Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XIV.

Servant. Get away, I say, wid dat nasty bell.

Punch. Do you call this a bell? (patting it.) It is an organ.

Servant. I say it is a bell — a nasty bell!

Punch. I say it is an organ (striking him with it). What do you say it is now?

Servant. An organ, Mr. Punch!

The Tragical Comedy of Punch and Judy.

The next morning, before Lucy and her father had left their apartments, Brandon, who was a remarkably early riser, had disturbed the luxurious Mauleverer in his first slumber. Although the courtier possessed a villa some miles from Bath, he preferred a lodging in the town, both as being warmer than a rarely inhabited country-house, and as being to an indolent man more immediately convenient for the gayeties and the waters of the medicinal city. As soon as the earl had rubbed his eyes, stretched himself, and prepared himself for the untimeous colloquy, Brandon poured forth his excuses for the hour he had chosen for a visit. “Mention it not, my dear Brandon,” said the good-natured nobleman, with a sigh; “I am glad at any hour to see you, and I am very sure that what you have to communicate is always worth listening to.”

“It was only upon public business, though of rather a more important description than usual, that I ventured to disturb you,” answered Brandon, seating himself on a chair by the bedside. “This morning, an hour ago, I received by private express a letter from London, stating that a new arrangement will positively be made in the Cabinet — nay, naming the very promotions and changes. I confess that as my name occurred, as also your own, in these nominations, I was anxious to have the benefit of your necessarily accurate knowledge on the subject, as well as of your advice.”

“Really, Brandon,” said Mauleverer, with a half-peevish smile, “any other hour in the day would have done for ‘the business of the nation,’ as the newspapers call that troublesome farce we go through; and I had imagined you would not have broken my nightly slumbers except for something of real importance — the discovery of a new beauty or the invention of a new dish.”

“Neither the one nor the other could you have expected from me, my dear lord,” rejoined Brandon. “You know the dry trifles in which a lawyer’s life wastes itself away; and beauties and dishes have no attraction for us, except the former be damsels deserted, and the latter patents invaded. But my news, after all, is worth hearing, unless you have heard it before.”

“Not I! but I suppose I shall hear it in the course of the day. Pray Heaven I be not sent for to attend some plague of a council. Begin!”

“In the first place Lord Duberly resolves to resign, unless this negotiation for peace be made a Cabinet question.”

“Pshaw! let him resign. I have opposed the peace so long that it is out of the question. Of course, Lord Wansted will not think of it, and he may count on my boroughs. A peace! — shameful, disgraceful, dastardly proposition!”

“But, my dear lord, my letter says that this unexpected firmness on the part of Lord Daberly has produced so great a sensation that, seeing the impossibility of forming a durable Cabinet without him, the king has consented to the negotiation, and Duberly stays in!”

“The devil! — what next?”

“Raffden and Sternhold go out in favour of Baldwin and Charlton, and in the hope that you will lend your aid to —”

“I!” said Lord Mauleverer, very angrily — “I lend my aid to Baldwin, the Jacobin, and Charlton, the son of a brewer!”

“Very true!” continued Brandon. “But in the hope that you might be persuaded to regard the new arrangements with an indulgent eye, you are talked of instead of the Duke of for the vacant garter and the office of chamberlain.”

“You don’t mean it!” cried Mauleverer, starting from his bed.

“A few other (but, I hear, chiefly legal) promotions are to be made. Among the rest, my learned brother, the democrat Sarsden, is to have a silk gown; Cromwell is to be attorney-general; and, between ourselves, they have offered me a judgeship.”

“But the garter!” said Mauleverer, scarcely hearing the rest of the lawyer’s news — “the whole object, aim, and ambition of my life. How truly kind in the king! After all,” continued the earl, laughing, and throwing himself back, “opinions are variable, truth is not uniform. The times change, not we; and we must have peace instead of war!”

“Your maxims are indisputable, and the conclusion you come to is excellent,” said Brandon.

“Why, you and I, my dear fellow,” said the earl, “who know men, and who have lived all our lives in the world, must laugh behind the scenes at the cant we wrap in tinsel, and send out to stalk across the stage. We know that our Coriolanus of Tory integrity is a corporal kept by a prostitute, and the Brutus of Whig liberty is a lacquey turned out of place for stealing the spoons; but we must not tell this to the world. So, Brandon, you must write me a speech for the next session, and be sure it has plenty of general maxims, and concludes with ‘my bleeding country!’”

The lawyer smiled. “You consent then to the expulsion of Sternhold and Raffden? for, after all, that is the question. Our British vessel, as the d —— d metaphor-mongers call the State, carries the public good safe in the hold like brandy; and it is only when fear, storm, or the devil makes the rogues quarrel among themselves and break up the casks, that one gets above a thimbleful at a time. We should go on fighting with the rest of the world forever, if the ministers had not taken to fight among themselves.”

“As for Sternhold,” said the earl, “‘t is a vulgar dog, and voted for economical reform. Besides, I don’t know him; he may go to the devil, for aught I care; but Raffden must be dealt handsomely with, or, despite the garter, I will fall back among the Whigs, who, after all, give tolerable dinners.”

“But why, my lord, must Raffden be treated better than his brother recusant?”

“Because he sent me, in the handsomest manner possible, a pipe of that wonderful Madeira, which you know I consider the chief grace of my cellars, and he gave up a canal navigation bill, which would have enriched his whole county, when he knew that it would injure my property. No, Brandon, curse public cant! we know what that is. But we are gentlemen, and our private friends must not be thrown overboard — unless, at least, we do it in the civilest manner we can.”

“Fear not,” said the lawyer; “you have only to say the word, and the Cabinet can cook up an embassy to Owhyhee, and send Raffden there with a stipend of five thousand a year.”

“Ah! that’s well thought of; or we might give him a grant of a hundred thousand acres in one of the colonies, or let him buy crown land at a discount of eighty per cent. So that’s settled.”

“And now, my dear friend,” said Brandon, “I will tell you frankly why I come so early; I am required to give a hasty answer to the proposal I have received, namely, of the judgeship. Your opinion?”

“A judgeship! you a judge? What! forsake your brilliant career for so petty a dignity? You jest!”

“Not at all. Listen. You know how bitterly I have opposed this peace, and what hot enemies I have made among the new friends of the administration. On the one hand, these enemies insist on sacrificing me; and on the other, if I were to stay in the Lower House and speak for what I have before opposed, I should forfeit the support of a great portion of my own party. Hated by one body, and mistrusted by the other, a seat in the House of Commons ceases to be an object. It is proposed that I should retire on the dignity of a judge, with the positive and pledged though secret promise of the first vacancy among the chiefs. The place of chief-justice or chief-baron is indeed the only fair remuneration for my surrender of the gains of my profession, and the abandonment of my parliamentary and legal career; the title, which will of course be attached to it, might go (at least, by an exertion of interest) to the eldest son of my niece — in case she married a commoner — or,” added he, after a pause, “her second son in case she married a peer.”

“Ha, true!” said Mauleverer, quickly, and as if struck by some sudden thought; “and your charming niece, Brandon, would be worthy of any honour, either to her children or herself. You do not know how struck I was with her. There is something so graceful in her simplicity; and in her manner of smoothing down the little rugosities of Warlock House there was so genuine and so easy a dignity that I declare I almost thought myself young again, and capable of the self-cheat of believing myself in love. But, oh! Brandon, imagine me at your brother’s board — me, for whom ortolans are too substantial, and who feel, when I tread, the slightest inequality in the carpets of Tournay — imagine me, dear Brandon, in a black wainscot room, hung round with your ancestors in brown wigs with posies in their button-hole; an immense fire on one side, and a thorough draught on the other; a huge circle of beef before me, smoking like Vesuvius, and twice as large; a plateful (the plate was pewter — is there not a metal so called?) of this mingled flame and lava sent under my very nostril, and upon pain of ill-breeding to be despatched down my proper mouth; an old gentleman in fustian breeches and worsted stockings, by way of a butler, filling me a can of ale, and your worthy brother asking me if I would not prefer port; a lean footman in livery — such a livery, ye gods! — scarlet, blue, yellow, and green, a rainbow ill made! — on the opposite side of the table, looking at the ‘Lord’ with eyes and mouth equally open, and large enough to swallow me; and your excellent brother himself at the head of the table glowing through the mists of the beef, like the rising sun in a signpost; and then, Brandon, turning from this image, behold beside me the fair, delicate, aristocratic, yet simple loveliness of your niece, and — But you look angry; I have offended you?”

It was high time for Mauleverer to ask that question, for during the whole of the earl’s recital the dark face of his companion had literally burned with rage; and here we may observe how generally selfishness, which makes the man of the world, prevents its possessor, by a sort of paradox, from being consummately so. For Mauleverer, occupied by the pleasure he felt at his own wit, and never having that magic sympathy with others which creates the incessantly keen observer, had not for a moment thought that he was offending to the quick the hidden pride of the lawyer. Nay, so little did he suspect Brandon’s real weaknesses that he thought him a philosopher who would have laughed alike at principles and people, however near to him might be the latter, and however important the former. Mastering by a single effort, which restored his cheek to its usual steady hue, the outward signs of his displeasure, Brandon rejoined —

“Offend me! By no means, my dear lord. I do not wonder at your painful situation in an old country-gentleman’s house, which has not for centuries offered scenes fit for the presence of so distinguished a guest — never, I may say, since the time when Sir Charles de Brandon entertained Elizabeth at Warlock, and your ancestor (you know my old musty studies on those points of obscure antiquity), John Mauleverer, who was a noted goldsmith of London, supplied the plate for the occasion.”

“Fairly retorted,” said Mauleverer, smiling; for though the earl had a great contempt for low birth set on high places in other men, he was utterly void of pride in his own family — “fairly retorted! But I never meant anything else but a laugh at your brother’s housekeeping — a joke surely permitted to a man whose own fastidiousness on these matters is so standing a jest. But, by heavens, Brandon! to turn from these subjects, your niece is the prettiest girl I have seen for twenty years; and if she would forget my being the descendant of John Mauleverer, the noted goldsmith of London, she may be Lady Mauleverer as soon as she pleases.”

“Nay, now, let us be serious, and talk of the judgeship,” said Brandon, affecting to treat the proposal as a joke.

“By the soul of Sir Charles de Brandon, I am serious!” cried the earl; “and as a proof of it, I hope you will let me pay my respects to your niece today — not with my offer in my hand yet, for it must be a love match on both sides.” And the earl, glancing towards an opposite glass, which reflected his attenuated but comely features beneath his velvet nightcap trimmed with Mechlin, laughed half-triumphantly as he spoke.

A sneer just passed the lips of Brandon, and as instantly vanished, while Mauleverer continued —

“And as for the judgeship, dear Brandon, I advise you to accept it, though you know best; and I do think no man will stand a fairer chance of the chief-justiceship — or, though it be somewhat unusual for ‘common’ lawyers, why not the woolsack itself? As you say, the second son of your niece might inherit the dignity of a peerage!”

“Well, I will consider of it favourably,” said Brandon; and soon afterwards he left the nobleman to renew his broken repose.

“I can’t laugh at that man,” said Mauleverer to himself, as he turned round in his bed, “though he has much that I should laugh at in another; and, faith, there is one little matter I might well scorn him for, if I were not a philosopher. ‘T is a pretty girl, his niece, and with proper instructions might do one credit; besides, she has L60,000 ready money; and, faith, I have not a shilling for my own pleasure, though I have — or alas! had — fifty thousand a year for that of my establishment! In all probability she will be the lawyer’s heiress, and he must have made at least as much again as her portion; nor is he, poor devil, a very good life. Moreover, if he rise to the peerage? and the second son — Well! well! it will not be such a bad match for the goldsmith’s descendant either!”

With that thought, Lord Mauleverer fell asleep. He rose about noon, dressed himself with unusual pains, and was just going forth on a visit to Miss Brandon, when he suddenly remembered that her uncle had not mentioned her address or his own. He referred to the lawyer’s note of the preceding evening; no direction was inscribed on it; and Mauleverer was forced, with much chagrin, to forego for that day the pleasure he had promised himself.

In truth, the wary lawyer, who, as we have said, despised show and outward appearances as much as any man, was yet sensible of their effect even in the eyes of a lover; and moreover, Lord Mauleverer was one whose habits of life were calculated to arouse a certain degree of vigilance on points of household pomp even in the most unobservant. Brandon therefore resolved that Lucy should not be visited by her admirer till the removal to their new abode was effected; nor was it till the third day from that on which Mauleverer had held with Brandon the interview we have recorded, that the earl received a note from Brandon, seemingly turning only on political matters, but inscribed with the address and direction in full form.

Mauleverer answered it in person. He found Lucy at home, and more beautiful than ever; and from that day his mind was made up, as the mammas say, and his visits became constant.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31