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Part 3 Chapter 7 In which the Drawing Rooms are Not Furnished

We cannot expect to be loved by a relative whom we have knocked into an illuminated pond, and whose coattails, pantaloons, nether limbs, and best feelings, we have lacerated with ill-treatment and broken glass. A man whom you have so treated behind his back will not be sparing of his punishment behind yours. Of course all the Twysdens, male and female, and Woolcomb, the dusky husband of Philip’s former love, hated and feared, and maligned him; and were in the habit of speaking of him as a truculent and reckless savage and monster, coarse and brutal in his language and behaviour, ragged, dirty and reckless in his personal appearance; reeking with smoke, perpetually reeling in drink, indulging in oaths, actions, laughter which rendered him intolerable in civilized society. The Twysdens, during Philip’s absence abroad, had been very respectful and assiduous in courting the new head of the Ringwood family. They had flattered Sir John, and paid court to my lady. They had been welcomed at Sir John’s houses in town and country. They had adopted his politics in a great measure, as they had adopted the politics of the deceased peer. They had never lost an opportunity of abusing poor Philip and of ingratiating themselves. They had never refused any invitation from Sir John in town or country, and had ended by utterly boring him and Lady Ringwood and the Ringwood family in general. Lady Ringwood learned somewhere how pitilessly Mrs. Woolcomb had jilted her cousin when a richer suitor appeared in the person of the West Indian. Then news came how Philip had administered a beating to Woolcomb, to young Twysden, to a dozen who set on him. The early prejudices began to pass away. A friend or two of Philip’s told Ringwood how he was mistaken in the young man, and painted a portrait of him in colours much more favourable than those which his kinsfolk employed. Indeed, dear relations, if the public wants to know our little faults and errors, I think I know who will not grudge the requisite information. Dear Aunt Candour, are you not still alive, and don’t you know what we had for dinner yesterday, and the amount (monstrous extravagance!) of the washerwoman’s bill?

Well, the Twysden family so bespattered poor Philip with abuse, and represented him as a monster of such hideous mien, that no wonder the Ringwoods avoided him. They then began to grow utterly sick and tired of his detractors. And then Sir John, happening to talk with his brother Member of Parliament, Tregarvan, in the House of Commons, heard quite a different story regarding our friend to that with which the Twysdens had regaled him, and, with no little surprise on Sir John’s part, was told by Tregarvan how honest, rough, worthy, affectionate and gentle this poor maligned fellow was; how he had been sinned against by his wretch of a father, whom he had forgiven and actually helped out of his wretched means; and how he was making a brave battle against poverty, and had a sweet little loving wife and child, whom every kind heart would willingly strive to help. Because people are rich they are not of necessity ogres. Because they are born gentlemen and ladies of good degree, are in easy circumstances, and have a generous education, it does not follow that they are heartless and will turn their back on a friend. Moi qui vous parle — I have been in a great strait of sickness near to death, and the friends who came to help me with every comfort, succour, sympathy, were actually gentlemen, who lived in good houses, and had a good education. They didn’t turn away because I was sick, or fly from me because they thought I was poor; on the contrary, hand, purse, succour, sympathy were ready, and praise be to heaven. And so too did Philip find help when he needed it, and succour when he was in poverty. Tregarvan, we will own, was a pompous little man, his House of Commons speeches were dull, and his written documents awfully slow; but he had a kind heart: he was touched by that picture which Laura drew of the young man’s poverty, and honesty, and simple hopefulness in the midst of hard times: and we have seen how the European Review was thus entrusted to Mr. Philip’s management. Then some artful friends of Philip’s determined that he should be reconciled to his relations, who were well to do in the world, and might serve him. And I wish, dear reader, that your respectable relatives and mine would bear this little paragraph in mind and leave us both handsome legacies. Then Tregarvan spoke to Sir John Ringwood, and that meeting was brought about, where, for once at least, Mr. Philip quarrelled with nobody.

And now came another little piece of good luck, which, I suppose, must be attributed to the same kind friend who had been scheming for Philip’s benefit, and who is never so happy as when her little plots for her friend’s benefit can be made to succeed. Yes: when that arch jobber — don’t tell me; — I never knew a woman worth a pin who wasn’t — when that archjobber, I say, has achieved a job by which some friend is made happy, her eyes and cheeks brighten with triumph. Whether she has put a sick man into a hospital, or got a poor woman a family’s washing, or made a sinner repent and return to wife, husband, or what not, that woman goes off and pays her thanks, where thanks are due, with such fervour, with such lightsomeness, with such happiness, that I assure you she is a sight to behold. Hush! When one sinner is saved, who are glad? Some of us know a woman or two pure as angels — know, and are thankful.

When the person about whom I have been prattling has one of her benevolent jobs in hand, or has completed it, there is a sort of triumph and mischief in her manner, which I don’t know otherwise how to describe. She does not understand my best jokes at this period, or answers them at random, or laughs very absurdly and vacantly. She embraces her children wildly, and, at the most absurd moments, is utterly unmindful when they are saying their lessons, prattling their little questions, and so forth. I recal all these symptoms (and put this and that together, as the saying is) as happening on one especial day, at the commencement of Easter Term, eighteen hundred and never mind what — as happening on one especial morning when this lady had been astoundingly distraite and curiously excited. I now remember, how during her children’s dinner-time, she sat looking into the square out of her window, and scarcely attending to the little innocent cries for mutton which the children were offering up.

At last there was a rapid clank over the pavement, a tall figure passed the parlour windows, which, our kind friends know, look into Queen Square, and then came a loud ring at the bell, and I thought the mistress of the house gave an ah — a sigh — as though her heart was relieved.

The street door was presently opened, and then the dining-room door, and Philip walks in with his hat on, his blue eyes staring before him, his hair flaming about, and “La, uncle Philip!” cry the children. “What have you done to yourself? You have shaved off your moustache.” And so he had, I declare!

“I say, Pen, look here! This has been left at chambers; and Cassidy has sent it on by his clerk,” our friend said. I forget whether it has been stated that Philip’s name still remained on the door of those chambers in Parchment Buildings, where we once heard his song of “Doctor Luther,” and were present at his call-supper.

The document which Philip produced was actually a brief. The papers were superscribed, “In Parliament, Polwheedle and Tredyddlum Railway. To support bill, Mr. Firmin; retainer, five guineas; brief, fifty guineas; consultation, five guineas. With you Mr. Armstrong, Sir J. Whitworth, Mr. Pinkerton.” Here was a wonder of wonders! A shower of gold was poured out on my friend. A light dawned upon me. The proposed bill was for a Cornish line. Our friend Tregarvan was concerned in it, the line passing through his property, and my wife had canvassed him privately, and by her wheedling and blandishments had persuaded Tregarvan to use his interest with the agents and get Philip this welcome aid.

Philip eyed the paper with a queer expression. He handled it as some men handle a baby. He looked as if he did not know what to do with it, and as if he should like to drop it. I believe I made some satirical remark to this effect as I looked at our friend with his paper.

“He holds a child beautifully,” said my wife with much enthusiasm; “much better than some people who laugh at him.”

“And he will hold this no doubt much to his credit. May this be the father of many briefs. May you have bags full of them!” Philip had all our good wishes. They did not cost much, or avail much, but they were sincere. I know men who can’t for the lives of them give even that cheap coin of good will, but hate their neighbours’ prosperity, and are angry with them when they cease to be dependent and poor.

We have said how Cassidy’s astonished clerk had brought the brief from chambers to Firmin at his lodgings at Mrs. Brandon’s in Thornhaugh Street. Had a bailiff served him with a writ, Philip could not have been more surprised, or in a greater tremor. A brief? Grands Dieux! What was he to do with a brief? He thought of going to bed, and being ill, of flying from home, country, family. Brief? Charlotte, of course, seeing her husband alarmed, began to quake too. Indeed, if his worship’s finger aches, does not her whole body suffer? But Charlotte’s and Philip’s constant friend, the Little Sister, felt no such fear. “Now there’s this opening, you must take it, my dear,” she said. “Suppose you don’t know much about law — ” “Much! nothing,” interposed Philip. “You might ask me to play the piano; but as I never happened to have learned — ”

“La — don’t tell me! You mustn’t show a faint heart. Take the business, and do it best you can. You’ll do it better next time, and next. The Bar’s a gentleman’s business. Don’t I attend a judge’s lady, which I remember her with her first in a little bit of a house in Bernard Street, Russell Square; and now haven’t I been to her in Eaton Square, with a butler, and two footmen, and carriages ever so many? You may work on at your newspapers, and get a crust, and when you’re old, and if you quarrel — and you have a knack of quarrelling — he has, Mrs. Firmin. I knew him before you did. Quarrelsome he is, and he will be, though you think him an angel, to be sure. — Suppose you quarrel with your newspaper masters, and your reviews, and that, you lose your place? A gentleman like Mr. Philip oughtn’t to have a master. I couldn’t bear to think of your going down of a Saturday to the publishing office to get your wages like a workman.”

“But I am a workman,” interposes Philip.

“La! But do you mean to remain one for ever? I would rise, if I was a man!” said the intrepid little woman; “I would rise, or I’d know the reason why. Who knows how many in family you’re going to be? I’d have more spirit than to live in a second floor — I would!”

And the Little Sister said this, though she clung round Philip’s child with a rapture of fondness which she tried in vain to conceal; though she felt that to part from it would be to part from her life’s chief happiness; though she loved Philip as her own son: and Charlotte — well, Charlotte for Philip’s sake — as women love other women.

Charlotte came to her friends in Queen Square, and told us of the resolute Little Sister’s advice and conversation. She knew that Mrs. Brandon only loved her as something belonging to Philip. She admired this Little Sister; and trusted her; and could afford to bear that little somewhat scornful domination which Brandon exercised. “She does not love me, because Philip does,” Charlotte said. “Do you think I could like her, or any woman, if I thought Philip loved them? I could kill them, Laura, that I could!” And at this sentiment I imagine daggers shooting out of a pair of eyes that were ordinarily very gentle and bright.

Not having been engaged in the case in which Philip had the honour of first appearing, I cannot enter into particulars regarding it, but am sure that case must have been uncommonly strong in itself, which could survive such an advocate. He passed a frightful night of torture before appearing in committee room. During that night, he says, his hair grew grey. His old college friend and comrade Pinkerton, who was with him in the case, “coached” him on the day previous; and indeed it must be owned that the work which he had to perform was not of a nature to impair the inside or the outside of his skull. A great man was his leader; his friend Pinkerton followed; and all Mr. Philip’s business was to examine a half-dozen witnesses by questions previously arranged between them and the agents.

When you hear that, as a reward of his services in this case, Mr. Firmin received a sum of money sufficient to pay his modest family expenses for some four months, I am sure, dear and respected literary friends, that you will wish the lot of a parliamentary barrister had been yours, or that your immortal works could be paid with such a liberality as rewards the labours of these lawyers. “Nimmer erscheinen die G?tter allein.” After one agent had employed Philip, another came and secured his valuable services: him two or three others followed, and our friend postively had money in bank. Not only were apprehensions of poverty removed for the present, but we had every reason to hope that Firmin’s prosperity would increase and continue. And when a little son and heir was born, which blessing was conferred upon Mr. Philip about a year after his daughter, our godchild, saw the light, we should have thought it shame to have any misgivings about the future, so cheerful did Philip’s prospects appear. “Did I not tell you,” said my wife, with her usual kindling romance, “that comfort and succour would be found for these in the hour of their need?” Amen. We were grateful that comfort and succour should come. No one I am sure was more humbly thankful than Philip himself for the fortunate chances which befel him.

He was alarmed rather than elated by his sudden prosperity. “It can’t last,” he said. “Don’t tell me. The attorneys must find me out before long. They cannot continue to give their business to such an ignoramus; and I really think I must remonstrate with them.” You should have seen the Little Sister’s indignation when Philip uttered this sentiment in her presence. “Give up your business? Yes, do!” she cried, tossing up Philip’s youngest born. “Fling this baby out of window, why not indeed, which heaven has sent it you! — You ought to go down on your knees and ask pardon for having thought anything so wicked.” Philip’s heir, by the way, immediately on his entrance into the world, had become the prime favourite of this unreasoning woman. The little daughter was passed over as a little person of no account, and so began to entertain the passion of jealousy at almost the very earliest age at which even the female breast is capable of enjoying it.

And though this Little Sister loved all these people with an almost ferocious passion of love, and lay awake, I believe, hearing their infantine cries, or crept on stealthy feet in darkness to their mother’s chamber-door, behind which they lay sleeping; though she had, as it were, a range for these infants, and was wretched out of their sight, yet, when a third and a fourth brief came to Philip, and he was enabled to put a little money aside, nothing would content Mrs. Brandon but that he should go into a house of his own. “A gentleman,” she said, “ought not to live in a two-pair lodging; he ought to have a house of his own.” So, you see, she hastened on the preparations for her own execution. She trudged to the brokers’ shops and made wonderful bargains of furniture. She cut chintzes, and covered sofas, and sewed, and patched, and fitted. She found a house and took it — Milman Street, Guildford Street, opposite the Fondling (as the dear little soul called it), a most genteel, quiet little street, “and quite near for me to come,” she said, “to see my dears.” Did she speak with dry eyes? Mine moisten sometimes when I think of the faith, of the generosity, of the sacrifice, of that devoted, loving creature.

I am very fond of Charlotte. Her sweetness and simplicity won all our hearts at home. No wife or mother ever was more attached and affectionate; but I own there was a time when I hated her, though of course that highly principled woman, the wife of the author of the present memoirs, says that the statement I am making here is stuff and nonsense, not to say immoral and irreligious. Well, then, I hated Charlotte for the horrible eagerness which she showed in getting away from this Little Sister, who clung round those children, whose first cries she had heard. I hated Charlotte for a cruel happiness which she felt as she hugged the children to her heart: her own children in their own room, whom she would dress, and watch, and wash, and tend; and for whom she wanted no aid. No aid, entendez-vous? Oh, it was a shame, a shame! In the new house, in the pleasant little trim new nursery (fitted up by whose fond hands we will not say), is the mother glaring over the cot, where the little soft round cheeks are pillowed; and yonder in the rooms in Thornhaugh Street, where she has tended them for two years, the Little Sister sits lonely, as the moonlight streams in. God help thee, little suffering, faithful heart! Never but once in her life before had she known so exquisite a pain.

Of course, we had an entertainment in the new house; and Philip’s friends, old and new, came to the house-warming. The family coach of the Ringwoods blocked up that astonished little street. The powder on their footmen’s heads nearly brushed the ceiling, as the monsters rose when the guests passed in and out of the hall. The Little Sister merely took charge of the tea-room. Philip’s ‘library’ was that usual little cupboard beyond the dining-room. The little drawing-room was dreadfully crowded by an ex-nurse............

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