Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/A run for a place


Notwithstanding the annual increase in the Civil Service Estimates, and the efforts which, we learn from “Punch,” are being made in Dean’s Yard to raise the examinations to the proper standard, the Service is not what it was. We use these words in the popular and depreciatory sense, with the conventional shake of the head as we write them, which our readers may have observed to be their usual accompaniment. The present system has a tendency to check the graceful benevolence of the Prime Minister; and is there any virtue which a liberal nation, like the English, could wish to see more strongly developed in that functionary? Snug berths are on the decrease. There is a mean and revolutionary idea becoming prevalent that men should work their way upwards; in fact, that it is better to enter the ship through the hawse-hole than by the cabin windows. It has become more difficult now for a secretary of state to reward, with a quiet two thousand a-year, the Eton chum who stood point to his bowling, or the Christchurch man who kept on the same staircase, and helped him to screw in the dean. But some five-and-thirty years ago, such an exercise of benevolence was not only possible but practicable, and occasionally practised.

On a fine May morning, in the year 182—, Mr. Scenter was pacing the High Street of that large sea-port, Shortpond, with very rapid steps. He had not got more than a dozen yards down the left-hand side before he met Mr. Chaser. Now, Chaser was a man whom he knew so well, that he felt bound to stop and speak a word to him, though evidently chafing at the delay.

“Heard the news?” he inquired.

“No,—what is it?” replied Chaser.

“Filliter died at nine this morning.”

“You don’t say so.”

And they nodded and passed on.

Now, be it known to our readers, that the lamented Filliter had been his Majesty’s Inspector of Hampers and Comptroller of Carpet-bags in the good port of Shortpond. The duties connected with that office were admirably performed by subordinates with whom Filliter had the good sense not to interfere, feeling that he should probably obstruct public business if he did. He therefore limited his attendance at the Hamper and Carpet-bag office, appearing there only on the last day of each quarter, when he signed his salary-receipt for five hundred pounds.

Mr. Scenter walked on pretty rapidly until he reached the Blue Lion. A quarter of an hour afterwards he was rattling along the London road as fast as a postchaise-and-four could take him.

He had good reasons for his haste. He had had the honour of blacking the Prime Minister’s boots in earlier days, as his fag at Eton, and the acquaintance had not been allowed to drop. When Lord C—— came in, it was clearly understood that something was to be done for Scenter. They had only been waiting for a vacancy to occur, which might be worth his acceptance. The office of Inspector of Hampers and Comptroller of Carpet-bags at Shortpond was the very thing. Pleasant visions floated in his brain as he lolled back in the chaise and enjoyed the exhilaration of rapid motion; for the post-boys had been made clearly to understand that their tip would depend on their pace.

It occurred to him that an additional two thousand a-year was the exact sum which, as he had frequently observed, would make him comfortable. When he reached the end of the first stage, he continued his meditations in the inn-yard, pacing up and down, as he waited for fresh horses.

He was still debating about a second hunter, and a pair of greys for Mrs. {{S——,}} thinking which purchase he should make first, when a second postchaise-and-four dashed into the yard, with horses a shade more blown than his own.

Out of this vehicle stepped Mr Chaser. Now Mr. Chaser’s relations with the noble lord at the head of the government were not very dissimilar in their nature to Mr. Scenter’s, as the latter gentleman now remembered.

If he had thought of it about an hour before in the High Street of Shortpond, it is possible that he would not have been so communicative on the subject of Filliter’s death.

As the two men met, the first glance they exchanged told each the other’s object.

“Of course we are bound on the same errand?” said Scenter.

“Then we may as well travel together,” said Chaser. “The winner can pay the shot.”

“By all means.” So the bargain was made.

By the tacit consent of both parties the subject of the appointment was tabooed during their journey. After seventeen hours’ posting, they arrived in London at half-past three a.m.

“Nothing to be done for the next four hours,” said Scenter, “so I shall take a snooze. I shall be stirring pretty early in the morning, though.”

“Perhaps it would be as well,” replied Chaser; but whether this was intended to apply to the former or the latter part of his friend’s observation, there was nothing to show.

So Mr. Scenter walked off to bed, giving the strictest orders to the boots to call him at six. Mr. Chaser waited in the coffee-room until his friend had retired, and then took a hackney-coach to Lord C——’s.

He found no difficulty in obtaining admittance, but when he said he must see Lord C—— immediately, it was quite another thing.

“His lordship did not come back from the house till past two, and I know he was very tired, and cannot possibly be disturbed.”

“I must see him all the same,” said the persevering Chaser, “and immediately too.”

“Is it despatches, sir?”

“Of more importance than despatches,” was the reply.

“Very sorry, sir, but it is quite impossible; it would be as much as my place is worth.”

How much is your place worth?” inquired Chaser with the most perfect coolness, for it was whispered that Lord C—— was not the best paymaster in the world.

To this query the domestic did not find a ready reply, so Chaser pushed two bank-notes into his hand, and passing him, charged up the staircase three steps at a time. The contemplation of the signature, “Abraham Newland,” to which perhaps his eyes had not lately been accustomed, prevented the servant from stopping him.

Chaser soon found his way to Lord C——’s bed-room. That nobleman was aroused by his knock at the door. “Who’s there?”

“Alvanley Chaser.”

“And what gives me the pleasure of seeing, or rather blinking at, Mr. Alvanley Chaser at this hour of the morning?”

“Filliter is dead.”

“And who may Filliter be? or rather, I should say, what may Filliter have been?”

“Inspector of Hampers and Comptroller of Carpet-bags for Shortpond.”

“I understand.”

“May I have it?”

“Well, you are certainly the first in the field, and I suppose if I wish to have my night’s rest, I had better say ‘yes,’ at once.”

Chaser turned to the pen and ink on the dressing-table and began to write.

“Won’t you take my word?” said Lord C——.

“Why, you know between man and man I should prefer your word to anybody’s; but, as a minister, I should like to have your signature to this.”

Lord C—— laughed, and put his autograph to the formal promise Chaser had written out.

“And now I won’t disturb you any longer.”

“Thank you; come to breakfast.”

“I shall be most happy. Adieu.”

And Chaser returned to the hotel, gave orders that he should be called at eight, and went comfortably to bed.

Mr. Scenter arose at six in the morning. To tell the truth, notwithstanding the fatigue of his journey, he had not been able to sleep. At six then he arose, and arranged himself carefully for an interview with the great man. It is strange how careful men are upon these occasions, although, upon cross-examination, they would aver that their personal appearance could make no difference to the result of their application. On reflection, Scenter would have felt that his chance might have been strengthened, if he could have become an Eton boy once more; but that a round jacket and ink-stained trousers would scarcely become a corpulent gentleman with a bald head. Nevertheless, during his drive to Lord C——’s, he was tormented by a hole in his glove, and anathematised the laziness of London hosiers, whose shops were not likely to be opened for some hours to come. He arrived at Lord C——’s at seven. He had the advantage of being known to the servants, for he had dined at the house more than once, when he was last in town. He was informed that Lord C—— would be down at half-past nine, and a douceur obtained the promise that he should be shown in before any one else.

This promise was faithfully kept. As Scenter waited in the library he was surprised that he saw nothing of his friend. He comforted himself with the reflection that the servants might possibly have kept him in the hall.

As the clock struck the half-hour he was ushered into Lord C——’s presence.

In a very few words he stated the fact of Filliter’s death, and asked for the appointment.

“I am very sorry,” replied Lord C——, “I should really have been very glad to have obliged you, but it is already promised.”

“Promised!” said Scenter. “Why, he only died at nine o’clock yesterday morning.”

“It is more than promised,” replied Lord C——, “it is already given away. In fact, I have affixed my signature to the appointment.”

“Then I will not detain you, my lord.”

“You had better stay and have some breakfast.”

Alas, Scenter did not feel equal to breakfast at that moment. Therefore he declined the invitation, unwisely, for he might have heard of something else; and there were many other appointments for which he was as fit as he was for the control of the hampers and carpet-bags at Shortpond.

He departed sorrowfully. It is to be feared that if there was one crumb of comfort on which he allowed his imagination to feed, it was on the belief that Chaser had been equally unsuccessful.

Of this morsel he was destined soon to be deprived. As he descended the steps of the house he met Chaser coming up.

“It is no use,” he said to that gentleman, “you are too late.”

“For breakfast?” inquired Mr. Chaser.

“No, for the appointment; it has been given away.”

“Yes, to me,” observed Chaser, “at four this morning.”

After this the conversation was not prolonged.