« AnkstesnisTęsti »
would certainly have never suspected evil. Of all the many classifications of mankind, there is none more exhaustive than that which divides humanity into those who do not and those who do think evil, those who believe in motives noble and disinterested, and those who habitually attribute motives low, sordid, and base. Needless to say that Stephen belonged, in his capacity of man of the world, to the latter. There are sheep and there are goats: the man of the world prefers the goats.
He invited Alderney to dine with him at Clapham, stating that it would be a bachelor's dinner for themselves. In fact, dinner was served in the study. Alderney arrived, clad still in the gorgeous coat with the fur lining. He was punctual to time-half-past seven-and found Stephen apparently hard at work behind a great pile of papers on a side-table.
"These are a few," he said, looking up and greeting his cousin, "just a few of the papers connected with the estate, which I have to go through."
"Oh!" said Alderney, with sympathy. "Poor Anthony will cut up, I hear, better than was expected even.”
Stephen nodded mysteriously.
"You have heard, perhaps, that I am to take out letters of administration. There was no will, but of course I am the nearest friend of this poor, bereaved girl."
Alderney was more surprised than ever. The last time Stephen spoke to him of Alison he called her a little devil. But that, to be sure, was late in the evening, when he was lamenting her existence.
"It is very creditable to you, Stephen," said Alderney warmly. "You have the same kind heart as your brother. I feared from what you said once before that you bore poor Alison a grudge for ever having been born, which is a thing that no girl should be blamed for."
'Alderney," said Stephen, "you ought to know better than to rake up an old thing said in a bad temper. Alison has now become my especial, my sacred charge."
Alderney Codd stroked his chin-noticing as he did so that the frayed condition of his cuffs was really beyond everything-and began to be more confounded than ever. He wished they would bring dinner. That Stephen Hamblin should acknowledge any duty, and act upon that recognition; that he should acknowledge anything sacred, and square his conduct accordingly, was to Alderney like a new revelation; and yet Stephen appeared in perfect health. So he only coughed -an involuntary expression of incredulity-and said nothing.
"What a task!" said Stephen; "what a melancholy yet profitable task it is going through the simple records of a blameless life like my brother Anthony's! You think with me, Alderney, that his life was really a blameless one?"
"Surely," said Alderney, almost ready by this time to believe that Stephen must be an awakened and converted vessel, and feeling some natural anxiety on his own personal behalf lest the complaint might be contagious-"surely. The
Alderney was rather astonished at this expression of sympathy and so much grief, after an interval of so many weeks. Many brothers dry up, so to speak, in a fortnight at latest. Most brothers cease to use the language of grief after a month. "Yes, it is very sad; but Alison won't go on very best man who ever lived. Many is the fiver crying for ever, I suppose?"
"Don't be brutal, Alderney. Pretend to sympathy, if you can't feel any. You were always inclined to look on things from so hard a point of view."
This, again, was astonishing. Alderney sat down meekly, and began to wish that dinner would come.
"I thought," he said presently, while Stephen went on making notes and turning over leaves, "that the lawyers relieved you of all the work."
"My dear fellow!" with gentle surprise. "Impossible. They take care of the details, and do the necessary legal work. I have, however, to master the general situation. The guardians, executors, and trustees have all the responsibility, nearly all the work, and none of the profit." This was ungrateful, considering the five hundred a year. "But, of course, for the poor child's sake, one must not flinch from undertaking it."
I have borrowed of him. So far even as a tenner went, indeed, I always regarded Anthony as a safe draw; but, as a regular rule, not more than that at a time, and not more than once a month or so. And it was best to vary the place, the time, and the emergency. Dear me! to think that I have borrowed the last fiver from him that I shall ever get! Where shall we find another lender so free and so forgetful?”
"You can always rely on me, Alderney," said Stephen, slowly and sadly, "for that amount at least."
"God bless my soul!" cried Alderney, bewildered beyond power of control by this sudden conversion. "Has anything happened to you, Stephen? You haven't got some internal complaint?"
Stephen was still sitting at the table, with a three-quarter face lit by the fire. The room was dark, and his hard features, suffused by the rosy light, looked gentle and kind. Who, up till now,
had ever heard of Stephen Hamblin lending any one a single penny ?
"I have been searching among these papers," he went on, still in the same slow, sad way, without noticing Alderney's extraordinary question, "for some evidence—say, rather, some record of my brother's marriage. Alison is nearly twenty years of age. Here, for instance, is a bundle of papers which refer to a time before her birth. Plenty of diaries of that date are here before me. Oddly enough, I find no mention anywhere of any marriage. Yet Anthony was a most methodical man, and one would think must have made somewhere a careful record of an important event such as his marriage. Here, again "-he took up a thick volume, and opened it at random-"is a diary of that time. Anything seems set down. Advanced to Alderney Codd, twenty-five pounds.' And here is even your own IO U."
Really!" cried Alderney, springing to his feet. "Let me see that document. My own IOU! And for five-and-twenty! I remember it well. It was twenty years ago. We went to Paris, you and I, with the money, and we staid there for a week. When it was all gone, you had to write to Anthony for more, to bring us home. I remember-I remember. Now this is really touching. I borrowed that money twenty years ago. Think of one's good deeds seeing the light again after so many years! It was indeed a casting of bread upon the water. I never expected to be rewarded in this manner."
His face flushed, especially his nose, and he spoke as if his own borrowing had been the good deed thus providentially brought to light.
Then the dinner was brought up. Alderney, like all thin men, was blessed with a regular and trustworthy appetite. There was little conversation during the dinner, which was good. When it was all over, and nothing more remained but the wine, the two men turned their chairs to the fire, and fell to quiet talk over a bottle of 1856, out of Anthony's capacious cellar.
"I suppose," said Stephen presently, harking back to the subject of his brother, "that you have a very distinct recollection of poor Anthony's regular habits?"
The ceremony is not everything. The nosegay of this wine is perfect. You have to court your bride, I suppose; and all that takes time. And what sort of a wife would that be, content with a five minutes squeezed here and there out of the office-day? Alderney, I know every holiday he ever took, where he went, with whom he went, and what he did. Ah, what a color! For the life of me, I can not understand when he was married."
"It does seem odd," said Alderney, “now one begins to think of it. This is the inner flask. Why can't a man drink a couple of bottles of this divine liquor without getting drunk?”
"Then the death of his wife. Did he go about as if nothing had happened? How is it there is no word about it in the diaries? We can have another bottle up. And the birth of his daughter? Why is not that event entered ?" "It does seem odd."
"So odd, Alderney, that I am going to investigate it. Do have some more port. If Anthony had been any other kind of man, if we were not all sure, quite sure in our own minds, that his life was always beyond reproach—if we could not all agree in this, I should say that he had never been married at all."
As Stephen said these words slowly, he leaned his head upon his hand, and gazed sadly into the fire.
Alderney did not reply at first. He was taking another glass of port. Wine stimulates the perceptive faculties, but sometimes confuses the powers of speech. Presently he said, rather thickly:
"Quite quite impossible. Anthony's the best man in the world, and there's no better port out of Cambridge."
Alderney called next day at the offices in the
"Why, any man would remember so regular City. Augustus Hamblin, apparently willing to a life as his."
"True, the most methodical of men. It seems to me, Alderney, as if he knew on any day and at any time what he was then doing. This is really admirable port. I should like a bin of it. Of course, Anthony moved like the hands of a clock. It is good wine-Falernian. And yet I can not remember, nor can I find a trace of, any week or month during which he could
waste a quarter of an hour with him, which was not always the case, received him, and let him talk.
Alderney expatiated on the virtuous attitude of the new guardian.
“Richard III.,” said Augustus, "was equally full of love for his nephews."
"Nay, nay," cried Alderney reproachfully, "Stephen is in earnest. He is a new man.”
"Perhaps," said Augustus. "We have, however, cut his nails pretty short. New man or old, he will do no mischief to the estate."
Well," Alderney went on, "it is very odd, but Stephen can find no trace of Anthony's marriage, which was always, you know, a very mysterious affair. He must have married somebody." "Yes," said Augustus confidently, though his brow clouded; "of course, somebody. What does it matter?"
"Stephen says that if Anthony had been a different kind of man, unless we were all agreed that he was the best of men, we might be inclined to think that he never was married at all." The words went home. Augustus felt a sudden pang of fear and surprise. Stephen would in that case be the sole heir.
"A changed man, is he?" he asked. "Upon my word, Alderney, I suspect he is exactly the same man as he always has been not changed a bit."
THE BIRCH-TREE TAVERN.
AMONG the City clubs is a small and littleknown association which meets informally on every day of the week and all the year round, between the hours of two and five in the after
There are no rules in this club: it has no ballot-box: nobody is ever blackballed, nobody is ever proposed, nobody is ever elected: there is no subscription-if there were, the club would instantly dissolve: and it is nameless. It is, however, felt by the members to be a very real and existing club, a place where they may be sure of meeting their friends, an institution to which only those resort who are bound together by the common ties of like pursuits.
This place of meeting is the Birch-Tree Tavern, which stands in one of the narrow streets leading southward out of Cornhill. Its situation, therefore, is central, in the very heart of London. It is a simple house of refreshment, which, like all the City places, is full of life between one and three, and before or after those hours is dull and empty. When the hungry clerks have all disappeared, when the jostling waiters have left off carrying, taking orders, and bawling, when the boys have ceased to balance among the mob their piles of plates and dishes, when the compartments are all empty, a great calm falls upon the place, broken only by the buzz of conversation of the men who are always lounging over a London bar: by the occasional click of the bil
liard-balls, and by the distant murmur from the room where the members of the club are holding their daily conference. If you ask for anything at this place after four, the waiters collect together to gaze upon you in pity; if at half-past five, they receive your orders with contumely, or even eject you with violence.
The Birch-Tree Tavern, the glories of which belong perhaps to the times when the new and splendid restaurant was unknown, consists of several houses, or parts of houses. Many years ago these had behind them little yards, each four feet broad by twenty long, where rubbish could be shot, where cats could practice gymnastics, and where the melancholy moss, which can live without sunshine, dragged on a monotonous existence. But the walls of the yards are taken down, the space between the houses roofed over, and the ground thus reclaimed has been made into a bar and a luncheon-table. If you go up stairs and turn to the left hand, first door on the first floor, you will find yourself in the room affected by the members of this nameless club.
They arrive between one and two o'clock in the day; they find a row of tables on one side of the room, spread with table-cloths, which are white on Monday; here they dine. After dinner they adjourn to a row of tables without tablecloths, on the other side, near the windows, which are adorned with nothing but lucifer-matches in their native caskets. Here they join their friends, and sit talking over fragrant tobacco and whisky-and-water till afternoon deepens into evening-in other words, until the waiter turns them out.
Where do they go when they leave the BirchTree Tavern?
That is a question to which there is no reply. They used to show a man at the Stilton Cheese who sat in that place every day of his life from four o'clock till seven, except on Sunday, when he was supposed to lie in bed till six. He then went to the Coach and Four, where he remained until nine. After that he repaired to the Albion, where he finished his monotonous day of perpetual thirst, for, during the whole of that time, he drank whisky-and-water gayly.
The members of this club began to drink earlier than this hero. In all probability, therefore, they left off earlier. It does not seem in nature, for instance, to drink whisky-and-water from two till six, and then to finish with another sitting from six till eleven afterward. Perhaps they went home and had tea and read good books; perhaps they went to bed at once; perhaps they sat in solitude and reflected; perhaps they sat like mediums waiting for a communication. I do not know, nor did the members of this club know, because their acquaintance with
each other began and ended at the tavern, what they did in the evening.
Men who pursue secret, tortuous, or mysterious methods of making money always meet their fellow laborers in certain taverns. One class of ingenious adventurers, which turns its attentions to the fluctuations of foreign stock, may be seen whispering together-they all whisper-in a certain underground place where they keep wonderful sherry at eighteen pence a glass; it is a sherry which unlocks all hearts. Others, who take an interest in the railways of the foreigner, may be seen at the Whittington, an agreeable little place, where they put you into little boxes, four feet square, with walls eight feet high. Here the guests sit like conspirators and discuss their secrets. Sometimes you may see one more suspicious than the rest, peering over the partition wall to see if the occupiers of the next place are likely to be listeners. At Binn's, again, you will find in the ordinary compartments German Jews, who can tell you all about the price of diamonds and the rise of bullion. They are safe from listeners, because they are talking their own language, which is Schmoozum, and no one understands that except themselves.
The men who used the Birch-Tree Tavern were all of them engaged perpetually in the formation, the promotion, the floating of new companies. To conceive the idea of a new company; to give it such a name as would attract; to connect it with popular objects; to draw up a flaming prospectus, showing how the profits must be five-and-twenty, and would most likely be cent. per cent.; to receive fully paid-up shares, in reward for the idea and the preliminary work; to realize upon them when the shares were at their highest, and before the smash-this was the golden dream of men who frequented that firstfloor room. They were always occupied with designs-hatching new ideas, abandoning old. They listened with the utmost eagerness to each other's ideas. They believed in them more than in their own, envied their possession, marveled at their own bad luck in not hitting upon them for themselves; and they pleased themselves with stories about great strokes of good fortune.
They are not an unkindly set of men. They do not steal each other's ideas or try to anticipate them. Their faces lack the hawk-like look of professional turf-men and gamblers. They all love to lounge and talk. Their calling makes them perhaps inclined to be dreamy and imaginative. One would not claim for them the highest standard of moral excellence, but certainly, when the imagination is allowed fair play, the habits of the bird of prey are seldom found. Now the rook is an eminently practical and not an imaginative bird.
I am far from asserting that these gentlemen are models of morality. On the contrary, they have no morality; such a thing does not exist in the lower flights of financing, whatever may be the case with the higher. They are positively without morals on this side of their character. They consider nothing about a company, except to inquire how the idea can be so presented as to attract the general public. Whether it is a snare and a delusion, whether the formation of such a company is a dishonest trading on the credulity of the ignorant, whether the traffic in its shares is not a mere robbery and plunder-these are things which the small projectors neither inquire into, nor care for, nor would understand.
One of the most regular frequenters of the tavern was Mr. Alderney Codd. Since the age of eight-and-twenty-since the time, that is, when he made that little arrangement, of which we have spoken, with his creditors-he has been engaged in the active, but hitherto unsuccessful, pursuit of other people's money by the promotion of risky companies. How he fell into this profession, by what successive steps this lay fellow of St. Alphege's became a promoter of companies, it is needless here to tell. He was in the profession, which is the important thing, and he was greatly respected in it, partly on account of his fertile imagination, which perpetually led him to devise new openings, and partly because he was supposed able to "influence" capital. Next to a capitalist comes the man who can influence capital. Was he not cousin to the Hamblins of Great St. Simon Apostle? Was he not hand-inglove with Stephen, the younger brother, who was not in the firm, yet was supposed to be possessed of great wealth, and was always hanging about in the City? Was he not, again, a private friend of the successful Mr. Bunter Baker, commonly known as Jack Baker?
It was nothing that Alderney Codd was shabby and poor; they were all poor, and most of them were shabby. The important thing was, that he could influence capital directly, while the rest of them had to work crab-fashion toward the attainment of their objects-to crawl up back stairs, to take into their confidence a go-between, whose commission sopped up most of their profits. Another thing in Alderney's favor was that he was undoubtedly a university man, a fellow of his college, reputed to be a great scholar-a thing which always commands respect. Lastly, Alderney had once, some years before, actually made a great coup. He always told the story at the tavern whenever any stranger appeared in the circle it was a privilege accorded to him; and the rest were never tired of hearing the story.
"It was in the early days of trams," he said, when he had led the conversation artfully to the
right moment for introducing the story-" the early days of trams. Not but what there is a good deal to be done in trams, even now, by a man who keeps his eyes open; and I would recommend anybody here who has time in his hands, and a little money for preliminary expenses" (here their jaws fell), "to consider the subject of trams applied to our own towns. My town was no other than-Valparaiso." Alderney Codd at this point would look round with an air of triumph, as if real genius was shown in the selection of a town so remote from Cornhill. "Valparaiso. It is a city which has a fine trade, and-and-well, I thought the idea of a tram in Valparaiso would possibly attract. Had it been Bristol or Birmingham, no one would have touched it; but to lend money to a foreign enterprise in those good days when people were credulous-ah, well!" Alderney Codd sighed. "We may well, like Horace, praise the past time, because it will never come again." Alderney's allusions to the classical authors, like his quotations, would not always bear inspection. "I conceived this idea, however. I have, as our friends know, some little influence over capital. I drew up the prospectus of that company; I introduced that company in certain quarters; I floated that company; I received five thousand pounds in fully-paid shares; the shares were taken; they ran up; I had the happiness to sell out when they were at seventy per cent. premium, a fortnight before the company smashed. As for the tram, gentlemen, it never was made, in consequence of a dispute with the municipality. However, it was not my fault; and I believe, gentlemen, I may call that transaction business-quocunque modo, rem,' as Horace says."
Alderney generally stopped here. gone on, he would have to explain that it was Stephen Hamblin who helped in starting this disastrous company, the name of which still brings tears of rage and bitterness to the eyes of many a country clergyman and poor maiden lady; he would have explained, further, that it was in consequence of acting further on Stephen's advice that he subsequently lost the whole. For he invested it in a new American railway. The prospectus, beautifully emblazoned with arms of the State, mottoes, gilded emblems, and effigies of the almighty dollar, set forth that this line of El Dorado, this railway of Golconda, this iron road of Ophir, ran through diamond-fields, silver-mines, gold-mines, rich ranchos boasting of ten thousand cattle; past meadows smiling-nay, grinning-with perpetual crops; through vineyards whose grapes were better for pressing and fermenting than any on the Johannisberg or belonging to the Château Lafitte; and among a population numerous as the ants in an ant-hill, pros
perous as an early engineer, and as rich as Nebuchadnezzar, Vanderbilt, or Mr. Stewart. It ran, or passed, from one place not marked on any English map to another not marked on any English map-from one to another world-center, both shamefully passed over and neglected by Mr. Stanford's young men. It was elaborately explained that, besides the enormous passenger traffic in this densely-populated country, there would be expected from the extraordinary wealth of the territory, as above indicated, a great and rapidlyincreasing goods business. Figures showed that the least which holders of ordinary stock in this railway could expect would be twenty-five per cent. The shares of the new railway were placed upon the markets; Alderney Codd's money was all, by Stephen's advice, invested in them. He unfortunately let go the golden opportunity, which Stephen embraced, of selling all he held when the shares were at their highest, and was involved in the general ruin when it was discovered that there was no town at all within hundreds of miles of the place, that there were no people except one or two in a log-hut, that there would be no passenger traffic, and no conveyance of goods. Alderney, unfortunately, like all his friends, believed in other people's companies. He promoted what he knew to be a bubble, but he accepted all other bubbles for what they professed to be. And bubbles always profess to be solid pudding: such is their playful way.
Perhaps Alderney's popularity was due in great measure to his personal qualities. He was a good-hearted man; he never ascribed evil, or thought evil, though his manner of life would have been, had Providence allowed him to float many of his bubble companies, as mischievous, tortuous, and shady as that of an Egyptian viceroy. He took everybody into his confidence, and, with a sublime trust in human nature which nothing could ever destroy, he imparted profound secrets to the acquaintance of an hour, who in his turn not unfrequently revealed mysteries of the most startling and confidential description to him. Men who talk to strangers at bars have few secrets, and are very candid. Then Alderney never forgot a face or a friend; he had an excellent memory; he was always cheerful, even sanguine, and was never mean. To be sure he was a lavish borrower, a very prodigal in borrowing; he would ask for a ten-pound note and take a crown-piece; and he never, unless when he borrowed among his own set, remembered to repay.
Perhaps, again, part of his popularity was due to his face. This was thin and clean shaven. The mouth had an habitual smile lurking in the corners; the nose was just touched with red, which, when not carried too far, imparts benevo