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The Ipcress File (1965)

Black Widow

First impressions are almost always indelible: there was a frankness and sincerity in his manner, and an archness and vivacity in his countenance and conversation, that imperceptibly attached me to the young stranger. Naturally cheerful, Bernard became highly popular with our miniature world; there was however one subject which, whenever it was incautiously started by his companions, always excited a flood of tears, and for a time spread a gloomy abstraction over his mind.

That some protecting spirit watched over his actions, and directed his course, he was well assured, but as yet he had never been able to comprehend the mystery with which he was surrounded. His questions on this point to his mother it was evident gave her pain, and were always met by some evasive answer. He had been early taught to keep his own secret, but the prying curiosity of an Eton school-boy was not easily satisfied, and too often rendered the task one of great pain and difficulty. On these occasions I would seek. His amiable manners and generous heart had endeared him to all, and in a short time his delicate feelings were respected, and the slightest allusion to ambiguity of birth cautiously avoided by all his associates, who, whatever might be their suspicions, thought his brilliant qualifications more than compensated for any want of ancestral distinction.

The following portrait of my friend is from the pen of our elegant con, Horace Eglantine. The main-spring of all his actions was a social disposition, which embraced a most comprehensive view [28] of the duties of good fellowship. His equals loved him for his social qualities, and courted his acquaintance as the sine qua non of society; and the younger members of the school looked up to him for protection and assistance.

The duck and green pea suppers at Surley Hall would have lost half their relish without the enlivening smiles and smart repartees of Bernard Blackmantle.


The preparations for the glorious fourth of June were always submitted to his superior skill and direction. His fiat could decide the claims of the rival boats, in their choice of jackets, hats, and favors; and the judicious arrangement of the fire-works was another proof of his taste. Let it not, however, be thought that his other avocations so entirely monopolized him as to preclude a due attention to study. Had it been so, his success with the [Greek phrase] would never have been so complete: his desire to be able to confer obligations on his schoolfellows induced Bernard to husband carefully every hour which he spent at home; a decent scholarship, and much general knowledge, was the reward of this plan.

The treasure-house of his memory was well stored, and his reputation as an orator gave promise of future excellence. His classical attainments, if not florid, were liberal, and free from pedantry. His proficiency in English literature was universally acknowledged, and his love of the poets amounted to enthusiasm.

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He was formed for all the bustle of variegated life, and his conversation was crystallized with the sparkling attractions of wit and humour. Subject to the weakness to which genius is ever liable, he was both eccentric and wayward, but he had the good sense to guard his failing from general observation; and although he often shot his arrows anonymously, he never dipt them in the gall of prejudice or ill-nature. I have dwelt upon his character with pleasure, because there are very few who know him intimately. With a happy versatility of talents, he is neither lonesome in his solitude, nor over joyous in a crowd.

For his literary attainments, they must be judged of by their fruits. I cannot better conclude my attempt [30] to describe his qualifications than by offering his first essay to your notice, a school-boy tribute to friendship. This I have reason to believe his first poetical essay was presented me on my birthday, when we had been about two years together at Eton: a short time afterwards I surprised him one morning writing in his bedroom; my curiosity was not a little excited by the celerity with which I observed he endeavoured to conceal his papers.

If so, take the oath of secrecy, and read. As I perceive by a glance at his work that most of his early friends have parts assigned them in his colloquial scenes, I consider the preservation of this trifle important, as it will furnish a key to the characters. At the head of the large table on the right hand you will perceive the Honourable Lilyman Lionise, the second son of a nobleman, whose ancient patrimony has been nearly dissipated between his evening parties at the club-houses, in French hazard, or Rouge et noir, and his morning speculations with his betting book at Tattersall's, Newmarket, or the Fives-court; whose industry in getting into debt is only exceeded by his indifference about getting out; whose acquired property during his minority and personals have long since been knocked down by the hammer of the auctioneer, under direction of the sheriff, to pay off some gambling bond in preference to his honest creditor; yet who still flourishes a fashionable gem of the first water, and condescends to lend the lustre of [33] his name, when he has nothing else to lend, that he may secure the advantage of a real loan in return.

His patrimonial acres and heirlooms remain indeed untouched, because the court of chancery have deemed it necessary to appoint a receiver to secure their faithful transmission to the next heir. The son has imbibed a smattering of all the bad qualities of his sire, without possessing one ray of the brilliant qualifications for which he is distinguished. Proud without property, and sarcastic without being witty, ill temper he mistakes for superior carriage, and haughtiness for dignity: his study is his toilet, and his mind, like his face, is a vacuity neither sensible, intelligent, nor agreeable.

He has few associates, for few will accept him for a companion. With his superiors in rank, his precedent honorary distinction yields him no consideration; with his equals, it places him upon too familiar a footing; while with his inferiors, it renders him tyrannical and unbearable. He is disliked by the dame, detested by the servants, and shunned by his schoolfellows, and yet he is our captain, a Sextile, a Roue , and above all, an honourable.

Tom Echo. A little to the left of the Exquisite, you may perceive Tom's merry countenance shedding good-humour around him. He is the only one who can. Tom is the eldest son of one of the most respectable whig families in the kingdom, whose ancestors have frequently refused a peerage, from an inherent democratical but constitutional jealousy of the crown.

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Independence and Tom were nursery friends, and his generous, noble-hearted conduct renders him an universal favorite with the school. There is to be sure one drawback to Tom's good qualities, but it is the natural attendant upon a high flow of animal spirits: if any mischief is on foot, Tom is certain to be concerned, and ten to one but he is the chief contriver: to be seen in his company, either a short time previous to, or quickly afterwards, although perfectly innocent, is sure to create a suspicion of guilt with the masters, which not unusually involves his companions in trouble, and sometimes in unmerited punishment.

Tom's philosophy is to live well, study little, drink hard, and laugh immoderately. He is not deficient in sense, but he wants application and excitement: he has been taught from infancy to feel himself perfectly independent of the world, and at home every where: nature has implanted in his bosom the characteristic benevolence of his ancestry, and he stands among us a being whom every one loves and admires, without any very distinguishing trait of learning, wit, or superior qualification, to command the respect he excites.

If any one tells a good story or makes a laughable pun, Tom retails it for a week, and all the school have the advantage of hearing and enjoying it. Any proposition for a boat party, cricketing, or a toodle into Windsor, or along the banks of the Thames. He is second to none in a charitable subscription for a poor Cad , or the widow of a drowned Bargee ; his heart ever reverberates the echo of pleasure, and his tongue only falters to the echo of deceit. Horace Eglantine is placed just opposite to Lily man Lionise, a calm-looking head, with blue eyes and brown hair, which flows in ringlets of curls over his shoulders.

Horace is the son of a city banker, by the second daughter of an English earl, a young gentleman of considerable expectations, and very amusing qualifications. Horace is a strange composition of all the good-natured whimsicalities of human nature, happily blended together without any very conspicuous counteracting foible.

Facetious, lively, and poetical, the cream of every thing that is agreeable, society cannot be dull if Horace lends his presence. His imitations of Anacreon, and the soft bard of Erin, have on many occasions puzzled the cognoscenti of Eton. Like Moore too, he both composes and performs his own songs. The following little specimen of his powers will record one of those pleasant impositions with which he sometimes enlivens a winter's evening:.

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Every quaint remark affords a pun or an epigram, and every serious sentence gives birth to some merry couplet. Such is the facility with which he strings together puns and rhyme, that in the course of half an hour he has been known to wager, and win it—that he made a couplet and a pun on every one present, to the number of fifty. Nothing annoys the exquisite Sextile so much as this tormenting talent of Horace; he is always shirking him, and yet continually falling in his way.

For some time, while Horace was in the fourth form, these little jeu-d'esprits were circulated privately, and smuggled up in half suppressed laughs; but being now high on the fifth, Horace is no longer in fear of fagging , and therefore gives free license to his tongue in many a witty jest, which "sets the table in a roar. Dick Gradus.

In a snug corner, at a side table, observe that shrewd-looking little fellow poring over his book; his features seem represented by acute angles, and his head, which appears too heavy for his body, represents all the thoughtfulness of age, like an ancient fragment of Phidias or Praxiteles placed upon new shoulders by some modern bust carver. Dick is the son of an eminent solicitor in a borough town, who has raised himself into wealth and consequence by a strict attention to the principles of interest: sharp practice, heavy mortgages, loans on annuity, and post obits, have strengthened his list of possessions till his influence is extended over half the county.

The proprietor of the borough, a good humoured sporting extravagant, has been compelled to yield his influence in St. Stephen's to old Gradus, that he may preserve his character at Newmarket, and continue his pack and fox-hunting festivities at home. The representation of the place is now disposed of to the best bidder, but the ambition of the father has long since determined upon sending his son when of age [37] into parliament—a promising candidate for the "loaves and fishes.

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Dick is an isolated being, a book-worm, who never embarks in any party of pleasure, from the fear of expense; he has no talents for general conversation, while his ridiculous affectation of learning subjects him to a constant and annoying fire from the batteries of Etonian wit. Still, however, Dick perseveres in his course, till his blanched cheeks and cadaverous aspect, from close study and want of proper exercise, proclaim the loss of health, and the probable establishment of some pulmonary affection that may, before he scarcely reaches maturity, blight the ambitious hopes of his father, and consign [38] the son "to that bourne from whence no traveller returns.

Horatio Heartly. At the lower end of the room, observe a serene-looking head displaying all the quiet character of a youthful portrait by the divine Raphael, joined to the inspiring sensibility which flashes from the almost breathing countenance and penetrating brilliancy of eye, that distinguishes a Guido. That is my bosom friend, my more than brother, my mentor and my guide.

Horatio is an orphan, the son of a general officer, whose crimsoned stream of life was dried up by an eastern sun, while he was yet a lisping infant.

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His mother, lovely, young, and rich in conjugal attachment, fell a blighted corse in early widowhood, and left Horatio, an unprotected bud of virtuous love, to the fostering care of Lady Mary Oldstyle, a widowed sister of the general's, not less rich in worldly wealth than in true benevolence of heart, and the celestial glow of pure affection.

Heartly is a happy combination of all the good-humoured particles of human nature blended together, with sense, feeling, and judgment. Learned without affectation, and liberal without being profuse, he has found out the secret of attaching all the school to himself, without exciting any sensation of envy, or supplanting prior friendships. Generous to a fault, his purse—which the bounty of his aunt keeps well supplied—is a public bank, pro bono publico.