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Part 3 Chapter 13 The Realms of Bliss

You know — all good boys and girls at Christmas know — that, before the last scene of the pantomime, when the Good Fairy ascends in a blaze of glory, and Harlequin and Columbine take hands, having danced through all their tricks and troubles and tumbles, there is a dark, brief, seemingly meaningless penultimate scene, in which the performers appear to grope about perplexed, whilst the music of bassoons and trombones, and the like, groans tragically. As the actors, with gestures of dismay and outstretched arms, move hither and thither, the wary frequenter of pantomimes sees the illuminators of the Abode of Bliss and Hall of Prismatic Splendour nimbly moving behind the canvas, and streaking the darkness with twinkling fires — fires which shall blaze out presently in a thousand colours round the Good Fairy in the Revolving Temple of Blinding Bliss. Be happy, Harlequin! Love and be happy and dance, pretty Columbine! Children, mamma bids you put your shawls on. And Jack and Mary (who are young and love pantomimes,) look lingeringly still over the ledge of the box, whilst the fairy temple yet revolves, whilst the fireworks play, and ere the Great Dark Curtain descends.

My dear young people, who have sate kindly through the scenes during which our entertainment has lasted, be it known to you that last chapter was the dark scene. Look to your cloaks, and tie up your little throats, for I tell you the great baize will soon fall down. Have I had any secrets from you all through the piece? I tell you the house will be empty and you will be in the cold air. When the boxes have got their nightgowns on, and you are all gone, and I have turned off the gas, and am in the empty theatre alone in the darkness, I promise you I shall not be merry. Never mind! We can make jokes though we are ever so sad. We can jump over head and heels, though I declare the pit is half emptied already, and the last orange-woman has slunk away. Encore une pirouette, Colombine! Saute, Arlequin, mon ami! Though there are but five bars more of the music, my good people, we must jump over them briskly, and then go home to supper and bed.

Philip Firmin, then, was immensely moved by this magnanimity and kindness on the part of his old employer, and has always considered Mugford’s arrival and friendliness as a special interposition in his favour. He owes it all to Brandon, he says. It was she who bethought herself of his condition, represented it to Mugford, and reconciled him to his enemy. Others were most ready with their money. It was Brandon who brought him work rather than alms, and enabled him to face fortune cheerfully. His interval of poverty was so short, that he actually had not occasion to borrow. A week more, and he could not have held out, and poor Brandon’s little marriage present must have gone to the coenotaph of sovereigns — the dear Little Sister’s gift which Philip’s family cherish to this hour.

So Philip, with a humbled heart and demeanour, clambered up on his sub-editorial stool once more at the Pall Mall Gazette, and again brandished the paste pot and the scissors. I forget whether Bickerton still remained in command at the Pall Mall Gazette, or was more kind to Philip than before, or was afraid of him, having heard of his exploits as a fire-eater; but certain it is, the two did not come to a quarrel, giving each other a wide berth, as the saying is, and each doing his own duty. Good-by, Monsieur Bickerton. Except, mayhap, in the final group round the Fairy Chariot (when, I promise you, there will be such a blaze of glory that he will be invisible), we shall never see the little spiteful envious creature more. Let him pop down his appointed trap-door; and, quick fiddles! let the brisk music jig on.

Owing to the coolness which had arisen between Philip and his father on account of their different views regarding the use to be made of Philip’s signature, the old gentleman drew no further bills in his son’s name, and our friend was spared from the unpleasant persecution. Mr. Hunt loved Dr. Firmin so ardently that he could not bear to be separated from the doctor long. Without the doctor, London was a dreary wilderness to Hunt. Unfortunate remembrances of past pecuniary transactions haunted him here. We were all of us glad when he finally retired from the Covent Garden taverns and betook himself to the Bowery once more.

And now friend Philip was at work again, hardly earning a scanty meal for self, wife, servant, children. It was indeed a meagre meal, and a small wage. Charlotte’s illness, and other mishaps, had swept away poor Philip’s little savings. It was determined that we would let the elegantly furnished apartments on the first floor. You might have fancied the proud Mr. Firmin rather repugnant to such a measure. And so he was on the score of convenience, but of dignity, not a whit. To this day, if necessity called, Philip would turn a mangle with perfect gravity. I believe the thought of Mrs. General Baynes’s horror at the idea of her son-in-law letting lodgings greatly soothed and comforted Philip. The lodgings were absolutely taken by our country acquaintance, Miss Pybus, who was coming up for the May meetings, and whom we persuaded (heaven be good to us) that she would find a most desirable quiet residence in the house of a man with three squalling children. Miss P. came, then, with my wife to look at the apartments; and we allured her by describing to her the delightful musical services at the Foundling hard by; and she was very much pleased with Mrs. Philip, and did not even wince at the elder children, whose pretty faces won the kind old lady’s heart: and I am ashamed to say we were mum about the baby: and Pybus was going to close for the lodgings, when Philip burst out of his little room, without his coat, I believe, and objurgated a little printer’s boy, who was sitting in the hall, waiting for some “copy” regarding which he had made a blunder; and Philip used such violent language towards the little lazy boy, that Pybus said “she never could think of taking apartments in that house,” and hurried thence in a panic. When Brandon heard of this project of letting lodgings, she was in a fury. She might let lodgin’s , but it wasn’t for Philip to do so. “Let lodgin’s, indeed! Buy a broom, and sweep a crossin’!” Brandon always thought Charlotte a poor-spirited creature, and the way she scolded Mrs. Firmin about this transaction was not a little amusing. Charlotte was not angry. She liked the scheme as little as Brandon. No other person ever asked for lodgings in Charlotte’s house. May and its meetings came to an end. The old ladies went back to their country towns. The missionaries returned to Caffraria. (Ah! where are the pleasant-looking Quakeresses of our youth, with their comely faces, and pretty dove-coloured robes? They say the goodly sect is dwindling — dwindling.) The Quakeresses went out of town: then the fashionable world began to move: the Parliament went out of town. In a word, everybody who could, made away for a holiday, whilst poor Philip remained at his work, snipping and pasting his paragraphs, and doing his humble drudgery.

A sojourn on the sea-shore was prescribed by Dr. Goodenough, as absolutely necessary for Charlotte and her young ones, and when Philip pleaded certain cogent reasons why the family could not take the medicine prescribed by the doctor, that eccentric physician had recourse to the same pocket-book which we have known him to produce on a former occasion; and took from it, for what I know, some of the very same notes which he had formerly given to the Little Sister. “I suppose you may as well have them as that rascal Hunt?” said the doctor, scowling very fiercely. “Don’t tell me. Stuff and nonsense. Pooh! Pay me when you are a rich man!” And this Samaritan had jumped into his carriage, and was gone, before Philip or Mrs. Philip could say a word of thanks. Look at him as he is going off. See the green brougham drive away, and turn westward, and mark it well. A shoe go after thee, John Goodenough; we shall see thee no more in this story. You are not in the secret, good reader: but I, who have been living with certain people for many months past, and have a hearty liking for some of them, grow very soft when the hour for shaking hands comes, to think we are to meet no more. Go to! when this tale began, and for some months after, a pair of kind old eyes used to read these pages, which are now closed in the sleep appointed for all of us. And so page is turned after page, and behold Finis and the volume’s end.

So Philip and his young folks came down to Periwinkle Bay, where we were staying, and the girls in the two families nursed the baby, and the child and mother got health and comfort from the fresh air, and Mr. Mugford — who believes himself to be the finest sub-editor in the world — and I can tell you there is a great art in sub-editing a paper — Mr. Mugford, I say, took Philip’s scissors and paste-pot, whilst the latter enjoyed his holiday. And J. J. Ridley, R.A., came and joined us presently, and we had many sketching parties, and my drawings of the various points about the bay, viz., Lobster Head, the Mollusc Rocks, are considered to be very spirited, though my little boy (who certainly has not his father’s taste for art) mistook for the rock a really capital portrait of Philip, in a gray hat and paletot, sprawling on the sand.

Some twelve miles inland from the bay is the little town of Whipham Market, and Whipham skirts the park palings of that castle where Lord Ringwood had lived, and where Philip’s mother was born and bred. There is a statue of the late lord in Whipham marketplace. Could he have had his will, the borough would have continued to return two members to Parliament, as in the good old times before us. In that ancient and grass-grown little place, where your footsteps echo as you pass through the street, where you hear distinctly the creaking of the sign of the “Ringwood Arms” hotel and posting-house, and the opposition creaking of the “Ram Inn” over the way — where the half-pay captain, the curate, and the medical man stand before the fly-blown window-blind of the “Ringwood Institute” and survey the strangers — there is still a respect felt for the memory of the great lord who dwelt behind the oaks in yonder hall. He had his faults. His lordship’s life was not that of an anchorite. The company his lordship kept, especially in his latter days, was not of that select description which a nobleman of his lordship’s rank might command. But he was a good friend to Whipham. He was a good landlord to a good tenant. If he had his will, Whipham would have kept its own. His lordship paid half the expense after the burning of the town-hall. He was an arbitrary man, certainly, and he flogged Alderman Duffle before his own shop, but he apologized for it most handsome afterwards. Would the gentlemen like port or sherry? Claret not called for in Whipham; not at all: and no fish, because all the fish at Periwinkle Bay is bought up and goes to London. Such were the remarks made by the landlord of the Ringwood Arms to three cavaliers who entered that hostelry. And you may be sure he told us about Lord Ringwood’s death in the postchaise as he came from Turreys Regum; and how his lordship went through them gates (pointing to a pair of gates and lodges which skirt the town), and was drove up to the castle and laid in state; and his lordship never would take the railway, never; and he always travelled like a nobleman, and when he came to a hotel and changed horses, he always called for a bottle of wine, and only took a glass, and sometimes not even that. And the present Sir John has kept no company here as yet; and they say he is close of his money, they say he is. And this is certain, Whipham haven’t seen much of it, Whipham haven’t.

We went into the inn yard, which may have been once a stirring place, and then sauntered up to the park gate, surmounted by the supporters and armorial bearings of the Ringwoods. “I wonder whether my poor mother came out of that gate when she eloped with my father?” said Philip. “Poor thing, poor thing!” The great gates were shut. The westering sun cast shadows over the sward where here and there the deer were browsing, and at some mile distance lay the house, with its towers and porticos and vanes flaming in the sun. The smaller gate was open, and a girl was standing by the lodge door. Was the house to be seen?

“Yes,” says a little red-cheeked girl, with a curtsey.

“No!” calls out a harsh voice from within, and an old woman comes out from the lodge and looks at us fiercely. “Nobody is to go to the house. The family is a-coming.”

That was provoking. Philip would have liked to behold the great house where his mother and her ancestors were born.

“Marry, good dame,” Philip’s companion said to the old beldam, “this goodly gentleman hath a right of entrance to yonder castle, which, I trow, ye wot not of. Heard ye never tell of one Philip Ringwood, slain at Busaco’s glorious fi — ”

“Hold your tongue, and don’t chaff her, Pen,” growled Firmin.

“Nay, and she knows not Philip Ringwood’s grandson,” the other wag continued, in a softened tone. “This will convince her of our right to enter. Canst recognize this image of your queen?”

“Well, I suppose ‘ee can go up,” said the old woman, at the sight of this talisman. “There’s only two of them staying there, and they’re out a-drivin.”

Philip was bent on seeing the halls of his ancestors. Gray and huge, with towers, and vanes, and porticos, they lay before us a mile off, separated from us by a streak of glistening river. A great chestnut avenue led up to the river, and in the dappled grass the deer were browsing.

You know the house, of course. There is a picture of it in Watts, bearing date 1783. A gentleman in a cocked hat and pigtail is rowing a lady in a boat on the shining river. Another nobleman in a cocked hat is angling in the glistening river from the bridge, over which a postchaise is passing.

“Yes, the place is like enough,” said Philip; “but I miss the post-chaise going over the bridge, and the lady in the punt with the tall parasol. Don’t you remember the print in our housekeeper’s room in Old Parr Street? My poor mother used to tell me about the house, and I imagined it grander than the palace of Aladdin. It is a very handsome house,” Philip went on. “‘It extends two hundred and sixty feet by seventy-five, and consists of a rustic basement and principal story, with an attic in the centre, the whole executed in stone. The grand front towards the park is adorned with a noble portico of the Corinthian order, and may with propriety be considered one of the finest elevations in the — ’ I tell you I am quoting out of Watts’s Seats of the Nobility and Gentry, published by John and Josiah Boydell, and lying in our drawing-room. Ah, dear me! I painted the boat and the lady and gentleman in the drawing-room copy, and my father boxed my ears, and my mother cried out, poor dear soul! And this is the river, is it? And over this the postchaise went with the club-tailed horses, and here was the pig-tailed gentleman fishing. It gives one a queer sensation,” says Philip, standing on the bridge, and stretching out his big arms. “Yes, there are the two people in the punt by the rushes. I can see them, but you can’t; and I hope, sir, you will have good sport.” And here he took off his hat to an imaginary gentleman supposed to be angling from the balustrade for ghostly gudgeon. We reach the house presently. We ring at a door in the basement under the portico. The porter demurs, and says some of the family is down, but they are out, to be sure. The same half-crown argument answers with him which persuaded the keeper at the lodge. We go through the show-rooms of the stately but somewhat faded and melancholy palace. In the cedar dining-room there hangs the grim portrait of the late earl; and that fair-haired officer in red? that must be Philip’s grandfather. And those two slim girls embracing, surely those are his mother and his aunt. Philip walks softly through the vacant rooms. He gives the porter a gold piece ere he goes out of the great hall, forty feet cube, ornamented with statues brought from Rome by John first Baron, namely, Heliogabalus. Nero’s mother, a priestess of Isis, and a river god; the pictures over the doors by Pedimento; the ceiling by Leotardi, and in a window in the great hall there is a table with a visitors’ book, in which Philip writes his name. As we went away, we met a carriage which drove rapidly towards the house, and which no doubt contained the members of the Ringwood family, regarding whom the porteress had spoken. After the family differences previously related, we did not care to face these kinsfolks of Philip, and passed on quickly in twilight beneath the rustling umbrage of the chestnuts. J. J. saw a hundred fine pictorial effects as we walked; the palace reflected in the water; the dappled deer under the chequered shadow of the trees. It was, “Oh, what a jolly bit of colour!” and, “I say, look, how well that old woman’s red cloak comes in!” and so forth. Painters never seem tired of their work. At seventy they are students still, patient, docile, happy. May we too, my good sir, live for fourscore years, and never be too old to learn! The walk, the brisk accompanying conversation, amid stately scenery around, brought us with good appetites and spirits to our inn, where we were told that dinner would be served when the omnibus arrived from the railway.

At a short distance from the Ringwood Arms, and on the opposite side of the street, is the Ram Inn, neat postchaises and farmers’ ordinary; a house, of which the pretensions seemed less, though the trade was somewhat more lively. When the tooting of the horn announced the arrival of the omnibus from the railway, I should think a crowd of at least fifteen people assembled at various doors of the High Street and Market. The half-pay captain and the curate came out from the Ringwood Athen?um. The doctor’s apprentice stood on the step of the surgery door, and the surgeon’s lady looked out from the first floor. We shared the general curiosity. We and the waiter stood at the door of the Ringwood Arms. We were mortified to see that of the five persons conveyed by the ‘bus, one was a tradesman, who descended at his door (Mr. Packwood, the saddler, so the waiter informed us), three travellers were discharged at the Ram, and only one came to us.

“Mostly bagmen goes to the Ram,” the waiter said, with a scornful air; and these bagmen, and their bags, quitted the omnibus.

Only one passenger remained for the Ringwood Arms Hotel, and he presently descended under the porte cochère; and the omnibus — I own, with regret, it was but a one-horse machine — drove rattling into the court-yard, where the bells of the “Star,” the “George,” the “Rodney,” the “Dolphin,” and so on, had once been wont to jingle, and the court had echoed with the noise and clatter of hoofs and ostlers, and the cries of “First and second, turn out.”

Who was the merry-faced little gentleman in black, who got out of the omnibus, and cried, when he saw us, “What, you here?” It was Mr. Bradgate, that lawyer of Lord Ringwood’s with whom we made a brief acquaintance just after his lordship’s death.” “What, you here?” cries Bradgate, then, to Philip. Come down about this business, of course? Very glad that you and — and certain parties have made it up. Thought you weren’t friends.

What business? What parties? We had not heard the news? We had only come over from Periwinkle Bay by chance, in order to see the house.

“How very singular! Did you meet the — the people who were staying there?”

We said we had seen a carriage pass, but did not remark who was in it. What, however, was the news? Well. It would be known immediately, and would appear in Tuesday’s Gazette. The news was that Sir John Ringwood was going to take a peerage, and that the seat for Whipham would be vacant. And herewith our friend produced from his travelling bag a proclamation, which he read to us, and which was addressed —

“To the worthy and independent electors of the borough of Ringwood.”

“London, Wednesday.”

“Gentlemen, — A gracious Sovereign having been pleased to order that the family of Ringwood should continue to be represented in the House of Peers, I take leave of my friends and constituents who have given me their kind confidence hitherto, and promise them that my regard for them will never cease, or my interest in the town and neighbourhood where my family have dwelt for many centuries. The late lamented Lord Ringwood’s brother died in the service of his Sovereign in Portugal, following the same flag under which his ancestors for centuries have fought and bled. My own son serves the Crown in a civil capacity. It was natural that one of our name and family should continue the relations which so long have subsisted between us and this loyal, affectionate, but independent borough. Mr. Ringwood’s onerous duties in the office which he holds are sufficient to occupy his time. A gentleman united to our family by the closest ties will offer himself as a candidate for your suffrages — ”

“Why, who is it? He is not going to put in uncle Twysden, or my sneak of a cousin?”

“No,” says Mr. Bradgate.

“Well, bless my soul! he can’t mean me,” said Philip. “Who is the dark horse he has in his stable!”

Then Mr. Bradgate laughed. “Dark horse you may call him. The new member is to be Grenville Woolcomb, Esq., your West India relative, and no other.”

Those who know the extreme energy of Mr. P. Firmin’s language when he is excited, may imagine the explosion of Philippine wrath which ensued as our friend heard this name. “That miscreant: that skinflint: that wealthy crossing-sweeper: that ignoramus who scarce could do more than sign his name! Oh, it was horrible, shameful! Why, the man is on such ill terms with his wife that they say he strikes her. When I see him I feel inclined to choke him, and murder him. That brute going into Parliament, and the republican Sir John Ringwood sending him there! It’s monstrous!”

“Family arrangements. Sir John, or, I should say, my Lord Ringwood is one of the most affectionate of parents,” Mr. Bradgate remarked. “He has a large family by his second marriage, and his estates go to his eldest son. We must not quarrel with Lord Ringwood for wishing to provide for his young ones. I don’t say that he quite acts up to the extreme Liberal principle of which he was once rather fond of boasting. But if you were offered a peerage, what would you do; what would I do? If you wanted money for your young ones, and could get it, would you not take it? Come, come, don’t let us have too much of this Spartan virtue! If we were tried, my good friend, we should not be much worse or better than our neighbours. Is my fly coming, waiter?” We asked Mr. Bradgate to defer his departure, and to share our dinner. But he declined, and said he must go up to the great house, where he and his client had plenty of business to arrange, and where no doubt he would stay for the night. He bade the inn servants put his portmanteau into his carriage when it came. “The old lord had some famous port wine,” he said; “I hope my friends have the key of the cellar.”

The waiter was just putting our meal on the table, as we stood in the bow-window of the Ringwood Arms coffee-room, engaged in this colloquy. Hence we could see the street, and the opposition inn of the Ram, where presently a great placard was posted. At least a dozen street boys, shopmen, and rustics were quickly gathered round this manifesto, and we ourselves went out to examine it. The Ram placard denounced, in terms of unmeasured wrath, the impudent attempt from the Castle to dictate to the free and independent electors of the borough. Freemen were invited not to promise their votes; to show themselves worthy of their name; to submit to no Castle dictation. A county gentleman of property, of influence, of liberal principles — no West Indian, no Castle Flunkey, but a True English Gentleman, would come forward to rescue them from the tyranny under which they laboured. On this point the electors might rely on the word of A Briton.

“This was brought down by the clerk from Bedloe’s . He and a newspaper man came down in the train with me; a Mr. — ”

As he spoke, there came forth from the Ram the newspaper man of whom Mr. Bradgate spoke — an old friend and comrade of Philip, that energetic man and able reporter, Phipps of the Daily Intelligencer, who recognized Philip, and cordially greeting him, asked what he did down here, and supposed he had come to support his family.

Philip explained that we were strangers, had come from a neighbouring watering place to see the home of Philip’s ancestors, and was not even aware, until then, that an electioneering contest was pending in the place, or that Sir John Ringwood was about to be promoted to the peerage. Meanwhile, Mr. Bradgate’s fly had driven out of the hotel yard of the Ringwood Arms, and the lawyer running to the house for a bag of papers, jumped into the carriage and called to the coachman to drive to the castle.

“Bon appétit!” says he, in a confident tone, and he was gone.

“Would Phipps dine with us?” Phipps whispered, “I am on the other side, and the Ram is our house.”

We, who were on no side, entered into the Ringwood Arms, and sat down to our meal — to the mutton and the catsup, cauliflower and potatoes, the copper-edged side dishes, and the watery melted butter, with which strangers are regaled in inns in declining towns. The town badauds, who had read the placard at the Ram, now came to peruse the proclamation in our window. I daresay thirty pairs of clinking boots stopped before the one window and the other, the while we ate tough mutton and drank fiery sherry. And J. J., leaving his dinner, sketched some of the figures of the townsfolk staring at the manifesto, with the old-fashioned Ram Inn for a background — a picturesque gable enough.

Our meal was just over, when, somewhat to our surprise, our friend Mr. Bradgate the lawyer returned to the Ringwood Arms. He wore a disturbed countenance He asked what he could have for dinner? Mutton, neither hot nor cold. Hum! That must do. So he had not been invited to dine at the Park? We rallied him with much facetiousness on this disappointment.

Little Bradgate’s eyes started with wrath. “What a churl the little black fellow is!” he cried. “I took him his papers. I talked with him till dinner was laid in the very room where we were. French beans and neck of venison — I saw the housekeeper and his man bring them in!” And Mr. Woolcomb did not so much as ask me to sit down to dinner — but told me to come again at nine o’clock! Confound this mutton — it’s neither hot nor cold! The little skinflint! The glasses of fiery sherry which Bradgate now swallowed served rather to choke than appease the lawyer. We laughed, and this jocularity angered him more. “Oh,” said he, “I am not the only person Woolcomb was rude to. He was in a dreadful ill-temper. He abused his wife: and when he read somebody’s name in the stranger’s book, I promise you, Firmin, he abused you. I had a mind to say to him, ‘Sir, Mr. Firmin is dining at the Ringwood Arms, and I will tell him what you say of him.’ What india rubber mutton this is! What villanous sherry! Go back to him at nine o’clock, indeed! Be hanged to his impudence!”

“You must not abuse Woolcomb before Firmin,” said one of our party. “Philip is so fond of his cousin’s husband, that he cannot bear to hear the black man abused.”

This was not a very brilliant joke, but Phil............

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