« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Broad asked the attorney, as they left the Quaker's shop, what his reasons were for passing the bag of gold through so
Oh,” said Reynard, “it would not be necessary only for the number of mean suspicious rogues there are in the world, particularly on election committees. You have no idea how prevalent à spirit of low curiosity is among a certain class of honorable gentlemen, particularly where money is concerned. We can't be too cautious, let us be ever so honest, take my word for it.”
WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS.
On the day of the meeting at Lord Maudlin's, Dr. Pigwidgeon had no more notion of standing for Chichester than he had of contesting the West Riding of Yorkshire; nor did Mr. Medlicott dream of meeting any opposition in that city, except upon purely public grounds. We have now to relate a little morsel of secret history, to explain how it came to pass that the movements of Reuben's friends became prematurely known in quarters most hostile to him, how the breast of the Doctor became fired with the same ambition that inflamed greater men, and who encouraged and supported him in his daring undertaking.
Mr. Bavard, who had started in life as a medical man, and acted as family physician to some of the ailing nobility, having given up for some years that line of practice, tried his hand successively at several other things, and settled down at last into a sort of professional toad-eating and sycophancy, which agreed well enough with his social talents, and raised instead of lowering his position in the world.
At this time it happened to be an habitué of the Barsacs, to whom he was both useful and agreeable, fetching and carrying gossip from great houses to which he had or pretended to have access ; nosing out bargains of pictures for the merchant who had become a connoisseur in painting; doing the talk at their massive dinners, and a variety of little services of the like honourable nature. Among other things, he had managed to get the portrait of brown Sherry into the Book of Beauty, without which, there was reason to think, she would not have completed the conquest of Mr. Leadenhall, the old East India director, to whom she had now been about a year married.
At Barsac's table Mr. Bavard had some opportunities (not many, for he was not often asked to first-class parties), of meeting the Bishop of Shrewsbury. The Bishop had treated him with as much contempt and neglect as it was possible for one man to show to another; he silenced him without mercy when he attempted to be anecdotic; but Bavard was not the man to be easily repulsed by any amount of snubbing and oversight. The more the Bishop overlooked him, the more intently he fixed his regards on the Bishop, and at length he discovered the true road and short cut to his heart, which consisted in bedaubing his works with the grossest flattery, and abusing everybody whom he knew his Lordship disliked. He very soon ascertained that to hear anything to his grandson's disadvantage was music to the old man's ears. How it became known beyond the Society of Friends that Reuben was the writer of the defence of Quakerism was by no means certain ; probably his own vanity led him to boast of that production in places where it was imprudent to do so; but, however it happened, the truth oozed out, as all truth will sooner or later, and at length coming to Mr. Bavard's ear in London, it was not long in making the journey from thence to the palace at Shrewsbury. The rage of the Bishop was far greater upon this occasion than it had been before, even when he was attacked for deserting his principles, and denounced as an apostate. In fact, Reuben's pamphlet was, upon some points, (where the Bishop's passions had betrayed his judgment,) really à triumphant answer; and a man who piqued himself chiefly on his controversial powers could bear anything better than that. The Bishop was in London shortly after, met his informant at Portland-place, and for the first time noticed and smiled on him. Nothing passed, however, on the subject of Bavard's revelation, but the conversation turning after dinner upon the House of Commons and the rising talent of the day, somebody mentioned Mr. Medlicott's name with applause, adding that his friends were determined to procure him a seat in Parliament by hook on crook.
The Bishop instantly broke out into the stormiest abuse of his relation, greatly to the distress of Mrs. Wyndham, who was present. As usual, there was a great deal of truth mingled with the violence of his invectives. He never once mentioned his grandson's name, but assailed him with equal effect as one of a class of talking adventurers, who were springing up everywhere like mushrooms, and becoming the pest of the community. Men who failed at everything else, for want of knowledge, or industry, or the commonest abilities, aspired to be statesmen, and thought themselves perfectly qualified to legislate for the kingdom; the offcasts of all the professions—doctors without patients, lawyers without briefs, fellows without an idea in their heads, or a guinea in their pockets, were talking themselves into notoriety, and there were plenty of fools to listen to them. The next Parliament would be a Parliament of quacks and coxcombs, of assess and parrots. The only fortunate circumstance was, that the same ignorance and emptiness which made such people politicians, usually made them paupers also : elections cost money, and he was glad of it. A few thousand pounds could not possibly be better laid out, than in defeating the impudent attempts of those worthless adventurers, to thrust themselves into the legislature.
Bavard lingered at the table that evening until he was alone with Mr. Barsac, whose slavish readiness to humour every whim or passion of the Bishop was perfectly well known to all his acquaintance. They conversed together in private for half an hour, and the result was, that Barsac commissioned the other to keep a sharp watch on Mr. Medlicott's proceedings, to discover what place he aimed at representing, “ for,” said the merchant, a littl. warmed with his own wine, “it's a public duty to try to keep such a man əs that out of Parliament, and if it costs some tbousands to do it, the money shall be forthcoming.”
Bavard had now just the sort of occupation that suited his delicate moral tastes ; and he had resorted to a variety of shabby tricks before he attended the meeting of Mr. Medlicott's friends in Cavendish-square. From that meeting he proceeded straight to Portland-place; but on his way he met little Griffin, the pursuivant, than whom Reuben had not a more malignant enemy in the world, ever since Griffin stole his paper on heraldry, and got himself made Blue Mantle on the strength of it. To this gentleman, accordingly, Bavard related everything; what Mr. Medlicott was about to do, and what steps Mr. Barsac was bent upon taking to counteract him. Griffin was not slow to propose himself as the rival candidate, but Bavard satisfied him that nobody would
answer who was not to some extent locally connected with Chichester.
“ Then I know a man,” said Griffin, “who will answer your purpose to a nicety, my intimate friend, Mr. Pigwidgeon. He is coqueting at this moment with the Irish borough of Blarney, but he will only be too happy to give that up, and stand for his native city, if Mr. Barsac will come down with the necessary funds."
“What sort of a fellow is he?" inquired Bavard.
“I need hardly tell you he's an orator," said the other, the people of Blarney would never have looked at him ; he is the best speaker, beyond all comparison, I ever heard in my life. He is the coming man,' in my opinion. A noble, high-minded fellow, full of heart as he is of talent. He is just the man, let
you, who won't forget a service done him when he is in a situation to repay it.”
This speech, particularly the last sentence of it, decided Mr. Bavard's course. He saw Mr. Barsac, and then Griffin again, that same evening; went with him to Mr. Pigwidgeon's, and then they all went together to Portland-place, where everything was arranged before midnight to the satisfaction of all parties. Mr. Pigwidgeon, having already prevailed on his father to advance a thousand pounds towards the purchase of the Irish borough, was perfectly content with Barsac's promise to advance another thousand ; the latter reckoned on the Bishop paying the money himself, to gratify his spite against his grandson. Griffin engaged himself to write the squibs for the election, at the rate of five guineas a piece ; and Mr. Bavard was gratified with an assurance of Mr. Pigwidgeon's future patronage, and the honour of his friendship in the mean time.
HOW THE CONTEST WAS CONDUOTED.
A CONTESTED election splits the society of county or county town, no matter how united previously, just as a thunderbolt splits a forest-tree, let the wood be of ever so tough a fibre. Forty-eight hours before the public announcement of the candidates, not a dozen inhabitants of the place (beyond the circle of his immediate relatives and friends) were troubling their heads about Mr. Medlicott, and not half the number cared a groat whether his opponent was on this side or that of the Stygian ferry ; yet no sooner was the announcement made, no sooner did the recognised leaders of the local parties formally recommend those gentlemen to the notice of their friends and followers respectively, than the whole city divided itself in twain with a celerity that was quite astonishing ; every man you met was either a Reubenite or a Pigwidgeonite; you would have supposed that the very existence of Chichester depended upon the relative merits of the Vicar's son and the apothecary's; a disruption took place of the oldest social ties; ancient friendships were suspended ; candour was banished by universal consent; decency was sent off in the same ship; in short, to express the moral change that took place in the inflated language, which Mr Medlicott would probably have used himself, Truth and Honesty flew back to Heaven, and the spirits of Falsehood and Corruption ascended from the bottomless pit, to reign for a season in their stead.
The head-quarters of Mr. Medlicott's friends was an inn called the Parrot. His opponents established themselves at the Magpie, and each interest made itself excessively merry with the other's bird, and pronounced it most appropriate and happily emblematic. In a few days the names of the birds began to pass current for those of the parties ; Reuben's friends going by the name of the Parrots, while Mr. Pigwidgeon's were called the Magpies. The actual bribery went on at neither of the inns, but in two modest and retiring places which had long enjoyed the appellations of Guinea Lane and Yellow Row; no doubt given to them in consequence of the virtuous practices for which they were notorious. The particular houses in those lanes, where the business was carried on, were well-known to all persons connected with the city, with the curious exception of every one who had ever represented, or sought to represent it in Parliament, some of whom were even strangely ignorant that such places as Yellow Row and Guinea Lane existed.
The electric telegraph had not been discovered, yet the rapidity with which the facts were known that Mr. Reynard was agent for Mr. Medlicott, that there was an ample capital' to draw on, and that a bag of three hundred sovereigns had actually been placed in the attorney's hands, was such as to justify a suspicion that some agency of extraordinary, if not magical, character had been employed to convey the interesting intelligence. Reynard's