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exclaimed the bystanders, all shaking their heads.

"And the late Mr. Goldencalf, too, intimate with most of the substantial
names on 'Change, and particularly with Sir Joseph Job!" added another.

Sir Joseph Job nodded his head, smiled, stroked his chin, and stood
waiting for my reply.

"Property is in danger, Sir Joseph," I said, ironically; "but it matters
not. If there is a will, it is as much my interest to know it as it can
possibly be yours; and I am quite willing that a search be made on the
spot."

Sir Joseph looked daggers at me; but being a man of business he took
me at my word, and, receiving the keys I offered, a proper person was
immediately set to work to open the drawers. The search was continued
for four hours without success. Every private drawer was rummaged, every
paper opened, and many a curious glance was cast at the contents of the
latter, in order to get some clew to the probable amount of the assets
of the deceased. Consternation and uneasiness very evidently increased
among most of the spectators as the fruitless examination proceeded; and
when the notary ended, declaring that no will was to be found, nor any
evidence of credits, every eye was fastened on me as if I were suspected
of stealing that which in the order of nature was likely to be my own
without the necessity of crime.

"There must be a secret repository of papers somewhere," said Sir Joseph
Job, as if he suspected more than he wished just then to express; "Mr.
Goldencalf is largely a creditor on the public books, and yet here is
not so much as a scrip for a pound!"

I left the room and soon returned, bringing with me the bundle that had
been committed to me by my father.

"Here, gentlemen," I said, "is a large packet of papers that were given
to me by the deceased on his death-bed with his own hands. It is, as
you see, sealed with his seal and especially addressed to me in his own
handwriting, and it is not violent to suppose that the contents concern
me only. Still, as you take so great an interest in the affairs of the
deceased, it shall now be opened, and those contents, so far as you can
have any right to know them, shall not be hid from you."

I thought Sir Joseph looked grave when he saw the packet and had
examined the handwriting of the envelope. All, however, expressed their
satisfaction that the search was now most probably ended. I broke the
seals and exposed the contents of the envelope. Within it there were
several smaller packets, each sealed with the seal of the deceased, and
each addressed to me in his own handwriting like the external covering.
Each of these smaller packets, too, had a separate indorsement of its
contents. Taking them as they lay, I read aloud the nature of each
before I proceeded to the next. They were also numbered.

"No. 1," I commenced. "Certificates of public stock held by Tho.
Goldencalf, June 12th, 1815." We were now at June 29th of the same year.
As I laid aside this packet I observed that the sum indorsed on its
back greatly exceeded a million. "No. 2. Certificates of Bank of England
stock." This sum was several hundred thousands of pounds. "No. 3. South
Sea Annuities." Nearly three hundred thousand pounds. "No. 4. Bonds and
mortgages." Four hundred and thirty thousand pounds. "No. 5. The bond of
Sir Joseph Job for sixty-three thousand pounds."

I laid down the paper and involuntarily exclaimed, "Property is in
danger!" Sir Joseph turned pale, but he beckoned to me to proceed,
saying, "We shall soon come to the will, sir."

"No. 6. - " I hesitated; for it was an assignment to myself, which
from its very nature I perceived was an abortive attempt to escape the
payment of the legacy duty.

"Well, sir, No. 6?" inquired Sir Joseph, with tremulous exultation.

"Is an instrument affecting myself, and with which you have no concern,
sir."

"We shall see, sir, we shall see, sir - if you refuse to exhibit the
paper there are laws to compel you."

"To do what, Sir Joseph Job? To exhibit to my father's debtors' papers
that are exclusively addressed to me and which can affect me only? But
here is the paper, gentlemen, that you so much desire to see. 'No. 7.
The last will and testament of Tho. Goldencalf, dated June 17th, 1816.'"
(He died June the 24th of the same year.)

"Ah! the precious instrument!" exclaimed Sir Joseph Job, eagerly
extending his hand as if expecting to receive the will.

"This paper, as you perceive, gentlemen," I said, holding it up in
a manner that all present might see it, "is especially addressed to
myself, and it shall not quit my hands until I learn that some other has
a better right to it."

I confess my heart failed me as I broke the seals, for I had seen but
little of my father and I knew that he had been a man of very peculiar
opinions as well as habits. The will was all in his own handwriting, and
it was very short. Summoning courage I read it aloud in the following
words:

"In the name of God - Amen: I, Tho. Goldencalf, of the parish of Bow, in
the city of London, do publish and declare this instrument to be my last
will and testament:

"That is to say; I bequeath to my only child and much-beloved son, John
Goldencalf, all my real estate in the parish of Bow and city of London,
aforesaid, to be held in free-simple by him, his heirs, and assigns,
forever.

"I bequeath to my said only child and much-beloved son, John Goldencalf,
all my personal property of every sort and description whatever of which
I may die possessed, including bonds and mortgages, public debt, bank
stock, notes of hand, goods and chattels, and all others of my effects,
to him, his heirs, or assigns.

"I nominate and appoint my said much-beloved son, John Goldencalf, to
be the sole executor of this my last will and testament, counselling him
not to confide in any of those who may profess to have been my
friends; and particularly to turn a deaf ear to all the pretensions and
solicitations of Sir Joseph Job, Knight. In witness whereof," etc., etc.

This will was duly executed, and it was witnessed by the nurse, his
confidential clerk, and the housemaid.

"Property is in danger, Sir Joseph!" I dryly remarked, as I gathered
together the papers in order to secure them.

"This will may be set aside, gentlemen!" cried the knight in a fury. "It
contains a libel!"

"And for whose benefit, Sir Joseph?" I quietly inquired. "With or
without the will my title to my father's assets would seem to be equally
valid."

This was so evidently true that the more prudent retired in silence;
and even Sir Joseph after a short delay, during which he appeared to be
strangely agitated, withdrew. The next week his failure was announced,
in consequence of some extravagant risks on 'Change, and eventually I
received but three shillings and fourpence in the pound for my bond of
sixty-three thousand.

When the money was paid I could not help exclaiming mentally, "Property
is in danger!"

The following morning Sir Joseph Job balanced his account with the world
by cutting his throat.




CHAPTER V. ABOUT THE SOCIAL-STAKE SYSTEM, THE DANGERS OF CONCENTRATION,
AND OTHER MORAL AND IMMORAL CURIOSITIES.


The affairs of my father were almost as easy of settlement as those of a
pauper. In twenty-four hours I was completely master of them, and found
myself if not the richest, certainly one of the richest subjects
of Europe. I say subjects, for sovereigns frequently have a way of
appropriating the effects of others that would render a pretension to
rivalry ridiculous. Debts there were none: and if there had been, ready
money was not wanting; the balance in cash in my favor at the bank
amounted in itself to a fortune.

The reader may now suppose that I was perfectly happy. Without a
solitary claim on either my time or my estate, I was in the enjoyment
of an income that materially exceeded the revenues of many reigning
princes. I had not an ex-pensive nor a vicious habit of any sort. Of
houses, horses, hounds, packs, and menials, there were none to vex or
perplex me. In every particular save one I was completely my own master.
That one was the near, dear, cherished sentiment that rendered Anna in
my eyes an angel (and truly she was little short of it in those of other
people), and made her the polar star to which every wish pointed. How
gladly would I have paid half a million just then to be the grandson of
a baronet with precedency from the seventeenth century!

There was, however, another and a present cause for un-easiness that
gave me even more concern than the fact that my family reached the dark
ages with so much embarrassing facility. In witnessing the dying agony
of my ancestor I had got a dread lesson on the vanity, the hopeless
character, the dangers, and the delusions of wealth that time can never
eradicate. The history of its accumulation was ever present to mar the
pleasure of its possession. I do not mean that I suspected what by
the world's convention is deemed dishonesty - of that there had been no
necessity - but simply that the heartless and estranged existence,
the waste of energies, the blunted charities, and the isolated and
distrustful habits of my father appeared to me to be but poorly requited
by the joyless ownership of its millions. I would have given largely
to be directed in such a way as while escaping the wastefulness of the
shoals of Scylla I might in my own case steer clear of the miserly rocks
of Charybdis.

When I drove from between the smoky lines of the London houses into the
green fields and amid the blossoming hedges, this earth looked beautiful
and as if it were made to be loved. I saw in it the workmanship of a
divine and beneficent Creator, and it was not difficult to persuade
myself that he who dwelt in the confusion of a town in order to transfer
gold from the pocket of his neighbor to his own had mistaken the objects
of his being. My poor ancestor who had never quitted London stood before
me with his dying regrets; and my first resolution was to live in open
communion with my kind. So intense, indeed, did my anxiety to execute
this purpose become that it might have led even to frenzy had not a
fortunate circumstance interposed to save me from so dire a calamity.

The coach in which I had taken passage (for I purposely avoided the
parade and trouble of post-chaise and servants), passed through a market
town of known loyalty on the eve of a contested election. This appeal
to the intelligence and patriotism of the constituency had occurred in
consequence of the late incumbent having taken office. The new minister,
for he was a member of the cabinet, had just ended his canvass, and he
was about to address his fellow-subjects from a window of the tavern in
which he lodged. Fatigued, but ready to seek mental relief by any means,
I threw myself from the coach, secured a room, and made one of the
multitude.

The favorite candidate occupied a large balcony surrounded by his
principal friends, among whom it was delightful to see earls, lords
John, baronets, dignitaries of the church, tradesmen of influence in
the borough, and even a mechanic or two, all squeezed together in the
agreeable amalgamation of political affinity. Here then, thought I, is
an example of the heavenly charities I The candidate himself, the son
and heir of a peer, feels that he is truly of the same flesh and
blood as his constituents; how amiably he smiles! - how bland are
his manners! - and with what cordiality does he shake hands with the
greasiest and the worst! There must be a corrective to human pride, a
stimulus to the charities, a never-ending lesson of benevolence in
this part of our excellent system, and I will look farther into it. The
candidate appeared and his harangue commenced.

Memory would fail me were I to attempt recording the precise language
of the orator, but his opinions and precepts are so deeply graven on my
recollection that I do not fear misrepresenting them. He commenced
with a very proper and eloquent eulogium on the constitution, which
he fearlessly pronounced to be in its way the very perfection of human
reason; in proof of which he adduced the well-ascertained fact that it
had always been known throughout the vicissitudes and trials of so many
centuries to accommodate itself to circumstances, abhorring change.
"Yes, my friends," he exclaimed, in a burst of patriotic and
constitutional fervor, "whether under the roses or the lilies - the
Tudors, the Stuarts, or the illustrious house of Brunswick, this
glorious structure has resisted the storms of faction, has been able to
receive under its sheltering roof the most opposite elements of domestic
strife, affording protection, warmth, aye, and food and raiment"-(here
the orator happily laid his hand on the shoulder of a butcher, who
wore a frieze overcoat that made him look not unlike a stall-fed
beast) - "yes, food and raiment, victuals and drink, to the meanest
subject in the realm. Nor is this all; it is a constitution peculiarly
English: and who is there so base, so vile, so untrue to himself, to his
fathers, to his descendants, as to turn his back on a constitution
that is thoroughly and inherently English, a constitution that he has
inherited from his ancestors, and which by every obligation both human
and divine he is bound to transmit unchanged to posterity"; - here the
orator, who continued to speak, however, was deafened by shouts of
applause, and that part of the subject might very fairly be considered
as definitively settled.

From the constitution as a whole the candidate next proceeded to
extol the particular feature of it that was known as the borough of
Householder. According to his account of this portion of the government,
its dwellers were animated by the noblest spirit of independence, the
most rooted determination to uphold the ministry of which he was the
least worthy member, and were distinguished by what in an ecstasy of
political eloquence he happily termed the most freeborn understanding
of its rights and privileges. This loyal and judicious borough had
never been known to waste its favors on those who had not a stake in the
community. It understood that fundamental principle of good government
which lays down the axiom that none were to be trusted but those who
had a visible and an extended interest in the country; for without these
pledges of honesty and independence what had the elector to expect
but bribery and corruption - a traffic in his dearest rights, and a
bargaining that might destroy the glorious institutions under which he
dwelt. This part of the harangue was listened to in respectful silence,
and shortly after the orator concluded; when the electors dispersed,
with, no doubt, a better opinion of themselves and the constitution than
it had probably been their good fortune to entertain since the previous
election.

Accident placed me at dinner (the house being crowded) at the same table
with an attorney who had been very active the whole morning among the
Householders, and who I soon learned, from himself, was the especial
agent of the owner of the independent borough in question. He told me
that he had came down with the expectation of disposing of the whole
property to Lord Pledge, the ministerial candidate named; but the means
had not been forthcoming as he had been led to hope, and the bargain
was unluckily broken off at the very moment when it was of the utmost
importance to know to whom the independent electors rightfully belonged.

"His lordship, however," continued the attorney, winking, "has done what
is handsome; and there can be no more doubt of his election than there
would be of yours did you happen to own the borough."

"And is the property now open for sale?" I asked.

"Certainly-my principal can hold out no longer. The price is settled,
and I have his power of attorney to make the preliminary bargain. 'Tis
a thousand pities that the public mind should be left in this undecided
state on the eve of an election."

"Then, sir, I will be the purchaser."

My companion looked at me with astonishment and doubt. He had transacted
too much business of this nature, however, not to feel his way before he
was either off or on.

"The price of the estate is three hundred and twenty-five thousand
pounds, sir, and the rental is only six!"

"Be it so. My name is Goldencalf: by accompanying me to town you shall
receive the money."

"Goldencalf! What, sir, the only son and heir of the late Thomas
Goldencalf of Cheapside?"

"The same. My father has not been dead a month."

"Pardon me, sir - convince me of your identity - we must be particular in
matters of this sort - and you shall have possession of the property in
season to secure your own election or that of any of your friends. I
will return Lord Pledge his small advances, and another time he will
know better than to fail of keeping his promises. What is a borough good
for if a nobleman's word is not sacred? You will find the electors, in
particular, every way worthy of your favor. They are as frank, loyal,
and straightforward a constituency as any in England. No skulking behind
the ballot for them! - and in all respects they are fearless Englishmen
who will do what they say, and say whatever their landlord shall please
to require of them."

As I had sundry letters and other documents about me, nothing was easier
than to convince the attorney of my identity. He called for pen and
ink; drew out of his pocket the contract that had been prepared for Lord
Pledge; gave it to me to read; filled the blanks; and affixing his
name, called the waiters as witnesses, and presented me the paper with a
promptitude and respect that I found really delightful. So much, thought
I, for having given pledges to society by the purchase of a borough. I
drew on my bankers for three hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds,
and arose from table virtually the owner of the estate of Householder
and of the political consciences of its tenantry.

A fact so important could not long be unknown; and in a few minutes all
eyes in the coffee-room were upon me. The landlord presented himself and
begged I would do him the honor to take possession of his family parlor,
there being no other at his disposal. I was hardly installed before a
servant in a handsome livery presented the following note.

"DEAR MR. GOLDENCALF:

"I have this moment heard of your being in town, and am exceedingly
rejoiced to learn it. A long intimacy with your late excellent and most
loyal father justifies my claiming you for a friend, and I waive all
ceremony (official, of course, is meant, there being no reason for any
other between us), and beg to be admitted for half an hour.

"Dear Mr. Goldencalf,"

"Yours very faithfully and sincerely,"

"PLEDGE."

" - GOLDENCALF, Esquire."

"Monday evening."

I begged that the noble visitor might not be made to wait a moment.
Lord Pledge met me like an old and intimate friend. He made a hundred
handsome inquiries after my dead ancestor; spoke feelingly of his regret
at not having been summoned to attend his death-bed; and then very
ingenuously and warmly congratulated me on my succession to so large a
property.

"I hear, too, you have bought this borough, my dear sir. I could not
make it convenient just at this particular moment to conclude my own
arrangement - but it is a good thing. Three hundred and twenty thousand,
I suppose, as was mentioned between me and the other party?"

"Three hundred and twenty-five thousand, Lord Pledge."

I perceived by the countenance of the noble candidate that I had paid
the odd five thousand as a fine - a circumstance which accounted for
the promptitude of the attorney in the transaction, he most probably
pocketing the difference himself.

"You mean to sit, of course?"

"I do, my lord, as one of the members, at the next general election; but
at present I shall be most happy to aid your return."

"My dear Mr. Goldencalf - "

"Really, without presuming to compliment, Lord Pledge, the noble
sentiments I heard you express this morning were so very proper,
so exceedingly statesmanlike, so truly English, that I shall feel
infinitely more satisfaction in knowing that you fill the vacant seat
than if it were in my own possession."

"I honor your public spirit, Mr. Goldencalf, and only wish to God there
was more of it in the world. But you can count on our friendship, sir.
What you have just remarked is true, very true, only too true, true to
a hair-a-a-a - I mean, my dear Mr. Goldencalf, most especially those
sentiments of mine which-a-a-a-I say it, before God, without vanity - but
which, as you have so very ably intimated, are so truly proper and
English."

"I sincerely think so, Lord Pledge, or I should not have said it. I am
peculiarly situated myself. With an immense fortune, without rank, name,
or connections, nothing is easier than for one of my years to be led
astray; and it is my ardent desire to hit upon some expedient that may
connect me properly with society."

"Marry, my dear young friend - select a wife from among the fair and
virtuous of this happy isle - unluckily I can propose nothing in this way
myself - for both my own sisters are disposed of."

"I have made choice, already, I thank you a thousand times, my dear
Lord Pledge; although I scarcely dare execute my own wishes. There are
objections - if I were only the child, now, of a baronet's second son,
or - "

"Become a baronet yourself," once more interrupted my noble friend, with
an evident relief from suspense; for I verily believe he thought I was
about to ask for something better. "Your affair shall be arranged by the
end of the week - and if there is anything else I can do for you, I beg
you to name it without reserve."

"If I could hear a few more of those remarkable sentiments of yours,
concerning the stake we should all have in society, I think it would
relieve my mind."

My companion looked at me a moment with a very awkward sort of
an intensity, drew his hand across his brows, reflected, and then
obligingly complied.

"You attach too much importance, Mr. Goldencalf, to a few certainly very
just but very ill-arranged ideas. That a man without a proper stake in
society is little better than the beasts of the fields, I hold to be
so obvious that it is unnecessary to dwell on the point. Reason as you
will, forward or backward, you arrive at the same result - he that hath
nothing is usually treated by mankind little better than a dog, and
he that is little better than a dog usually has nothing. Again. What
distinguishes the savage from the civilized man? Why, civilization to
be sure. Now, what is civilization? The arts of life. What feeds,
nourishes, sustains the arts of life? Money or property. By consequence,
civilization is property, and property is civilization. If the control
of a country is in the hands of those who possess the property, the
government is a civilized government; but, on the other hand, if it
is in the hands of those who have no property, the government is
necessarily an uncivilized government. It is quite impossible that
any one should become a safe statesman who does not possess a direct
property interest in society. You know there is not a tyro of our
political sect who does not fully admit the truth of this axiom."

"Mr. Pitt?"

"Why, Pitt was certainly an exception in one way; but then, you will
recollect, he was the immediate representative of the tories, who own
most of the property of England."

"Mr. Fox?"

"Fox represented the whigs, who own all the rest, you know. No, my
dear Goldencalf, reason as you will, we shall always arrive at the same
results. You will, of course, as you have just said, take one of the
seats yourself at the next general election?"

"I shall be too proud of being your colleague to hesitate."

This speech sealed our friendship; for it was a pledge to my noble
acquaintance of his future connection with the borough. He was much too
high-bred to express his thanks in vulgar phrases (though high-breeding
rarely exhibits all its finer qualities pending an election), but - a man
of the world, and one of a class whose main business it is to put the
suaviter in modo, as the French have it en evidence, - the reader may
be sure that when we parted that night I was in perfect good humor with
myself and, as a matter of course, with my new acquaintance.

The next day the canvass was renewed, and we had another convincing
speech on the subject of the virtue of "a stake in society"; for Lord
Pledge was tactician enough to attack the citadel, once assured of its
weak point, rather than expend his efforts on the outworks of the place.



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 5 of 34)