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The house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby, East India bankers, was one of the richest firms in the city of London--so rich that it would be quite in vain to endeavour to describe the amount of its wealth. It was something fabulous, people said. The offices were situated in a dingy and narrow thoroughfare leading out of King William Street, and were certainly no great things to look at; but the cellars below their offices--wonderful cellars, that stretched far away underneath the church of St. Gundolph, and were only separated by party-walls from the vaults in which the dead lay buried--were popularly supposed to be filled with hogsheads of sovereigns, bars of bullion built up in stacks like so much firewood, and impregnable iron safes crammed to overflowing with bank bills and railway shares, government securities, family jewels, and a hundred other trifles of that kind, every one of which was worth a poor man's fortune.

The firm of Dunbar had been established very soon after the English first grew powerful in India. It was one of the oldest firms in the City; and the names of Dunbar and Dunbar, painted upon the door-posts, and engraved upon shining brass plates on the mahogany doors, had never been expunged or altered: though time and death had done their work of change amongst the owners of that name.

The last heads of the firm had been two brothers, Hugh and Percival Dunbar; and Percival, the younger of these brothers, had lately died at eighty years of age, leaving his only son, Henry Dunbar, sole inheritor of his enormous wealth.

That wealth consisted of a splendid estate in Warwickshire; another estate, scarcely less splendid, in Yorkshire; a noble mansion in Portland Place; and three-fourths of the bank. The junior partner, Mr. Balderby, a good-tempered, middle-aged man, with a large family of daughters, and a handsome red-brick mansion on Clapham Common, had never possessed more than a fourth share in the business. The three other shares had been divided between the two brothers, and had lapsed entirely into the hands of Percival upon the death of Hugh.

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