Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XX.

Whackum. Look you there, now! Well, all Europe cannot show a knot of finer wits and braver gentlemen.

Dingboy. Faith, they are pretty smart men.

SHADWELL: Scourers.

The world of Bath was of a sudden delighted by the intelligence that Lord Mauleverer had gone to Beauvale (the beautiful seat possessed by that nobleman in the neighbourhood of Bath), with the intention of there holding a series of sumptuous entertainments.

The first persons to whom the gay earl announced his “hospitable purpose” were Mr. and Miss Brandon; he called at their house, and declared his resolution of not leaving it till Lucy (who was in her own room) consented to gratify him with an interview, and a promise to be the queen of his purposed festival. Lucy, teased by her father, descended to the drawing-room, spiritless and pale; and the earl, struck by the alteration of her appearance, took her hand, and made his inquiries with so interesting and feeling a semblance of kindness as prepossessed the father for the first time in his favour, and touched even the daughter. So earnest, too, was his request that she would honour his festivities with her presence, and with so skilful a flattery was it conveyed, that the squire undertook to promise the favour in her name; and when the earl, declaring he was not contented with that promise from another, appealed to Lucy herself, her denial was soon melted into a positive though a reluctant assent.

Delighted with his success, and more struck with Lucy’s loveliness, refined as it was by her paleness, than he had ever been before, Mauleverer left the house, and calculated, with greater accuracy than he had hitherto done, the probable fortune Lucy would derive from her uncle.

No sooner were the cards issued for Lord Mauleverer’s fete than nothing else was talked of among the circles which at Bath people were pleased to term “the World.”

But in the interim caps are making, and talk flowing, at Bath; and when it was found that Lord Mauleverer — the good-natured Lord Mauleverer, the obliging Lord Mauleverer — was really going to be exclusive, and out of a thousand acquaintances to select only eight hundred, it is amazing how his popularity deepened into respect. Now, then, came anxiety and triumph; she who was asked turned her back upon her who was not — old friendships dissolved — Independence wrote letters for a ticket — and, as England is the freest country in the world, all the Mistresses Hodges and Snodges begged to take the liberty of bringing their youngest daughters.

Leaving the enviable Mauleverer — the god-like occasion of so much happiness and woe, triumph and dejection — ascend with us, O reader, into those elegant apartments over the hairdresser’s shop, tenanted by Mr. Edward Pepper and Mr. Augustus Tomlinson. The time was that of evening; Captain Clifford had been dining with his two friends; the cloth was removed, and conversation was flowing over a table graced by two bottles of port, a bowl of punch for Mr. Pepper’s especial discussion, two dishes of filberts, another of devilled biscuits, and a fourth of three Pomarian crudities, which nobody touched.

The hearth was swept clean, the fire burned high and clear, the curtains were let down, and the light excluded. Our three adventurers and their rooms seemed the picture of comfort. So thought Mr. Pepper; for, glancing round the chamber and putting his feet upon the fender, he said —

“Were my portrait to be taken, gentlemen, it is just as I am now that I would be drawn!”

“And,” said Tomlinson, cracking his filberts — Tomlinson was fond of filberts — “were I to choose a home, it is in such a home as this that I would be always quartered.”

“Ah, gentlemen,” said Clifford, who had been for some time silent, “it is more than probable that both your wishes may be heard, and that ye may be drawn, quartered, and something else, too, in the very place of your desert!”

“Well,” said Tomlinson, smiling gently, “I am happy to hear you jest again, Captain, though it be at our expense.”

“Expense!” echoed Ned; “ay, there’s the rub! Who the deuce is to pay the expense of our dinner?”

“And our dinners for the last week?” added Tomlinson. “This empty nut looks ominous; it certainly has one grand feature strikingly resembling my pockets.”

“Heigho!” sighed Long Ned, turning his waistcoat commodities inside-out with a significant gesture, while the accomplished Tomlinson, who was fond of plaintive poetry, pointed to the disconsolate vacua, and exclaimed,

“E’en while Fashion’s brightest arts decoy,

The heart desponding asks if this be joy!”

“In truth, gentlemen,” added he, solemnly depositing his nut-crackers on the table, and laying, as was his wont when about to be luminous, his right finger on his sinister palm — “in truth, gentlemen, affairs are growing serious with us, and it becomes necessary forthwith to devise some safe means of procuring a decent competence.”

“I am dunned confoundedly,” cried Ned.

“And,” continued Tomlinson, “no person of delicacy likes to be subjected to the importunity of vulgar creditors; we must therefore raise money for the liquidation of our debts. Captain Lovett, or Clifford, whichever you be styled, we call upon you to assist us in so praiseworthy a purpose.”

Clifford turned his eyes first on one and then on the other; but made no answer.

“Imprimis,” said Tomlinson, “let us each produce our stock in hand; for my part, I am free to confess — for what shame is there in that poverty which our exertions are about to relieve? — that I have only two guineas four shillings and threepence halfpenny!”

“And I,” said Long Ned, taking a China ornament from the chimney-piece, and emptying its contents in his hand, “am in a still more pitiful condition. See, I have only three shillings and a bad guinea. I gave the guinea to the waiter at the White Hart yesterday; the dog brought it back to me today, and I was forced to change it with my last shiner. Plague take the thing! I bought it of a Jew for four shillings, and have lost one pound five by the bargain.”

“Fortune frustrates our wisest schemes,” rejoined the moralizing Augustus. “Captain, will you produce the scanty wrecks of your wealth?”

Clifford, still silent, threw a purse on the table. Augustus carefully emptied it, and counted out five guineas; an expression of grave surprise settled on Tomlinson’s contemplative brow, and extending the coins towards Clifford, he said in a melancholy tone —

“All your pretty ones?

Did you say all?”

A look from Clifford answered the interesting interrogatory. “These, then,” said Tomlinson, collecting in his hand the common wealth — “these, then, are all our remaining treasures!” As he spoke, he jingled the coins mournfully in his palm, and gazing upon them with a parental air, exclaimed —

“Alas! regardless of their doom, the little victims play!”

“Oh, d —— it!” said Ned, “no sentiment! Let us come to business at once. To tell you the truth, I, for one, am tired of this heiress-hunting, and a man may spend a fortune in the chase before he can win one.”

“You despair then, positively, of the widow you have courted so long?” asked Tomlinson.

“Utterly,” rejoined Ned, whose addresses had been limited solely to the dames of the middling class, and who had imagined himself at one time, as he punningly expressed it, sure of a dear rib from Cheapside — “utterly; she was very civil to me at first, but when I proposed, asked me, with a blush, for my ‘references.’ ‘References?’ said I; ‘why, I want the place of your husband, my charmer, not your footman!’ The dame was inexorable, said she could not take me without a character, but hinted that I might be the lover instead of the bridegroom; and when I scorned the suggestion, and pressed for the parson, she told me point-blank, with her unlucky city pronunciation, ‘that she would never accompany me to the halter!’”

“Ha, ha, ha!” cried Tomlinson, laughing. “One can scarcely blame the good lady for that. Love rarely brooks such permanent ties. But have you no other lady in your eye?”

“Not for matrimony — all roads but those to the church!” While this dissolute pair were thus conversing, Clifford, leaning against the wainscot, listened to them with a sick and bitter feeling of degradation, which till of late days had been a stranger to his breast. He was at length aroused from his silence by Ned, who, bending forward and placing his hand upon Clifford’s knee, said abruptly —

“In short, Captain, you must lead us once more to glory. We have still our horses, and I keep my mask in my pocketbook, together with my comb. Let us take the road tomorrow night, dash across the country towards Salisbury, and after a short visit in that neighbourhood to a band of old friends of mine — bold fellows, who would have stopped the devil himself when he was at work upon Stonehenge — make a tour by Reading and Henley and end by a plunge into London.”

“You have spoken well, Ned!” said Tomlinson, approvingly. “Now, noble captain, your opinion?”

“Messieurs,” answered Clifford, “I highly approve of your intended excursion, and I only regret that I cannot be your companion.”

“Not! and why?” cried Mr. Pepper, amazed.

“Because I have business here that renders it impossible; perhaps, before long, I may join you in London.”

“Nay,” said Tomlinson, “there is no necessity for our going to London, if you wish to remain here; nor need we at present recur to so desperate an expedient as the road — a little quiet business at Bath will answer our purpose; and for my part, as you well know, I love exerting my wits in some scheme more worthy of them than the highway — a profession meeter for a bully than a man of genius. Let us then, Captain, plan a project of enrichment on the property of some credulous tradesman! Why have recourse to rough measures so long as we can find easy fools?”

Clifford shook his head. “I will own to you fairly,” said he, “that I cannot at present take a share in your exploits; nay, as your chief I must lay my positive commands on you to refrain from all exercise of your talents at Bath. Rob, if you please: the world is before you; but this city is sacred.”

“Body o’ me!” cried Ned, colouring, “but this is too good. I will not be dictated to in this manner.”

“But, sir,” answered Clifford, who had learned in his oligarchical profession the way to command — “but, sir, you shall, or if you mutiny you leave our body, and then will the hangman have no petty chance of your own. Come, come! ingrate as you are, what would you be without me? How many times have I already saved that long carcass of thine from the rope, and now would you have the baseness to rebel? Out on you!”

Though Mr. Pepper was still wroth, he bit his lip in moody silence, and suffered not his passion to have its way; while Clifford, rising, after a short pause continued: “Look you, Mr. Pepper, you know my commands; consider them peremptory. I wish you success and plenty! Farewell, gentlemen!”

“Do you leave us already?” cried Tomlinson. “You are offended.”

“Surely not!” answered Clifford, retreating to the door. “But an engagement elsewhere, you know!”

“Ay, I take you,” said Tomlinson, following Clifford out of the room, and shutting the door after him. “Ay, I take you!” added he, in a whisper, as he arrested Clifford at the head of the stairs. “But tell me, how do you get on with the heiress?”

Smothering that sensation at his heart which made Clifford, reckless as he was, enraged and ashamed, whenever through the lips of his comrades there issued any allusion to Lucy Brandon, the chief replied: “I fear, Tomlinson, that I am already suspected by the old squire! All of a sudden he avoids me, shuts his door against me; Miss Brandon goes nowhere, and even if she did, what could I expect from her after this sudden change in the father?”

Tomlinson looked blank and disconcerted. “But,” said he, after a moment’s silence, “why not put a good face on the matter, walk up to the squire, and ask him the reason of his unkindness?”

“Why, look you, my friend; I am bold enough with all others, but this girl has made me as bashful as a maid in all that relates to herself. Nay, there are moments when I think I can conquer all selfish feeling and rejoice for her sake that she has escaped me. Could I but see her once more, I could — yes! I feel — I feel I could — resign her forever!”

“Humph!” said Tomlinson; “and what is to become of us? Really, my captain, your sense of duty should lead you to exert yourself; your friends starve before your eyes, while you are shilly-shallying about your mistress. Have you no bowels for friendship?”

“A truce with this nonsense!” said Clifford, angrily.

“It is sense — sober sense — and sadness too,” rejoined Tomlinson. “Ned is discontented, our debts are imperious. Suppose, now — just suppose — that we take a moonlight flitting from Bath, will that tell well for you whom we leave behind? Yet this we must do, if you do not devise some method of refilling our purses. Either, then, consent to join us in a scheme meet for our wants, or pay our debts in this city, or fly with us to London, and dismiss all thoughts of that love which is so seldom friendly to the projects of ambition.”

Notwithstanding the manner in which Tomlinson made this threefold proposition, Clifford could not but acknowledge the sense and justice contained in it; and a glance at the matter sufficed to show how ruinous to his character, and therefore to his hopes, would be the flight of his comrades and the clamour of their creditors.

“You speak well, Tomlinson,” said he, hesitating; “and yet for the life of me I cannot aid you in any scheme which may disgrace us by detection. Nothing can reconcile me to the apprehension of Miss Brandon’s discovering who and what was her suitor.”

“I feel for you,” said Tomlinson, “but give me and Pepper at least permission to shift for ourselves; trust to my known prudence for finding some method to raise the wind without creating a dust; in other words (this cursed Pepper makes one so vulgar!), of preying on the public without being discovered.”

“I see no alternative,” answered Clifford, reluctantly; “but if possible, be quiet for the present. Bear with me for a few days longer, give me only sufficient time once more to see Miss Brandon, and I will engage to extricate you from your difficulties!”

“Spoken like yourself, frankly and nobly,” replied Tomlinson; “no one has a greater confidence in your genius, once exerted, than I have!”

So saying, the pair shook hands and parted. Tomlinson rejoined Mr. Pepper.

“Well, have you settled anything?” quoth the latter.

“Not exactly; and though Lovett has promised to exert himself in a few days, yet, as the poor man is in love, and his genius under a cloud, I have little faith in his promises.”

“And I have none!” said Pepper; “besides, time presses! A few days! — a few devils! We are certainly scented here, and I walk about like a barrel of beer at Christmas, under hourly apprehension of being tapped!”

“It is very strange,” said the philosophic Augustus; “but I think there is an instinct in tradesmen by which they can tell a rogue at first sight; and I can get (dress I ever so well) no more credit with my laundress than my friends the Whigs can with the people.”

“In short, then,” said Ned, “we must recur at once to the road; and on the day after tomorrow there will be an excellent opportunity. The old earl with the hard name gives a breakfast, or feast, or some such mummery. I understand people will stay till after nightfall; let us watch our opportunity, we are famously mounted, and some carriage later than the general string may furnish us with all our hearts can desire!”

“Bravo!” cried Tomlinson, shaking Mr. Pepper heartily by the hand; “I give you joy of your ingenuity, and you may trust to me to make our peace afterwards with Lovett. Any enterprise that seems to him gallant he is always willing enough to forgive; and as he never practises any other branch of the profession than that of the road (for which I confess that I think him foolish), he will be more ready to look over our exploits in that line than in any other more subtle but less heroic.”

“Well, I leave it to you to propitiate the cove or not, as you please; and now that we have settled the main point, let us finish the lush!”

“And,” added Augustus, taking a pack of cards from the chimney-piece, “we can in the mean while have a quiet game at cribbage for shillings.”

“Done!” cried Ned, clearing away the dessert.

If the redoubted hearts of Mr. Edward Pepper, and that Ulysses of robbers, Augustus Tomlinson, beat high as the hours brought on Lord Mauleverer’s fete, their leader was not without anxiety and expectation for the same event. He was uninvited, it is true, to the gay scene; but he had heard in public that Miss Brandon, recovered from her late illness, was certainly to be there; and Clifford, torn with suspense, and eager once more, even if for the last time, to see the only person who had ever pierced his soul with a keen sense of his errors or crimes, resolved to risk all obstacles and meet her at Mauleverer’s.

“My life,” said he, as he sat alone in his apartment, eying the falling embers of his still and lethargic fire, “may soon approach its termination; it is, indeed, out of the chances of things that I can long escape the doom of my condition; and when, as a last hope to raise myself from my desperate state into respectability and reform, I came hither, and meditated purchasing independence by marriage, I was blind to the cursed rascality of the action! Happy, after all, that my intentions were directed against one whom I so soon and so adoringly learned to love! Had I wooed one whom I loved less, I might not have scrupled to deceive her into marriage. As it is — well, it is idle in me to think thus of my resolution, when I have not even the option to choose; when her father, perhaps, has already lifted the veil from my assumed dignities, and the daughter already shrinks in horror from my name. Yet I will see her! I will look once more upon that angel face, I will hear from her own lips the confession of her scorn, I will see that bright eye flash hatred upon me, and I can then turn once more to my fatal career, and forget that I have ever repented that it was begun. Yet, what else could have been my alternative? Friendless, homeless, nameless — an orphan, worse than an orphan — the son of a harlot, my father even unknown; yet cursed with early aspirings and restlessness, and a half glimmering of knowledge, and an entire lust of whatever seemed enterprise — what wonder that I chose anything rather than daily labour and perpetual contumely? After all, the fault is in fortune and the world, not me! Oh, Lucy! had I but been born in your sphere, had I but possessed the claim to merit you, what would I not have done and dared and conquered for your sake!”

Such, or similar to these, were the thoughts of Clifford during the interval between his resolution of seeing Lucy and the time of effecting it. The thoughts were of no pleasing though of an exciting nature; nor were they greatly soothed by the ingenious occupation of cheating himself into the belief that if he was a highwayman, it was altogether the fault of the highways.

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