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[-350-] 

CHAPTER CCXLI.

 CROCKFORD'S.

    SIR RUPERT HARBOROUGH, Mr. Albert Egerton, and Mr. Arthur Chichester were walking am-in-arm, and smoking cigars, along the West Strand about ten minutes after the little incident which closed the preceding chapter, when they were met by two tall and fashionable-looking gentlemen, who immediately recognised the baronet and Chichester.
    Both parties stopped; and the two gentlemen were in due course introduced to Mr. Egerton as Lord Dunstable and the Honourable Colonel Cholmondeley.
    By the significant tone and manner of the baronet  a sort of freemasonry known only to the initiated,  both Dunstable and the Colonel were given to understand that a flat had been caught in the person of Mr. Albert Egerton; and they immediately received their cue as completely as if they had been prompted by half an hour's explanation.
    "What have you been doing with yourselves, gentlemen, this evening?" inquired Dunstable, as they all now proceeded together through Trafalgar Square.
    "My friends and myself have been supping at the Paradise," answered the baronet, carelessly.
    Mr. Egerton drew himself up an inch higher immediately, although somewhat top-heavy with the champagne and cigars;  but he felt quite proud  quite another man, indeed  at being numbered amongst Sir Rupert Harborough's friends, and at walking familiarly in the company of a real lord.
    "Cholmondeley and I were thinking of looking in at Crockford's before we encountered you," observed Dunstable, forgetting at the moment that himself and friend were proceeding in quite a contrary direction when the meeting alluded to took place. "What say you? shall we all go to Crockford's?"
    Egerton noticed not the little oversight. The word "Crockford's" perfectly electrified him. He had often passed by the great pandemonium in St. James's Street, and looked with wistful eyes at its portals  marvelling whether they would ever unfold to give admission to him; and now that there seemed a scintillation of a chance of that golden wish, which he had so often shadowed forth, being substantially gratified, he could scarcely believe that he was in truth Albert Egerton, the son of an outfitter, and having a very respectable widowed aunt engaged in the haberdashery line on [-351-] Finsbury Pavement;  but it appeared as if he had suddenly received a transfusion of that aristocracy in whose company he found himself.
    Already did he make up his mind to cut the good old aunt and the half-dozen of fair cousins  her daughters  for ever:  already did he vow never to be seen east of Temple Bar again. But then he thought how pleasant it would be to drop in at Finsbury Pavement on some Sunday  just at the hour of dinner, which he could make his lunch  and then astound his relatives with the mention of his aristocratic acquaintances,  no, his friends,  Lord Dunstable, Sir Rupert Harborough the Honourable Colonel Cholmondeley, and the Honourable Arthur Chichester!
    And what glorious names, too:  nothing plebeian about them  nothing lower than an Honourable!
    Had he known how cheaply Mr. Chichester held his titular decoration, Albert Egerton would have perhaps assumed one himself: but he did not entertain the least suspicion concerning the matter, and therefore envied the pawnbroker's son almost as much as either of the others.
    But to return.
    Lord Dunstable had said, "Shall we all go to Crockford's?"
    Deep was the suspense of Mr. Egerton until Sir Rupert Harborough replied, "With much pleasure. It would be the very thing to teach our young friend Egerton here a little of life."
    "But I am not a member" he murmured, in a disconsolate tone.
    "We are all members, however," said Lord Dunstable; "and can pass you in with ease. Let me and Harborough take charge of you."
    This arrangement was rendered necessary by the fact that Mr. Chichester was not a member of Crockford's, and would, therefore, require to be introduced by Colonel Cholmondeley. Dunstable, Harborough, and Egerton accordingly walked on together; while the Colonel and Chichester followed at some little distance, as it was not thought worth while to allow the young flat to perceive that the Honourable Arthur Chichester must be smuggled in, as it were, as well as himself.
    In this manner the two parties repaired to the celebrated  or rather notorious  Saint James's Club; and Egerton's wildest dream was realized  the acme of his ambition was reached  the portals of Crockford's were darkened by his plebeian shadow!
    Although excited by wine and by the novelty of his situation, he nevertheless maintained his self-possession so far as to avoid any display of vulgar wonderment at the brilliant scene upon which he now entered. Leaning on the arms of Lord Dunstable and Sir Rupert Harborough, he passed through the marble hall, amid was conducted to the coffee-room on the right-hand side.
    There they waited for a few minutes until Cholmondeley and Chichester joined them; and Egerton had leisure to admire the superb pier-glasses, the magnificent chandeliers, the handsome side-boards, the costly plate, and the other features of that gorgeous apartment.
    When the Colonel and Chichester made their appearance, the party proceeded to the supper-room. There Egerton's eyes were completely dazzled by the brilliant looking-glasses, all set in splendid frames with curious designs  the crystal chandeliers  the elegant sconces  the superb mouldings  the massive plate  and the immense quantities of cut glasses and decanters. The curtains were of the richest damask silk; the walls were hung with choice pictures; and the whole magic scene was brilliantly lighted up with innumerable wax candles, the lustre of which was reflected in the immense mirrors. In a word, the voluptuousness and luxury of that apartment surpassed any thing of the kind that young Egerton had ever before witnessed.
    Seated near one of the fire-places in conversation with an elderly gentleman, was an old man, somewhat inclined to stoutness, and very slovenly in his costume. His clothes were good; but they appeared to have been tossed upon him with a pitch-fork. His coat hung in large loose wrinkles over his rounded shoulders: his trousers appeared to hitch up about the thighs, as if through some defect in their cut; two or three of his waistcoat buttons had escaped from their holes, or else had not been fastened in them at all; his cravat was limp; and his shirt-frill was tumbled. His countenance was pale and sickly, and totally inexpressive of that natural astuteness and sharpness which had raised him from the most obscure position to be the companion of the noblest peers in the realm. His eyes were of that lack-lustre species which usually predicate mental dullness and moral feebleness, but which was at variance with the general rule in this instance. In a word, his entire appearance bespoke an individual whose health was wasted by long vigils and the want of needful repose and rest.
    When Lord Dunstable's party entered the room, there were already three or four groups occupying supper-tables, on which the French dishes, prepared in Ude's best style steamed, with delicious odour.
    "Will you take supper, Mr. Egerton?" inquired Lord Dunstable.
    "No, I thank you, my lord," was the reply. "I believe Sir Rupert Harborough informed you that we had already been feeding together."
    It was not true that Egerton had supped with the baronet and Chichester, as the reader knows; but Sir Rupert had already said so of his own accord, and Mr. Egerton was not the young man to contradict a statement which seemed to place him upon a certain degree of intimacy with the aforesaid baronet.
    "Vot, no supper, my lord?" cried the stout gentleman, rising from his seat near the fire, and accosting Dunstable. "Yes  your lordship and your lordship's friends vill do that honour to Mosseer Ude's good things."
    "No, I thank you," said Dunstable, coolly: "we shall not take any supper. We mean to step into the next room and amuse ourselves for an hour or so  eh, Mr. Egerton?"
    And a significant glance, rapid as lightning, from Lord Dunstable's eyes, conveyed his meaning to the stout elderly gentleman with the sickly face.
    "Wery good, my lord. I'll send some nice cool claret in; and the groom-porters is there. Valk that vay, my lord: valk that my, gentlemen;  valk that vay, sir."
    These last words were addressed to Egerton, and were accompanied by a very low bow.
    Dunstable took the young man's arm, and led him into the next apartment, where there was a French hazard table.
    [-352-] "Who is the good-natured old gentleman that spoke so very politely, my lord?" inquired Egerton, in a whisper, when they had passed from the supper-room.
    "That good-natured old gentleman!" cried Dunstable, aloud, and bursting out into a fit of laughter so hearty that the tears ran down his cheeks: "why  that's Crockford!"
    "Crockford!" repeated Egerton, in astonishment; for, although he had denominated the presiding genius of the place "a good-natured old gentleman," he had not failed to observe the execrable English which he spoke, and was overwhelmed with surprise to learn that the friend of nobles was at such open hostilities with grammar.
    "Yes  that is no other than the great Crockford," continued Lord Dunstable, in an under tone. "He once kept a small fishmonger's shop near Temple Bar; and he is now rich enough to buy up all the fishmongers' shops in London, Billingsgate to boot. But let us see what is going on here."
    There were only three or four persons lounging about in the Hazard-Room, previously to the entrance of Dunstable, Egerton, Harborough, Cholmondeley, and Chichester; and no play was going on. The moment, however, those gentlemen made their appearance, the loungers to whom we have just alluded, and who were decoy-ducks connected with the establishment, repaired to the table and called for dice, while his croupiers took their seats. and the groom-porter instantly mounted upon his stool.
    "What does he get up there for?" asked Egerton, in a whisper.
    "To announce the main and chance," replied Lord Dunstable. "But don't you play hazard?"
    "No, nev  that is, not often  not very often," said the foolish young man, afraid of being deemed unfashionable in the eyes of his new acquaintances if he admitted that he never yet handled a dice-box in his life.
    "Oh! no  not often  of course not!,' exclaimed Dunstable, who saw through the artifice: "neither do I. But here comes Crockey with the bank."
    And, as he spoke, Mr. Crockford made his appearance, holding in his hands an elegant rosewood case, which he placed upon the table, and behind which, he immediately seated himself.
    The dice-box was now taken by Lord Dunstable, who set ten sovereigns, called "five" as a main, and threw seven.
    "Seven to five!" exclaimed the groom-porter.
    "Three to two are the odds," said Sir Rupert Harborough to Egerton: "I'll take them of you in fifties?"
    "Done," cried Egerton; and in another moment he had the pleasure of handing over his money to the baronet.
    After Lord Dunstable had thrown out, Mr. Chichester took the box, and Cholmondeley in his turn ensnared Egerton into a private bet, which the young man of course lost. But he parted from his bank-notes with a very good grace; for, although considerably sobered by the soda-water which he had drunk at the Paradise, yet what with the wine and the idea of being at that moment beneath Crockford's roof, he was sufficiently intoxicated to be totally reckless of his financial affairs.
    Thus, after having lost a bet to each of his friends, he was easily persuaded to take the box, and dispense a little more of his cash for the especial benefit of Mr. Crockford.
    "I'll set a hundred pounds," cried Egerton "and call five the main."
    He then threw ten.
    "Ten to five!" cried the groom-porter.
    "Put down three fifties," said Dunstable; "and you have four fifties to three. That's right. Now go on."
    Egerton threw.
    "Five  trois, deuce  out!" cried the groom-porter.
    And the young man's money was swept towards the bank in a moment.
    "Try a back, Egerton," exclaimed Chichester.
    "Well  I don't mind," was the reply  for the waiter had just handed round goblets of the most delicious claret, and the lights began to dance somewhat confusedly before the young victim's eyes. "I'll set myself again in two hundred; and five's the main."
    "Five's the main," cried the groom-porter: "deuce, ace  out."
    And away went the bank-notes to the rosewood case at the head of the table.
    Colonel Cholmondeley now took the box.
    "Will you set me a pony, Egerton?" he said.
    "I should not mind," was the reply, given with a stammer and a blush; "but  to tell you the truth  I have no more money about me. If my cheque will do  "
    Dunstable nodded significantly to Crockford.
    "Oh! my dear sir," said the old hell-keeper, rising from his seat and shuffling towards Egerton, whom he drew partially aside; "I means no offence, but if you vants monies, I shall be werry 'appy to lend you a thousand or two, I 'm sure."
    "Take a thousand, Egerton," whispered Lord Dunstable. "You'll have better luck, perhaps -with old Crockey's money  there's spell about it."
    "I  I," hesitated the young man for a moment as the thought of his previous losses flashed to his mind, even amidst the dazzling influence of Crockford's club and his aristocratic acquaintances. "I  "
    "Glass of claret, sir?" said the waiter, approaching him with a massive silver salver on which stood the crystal goblets of ruby wine.
    "Thank you;"  and Egerton quaffed the aromatic juice to drown the unpleasant ideas which had just intruded themselves upon him: then, as he replaced the glass upon the salver, he said, "Well, give me a thousand  and I'll have another throw."
    Sir Rupert Harborough took the box, set himself in ten pounds, and cried, "Nine's the main."
    He then threw.
    "Six to nine!" exclaimed the groom-porter.
    "Five to four in favour of the caster," observed Colonel Cholmondeley.
    "I'll bet the odds," cried Egerton.
    "'Gainst the rules, sir," said the pompous groom. porter: "you 're not a setter this time."
    "Pooh, pooh!" cried Crockford, affecting a jocular chuckle. "The gentleman has lost  let the gentleman have a chance of recovering his-self. Take the hodds of the gentleman."
    "Then I bet five hundred to four in favour of the caster," said Egerton, now growing interested in the play as he began to understand it better.
    [-353-] 

Sir Rupert throw a few times, and at last turned up six and three.
    "Nine  six, trois  out!" cried the groom-porter.
    Egerton now insisted upon taking the box again; and in a few minutes he had not a fraction left of the thousand pounds which he had borrowed.
    He turned away from the table, and sighed deeply.
    "Glass of claret, sir?" said the waiter, as composedly as if he wore offering the wine through civility and not for the systematic purpose of washing away a remorse.
    Egerton greedily swallowed the contents of a goblet; and when he looked again towards the table, he was astounded to find another bundle of Bank notes thrust into his hand by the obliging Mr. Crockford, who said, in his blandest tones, "I think you vas vaiting, sir, for more monies."
    "Take it  take it, old chap," whispered Dunstable; "you can turn that second thousand into ten."
    "Or into nothing  like the first," murmured Egerton, with a sickly smile; but still he took the money.
    He then played rapidly  wildly  desperately  drinking wine after each new loss, and inwardly cursing his unlucky stars.
    The second thousand pounds were soon gone; and Dunstable whispered to Crockford, "That's enough for to-night. We must make him a member in a day or two  and then you'll give me back the little IOU you hold of mine."
    "Certainly  certainly," answered the hell-keeper "But mind you doesn't fail to bring him again."
    "Never fear," returned Dunstable;  then turning towards his party, he said, aloud, "Well, I think it is pretty nearly time to be off."
    "So do I, my lord  hic," stammered Egerton, catching joyfully at the chance of an immediate escape from the place where fortunes were so speedily engulphed;  for tipsy as he now was again, the idea of his losses was uppermost in his mind.
    "Well, my lord  well, gentlemen," said Crockford," bowing deferentially; "I wishes you all a wery good night  or rather morning. But perhaps your friend, my lord, would just give me his little IOU  "
    "Oh certainly, he will," interrupted Dunstable. [-354-] "Here, Egerton, my boy  give your IOU for the two thousand."
    "I'd ra-a-ther  his  give my draft," returned the young man.
    But, as his hand trembled and his visual faculties were duplicated for the time, he was ten minutes ere he could fill up a printed cheque in a proper manner.
    The business was, however, accomplished at last, and the party withdrew, amidst the bows of decoy-ducks, croupiers, waiters, groom-porters. door-porters, and all the menials of the establishment.

    ***

    William Crockford was the founder of the Club which so long bore his name, and which was only broken up a short time ago.
    He began life as a fishmonger; and when he closed his shop of an evening, was accustomed to repair to some of the West End hells, where he staked the earnings of the day. Naturally of a shrewd and far-seeing disposition, he was well qualified to make those calculations which taught him the precise chances of the hazard-table; and a lucky bet upon the St. Leger suddenly helped him to a considerable sum of ready money, with which he was enabled to extend his ventures at the gaming-house.
    In due time he gave up the fish-shop, and joined some hellites in partnership at the West End. Fortune continued to favour him; and he was at length in a condition to open No. 50, St. James's Street, as a Club.
    The moment the establishment was ready for the a reception of members, announcements of the design were made in the proper quarters; and it was advertised that all persons belonging to other Clubs were eligible to have their names enrolled without ballot as members of the St. James's. The scheme succeeded beyond even the most sanguine hopes of Crockford himself; and hundreds of peers, nobles, and gentlemen, who were fond of play, but who dared not frequent the common gaming-houses, gladly became supporters and patrons of the new Club.
    In the course of a short time No. 51 was added to the establishment; and No. 52 was subsequently annexed. The rules and regulations were made more stringent, because several notorious black-legs had obtained admission; but, until the very last, any member was permitted to introduce a stranger for one evening only, with the understanding that such visitor should be balloted for in due course. The entrance-fee was fixed at twenty guineas a year; and an annual payment of ten guineas was required from every member.
    The three houses, thrown into one, were soon found to be too small for the accommodation of the members: they were accordingly pulled down, and the present magnificent building was erected on their site. It is impossible to say how much money was expended upon this princely structure; but we can assert upon undoubted authority that the internal decorations alone cost ninety-four thousand pounds!
    The real nature of this most scandalous and abominable establishment soon transpired. Hundreds of young men, who entered upon life with fortune and every brilliant prospect to cheer them, were immolated upon the infernal altar of that aristocratic pandemonium. Many of them committed suicide:  others perpetrated forgeries, to obtain the means of endeavouring to regain what they had lost, and ended their days upon the scaffold;  and not a few became decoy-ducks and bonnets in the service of the Arch-demon himself. Even noblemen of high rank did not hesitate to fill these ignominious offices; and for every flat whom they took to the house, they received a recompense proportionate to the spoil that was obtained. To keep up appearances with their follow members, these reined lacqueys of the great hellite actually paid their subscriptions with the funds which he furnished them for the purpose.
    So infamous became the reputation of Crockford's, that it was deemed necessary to devise means to place the establishment apparently upon the same footing with other Clubs. A committee of noblemen and gentlemen (what precious noblemen and gentlemen, good reader!) was formed to administer the affairs of the institution; but this proceeding, was a mere blind. The Committee's jurisdiction extended only to the laws affecting the introduction of new members, the expulsion of unruly ones, and the choice of the wines laid in for the use of the Club. The French Hazard Bank and all matters relating to the gambling-rooms were under the sole control of Crockford, who reaped enormous advantages from that position.
    Thus was it that a vulgar and illiterate man  a professed gambler  a wretch who lived upon the ruin of the inexperienced and unwary, as well as on the vices of the hoary sinner,  thus was he enabled to make noble lords and high-born gentlemen his vile tools, and thrust them forward as the ostensible managers of a damnable institution, the infamous profit of which went into his own purse.*

[-*So far back as 1824, The Times newspaper thus directed attention to the atrocious nature of Crockford's, Club,  

'"Fishmongers' Hall,' or the Crock-odile Mart for gudgeons, flat-fish, and pigeons (which additional title that 'Hell' has acquired from the nature of its 'dealings') has recently closed for the season. The opening and closing of this wholesale place of plunder and robbery are events which have assumed a degree of importance not on account of the two or three unprincipled knaves to whom it belongs, and who are collecting by it vast fortunes incalculably fast, but for the rank, character, and fortunes of the many who are weak enough to be inveigled and fleeced there. The profits for the last season, over and above expenses, which cannot be less than 100 a day, are stated to be full 150,000. It is wholly impossible, however, to come at the exact sum, unless we could get a peep at the Black Ledger of accounts of each day's gain at this Pandemonium. which, though, of course omits to name of whom, as that might prove awkward, if at any time the book fell into other hands. A few statements from the sufferers themselves would be worth a thousand speculative opinions on the subject, however they might be near the fact, and they would be rendering themselves, and others, a vital benefit were they to make them. Yet some idea can be formed of what has been sacked, by the simple fact that one thousand pounds was given at the close of the season to be divided among the waiters alone, besides the Guy Fawkes of the place, a head servant, having half that sum presented to him last January for a New Year's gift. A visitor informed me, that one night there was such immense play, he was convinced a million of money was, to use a tradesman's phrase, turned on that occasion. This sum, thrown over six hours play of sixty events per hour, 360 events the night, will give an average stake of 2777 odd to each event. This will not appear very large when it is considered that 10,000 or more were occasionally down upon single events, belonging to many persons of great fortunes.
    "Allowing only one such stake to fall upon the points of the game in favour of the bank per hour, full 16000 [-355-] were thus sacrificed; half of which, at least, was hard cash from the pockets of the players, exclusively of what they lost besides.
    "Now that there is a little cessation to the satanic work, the frequenters to this den of robbers would do well to make a few common reflections;  that it is their money alone which pays the rent and superb embellishments of the house  the good feeding and the fashionable clothing in which are disguised the knaves about it  the refreshments and wine with which they are regaled, and which are served with no sparing hand, in order' to bewilder the senses to prevent from being seen what may be going forward, but which will not be at their service, they may rest well assured, longer than they have money to be plucked of; and above all, it is for the most part their money, of which are composed the enormous fortunes the two or three keepers have amassed, and which will increase them prodigiously while they are still blind enough to go. To endeavour to gain back any part of the lost money, fortunes will be further wasted in the futile attempt, as the same nefarious and diabolical practices by which the first sums were raised, are still pursued to multiply them. One of these 'Hellites' commenced his career by pandering to the fatal and uncontrollable appetites for gambling of far humbler game than he is now hunting down, whose losses and ruin have enabled him to a. bedeck this place with every intoxicating fascination and incitement, and to throw out a bait of a large sum of money, well hooked, to catch the largest fortunes, which are assure to be netted as the smaller ones were. Sum up the amount of your losses, my lords and gentlemen, when, if you are still sceptical, you must be convinced of these things. Those noblemen and gentlemen, just springing into life and large property, should be ever watchful of themselves, as there are two or three persons of some rank, who themselves have been ruined by similar means, and now condescend to become 'Procurers' to this foul establishment, kept by a 'ci-devant' fishmonger's man, and who are rewarded for their services in the ratio of the losses sustained by the victims whom they allure to it.
    "They wish to give the place the character of a subscription club, pretending that none are admitted but those whose names are first submitted for approval to a committee, and then are balloted for. All this is false. In the first place, the members of different clubs at once are considered eligible; and in the next, all persons are readily admitted who are 'well' introduced, have money to lose, and whose forbearance under losses can be safely relied upon. Let the visitors pay a subscription  let them call themselves a club, or whatever they choose  still the house having a bank put down from day to day by the same persons to be played against, and which has points of the games in its favour, is nothing but a common gaming-house, and indictable as such by the statutes; and in the eye of the law, the visitors are 'rogues and vagabonds.' Were it otherwise  why don't the members of this club be seen at the large plate-glass windows of the bow front, as well as at the windows of reputable club-houses! No one is ever there but the 'creatures of the hell,' dressed out and bedizened with gold ornaments (most probably formerly belonging to unhappy and ruined players), to show off at them, and who look like so many jackdaws in borrowed plumes; the players, ashamed of being seen by the passers by, sneak in and out like cats who have burnt their tails. Some of the members of the different clubs will soon begin to play the real character of this infernal place  those who will ultimately be found to forsake their respectable club-houses, and merge into impoverished and undone frequenters to this 'hell."'    

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