The Peregrinations of Philip Farthingale may be said to have had their beginning on that fateful November day in 18–, when a grisly and unctuous rain was swiveling down upon the metropolis and all London was awash in a murky mist. Cabmen scurried like ninepins into the public houses and whores, sighing, betook themselves to the hashish dens of turgid iniquity which littered the thoroughfares of that sinful city. Desuetude was in the air and not a debonair barrister or innkeeper but footed it along the splattering pavements like a fleet and tipsy toreador. All of which is to say that it was a London November.
But lo! among the pale impecunious figures one ragabash could have been descried, had anyone &c., scurrying down the alleyways like a bedraggled squirrel, clad in a tattered greatcoat of munificent proportions and wielding in his well-nigh frost-benumbed fingers a furled whalebone umbrella. Whether the inspissated state of this article were due to a mechanical failure or to some dark desire for mortification on the part of its macabre proprietor were a question to be debated on some drier even; now there was nothing for it but haste, as our murky protagonist shuffled squelchily through the gloomy gloopy globules of the rain.
But whither? and wherefore? and moreover who is this nameless apparition of the borborygmous night, I hear the varied reader ask?
It shall be told. But first it were well, impetutous reader, to get us somewhere dry.
The landlord of the Frog and Withers shook himself ponderously, like a bedraggled Alsatian that has at long last betaken itself with long-awaited frivolity to the fleeting security of its master’s bedchamber, or like a melancholy Benedictine muttering maledictions, as he shuffled creakily to the door. The sight that met his bleary eyes was not of a nature to warm the cockles of the heart, were he in possession of such an article.
A grim walrus moustache besmirched with Piccadilly soot; a pair of bristly blubbery lips, the colour of old jelly, moistly ajar; a chin of stubble and strife, where goats might safely graze; a mud-bespattered cravat bestriding a grizzled greatcoat of fake Florentine leather; boots of a scandalous and wholly inadmissible putridity; the whole crowned by a fetid and feculent fedora, battered to a gelatinous glob by the inclement elements, below which burned a pair of preternaturally fiery eyes.
No sooner had the landlord’s staggering senses perceived this monstrosity in the full panoply of its horror than the visitor, stepping across the threshold with a brisk squelch, raised his furled whalebone umbrella and pointed it full at the good proprietor’s belly.
– A room, sirrah, growled he, in a voice rendered turgid by emotion.
Mr Phillimore (for such was the landlord’s name) was a man of a stolid and phlegmatic disposition, not inclined toward quarrelsomeness, indeed a man of an exemplary meekness and mansuetude (qualities which his gruesome exterior belied). Yet in his roseate visage, descried nebulously through the gloaming, a glint of steely resolve might have been descried, had any been present to descry it. He had gritted his teeth and now braced himself to receive the onslaught of this odd and impecunious visitor of the meek midnight, a character of the lowest pretensions no doubt and indeed such as even Mr Punch himself might have shuddered to descry, looming in the gloomy gloaming like a full moon in a cape of deepest dusk. Enshrouded he was in ashen black, a smidgen of starry sable upon the hem of his generous gown and here and there a gleaming glowing button like a deathly dire beetle of the soundless night. Such a depth of discord as this astounding apparition stirred up in our prim proprietor’s bosom cannot be described, though abler pens than mine were to attempt it; a horrible premonition crept through him that here, perhaps, on this night of nights his daemon had come for him; he shivered, and not with the cold.
– Flibbertigibbets, mouthed the malignant stranger. Hast heard, thou villainous quivering obsequious wretch? Be off with you! See that you try not the patience of your betters. — Zounds! muttered the figure, as if to himself. A most vile and cretinous cur this.
It was not without dismay that the landlord tramped off to secure the requisite requirements. He had intended to stand his ground before this nocturnal apparition, had even had in mind a curt rebuke or withering riposte that should put this gibbering visitor in his place; but when it came to it he had found himself quite quaking with abjectitude before the man’s ferocious visage. Off he went, mumbling quaint curses with a dignified air.
And ere he returns it were well, reader, to provide certain necessary reminiscences concerning the quiddity and provenience of our mud-bespattered bogeyman.
His name, as has been established, was Philip Farthingale; his country, England. But whither, whence and wherefore was he bound on such a night of dirt and damnation? For it is certain, from his masterful mien and haughty demeanour, that this is no mere London beggar or wheedling urchin we are dealing with, but a man of birth and means. Of birth — yes, for his accents betray an innate nobility for all the fierce ferocity of his words; and means — for we have espied, have we not, reader, when he raised his finger in admonition, the scarlet gleam of a ruby, and no small one either? Even in the murk of this misty metropolitan midnight the reader’s eye cannot have been so dull as to miss such a twinkling and palpable jewel.
Yes, rich he was, reader, beyond the fondest dreams of avarice; and noble as— But over the birth of our caped protagonist we must for the moment pass in silence. Let us say only, that he grew to manhood in Glamorganshire, in a stately manor-house, the abode of the Lord J—–; and that this nobleman was his father he had not had reason to doubt, until a certain day when he was fifteen years of age.