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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson - Chapter 11. Johnson Of Manchester
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The Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson - Chapter 11. Johnson Of Manchester Post by :mikman Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :2461

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The Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson - Chapter 11. Johnson Of Manchester

CHAPTER XI. JOHNSON OF MANCHESTER

It was about eight months after the business had been opened that a circumstance took place which gave to the firm a reputation which for some few days was absolutely metropolitan. The affair was at first fortuitous, but advantage was very promptly taken of all that occurred; no chance was allowed to pass by unimproved; and there was, perhaps, as much genuine talent displayed in the matter as though the whole had been designed from the beginning. The transaction was the more important as it once more brought Mr. Robinson and Maryanne Brown together, and very nearly effected a union between them. It was not, however, written in the book that such a marriage should ever be celebrated, and the renewal of love which for a time gave such pleasure to the young lady's father, had no other effect than that of making them in their subsequent quarrels more bitter than ever to each other.

It was about midwinter when the circumstances now about to be narrated took place. Mr. Brown had gone down to the neighbourhood of Manchester for the purpose of making certain bona fide purchases of coloured prints, and had there come to terms with a dealer. At this time there was a strike among the factories, and the goods became somewhat more scarce in the market, and, therefore, a trifle dearer than was ordinarily the case. From this arose the fact that the agreement made with Mr. Brown was not kept by the Lancashire house, and that the firm in Bishopsgate was really subjected to a certain amount of commercial ill-treatment.

"It is a cruel shame," said Mr. Brown--"a very cruel shame; when a party in trade has undertaken a transaction with another party, no consideration should hinder that party from being as good as his word. A tradesman's word should be his bond." This purchase down among the factories had been his own special work, and he had been proud of it. He was, moreover, a man who could ill tolerate any ill-usage from others. "Can't we do anything to 'em, George? Can't we make 'em bankrupts?"

"If we could, what good would that do us?" said Robinson. "We must put up with it."

"I'd bring an action against them," said Jones.

"And spend thirty or forty pounds with the lawyers," said Robinson. "No; we will not be such fools as that. But we might advertise the injury."

"Advertise the injury," said Mr. Brown, with his eyes wide open. By this time he had begun to understand that the depth of his partner's finesse was not to be fathomed by his own unaided intelligence.

"And spend as much money in that as with the lawyers," said Jones.

"Probably more," said Robinson, very calmly. "We promised the public in our last week's circular that we should have these goods."

"Of course we did," said Mr. Brown; "and now the public will be deceived!" And he lifted up his hands in horror at the thought.

"We'll advertise it," said Robinson again; and then for some short space he sat with his head resting on his hands. "Yes, we'll advertise it. Leave me for awhile, that I may compose the notices."

Mr. Brown, after gazing at him for a moment with a countenance on which wonder and admiration were strongly written, touched his other partner on the arm, and led him from the room.

The following day was Saturday, which at Magenta House was always the busiest day of the week. At about four o'clock in the afternoon the shop would become thronged, and from that hour up to ten at night nearly as much money was taken as during all the week besides. On that Saturday at about noon the following words were to be read at each of the large sheets of glass in the front of the house. They were printed, of course, on magenta paper, and the corners and margins were tastefully decorated:--


Brown, Jones, and Robinson, having been greatly
deceived by Johnson of Manchester, are not able
to submit to the public the 40,000 new specimens
of English prints, as they had engaged to do, on
this day. But they beg to assure their customers
and the public in general that they will shortly
do so, however tremendous may be the sacrifice.


"But it was Staleybridge," said Mr. Brown, "and the man's name was Pawkins."

"And you would have me put up 'Pawkins of Staleybridge,' and thus render the firm liable to an indictment for libel? Are not Pawkins and Johnson all the same to the public?"

"But there is sure to be some Johnson at Manchester."

"There are probably ten, and therefore no man can say that he is meant. I ascertained that there were three before I ventured on the name."

On that afternoon some trifling sensation was created in Bishopsgate Street, and a few loungers were always on the pavement reading the notice. Robinson went out from time to time, and heard men as they passed talking of Johnson of Manchester. "It will do," said he. "You will see that it will do. By seven o'clock on next Saturday evening I will have the shop so crowded that women who are in shall be unable to get out again."

That notice remained up on Saturday evening, and till twelve on Monday, at which hour it was replaced by the following:--


Johnson of Manchester has proved himself utterly
unable to meet his engagement. The public of the
metropolis, however, may feel quite confident
that Brown, Jones, and Robinson will not allow
any provincial manufacturer to practise such
dishonesty on the City with impunity.


The concourse of persons outside then became much greater, and an audible hum of voices not unfrequently reached the ears of those within. During this trying week Mr. Jones, it must be acknowledged, did not play his part badly. It had come home to him in some manner that this peculiar period was of vital importance to the house, and on each day he came down to business dressed in his very best. It was pleasant to see him as he stood at the door, shining with bear's grease, loaded with gilt chains, glittering with rings, with the lappets of his coat thrown back so as to show his frilled shirt and satin waistcoat. There he stood, rubbing his hands and looking out upon the people as though he scorned to notice them. As regards intellect, mind, apprehension, there was nothing to be found in the personal appearance of Jones, but he certainly possessed an amount of animal good looks which had its weight with weak-minded females.

The second notice was considered sufficient to attract notice on Monday and Tuesday. On the latter day it became manifest that the conduct of Johnson of Manchester had grown to be matter of public interest, and the firm was aware that persons from a distance were congregating in Bishopsgate Street, in order that they might see with their own eyes the notices at Magenta House.

Early on the Wednesday, the third of the series appeared. It was very short, and ran as follows:--


Johnson of Manchester is off!

The police are on his track!


This exciting piece of news was greedily welcomed by the walking public, and a real crowd had congregated on the pavement by noon. A little after that time, while Mr. Brown was still at dinner with his daughter upstairs, a policeman called and begged to see some member of the firm. Jones, whose timidity was overwhelming, immediately sent for Mr. Brown; and he, also embarrassed, knocked at the door of Mr. Robinson's little room, and asked for counsel.

"The Peelers are here, George," he said. "I knew there'd be a row."

"I hope so," said Robinson; "I most sincerely hope so."

As he stood up to answer his senior partner he saw that Miss Brown was standing behind her father, and he resolved that, as regarded this occasion, he would not be taunted with want of spirit.

"But what shall I say to the man?" asked Mr. Brown.

"Give him a shilling and a glass of spirits; beg him to keep the people quiet outside, and promise him cold beef and beer at three o'clock. If he runs rusty, send for me." And then, having thus instructed the head of the house, he again seated himself before his writing materials at the table.

"Mr. Robinson," said a soft voice, speaking to him through the doorway, as soon as the ponderous step of the old man was heard descending the stairs.

"Yes; I am here," said he.

"I don't know whether I may open the door," said she; "for I would not for worlds intrude upon your studies."

He knew that she was a Harpy. He knew that her soft words would only bring him to new grief. But yet he could not help himself. Strong, in so much else, he was utterly weak in her hands. She was a Harpy who would claw out his heart and feed upon it, without one tender feeling of her own. He had learned to read her character, and to know her for what she was. But yet he could not help himself.

"There will be no intrusion," he said. "In half an hour from this time, I go with this copy to the printer's. Till then I am at rest."

"At rest!" said she. "How sweet it must be to rest after labours such as yours! Though you and I are two, Mr. Robinson, who was once one, still I hear of you, and--sometimes think of you."

"I am surprised that you should turn your thoughts to anything so insignificant," he replied.

"Ah! that is so like you. You are so scornful, and so proud,--and never so proud as when pretending to be humble. I sometimes think that it is better that you and I are two, because you are so proud. What could a poor girl like me have done to satisfy you?"

False and cruel that she was! 'Tis thus that the basilisk charms the poor bird that falls a victim into its jaws.

"It is better that we should have parted," said he. "Though I still love you with my whole heart, I know that it is better."

"Oh, Mr. Robinson!"

"And I would that your nuptials with that man in Aldersgate Street were already celebrated."

"Oh, you cruel, heartless man!"

"For then I should be able to rest. If you were once another's, I should then know--"

"You would know what, Mr. Robinson?"

"That you could never be mine. Maryanne!"

"Sir!"

"If you would not have me disgrace myself for ever by my folly, leave me now."

"Disgrace yourself! I'm sure you'll never do that. 'Whatever happens George Robinson will always act the gentleman,' I have said of you, times after times, both to father and to William Brisket. 'So he will!' father has answered. And then William Brisket has said--; I don't know whether I ought to tell you what he said. But what he said was this--'If you're so fond of the fellow, why don't you have him?'"

All this was false, and Robinson knew that it was false. No such conversation had ever passed. Nevertheless, the pulses of his heart were stirred.

"Tell me this," said he. "Are you his promised wife?"

"Laws, Mr. Robinson!"

"Answer me honestly, if you can. Is that man to be your husband? If it be so it will be well for him, and well for you, but, above all, it will be well for me, that we should part. And if it be so, why have you come hither to torment me?"

"To torment you, George!"

"Yes; to torment me!" And then he rose suddenly from his feet, and advanced with rapid step and fierce gesture towards the astonished girl. "Think you that love such as mine is no torment? Think you that I have no heart, no feeling; that this passion which tears me in pieces can exist without throwing a cloud upon my life? With you, as I know too well, all is calm and tranquil. Your bosom boils with no ferment. It has never boiled. It will never boil. It can never boil. It is better for you so. You will marry that man, whose house is good, and whose furniture has been paid for. From his shop will come to you your daily meals,--and you will be happy. Man wants but little here below, nor wants that little long. Adieu."

"Oh, George, are you going so?"

"Yes; I am going. Why should I stay? Did I not with my own hand in this room renounce you?"

"Yes; you did, George. You did renounce me, and that's what's killing me. So it is,--killing me." Then she threw herself into a chair and buried her face in her handkerchief.

"Would that we could all die," he said, "and that everything should end. But now I go to the printer's. Adieu, Maryanne."

"But we shall see each other occasionally,--as friends?"

"To what purpose? No; certainly not as friends. To me such a trial would be beyond my strength." And then he seized the copy from the table, and taking his hat from the peg, he hurried out of the room.

"As William is so stiff about the money, I don't know whether it wouldn't be best after all," said she, as she took herself back to her father's apartments.

Mr. Brown, when he met the policeman, found that that excellent officer was open to reason, and that when properly addressed he did not actually insist on the withdrawal of the notice from the window. "Every man's house is his castle, you know," said Mr. Brown. To this the policeman demurred, suggesting that the law quoted did not refer to crowded thoroughfares. But when invited to a collation at three o'clock, he remarked that he might as well abstain from action till that hour, and that he would in the meantime confine his beat to the close vicinity of Magenta House. A friendly arrangement grew out of this, which for awhile was convenient to both parties, and two policemen remained in the front of the house, and occasionally entered the premises in search of refreshment.

After breakfast on the Thursday the fourth notice was put up:--


The public of London will be glad to learn that Brown,
Jones, and Robinson have recovered the greatest part
of their paper which was in the hands of Johnson of
Manchester. Bills to the amount of fifteen thousand
pounds are, however, still missing.


It was immediately after this that the second policeman was considered to be essentially necessary. The whole house, including the young men and women of the shop, were animated with an enthusiasm which spread itself even to the light porter of the establishment. The conduct of Johnson, and his probable fate, were discussed aloud among those who believed in him, while they who were incredulous communicated their want of faith to each other in whispers. Mr. Brown was smiling, affable, and happy; and Jones arrived on the Friday morning with a new set of torquoise studs in his shirt. Why men and women should have come to the house for gloves, stockings, and ribbons, because Johnson of Manchester was said to have run away, it may be difficult to explain. But such undoubtedly was the fact, and the sales during that week were so great, as to make it seem that actual commercial prosperity was at hand.

"If we could only keep up the ball!" said Robinson.

"Couldn't we change it to Tomkins of Leeds next week?" suggested Jones.

"I rather fear that the joke might be thought stale," replied Robinson, with a good-natured smile. "There is nothing so fickle as the taste of the public. The most popular author of the day can never count on favour for the next six months." And he bethought himself that, great as he was at the present moment, he also might be eclipsed, and perhaps forgotten, before the posters which he was then preparing had been torn down or become soiled.

On the Friday no less than four letters appeared in the daily Jupiter, all dated from Manchester, all signed by men of the name of Johnson, and all denying that the writer of that special letter had had any dealings whatever with Brown, Jones, and Robinson, of Bishopsgate Street, London. There was "Johnson Brothers," "Johnson and Co.," "Alfred Johnson and Son," and "Johnson and Johnson;" and in one of those letters a suggestion was made that B., J., and R., of London, should state plainly who was the special Johnson that had gone off with the paper belonging to their house.

"I know we shall be detected," said Mr. Brown, upon whose feelings these letters did not act favourably.

"There is nothing to detect," said Robinson; "but I will write a letter to the editor."

This he did, stating that for reasons which must be quite obvious to the commercial reading public, it would be very unwise in the present state of affairs to give any detailed description of that Mr. Johnson who had been named; but that B., J., and R. were very happy to be able to certify that that Mr. Johnson who had failed in his engagements to them was connected neither with Johnson Brothers, or Johnson and Co.; nor with Alfred Johnson and Son, or Johnson and Johnson. This also acted as an advertisement, and no doubt brought grist to the mill.

On the evening of that same Friday a small note in a scented envelope was found by Robinson on his table when he returned upstairs from the shop. Well did he know the handwriting, and often in earlier days had he opened such notes with mixed feelings of joy and triumph. All those past letters had been kept by him, and were now lying under lock and key in his desk, tied together with green silk, ready to be returned when the absolute fact of that other marriage should have become a certainty. He half made up his mind to return the present missive unopened. He knew that good could not arise from a renewed correspondence. Nevertheless, he tore asunder the envelope, and the words which met his eye were as follows:--


Miss Brown's compliments to Mr. Robinson, and will Mr.
Robinson tea with us in papa's room on Saturday, at six
o'clock? There will be nobody else but Mr. and Mrs.
Poppins, that used to be Miss Twizzle. Papa, perhaps, will
have to go back to the shop when he's done tea. Miss Brown
hopes Mr. Robinson will remember old days, and not make
himself scornful.


"Scornful!" said he. "Ha! ha! Yes; I scorn her;--I do scorn her. But still I love her." Then he sat down and accepted the invitation.


Mr. Robinson presents his compliments to Miss Brown, and
will do himself the honour of accepting her kind invitation
for to-morrow evening. Mr. Robinson begs to assure Miss
Brown that he would have great pleasure in meeting any of
Miss Brown's friends whom she might choose to ask.


"Psha!" said Maryanne, when she read it. "It would serve him right to ask Bill. And I would, too, only--." Only it would hardly have answered her purpose, she might have said, had she spoken out her mind freely.

In the meantime the interest as to Johnson of Manchester was reaching its climax. At ten o'clock on Saturday morning each division of the window was nearly covered by an enormous bill, on which in very large letters it was stated that--


Johnson of Manchester has been taken.


From that till twelve the shop was inundated by persons who were bent on learning what was the appearance and likeness of Johnson. Photographers came to inquire in what gaol he was at present held, and a man who casts heads in plaster of Paris was very intent upon seeing him. No information could, of course, be given by the men and women behind the counters. Among them there was at present raging a violent discussion as to the existence or non-existence of Johnson. It was pleasant to hear Jones repeating the circumstances to the senior partner. "Mr. Brown, there's Miss Glassbrook gone over to the anti-Johnsonites. I think we ought to give her a month's notice." To those who inquired of Mr. Brown himself, he merely lifted up his hands and shook his head. Jones professed that he believed the man to be in the underground cells of Newgate.

The bill respecting Johnson's capture remained up for two hours, and then it was exchanged for another;--


Johnson has escaped, but no expense
shall be spared in his recapture.


At four in the afternoon the public was informed as follows;--


Johnson has got off, and sailed for America.


And then there was one other, which closed the play late on Saturday evening;--


Brown, Jones, and Robinson beg to assure the public that
they shall be put out of all suspense early on Monday
morning.


"And what shall we really say to them on Monday?" asked Mr. Jones.

"Nothing at all," replied Mr. Robinson. "The thing will be dead by that time. If they call, say that he's in Canada."

"And won't there be any more about it?"

"Nothing, I should think. We, however, have gained our object. The house will be remembered, and so will the name of Brown, Jones, and Robinson."

And it was so. When the Monday morning came the windows were without special notices, and the world walked by in silence, as though Johnson of Manchester had never existed. Some few eager inquirers called at the shop, but they were answered easily; and before the afternoon the name had almost died away behind the counters. "I knew I was right," said Miss Glassbrook, and Mr. Jones heard her say so.

In and about the shop Johnson of Manchester was heard of no more, but in Mr. Brown's own family there was still a certain interest attached to the name. How it came about that this was so, shall be told in the next chapter.

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