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[-230-] 

CHAPTER LXXV.

THE CRISIS. 

DURING the ensuing three months nothing occurred worthy of record, in connexion with any character that has figured upon the stage of our narrative. The month of July arrived: and found Tomlinson, the banker, more deeply involved in difficulties than ever. The result was that the consultations between him and old Michael, the cashier, were of very frequent occurrence; and the latter grew more morose, more dirty, and more addicted to snuff in proportion as the affairs of the bank became the more desperate.
    One morning, in the first week of July, Tomlinson arrived at the banking-house half an hour earlier than usual. He had taken home the cash-books with him on the preceding evening, for the purpose of ascertaining his true position; and he brought them back again in the morning before any of the clerks had arrived, with the exception of old Michael Martin, who was already waiting for him when he entered the parlour.
    "Well, Michael, my old friend," said Tomlinson, on whose countenance the marks of care and anxiety were now too visibly traced, " I am afraid that the establishment cannot possibly exist many days longer. Mr. Greenwood will be here presently: and he is my only hope."
    "Hope indeed!" growled Martin, plunging his fore-finger and thumb into his capacious snuff-box: "how he left you to shift for yourself after you gave that security to Count Alteroni."
    "Which security fell due a few days ago; and a note from the count, received yesterday, tells me that he shall call upon me next Saturday at twelve o'clock for the amount."
    " He is very welcome to call - and so are a good many others," said Michael; "but they will go back as empty as they came."
    "Good God! can nothing be done?" exclaimed Tomlinson, with an expression of blank despair upon his countenance. "Say, Michael - is there any resource? do you know of any plan? can you suggest any method —"
    "Not one. You must go to the Bankruptcy Court, and I must go to the workhouse; " - and the old man took a huge pinch of snuff.
    "To the workhouse!" cried Tomlinson; "no- impossible! Do not say that, my good old friend."
    "I do say it, though;" - and two tears rolled slowly down the cashier's cheeks.
    This was the first time that Tomlinson had eves beheld any outward and visible sign of emotion on the part of his faithful clerk.
    Tomlinson was not naturally a bad man - at all events, not a bad-hearted man: the cashier had served him with a fidelity rarely equalled; and that announcement of a workhouse-doom in connexion with the old man touched him to the soul.
    "Michael," he said, taking the cashier's hand, " you do not mean to tell me that you are totally without resources for yourself? Your salary has been six hundred a year for a long time; and surely you must have saved something out of that - you, win have no family encumbrances of any kind, and whose expenses are so very limited."
    The old man slowly opened one of the cash-books, pointed to the page at the head of which stood his own name, ran his finger down a column of payments made to himself, and stopping at the total, said, "That amount runs over nine years; and the amount is 540."
    "What - is it possible?" cried Tomlinson: "you have only paid yourself 60 a year."
    "And that was too much for the state of the bank," said the cashier drily, taking a pinch of snuff at the same time.
    "Now of all things which combine to make me wretched at this moment," said Tomlinson, " your position is the most afflicting."
    "Don't think of me: I'm not worth it," returned Michael. "What will you do yourself ?"
    [-231-] "What shall we both do?" cried the banker "But so long as I have a crust, you shall not want."
    "Well - well, there's enough of that," almost growled the cashier, though his furrowed cheeks were still moist with tears. "I am an old man, and my wants are few. A bit of bread and a pinch of snuff are enough for me. But you - you, who have always lived like a gentlemen - how can you stand it ?"
    "And is it literally come to this? Is there no resource?"
    "Do you see any? I do not. Will your father help you ?"
    "Not with another sixpence."
    "Will Greenwood ?"
    "Here he comes to answer for himself. "
    Mr Greenwood entered the parlour, and old Michael, taking his cash-books under his arm, withdrew.
    The member of parliament threw himself into a chair, and observed what a beautiful morning it was.
    Tomlinson made a movement of impatience, and yet dared not ask the question that trembled upon his tongue, and the answer to which would decide his fate.
    "Yes," continued Greenwood, "it is a lovely morning: all nature seems enlivened, and every body is inspired with a congenial feeling."
    "What nonsense is this, Greenwood?" cried the banker. "Do you come to taunt a man upon the brink of ruin, with the happiness of others?"
    "Oh! I beg your pardon, my dear Tomlinson. I really was waiting for you to question me upon matters of business; and in the mean time made use of some observations of common courtesy and politeness."
    "The fact is, that since you obtained a seat in Parliament your manners have altogether changed. But please to put me out of suspense at once:- have you considered my proposal?"
    "I have - maturely."
    "And what is your decision?"
    "That I cannot agree to it."
    "I thought as much," said Tomlinson. "Well - now I have no alternative. I must close the bank and appear in the Gazette."
    "And when you are cleared by a certificate, I will enable you to set up in business again."
    "Upon that promise, Mr. Greenwood," said Tomlinson severely, "I place no reliance - no reliance whatever."
    "Just as you please, returned Greenwood coolly."
    "How can I?" cried the banker. "Whet I gave my security for you to Count Alttroni, and relieved you of a burden of fifteen thousand pounds, you faithfully promised to assist me. Did you keep your word?"
    "Did I not forgive you a debt which would have ruined you that very day ?"
    "True. But you were an immense gainer! You obtained twelve thousand pounds by the transaction. However, I shall be compelled to give an account of the transaction to the Bankruptcy Court."
    "An avowal which will do you no good, and will only expose me," observed Greenwood, alarmed by this declaration.
    "And why should I have any regard for you?" demanded Tomlinson, with that moroseness which men in his desperate condition are so frequently known to manifest towards intriguers more fortunate than themselves.
    "I will tell you why you should have some regard for me," answered Greenwood. "In the first place, the mere fact of your having so long carried on this bank when in a helpless state of insolvency, thereby increasing your liabilities in a desperate manner, and receiving deposits the eventual repayment of which each day became less likely, will so irritate the mass of your creditors that you will never obtain your certificate. Secondly, unless you have a friendly trade-assignee, you will obtain no allowance out of the wrecks of the property, and you will find it difficult, considering the state your books must be in, to make up a balance sheet that would stand the remotest chance of passing."
    "True - true," said Tomlinson: "my condition is really desperate."
    "Not so desperate as you imagine," resumed Greenwood: "I will be your friend - I will save you, if you only follow my counsel."
    "Ah! my good friend," cried the despairing man, "forgive me the expressions which fell from my lips just now."
    "Do not mention that circumstance; I make every allowance for the irritated state of your feelings. In the first place, then, you can make me a creditor to the amount of thirty thousand pounds, and two or three of my friends creditors to an equal amount in the aggregate. We shall be enabled to give you your certificate, together with those persons who will not bear you animosity or whom we can talk over. In the second place, I can apply to be appointed trade-assignee ; and I flatter myself-considering my position, representing as I do a free, enlightened, and independent constituency - my nomination will not be opposed."
    "If you could only contrive that," said Tomlinson. "I might pass my second examination in even a creditable manner; and afterwards —"
    "And afterwards open as a stock-broker," added Greenwood. "That it the invariable resource of all bankrupt bankers; and what is more extraordinary, they obtain confidence and succeed too. Tradesmen who are unfortunate, always take to the wine, coal, or discount business, each of which can be commenced without a shilling; but your aim must be a broker's profession. It is so genteel - so comfortable; a hole of an office in the City, and a villa at Clapham or Kensington ;- a mutton-chop at the dining-rooms in Hercules Passage at one, and turtle and venison at home at six. Ah! the life of a stock-broker is a very pleasant one!"
    "I am sure the life of an insolvent banker is not," said Tomlinson, again rendered rather impatient by Mr. Greenwood's discursiveness. 
    "A thousand pounds will set you up comfortably again," continues Greenwood ; "and that you shall have. Only follow my advice - and I will be the making of you. In the meantime, you had better not struggle against fortune any longer in this position. What is to-day? Thursday. Very well. I will strike a docket against you this very afternoon; the flat can be opened to-morrow morning; and tomorrow evening you can be in the 'Gazette.' Is that agreed?"
    "Agreed!" exclaimed Tomlinson bitterly; "I have no resource left but that! Yes - it shall be as you say. But for God's sake, talk not in so cold and heartless a manner of the mode of procedure."
    "Cold and heartless, my dear fellow!" repeated Greenwood; "I speak of your affairs just as I would speak of my own. Keep up your spirits, and come and dine with me this evening. You shall then give me the necessary securities to enable me to prove as your creditor for the amount agreed upon. Meantime give me a bill for a thousand or so, ante-dated about four months, and due a month ago, so that I [-232-] may strike the docket upon it presently. Then, as you are not to know that these proceedings are in operation against you, you must keep the bank open until the messenger comes down to-morrow afternoon from the Bankruptcy Court the moment the fiat is lawfully proclaimed before the Commissioner. Of course you will pretend to be struck with surprise, and instantly proceed to the Court to obtain your protection. Is that agreed upon?"
    "I am in your hands," said Tomlinson. "Your advice shall now guide me altogether. But when I think upon the ruin and desolation my failure will cause - the widows and the orphans whom it will reduce to beggary - the poor tradesmen whom it will Involve in inextricable difficulties, - it is enough to drive me mad."
    "Pooh! pooh! my good fellow," said Greenwood; "these little things happen every day. As for the widows and the orphans, allow me to remind you that the wisdom and goodness of the legislative bodies - to one of which I have the honour to belong as the representative of an intelligent and independent constituency - have established asylums for the reception of persons so reduced, and where they enjoy every comfort, upon the trifling condition of doing a little needle-work, or breaking a few stones."
    "Greenwood - Greenwood, do not speak in this heartless manner! Oh! the idea that my failure will render your words literally true - that numbers will be thereby reduced to the workhouse of which you speak, - it is this, it is this that overwhelms me!"
    "You are very silly to give way to your feelings in this manner. Why do you know (and I may as well mention it by way of consolation in respect to the widows and orphans whose fate you deplore) - that the workhouses are conducted at present upon the most liberal principle possible? Do you know that the female inmates are handsomely remunerated for the shirts which they make - that they can make a shirt in a day and a half, and that they receive one farthing for each? That is their pocket-money - their little perquisites, my dear fellow ;- so you perceive that the workhouse is not such a bad place after all."
    Tomlinson was pacing the bank-parlour in an abstracted mood, and paid not the slightest attention to this tirade from the lips of the newly-fledged politician.
    Mr. Greenwood saw that his observations were unheeded, and accordingly rose to take his departure. Tomlinson gave him a bill for a thousand pounds to enable him to strike a docket against him; and Mr. Greenwood then withdrew.
    The moment he was gone, old Michael entered the room; and Tomlinson communicated to him all that had passed. The cashier made no reply, but took the largest pinch of snuff he had ever yet abstracted from his box or conveyed to his nose.
    He had not yet broken silence, when the door opened, and Mr. Greenwood returned. Michael was about to withdraw; but the capitalist stopped him, saying, " Stay - three heads are better than two. I was just entering my cabriolet, when an idea - a brilliant idea struck me."
    "An idea!" exclaimed Tomlinson: "what - to save me?"
    "To render your failure legitimate - to make you appear an honourable, but an unfortunate man - to avert all blame from you —"
    "Ah! if that could be done," interrupted the banker, his countenance animated with hope, "I might yet be spared the execrations of the widow and the orphan!"
    "Ever your widows and orphans, my dear fellow," said Greenwood: "you are really quite sickening."
    "Well - well - the idea?"
    "Nothing is more simple," continued Greenwood. "You leave the bank this afternoon at five, as usual: Michael sees all safe, and takes his departure also. You leave fifty thousand pounds in specie and notes in the strong box, together with securities of foreign houses at Leipzig, Vienna, Turin, New York, Rio Janeiro, Calcutta, Sydney —"
    "Greenwood, have you come back to mock a miserable-ruined man?"
    "Quite the contrary. Listen! You leave money and securities to the amount of ninety-two thousand, three hundred, and forty-seven pounds - or any odd sum, to look well - safe in the strong box, together with the cash-books. You and Michael come in the morning - or perhaps it would be better to allow one of the clerks to arrive first,- and, behold! the bank has been broken into during the night - the money, the securities, and the books are all gone - and the bank stops as a natural consequence!"
    "Impossible - impossible!" exclaimed Tomlinson: "it could never be done! I could not proclaim such a fraud without a blush that would betray me. What say you, Michael ?"
    The old cashier answered only with a grunt, and took snuff as it were by handfuls.
    "What say you, Michael ?" repeated Tomlinson, impatiently.
    "I say that it can be done - ought to be done - and must he done," replied the old man. "I would sooner die than see the honour of the house lost - and that will save it."
    "Well said, Michael," exclaimed Greenwood. "Now, Tomlinson, your decision?"
    "It is a fearful alternative - and yet-  and yet, it is preferable to infamy - disgrace —"
    "Then you agree?"
    "And if I agree - where are the means of executing the scheme? Who will rob - or affect to rob the premises?"
    "That must be arranged by yourselves. The back of this house looks upon a court. The thieves can have effected their entrance through these parlour windows: the parlour doors will be found forced; the safe will have been broken open. Nothing can be more simple."
    "Yes - I know how to manage it all," exclaimed old Martin, who had been ruminating more seriously than ever for the last few moments. "Mr. Greenwood, you have saved the honour of the bank, which I love as if it was my own child ;" - and the cashier wrung the hand of the member of Parliament with a warmth indicative of an amount of feeling which he had never been known to demonstrate before.
    "Well - I have given you the hint - do you profit by it," said Greenwood; and with these words he departed.
    And as he drove back to the West-End, he said to himself, "Tomlinson will now be completely in my power, and will never dare confess the real nature of the transaction relative to Count Alteroni's fifteen thousand pounds. According to the first arrangement proposed, a bullying counsel or an astute Commissioner might have wormed out of him the exact truth; whereas, now - now his lips are silenced on that head for ever!"
    The moment Greenwood had left the bank-parlour, old Michael accosted Tomlinson, and said, "Have you full confidence in me?"
    "I have, Michael: but why do you ask me that question?"
    [-233-] 

    "Will you place yourself In my hands ?"
    "I will - in every way."
    "Then you will leave the establishment as usual at five this evening; and trust to me to manage every thing. I have my plan ready arranged; but you shal1 know nothing to-day :- to-morrow - tomorrow —"
    The old man stopped short, and had recourse to his snuff-box.
    "Be it as you say, Michael," cried Tomlinson, always bewildered by the terrors of his situation, and still half shrinking from the daring plot which Greenwood had opened to his view; "I know that you are my faithful friend - my best, my only friend :- it shall be as you desire!"

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