Richie Barter, the
Man who Should, But Did Not
Yes! the good Sir Toby Plum died; and the very
statues in the Stock Exchange were moved,—the very pillars of that sanctuary
particularly distinguished themselves by their violent agitation,—the
old Lady in Threadneedle Street refused to be comforted,—and the
universal brow of 'Change Alley was clouded with the profoundest grief.
The dumb animals of that region—the bears and bulls—prowled about
in savage woe, and "looked unutterable things," on the day that the
remains of Sir Toby Plum were gathered to his fathers. He had a
running personal account of seventy years and upwards with old Dame
Nature, which is now paid;—(the only one, it was maliciously said, he
ever paid;)—and he dies possessed—not he, but others — of —— thousands,
(we leave a blank for the number, to be hereafter filled up,) or,
what is quite as good, the name of them.
"What's in a name?" Ask that beautiful inconsolable creature,
his widow, who, at the age of twenty-three, finds she is once more mistress
of herself, and of her dear Sir Toby's worldly possessions besides. As
these were supposed to be infinite, can it be imagined that we will
attempt to set down in round numbers what is inconceivable, and,
consequently, without a name? But see:—there is a staid, solemn,
business-looking personage, just stept out of her boudoir,—Peter Smyrk,
the man of business, a kind of lurcher to the late Sir Toby. She is at
present too inconsolable to receive him. Perhaps he might inform
you—you perceive by his impatience and disappointment he is most
anxious to do so. She, poor creature! could not be supposed interested
in such details, who was only a few days ago on the very brink of the
grave—(for she accompanied the remains of the good Sir Toby to the
It was about a fortnight after the death of good Sir Toby
that his disconsolate widow felt reconciled to her mourning and "the novelty
of her situation." Absorbed in thoughts about her own sweet person,
and busy with reflections—such as her mirror gave,—the important
Peter Smyrk was announced. The sweetest voice in the city welcomed
"Very happy to see you, madam; but still
"Pray, Mr. Smyrk, don't revive a subject so painful to me. Sir
Toby was a good man: I shall never—ne-ver forget——" And tears
such us angels—or widows—weep, coursed down her cheek.
"I'm sure not, madam; and I must entreat you to believe
how sincerely I sympathise with you on your loss, and how very sorry I am
"Ah! you are very—very good, Mr. Smyrk—very
considerate; so was the good Sir Toby. But these papers——"
"—Will, I fear, madam, but create fresh sorrow.
"Very true, Mr. Smyrk; anything that reminds me of that good
old man causes my sorrows to flow afresh."
"In truth, madam," said the sympathising man of business, "there
is something in these papers to cause just and deserving regret,—but
still very little to remind you of him;—he has left you but 500l.
All the rest of his property goes to his nephew."
"What! all?" exclaimed the relict of Sir Toby Plum.
"Then I am the——" But the pillows of her ottoman
only knew, as she buried her face in them, the superlative degree of misery to
which she said she was consigned by the too prudent Sir Toby.
It was a sweet, voluptuous moonlight night,—so fair,
so sweet, so full of that delicious languor that best accords with the human
heart in its softest hours, tinging the picturesque summits of chimney-tops
as well as towers, and bringing out into pleasing relief each particular
brick of the classic region of the Minories,—that Richie Barter, enveloped
in a double-milled dreadnought, stood before what was the mansion
of the late Sir Toby Plum. Richie was the very personification
of a man on 'Change,—busy, important, and imposing. He was head
clerk in the house, and having served the good Sir Toby till he could
serve him no longer, and having wound up the affairs of the firm, which
seem disposed of, in that neatly-tied parcel under his arm, he avoids
the garish eye of day, and calls by moonlight to transact a little business
and condolence together. Richie was a prudent man, frugal both
of his purse and person, and stood at the door of Sir Toby, elevated
with the integrity of his purpose, and the consciousness of four thousand
good pounds his own making. A few moments, and he
was ushered into the prettiest of all parlours, where, reposing on
the most seductive of ottomans, reclined the pale and disconsolate
mistress of the mansion. By the softened lustre of a solitary lamp, the
prudent eye of Richie took a hasty glance around him: everything
bespoke comfort and elegance. He sat down, drew his chair near the
sofa, and laid the neatly-tied parcel at her feet. Only one of these was
visible, and was shrouded from the too curious gaze of Richie in a
little slipper; the other, with retiring delicacy, was withdrawn within
those precincts where the imagination of Richie did not follow. The
communings of Richie on the occasion were worthy of him, and as he
feasted his eyes on its fair and delicate proportions, he calculated
(for he was a man of calculation) by a rule of proportions, that if
one sweet foot gave such pleasure, what would two give? In
truth, Richie, after trying the question by every rule of proportion
that Cocker or Cupid could suggest, boldly asked himself
what might the lady give, who abounded in proportion; and, as a prudent
man, he thought at no remote period he might put that question.
"Still inconsolable, madam?" said Richie Barter after a
few prefatory hems. "Surely you might yield to the soothing anxieties of
your friends, and be reconciled to the loss—good man that he was!"
"Ah! Mr. Barter, such a loss!—so undeserved!—so
unexpected!—and to be left thus a prey to——"
"We must all go in our turn, madam," interrupted the
sententious Richie; "and 'tis a consolation to his successors to know that his
affairs were in a most flourishing condition;—a net capital, madam, of
forty thousand pounds, after all demands. You will find the exact
state of his affairs in these papers."
Lady Plum petulantly kicked the parcel off the sofa.
"I hate business, Mr. Barter; and were forty times the sum"
(perceiving his ignorance of the testamentary disposition of the property)
"contained in them, I would trust to your skill and integrity to wind up the matter."
"These forty thousand at your command, madam," said Richie,
"the bulk of Sir Toby's property, if properly husbanded——"
The mention of a sum which she knew she had not,
coupled with the name of husband, who she knew had not appreciated her merits,
brought two pearly drops into her eyes, which Richie would have given
a quarter's salary to be permitted to kiss off, and which vied in size and
lustre with those that trembled in her ears; but he did what was quite
as grateful to the widow,—he summoned a little moisture into his
own. This sympathetic display was not lost on the considerate lady.
"'Forty times that sum'—were not these her words?"
thought Richie Barter, as, wending his way down Cheapside, he began to ponder
on the widow's words, "and would entrust it all to Richie Barter!
Well! that sum, and my own four thousand, would make a man of
Richie Barter for life." And, brimful of the gayest and happiest
anticipations, he strode on.
"Please, sir, what o'clock is it?" asked a little boy of Richie,
as he stood staring at the clock of Bow Church; to which Richie, heedless of
time and space, answered, "Forty thousand;" and, equally regardless
of the shouts of laughter which the answer provoked, he walked on.
Night after night the precise Richie stood before the mansion
of the late Sir Toby Plum, enwrapt in his dreadnought, and in thoughts
equally fearless. The same low, considerate, but somewhat confidential
rap admitted him; the same sweet little parlour and its fair occupant
received him; the same confidence was expressed in his integrity
and skill. Financial arrangements, discussed by proportions, he
found irresistibly conclusive; till, in the fulness of time,—according
to Richie's own account, three months after sight,—he became one
of the happiest of husbands, and forthwith began to make arrangements for
husbanding—now that he was qualified—their joint stock; and
Richie Barter was a happy man. Richie was also a cautious man; but how absurd
a thing is caution, particularly in affairs of the heart!—with which, if
they would prosper, the head must have nothing to do. In a short time
Richie began to discover that he might possibly have been a little too
precipitate in marriage; that proportions, which gave forty thousand
pounds as a result of the most correct calculation, were not to be relied
upon; in short, that he might have looked before him;—and Richie
sighed profoundly as he exclaimed, "I should—but did not!"
The moon that generally succeeds matrimony, and upon which
all the sweets of poetry, and prose, and the grocer's shop, have been expended
to give an adequate idea of its deliciousness,—thus "gilding
refined gold," and making a planet, supposed to be green cheese, the
very essence of honey,—that luminary had run its course, and found
Richie Barter one day in the dishabille becoming a Benedict, flung on
a sofa, with his dexter hand thrown across the back of it, lost in a
reverie as profound as his breeches-pocket, with something like a "pale
cast of thought" on a countenance once rubicund, and now rendered
perfectly cadaverous by a glance at a letter which he was crumpling
in his fist.
"How is this, Julia, dear? there must be some mistake," said
the agitated Richie to the most prudent of wives, as she entered the room.
"Only a paltry five hundred, when I thought forty thousand was in
the way!—Surely there must be a mistake in this!"
"In matters of business, Mr. Barter,—you know I hate
business,—there will be mistakes," quoth the lady; "business is my
aversion;" and she swept by the amazed Richie with all the dignity of a Siddons.
"I married you, Mr. Barter, to get rid of business and its degrading
details;" and she looked with no very equivocal air of contempt on
the bulk of Richie as he lay coiled on the sofa, crumpling the letter.
"Mr. Smyrk," said a servant half opening the door.
"Wish you ten thousand joys, Mrs. Barter," said Sir Toby's
man of business as he entered. "An excellent character,—a most prudent
man, is Mr. Barter."
"Why not make it forty thousand joys, sir?" exclaimed Richie.
"Very facetious, Mr. Barter; but this just reminds me of a
little business I came about,—a few debts of your good lady, which her
creditors are a little clamorous for, particularly since you've got the
reputation of having got forty thousand pounds with her."
"Forty thousand devils!" roared the furious Richie.
"Will the reputation of that sum pay one shilling of her
debts?—tell me that."
"Can't exactly say; but, as the friend of the late Sir Toby,
I looked in, in the family way. A little business of my own—a trifle over
three hundred pounds;—Mrs. Barter will tell you the value received."
And the prudent Mr. Smyrk presented his bill to that amount, and
left Richie glaring and grinning at this fresh demand.
"This is beyond all endurance, Mrs. Barter," said Richie,
as he flung the bill on the ground.
Mrs. B. deliberately took it up, and appeared for a moment
absorbed in thought. "I have it!—I have it!" at length she exclaimed,
as the bewildered Richie stood staring at her abstraction.
"Well, Mrs. B.; and what have
you—not forty thousand pounds?"
"No—a thought," said she seriously.
"A fiddle-stick!" cried Richie.
"No such thing, love!" and the fascinating Mrs. B. slid
her arm round her helpmate's neck, and began to unfold her purpose. "You
know," said she, "how I was disappointed in my just expectations
at the death of Sir Toby. I had every reason to expect that the
bulk of his property, which goes to his nephew, would have been
mine. That young man is as yet unacquainted with the fact, and by
the assistance of Smyrk, whom we might get over, he might remain so,
and for a period sufficiently long for our purpose. Smyrk may manage
that, and also to keep the world in ignorance of the matter. At
present we have the reputation of being the sole owners
of forty thousand pounds."
"Nonsense, Mrs. B.! What's in a name?" muttered Richie.
"I'll tell you what's in it. There is, in the first place, the
credit derived from the reputation of that sum,—the splendour, the elegance,
the comfort, the world's good opinion, the world's——"
"Laugh!" exclaimed Barter, with deriding bitterness, as he sneered
at the chimera of his helpmate. "I'm a ruined man! I'm a beggar!—a fool!"
"You may be all three together, Mr. Barter, if you choose;
but that would be too extravagant. Let us first settle this trifle of
Smyrk's, whose bare whisper, you know, in the city, will settle the
affair for us; and with your present savings, love,—isn't it four
thousand pounds?—and the name of forty thousand pounds——"
"What's in a name?" sighed the desponding Richie; but,
brightening at the prospect conjured up before him, he appeared to acquiesce,
and the bill of Peter Smyrk was instantly paid. Mrs. B's drafts
on futurity, and on Richie's four thousand pounds, began to be pretty
considerable; and all the good debts, which, as sleeping
partner in the firm, she brought with her, were paid.
How often did he revert to his former unambitious and peaceful
life when freed from any attachments either of love or law,—when,
with a clear conscience, and a well-brushed coat, he sat perched on
the high stool at his desk in —— Alley, where his horizon was
bounded by cotton-bags and wool-sacks, and through a vista of tea-chests,
as they were piled in pyramidal precision, before his considerate
eyes! Thoughts of better days and better things came over
him as he flung his last sovereign in payment for some pretty trumpery
of his very dear Mrs. B. and cried, "I might have prevented
all this,—I should—but did not!"
In this mood of mind it was, that Richie, as he was one
day exercising his ruminating faculties on the number and colour of the flags
on London Bridge, and profoundly intent on the diagrams formed by
the mud thereon, was roused from his reverie by a smart tap on
the shoulder. Now this was given with such precision, there was no
mistaking it; and if he had any doubts of the intent of the individual
thus accosting him, they were at once dispelled by his captivating
manner, which, though manly, was somewhat apprehensive, and of
such a nature as to be quite taking at first sight;—such is the
overpowering, irresistible charm of manner!
"'Tis rather sudden, sir," said Richie, "and the amount
not very great; it might have been settled without arrest."
"You must admit, Mr. Barter," said the sheriff's officer,
"that the thing is done genteelly; no noise or exposure. Surely you
won't go to jail for this trifle;" and Richie groaned as the
Bench and its bars stared him in the face.
"No use in fretting, sir," said the chief performer in this
civil action. "There's nothing like bending to a storm. If a man reels
and staggers, the best thing he can do is to 'go to the wall' for support:
and let me tell you, sir, that many a man has made a right
good stand there when driven to it. Lord bless you! the coats of
half my acquaintance are absolutely threadbare from standing too
close to it. You don't understand me, mayhap not; two or three good
compositions, and then a good fat insolvency, friendly assignees,
and a few other friendly etceteras,—that's what I mean by 'going to
the wall,' Mr. Barter. You'll make a pretty wallflower yourself—an
excellent creeping plant. You may be bruised a little, and in that
case the wall will be good for shelter and support, and in time you
may creep against it;" and the worthy official gentlemen chuckled, as
he gave poor Barter a nudge in the side, and conducted him through
what he called the way of all flesh,—a small wicket studded with
spikes, on either side of which stood fellows with looks as sharp and
as full of iron. And as Richie found himself in the midst of the
prison, a sinking of the heart—a feeling of loneliness and desolation
came over him, and he exclaimed,
"How easily I might have avoided this!—I could have done
so—'tis clear I should—but I did not!"