The Bedford-Row Conspiracy Part 3

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A cheerful fire blazed in his garret, and Mrs. Snooks had prepared for him the favourite blade-bone he loved (blest four-days’ dinner for a bachelor–roast, cold, hashed, grilled bladebone, the fourth being better than the first); but although he usually did rejoice in this meal–ordinarily, indeed, grumbling that there was not enough to satisfy him–he, on this occasion, after two mouthfuls, flung down his knife and fork, and buried his two claws in his hair.

“Snooks,” said he at last, very moodily, “remove this d—- mutton, give me my writing things, and some hot brandy-and-water.”

This was done without much alarm: for you must know that Perkins used to dabble in poetry, and ordinarily prepare himself for composition by this kind of stimulus.

He wrote hastily a few lines.

“Snooks, put on your bonnet,” said he, “and carry this–YOU KNOW WHERE!”

he added, in a hollow, heart-breaking tone of voice, that affected poor Snooks almost to tears. She went, however, with the note, which was to this purpose:–

“Lucy! Lucy! my soul’s love–what, what has happened? I am writing this”–(a gulp of brandy-and-water)–“in a state bordering on distraction–madness–insanity” (another). “Why did you send me out of the coach in that cruel cruel way? Write to me a word, a line–tell me, tell me, I may come to you–and leave me not in this agonising condition; your faithful” (glog–glog–glog–the whole gla.s.s)–“J.P.”

He never signed John Perkins in full–he couldn’t, it was so unromantic.

Well, this missive was despatched by Mrs. Snooks, and Perkins, in a fearful state of excitement, haggard, wild, and with more brandy-and-water, awaited the return of his messenger.

When at length, after about an absence of forty years, as it seemed to him, the old lady returned with a large packet, Perkins seized it with a trembling hand, and was yet more frightened to see the handwriting of Mrs. or Miss Biggs.

“MY DEAR MR. PERKINS,” she began–“Although I am not your soul’s adored, I performed her part for once, since I have read your letter, as I told her. You need not be very much alarmed, although Lucy is at this moment in bed and unwell: for the poor girl has had a sad scene at her grand uncle’s house in Baker Street, and came home very much affected. Rest, however, will restore her, for she is not one of your nervous sort; and I hope when you come in the morning, you will see her as blooming as she was when you went out to-day on that unlucky walk.

“See what Sir George Gorgon says of us all! You won’t challenge him, I know, as he is to be your uncle, and so I may show you his letter.

“Good-night, my dear John. Do not go QUITE distracted before morning; and believe me your loving aunt, “JEMIMA BIGGS.”

“41 BAKER STREET: 11th December.

“MAJOR-GENERAL SIR GEORGE GORGON has heard with the utmost disgust and surprise of the engagement which Miss Lucy Gorgon has thought fit to form.

“The Major-General cannot conceal his indignation at the share which Miss Biggs has taken in this disgraceful transaction.

“Sir George Gorgon puts an absolute veto upon all further communication between his niece and the low-born adventurer who has been admitted into her society, and begs to say that Lieutenant Fitch, of the Lifeguards, is the gentleman who he intends shall marry Miss Gorgon.

“It is the Major-General’s wish, that on the 28th Miss Gorgon should be ready to come to his house, in Baker Street, where she will be more safe from impertinent intrusions than she has been in Mucklebury Square.

“MRS. BIGGS, “Caroline Place, “Mecklenburgh Square.”

When poor John Perkins read this epistle, blank rage and wonder filled his soul, at the audacity of the little General, who thus, without the smallest t.i.tle in the world, pretended to dispose of the hand and fortune of his niece. The fact is, that Sir George had such a transcendent notion of his own dignity and station, that it never for a moment entered his head that his niece, or anybody else connected with him, should take a single step in life without previously receiving his orders; and Mr. Fitch, a baronet’s son, having expressed an admiration of Lucy, Sir George had determined that his suit should be accepted, and really considered Lucy’s preference of another as downright treason.

John Perkins determined on the death of Fitch as the very least reparation that should satisfy him; and vowed too that some of the General’s blood should be shed for the words which he had dared to utter.

We have said that William Pitt Scully, Esquire, M.P., occupied the first floor of Mr. Perkins’s house in Bedford Row: and the reader is further to be informed that an immense friendship had sprung up between these two gentlemen. The fact is, that poor John was very much flattered by Scully’s notice, and began in a very short time to fancy himself a political personage; for he had made several of Scully’s speeches, written more than one letter from him to his const.i.tuents, and, in a word, acted as his gratis clerk. At least a guinea a week did Mr.

Perkins save to the pockets of Mr. Scully, and with hearty good will too, for he adored the great William Pitt, and believed every word that dropped from the pompous lips of that gentleman.

Well, after having discussed Sir George Gorgon’s letter, poor Perkins, in the utmost fury of mind that his darling should be slandered so, feeling a desire for fresh air, determined to descend to the garden and smoke a cigar in that rural quiet spot. The night was very calm. The moonbeams slept softly upon the herbage of Gray’s Inn gardens, and bathed with silver splendour Theobald’s Row. A million of little frisky twinkling stars attended their queen, who looked with bland round face upon their gambols, as they peeped in and out from the azure heavens.

Along Gray’s Inn wall a lazy row of cabs stood listlessly, for who would call a cab on such a night? Meanwhile their drivers, at the alehouse near, smoked the short pipe or quaffed the foaming beer. Perhaps from Gray’s Inn Lane some broken sounds of Irish revelry might rise. Issuing perhaps from Raymond Buildings gate, six lawyers’ clerks might whoop a tipsy song–or the loud watchman yell the pa.s.sing hour; but beyond this all was silence; and young Perkins, as he sat in the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden, and contemplated the peaceful heaven, felt some influences of it entering into his soul, and almost forgetting revenge, thought but of peace and love.

Presently, he was aware there was someone else pacing the garden.

Who could it be?–Not Blatherwick, for he pa.s.sed the Sabbath with his grandmamma at Clapham; not Scully surely, for he always went to Bethesda Chapel, and to a select prayer-meeting afterwards. Alas! it WAS Scully; for though that gentleman SAID that he went to chapel, we have it for a fact that he did not always keep his promise, and was at this moment employed in rehearsing an extempore speech, which he proposed to deliver at St. Stephen’s.

“Had I, sir,” spouted he, with folded arms, slowly pacing to and fro–“Had I, sir, entertained the smallest possible intention of addressing the House on the present occasion–hum, on the present occasion–I would have endeavoured to prepare myself in a way that should have at least shown my sense of the greatness of the subject before the House’s consideration, and the nature of the distinguished audience I have the honour to address. I am, sir, a plain man–born of the people–myself one of the people, having won, thank Heaven, an honourable fortune and position by my own honest labour; and standing here as I do–“

Here Mr. Scully (it may be said that he never made a speech without bragging about himself: and an excellent plan it is, for people cannot help believing you at last)–here, I say, Mr. Scully, who had one arm raised, felt himself suddenly tipped on the shoulder, and heard a voice saying, “Your money or your life!”

The honourable gentleman twirled round as if he had been shot; the papers on which a great part of this impromptu was written dropped from his lifted hand, and some of them were actually borne on the air into neighbouring gardens. The man was, in fact, in the direst fright.

“It’s only I,” said Perkins, with rather a forced laugh, when he saw the effect that his wit had produced.

“Only you! And pray what the dev–what right have you to–to come upon a man of my rank in that way, and disturb me in the midst of very important meditations?” asked Mr. Scully, beginning to grow fierce.

“I want your advice,” said Perkins, “on a matter of the very greatest importance to me. You know my idea of marrying?”

“Marry!” said Scully; “I thought you had given up that silly scheme. And how, pray, do you intend to live?”

“Why, my intended has a couple of hundreds a year, and my clerkship in the Tape and Sealing-Wax Office will be as much more.”

“Clerkship–Tape and Sealing-Wax Office–Government sinecure!–Why, good heavens! John Perkins, you don’t tell ME that you are going to accept any such thing?”

“It is a very small salary, certainly,” said John, who had a decent notion of his own merits; “but consider, six months vacation, two hours in the day, and those spent over the newspapers. After all, it’s–“

“After all it’s a swindle,” roared out Mr. Scully–“a swindle upon the country; an infamous tax upon the people, who starve that you may fatten in idleness. But take this clerkship in the Tape and Sealing-Wax Office,” continued the patriot, his bosom heaving with n.o.ble indignation, and his eye flashing the purest fire,–“TAKE this clerkship, John Perkins, and sanction tyranny, by becoming one of its agents; sanction dishonesty by sharing in its plunder–do this, BUT never more be friend of mine. Had I a child,” said the patriot, clasping his hands and raising his eyes to heaven, “I would rather see him dead, sir–dead, dead at my feet, than the servant of a Government which all honest men despise.” And here, giving a searching glance at Perkins, Mr.

Scully began tramping up and down the garden in a perfect fury.

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the timid John Perkins–“don’t say SO. My dear Mr. Scully, I’m not the dishonest character you suppose me to be–I never looked at the matter in this light. I’ll–I’ll consider of it.

I’ll tell Crampton that I will give up the place; but for Heaven’s sake, don’t let me forfeit YOUR friendship, which is dearer to me than any place in the world.”

Mr. Scully pressed his hand, and said nothing; and though their interview lasted a full half-hour longer, during which they paced up and down the gravel walk, we shall not breathe a single syllable of their conversation, as it has nothing to do with our tale.

The next morning, after an interview with Miss Lucy, John Perkins, Esquire, was seen to issue from Mrs. Biggs’s house, looking particularly pale, melancholy, and thoughtful; and he did not stop until he reached a certain door in Downing Street, where was the office of a certain great Minister, and the offices of the clerks in his Lordship’s department.

The head of them was Mr. Josiah Crampton, who has now to be introduced to the public. He was a little old gentleman, some sixty years of age, maternal uncle to John Perkins; a bachelor, who had been about forty-two years employed in the department of which he was now the head.

After waiting four hours in an ante-room, where a number of Irishmen, some newspaper editors, many pompous-looking political personages asking for the “first lord,” a few sauntering clerks, and numbers of swift active messengers pa.s.sed to and fro;–after waiting for four hours, making drawings on the blotting-book, and reading the Morning Post for that day week, Mr. Perkins was informed that he might go into his uncle’s room, and did so accordingly.

He found a little hard old gentleman seated at a table covered with every variety of sealing-wax, blotting-paper, envelopes, despatch-boxes, green tapers, etc. etc. An immense fire was blazing in the grate, an immense sheet-almanack hung over that, a screen, three or four chairs, and a faded Turkey carpet, formed the rest of the furniture of this remarkable room–which I have described thus particularly, because in the course of a long official life, I have remarked that such is the invariable decoration of political rooms.

“Well, John,” said the little hard old gentleman, pointing to an arm-chair, “I’m told you’ve been here since eleven. Why the deuce do you come so early?”

“I had important business,” answered Mr. Perkins, stoutly; and as his uncle looked up with a comical expression of wonder, John began in a solemn tone to deliver a little speech which he had composed, and which proved him to be a very worthy, easy, silly fellow.

“Sir,” said Mr. Perkins, “you have known for some time past the nature of my political opinions, and the intimacy which I have had the honour to form with one–with some of the leading members of the Liberal party.” (A grin from Mr. Crampton.) “When first, by your kindness, I was promised the clerkship in the Tape and Sealing-Wax Office, my opinions were not formed as they are now; and having taken the advice of the gentlemen with whom I act,”–(an enormous grin)–“the advice, I say, of the gentlemen with whom I act, and the counsel likewise of my own conscience, I am compelled, with the deepest grief, to say, my dear uncle, that I–I–“

“That you–what, sir?” exclaimed little Mr. Crampton, bouncing off his chair. “You don’t mean to say that you are such a fool as to decline the place?”

“I do decline the place,” said Perkins, whose blood rose at the word “fool.” “As a man of honour, I cannot take it.”

“Not take it! and how are you to live? On the rent of that house of yours? For, by gad, sir, if you give up the clerkship, I never will give you a shilling.”

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