The Bedford-Row Conspiracy, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER III.

Behind the Scenes.

In issuing from and leaving open the door of the inner room, Mr. Crampton had bestowed upon Mr. Perkins a look so peculiarly arch, that even he, simple as he was, began to imagine that some mystery was about to be cleared up, or some mighty matter to be discussed. Presently he heard the well-known voice of Lady Gorgon in conversation with his uncle. What could their talk be about? Mr. Perkins was dying to know, and — shall we say it? — advanced to the door on tiptoe and listened with all his might.

Her Ladyship, that Juno of a woman, if she had not borrowed Venus’s girdle to render herself irresistible, at least had adopted a tender, coaxing, wheedling, frisky tone, quite different from her ordinary dignified style of conversation. She called Mr. Crampton a naughty man, for neglecting his old friends, vowed that Sir George was quite hurt at his not coming to dine — nor fixing a day when he would come — and added, with a most engaging ogle, that she had three fine girls at home, who would perhaps make an evening pass pleasantly, even to such a gay bachelor as Mr. Crampton.

“Madam,” said he, with much gravity, “the daughters of such a mother must be charming; but I, who have seen your Ladyship, am, alas! proof against even them.”

Both parties here heaved tremendous sighs and affected to be wonderfully unhappy about something.

“I wish,” after a pause, said Lady Gorgon —“I wish, dear Mr. Crampton, you would not use that odious title ‘my Ladyship:’ you know it always makes me melancholy.”

“Melancholy, my dear Lady Gorgon; and why?”

“Because it makes me think of another title that ought to have been mine — ours (I speak for dear Sir George’s and my darling boy’s sake, Heaven knows, not mine). What a sad disappointment it has been to my husband, that after all his services, all the promises he has had, they have never given him his peerage. As for me, you know —”

“For you, my dear madam, I know quite well that you care for no such bauble as a coronet, except in so far as it may confer honour upon those most dear to you — excellent wife and noble mother as you are. Heigho! what a happy man is Sir George!”

Here there was another pause, and if Mr. Perkins could have seen what was taking place behind the screen, he would have beheld little Mr. Crampton looking into Lady Gorgon’s face, with as love-sick a Romeo-gaze as he could possibly counterfeit; while her Ladyship, blushing somewhat and turning her own grey gogglers up to heaven, received all his words for gospel, and sat fancying herself to be the best, most meritorious, and most beautiful creature in the three kingdoms.

“You men are terrible flatterers,” continued she; “but you say right: for myself I value not these empty distinctions. I am growing old, Mr. Crampton — yes, indeed, I am, although you smile so incredulously — and let me add, that MY thoughts are fixed upon HIGHER things than earthly crowns. But tell me, you who are all in all with Lord Bagwig, are we never to have our peerage? His Majesty, I know, is not averse; the services of dear Sir George to a member of His Majesty’s august family, I know, have been appreciated in the highest quarter. Ever since the peace we have had a promise. Four hundred pounds has Sir George spent at the Heralds’ Office (I myself am of one of the most ancient families in the kingdom, Mr. Crampton), and the poor dear man’s health is really ruined by the anxious sickening feeling of hope so long delayed.”

Mr. Crampton now assumed an air of much solemnity.

“My dear Lady Gorgon,” said he, “will you let me be frank with you, and will you promise solemnly that what I am going to tell you shall never be repeated to a single soul?”

Lady Gorgon promised.

“Well, then, since the truth you must know, you yourselves have been in part the cause of the delay of which you complain. You gave us two votes five years ago; you now only give us one. If Sir George were to go up to the Peers, we should lose even that one vote; and would it be common sense in us to incur such a loss? Mr. Scully, the Liberal, would return another Member of his own way of thinking; and as for the Lords, we have, you know, a majority there.”

“Oh, that horrid man!” said Lady Gorgon, cursing Mr. Scully in her heart, and beginning to play a rapid tattoo with her feet, “that miscreant, that traitor, that — that attorney has been our ruin.”

“Horrid man, if you please, but give me leave to tell you that the horrid man is not the sole cause of your ruin — if ruin you will call it. I am sorry to say that I do candidly think Ministers believe that Sir George Gorgon has lost his influence in Oldborough as much through his own fault as through Mr. Scully’s cleverness.”

“Our own fault! Good heavens! Have we not done everything — everything that persons of our station in the county could do, to keep those misguided men? Have we not remonstrated, threatened, taken away our custom from the Mayor, established a Conservative apothecary — in fact, done all that gentlemen could do? But these are such times, Mr. Crampton: the spirit of revolution is abroad, and the great families of England are menaced by democratic insolence.”

This was Sir George Gorgon’s speech always after dinner, and was delivered by his lady with a great deal of stateliness. Somewhat, perhaps, to her annoyance, Mr. Crampton only smiled, shook his head, and said —

“Nonsense, my dear Lady Gorgon — pardon the phrase, but I am a plain old man, and call things by their names. Now, will you let me whisper in your ear one word of truth? You have tried all sorts of remonstrances, and exerted yourself to maintain your influence in every way, except the right one, and that is —”

“What, in Heaven’s name?”

“Conciliation. We know your situation in the borough. Mr. Scully’s whole history, and, pardon me for saying so (but we men in office know everything), yours —”

Lady Gorgon’s ears and cheeks now assumed the hottest hue of crimson. She thought of her former passages with Scully, and of the days when — but never mind when: for she suffered her veil to fall, and buried her head in the folds of her handkerchief. Vain folds! The wily little Mr. Crampton could see all that passed behind the cambric, and continued —

“Yes, madam, we know the absurd hopes that were formed by a certain attorney twenty years since. We know how, up to this moment, he boasts of certain walks —”

“With the governess — we were always with the governess!” shrieked out Lady Gorgon, clasping her hands. “She was not the wisest of women.”

“With the governess, of course,” said Mr. Crampton, firmly. “Do you suppose that any man dare breathe a syllable against your spotless reputation? Never, my dear madam; but what I would urge is this — you have treated your disappointed admirer too cruelly.”

“What! the traitor who has robbed us of our rights?”

“He never would have robbed you of your rights if you had been more kind to him. You should be gentle, madam; you should forgive him — you should be friends with him.”

“With a traitor, never!”

“Think what made him a traitor, Lady Gorgon; look in your glass, and say if there be not some excuse for him? Think of the feelings of the man who saw beauty such as yours — I am a plain man and must speak — virtue such as yours, in the possession of a rival. By heavens, madam, I think he was RIGHT to hate Sir George Gorgon! Would you have him allow such a prize to be ravished from him without a pang on his part?”

“He was, I believe, very much attached to me,” said Lady Gorgon, quite delighted; “but you must be aware that a young man of his station in life could not look up to a person of my rank.”

“Surely not: it was monstrous pride and arrogance in Mr. Scully. But que voulez-vous? Such is the world’s way. Scully could not help loving you — who that knows you can? I am a plain man, and say what I think. He loves you still. Why make an enemy of him, who would at a word be at your feet? Dearest Lady Gorgon, listen to me. Sir George Gorgon and Mr. Scully have already met — their meeting was our contrivance. It is for our interest, for yours, that they should be friends. If there were two Ministerial Members for Oldborough, do you think your husband’s peerage would be less secure? I am not at liberty to tell you all I know on this subject; but do, I entreat you, be reconciled to him.”

And after a little more conversation, which was carried on by Mr. Crampton in the same tender way, this important interview closed, and Lady Gorgon, folding her shawl round her, threaded certain mysterious passages and found her way to her carriage in Whitehall.

“I hope you have not been listening, you rogue?” said Mr. Crampton to his nephew, who blushed most absurdly by way of answer. “You would have heard great State secrets, if you had dared to do so. That woman is perpetually here, and if peerages are to be had for the asking, she ought to have been a duchess by this time. I would not have admitted her but for a reason that I have. Go you now and ponder upon what you have heard and seen. Be on good terms with Scully, and, above all, speak not a word concerning our interview — no, not a word even to your mistress. By the way, I presume, sir, you will recall your resignation?”

The bewildered Perkins was about to stammer out a speech, when his uncle, cutting it short, pushed him gently out of the door.

* * *

At the period when the important events occurred which have been recorded here, parties ran very high, and a mighty struggle for the vacant Speakership was about to come on. The Right Honourable Robert Pincher was the Ministerial candidate, and Sir Charles Macabaw was patronised by the Opposition. The two Members for Oldborough of course took different sides, the baronet being of the Pincher faction, while Mr. William Pitt Scully strongly supported the Macabaw party.

It was Mr. Scully’s intention to deliver an impromptu speech upon the occasion of the election, and he and his faithful Perkins prepared it between them: for the latter gentleman had wisely kept his uncle’s counsel and his own and Mr. Scully was quite ignorant of the conspiracy that was brooding. Indeed, so artfully had that young Machiavel of a Perkins conducted himself, that when asked by his patron whether he had given up his place in the Tape and Sealing Wax Office, he replied that “he HAD tendered his resignation,” but did not say one word about having recalled it.

“You were right, my boy, quite right,” said Mr. Scully. “A man of uncompromising principles should make no compromise.” And herewith he sat down and wrote off a couple of letters, one to Mr. Hawksby, telling him that the place in the Sealing-Wax Office was, as he had reason to know, vacant; and the other to his nephew, stating that it was to be his. “Under the rose, my dear Bob,” added Mr. Scully, “it will cost you five hundred pounds; but you cannot invest your money better.”

It is needless to state that the affair was to be conducted “with the strictest secresy and honour,” and that the money was to pass through Mr. Scully’s hands.

While, however, the great Pincher and Macabaw question was yet undecided, an event occurred to Mr. Scully, which had a great influence upon his after-life. A second grand banquet was given at the Earl of Mantrap’s: Lady Mantrap requested him to conduct Lady Gorgon to dinner; and the latter, with a charming timidity, and a gracious melancholy look into his face (after which her veined eyelids veiled her azure eyes), put her hand into the trembling one of Mr. Scully and said as much as looks could say, “Forgive and forget.”

Down went Scully to dinner. There were dukes on his right hand and earls on his left; there were but two persons without title in the midst of that glittering assemblage; the very servants looked like noblemen. The cook had done wonders; the wines were cool and rich, and Lady Gorgon was splendid! What attention did everybody pay to her and to him! Why WOULD she go on gazing into his face with that tender imploring look? In other words, Scully, after partaking of soup and fish (he, during their discussion, had been thinking over all the former love-and-hate passages between himself and Lady Gorgon), turned very red, and began talking to her.

“Were you not at the opera on Tuesday?” began he, assuming at once the airs of a man of fashion. “I thought I caught a glimpse of you in the Duchess of Diddlebury’s box.”

“Opera, Mr. Scully?” (pronouncing the word “Scully” with the utmost softness). “Ah, no! we seldom go, and yet too often. For serious persons the enchantments of that place are too dangerous. I am so nervous — so delicate; the smallest trifle so agitates, depresses, or irritates me, that I dare not yield myself up to the excitement of music. I am too passionately attached to it; and, shall I tell you? it has such a strange influence upon me, that the smallest false note almost drives me to distraction, and for that very reason I hardly ever go to a concert or a ball.”

“Egad,” thought Scully, “I recollect when she would dance down a matter of five-and-forty couple, and jingle away at the ‘Battle of Prague’ all day.”

She continued: “Don’t you recollect, I do, with — oh, what regret!- -that day at Oldborough race-ball, when I behaved with such sad rudeness to you? You will scarcely believe me, and yet I assure you ’tis the fact, the music had made me almost mad. Do let me ask your pardon for my conduct. I was not myself. Oh, Mr. Scully! I am no worldly woman; I know my duties, and I feel my wrongs. Nights and days have I lain awake weeping and thinking of that unhappy day — that I should ever speak so to an old friend; for we WERE old friends, were we not?”

Scully did not speak; but his eyes were bursting out of his head, and his face was the exact colour of a deputy-lieutenant’s uniform.

“That I should ever forget myself and you so! How I have been longing for this opportunity to ask you to forgive me! I asked Lady Mantrap, when I heard you were to be here, to invite me to her party. Come, I know you will forgive me — your eyes say you will. You used to look so in old days, and forgive me my caprices THEN. Do give me a little wine — we will drink to the memory of old days.”

Her eyes filled with tears; and poor Scully’s hand caused such a rattling and trembling of the glass and the decanter that the Duke of Doldrum — who had been, during the course of this whispered sentimentality, describing a famous run with the Queen’s hounds at the top of his voice — stopped at the jingling of the glass, and his tale was lost for ever. Scully hastily drank his wine, and Lady Gorgon turned round to her next neighbour, a little gentleman in black, between whom and herself certain conscious looks passed.

“I am glad poor Sir George is not here,” said he, smiling.

Lady Gorgon said, “Pooh, for shame!” The little gentleman was no other than Josiah Crampton, Esquire, that eminent financier, and he was now going through the curious calculation before mentioned, by which you BUY A MAN FOR NOTHING. He intended to pay the very same price for Sir George Gorgon, too; but there was no need to tell the baronet so; only of this the reader must be made aware.

While Mr. Crampton was conducting this intrigue, which was to bring a new recruit to the Ministerial ranks, his mighty spirit condescended to ponder upon subjects of infinitely less importance, and to arrange plans for the welfare of his nephew and the young woman to whom he had made a present of his heart. These young persons, as we said before, had arranged to live in Mr. Perkins’s own house in Bedford Row. It was of a peculiar construction, and might more properly be called a house and a half: for a snug little tenement of four chambers protruded from the back of the house into the garden. These rooms communicated with the drawing-rooms occupied by Mr. Scully; and Perkins, who acted as his friend and secretary, used frequently to sit in the one nearest the Member’s study, in order that he might be close at hand to confer with that great man. The rooms had a private entrance too, were newly decorated, and in them the young couple proposed to live; the kitchen and garrets being theirs likewise. What more could they need? We are obliged to be particular in describing these apartments, for extraordinary events occurred therein.

To say the truth, until the present period Mr. Crampton had taken no great interest in his nephew’s marriage, or, indeed, in the young man himself. The old gentleman was of a saturnine turn, and inclined to undervalue the qualities of Mr. Perkins, which were idleness, simplicity, enthusiasm, and easy good-nature.

“Such fellows never do anything in the world,” he would say, and for such he had accordingly the most profound contempt. But when, after John Perkins’s repeated entreaties, he had been induced to make the acquaintance of Miss Gorgon, he became instantly charmed with her, and warmly espoused her cause against her overbearing relations.

At his suggestion she wrote back to decline Sir George Gorgon’s peremptory invitation, and hinted at the same time that she had attained an age and a position which enabled her to be the mistress of her own actions. To this letter there came an answer from Lady Gorgon which we shall not copy, but which simply stated that Miss Lucy Gorgon’s conduct was unchristian, ungrateful, unladylike, and immodest; that the Gorgon family disowned her for the future, and left her at liberty to form whatever base connections she pleased.

“A pretty world this,” said Mr. Crampton, in a great rage, when the letter was shown to him. “This same fellow, Scully, dissuades my nephew from taking a place, because Scully wants it for himself. This prude of a Lady Gorgon cries out shame, and disowns an innocent amiable girl: she a heartless jilt herself once, and a heartless flirt now. The Pharisees, the Pharisees! And to call mine a base family, too!”

Now, Lady Gorgon did not in the least know Mr. Crampton’s connection with Mr. Perkins, or she would have been much more guarded in her language; but whether she knew it or not, the old gentleman felt a huge indignation, and determined to have his revenge.

“That’s right, Uncle! SHALL I call Gorgon out?” said the impetuous young Perkins, who was all for blood.

“John, you are a fool,” said his uncle. “You shall have a better revenge: you shall be married from Sir George Gorgon’s house, and you shall see Mr. William Pitt Scully sold for nothing.” This to the veteran diplomatist seemed to be the highest triumph which man could possibly enjoy.

It was very soon to take place: and, as has been the case ever since the world began, woman, lovely woman was to be the cause of Scully’s fall. The tender scene at Lord Mantrap’s was followed by many others equally sentimental. Sir George Gorgon called upon his colleague the very next day, and brought with him a card from Lady Gorgon inviting Mr. Scully to dinner. The attorney eagerly accepted the invitation, was received in Baker Street by the whole amiable family with much respectful cordiality, and was pressed to repeat his visits as country neighbours should. More than once did he call, and somehow always at the hour when Sir George was away at his club, or riding in the Park, or elsewhere engaged. Sir George Gorgon was very old, very feeble, very much shattered in constitution. Lady Gorgon used to impart her fears to Mr. Scully every time he called there, and the sympathising attorney used to console her as best he might. Sir George’s country agent neglected the property — his lady consulted Mr. Scully concerning it. He knew to a fraction how large her jointure was; how she was to have Gorgon Castle for her life; and how, in the event of the young baronet’s death (he, too, was a sickly poor boy), the chief part of the estates, bought by her money, would be at her absolute disposal.

“What a pity these odious politics prevent me from having you for our agent,” would Lady Gorgon say; and indeed Scully thought it was a pity too. Ambitious Scully! what wild notions filled his brain. He used to take leave of Lady Gorgon and ruminate upon these things; and when he was gone, Sir George and her Ladyship used to laugh.

“If we can but commit him — if we can but make him vote for Pincher,” said the General, “my peerage is secure. Hawksby and Crampton as good as told me so.”

The point had been urged upon Mr. Scully repeatedly and adroitly. “Is not Pincher a more experienced man than Macabaw?” would Sir George say to his guest over their wine. Scully allowed it. “Can’t you vote for him on personal grounds, and say so in the House?” Scully wished he could — how he wished he could! Every time the General coughed, Scully saw his friend’s desperate situation more and more, and thought how pleasant it would be to be lord of Gorgon Castle. “Knowing my property,” cried Sir George, “as you do, and with your talents and integrity, what a comfort it would be could I leave you as guardian to my boy! But these cursed politics prevent it, my dear fellow. Why WILL you be a Radical?” And Scully cursed politics too. “Hang the low-bred rogue,” added Sir George, when William Pitt Scully left the house: “he will do everything but promise.”

“My dear General,” said Lady Gorgon, sidling up to him and patting him on his old yellow cheek —“My dear Georgy, tell me one thing — are you jealous?”

“Jealous, my dear! and jealous of THAT fellow — pshaw!”

“Well, then, give me leave, and you shall have the promise tomorrow.”

* * *

To-morrow arrived. It was a remarkably fine day, and in the forenoon Mr. Perkins gave his accustomed knock at Scully’s study, which was only separated from his own sitting-room by a double door. John had wisely followed his uncle’s advice, and was on the best terms with the honourable Member.

“Here are a few sentences,” said he, “which I think may suit your purpose. Great public services — undeniable merit — years of integrity — cause of reform, and Macabaw for ever!” He put down the paper. It was, in fact, a speech in favour of Mr. Macabaw.

“Hush,” said Scully, rather surlily; for he was thinking how disagreeable it was to support Macabaw; and besides, there were clerks in the room, whom the thoughtless Perkins had not at first perceived. As soon as that gentleman saw them, “You are busy, I see,” continued he in a lower tone. “I came to say that I must be off duty today, for I am engaged to take a walk with some ladies of my acquaintance.”

So saying, the light-hearted young man placed his hat unceremoniously on his head, and went off through his own door, humming a song. He was in such high spirits that he did not even think of closing the doors of communication, and Scully looked after him with a sneer.

“Ladies, forsooth,” thought he; “I know who they are. This precious girl that he is fooling with, for one, I suppose.” He was right: Perkins was off on the wings of love, to see Miss Lucy; and she and Aunt Biggs and Uncle Crampton had promised this very day to come and look at the apartments which Mrs. John Perkins was to occupy with her happy husband.

“Poor devil,” so continued Mr. Scully’s meditations, “it is almost too bad to do him out of his place; but my Bob wants it, and John’s girl has, I hear, seven thousand pounds. His uncle will get him another place before all that money is spent.” And herewith Mr. Scully began conning the speech which Perkins had made for him.

He had not read it more than six times — in truth, he was getting it by heart — when his head clerk came to him from the front room, bearing a card: a footman had brought it, who said his lady was waiting below. Lady Gorgon’s name was on the card! To seize his hat and rush downstairs was, with Mr. Scully, the work of an infinitesimal portion of time.

It was indeed Lady Gorgon in her Gorgonian chariot.

“Mr. Scully,” said she, popping her head out of window and smiling in a most engaging way, “I want to speak to you, on something very particular INDEED”— and she held him out her hand. Scully pressed it most tenderly: he hoped all heads in Bedford Row were at the windows to see him. “I can’t ask you into the carriage, for you see the governess is with me, and I want to talk secrets to you.”

“Shall I go and make a little promenade?” said mademoiselle, innocently. And her mistress hated her for that speech.

“No. Mr. Scully, I am sure, will let me come in for five minutes?”

Mr. Scully was only too happy. My Lady descended and walked upstairs, leaning on the happy solicitor’s arm. But how should he manage? The front room was consecrated to clerks; there were clerks too, as ill-luck would have it, in his private room. “Perkins is out for the day,” thought Scully; “I will take her into his room.” And into Perkins’s room he took her — ay, and he shut the double doors after him too, and trembled as he thought of his own happiness.

“What a charming little study,” said Lady Gorgon, seating herself. And indeed it was very pretty: for Perkins had furnished it beautifully, and laid out a neat tray with cakes, a cold fowl, and sherry, to entertain his party withal. “And do you bachelors always live so well?” continued she, pointing to the little cold collation.

Mr. Scully looked rather blank when he saw it, and a dreadful suspicion crossed his soul; but there was no need to trouble Lady Gorgon with explanations: therefore, at once, and with much presence of mind, he asked her to partake of his bachelor’s fare (she would refuse Mr. Scully nothing that day). A pretty sight would it have been for young Perkins to see strangers so unceremoniously devouring his feast. She drank — Mr. Scully drank — and so emboldened was he by the draught that he actually seated himself by the side of Lady Gorgon, on John Perkins’s new sofa.

Her Ladyship had of course something to say to him. She was a pious woman, and had suddenly conceived a violent wish for building a chapel of ease at Oldborough, to which she entreated him to subscribe. She enlarged upon the benefits that the town would derive from it, spoke of Sunday-schools, sweet spiritual instruction, and the duty of all well-minded persons to give aid to the scheme.

“I will subscribe a hundred pounds,” said Scully, at the end of her Ladyship’s harangue: “would I not do anything for you?”

“Thank you, thank you, dear Mr. Scully,” said the enthusiastic woman. (How the “dear” went burning through his soul!) “Ah!” added she, “if you WOULD but do anything for me — if you, who are so eminently, so truly distinguished, in a religious point of view, would but see the truth in politics too; and if I could see your name among those of the true patriot party in this empire, how blest — oh! how blest should I be! Poor Sir George often says he should go to his grave happy, could he but see you the guardian of his boy; and I, your old friend (for we WERE friends, William), how have I wept to think of you as one of those who are bringing our monarchy to ruin. Do, do promise me this too!” And she took his hand and pressed it between hers.

The heart of William Pitt Scully, during this speech, was thumping up and down with a frightful velocity and strength. His old love, the agency of the Gorgon property — the dear widow — five thousand a year clear — a thousand delicious hopes rushed madly through his brain, and almost took away his reason. And there she sat — she, the loved one, pressing his hand and looking softly into his eyes.

Down, down he plumped on his knees.

“Juliana!” shrieked he, “don’t take away your hand! My love — my only love! — speak but those blessed words again! Call me William once more, and do with me what you will.”

Juliana cast down her eyes and said, in the very smallest type, “William!”

* * *

— when the door opened, and in walked Mr. Crampton, leading Mrs. Biggs, who could hardly contain herself for laughing, and Mr. John Perkins, who was squeezing the arm of Miss Lucy. They had heard every word of the two last speeches.

For at the very moment when Lady Gorgon had stopped at Mr. Scully’s door, the four above-named individuals had issued from Great James Street into Bedford Row.

Lucy cried out that it was her aunt’s carriage, and they all saw Mr. Scully come out, bare-headed, in the sunshine, and my Lady descend, and the pair go into the house. They meanwhile entered by Mr. Perkins’s own private door, and had been occupied in examining the delightful rooms on the ground-floor, which were to be his dining-room and library — from which they ascended a stair to visit the other two rooms, which were to form Mrs. John Perkins’s drawing-room and bedroom. Now whether it was that they trod softly, or that the stairs were covered with a grand new carpet and drugget, as was the case, or that the party within were too much occupied in themselves to heed any outward disturbances, I know not; but Lucy, who was advancing with John (he was saying something about one of the apartments, the rogue!)— Lucy started and whispered, “There is somebody in the rooms!” and at that instant began the speech already reported, “THANK YOU, THANK YOU, DEAR MR. SCULLY,” etc. etc., which was delivered by Lady Gorgon in a full clear voice; for, to do her Ladyship justice, SHE had not one single grain of love for Mr. Scully, and during the delivery of her little oration, was as cool as the coolest cucumber.

Then began the impassioned rejoinder, to which the four listened on the landing-place; and then the little “William,” as narrated above: at which juncture Mr. Crampton thought proper to rattle at the door, and, after a brief pause, to enter with his party.

“William” had had time to bounce off his knees, and was on a chair at the other end of the room.

“What, Lady Gorgon!” said Mr. Crampton, with excellent surprise, “how delighted I am to see you! Always, I see employed in works of charity” (the chapel-of-ease paper was on her knees), “and on such an occasion, too — it is really the most wonderful coincidence! My dear madam, here is a silly fellow, a nephew of mine, who is going to marry a silly girl, a niece of your own.”

“Sir, I—” began Lady Gorgon, rising.

“They heard every word,” whispered Mr. Crampton eagerly. “Come forward, Mr. Perkins, and show yourself.” Mr. Perkins made a genteel bow. “Miss Lucy, please to shake hands with your aunt; and this, my dear madam, is Mrs. Biggs, of Mecklenburgh Square, who, if she were not too old, might marry a gentleman in the Treasury, who is your very humble servant.” And with this gallant speech, old Mr. Crampton began helping everybody to sherry and cake.

As for William Pitt Scully, he had disappeared, evaporated, in the most absurd sneaking way imaginable. Lady Gorgon made good her retreat presently, with much dignity, her countenance undismayed, and her face turned resolutely to the foe.

* * *

About five days afterwards, that memorable contest took place in the House of Commons, in which the partisans of Mr. Macabaw were so very nearly getting him the Speakership. On the day that the report of the debate appeared in the Times, there appeared also an announcement in the Gazette as follows:—

“The King has been pleased to appoint John Perkins, Esquire, to be Deputy-Subcomptroller of His Majesty’s Tape Office and Custos of the Sealing-Wax Department.”

Mr. Crampton showed this to his nephew with great glee, and was chuckling to think how Mr. William Pitt Scully would be annoyed, who had expected the place, when Perkins burst out laughing and said, “By heavens, here is my own speech! Scully has spoken every word of it; he has only put in Mr. Pincher’s name in the place of Mr. Macabaw’s.”

“He is ours now,” responded his uncle, “and I told you WE WOULD HAVE HIM FOR NOTHING. I told you, too, that you should be married from Sir George Gorgon’s, and here is proof of it.”

It was a letter from Lady Gorgon, in which she said that, “had she known Mr. Perkins to be a nephew of her friend Mr. Crampton, she never for a moment would have opposed his marriage with her niece, and she had written that morning to her dear Lucy, begging that the marriage breakfast should take place in Baker Street.”

“It shall be in Mecklenburgh Square,” said John Perkins stoutly; and in Mecklenburgh Square it was.

William Pitt Scully, Esquire, was, as Mr. Crampton said, hugely annoyed at the loss of the place for his nephew. He had still, however, his hopes to look forward to, but these were unluckily dashed by the coming in of the Whigs. As for Sir George Gorgon, when he came to ask about his peerage, Hawksby told him that they could not afford to lose him in the Commons, for a Liberal Member would infallibly fill his place.

And now that the Tories are out and the Whigs are in, strange to say a Liberal does fill his place. This Liberal is no other than Sir George Gorgon himself, who is still longing to be a lord, and his lady is still devout and intriguing. So that the Members for Oldborough have changed sides, and taunt each other with apostasy, and hate each other cordially. Mr. Crampton still chuckles over the manner in which he tricked them both, and talks of those five minutes during which he stood on the landing-place, and hatched and executed his “Bedford-Row Conspiracy.”

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/bedford/chapter3.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07