The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLIII

Alsatia

Bred up, like a bailiff or a shabby attorney, about the purlieus of the Inns of Court, Shepherd’s Inn is always to be found in the close neighbourhood of Lincoln’s-Inn Fields, and the Temple. Some where behind the black gables and smutty chimney-stacks of Wych Street, Holywell Street, Chancery Lane, the quadrangle lies, hidden from the outer world; and it is approached by curious passages and ambiguous smoky alleys, on which the sun has forgotten to shine. Slop-sellers, brandy-ball and hard-bake vendors, purveyors of theatrical prints for youth, dealers in dingy furniture and bedding suggestive of anything but sleep, line the narrow walls and dark casements with their wares. The doors are many-belled: and crowds of dirty children form endless groups about the steps: or around the shell-fish dealers’ trays in these courts; whereof the damp pavements resound with pattens, and are drabbled with a never-failing mud. Ballad-singers come and chant here, in deadly guttural tones, satirical songs against the Whig administration, against the bishops and dignified clergy, against the German relatives of an august royal family: Punch sets up his theatre, sure of an audience, and occasionally of a halfpenny from the swarming occupants of the houses: women scream after their children for loitering in the gutter, or, worse still, against the husband who comes reeling from the gin-shop; — there is a ceaseless din and life in these courts out of which you pass into the tranquil, old-fashioned quadrangle of Shepherd’s Inn. In a mangy little grass-plat in the centre rises up the statue of Shepherd, defended by iron railings from the assaults of boys. The hall of the Inn, on which the founder’s arms are painted, occupies one side of the square, the tall and ancient chambers are carried round other two sides, and over the central archway, which leads into Oldcastle Street, and so into the great London thoroughfare.

The Inn may have been occupied by lawyers once: but the laity have long since been admitted into its precincts, and I do not know that any of the principal legal firms have their chambers here. The offices of the Polwheedle and Tredyddlum Copper Mines occupy one set of the ground-floor chambers; the Registry of Patent Inventions and Union of Genius and Capital Company, another; — the only gentleman whose name figures here, and in the “Law List,” is Mr. Campion, who wears mustachios, and who comes in his cab twice or thrice in a week; and whose West End offices are in Curzon Street, Mayfair, where Mrs. Campion entertains the nobility and gentry to whom her husband lends money. There, and on his glazed cards, he is Mr. Somerset Campion; here he is Campion and Co.; and the same tuft which ornaments his chin, sprouts from the under lip of the rest of the firm. It is splendid to see his cab-horse harness blazing with heraldic bearings, as the vehicle stops at the door leading to his chambers: The horse flings froth off his nostrils as he chafes and tosses under the shining bit. The reins and the breeches of the groom are glittering white — the lustre of that equipage makes a sunshine in that shady place.

Our old friend, Captain Costigan, has examined Campion’s cab and horse many an afternoon, as he trailed about the court in his carpet slippers and dressing-gown, with his old hat cocked over his eye. He suns himself there after his breakfast when the day is suitable; and goes and pays a visit to the porter’s lodge, where he pats the heads of the children, and talks to Mrs. Bolton about the thayatres and me daughther Leedy Mirabel. Mrs. Bolton was herself in the profession once, and danced at the Wells in early days as the thirteenth of Mr. Serle’s forty pupils.

Costigan lives in the third floor at No. 4, in the rooms which were Mr. Podmore’s, and whose name is still on the door —(somebody else’s name, by the way, is on almost all the doors in Shepherd’s Inn). When Charley Podmore (the pleasing tenor singer, T.R.D.L., and at the Back Kitchen Concert Rooms) married, and went to live at Lambeth, he ceded his chambers to Mr. Bows and Captain Costigan, who occupy them in common now, and you may often hear the tones of Mr. Bows’s piano of fine days when the windows are open, acid when he is practising for amusement, or for the instruction of a theatrical pupil, of whom he has one or two. Fanny Bolton is one, the porteress’s daughter, who has heard tell of her mother’s theatrical glories, which she longs to emulate. She has a good voice and a pretty face and figure for the stage; and she prepares the rooms and makes the beds and breakfasts for Messrs. Costigan and Bows, in return for which the latter instructs her in music and singing. But for his unfortunate propensity to liquor (and in that excess she supposes that all men of fashion indulge), she thinks the Captain the finest gentleman in the world, and believes in all the versions of all his stories, and she is very fond of Mr. Bows too, and very grateful to him, and this shy queer old gentleman has a fatherly fondness for her too, for in truth his heart is full of kindness, and he is never easy unless he loves somebody.

Costigan has had the carriages of visitors of distinction before his humble door in Shepherd’s Inn: and to hear him talk of a morning (for his evening song is of a much more melancholy nature) you would fancy that Sir Charles and Lady Mirabel were in the constant habit of calling at his chambers, and bringing with them the select nobility to visit the “old man, the honest old half-pay Captain, poor old Jack Costigan,” as Cos calls himself.

The truth is, that Lady Mirabel has left her husband’s card (which has been stuck in the little looking-glass over the mantelpiece of the sitting-room at No. 4, for these many months past), and has come in person to see her father, but not of late days. A kind person, disposed to discharge her duties gravely, upon her marriage with Sir Charles she settled a little pension upon her father, who occasionally was admitted to the table of his daughter and son-inlaw. At first poor Cos’s behaviour “in the hoight of poloit societee,” as he denominated Lady Mirabel’s drawing-room table, was harmless, if it was absurd. As he clothed his person in his best attire, so he selected the longest and richest words in his vocabulary to deck his conversation, and adopted a solemnity of demeanour which struck with astonishment all those persons in whose company he happened to be. —“Was your Leedyship in the Pork to dee?” he would demand of his daughter. “I looked for your equipage in veen:— the poor old man was not gratified by the soight of his daughther’s choriot. Sir Chorlus, I saw your neem at the Levee; many’s the Levee at the Castle at Dublin that poor old Jack Costigan has attended in his time. Did the Juke look pretty well? Bedad, I’ll call at Apsley House and lave me cyard upon ‘um. I thank ye, James, a little dthrop more champeane.” Indeed, he was magnificent in his courtesy to all, and addressed his observations not only to the master and the guests, but to the domestics who waited at the table, and who had some difficulty in maintaining their professional gravity while they waited on Captain Costigan.

On the first two or three visits to his son-inlaw, Costigan maintained a strict sobriety, content to make up for his lost time when he got to the Back Kitchen, where he bragged about his son-inlaw’s dart and burgundee, until his own utterance began to fail him, over his sixth tumbler of whisky-punch. But with familiarity his caution vanished, and poor Cos lamentably disgraced himself at Sir Charles Mirabel’s table, by premature inebriation. A carriage was called for him: the hospitable door was shut upon him. Often and sadly did he speak to his friends at the Kitchen of his resemblance to King Lear in the plee — of his having a thankless choild, bedad — of his being a pore worn-out lonely old man, dthriven to dthrinking by ingratitude, and seeking to dthrown his sorrows in punch.

It is painful to be obliged to record the weaknesses of fathers, but it must be furthermore told of Costigan, that when his credit was exhausted and his money gone, he would not unfrequently beg money from his daughter, and made statements to her not altogether consistent with strict truth. On one day a bailiff was about to lead him to prison, he wrote, “unless the — to you insignificant — sum of three pound five can be forthcoming to liberate a poor man’s grey hairs from gaol.” And the good-natured Lady Mirabel despatched the money necessary for her father’s liberation, with a caution to him to be more economical for the future. On a second occasion the Captain met with a frightful accident, and broke a plate-glass window in the Strand, for which the proprietor of the shop held him liable. The money was forthcoming on this time too, to repair her papa’s disaster, and was carried down by Lady Mirabel’s servant to the slipshod messenger and aide-de-camp of the Captain, who brought the letter announcing his mishap. If the servant had followed the Captain’s aide-de-camp who carried the remittance, he would have seen that gentleman, a person of Costigan’s country too (for have we not said, that however poor an Irish gentleman is, he always has a poorer Irish gentleman to run on his errands and transact his pecuniary affairs?), call a cab from the nearest stand, and rattle down to the Roscius Head, Harlequin Yard, Drury Lane, where the Captain was indeed in pawn, and for several glasses containing rum-and-water, or other spirituous refreshment, of which he and his staff had partaken. On a third melancholy occasion he wrote that he was attacked by illness, and wanted money to pay the physician whom he was compelled to call in; and this time Lady Mirabel, alarmed about her father’s safety, and perhaps reproaching herself that she had of late lost sight of her father, called for her carriage and drove to Shepherd’s Inn, at the gate of which she alighted, whence she found the way to her father’s chambers, “No. 4, third floor, name of Podmore over the door,” the porteress said, with many curtsies, pointing towards the door of the house, into which the affectionate daughter entered and mounted the dingy stair. Alas! the door, surmounted by the name of Podmore, was opened to her by poor Cos in his shirt-sleeves, and prepared with the gridiron to receive the mutton-chops which Mrs. Bolton had gone to purchase.

Also, it was not pleasant for Sir Charles Mirabel to have letters constantly addressed to him at Brookes’s, with the information that Captain Costigan was in the hall, waiting for an answer; or when he went to play his rubber at the Travellers’, to be obliged to shoot out of his brougham and run up the steps rapidly, lest his father-inlaw should seize upon him; and to think that while he read his paper or played his whist, the Captain was walking on the opposite side of Pall Mall, with that dreadful cocked hat, and the eye beneath it fixed steadily upon the windows of the club. Sir Charles was a weak man; he was old, and had many infirmities: he cried about his father-inlaw to his wife, whom he adored with senile infatuation: he said he must go abroad — he must go and live in the country — he should die or have another fit if he saw that man again — he knew he should. And it was only by paying a second visit to Captain Costigan, and representing to him, that if he plagued Sir Charles by letters or addressed him in the street, or made any further applications for loans, his allowance would be withdrawn altogether, that Lady Mirabel was enabled to keep her papa in order, and to restore tranquillity to her husband. And on occasion of this visit, she sternly rebuked Bows for not keeping a better watch over the Captain; desired that he should not be allowed to drink in that shameful way; and that the people at the horrid taverns which he frequented should be told, upon no account to give him credit. “Papa’s conduct is bringing me to the grave,” she said (though she looked perfectly healthy), “and you, as an old man, Mr. Bows, and one that pretended to have a regard for us, ought to be ashamed of abetting him in it.” Those were the thanks which honest Bows got for his friendship and his life’s devotion. And I do not suppose that the old philosopher was much worse off than many other men, or had greater reason to grumble.

On the second floor of the next house to Bows’s, in Shepherd’s Inn, at No. 3, live two other acquaintances of ours: Colonel Altamont, agent to the Nawaub of Lucknow, and Captain Chevalier Edward Strong. No name at all is over their door. The Captain does not choose to let all the world know where he lives and his cards bear the address of a Jermyn Street hotel; and as for the Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the Indian potentate, he is not an envoy accredited to the Courts of St. James’s or Leadenhall Street but is here on a confidential mission quite independent of the East India Company or the Board of Control. “In fact,” Strong says, “Colonel Altamont’s object being financial, and to effectuate a sale of some of the principal diamonds and rubies of the Lucknow crown, his wish is not to report himself at the India House or in Cannon Row, but rather to negotiate with private capitalists — with whom he has had important transactions both in this country and on the Continent.”

We have said that these anonymous chambers of Strong’s had been very comfortably furnished since the arrival of Sir Francis Clavering in London, and the Chevalier might boast with reason to the friends who visited him, that few retired Captains were more snugly quartered than he, in his crib in Shepherd’s Inn. There were three rooms below: the office where Strong transacted his business — whatever that might be — and where still remained the desk and railings of the departed officials who had preceded him, and the Chevalier’s own bedroom and sitting-room; and a private stair led out of the office to two upper apartments, the one occupied by Colonel Altamont, and the other serving as the kitchen of the establishment, and the bedroom of Mr. Grady, the attendant. These rooms were on a level with the apartments of our friends Bows and Costigan next door at No. 4; and by reaching over the communicating leads, Grady could command the mignonette-box which bloomed in Bows’s window.

From Grady’s kitchen casement often came odours still more fragrant. The three old soldiers who formed the garrison of No. 3 were all skilled in the culinary art. Grady was great at an Irish stew; the Colonel was famous for pillaus and curries; and as for Strong he could cook anything. He made French dishes and Spanish dishes, stews, fricassees, and omelettes, to perfection; nor was there any man in England more hospitable than he when his purse was full or his credit was good. At those happy periods, he could give a friend, as he said, a good dinner, a good glass of wine, and a good song afterwards; and poor Cos often heard with envy the roar of Strong’s choruses, and the musical clinking of the glasses, as he sate in his own room, so far removed and yet so near to those festivities. It was not expedient to invite Mr. Costigan always: his practice of inebriation was lamentable; and he bored Strong’s guests with his stories when sober, and with his maudlin tears when drunk.

A strange and motley set they were, these friends of the Chevalier; and though Major Pendennis would not much have relished their company, Arthur and Warrington liked it not a little, and Pen thought it as amusing as the society of the finest gentlemen in the finest houses which he had the honour to frequent. There was a history about every man of the set: they seemed all to have had their tides of luck and bad fortune. Most of them had wonderful schemes and speculations in their pockets, and plenty for making rapid and extraordinary fortunes. Jack Holt had been in Don Carlos’s army, when Ned Strong had fought on the other side; and was now organising a little scheme for smuggling tobacco into London, which must bring thirty thousand a year to any man who would advance fifteen hundred, just to bribe the last officer of the Excise who held out, and had wind of the scheme. Tom Diver, who had been in the Mexican navy, knew of a specie-ship which had been sunk in the first year of the war, with three hundred and eighty thousand dollars on board, and a hundred and eighty thousand pounds in bars and doubloons. “Give me eighteen hundred pounds,” Tom said, “and I’m off tomorrow. I take out four men, and a diving-bell with me; and I return in ten months to take my seat in Parliament, by Jove! and to buy back my family estate.” Keightley, the manager of the Tredyddlum and Polwheedle Copper Mines (which were as yet under water), besides singing as good a second as any professional man, and besides the Tredyddlum Office, had a Smyrna Sponge Company, and a little quicksilver operation in view, which would set him straight with the world yet. Filby had been everything a corporal of dragoons, a field-preacher, and missionary-agent for converting the Irish; an actor at a Greenwich fair-booth, in front of which his father’s attorney found him when the old gentleman died and left him that famous property, from which he got no rents now, and of which nobody exactly knew the situation. Added to these was Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., who liked their society, though he did not much add to its amusements by his convivial powers. But he was made much of by the company now, on account of his wealth and position in the world. He told his little story and sang his little song or two with great affability; and he had had his own history, too, before his accession to good fortune; and had seen the inside of more prisons than one, and written his name on many a stamped paper.

When Altamont first returned from Paris, and after he had communicated with Sir Francis Clavering from the hotel at which he had taken up his quarters (and which he had reached in a very denuded state, considering the wealth of diamonds and rubies with which this honest man was entrusted), Strong was sent to his patron by the Baronet; paid his little bill at the inn, and invited him to come and sleep for a night or two at the chambers, where he subsequently took up his residence. To negotiate with this man was very well, but to have such a person settled in his rooms, and to be constantly burthened with such society, did not suit the Chevalier’s taste much; and he grumbled not a little to his principal.

“I wish you would put this bear into somebody else’s cage,” he said to Clavering. “The fellow’s no gentleman. I don’t like walking with him. He dresses himself like a nigger on a holiday. I took him to the play the other night; and, by Jove, sir, he abused the actor who was doing the part of villain in the play, and swore at him so, that the people in the boxes wanted to turn him out. The after-piece was the ‘Brigand,’ where Wallack comes in wounded, you know, and dies. When he died, Altamont began to cry like a child, and said it was a d —— d shame, and cried and swore so, that there was another row, and everybody laughing. Then I had to take him away, because he wanted to take his coat off to one fellow who laughed at him; and bellowed to him to stand up like a man. — Who is he? Where the deuce does he come from? You had best tell me the whole story. Frank; you must one day. You and he have robbed a church together, that’s my belief. You had better get it off your mind at once, Clavering, and tell me what this Altamont is, and what hold he has over you.”

“Hang him! I wish he was dead!” was the Baronet’s only reply; and his countenance became so gloomy, that Strong did not think fit to question his patron any further at that time; but resolved, if need were, to try and discover for himself what was the secret tie between Altamont and Clavering.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/pendennis/chapter43.html

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