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Roger Kyffin's Ward

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Roger Kyffin's Ward, by WHG Kingston.


  ________________________________________________________________________ROGER KYFFIN'S WARD, BY WHG KINGSTON.



  London was in commotion. On a certain afternoon in the early part ofthe year 1797, vast numbers of persons of all ranks of society, wealthymerchants, sober shopkeepers, eager barristers, country squires, men ofpleasure, dandies, and beaus, and many others of even more doubtfulposition, might have been seen hurrying up through lanes and alleystowards the chief centre of British commerce--the Bank of England, thatmighty heart, in and out of which the golden stream flows to and froalong its numberless arteries. Numerous carriages, also, some withcoronets on their panels, and powdered footmen behind, rolled up fromCheapside. Among their occupants were ministers of state, foreignambassadors, earls and barons of the realm, members of parliament,wealthy country gentlemen, and other persons of distinction. While innot a few were widows and spinster ladies, dowager duchesses and maidsof honour, and other dames with money in the funds. On the countenancesof the larger portion of the moving throng might be traced a word ofuncomfortable import--"Panic."

  It was an eventful period. Seldom during that or the present centuryhave English patriots had greater cause for anxiety. Never, certainly,from the day of the explosion of the South Sea Bubble up to that period,had the mercantile atmosphere been more agitated. The larger portion ofthe motley crowd turned on one side to the Bank of England, where theladies, descending from their carriages, pressed eagerly forward amidstthe people on foot, one behind the other, to reach the counters.Another portion entered the Royal Exchange, while a considerable numberof the carriages proceeded along Cornhill.

  The appearance of the surrounding edifices was, however, different fromthat of the present day. The old Mansion House was there, and the newBank of England had been erected, but all else has been altered. Thethen existing Royal Exchange was greatly inferior to the fine structureat present to be seen between the Mansion House and the Bank. It stoodin a confined space, surrounded by tall blocks of buildings, dark anddingy, though not altogether unpicturesque. Whatever were its defects,it served its purpose, and would have been serving it still, probably,had it not been burnt down.

  Numerous excited groups of men now filled the greater part of theinterior area; some were bending eagerly forward, either more forciblyto express an opinion, or to hear what was said by the speaker on theopposite side of the circle. Others were whispering into theirneighbours' ears, with hands lifted up, listening attentively to theremarks bestowed upon them, while others were hurrying to and frogathering the opinion of their acquaintances, and then quickly againputting it forth as their own, or hastening away to act on theinformation they had received.

  "Terrible news! The country will be ruined to a certainty! The Frenchwill be here within a week! Fearful disaster! The fleet has mutinied!The army will follow their example! Ireland is in open rebellion! Thebank is drained of specie! Failures in every direction! The funds atfifty-seven!"

  Such were some of the remarks flying about, and which formed the subjectmatter of the addresses delivered by the various speakers. Many personsthen collected were sober-minded citizens, merchants of good repute,trading with the West Indian Sugar Islands, Africa, the Colonies ofNorth America, or the Baltic, East India directors, or others, whosetransactions compelled them to assemble, for the negotiation of theirbills on 'change.

  A considerable number, however, of those who came into the city from theWest End did not stop at the Exchange, but continued their course ashort distance farther, along Cornhill, where turning on one side theyfound themselves in the precincts of Change Alley. An old writerdescribes that region: "The limits are easily surrounded in a minute anda half. Step out of Jonathan's into the alley, turn your face due east,move on a few paces to Garraway's. From thence go out at the otherdoor, and go on still east, into Birchin Lane, and then halting at theSword-blade bank, and facing the north, you will enter Cornhill, andvisit two or three petty provinces there to the west, and thus havingboxed your compass, and sailed round the stock-jobbing globe, you turninto Jonathan's again."

  In Jonathan's well-known coffee-house, and in its immediateneighbourhood, was assembled a large number of persons, varying in rankand appearance far more than those who were inside the Exchange. Tothis point the coroneted carriages had been directing their course. Theoccupants of some had got out and entered the coffee-house. Othersremained with their brokers at the door, eager to gain certainintelligence, which was to raise or depress the market. Here too wereto be seen persons in Eastern costume, and others in English dress, bothhowever with the unmistakable features of the Jew. There were courtiersand gentlemen from the fashionable parts of the metropolis, in silkstockings and diamond-buckled shoes, with powdered wigs, frilled shirts,and swords by their sides, or quakers in broad-brimmed hats and garmentsof sombre hue, such as were worn by our puritan ancestors of theprevious century. Here too were portly citizens with gold-headed canesand well-brushed beavers, their countenances anxious, but honest andstraightforward, though many other persons were there, some inshabby-genteel costume, others in threadbare and almost ragged coats,and again, many whose sharp eager eyes and pale features showed thatthey had been long accustomed to the transactions of the place. The twogreat parties in the State might in most cases have been distinguishedby the difference of their costume. The Tories, the supporters of thewar, determined foes of the men then in power in France, generallyretained the gay and handsome costume of their fathers, while the Whigsand Jacobinical party affected a republican simplicity, and dressed instraight-cut coats and low-crowned hats, which had been introduced inFrance.

  We shall have to return to Jonathan's by-and-bye, and will in themeantime go back to the Royal Exchange. Among those who were makingtheir way towards it from the lanes which led up from the banks of theriver was a person not unworthy of notice. He was a man past themeridian of life, of tall and commanding figure. The leather-like skinof his colourless face, though free from spot or blemish, was slightlywrinkled, and his somewhat massive features wore a calm and unmovedexpression, which might have surprised those who could have defined thefeelings agitating his bosom. No wonder that his mind was troubled.Those were anxious times for men engaged even in very limitedtransactions. Stephen Coppinger's were extensive and complex. Therewas scarcely a pie baked in those days in which he had not a finger. Hewalked at a dignified pace, with a smile on his lips, and his brighteyes calm, though watchful. His dark-coloured suit of fine cloth withbrass buttons was carefully brushed, a small quantity of powder onlyshaken on his hair, which was fastened behind in a long queue, restingon his collar. The folds of his white neck-cloth, and the frill of finelace which appeared beneath his waistcoat, were scrupulously clean andwell arranged. Silk stockings with knee breeches, and shoes with steelbuttons, encased his legs and feet. In his hand he carried a thickgold-headed walking-stick, though scarcely requiring it to support hissteps, while a plain cocked hat, and a spencer, for the weather wascold, completed his costume. His step was firm, his head erect, as hewalked along with a dignified air, bowing to one acquaintance, noddingto another, and returning with condescension the salutations of hisinferiors. He observed many other persons proceeding in the samedirection, several of whom he knew, the countenances of not a fewwearing that expression of anxiety which he took care his own should notexhibit. Several of them did not notice him, as, lost in thought, withtheir heads cast down, they picked their way over the uneven pavement.

  Stephen C
oppinger had scarcely reached his accustomed "walk" in theExchange, when his acquaintance, Alderman Bycroft, bustled up to him.

  "Well, friend Coppinger, you look as calm as if nothing had happened!"exclaimed the alderman; "have you not heard the news?"

  "Which news?" asked the merchant in a quiet voice, without the slightestchange of countenance; "so many reports are flying about that I believenone of them."

  "You could not have heard the news, or you would not look so abominablyunconcerned," exclaimed the alderman, who was a somewhat fussy excitablegentleman. "Why, the news is positively fearful! A mutiny has brokenout on board the channel fleet at Spithead! They have murdered LordBridport and most of their officers, and threatened, if they have noteverything their own way, to carry the ships over to the French. Theenemy's fleets are mustering in great force, and may be across theChannel, for what we can