The circumstances recorded in this story took place some score of years ago, when, as the reader may remember, there was a great mania in the City of London for establishing companies of all sorts; by which many people made pretty fortunes.
I was at this period, as the truth must be known, thirteenth clerk of twenty-four young gents who did the immense business of the Independent West Diddlesex Fire and Life Insurance Company, at their splendid stone mansion in Cornhill. Mamma had sunk a sum of four hundred pounds in the purchase of an annuity at this office, which paid her no less than six-and-thirty pounds a year, when no other company in London would give her more than twenty-four. The chairman of the directors was the great Mr. Brough, of the house of Brough and Hoff, Crutched Friars, Turkey Merchants. It was a new house, but did a tremendous business in the fig and sponge way, and more in the Zante currant line than any other firm in the City.
Brough was a great man among the Dissenting connection, and you saw his name for hundreds at the head of every charitable society patronised by those good people. He had nine clerks residing at his office in Crutched Friars; he would not take one without a certificate from the schoolmaster and clergyman of his native place, strongly vouching for his morals and doctrine; and the places were so run after, that he got a premium of four or five hundred pounds with each young gent, whom he made to slave for ten hours a day, and to whom in compensation he taught all the mysteries of the Turkish business. He was a great man on ‘Change, too; and our young chaps used to hear from the stockbrokers’ clerks (we commonly dined together at the “Cock and Woolpack,” a respectable house, where you get a capital cut of meat, bread, vegetables, cheese, half a pint of porter, and a penny to the waiter, for a shilling)— the young stockbrokers used to tell us of immense bargains in Spanish, Greek, and Columbians, that Brough made. Hoff had nothing to do with them, but stopped at home minding exclusively the business of the house. He was a young chap, very quiet and steady, of the Quaker persuasion, and had been taken into partnership by Brough for a matter of thirty thousand pounds: and a very good bargain too. I was told in the strictest confidence that the house one year with another divided a good seven thousand pounds: of which Brough had half, Hoff two-sixths, and the other sixth went to old Tudlow, who had been Mr. Brough’s clerk before the new partnership began. Tudlow always went about very shabby, and we thought him an old miser. One of our gents, Bob Swinney by name, used to say that Tudlow’s share was all nonsense, and that Brough had it all; but Bob was always too knowing by half, used to wear a green cutaway coat, and had his free admission to Covent Garden Theatre. He was always talking down at the shop, as we called it (it wasn’t a shop, but as splendid an office as any in Cornhill)— he was always talking about Vestris and Miss Tree, and singing
“The bramble, the bramble,
The jolly jolly bramble!”
one of Charles Kemble’s famous songs in “Maid Marian;” a play that was all the rage then, taken from a famous story-book by one Peacock, a clerk in the India House; and a precious good place he has too.
When Brough heard how Master Swinney abused him, and had his admission to the theatre, he came one day down to the office where we all were, four-and-twenty of us, and made one of the most beautiful speeches I ever heard in my life. He said that for slander he did not care, contumely was the lot of every public man who had austere principles of his own, and acted by them austerely; but what he did care for was the character of every single gentleman forming a part of the Independent West Diddlesex Association. The welfare of thousands was in their keeping; millions of money were daily passing through their hands; the City — the country looked upon them for order, honesty, and good example. And if he found amongst those whom he considered as his children — those whom he loved as his own flesh and blood — that that order was departed from, that that regularity was not maintained, that that good example was not kept up (Mr. B. always spoke in this emphatic way)— if he found his children departing from the wholesome rules of morality, religion, and decorum — if he found in high or low — in the head clerk at six hundred a year down to the porter who cleaned the steps — if he found the slightest taint of dissipation, he would cast the offender from him — yea, though he were his own son, he would cast him from him!
As he spoke this, Mr. Brough burst into tears; and we who didn’t know what was coming, looked at each other as pale as parsnips: all except Swinney, who was twelfth clerk, and made believe to whistle. When Mr. B. had wiped his eyes and recovered himself, he turned round; and oh, how my heart thumped as he looked me full in the face! How it was relieved, though, when he shouted out in a thundering voice —
“Mr. Robert Swinney!”
“Sir to you,” says Swinney, as cool as possible, and some of the chaps began to titter.
“Mr. Swinney!” roared Brough, in a voice still bigger than before, “when you came into this office — this family, sir, for such it is, as I am proud to say — you found three-and-twenty as pious and well-regulated young men as ever laboured together — as ever had confided to them the wealth of this mighty capital and famous empire. You found, sir, sobriety, regularity, and decorum; no profane songs were uttered in this place sacred to — to business; no slanders were whispered against the heads of the establishment — but over them I pass: I can afford, sir, to pass them by — no worldly conversation or foul jesting disturbed the attention of these gentlemen, or desecrated the peaceful scene of their labours. You found Christians and gentlemen, sir!”
“I paid for my place like the rest,” said Swinney. “Didn’t my governor take sha-?”
“Silence, sir! Your worthy father did take shares in this establishment, which will yield him one day an immense profit. He did take shares, sir, or you never would have been here. I glory in saying that every one of my young friends around me has a father, a brother, a dear relative or friend, who is connected in a similar way with our glorious enterprise; and that not one of them is there but has an interest in procuring, at a liberal commission, other persons to join the ranks of our Association. But, sir, I am its chief. You will find, sir, your appointment signed by me; and in like manner, I, John Brough, annul it. Go from us, sir! — leave us — quit a family that can no longer receive you in its bosom! Mr. Swinney, I have wept — I have prayed, sir, before I came to this determination; I have taken counsel, sir, and am resolved. Depart from out of us!
“Not without three months’ salary, though, Mr. B.: that cock won’t fight!”
“They shall be paid to your father, sir.”
“My father be hanged! I tell you what, Brough, I’m of age; and if you don’t pay me my salary, I’ll arrest you — by Jingo, I will! I’ll have you in quod, or my name’s not Bob Swinney!”
“Make out a cheque, Mr. Roundhand, for the three months’ salary of this perverted young man.”
“Twenty-one pun’ five, Roundhand, and nothing for the stamp!” cried out that audacious Swinney. “There it is, sir, re-ceipted. You needn’t cross it to my banker’s. And if any of you gents like a glass of punch this evening at eight o’clock, Bob Swinney’s your man, and nothing to pay. If Mr. Brough would do me the honour to come in and take a whack? Come, don’t say no, if you’d rather not!”
We couldn’t stand this impudence, and all burst out laughing like mad.
“Leave the room!” yelled Mr. Brough, whose face had turned quite blue; and so Bob took his white hat off the peg, and strolled away with his “tile,” as he called it, very much on one side. When he was gone, Mr. Brough gave us another lecture, by which we all determined to profit; and going up to Roundhand’s desk put his arm round his neck, and looked over the ledger.
“What money has been paid in today, Roundhand?” he said, in a very kind way.
“The widow, sir, came with her money; nine hundred and four ten and six — say 904_l. 10_s. 6_d. Captain Sparr, sir, paid his shares up; grumbles, though, and says he’s no more: fifty shares, two instalments — three fifties, sir.”
“He’s always grumbling!”
“He says he has not a shilling to bless himself with until our dividend day.”
Mr. Roundhand went through the book, and made it up nineteen hundred pounds in all. We were doing a famous business now; though when I came into the office, we used to sit, and laugh, and joke, and read the newspapers all day; bustling into our seats whenever a stray customer came. Brough never cared about our laughing and singing then, and was hand and glove with Bob Swinney; but that was in early times, before we were well in harness.
“Nineteen hundred pounds, and a thousand pounds in shares. Bravo, Roundhand — bravo, gentlemen! Remember, every share you bring in brings you five per cent. down on the nail! Look to your friends — stick to your desks — be regular — I hope none of you forget church. Who takes Mr. Swinney’s place?”
“Mr. Samuel Titmarsh, sir.”
“Mr. Titmarsh, I congratulate you. Give me your hand, sir: you are now twelfth clerk of this Association, and your salary is consequently increased five pounds a year. How is your worthy mother, sir — your dear and excellent parent? In good health I trust? And long — long, I fervently pray, may this office continue to pay her annuity! Remember, if she has more money to lay out, there is higher interest than the last for her, for she is a year older; and five per cent. for you, my boy! Why not you as well as another? Young men will be young men, and a ten-pound note does no harm. Does it, Mr. Abednego?”
“Oh, no!” says Abednego, who was third clerk, and who was the chap that informed against Swinney; and he began to laugh, as indeed we all did whenever Mr. Brough made anything like a joke: not that they were jokes; only we used to know it by his face.
“Oh, by-the-bye, Roundhand,” says he, “a word with you on business. Mrs. Brough wants to know why the deuce you never come down to Fulham.”
“Law, that’s very polite!” said Mr. Roundhand, quite pleased.
“Name your day, my boy! Say Saturday, and bring your night-cap with you.”
“You’re very polite, I’m sure. I should be delighted beyond anything, but —”
“But — no buts, my boy! Hark ye! the Chancellor of the Exchequer does me the honour to dine with us, and I want you to see him; for the truth is, I have bragged about you to his Lordship as the best actuary in the three kingdoms.”
Roundhand could not refuse such an invitation as that, though he had told us how Mrs. R. and he were going to pass Saturday and Sunday at Putney; and we who knew what a life the poor fellow led, were sure that the head clerk would be prettily scolded by his lady when she heard what was going on. She disliked Mrs. Brough very much, that was the fact; because Mrs. B. kept a carriage, and said she didn’t know where Pentonville was, and couldn’t call on Mrs. Roundhand. Though, to be sure, her coachman might have found out the way.
“And oh, Roundhand!” continued our governor, “draw a cheque for seven hundred, will you! Come, don’t stare, man; I’m not going to run away! That’s right — seven hundred — and ninety, say, while you’re about it! Our board meets on Saturday, and never fear I’ll account for it to them before I drive you down. We shall take up the Chancellor at Whitehall.”
So saying, Mr. Brough folded up the cheque, and shaking hands with Mr. Roundhand very cordially, got into his carriage-and-four (he always drove four horses even in the City, where it’s so difficult), which was waiting at the office-door for him.
Bob Swinney used to say that he charged two of the horses to the Company; but there was never believing half of what that Bob said, he used to laugh and joke so. I don’t know how it was, but I and a gent by the name of Hoskins (eleventh clerk), who lived together with me in Salisbury Square, Fleet Street — where we occupied a very genteel two-pair — found our flute duet rather tiresome that evening, and as it was a very fine night, strolled out for a walk West End way. When we arrived opposite Covent Garden Theatre we found ourselves close to the “Globe Tavern,” and recollected Bob Swinney’s hospitable invitation. We never fancied that he had meant the invitation in earnest, but thought we might as well look in: at any rate there could be no harm in doing so.
There, to be sure, in the back drawing-room, where he said he would be, we found Bob at the head of a table, and in the midst of a great smoke of cigars, and eighteen of our gents rattling and banging away at the table with the bottoms of their glasses.
What a shout they made as we came in! “Hurray!” says Bob, “here’s two more! Two more chairs, Mary, two more tumblers, two more hot waters, and two more goes of gin! Who would have thought of seeing Tit, in the name of goodness?”
“Why,” said I, “we only came in by the merest chance.”
At this word there was another tremendous roar: and it is a positive fact, that every man of the eighteen had said he came by chance! However, chance gave us a very jovial night; and that hospitable Bob Swinney paid every shilling of the score.
“Gentlemen!” says he, as he paid the bill, “I’ll give you the health of John Brough, Esquire, and thanks to him for the present of 21_l. 5_s. which he made me this morning. What do I say — 21_l. 5_s.? That and a month’s salary that I should have had to pay — forfeit — down on the nail, by Jingo! for leaving the shop, as I intended to do tomorrow morning. I’ve got a place — a tip-top place, I tell you. Five guineas a week, six journeys a year, my own horse and gig, and to travel in the West of England in oil and spermaceti. Here’s confusion to gas, and the health of Messrs. Gann and Co., of Thames Street, in the City of London!”
I have been thus particular in my account of the West Diddlesex Insurance Office, and of Mr. Brough, the managing director (though the real names are neither given to the office nor to the chairman, as you may be sure), because the fate of me and my diamond pin was mysteriously bound up with both: as I am about to show.
You must know that I was rather respected among our gents at the West Diddlesex, because I came of a better family than most of them; had received a classical education; and especially because I had a rich aunt, Mrs. Hoggarty, about whom, as must be confessed, I used to boast a good deal. There is no harm in being respected in this world, as I have found out; and if you don’t brag a little for yourself, depend on it there is no person of your acquaintance who will tell the world of your merits, and take the trouble off your hands.
So that when I came back to the office after my visit at home, and took my seat at the old day-book opposite the dingy window that looks into Birchin Lane, I pretty soon let the fellows know that Mrs. Hoggarty, though she had not given me a large sum of money, as I expected — indeed, I had promised a dozen of them a treat down the river, should the promised riches have come to me — I let them know, I say, that though my aunt had not given me any money, she had given me a splendid diamond, worth at least thirty guineas, and that some day I would sport it at the shop.
“Oh, let’s see it!” says Abednego, whose father was a mock-jewel and gold-lace merchant in Hanway Yard; and I promised that he should have a sight of it as soon as it was set. As my pocket-money was run out too (by coach-hire to and from home, five shillings to our maid at home, ten to my aunt’s maid and man, five-and-twenty shillings lost at whist, as I said, and fifteen-and-six paid for a silver scissors for the dear little fingers of Somebody), Roundhand, who was very good-natured, asked me to dine, and advanced me 7_l. 1_s. 8_d., a month’s salary. It was at Roundhand’s house, Myddelton Square, Pentonville, over a fillet of veal and bacon and a glass of port, that I learned and saw how his wife ill-treated him; as I have told before. Poor fellow! — we under-clerks all thought it was a fine thing to sit at a desk by oneself, and have 50_l. per month, as Roundhand had; but I’ve a notion that Hoskins and I, blowing duets on the flute together in our second floor in Salisbury Square, were a great deal more at ease than our head — and more in harmony, too; though we made sad work of the music, certainly.
One day Gus Hoskins and I asked leave from Roundhand to be off at three o’clock, as we had particular business at the West End. He knew it was about the great Hoggarty diamond, and gave us permission; so off we set. When we reached St. Martin’s Lane, Gus got a cigar, to give himself as it were a distingue air, and pulled at it all the way up the Lane, and through the alleys into Coventry Street, where Mr. Polonius’s shop is, as everybody knows.
The door was open, and a number of carriages full of ladies were drawing up and setting down. Gus kept his hands in his pockets — trousers were worn very full then, with large tucks, and pigeon-holes for your boots, or Bluchers, to come through (the fashionables wore boots, but we chaps in the City, on 80_l. a year, contented ourselves with Bluchers); and as Gus stretched out his pantaloons as wide as he could from his hips, and kept blowing away at his cheroot, and clamping with the iron heels of his boots, and had very large whiskers for so young a man, he really looked quite the genteel thing, and was taken by everybody to be a person of consideration.
He would not come into the shop though, but stood staring at the gold pots and kettles in the window outside. I went in; and after a little hemming and hawing — for I had never been at such a fashionable place before — asked one of the gentlemen to let me speak to Mr. Polonius.
“What can I do for you, sir?” says Mr. Polonius, who was standing close by, as it happened, serving three ladies — a very old one and two young ones, who were examining pearl necklaces very attentively.
“Sir,” said I, producing my jewel out of my coat-pocket, “this jewel has, I believe, been in your house before: it belonged to my aunt, Mrs. Hoggarty, of Castle Hoggarty.” The old lady standing near looked round as I spoke.
“I sold her a gold neck-chain and repeating watch in the year 1795,” said Mr. Polonius, who made it a point to recollect everything; “and a silver punch-ladle to the Captain. How is the Major — Colonel — General — eh, sir?”
“The General,” said I, “I am sorry to say”— though I was quite proud that this man of fashion should address me so. —“Mr. Hoggarty is — no more. My aunt has made me a present, however, of this — this trinket — which, as you see, contains her husband’s portrait, that I will thank you, sir, to preserve for me very carefully; and she wishes that you would set this diamond neatly.”
“Neatly and handsomely, of course, sir.”
“Neatly, in the present fashion; and send down the account to her. There is a great deal of gold about the trinket, for which, of course, you will make an allowance.”
“To the last fraction of a sixpence,” says Mr. Polonius, bowing, and looking at the jewel. “It’s a wonderful piece of goods, certainly,” said he; “though the diamond’s a neat little bit, certainly. Do, my Lady, look at it. The thing is of Irish manufacture, bears the stamp of ‘95, and will recall perhaps the times of your Ladyship’s earliest youth.”
“Get ye out, Mr. Polonius!” said the old lady, a little wizen-faced old lady, with her face puckered up in a million of wrinkles. “How dar you, sir, to talk such nonsense to an old woman like me? Wasn’t I fifty years old in ‘95, and a grandmother in ‘96?” She put out a pair of withered trembling hands, took up the locket, examined it for a minute, and then burst out laughing: “As I live, it’s the great Hoggarty diamond!”
Good heavens! what was this talisman that had come into my possession?
“Look, girls,” continued the old lady: “this is the great jew’l of all Ireland. This red-faced man in the middle is poor Mick Hoggarty, a cousin of mine, who was in love with me in the year ‘84, when I had just lost your poor dear grandpapa. These thirteen sthreamers of red hair represent his thirteen celebrated sisters — Biddy, Minny, Thedy, Widdy (short for Williamina), Freddy, Izzy, Tizzy, Mysie, Grizzy, Polly, Dolly, Nell, and Bell — all married, all ugly, and all carr’ty hair. And of which are you the son, young man? — though, to do you justice, you’re not like the family.”
Two pretty young ladies turned two pretty pairs of black eyes at me, and waited for an answer: which they would have had, only the old lady began rattling on a hundred stories about the thirteen ladies above named, and all their lovers, all their disappointments, and all the duels of Mick Hoggarty. She was a chronicle of fifty-years-old scandal. At last she was interrupted by a violent fit of coughing; at the conclusion of which Mr. Polonius very respectfully asked me where he should send the pin, and whether I would like the hair kept.
“No,” says I, “never mind the hair.”
“And the pin, sir?”
I had felt ashamed about telling my address: “But, bang it!” thought I, “why should I? —
‘A king can make a belted knight,
A marquess, duke, and a’ that;
An honest man’s abune his might —
Gude faith, he canna fa’ that.’
Why need I care about telling these ladies where I live?”
“Sir,” says I, “have the goodness to send the parcel, when done, to Mr. Titmarsh, No. 3 Bell Lane, Salisbury Square, near St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street. Ring, if you please, the two-pair bell.”
“What, sir?” said Mr. Polonius.
“Hwat!” shrieked the old lady. “Mr. Hwat? Mais, ma chere, c’est impayable. Come along — here’s the carr’age! Give me your arm, Mr. Hwat, and get inside, and tell me all about your thirteen aunts.”
She seized on my elbow and hobbled through the shop as fast as possible; the young ladies following her, laughing.
“Now, jump in, do you hear?” said she, poking her sharp nose out of the window.
“I can’t, ma’am,” says I; “I have a friend.”
“Pooh, pooh! send ‘um to the juice, and jump in!” And before almost I could say a word, a great powdered fellow in yellow-plush breeches pushed me up the steps and banged the door to.
I looked just for one minute as the barouche drove away at Hoskins, and never shall forget his figure. There stood Gus, his mouth wide open, his eyes staring, a smoking cheroot in his hand, wondering with all his might at the strange thing that had just happened to me.
“Who is that Titmarsh?” says Gus: “there’s a coronet on the carriage, by Jingo!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00