Paul Clifford/Volume 1/Chapter 6
It was not long before there was a visible improvement in the pages of the Asinæum: the slashing part of that incomparable journal was suddenly conceived and carried on with a vigour and spirit which astonished the hallowed few who contributed to its circulation. It was not difficult to see that a new soldier had been enlisted in the service; there was something so fresh and hearty about the abuse, that it could never have proceeded from the worn-out acerbity of an old slasher. To be sure, a little ignorance of ordinary facts, and an innovating method of applying words to meanings which they never were meant to denote, were now-and-then distinguishable in the criticisms of the new Achilles: nevertheless, it was easy to attribute these peculiarities to an original turn of thinking; and the rise of the paper, upon the appearance of a series of articles upon Cotemporary Authors, written by this "eminent hand," was so remarkable, that fifty copies,—a number perfectly unprecedented in the annals of the Asinæum,—were absolutely sold in one week: indeed, remembering the principle on which it was founded, one sturdy old writer declared, that the journal would soon do for itself, and become popular. There was a remarkable peculiarity about the literary debutant, who signed himself "Nobilitas." He not only put old words to a new sense, but he used words which had never, among the general run of writers, been used before. This was especially remarkable in the application of hard names to authors. Once, in censuring a popular writer for pleasing the public, and thereby growing rich, the "eminent hand" ended with—"He who surreptitiously accumulates bustle is in fact nothing better than a buzz-gloak!"
These enigmatical words and recondite phrases imparted a great air of learning to the style of the new critic; and, from the unintelligible sublimity of his diction, it seemed doubtful whether he was a poet from Highgate, or a philosopher from Köningsburgh. At all events, the reviewer preserved his incognito, and while his praises were rung at no less than three tea-tables, even glory appeared to him less delicious than disguise.
In this incognito, Reader, thou hast already discovered Paul; and now, we have to delight thee with a piece of unexampled morality in the excellent Mac Grawler. That worthy Mentor, perceiving that there was an inherent turn for dissipation and extravagance in our hero, resolved magnanimously rather to bring upon himself the sins of treachery and mal-appropriation, than suffer his friend and former pupil to incur those of wastefulness and profusion. Contrary, therefore, to the agreement made with Paul, instead of giving that youth the half of those profits consequent on his brilliant lucubrations, he imparted to him only one-fourth, and with the utmost tenderness for Paul's salvation, applied the other three portions of the same to his own necessities. The best actions are, alas! often misconstrued in this world; and we are now about to record a remarkable instance of that melancholy truth.
One evening, Mac Grawler having "moistened his virtue" in the same manner that the great Cato is said to have done; in the confusion which such a process sometimes occasions in the best regulated heads, gave Paul what appeared to him the outline of a certain article, which he wished to be slashingly filled up, but what in reality was the following note from the editor of a monthly periodical.
"Understanding that my friend, Mr. ——, proprietor of the Asinæum, allows the very distinguished writer whom you have introduced to the literary world, and who signs himself 'Nobilitas,' only five shillings an article, I beg through you, to tender him double that sum: the article required will be of an ordinary length.
"I am, Sir, &c.
Now, that very morning, Mac Grawler had informed Paul of this offer, altering only, from the amiable motives we have already explained, the sum of ten shillings to that of four; and no sooner did Paul read the communication we have placed before the reader, than, instead of gratitude to Mac Grawler for his consideration of Paul's moral infirmities, he conceived against that gentleman the most bitter resentment. He did not however vent his feelings at once upon the Scotsman,—indeed, at that moment, as the sage was in a deep sleep under the table, it would have been to no purpose had he unbridled his indignation. But he resolved without loss of time to quit the abode of the critic. "And, indeed," said he, soliloquizing, "I am heartily tired of this life, and shall be very glad to seek some other employment. Fortunately, I have hoarded up five guineas and four shillings, and with that independence in my possession, since I have forsworn gambling, I cannot easily starve."
To this soliloquy succeeded a misanthropical reverie upon the faithlessness of friends; and the meditation ended in Paul's making up a little bundle of such clothes, &c. as Dummie had succeeded in removing from the "Mug," and which Paul had taken from the rag-merchant's abode one morning when Dummie was abroad.
When this easy task was concluded, Paul wrote a short and upbraiding note to his illustrious preceptor, and left it unsealed on the table. He then, upsetting the ink-bottle on Mac Grawler's sleeping countenance, departed from the house, and strode away he cared not whither.
The evening was gradually closing as Paul, chewing the cud of his bitter fancies, found himself on London Bridge. He paused there, and, leaning over the bridge, gazed wistfully on the gloomy waters that rolled onward, caring not a minnow for the numerous charming young ladies who have thought proper to drown themselves in those merciless waves, thereby depriving many a good mistress of an excellent housemaid, or an invaluable cook, and many a treacherous Phaon of letters, beginning with "Parjured Villen," and ending with "Your affectionot but molancolly Molly."
While thus musing, he was suddenly accosted by a gentleman in boots and spurs, having a riding-whip in one hand, and the other hand stuck in the pocket of his inexpressibles. The hat of the gallant was gracefully and carefully put on, so as to derange as little as possible a profusion of dark curls which, steaming with unguents, fell low not only on either side of the face, but on the neck, and even the shoulders of the owner. The face was saturnine and strongly marked, but handsome and striking. There was a mixture of frippery and sternness in its expression;—something between Madam Vestris and T. P. Cooke, or between "lovely Sally" and a "Captain bold of Halifax." The stature of this personage was remarkably tall, and his figure was stout, muscular, and well-knit. In fine, to complete his portrait, and give our readers of the present day an exact idea of this hero of the past, we shall add that he was altogether that sort of gentleman one sees swaggering in the Burlington Arcade, with his hair and hat on one side, and a military cloak thrown over his shoulders;—or prowling in Regent Street, towards the evening, whiskered and cigarred.
Laying his hand on the shoulder of our hero, this gentleman said, with an affected intonation of voice,
"How dost, my fine fellow?—long since I saw you!—dammee, but you look the worse for wear. What hast thou been doing with thyself?"
"Ha!" cried our hero, returning the salutation of the stranger, "and is it Long Ned whom I behold? I am, indeed, glad to meet you; and I say, my friend, I hope what I heard of you is not true!"
"Hist!" said Long Ned, looking round fearfully, and sinking his voice,—"never talk of what you hear of gentlemen, except you wish to bring them to their last dying speech and confession. But come with me, my lad, there is a tavern hard by, and we may as well discuss matters over a pint of wine. You look cursed seedy, to be sure, but I can tell Bill the waiter—famous fellow, that Bill!—that you are one of my tenants, come to complain of my steward, who has just distrained you for rent, you dog!—No wonder you look so worn in the rigging. Come, follow me. I can't walk with thee. It would look too like Northumberland House and the Butcher's abode next door, taking a stroll together."
"Really, Mr. Pepper," said our hero, colouring, and by no means pleased with the ingenious comparison of his friend, "if you are ashamed of my clothes, which I own might be newer, I will not wound you with my——"
"Pooh! my lad—pooh," cried Long Ned, interrupting him, "never take offence. I never do. I never take any thing but money,—except, indeed, watches. I don't mean to hurt your feelings;—all of us have been poor once. 'Gad, I remember when I had not a dud to my back, and now, you see me—you see me, Paul!—But come, 'tis only through the streets you need separate from me. Keep a little behind—very little—that will do.—Ay, that will do," repeated Long Ned, mutteringly to himself, "they'll take him for a bailiff. It looks handsome now-a-days to be so attended. It shows one had credit once!"
Meanwhile Paul, though by no means pleased with the contempt expressed for his personal appearance by his lengthy associate, and impressed with a keener sense than ever of the crimes of his coat and the vices of his other garment—"O breathe not its name!"—followed doggedly and sullenly the strutting steps of the coxcombical Mr. Pepper. That personage arrived at last at a small tavern, and arresting a waiter who was running across the passage into the coffee-room with a dish of hung-beef, demanded (no doubt from a pleasing anticipation of a similar pendulous catastrophe), a plate of the same excellent cheer, to be carried, in company with a bottle of port, into a private apartment. No sooner did he find himself alone with Paul, than, bursting into a loud laugh, Mr. Ned surveyed his comrade from head to foot, through an eye-glass which he wore fastened to his button-hole by a piece of blue ribbon.
"Well—'gad now," said he, stopping ever and anon, as if to laugh the more heartily—"Stap my vitals, but you are a comical quiz; I wonder what the women would say, if they saw the dashing Edward Pepper, Esquire, walking arm in arm with thee at Ranelagh or Vauxhall. Nay, man, never be downcast; if I laugh at thee, it is only to make thee look a little merrier thyself. Why, thou lookest like a book of my grandfather's, called 'Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy;' and faith, a shabbier bound copy of it I never saw."
"These jests are a little hard," said Paul, struggling between anger and an attempt to smile; and then recollecting his late literary occupations, and the many extracts he had taken from "Gleanings of the Belles Lettres," in order to impart elegance to his criticisms, he threw out his hand theatrically, and spouted with a solemn face—
"Of all the griefs that harass the distrest,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest!"
"Well now, prithee forgive me," said Long Ned, composing his features; "and just tell me what you have been doing the last two months."
"Slashing and plastering!" said Paul, with conscious pride!
"Slashing and what! the boy's mad,—what do you mean, Paul?"
"In other words," said our hero, speaking very slowly, "know, O very Long Ned, that I have been critic to the Asinæum."
If Paul's comrade laughed at first, he now laughed ten times more merrily than ever. He threw his length of limb upon a neighbouring sofa, and literally rolled with cachinnatory convulsions; nor did his risible emotions subside until the entrance of the hung-beef restored him to recollection. Seeing, then, that a cloud lowered over Paul's countenance, he went up to him, with something like gravity; begged his pardon for his want of politeness; and desired him to wash away all unkindness in a bumper of port. Paul, whose excellent dispositions we have before had occasion to remark, was not impervious to his friend's apologies. He assured Long Ned, that he quite forgave him for his ridicule of the high situation he (Paul) had enjoyed in the literary world; that it was the duty of a public censor to bear no malice; and that he should be very glad to take his share in the interment of the hung-beef.
The pair now sat down to their repast, and Paul, who had fared but meagrely in that Temple of Athena over which Mac Grawler presided, did ample justice to the viands before him. By degrees, as he ate and drank, his heart opened to his companion; and, laying aside that Asinæan dignity which he had at first thought it incumbent on him to assume, he entertained Pepper with all the particulars of the life he had lately passed. He narrated to him his breach with Dame Lobkins; his agreement with Mac Grawler; the glory he had acquired, and the wrongs he had sustained; and he concluded, as now the second bottle made its appearance, by stating his desire of exchanging, for some more active profession, that sedentary career which he had so promisingly begun.
This last part of Paul's confessions secretly delighted the soul of Long Ned; for that experienced collector of the highways—(Ned was, indeed, of no less noble a profession)—had long fixed an eye upon our hero, as one whom he thought likely to be an honour to that enterprising calling which he espoused, and an useful assistant to himself. He had not, in his earlier acquaintance with Paul, when the youth was under the roof and the surveillance of the practised and wary Mrs. Lobkins, deemed it prudent to expose the exact nature of his own pursuits, and had contented himself by gradually ripening the mind and the finances of Paul into that state when the proposition of a leap from a hedge would not be likely greatly to revolt the person to whom it was made. He now thought that time near at hand; and filling our hero's glass up to the brim, thus artfully addressed him:—
"Courage, my friend!—your narration has given me a sensible pleasure; for, curse me if it has not strengthened my favourite opinion,—that every thing is for the best. If it had not been for the meanness of that pitiful fellow, Mac Grawler, you might still be inspired with the paltry ambition of earning a few shillings a-week, and vilifying a parcel of poor devils in the whatd'ye-call-it, with a hard name; whereas now, my good Paul, I trust I shall be able to open to your genius a new career, in which guineas are had for the asking,—in which you may wear fine clothes, and ogle the ladies at Ranelagh; and when you are tired of glory and liberty, Paul, why you have only to make your bow to an heiress, or a widow with a spanking jointure, and quit the hum of men like a Cincinnatus!"
Though Paul's perception into the abstruser branches of morals was not very acute,—and at that time the port wine had considerably confused the few notions he possessed upon "the beauty of virtue,"—yet he could not but perceive, that Mr. Pepper's insinuated proposition was far from being one which the bench of bishops, or a synod of moralists, would conscientiously have approved; he consequently remained silent; and Long Ned, after a pause, continued—
"You know my genealogy, my good fellow?—I was the son of Lawyer Pepper, a shrewd old dog, but as hot as Calcutta; and the grandson of Sexton Pepper, a great author, who wrote verses on tombstones, and kept a stall of religious tracts in Carlisle. My grandfather, the sexton, was the best temper of the family; for all of us are a little inclined to be hot in the mouth. Well, my fine fellow, my father left me his blessing, and this devilish good head of hair. I lived for some years on my own resources. I found it a particularly inconvenient mode of life, and of late I have taken to live on the public. My father and grandfather did it before me, though in a different line. 'Tis the pleasantest plan in the world. Follow my example, and your coat shall be as spruce as my own.—Master Paul, your health!"
"But, O longest of mortals!" said Paul, refilling his glass, "though the public may allow you to eat your mutton off their backs for a short time, they will kick up at last, and upset you and your banquet: in other words,—(pardon my metaphor, dear Ned, in remembrance of the part I have lately maintained in the Asinæum, that most magnificent and metaphorical of journals!)—in other words, the police will nab thee at last; and thou wilt have the distinguished fate, as thou already hast the distinguishing characteristic—of Absalom!"
"You mean that I shall be hanged," said Long Ned. "That may or may not be; but he who fears death never enjoys life. Consider, Paul, that though hanging is a bad fate, starving is a worse; wherefore fill your glass, and let us drink to the health of that great donkey, the people, and may we never want saddles to ride it!"
"To the great donkey," cried Paul, tossing off his bumper, "may your (y)ears be as long! But I own to you, my friend, that I cannot enter into your plans. And as a token of my resolution, I shall drink no more, for my eyes already begin to dance in the air; and if I listen longer to your resistless eloquence, my feet may share the same fate!"
So saying, Paul rose; nor could any entreaty, on the part of his entertainer, persuade him to resume his seat.
"Nay, as you will," said Pepper, affecting a nonchalant tone, and arranging his cravat before the glass. "Nay, as you will. Ned Pepper requires no man's companionship against his liking; and if the noble spark of ambition be not in your bosom, 'tis no use spending my breath in blowing at what only existed in my too flattering opinion of your qualities. So, then, you propose to return to Mac Grawler, (the scurvy old cheat,) and pass the inglorious remainder of your life in the mangling of authors, and the murder of grammar? Go, my good fellow, go! scribble again and for ever for Mac Grawler, and let him live upon thy brains, instead of suffering thy brains to——"
"Hold!" cried Paul. "Although I may have some scruples which prevent my adoption of that rising line of life you have proposed to me, yet you are very much mistaken if you imagine me so spiritless, as any longer to subject myself to the frauds of that rascal Mac Grawler. No! My present intention is to pay my old nurse a visit. It appears to me passing strange, that though I have left her so many weeks, she has never relented enough to track me out, which one would think would have been no difficult matter: and now you see that I am pretty well off, having five guineas and four shillings, all my own, and she can scarcely think I want her money; my heart melts to her, and I shall go and ask pardon for my haste!"
"Pshaw! sentimental," cried Long Ned, a little alarmed at the thought of Paul's gliding from those clutches which he thought had now so firmly closed upon him. "Why, you surely don't mean, after having once tasted the joys of independence, to go back to the boozing ken, and bear all Mother Lobkins' drunken tantarums! Better have stayed with Mac Grawler, of the two!"
"You mistake me," answered Paul. "I mean solely to make it up with her, and get her permission to see the world. My ultimate intention is—to travel."
"Right!" cried Ned, "on the high-road—and on horseback, I hope!"
"No, my Colossus of Roads! No! I am in doubt whether or not I shall enlist in a marching regiment,—or (give me your advice on it) I fancy I have a great turn for the stage, ever since I saw Garrick in Richard. Shall I turn stroller?—It must be a merry life."
"O, the devil!" cried Ned. "I myself once did Cassio in a barn, and every one swore I enacted the drunken scene to perfection; but you have no notion what a lamentable life it is to a man of any susceptibility. No, my friend. No! There is only one line in all the old plays worthy thy attention—
"Toby or not toby, that is the question."
"I forget the rest!"
"Well!" said our hero, answering in the same jocular vein—"I confess, I have 'the actor's high ambition.' It is astonishing how my heart beat, when Richard cried out, 'Come bustle, bustle!'—Yes, Pepper avaunt!—
"A thousand hearts are great within my bosom."
"Well, well," said Long Ned, stretching himself, "since you are so fond of the play, what say you to an excursion thither to-night?—Garrick acts!"
"Done!" cried Paul.
"Done!" echoed lazily Long Ned, rising with that blasé air which distinguishes the matured man of the world from the enthusiastic tyro.—"Done! and we will adjourn afterwards to the White Horse."
"But stay a moment," said Paul, "if you remember, I owed you a guinea when I last saw you,—here it is!"
"Nonsense," exclaimed Long Ned, refusing the money,—"nonsense! you want the money at present; pay me when you are richer. Nay, never be coy about it,—debts of honour are not paid now as they used to be. We lads of the Fish-Lane Club have changed all that. Well, well, if I must."
And Long Ned, seeing that Paul insisted, pocketed the guinea. When this delicate matter had been arranged,
"Come," said Pepper—"come, get your hat; but, bless me! I have forgotten one thing."
"Why, my fine Paul, consider, the play is a bang-up sort of a place,—look at your coat, and your waistcoat, that's all!"
Our hero was struck dumb with this argumentum ad hominem. But Long Ned, after enjoying his perplexity, relieved him of it, by telling him that he knew of an honest tradesman who kept a ready-made shop, just by the theatre, and who would fit him out in a moment.
In fact, Long Ned was as good as his word; he carried Paul to a tailor, who gave him for the sum of thirty shillings, half ready money, half on credit, a green coat with a tarnished gold lace, a pair of red inexpressibles, and a pepper-and-salt waistcoat,—it is true, they were somewhat of the largest, for they had once belonged to no less a person than Long Ned himself: but Paul did not then regard those niceties of apparel, as he was subsequently taught to do by Gentleman George, (a personage hereafter to be introduced to our reader,) and he went to the theatre, as well satisfied with himself, as if he had been Mr. T——, or the Count de M——.
Our adventurers are now quietly seated in the theatre, and we shall not think it necessary to detail the performances they saw, nor the observations they made. Long Ned was one of those superior beings of the road, who would not for the world have condescended to appear any where but in the boxes, and accordingly the friends procured a couple of places in the dress-tier. In the next box to the one our adventurers adorned, they remarked more especially than the rest of the audience, a gentleman and a young lady seated next each other; the latter, who was about thirteen years old, was so uncommonly beautiful, that Paul, despite his dramatic enthusiasm, could scarcely divert his eyes from her countenance to the stage. Her hair, of a bright and fair auburn, hung in profuse ringlets about her neck, shedding a softer shade upon a complexion in which the roses seemed just budding, as it were, into blush. Her eyes large, blue, and rather languishing than brilliant, were curtained by the darkest lashes; her mouth seemed literally girt with smiles, so numberless were the dimples that, every time the full, ripe, dewy lips were parted, rose into sight, and the enchantment of the dimples was aided by two rows of teeth more dazzling than the richest pearls that ever glittered on a bride. But the chief charm of the face was its exceeding and touching air of innocence, and girlish softness; you might have gazed for ever upon that first unspeakable bloom, that all untouched and stainless down, which seemed as if a very breath could mar it. Perhaps the face might have wanted animation; but, perhaps also, it borrowed from that want an attraction; the repose of the features was so soft and gentle, that the eye wandered there with the same delight, and left it with the same reluctance, which it experiences in dwelling on, or in quitting, those hues which are found to harmonize the most with its vision. But while Paul was feeding his gaze on this young beauty, the keen glances of Long Ned had found an object no less fascinating, in a large gold watch, which the gentleman who accompanied the damsel, ever and anon brought to his eye, as if he were waxing a little weary of the length of the pieces or the lingering progression of time.
"What a beautiful face!" whispered Paul.
"Is the face gold then, as well as the back?" whispered Long Ned in return.
Our hero stared,—frowned, and, despite the gigantic stature of his comrade, told him very angrily, to find some other subject for jesting. Ned in his turn stared, but made no reply.
Meanwhile Paul, though the lady was rather too young to fall in love with, began wandering what relationship her companion bore to her. Though the gentleman altogether was handsome, yet his features, and the whole character of his face, were widely different from those on which Paul gazed with such delight. He was not, seemingly, above five-and-forty, but his forehead was knit into many a line and furrow; and in his eyes, the light, though searching, was more sober and staid than became his years. A disagreeable expression played about the mouth, and the shape of the face, which was long and thin, considerably detracted from the prepossessing effect of a handsome aquiline nose, fine teeth, and a dark, manly, though sallow complexion. There was a mingled air of shrewdness and distraction in the expression of his face. He seemed to pay very little attention to the play, or to any thing about him; but he testified very considerable alacrity, when the play was over, in putting her cloak around his young companion, and in threading their way through the thick crowd that the boxes were now pouring forth.
Paul and his companion silently, and each with very different motives from the other, followed them. They were now at the door of the theatre.
A servant stepped forward, and informed the gentleman that his carriage was a few paces distant; but that it might be some time before it could drive up to the theatre.
"Can you walk to the carriage, my dear?" said the gentleman to his young charge, and, she answering in the affirmative, they both left the house, preceded by the servant.
"Come on!" said Long Ned, hastily, and walking in the same direction which the strangers had taken. Paul readily agreed; they soon overtook the strangers.—Long Ned walked the nearest to the gentleman, and brushed by him in passing. Presently, a voice cried "Stop thief!" and Long Ned saying to Paul—"Shift for yourself—run!" darted from our hero's side into the crowd, and vanished in a twinkling. Before Paul could recover his amaze, he found himself suddenly seized by the collar; he turned abruptly, and saw the dark face of the young lady's companion.
"Rascal!" cried the gentleman, "my watch!"
"Watch!" repeated Paul, bewildered; and only for the sake of the young lady refraining from knocking down his arrester.—"Watch!"
"Ay, young man!" cried a fellow in a great coat, who now suddenly appeared on the other side of Paul; "this gentleman's watch—please your honour, (addressing the complainant) I be a watch too—shall I take up this chap?"
"By all means," cried the gentleman; "I would not have lost my watch for twice its value. I can swear I saw this fellow's companion snatch it from my fob. The thief's gone; but we have at least the accomplice. I give him in strict charge to you, watchman; take the consequences if you let him escape."
The watchman answered sullenly, that he did not want to be threatened, and he knew how to discharge his duty.
"Don't answer me, fellow," said the gentleman haughtily; "do as I tell you!" and after a little colloquy, Paul found himself suddenly marched off between two tall fellows who looked prodigiously inclined to eat him. By this time, he had recovered his surprise and dismay; he did not want the penetration to see that his companion had really committed the offence for which he was charged; and he also foresaw that the circumstance might be attended with disagreeable consequences to himself. Under all the features of the case, he thought that an attempt to escape would not be an imprudent proceeding on his part; accordingly, after moving a few paces very quietly, and very passively, he watched his opportunity, wrenched himself from the gripe of the gentleman on his left, and brought the hand thus released, against the cheek of the gentleman on his right, with so hearty a good will, as to cause him to relinquish his hold, and retreat several paces towards the areas in a slanting position. But that round-about sort of blow with the left fist is very unfavourable towards the preservation of a firm balance; and before Paul had recovered sufficiently to make an effectual "bolt," he was prostrated to the earth by a blow from the other and undamaged watchman, which utterly deprived him of his senses; and when he recovered those useful possessions (which a man may reasonably boast of losing, since it is only the minority who have them to lose), he found himself stretched on a bench in the watchhouse.
- The highway.