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Part 3 Chapter 11 In which the Luck Goes Very Much Against Us

Every man and woman amongst us has made his voyage to Lilliput, and his tour in the kingdom of Brobdingnag. When I go to my native country town, the local paper announces our arrival; the labourers touch their hats as the pony-chaise passes, the girls and old women drop curtsies; Mr. Hicks, the grocer and hatter, comes to his door, and makes a bow, and smirks and smiles. When our neighbour Sir John arrives at the hall, he is a still greater personage; the bell-ringers greet the hall family with a peal; the rector walks over on an early day, and pays his visit; and the farmers at market press round for a nod of recognition. Sir John at home is in Lilliput: in Belgrave Square he is in Brobdingnag, where almost everybody we meet is ever so much taller than ourselves. “Which do you like best, to be a giant amongst the pigmies, or a pigmy among the giants?” I know what sort of company I prefer myself: but that is not the point. What I would hint is, that we possibly give ourselves patronizing airs before small people, as folks higher placed than ourselves give themselves airs before us. Patronizing airs? Old Miss Mumbles, the half-pay lieutenant’s daughter, who lives over the plumber’s , with her maid, gives herself in her degree more airs than any duchess in Belgravia, and would leave the room if a tradesman’s wife sat down in it.

Now it has been said that few men in this city of London are so simple in their manners as Philip Firmin, and that he treated the patron whose bread he ate, and the wealthy relative who condescended to visit him, with a like freedom. He is blunt but not familiar, and is not a whit more polite to my lord than to Jack or Tom at the coffee-house. He resents familiarity from vulgar persons, and those who venture on it retire maimed and mortified after coming into collision with him. As for the people he loves, he grovels before them, worships their boot-tips, and their gown-hems. But he submits to them, not for their wealth or rank, but for love’s sake. He submitted very magnanimously at first to the kindnesses and caresses of Lady Ringwood and her daughters, being softened and won by the regard which they showed for his wife and children.

Although Sir John was for the Rights of Man everywhere, all over the world, and had pictures of Franklin, Lafayette, and Washington in his library, he likewise had portraits of his own ancestors in that apartment, and entertained a very high opinion of the present representative of the Ringwood family. The character of the late chief of the house was notorious. Lord Ringwood’s life had been irregular and his morals loose. His talents were considerable, no doubt, but they had not been devoted to serious study or directed to useful ends. A wild man in early life, he had only changed his practices in later life in consequence of ill health, and became a hermit as a Certain Person became a monk. He was a frivolous person to the end, and was not to be considered as a public man and statesman; and this light-minded man of pleasure had been advanced to the third rank of the peerage, whilst his successor, his superior in intellect and morality, remained a Baronet still. How blind the Ministry was which refused to recognize so much talent and worth! Had there been public virtue or common sense in the governors of the nation, merits like Sir John’s never could have been overlooked. But Ministers were notoriously a family clique, and only helped each other. Promotion and patronage were disgracefully monopolized by the members of a very few families who were not better men of business, men of better character, men of more ancient lineage (though birth, of course, was a mere accident) than Sir John himself. In a word, until they gave him a peerage, he saw very little hope for the cabinet or the country.

In a very early page of this history mention was made of a certain Philip Ringwood, to whose protection Philip Firmin’s mother confided her boy when he was first sent to school. Philip Ringwood was Firmin’s senior by seven years; he came to Old Parr Street twice or thrice during his stay at school, condescended to take the “tips,” of which the poor doctor was liberal enough, but never deigned to take any notice of young Firmin, who looked up to his kinsman with awe and trembling. From school Philip Ringwood speedily departed to college, and then entered upon public life. He was the eldest son of Sir John Ringwood, with whom our friend has of late made acquaintance.

Mr. Ringwood was a much greater personage than the baronet his father. Even when the latter succeeded to Lord Ringwood’s estates and came to London, he could scarcely be said to equal his son in social rank; and the younger patronized his parent. What is the secret of great social success? It is not to be gained by beauty, or wealth, or birth, or wit, or valour, or eminence of any kind. It is a gift of Fortune, bestowed, like that goddess’s favours, capriciously. Look, dear madam, at the most fashionable ladies at present reigning in London. Are they better bred, or more amiable, or richer, or more beautiful than yourself? See, good sir, the men who lead the fashion, and stand in the bow window at Black’s ; are they wiser, or wittier, or more agreeable people than you? And yet you know what your fate would be if you were put up at that club. Sir John Ringwood never dared to be proposed there, even after his great accession of fortune on the earl’s death. His son did not encourage him. People even said that Ringwood would blackball his father if he dared to offer himself as a candidate.

I never, I say, could understand the reason of Philip Ringwood’s success in life, though you must acknowledge that he is one of our most eminent dandies. He is affable to dukes. He patronizes marquises. He is not witty. He is not clever. He does not give good dinners. How many baronets are there in the British empire? Look to your book, and see. I tell you there are many of these whom Philip Ringwood would scarcely admit to wait at one of his bad dinners. By calmly asserting himself in life, this man has achieved his social eminence. We may hate him; but we acknowledge his superiority. For instance, I should as soon think of asking him to dine with me, as I should of slapping the Archbishop of Canterbury on the back.

Mr. Ringwood has a meagre little house in May Fair, and belongs to a public office, where he patronizes his chef. His own family bow down before him; his mother is humble in his company; his sisters are respectful; his father does not brag of his own liberal principles, and never alludes to the rights of man in the son’s presence. He is called “Mr. Ringwood” in the family. The person who is least in awe of him is his younger brother, who has been known to make faces behind the elder’s back. But he is a dreadfully headstrong and ignorant child, and respects nothing. Lady Ringwood, by the way, is Mr. Ringwood’s stepmother. His own mother was the daughter of a noble house, and died in giving birth to this paragon.

Philip Firmin, who had not set eyes upon his kinsman since they were at school together, remembered some stories which were current about Ringwood, and by no means to that eminent dandy’s credit — stories of intrigue, of play, of various libertine exploits on Mr. Ringwood’s part. One day, Philip and Charlotte dined with Sir John, who was talking and chirping, and laying down the law, and bragging away according to his wont, when his son entered and asked for dinner. He had accepted an invitation to dine at Garterton House. The duke had one of his attacks of gout just before dinner. The dinner was off. If Lady Ringwood would give him a slice of mutton, he would be very much obliged to her. A place was soon found for him. “And, Philip, this is your namesake, and, our cousin, Mr. Philip Firmin,” said the baronet, presenting his son to his kinsman.

“Your father used to give me sovereigns, when I was at school. I have a faint recollection of you, too. Little white-headed boy, weren’t you? How is the doctor, and Mrs. Firmin? All right?”

“Why, don’t you know his father ran away?” calls out the youngest member of the family. “Don’t kick me, Emily. He did run away!”

Then Mr. Ringwood remembered, and a faint blush tinged his face. “Lapse of time. I know. Shouldn’t have asked after such a lapse of time.” And he mentioned a case in which a duke, who was very forgetful, had asked a marquis about his wife who had run away with an earl, and made inquiries about the duke’s son, who, as everbody knew, was not on terms with his father.

“This is Mrs. Firmin — Mrs. Philip Firmin!” cried Lady Ringwood, rather nervously; and I suppose Mrs. Philip blushed, and the blush became her; for Mr. Ringwood afterwards condescended to say to one of his sisters, that their new-found relative seemed one of your rough-and-ready sort of gentlemen, but his wife was really very well bred, and quite a pretty young woman, and presentable anywhere — really anywhere. Charlotte was asked to sing one or two of her little songs after dinner. Mr. Ringwood was delighted. Her voice was perfectly true. What she sang, she sang admirably. And he was good enough to hum over one of her songs (during which performance he showed that his voice was not exempt from little frailties), and to say he had heard Lady Philomela Shakerley sing that very song at Glenmavis, last autumn; and it was such a favourite that the duchess asked for it every night — actually every night. When our friends were going home, Mr. Ringwood gave Philip almost the whole of one finger to shake; and while Philip was inwardly raging at his impertinence, believed that he had entirely fascinated his humble relatives, and that he had been most good-natured and friendly.

I cannot tell why this man’s patronage chafed and goaded our worthy friend so as to drive him beyond the bounds of all politeness and reason. The artless remarks of the little boy, and the occasional simple speeches of the young ladies, had only tickled Philip’s humour, and served to amuse him when he met his relatives. I suspect it was a certain free-and-easy manner which Mr. Ringwood chose to adopt towards Mrs. Philip, which annoyed her husband. He had said nothing at which offence could be taken: perhaps he was quite unconscious of offending; nay, thought himself eminently pleasing: perhaps he was not more impertinent towards her than towards other women: but in talking about him, Mr. Firmin’s eyes flashed very fiercely, and he spoke of his new acquaintance and relative, with his usual extreme candour, as an upstart, and an arrogant conceited puppy, whose ears he would like to pull.

How do good women learn to discover men who are not good? Is it by instinct? How do they learn those stories about men? I protest I never told my wife anything good or bad regarding this Mr. Ringwood, though of course, as a man about town, I have heard — who has not? — little anecdotes regarding his career. His conduct in that affair with Miss Willowby was heartless and cruel; his behaviour to that unhappy Blanche Painter nobody can defend. My wife conveys her opinion regarding Philip Ringwood, his life, principles, and morality, by looks and silences which are more awful and killing than the bitterest words of sarcasm or reproof. Philip Firmin, who knows her ways, watches her features, and, as I have said, humbles himself at her feet, marked the lady’s awful looks, when he came to describe to us his meeting with his cousin, and the magnificent patronizing airs which Mr. Ringwood assumed.

“What?” he said, “you don’t like him any more than I do? I thought you would not; and I am so glad.”

Philip’s friend said she did not know Mr. Ringwood, and had never spoken a word to him in her life.

“Yes; but you know of him,” cries the impetuous Firmin. “What do you know of him, with his monstrous puppyism and arrogance?” Oh, Mrs. Laura knew very little of him. She did not believe — she had much rather not believe — what the world said about Mr. Ringwood.

“Suppose we were to ask the Woolcombs their opinion of your character, Philip?” cries the gentleman’s biographer, with a laugh.

“My dear!” says Laura, with a yet severer look, the severity of which glance I must explain. The differences of Woolcomb and his wife were notorious. Their unhappiness was known to all the world. Society was beginning to look with a very, very cold face upon Mrs. Woolcomb. After quarrels, jealousies, battles, reconciliations, scenes of renewed violence and furious language, had come indifference, and the most reckless gaiety on the woman’s part. Her home was splendid, but mean and miserable; all sorts of stories were rife regarding her husband’s brutal treatment of poor Agnes, and her own imprudent behaviour. Mrs. Laura was indignant when this unhappy woman’s name was ever mentioned, except when she thought how our warm, true-hearted Philip had escaped from the heartless creature. “What a blessing it was that you were ruined, Philip, and that she deserted you!” Laura would say. “What fortune would repay you for marring such a woman?”

“Indeed it was worth all I had to lose her,” says Philip, “and so the doctor and I are quits. If he had not spent my fortune, Agnes would have married me. If she had married me, I might have turned Othello, and have been hung for smothering her. Why, if I had not been poor, I should never have been married to little Char — and fancy not being married to Char!” The worthy fellow here lapses into silence, and indulges in an inward rapture at the idea of his own excessive happiness. Then he is scared again at the thought which his own imagination has raised.

“I say! Fancy being without the kids and Char!” he cries with a blank look.

“That horrible father — that dreadful mother — pardon me, Philip; but when I think of the worldliness of those unhappy people, and how that poor unhappy woman has been bred in it, and ruined by it — I am so, so, so — enraged, that I can’t keep my temper!” cries the lady. “Is the woman answerable, or the parents, who hardened her heart, and sold her — sold her to that — O!” Our illustrious friend Woolcomb was signified by “that O,” and the lady once more paused, choked with wrath as she thought about that O, and that O’s wife.

“I wonder he has not Othello’d her,” remarks Philip, with his hands in his pockets. “I should, if she had been mine, and gone on as they say she is going on.”

“It is dreadful, dreadful to contemplate!” continues the lady. “To think she was sold by her own parents, poor thing, poor thing! The guilt is with them who led her wrong.”

“Nay,” says one of the three interlocutors. “Why stop at poor Mr. and Mrs. Twysden? Why not let them off, and accuse their parents? who lived worldly too in their generation. Or, stay; they descend from William the Conqueror. Let us absolve poor Weldone Twysden, and his heartless wife, and have the Norman into court.”

“Ah, Arthur! Did not our sin begin with the beginning,” cries the lady, “and have we not its remedy? Oh, this poor creature, this poor creature! May she know where to take refuge from it, and learn to repent in time!”

The Georgian and Circassian girls, they say, used to submit to their lot very complacently, and were quite eager to get to market at Constantinople and be sold. Mrs. Woolcomb wanted nobody to tempt her away from poor Philip. She hopped away from the old love, as soon as ever the new one appeared with his bag of money. She knew quite well to whom she was selling herself, and for what. The tempter needed no skill, or artifice, or eloquence. He had none. But he showed her a purse, and three fine houses — and she came. Innocent child, forsooth! She knew quite as much about the world as papa and mamma; and the lawyers did not look to her settlement more warily, and coolly, than she herself did. Did she not live on it afterwards? I do not say she lived reputably, but most comfortably: as Paris, and Rome, and Naples, and Florence can tell you, where she is well known; where she receives a great deal of a certain kind of company; where she is scorned and flattered, and splendid, and lonely, and miserable. She is not miserable when she sees children: she does not care for other persons’ children, as she never did for her own, even when they were taken from her. She is of course hurt and angry, when quite common, vulgar people, not in society, you understand, turn away from her, and avoid her, and won’t come to her parties. She gives excellent dinners which jolly fogeys, rattling bachelors, and doubtful ladies frequent: but she is alone and unhappy — unhappy because she does not see parents, sister, or brother? Allons, mon bon monsieur! She never cared for parents, sister, or brother; or for baby: or for man (except once for Philip a little, little bit, when her pulse would sometimes go up two beats in a minute at his appearance). But she is unhappy, because she is losing her figure, and from tight lacing her nose has become very red, and the pearl powder won’t lie on it somehow. And though you may have thought Woolcomb an odious, ignorant, and underbred little wretch, you must own that at least he had red blood in his veins. Did he not spend a great part of his fortune for the possession of this cold wife. For whom did she ever make a sacrifice, or feel a pang? I am sure a greater misfortune than any which has befallen friend Philip might have happened to him, and so congratulate him on his escape.

Having vented his wrath upon the arrogance and impertinence of this solemn puppy of a Philip Ringwood, our friend went away somewhat soothed to his club in St. James’s Street. The Megatherium Club is only a very few doors from the much more aristocratic establishment of Black’s . Mr. Philip Ringwood and Mr. Woolcomb were standing on the steps of Black’s. Mr. Ringwood waved a graceful little kid-gloved hand to Philip, and smiled on him. Mr. Woolcomb glared at our friend out of his opal eyeballs. Philip had once proposed to kick Woolcomb into the sea. He somehow felt as if he would like to treat Ringwood to the same bath. Meanwhile, Mr. Ringwood laboured under the notion that he and his new-found acquaintance were on the very best possible terms.

At one time poor little Woolcomb loved to be seen with Philip Ringwood. He thought he acquired distinction from the companionship of that man of fashion, and would hang on Ringwood as they walked the Pall Mall pavement.

“Do you know that great hulking, overbearing brute?” says Woolcomb to his companion on the steps of Black’s . Perhaps somebody overheard them from the bow-window. (I tell you everything is overheard in London, and a great deal more too.)

“Brute, is he?” says Ringwood; “seems a rough, overbearing sort of chap.”

“Blackguard doctor’s son. Bankrupt father ran away,” says the dusky man with the opal eyeballs.

“I have heard he was a rogue — the doctor; but I like him. Remember he gave me three sovereigns when I was at school. Always like a fellow who tips you when you are at school.” And here Ringwood beckoned his brougham which was in waiting.

“Shall we see you at dinner? Where are you going?” asked Mr. Woolcomb. “If you are going towards — ”

“Towards Gray’s Inn, to see my lawyer; have an appointment there; be with you at eight!” And Mr. Ringwood skipped into his little brougham and was gone.

Tom Eaves told Philip. Tom Eaves belongs to Black’s Club, to Bays’s, to the Megatherium, I don’t know to how many clubs in St. James’s Street. Tom Eaves knows everybody’s business, and all the scandal of all the clubs for the last forty years. He knows who has lost money and to whom; what is the talk of the opera box and what the scandal of the coulisses; who is making love to whose daughter. Whatever men and women are doing in May Fair, is the farrago of Tom’s libel. He knows so many stories, that of course he makes mistakes in names sometimes, and says that Jones is on the verge of ruin, when he is thriving and prosperous, and it is poor Brown who is in difficulties; or informs us that Mrs. Fanny is flirting with Captain Ogle when both are as innocent of a flirtation as you and I are. Tom certainly is mischievous, and often is wrong; but when he speaks of our neighbours he is amusing.

“It is as good as a play to see Ringwood and Othello together,” says Tom to Philip. “How proud the black man is to be seen with him! Heard him abuse you to Ringwood. Ringwood stuck up for you and for your poor governor — spoke up like a man — like a man who sticks up for a fellow who is down. How the black man brags about having Ringwood to dinner! Always having him to dinner. You should have seen Ringwood shake him off! Said he was going to Gray’s Inn. Heard him say Gray’s Inn Lane to his man. Don’t believe a word of it.”

Now I dare say you are much too fashionable to know that Milman Street is a little cul de sac of a street, which leads into Guildford Street, which leads into Gray’s Inn Lane. Philip went his way homewards, shaking off Tom Eaves, who, for his part, trolled off to his other clubs, telling people how he had just been talking with that bankrupt doctor’s son, and wondering how Philip should get money enough to pay his club subscription. Philip then went on his way, striding homewards at his usual manly pace.

Whose black brougham was that? — the black brougham with the chestnut horse walking up and down Guildford Street. Mr. Ringwood’s crest was on the brougham. When Philip entered his drawing-room, having opened the door with his own key, there sat Mr. Ringwood, talking to Mrs. Charlotte, who was taking a cup of tea at five o’clock. She and the children liked that cup of tea. Sometimes it served Mrs. Char for dinner when Philip dined from home.

“If I had known you were coming here, you might have brought me home and saved me a long walk,” said Philip, wiping a burning forehead.

“So I might — so I might!” said the other. “I never thought of it. I had to see my lawyer in Gray’s Inn; and it was then I thought of coming on to see you, as I was telling Mrs. Firmin; and a very nice quiet place you live in!”

This was very well. But for the first and only time of his life, Philip was jealous.

“Don’t drub so with your feet! Don’t like to ride when you jog so on the floor,” said Philip’s eldest darling, who had clambered on papa’s knee. “Why do you look so? Don’t squeeze my arm, papa!”

Mamma was utterly unaware that Philip had any cause for agitation. “You have walked all the way from Westminster, and the club, and you are quite hot and tired!” she said. “Some tea, my dear?”

Philip nearly choked with the tea. From under his hair, which fell over his forehead, he looked into his wife’s face. It wore such a sweet look of innocence and wonder, that, as he regarded her, the spasm of jealousy passed off. No: there was no look of guilt in those tender eyes. Philip could only read in them the wife’s tender love and anxiety for himself.

But what of Mr. Ringwood’s face? When the first little blush and hesitation had passed away, Mr. Ringwood’s pale countenance reassumed that calm selfsatisfied smile, which it customarily wore. “The coolness of the man maddened me,” said Philip, talking about the little occurrence afterwards, and to his usual confidant.

“Gracious powers,” cried the other. “If I went to see Charlotte and the children, would you be jealous of me, you bearded Turk? Are you prepared with sack and bowstring for every man who visits Mrs. Firmin? If you are to come out in this character, you will lead yourself and your wife pretty lives. Of course you quarrelled with Lovelace then and there, and threatened to throw him out of window then and there? Your custom is to strike when you are hot; witness — ”

“Oh, dear, no!” cried Philip, interrupting me. “I have not quarrelled with him yet.” And he ground his teeth, and gave a very fierce glare with his eyes. “I sate him out quite civilly. I went with him to the door; and I have left directions that he is never to pass it again — that’s all. But I have not quarrelled with him in the least. Two men never behaved more politely than we did. We bowed and grinned at each other quite amiably. But I own, when he held out his hand, I was obliged to keep mine behind my back, for they felt very mischievous, and inclined to — Well, never mind. Perhaps it is, as you say; and he means no sort of harm.”

Where, I say again, do women learn all the mischief they know? Why should my wife have such a mistrust and horror of this gentleman? She took Philip’s side entirely. She said she thought he was quite right in keeping that person out of his house. What did she know about that person? Did I not know myself? He was a libertine, and led a bad life. He had led young men astray, and taught them to gamble, and helped them to ruin themselves. We have all heard stories about the late Sir Philip Ringwood; that last scandal in which he was engaged, three years ago, and which brought his career to an end at Naples, I need not, of course, allude to. But fourteen or fifteen years ago, about which time this present portion of our little story is enacted, what did she know about Ringwood’s misdoings?

No: Philip Firmin did not quarrel with Philip Ringwood on this occasion. But he shut his door on Mr. Ringwood. He refused all invitations to Sir John’s house, which, of course, came less frequently, and which then ceased to come at all. Rich folks do not like to be so treated by the poor. Had Lady Ringwood a notion of the reason why Philip kept away from her house? I think it is more than possible. Some of Philip’s friends knew her; and she seemed only pained, not surprised or angry, at a quarrel which somehow did take place between the two gentlemen not very long after that visit of Mr. Ringwood to his kinsman in Milman Street.

“Your friend seems very hot-headed and violent-tempered,&rd............

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