Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Story of a Fortune
By Leonard Kip (18261906)
[Born in New York, N. Y., 1826. Died in Albany, N. Y., 1906. From a Tale contributed to The Argonaut. 1879.]
THE GUYNDAL houseit was not sufficiently large or important to be called a placestood almost in the centre of a small town in Hertford. It was a square brick house, with about an acre and a half about it. At one side stood the church, and at the other the inn, the residences of the different townspeople being scattered here and there at convenient distances, after the manner of most villages. Of all these the Guyndal house was neither the least nor the greatest, its principal interest being derived from its antiquity. It was built in the time of Charles the First by one Hugh Guyndal, who was a prominent lawyer of the Crown. At the Rebellion, he turned so adroitly as to become a leading lawyer of the Commonwealth, and at the Restoration, he easily again made his peace as a Royalistthe more easily, perhaps, as his knowledge of the Crown-lands made his prospective services almost invaluable. Up to that time, it was not thought that the family had saved much money; and, indeed, it was considered uncommonly fortunate for them that they had preserved the house and land from confiscation. Other families which had taken less active part in the civil troubles had fared much worse and been driven out into the world penniless.
A while later, the place was owned by Giles Guyndala lawyer of some eminence, though not in the Crown employ. Far better than that, however, his abilities were recognized in the settlement of certain complications arising from the bursting of the South Sea bubble; and in that matter he was enabled to shape his policy so successfully as, while protecting others, to accumulate for himself a large fortunehow large, was not known. Those who had the best means of conjecturing put it at enormous proportionsalleging that he had used his gains in successful speculation in government securities during certain continental troubles, and must thereby have quadrupled his original receipts. The only demurrer to this conclusion arose from the fact that Giles Guyndal made no enlargement of his style of living, but continued on in the old house, practising law as before. If he is so wealthy, was naturally the cry, why does he not retire and purchase a large landed estate and endeavor to get a baronetcy?
The truth was, that Giles Guyndal was as ambitious as could reasonably be desired, but not for himself as much as for his family. He was content with his own style of living, having never been used to any other; but he looked far ahead and demanded a different manner of life for his descendants. He had one child, a soneducated in his own profession. It seemed the proper thing that John Guyndal should move out into another sphere, purchase the landed estate and the baronetcy, and contract some high alliance.
But, upon inheriting the property, John Guyndal in his turn, also, set at naught the public expectation. He felt that he, no more than his father, would be likely to enjoy the care of the landed estatea kind of property, moreover, that would eat up interest much more rapidly than it would gather it. Doubtless, too, with his great wealth he could have made a marriage with some unendowed daughter of a titled line; but he had the sense to understand that this would lower his wife rather than elevate himself, and he feared lest one who should barter her family pride for his money might exact the full payment to the last extent of prodigality. Therefore, somewhat to the indignation of the expectant community, he married a careful, saving woman in his own station, continued in the practice of law, and took no measures to become Sir John Guyndal. As to an estate, the only change he made consisted in an extension in his own house, a wing being thrown out behind in the nature of a fire-proof deposit for valuable papersa small brick building with enormous thickness of walls and strength of triple-plated doors, and into which building no one beside himself was ever allowed to enter.
It must be held that about this time the family policy began to crystallize into a fixed rule of action. Whether it was written down for the instruction of succeeding generations, like the supposed will of Peter the Great, or whether it passed by word of mouth, respected all the same as an unalterable family duty, cannot be learned. But John Guyndal dying and leaving two sons, there was still no intimation of desire for the landed estate or the baronetcy. The youngest son, taking a younger sons share, went abroad with itlike the Prodigal Son, spent his inheritance, but, unlike him, thereupon died without returning. The older son, Richard Guyndal, after the manner of his ancestors, continued in the profession; after their manner, also, selected a quiet, frugal, painstaking woman of his own degree to be his helpmate. And so the line ran quietly down until the time of one Thomas Guyndal. Unlike his ancestors, however, he had for sole descendant a daughter. She was a tall, slim, graceful girlpleasing in a moderate way without manifestations of remarkable refinement; somewhat too ruddy in complexion, bright eyed, yet with thin lips and an expression of unusual firmness in the corners of her mouth, her whole type of face inclining rather to thoughtfulness than vivacityin fine, a well made up embodiment from the line of careful wives who had preceded her.
So the family went on peacefully and almost unnoticed, until the fall of 1862. At that date Thomas Guyndal had become a widower, and his daughter Edith, who had reached the age of eighteen, was his sole companion. The lawyer sat one morning solitary and thoughtful in his office. For a while turning from inactive meditation, he then drew up to his table and made some elaborate calculation. Then he unlocked the door of his adjoining record-room and gazed in for the moment wistfully, as if wishing to reassure himself still more thoroughly of something about which he had been not at all doubtful. Then ensued a lengthy examination of a parchment schedulethen a quick raising of the head, as with sudden fixed intention; then a word to his daughter, who sat in an adjoining room, with the intervening door open.
This was all; and, placing the parchment schedule in his breast-pocket, slowly he wended his way to the railway station. Before long he was in London, and at once he drove to Lord Palmerstons residence.
The Premier was in town, and, as it happened, at that hour was disengaged. Thomas Guyndal sent in his card and was admittedmore speedily, perhaps, than he had anticipated. He had never met Lord Palmerston; but the name of Guyndal was not unknown to the Premier, as of one who formerly had been employed in government transactions. Even at that late date it came up frequently, in examination of official records. Consequently, his lordship directed that the applicant should at once be admitted, bade him be seated, and courteously waited for him to announce his business. And Thomas Guyndal did not make his lordship wait very long.
Lord Palmerston frowned and naturally began to retire within himself. For, in truth, it was not at all becoming that a perfect stranger should thus bluntly assail him for information about what, as yet, must be an official secret.
Merely this, responded the lawyer. If the matter has not already been settled upon, it should not go further, inasmuch as I am able to offer his royal highness a more favorable alliancethat is to say, should he feel disposed to consult the interests of the nation at large.
Your daughter Edith! cried the Prime Minister. Why, the man must be mad! This insolence And he looked towards the little hand-bell that now happened to rest upon another table than that before which he had been sitting. And thus glancing across, he chanced to observe the lawyers face more narrowly than before. Surely there were no signs of insanity there; merely the tokens of some matter of weighty moment. He paused irresolutely.
As possible. And let me ask you, Lord Palmerston, should not a royal prince in his alliances have some respect for the welfare of the nation, as well as for his own pleasure? What is it that this Danish marriage could bring other than the closer friendship of a state already friendly and the burden of future entanglements and complications by reason of it? That is an equivocal blessing, indeed. But on the other hand, your lordship should know that with the hand of Edith Guyndal his royal highness will secure for the good and the good-will of the English peoplethe total payment of Great Britains debt!
The Premier started, glanced once more towards the bellwas partly recalled to his equanimity by the calm, sedate, easy expression and manner of the lawyer. What to do with such a man, be he insane or not, but to hear him out? It would take him only a minute or two, and then the farce would be over. At the least, it might prove a pleasing study of eccentric character, and there could be no question but what it would be possible to have the intruder so closely noted that he should never again effect an entrance.
Your lordship, said Thomas Guyndal, composedly drawing the folded parchment from his pocket, there is the schedule of the amount of consolidated bonds of Great Britain now in my possession and ownership.
I am coming to that, my lord, and briefly. In 1720, my ancestor, Giles Guyndal, so successfully conducted his many speculations that he became the owner of three million pounds. It was supposed that he would purchase a county or so, build a castle, apply for a title, and assume airs of state. He did nothing of the kind, but continued to live in his accustomed quiet mariner, the avails of legal practice supporting him. Meanwhile the three millions, invested in bonds, lay idle and at interest. Can your lordship tell me how long it would take them to double at four per cent.?
Precisely. Then in 1738 my ancestor must have been worth six million pounds, and in 1756, twelve millions. It is not probable that up to that period, or indeed, during his lifetime, he had elaborated any enlarged or magnificent scheme of family ambition. His highest hope must have been that the family should rise one degree in importance, after the usual manner where higher birth may accommodate itself with great wealth. In that comparatively moderate ambition, he died. But when his son succeeded, there grew up more comprehensiveness of idea, looking forward to wider aims; and then, probably, the family destiny began to be shaped as it has since been directed throughout the whole line and into my hands. That son, John Guyndal, built as an adjunct to his house an uncommonly strong vaultthe present contents of which, your lordship, it would give me great pleasure to exhibit to you. In that vault he deposited almost all the family property, amounting by that time to upwards of twelve millions of pounds, invested, for greater convenience, in government bonds. From that date, as by preëstablished agreement founded upon family tradition, each descendant has lived on quietly in the same old house, finding his professional practice sufficient for all his wants, and allowing the interest on these bonds to accumulate without being drawn upon to the extent of a penny. This interest has been continually invested in other bonds. Your lordship may, at times, have heard some wonderment expressed that during the past generation so few of these bonds have appeared for sale in the customary money markets; though all the while, as evidence that they are not lost, the interest upon them has been punctually collected. It was supposed that the bonds had mostly gone abroad, or, if at home, were held in possession of capitalists who were too well satisfied with the investment to care that it should be disturbed. The latter supposition is nearest the truth; I being the sole capitalist. Take your pencil, my lord, and calculate how much the original three millions would amount to at compound interest from 1720 to 1862, nearly a century and a half.
It can be possible; it actually is so, was the response of Thomas Guyndal. The whole funded debt of Great Britain amounts to about eight hundred millions of pounds. A portion of this sum, of course, cannot be reached, being already in hands which are unwilling to change the investment. But upward of seven hundred millions of pounds in government bonds now lie drawing interest in my own private safe, and in addition to them, stocks and bonds of different companies in amount sufficient to complete the deficiency. Upon the marriage of my daughter Edith with the Prince of Wales, all these bonds will be surrendered to the nation, and Great Britain can be proclaimed free of debt.
It can be annulled by the will of the English people, your lordship, responded the lawyer, coolly. In fact, having had time to state his case, he was becoming every minute more self-possessed; while the Premier, fairly staggered with the astonishing revelation of individual wealth and ambition, was in a whirl of flurry and excitement.
Perhaps not at first, your lordshippossibly never, if this transaction were to go no further but were to remain a secret between us. But if it became known that the Prince refused to make one little sacrifice of pride whereby he could forever lift a weight of burdensome taxation from off his peoples necks, what then would be the instant demand of the whole nation? And where any longer would be the love of the people for one who had preferred a high alliance to his subjects welfare?
Go! Of course all this is a mere vagary. You must yourself see its impropriety. And yetit is possible that youthat I may wish to see you again. Leave me your address; and sobut let me remain alone now.
The lawyer took his leave, well satisfied that the seed was finding root; and the Premier remained alone, pressing his knuckles into his temples, and striving to gain more collected thought. But before he could succeed in this, the door opened and gave admission to Lord Rydel and Sir George Rutherventwo members of the Privy Council. They started and hung back for a moment, at seeing how the Premier raised himself, palefaced and nervously discomposed, to greet them.
It is nothing, he said, noting their solicitude and forestalling their inquiries. A slight headache, a vertigono, it is not that, butlisten, gentlemen, to this. It must of course be a secret between us. You will see for yourselves how ridiculous, how impossible, indeedbut let me tell you the whole silly story.
He told the story, laughing at the end as though there had never been anything so contemptible and foolish. So did the two members of the Privy Council laughand with the same hollow, unreal laugh as himself. And so they separated, and it might have been anticipated that nothing further would be heard of the affair.
But it happened that the very next day the two Privy Councillors dropped in again. They had some little matter of business to talk overthey intimatedbut somehow it did not occupy them long. And when it was finished, they lingered around in uncertain attitude, and finally Lord Rydel spoke.
It can be ascertained very easily, of course, answered Lord Palmerston. And why should we not find outjust for our own curiosity? If it be false, that of course ends the matter. If it be true, why even then it can make no difference; but all the same we shall have found out where our bonds have accumulatedeh?
With that, the Premier touched his bell, wrote a hurried note, and as a result in less than an hour a confidential clerk of the Treasury made his appearance. To him the Prime Minister gave further directions of an elaborate character, and the clerk at once took rail, and sought out old Thomas Guyndal. He was in his own office, and made no objection to what was asked of him. Unlocking the great iron door of the safe-room, he ushered the clerk inside and trustingly left him to his own devices. In the centre of the room and all around were racks, crowded with steel-bound boxes. One key, with which the lawyer had furnished the clerk, unlocked all these boxes; and the clerk at once opened several of them, singling them out at random here and there, as a sampler would attack chests of tea. In three hours the Treasury clerk returned to the Premiers residence; where, as it happened, the two Privy Councillors still lingered.
I have this day seen more wealth than ever in my life before, said the Treasury clerk, half frightened lest it might all be unreal and himself losing his wits. There must be over seven hundred million pounds in government bonds in that one little place.
It is very strange, as well as ridiculous, Sir George Rutherven at length observed. Of course nothing can ever come of it; and yetit is such a marvellous thing thatdo you not think that her Majesty should know about it?
With that, the three proceeded at once to Windsor, and sought audience of her Majesty. What happened there may never definitely be known, except that at the first suggestion of proffered misalliance, though any concurrence in it was disowned by the whole Council and the matter brought to be heard as mere matter of curious detail, the blood of the Tudors must have asserted itself fiercely, overpowering the later absorption of Dutch phlegm; so that in the end the three visitors fled rather than retired, and returned to London in terrible discomfiture.
Yet, after all, the seed had been sown and was bearing its fruit. Daily did the Premier meet the two Privy Councillors and affect to transact a little important business with them, after which unfailingly they would recur to the proposition of the old lawyer. At first they would speak of it with the usual laugh, as a matter to be treated only with ridicule; then, as the true sense of it bore down more heavily into their thoughts, the laugh grew more forced and hollow; at last, almost ceased as they began to gain more accurate reading of each others minds and recognized the uselessness of further empty pretence. For all the while, far above any sensitiveness upon the score of base and unequal blood, hung the tempting bait of payment in full of the national debt of Great Britain! Almost total relief, now and evermore, from anything in the shape of direct taxation! An incubus upon trade and commerce lifted and cast away! A blessing and an immortal fame upon the rule that by a single sacrifice of caste and prejudice might consent to procure for its subjects that great boon; curses and perhaps revolution itself from a groaning people, which surely would break out into strong hate if its interests were not respected! After all, had not Henry VIII., the most powerful Tudor of all that line, married his subjects? And was this Edith Guyndal necessarily of base blood? Might it not be sufficiently proven that the line of Guelph could, for good reasons shown, condescend to it? Might not the Heralds College discover that the Guyndals had done some good service in the civil wars, whereby they could now be enrolled in preparation for higher exaltation? Suppose that the old lawyer should be made a baronet, pretence being made of a dormant title, could not some title be given to the daughteranother and more honorable one be substituted after a little while, and thereby secure her ennoblement by degrees?
Certainly the seed seemed bearing fruit, and from being treated as farcical became constantly more calmly discussed. The payment at one stroke of the whole national debt! This was the issue of all discussion. It became rumored at one time, even among the people, that something, they knew not what, was interfering to break off or postpone the projected alliance with Denmark. In fact, at a court reception, the Premier, filled with the one engrossing subject, had uttered to the Danish Minister one of those significant remarks that say so little and mean so much, and which, upon the whole, are looked upon as unfriendly to whatever negotiation may be in progress. The remark was made with smiling countenance, and was responded to in like manner, but within the next two hours there were hurried telegraphings to Copenhagen, and the funds fell one-half of one per cent.
The others sat appalled at the unaccustomed vigor of the remark, but it was noted, all the same, that it called forth no reply, but was allowed to stand as the opinion of the rest. And the crisis of the whole affair slowly drew on.
It came to the destined result one day when, in obedience to a sudden summons, the lawyer, Thomas Guyndal, called upon the Premier. The Premier gazed upon him for several minutes in seemingly dreamy abstractionpossibly with reluctance to utter what he had made up his mind must sooner or later be said.
Should this matter go through, then said the Prime Minister, very slowly and deliberatelyand yet I cannot answer that it willwhat security can the nation have that you will perform your portion of the agreement and release the debt?
My lord, was the answer, long before the announcement of the marriage I will place all the securities in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, together with my full renunciation of any claim upon them. As soon as the marriage has actually taken place, the torch can be applied to the whole mass of bonds, and in a few minutes England will stand free of debt.
And you have considered that in thus fostering your ambition you yourself will lose almost everything? That you will not be lifted thereby, but that you can thenceforth seldom see your child, excepting at a distance?
The lawyer gasped, turned pale, half arose from his chair at the speedy culmination of his plans; then endeavored to appear as though it was no unusual assurance that was made, nothing that should unduly bewilder or excite him; then for a moment struggled for breath, and wildly clutching at the empty air, fell lifeless beside his chair.
He was dead before they had time to lift him from the floor. Here, indeed, was a sad ending to the scene; and, what might be of important public moment, many complications might arise to hinder the great end in view. What perplexities might not now ensue in the shape of collateral or joint heirships, guardianships, and, in fact, any and all manner of legal formalities and restrictions to obstruct the whole project?
And yet, upon review of the case, it must surely be understood that Edith Guyndal was her fathers sole heir; and though she was under age, no guardian would dare to withstand the proposed royal alliance. And, as is usual in almost all human calculation, the only check came through a consideration which had not in the slightest degree been anticipated.
For, when a week had passed away, and the old lawyer had been duly buried, there came to the Premier a slight-built, graceful girl, in deepest black, and raised her veil. Lord Palmerston had never heretofore seen her, but some instinct told him that she was Edith Guyndal, and he arose respectfully; for might he not be in the presence of his future sovereign?
My lord, she said, what I have to tell you must be in a few words. Only yesterday, from a paper that he left behind him, I have learned the lot which my father had destined for me. Let me now say that I must inflexibly decline it.
He does not know it now, my lord; it may be that he shall never know it, was the response. Heaven will have to help my thoughts, what to do, seeing that the money must be too much for one persons carecertainly for his needs.
And therefore it may The Premier spoke hopefully. Might she not, after all, even while declining a royal bridegroom, be generous to the nation and relinquish the debt? But the lawyers daughter inherited something of the professional acuteness, and was not minded thus to sacrifice her birthright.
With that she dropped her veil once more over her face, and retired as softly as she had entered. To her so doing, Lord Palmerston made no opposition. How, indeed, could he? Or with what grace could he press a rejected royal alliance upon her? He could merely fall back upon his chair and sigh, and ponder over the mysteries and eccentricities of human nature, and await results. And truly, it was a mark for earnest curiosity what the result might be. Would Edith Guyndal conclude, after all, to bestow her whole inheritance upon her intended, and allow him to flash forth into blazing notoriety of such a fortune as man never yet had owned! Or would she relent and bestow a portion of it, at least, upon the nation, making it grateful to her for assisting it in its necessity? There was nothing to do, however, but to wait and see.
There was not long to wait. In a few days it became noticeable that the volume of government bonds for sale at the customary money exchanges began mysteriously to increase. Inquiry elicited the fact that these sales were made on account of sundry churches and hospitals which had received anonymous presentations of these bonds to a heavy amount. After that, different commercial projects in a failing condition were discovered to have been aided with large subscriptions, and evidently in a feigned name. For the most part these assistances came too late, the projects continuing on in their failing career, so that in the end the amounts applied seemed wasted. But no one came forward to complain; and the speculative world naturally wondered, not only at the apparent extent of these losses, but also at the equanimity with which they seemed to be sustained; no one who was not in the secret being able to comprehend that gain or loss in the investment of the bonds was probably a matter of no solicitude to their owner, the only intent being their disposal out of reach, as material that it was burdensome to hold.
So for two months; during which the accumulation of bonds upon the market was so excessive as for the time materially to reduce their value, disturb exchanges, and threaten panic. Then came a temporary lull; but just as the Stock Exchange had concluded that the disturbance was at an end, and that all values were ready to settle down again and resume their normal condition, the whole community was startled with the news that upwards of fifty millions of the New Turkish Loan, which had long lain unheeded upon the market, had been taken at par. Taken by secret agents and paid for in British consols, the Turkish stock having been almost immediately thereafter thrown upon the Exchange and sold at less than one-half its nominal value. In a few days the same thing happened with the Spanish, the Mexican, and the Argentine loans: in each case millions of pounds being invested in them at their par value, and the bonds being almost at once resold at nearly a total loss. The excitement became intense, extending into every branch of trade and commerce, not merely in the British islands, but throughout the whole Continent and India. Vast fortunes were everywhere made and lost in the universal depreciation of all government securities. In the annals of the Stock Exchange that year has ever since been looked back upon with wonderment as Consols Year. There was no firm, however securely established, that failed to feel the effect of the constant vibration in values. It is said that at one time even the Rothschilds tottered for a whole morning over the abyss of ruin, and were only saved through the most superhuman exertions, and that if there had happened to exist a rival house with sufficient capital and a proper realization of the situation, the Rothschild dynasty would have fallen to rise no more. And all this while, so secretly were these ruinous loans effected, that no inkling of their agency was ever permitted to escape, and only Palmerston and his two confidants had the ability to reveal the slightest glimmer of the truth. Those three gentlementhe guardians of a secret that they could never suffer themselves to betraywere the only persons who knew that the author of the great financial disturbance was old Thomas Guyndals daughter; seeking, from some prudential distrust of the wisdom of him whom she had chosen for her husband, to reduce into reasonable limits the fortune which would so soon come to him; and yet with something of a traders spirit, not rising to the magnanimity of a direct gift to the nation, but rather preferring to squander that vast wealth by going through the empty form of its constantly repeated sale and reinvestment.
At length, some two years after old Thomas Guyndals death, his daughter Edith married the man of her choice. It has been ascertained that she brought him a fortune of one hundred thousand pounds, the sole remains of her magnificent inheritance. This, however, was more than he had been led to expect; and the possession of such a sum by one who had never been accustomed to the use of money, for the time unsettled him. Almost at once he launched out into extravagant expenditures which absorbed nearly one quarter of the whole sum; then, partially recovering himself, he entered into wild speculations with the hope of making good the deficiency. Losing heavily in this, he became more quarrelsome and took to drinking. Other ill-judged expenditures followed, then came increased dissipation, recrimination, jealousies, quarrelling, and ill-treatment of his wife. And so, with giant steps, the customary road to ruin was travelled; and, at last, after only two years longer, ensued poverty and desertion. We will let Basil Dulapoon, from his written memoir, tell the remainder of the story; merely correcting his language and phraseology, which, coming from an uneducated man, are defective in no ordinary degree.
About that time, he says, I thought that I would like to know what had become of Edith Guyndal. I traced her at last to a small house in a narrow street leading out of the Strand. She had been deserted by her husband and occupied a small room at the top and rear of the house, the rent of which she managed to pay by plain sewing. She was away when I called, having gone across the city to Oxford street, to solicit orders. Therefore I left and strolled off to the park, trusting to look her up some other day. But just as I reached the border of the main drive, I beheld her coming. I had seen her before, upon the occasion of her calling upon the Prime Minister, and I now recognized her at once, though she was greatly altered. Her face was thin, her eyes heavy, her motion slow, her whole appearance that of one who was in quick decline, and had not many months longer to live. Her dress was poor, insufficient and patched, and in her arms she held a roll of material to be made upan ordinary sized roll, but seemingly a burden all too heavy for her. As she came slowly and wearily to the edge of the drive and would have crossed over, there ensued a sudden stir of carriages drawing up on either side. With that a policeman seized her roughly by the shoulder and bade her stand still. The roll of material fell at her feet, and there lay, as though she lacked the strength to lift it again. And so, immovably she stood, while for a moment the two lines of carriages remained drawn up motionless; and between them and followed by a ripple of loyal cheers, rolled the open barouche that bore the Prince of Wales and the Princess Alexandra of Denmark.