The Gentleman Beggar, by Samuel Warren
of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney
One morning, about five years ago, I called by appointment on Mr. John
Balance, the fashionable pawnbroker, to accompany him to Liverpool, in
pursuit of a Levanting customer—for Balance, in addition to pawning,
does a little business in the sixty per cent. line. It rained in torrents
when the cab stopped at the passage which leads past the pawning-boxes to
his private door. The cabman rang twice, and at length Balance appeared,
looming through the mist and rain in the entry, illuminated by his
perpetual cigar. As I eyed him rather impatiently, remembering that
trains wait for no man, something like a hairy dog, or a bundle of rags,
rose up at his feet, and barred his passage for a moment. Then Balance
cried out with an exclamation, in answer apparently to a something I
could not hear, "What, man alive!—slept in the passage!—there, take
that, and get some breakfast, for Heaven's sake!" So saying, he jumped
into the "Hansom," and we bowled away at ten miles an hour, just catching
the Express as the doors of the station were closing. My curiosity was
full set—for although Balance can be free with his money, it is not
exactly to beggars that his generosity is usually displayed; so when
comfortably ensconced in a coupé I finished with—
"You are liberal with your money this morning; pray, how often do you
give silver to street-cadgers?—because I shall know now what walk to
take when flats and sharps leave off buying law."
Balance, who would have made an excellent parson if he had not been bred
to a case-hardening trade, and has still a soft bit left in his heart
that is always fighting with his hard head, did not smile at all, but
looked as grim as if squeezing a lemon into his Saturday night's punch.
He answered slowly, "A cadger—yes; a beggar—a miserable wretch, he is
now; but, let me tell you, Master David, that that miserable bundle of
rags was born and bred a gentleman—the son of a nobleman, the husband of
an heiress, and has sat and dined at tables where you and I, Master
David, are only allowed to view the plate by favor of the butler. I have
lent him thousands, and been well paid. The last thing I had from him was
his court-suit; and I hold now his bill for one hundred pounds that will
be paid, I expect, when he dies."
"Why, what nonsense you are talking! you must be dreaming this morning.
However, we are alone; I'll light a weed, in defiance of Railway-law,
while you spin that yarn; for, true or untrue, it will fill up the time
"As for yarn," replied Balance, "the whole story is short enough; and as
for truth, that you may easily find out if you like to take the trouble.
I thought the poor wretch was dead, and I own it put me out meeting him
this morning, for I had a curious dream last night."
"Oh, hang your dreams! Tell us about this gentleman beggar that bleeds
you of half-crowns—that melts the heart even of a pawnbroker!"
"Well, then, that beggar is the illegitimate son of the late Marquis of
Hoopborough by a Spanish lady of rank. He received a first rate
education, and was brought up in his father's house. At a very early age
he obtained an appointment in a public office, was presented by the
marquis at court, and received into the first society, where his handsome
person and agreeable manners made him a great favorite. Soon after coming
of age, he married the daughter of Sir E. Bumper, who brought him a very
handsome fortune, which was strictly settled on herself. They lived in
splendid style, kept several carriages, a house in town, and a place in
the country. For some reason or other, idleness, or to please his lady's
pride he said, he resigned his appointment. His father died, and left him
nothing; indeed, he seemed at that time very handsomely provided for.
"Very soon Mr. and Mrs. Molinos Fitz-Roy began to disagree. She was cold,
correct—he was hot and random. He was quite dependent on her, and she
made him feel it. When he began to get into debt, he came to me. At
length some shocking quarrel occurred—some case of jealousy on the
wife's side, not without reason, I believe; and the end of it was, Mr.
Fitz-Roy was turned out of doors. The house was his wife's, the furniture
was his wife's, and the fortune was his wife's—he was, in fact, her
pensioner. He left with a few hundred pounds ready money, and some
personal jewelry, and went to a hotel. On these and credit he lived.
Being illegitimate, he had no relations—being a fool, when he spent his
money, he lost his friends. The world took his wife's part, when they
found she had the fortune, and the only parties who interfered were her
relatives, who did their best to make the quarrel incurable. To crown
all, one night he was run over by a cab, was carried to a hospital, and
lay there for months, and was, during several weeks of the time,
unconscious. A message to the wife, by the hands of one of his debauched
companions, sent by a humane surgeon, obtained an intimation that 'if he
died, Mr. Croak, the undertaker to the family, had orders to see to the
funeral,' and that Mrs. Molinos was on the point of starting for the
Continent, not to return for some years. When Fitz-Roy was discharged, he
came to me, limping on two sticks, to pawn his court-suit, and told me
his story. I was really sorry for the fellow—such a handsome,
thoroughbred-looking man. He was going then into the west somewhere, to
try to hunt out a friend. 'What to do, Balance,' he said, 'I don't know.
I can't dig, and unless somebody will make me their gamekeeper, I must
starve, or beg, as my Jezebel bade me, when we parted!'
"I lost sight of Molinos for a long time, and when I next came upon him
it was in the Rookery of Westminster, in a low lodging-house, where I was
searching with an officer for stolen goods. He was pointed out to me as
the 'gentleman-cadger,' because he was so free with his money when 'in
luck.' He recognized me, but turned away then. I have since seen him, and
relieved him more than once, although he never asks for anything. How he
lives, Heaven knows. Without money, without friends, without useful
education of any kind, he tramps the country, as you saw him, perhaps
doing a little hop-picking or hay-making, in season, only happy when he
obtains the means to get drunk. I have heard through the kitchen whispers
that you know come to me, that he is entitled to some property; and I
expect if he were to die his wife would pay the hundred pound bill I
hold; at any rate, what I have told you I know to be true, and the bundle
of rags I relieved just now is known in every thieves' lodging in England
as the 'gentleman cadger.'"
This story produced an impression on me: I am fond of speculation, and
like the excitement of a legal hunt as much as some do a fox-chase. A
gentleman, a beggar—a wife rolling in wealth—rumors of unknown property
due to the husband;—it seemed as if there were pickings for me amidst
this carrion of pauperism.
Before returning from Liverpool, I had purchased the gentleman beggar's
acceptance from Balance. I then inserted in the "Times" the following
advertisement: "Horatio Molinos Fitz-Roy.—If this gentleman will apply
to David Discount, Esq., Solicitor, St. James's, he will hear of
something to his advantage. Any person furnishing Mr. R's correct
address, shall receive £1 1s. reward. He was last seen," &c. Within
twenty-four hours I had ample proof of the wide circulation of the
"Times." My office was besieged with beggars of every degree, men and
women, lame and blind, Irish, Scotch, and English—some on crutches, some
in bowls, some in go-carts. They all knew him as "the gentleman," and I
must do the regular fraternity of tramps the justice to say, that not one
would answer a question until he made certain that I meant the
"gentleman" no harm.
One evening, about three weeks after the appearance of the advertisement,
my clerk announced "another beggar." There came in an old man leaning
upon a staff, clad in a soldier's greatcoat, all patched and torn, with a
battered hat, from under which a mass of tangled hair fell over his
shoulders and half concealed his face. The beggar, in a weak, wheezy,
hesitating tone, said, "You have advertized for Molinos Fitz-Roy. I hope
you don't mean him any harm; he is sunk, I think, too low for enmity now;
and surely no one would sport with such misery as his." These last words
were uttered in a sort of piteous whisper.
I answered quickly, "Heaven forbid I should sport with misery—I mean and
hope to do him good, as well as myself."
"Then, sir, I am Molinos Fitz-Roy!"
While we were conversing candles had been brought in. I have not very
tender nerves—my head would not agree with them—but I own I started and
shuddered when I saw and knew that the wretched creature before me was
under thirty years of age, and once a gentleman. Sharp, aquiline
features, reduced to literal skin and bone, were begrimed and covered
with dry fair hair; the white teeth of the half-open mouth chattered with
eagerness, and made more hideous the foul pallor of the rest of the
countenance. As he stood leaning on a staff half bent, his long, yellow
bony fingers clasped over the crutch-head of his stick, he was indeed a
picture of misery, famine, squalor, and premature age, too horrible to
dwell upon. I made him sit down, sent for some refreshment which he
devoured like a ghoul, and set to work to unravel his story. It was
difficult to keep him to the point; but with pains I learned what
convinced me that he was entitled to some property, whether great or
small there was no evidence. On parting, I said, "Now, Mr. F, you must
stay in town while I make proper inquiries. What allowance will be enough
to keep you comfortably?"
He answered humbly after much pressing, "Would you think ten shillings
I don't like, if I do those things at all, to do them shabbily—so I
said, "Come every Saturday and you shall have a pound." He was profuse in
thanks, of course, as all such men are as long as distress lasts.
I had previously learned that my ragged client's wife was in England,
living in a splendid house in Hyde Park Gardens, under her maiden name.
On the following day the Earl of Owing called upon me, wanting five
thousand pounds by five o'clock the same evening. It was a case of life
or death with him, so I made my terms and took advantage of his pressure
to execute a coup de main. I proposed that he should drive me home to
receive the money, calling at Mrs. Molinos in Hyde Park Gardens, on our
way. I knew that the coronet and liveries of his father, the Marquis,
would ensure me an audience with Mrs. Molinos Fitz-Roy.
My scheme answered. I was introduced into the lady's presence. She was,
and probably is, a very stately, handsome woman, with a pale complexion,
high solid forehead, regular features, thin, pinched, self-satisfied
mouth. My interview was very short. I plunged into the middle of the
affair, but had scarcely mentioned the word husband, when she
interrupted me with, "I presume you have lent this profligate person
money, and want me to pay you." She paused, and then said, "He shall not
have a farthing." As she spoke, her white face became scarlet.
"But, Madam, the man is starving. I have strong reasons for believing he
is entitled to property, and if you refuse any assistance, I must take
other measures." She rang the bell, wrote something rapidly on a card,
and, as the footman appeared, pushed it towards me across the table, with
the air of touching a toad, saying, "There, sir, is the address of my
solicitors; apply to them if you think you have any claim. Robert, show
the person out, and take care he is not admitted again."
So far I had effected nothing; and, to tell the truth, felt rather
crest-fallen under the influence of that grand manner peculiar to certain
great ladies and to all great actresses.
My next visit was to the attorneys, Messrs. Leasem and Fashun, of
Lincoln's Inn Square; and there I was at home. I had had dealings with
the firm before. They are agents for half the aristocracy, who always
run in crowds like sheep after the same wine-merchants, the same
architects, the same horse-dealers, and the same law-agents. It may be
doubted whether the quality of law and land management they get on this
principle is quite equal to their wine and horses. At any rate, my
friends of Lincoln's Inn, like others of the same class, are
distinguished by their courteous manners, deliberate proceedings,
innocence of legal technicalities, long credit and heavy charges. Leasem,
the elder partner, wears powder and a huge bunch of seals, lives in Queen
Square, drives a brougham, gives the dinners and does the cordial
department. He is so strict in performing the latter duty, that he once
addressed a poacher who had shot a Duke's keeper, as "my dear creature,"
although he afterwards hung him.
Fashun has chambers in St. James Street, drives a cab, wears a tip, and
does the grand haha style.
My business lay with Leasem. The interviews and letters passing were
numerous. However, it came at last to the following dialogue:—
"Well, my dear Mr. Discount," began Mr. Leasem, who hates me like poison,
"I'm really very sorry for that poor dear Molinos—knew his father well;
a great man, a perfect gentleman; but you know what women are, eh, Mr.
Discount? My client won't advance a shilling; she knows it would only be
wasted in low dissipation. Now, don't you think (this was said very
insinuatingly)—don't you think he had better be sent to the work-house?
Very comfortable accommodation there, I can assure you—meat twice a
week, and excellent soup; and then, Mr. D., we might consider about
allowing you something for that bill."
"Mr. Leasem, can you reconcile it to your conscience to make such an
arrangement? Here's a wife rolling in luxury, and a husband starving!"
"No, Mr. Discount, not starving; there is the work-house, as I observed
before; besides, allow me to suggest that these appeals to feeling are
quite unprofessional—quite unprofessional."
"But, Mr. Leasem, touching this property which the poor man is
"Why, there again, Mr. D., you must excuse me; you really must. I don't
say he is, I don't say he is not. If you know he is entitled to
property, I am sure you know how to proceed; the law is open to you,
Mr. Discount—the law is open; and a man of your talent will know how
to use it."
"Then, Mr. Leasem, you mean that I must, in order to right this starving
man, file a Bill of Discovery, to extract from you the particulars of his
rights. You have the Marriage Settlement, and all the information, and
you decline to allow a pension, or afford any information; the man is to
starve, or go to the work-house?"
"Why, Mr. D., you are so quick and violent, it really is not
professional; but you see, (here a subdued smile of triumph,) it has been
decided that a solicitor is not bound to afford such information as you
ask, to the injury of his client."
"Then you mean that this poor Molinos may rot and starve, while you keep
secret from him, at his wife's request, his title to an income, and that
the Court of Chancery will back you in this iniquity?"
I kept repeating the word "starve," because I saw it made my respectable
opponent wince. "Well, then, just listen to me: I know that in the happy
state of our equity law, Chancery can't help my client; but I have
another plan—I shall go hence to my office, issue a writ, and take your
client's husband in execution—as soon as he is lodged in jail, I shall
file his schedule in the Insolvent Court, and when he comes up for his
discharge, I shall put you in the witness-box, and examine you on oath,
'touching any property of which you know the insolvent to be possessed,'
and where will be your privileged communications then?"
The respectable Leasem's face lengthened in a twinkling, his comfortable
confident air vanished, he ceased twiddling his gold chain, and at length
he muttered, "Suppose we pay the debt?"
"Why, then, I'll arrest him the day after for another."
"But, my dear Mr. Discount, surely such conduct would not be quite
"That's my business; my client has been wronged, I am determined to
right him, and when the aristocratic firm of Leasem and Fashun takes
refuge according to the custom of respectable repudiators, in the cool
arbors of the Court of Chancery, why, a mere bill-discounting attorney
like David Discount, need not hesitate about cutting a bludgeon out of
the Insolvent Court."
"Well, well, Mr. D., you are so warm—so fiery; we must deliberate, we
must consult. You will give me until the day after to-morrow, and then
we'll write you our final determination; in the meantime, send us a copy
of your authority to act for Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy."
Of course I lost no time in getting the gentleman beggar to sign a
On the appointed day came a communication with the L. and F. seal, which
I opened, not without unprofessional eagerness. It was as follows:—
"In re Molinos Fitz-Roy and Another.
"Sir,—In answer to your application on behalf of Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy,
we beg to inform you that, under the administration of a paternal aunt
who died intestate, your client is entitled to two thousand five hundred
pounds eight shillings and sixpence, Three per Cents.; one thousand five
hundred pounds nineteen shillings and fourpence, Three per Cents.,
Reduced; one thousand pounds, Long Annuities; five hundred pounds, Bank
Stock; three thousand five hundred pounds, India Stock, besides other
securities, making up about ten thousand pounds, which we are prepared to
transfer over to Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy's direction forthwith."
Here was a windfall! It quite took away my breath.
At dusk came my gentleman beggar, and what puzzled me was how to break
the news to him. Being very much overwhelmed with business that day, I
had not much time for consideration. He came in rather better dressed
than when I first saw him, with only a week's beard on his chin; but,
as usual, not quite sober. Six weeks had elapsed since our first
interview. He was still the humble, trembling, low-voiced creature, I
first knew him.
After a prelude, I said, "I find, Mr. F., you are entitled to something;
pray, what do you mean to give me in addition to my bill, for obtaining
it?" He answered rapidly, "Oh, take half; if there is one hundred pounds,
take half—if there is five hundred pounds, take half."
"No, no; Mr. F., I don't do business in that way, I shall be satisfied
with ten per cent."
It was so settled. I then led him out into the street, impelled to tell
him the news, yet dreading the effect; not daring to make the revelation
in my office, for fear of a scene.
I began hesitatingly, "Mr. Fitz-Roy, I am happy to say that I find you
are entitled to … ten thousand pounds!"
"Ten thousand pounds!" he echoed. "Ten thousand pounds!" he shrieked.
"Ten thousand pounds!" he yelled; seizing my arm violently. "You are a
brick—Here, cab! cab!" Several drove up—the shout might have been heard
a mile off. He jumped in the first.
"Where to?" said the driver.
"To a tailor's, you rascal!"
"Ten thousand pounds! ha, ha, ha!" he repeated hysterically, when in the
cab; and every moment grasping my arm. Presently he subsided, looked me
straight in the face, and muttered with agonizing fervor, "What a jolly
brick you are!"
The tailor, the hosier, the boot-maker, the hair-dresser, were in turn
visited by this poor pagan of externals. As by degrees under their hands
he emerged from the beggar to the gentleman, his spirits rose; his eyes
brightened; he walked erect, but always nervously grasping my
arm—fearing, apparently, to lose sight of me for a moment, lest his
fortune, should vanish with me. The impatient pride with which he gave
his orders to the astonished tradesman for the finest and best of
everything, and the amazed air of the fashionable hairdresser when he
presented his matted locks and stubble chin, to be "cut and shaved," may
be acted—it cannot be described.
By the time the external transformation was complete, and I
sat down in a Cafe in the Haymarket opposite a haggard but handsome
thoroughbred-looking man, whose air, with the exception of the wild eyes
and deeply browned face, did not differ from the stereotyped men about
town sitting around us, Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy had already almost
forgotten the past. He bullied the waiter, and criticised the wine, as if
he had done nothing else but dine and drink and scold there all the days
of his life.
Once he wished to drink my health, and would have proclaimed his whole
story to the coffee-room assembly, in a raving style. When I left he
almost wept in terror at the idea of losing sight of me. But, allowing
for these ebullitions—the natural result of such a whirl of events—he
was wonderfully calm and self-possessed.
The next day, his first care was to distribute fifty pounds among his
friends, the cadgers, at a "house of call" in Westminster, and formally
to dissolve his connection with them; those present undertaking for the
"fraternity," that for the future he should never be noticed by them in
public or private.
I cannot follow his career much further. Adversity had taught him
nothing. He was soon again surrounded by the well-bred vampires who had
forgotten him when penniless; but they amused him, and that was enough.
The ten thousand pounds were rapidly melting when he invited me to a
grand dinner at Richmond, which included a dozen of the most agreeable,
good-looking, well-dressed dandies of London, interspersed with a display
of pretty butterfly bonnets. We dined deliciously, and drank as men do of
iced wines in the dog-days—looking down from Richmond Hill.
One of the pink-bonnets crowned Fitz-Roy with a wreath of flowers; he
looked—less the intellect—as handsome as Alcibiades. Intensely
excited and flushed, he rose with a champagne glass in his hand to
propose my health.
The oratorical powers of his father had not descended on him. Jerking
out sentences by spasms, at length he said, "I was a beggar—I am a
gentleman—thanks to this—"
Here he leaned on my shoulder heavily a moment, and then fell back. We
raised him, loosened his neckcloth—
"Fainted!" said the ladies—
"Drunk!" said the gentlemen—
He was dead!