< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >


[-250-] 

CHAPTER LXXXIV.

THE SECOND EXAMINATION - COUNT ALTERONI.

FORTY-TWO days after the appearance of Mr. Tomlinson's name in the Gazette, among the category of Bankrupts, the second examination of this gentleman took place at the Bankruptcy Court in Basinghall Street.
    In an arm-chair, behind a desk raised upon a species of dais, sate the commissioner, embellished with a wig and gown. Close under the desk was placed the registrar, also with wig and gown; and two or three barristers, who were retained in the case, were similarly adorned. In a sort of pew on the right of the commissioner sate the official assignee, with a pile of books and papers before him. About two hundred persons thronged the room - most of whom, by their sullen and sinister looks, might be easily recognised as the creditors of the bankrupt. At a distance from the box in which witnesses were placed during examination, stood Count Alteroni, with folded arms and severe countenance.
    A few moments before eleven o'clock a bustle was beard near the door; and a whisper of "Here's the trade assignee," ran through the crowd.
    Mr. Greenwood entered the court with a patronising smile upon his countenance, and an easy kind of gait, as if he were by no means dissatisfied with himself. He was dressed in the most elegant manner; and his left hand played negligently, as usual, with the costly gold chain that festooned over his waistcoat.
    As he passed through the crowd of his friend's creditors, many of whom were known to him, he addressed a few words in an off-hand and patronising manner to those whom he recognised at the moment.
    "Fine day, Mr. Styles. How are Mrs. Styles and those dear children?" (Mr. Styles was an old batchelor.)- "Ah! Mr. Milksop, how are you? quite delighted to see you! Why, upon my word, you are getting quite stout." (Poor Mr. Milksop was as thin as a lath.) "But every thing prospers [-251-] with you, I suppose! - Well, Mr. Chivers, how do you do? Any thing new on the Stock-Exchange? I believe you don't suffer much by this business of  Tomlinson's, do you?"
    "Only three thousand - that's all!" returned Mr. Chivers, with a smile which would have turned new milk sour.
    "Oh! a mere song!" exclaimed Greenwood, tossing up his head. "Well, Vokes, are you here? -  you don't mean to say that you're wasting your time in this manner, eh ?  -Ah I Tullett, my good friend - delighted to see you. Why, how well you do look, to be sure!" (Mr. Tullett was in a rapid decline; and he "grinned horribly a ghastly smile" at this salutation.)
    In this manner did Mr. Greenwood work his way through the crowd, until he reached the desk of the official assignee, by the side of whom he took a seat.
    "Where's the bankrupt?" exclaimed the clerk of the court in a loud and imperious tone of voice, while Mr. Greenwood bestowed one of his patronising smiles upon the Commissioner.
    "Here," replied Tomlinson; and he stood forward close by the witness-box.
    He was pale and altered; and the marks of care and anxiety were visible upon his countenance. The glance he cast around him, as be took his stand in the presence of the Commissioner, was hurried send fearful :- he almost dreaded that the face of Michael Martin would meet his eyes as he thus hastily scanned the crowd by whom he was surrounded. But his alarm was without foundation: the old cashier was not there.
    The examination of the bankrupt then commenced.
    In answer to the questions put to him, he stated that he had delivered in to the assignee as full and complete a statement of his affairs as the loss of his books (which had been abstracted by the cashier at the time of the robbery) would permit.
    Mr. Greenwood observed that the accounts were highly satisfactory, and would doubtless please every creditor present. It was, however, unfortunate that the estate would not pay a single farthing in the pound.
    "Very unfortunate indeed," growled a creditor. "I would much rather have heard that there was a dividend, than that the accounts are so very satisfactory," murmured another.
    "Mr. Tomlinson's creditors cannot complain of him, your Honour," said Mr. Greenwood to the Commissioner "on the contrary, they have every reason to be perfectly satisfied with him., He has given up every thing —"
    "Why, there was nothing left to give up!" ejaculated Mr. Vokes.
    "Nothing left to give up!" cried Mr. Greenwood, casting a stern glance upon the unfortunate creditor; "permit me, sir, as the trade-assignee duly chosen at the last meeting - permit me, sir, to inform you that there were the desks, counters, stools, and various fixtures of the bank - all of which Mr. Tomlinson surrendered in the most honourable and straightforward manner, and which have realized a hundred and eighty-one pounds, seventeen shillngs, and sixpence, for the benefit of the estate."
    "Well - and what has become of that sum?" demanded Mr. Vokes.
    "Consumed by the expenses of the fiat," answered Mr. Greenwood coolly. "But, as I was observing, your Honour, when I was interrupted - interrupted in a most indecent manner - the position of Mr. Tomlinson is a most honourable one —"
    "Perhaps it is even enviable," said the consumptive creditor, drily.
    "And I for one," added Mr. Greenwood, "shall certainly sign his certificate."
    "Have no tidings been heard of the cashier who absconded?" inquired the Commissioner.
    "None, sir," answered the official assignee and Mr. Greenwood simultaneously.
    "What has become of' the bankrupt's furniture at his private residence?" demanded a creditor.
    "His landlord issued a distress for a year's rent the moment the bank stopped," answered Greenwood. "The amount due to this most hard-hearted and unfeeling landlord is a hundred and twenty pounds, arid the furniture would not fetch more at an auction. I therefore, with the full concurrence of the official assignee, allowed that very harsh man to keep the goods."
    A barrister, who had been retained for one of the creditors, then proceeded to examine Mr Tomlinson.
    "You allege that about ninety-four thousand pounds were abstracted from the bank by the fugitive cashier?"
    "I do - or as nearly as I can guess."
    "And yet, by this balance-sheet, I perceive that your liabilities are two hundred thousand pounds. Were you not insolvent when the robbery was perpetrated?"
    "It would appear so, certainly."
    "Then how do you account for that immense deficiency?"
    "I can account for it in no other manner than by presuming that my cashier had carried on a systematic mode of plunder for some years past; but as I placed implicit reliance on him, I was never led to an investigation of my actual position."
    "Do you mean to say that your cashier embezzled many thousand pounds every year?"
    "I am afraid that such was the fact."
    The barrister asked no farther questions.
    Another opposing counsel interrogated the bankrupt relative to his affairs; but Tomlinson's replies were given in a manner which afforded no scope for suspicion.
    Ah! none divined how much it cost that unhappy man thus to heap shame and infamy upon the head of a faithful old clerk, who had never wronged him of a shilling!
    The case terminated by the declaration of tie Commissioner that the bankrupt had passed his second examination.
    Tomlinson was glad to escape from the frightful ordeal to which his feelings had been subjected for two mortal hours; and, while he hurried home to conceal his emotions from every eye, and meditate upon his condition in private, Mr. Greenwood busied himself in obtaining signatures for his certificate. This a as an easy matter to a man of the financier's powers of persuasion; and that very afternoon the names of four-fifths of the bankrupt's creditors were attached to the parchment which was to relieve him of all past embarrassments.
    When Greenwood took the certificate to Tomlinson in the evening, he said, "My dear fellow, you will soon be a new man. In one-and-twenty days this document will have passed the Lord Chancellor and the Court of Review, and be duly registered in Basinghall Street. I will then lend you a thousand pounds, at only twenty per cent., to start you as a stock-broker. You see how well I have managed your business. You have passed through the Court - and you have kept your furniture."
    [-252-] "Which I would have given up to my creditors, had you permitted me," said Tomlinson sorrowfully.
    "Nonsense, my dear fellow! Never give away what you can keep by a little manoeuvring. Your landlord can now withdraw his friendly seizure, and all will be well."
    "Nothing will render me happy until I find out that poor old man who has so nobly, so generously sacrificed himself for me," observed Tomlinson in a tone of deep dejection. "What can have become of him?"
    "Oh! do not bother yourself about him," cried Greenwood impatiently. "He will turn up one of these days; and then you can remunerate him handsomely."
    "Ah! that would indeed be a moment of supreme happiness for me!" ejaculated Tomlinson.
    "Yes," continued Greenwood, musing: "a five-pound note will recompense the old fellow well for his conduct."
    "A five-pound note!" repeated Tomlinson. "Can you be in earnest, Greenwood?"
    "Well, if you think it is too much, give him a couple of sovereigns," said Greenwood, coolly. "But I must take leave of you now: I am compelled to devote a couple of hours this evening to the interests of that free and enlightened body whom I have the honour to represent in parliament. So, adieu, Tomlinson; and when your certificate is registered, come to me."
    Mr. Greenwood then took his departure from the bankrupt's abode.
    "The heartless villain!2 cried Tomlinson, when the door had closed behind the financier; then, after a long pause, he added, "and yet his ingenuity has saved me from eternal degradation and shame!"
    In the mean the Count Alteroni returned to his dwelling at Richmond. He reached home at about five o'clock in the evening, and found his wife and daughter anxiously awaiting his arrival. The moment he entered the drawing-room, the ladies cast a timid and yet inquiring glance towards him; and their hearts sank within them when their eyes caught sight of his severe and sombre expression of countenance.
  "My dear wife-my beloved daughter," he said, advancing towards them, and taking the hand of each in his own, "my worst fears are confirmed. The bank will not pay one sixpence of dividend: Greenwood has contrived to get his fellow-conspirator clear of the tribunal; and the creditors have not a hope left. It was with the greatest difficulty that I could so far master my feelings as to avoid an interference in those most iniquitous proceedings. But my position - my rank forbade toe from attempting aught to expose those villains. And now, my dear wife - now, my charming Isabella - prepare yourselves to hear the worst. We are ruined!"
    "Ruined!" exclaimed both the countess and her daughter at the same moment.
    "Oh! no," added Isabella: "we have many friends, my dear father."
    "To whom I will not apply," said the Count, proudly. "No - we must wrestle with our evil fortunes, and trust to the advent of better times. At present every thing seems to conspire to crush us; and should that contemplated marriage take place in Castelcicala —"
    "My dearest husband," interrupted the Countess, "do not aggravate present griefs by the apprehension at that which as yet only menaces us. It is scarcely possible that the Grand Duke will perpetrate such a folly."
    "And that title of Marchioness of Ziani - and that pension, - do they not speak volumes?" cried the count bitterly. "Oh! there are moments when I feel inclined to listen to the representations of those faithful friends in my own country with whom I correspond, and who are ever counselling me to —"
    "Ah! my dearest father," exclaimed Isabella, bursting into tears; "would you endanger that life which is so precious to my mother and myself? would you plunge your native hand in the horrors of a civil war? Oh! let us hear all our present ills with firmness and resolution; and if there be a guardian Providence - as I devoutly believe - He will not allow us to be persecuted for ever!"
    "Noble girl!" cried the count; "you teach use my duty;"  - and he embraced his lovely daughter with the utmost warmth and tenderness.
    "Yes," said the countess, fondly pressing her husband's hand, "we are crushed only for a time. Our course is now clear:- we must give up our present establishment; and - as we have, thank God! no debts —"
    "Ah! it is that which cuts me to the very soul !" interrupted the count. "You are not yet acquainted with the extent of our misfortunes. A brave fellow countryman of mine, who supported me in all the plane which I endeavoured to carry out for the welfare of the Castelcicalans, and who was driven into exile on my account, was imprisoned in London a few months ago for a considerable sum of money. I could not leave him to perish in a gaol. I became answerable for him - and the creditor is now pressing me for the payment of the debt."
    "And what is the amount of this liability?" inquired the countess, hastily.
    "Eighteen hundred pounds," was the reply.
    "Do not suffer that to annoy you, my dearest father," exclaimed Isabella. "My jewellery and superfluous wardrobe will produce —"
    "Alas! my dearest child," interrupted the count, "all that we possess would not realize any thing like that sum. But, happen what will, our first step must be to give up this furnished mansion, and retire to a more humble dwelling. That will not cost us many pangs. We shall still be together; and our love for each other constitutes our greatest happiness."
    "Yes, my dearest husband," said the countess; "even a prison should not separate us."
    "Where my belayed father is - where my parents are - there am I happy," murmured Isabella, the pearly tears trickling down her cheeks.
    Oh! in that hour of his sorrow, how sweet - how sweet upon the ears of that noble Italian sounded the words, "husband" and "father," which, coupled with tender syllables of consolation, came from the lips of the two affectionate beings who clung to him so fondly. The lovely countenance of his daughter - so beautiful, that it seemed rather to belong to the ethereal inhabitants of heaven than to a mortal denizen of earth - was upturned to him; and her large black eyes, shining through her tears, beamed with an ineffable expression of tenderness and filial love.
    Charming, charming Isabella - how ravishing, how enchanting wast thou at that moment when thou didst offer sweet consolation to thy father! The. roses dyed thy cheeks beneath the delicate tinge of transparent bistre which proclaimed thee a daughter of the sunny south - thy moist red lips [-253-] apart, disclosed thy teeth white as the orient pearl; - thy young bosom heaved beneath the gauze which veiled it - purity sat upon thy lofty brow, like a diadem which innocence confers upon its elect! Very beautiful wait thou, Isabella - charming exotic flower from the sweet Italian clime!
    "Yes, my beloved wife - my darling daughter," said the Count; "we are ruined by my mad confidence in that villain Greenwood. You know that there is one means by which I could obtain wealth and release us from this cruel embarrassment. But never would either of you wish to see ins sell my claims and resign my patriotism for gold! No - dearest partakers of my sad destinies, that may not be! I shall ever reject the offers of my persecutors with scorn; and until fortune may choose to smile upon us, we must learn to support her frowns with resignation."
    "That same Almighty power which afflict, and chastises, can also restore gladness, and multiply blessings," said Isabella. solemnly.
    A servant now entered the room to announce that dinner was served in another apartment.
    Assuming a cheerful air, the count led his wife and daughter to the dining-room, and partook of the repast with a forced appetite, in order to avoid giving pain to those who watched all his movements and hung upon all his words with such tender solicitude.
    After dinner, the count, still pondering upon the scene in which a tender wife and affectionate daughter had administered to him such sweet consolation, and experiencing a delicious balm in the domestic felicity which he enjoyed, said to Isabella, "Read me from your Album, my dear girl, those lines which a poet is supposed to address to his wife, and which, always possess new charms for me."
    Isabella hastened to obey her father's wishes, and read, in a soft and silver tone, the following stanzas:- 

THE POET TO HIS WIFE.

WHEN far away, my memory keeps in view, 
    Unweariedly, the image of my wife;
This tribute of my gratitude is due
    To her who seems the angel of my life-
The guiding star that lead, me safely through
    The eddies of this world's unceasing strife;- 
Hope's beacon, cheering ever from afar, 
How beautiful art thou, my guiding star!

Our children have thy countenance, that beams 
    With love for him who tells thy virtues now;- 
Their eyes have caught the heavenly ray which gleams
    From thine athwart the clouds that shade my brow,
Like sunshine on a night of hideous dreams!- 
    The first to wean me from despair art thou;
For all the endearing sentiments of life
Are summed up in the words Children and Wife

The mind, when in a desert stale, renews
    Its strength, if by Hope's purest manna fed; -
As drooping flowers revive beneath the dews 
    Which April mornings bountifully shed.
Mohammed taught (let none the faith abuse) 
    That echoes were the voices of the dead 
Repeating, in a far-off realm of bliss.
The words of those they loved and left in this.

My well beloved, should'st thou pass hence away, 
    Into another and a happier sphere,
Ere death has also closed my little day, 
    And morn may wake no more on my career,- 
"I love thee," are the words that I shall say 
    From hour to hour, during my sojourn here,
That thou in other realms may'st still be found
Prepared to echo back the welcome sound.

    Scarcely had Isabella finished these lines, when a servant entered the room, and announced a Mr. Johnson, " who had some pressing business to communicate, and who was very sure that he shouldn't be considered an intruder."
    Mr. Johnson - a queer-looking, shabby-genteel, off-hand kind of man - made his appearance close behind the servant, over whose shoulder he leered ominously.
    "I b'lieve You're Count Alteroni, air you?" was Mr. Johnson's first question.
    "I am. What is your business with me?"
    "I'm come from Rolfe, the attorney, in Clement's Inn," was the reply : "he —"
    "Oh! I suppose he has sent you to say that he will accord me the delay I require?" interrupted the count.
    "Not quite that there neither," said the man; then, sinking his voice to a mysterious whisper, and glancing towards the ladies with an air of embarrassment, he added, "The fact is, I've got a execution agin your person - a ca-sa, you know, for eighteen hundred and costs."
    "A writ - a warrant!" ejaculated the count aloud. "You do not mean to say that you are come to take me to prison?"
    "Not exactly that either," replied Mr. Johnson. "You needn't go to quod, you know. You can come to our lock-up in the New-cut, Lambeth, where you'll be as snug as if you was in your own house, barring liberty."
    "I understand you," said the Count ; then, turning to his wife and daughter, he added, "My dears, the evil moment is arrived. This person is a bailiff come to arrest me; and I must go with him. I implore you not to take this misfortune to heart:- it was sure to happen; and it might just as well occur to-day as a week or a month hence."
    "And whither will they take you?" asked the countess, bursting into tears. "Cannot we be allowed to accompany you?"
    "You can come, ma'am, and see his lordship to-morrow," said the bailiff; "and you can stay with him from ten in the morning till nine in the evening - or may-be till half-arter ten as a wery partick'lar faviour - for which you'll only have to pay half a sufferin extray. But there's my man."
    A sneaking kind of knock - something more than a single one, not so much as a double one, and by no means as bold as a postman's - had been heard the moment before the bailiff uttered these last words ; and while he went in person to inform his acolyte that the caption was made, and that he might wait in the hall, the count endeavoured to soothe and console the two afflicted ladies, who now clung to him in the most impassioned and distracted manner.
    "To-morrow, my dear father-to-morrow, the moment the clock strikes ten, we will be with you," said Isabella. "Oh! how miserably will pass the hours until that period!"
    "Will you not now permit me, my dearest husband, to see the Envoy of Castelcicala, and —"
    "No," answered the Count firmly. "Did we not agree ere now to support with resignation all that fortune might have in store for us"
    "Ah! pardon me - I forgot," said the countess, "I am overwhelmed with grief. Oh! what a blow - and for you!"
    "Show yourselves worthy of your high rank and proud name," cried the nobleman; "and all will yet be well."
    At this moment the bailiff returned to the room.
    "I am now ready to accompany you," said the count.
    "So much the better," cried Mr. Johnson. "Me and my man Tim Bunkins come down in a omnibus; I don't know which way you'd like to go, [-254-] but I've heerd say you keeps a wery tidy cabrioily."
    "It would be a monstrous mockery for any one to proceed to a prison in his own luxurious vehicle," said the count sternly. "As you came, so may you return, I will accompany you in an omnibus."
    The count embraced his wife and daughter tenderly and with much difficulty tore himself away, in order to leave a comfortable home for a miserable sponging-house.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >