On that fatal Saturday evening, in a hackney-coach, fetched from the Foundling, was I taken from my comfortable house and my dear little wife; whom Mr. Smithers was left to console as he might. He said that I was compelled to take a journey upon business connected with the office; and my poor Mary made up a little portmanteau of clothes, and tied a comforter round my neck, and bade my companion particularly to keep the coach windows shut: which injunction the grinning wretch promised to obey. Our journey was not long: it was only a shilling fare to Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, and there I was set down.
The house before which the coach stopped seemed to be only one of half-a-dozen in that street which were used for the same purpose. No man, be he ever so rich, can pass by those dismal houses, I think, without a shudder. The front windows are barred, and on the dingy pillar of the door was a shining brass-plate, setting forth that “Aminadab, Officer to the Sheriff of Middlesex,” lived therein. A little red-haired Israelite opened the first door as our coach drove up, and received me and my baggage.
As soon as we entered the door, he barred it, and I found myself in the face of another huge door, which was strongly locked; and, at last, passing through that, we entered the lobby of the house.
There is no need to describe it. It is very like ten thousand other houses in our dark City of London. There was a dirty passage and a dirty stair, and from the passage two dirty doors let into two filthy rooms, which had strong bars at the windows, and yet withal an air of horrible finery that makes me uncomfortable to think of even yet. On the walls hung all sorts of trumpery pictures in tawdry frames (how different from those capital performances of my cousin Michael Angelo!); on the mantelpiece huge French clocks, vases, and candlesticks; on the sideboards, enormous trays of Birmingham plated ware: for Mr. Aminadab not only arrested those who could not pay money, but lent it to those who could; and had already, in the way of trade, sold and bought these articles many times over.
I agreed to take the back-parlour for the night, and while a Hebrew damsel was arranging a little dusky sofa-bedstead (woe betide him who has to sleep on it!) I was invited into the front parlour, where Mr. Aminadab, bidding me take heart, told me I should have a dinner for nothing with a party who had just arrived. I did not want for dinner, but I was glad not to be alone — not alone, even till Gus came; for whom I despatched a messenger to his lodgings hard by.
I found there, in the front parlour, at eight o’clock in the evening, four gentlemen, just about to sit down to dinner. Surprising! there was Mr. B., a gentleman of fashion, who had only within half-an-hour arrived in a post-chaise with his companion, Mr. Lock, an officer of Horsham gaol. Mr. B. was arrested in this wise:— He was a careless good-humoured gentleman, and had indorsed bills to a large amount for a friend; who, a man of high family and unquestionable honour, had pledged the latter, along with a number of the most solemn oaths, for the payment of the bills in question. Having indorsed the notes, young Mr. B., with a proper thoughtlessness, forgot all about them, and so, by some chance, did the friend whom he obliged; for, instead of being in London with the money for the payment of his obligations, this latter gentleman was travelling abroad, and never hinted one word to Mr. B. that the notes would fall upon him. The young gentleman was at Brighton lying sick of a fever; was taken from his bed by a bailiff, and carried, on a rainy day, to Horsham gaol; had a relapse of his complaint, and when sufficiently recovered, was brought up to London to the house of Mr. Aminadab; where I found him — a pale, thin, good-humoured, lost young man: he was lying on a sofa, and had given orders for the dinner to which I was invited. The lad’s face gave one pain to look at; it was impossible not to see that his hours were numbered.
Now Mr. B. has not anything to do with my humble story; but I can’t help mentioning him, as I saw him. He sent for his lawyer and his doctor; the former settled speedily his accounts with the bailiff, and the latter arranged all his earthly accounts: for after he went from the spunging-house he never recovered from the shock of the arrest, and in a few weeks he died. And though this circumstance took place many years ago, I can’t forget it to my dying day; and often see the author of Mr. B.‘s death — a prosperous gentleman, riding a fine horse in the Park, lounging at the window of a club; with many friends, no doubt, and a good reputation. I wonder whether the man sleeps easily and eats with a good appetite? I wonder whether he has paid Mr. B.‘s heirs the sum which that gentleman paid, and died for?
If Mr. B.‘s history has nothing to do with mine, and is only inserted here for the sake of a moral, what business have I to mention particulars of the dinner to which I was treated by that gentleman, in the spunging-house in Cursitor Street? Why, for the moral too; and therefore the public must be told of what really and truly that dinner consisted.
There were five guests, and three silver tureens of soup: viz., mock-turtle soup, ox-tail soup, and giblet soup. Next came a great piece of salmon, likewise on a silver dish, a roast goose, a roast saddle of mutton, roast game, and all sorts of adjuncts. In this way can a gentleman live in a spunging-house if he be inclined; and over this repast (which, in truth, I could not touch, for, let alone having dined, my heart was full of care)— over this meal my friend Gus Hoskins found me, when he received the letter that I had despatched to him.
Gus, who had never been in a prison before, and whose heart failed him as the red-headed young Moses opened and shut for him the numerous iron outer doors, was struck dumb to see me behind a bottle of claret, in a room blazing with gilt lamps; the curtains were down too, and you could not see the bars at the windows; and Mr. B., Mr. Lock the Brighton officer, Mr. Aminadab, and another rich gentleman of his trade and religious persuasion, were chirping as merrily, and looked as respectably, as any noblemen in the land.
“Have him in,” said Mr. B., “if he’s a friend of Mr. Titmarsh’s; for, cuss me, I like to see a rogue: and run me through, Titmarsh, but I think you are one of the best in London. You beat Brough; you do, by Jove! for he looks like a rogue — anybody would swear to him; but you! by Jove, you look the very picture of honesty!”
“A deep file,” said Aminadab, winking and pointing me out to his friend Mr. Jehoshaphat.
“A good one,” says Jehoshaphat.
“In for three hundred thousand pound,” says Aminadab: “Brough’s right-hand man, and only three-and-twenty.”
“Mr. Titmarsh, sir, your ‘ealth, sir,” says Mr. Lock, in an ecstasy of admiration. “Your very good ‘earth, sir, and better luck to you next time.”
“Pooh, pooh! he’s all right,” says Aminadab; “let him alone.”
“In for what?” shouted I, quite amazed. “Why, sir, you arrested me for 90_l.”
“Yes, but you are in for half a million — you know you are. Them debts I don’t count — them paltry tradesmen’s accounts. I mean Brough’s business. It’s an ugly one; but you’ll get through it. We all know you; and I lay my life that when you come through the court, Mrs. Titmarsh has got a handsome thing laid by.”
“Mrs. Titmarsh has a small property,” says I. “What then?”
The three gentlemen burst into a loud laugh, said I was a “rum chap”— a “downy cove,” and made other remarks which I could not understand then; but the meaning of which I have since comprehended, for they took me to be a great rascal, I am sorry to say, and supposed that I had robbed the I. W. D. Association, and, in order to make my money secure, settled it on my wife.
It was in the midst of this conversation that, as I said, Gus came in; and whew! when he saw what was going on, he gave such a whistle!
“Herr von Joel, by Jove!” says Aminadab. At which all laughed.
“Sit down,” says Mr. B. — “sit down, and wet your whistle, my piper! I say, egad! you’re the piper that played before Moses! Had you there, Dab. Dab, get a fresh bottle of Burgundy for Mr. Hoskins.” And before he knew where he was, there was Gus for the first time in his life drinking Clos-Vougeot. Gus said he had never tasted Bergamy before, at which the bailiff sneered, and told him the name of the wine.
“Old Clo! What?” says Gus; and we laughed: but the Hebrew gents did not this time.
“Come, come, sir!” says Mr. Aminadab’s friend, “ve’re all shentlemen here, and shentlemen never makish reflexunsh upon other gentlemen’sh pershuashunsh.”
After this feast was concluded, Gus and I retired to my room to consult about my affairs. With regard to the responsibility incurred as a shareholder in the West Diddlesex, I was not uneasy; for though the matter might cause me a little trouble at first, I knew I was not a shareholder; that the shares were scrip shares, making the dividend payable to the bearer; and my aunt had called back her shares, and consequently I was free. But it was very unpleasant to me to consider that I was in debt nearly a hundred pounds to tradesmen, chiefly of Mrs. Hoggarty’s recommendation; and as she had promised to be answerable for their bills, I determined to send her a letter reminding her of her promise, and begging her at the same time to relieve me from Mr. Von Stiltz’s debt, for which I was arrested: and which was incurred not certainly at her desire, but at Mr. Brough’s; and would never have been incurred by me but at the absolute demand of that gentleman.
I wrote to her, therefore, begging her to pay all these debts, and promised myself on Monday morning again to be with my dear wife. Gus carried off the letter, and promised to deliver it in Bernhard Street after church-time; taking care that Mary should know nothing at all of the painful situation in which I was placed. It was near midnight when we parted, and I tried to sleep as well as I could in the dirty little sofa-bedstead of Mr. Aminadab’s back-parlour.
That morning was fine and sunshiny, and I heard all the bells ringing cheerfully for church, and longed to be walking to the Foundling with my wife: but there were the three iron doors between me and liberty, and I had nothing for it but to read my prayers in my own room, and walk up and down afterwards in the court at the back of the house. Would you believe it? This very court was like a cage! Great iron bars covered it in from one end to another; and here it was that Mr. Aminadab’s gaol-birds took the air.
They had seen me reading out of the prayer-book at the back-parlour window, and all burst into a yell of laughter when I came to walk in the cage. One of them shouted out “Amen!” when I appeared; another called me a muff (which means, in the slang language, a very silly fellow); a third wondered that I took to my prayer-book yet.
“When do you mean, sir?” says I to the fellow — a rough man, a horse-dealer.
“Why, when you are going to be hanged, you young hypocrite!” says the man. “But that is always the way with Brough’s people,” continued he. “I had four greys once for him — a great bargain, but he would not go to look at them at Tattersall’s, nor speak a word of business about them, because it was a Sunday.”
“Because there are hypocrites,” sir, says I, “religion is not to be considered a bad thing; and if Mr. Brough would not deal with you on a Sunday, he certainly did his duty.”
The men only laughed the more at this rebuke, and evidently considered me a great criminal. I was glad to be released from their society by the appearance of Gus and Mr. Smithers. Both wore very long faces. They were ushered into my room, and, without any orders of mine, a bottle of wine and biscuits were brought in by Mr. Aminadab; which I really thought was very kind of him.
“Drink a glass of wine, Mr. Titmarsh,” says Smithers, “and read this letter. A pretty note was that which you sent to your aunt this morning, and here you have an answer to it.”
I drank the wine, and trembled rather as I read as follows:—
“Sir — If, because you knew I had desined to leave you my proparty, you wished to murdar me, and so stepp into it, you are dissapointed. Your villiany and ingratitude would have murdard me, had I not, by Heaven’s grace, been inabled to look for consalation elsewhere.
“For nearly a year I have been a martar to you. I gave up everything — my happy home in the country, where all respected the name of Hoggarty; my valuble furnitur and wines; my plate, glass, and crockry; I brought all — all to make your home happy and rispectable. I put up with the airs and impertanencies of Mrs. Titmarsh; I loaded her and you with presents and bennafits. I sacrafised myself; I gave up the best sociaty in the land, to witch I have been accustomed, in order to be a gardian and compannion to you, and prevent, if possible, that waist and ixtravygance which I prophycied would be your ruin. Such waist and ixtravygance never, never, never did I see. Buttar waisted as if it had been dirt, coles flung away, candles burnt at both ends, tea and meat the same. The butcher’s bill in this house was enough to support six famalies.
“And now you have the audassaty, being placed in prison justly for your crimes — for cheating me of 3,000_l., for robbing your mother of an insignificient summ, which to her, poor thing, was everything (though she will not feel her loss as I do, being all her life next door to a beggar), for incurring detts which you cannot pay, wherein you knew that your miserable income was quite unable to support your ixtravygance — you come upon me to pay your detts! No, sir, it is quite enough that your mother should go on the parish, and that your wife should sweep the streets, to which you have indeed brought them; I, at least, though cheated by you of a large summ, and obliged to pass my days in comparative ruin, can retire, and have some of the comforts to which my rank entitles me. The furnitur in this house is mine; and as I presume you intend your lady to sleep in the streets, I give you warning that I shall remove it all tomorrow.
“Mr. Smithers will tell you that I had intended to leave you my intire fortune. I have this morning, in his presents, solamly toar up my will; and hereby renounce all connection with you and your beggarly family.
“P.S. — I took a viper into my bosom, and it stung me.”
I confess that, on the first reading of this letter, I was in such a fury that I forgot almost the painful situation in which it plunged me, and the ruin hanging over me.
“What a fool you were, Titmarsh, to write that letter!” said Mr. Smithers. “You have cut your own throat, sir — lost a fine property — written yourself out of five hundred a year. Mrs. Hoggarty, my client, brought the will, as she says, downstairs, and flung it into the fire before our faces.”
“It’s a blessing that your wife was from home,” added Gus. “She went to church this morning with Dr. Salt’s family, and sent word that she would spend the day with them. She was always glad to be away from Mrs. H., you know.”
“She never knew on which side her bread was buttered,” said Mr. Smithers. “You should have taken the lady when she was in the humour, sir, and have borrowed the money elsewhere. Why, sir, I had almost reconciled her to her loss in that cursed Company. I showed her how I had saved out of Brough’s claws the whole of her remaining fortune; which he would have devoured in a day, the scoundrel! And if you would have left the matter to me, Mr. Titmarsh, I would have had you reconciled completely to Mrs. Hoggarty; I would have removed all your difficulties; I would have lent you the pitiful sum of money myself.”
“Will you?” says Gus; “that’s a trump!” and he seized Smithers’s hand, and squeezed it so that the tears came into the attorney’s eyes.
“Generous fellow!” said I; “lend me money, when you know what a situation I am in, and not able to pay!”
“Ay, my good sir, there’s the rub!” says Mr. Smithers. “I said I would have lent the money; and so to the acknowledged heir of Mrs. Hoggarty I would — would at this moment; for nothing delights the heart of Bob Smithers more than to do a kindness. I would have rejoiced in doing it; and a mere acknowledgment from that respected lady would have amply sufficed. But now, sir, the case is altered — you have no security to offer, as you justly observe.”
“Not a whit, certainly.”
“And without security, sir, of course can expect no money — of course not. You are a man of the world, Mr. Titmarsh, and I see our notions exactly agree.”
“There’s his wife’s property,” says Gus.
“Wife’s property? Bah! Mrs. Sam Titmarsh is a minor, and can’t touch a shilling of it. No, no, no meddling with minors for me! But stop! — your mother has a house and shop in our village. Get me a mortgage of that —”
“I’ll do no such thing, sir,” says I. “My mother has suffered quite enough on my score already, and has my sisters to provide for; and I will thank you, Mr. Smithers, not to breathe a syllable to her regarding my present situation.”
“You speak like a man of honour, sir,” says Mr. Smithers, “and I will obey your injunctions to the letter. I will do more, sir. I will introduce you to a respectable firm here, my worthy friends, Messrs. Higgs, Biggs, and Blatherwick, who will do everything in their power to serve you. And so, sir, I wish you a very good morning.”
And with this Mr. Smithers took his hat and left the room; and after a further consultation with my aunt, as I heard afterwards, quitted London that evening by the mail.
I sent my faithful Gus off once more to break the matter gently to my wife, fearing lest Mrs. Hoggarty should speak of it abruptly to her; as I knew in her anger she would do. But he came in an hour panting back, to say that Mrs. H. had packed and locked her trunks, and had gone off in a hackney-coach. So, knowing that my poor Mary was not to return till night, Hoskins remained with me till then; and, after a dismal day, left me once more at nine, to carry the dismal tidings to her.
At ten o’clock on that night there was a great rattling and ringing at the outer door, and presently my poor girl fell into my arms; and Gus Hoskins sat blubbering in a corner, as I tried my best to console her.
The next morning I was favoured with a visit from Mr. Blatherwick; who, hearing from me that I had only three guineas in my pocket, told me very plainly that lawyers only lived by fees. He recommended me to quit Cursitor Street, as living there was very expensive. And as I was sitting very sad, my wife made her appearance (it was with great difficulty that she could be brought to leave me the night previous)—
“The horrible men came at four this morning,” said she; “four hours before light.”
“What horrible men?” says I.
“Your aunt’s men,” said she, “to remove the furniture they had it all packed before I came away. And I let them carry all,” said she; “I was too sad to look what was ours and what was not. That odious Mr. Wapshot was with them; and I left him seeing the last waggon-load from the door. I have only brought away your clothes,” added she, “and a few of mine; and some of the books you used to like to read; and some — some things I have been getting for the — for the baby. The servants’ wages were paid up to Christmas; and I paid them the rest. And see! just as I was going away, the post came, and brought to me my half-year’s income — 35_l., dear Sam. Isn’t it a blessing?”
“Will you pay my bill, Mr. What-d’ye-call-’im?” here cried Mr. Aminadab, flinging open the door (he had been consulting with Mr. Blatherwick, I suppose). “I want the room for a gentleman. I guess it’s too dear for the like of you.” And here — will you believe it? — the man handed me a bill of three guineas for two days’ board and lodging in his odious house.
There was a crowd of idlers round the door as I passed out of it, and had I been alone I should have been ashamed of seeing them; but, as it was, I was only thinking of my dear dear wife, who was leaning trustfully on my arm, and smiling like heaven into my face — ay, and took heaven, too, into the Fleet prison with me — or an angel out of heaven. Ah! I had loved her before, and happy it is to love when one is hopeful and young in the midst of smiles and sunshine; but be un_happy, and then see what it is to be loved by a good woman! I declare before Heaven, that of all the joys and happy moments it has given me, that was the crowning one — that little ride, with my wife’s cheek on my shoulder, down Holborn to the prison! Do you think I cared for the bailiff that sat opposite? No, by the Lord! I kissed her, and hugged her — yes, and cried with her likewise. But before our ride was over her eyes dried up, and she stepped blushing and happy out of the coach at the prison door, as if she were a princess going to the Queen’s Drawing-room.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00