The Great Hoggarty Diamond, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In Which It is Shown That A Good Wife is the Best Diamond A Man Can Wear in His Bosom

“Mrs. Titmarsh, ma’am,” says Mrs. Stokes, “before I gratify your curiosity, ma’am, permit me to observe that angels is scarce; and it’s rare to have one, much more two, in a family. Both your son and your daughter-inlaw, ma’am, are of that uncommon sort; they are, now, reely, ma’am.”

My mother said she thanked God for both of us; and Mrs. Stokes proceeded:—

“When the fu —— when the seminary, ma’am, was concluded this morning, your poor daughter-inlaw was glad to take shelter in my humble parlour, ma’am; where she wept, and told a thousand stories of the little cherub that’s gone. Heaven bless us! it was here but a month, and no one could have thought it could have done such a many things in that time. But a mother’s eyes are clear, ma’am; and I had just such another angel, my dear little Antony, that was born before Jemima, and would have been twenty-three now were he in this wicked world, ma’am. However, I won’t speak of him, ma’am, but of what took place.

“You must know, ma’am, that Mrs. Titmarsh remained downstairs while Mr. Samuel was talking with his friend Mr. Hoskins; and the poor thing would not touch a bit of dinner, though we had it made comfortable; and after dinner, it was with difficulty I could get her to sup a little drop of wine-and-water, and dip a toast in it. It was the first morsel that had passed her lips for many a long hour, ma’am.

“Well, she would not speak, and I thought it best not to interrupt her; but she sat and looked at my two youngest that were playing on the rug; and just as Mr. Titmarsh and his friend Gus went out, the boy brought the newspaper, ma’am — it always comes from three to four, and I began a-reading of it. But I couldn’t read much, for thinking of poor Mr. Sam’s sad face as he went out, and the sad story he told me about his money being so low; and every now and then I stopped reading, and bade Mrs. T. not to take on so; and told her some stories about my dear little Antony.

“‘Ah!’ says she, sobbing, and looking at the young ones, ‘you have other children, Mrs. Stokes; but that — that was my only one;’ and she flung back in her chair, and cried fit to break her heart: and I knew that the cry would do her good, and so went back to my paper — the Morning Post, ma’am; I always read it, for I like to know what’s a-going on in the West End.

“The very first thing that my eyes lighted upon was this:—‘Wanted, immediately, a respectable person as wet-nurse. Apply at No. — — Grosvenor Square.’ ‘Bless us and save us!’ says I, ‘here’s poor Lady Tiptoff ill;’ for I knew her Ladyship’s address, and how she was confined on the very same day with Mrs. T.: and, for the matter of that, her Ladyship knows my address, having visited here.

“A sudden thought came over me. ‘My dear Mrs. Titmarsh,’ said I, ‘you know how poor and how good your husband is?’

“‘Yes,’ says she, rather surprised.

“‘Well, my dear,’ says I, looking her hard in the face, ‘Lady Tiptoff, who knows him, wants a nurse for her son, Lord Poynings. Will you be a brave woman, and look for the place, and mayhap replace the little one that God has taken from you?’

“She began to tremble and blush; and then I told her what you, Mr. Sam, had told me the other day about your money matters; and no sooner did she hear it than she sprung to her bonnet, and said, ‘Come, come:’ and in five minutes she had me by the arm, and we walked together to Grosvenor Square. The air did her no harm, Mr. Sam, and during the whole of the walk she never cried but once, and then it was at seeing a nursery-maid in the Square.

“A great fellow in livery opens the door, and says, ‘You’re the forty-fifth as come about this ’ere place; but, fust, let me ask you a preliminary question. Are you a Hirishwoman?’

“‘No, sir,’ says Mrs. T.

“‘That suffishnt, mem,’ says the gentleman in plush; ‘I see you’re not by your axnt. Step this way, ladies, if you please. You’ll find some more candidix for the place upstairs; but I sent away forty-four happlicants, because they was Hirish.’

“We were taken upstairs over very soft carpets, and brought into a room, and told by an old lady who was there to speak very softly, for my Lady was only two rooms off. And when I asked how the baby and her Ladyship were, the old lady told me both were pretty well: only the doctor said Lady Tiptoff was too delicate to nurse any longer; and so it was considered necessary to have a wet-nurse.

“There was another young woman in the room — a tall fine woman as ever you saw — that looked very angry and contempshious at Mrs. T. and me, and said, ‘I’ve brought a letter from the duchess whose daughter I nust; and I think, Mrs. Blenkinsop, mem, my Lady Tiptoff may look far before she finds such another nuss as me. Five feet six high, had the small-pox, married to a corporal in the Lifeguards, perfectly healthy, best of charactiers, only drink water; and as for the child, ma’am, if her Ladyship had six, I’ve a plenty for them all.’

“As the woman was making this speech, a little gentleman in black came in from the next room, treading as if on velvet. The woman got up, and made him a low curtsey, and folding her arms on her great broad chest, repeated the speech she had made before. Mrs. T. did not get up from her chair, but only made a sort of a bow; which, to be sure, I thought was ill manners, as this gentleman was evidently the apothecary. He looked hard at her and said, ‘Well, my good woman, and are you come about the place too?’

“‘Yes, sir,’ says she, blushing.

“‘You seem very delicate. How old is your child? How many have you had? What character have you?’

“Your wife didn’t answer a word; so I stepped up, and said, ‘Sir,’ says I, ‘this lady has just lost her first child, and isn’t used to look for places, being the daughter of a captain in the navy; so you’ll excuse her want of manners in not getting up when you came in.’

“The doctor at this sat down and began talking very kindly to her; he said he was afraid that her application would be unsuccessful, as Mrs. Horner came very strongly recommended from the Duchess of Doncaster, whose relative Lady Tiptoff was; and presently my Lady appeared, looking very pretty, ma’am, in an elegant lace-cap and a sweet muslin robe-de-sham.

“A nurse came out of her Ladyship’s room with her; and while my Lady was talking to us, walked up and down in the next room with something in her arms.

“First, my Lady spoke to Mrs. Horner, and then to Mrs. T.; but all the while she was talking, Mrs. Titmarsh, rather rudely, as I thought, ma’am, was looking into the next room: looking — looking at the baby there with all her might. My Lady asked her her name, and if she had any character; and as she did not speak, I spoke up for her, and said she was the wife of one of the best men in the world; that her Ladyship knew the gentleman, too, and had brought him a haunch of venison. Then Lady Tiptoff looked up quite astonished, and I told the whole story: how you had been head clerk, and that rascal, Brough, had brought you to ruin. ‘Poor thing!’ said my Lady: Mrs. Titmarsh did not speak, but still kept looking at the baby; and the great big grenadier of a Mrs. Horner looked angrily at her.

“‘Poor thing!’ says my Lady, taking Mrs. T.‘s hand very kind, ‘she seems very young. How old are you, my dear?’

“‘Five weeks and two days!’ says your wife, sobbing.

“Mrs. Horner burst into a laugh; but there was a tear in my Lady’s eyes, for she knew what the poor thing was a-thinking of.

“‘Silence, woman!’ says she angrily to the great grenadier woman; and at this moment the child in the next room began crying.

“As soon as your wife heard the noise, she sprung from her chair and made a stop forward, and put both her hands to her breast and said, ‘The child — the child — give it me!’ and then began to cry again.

“My Lady looked at her for a moment, and then ran into the next room and brought her the baby; and the baby clung to her as if he knew her: and a pretty sight it was to see that dear woman with the child at her bosom.

“When my Lady saw it, what do you think she did? After looking on it for a bit, she put her arms round your wife’s neck and kissed her.

“‘My dear,’ said she, ‘I am sure you are as good as you are pretty, and you shall keep the child: and I thank God for sending you to me!’

“These were her very words; and Dr. Bland, who was standing by, says, ‘It’s a second judgment of Solomon!’

“‘I suppose, my Lady, you don’t want me?’ says the big woman, with another curtsey.

“‘Not in the least!’ answers my Lady, haughtily, and the grenadier left the room: and then I told all your story at full length, and Mrs. Blenkinsop kept me to tea, and I saw the beautiful room that Mrs. Titmarsh is to have next to Lady Tiptoff’s; and when my Lord came home, what does he do but insist upon coming back with me here in a hackney-coach, as he said he must apologise to you for keeping your wife away.”

I could not help, in my own mind, connecting this strange event which, in the midst of our sorrow, came to console us, and in our poverty to give us bread — I could not help connecting it with the diamond pin, and fancying that the disappearance of that ornament had somehow brought a different and a better sort of luck into my family. And though some gents who read this, may call me a poor-spirited fellow for allowing my wife to go out to service, who was bred a lady and ought to have servants herself: yet, for my part, I confess I did not feel one minute’s scruple or mortification on the subject. If you love a person, is it not a pleasure to feel obliged to him? And this, in consequence, I felt. I was proud and happy at being able to think that my dear wife should be able to labour and earn bread for me, now misfortune had put it out of my power to support me and her. And now, instead of making any reflections of my own upon prison discipline, I will recommend the reader to consult that admirable chapter in the Life of Mr. Pickwick in which the same theme is handled, and which shows how silly it is to deprive honest men of the means of labour just at the moment when they most want it. What could I do? There were one or two gents in the prison who could work (literary gents — one wrote his “Travels in Mesopotamia,” and the other his “Sketches at Almack’s,” in the place); but all the occupation I could find was walking down Bridge Street, and then up Bridge Street, and staring at Alderman Waithman’s windows, and then at the black man who swept the crossing. I never gave him anything; but I envied him his trade and his broom, and the money that continually fell into his old hat. But I was not allowed even to carry a broom.

Twice or thrice — for Lady Tiptoff did not wish her little boy often to breathe the air of such a close place as Salisbury Square — my dear Mary came in the thundering carriage to see me. They were merry meetings; and — if the truth must be told — twice, when nobody was by, I jumped into the carriage and had a drive with her; and when I had seen her home, jumped into another hackney-coach and drove back. But this was only twice; for the system was dangerous, and it might bring me into trouble, and it cost three shillings from Grosvenor Square to Ludgate Hill.

Here, meanwhile, my good mother kept me company; and what should we read of one day but the marriage of Mrs. Hoggarty and the Rev. Grimes Wapshot! My mother, who never loved Mrs. H., now said that she should repent all her life having allowed me to spend so much of my time with that odious ungrateful woman; and added that she and I too were justly punished for worshipping the mammon of unrighteousness and forgetting our natural feelings for the sake of my aunt’s paltry lucre. “Well, Amen!” said I. “This is the end of all our fine schemes! My aunt’s money and my aunt’s diamond were the causes of my ruin, and now they are clear gone, thank Heaven! and I hope the old lady will be happy; and I must say I don’t envy the Rev. Grimes Wapshot.” So we put Mrs. Hoggarty out of our thoughts, and made ourselves as comfortable as might be.

Rich and great people are slower in making Christians of their children than we poor ones, and little Lord Poynings was not christened until the month of June. A duke was one godfather, and Mr. Edmund Preston, the State Secretary, another; and that kind Lady Jane Preston, whom I have before spoken of, was the godmother to her nephew. She had not long been made acquainted with my wife’s history; and both she and her sister loved her heartily and were very kind to her. Indeed, there was not a single soul in the house, high or low, but was fond of that good sweet creature; and the very footmen were as ready to serve her as they were their own mistress.

“I tell you what, sir,” says one of them. “You see, Tit my boy, I’m a connyshure, and up to snough; and if ever I see a lady in my life, Mrs. Titmarsh is one. I can’t be fimiliar with her — I’ve tried —”

“Have you, sir?” said I.

“Don’t look so indignant! I can’t, I say, be fimiliar with her as I am with you. There’s a somethink in her, a jenny-squaw, that haws me, sir! and even my Lord’s own man, that ‘as ‘ad as much success as any gentleman in Europe — he says that, cuss him —”

“Mr. Charles,” says I, “tell my Lord’s own man that, if he wants to keep his place and his whole skin, he will never address a single word to that lady but such as a servant should utter in the presence of his mistress; and take notice that I am a gentleman, though a poor one, and will murder the first man who does her wrong!”

Mr. Charles only said “Gammin!” to this: but psha! in bragging about my own spirit, I forgot to say what great good fortune my dear wife’s conduct procured for me.

On the christening-day, Mr. Preston offered her first a five, and then a twenty-pound note; but she declined either; but she did not decline a present that the two ladies made her together, and this was no other than my release from the Fleet. Lord Tiptoff’s lawyer paid every one of the bills against me, and that happy christening-day made me a free man. Ah! who shall tell the pleasure of that day, or the merry dinner we had in Mary’s room at Lord Tiptoff’s house, when my Lord and my Lady came upstairs to shake hands with me!

“I have been speaking to Mr. Preston,” says my Lord, “the gentleman with whom you had the memorable quarrel, and he has forgiven it, although he was in the wrong, and promises to do something for you. We are going down, meanwhile, to his house at Richmond; and be sure, Mr. Titmarsh, I will not fail to keep you in his mind.”

Mrs. Titmarsh will do that,” says my Lady; “for Edmund is woefully smitten with her!” And Mary blushed, and I laughed, and we were all very happy: and sure enough there came from Richmond a letter to me, stating that I was appointed fourth clerk in the Tape and Sealing-wax Office, with a salary of 80_l. per annum.

Here perhaps my story ought to stop; for I was happy at last, and have never since, thank Heaven! known want: but Gus insists that I should add how I gave up the place in the Tape and Sealing-wax Office, and for what reason. That excellent Lady Jane Preston is long gone, and so is Mr. P—— off in an apoplexy, and there is no harm now in telling the story.

The fact was, that Mr. Preston had fallen in love with Mary in a much more serious way than any of us imagined; for I do believe he invited his brother-inlaw to Richmond for no other purpose than to pay court to his son’s nurse. And one day, as I was coming post-haste to thank him for the place he had procured for me, being directed by Mr. Charles to the “scrubbery,” as he called it, which led down to the river — there, sure enough, I found Mr. Preston, on his knees too, on the gravel-walk, and before him Mary, holding the little lord.

“Dearest creature!” says Mr. Preston, “do but listen to me, and I’ll make your husband consul at Timbuctoo! He shall never know of it, I tell you: he can never know of it. I pledge you my word as a Cabinet Minister! Oh, don’t look at me in that arch way: by heavens, your eyes kill me!”

Mary, when she saw me, burst out laughing, and ran down the lawn; my Lord making a huge crowing, too, and holding out his little fat hands. Mr. Preston, who was a heavy man, was slowly getting up, when, catching a sight of me looking as fierce as the crater of Mount Etna — he gave a start back and lost his footing, and rolled over and over, walloping into the water at the garden’s edge. It was not deep, and he came bubbling and snorting out again in as much fright as fury.

“You d-d ungrateful villain!” says he, “what do you stand there laughing for?”

“I’m waiting your orders for Timbuctoo, sir,” says I, and laughed fit to die; and so did my Lord Tiptoff and his party, who joined us on the lawn: and Jeames the footman came forward and helped Mr. Preston out of the water.

“Oh, you old sinner!” says my Lord, as his brother-inlaw came up the slope. “Will that heart of yours be always so susceptible, you romantic, apoplectic, immoral man?”

Mr. Preston went away, looking blue with rage, and ill-treated his wife for a whole month afterwards.

“At any rate,” says my Lord, “Titmarsh here has got a place through our friend’s unhappy attachment; and Mrs. Titmarsh has only laughed at him, so there is no harm there. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, you know.”

“Such a wind as that, my Lord, with due respect to you, shall never do good to me. I have learned in the past few years what it is to make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness; and that out of such friendship no good comes in the end to honest men. It shall never be said that Sam Titmarsh got a place because a great man was in love with his wife; and were the situation ten times as valuable, I should blush every day I entered the office-doors in thinking of the base means by which my fortune was made. You have made me free, my Lord; and, thank God! I am willing to work. I can easily get a clerkship with the assistance of my friends; and with that and my wife’s income, we can manage honestly to face the world.”

This rather long speech I made with some animation; for, look you, I was not over well pleased that his Lordship should think me capable of speculating in any way on my wife’s beauty.

My Lord at first turned red, and looked rather angry; but at last he held out his hand and said, “You are right, Titmarsh, and I am wrong; and let me tell you in confidence, that I think you are a very honest fellow. You shan’t lose by your honesty, I promise you.”

Nor did I: for I am at this present moment Lord Tiptoff’s steward and right-hand man: and am I not a happy father? and is not my wife loved and respected by all the country? and is not Gus Hoskins my brother-inlaw, partner with his excellent father in the leather way, and the delight of all his nephews and nieces for his tricks and fun?

As for Mr. Brough, that gentleman’s history would fill a volume of itself. Since he vanished from the London world, he has become celebrated on the Continent, where he has acted a thousand parts, and met all sorts of changes of high and low fortune. One thing we may at least admire in the man, and that is, his undaunted courage; and I can’t help thinking, as I have said before, that there must be some good in him, seeing the way in which his family are faithful to him. With respect to Roundhand, I had best also speak tenderly. The case of Roundhand v. Tidd is still in the memory of the public; nor can I ever understand how Bill Tidd, so poetic as he was, could ever take on with such a fat, odious, vulgar woman as Mrs. R., who was old enough to be his mother.

As soon as we were in prosperity, Mr. and Mrs. Grimes Wapshot made overtures to be reconciled to us; and Mr. Wapshot laid bare to me all the baseness of Mr. Smithers’s conduct in the Brough transaction. Smithers had also endeavoured to pay his court to me, once when I went down to Somersetshire; but I cut his pretensions short, as I have shown. “He it was,” said Mr. Wapshot, “who induced Mrs. Grimes (Mrs. Hoggarty she was then) to purchase the West Diddlesex shares: receiving, of course, a large bonus for himself. But directly he found that Mrs. Hoggarty had fallen into the hands of Mr. Brough, and that he should lose the income he made from the lawsuits with her tenants and from the management of her landed property, he determined to rescue her from that villain Brough, and came to town for the purpose. He also,” added Mr. Wapshot, “vented his malignant slander against me; but Heaven was pleased to frustrate his base schemes. In the proceedings consequent on Brough’s bankruptcy, Mr. Smithers could not appear; for his own share in the transactions of the Company would have been most certainly shown up. During his absence from London, I became the husband — the happy husband — of your aunt. But though, my dear sir, I have been the means of bringing her to grace, I cannot disguise from you that Mrs. W. has faults which all my pastoral care has not enabled me to eradicate. She is close of her money, sir — very close; nor can I make that charitable use of her property which, as a clergyman, I ought to do; for she has tied up every shilling of it, and only allows me half-a-crown a week for pocket-money. In temper, too, she is very violent. During the first years of our union, I strove with her; yea, I chastised her; but her perseverance, I must confess, got the better of me. I make no more remonstrances, but am as a lamb in her hands, and she leads me whithersoever she pleases.”

Mr. Wapshot concluded his tale by borrowing half-a-crown from me (it was at the Somerset Coffee-house in the Strand, where he came, in the year 1832, to wait upon me), and I saw him go from thence into the gin-shop opposite, and come out of the gin-shop half-an-hour afterwards, reeling across the streets, and perfectly intoxicated.

He died next year: when his widow, who called herself Mrs. Hoggarty-Grimes-Wapshot, of Castle Hoggarty, said that over the grave of her saint all earthly resentments were forgotten, and proposed to come and live with us; paying us, of course, a handsome remuneration. But this offer my wife and I respectfully declined; and once more she altered her will, which once more she had made in our favour; called us ungrateful wretches and pampered menials, and left all her property to the Irish Hoggarties. But seeing my wife one day in a carriage with Lady Tiptoff, and hearing that we had been at the great ball at Tiptoff Castle, and that I had grown to be a rich man, she changed her mind again, sent for me on her death-bed, and left me the farms of Slopperton and Squashtail, with all her savings for fifteen years. Peace be to her soul! for certainly she left me a very pretty property.

Though I am no literary man myself, my cousin Michael (who generally, when he is short of coin, comes down and passes a few months with us) says that my Memoirs may be of some use to the public (meaning, I suspect, to himself); and if so, I am glad to serve him and them, and hereby take farewell: bidding all gents who peruse this, to be cautious of their money, if they have it; to be still more cautious of their friends’ money; to remember that great profits imply great risks; and that the great shrewd capitalists of this country would not be content with four per cent. for their money, if they could securely get more: above all, I entreat them never to embark in any speculation, of which the conduct is not perfectly clear to them, and of which the agents are not perfectly open and loyal.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00