The Wide Awake Club by Rigdum O'funnidos

The clubs of London! I recollect once reading a book so called; but as for any bonâ fide information touching the soi disant social assemblies, I might as well have been perusing the Shaster, or reading the Florentine copy of the Pandects! The clubs of London afford, as I have reason to know, ample material for the most abundant fun; but they who expect to find it at Crockford's, the Athenĉum, and other maisons de jeu, where yawning dandies, expert chevaliers, old men of the town, roués of all sorts,

Mingle, mingle, mingle, As they mingle may,

will be wofully disappointed. The clubs, par excellence, take them one and all,—from the Oriental, stuck, with a due disposition and attention to habits of Eastern indolence, in the dullest corner of the dullest square in London, down to, or up to, I care not which, the staring bow-windowed Omnibus Union in Cockspur-street,—are all alike destitute of the requisite material. I perhaps may have a touch at them in the middle of the session and season, when the élite of the club-men are in town, and when their sayings and doings may by possibility be worth recording, even if it were only to have a laugh over them. But, as Copp says, "let that pass for the present." The clubs that I intend to introduce to the readers of the Miscellany are certain of those convivial associations composed of the middlemen of society in the metropolis, who assemble on certain stated nights in the week to sing songs, smoke pipes, and imbibe moisture in the shape of divers goes of spirit and pints of ale. My reminiscences of these assemblies, I think, would fill a goodly tome. To begin with the last, Hebrew fashion. In was my lot one evening, a short time since, to be introduced by Mr. Timmins, my landlord, who, seeing I was rather low-spirited, volunteered the invitation, on a social community called the "Wide Awake Club."

"Sir," said Mr. Timmins,—a very worthy knight of the needle, who called me "the genelman wot lodges in my first floor," (whether up or down the chimney, deponent sayeth not,)—"you looks werry oncomfutable this here nasty evening. Prowisin it ain't takin' of too great a liberty, and you feel noways disinclined, I think an hour or two at our club—(I have the privilege of introducing a wisitor wot I can answer for in regard to respectability)—might do you good."

"And pray, Mr. Timmins, what is the character of your club?"—"Oh! sir, the character of our club is on-doubted, sir; we are all men of experence, sir: no one is admitted a member onless he shows he is a wide awake cove."

"What do you mean by a wide awake cove," said I, "Mr. Timmins?"—"Vy," said Timmins, "there's no von hellgibble to be a member on our society but what gets a woucher from a member that he has a summut to say, and prove wot has made him wide awake,—that is to say, more up and down to the ways of the world than the generality of people, by experence."

"You mean, if I understand you rightly, Mr. Timmins, that your club is one where a certain number of persons meet to spend the social hours of relaxation in giving each other the tale of some particular event or occurrence that has taught them to know there is more roguery in the world than certain philanthropists would lend us to believe."—"You've hit it, sir," said Timmins; "down as a hammer."

"Well, Timmins, I shall be happy to join you," I replied.

During our walk, in answer to certain questions, Timmins informed me that the president of the club was a Mr. Phiggins, a retired draper; and that the leading members were Mr. Pounce, a lawyer's clerk, Mr. Bob Jinks, a butcher, Mr. Shortcut, a tobacconist, Mr. Sprigs, a fruiterer. "But," said Timmins, "you'll know them all in five minutes. I don't think this wet evening, there will be a strong muster: howsomdever, we can console ourselves that, if not numerous, we are select."

"Very proper consolation, Timmins," said I.

When we arrived at the Three Pies, the sign of the house where the club was held, Timmins went up stairs to communicate the fact of my being below, and to assure the company that all was regular and right, as he said; and shortly afterwards I was ushered into the presence, and introduced to the worthies previously named. The president, a jolly-looking man about fifty, sat in an elevated chair at the top of a long table, which gave a goodly display of pipes, glasses of grog, &c. On each side, the members sat at their most perfect ease, smoking and chatting. It would appear that they had been at business some time, for it seemed ebb-tide with the contents of the glasses; and several worthies were in the act of knocking the ashes out of their respective pipes. After ordering a glass of punch and a segar, and another for Timmins, a conversation which was going on before we came in was resumed, of which the following is a faithful report.

"That puts me in mind of M'Flummery," said Pounce, the lawyer's clerk, putting his hand—accidentally, I suppose, of course,—into Shortcut's open screw of tobacco, and filling his pipe therefrom; "I mean him as was hung at the Old Bailey some ten years back."

"And what was he hung for?" asked the president.—"Why, not exactly for his good behaviour. He set out in life as heavy a swell as ever flowed up in the regions of the West End—carried on the game for about a dozen years in bang-up style.—My eye! how precious drunk he made Snatch'em, the bum, and I, one night as we pinned him coming home in his cab from the Opera to give a champaign supper at the Clarendon."

"Champaign supper?" said the president. "Why, champaign is a wine; and no man, I maintain, can make a supper off wine, 'coz wine is drink, and supper, it stands to reason, is eating."

"And no mistake," said Shortcut.

"With submission, Mr. Chair," replied Pounce, "I'll explain. This champaign supper meant a regular slap-up feed; but no one was allowed any other drink with their grub, but champaign punch made with green tea in a silver kettle."

"I pity their stint," said Jinks.

"Ay," said the president, "that stands to reason. But how did it happen this gentleman came to be hanged?"—"Why," continued Pounce, "I was a-coming to that point. As I said just now, there  never was a greater dasher at the West End than this M'Flummery; but, like many other swells, he was very often lodging in Queer-street for the want of the ready. One day he came to my old master Snaps, of the Temple, when I was managing common-law clerk,—for, you see, he knew my governor well, seeing that he had issued about fourteen writs against him. I never shall forget the day he came: it was a precious wet 'un. He drove up to the gate in a jarvey, and sent a porter down to our office to know if Snaps was in, without sending his name. So Snaps sends me to see who it was, and bring him down. When I got up to the coach, I spied M'Flummery. 'Ah! my man,' says he, quite familiar, 'how do you like champaign punch? Here, just pay this fellow his fare,' says he, quite off-hand. 'I've no change about me;' and off he bolts under the gateway, leaving me to fork out an unknown man. Well! how was I to know what the Jarvey's fare was? That was a pozer. I wasn't going to ask him, 'How much?' or where he took up. No! I was too wide awake!"

"Wide awake!" said the chairman, and down went a hammer of appropriate brass upon the table three times.

"Hear! hear! hear!" responded omnes.

"So I tipped two shillings. 'Vot's this for?' said coachee, holding it open in his hand, and looking at the money in a way money ought never by no means to be looked at. 'Your fare from the Clarendon, Bond-street,' said I, quite stiff and chuff. 'Fare be blowed!' said he; 'my fare's eight bob.' 'Then you shall swear it and prove it,' said I, pulling out a handful of silver, taking his number, and giving the wink to Hobbling Bob, one of the porters, to be witness. 'Take your demand, and we'll meet in Essex-street on Thursday.' 'Well,' says he, 'I ought to have eight bob—what will you give me?' 'Two,' said I. 'Well,' says he, 'I ain't a going to stand chaffing in the wet with such a ——' and then he abused me in a way I can't repeat. 'Overcharge and insolence!' said I. 'We'll meet again at Philippi.' 'Fillip I,' said Jarvey, driving off, 'I should like to fillip you!' In going back to the office, I thought I ought to charge Mr. M'Flummery the eight shillings. Taking into consideration that I had advanced money—that I had got wet—had been abused, and last, though not least, that there was a strong risk touching repayment. I entered the expenditure thus: 'Coachman's demand, eight shillings. Paid him.' I said him, not it, you see, for I was wide awake!"

"Wide awake!" said the president, hitting the table three sonorous clinks with the club-hummer of brass, again.

"When I got back to the office, Snaps called for me through the pipe to come up stairs:—he always had me as a witness when he was doing particular business, such as discounting a bill, bargaining for a bond, or arranging an annuity.

"'Sort those papers,' said Snaps, scratching his left ear.

"That means 'Cock your listeners,' thought I; and I proceeded to fumble over a bundle of old abstracts as diligently as if I was hunting for a hundred-pound note.

"As I turned over the dusty papers, I overheard the following conversation:

"'So you can't manage it for me any way?' said M'Flummery to Snaps.

"'I have not anything at my bankers',' answered Snaps,— a lie, for his was the best account of any professional man at Brookes and Dixon's, and I had that morning paid in five hundred and eighty pounds eleven and tenpence;)—'and, by the bye, Pounce, my confidential man, knows that. Have I, Pounce?'

"'Not anything,' said I; 'I'll be on my oath!'

"With that M'Flummery said, 'It's cursed hard.—I must be at Newmarket on Tuesday, and nothing less than two thousand will do for me.—So you cannot get it on my bond or note?'

"'Money is money, and holders are firm,' said Snaps. 'What do you think of a mortgage? You gave, if I recollect right, six thousand for the hunting-lodge and the acres in Leicestershire.'

"'Yes!' replied M'Flummery, 'and lost it six months since in one morning, at Graham's.'

"'The house in Park Lane?'

"'Belongs to Miss V. the rich old maid.'

"'The furniture?'

"'Is Gillow's.'

"'Your stud?'

"'I stalled at Tattersall's for six hundred advance.'

"'Your commission?'

"'Is pounded at Greenwood's for ditto.'

"'Then, in point of fact,' said Snaps, 'Mister,'—(whenever Snaps intended to say anything uncivil, he always addressed the favoured individual as 'Mr.')—'in point of fact, Mr. M'Flummery, you are a beggar, possessing neither house, land, goods, or chattels, or property of any sort, kind, or description.'

"M'Flummery bit his lips, and walked to the window, and Snaps continued,

"'How, after making the avowals you have, Mr. M'Flummery, you could have the impudence——'

"'What do you say, wretch?' cried M'Flummery, rushing and collaring Snaps, 'Impudence!'

"'Pounce,' cried my master, 'an assault! Call the copying-clerks up.' But while I was in the act of summoning the scribes down the pipe, M'Flummery relaxed his hold, and said,

"'I forgive you, Snaps! It certainly did warrant the term, after my declarations of insolvency; but it just flashes across my mind,—how it could have escaped me I know not,—that all is not so bad with me. I have a chest of plate!'

"'A chest of plate!' ejaculated Snaps. 'Why, my dear sir,——'

"'A plate-chest!' said I.

"'Yes,' continued M'Flummery, 'my splendid sporting service,—quite new,—never used,—made not six months since by Rundell and Bridge. How could I have forgotten this!'

"'Sit down, my dear sir,' said Snaps. 'Your recollection of this com-plete-ly alters the case! Perhaps we can manage the matter.'

"'But money is money, I am afraid; and holders are firm, Mr. Snaps,' said M'Flummery, with what I thought the most devilish and malicious laugh that ever was uttered.

"'True, true,' replied my master; 'but there is a mode of tempting even a miser.'

"'I think there is,' said M'Flummery, just as Old Nick might have spoken the words, and looking Snaps full in the face.

"'Where is the chest?" inquired Snaps. "There is no lien on it?' he continued gravely. 'It is not at——"

"'My uncle's? No, no!'

"'Satisfactory so far. What might it have cost you?'— 'Three thousand pounds.'

"'And you want two. It is possible, my dear sir, that the matter can be managed. I'll see about it directly. Call here to-morrow with the chest, and we'll see what can be done. I'll go into the City directly.'

"'Then I may as well go with you,' said M'Flummery; 'I will look in at Rundell's on our way, where you can assure yourself of the fact and value of the purchase.' So saying, my master and his client went out."

"It does not yet seem clear to me," said the president, interrupting Pounce at this period of his story, "how the gentleman came to be hung. He seems to have been an honest man, who had more money than he thought he had."

"No, he had not," said Pounce; "for, before he went out of the office, I asked him for the fare of the coach. 'Oh!' said he, quite cool, 'my little quill-driver, I'll owe you that till to-morrow.'"

"Well," resumed Pounce, after the waiter had been declared "in the room," had "taken his orders," and gone "out of the room," and re-entered the room with the said orders executed, preparatory (paradoxical as it may read) to their being despatched,—"Well," said Pounce, "when Mr. Snaps returned in the afternoon, he said to me, rubbing his hands, 'Pounce, it's all right! I have seen the chest of plate. I have handled and examined every article,—solid and beautiful! as fine a service as ever was turned out of hand.'

"'Glad to hear it, sir!' says I; 'I had my doubts;'—throwing as much of knowingness into my look as befitted a confidential managing common law-clerk when speaking to his governor.

"'And so had I,' said Snaps seriously: 'but what do you think, Pounce?' and my master beckoned me close to him.

"'What should I think, sir?' said I, deferentially,—'Why, he not only bought this most splendid service of plate I ever saw—massive—solid; but—but—'

"'Yes, sir?'—'But he actually paid for it!' said Snaps; giving me a playful dig in the ribs with one hand, while he took a huge pinch of snuff in the other, snapping the dust off his fingers as though so many crackers were exploding.

"'I shouldn't have thought he was a good one for paying, Mr. Snaps,' I replied, thinking of the fare.

"'Nor I, Pounce,' said Snaps; 'but, hark-ye, be sure you are in the way to-morrow at three;' and we parted,—Mr. Snaps being a religious man, and deacon of Zion Tabernacle in Jehoshaphat Terrace, to attend lecture, and I to finish a match at bumble-puppy at the Pig and Tweezers.

"The very next day, at three, punctual came M'Flummery, and I'm blessed if it didn't take four porters to carry the chest he brought with him. (By the way, I may here promiscuously observe, that in the experience of a long professional life I never knew but one case of unpunctuality in the attendance of people who had to receive money, and that was explained by the fact of the party's dying of the cholera over night.) The chest was duly brought up stairs, and deposited in a corner of Mr. Snaps' private room."

"'Now, Snaps,' said M'Flummery, 'I hope you are ready with the needful two thousand upon the nail.'—'Why, my dear sir,' said my master, 'I have with great difficulty been able to manage one thousand.'

"'Two thousand was the sum agreed for,' said M'Flummery.— 'True, my dear sir; but money is money.'

"'Ay! and holders are firm, it appears, Snaps; but look at the security; plate will always fetch a safe and certain sum.'—'Satisfactory; truly so, my dear sir. Most unquestionable; but——'

"'Come, we are losing time. In a word, put fifteen hundred down on the desk, and we close; if not, I'm off to old Lombard.'—'Say twelve hundred,' cried Snaps, 'and I'll see what I can do.'

"'Fifteen,' said M'Flummery.—'It will not leave me a farthing,' said Snaps; 'and if I do find the odd five hundred, it must be added to the bond.'

"'Well! add it, and be d—d to you, Shylock the second!' said M'Flummery; 'you shall have your bond;' and he burst out into what I considered an unnecessary loud laugh.

"The money was counted, and the bond drawn out.

"'But, now,' said my master, 'if you please, you'll pardon me, my dear sir; but, in order that there may be no mistake, you will let my confidential clerk, Pounce, take a view of the contents of the chest.'

"'Most certainly,' said M'Flummery; and, unlocking it, he desired me to see if the articles corresponded with the inventory.

"I did so, and found that my master gave an approving look. After lifting up the several trays, and handling and examining some four or five articles, M'Flummery, turning to Snaps, said,

"'Are you satisfied, Mr. Snaps?'

"'Quite so,' said my master.

"'Then there only remains one thing to satisfy me,' said M'Flummery, locking the box and padlocks. 'This box will be in your possession for eighteen months as security; but, as I do not wish to have my plate hired out or used, you will pardon me, Mr. Snaps,—I only say this in order, as you observed, that there may be 'no mistake,'—I will put my seal upon the chest, and keep the key!'

"'The key!' said Snaps; 'my dear sir!'

"'Why,' said M'Flummery, 'what do you want with the key? You have the power at the end of eighteen months to break open the chest, and sell the plate, in default of payment; but you have no power over the plate till then. What, therefore, do you want with the key?'

"Snaps was beginning to say something; but M'Flummery stopped him short by saying, 'It is a bargain, or it is not, Mr. Snaps. I seal the chest, and keep the key.'

"'Very well,' said Snaps, looking very much like a tiger that had suddenly lost sight of his dinner.

"This was accordingly done, the bond signed, and the money handed over; and M'Flummery shook hands with my master, saying,

"'Snaps, you are a cunning fellow!'

"'Oh! my dear sir,' said my master, attempting to blush,—a feat, by the way, he never accomplished during his life that I know of.

"'But I recollect,' continued M'Flummery, 'an old fisherman telling me, when I was a boy, that, deep as some fishes were in the sea, there were always others that swam just as deep. Good-b'ye, old Shylock! you shall have your bond.' So saying, he left.

"I confess, this curious remark so astonished me that I quite forgot at the moment to ask for the fare of the coach. My master also seemed struck with the observation.

"'What can he mean?' said Snaps; 'surely there is nothing wrong? Pooh! pooh! impossible! There is the chest, and possession is nine points of the law.'

"'The first of the maxims, sir,' said I."

Here Pounce paused, filled his pipe, and emptied his tumbler of grog into that depository where grog had gone in goes for years and years.

"Well!" said the president, "may I be spiflicated,—ay, and exspiflicated,—if you have not been humbugging us, Pounce, with a pretty piece of bam! What the deuce has all that you have said to do with the fact of the gentleman being hanged?"

"Everything," cried Pounce.

"I say nothing," said the president.

"So do I," followed Shortcut.

"Everything, I maintain," rejoined the lawyer's clerk; "for six months afterwards his words came true."

"Whose?" shouted several of the company.

"M'Flummery's," said Pounce; "he proved himself as deep and deeper than Snaps. He was a wide awake one!"

"Wide awake!" said the chairman; and down went the directing sceptre, with the customary clink.

"Hear! hear! hear!" resounded through the room.

"Yes," continued Pounce; "about six months after, and about five in the evening, a man came into the office, looking as like a turnkey or Bow-street runner as any of you gentlemen might ever have known in your life. He asked to see Mr. Snaps.

"Just as I was preparing to give my master a hint by one of the writing-clerks to be on his guard, who should walk into the office but Snaps himself?

"'I believe your name is Snaps?' said the hang-gallows-looking messenger.

"Snaps was rather near-sighted, and it was getting dark, so that he did not see the winks and nods of the head I was giving him.

"'My name is Snaps,' he answered.

"'You're done,' thought I.

"'Then you are the person I am to give this letter to,' says the man.

"Snaps took the letter,—and, strange to say, it was a letter,—coolly read it, and, folding it up, said, to my great relief, 'Tell the prisoner I shall attend;' and off went Grimgruffinhoff with his answer.

"'M'Flummery is in Newgate for passing forged notes;' said my master, taking a pinch of snuff. 'I thought he would be jugged some day,' he said, with a half-laugh. 'He wants to see me to-morrow morning about business of the greatest importance to me. What can he have to say to me?'

"'Ay, indeed!' said I, 'what sir?'

"'It is as well that I should go,' said my master, 'for there may be something——'

"'True,' said I, 'there may be.'

"The next morning we went to Newgate, which is not the most pleasant lodging in that neighbourhood, although you have it in the biggest house, and they charge you nothing for the apartments. When we entered the prisoner's cell, he was busy writing.

"'Snaps!' said he, 'I'm glad to see you here!'

"'I am sorry I cannot return the compliment,' said my master.

"'Never mind,' said M'Flummery; 'every dog has his day.'

"'And then he is hanged,' said Snaps, drily, taking a pinch of snuff.

"M'Flummery here gave a spasmodic groan, and exclaimed, 'As little reference to my present condition as possible, Mr. Snaps. It was not about myself that I requested your visit, but touching matters in which you alone are interested.'

"'Well, sir; and here I am," said Mr. Snaps. 'To tell you the truth, I do not feel myself very comfortable in the place, so I shall feel obliged by your stating the nature of your business with me as briefly as possible.'

"'I will,' said the prisoner, with a demonic look. 'You have, or rather think you have, Mr. Snaps, a chest of plate.'

"'What!' shrieked my master. 'Is it not silver? Have you cheated me?'

"'You have often robbed me, Mr. Snaps,' was the reply; 'I but returned the compliment. That which you believe is silver plate, manufactured by Rundell and Bridge, was made at Sheffield, and cost me two hundred pounds.'

"Snaps groaned, and hid his face.

"'It is true I did buy a service from those eminent goldsmiths; but, after the Sheffield firm had copied the pattern, I pledged it with old Lombard, the pawnbroker. It was redeemed for a day to satisfy you, Mr. Snaps, and then repledged. The Earl of A. bought the duplicate, and now has the real property, of which you have the counterfeit service.'

"'You are a cursed villain,' said my master; 'and thank Heaven! you will be hanged!'

"'Only that a felon's cell in Newgate is not the most fit place to bandy compliments in, I should willingly aspirate the same of you, Snaps!"

"'And was it to tell me this, you atrocious scoundrel, that you sent for me?' said my master.

"'Not exactly,' answered M'Flummery; 'not exactly, Snaps; I want you to do me a favour.'

"'Was there ever such audacity?' said Snaps. 'Ask me to do you a favour! You, who have told me to my face that you have swindled, cheated, plundered, robbed me! A favour! Come Pounce,' he added, turning to me, 'let us be gone.'

"'Stay!' said the prisoner; 'you have said I shall be hanged!'

"'Ay, as sure as fate!'

"'My fate is death, I know; but not perhaps by hanging. I have potent interest at work for me at this moment; and, though sure of conviction, I may yet get the sentence of death commuted to transportation for life, and you would not like that would you, Snaps? You wish me dead—dead—dead!'

"After an inward struggle my master muttered out, 'I do.'

"'Then, Mr. Clerk,' said M'Flummery, in a deep whisper, handing me secretly a small sealed paper, 'be so good as to open this, when you get outside these walls, and give it to your master.' Then, aloud to Snaps, 'My business with you, sir, is finished.' So saying, he resumed writing; and I led my master, who was trembling with agitation, revenge, and passion, out of the cell and prison.

"When we got into a coach, I produced the paper, and mentioned to my master what M'Flummery had said. With trembling hand he opened it, and read the following:

"'Your soul burns with revenge. You wish me dead. It is my desire also to die. There is a strong probability that I shall not undergo the last punishment of the law. If you would render my death certain, and feed your revenge, send me, in a small phial, an ounce of prussic acid: and the bearer of your welcome gift shall carry back the fact that M'Flummery the swindler, highwayman, and forger,—M'Flummery, who has cheated all through life, has terminated his career by cheating the law!'

"I shall never to my dying day forget the face of Snaps when he read this. He did not say a word; and we sat silent till we got back to the office. My master went up stairs, saying to me, 'Pounce, be silent as the grave! and be ready when I call for you.' Shortly afterwards I heard a loud hammering in his room. 'He's breaking open the chest,' said I; and true enough he was. Curiosity led me up stairs; and, on entering the room, there was Snaps, standing aghast over the open chest, with some broken tea-spoons in his hand.

"'The villain has told the truth,' said he. 'The contents of the chest are not worth fifty pounds. I thought I had taken every precaution; but I find I was not sufficiently wide awake.'"

"Wide awake!" said the chairman, and down went the hammer.

"Hear! hear! hear!" chorused the company.

"And ever since then, gentlemen," said Pounce, "I have always had my eyes open when doing a bill, when I had plate, the best of all possible security."

"But what became of M'Flummery?" asked Bob Jinks.

"Ay!" said the president, "when was he hanged?"

"He wasn't hanged at all," replied Pounce.

"I'm blowed," said the chairman, "if I didn't think so, all along."

"How he got it I do not pretend to know," said Pounce, blowing his nose, and looking aside, "but the very next day after we had paid him a visit, he was found dead on his bed, with a small empty phial, that smelt strongly of prussic acid, clenched in his fist."

The clock here stuck twelve, the hour at which the club disperses according to the rules; so Timmins and I toddled home.