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Part 3 Chapter 9 The Bearer of the Bowstring

The poor Little Sister trudged away from Milman Street, exasperated with Philip, with Philip’s wife, and with the determination of the pair to accept the hopeless ruin impending over them. “Three hundred and eighty-six pounds four and threepence,” she thought, “to pay for that wicked old villain! It is more than poor Philip is worth, with all his savings and his little sticks of furniture. I know what he will do: he will borrow of the money-lenders, and give those bills, and renew them, and end by ruin. When he have paid this bill, that old villain will forge another, and that precious wife of his will tell him to pay that, I suppose; and those little darlings will be begging for bread, unless they come and eat mine, to which — God bless them! — they are always welcome.” She calculated — it was a sum not difficult to reckon — the amount of her own little store of saved ready money. To pay four hundred pounds out of such an income as Philip’s , she felt, was an attempt vain and impossible. “And he mustn’t have my poor little stocking now,” she argued; “they will want that presently when their pride is broken down — as it will be — and my darlings are hungering for their dinner!” Revolving this dismal matter in her mind, and scarce knowing where to go for comfort and counsel, she made her way to her good friend, Dr. Goodenough, and found that worthy man, who had always a welcome for his Little Sister.

She found Goodenough alone in his great dining-room, taking a very slender meal, after visiting his hospital and his fifty patients, among whom I think there were more poor than rich: and the good sleepy doctor woke up with a vengeance, when he heard his little nurse’s news, and fired off a volley of angry language against Philip and his scoundrel of a father; “which it was a comfort to hear him,” little Brandon told us afterwards. Then Goodenough trotted out of the dining-room into the adjoining library and consulting-room, whither his old friend followed him. Then he pulled out a bunch of keys and opened a secretaire, from which he took a parchment-covered volume, on which J. Goodenough, Esq., M.D., was written in a fine legible hand, — and which, in fact, was a banker’s book. The inspection of the MS. volume in question must have pleased the worthy physician: for a grin came over his venerable features, and he straightway drew out of the desk a slim volume of grey paper, on each page of which were inscribed the highly respectable names of Messrs. Stumpy, Rowdy and Co., of Lombard Street, Bankers. On a slip of grey paper the doctor wrote a prescription for a draught, statim sumendus — (a draught — mark my pleasantry) — which he handed over to his little friend.

“There, you little fool!” said he. “The father is a rascal, but the boy is a fine fellow; and you, you little silly thing, I must help in this business myself, or you will go and ruin yourself; I know you will! Offer this to the fellow for his bill. Or, stay! How much money is there in the house? Perhaps the sight of notes and gold will tempt him more than a cheque.” And the doctor emptied his pockets of all the fees which happened to be therein — I don’t know how many fees of shining shillings and sovereigns, neatly wrapped up in paper; and he emptied a drawer in which there was more silver and gold: and he trotted up to his bedroom, and came panting, presently, downstairs with a fat little pocket-book, containing a bundle of notes, and, with one thing or another, he made up a sum of — I won’t mention what; but this sum of money, I say, he thrust into the Little Sister’s hand, and said, “Try the fellow with this, Little Sister; and see if you can get the bill from him. Don’t say it’s my money, or the scoundrel will be for having twenty shillings in the pound. Say it’s yours, and there’s no more where that came from; and coax him, and wheedle him, and tell him plenty of lies, my dear. It won’t break your heart to do that. What an immortal scoundrel Brummell Firmin is, to be sure! Though, by the way, in two more cases at the hospital I have tried that — ” And here the doctor went off into a professional conversation with his favourite nurse, which I could not presume to repeat to any non-medical man.

The Little Sister bade God bless Doctor Goodenough, and wiped her glistening eyes with her handkerchief, and put away the notes and gold with a trembling little hand, and trudged off with a lightsome step and a happy heart. Arrived at Tottenham Court Road, she though, shall I go home, or shall I go to poor Mrs. Philip and take her this money? No. Their talk that day had not been very pleasant: words, very like high words, had passed between them, and our Little Sister had to own to herself that she had been rather rude in her late colloquy with Charlotte. And she was a proud Little Sister: at least she did not care for to own that she had been hasty or disrespectful in her conduct to that young woman. She had too much spirit for that. Have we ever said that our little friend was exempt from the prejudices and vanities of this wicked world? Well, to rescue Philip, to secure the fatal bill, to go with it to Charlotte, and say, “There, Mrs. Philip, there’s your husband’s liberty.” It would be a rare triumph, that it would! And Philip would promise, on his honour, that this should be the last and only bill he would pay for that wretched old father. With these happy thoughts swelling in her little heart, Mrs. Brandon made her way to the familiar house in Thornhaugh Street, and would have a little bit of supper, so she would. And laid her own little cloth; and set forth her little forks and spoons, which were as bright as rubbing could make them; and I am authorized to state that her repast consisted of two nice little lamb chops, which she purchased from her neighbour Mr. Chump, in Tottenham Court Road, after a pleasant little conversation with that gentleman and his good lady. And, with her bit of supper, after a day’s work, our little friend would sometimes indulge in a glass — a little glass — of something comfortable. The case-bottle was in the cupboard, out of which her poor Pa had been wont to mix his tumblers for many a long day. So, having prepared it with her own hands, down she sat to her little meal, tired and happy; and as she thought of the occurrences of the day, and of the rescue which had come so opportunely to her beloved Philip and his children, I am sure she said a grace before her meat.

Her candles being lighted and her blind up, any one in the street could see that her chamber was occupied; and at about ten o’clock at night there came a heavy step clinking along the pavement, the sound of which, I have no doubt, made the Little Sister start a little. The heavy foot paused before her window, and presently clattered up the steps of her door. Then, as her bell rang — I consider it is most probable that her cheek flushed a little. She went to her hall door and opened it herself. “Lor, is it you, Mr. Hunt? Well, I never! that is, I thought you might come. Really, now” — and with the moonlight behind him, the dingy Hunt swaggered in.

“How comfortable you looked at your little table,” says Hunt, with his hat over his eye.

“Won’t you step in and set down to it, and take something?” asks the smiling hostess.

Of course, Hunt would take something. And the greasy hat is taken off his head with a flourish, and he struts into the poor Little Sister’s little room, pulling a wisp of grizzling hair and endeavouring to assume a careless, fashionable look. The dingy hand had seized the case-bottle in a moment. “What! you do a little in this way, do you?” he says, and winks amiably at Mrs. Brandon and the bottle. She takes ever so little, she owns; and reminds him of days which he must remember, when she had a wine-glass out of poor Pa’s tumbler. A bright little kettle is singing on the fire, — will not Mr. Hunt mix a glass for himself? She takes a bright beaker from the corner-cupboard, which is near her, with her keys hanging from it.

“Oh, ho! that’s where we keep the ginnums, is it?” says the graceful Hunt, with a laugh.

“My papa always kep it there,” says Caroline, meekly. And whilst her back is turned to fetch a canister from the cupboard, she knows that the astute Mr. Hunt has taken the opportunity to fill a good large measure from the square bottle. “Make yourself welcome,” says the Little Sister, in her gay, artless way; “there’s more where that came from!” And Hunt drinks his hostess’s health: and she bows to him, and smiles, and sips a little from her own glass; and the little lady looks quite pretty, and rosy, and bright. Her cheeks are like apples, her figure is trim and graceful, and always attired in the neatest-fitting gown. By the comfortable light of the candles on her sparkling tables, you scarce see the silver lines in her light hair, or the marks which time has made round her eyes. Hunt’s gaze on her with admiration.

“Why,” says he, “I vow you look younger and prettier than when — when I saw you first.”

“Ah, Mr. Hunt?” cries Mrs. Brandon, with a flush on her cheek, which becomes it, “don’t recal that time, or that — that wretch who served me so cruel!”

“He was a scoundrel, Caroline, to treat as he did such a woman as you! The fellow has no principle; he was a bad one from the beginning. Why, he ruined me as well as you: got me to play; run me into debt by introducing me to his fine companions. I was a simple young fellow then, and thought it was a fine thing to live with fellow commoners and noblemen who drove their tandems and gave their grand dinners. It was he that led me astray, I tell you. I might have been Fellow of my college — had a living — married a good wife — risen to be a bishop, by George! — for I had great talents, Caroline; only I was so confounded idle, and fond of the cards and the bones.”

“The bones?” cries Caroline, with a bewildered look.

“The dice, my dear! ‘Seven’s the main’ was my ruin. ‘Seven’s the main’ and eleven’s the nick to seven. That used to be the little game!” And he made a graceful gesture with his empty wine-glass, as though he was tossing a pair of dice on the table. “The man next to me in lecture is a bishop now, and I could knock his head off in Greek iambics and Latin hexameters, too. In my second year I got the Latin declamation prize, I tell you — ”

“Brandon always said you were one of the cleverest men at the college. He always said that, I remember,” remarks the lady, very respectfully.

“Did he? He did say a good word for me, then? Brummell Firmin wasn’t a clever man; he wasn’t a reading man. Whereas I would back myself for a sapphic ode against any man in my college — against any man! Thank you. You do mix it so uncommon hot and well, there’s no saying no; indeed, there ain’t! Though I have had enough — upon my honour, I have.”

“Lor! I thought you men could drink anything! And Mr. Brandon — Mr. Firmin you said?”

“Well, I said Brummell Firmin was a swell somehow. He had a sort of grand manner with him — ”

“Yes, he had,” sighed Caroline. And I daresay her thoughts wandered back to a time long, long ago, when this grand gentleman had captivated her.

“And it was trying to keep up with him that ruined me! I quarrelled with my poor old governor about money, of course; grew idle, and lost my Fellowship. Then the bills came down upon me. I tell you, there are some of my college ticks ain’t paid now.”

“College ticks? Law!” ejaculates the lady. “And — ”

“Tailor’s ticks, tavern ticks, livery-stable ticks — for there were famous hacks in our days, and I used to hunt with the tip-top men. I wasn’t bad across country, I wasn’t. But we can’t keep the pace with those rich fellows. We try, and they go ahead — they ride us down. Do you think, if I hadn’t been very hard up, I would have done what I did to you, Caroline? You poor little innocent suffering thing. It was a shame. It was a shame!”

“Yes, a shame it was,” cries Caroline. “And that I never gainsay.” You did deal hard with a poor girl, both of you.

“It was rascally. But Firmin was the worst. He had me in his power. It was he led me wrong. It was he drove me into debt, and then abroad, and then into qu — into gaol, perhaps: and then into this kind of thing.” (“This kind of thing” has before been explained elegantly to signify a tumbler of hot grog). “And my father wouldn’t see me on his death-bed; and my brothers and sisters broke with me; and I owe it all to Brummell Firmin — all. Do you think, after ruining me, he oughtn’t to pay me?” and again he thumps a dusky hand upon the table. It made dingy marks on the poor Little Sister’s spotless table-cloth. It rubbed its owner’s forehead and lank, grizzling hair.

“And me, Mr. Hunt? What do he owe me?” asks Hunt’s hostess.

“Caroline!” cries Hunt, “I have made Brummell Firmin pay me a good bit back already, but I’ll have more;” and he thumped his breast, and thrust his hand into his breast-pocket as he spoke, and clutched at something within.

“It is there!” thought Caroline. She might turn pale; but he did not remark her pallor. He was all intent on drink, on vanity, on revenge.

“I have him,” I say. “He owes me a good bit; and he has paid me a good bit; and he shall pay me a good bit more. Do you think I am a fellow who will be ruined and insulted, and won’t revenge myself? You should have seen his face when I turned up at New York at the Astor House, and said, ‘Brummell, old fellow, here I am,’ I said: and he turned as white — as white as this table-cloth. ‘I’ll never leave you, my boy,’ I said. ‘Other fellows may go from you, but old Tom Hunt will stick to you. Let’s go into the bar and have a drink!’ and he was obliged to come. And I have him now in my power, I tell you. And when I say to him, ‘Brummell, have a drink,’ drink he must. His bald old head must go into the pail!” And Mr. Hunt laughed a laugh which I daresay was not agreeable.

After a pause he went on: “Caroline! Do you hate him, I say? or do you like a fellow who deserted you and treated you like a scoundrel? Some women do. I could tell of women who do. I could tell you of other fellows, perhaps, but I won’t. Do you hate Brummell Firmin, that bald-headed Brum — hypocrite, and that — that insolent rascal who laid his hand on a clergyman, and an old man, by George! and hit me — and hit me in that street. Do you hate him, I say? Hoo! hoo! hick! I’ve got ’em both! — here, in my pocket — both!”

“You have got — what?” gasped Caroline.

“I have got their — hallo! stop, what’s that to you what I’ve got?” And he sinks back in his chair, and winks, and leers, and triumphantly tosses his glass.

“Well, it ain’t much to me; I— I never got any good out of either of ’em yet,” says poor Caroline, with a sinking heart. “Let’s talk about somebody else than them two plagues. Because you were a little merry one night — and I don’t mind what a gentleman says when he has had a glass — for a great big strong man to hit an old one — ”

“To strike a clergyman!” yells Hunt.

“It was a shame — a cowardly shame! And I gave it him for it, I promise you!” cries Mrs. Brandon.

“On your honour, now, do you hate ’em?” cries Hunt, starting up, and clenching his fist, and dropping again into his chair.

“Have I any reason to love ’em, Mr. Hunt? Do sit down and have a little — ”

“No: you have no reason to like ’em. You hate ’em — I hate ’em. Look here. Promise — ‘pon your honour, now, Caroline — I’ve got ’em both, I tell you. Strike a clergyman, will he? What do you say to that?”

And starting from his chair once more, and supporting himself against the wall (where hung one of J. J.’s pictures of Philip), Hunt pulls out the greasy pocket-book once more, and fumbles amongst the greasy contents; and as the papers flutter on to the floor and the table, he pounces down on one with a dingy hand, and yells a laugh, and says, “I’ve cotched you! That’s it. What do you say to that? — London, July 4th. — Five months after date, I promise to pay to — No, you don’t.”

“La! Mr. Hunt, won’t you let me look at it?” cries the hostess. “Whatever is it? A bill? My Pa had plenty of’em.”

“What? with candles in the room? No, you don’t, I say.”

“What is it? Won’t you tell me?”

“It’s the young one’s acceptance of the old man’s draft,” says Hunt, hissing and laughing.

“For how much?”

“Three hundred and eighty-six four three — that’s all; and I guess I can get more where that came from!” says Hunt, laughing more and more cheerfully.

“What will you take for it? I’ll buy it of you,” cries the Little Sister. “I— I’ve seen plenty of my Pa’s bills; and I’ll — I’ll discount this, if you like.”

“What! are you a little discounter? Is that the way you make your money, and the silver spoons, and the nice supper, and everything delightful about you? A little discountess, are you — you little rogue? Little discountess, by George! How much will you give, little discountess?” And the reverend gentleman laughs, and winks, and drinks, and laughs, and tears twinkle out of his tipsy old eyes, as he wipes them with one hand, and again says, “How much will you give, little discountess?”

When poor Caroline went to her cupboard, and from it took the notes and the gold which she had had we know from whom, and added to these, out of a cunning box, a little heap of her own private savings, and with trembling hands poured the notes, and the sovereigns, and the shillings into a dish on the table, I never heard accurately how much she laid down. But she must have s............

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