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The Bedford-Row Conspiracy is a Webnovel created by William Makepeace Thackeray.
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“It cannot be helped,” said Mr. Perkins, looking as much like a martyr as he possibly could, and thinking himself a very fine fellow. “I have talents, sir, which I hope to cultivate; and am member of a profession by which a man may hope to rise to the very highest offices of the State.”
“Profession, talents, offices of the State! Are you mad, John Perkins, that you come to me with such insufferable twaddle as this? Why, do you think if you HAD been capable of rising at the bar, I would have taken so much trouble about getting you a place? No, sir; you are too fond of pleasure, and bed, and tea-parties, and small-talk, and reading novels, and playing the flute, and writing sonnets. You would no more rise at the bar than my messenger, sir. It was because I knew your disposition–that hopeless, careless, irresolute good-humour of yours–that I had determined to keep you out of danger, by placing you in a snug shelter, where the storms of the world would not come near you. You must have principles forsooth! and you must marry Miss Gorgon, of course: and by the time you have gone ten circuits, and had six children, you will have eaten up every shilling of your wife’s fortune, and be as briefless as you are now. Who the deuce has put all this nonsense into your head? I think I know.”
Mr. Perkins’s ears tingled as these hard words saluted them; and he scarcely knew whether he ought to knock his uncle down, or fall at his feet and say, “Uncle, I have been a fool, and I know it.” The fact is, that in his interview with Miss Gorgon and her aunt in the morning, when he came to tell them of the resolution he had formed to give up the place, both the ladies and John himself had agreed, with a thousand rapturous tears and exclamations, that he was one of the n.o.blest young men that ever lived, had acted as became himself, and might with perfect propriety give up the place, his talents being so prodigious that no power on earth could hinder him from being Lord Chancellor. Indeed, John and Lucy had always thought the clerkship quite beneath him, and were not a little glad, perhaps, at finding a pretext for decently refusing it. But as Perkins was a young gentleman whose candour was such that he was always swayed by the opinions of the last speaker, he did begin to feel now the truth of his uncle’s statements, however disagreeable they might be.
Mr. Crampton continued:–
“I think I know the cause of your patriotism. Has not William Pitt Scully, Esquire, had something to do with it?”
Mr. Perkins COULD not turn any redder than he was, but confessed with deep humiliation that “he HAD consulted Mr. Scully among other friends.”
Mr. Crampton smiled–drew a letter from a heap before him, and tearing off the signature, handed over the doc.u.ment to his nephew. It contained the following paragraphs:–
“Hawksby has sounded Scully: we can have him any day we want him. He talks very big at present, and says he would not take anything under a… This is absurd. He has a Yorkshire nephew coming up to town, and wants a place for him. There is one vacant in the Tape Office, he says: have you not a promise of it?”
“I can’t–I can’t believe it,” said John; “this, sir, is some weak invention of the enemy. Scully is the most honourable man breathing.”
“Mr. Scully is a gentleman in a very fair way to make a fortune,”
answered Mr. Crampton. “Look you, John–it is just as well for your sake that I should give you the news a few weeks before the papers, for I don’t want you to be ruined, if I can help it, as I don’t wish to have you on my hands. We know all the particulars of Scully’s history. He was a Tory attorney at Oldborough; he was jilted by the present Lady Gorgon, turned Radical, and fought Sir George in his own borough. Sir George would have had the peerage he is dying for, had he not lost that second seat (by-the-by, my Lady will be here in five minutes), and Scully is now quite firm there. Well, my dear lad, we have bought your incorruptible Scully. Look here,”–and Mr. Crampton produced three Morning Posts.
“‘THE HONOURABLE HENRY HAWKSBY’S DINNER-PARTY.–Lord So-and-So–Duke of So-and-So–W. Pitt Scully, Esq. M.P.’
“Hawksby is our neutral, our dinner-giver.
“‘LADY DIANA DOLDRUM’S ROUT.–W. Pitt Scully, Esq,’ again.
“‘THE EARL OF MANTRAP’S GRAND DINNER.’–A Duke–four Lords–‘Mr. Scully, and Sir George Gorgon.'”
“Well, but I don’t see how you have bought him; look at his votes.”
“My dear John,” said Mr. Crampton, jingling his watch-seals very complacently, “I am letting you into fearful secrets. The great common end of party is to buy your opponents–the great statesman buys them for nothing.”
Here the attendant genius of Mr. Crampton made his appearance, and whispered something, to which the little gentleman said, “Show her Ladyship in,”–when the attendant disappeared.
“John,” said Mr. Crampton, with a very queer smile, “you can’t stay in this room while Lady Gorgon is with me; but there is a little clerk’s room behind the screen there, where you can wait until I call you.”
John retired, and as he closed the door of communication, strange to say, little Mr. Crampton sprang up and said, “Confound the young ninny, he has shut the door!”
Mr. Crampton then, remembering that he wanted a map in the next room, sprang into it, left the door half open in coming out, and was in time to receive Her Ladyship with smiling face as she, ushered by Mr.
Strongitharm, majestically sailed in.
BEHIND THE SCENES.
In issuing from and leaving open the door of the inner room, Mr.
Crampton had bestowed upon Mr. Perkins a look so peculiarly arch, that even he, simple as he was, began to imagine that some mystery was about to be cleared up, or some mighty matter to be discussed. Presently he heard the well-known voice of Lady Gorgon in conversation with his uncle. What could their talk be about? Mr. Perkins was dying to know, and–shall we say it?–advanced to the door on tiptoe and listened with all his might.
Her Ladyship, that Juno of a woman, if she had not borrowed Venus’s girdle to render herself irresistible, at least had adopted a tender, coaxing, wheedling, frisky tone, quite different from her ordinary dignified style of conversation. She called Mr. Crampton a naughty man, for neglecting his old friends, vowed that Sir George was quite hurt at his not coming to dine–nor fixing a day when he would come–and added, with a most engaging ogle, that she had three fine girls at home, who would perhaps make an evening pa.s.s pleasantly, even to such a gay bachelor as Mr. Crampton.
“Madam,” said he, with much gravity, “the daughters of such a mother must be charming; but I, who have seen your Ladyship, am, alas! proof against even them.”
Both parties here heaved tremendous sighs and affected to be wonderfully unhappy about something.
“I wish,” after a pause, said Lady Gorgon–“I wish, dear Mr. Crampton, you would not use that odious t.i.tle ‘my Ladyship:’ you know it always makes me melancholy.”
“Melancholy, my dear Lady Gorgon; and why?”
“Because it makes me think of another t.i.tle that ought to have been mine–ours (I speak for dear Sir George’s and my darling boy’s sake, Heaven knows, not mine). What a sad disappointment it has been to my husband, that after all his services, all the promises he has had, they have never given him his peerage. As for me, you know–“
“For you, my dear madam, I know quite well that you care for no such bauble as a coronet, except in so far as it may confer honour upon those most dear to you–excellent wife and n.o.ble mother as you are. Heigho!
what a happy man is Sir George!”
Here there was another pause, and if Mr. Perkins could have seen what was taking place behind the screen, he would have beheld little Mr.
Crampton looking into Lady Gorgon’s face, with as love-sick a Romeo-gaze as he could possibly counterfeit; while her Ladyship, blushing somewhat and turning her own grey gogglers up to heaven, received all his words for gospel, and sat fancying herself to be the best, most meritorious, and most beautiful creature in the three kingdoms.
“You men are terrible flatterers,” continued she; “but you say right: for myself I value not these empty distinctions. I am growing old, Mr.
Crampton,–yes, indeed, I am, although you smile so incredulously,–and let me add, that MY thoughts are fixed upon HIGHER things than earthly crowns. But tell me, you who are all in all with Lord Bagwig, are we never to have our peerage? His Majesty, I know, is not averse; the services of dear Sir George to a member of His Majesty’s august family, I know, have been appreciated in the highest quarter. Ever since the peace we have had a promise. Four hundred pounds has Sir George spent at the Heralds’ Office (I myself am of one of the most ancient families in the kingdom, Mr. Crampton), and the poor dear man’s health is really ruined by the anxious sickening feeling of hope so long delayed.”
Mr. Crampton now a.s.sumed an air of much solemnity.
“My dear Lady Gorgon,” said he, “will you let me be frank with you, and will you promise solemnly that what I am going to tell you shall never be repeated to a single soul?”
Lady Gorgon promised.
“Well, then, since the truth you must know, you yourselves have been in part the cause of the delay of which you complain. You gave us two votes five years ago; you now only give us one. If Sir George were to go up to the Peers, we should lose even that one vote; and would it be common sense in us to incur such a loss? Mr. Scully, the Liberal, would return another Member of his own way of thinking; and as for the Lords, we have, you know, a majority there.”
“Oh, that horrid man!” said Lady Gorgon, cursing Mr. Scully in her heart, and beginning to play a rapid tattoo with her feet, “that miscreant, that traitor, that–that attorney has been our ruin.”
“Horrid man, if you please, but give me leave to tell you that the horrid man is not the sole cause of your ruin–if ruin you will call it.
I am sorry to say that I do candidly think Ministers believe that Sir George Gorgon has lost his influence in Oldborough as much through his own fault as through Mr. Scully’s cleverness.”
“Our own fault! Good heavens! Have we not done everything–everything that persons of our station in the county could do, to keep those misguided men? Have we not remonstrated, threatened, taken away our custom from the Mayor, established a Conservative apothecary–in fact, done all that gentlemen could do? But these are such times, Mr.
Crampton: the spirit of revolution is abroad, and the great families of England are menaced by democratic insolence.”
This was Sir George Gorgon’s speech always after dinner, and was delivered by his lady with a great deal of stateliness. Somewhat, perhaps, to her annoyance, Mr. Crampton only smiled, shook his head, and said–
“Nonsense, my dear Lady Gorgon–pardon the phrase, but I am a plain old man, and call things by their names. Now, will you let me whisper in your ear one word of truth? You have tried all sorts of remonstrances, and exerted yourself to maintain your influence in every way, except the right one, and that is–“
“What, in Heaven’s name?”
“Conciliation. We know your situation in the borough. Mr. Scully’s whole history, and, pardon me for saying so (but we men in office know everything), yours–“
Lady Gorgon’s ears and cheeks now a.s.sumed the hottest hue of crimson.
She thought of her former pa.s.sages with Scully, and of the days when–but never mind when: for she suffered her veil to fall, and buried her head in the folds of her handkerchief. Vain folds! The wily little Mr. Crampton could see all that pa.s.sed behind the cambric, and continued–