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Part 3 Chapter 5 In which I Own that Philip Tells an Untruth

Charlotte (and the usual little procession of nurse, baby, once made their appearance at our house in Queen Square, where they were ever welcome by the lady of the mansion. The young woman was in a great state of elation, and when we came to hear the cause of her delight, her friends too opened the eyes of wonder. She actually announced that Dr. Firmin had sent over a bill of forty pounds (I may be incorrect as to the sum) from New York. It had arrived that morning, and she had seen the bill, and Philip had told her that his father had sent it; and was it not a comfort to think that poor Doctor Firmin was endeavouring to repair some of the evil which he had done; and that he was repenting, and, perhaps, was going to become quite honest and good? This was indeed an astounding piece of intelligence: and the two women felt joy at the thought of that sinner repenting, and some one else was accused of cynicism, scepticism, and so forth, for doubting the corrctness of the information. “You believe in no one, sir. You are always incredulous about good,” was the accusation brought against the reader’s very humble servant. Well, about the contrition of this sinner, I confess I still continued to have doubts; and thought a present of forty pounds to a son, to whom he owed thousands, was no great proof of the doctor’s amendment.

And oh! how vexed some people were, when the real story came out at last! Not for the money’s sake — not because they were wrong in argument, and I turned out to be right. Oh, no! But because it was proved that this unhappy doctor had no present intention of repenting at all. This brand would not come out of the burning, whatever we might hope; and the doctor’s supporters were obliged to admit as much when they came to know the real story. “Oh, Philip,” cries Mrs. Laura, when next she saw Mr. Firmin. “How pleased I was to hear of that letter!”

“That letter?” asks the gentleman.

“That letter from your father at New York,” says the lady.

“Oh,” says the gentleman addressed, with a red face.

“What then? Is it not — is it not all true?” we ask.

“Poor Charlotte does not understand about business,” says Philip; “I did not read the letter to her. Here it is.” And he hands over the document to me, and I have the liberty to publish it.

“New York —

“And so, my dear Philip, I may congratulate myself on having achieved ancestral honour, and may add grandfather to my titles? How quickly this one has come! I feel myself a young man still, in spite of the blows of misfortune — at least, I know I was a young man but yesterday, when I may say with our dear old poet, Non sine gloria militavi. Suppose I too were to tire of solitary widowhood and re-enter the married state? There are one or two ladies here who would still condescend to look not unfavourably on the retired English gentleman. Without vanity I may say it, a man of birth and position in England acquires a polish and refinement of manner which dollars cannot purchase, and many a Wall Street millionary might envy!”

“Your wife has been pronounced to be an angel by a little correspondent of mine, who gives me much fuller intelligence of my family than my son condescends to furnish. Mrs. Philip I hear is gentle; Mrs. Brandon says she is beautiful, — she is all good-humoured. I hope you have taught her to think not very badly of her husband’s father? I was the dupe of villains who lured me into their schemes; who robbed me of a life’s earnings; who induced me by their false representations to have such confidence in them, that I embarked all my own property, and yours, my poor boy, alas! in their undertakings. Your Charlotte will take the liberal, the wise, the just view of the case, and pity rather than blame my misfortune. Such is the view, I am happy to say, generally adopted in this city; where there are men of the world who know the vicissitudes of a mercantile career, and can make allowances for misfortune! What made Rome at first great and prosperous? Were its first colonists all wealthy patricians? Nothing can be more satisfactory than the disregard shown here to mere pecuniary difficulty. At the same time, to be a gentleman is to possess no trifling privilege in this society, where the advantages of birth, respected name, and early education always tell in the possessor’s favour. Many persons whom I visit here have certainly not these advantages; and in the highest society of the city I could point out individuals who have had pecuniary misfortunes like myself, who have gallantly renewed the combat after their fall, and are now fully restored to competence, to wealth, and the respect of the world! I was in a house in Fifth Avenue last night. Is Washington White shunned by his fellow-men because he has been a bankrupt three times? Anything more elegant or profuse than his entertainment I have not witnessed on this continent. His lady had diamonds which a duchess might envy. The most costly wines, the most magnificent supper, and myriads of canvas-backed ducks covered his board. Dear Charlotte, my friend Captain Colpoys brings you over three brace of these from your father-in-law, who hopes they will furnish your little dinner-table! We eat currant jelly with them here, but I like an old English lemon and cayenne sauce better.

“By the way, dear Philip, I trust you will not be inconvenienced by a little financial operation, which necessity (alas!) has compelled me to perform. Knowing that your quarter with the Upper Ten Thousand Gazette was now due, I have made so bold as to request Colonel — to pay it over to me. Promises to pay must be met here as with us — an obdurate holder of an unlucky acceptance of mine (I am happy to say there are very few such) would admit of no delay, and I have been compelled to appropriate my poor Philip’s earnings. I have only put you off for ninety days: with your credit and wealthy friends you can easily negotiate the bill enclosed, and I promise you that when presented it shall be honoured by my Philip’s ever affectionate father,

G. B. F.”

“By the way, your Philalethes’ letters are not quite spicy enough, my worthy friend the colonel says. They are elegant and gay, but the public here desires to have more personal news; a little scandal about Queen Elizabeth, you understand? Can’t you attack somebody! Look at the letters and articles published by my respected friend of the New York Emerald! The readers here like a high-spiced article: and I recommend P. F. to put a little more pepper in his dishes. What a comfort to me it is to think that I have procured this place for you, and have been enabled to help my son and his young family!

G. B. F.”

Enclosed in this letter was a slip of paper which poor Philip supposed to be a cheque when he first beheld it, but which turned out to be his papa’s promissory note, payable at New York four months after date. And this document was to represent the money which the elder Firmin had received in his son’s name! Philip’s eyes met his friend’s when they talked about this matter. Firmin looked almost as much ashamed as if he himself had done the wrong.

“Does the loss of this money annoy you?” asked Philip’s friend.

“The manner of the loss does,” said poor Philip. “I don’t care about the money. But he should not have taken this. He should not have taken this. Think of poor Charlotte and the child being in want possibly! Oh, friend, it’s hard to bear, isn’t it? I’m an honest fellow, ain’t I? I think I am. I pray heaven I am. In any extremity of poverty could I have done this? Well. It was my father who introduced me to these people. I suppose he thinks he has a right to my earnings: and if he is in want, you know, so he has.”

“Had you not better write to the New York publisher and beg them henceforth to remit to you directly?” asks Philip’s friend.

“That would be to tell them that he has disposed of the money,” groans Philip. “I can’t tell them that my father is a — ”

“No; but you can thank them for having handed over such a sum on your account to the doctor: and warn them that you will draw on them from this country henceforth. They won’t in this case pay the next quarter to the doctor.”

“Suppose he is in want, ought I not to supply him?” Firmin said. “As long as there are four crusts in the house, the doctor ought to have one. Ought I to be angry with him for helping himself, old boy?” and he drinks a glass of wine, poor fellow, with a rueful smile. By the way, it is my duty to mention here, that the elder Firmin was in the habit of giving very elegant little dinner-parties at New York, where little dinner-parties are much more costly than in Europe — “in order,” he said, “to establish and keep up his connection as a physician.” As a bon-vivant, I am informed, the doctor began to be celebrated in his new dwelling-place, where his anecdotes of the British aristocracy were received with pleasure in certain circles.

But it would be as well henceforth that Philip should deal directly with his American correspondents, and not employ the services of so very expensive a broker. To this suggestion he could not but agree. Meanwhile, — and let this be a warning to men never to deceive their wives in any the slightest circumstances; to tell them everything they wish to know, to keep nothing hidden from those dear and excellent beings — you must know, ladies, that when Philip’s famous ship of dollars arrived from America, Firmin had promised his wife that baby should have a dear delightful white cloak trimmed with the most lovely tape, on which poor Charlotte had often cast a longing eye as she passed by the milliner and curiosity shops in Hanway Yard, which, I own, she loved to frequent. Well: when Philip told her that his father had sent home forty pounds, or what not, thereby deceiving his fond wife, the little lady went away straight to her darling shop in the Yard — (Hanway Yard has become a street now, but ah! it is always delightful) — Charlotte, I say, went off, ran off to Hanway Yard, pavid with fear lest the darling cloak should be gone, found it — oh, joy! — still in Miss Isaacson’s window; put it on baby straightway then and there; kissed the dear infant, and was delighted with the effect of the garment, which all the young ladies at Miss Isaacson’s pronounced to be perfect; and took the cloak away on baby’s shoulders, promising to send the money, five pounds, if you please, next day. And in this cloak baby and Charlotte went to meet papa when he came home; and I don’t know which of them, mamma or baby, was the most pleased and absurd and happy baby of the two. On his way home from his newspaper, Mr. Philip had orders to pursue a certain line of streets, and when his accustomed hour for returning from his business drew nigh, Mrs. Char went down Thornhaugh Street, down Charlotte Street, down Rathbone Place, with Betsy the nursekin and baby in the new cloak. Behold, he comes at last — papa — striding down the street. He sees the figures: he sees the child, which laughs, and holds out its little pink hands, and crows a recognition. And “Look — look, papa,” cries the happy mother. (Away! I cannot keep up the mystery about the baby any longer, and though I had forgotten for a moment the child’s sex, remembered it the instant after, and that it was a girl to be sure, and that its name was Laura Caroline). “Look, look, papa!” cries the happy mother. “She has got another little tooth since the morning, such a beautiful little tooth — and look here, sir, don’t you observe anything?”

“Any what?” asks Philip.

“La! sir,” says Betsy, giving Laura Caroline a great toss, so that her white cloak floats in the air.

“Isn’t it a dear cloak?” cries mamma: “and doesn’t baby look like an angel in it? I bought it at Miss Isaacson’s to-day, as you got your money from New York; and oh, my dear, it only cost five guineas.”

“Well, it’s a week’s work,” sighs poor Philip; “and I think I need not grudge that to give Charlotte pleasure.” And he feels his empty pockets rather ruefully.

“God bless you, Philip,” says my wife, with her eyes full. “They came here this morning, Charlotte and the nurse and the baby in the new — the new — .” Here the lady seized hold of Philip’s hand, and fairly broke out into tears. Had she embraced Mr. Firmin before her husband’s own eyes, I should not have been surprised. Indeed she confessed that she was on the point of giving way to this most sentimental outbreak.

And now, my brethren, see how one crime is the parent of many, and one act of duplicity leads to a whole career of deceit. In the first place, you see, Philip had deceived his wife — with the pious desire, it is true, of screening his father’s little peculiarities — but, ruat coelum, we must tell no lies. No: and from this day forth I order John never to say Not at home to the greatest bore, dun, dawdle of my acquaintance. If Philip’s father had not deceived him, Philip would not have deceived his wife; if he had not deceived his wife, she would not have given five guineas for that cloak for the baby. If she had not given five guineas for the cloak, my wife would never have entered into a secret correspondence with Mr. Firmin, which might but for my own sweetness of temper have bred jealousy, mistrust, and the most awful quarrels — nay, duels — between the heads of the two families. Fancy Philip’s body lying stark upon Hampstead Heath with a bullet through it, despatched by the hand of his friend! Fancy a cab driving up to my own house, and from it — under the eyes of the children at the parlour-windows — their father’s bleeding corpse ejected! — Enough of this dreadful pleasantry! Two days after the affair of the cloak, I found a letter in Philip’s handwriting addressed to my wife, and thinking that the note had reference to a matter of dinner then pending between our families, I broke open the envelope and read as follows:—

“Thornhaugh Street, Thursday.

“My dear, kind Godmamma, — As soon as ever I can write and speak, I will thank you for being so kind to me. My mamma says she is very jealous, and as she bought my cloak she can’t think of allowing you to pay for it. But she desires me never to forget your kindness to us, and though I don’t know anything about it now, she promises to tell me when I am old enough. Meanwhile I am your grateful and affectionate little goddaughter,

L. C. F.”

Philip was persuaded by his friends at home to send out the request to his New York employers to pay his salary henceforth to himself; and I remember a dignified letter came from his parent, in which the matter was spoken of in sorrow rather than in anger; in which the doctor pointed out that this precautionary measure seemed to imply a doubt on Philip’s side of his father’s honour; and surely, surely, he was unhappy enough and unfortunate enough already without meriting this mistrust from his son. The duty of a son to honour his father and mother was feelingly pointed out, and the doctor meekly trusted that Philip’s children would give him more confidence than he seemed to be inclined to award to his unfortunate father. Never mind. He should bear no malice. If Fortune ever smiled on him again, and something told him she would, he would show Philip that he could forgive; although he might not perhaps be able to forget that in his exile, his solitude, his declining years, his misfortune, his own child had mistrusted him. This, he said, was the most cruel blow of all for his susceptible heart to bear.

This letter of paternal remonstrance was enclosed in one from the doctor to his old friend the Little Sister, in which he vaunted a discovery which he and some other scientific gentlemen were engaged in perfecting — of a medicine which was to be extraordinarily efficacious in cases in which Mrs. Brandon herself was often specially and professionally engaged, and he felt sure that the sale of this medicine would go far to retrieve his shattered fortune. He pointed out the complaints in which this medicine was most efficacious. He would send some of it, and details regarding its use, to Mrs. Brandon, who might try its efficacy upon her patients. He was advancing slowly, but steadily, in his medical profession, he said; though, of course, he had to suffer from the jealousy of his professional brethren. Never mind. Better times, he was sure, were in store for all; when his son should see that a wretched matter of forty pounds more should not deter him from paying all just claims upon him. Amen! We all heartily wished for the day when Philip’s father should be able to settle his little accounts. Meanwhile the proprietors of the Gazette of the Upper Ten Thousand were instructed to write directly to their London correspondent.

Although Mr. Firmin prided himself, as we have seen, upon his taste and dexterity as sub-editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, I must own that he was a very insubordinate officer, with whom his superiors often had cause to be angry. Certain people were praised in the Gazette — certain others were attacked. Very dull books were admired, and very lively works attacked. Some men were praised for everything they did; some others were satirized, no matter what their works were. “I find,” poor Philip used to say, with a groan, “that in matters of criticism especially, there are so often private reasons for the praise and the blame administered, that I am glad, for my part, my only duty is to see the paper through the press. For instance, there is Harrocks, the tragedian of Drury Lane: every piece in which he appears is a masterpiece, and his performance the greatest triumph ever witnessed. Very good. Harrocks and my excellent employer are good friends, and dine with each other; and it is natural that Mugford should like to have his friend praised, and to help him in every way. But Balderson, of Covent Garden, is also a very fine actor. Why can’t our critic see his merit as well as Harrocks’? Poor Balderson is never allowed any merit at all. He is passed over with a sneer, or a curt word of cold commendation, while columns of flattery are not enough for his rival.”

“Why, Mr. F., what a flat you must be, askin’ your pardon,” remarked Mugford, in reply to his sub-editor’s simple remonstrance. “How can we praise Balderson, when Harrocks is our friend? Me and Harrocks are thick. Our wives are close friends. If I was to let Balderson be praised, I should drive Harrocks mad. I can’t praise Balderson, don’t you see, out of justice to Harrocks!”

Then there was a certain author whom Bickerton was for ever attacking. They had had a private quarrel, and Bickerton revenged himself in this way. In reply to Philip’s outcries and remonstrances, Mr. Mugford only laughed: “The two men are enemies, and Bickerton hits him whenever he can. Why, that’s only human nature, Mr. F.,” says Philip’s employer.

“Great heavens!” bawls out Firmin, “do you mean to say that the man is base enough to strike at his private enemies through the press?”

“Private enemies! private gammon, Mr. Firmin!” cries Philip’s employer. “If I have enemies — and I have, there’s no doubt about that — I serve them out whenever and wherever I can. And let me tell you I don’t half relish having my conduct called base. Its only natural; and it’s right. Perhaps you would like to praise your enemies, and abuse your friend? If that’s your line, let me tell you you won’t do in the noospaper business, and had better take to some other trade.” And the employer parted from his subordinate in some heat.

Mugford, indeed, feelingly spoke to me about this insubordination of Philip. “What does the fellow mean by quarrelling with his bread and butter?” Mr. Mugford asked. “Speak to him, and show him what’s what, Mr. P., or we shall come to a quarrel, mind you — and I don’t want that, for the sake of his little wife, poor little delicate thing. Whatever is to happen to them, if we don’t stand by them?”

What was to happen to them, indeed? Any one who knew Philip’s temper, as we did, was aware how little advice or remonstrance were likely to affect that gentleman. “Good heavens?” he said to me, when I endeavoured to make him adopt a conciliatory tone towards his employer, “do you want to make me Mugford’s galley-slave? I shall have him standing over me and swearing at me as he does at the printers. He looks into my room at times when he is in a passion, and glares at me, as if he would like to seize me by the throat; and after a word or two he goes off, and I hear him curse the boys in the passage. One day it will be on me that he will turn, I feel sure of that. I tell you the slavery is beginning to be awful. I wake of a night and groan and chafe, and poor Char, too, wakes and asks, ‘What is it, Philip?’ I say it is rheumatism. Rheumatism!” Of course to Philip’s malady his friends tried to apply the commonplace anodynes and consolations. He must be gentle in his bearing. He must remember that his employer had not been bred a gentleman, and that though rough and coarse in language, Mugford had a kind heart. “There is no need to tell me he is not a gentleman, I know that,” says poor Phil. “He is kind to Char and the child, that is the truth, and so is his wife. I am a slave for all that. He is my driver. He feeds me. He hasn’t beat me yet. When I was away at Paris I did not feel the chain so much. But it is scarcely tolerable now, when I have to see my gaoler four or five times a week. My poor little Char, why did I drag you into this slavery?”

“Because you wanted a consoler, I suppose,” remarks one of Philip’s comforters. “And do you suppose Charlotte would be happier if she were away from you? Though you live up two pair of stairs, is any home happier than yours, Philip? You often own as much, when you are in happier moods. Who has not his work to do, and his burden to bear? You say sometimes that you are imperious and hot-tempered. Perhaps your slavery, as you call it, may be good for you.”

“I have doomed myself and her to it,” says Philip, hanging down his head.

“Does she ever repine?” asks his adviser. “Does she not think herself the happiest little wife in the world? See, here, Philip, here is a note from her yesterday in which she says as much. Do you want to know what the note is about, sir?” says the lady, with a smile. “Well, then, she wanted a receipt for that dish which you liked so much on Friday, and she and Mrs. Brandon will make it for you.”

“And if it consisted of minced Charlotte,” says Philip’s other friend, “you know she would cheerfully chop herself up, and have herself served with a little cream-sauce and sippets of toast for your honour’s dinner.”

This was undoubtedly true. Did not Job’s friends make many true remarks when they visited him in his affliction? Patient as he was, the patriarch groaned and lamented, and why should not poor Philip be allowed to grumble, who was not a model of patience at all? He was not broke in as yet. The mill-horse was restive and kicked at his work. He would chafe not seldom at the daily drudgery, and have his fits of revolt and despondency. Well? Have others not had to toil, to bow the proud head, and carry the daily burden? Don’t you see Pegasus, who was going to win the plate, a weary, broken-knee’d, broken-down old cab hack shivering in the rank; or a sleek gelding, mayhap, pacing under a corpulent master in Rotten Row? Philip’s c............

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