The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
It was Mr. Promisall's shop, in the E.C. division of the metropolis, and within ten minutes walk of where we were. Some watch-making establishments were renowned throughout Europe. This was one of them.
A gentleman was leaving the shop very discontented. He had bought a watch there, and had since ascertained that he had paid double its value for it. They had assured him it would go well, and it had gone ill both with watch and man. One of the salesmen had been near giving the unlucky purchaser another watch in exchange, when the proprietor came up and prevented him. The latter was now lecturing his servant, behind an angle of the shop.
"Sir, if ever you are so foolish as to exchange any article in this shop, I will stop your salary for a week. You need not have any scruples about offending customers. My rule is, that we can do with a single call from any person. There are plenty of people for this; and to call twice, I always suspect, will be a loss."
Mr. Promisall saw us, and advanced.
"Now, gentlemen, what can I show you to day?" asked he. "I guarantee every article in the shop to be what I represent, and watches for two years."
I replied, "But who will be guarantee for your words?"page 43
This was very like a prompting of Archimago, though he himself never did use language of this nature, except when we were alone; and, now, he rubbed his hands in glee, as we left the shop, and cried, "That is one of my best beloved."
On returning to the service in Mammon's temple, my Demon stopped to speak to a short, thin, poorly-dressed old man. I was astonished to see so mean-looking a character in that place. Yet he was well known and much envied; for every one pointed, smiled, and sneered at him behind his back, but greeted him with affability and fawning before his face.
"That is Mr. Lovgold. A character," said Archimago, when he rejoined me, "at which all people rail; good and bad condemn alike, and hang their petty morals upon him,—writers in especial. He is a miser."
I gazed at the wretch as a specimen of self-gibbetted humanity.
"Worse than any other specimen, eh?" asked the Crafty One, reading nay thoughts. "I should say not. What are all struggling for? Honour, position, pelf, and a score of other phantoms which are only admired because they are in esteem among the multitude, and gold is in every instance the instrument, or the end. Well, his choice is to retire from the throng to his den, and there possess, whilst they are dreaming of possession. A good deal more innocent, too, I should say, is his action. Happiness, thoughtful men say, is in solitude. Well, that is his sphere; and, all through all, his ambition brings to him in its very striving as much pleasure as it does to others. But 'tis one in the eye of wisdom. Charity, alone, super- page 44 sedes the striving and the getting: and they—the mockers—know no more of the heavenly art of giving than he does."
I was about to quote the words of St. Paul, when I recollected our errand hither.
"Look at that benevolent gentleman," said I. "He is such a one as I would like to serve. Provided his trade would allow it, he does not seem as if he would play double with his servants, or keep them on too narrow salaries."
"That gentleman, Mr. Catchturn, would accept you at once," replied Tenebrosa, "and will expect you to be as unscrupulous as himself. He has just gone out to Cornhill, although he has tried in vain to get a word with that man yonder, with whom he expects to do a stroke of business, that will profit him a thousand pounds."
We followed the benevolent-looking gentleman, and saw him speak to a boy.
"Well, my little man," said he to him, "are you looking for your master?"
"Yes," answered the youth.
"I will see him in a few minutes; give me your message, and I will deliver it to him."
"Why, a telegraph has come that the French Government has decided to give the Mailbring Line of Steamers a subsidy of two thousand a-year."
"All right, my fine fellow: I will tell him. Run back to the office."
"Look, that benevolent-looking person is not coming back to see the boy's master," said I.
"Of course not," said the Spirit, laughing. "He page 45 got a hint of this business from the boy's master, who is waiting in expectation of the news to conclude a large transaction; and, now, that benevolent aspect goes to a share-broker, to buy five hundred shares in the Mailbring Line, which the subsidy will raise to ten pounds premium. That news is worth five thousand pounds to him."
"There's another egg broke," said I to myself.
"We shall take contraries, then," I exclaimed. "There is a sharp young man, gaily dressed: should we speak to him?"
"Yes, after you have heard of his last achievement in business. He, young Bornwell, had a fortune, and has good connections. The benevolent-looking Mr. Catchturn and Mr. Shuttle have divided the former between them, and realised ten thousand a-piece by jilting him out of the influence of the latter."
"What," cried I, "I know you can steal a man's money, but I scarcely thought you could embezzle the influence of his friends."
"Just so. Give me your opinion in five minutes. A certain government wanted the loan of half a million of gold pieces, allowing fifteen per cent, for ready money. That young man's friends secured the negotiation of the loan for him. The best persons to find the money were the great bankers, Plutus and Company. He knew them; but, to sway them as much as possible, he thought to bring in the assistance of his other friends. He saw them. They agreed at once to aid him—for nothing. Indeed, they saved him any trouble in the matter, and went at once to the bankers themselves; informed them of the business; made their page 46 own terms with them; told them that their young friend would try to interlope for a share of the commission, but they must not recognise him, and so the business was done. The young gentleman was given to understand that the loan had been effected by the bankers directly with the government, by means of telegraph; and thus, all his hopes of gain were lost."
"How he will hate these gentlemen."
"Nothing of the kind. He is in blessed ignorance. They tell him that the bank had the business already in hands when they mentioned it to them, and that they have lost their own profit. He believes it. A man like that could not pay you a salary, nor earn one himself."
* * * * * * * *
"See that gentleman fussling about," said I. "He speaks to every one, and every one gives him a word. He must be a great man, and serviceable for my purpose."
"He is the very reverse of what you suppose him," answered Tenebrosa. "He is interested in the pettiest of all concerns. Mr. Seveneyes will do anything, however trifling or mean it may be, because it gets him the ears of the men he deals with. One advantage in coming here is, that it is not a place for idle men. This individual, indeed, is one of the busiest, as you see. The business is nothing, but he is something. He talks to a wealthy merchant with evident concern, and thereby gives himself an importance in the opinion of others. So he works, and will work, till one fortunate day he will hit the ascending current, and soar above every page 47 one that he now entreats favours from. But, as lie will rise by the subjugation of many, it is dangerous yet to have anything to do with him."
* * * * * * * *
"Surely I have caught the right man at last," I exclaimed. "That gentleman—walking leisurely through the crowds there—is, if I have learnt anything by your art, wealthy and confident of his trade, from his easy manner and happy expression. Such a one would neither be a niggard, nor suspicious in his affairs. Speak to him for me."
"Mr. Shirkskill is scarcely the man you think him," replied the Arch Interpreter. "He has just got a first-rate appointment for his confidential clerk, who has completed an enormous transaction for him."
"I thought such a man would be too valuable to lose. But," I added enthusiastically, "it is even as I supposed. He has benefitted him in acknowledgment of his great services."
"Not in regard to his services, but in jealousy of them," remarked Archimago, with a sneer. "He considers him too perilous a possession. He takes the profit of the transaction willingly; but he is afraid the man's abilities, if too apparent, would reduce himself in the eyes of his friends; he, therefore, parts with him, although he believes the man could make him thousands a-year, if he retained him. He saves himself from the dilemma by this act; makes himself appear generous; and strengthens his position by appearing to part with so able a servant so easily. Yet, indeed, his own fortune is made by the transaction in question. Never- page 48 theless, woe unto the clerk, had he shown the same talents, without the same advantage to his master."
* * * * * * * *
Archimago had talked to me for some time, so that we were anxiously watched by many, and some came, as it were, to overhear and catch a hint or two of important business.
"No," said I, in reply, "your reasoning is without weight, when I look around me here. After all, business gives the greatest delight; there is the highest mental excitement, and there is profit to boot. The sweets of retirement, after its toils, must be exquisite."
"Come, I see I have shocked you very much," said Tenebrosa, "now, let me amuse you. Take notice of that elderly gentleman there, Mr. Novelaught."
The person he indicated was fidgetting and wandering from one side to the other; he was in a very petulant humour; and, as I listened, his enquiry everywhere was, "Well, what news—what news—what news today?" The replies he got were, "Nothing particular;" "Things are as slow as a stage coach;" "Nothing stirring but the thermometer;" "Flat, flat everything, as a tune with four b's." On which the gentleman grew very irascible.
His pertness angered one person that he spoke to, who replied to him—
"If you are vexed at the staleness here, tell us something to enliven us. You've been over Europe and half of Asia of late. You have seen more than most of us have seen, and it must be interesting to hear of it all."page 49
"Stuff and nonsense, sir," cried the old gentleman. "There's nothing new on the Continent, or off it. Confound it, sir, would you believe it, the whole thing was in the Guide Books before I set out. I saw nothing new after I had read them; and I got a deal more information from them, than from the confounded lakes and mountains and ancient citadels, and heaven knows all what."
"Nothing like home, then, sir," replied the other.
"No, nothing like home, sir," replied Mr. Novel-aught; "and yet, would you believe it, I have been taken in a vast deal more by that new country seat of mine, than ever I was in business. Confound it, sir, I bought it from my agent's representation, and my wife's taste. Why, it had to be such a place as I had never set eyes upon before. It had to be on a lovely hill: surrounded with grand woods: leading to beautiful vallies: romantic roads: magnificent rocks in the neighbourhood: and we had to be worshipped by, good gracious knows how—simple-minded villagers.
"Why, it's on a bank fit to break my constitution to get up. The woods are a lump of black, bushy things, not half so good-looking as St. Michael's steeple, which is a vast deal more useful too, for it has a clock and bells in it; and the tunes it plays is Julien's band compared to the screeching and shrieking of the birds in the plantation—yes, it's not a wood—every one there calls it a plantation. Vallies, too!—nothing but acres of farm land; and the turnpike through them isn't even macadamised. The rocks, certainly, are big enough—precipices, in fact—but only fit for romances, where lovers can break their blessed necks from them. And page 50 as for the villagers—bah! a parcel of clowns that one cannot shake hands with, and they speak a language I neither heard in Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Madrid, Vienna, Rome, Constantinople, nor Alexandria; and, heaven knows, I knew little of the lingo there. Then, one's shut out from all news whatever—all news, sir. We tried to accommodate ourselves at first, by admiring Cowper's description of the arrival of the post-boy—but it's all a mistake, sir."
Then, bursting out afresh, "And when I come here it's little better. Things never will be right till Edifice is at the head of the Government again. He gave us something to talk about, and made things move. Why, he would invent something to keep us moving, if there was nothing. I scarcely dare go home to my wife, with so little to say. She will know more from the newspapers than I can tell her."
Archimago explained to me, that the old gentleman had made his half-million of gold pieces in two days, by a national disaster.
"But he's right," added he. "If there is not a crisis soon, the people will collapse like him. It's very amusing."
I suggested that "no news" at least relieved a man, for he would have the less to talk about.
"Ah!" said Tenebrosa, "this is a terrible disease, of which you know not the nature. A wise man has called it a diarrhœa of words; but, I forget, we must call it intelligence, good-fellowship, progress, and so on. Mr. Novelaught is judicious in his vocation. He does not minister to his own malady alone. This Glutton of News has reason to fear—he is an entrepre- page 51 neur withal. When our friend gets home, his wife will tease him as much as he teases others, and be quite waspish about his barrenness; so all are quits."
"At least I must apply the words of the Great Book now," thought I; therefore I said, in the fulness of Tenebrosa's last exposition, "Well hath written the Chiefest of the Evangelists, that 'gold is the root of all evil.'"
". . . so . . . and so . . . and so," replied the Secret One. "The bliss is in the earning : the sadness in the retaining. . . . Men only call gold a vain and transitory shadow when it is a reality, as we have just seen it,—in the miser's possession. The world's throngs which esteem it, and strive for it most, at least see, if indeed they do not possess, least of it. Here," pointing to a distinguished merchant, "is a man—the type of the ten thousands—who, in starting his race for fortune counted his gold pieces day by day, and his heart throbbed like a seraph's at the song of praise, when he saw them increase and multiply. Then, he removed them into other men's hands to keep for him. Now, he amuses and delights himself with the figures that represent his wealth—seeing less of it than when he received weekly wages. His gold is become paper, the offspring of rags. But he believes himself truly rich, because he changes figures in his ledger; and the consummation of his ambition is to add a nought or two yearly to the account of his profits."