The failure of the great Diddlesex Association speedily became the theme of all the newspapers, and every person concerned in it was soon held up to public abhorrence as a rascal and a swindler. It was said that Brough had gone off with a million of money. Even it was hinted that poor I had sent a hundred thousand pounds to America, and only waited to pass through the court in order to be a rich man for the rest of my days. This opinion had some supporters in the prison; where, strange to say, it procured me consideration — of which, as may be supposed, I was little inclined to avail myself. Mr. Aminadab, however, in his frequent visits to the Fleet, persisted in saying that I was a poor-spirited creature, a mere tool in Brough’s hands, and had not saved a shilling. Opinions, however, differed; and I believe it was considered by the turnkeys that I was a fellow of exquisite dissimulation, who had put on the appearance of poverty in order more effectually to mislead the public.
Messrs. Abednego and Son were similarly held up to public odium: and, in fact, what were the exact dealings of these gentlemen with Mr. Brough I have never been able to learn. It was proved by the books that large sums of money had been paid to Mr. Abednego by the Company; but he produced documents signed by Mr. Brough, which made the latter and the West Diddlesex Association his debtors to a still further amount. On the day I went to the Bankruptcy Court to be examined, Mr. Abednego and the two gentlemen from Houndsditch were present to swear to their debts, and made a sad noise, and uttered a vast number of oaths in attestation of their claim. But Messrs. Jackson and Paxton produced against them that very Irish porter who was said to have been the cause of the fire, and, I am told, hinted that they had matter for hanging the Jewish gents if they persisted in their demand. On this they disappeared altogether, and no more was ever heard of their losses. I am inclined to believe that our Director had had money from Abednego — had given him shares as bonus and security — had been suddenly obliged to redeem these shares with ready money; and so had precipitated the ruin of himself and the concern. It is needless to say here in what a multiplicity of companies Brough was engaged. That in which poor Mr. Tidd invested his money did not pay 2_d. in the pound; and that was the largest dividend paid by any of them.
As for ours — ah! there was a pretty scene as I was brought from the Fleet to the Bankruptcy Court, to give my testimony as late head clerk and accountant of the West Diddlesex Association.
My poor wife, then very near her time, insisted upon accompanying me to Basinghall Street; and so did my friend Gus Hoskins, that true and honest fellow. If you had seen the crowd that was assembled, and the hubbub that was made as I was brought up!
“Mr. Titmarsh,” says the Commissioner as I came to the table, with a peculiar sarcastic accent on the Tit —“Mr. Titmarsh, you were the confidant of Mr. Brough, the principal clerk of Mr. Brough, and a considerable shareholder in the Company?”
“Only a nominal one, sir,” said I.
“Of course, only nominal,” continued the Commissioner, turning to his colleague with a sneer; “and a great comfort it must be to you, sir, to think that you had a share in all the plun — the profits of the speculation, and now can free yourself from the losses, by saying you are only a nominal shareholder.”
“The infernal villain!” shouted out a voice from the crowd. It was that of the furious half-pay captain and late shareholder, Captain Sparr.
“Silence in the court there!” the Commissioner continued: and all this while Mary was anxiously looking in his face, and then in mine, as pale as death; while Gus, on the contrary, was as red as vermilion. “Mr. Titmarsh, I have had the good fortune to see a list of your debts from the Insolvent Court, and find that you are indebted to Mr. Stiltz, the great tailor, in a handsome sum; to Mr. Polonius, the celebrated jeweller, likewise; to fashionable milliners and dressmakers, moreover; — and all this upon a salary of 200_l. per annum. For so young a gentleman it must be confessed you have employed your time well.”
“Has this anything to do with the question, sir?” says I. “Am I here to give an account of my private debts, or to speak as to what I know regarding the affairs of the Company? As for my share in it, I have a mother, sir, and many sisters —”
“The d-d scoundrel!” shouts the Captain.
“Silence that there fellow!” shouts Gus, as bold as brass; at which the court burst out laughing, and this gave me courage to proceed.
“My mother, sir, four years since, having a legacy of 400_l. left to her, advised with her solicitor, Mr. Smithers, how she should dispose of this sum; and as the Independent West Diddlesex was just then established, the money was placed in an annuity in that office, where I procured a clerkship. You may suppose me a very hardened criminal, because I have ordered clothes of Mr. Von Stiltz; but you will hardly fancy that I, a lad of nineteen, knew anything of the concerns of the Company into whose service I entered as twentieth clerk, my own mother’s money paying, as it were, for my place. Well, sir, the interest offered by the Company was so tempting, that a rich relative of mine was induced to purchase a number of shares.”
“Who induced your relative, if I may make so bold as to inquire?”
“I can’t help owning, sir,” says I, blushing, “that I wrote a letter myself. But consider, my relative was sixty years old, and I was twenty-one. My relative took several months to consider, and had the advice of her lawyers before she acceded to my request. And I made it at the instigation of Mr. Brough, who dictated the letter which I wrote, and who I really thought then was as rich as Mr. Rothschild himself.”
“Your friend placed her money in your name; and you, if I mistake not, Mr. Titmarsh, were suddenly placed over the heads of twelve of your fellow-clerks as a reward for your service in obtaining it?”
“It is very true, sir,”— and, as I confessed it, poor Mary began to wipe her eyes, and Gus’s ears (I could not see his face) looked like two red-hot muffins —“it’s quite true, sir; and, as matters have turned out, I am heartily sorry for what I did. But at the time I thought I could serve my aunt as well as myself; and you must remember, then, how high our shares were.”
“Well, sir, having procured this sum of money, you were straightway taken into Mr. Brough’s confidence. You were received into his house, and from third clerk speedily became head clerk; in which post you were found at the disappearance of your worthy patron!”
“Sir, you have no right to question me, to be sure; but here are a hundred of our shareholders, and I’m not unwilling to make a clean breast of it,” said I, pressing Mary’s hand. “I certainly was the head clerk. And why? Because the other gents left the office. I certainly was received into Mr. Brough’s house. And why? Because, sir, my aunt had more money to lay out. I see it all clearly now, though I could not understand it then; and the proof that Mr. Brough wanted my aunt’s money, and not me, is that, when she came to town, our Director carried her by force out of my house to Fulham, and never so much as thought of asking me or my wife thither. Ay, sir, and he would have had her remaining money, had not her lawyer from the country prevented her disposing of it. Before the concern finally broke, and as soon as she heard there was doubt concerning it, she took back her shares — scrip shares they were, sir, as you know — and has disposed of them as she thought fit. Here, sir, and gents,” says I, “you have the whole of the history as far as regards me. In order to get her only son a means of livelihood, my mother placed her little money with the Company — it is lost. My aunt invested larger sums with it, which were to have been mine one day, and they are lost too; and here am I, at the end of four years, a disgraced and ruined man. Is there anyone present, however much he has suffered by the failure of the Company, that has had worse fortune through it than I?”
“Mr. Titmarsh,” says Mr. Commissioner, in a much more friendly way, and at the same time casting a glance at a newspaper reporter that was sitting hard by, “your story is not likely to get into the newspapers; for, as you say, it is a private affair, which you had no need to speak of unless you thought proper, and may be considered as a confidential conversation between us and the other gentlemen here. But if it could be made public, it might do some good, and warn people, if they will be warned, against the folly of such enterprises as that in which you have been engaged. It is quite clear from your story, that you have been deceived as grossly as anyone of the persons present. But look you, sir, if you had not been so eager after gain, I think you would not have allowed yourself to be deceived, and would have kept your relative’s money, and inherited it, according to your story, one day or other. Directly people expect to make a large interest, their judgment seems to desert them; and because they wish for profit, they think they are sure of it, and disregard all warnings and all prudence. Besides the hundreds of honest families who have been ruined by merely placing confidence in this Association of yours, and who deserve the heartiest pity, there are hundreds more who have embarked in it, like yourself, not for investment, but for speculation; and these, upon my word, deserve the fate they have met with. As long as dividends are paid, no questions are asked; and Mr. Brough might have taken the money for his shareholders on the high-road, and they would have pocketed it, and not been too curious. But what’s the use of talking?” says Mr. Commissioner, in a passion: “here is one rogue detected, and a thousand dupes made; and if another swindler starts tomorrow, there will be a thousand more of his victims round this table a year hence; and so, I suppose, to the end. And now let’s go to business, gentlemen, and excuse this sermon.”
After giving an account of all I knew, which was very little, other gents who were employed in the concern were examined; and I went back to prison, with my poor little wife on my arm. We had to pass through the crowd in the rooms, and my heart bled as I saw, amongst a score of others, poor Gates, Brough’s porter, who had advanced every shilling to his master, and was now, with ten children, houseless and penniless in his old age. Captain Sparr was in this neighbourhood, but by no means so friendly disposed; for while Gates touched his hat, as if I had been a lord, the little Captain came forward threatening with his bamboo-cane and swearing with great oaths that I was an accomplice of Brough. “Curse you for a smooth-faced scoundrel!” says he. “What business have you to ruin an English gentleman, as you have me?” And again he advanced with his stick. But this time, officer as he was, Gus took him by the collar, and shoved him back, and said, “Look at the lady, you brute, and hold your tongue!” And when he looked at my wife’s situation, Captain Sparr became redder for shame than he had before been for anger. “I’m sorry she’s married to such a good-for-nothing,” muttered he, and fell back; and my poor wife and I walked out of the court, and back to our dismal room in the prison.
It was a hard place for a gentle creature like her to be confined in; and I longed to have some of my relatives with her when her time should come. But her grandmother could not leave the old lieutenant; and my mother had written to say that, as Mrs. Hoggarty was with us, she was quite as well at home with her children. “What a blessing it is for you, under your misfortunes,” continued the good soul, “to have the generous purse of your aunt for succour!” Generous purse of my aunt, indeed! Where could Mrs. Hoggarty be? It was evident that she had not written to any of her friends in the country, nor gone thither, as she threatened.
But as my mother had already lost so much money through my unfortunate luck, and as she had enough to do with her little pittance to keep my sisters at home; and as, on hearing of my condition, she would infallibly have sold her last gown to bring me aid, Mary and I agreed that we would not let her know what our real condition was — bad enough! Heaven knows, and sad and cheerless. Old Lieutenant Smith had likewise nothing but his half-pay and his rheumatism; so we were, in fact, quite friendless.
That period of my life, and that horrible prison, seem to me like recollections of some fever. What an awful place! — not for the sadness, strangely enough, as I thought, but for the gaiety of it; for the long prison galleries were, I remember, full of life and a sort of grave bustle. All day and all night doors were clapping to and fro; and you heard loud voices, oaths, footsteps, and laughter. Next door to our room was one where a man sold gin, under the name of tape; and here, from morning till night, the people kept up a horrible revelry; — and sang — sad songs some of them: but my dear little girl was, thank God! unable to understand the most part of their ribaldry. She never used to go out till nightfall; and all day she sat working at a little store of caps and dresses for the expected stranger — and not, she says to this day, unhappy. But the confinement sickened her, who had been used to happy country air, and she grew daily paler and paler.
The Fives Court was opposite our window; and here I used, very unwillingly at first, but afterwards, I do confess, with much eagerness, to take a couple of hours’ daily sport. Ah! it was a strange place. There was an aristocracy there as elsewhere — amongst other gents, a son of my Lord Deuce-ace; and many of the men in the prison were as eager to walk with him, and talked of his family as knowingly, as if they were Bond Street bucks. Poor Tidd, especially, was one of these. Of all his fortune he had nothing left but a dressing-case and a flowered dressing-gown; and to these possessions he added a fine pair of moustaches, with which the poor creature strutted about; and though cursing his ill fortune, was, I do believe, as happy whenever his friends brought him a guinea, as he had been during his brief career as a gentleman on town. I have seen sauntering dandies in watering-places ogling the women, watching eagerly for steamboats and stage-coaches as if their lives depended upon them, and strutting all day in jackets up and down the public walks. Well, there are such fellows in prison: quite as dandified and foolish, only a little more shabby — dandies with dirty beards and holes at their elbows.
I did not go near what is called the poor side of the prison — I dared not, that was the fact. But our little stock of money was running low; and my heart sickened to think what might be my dear wife’s fate, and on what sort of a couch our child might be born. But Heaven spared me that pang — Heaven, and my dear good friend, Gus Hoskins.
The attorneys to whom Mr. Smithers recommended me, told me that I could get leave to live in the rules of the Fleet, could I procure sureties to the marshal of the prison for the amount of the detainer lodged against me; but though I looked Mr. Blatherwick hard in the face, he never offered to give the bail for me, and I knew no housekeeper in London who would procure it. There was, however, one whom I did not know — and that was old Mr. Hoskins, the leatherseller of Skinner Street, a kind fat gentleman, who brought his fat wife to see Mrs. Titmarsh; and though the lady gave herself rather patronising airs (her husband being free of the Skinners’ Company, and bidding fair to be Alderman, nay, Lord Mayor of the first city in the world), she seemed heartily to sympathise with us; and her husband stirred and bustled about until the requisite leave was obtained, and I was allowed comparative liberty.
As for lodgings, they were soon had. My old landlady, Mrs. Stokes, sent her Jemima to say that her first floor was at our service; and when we had taken possession of it, and I offered at the end of the week to pay her bill, the good soul, with tears in her eyes, told me that she did not want for money now, and that she knew I had enough to do with what I had. I did not refuse her kindness; for, indeed, I had but five guineas left, and ought not by rights to have thought of such expensive apartments as hers; but my wife’s time was very near, and I could not bear to think that she should want for any comfort in her lying-in.
The admirable woman, with whom the Misses Hoskins came every day to keep company — and very nice, kind ladies they are — recovered her health a good deal, now she was out of the odious prison and was enabled to take exercise. How gaily did we pace up and down Bridge Street and Chatham Place, to be sure! and yet, in truth, I was a beggar, and felt sometimes ashamed of being so happy.
With regard to the liabilities of the Company my mind was now made quite easy; for the creditors could only come upon our directors, and these it was rather difficult to find. Mr. Brough was across the water; and I must say, to the credit of that gentleman, that while everybody thought he had run away with hundreds of thousands of pounds, he was in a garret at Boulogne, with scarce a shilling in his pocket, and his fortune to make afresh. Mrs. Brough, like a good brave woman, remained faithful to him, and only left Fulham with the gown on her back; and Miss Belinda, though grumbling and sadly out of temper, was no better off. For the other directors — when they came to inquire at Edinburgh for Mr. Mull, W. S., it appeared there was a gentleman of that name, who had practised in Edinburgh with good reputation until 1800, since when he had retired to the Isle of Skye; and on being applied to, knew no more of the West Diddlesex Association than Queen Anne did. General Sir Dionysius O’Halloran had abruptly quitted Dublin, and returned to the republic of Guatemala. Mr. Shirk went into the Gazette. Mr. Macraw, M.P. and King’s Counsel, had not a single guinea in the world but what he received for attending our board; and the only man seizable was Mr. Manstraw, a wealthy navy contractor, as we understood, at Chatham. He turned out to be a small dealer in marine stores, and his whole stock in trade was not worth 10_l. Mr. Abednego was the other director, and we have already seen what became of him.
“Why, as there is no danger from the West Diddlesex,” suggested Mr. Hoskins, senior, “should you not now endeavour to make an arrangement with your creditors; and who can make a better bargain with them than pretty Mrs. Titmarsh here, whose sweet eyes would soften the hardest-hearted tailor or milliner that ever lived?”
Accordingly my dear girl, one bright day in February, shook me by the hand, and bidding me be of good cheer, set forth with Gus in a coach, to pay a visit to those persons. Little did I think a year before, that the daughter of the gallant Smith should ever be compelled to be a suppliant to tailors and haberdashers; but she, Heaven bless her! felt none of the shame which oppressed me — or said she felt none — and went away, nothing doubting, on her errand.
In the evening she came back, and my heart thumped to know the news. I saw it was bad by her face. For some time she did not speak, but looked as pale as death, and wept as she kissed me. “You speak, Mr. Augustus,” at last said she, sobbing; and so Gus told me the circumstances of that dismal day.
“What do you think, Sam?” says he; “that infernal aunt of yours, at whose command you had the things, has written to the tradesmen to say that you are a swindler and impostor; that you give out that she ordered the goods; that she is ready to drop down dead, and to take her bible-oath she never did any such thing, and that they must look to you alone for payment. Not one of them would hear of letting you out; and as for Mantalini, the scoundrel was so insolent that I gave him a box on the ear, and would have half-killed him, only poor Mary — Mrs. Titmarsh I mean — screamed and fainted: and I brought her away, and here she is, as ill as can be.”
That night, the indefatigable Gus was obliged to run post-haste for Doctor Salts, and next morning a little boy was born. I did not know whether to be sad or happy, as they showed me the little weakly thing; but Mary was the happiest woman, she declared, in the world, and forgot all her sorrows in nursing the poor baby; she went bravely through her time, and vowed that it was the loveliest child in the world; and that though Lady Tiptoff, whose confinement we read of as having taken place the same day, might have a silk bed and a fine house in Grosvenor Square, she never never could have such a beautiful child as our dear little Gus: for after whom should we have named the boy, if not after our good kind friend? We had a little party at the christening, and I assure you were very merry over our tea.
The mother, thank Heaven! was very well, and it did one’s heart good to see her in that attitude in which I think every woman, be she ever so plain, looks beautiful — with her baby at her bosom. The child was sickly, but she did not see it; we were very poor, but what cared she? She had no leisure to be sorrowful as I was: I had my last guinea now in my pocket; and when that was gone — ah! my heart sickened to think of what was to come, and I prayed for strength and guidance, and in the midst of my perplexities felt yet thankful that the danger of the confinement was over; and that for the worst fortune which was to befall us, my dear wife was at least prepared, and strong in health.
I told Mrs. Stokes that she must let us have a cheaper room — a garret that should cost but a few shillings; and though the good woman bade me remain in the apartments we occupied, yet, now that my wife was well, I felt it would be a crime to deprive my kind landlady of her chief means of livelihood; and at length she promised to get me a garret as I wanted, and to make it as comfortable as might be; and little Jemima declared that she would be glad beyond measure to wait on the mother and the child.
The room, then, was made ready; and though I took some pains not to speak of the arrangement too suddenly to Mary, yet there was no need of disguise or hesitation; for when at last I told her —“Is that all?” said she, and took my hand with one of her blessed smiles, and vowed that she and Jemima would keep the room as pretty and neat as possible. “And I will cook your dinners,” added she; “for you know you said I make the best roly-poly puddings in the world.” God bless her! I do think some women almost love poverty: but I did not tell Mary how poor I was, nor had she any idea how lawyers’, and prison’s, and doctors’ fees had diminished the sum of money which she brought me when we came to the Fleet.
It was not, however, destined that she and her child should inhabit that little garret. We were to leave our lodgings on Monday morning; but on Saturday evening the child was seized with convulsions, and all Sunday the mother watched and prayed for it: but it pleased God to take the innocent infant from us, and on Sunday, at midnight, it lay a corpse in its mother’s bosom. Amen. We have other children, happy and well, now round about us, and from the father’s heart the memory of this little thing has almost faded; but I do believe that every day of her life the mother thinks of the firstborn that was with her for so short a while: many and many a time has she taken her daughters to the grave, in Saint Bride’s, where he lies buried; and she wears still at her neck a little little lock of gold hair, which she took from the head of the infant as he lay smiling in his coffin. It has happened to me to forget the child’s birthday, but to her never; and often in the midst of common talk comes something that shows she is thinking of the child still — some simple allusion that is to me inexpressibly affecting.
I shall not try to describe her grief, for such things are sacred and secret; and a man has no business to place them on paper for all the world to read. Nor should I have mentioned the child’s loss at all, but that even that loss was the means of a great worldly blessing to us; as my wife has often with tears and thanks acknowledged.
While my wife was weeping over her child, I am ashamed to say I was distracted with other feelings besides those of grief for its loss; and I have often since thought what a master — nay, destroyer — of the affections want is, and have learned from experience to be thankful for daily bread. That acknowledgment of weakness which we make in imploring to be relieved from hunger and from temptation, is surely wisely put in our daily prayer. Think of it you who are rich, and take heed how you turn a beggar away.
The child lay there in its wicker cradle, with its sweet fixed smile in its face (I think the angels in heaven must have been glad to welcome that pretty innocent smile); and it was only the next day, after my wife had gone to lie down, and I sat keeping watch by it, that I remembered the condition of its parents, and thought, I can’t tell with what a pang, that I had not money left to bury the little thing, and wept bitter tears of despair. Now, at last, I thought I must apply to my poor mother, for this was a sacred necessity; and I took paper, and wrote her a letter at the baby’s side, and told her of our condition. But, thank Heaven! I never sent the letter; for as I went to the desk to get sealing-wax and seal that dismal letter, my eyes fell upon the diamond pin that I had quite forgotten, and that was lying in the drawer of the desk.
I looked into the bedroom — my poor wife was asleep; she had been watching for three nights and days, and had fallen asleep from sheer fatigue; and I ran out to a pawnbroker’s with the diamond, and received seven guineas for it, and coming back put the money into the landlady’s hand, and told her to get what was needful. My wife was still asleep when I came back; and when she woke, we persuaded her to go downstairs to the landlady’s parlour; and meanwhile the necessary preparations were made, and the poor child consigned to its coffin.
The next day, after all was over, Mrs. Stokes gave me back three out of the seven guineas; and then I could not help sobbing out to her my doubts and wretchedness, telling her that this was the last money I had; and when that was gone I knew not what was to become of the best wife that ever a man was blest with.
My wife was downstairs with the woman. Poor Gus, who was with me, and quite as much affected as any of the party, took me by the arm, and led me downstairs; and we quite forgot all about the prison and the rules, and walked a long long way across Blackfriars Bridge, the kind fellow striving as much as possible to console me.
When we came back, it was in the evening. The first person who met me in the house was my kind mother, who fell into my arms with many tears, and who rebuked me tenderly for not having told her of my necessities. She never should have known of them, she said; but she had not heard from me since I wrote announcing the birth of the child, and she felt uneasy about my silence; and meeting Mr. Smithers in the street, asked from him news concerning me: whereupon that gentleman, with some little show of alarm, told her that he thought her daughter-inlaw was confined in an uncomfortable place; that Mrs. Hoggarty had left us; finally, that I was in prison. This news at once despatched my poor mother on her travels, and she had only just come from the prison, where she learned my address.
I asked her whether she had seen my wife, and how she found her. Rather to my amaze she said that Mary was out with the landlady when she arrived; and eight — nine o’clock came, and she was absent still.
At ten o’clock returned — not my wife, but Mrs. Stokes, and with her a gentleman, who shook hands with me on coming into the room, and said, “Mr. Titmarsh! I don’t know whether you will remember me: my name is Tiptoff. I have brought you a note from Mrs. Titmarsh, and a message from my wife, who sincerely commiserates your loss, and begs you will not be uneasy at Mrs. Titmarsh’s absence. She has been good enough to promise to pass the night with Lady Tiptoff; and I am sure you will not object to her being away from you, while she is giving happiness to a sick mother and a sick child.” After a few more words, my Lord left us. My wife’s note only said that Mrs. Stokes would tell me all.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00