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Chapter 5

THE BROKER'S MAN

The excitement of the late election has subsided, and our parish
being once again restored to a state of comparative tranquillity,
we are enabled to devote our attention to those parishioners who
take little share in our party contests or in the turmoil and
bustle of public life. And we feel sincere pleasure in
acknowledging here, that in collecting materials for this task we
have been greatly assisted by Mr. Bung himself, who has imposed on
us a debt of obligation which we fear we can never repay. The life
of this gentleman has been one of a very chequered description: he
has undergone transitions--not from grave to gay, for he never was
grave--not from lively to severe, for severity forms no part of his
disposition; his fluctuations have been between poverty in the
extreme, and poverty modified, or, to use his own emphatic
language, 'between nothing to eat and just half enough.' He is
not, as he forcibly remarks, 'one of those fortunate men who, if
they were to dive under one side of a barge stark-naked, would come
up on the other with a new suit of clothes on, and a ticket for
soup in the waistcoat-pocket:' neither is he one of those, whose
spirit has been broken beyond redemption by misfortune and want.
He is just one of the careless, good-for-nothing, happy fellows,
who float, cork-like, on the surface, for the world to play at
hockey with: knocked here, and there, and everywhere: now to the
right, then to the left, again up in the air, and anon to the
bottom, but always reappearing and bounding with the stream
buoyantly and merrily along. Some few months before he was
prevailed upon to stand a contested election for the office of
beadle, necessity attached him to the service of a broker; and on
the opportunities he here acquired of ascertaining the condition of
most of the poorer inhabitants of the parish, his patron, the
captain, first grounded his claims to public support. Chance threw
the man in our way a short time since. We were, in the first
instance, attracted by his prepossessing impudence at the election;
we were not surprised, on further acquaintance, to find him a
shrewd, knowing fellow, with no inconsiderable power of
observation; and, after conversing with him a little, were somewhat
struck (as we dare say our readers have frequently been in other
cases) with the power some men seem to have, not only of
sympathising with, but to all appearance of understanding feelings
to which they themselves are entire strangers. We had been
expressing to the new functionary our surprise that he should ever
have served in the capacity to which we have just adverted, when we
gradually led him into one or two professional anecdotes. As we
are induced to think, on reflection, that they will tell better in
nearly his own words, than with any attempted embellishments of
ours, we will at once entitle them.


MR BUNG'S NARRATIVE


'It's very true, as you say, sir,' Mr. Bung commenced, 'that a
broker's man's is not a life to be envied; and in course you know
as well as I do, though you don't say it, that people hate and
scout 'em because they're the ministers of wretchedness, like, to
poor people. But what could I do, sir? The thing was no worse
because I did it, instead of somebody else; and if putting me in
possession of a house would put me in possession of three and
sixpence a day, and levying a distress on another man's goods would
relieve my distress and that of my family, it can't be expected but
what I'd take the job and go through with it. I never liked it,
God knows; I always looked out for something else, and the moment I
got other work to do, I left it. If there is anything wrong in
being the agent in such matters--not the principal, mind you--I'm
sure the business, to a beginner like I was, at all events, carries
its own punishment along with it. I wished again and again that
the people would only blow me up, or pitch into me--that I wouldn't
have minded, it's all in my way; but it's the being shut up by
yourself in one room for five days, without so much as an old
newspaper to look at, or anything to see out o' the winder but the
roofs and chimneys at the back of the house, or anything to listen
to, but the ticking, perhaps, of an old Dutch clock, the sobbing of
the missis, now and then, the low talking of friends in the next
room, who speak in whispers, lest "the man" should overhear them,
or perhaps the occasional opening of the door, as a child peeps in
to look at you, and then runs half-frightened away--it's all this,
that makes you feel sneaking somehow, and ashamed of yourself; and
then, if it's wintertime, they just give you fire enough to make
you think you'd like more, and bring in your grub as if they wished
it 'ud choke you--as I dare say they do, for the matter of that,
most heartily. If they're very civil, they make you up a bed in
the room at night, and if they don't, your master sends one in for
you; but there you are, without being washed or shaved all the
time, shunned by everybody, and spoken to by no one, unless some
one comes in at dinner-time, and asks you whether you want any
more, in a tone as much to say, "I hope you don't," or, in the
evening, to inquire whether you wouldn't rather have a candle,
after you've been sitting in the dark half the night. When I was
left in this way, I used to sit, think, think, thinking, till I
felt as lonesome as a kitten in a wash-house copper with the lid
on; but I believe the old brokers' men who are regularly trained to
it, never think at all. I have heard some on 'em say, indeed, that
they don't know how!

'I put in a good many distresses in my time (continued Mr. Bung),
and in course I wasn't long in finding, that some people are not as
much to be pitied as others are, and that people with good incomes
who get into difficulties, which they keep patching up day after
day and week after week, get so used to these sort of things in
time, that at last they come scarcely to feel them at all. I
remember the very first place I was put in possession of, was a
gentleman's house in this parish here, that everybody would suppose
couldn't help having money if he tried. I went with old Fixem, my
old master, 'bout half arter eight in the morning; rang the area-
bell; servant in livery opened the door: "Governor at home?"--
"Yes, he is," says the man; "but he's breakfasting just now."
"Never mind," says Fixem, "just you tell him there's a gentleman
here, as wants to speak to him partickler." So the servant he
opens his eyes, and stares about him all ways--looking for the
gentleman, as it struck me, for I don't think anybody but a man as
was stone-blind would mistake Fixem for one; and as for me, I was
as seedy as a cheap cowcumber. Hows'ever, he turns round, and goes
to the breakfast-parlour, which was a little snug sort of room at
the end of the passage, and Fixem (as we always did in that
profession), without waiting to be announced, walks in arter him,
and before the servant could get out, "Please, sir, here's a man as
wants to speak to you," looks in at the door as familiar and
pleasant as may be. "Who the devil are you, and how dare you walk
into a gentleman's house without leave?" says the master, as fierce
as a bull in fits. "My name," says Fixem, winking to the master to
send the servant away, and putting the warrant into his hands
folded up like a note, "My name's Smith," says he, "and I called
from Johnson's about that business of Thompson's."--"Oh," says the
other, quite down on him directly, "How IS Thompson?" says he;
"Pray sit down, Mr. Smith: John, leave the room." Out went the
servant; and the gentleman and Fixem looked at one another till
they couldn't look any longer, and then they varied the amusements
by looking at me, who had been standing on the mat all this time.
"Hundred and fifty pounds, I see," said the gentleman at last.
"Hundred and fifty pound," said Fixem, "besides cost of levy,
sheriff's poundage, and all other incidental expenses."--"Um," says
the gentleman, "I shan't be able to settle this before to-morrow
afternoon."--"Very sorry; but I shall be obliged to leave my man
here till then," replies Fixem, pretending to look very miserable
over it. "That's very unfort'nate," says the gentleman, "for I
have got a large party here to-night, and I'm ruined if those
fellows of mine get an inkling of the matter--just step here, Mr.
Smith," says he, after a short pause. So Fixem walks with him up
to the window, and after a good deal of whispering, and a little
chinking of suverins, and looking at me, he comes back and says,
"Bung, you're a handy fellow, and very honest I know. This
gentleman wants an assistant to clean the plate and wait at table
to-day, and if you're not particularly engaged," says old Fixem,
grinning like mad, and shoving a couple of suverins into my hand,
"he'll be very glad to avail himself of your services." Well, I
laughed: and the gentleman laughed, and we all laughed; and I went
home and cleaned myself, leaving Fixem there, and when I went back,
Fixem went away, and I polished up the plate, and waited at table,
and gammoned the servants, and nobody had the least idea I was in
possession, though it very nearly came out after all; for one of
the last gentlemen who remained, came down-stairs into the hall
where I was sitting pretty late at night, and putting half-a-crown
into my hand, says, "Here, my man," says he, "run and get me a
coach, will you?" I thought it was a do, to get me out of the
house, and was just going to say so, sulkily enough, when the
gentleman (who was up to everything) came running down-stairs, as
if he was in great anxiety. "Bung," says he, pretending to be in a
consuming passion. "Sir," says I. "Why the devil an't you looking
after that plate?"--"I was just going to send him for a coach for
me," says the other gentleman. "And I was just a-going to say,"
says I--"Anybody else, my dear fellow," interrupts the master of
the house, pushing me down the passage to get out of the way--
"anybody else; but I have put this man in possession of all the
plate and valuables, and I cannot allow him on any consideration
whatever, to leave the house. Bung, you scoundrel, go and count
those forks in the breakfast-parlour instantly." You may be sure I
went laughing pretty hearty when I found it was all right. The
money was paid next day, with the addition of something else for
myself, and that was the best job that I (and I suspect old Fixem
too) ever got in that line.

'But this is the bright side of the picture, sir, after all,'
resumed Mr. Bung, laying aside the knowing look and flash air, with
which he had repeated the previous anecdote--'and I'm sorry to say,
it's the side one sees very, very seldom, in comparison with the
dark one. The civility which money will purchase, is rarely
extended to those who have none; and there's a consolation even in
being able to patch up one difficulty, to make way for another, to
which very poor people are strangers. I was once put into a house
down George's-yard--that little dirty court at the back of the gas-
works; and I never shall forget the misery of them people, dear me!
It was a distress for half a year's rent--two pound ten, I think.
There was only two rooms in the house, and as there was no passage,
the lodgers up-stairs always went through the room of the people of
the house, as they passed in and out; and every time they did so--
which, on the average, was about four times every quarter of an
hour--they blowed up quite frightful: for their things had been
seized too, and included in the inventory. There was a little
piece of enclosed dust in front of the house, with a cinder-path
leading up to the door, and an open rain-water butt on one side. A
dirty striped curtain, on a very slack string, hung in the window,
and a little triangular bit of broken looking-glass rested on the
sill inside. I suppose it was meant for the people's use, but
their appearance was so wretched, and so miserable, that I'm
certain they never could have plucked up courage to look themselves
in the face a second time, if they survived the fright of doing so
once. There was two or three chairs, that might have been worth,
in their best days, from eightpence to a shilling a-piece; a small
deal table, an old corner cupboard with nothing in it, and one of
those bedsteads which turn up half way, and leave the bottom legs
sticking out for you to knock your head against, or hang your hat
upon; no bed, no bedding. There was an old sack, by way of rug,
before the fireplace, and four or five children were grovelling
about, among the sand on the floor. The execution was only put in,
to get 'em out of the house, for there was nothing to take to pay
the expenses; and here I stopped for three days, though that was a
mere form too: for, in course, I knew, and we all knew, they could
never pay the money. In one of the chairs, by the side of the
place where the fire ought to have been, was an old 'ooman--the
ugliest and dirtiest I ever see--who sat rocking herself backwards
and forwards, backwards and forwards, without once stopping, except
for an instant now and then, to clasp together the withered hands
which, with these exceptions, she kept constantly rubbing upon her
knees, just raising and depressing her fingers convulsively, in
time to the rocking of the chair. On the other side sat the mother
with an infant in her arms, which cried till it cried itself to
sleep, and when it 'woke, cried till it cried itself off again.
The old 'ooman's voice I never heard: she seemed completely
stupefied; and as to the mother's, it would have been better if she
had been so too, for misery had changed her to a devil. If you had
heard how she cursed the little naked children as was rolling on
the floor, and seen how savagely she struck the infant when it
cried with hunger, you'd have shuddered as much as I did. There
they remained all the time: the children ate a morsel of bread
once or twice, and I gave 'em best part of the dinners my missis
brought me, but the woman ate nothing; they never even laid on the
bedstead, nor was the room swept or cleaned all the time. The
neighbours were all too poor themselves to take any notice of 'em,
but from what I could make out from the abuse of the woman up-
stairs, it seemed the husband had been transported a few weeks
before. When the time was up, the landlord and old Fixem too, got
rather frightened about the family, and so they made a stir about
it, and had 'em taken to the workhouse. They sent the sick couch
for the old 'ooman, and Simmons took the children away at night.
The old 'ooman went into the infirmary, and very soon died. The
children are all in the house to this day, and very comfortable
they are in comparison. As to the mother, there was no taming her
at all. She had been a quiet, hard-working woman, I believe, but
her misery had actually drove her wild; so after she had been sent
to the house of correction half-a-dozen times, for throwing
inkstands at the overseers, blaspheming the churchwardens, and
smashing everybody as come near her, she burst a blood-vessel one
mornin', and died too; and a happy release it was, both for herself
and the old paupers, male and female, which she used to tip over in
all directions, as if they were so many skittles, and she the ball.

'Now this was bad enough,' resumed Mr. Bung, taking a half-step
towards the door, as if to intimate that he had nearly concluded.
'This was bad enough, but there was a sort of quiet misery--if you
understand what I mean by that, sir--about a lady at one house I
was put into, as touched me a good deal more. It doesn't matter
where it was exactly: indeed, I'd rather not say, but it was the
same sort o' job. I went with Fixem in the usual way--there was a
year's rent in arrear; a very small servant-girl opened the door,
and three or four fine-looking little children was in the front
parlour we were shown into, which was very clean, but very scantily
furnished, much like the children themselves. "Bung," says Fixem
to me, in a low voice, when we were left alone for a minute, "I
know something about this here family, and my opinion is, it's no
go." "Do you think they can't settle?" says I, quite anxiously;
for I liked the looks of them children. Fixem shook his head, and
was just about to reply, when the door opened, and in come a lady,
as white as ever I see any one in my days, except about the eyes,
which were red with crying. She walked in, as firm as I could have
done; shut the door carefully after her, and sat herself down with
a face as composed as if it was made of stone. "What is the
matter, gentlemen?" says she, in a surprisin' steady voice. "IS
this an execution?" "It is, mum," says Fixem. The lady looked at
him as steady as ever: she didn't seem to have understood him.
"It is, mum," says Fixem again; "this is my warrant of distress,
mum," says he, handing it over as polite as if it was a newspaper
which had been bespoke arter the next gentleman.

'The lady's lip trembled as she took the printed paper. She cast
her eye over it, and old Fixem began to explain the form, but saw
she wasn't reading it, plain enough, poor thing. "Oh, my God!"
says she, suddenly a-bursting out crying, letting the warrant fall,
and hiding her face in her hands. "Oh, my God! what will become of
us!" The noise she made, brought in a young lady of about nineteen
or twenty, who, I suppose, had been a-listening at the door, and
who had got a little boy in her arms: she sat him down in the
lady's lap, without speaking, and she hugged the poor little fellow
to her bosom, and cried over him, till even old Fixem put on his
blue spectacles to hide the two tears, that was a-trickling down,
one on each side of his dirty face. "Now, dear ma," says the young
lady, "you know how much you have borne. For all our sakes--for
pa's sake," says she, "don't give way to this!"--"No, no, I won't!"
says the lady, gathering herself up, hastily, and drying her eyes;
"I am very foolish, but I'm better now--much better." And then she
roused herself up, went with us into every room while we took the
inventory, opened all the drawers of her own accord, sorted the
children's little clothes to make the work easier; and, except
doing everything in a strange sort of hurry, seemed as calm and
composed as if nothing had happened. When we came down-stairs
again, she hesitated a minute or two, and at last says,
"Gentlemen," says she, "I am afraid I have done wrong, and perhaps
it may bring you into trouble. I secreted just now," she says,
"the only trinket I have left in the world--here it is." So she
lays down on the table a little miniature mounted in gold. "It's a
miniature," she says, "of my poor dear father! I little thought
once, that I should ever thank God for depriving me of the
original, but I do, and have done for years back, most fervently.
Take it away, sir," she says, "it's a face that never turned from
me in sickness and distress, and I can hardly bear to turn from it
now, when, God knows, I suffer both in no ordinary degree." I
couldn't say nothing, but I raised my head from the inventory which
I was filling up, and looked at Fixem; the old fellow nodded to me
significantly, so I ran my pen through the "MINI" I had just
written, and left the miniature on the table.

'Well, sir, to make short of a long story, I was left in
possession, and in possession I remained; and though I was an
ignorant man, and the master of the house a clever one, I saw what
he never did, but what he would give worlds now (if he had 'em) to
have seen in time. I saw, sir, that his wife was wasting away,
beneath cares of which she never complained, and griefs she never
told. I saw that she was dying before his eyes; I knew that one
exertion from him might have saved her, but he never made it. I
don't blame him: I don't think he COULD rouse himself. She had so
long anticipated all his wishes, and acted for him, that he was a
lost man when left to himself. I used to think when I caught sight
of her, in the clothes she used to wear, which looked shabby even
upon her, and would have been scarcely decent on any one else, that
if I was a gentleman it would wring my very heart to see the woman
that was a smart and merry girl when I courted her, so altered
through her love for me. Bitter cold and damp weather it was, yet,
though her dress was thin, and her shoes none of the best, during
the whole three days, from morning to night, she was out of doors
running about to try and raise the money. The money WAS raised and
the execution was paid out. The whole family crowded into the room
where I was, when the money arrived. The father was quite happy as
the inconvenience was removed--I dare say he didn't know how; the
children looked merry and cheerful again; the eldest girl was
bustling about, making preparations for the first comfortable meal
they had had since the distress was put in; and the mother looked
pleased to see them all so. But if ever I saw death in a woman's
face, I saw it in hers that night.

'I was right, sir,' continued Mr. Bung, hurriedly passing his coat-
sleeve over his face; 'the family grew more prosperous, and good
fortune arrived. But it was too late. Those children are
motherless now, and their father would give up all he has since
gained--house, home, goods, money: all that he has, or ever can
have, to restore the wife he has lost.'

Charles Dickens