'It was a dark and stormy night ...'
Paul Clifford leads a double life. By day he is a fashionable man about town, the toast of genteel society. By night, he is 'Captain Lovett', a dashing masked highwayman, robbing unsuspecting travellers on moonlit roads with his band of fellow brigands.
When Clifford falls in love with the beautiful, auburn-haired Lucy, the daughter of a wealthy squire, he wonders if he should abandon his life of vice. But there are many obstacles in his path: his sly love rival Lord Mauleverer, dark secrets from the past, and the threat of the hangman's noose ...
Now this desire to be so exceedingly fine not only made the society about Thames Court unpleasant, but expensive. Every one vied with his neighbour; and as the spirit of rivalry is particularly strong in youthful bosoms, we can scarcely wonder that it led Paul into many extravagances. The evil of all circles that profess to be select is high play; and the reason is obvious: persons who have the power to bestow on another an advantage he covets would rather sell it than give it; and Paul, gradually increasing in popularity and ton, found himself, in spite of his classical education, no match for the finished, or, rather, finishing gentlemen with whom he began to associate. His first admittance into the select coterie of these men of the world was formed at the house of Bachelor Bill, a person of great notoriety among that portion of the elite which emphatically entitles itself "Flash." However, as it is our rigid intention in this work to portray at length no episodical characters whatsoever, we can afford our readers but a slight and rapid sketch of Bachelor Bill.
This personage was of Devonshire extraction. His mother had kept the pleasantest public-house in town, and at her death Bill succeeded to her property and popularity. All the young ladies in the neighbourhood of Fiddler's Row, where he resided, set their caps at him: all the most fashionable prigs, or tobymen, sought to get him into their set; and the most crack blowen in London would have given her ears at any time for a loving word from Bachelor Bill. But Bill was a longheaded, prudent fellow, and of a remarkably cautious temperament. He avoided marriage and friendship; namely, he was neither plundered nor cornuted. He was a tall, aristocratic cove, of a devilish neat address, and very gallant, in an honest way, to the blowens. Like most single men, being very much the gentleman so far as money was concerned, he gave them plenty of "feeds," and from time to time a very agreeable hop. His bingo [Brandy] was unexceptionable; and as for his stark-naked [Gin], it was voted the most brilliant thing in nature. In a very short time, by his blows-out and his bachelorship,—for single men always arrive at the apex of haut ton more easily than married,—he became the very glass of fashion; and many were the tight apprentices, even at the west end of the town, who used to turn back in admiration of Bachelor Bill, when of a Sunday afternoon he drove down his varment gig to his snug little box on the borders of Turnham Green. Bill's happiness was not, however, wholly without alloy. The ladies of pleasure are always so excessively angry when a man does not make love to them, that there is nothing they will not say against him; and the fair matrons in the vicinity of Fiddler's Row spread all manner of unfounded reports against poor Bachelor Bill. By degrees, however,—for, as Tacitus has said, doubtless with a prophetic eye to Bachelor Bill, "the truth gains by delay,"—these reports began to die insensibly away; and Bill now waxing near to the confines of middle age, his friends comfortably settled for him that he would be Bachelor Bill all his life. For the rest, he was an excellent fellow,—gave his broken victuals to the poor, professed a liberal turn of thinking, and in all the quarrels among the blowens (your crack blowens are a quarrelsome set!) always took part with the weakest. Although Bill affected to be very select in his company, he was never forgetful of his old friends; and Mrs. Margery Lobkins having been very good to him when he was a little boy in a skeleton jacket, he invariably sent her a card to his soirees. The good lady, however, had not of late years deserted her chimney-corner. Indeed, the racket of fashionable life was too much for her nerves; and the invitation had become a customary form not expected to be acted upon, but not a whit the less regularly used for that reason. As Paul had now attained his sixteenth year, and was a fine, handsome lad, the dame thought he would make an excellent representative of the Mug's mistress; and that, for her protege, a ball at Bill's house would be no bad commencement of "Life in London." Accordingly, she intimated to the Bachelor a wish to that effect; and Paul received the following invitation from Bill:—
"Mr. William Duke gives a hop and feed in a quiet way on Monday next, and hops Mr. Paul Lobkins will be of the party. N. B. Gentlemen is expected to come in pumps."
When Paul entered, he found Bachelor Bill leading off the ball to the tune of "Drops of Brandy," with a young lady to whom, because she had been a strolling player, the Ladies Patronesses of Fiddler's Row had thought proper to behave with a very cavalier civility. The good Bachelor had no notion, as he expressed it, of such tantrums, and he caused it to be circulated among the finest of the blowens, that he expected all who kicked their heels at his house would behave decent and polite to young Mrs. Dot. This intimation, conveyed to the ladies with all that insinuating polish for which Bachelor Bill was so remarkable, produced a notable effect; and Mrs. Dot, being now led off by the flash Bachelor, was overpowered with civilities the rest of the evening.
When the dance was ended, Bill very politely shook hands with Paul, and took an early opportunity of introducing him to some of the most "noted characters" of the town. Among these were the smart Mr. Allfair, the insinuating Henry Finish, the merry Jack Hookey, the knowing Charles Trywit, and various others equally noted for their skill in living handsomely upon their own brains, and the personals of other people. To say truth, Paul, who at that time was an honest lad, was less charmed than he had anticipated by the conversation of these chevaliers of industry. He was more pleased with the clever though self-sufficient remarks of a gentleman with a remarkably fine head of hair, and whom we would more impressively than the rest introduce to our reader under the appellation of Mr. Edward Pepper, generally termed Long Ned. As this worthy was destined afterwards to be an intimate associate of Paul, our main reason for attending the hop at Bachelor Bill's is to note, as the importance of the event deserves, the epoch of the commencement of their acquaintance.
It was a dark and stormy night; ...
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