If I had the pen of a George Robins, I might describe the Rookery properly: suffice it, however, to say it is a very handsome country place; with handsome lawns sloping down to the river, handsome shrubberies and conservatories, fine stables, outhouses, kitchen-gardens, and everything belonging to a first-rate rus in urbe, as the great auctioneer called it when he hammered it down some years after.
I arrived on a Saturday at half-an-hour before dinner: a grave gentleman out of livery showed me to my room; a man in a chocolate coat and gold lace, with Brough’s crest on the buttons, brought me a silver shaving-pot of hot water on a silver tray; and a grand dinner was ready at six, at which I had the honour of appearing in Von Stiltz’s dress-coat and my new silk stockings and pumps.
Brough took me by the hand as I came in, and presented me to his lady, a stout fair-haired woman, in light blue satin; then to his daughter, a tall, thin, dark-eyed girl, with beetle-brows, looking very ill-natured, and about eighteen.
“Belinda my love,” said her papa, “this young gentleman is one of my clerks, who was at our ball.”
“Oh, indeed!” says Belinda, tossing up her head.
“But not a common clerk, Miss Belinda — so, if you please, we will have none of your aristocratic airs with him. He is a nephew of the Countess of Drum; and I hope he will soon be very high in our establishment, and in the city of London.”
At the name of Countess (I had a dozen times rectified the error about our relationship), Miss Belinda made a low curtsey, and stared at me very hard, and said she would try and make the Rookery pleasant to any friend of Papa’s. “We have not much monde today,” continued Miss Brough, “and are only in petit comite; but I hope before you leave us you will see some societe that will make your sejour agreeable.”
I saw at once that she was a fashionable girl, from her using the French language in this way.
“Isn’t she a fine girl?” said Brough, whispering to me, and evidently as proud of her as a man could be. “Isn’t she a fine girl — eh, you dog? Do you see breeding like that in Somersetshire?”
“No, sir, upon my word!” answered I, rather slily; for I was thinking all the while how “Somebody” was a thousand times more beautiful, simple, and ladylike.
“And what has my dearest love been doing all day?” said her papa.
“Oh, Pa! I have pinced the harp a little to Captain Fizgig’s flute. Didn’t I, Captain Fizgig?”
Captain the Honourable Francis Fizgig said, “Yes, Brough, your fair daughter pinced the harp, and touched the piano, and egratigned the guitar, and ecorched a song or two; and we had the pleasure of a promenade a l’eau — of a walk upon the water.”
“Law, Captain!” cries Mrs. Brough, “walk on the water?”
“Hush, Mamma, you don’t understand French!” says Miss Belinda, with a sneer.
“It’s a sad disadvantage, madam,” says Fizgig, gravely; “and I recommend you and Brough here, who are coming out in the great world, to have some lessons; or at least get up a couple of dozen phrases, and introduce them into your conversation here and there. I suppose, sir, you speak it commonly at the office, Mr. What you call it?” And Mr. Fizgig put his glass into his eye and looked at me.
“We speak English, sir,” says I, “knowing it better than French.”
“Everybody has not had your opportunities,” Miss Brough, continued the gentleman. “Everybody has not voyage like nous autres, hey? Mais que voulez-vous, my good sir? you must stick to your cursed ledgers and things. What’s the French for ledger, Miss Belinda?”
“How can you ask? Je n’en scais rien, I’m sure.”
“You should learn, Miss Brough,” said her father. “The daughter of a British merchant need not be ashamed of the means by which her father gets his bread. I’m not ashamed — I’m not proud. Those who know John Brough, know that ten years ago he was a poor clerk like my friend Titmarsh here, and is now worth half-a-million. Is there any man in the House better listened to than John Brough? Is there any duke in the land that can give a better dinner than John Brough; or a larger fortune to his daughter than John Brough? Why, sir, the humble person now speaking to you could buy out many a German duke! But I’m not proud — no, no, not proud. There’s my daughter — look at her — when I die, she will be mistress of my fortune; but am I proud? No! Let him who can win her, marry her, that’s what I say. Be it you, Mr. Fizgig, son of a peer of the realm; or you, Bill Tidd. Be it a duke or a shoeblack, what do I care, hey? — what do I care?”
“O-o-oh!” sighed the gent who went by the name of Bill Tidd: a very pale young man, with a black riband round his neck instead of a handkerchief, and his collars turned down like Lord Byron. He was leaning against the mantelpiece, and with a pair of great green eyes ogling Miss Brough with all his might.
“Oh, John — my dear John!” cried Mrs. Brough, seizing her husband’s hand and kissing it, “you are an angel, that you are!”
“Isabella, don’t flatter me; I’m a man — a plain downright citizen of London, without a particle of pride, except in you and my daughter here — my two Bells, as I call them! This is the way that we live, Titmarsh my boy: ours is a happy, humble, Christian home, and that’s all. Isabella, leave go my hand!”
“Mamma, you mustn’t do so before company; it’s odious!” shrieked Miss B.; and Mamma quietly let the hand fall, and heaved from her ample bosom a great large sigh. I felt a liking for that simple woman, and a respect for Brough too. He couldn’t be a bad man, whose wife loved him so.
Dinner was soon announced, and I had the honour of leading in Miss B., who looked back rather angrily, I thought, at Captain Fizgig, because that gentleman had offered his arm to Mrs. Brough. He sat on the right of Mrs. Brough, and Miss flounced down on the seat next to him, leaving me and Mr. Tidd to take our places at the opposite side of the table.
At dinner there was turbot and soup first, and boiled turkey afterwards of course. How is it that at all the great dinners they have this perpetual boiled turkey? It was real turtle-soup: the first time I had ever tasted it; and I remarked how Mrs. B., who insisted on helping it, gave all the green lumps of fat to her husband, and put several slices of the breast of the bird under the body, until it came to his turn to be helped.
“I’m a plain man,” says John, “and eat a plain dinner. I hate your kickshaws, though I keep a French cook for those who are not of my way of thinking. I’m no egotist, look you; I’ve no prejudices; and Miss there has her bechamels and fallals according to her taste. Captain, try the volly-vong.”
We had plenty of champagne and old madeira with dinner, and great silver tankards of porter, which those might take who chose. Brough made especially a boast of drinking beer; and, when the ladies retired, said, “Gentlemen, Tiggins will give you an unlimited supply of wine: there’s no stinting here;” and then laid himself down in his easy-chair and fell asleep.
“He always does so,” whispered Mr. Tidd to me.
“Get some of that yellow-sealed wine, Tiggins,” says the Captain. “That other claret we had yesterday is loaded, and disagrees with me infernally!”
I must say I liked the yellow seal much better than Aunt Hoggarty’s Rosolio.
I soon found out what Mr. Tidd was, and what he was longing for.
“Isn’t she a glorious creature?” says he to me.
“Who, sir?” says I.
“Miss Belinda, to be sure!” cried Tidd. “Did mortal ever look upon eyes like hers, or view a more sylph-like figure?”
“She might have a little more flesh, Mr. Tidd,” says the Captain, “and a little less eyebrow. They look vicious, those scowling eyebrows, in a girl. Qu’en dites-vous, Mr. Titmarsh, as Miss Brough would say?”
“I think it remarkably good claret, sir,” says I.
“Egad, you’re the right sort of fellow!” says the Captain. “Volto sciolto, eh? You respect our sleeping host yonder?”
“That I do, sir, as the first man in the city of London, and my managing director.”
“And so do I,” says Tidd; “and this day fortnight, when I’m of age, I’ll prove my confidence too.”
“As how?” says I.
“Why, sir, you must know that I come into — ahem — a considerable property, sir, on the 14th of July, which my father made — in business.”
“Say at once he was a tailor, Tidd.”
“He was a tailor, sir — but what of that? I’ve had a University education, and have the feelings of a gentleman; as much — ay, perhaps, and more, than some members of an effete aristocracy.”
“Tidd, don’t be severe!” says the Captain, drinking a tenth glass.
“Well, Mr. Titmarsh, when of age I come into a considerable property; and Mr. Brough has been so good as to say he can get me twelve hundred a year for my twenty thousand pounds, and I have promised to invest them.”
“In the West Diddlesex, sir?” says I—“in our office?”
“No, in another company, of which Mr. Brough is director, and quite as good a thing. Mr. Brough is a very old friend of my family, sir, and he has taken a great liking to me; and he says that with my talents I ought to get into Parliament; and then — and then! after I have laid out my patrimony, I may look to matrimony, you see!”
“Oh, you designing dog!” said the Captain. “When I used to lick you at school, who ever would have thought that I was thrashing a sucking statesman?”
“Talk away, boys!” said Brough, waking out of his sleep; “I only sleep with half an eye, and hear you all. Yes, you shall get into Parliament, Tidd my man, or my name’s not Brough! You shall have six per cent. for your money, or never believe me! But as for my daughter — ask her, and not me. You, or the Captain, or Titmarsh, may have her, if you can get her. All I ask in a son-inlaw is, that he should be, as every one of you is, an honourable and high-minded man!”
Tidd at this looked very knowing; and as our host sank off to sleep again, pointed archly at his eyebrows, and wagged his head at the Captain.
“Bah!” says the Captain. “I say what I think; and you may tell Miss Brough if you like.” And so presently this conversation ended, and we were summoned in to coffee. After which the Captain sang songs with Miss Brough; Tidd looked at her and said nothing; I looked at prints, and Mrs. Brough sat knitting stockings for the poor. The Captain was sneering openly at Miss Brough and her affected ways and talk; but in spite of his bullying contemptuous way I thought she seemed to have a great regard for him, and to bear his scorn very meekly.
At twelve Captain Fizgig went off to his barracks at Knightsbridge, and Tidd and I to our rooms. Next day being Sunday, a great bell woke us at eight, and at nine we all assembled in the breakfast-room, where Mr. Brough read prayers, a chapter, and made an exhortation afterwards, to us and all the members of the household; except the French cook, Monsieur Nontong-paw, whom I could see, from my chair, walking about in the shrubberies in his white night-cap, smoking a cigar.
Every morning on week-days, punctually at eight, Mr. Brough went through the same ceremony, and had his family to prayers; but though this man was a hypocrite, as I found afterwards, I’m not going to laugh at the family prayers, or say he was a hypocrite because he had them. There are many bad and good men who don’t go through the ceremony at all; but I am sure the good men would be the better for it, and am not called upon to settle the question with respect to the bad ones; and therefore I have passed over a great deal of the religious part of Mr. Brough’s behaviour: suffice it, that religion was always on his lips; that he went to church thrice every Sunday, when he had not a party; and if he did not talk religion with us when we were alone, had a great deal to say upon the subject upon occasions, as I found one day when we had a Quaker and Dissenter party to dine, and when his talk was as grave as that of any minister present. Tidd was not there that day — for nothing could make him forsake his Byron riband or refrain from wearing his collars turned down; so Tidd was sent with the buggy to Astley’s. “And hark ye, Titmarsh my boy,” said he, “leave your diamond pin upstairs: our friends today don’t like such gewgaws; and though for my part I am no enemy to harmless ornaments, yet I would not shock the feelings of those who have sterner opinions. You will see that my wife and Miss Brough consult my wishes in this respect.” And so they did — for they both came down to dinner in black gowns and tippets; whereas Miss B. had commonly her dress half off her shoulders.
The Captain rode over several times to see us; and Miss Brough seemed always delighted to see him. One day I met him as I was walking out alone by the river, and we had a long talk together.
“Mr. Titmarsh,” says he, “from what little I have seen of you, you seem to be an honest straight-minded young fellow; and I want some information that you can give. Tell me, in the first place, if you will — and upon my honour it shall go no farther — about this Insurance Company of yours? You are in the City, and see how affairs are going on. Is your concern a stable one?”
“Sir,” said I, “frankly then, and upon my honour too, I believe it is. It has been set up only four years, it is true; but Mr. Brough had a great name when it was established, and a vast connection. Every clerk in the office has, to be sure, in a manner, paid for his place, either by taking shares himself, or by his relations taking them. I got mine because my mother, who is very poor, devoted a small sum of money that came to us to the purchase of an annuity for herself and a provision for me. The matter was debated by the family and our attorneys, Messrs. Hodge and Smithers, who are very well known in our part of the country; and it was agreed on all hands that my mother could not do better with her money for all of us than invest it in this way. Brough alone is worth half a million of money, and his name is a host in itself. Nay, more: I wrote the other day to an aunt of mine, who has a considerable sum of money in loose cash, and who had consulted me as to the disposal of it, to invest it in our office. Can I give you any better proof of my opinion of its solvency?”
“Did Brough persuade you in any way?”
“Yes, he certainly spoke to me: but he very honestly told me his motives, and tells them to us all as honestly. He says, ‘Gentlemen, it is my object to increase the connection of the office, as much as possible. I want to crush all the other offices in London. Our terms are lower than any office, and we can bear to have them lower, and a great business will come to us that way. But we must work ourselves as well. Every single shareholder and officer of the establishment must exert himself, and bring us customers — no matter for how little they are engaged — engage them: that is the great point.’ And accordingly our Director makes all his friends and servants shareholders: his very lodge-porter yonder is a shareholder; and he thus endeavours to fasten upon all whom he comes near. I, for instance, have just been appointed over the heads of our gents, to a much better place than I held. I am asked down here, and entertained royally: and why? Because my aunt has three thousand pounds which Mr. Brough wants her to invest with us.”
“That looks awkward, Mr. Titmarsh.”
“Not a whit, sir: he makes no disguise of the matter. When the question is settled one way or the other, I don’t believe Mr. Brough will take any further notice of me. But he wants me now. This place happened to fall in just at the very moment when he had need of me; and he hopes to gain over my family through me. He told me as much as we drove down. ‘You are a man of the world, Titmarsh,’ said he; ‘you know that I don’t give you this place because you are an honest fellow, and write a good hand. If I had a lesser bribe to offer you at the moment, I should only have given you that; but I had no choice, and gave you what was in my power.’”
“That’s fair enough; but what can make Brough so eager for such a small sum as three thousand pounds?”
“If it had been ten, sir, he would have been not a bit more eager. You don’t know the city of London, and the passion which our great men in the share-market have for increasing their connection. Mr. Brough, sir, would canvass and wheedle a chimney-sweep in the way of business. See, here is poor Tidd and his twenty thousand pounds. Our Director has taken possession of him just in the same way. He wants all the capital he can lay his hands on.”
“Yes, and suppose he runs off with the capital?”
“Mr. Brough, of the firm of Brough and Hoff, sir? Suppose the Bank of England runs off! But here we are at the lodge-gate. Let’s ask Gates, another of Mr. Brough’s victims.” And we went in and spoke to old Gates.
“Well, Mr. Gates,” says I, beginning the matter cleverly, “you are one of my masters, you know, at the West Diddlesex yonder?”
“Yees, sure,” says old Gates, grinning. He was a retired servant, with a large family come to him in his old age.
“May I ask you what your wages are, Mr. Gates, that you can lay by so much money, and purchase shares in our Company?”
Gates told us his wages; and when we inquired whether they were paid regularly, swore that his master was the kindest gentleman in the world: that he had put two of his daughters into service, two of his sons to charity schools, made one apprentice, and narrated a hundred other benefits that he had received from the family. Mrs. Brough clothed half the children; master gave them blankets and coats in winter, and soup and meat all the year round. There never was such a generous family, sure, since the world began.
“Well, sir,” said I to the Captain, “does that satisfy you? Mr. Brough gives to these people fifty times as much as he gains from them; and yet he makes Mr. Gates take shares in our Company.”
“Mr. Titmarsh,” says the Captain, “you are an honest fellow; and I confess your argument sounds well. Now tell me, do you know anything about Miss Brough and her fortune?”
“Brough will leave her everything — or says so.” But I suppose the Captain saw some particular expression in my countenance, for he laughed and said —
“I suppose, my dear fellow, you think she’s dear at the price. Well, I don’t know that you are far wrong.”
“Why, then, if I may make so bold, Captain Fizgig, are you always at her heels?”
“Mr. Titmarsh,” says the Captain, “I owe twenty thousand pounds;” and he went back to the house directly, and proposed for her.
I thought this rather cruel and unprincipled conduct on the gentleman’s part; for he had been introduced to the family by Mr. Tidd, with whom he had been at school, and had supplanted Tidd entirely in the great heiress’s affections. Brough stormed, and actually swore at his daughter (as the Captain told me afterwards) when he heard that the latter had accepted Mr. Fizgig; and at last, seeing the Captain, made him give his word that the engagement should be kept secret for a few months. And Captain F. only made a confidant of me, and the mess, as he said: but this was after Tidd had paid his twenty thousand pounds over to our governor, which he did punctually when he came of age. The same day, too, he proposed for the young lady, and I need not say was rejected. Presently the Captain’s engagement began to be whispered about: all his great relations, the Duke of Doncaster, the Earl of Cinqbars, the Earl of Crabs, &c. came and visited the Brough family; the Hon. Henry Ringwood became a shareholder in our Company, and the Earl of Crabs offered to be. Our shares rose to a premium; our Director, his lady, and daughter were presented at Court; and the great West Diddlesex Association bid fair to be the first Assurance Office in the kingdom.
A very short time after my visit to Fulham, my dear aunt wrote to me to say that she had consulted with her attorneys, Messrs. Hodge and Smithers, who strongly recommended that she should invest the sum as I advised. She had the sum invested, too, in my name, paying me many compliments upon my honesty and talent; of which, she said, Mr. Brough had given her the most flattering account. And at the same time my aunt informed me that at her death the shares should be my own. This gave me a great weight in the Company, as you may imagine. At our next annual meeting, I attended in my capacity as a shareholder, and had great pleasure in hearing Mr. Brough, in a magnificent speech, declare a dividend of six per cent., that we all received over the counter.
“You lucky young scoundrel!” said Brough to me; “do you know what made me give you your place?”
“Why, my aunt’s money, to be sure, sir,” said I.
“No such thing. Do you fancy I cared for those paltry three thousand pounds? I was told you were nephew of Lady Drum; and Lady Drum is grandmother of Lady Jane Preston; and Mr. Preston is a man who can do us a world of good. I knew that they had sent you venison, and the deuce knows what; and when I saw Lady Jane at my party shake you by the hand, and speak to you so kindly, I took all Abednego’s tales for gospel. That was the reason you got the place, mark you, and not on account of your miserable three thousand pounds. Well, sir, a fortnight after you were with us at Fulham, I met Preston in the House, and made a merit of having given the place to his cousin. ‘Confound the insolent scoundrel!’ said he; ‘he my cousin! I suppose you take all old Drum’s stories for true? Why, man, it’s her mania: she never is introduced to a man but she finds out a cousinship, and would not fail of course with that cur of a Titmarsh!’ ‘Well,’ said I, laughing, ‘that cur has got a good place in consequence, and the matter can’t be mended.’ So you see,” continued our Director, “that you were indebted for your place, not to your aunt’s money, but —”
“But to my Aunt’s diamond pin!”
“Lucky rascal!” said Brough, poking me in the side and going out of the way. And lucky, in faith, I thought I was.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00