The Bedford-Row Conspiracy Part 1

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The Bedford-Row Conspiracy is a Webnovel created by William Makepeace Thackeray.
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The Bedford-Row Conspiracy.

by William Makepeace Thackeray.

CHAPTER I.

OF THE LOVES OF MR. PERKINS AND MISS GORGON, AND OF THE TWO GREAT FACTIONS IN THE TOWN OF OLDBOROUGH.

“My dear John,” cried Lucy, with a very wise look indeed, “it must and shall be so. As for Doughty Street, with our means, a house is out of the question. We must keep three servants, and Aunt Biggs says the taxes are one-and-twenty pounds a year.”

“I have seen a sweet place at Chelsea,” remarked John: “Paradise Row, No. 17,–garden–greenhouse–fifty pounds a year–omnibus to town within a mile.”

“What! that I may be left alone all day, and you spend a fortune in driving backward and forward in those horrid breakneck cabs? My darling, I should die there–die of fright, I know I should. Did you not say yourself that the road was not as yet lighted, and that the place swarmed with public-houses and dreadful tipsy Irish bricklayers? Would you kill me, John?”

“My da-arling,” said John, with tremendous fondness, clutching Miss Lucy suddenly round the waist, and rapping the hand of that young person violently against his waistcoat,–“My da-arling, don’t say such things, even in a joke. If I objected to the chambers, it is only because you, my love, with your birth and connections, ought to have a house of your own. The chambers are quite large enough and certainly quite good enough for me.” And so, after some more sweet parley on the part of these young people, it was agreed that they should take up their abode, when married, in a part of the House number One hundred and something, Bedford Row.

It will be necessary to explain to the reader that John was no other than John Perkins, Esquire, of the Middle Temple, barrister-at-law, and that Miss Lucy was the daughter of the late Captain Gorgon, and Marianne Biggs, his wife. The Captain being of n.o.ble connections, younger son of a baronet, cousin to Lord X—-, and related to the Y—- family, had angered all his relatives by marrying a very silly pretty young woman, who kept a ladies’-school at Canterbury. She had six hundred pounds to her fortune, which the Captain laid out in the purchase of a sweet travelling-carriage and dressing-case for himself; and going abroad with his lady, spent several years in the princ.i.p.al prisons of Europe, in one of which he died. His wife and daughter were meantime supported by the contributions of Mrs. Jemima Biggs, who still kept the ladies’-school.

At last a dear old relative–such a one as one reads of in romances–died and left seven thousand pounds apiece to the two sisters, whereupon the elder gave up schooling and retired to London; and the younger managed to live with some comfort and decency at Brussels, upon two hundred and ten pounds per annum. Mrs. Gorgon never touched a shilling of her capital, for the very good reason that it was placed entirely out of her reach; so that when she died, her daughter found herself in possession of a sum of money that is not always to be met with in this world.

Her aunt the baronet’s lady, and her aunt the ex-schoolmistress, both wrote very pressing invitations to her, and she resided with each for six months after her arrival in England. Now, for a second time, she had come to Mrs. Biggs, Caroline Place, Mecklenburgh Square. It was under the roof of that respectable old lady that John Perkins, Esquire, being invited to take tea, wooed and won Miss Gorgon.

Having thus described the circ.u.mstances of Miss Gorgon’s life, let us pa.s.s for a moment from that young lady, and lift up the veil of mystery which envelopes the deeds and character of Perkins.

Perkins, too, was an orphan; and he and his Lucy, of summer evenings, when Sol descending lingered fondly yet about the minarets of the Foundling, and gilded the gra.s.splots of Mecklenburgh Square–Perkins, I say, and Lucy would often sit together in the summer-house of that pleasure-ground, and muse upon the strange coincidences of their life.

Lucy was motherless and fatherless; so too was Perkins. If Perkins was brotherless and sisterless, was not Lucy likewise an only child? Perkins was twenty-three: his age and Lucy’s united, amounted to forty-six; and it was to be remarked, as a fact still more extraordinary, that while Lucy’s relatives were AUNTS, John’s were UNCLES. Mysterious spirit of love! let us treat thee with respect and whisper not too many of thy secrets. The fact is, John and Lucy were a pair of fools (as every young couple OUGHT to be who have hearts that are worth a farthing), and were ready to find coincidences, sympathies, hidden gushes of feeling, mystic unions of the soul, and what not, in every single circ.u.mstance that occurred from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, and in the intervals. Bedford Row, where Perkins lived, is not very far from Mecklenburgh Square; and John used to say that he felt a comfort that his house and Lucy’s were served by the same m.u.f.fin-man.

Further comment is needless. A more honest, simple, clever, warm-hearted, soft, whimsical, romantical, high-spirited young fellow than John Perkins did not exist. When his father, Doctor Perkins, died, this, his only son, was placed under the care of John Perkins, Esquire, of the house of Perkins, Scully, and Perkins, those celebrated attorneys in the trading town of Oldborough, which the second partner, William Pitt Scully, Esquire, represented in Parliament and in London.

All John’s fortune was the house in Bedford Row, which, at his father’s death, was let out into chambers, and brought in a clear hundred a year. Under his uncle’s roof at Oldborough, where he lived with thirteen red-haired male and female cousins, he was only charged fifty pounds for board, clothes, and pocket-money, and the remainder of his rents was carefully put by for him until his majority. When he approached that period–when he came to belong to two spouting-clubs at Oldborough, among the young merchants and lawyers’-clerks–to blow the flute nicely, and play a good game at billiards–to have written one or two smart things in the Oldborough Sentinel–to be fond of smoking (in which act he was discovered by his fainting aunt at three o’clock one morning)–in one word, when John Perkins arrived at manhood, he discovered that he was quite unfit to be an attorney, that he detested all the ways of his uncle’s stern, dull, vulgar, regular, red-headed family, and he vowed that he would go to London and make his fortune. Thither he went, his aunt and cousins, who were all “serious,” vowing that he was a lost boy; and when his history opens, John had been two years in the metropolis, inhabiting his own garrets; and a very nice compact set of apartments, looking into the back-garden, at this moment falling vacant, the prudent Lucy Gorgon had visited them, and vowed that she and her John should there commence housekeeping.

All these explanations are tedious, but necessary; and furthermore, it must be said, that as John’s uncle’s partner was the Liberal member for Oldborough, so Lucy’s uncle was its Ministerial representative.

This gentleman, the brother of the deceased Captain Gorgon, lived at the paternal mansion of Gorgon Castle, and rejoiced in the name and t.i.tle of Sir George Grimsby Gorgon.

He, too, like his younger brother, had married a lady beneath his own rank in life; having espoused the daughter and heiress of Mr. Hicks, the great brewer at Oldborough, who held numerous mortgages on the Gorgon property, all of which he yielded up, together with his daughter Juliana, to the care of the baronet.

What Lady Gorgon was in character, this history will show. In person, if she may be compared to any vulgar animal, one of her father’s heavy, healthy, broad-flanked, Roman-nosed white dray-horses might, to the poetic mind, appear to resemble her. At twenty she was a splendid creature, and though not at her full growth, yet remarkable for strength and sinew; at forty-five she was as fine a woman as any in His Majesty’s dominions. Five feet seven in height, thirteen stone, her own teeth and hair, she looked as if she were the mother of a regiment of Grenadier Guards. She had three daughters of her own size, and at length, ten years after the birth of the last of the young ladies, a son–one son–George Augustus Frederick Grimsby Gorgon, the G.o.dson of a royal duke, whose steady officer in waiting Sir George had been for many years.

It is needless to say, after entering so largely into a description of Lady Gorgon, that her husband was a little shrivelled wizen-faced creature, eight inches shorter than her Ladyship. This is the way of the world, as every single reader of this book must have remarked; for frolic love delights to join giants and pigmies of different s.e.xes in the bonds of matrimony. When you saw her Ladyship in flame-coloured satin and gorgeous toque and feathers, entering the drawing-room, as footmen along the stairs shouted melodiously, “Sir George and Lady Gorgon,” you beheld in her company a small withered old gentleman, with powder and large royal household b.u.t.tons, who tripped at her elbow as a little weak-legged colt does at the side of a stout mare.

The little General had been present at about a hundred and twenty pitched battles on Hounslow Heath and Wormwood Scrubs, but had never drawn his sword against an enemy. As might be expected, therefore, his talk and tenue were outrageously military. He had the whole Army List by heart–that is, as far as the field-officers: all below them he scorned.

A bugle at Gorgon Castle always sounded at breakfast, and dinner: a gun announced sunset. He clung to his pigtail for many years after the army had forsaken that ornament, and could never be brought to think much of the Peninsular men for giving it up. When he spoke of the Duke, he used to call him “MY LORD WELLINGTON–I RECOLLECT HIM AS CAPTAIN WELLESLEY.”

He swore fearfully in conversation, was most regular at church, and regularly read to his family and domestics the morning and evening prayer; he bullied his daughters, seemed to bully his wife, who led him whither she chose; gave grand entertainments, and never asked a friend by chance; had splendid liveries, and starved his people; and was as dull, stingy, pompous, insolent, cringing, ill-tempered a little creature as ever was known.

With such qualities you may fancy that he was generally admired in society and by his country. So he was: and I never knew a man so endowed whose way through life was not safe–who had fewer pangs of conscience–more positive enjoyments–more respect shown to him–more favours granted to him, than such a one as my friend the General.

Her Ladyship was just suited to him, and they did in reality admire each other hugely. Previously to her marriage with the baronet, many love-pa.s.sages had pa.s.sed between her and William Pitt Scully, Esquire, the attorney; and there was especially one story, a propos of certain syllabubs and Sally-Lunn cakes, which seemed to show that matters had gone very far. Be this as it may, no sooner did the General (Major Gorgon he was then) cast an eye on her, than Scully’s five years’ fabric of love was instantly dashed to the ground. She cut him pitilessly, cut Sally Scully, his sister, her dearest friend and confidante, and bestowed her big person upon the little aide-de-camp at the end of a fortnight’s wooing. In the course of time their mutual fathers died; the Gorgon estates were unenc.u.mbered: patron of both the seats in the borough of Oldborough, and occupant of one, Sir George Grimsby Gorgon, Baronet, was a personage of no small importance.

He was, it scarcely need to be said, a Tory; and this was the reason why William Pitt Scully, Esquire, of the firm of Perkins and Scully, deserted those principles in which he had been bred and christened; deserted that church which he had frequented, for he could not bear to see Sir George and my Lady flaunting in their grand pew;–deserted, I say, the church, adopted the conventicle, and became one of the most zealous and eloquent supporters that Freedom has known in our time.

Scully, of the house of Scully and Perkins, was a dangerous enemy. In five years from that marriage, which s.n.a.t.c.hed from the jilted solicitor his heart’s young affections, Sir George Gorgon found that he must actually spend seven hundred pounds to keep his two seats. At the next election, a Liberal was set up against his man, and actually ran him hard; and finally, at the end of eighteen years, the rejected Scully–the mean attorney–was actually the FIRST Member for Oldborough, Sir George Grimsby Gorgon, Baronet, being only the second!

The agony of that day cannot be imagined–the dreadful curses of Sir George, who saw fifteen hundred a year robbed from under his very nose–the religious resignation of my Lady–the hideous window-smashing that took place at the “Gorgon Arms,” and the discomfiture of the pelted Mayor and Corporation. The very next Sunday, Scully was reconciled to the church (or attended it in the morning, and the meeting twice in the afternoon), and as Doctor Snorter uttered the prayer for the High Court of Parliament, his eye, the eye of his whole party–turned towards Lady Gorgon and Sir George in a most unholy triumph. Sir George (who always stood during prayers, like a military man) fairly sank down among the ha.s.socks, and Lady Gorgon was heard to sob as audibly as ever did little beadle-belaboured urchin.

Scully, when at Oldborough, came from that day forth to church. “What,”

said he, “was it to him? were we not all brethren?” Old Perkins, however, kept religiously to the Squaretoes congregation. In fact, to tell the truth, this subject had been debated between the partners, who saw the advantage of courting both the Establishment and the Dissenters–a manoeuvre which, I need not say, is repeated in almost every country town in England, where a solicitor’s house has this kind of power and connection.

Three months after this election came the races at Oldborough, and the race-ball. Gorgon was so infuriated by his defeat, that he gave “the Gorgon cup and cover,” a matter of fifteen pounds. Scully, “although anxious,” as he wrote from town, “anxious beyond measure to preserve the breed of horses for which our beloved country has ever been famous, could attend no such sports as these, which but too often degenerated into vice.” It was voted a shabby excuse. Lady Gorgon was radiant in her barouche and four, and gladly became the patroness of the ball that was to ensue; and which all the gentry and townspeople, Tory and Whig, were in the custom of attending. The ball took place on the last day of the races. On that day, the walls of the market-house, the princ.i.p.al public buildings, and the “Gorgon Arms Hotel” itself, were plastered with the following:–

“Letter from our distinguished representative, William P. Scully, Esquire, etc., etc.

“HOUSE OF COMMONS: June 1, 18–.

“MY DEAR HEELTAP,–You know my opinion about horseracing, and though I blame neither you nor any brother Englishman who enjoys that manly sport, you will, I am sure, appreciate the conscientious motives which induce me not to appear among my friends and const.i.tuents on the festival of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th instant. If _I_, however, cannot allow my name to appear among your list of stewards, ONE at least of the representatives of Oldborough has no such scruples. Sir George Gorgon is among you: and though I differ from that honourable Baronet on more than ONE VITAL POINT, I am glad to think that he is with you. A gentleman, a soldier, a man of property in the county, how can he be better employed than in forwarding the county’s amus.e.m.e.nts, and in forwarding the happiness of all?

“Had I no such scruples as those to which I have just alluded, I must still have refrained from coming among you. Your great Oldborough common-drainage and inclosure bill comes on to-morrow, and I shall be AT MY POST. I am sure, if Sir George Gorgon were here, he and I should on this occasion vote side by side, and that party strife would be forgotten in the object of our common interest–OUR DEAR NATIVE TOWN.

“There is, however, another occasion at hand, in which I shall be proud to meet him. Your ball is on the night of the 6th. Party forgotten–brotherly union–innocent mirth–beauty, OUR DEAR TOWN’S BEAUTY, our daughters in the joy of their expanding loveliness, our matrons in the exquisite contemplation of their children’s bliss–can you, can I, can Whig or Tory, can any Briton be indifferent to a scene like this, or refuse to join in this heart-stirring festival? If there BE such let them pardon me–I, for one, my dear Heeltap, will be among you on Friday night–ay, and hereby invite all pretty Tory Misses, who are in want of a partner.

“I am here in the very midst of good things, you know, and we old folks like A SUPPER after a dance. Please to accept a brace of bucks and a turtle, which come herewith. My worthy colleague, who was so liberal last year of his soup to the poor, will not, I trust, refuse to taste a little of Alderman Birch’s–’tis offered on my part with hearty goodwill. Hey for the 6th, and vive la joie!

“Ever, my dear Heeltap, your faithful

“W. PITT SCULLY.

“P.S.–Of course this letter is STRICTLY PRIVATE. Say that the venison, etc. came from a WELL-WISHER TO OLDBOROUGH.”

This amazing letter was published, in defiance of Mr. Scully’s injunctions, by the enthusiastic Heeltap, who said, bluntly, in a preface, “that he saw no reason why Mr. Scully should be ashamed of his action, and he, for his part, was glad to let all friends at Oldborough know of it.”

The allusion about the Gorgon soup was killing: thirteen paupers in Oldborough had, it was confidently a.s.serted, died of it. Lady Gorgon, on the reading of this letter, was struck completely dumb; Sir George Gorgon was wild. Ten dozen of champagne was he obliged to send down to the “Gorgon Arms,” to be added to the festival. He would have stayed away if he could, but he dared not.

At nine o’clock, he in general’s uniform; his wife in blue satin and diamonds; his daughters in blue c.r.a.pe and white roses; his niece, Lucy Gorgon, in white muslin; his son, George Augustus Frederick Grimsby Gorgon, in a blue velvet jacket, sugar-loaf b.u.t.tons, and nankeens, entered the north door of the ballroom, to much cheering, and the sound of “G.o.d save the King!”

At that very same moment, and from the south door, issued William Pitt Scully, Esquire, M.P., and his staff. Mr. Scully had a brand-new blue coat and bra.s.s b.u.t.tons, buff waistcoat, white kerseymere tights, pumps with large rosettes, and pink silk stockings.

“This wool,” said he to a friend, “was grown on Oldborough sheep, this cloth was spun in Oldborough looms, these b.u.t.tons were cast in an Oldborough manufactory, these shoes were made by an Oldborough tradesman, this HEART first beat in Oldborough town, and pray Heaven may be buried there!”

Could anything resist a man like this? John Perkins, who had come down as one of Scully’s aides-de-camp, in a fit of generous enthusiasm, leaped on a whist-table, flung up a pocket-handkerchief, and shrieked–“SCULLY FOR EVER!”

Heeltap, who was generally drunk, fairly burst into tears, and the grave tradesmen and Whig gentry, who had dined with the Member at his inn, and accompanied him thence to the “Gorgon Arms,” lifted their deep voices and shouted “Hear!” “Good!” “Bravo!” “n.o.ble!” “Scully for ever!” “G.o.d bless him!” and “Hurrah!”

The scene was tumultuously affecting; and when young Perkins sprang down from the table and came blushing up to the Member, that gentleman said, “Thank you, Jack! THANK you, my boy! THANK you,” in a way which made Perkins think that his supreme cup of bliss was quaffed; that he had but to die: for that life had no other such joy in store for him. Scully was Perkins’s Napoleon–he yielded himself up to the attorney, body and soul.

Whilst this scene was going on under one chandelier of the ballroom, beneath the other scarlet little General Gorgon, sumptuous Lady Gorgon, the daughters and niece Gorgons, were standing surrounded by their Tory court, who affected to sneer and t.i.tter at the Whig demonstrations which were taking place.

“What a howwid thmell of whithkey!” lisped Cornet Fitch, of the Dragoons, to Miss Lucy, confidentially. “And the–the are what they call Whigth, are they? He! he!”

“They are drunk, —-me, –drunk, by —-!” said the General to the Mayor.

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