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The Bedford-Row Conspiracy is a Webnovel created by William Makepeace Thackeray.
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“This vulgarity is too much,” said Lady Gorgon, rising; and Mrs.
Mayoress and the ladies of the party did so too.
The General, two squires, the clergyman, the Gorgon apothecary and attorney, with their respective ladies, followed her: they were plainly beaten from the field. Such of the Tories as dared remained, and in inglorious compromise shared the jovial Whig feast.
“Gentlemen and ladies,” hiccupped Mr. Heeltap, “I’ll give you a toast.
‘Champagne to our real–hic–friends,’ no, ‘Real champagne to our friends,’ and–hic–pooh! ‘Champagne to our friends, and real pain to our enemies,’–huzzay!”
The Scully faction on this day bore the victory away, and if the polite reader has been shocked by certain vulgarities on the part of Mr.
Scully and his friends, he must remember imprimis that Oldborough was an inconsiderable place–that the inhabitants thereof were chiefly tradespeople, not of refined habits–that Mr. Scully himself had only for three months mingled among the aristocracy–that his young friend Perkins was violently angry–and finally, and to conclude, that the proud vulgarity of the great Sir George Gorgon and his family was infinitely more odious and contemptible than the mean vulgarity of the Scullyites and their leader.
Immediately after this event, Mr. Scully and his young friend Perkins returned to town; the latter to his garrets in Bedford Row–the former to his apartments on the first floor of the same house. He lived here to superintend his legal business: his London agents, Messrs. Higgs, Biggs, and Blatherwick, occupying the ground floor; the junior partner, Mr.
Gustavus Blatherwick, the second flat of the house. Scully made no secret of his profession or residence: he was an attorney, and proud of it; he was the grandson of a labourer, and thanked G.o.d for it; he had made his fortune by his own honest labour, and why should he be ashamed of it?
And now, having explained at full length who the several heroes and heroines of this history were, and how they conducted themselves in the country, let us describe their behaviour in London, and the great events which occurred there.
You must know that Mr. Perkins bore away the tenderest recollections of the young lady with whom he had danced at the Oldborough ball, and, having taken particular care to find out where she dwelt when in the metropolis, managed soon to become acquainted with Aunt Biggs, and made himself so amiable to that lady, that she begged he would pa.s.s all his disengaged evenings at her lodgings in Caroline Place. Mrs. Biggs was perfectly aware that the young gentleman did not come for her bohea and m.u.f.fins, so much as for the sweeter conversation of her niece, Miss Gorgon; but seeing that these two young people were of an age when ideas of love and marriage will spring up, do what you will; seeing that her niece had a fortune, and Mr. Perkins had the prospect of a place, and was moreover a very amiable and well-disposed young fellow, she thought her niece could not do better than marry him; and Miss Gorgon thought so too. Now the public will be able to understand the meaning of that important conversation which is recorded at the very commencement of this history.
Lady Gorgon and her family were likewise in town; but, when in the metropolis, they never took notice of their relative, Miss Lucy: the idea of acknowledging an ex-schoolmistress living in Mecklenburgh Square being much too preposterous for a person of my Lady Gorgon’s breeding and fashion. She did not, therefore, know of the progress which sly Perkins was making all this while; for Lucy Gorgon did not think it was at all necessary to inform her Ladyship how deeply she was smitten by the wicked young gentleman who had made all the disturbance at the Oldborough ball.
The intimacy of these young persons had, in fact, become so close, that on a certain sunshiny Sunday in December, after having accompanied Aunt Biggs to church, they had pursued their walk as far as that rendezvous of lovers, the Regent’s Park, and were talking of their coming marriage, with much confidential tenderness, before the bears in the Zoological Gardens.
Miss Lucy was ever and anon feeding those interesting animals with buns, to perform which act of charity she had clambered up on the parapet which surrounds their den. Mr. Perkins was below; and Miss Lucy, having distributed her buns, was on the point of following,–but whether from timidity, or whether from a desire to do young Perkins an essential service, I know not: however, she found herself quite unwilling to jump down unaided.
“My dearest John,” said she, “I never can jump that.”
Whereupon John stepped up, put one hand round Lucy’s waist; and as one of hers gently fell upon his shoulder, Mr. Perkins took the other and said,–
Hoop! jump she did, and so excessively active and clever was Mr. John Perkins, that he jumped Miss Lucy plump into the middle of a group formed of–
The Misses Gorgon;
Master George Augustus Frederick Grimsby Gorgon;
And a footman, poodle, and French governess: who had all been for two or three minutes listening to the billings and cooings of these imprudent young lovers.
SHOWS HOW THE PLOT BEGAN TO THICKEN IN OR ABOUT BEDFORD ROW.
“Upon my word!”
“I’m hanged if it aren’t Lucy! How do, Lucy?” uttered Lady, the Misses, and Master Gorgon in a breath.
Lucy came forward, bending down her ambrosial curls, and blushing, as a modest young woman should: for, in truth, the sc.r.a.pe was very awkward.
And as for John Perkins, he made a start, and then a step forwards, and then two backwards, and then began laying hands upon his black satin stock–in short, the sun did not shine at that moment upon a man who looked so exquisitely foolish.
“Miss Lucy Gorgon, is your aunt–is Mrs. Briggs here?” said Lady Gorgon, drawing herself up with much state.
“Mrs. Biggs, Aunt?” said Lucy demurely.
“Biggs or Briggs, madam, it is not of the slightest consequence.
I presume that persons in my rank of life are not expected to know everybody’s name in Magdeburg Square?” (Lady Gorgon had a house in Baker Street, and a dismal house it was.) “NOT here,” continued she, rightly interpreting Lucy’s silence, “NOT here?–and may I ask how long is it that young ladies have been allowed to walk abroad without chaperons, and to–to take a part in such scenes as that which we have just seen acted?”
To this question–and indeed it was rather difficult to answer–Miss Gorgon had no reply. There were the six grey eyes of her cousins glowering at her; there was George Augustus Frederick examining her with an air of extreme wonder, Mademoiselle the governess turning her looks demurely away, and awful Lady Gorgon glancing fiercely at her in front.
Not mentioning the footman and poodle, what could a poor modest timid girl plead before such an inquisition, especially when she was clearly guilty? Add to this, that as Lady Gorgon, that majestic woman, always remarkable for her size and insolence of demeanour, had planted herself in the middle of the path, and spoke at the extreme pitch of her voice, many persons walking in the neighbourhood had heard her Ladyship’s speech and stopped, and seemed disposed to await the rejoinder.
“For Heaven’s sake, Aunt, don’t draw a crowd around us,” said Lucy, who, indeed, was glad of the only escape that lay in her power. “I will tell you of the–of the circ.u.mstances of–of my engagement with this gentleman–with Mr. Perkins,” added she, in a softer tone–so soft that the ‘ERKINS was quite inaudible.
“A Mr. What? An engagement without consulting your guardians!” screamed her Ladyship. “This must be looked to! Jerningham, call round my carriage. Mademoiselle, you will have the goodness to walk home with Master Gorgon, and carry him, if you please, where there is wet; and, girls, as the day is fine, you will do likewise. Jerningham, you will attend the young ladies. Miss Gorgon, I will thank you to follow me immediately.” And so saying, and looking at the crowd with ineffable scorn, and at Mr. Perkins not at all, the lady bustled away forwards, the files of Gorgon daughters and governess closing round and enveloping poor Lucy, who found herself carried forward against her will, and in a minute seated in her aunt’s coach, along with that tremendous person.
Her case was bad enough, but what was it to Perkins’s? Fancy his blank surprise and rage at having his love thus suddenly ravished from him, and his delicious tete-a-tete interrupted. He managed, in an inconceivably short s.p.a.ce of time, to conjure up half-a-million obstacles to his union. What should he do? he would rush on to Baker Street, and wait there until his Lucy left Lady Gorgon’s house.
He could find no vehicle in the Regent’s Park, and was in consequence obliged to make his journey on foot. Of course, he nearly killed himself with running, and ran so quick, that he was just in time to see the two ladies step out of Lady Gorgon’s carriage at her own house, and to hear Jerningham’s fellow-footman roar to the Gorgonian coachman, “Half-past seven!” at which hour we are, to this day, convinced that Lady Gorgon was going out to dine. Mr. Jerningham’s a.s.sociate having banged to the door, with an insolent look towards Perkins, who was prying in with the most suspicious and indecent curiosity, retired, exclaiming, “That chap has a hi to our great-coats, I reckon!” and left John Perkins to pace the street and be miserable.
John Perkins then walked resolutely up and down dismal Baker Street, determined on an eclairciss.e.m.e.nt. He was for some time occupied in thinking how it was that the Gorgons were not at church, they who made such a parade of piety; and John Perkins smiled as he pa.s.sed the chapel, and saw that two CHARITY SERMONS were to be preached that day–and therefore it was that General Gorgon read prayers to his family at home in the morning.
Perkins, at last, saw that little General, in blue frock-coat and spotless buff gloves, saunter scowling home; and half an hour before his arrival had witnessed the entrance of Jerningham, and the three gaunt Miss Gorgons, poodle, son-and-heir, and French governess, protected by him, into Sir George’s mansion.
“Can she be going to stay all night?” mused poor John, after being on the watch for three hours: when presently, to his inexpressible delight, he saw a very dirty hackney-coach clatter up to the Gorgon door, out of which first issued the ruby plush breeches and stalwart calves of Mr.
Jerningham; these were followed by his body, and then the gentleman, ringing modestly, was admitted.
Again the door opened: a lady came out, nor was she followed by the footman, who crossed his legs at the door-post and allowed her to mount the jingling vehicle as best she might. Mr. Jerningham had witnessed the scene in the Park Gardens, had listened to the altercation through the library keyhole, and had been mighty sulky at being ordered to call a coach for this young woman. He did not therefore deign to a.s.sist her to mount.
But there was ONE who did! Perkins was by the side of his Lucy: he had seen her start back and cry, “La, John!”–had felt her squeeze his arm–had mounted with her into the coach, and then shouted with a voice of thunder to the coachman, “Caroline Place, Mecklenburgh Square.”
But Mr. Jerningham would have been much more surprised and puzzled if he had waited one minute longer, and seen this Mr. Perkins, who had so gallantly escaladed the hackney-coach, step out of it with the most mortified, miserable, chap-fallen countenance possible.
The fact is, he had found poor Lucy sobbing fit to break her heart, and instead of consoling her, as he expected, he only seemed to irritate her further: for she said, “Mr. Perkins–I beg–I insist, that you leave the carriage.” And when Perkins made some movement (which, not being in the vehicle at the time, we have never been able to comprehend), she suddenly sprang from the back-seat and began pulling at a large piece of cord which communicated with the wrist of the gentleman driving; and, screaming to him at the top of her voice, bade him immediately stop.
This Mr. Coachman did, with a curious, puzzled, grinning air.
Perkins descended, and on being asked, “Vere ham I to drive the young ‘oman, sir?” I am sorry to say muttered something like an oath, and uttered the above-mentioned words, “Caroline Place, Mecklenburgh Square,” in a tone which I should be inclined to describe as both dogged and sheepish–very different from that cheery voice which he had used when he first gave the order.
Poor Lucy, in the course of those fatal three hours which had pa.s.sed while Mr. Perkins was pacing up and down Baker Street, had received a lecture which lasted exactly one hundred and eighty minutes–from her aunt first, then from her uncle, whom we have seen marching homewards, and often from both together.
Sir George Gorgon and his lady poured out such a flood of advice and abuse against the poor girl, that she came away from the interview quite timid and cowering; and when she saw John Perkins (the sly rogue! how well he thought he had managed the trick!) she shrank from him as if he had been a demon of wickedness, ordered him out of the carriage, and went home by herself, convinced that she had committed some tremendous sin.
While, then, her coach jingled away to Caroline Place, Perkins, once more alone, bent his steps in the same direction. A desperate, heart-stricken man, he pa.s.sed by the beloved’s door, saw lights in the front drawing-room, felt probably that she was there; but he could not go in. Moodily he paced down Doughty Street, and turning abruptly into Bedford Row, rushed into his own chambers, where Mrs. Snooks, the laundress, had prepared his humble Sabbath meal.