Pall Mall Gazette. And then what would remain to him? Only poor little Charlotte’s fifty pounds a year! So Philip’s most intimate male friend — a man of the world, and with a good deal of experience — argued. Of course I was not surprised that Philip did not choose to take my advice: though I did not expect he would become so violently angry, call names almost, and use most rude expressions, when, at his express desire, this advice was tendered to him. If he did not want it, why did he ask for it? The advice might be unwelcome to him, but why did he choose to tell me at my own table, over my own claret, that it was the advice of a sneak and a worldling? My good fellow, that claret, though it is a second growth, and I can afford no better, costs seventy-two shillings a dozen. How much is six times three hundred and sixty-five? A bottle a day is the least you can calculate (the fellow would come to my house and drink two bottles to himself, with the utmost nonchalance). A bottle per diem of that light charet — of that second-growth stuff — costs one hundred and four guineas a year, do you understand? or, to speak plainly with you, one hundred and nine pounds four shillings!

“Well,” says Philip, “après? We’ll do without. Meantime I will take what I can get!” and he tosses off about a pint as he speaks (these mousseline glasses are not only enormous, but they break by dozens.) He tosses off a pint of my Larose, and gives a great roar of laughter, as if he had said a good thing.

Philip Firmin is coarse and offensive at times, and Bickerton in holding this opinion is not altogether wrong.

“I’ll drink claret when I come to you, old boy,” he says, grinning; “and at home I will have whiskey-and-water.”

“But suppose Charlotte is ordered claret?”

“Well, she can have it,” says this liberal lover; “a bottle will last her a week.”

“Don’t you see,” I shriek out, “that even a bottle a week costs something like — sixty by fifty-two — eighteen pounds a year?” (I own it is really only fifteen twelve; but, in the hurry of argument, a man may stretch a figure or so.) “Eighteen pounds for Charlotte’s claret; as much, at least, you great boozy toper, for your whisky and beer. Why, you actually want a tenth part of your income for the liquor you consume! And then clothes; and then lodging; and then coals; and then doctor’s bills; and then pocket-money; and then sea-side for the little dears. Just have the kindness to add these things up, and you will find that you have about two-and-ninepence left to pay the grocer and the butcher.”

“What you call prudence,” says Philip, thumping the table, and, of course, breaking a glass, “I call cowardice — I call blasphemy! Do you mean, as a Christian man, to tell me that two young people, and a family if it should please heaven to send them one, cannot subsist upon five hundred pounds a year? Look round, sir, at the myriads of God’s creatures who live, love, are happy and poor, and be ashamed of the wicked doubt which you utter!” And he starts up, and strides up and down the dining-room, curling his flaming moustache, and rings the bell fiercely, and says, “Johnson, I’ve broke a glass. Get me another.”

In the drawing-room, my wife asks what we two were fighting about? And, as Charlotte is up-stairs, telling the children stories as they are put to bed, or writing to her dear mamma, or what not, our friend bursts out with more rude and violent expressions than he had used in the dining-room over my glasses which he was smashing, tells my own wife that I am an atheist, or at best a miserable sceptic and Sadducee: that I doubt of the goodness of heaven, and am not thankful for my daily bread. And, with one of her kindling looks directed towards the young man, of course my wife sides with him. Miss Char presently came down from the young folks, and went to the piano, and played us Beethoven’s Dream of Saint Jerome, which always soothes me, and charms me, so that I fancy it is a poem of Tennyson in music. And our children, as they sink off to sleep over-head, like to hear soft music, which soothes them into slumber, Miss Baynes says. And Miss Charlotte looks very pretty at her piano: and Philip lies gazing at her, with his great feet and hands tumbled over one of our arm-chairs. And the music, with its solemn cheer, makes us all very happy and kind-hearted, and ennobles us somehow as we listen. And my wife wears her benedictory look whenever she turns towards these young people. She has worked herself up to the opinion that yonder couple ought to marry. She can give chapter and verse for her belief. To doubt about the matter at all is wicked according to her notions. And there are certain points upon which, I humbly own, that I don’t dare to argue with her.

When the women of the house have settled a matter, is there much use in man’s resistance? If my harem orders that I shall wear a yellow coat and pink trousers, I know that, before three months are over, I shall be walking about in rose-tendre and canary-coloured garments. It is the perseverance which conquers, the daily return to the object desired. Take my advice, my dear sir, when you see your womankind resolute about a matter, give up at once, and have a quiet life. Perhaps to one of these evening entertainments, where Miss Baynes played the piano, as she did very pleasantly, and Mr. Philip’s great clumsy fist turned the leaves, little Mrs. Brandon would come tripping in, and as she surveyed the young couple, her remark would be, “Did you ever see a better suited couple?” When I came home from chambers, and passed the dining-room door, my eldest daughter with a knowing face would bar the way and say,“You mustn’t go in there, papa! Miss Grigsby is there, and Master Philip is not to be disturbed at his lessons!” Mrs. Mugford had begun to arrange marriages between her young people and ours from the very first day she saw us; and Mrs. M.’s ch. filly Toddles, rising two years, and our three-year old colt Billyboy, were rehearsing in the nursery the endless little comedy which the grown-up young persons were performing in the drawing-room.

With the greatest frankness Mrs. Mugford gave her opinion that Philip, with four or five hundred a year, would be no better than a sneak if he delayed to marry. How much had she and Mugford when they married, she would like to know? “Emily Street, Pentonville, was where we had apartments,” she remarked; “we were pinched sometimes; but we owed nothing: and our housekeeping books I can show you.” I believe Mrs. M. actually brought these dingy relics of her honeymoon for my wife’s inspection. I tell you, my house was peopled with these friends of matrimony. Flies were for ever in requisition, and our boys were very sulky at having to sit for an hour at Shoolbred’s , while certain ladies lingered there over blankets, tablecloths, and what not. Once I found my wife and Charlotte flitting about Wardour Street, the former lady much interested in a great Dutch cabinet, with a glass cupboard and corpulent drawers. And that cabinet was, ere long, carted off to Mrs. Brandon’s , Thornhaugh Street; and in that glass cupboard there was presently to be seen a neat set of china for tea and breakfast. The end was approaching. That event, with which the third volume of the old novels used to close, was at hand. I am afraid our young people can’t drive off from St. George’s in a chaise and four, and that no noble relative will lend them his castle for the honeymoon. Well: some people cannot drive to happiness, even with four horses; and other folks can reach the goal on foot. My venerable Muse stoops down, unlooses her cothurnus with some difficulty, and prepares to fling that old shoe after the pair.

Tell, venerable Muse! what were the marriage gifts which friendship provided for Philip and Charlotte? Philip’s cousin, Ringwood Twysden, came simpering up to me at Bays’s Club one afternoon, and said: “I hear my precious cousin is going to marry. I think I shall send him a broom to sweep a crossin’.” I was nearly going to say, “This was a piece of generosity to be expected from your father’s son;” but the fact is, that I did not think of this withering repartee until I was crossing St. James’s Park on my way home, when Twysden of course was out of ear-shot. A great number of my best witticisms have been a little late in making their appearance in the world. If we could but hear the unspoken jokes, how we should all laugh; if we could but speak them, how witty we should be! When you have left the room, you have no notion what clever things I was going to say when you balked me by going away. Well, then, the fact is, the Twysden’s family gave Philip nothing on his marriage, being the exact sum of regard which they professed to have for him.

Mrs. Major MacWhirter gave the bride an Indian brooch, representing the Taj Mahal at Agra, which General Baynes had given to his sister-in-law in old days. At a later period, it is true, Mrs. Mac asked Charlotte for the brooch back again; but this was when many family quarrels had raged between the relatives — quarrels which to describe at length would be to tax too much the writer and the readers of this history.

Mrs. Mugford presented an elegant plated coffee-pot, six drawing-room almanacs (spoils of the Pall Mall Gazette), and fourteen richly cut jelly-glasses, most useful for negus, if the young couple gave evening parties, which dinners they would not be able to afford.

Mrs. Barndon made an offering of two tablecloths and twelve dinner napkins, most beautifully worked, and I don’t know how much house linen.

The Lady of the Present Writer — Twelve teaspoons in bullion, and a pair of sugar-tongs. Mrs. Baynes, Philip’s mother-in-law, sent him also a pair of sugar-tongs, of a light manufacture, easily broken. He keeps a tong to the present day, and speaks very satirically regarding that relic.

Philip’s Inn of Court — A bill for commons and Inn taxes, with the Treasurer’s compliments.

And these, I think, formed the items of poor little Charlotte’s meagre trousseau. Before Cinderella went to the ball she was almost as rich as our little maid. Charlotte’s mother sent a grim consent to the child’s marriage, but declined herself to attend it. She was ailing and poor. Her year’s widowhood was just over. She had her other children to look after. My impression is that Mrs. Baynes thought that she could be out of Philip’s power so long as she remained abroad, and that the general’s savings would be secure from him. So she delegated her authority to Philip’s friends in London, and sent her daughter a moderate wish for her happiness, which may or may not have profited the young people.

“Well, my dear? You are rich compared to what I was, when I married,” little Mrs. Brandon said to her young friend. “You will have a good husband. That is more than I had. You will have good friends; and I was almost alone for a time,until it pleased God to befriend me.” It was not without a feeling of awe that we saw these young people commence that voyage of life on which henceforth they were to journey together; and I am sure that of the small company who accompanied them to the silent little chapel where they were joined in marriage there was not one who did not follow them with tender good wishes and heartfelt prayers. They had a little purse provided for a month’s holiday. They had health, hope, good spirits, good friends. I have never learned that life’s trials were over after marriage; only lucky is he who has a loving companion to share them. As for the lady with whom Charlotte had stayed before her marriage, she was in a state of the most lachrymose sentimentality. She sate on the bed in the chamber which the little maid had vacated. Her tears flowed copiously. She knew not why, she could not tell how the girl had wound herself round her maternal heart. And I think if heaven had decreed this young creature should be poor, it had sent her many blessings and treasures in compensation.

Every respectable man and woman in London will, of course, pity these young people, and reprobate the mad risk which they were running, and yet, by the influence and example of a sentimental wife probably, so madly sentimental have I become, that I own sometimes I almost fancy these misguided wretches are to be envied.

A melancholy little chapel it is where they were married, and stands hard by our house. We did not decorate the church with flowers, or adorn the beadles with white ribbons. We had, I must confess, a dreary little breakfast, not in the least enlivened by Mugford’s jokes, who would make a speech de circonstance, which was not, I am thankful to say, reported in the Pall Mall Gazette. “We shan’t charge you for advertising the marriage there, my dear,” Mrs. Mugford said. “And I’ve already took it myself to Mr. Burjoyce.” Mrs. Mugford had insisted upon pinning a large white favour upon John, who drove from Hampstead: but that was the only ornament present at the nuptial ceremony, much to the disappointment of the good lady. T............

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