George Augustus Sala.

The Baddington peerage: who won, and who wore it. A story of the best and the worst society online

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curious feature on Zillah's head formation ; for
he (he was a ^e) was continually taking off a
hat with a rusty crape band to it, and a brim
quite vandyked with long fingering, extract a
cotton pocket-handkerchief, literally snuff-
coloured, for it had only the colour of the snuff
wherewith it was impregnated, and wiping
with it his face, which, though pale, was in a
state of perpetual perspiration. Desperately
pock-marked was Zillah the betrayed, and the


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few tufts of hair he possessed, chiefly about
the temples and the bumps of the maxillaries,
were in colour as red as the foxes of the field.
He had a flaming red nose, set amidships in
his' face — a nose that was a very cairn of
crimson cherry-stones, a very standard rose-
tree of grog-blossoms. An apter simile might
perhaps be found, were I to compare that
rubicund truncated cone to a big beet root set
up on one end in the middle of a ploughed
field, with twinkling little eyes on either side,
like field mice eagerly watching and anxious
to nibble it.

The attire of Zillah the betrayed was black
in hue, but of the rustiest and the most woe-
begone. There were more button holes than
buttons on the breast of his coat, though that
garment was closed right up to the neck, and
more pins than either. His trousers had
'' knees '' to them. You know what " knees "
are — ^unsightly protuberances and bagging of
the cloth on the region of the patella,, due
somewhat to bad tailoring in pnncipiam, but
more to long and unrelieved wear. They

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'were terribly frayed round the bottom edges;
exid, from one leg of the' trousers being much
longer than the other, grievous cause for sus-
picion was warranted that the braces of Zillah
the betrayed were in an abnormal condition.
Zillah had gloves of brown Berlin; but his
j&ngers peeped through them. His hat above
the rusty crape band was shiny enough ; but
one skilled in such matters might have known
that the lustre was due to the friction of a
wet brush. Zillah carried in that hat, by the
way, besides the snuflF-coloured handkerchief,
a quantity of blue-wove foolscap paper,
wrapped up in a ragged newspaper. Finally,
from head to heel of him, soap and water
were as evidently inimical to his habits as
everybody's enemy is said to be to holy water;
and there no more appeared about him, at his
neck or his wrists, the sign of a shirt than
there appeared a sail during the first two
days that Mr. Dibden's ship, name unknown,
lay in the Bay of Biscay.

Such was Zillah the betrayed, whose name,
by the way, was Gafferer. He was a ragged

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looking rogue enough, and his attire, taken in
the aggregate, might in Rag Fair have fetched
some twopence-halfpenny less than Jack Polly-
blank's; yet, for all his rags, the man looked
better to do in the world than his friend with
the hot coppers, and he had an expression
withal of being incomparably more honest.

"Why, Jack," he said, returning the
Captain's salutation, '* You're always starting
up when nobody expects you. Last time was at
Greenwich fair ; timebeforein Whitecross Street ;
time before in Smithfield, on a market morning ;
time before that in the gallery of the Cobourg.
What have you been doing with yourself?"

" What have you been doing with yourself,
Zillah?" retorted the other. "The last time
/ saw you, you were making a fortune out of
that immortal ^betrayed one ' of yours. Let
me see; you had her in a three-act melodrama,
at the Cobourg; in a novel, at a penny a
number; in a halfpenny song, in the Dials;
outside a show, in a comic recitation, at the
* Admiral Gambier,' in the Borough Road; m a
political satire, for the ' Reformer's Catechism;'

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and, if I'm not mistaken, in an acrostic, for
the blacking man in the Strand. Are you at
the old game still? Does it pay, Zill ? Will
it yet wash. Gaff?"

"Ah," replied Mr. Qafferer, otherwise
ZiUah, with a touch of melancholy in his
voice. "I've forsaken Literature and the
Drama, Jack ; at least, that sort of Literature.
I've taken to something else now."


" No ; not exactly that — I don't think I could
exactly bring myself to black work, Jack."

" I could," answered that gentleman calmly.
" I should like to be a mute amazingly. If I
wasn't a gentleman, I'd be one. What are
you then? Something queer, I'll be bound,
to be out this time in the morning."

"Guess!" Zillah the Betrayed said myste-

" Begging-letters ?"

"Well then," Jack impatiently threw in,
"street preacher, cadger, government spy —
(there's many of them about) — reform lecturer,
Sunday-school teacher? Stop! I have it: —
are you a resurrection-man ? "

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" No, Jack, not quite; though I have some-
thing to do with them."

" I thought," the Captain (who had lighted
a pipe again by this time) resumed, " that you
weren't a regular bone-grubber. You're too
seedy for that, and resurrectioning pays well
just now. Perhaps you're a Burker, and trust
the surgeons too much ; — or what the deuce
is your business?"

" Murder 's my business," replied, sententi-
ously, and in a low voice, the individual cate-

"Murder!" Captain Pollyblank rejoined,
not exactly starting back, or looking horrified;
but still showing signs of very considerable
astonishment. " Murder ! "

" Battle, murder, and sudden death," added
the Betrayed one. " Especially sudden death.
Shipwrecks, fires, suicides, appalling accidents,
and singular occurrences : thafs my business.
Tm on the Press."

"What Press?"

" Why, the newspaper Press, to b^ sure. I
do short paragraphs about such things as have

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happened round the corner, for instance. I*m
an occasional reporter. They call me" — he
added in a low, hissing whisper — " a ^ liner,'
— a * penny-a-liner.' Tell 'em, they're liars.
Are you going to stand any beer ? "

*' Quarts," cried the generous Pollyblank;
" and after that some breakfast as well, if you
like. Lord, Lord! who'd 'a thought of your
being a lin — ^ an occasional reporter, I mean.
And does it pay. Gaff? "

"But so-so, but so-so, my dear fellow.
But you, what are pou doing? You never did
much that I know of. Jack, except drink, and
fight, and swear, and play cards."

" Oh, I," replied the Captain, changing an-
other sovereign with a gesture worthy of a
Louis Quatorze, " I'm making my fortune, my
dear fellow."

" Glad to hear it,*' remarked the Occasional
Jleporter after a pull at the beer Jack had
ordered and paid for. " You weren't making
it a year ago. Jack."

" Bother a year ago," interposed the Captain
testily. " I want to talk to you about this

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queer start round in the square last night.
You know all about it, I suppose."

Zillah the Betrayed winked, laid his fore-
finger by the right side of that monstrous
crimson nose of his, and nodded significantly.

"Well," continued Captain Pollyblank, "I
want to know all about it, too; and as I'm
rather in a hurry, I should like to hear it now,
before it gets into one of those newspapers of
yours, when, of course, all the world will know

" I beg your pardon. Jack Pollyblank ; all
the world won't know it," Mr. Gafferer broke
in, in accents of friendly remonstrance. " Do
you think all I know goes into the newspapers?
Besides, for aught I know, you may be * lining'
— I mean reporting — this case of suicide, I
mean sudden death, as well as myself. You'd
better find out for yourself, Mr. P."

But Zillah the Betrayed, who was as simple-*
minded and guileless-hearted a creature ad
could be found between Grosvenor Squfu^
and Gorgona, was easily soothed and pacified.
He had sent his report of the sudden death, or

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suicide, call it which you will, down to the
newspaper offices by messenger, and was wait-
ing near the spot, to see if he could obtain any
*' additional particulars " that might come in
handy preparatory to the inquest. The pro-
spect, moreover, of additional beer, and even
of breakfast in the back ground, may have
been somewhat of an incentive to Mr. Gafferer,
who, satisfying himself that PoUyblank did not
belong to the honourable corps of penny-a-
liners — indeed, he knew most of them inti-
mately, and all their names familiarly — sat
down by the Captain's side in the darkest
comer of the Robin Redlegs' tap; and, in
accents studiously low, and reading from
mysterious scraps of paper, told him, who al-
ready knew somethingy as much as he knew of
the circumstances of Gervase Falcon's death.

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" crowner's 'quest."

^PHE "highly respectable jury" impannelled
for the purpose, sate upon the body of
Gervase Falcon, and made very little of him.
Many of the highly respectable jurymen had
served the dead man. with provisions — butter,
cheese, and the like — ^and thought it rather a
liberty to sit upon him at all. . Others were
indifferent, and others too stupid, and others
much too clever, attributing the lamented
gentleman's demise to most astonishing and
conflicting abnormal causes, ranging from sun-
stroke to spontaneous combustion. The man
was dead, however, and all the respectable
juries in the world could not bring him to life

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"crownbr's 'quest." 155

Mr. Fleem, F.R.C.S., sat at the head of the
jury table, and at the right hand of the
Coroner, as was meet to a man whom that
functionary delighted to honour. Mr. Fleem
told his story, which did not add much to any-
body's information. He had found Mr. Falcon
dead. He had opened the body, and found
nothing in it; nothing of a deleterious charac-
ter, at least. Yes; the brain was congested
slightly. Apoplexy? Well, he 'should say
that the tissues — and here the learned Fleem
proceeded to bemlder the jury with such an
extent of erudition, commencing at tissues and
ending nowhere, that the highly respectable
jury made haste to return a verdict of " Death
from natural causes," and to get out of the
house, which had already that mysterious
closeness and leaden oppression in its atmos-
phere, which hangs about every dwelling
where Death is.

The inquest had been held in the parlour
where the feast had taken place the day before ;
and the paper and pens and ink coldly fur-
pished forth the bridal table. The highly

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respectable jury went bundling through the
hall, meeting with heart-breaking difficulties
in the recovery of their hats and coats, and
treated with the most contemptuous neglect
by John-Peter and his brother servitors, who
stood together in a knot, and whispered com-
ments respecting the inquest. It is the
privilege of Fashion, when it dies suddenly,
to be sat upon in its own house. If John-
Peter, or any of his degree, had so ended, they
would have held an inquest on him at the
" Robin Redlegs," in the Mews.

Said the Coroner to Mr. Fleem, drawing on
his gloves, " A very curious case."

" Remarkably so," the medical practitioner

There was a dead pause after this ; and the
Coroner took off one of his gloves again, by
way of diversion.

" A*e-markably so," Mr. Fleem repeated,
feeling that the Coroner was looking at him,
and expected him to say something.

"A most estimable gentleman, I believe,"
the legal functionary observed, moving towards
the door.

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" crowner's 'quest." 1 57

" Estimable !" Mr. Fleem cried, in a melan-
choly ecstasy of admiration. " Estimable ! a
jewel of a man, my dear sir. Husband, father,
brother, and man, be was estimable in every
social phase, and in every relation of life. His
loss will never, never be repaired. I wonder
what the deuce he poisoned himself for!"
Mr. Fleem added, but mentally, you may be

" A terrible loss !" remarked the Coroner.

" Terrible, terrible, terrible !" Mr. Fleem
sighed, bowing the Coroner through the halL
^' Terrible !" he said, in an alto key, to remind
John -Peter that there was a visitor to be let
out. " So estimable a gentleman !" he con-
cluded, as the Coroner took his departure.
Then Mr. Fleem, cogitating very deeply as he
walked, went upstairs into the drawing-room,
and the Coroner went to sit on somebody else.

It was agreed on all sides that the deceased
was estimable. Nobody said that he was a
suicide, and ought to be buried in a cross-road
with a stake through his heart. " Estimable
in every relation of life" sounded well in

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eighteen hundred and thirty — sounds well
now. The morning newspaper, which in a
twelve-line paragraph recorded his death, said
he was estimable. Mr. Resurgam, the ynder-
taker, was quite sure he was estimable, as he
listened to his assistants driving the nails into
Gervase Falcon's fine coffin, with the superfine
cloth and the cherub handles. Mr. Fiddyas,
the mortuary sculptor, hadn't a doubt about
his estimable qualities, and had his eye already
upon " estimable" for the fourth line or so of
the monumental inscription. How estimable
he was to his family, those bereaved ones only

There are some men who may be called
human ravens, and who only make their ap-
pearance when Death is about. We have all
of us some special funeral-friends, people we
don't see for years and years together; but who
are summoned to meet us, as a matter of
course, when there is anybody to be buried;
then we lose sight of them again till somebody
else dies. There is another human raven in
the person of the Death Lawyer, who never

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*^ crowner's 'quest." 159

seems to have anything to do with births or
marriage settlements, but is always in at the

His name was Pratt, and he was the Family
Lawyer, and sat composedly among the
weeping Falcons in the drawing-room, and was
not even awed by the presence of the great
Lord Baddington himself. He was one of a
stately firm of lawyers, dwelling in a large
house, dreadfully dingy, but inmiensely
respectable, in Bedford Row. There were
half-a-dozen partners in the house, and the
Deaths were his department. He was what
you may term a built-up man ; that is, to his
valet de chambre he was very probably less a
hero, than a long, lean, lank, and shrivelled
man, not unlike a forked radish; but the
exterior building-up, including a tall white
neckcloth, a curly black wig, a heavy gold
chain, and especially very large white wrist-
bands, made Mr. Pratt what he was — solemn,
dignified, stiff, and highly respectable.

He sat at the table covered with papers,
which should properly have been secured by

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black instead of red tape. He sat over against
Lord Baddington ; and I think that nobleman
was slightly afraid of him. As Mr. Fleem
came into the room, and whispered what he
had to state respecting the result of the
Inquest, the Family Lawyer, who otherwise
always sat bolt upright, condescended to
incline his black- wigged head a little down-
wards, and on one side, in which position he
bore no inconsiderable resemblance to a mag-
pie looking into a marrow bone.

" I apprehend, my Lord," he said, at length,
"that it is not necessary for me to go any
further into detail on this painful topic. I will
leave the papers here for your Lordship's
inspection, and hold myself, at any future
period, at your Lordship's disposal."

He should suddenly have flapped out two
solemn wings from those shoulder blades of
his, and flown away, like a bird of ill-omen, as
he was. But he contented himself with taking
his black presence out of the room in the
ordinary manner, and the door downstairs
closed upon him with a solemn bang, that

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" cbowher's 'quest.'* Iftl

made the hearers upstauns start and almost
s(hudder in their seats.

"Oh! unde, uncle," Mrs. Falcon cried out,
bursting into a fresh-flood of tears, ^^ this is
indeed dreadful!"

The poor woman had been weeping ever
since the morning — ever since the horrified
servants had rushed up to her room to tell her
that her husband was lying on the floor dead.
She had passed from paroxysm to paroxysm of
sorrow. She had parted from her husband in
grief^ in doubt, in mystery, and in passionate
resentment. The sun had gone down upon
her wrath, but was to rise no more. He was
afar off — her husband — beyond the Sun and
Stars, at the other end of a dreadful gulf,
looking at her with sad eyes.

There were in the room beside her now only
Lord Baddington and Mr. Heem. The girls
were bewailing in their own bedchambers. A
messenger had been sent post that morning to
Brig, Hastings, in whose vicinity the happy
Bride and Bridegroom were staying, to tell them
the awful news. Compton Guy had been and


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WBS gone again. That yoathfol Gaardsman
had been dreadfolly shodoed, and at his dub
that day could ejaculate little beyond ^^By
Jove!** He couldn't make it out, he said.
Nobody could make it out, not even Mr. Fleem.

Who was sidling mildly fipom the room, now
that he had imparted his intelligence; but
LfOrd Baddington and Mrs. Falcon both be-
sought him to stay, for they had scnnething of
the most vital importance to communicate to

Bis Lordship was slightly nervous as he
made these inquiries, and glanced with a very
ambiguous expression at the Doctor. But the
expression suddenly ceased to be ambiguous.
Mr. Fleem felt that he was expected to re-
assure, and, if possible, console Mrs. Falcon;
and if long words, mild delivery, and an ela-
borate disquisition upon nothing, could have
done it, he would certainly have succeeded.

" For the tissues you see, my dear madam,"
he was explmning, by way of peroration —

He was at those tissues again, and would
have harped upon the congenial chord for an-

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. "CROWNEB*S 'quest/* 163

other five minutes, when the widow cut him

" Mr. Fleem/' without further preface, she
said, "my husband poisoned himself."

" My dear Caroline," remonstrated Lord

Mr. Fleem said nothing, but looked in mild
expostulation at the carpet.

" As there is a Heaven above," Mrs. Falcon
said again, "he poisoned himself; or there has
been foul play."

" My dear Madam," Mr. Fleem rejoined, not
virtuously indignant, but only shocked —
severely shocked, **what motive could the late
Mr. Falcon—"

" What motive ' Who was that woman —
that ragged wretch — that cast-off mistress of
his, who came here to reproach him?"

"His cast-off misiress — No!" a voice said
very calmly and quietly.

The voice was not that of a Banshee, or of
an evil spirit; it only emanated from a person
straw-coloured as to hair, and raven-hued as
to costume, who must have been seemingly in

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the receipt of fern-seed, and 80 walked in-
visible ; for he had come no man knew whence,
and no man knew how, and stood at the door
looking very quietly, but confidently, at the
Lord, and the Doctor, and the Widow.

"You impudent dog!" Mr. Meem cried,
starting up in passion; "you impertinent ras-
cal! what do you mean by coming here? Who
asked for you? Who sent for you?*'

" Yes, sir, who sent for you?" echoed Lord

Mrs. Falcon was grief-fuUy amazed.

The assistant did not deign to notice hiB
master's anger; he simply repeated,

" His cast-off mistress — no ! "

" How do you know? what do you know
about it — ^about her?" eagerly asked Mrs.

I know all about her," Mr. Tinctop calmly

"Then why the deuce don't you speak!"
cried his master furiously. "You told me
this morning, you knew nothing about the
matter. Speak, you villain ! "

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**crowneb'8 quest/' 165

** Tes, sir, speak ! " Lord Baddington added ;
" and what the deuce do you mean by stand-
ing with your back against that door? Ring
the bell, Fleem, and have him kicked down

" Tqu'd better not,'' Mr. Tinctop coolly re-
marked ; '• I've not only got my back against
the door, but locked it directly I came in; and
I've got the key in my pocket."

"He's mad! " cried Lord Baddington.

"He*s drunk!" exclaimed Mr. Fleem,
making towards his assistant, as though to
collar him again.

" Mr. Fleem," if you lay a finger on me I'll
run a scalpel into you."

The surgeon drew back, for his assistant had
a certain look in his pale face that was very
ominous and not at all pleasant.

" He must be mad," he muttered.

" Neither mad nor drunk," the bold assist-
ant replied. " Quite sane and sober, and the
master of you all."

" In heaven's name, man," cried Mrs. Falcon,
" do not keep us longer in this agonising sus-
dense. If you have anything to say — "

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166 THE baddinoton peerage.

"7/* I have anything to say!" interrupted
Mr. Tinctop. "Of course I have something
to'^say. I shouldn't have come here, shouldn't
have locked the door, if I hadn't. But, do
you want me to say it before old Fleem."

" Mad as a march hare/' the surgeon
whispered to himself. " Old Fleem, indeed—
confound his impudence! '*

" Speak, sir,'' Lord Baddington said, " Mr.
Fleem is a friend of the family, and enjoys the
entire confidence both of Mrs. Falcon and of

" Well, then, I'll just go back a little," Mr.
Tinctop proceeded, very slowly and deliberately.
" As you were, if you please. Not his cast-off
mistress — oh, no ! "

"What then?"

" Not by any means his cast-off mistress—*
oh, dear, no! His lawful wedded wife, to
whom he was married at Mallows Cray Church,
in Kent, one-and-twenty years ago."

" Scoundrel and liar ! " the Peer exclaimed,
starting up.

"Hands off!" retorted Mr. Tinctop; ^'and

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"CE0WNER*8 'quest/* 167

you, governor, don't look as if you could eat
me up. Look to that good lady on the carpet
there; for she's fainted!"

Mrs. Gervase Falcon no longer. The cast-
off mistress lay in a faint, on the carpet. His
WIFE ! Heavens and earth ! his wife !

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TT is stale news to hint that Seth Tinctop
was a coward. He was indeed as arrant a
poltroon as was ever capable of holding, with
shaking hands, a candle, while some bolder
villain, his companion, did a deed of violence.
You will remember that it was not till
after Madame Manning had shot Mr. 0*Connor
with an air-gun, and Mr. Greorge Frederick
Manning appeared on the scene, and, standing
over the expiring wretch, did, to use his, Mr.
G. F. Manning's, own words, " finish him off
with a ripping chisel. '^ He was the Captain
Pen of crime, and not the Captain Sword.
The statement, therefore, that the pusillani-

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mous Tinctop had made alone a filibustering
expedition into an aristocratic drawing-room —
had actually locked the door thereof, put his
back against it, and the key in his pocket,
would seem naturally startling, if not incredi-
ble, to those acquainted with the assistant's
want of heroism, but for the fact I now feel it
my duty to disclose, that Mr. Tinctop was
throughout acting under the instructions of
Captain Pollyblank, who, with singular deli-
cacy and moderation, had chosen to remain for
the nonce in the background, and to delegate
his medical friend to act as his Minister Pleni-
potentiary and Envoy Extraordinary. Thus
Mr. Tinctop, conscious of the support of his
chief, and strong in the moral force of his cre-
dentials, stood still, sternly and composedly,
with his back to the door. He even folded his
arms in the manner invented by the Great
Frederic, and perfected by the greater Napo-
leon, and looked on with philosophic calmness,
while Mr. Pleem applied the usual remedies
to recover the unhappy Mrs. Falcon from her

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There were scents and essences in plenty
about, as was to be expected in so aristocratic
a saloon ; and these, with the opening of the
window, were sufficient to restore the widow

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Online LibraryGeorge Augustus SalaThe Baddington peerage: who won, and who wore it. A story of the best and the worst society → online text (page 7 of 14)