Richie Barter, the Man who Should, But Did Not

by Anonymous

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 churchyard).

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 Peter Smyrk.

"Very happy to see you, madam; but still sincerely sorry——"

"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 to be——"

"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. In fact——"

"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.

"All, madam;—everything."

"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 shouldbut 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!"