CHAPTER LXVI. PAWNBROKERS.

The sign of the three gilt balls is very common in the Great City, and where the ancient badge of the pawnbroker is not seen, the words "Exchange Office" answer the same purpose. The law recognizes the fact that in all large communities, these dealers are a necessary evil, and while tolerating them as such, endeavors to interpose a safeguard in behalf of the community, by requiring that none but persons of good character and integrity shall exercise the calling. In New York, the Mayor alone has the power of licensing them, and revoking their licenses, and none but those so licensed can conduct their business in the city. "But Mayors of all cliques and parties have exercised this power with, apparently, little sense of the responsibility which rests upon them. They have not, ordinarily at least, required clear proof of the integrity of the applicants; but have usually licensed every applicant possessed of political influence. There is scarcely any instance where they have revoked a license thus granted, even when they have been furnished, with proofs of the dishonesty of the holders." [footnote: Report of the Prison Association.]

As a consequence, the pawnbrokers of the city are, with a few exceptions, a most rascally set. They are little more than receivers of stolen goods. The police frequently trace stolen property to them. Upon one occasion a whole basket of watches was found in one of these establishments. Another possessed a diamond worth over seven hundred dollars, which had been pawned for two dollars and a half. It had been stolen by a servant girl.

Goods taken to these men are received by them without question. They advance a fraction of the value of the article which is to be redeemed at a certain time at a high rate of interest. If not redeemed, the article is sold. Some of these dealers do not wait for the expiration of the time when an article of value is concerned, but sell it at once, and flatly deny ever having received it. The rate at which all articles are taken is sufficiently low to render it certain that the sale of it will more than cover the advance.

The principal customers of these men are the poor. Persons of former respectability or wealth, widows and orphans, are always sure to carry with them into their poverty some of the trinkets that were theirs in the heyday of prosperity. These articles go one by one to buy bread. The pawnbroker advances not more than a twentieth part of their value, and haggles over that. He knows full well that the pledges will never be redeemed, that these unhappy creatures must grow less able every day to recover them. Jewelry, clothing, ornaments of all kinds, and even the wedding ring of the wife and mother, come to him one by one, never to be regained by their owners. He takes them at a mere pittance, and sells them at a profit of several hundred per cent.

You may see the poor pass into the doors of these shops every day. The saddest faces we ever saw were those of women coming away from them. Want leaves its victims no choice, but drives them mercilessly into the clutches of the pawnbroker.

The majority of the articles pawned are forced there by want, undoubtedly, but very many of them go to buy drink. Women are driven by brutal husbands to this course, and there are wretches who will absolutely steal the clothing from their shivering wives and little ones, and with them procure the means of buying gin. God help them all, the sinner and the sinned against.

                     DIAMOND BROKERS.

The best class of pawnbrokers lend money only on such securities as jewels. These are known as diamond brokers, and of course are patronized only by the upper classes, both respectable and disreputable.

'The tricks in trade,' practiced in connection with gems and precious stones, are almost infinite in variety, and the shifts of individuals, who are as extravagant personally as they are needy pecuniarily, to obtain them, are really wonderful in ingenuity and impudence.

To illustrate by a case in point: A diamond broker, whose office is located on the central portion of Broadway, was recently visited by a remarkably handsome and elegantly attired young lady, who at once entered upon business in a straightforward style, which greatly impressed the broker in her favor, he being a thorough business man himself. She wished to negotiate for a loan upon some diamonds in the possession, at that moment, of 'a Safe Deposit Co.,' where he could obtain a view of them, if the 'preliminaries' to this step were satisfactorily arranged. These 'preliminaries' consisted in information as to the amount of money the broker could at once advance, what rate of interest he would charge, how and when payments were to be made, etc., etc. These matters were pleasantly and precisely settled by a conversation of some ten minutes, during which the lady looked at and examined, merely with a natural feminine curiosity, a number of precious stones, pearls, etc., which were displayed in the broker's cases for sale or show purposes. At last the lady rose to depart, appointing the hour of eleven the next morning as the time for their next meeting, when the lady would exhibit to the broker her diamonds, upon which, if they were as valuable as she represented, she was to obtain the agreed upon amount of money, on the terms already arranged.

As she rose to leave, however, the quick eye of the broker noticed that a valuable pearl was missing, and at once he 'made up his mind' as to the true character of his fair visitor, and the whereabouts of the missing pearl. He rushed to the door, barred the 'lady's' exit, and said, quietly but firmly, 'You have a pearl about your person which does not belong to you - restore it.' The lady assumed the looks and attitudes of the most virtuous and violent indignation, but in vain. The broker was inexorable and still barred the door of departure. 'You have been too light-fingered for me, I confess, madam. You are an accomplished woman, and have thrown me off my guard, but I must have my pearl, nevertheless.'

The lady still protested; the broker still persisted; finally the former, with a mingled aspect of wounded modesty and triumphant innocence, said: 'Sir, you may search my person if you like, and convince yourself of your gross mistake, but remember that you shall bitterly atone this outrage to which I am now forced to submit.' Without further parley the broker took the lady at her word, and searched her person - delicately or indelicately as you are disposed to regard it - but thoroughly, certainly. No pearl was found, and the lady, imagining her innocence to be hereby established, expected to find the broker overwhelmed with confusion; but, on the contrary, the gentleman referred to simply handed the woman a bottle, and coolly and firmly commanded her to drink therefrom. 'And wherefore should I drink?' asked the astonished woman. 'Because it is an emetic,' was the broker's reply. 'And what has the fact of this bottle containing an emetic to do with my swallowing its contents?' inquired the lady. 'Why, everything, answered her involuntary host, quietly; 'you have swallowed my pearl, and this, being a powerful emetic, will compel you to disgorge it. Come now, no nonsense, madam,' (still more quietly andstill more firmly,) 'or you will compel me to communicate with the police.' The word police, that magically terrible word to the evil-doer, terminated the dialogue. The woman (who proved to be an adventuress of the most 'fashionable' order, whose very professional existence depended upon the 'secresy' in which she 'operated,') was alarmed by the threat of publicity, and the criminal court, swallowed the emetic, and - need we say more than that the broker recovered his pearl, and the 'lady' left New York for a period.