(from ALL THE YEAR ROUND, No. 254, March 5, 1864, vol. XI, pp. 79-81)

MY ACCOUNT WITH HER MAJESTY

I NEVER laid by a penny till the Post-office Savings-banks came up. Not that I mightn’t have done so, for I earned good wages, and after paying all the expenses at home, I had always plenty of loose cash to spend. I was never without money in my pocket; but always at the year’s end I had spent all I had received. I knew very well that I might have saved a good bit, without cutting down the weekly allowance to the missus for the house, or stinting myself of any reasonable enjoyment; but I had never begun the thing, and when I thought about doing it, I was at a loss how to go about it. What I used to do, when I had a little lump of money over and above the expenses, was to put it away in a drawer, and lock it up; and I used to say to myself, “I won’t touch that money, but I’ll put more to it from time to time, and when it amounts to a hundred, I’ll do something with it put it in the bank, or invest it in a building society, or something of that sort.” But, somehow, the money didn’t grow as I expected. You see, I always had the key of that drawer in my pocket, and at any time, if I ran a little short, through being rather free with my mates or going upon the spree, I had nothing to do but go to the drawer and help myself. I hesitated over it sometimes, but never for long; the drawer was so handy, and I used to say to myself, “If I take a sovereign it won’t reduce the money much, and I can put it back again next week.” But it generally happened when next week came that it wasn’t convenient to put the money back. And so I went on going to the drawer for sovereigns and half-sovereigns, until the bit of money dwindled down so low that it wasn’t worth keeping. It’s the same with drink. If you make up your mind that you won’t taste a drop for a week, and stick to it, you are all right; but only be persuaded to make a beginning–to take one glass, just one, and you take another and another, and then it’s all wrong. It’s the same, too, I dare say, with swindling and robbing your master: once make a beginning, and on you go, like rolling down One-Tree-hill on Whit-Monday, the further you go, the faster you go.

Susan used to say to me, “George, how’s the money getting on?” And she used to say it in a sly, sarcastic sort of way, meaning that I was spending it, and that it was going very fast. I know it was, but I didn’t like to acknowledge it, and always said: “Oh! it’s all right in the drawer, there, what’s of it.”
‘Well, George,” she would say, “you put away ten pounds about a month ago, and as Christmas is coming on, it will enable us to buy all we require, and give a little party to our friends.” “Yes,” I would say, ” but you know, my dear, that I have had to pay So-and-so, and So-and-so;” and then I’d name certain bills, and the subscription to my lodge for I’m an Odd Fellow and add it up and subtract it from the ten, and Susan, not being good at figures, would be quite puzzled, and give the sum up in despair. But she found me out more than once. One day, when I came home to dinner, she says to me, “George,” she says, “you left the key of the drawer on the mantelshelf this morning.” She didn’t look at me, but went on carving the boiled rabbit. My wife is odd that way, and not like the generality of women. Nagging is not one of her faults. She doesn’t say much, but she thinks the more. So, when she told me about the key in that quiet way, I knew she had been to the drawer and counted the money. That’s where I don’t hold with Bluebeard. He might have tried his wife with anything but a secret; it is downright unreasonable to expect a woman not to be curious. I merely said “Oh!” in an indifferent kind of a way; but I am sure my looks convicted me. However, Susan did not make any remark about the money being nearly all gone, but, by-and-by, when she was helping me to a suety dumpling, she says in her usual demure way, “Don’t you think, George, it would be a good thing to put a little money away in the savings-bank?”

“Well,” I says, “it wouldn’t be a bad thing, Susan.”
“No,” she says, “I’m sure it wouldn’t, and if I was you I would make a beginning.”

“Well,” I says, “I would, if I knew how to go about it.”

“There’s no difficulty about that,” Susan says; “you’ve only to go to Welbeck-street,
and put a little in, and they’ll give you a book, and there you are.”

“Very well, Susan,” I says, ” I’ll take your advice, and go to Welbeck-street to-morrow.” I was as good as my word, and next day, at the dinner-hour, I walked up to Welbeck-street to put in three pound ten, which was all that was left of the fifteen. But, lo and behold! When I got to the bank it was shut, and for the moment I thought it had broke, or the manager bolted with the funds, or something; but on looking about I noticed a brass-plate on the wall with information about the bank hours, and from that I learned that the bank was only open three days a week, from ten to two in the morning, and from six to eight in the evening. I had come on the wrong day. I was a good bit vexed to have all my trouble for my pains, but Susan, when I told her, took it quite quiet, and says, “Never mind, George, you can go again on Saturday, when the bank is open.”

Well, I fully resolved to go, and on Saturday morning I took the money with me, intending to walk over to the bank after my work. However, just as I was leaving the shop at six o’clock, who should I meet but an old mate of mine, that I hadn’t seen for years. Nothing would do for Dave but I must go and have a glass with him. Well, you know, you can’t refuse to drink with a mate, especially when he’s been away in Birmingham for ever so long, and got a holiday on purpose to come up and see his friends. So in we goes to the Yorkshire Grey and has a glass of rum-and-water each, and you know how the time slips away when old friends meet as have been long parted. Dave had so much to tell me about Birmingham gun-barrels, and I had so much to tell Dave about Clerkenwell watch-springs, and one thing followed another, including glasses of rum-and-watcr, that it was a quarter to eight in no time. It was no use; I couldn’t get to Welbeck-street in a quarter of an hour unless I took a cab, and it didn’t seem natural like to take a cab to go to a savings-bank with three pound ten: so I stopped with Dave and had another glass.

When I went home and told Susan, she didn’t say an angry word, but just remarked that I was very unlucky. You don’t know how aggravating Susan is in that way. I’d rather have tongue-pie a good deal, than that sit-and-say-nothing, but think-the-more way of hers. It’s more aggravating than saying the thing right out; for you can’t tell what an awful character a quiet woman thinks you are. For my part, I’d rather have teacups. However, I was resolved to show Susan that I was in earnest, and on the following Tuesday I got to the bank in good time. I didn’t find it such an easy matter though, to put my money away, even now when I was there with it in my hand. There was such a lot of people in the bank that there was no getting near the counter for full a quarter of an hour, and when at last I did get to it, the clerks didn’t seem inclined to take any notice of me. Two or three times I said to one of them that I wanted to put in three pound ten, but he paid no attention, and always turned to somebody else. An old woman with half-a-crown cut me out first, and then I was elbowed aside by a charity-boy with a shilling all in coppers. They were regular customers, and used to the banking business, I suppose, and I wasn’t. However, I got it in at last and received my book, and I do assure you I felt a load taken off my mind. When I showed the book to Susan, she said, “That’s right, George, and I hope you’ll go on with it.” I fully intended to do so then; but it’s easy to intend, and not so easy to carry your intendings out. It’s like sitting over a fire on a winter’s night, and saying, “I’ll get up early to-morrow morning and do over-time;” but when the morning comes, and you peep out between the clothes and see the frost upon the windows, it’s very easy to find an excuse for lying a little longer.

The evening song and the morning song don’t often agree. So it was with my saving. I had always a pretty lively recollection of the trouble it was to walk all the way to Welbeck-street after my day’s work, and then to have to push my way through a crowd of old women, and wait my turn at the counter. It’s not worth doing for a few shillings, I used to say to myself; I’ll wait until there’s more of it, and then put it in in a lump. So I put the shillings away in the drawer until such time as they should grow to be pounds ; but owing to the key being always handy they didn’t, and what with club-nights and sprees now and then, it never came to be enough to be worth while taking down to Welbeck-street.

When Christmas-time came, all I had in the bank was the three pounds ten I first put in. However, that was something, and as I was rather short just then, it would come in handy to get the Christmas extras.Three days before Christmas I went down to the bank to draw the money out, promising Susan to come straight home with it. You may judge how mad I was, when the clerk told me that I couldn’t draw the money out without giving a week’s notice. Here was a pretty go; Susan at home waiting for the money to get in the tea and sugar, the plums and currants, and what not, and the cash not to be got until after Christmas. “This sort of saving won’t suit me,” says I to myself; “there’s too much ceremony about it.” I had to borrow the money from one of my mates to get the Christmas dinner, and at the end of the week I drew my money out of Welbeck-street, and paid him back; and that was the end of my account at that savings-bank.

Next year, Susan belonged to a pudding-club at the grocer’s, and I belonged to a goose-club at the Yorkshire Grey. We began to pay in sixpence a week very shortly after Midsummer, and, a few days before Christmas, Susan brought home a parcel of groceries, and I got a goose, and a bottle of gin, and a bottle of rum. We didn’t miss the money paid every week in six-pences, and when the things came home, they seemed like a gift. I said to Susan that I thought this was better than putting money in the savings-bank, where there was so much ceremony, and Susan thought so too. But when Susan’s brother, John, who is a cashier at a large linendraper’s, came to dinner on Christmas-day, and we told him how we had been saving, he burst out a-laughing. “What are you laughing at?” I says.

“What am I laughing at?” he says, almost choking himself with a mouthful of goose–“why, at you.”

“What for,” I says.
“For being so jolly green,” he says.

“Jolly green!” I says; “is it jolly green to lay by money for a rainy day–leastways, for Christmas-day, when a family requires extras?”

“Fiddlesticks!” John says. “Let me ask you a question, George.”

“Twenty,” I says; ” go ahead, John.”

“Well,” he says, ” when did you begin to pay into the goose-club at the Yorkshire Grey?”

“At Midsummer,” I says.

“And you paid in sixpence every week for twenty-six weeks?” “Yes,” I says, “I did.”

“Which made thirteen shillings, George?”
“Exactly,” I says.

“Well,” he says, “is the goose and the liquor worth it?”

“Judge for yourself, John,” I says. ” Could I have bought such a goose as that you are now partaking of for less than eight-and-six in the shops ?”

“No,” he says, “I don’t think you could.”
“Very well,” I says, ” where’s your fiddlesticks, and how do you make me out jolly green?”

“Why this way, George,” he says: ” in the first place, you’ve been losing the interest upon
your money for six months.”

“That’s not much,” I says.

“No,” he says, “perhaps not; but that’s not all. I’ll be bound to say, George, if you’ll only be candid enough to confess it, that every time you went to the Yorkshire Grey to pay in sixpence to the goose-club, you had a glass of something?”

“I don’t deny it,” I says; “you can’t well go to a public-house without having a glass.”

“Sometimes two,” he says.

“Well,” I says, “sometimes two; perhaps three, when I happened to meet a friend.”

“Then, let us say, George, that every time you went to pay in sixpence to the club, you spent, on an average, another sixpence on drink.”

“It might be about that,” I says.

“Very well then, George, upon your own showing, your goose, and bottle of gin, and bottle of rum, have cost you six-and-twenty shillings, to say nothing of your loss of time, and the injury to your constitution through drinking more than was good for you.”

“I never thought of it in that way, John,” I says.

“No, of course not, George,” he says; “for if you had thought of it in that way, you wouldn’t have been such a fool as to do it.”

“But you’ll admit,” I says, “that Susan has had her money’s-worth at the grocer’s, and not paid more than she ought?”

“I’m not going to dispute that,” he says; “but you must remember that the grocer has had the use of her money, and supposing he had failed about the beginning of December, what would have become of Susan, and all the other Christmas-club geese? I’m surprised at a sensible man like you, George, doing such things, when there’s a Post-office Savings-bank close to your door.”

“But,” I says, ” there’s so much ceremony about savings-banks; they’re only open certain days a week, and the hours are inconvenient for a working man, and –“

“You don’t know anything about them, George,” he said, taking me up short; ” for the Post-office Savings-banks that have just come up are open every day from ten to four, and you may put money in, and draw it out, whenever you like.”

“Well, John,” I says, ” I’ll see about it.” I did see about it, and found that one of the Post-office banks had been opened at Bardsley’s, the tea-grocer’s, in the next street. Bardsley’s is our post-office and money-order office as well; and walking up the shop through an avenue of sugar-loaves, I found a clerk reading the newspaper.

“I want to put some money in the new bank,’ I says. The clerk never said a word, but placed a printed paper before me to sign. I read it over and signed it, thereby declaring that I was not directly or indirectly entitled to any deposit in that, or any other savings-bank, and that I submitted myself to the rules of the Post-office Savings-bank. The clerk then handed me a small paper book, about the size of a penny memorandum-book, only it had a white cover with the royal arms at the top, and was printed all over with rules and regulations.

“Sign your name on that line, across the inside of the cover,” the clerk says. I signed it. “That’s your signature,” he says, “for drawing out, and you should be particular always to use the same one.”

I then handed the clerk five shillings as my first deposit. He took the money, wrote in the book, “Number 857. 1862. Jan. 1. — — 5,” put the post-office letter stamp for the day against the entry, and the thing was done. I don’t think I was more than five minutes in the shop altogether. The very next evening, when Susan and I were sitting at supper, the postman came to the door. Susan answered him, and came back with a letter in her hand. “Lor’, George,” she says, “it’s a letter, ‘On Her Majesty’s Service;’ whatever can it be about? I shouldn’t wonder if it was the water-rates, for you know the man has called three times, and–“

“There, let’s open it,” I says, ” that’s the best way to find out what it’s about. It’s all right, Susan,” I says; “it’s a letter from the Postmaster-General.”

“And whatever does he want?” Susan says.

“Oh, nothing,” I says; “he only writes to say that five shillings have been placed to my credit in the books of his department.”

“Well, it’s very condescending of him,” Susan says, ” for so little.”

“Well,” I says, “it’s a guarantee that it’s all right, and there’s his signature,’ Geo. Chetwynd.’ “

“Cheatwind!” Susan says; “are you sure it’s all safe, George ?”

“Safe as the bank,” I says, “and safer; for the Queen, the two Houses of Parliament, and all the taxes, are security.”

I quite took a fancy to the Post-office Savings-bank when I found how simple the machinery was. It was almost as handy as the drawer, to have a bank round the corner where you could buy your tea and sugar, and put your money away all at once, and without ceremony. I was as pleased with it as a child with a pretty toy, and I liked the importance of receiving letters every now and then “On Her Majesty’s Service.” Susan used to put the letters on the chimney-piece for people to see. It was soon the talk of the neighbourhood that I was holding a correspondence with the government, and it was reported that I was going to be appointed watchmaker to the Queen and the royal family.

I passed the post-office twice every day on coming home to dinner and going back again to work, and to walk in with my book and put away a few shillings, was just like dropping in to the public-house to have a glass of ale. And always the next day, whether it was pounds or shillings, I had a letter “On Her Majesty’s Service;” and Susan would meet me at the door and say, “George, here’s another letter from the Queen,” and then we’d sit down after supper and count it up, and see how much I had at my banker’s. I found putting money away in the Post-office Savings-bank so easy and so pleasant like, that I rather overdid the thing, and put more money away than I could spare. So one day I ran short, and had to draw out. It was almost as easy and expeditious as drawing a cheque upon one of the big banks. At the post-office they gave me a slip of paper with a form of withdrawal upon it, and addressed in print to the Postmaster-General on the back. I had nothing to do but fill in the number of my book, the amount I wanted to draw out, sign my name, double the bit of paper up, and shove it in the post. It only took me about a minute, for the paper was ready gummed for sealing, and no stamp was required, it being marked on the back,” On Her Majesty’s Service.” It was two o’clock on Tuesday when I posted the letter. At four o’clock next day I had an answer in the shape of a printed form, very similar to the notice paper. I had nothing to do but sign it and present it at the post-office, and the money was handed to me, the clerk marking off the withdrawal in my book.

It’s my belief that saving is a habit, like smoking, or taking snuff, or like extravagance. If you begin it and go on with it for a little time, you come to have a sort of passion for it. Whenever I had any spare cash, I was off to Bardsley’s with it, and often when I thought of withdrawing some I didn’t do it, saying to myself, “Oh, I can give notice to-morrow, or the next day, or any time I like;” and so perhaps I waited and tided over the temporary difficulty, and didn’t withdraw at all.

About the beginning of December, in ‘Sixty-three, when I went to put in three pounds, the clerk wouldn’t take it. ” What’s up,” I says; “going to stop?”

“No,” he says; “but if you look at the rules and regulations in your book, you’ll find that you ain’t allowed to put in more than thirty pounds a year.” That, I believe, is to protect the regular bankers, and it may be quite right, but I don’t exactly see it. I know this, that before the new year, when I might begin to put in again, I had blewed that three pound which the clerk wouldn’t take. If it did any good to the regular bankers, it certainly didn’t do any good to me. However, at the end of ‘sixty-three, I had fifty pounds at the Post-office Savings-bank, and I might have had sixty, only I took a holiday in August, and went down with Susan for a week to Margate, where we were rather free. And here I found out another advantage of this wonderful Post-office bank. Susan and I went boating, and raffling, and driving in chaises, and ran short, and were likely to be in a fix, until I looked over the rules and regulations in my bank-book, when I learned that I might withdraw my money at any Post-office Savings-bank in the kingdom, by giving notice to that effect. So I sent up the usual notice of withdrawal to London–I keep a dozen of them stitched together in a cover, and call it my cheque-book–stating that I wanted to withdraw the money at the post-office at Margate; and, almost by return, back came the withdrawal paper, and I had nothing to do but go to the post-office and get it cashed. And the forms don’t cost you a farthing; there’s no postage to pay, and when the time comes for you to send up your book to the chief office in London for the interest at two and a half per cent to be calculated and added to your account–which is the anniversary of the day on which the first deposit was made–the Postmaster-General sends you a big envelope for the purpose.

Altogether, it’s the best regulated thing I ever came across, and if it doesn’t make people save, nothing will. But it does, I’m sure. Look at Bardsley’s shop now, to what it was.
Why, that little box with the pigeon-hole, where they used to do the post-office order business, has swollen into a great banking department, and there’s Bardsley himself, with a clerk to help him, at it all day long, with piles of bank-notes and bowls full of sovereigns beside them–just like Twining’s, or the Bank of England itself. Bardsley’s proud of it, too; I know he is. He’s never behind the counter now, serving tea and sugar; he leaves that to his young men; he’s a banker, bless you.

I don’t believe I should ever have saved anything if these Post-office Savings-banks hadn’t come up; and I’m sure if it was generally known how handy and convenient they are, thousands like myself would take advantage of them, and soon learn to be careful and provident. If there’s a philanthropist that’s hard up for an object, I don’t know what he could do better than go about distributing tracts setting forth the rules and regulations and advantages of the Post-office Savings-banks.

About the author: Mr. Andrew Halliday was born at Grange in the county Banff, Scotland in the year 1830. He was educated at College Aberdeen and made his first appearance as a journalist in the columns of the Morning Chronicle and the Leader afterwards turned his attention to essay writing and many contributions to the Cornhill Magazine, Temple Bar, London Society &c. He has been for some years past one of the principal contributors to All the Year Round from which he has collected and published three volumes of essays entitled “Everyday Papers,” “Sunnyside Papers,” and “Town and Country,” which the Examiner says:– “They supply to our current literature some of the best reading which seeks chiefly to amuse.” Mr. Halliday has also written a number of burlesques and farces for the stage.