chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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THE native of London is as proud of the City as if it were
his own property. He can afford to be called a cockney for having been born
within the sound of Bow bells, for there are merchant-princes, and the peers and
monopolists of the commerce of the world, who bear the nickname as well as he.
[-163-] And well may the
Londoner be proud of his city in numerous respects. It is the richest and the
most powerful that the world has ever seen! The dingy back parlours in Lombard
Street, the upstairs business rooms in Cheapside, and the warehouses with
shutters half up the windows in Wood Street and its neighbourhood, are the
mysterious places in which the springs of the finance and trade of a mighty
empire are set in motion? Half a dozen men in the City can command in an hour
more wealth than either Rome or Babylon had to boast of at the respective
periods of their greatest prosperity. And neither Rome nor Babylon possessed
drapers who cleared their fifty thousand a- year by selling gowns and shawls,
nor sugar-bakers with a million in hard cash, nor grocers with a plum in each
hand, nor brewers to whom the rise or fall of one halfpenny per pot in the price
of beer makes a difference of forty thousand pounds per annum! Rome,
Babylon, Thebes, and Carthage, could all have been purchased by the East India
Company - with perhaps a mortgage upon the India Docks!
But the reader must not imagine that all which glitters is
gold. Amongst the most splendid establishments in London, and those most wealthy
in appearance, there are some in a hopeless state of insolvency. To one of these
we shall now introduce those who may choose to accompany us thither.
The well-known banking-house of James Tomlinson was situated
in Lombard Street. The establishment was not extensive; nor were there a great
many clerks, because it did little agency business for country banks, but was
chiefly a house of deposit. It enjoyed a high reputation, and was considered as
safe as the presumed wealthy integrity, and experience of its proprietor were
likely to render it. It was moreover believed that the father of James
Tomlinson was a sleeping partner; and as the old gentleman had retired from the
business of oilman with an immense fortune, the bank was presumed to possess
every guarantee of stability. It had existed for upwards of sixty years, having
been founded and most successfully carried on by an uncle of James Tomlinson.
James himself had originally entered the establishment as a clerk, whence be
rose to be a partner, and finally found himself at the head of the concern at
his uncle's death.
James Tomlinson was not an extravagant man; but he was not
possessed of the ability and experience for which the world gave him credit. In
the year 1826, and at the age of forty, he found himself at the head of a
flourishing and respectable establishment. He was indeed the sole proprietor,
for his father was in reality totally unconnected with it as a partner. James
was intimately acquainted with the mechanical routine of the bank business; but
he was deficient in those powers of combination and faculties of foresight which
were necessary to enable him to lay out to the best advantage the moneys
deposited in his hands. With good intentions, he lacked talent. He was an
excellent head clerk or junior partner; but he was totally unfitted for supreme
management. Thus was it that in two or three years he experienced serious
reverses; and, although he carefully concealed the failure of his operations
from all human eyes, the very safety of his establishment was seriously
compromised. The French Revolution of 1830 ruined a Paris house to which
Tomlinson had advanced a considerable sum; and this blow consummated the
insolvency of his bank.
He was then compelled to make a confidant of his cashier, an
old and faithful servant of his uncle, and of frugal habits, and kind but
eccentric disposition. Michael Martin was this individual's name. He was of very
repulsive appearance, stooping in his gait, blear-eyed, and dirty in person. He
took vast quantities of snuff; but as much lodged upon his shirt-frill and
waistcoat as was thrust up his nose. Thus his linen was invariably filthy in the
extreme. His dress was a suit of seedy black; and the right thigh of his
trousers was brown and grimy with the marks of snuff - for upon that part of his
attire did he invariably wipe his finger and thumb after taking a pinch of his
Such was the individual whom Tomlinson took into his
confidence, when the affairs of the bank grew desperate. Old Martin was as close
and reserved as if he were both deaf and dumb; and he was moreover possessed of
a peculiar craftiness and cunning which admirably fitted him for the part that
he was now to enact. Although it was next to impossible to retrieve the affairs
of the bank, so great was the deficiency, still Michael Martin assured his
master that it was quite probable that they might be enabled to carry on the
establishment for a length of time - perhaps even many years, the chances that
the draughts upon the bank would not equal the deposits being in their favour.
Thus was this insolvent and ruined establishment carried on,
with seeming respectability and success, by the perseverance of Tomlinson, and
the skill and craft of old Martin.
We shall now introduce our readers into the parlour of the
bank, at ten o'clock in the morning after the incidents related in the preceding
James Tomlinson had just arrived, and was standing before the
fire, glancing over the City Article of The Times. He was a fine, tall,
good-looking man, plainly dressed, and without the slightest affectation either
in manner or attire. The bluntness and apparent straightforwardness of his
character had won and secured him many friends amongst a class of men who regard
frankness of disposition and plainness of demeanour as qualities indicative of
solidity of position and regular habits of business. Then he was always at his
post - always to be seen; and hence unlimited confidence was placed in him!
Having glanced over the newspaper which he held in his hand,
he rang the bell. A clerk responded to the summons.
"Is Mr. Martin come yet?"
"Tell him to step this way."
The clerk withdrew; and the old cashier entered the room, the
door of which he carefully closed. "Good morning, Michael,2 said the
banker. "What news?"
"Worse and worse," answered the old man, with a
species of savage grunt. "We have had a sad time of it for the last three
"For the last seven or eight years, you may say,"
observed Tomlinson, with a sigh; and then his countenance suddenly wore an
expression of ineffable despair - as evanescent as it was poignant
"At first the work was easy enough," said Michael:
"a little combination and tact enabled us to struggle on; but latterly the
concern has fallen into so desperate a condition, that I really fear when I come
in the morning that it will never last through the day."
"My God! my God! what a life!" exclaimed Tomlinson.
"And there are hundreds and thousands who pass up the street every day, and
who say within themselves. 'How I wish I was James Tom-[-164-]linson!'
Heavens! I would that I were a beggar in the street - a sweeper of a
crossing -a pauper in a workhouse "
"Come - this is folly," interrupted the old
cashier, impatiently. "We must
go on to the end."
"What is the state of your book this morning?" demanded the
banker, putting the question with evident alarm - almost amounting to horror.
"Three thousand four hundred pounds, eighteen shillings, in
specie - sixteen hundred and thirty-five in notes," answered the cashier.
"Is that all! " ejaculated Tomlinson. "And this morning we
have to pay Greenwood the two thousand pounds he lent me six weeks ago."
"We can't part with the money," said the cashier rudely. "Greenwood
knows the circumstances of the bank, and must give time."
"You know what Greenwood is, Michael," exclaimed the
banker. " If we are not punctual with him, he will never lend us another
shilling and what should we have done without him on several occasions?"
"I know all that. But look at the interest he makes you
pay," muttered the cashier.
"And look at the risk he runs," added the banker.
"He finds it worth his while. I calculated the other day
that we paid him three thousand pounds last year for interest only: we can't go on much longer at
"I had almost said that the sooner it ends the better,"
cried Tomlinson. "What low trickery - what meanness - what abominable craft,
have we been compelled to resort to! Oh! if that affair with the Treasury three
years ago had only turned up well - if we could have secured the operation, we
should have retrieved all our losses, enormous as they are - we should have built
up the fortunes of the establishment upon a more solid foundation than
"That was indeed a misfortune," observed the cashier, taking a
pinch of snuff.
"And how the Chancellor of the Exchequer obtained his
information about me - at the eleventh hour - after all previous inquiries were known to be
continued Tomlinson, "I never could conjecture. At that time the secret was
confined to you and me, and my father, to whom I communicated it, you
remember, in that letter which I wrote to him soliciting the fifty thousand
"Which sum saved the bank at that period," observed Michael.
"Never shall I forget the day when I called at the
Treasury for the decision of the government relative to my proposal," returned
Tomlinson. "The functionary who received me, said in so pointed a manner, 'Mr. Tomlinson, you have not dealt candidly with us relative to your true
position; your secret is known to us; but rest assured that, although we decline any
negotiation with you, we will not betray you.' This announcement came upon me
like a thunder-stroke: I was literally paralysed. The functionary added with a
sort of triumphant and yet mysterious smile, 'There is not a secret connected with the true
position of any individual of any
consequence in the City which escapes our knowledge. The government, sir, is
omniscient!' God alone can divine the sources of this intimate acquaintance
with things locked up, as it were, in one's own bosom!" added the banker,
"And this is not the only case in which such secrets have been
discovered by the government," said the old cashier, again regaling his nose with
a copious pinch of snuff.
"Yes, I myself have heard of other instances," observed
the banker, with a shudder. "I have known great firms expend large sums of
money to obtain particular information from Paris, Frankfort, and Madrid, by
means of couriers; and this information has been despatched by letter to their
agents at Liverpool and Manchester, and elsewhere, to answer certain commercial
or financial purposes. Well, that information has been known to government
within a few hours, and the government broker has bought or sold stock
"But how could the government obtain that information?"
demanded Martin. "Some treachery "
"No - impossible! The government has gleaned its knowledge
when every human precaution against treachery and fraud was adopted. Look at my
own case! " continued Tomlinson. " You, my father, and myself alone,
knew my secret. On you I can reckon as a man can reckon upon his own self: my
father was incapable of betraying me; and I of course should not have divulged
my own ruin. And yet the secret became known to the government. I shudder,
Michael - oh! I shudder when I think that we dwell in a country which vaunts its
freedom, yet where there exists the secret, dark, and mysterious element of
the most hideous despotism!"
At this moment a clerk entered, and informed the cashier that
he was wanted in the public office.
As soon as Michael had disappeared, the banker walked up and
down his parlour, a prey to the most maddening reflections. There were but five
thousand pounds left in the safe; two thousand were to be paid
to Greenwood; and every minute a cheque, or two or three cheques might be
presented, which would crush the bank at one blow.
"One hundred and eighty thousand pounds of liability,"
murmured Tomlinson to himself, "and five thousand pounds to meet it!"
Ah! little thought those who passed by the banking-house at
that moment, what heart-felt, horrible tortures were endured by the master of
the establishment in his own parlour!
At length Martin returned.
His countenance never revealed any emotions; but he took
snuff wholesale- and that was a fearful omen.
"Well?" said Tomlinson, in a hoarse and hollow voice.
"Alderman Phipps just drawn for twelve hundred pounds,
and Colonel Brown for eight hundred," replied the cashier.
"Two thousand gone in a minute!" ejaculated the banker.
"Shall I pay any more?" asked the cashier.
"Yes - pay, pay up to the last farthing!" answered
Tomlinson. "An accident - a chance may save us, as oftentimes before! And yet
methinks, Michael, that we never stood so near the verge of ruin as we do
"Never," said the old man coldly.
"And is there no expedient by which we can raise a few
thousands, or even a few hundreds, for immediate wants?"
"None that I know of," returned Martin, taking more
At that moment Mr. Greenwood was announced, and Michael
withdrew from the parlour.
"You have called for your two thousand pounds?" said the
banker, after the usual interchange of civilities.
"Yes: I require that sum particularly this morning,
replied the financier: "for I am pledged to [-165-]
pay fifteen thousand at twelve o'clock to Count Alteroni."
"This is very unfortunate," observed Tomlinson. "I
am literally in this position - take the money, and I must stop payment the next moment."
"That is disagreeable, no doubt," said Greenwood; "but the
count is urgent, and I cannot put him off."
"My God!" cried Tomlinson; "what can I do?
Greenwood - my good friend - I know you are rich - I know you can raise any amount you choose:
pray do not push me this morning."
"What am I to do, my dear fellow?" said the
"I must satisfy this count - and I really cannot manage without the two
thousand. I could let you have them again in a fortnight."
"A fortnight!" ejaculated the banker, clenching his
fists; "to-morrow it might be too late. Can you suggest no plan? can you
devise no scheme?"
"Let me keep these two thousand pounds for six weeks
longer- a month longer; and ask me - ask me what you will! I am desperate
- I will do anything you
"Tell me how I can satisfy this ravenous Italian," said
Greenwood, "and I will let you keep the money for six months."
"You say you have to settle with this count for
fifteen thousand pounds?" inquired the banker.
Greenwood nodded an affirmative.
"And does he require it all in hard cash?"
"No-he will take the security of any responsible person,
or apparently responsible person," added the financier, with a significant smile,
"payable in six months."
Tomlinson appeared to reflect profoundly.
His reverie was interrupted by the entrance of old Martin,
taking snuff more vehemently than ever.
The cashier whispered something in the banker's ear, and then
"Seven hundred and fifty more gone!" cried
Tomlinson; "and now, Greenwood, there remains in the safe but a fraction more than your two thousand
pounds. Dictate your own terms!"
This was precisely the point to which the financier was
anxious to arrive.
"Listen," he said, "playing with his watch-chain.
"This Count Alteroni will accept of you as his debtor instead of me. Take
the responsibility off me on to your own shoulders, and I make you a present of
the two thousand pounds!"
"What!" ejaculated Tomlinson; "incur a liability of
fifteen thousand to this count! Greenwood, you never can be serious?"
"I never was more serious in my life," returned the
financier coolly. "If you fail before the six months have elapsed, fifteen
thousand more or less on your books will be nothing: if you contrive to carry on
the establishment until the expiration of that period, I will help you out of
"You are not reasonable - you are anxious to crush me at
once!" cried Tomlinson. "Well, be it so, Mr. Greenwood! Take your two thousand
"And leave you to put up a notice on your doors -
eh?" said Greenwood, still playing with his watch-chain.
"Ah! my God - has it come to this? " exclaimed
the banker. "Ruin - disgrace - and beggary, all in one day! But better that
than submit to such terms as those which you dictate."
With these words he rang the bell violently.
Old Martin immediately made his appearance.
"Mr. Martin," said Tomlinson, affecting a calmness which he was far from feeling, "bring two
thousand pounds for Mr. Greenwood."
"It can't be done," growled Michael, taking a huge pinch
"Can't be done?" ejaculated the banker.
"No," answered the old man, doggedly: "just paid
away four hundred and sixty-five more. There isn't two thousand in the safe."
Tomlinson walked once up the room; then, turning to
Greenwood, he said, " I will accept your proposal. Mr. Martin," he added,
addressing the cashier, "you can retire: I will settle this matter with Mr.
The old man withdrew.
"When, where, and how is this business to be arranged?"
demanded Tomlinson, after a short pause.
"The count is to call at my house at twelve. I have left
a note to request him to come on hither."
"You had, then, already arranged this matter in your
mind?" said the banker, ironically.
"Certainly," answered Greenwood, with his usual coolness.
"I knew you would relieve me of this obligation; because I shall be enabled
in return to afford you that assistance of which you stand so much in need."
"I must throw myself upon your generosity," said
Tomlinson, "It is now twelve: the count will soon be here."
Half an hour passed away; and the Italian nobleman made his
"You see that I have kept my word, count, exclaimed Mr.
Greenwood, with an ironical smile of triumph. "Mr. Tomlinson holds in his
hands certain funds of mine, which, according to the terms of agreement between
us, he is to retain in his possession and use for a period of six months and six
days from the present day, at an interest of four per cent. If you, Count
Alteroni, be willing to accept a transfer of fifteen thousand pounds of such
funds in Mr. Tomlinson's hands from my name to your own, the bargain can be
completed this moment."
"I cannot hesitate, Mr. Greenwood," said the count,
"to accept a guarantee of such known stability as the name of Mr.
"Then all that remains to be done," exclaimed the
financier, "is for you to return me my acknowledgment for the amount specified,
and for Mr. Tomlinson to give you his in its place. Mr. Tomlinson has already
received my written authority for the transfer."
The business was settled as Mr. Greenwood proposed. The
count returned the financier his receipt, and accepted one from the banker.
"Now, that this is concluded," count, said Mr. Greenwood,
placing the receipt in his pocket-book, "I hope that our friendship will
"Pardon me, sir," returned the count, his features
assuming a stern expression: "although I am bound to admit that you have
not wronged me in respect to money, you have dared to talk to me of my daughter,
who is innocence and purity itself."
"Count Alteroni," began Mr. Greenwood, "I am not
"Silence, sir!" cried the Italian noble,
imperatively: "I have but one word more to say. Circumstances have revealed to
me your profligate character; and never can I be too thankful that my daughter
should have escaped an alliance with a man who bribes his agents to administer
opiate drugs to an unprotected female for the vilest of purposes. Mr. Tomlinson,"
added the count, "pardon me for [-166-] having used such language in your apartment,
and in your
Count Alteroni bowed politely to the banker, and, darting a
withering glance of mingled contempt and indignation upon the abashed and
astounded Greene wood, took his departure.
"He talks of things which are quite new to me," said
Greenwood, recovering an outward appearance of composure, though inwardly he was
chagrined beyond description.
Tomlinson made no reply: he was too much occupied with
his own affairs to be able to afford attention to those of others.
Greenwood shortly took his leave - delighted at having
effectually settled his pecuniary obligation with the count, in such a manner
that it could never again be the means of molestation in respect to himself, -
but vexed at the discovery which the Italian nobleman had evidently made in
respect to his conduct towards Eliza Sydney.
Immediately after Mr. Greenwood had left the bank-parlour,
old Michael entered. This time he carried his snuff-box open in his left hand;
and at every two paces he took a copious pinch with the fore-finger and thumb of
his right. This was a fearful omen; and Tomlinson trembled.
"Well, Michael - well?"
"Not a deposit this morning. Draughts come in like
wild-fire," said the old cashier. "There is but a hundred pounds left in the
"A hundred pounds!" ejaculated the banker, clasping his
hands together: "and is it come to this at length, Michael?"
"Yes," said the cashier, gruffly.
"Then let us post a notice at once," cried
"the establishment must be closed without another moment's delay."
"Will you write out the notice of stoppage of payment,
or shall I?" inquired Michael.
"Do it yourself, my good old friend - do it for
said the banker, whose countenance was ashy pale, and whose limbs trembled under
him, as if he expected the officers of justice to drag him to a place. of
The old cashier seated himself at the table, and wrote out
the announcement that the bank was unfortunately compelled to suspend its
payments. He then read it to the ruined man who was now pacing the apartment with agitated steps.
"Will that do?"
"Yes," answered the banker; "but, in mercy, let me
leave the house ere that notice be made public."
Tomlinson was about to rush distractedly out of the room,
when the cashier was summoned into the public department of the establishment.
Five minutes elapsed ere his return - five minutes which
appeared five hours to James Tomlinson.
At length the old man came back; and this time he did not
carry his snuff-box in his hand.
Without uttering a word, he took the "notice of stoppage"
off the table, crushed it in his hand, and threw it into the fire.
"Saved once more," he murmured, as he watched the
burning to tinder; and when it was completely consumed, he took a long and
hearty pinch of snuff.
"Saved!" echoed Tomlinson: "do you mean that we are
"Seven thousand four hundred and sixty-seven - pounds
just paid in to Dobson and Dobbins's account," answered the cashier, coolly
and leisurely, as if he himself experienced not the slightest emotion.
In another hour there were fifteen thousand pounds in the safe; and when the bank closed that
evening at the usual time, this sum had swollen up to
twenty thousand and some hundreds.
This day was a specimen of the life of
James Tomlinson, the banker.
Readers, when you pass by the grand commercial and financial
establishments of this great metropolis, pause and reflect ere you envy their
proprietors! In the parlours and offices of those reputed emporiums of wealth
are men whose minds are a prey to the most agonising feelings - the most poignant
There is no situation so full of responsibility as that of a
banker -n o trust
so sacred as that which is confided to him. When he falls, it is not the ruin of one man which is accomplished: it is the ruin of
hundreds - perhaps thousands.
The effects of that one failure are ramified through a wide section of
society: widows and orphans are reduced to beggary - and
those who have been well and tenderly nurtured are driven to the workhouse.
yet the law punishes not the great banker who fails, and who involves thousands in his ruin.
The petty trader who
breaks for fifty pounds is thrown into prison, and is planed at the tender mercy of the
Insolvents' Court, which perhaps remands him to a debtor's gaol for
a year, for having contracted debts without a reasonable chance of paying
them. But the great banker, who commenced business with a hundred thousand
pounds, and who has dissipated five hundred thousand belonging to others,
applies to the Bankruptcy Court, never sees the inside of a prison at all, and
in due time receives a certificate, which clears him of all his liabilities,
and enables him to begin the world anew. The petty trader passes a weary time
in gaol, and is then merely emancipated from his confinement - but not from his debts. His future exertions are clogged by an impending
weight of liability. One system or the other is wrong :-decide, O ye legislators
who vaunt "the wisdom of your ancestors," which should be retained, and
which abolished, - or whether both should be modified!
* * * * * * *
In the course of the evening the Earl of Warrington called upon Mr..
Arlington, with whom he passed a few minutes alone in the drawing-room.
When his lordship had taken his departure, Diana returned to Eliza whom she
had left in another apartment, and, placing a quantity of letters, folded, but
unsealed, in her hands, said, "These are the means of introduction to
some of the first families in Montoni. They are written, I am informed, by an
Italian nobleman of great influence, and whose name will act like a talisman in
your behalf. They are sent unsealed according to usage; but the earl has
earnestly and positively desired that their contents be not examined in this
country. He gave this injunction very seriously," added Diana, with a smile,
"doubtless because he supposed that he has to deal with two daughters of
Eve whose curiosity is invincible. He, however, charged me to deliver this
message to you as delicately as possible."
"These letters," answered EIiza, glancing over their superscriptions,
"are addressed to strangers and not to me; and although I know that they
refer to me, I should not think of penetrating into their contents, either in
England or elsewhere. But did you express to the earl all the gratitude that I
feel for his numerous and signal deeds of kindness?"
"The earl is well aware of your grateful feelings,"
Mrs. Arlington. "Can you suppose that I would forget to paint all you
experience for what he has already done, and what he will still do for you? He
will see you for a moment era your departure to-morrow, to bid you farewell."
"I appreciate that act of condescension on his part," observed
affected even to tears, "more than all else he has ever yet done for
* * * * * * *
On the following day Eliza Sydney, accompanied by the faithful Louisa, and
attended by an elderly valet who had been for years in the service of the Earl
of Warrington, took her departure from London, on her way to the Grand Duchy
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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