Imágenes de páginas

remark that they were at a point which might with truth be called the very centre of business life. Indeed they could well believe it, for there was a never-ceasing tide of human and other traffic, changing each second like the colours in a kaleidoscope. It was quite bewildering. Immediately in front was a fine building with lots of columns, facing a large open space, where there was the statue of a warrior on his horse, and no end of shoeblacks. This was the place sacred to the meeting of merchants who came at certain intervals during the week in the morning for bill transactions, and every afternoon for general purposes.

Here they did their business (or talked over family matters) in an incredibly short space of time. Great-heart said that to stand inside there at four o'clock was a very instructive lesson indeed. He feared, however, they could not manage it that day; indeed, he did not think ladies were admitted.

They stood in the open space, and were in full view of the entrance to the great money emporium of the country,—a squat, dirty building to look at, yet evidently very large, as it occupied a square all to itself. Here also stood a drab-coated beadle at the doorway, who seemed always busy letting people in or out of four-wheeled cabs, or directing them on round the corner to that part where the dividends were payable. Chiefly fussy old ladies, who came in twice a year and carried off what was due on their stocks—"new" or "reduced” as the case might be in black silk bags, spending a large proportion of their interest in cab hire, rather than trust the delivery of their warrants through the Post Office.

Or a party of noisy Americans, who came to inspect the treasures of the Bank, and no doubt to suggest many an improvement in the existing currency, which, to them, appeared a complete failure after their own “almighty dollar." Over the entrance was a row of quite cosy-looking windows, homelike and cheerful. These belonged to the officers' ' quarters,—to the rooms occupied by the two young dandies who marched down with the detachment of Guards every evening through the summer twilight from their West End barracks into the vulgar city, to keep watch and ward over the hoards of gold and silver stored in vast quantities beneath them. Great-heart said it was a fine sight to see those splendid fellows sweep along, a row on each side of the street, and how the people made way for them. The officers were most liberally treated up there over the doorway, and for company's sake allowed a friend each to dinner. Often, if you passed about nine o'clock in the evening, sounds of merriment rang out over the then quiet city, as these gay soldiers quaffed one another's healths. It was good to hear of these young men being so cheerful over their duties !

* The Author understands they come by train now!

Now the party retraced their steps a little to visit a bank, where they would see some of the money, which was hidden away opposite, in actual circulation. Great-heart said he would select one likely to be very busy at this time, and they crossed the road to it. As they pushed through the swing-doors what a clatter and noise ! A large room with pillars all over it, and a gallery led to by a spiral staircase ; rows of counters with brass railings, behind which men stood or sat at desks, marked with various letters of the alphabet. When they were not shovelling about or weighing gold, they were counting it at a tremendous pace with their moistened forefingers, or cărelessly pitching crisp notes across the counters to those who stood outside, as if they handled nothing, instead of, perhaps, thousands. The children felt sure there must be many mistakes made, but Great-heart assured them there were wonderfully few, considering all things. He once heard of a case where a bank-clerk had paid an Italian visitor too much by a five-pound note, and, oddly enough, did not get it back again; but this was quite an exception to the rule. The poor clerk was at the time afflicted by a family trouble, and this accounted for the mistake. It was wonderful how accurate the weighing of the gold was, the least little bit turning the scale (a pair stood in front of each man), showing a surplus or deficit at a glance. Behind the foremost row of clerks were other desks, with lots of men and youths, all as busy as bees, some turning over the leaves of books nearly as big as themselves and writing in them, others calling out figures at a horribly rapid pace to friends, who listened calmly, or occasionally checked them in admonition. Up the spiral staircase came and went others perpetually, chiefly boys, with piles of books or papers. Closely packed behind the men in front, the "cashiers,"

serried ranks of little works bound in vellum, which were being continually taken from or added to, as customers asked for or left them. These were “pass-books," and reflected the worldly position of their owners strangely; the fat and bulky belonging to the rich, the thin and slender to the less well-to-do firm or merchant, perhaps some young beginner. It was a wonderful sight, yet Great-heart said they saw but the merest surface of bank-life reflected there. At the back, in the private sanctums of the bankers, was where all this machinery was worked, was the great fly-wheel that sent all the other smaller ones round and round thus briskly ; where, day by day, the whole talk was


of money, money, money, in coin or bond or draft ; where hundreds, thousands, millions were spoken of as if they were dirt, and could be picked up outside in the gutter. It was marvellous indeed!

With all the noise around, it was remarkable how calm and cool those cashiers were, never furried or excited ; quite a contrast to the crowd outside, who all seemed anxious to be served at once. Those poor fellows had to put up with a great deal, many hidden sarcasms and muttered gibes and taunts. The children presumed they felt quite safe from personal violence, protected by the railings; yet it really looked sometimes as if they would be struck, so angry did some of the people, who brought oblong pieces of paper in exchange for money, look. But the outsiders were almost always in error ; very often had been standing for some minutes under their wrong letter, then put out with these longsuffering clerks because they (the customers) could or would not read aright!

The three stood a long while looking on at this busy scene, and the children were bidden to take good note of it.

Great-heart said to them,“ You remember my saying you would see some of the middle classes of life, little ones ?” (They remembered.) “'Those before

you are very fair examples of this kind of toiler, all, with very few

« AnteriorContinuar »