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Part 3 Chapter 8 Nec Plena Cruoris Hirudo

The reading of this precious letter filled Philip’s friend with an inward indignation which it was very hard to control or disguise. It is no pleasant task to tell a gentleman that his father is a rogue. Old Firmin would have been hanged a few years earlier, for practices like these. As you talk with a very great scoundrel, or with a madman, has not the respected reader sometimes reflected, with a grim self-humiliation, how the fellow is of our own kind; and homo est? Let us, dearly beloved, who are outside — I mean outside the hulks or the asylum — be thankful that we have to pay a barber for snipping our hair, and are entrusted with the choice of the cut of our own jerkins. As poor Philip read his father’s letter, my thought was: “And I can remember the soft white hand of that scoundrel, which has just been forging his own son’s name, putting sovereigns into my own palm when I was a schoolboy.” I always liked that man:— but the story is not de me — it regards Philip.

“You won’t pay this bill?” Philip’s friend indignantly said, then.

“What can I do?” says poor Phil, shaking a sad head.

“You are not worth five hundred pounds in the world,” remarks the friend.

“Who ever said I was? I am worth this bill: or my credit is,” answers the victim.

“If you pay this, he will draw more.”

“I daresay he will:” that Firmin admits.

“And he will continue to draw, as long as there is a drop of blood to be had out of you.”

“Yes,” owns poor Philip, putting a finger to his lip. He thought I might be about to speak. His artless wife and mine were conversing at that moment upon the respective merits of some sweet chintzes which they had seen at Shoolbred’s , in Tottenham Court Road, and which were so cheap and pleasant, and lively to look at! Really those drawing-room curtains would cost scarcely anything! Our Regulus, you see, before stepping into his torture-tub, was smiling on his friends, and talking upholstery with a cheerful, smirking countenance. On chintz, or some other household errand, the ladies went prattling off: but there was no care, save for husband and children, in Charlotte’s poor little innocent heart just then.

“Nice to hear her talking about sweet drawing-room chintzes, isn’t it?” says Philip. “Shall we try Shoolbred’s , or the other shop?” And then he laughs. It was not a very lively laugh.

“You mean that you are determined, then, on — ”

“On acknowledging my signature? Of course,” says Philip, “if ever it is presented to me, I would own it.” And having formed and announced this resolution, I knew my stubborn friend too well to think that he ever would shirk it.

The most exasperating part of the matter was, that however generously Philip’s friends might be disposed towards him, they could not in this case give him a helping hand. The doctor would draw more bills, and more. As sure as Philip supplied, the parent would ask; and that devouring dragon of a doctor had stomach enough for the blood of all of us, were we inclined to give it. In fact, Philip saw as much, and owned everything with his usual candour. “I see what is going on in your mind, old boy!” the poor fellow said, “as well as if you spoke. You mean that I am helpless and irreclaimable, and doomed to hopeless ruin. So it would seem. A man can’t escape his fate, friend, and my father has made mine for me. If I manage to struggle through the payment of this bill, of course he will draw another. My only chance of escape is, that he should succeed in some of his speculations. As he is always gambling, there may be some luck for him one day or another. He won’t benefit me, then. That is not his way. If he makes a coup, he will keep the money, or spend it. He won’t give me any. But he will not draw upon me as he does now, or send forth fancy imitations of the filial autograph. It is a blessing to have such a father, isn’t it? I say, Pen, as I think from whom I am descended, and look at your spoons, I am astonished I have not put any of them in my pocket. You leave me in the room with ’em quite unprotected. I say it is quite affecting the way in which you and your dear wife have confidence in me.” And with a bitter execration at his fate, the poor fellow pauses for a moment in his lament.

His father was his fate, he seemed to think, and there were no means of averting it. “You remember that picture of Abraham and Isaac in the doctor’s study in Old Parr Street?” he would say. “My patriarch has tied me up, and had the knife in me repeatedly. He does not sacrifice me at one operation; but there will be a final one some day, and I shall bleed no more. It’s gay and amusing, isn’t it? Especially when one has a wife and children.” I, for my part, felt so indignant, that I was minded to advertise in the papers that all acceptances drawn in Philip’s name were forgeries; and let his father take the consequences of his own act. But the consequences would have been life imprisonment for the old man, and almost as much disgrace and ruin for the young one, as were actually impending. He pointed out his clearly enough; nor could we altogether gainsay his dismal logic. It was better, at any rate, to meet this bill, and give the doctor warning for the future. Well: perhaps it was; only suppose the doctor should take the warning in good part, accept the rebuke with perfect meekness, and at an early opportunity commit another forgery? To this Philip replied, that no man could resist his fate: that he had always expected his own doom through his father: that when the elder went to America he thought possibly the charm was broken; “but you see it is not,” groaned Philip, “and my father’s emissaries reach me, and I am still under the spell.” The bearer of the bowstring, we know, was on his way, and would deliver his grim message ere long.

Having frequently succeeded in extorting money from Dr. Firmin, Mr. Tufton Hunt thought he could not do better than follow his banker across the Atlantic: and we need not describe the annoyance and rage of the doctor on finding this black care still behind his back. He had not much to give; indeed the sum which he took away with him, and of which he robbed his son and his other creditors, was but small: but Hunt was bent upon having a portion of this; and, of course, hinted that, if the doctor refused, he would carry to the New York press the particulars of Firmin’s early career and latest defalcations. Mr. Hunt had been under the gallery of the House of Commons half a dozen times, and knew our public men by sight. In the course of a pretty long and disreputable career he had learned anecdotes regarding members of the aristocracy, turf-men, and the like; and he offered to sell this precious knowledge of his to more than one American paper, as other amiable exiles from our country have done. But Hunt was too old, and his stories too stale for the New York public. They dated from George IV., and the boxing and coaching times. He found but little market for his wares; and the tipsy parson reeled from tavern to bar, only the object of scorn to younger reprobates who despised his old-fashioned stories, and could top them with blackguardism of a much more modern date.

After some two years’ sojourn in the United States, this worthy felt the passionate longing to revisit his native country which generous hearts often experience, and made his way from Liverpool to London; and when in London directed his steps to the house of the Little Sister, of which he expected to find Philip still an inmate. Although Hunt had been once kicked out of the premises, he felt little shame now about re-entering them. He had that in his pocket which would insure him respectful behaviour from Philip. What were the circumstances under which that forged bill was obtained? Was it a speculation between Hunt and Philip’s father? Did Hunt suggest that, to screen the elder Firmin from disgrace and ruin, Philip would assuredly take the bill up? That a forged signature was, in fact, a better document than a genuine acceptance? We shall never know the truth regarding this transaction now. We have but the statements of the two parties concerned; and as both of them, I grieve to say, are entirely unworthy of credit, we must remain in ignorance regarding this matter. Perhaps Hunt forged Philip’s acceptance: perhaps his unhappy father wrote it: perhaps the doctor’s story that the paper was extorted from him was true, perhaps false. What matters? Both the men have passed away from amongst us, and will write and speak no more lies.

Caroline was absent from home when Hunt paid his first visit after his return from America. Her servant described the man, and his appearance. Mrs. Brandon felt sure that Hunt was her visitor, and foreboded no good to Philip from the parson’s arrival. In former days we have seen how the Little Sister had found favour in the eyes of this man. The besotted creature, shunned of men, stained with crime, drink, debt, had still no little vanity in his composition, and gave himself airs in the tavern parlours which he frequented. Because he had been at the University thirty years ago, his idea was that he was superior to ordinary men who had not had the benefit of an education at Oxford or Cambridge; and that the “snobs,” as he called them, respected him. He would assume grandiose airs in talking to a tradesman ever so wealthy; speak to such a man by his surname; and deem that he honoured him by his patronage and conversation. The Little Sister’s grammar, I have told you, was not good; her poor little h’s were sadly irregular. A letter was a painful task to her. She knew how ill she performed it, and that she was for ever making blunders.

She would invent a thousand funny little pleas and excuses for her faults of writing. With all the blunders of spelling, her little letters had a pathos which somehow brought tears into the eyes. The Rev. Mr. Hunt believed himself to be this woman’s superior. He thought his University education gave him a claim upon her respect, and draped himself and swaggered before her and others in his dingy college gown. He had paraded his Master of Arts degree in many thousand tavern parlours, where his Greek and learning had got him a kind of respect. He patronized landlords, and strutted by hostesses’ bars with a vinous leer or a tipsy solemnity. He must have been very far gone and debased indeed when he could still think that he was any living man’s better:— he, who ought to have waited on the waiters, and blacked boots’s own shoes. When he had reached a certain stage of liquor he commonly began to brag about the University, and recite the titles of his friends of early days. Never was kicking more righteously administered than that which Philip once bestowed on this miscreant. The fellow took to the gutter as naturally as to his bed, Firmin used to say; and vowed that the washing there was a novelty which did him good.

Brandon soon found that her surmises were correct regarding her nameless visitor. Next day, as she was watering some little flowers in her window, she looked from it into the street, where she saw the shambling parson leering up at her. When she saw him he took off his greasy hat and made her a bow. At the moment she saw him, she felt that he was come upon some errand hostile to Philip. She knew he meant mischief as he looked up with that sodden face, those bloodshot eyes, those unshorn, grinning lips.

She might have been inclined to faint, or disposed to scream, or to hide herself from the man, the sight of whom she loathed. She did not faint, or hide herself, or cry out; but she instantly nodded her head and smiled in the most engaging manner on that unwelcome, dingy stranger. She went to her door; she opened it (though her heart beat so that you might have heard it, as she told her friend afterwards). She stood there a moment archly smiling at him, and she beckoned him into her house with a little gesture of welcome. “Law bless us” (these, I have reason to believe, were her very words) — “Law bless us, Mr. Hunt, where ever have you been this ever so long?” And a smiling face looked at him resolutely from under a neat cap and fresh ribbon. Why, I know some women can smile, and look at ease, when they sit down in a dentist’s chair.

“Law bless me, Mr. Hunt,” then says the artless creature, “who ever would have thought of seeing you, I do declare!” And she makes a nice cheery little curtsey, and looks quite gay, pleased, and pretty; and so did Judith look gay, no doubt, and smile, and prattle before Holofernes; and then of course she said, “Won’t you step in?” And then Hunt swaggered up the steps of the house, and entered the little parlour, into which the kind reader has often been conducted, with its neat little ornaments, its pictures, its glistening corner cupboard, and its well-scrubbed, shining furniture.

“How is the captain?” asks the man (alone in the company of this Little Sister, the fellow’s own heart began to beat, and his bloodshot eyes to glisten).

He had not heard about poor Pa? “That shows how long you have been away!” Mrs. Brandon remarks, and mentions the date of her father’s fatal illness. Yes: she was alone now, and had to care for herself; and straightway, I have no doubt, Mrs. Brandon asked Mr. Hunt whether he would “take” anything. Indeed, that good little woman was for ever pressing her friends to “take” something, and would have thought the laws of hospitality violated unless she had made this offer.

Hunt was never known to refuse a proposal of this sort. He would take a taste of something — of something warm. He had had fever and ague at New York, and the malady hung about him. Mrs. Brandon was straightway very much interested to hear about Mr. Hunt’s complaint, and knew that a comfortable glass was very efficacious in removing threatening fever. Her nimble, neat little hands mixed him a cup. He could not but see what a trim little housekeeper she was. “Ah, Mrs. Brandon, if I had had such a kind friend watching over me, I should not be such a wreck as I am!” he sighed. He must have advanced to a second, nay, a third glass, when he sighed and became sentimental regarding his own unhappy condition; and Brandon owned to her friends afterwards that she made those glasses very strong.

Having “taken something” in considerable quantities, then, Hunt condescended to ask how his hostess was getting on, and how were her lodgers? How she was getting on? Brandon drew the most cheerful picture of herself and her circumstances. The apartments let well, and were never empty. Thanks to good Dr. Goodenough and other friends, she had as much professional occupation as she could desire. Since you know who has left the country, she said, her mind had been ever so much easier. As long as he was near, she never felt secure. But he was gone, and bad luck go with him! said this vindictive Little Sister.

“Was his son still l............

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