“WHERE doth the black fiend, Ambition, reside?” inquires somebody in one of Shakespeare’splays – not that Shakespeare wrote the line, it is the elegant work of one of his improvers. Had the demand been made, the other day, to any person who was really in the confidence and secret soul of Maurice Halgover, Esq., gentleman, aged thirty six, no occupation, living on his rather handsome means, married, the reply would have been, “At No. 73, Mandeville Crescent North, Hyde Park Gardens.” And this would have been a much more practical answer than that given in the play, namely, “With the mischievous devil of Pride,” as if every body knew his address.
Listen to a brief story of an election.It is not one of those fifty-six stories just now promised to committees, showing the way in which, when my gracious Sovereign is pleased to ask the Opinion of the People, divers of the said people proceed to condense the opinion into Members of Parliament.Hear a tale of woman’s love and man’s treachery.They were happy enough, the Halgovers; and why should they not have been happy? Nice house, enough money, good health, not so stupid as to bore other people, not so clever to be bored by other people, high principles, chimneys that didn’t smoke, street-keeper remorseless to street organists—what more could a couple of reasonable people want? In truth, they enjoyed life very much.
Arabella, possessing both good looks and certain moneys, had had divers offers, and made her free choice in wedding Maurice Halgover — a fine, large, handsome fellow, who looked Somebody. That he did look so was chiefly due to the magnificent effect of his head, which was big, and covered with masses of superb, clustering, dark hair, which he did not pat and plaster down and keep short and close, after the fashion of pickpockets and swells, but lifted it up and out, like Jupiter, giving unto himself a kind of glorious mane.
Also he had a very fine, soft long beard, of a highly strokable character, and very good moustaches, which matched his beard and hair, and had not fallen into the fire, and yellow leaf. Halgover was not careless about all these advantages, and did not let them run wild, as do certain gifted and dirty artists whom I have had the happiness to know. He cultivated the exterior of his head, and had great ivory-backed brushes, and small ivory-backed brushes, and all kinds of combs and silver tongs, and delicate hair-oils, and the rest of the toilette-apparatus which the late Sir Charles Napier of India did not conceive an absolute necessity of life, though any valet could have told him better. It was this hair — or rather the head and its noble appearance -that fascinated Arabella Kinglington, and eventually turned her into Arabella Halgover.
She got into her own head a notion that Maurice was a great creature. He was really only a big creature,but lady language is like the new Government rifles, any lock fits to any stock, and any stock fits to any barrel, and lady adjectives are especially famous for easily sticking. Arabella married him, and still preserved her romance of his greatness. They loved, and lived together, or whatever the song says, for ever so many years, four or five, and Arabella continued to reverence her great creature. She would actually sit and look admiringly at him, in evenings, an unheard-of matrimonial feat, and what she spent in having him painted, and photographed, and sketched, and busted, nobody knows.Maurice was stuck up in every corner of the house,besides being hung over the fire-places, and shut up in cases on the tables, and perched on a pedestal in the conservatory, and profiled in medallion in the library. Every mode in which the head which looked like Somebody could be perpetuated, was tried by the faithful Arabella. She certainly rather bored her friends with her superfluous laudation of Maurice’s attractions, but it was a very pleasant sight to see her admiration and fondness, and nobody but he who grew spiteful at the happiness of Eden, or one of his children, would have wished to disturb so harmless and, I may say, virtuous a state of things.
Nevertheless, such a demon there was.Mind, this isnot a tale of seduction, or any
thing of that sort; and, so, if this explanationmakes the story too flat for the readers of thenovels of the day, they had best go on to the nextarticle.
“I cannot stand it,” said Osprey Hawke, on thesteps of the Reform Club, Pall Mall (he is not amember, you need not get the list “to see whomthat’s a shy at,” Major), “and something must bedone, Fred. I am—word escaped our reporter’ if, after dinner, she didn’t ask me to step into thelittle drawing-room with her, and then, pointing
out her husband’s great head as he leaned over theback of a chair, chattering rubbish, she didn’t say,’ Isn’t it statuesque?” “You had an exceedingly good dinner, andyou are an ungrateful party,” said Fred (who isa member), going into the club with a disgustthat did him honour.”I don’t care,” said Hawke, talking to himself.
They say that when you talk to yourself, evil spirits listen and answer. I don’t know anything about this, but Hawke had hardly spoken and lit a cigar, preparatory to walking off, when a gentleman came out of the club, and they got into conversation.The gentleman gave him a bit of news.
“Well, he might have told me,” said Hawke,”considering that I was dining there to-day.”
And having received this deadly injury, he became more resolved upon his plan, which involved revenge.
The general election was close at hand.Four days later, Mr. Maurice Halgover and Mr.Osprey Hawke were together in a private room atthe Blue hotel at Stackleborough.I alluded in my first line to the black fiendAmbition. Spare me the necessity of any longstory. Halgover’s ambition, greatly stirred andfanned by his wife’s admiration, had set him onentering the House of Commons. The greatcreature was sure to make a glorious success.Mrs. Arabella Halgover had a private convictionthat when the senate beheld that magnificenthead, there would be a general shout to the greatcreature to take the reins of Government. Shedid not exactly say this, but looked forward tosee a leading article in the Thnes, beginning,“Mr. Halgover’s splendid speech last night hasmade the man, and saved the state.” It may come yet—who knows? The Emperor of the French is thought to have turned out a first-class General.
The gentleman at the club had arranged the business (I repeat that there is no petition, so you need not look so very wise, Major), and Mr. Halgover had placarded Stackleborough, and was no down to see his intended constituents.
“I am so glad to find you here, old fellow,”said Halgover, greeting Hawke. “Very kind of you to come. How long have you been down?” “Come in, come in,” said Osprey Hawke, rather hastily, drawing his friend into the room and closing the door, which he locked.
“What’s wrong?” said Halgover, startled.
“All’s wrong,” said Hawke. “I have seensome of the leading people here—your men-and
l’ve got a telegraph from Lasher.”
“Why,” said Halgover, in trepidation, “heassured me it was all right. I paid”
“Hush! confound you! — and perhaps a Yellow ear at the keyhole. You’ll lose the election.”
“I’d sooner pay ”
“Will you be quiet. Listen. There’s only one thing to do to save it, and that of course you won’t do.”
“Go in for the ballot and universal suffrage? Well, you know, I don’t like it; I don’t think it right; but I shouldn’t like to lose, and Arabella would be ”
“That’s it, of course. It would break Mrs. Halgover’s heart to see you return crestfallen and humiliated before the world. But then I tell you fairly, the sacrifice is something.”
“Tell me at once.”
“Well, I have this from all your chief friends.The man who stood here last time bilked theelectors; did ’em out of their dues, as they thinkthem. His name is poison.”
“But mine’s Halgover.”
“Unfortunately, you are very like him in appearance — luxurious hair, splendid beard and
moustache. A rumour has got about that youare the same man, but have come into money
and changed your name. The Yellows have some photographs of him, with Halgover alias Swindleton printed under them. If you are seen you are lost. A deputation is coming to urge upon you —and Lasher telegraphs that you are to do it at any price — but you won’t.”
“Shave. Get a bald head, take away beard and moustaches, and suddenly appear in the town, defying Yellow malice. A pair of high shirt collars, instead of the all-rounder, for they are men of business here, and high collars are somehow connected with respectability, and it ’s done. If not, you are lost, the impression once made.”
“But I shall be such a Guy,” stammered the wretched Halgover.
“But you will be member for Stackleborough,” returned the artful Hawke.
Imagine the mental conflict: imagine the yielding: imagine the Blue Barber, and his fatal work. Mr. Halgover was triumphantly returned. Mr. Lasher had minded his business, and taken care that other people minded theirs. Halgover telegraphed himself to Arabella as at the top of the poll of Stackleborough, but said nothing about the top of his own poll.
“Go in and break it to her,” he said to Osprey Hawke, as they reached Mandeville Crescent, North.
The demon went in, and up stairs, but he broke nothing beyond the fact that Halgover was paying the cab. Arabella prepared for a gush of overwhelming welcome.
“I introduce to you the member for Stackleborough,” said the fiend, taking his friend’s
hand. Arabella sprang up. The M.P. removed his hat. Mr. Thomas Moore has described what happened when the Veiled Prophet unveiled to Zelica.
Sir Cresswell Cresswell, in giving judgment, Said,
[N.B. I hereby interdict any hairdresser, respectable or otherwise, from adding a neat sentence, and converting the above into a puff for any Oil of Jehoshaphat or Limpid Balm of Harabia.]