chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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 -
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
"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
Tomlinson was pacing the bank-parlour in an abstracted mood,
and paid not the slightest attention to this tirade from the lips of the
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
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
"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 -
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,
"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?"
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!"
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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