A MATTER OF BUSINESS
By EDGAR WALLACE
Author of "Sanders of the River," "Private Selby" "The Council of Justice," "Grey Timothy," "The People of the River," etc.
ONLY Carfew knows whether he was ever truly abashed in his short but vivid life. He himself has never given evidence of his abashment, nor, in his recitals of his career, which are not infrequent, has he ever admitted that he has been found wanting in self-possession in a moment of crisis.
A man owed Carfew a lot of money once, an amazing circumstance, only modified by the fact that the man stoutly denied that he owed anything at all. Carfew had not lent money, of course; that was an unthinkable possibility. What he had done was to force upon a reluctant speculator advice which he could very well have done without. Having tendered advice, Carfew had outlined a breathless scheme for the division of such profits as might accrue from the deal. He had—without waiting for the indignant repudiation of any agreement which trembled on the speculator's lips—hurried away, leaving a speechless jobber in the African Market with a horrible sense of having committed himself to an arrangement of which he heartily disapproved.
Now it happened that the line of action Carfew suggested proved to be a very wise one, and the jobber cleared twenty thousand pounds profit. Carfew claimed two thousand pounds, which, as you may learn from the perusal of any popular educator, represents a ten per cent. commission on the deal. The workings of Carfew's mind were peculiarly in the direction of Carfew's pocket.
He was an honourable young man; outrage that honour of his, and you invited trouble of a cyclonic and destructive character. He made it a point of honour never to forego any monetary advantage that was due to him.
So he wrote to Zolomon, the fortunate speculator in question, congratulating him upon the success of the deal, wishing him every happiness in the future, inquiring tenderly after his family, and ending with a P.S. which ran—
"Regarding commission due on the Sloenfontein Goldfarm, will you send a cheque straight away to my bank, as I shall be out of town for a week or so."
Mr. Zolomon, taking upon himself the disguise of Zolomon and Davon, Ltd., wrote back, expressing no solicitude for Carfew's family, offering no hope for Carfew's corporeal welfare, and congratulating him only upon the nerve which inspired a demand for a ten per cent. commission, "of which," so the letter ran, "our Mr. Zolomon has no knowledge and has certainly never contemplated paying."
So Carfew wrote again.
On this occasion he was as oblivious of Mr. Zolomon's domestic affairs as though Mr. Zolomon was no more than a name on a brass plate.
"I really cannot understand yours of the fourth," wrote Carfew, in stilted perplexity. "I am loth to believe that your Mr. Zolomon would repudiate a solemn obligation entered into when in full possession of his faculties."
If Carfew was loth to believe any evil of Mr. Zolomon, that gentleman himself had no such compunction. Indeed, he seemed prepared to flaunt his shame to the world, even going so far as to say he would mention the matter—doubtless in a spirit of boastfulness—to his solicitors, Messrs. Dewit, Ambling, and Browne. Whereupon Carfew mentioned his own solicitors, Messrs, Breyley, Fenning, Thompson, Cubitt, and Sanderson—a triumphant rejoinder, since they outnumbered the others by five to three.
Here, then, began the great feud of Zolomon and Carfew. Carfew's solicitors were unimaginative people, and saw no reason in the world why Mr. Zolomon should pay anything. Carfew changed his solicitors. He sought his broker, Mr. Parker, and Mr. Parker was equally unsympathetic.
"So far as I can see," said Parker carefully, "you are trying to bluff an unfortunate man out of two thousand pounds, and when you are arrested, as you will be——"
"Parker," said Carfew, with some emotion, "you are supposed to be a friend of mine."
"Am I?" said the alarmed Parker.
"You are supposed to be," persisted Carfew solemnly, "and you take the side of people who have robbed me."
"I should be glad," he said, "not only to take the side of people who were clever enough to rob you, but to take them into partnership."
A week later, Carfew, in the bitterness of his soul, openly dined in a Wardour Street café with a well-known Anarchist, suspected of inciting an anti-Semitic programme.
He was in no wise reconciled to the Zolomon family by an encounter he had later with a cadet of that house—an American importation, and offensive.
By unhappy chance, or by the design of a young and indignant Zolomon, eager to come to grips with one who had dared to attempt to deplete the family surplus, Carfew found himself seated opposite young Zolomon on three occasions at lunch. Twice he had endeavoured to get into conversation with the enemy—young Zolomon's uncle—and twice he was repulsed. On the third occasion young Mr. Zolomon broke the ice with a coke hammer.
"You British priddy wild about der Banama Treaty, I guess."
"Go on guessing," said Carfew, who was in no mood for high politics.
There was a pause.
"Ye don' stan' no nonsense, ve Americans."
Carfew preserved a stony silence.
"Ye licked you vonce," dared Zolomon.
"I am not aware that we were engaged in any war with you," said Carfew coldly.
"Vat!" said shocked Zolomon. "You never hear abote our var?"
"Never," replied Carfew. "I think you are mistaken. The British were not engaged in the affair."
Zolomon put down his napkin and fixed his gold-rimmed glasses more firmly on his thick nose.
"You have tell me," he said, "you neffer hear of der battle of der Bunker's 'Ill?"
Carfew raised his eyebrows.
"Bunker's Hill?" he said, in insolent wonder. "I beg your pardon! I thought you were talking about the siege of Jerusalem."
That was the beginning of an enmity which was pursued with bitter malignity on both sides. Carfew at this time had an office in the heart of the City. It was situated in a great block of buildings, and the office was only big enough to live in because the builder had made all the doors of the building one size, and no cubicle, in consequence, could be smaller than the door which gave admittance to it.
Carfew was in a condition of prosperity at the moment, being "in" concrete. In other words, with his usual acumen he had come in on the crest of the ferro-concrete boom which created a mild sensation in the building trade a few years ago. He had bought out the Shamstone patents and was lord of a little factory at Erith, which did a fairly good trade, and would have done more if Carfew could have found someone to put capital into the concern.
He could have put money into it himself, but Carfew had learnt that the important law of finance was: "Never put your hand into your own pocket."
When Gray's came on to the market, Carfew thought he saw a chance of amalgamation. Gray's was a big concern, with three high chimney stacks, and somehow this fact had always been a subject for Carfew's envy.
He might have cast an envious glance and let it go at that, for Gray's was an expensive proposition, and none the less expensive because it was in the hands of receivers appointed by unforgiving debenture-holders.
Unfortunately, Carfew was acquainted with a number of rich men, all of whom, upon convivial occasions, had pressed his arm and told him to "come to me if you ever want money for a legitimate speculation."
Carfew had discovered that a "legitimate speculation," in the eyes of most of them, meant something where the money was secured by a banker's guarantee of a twenty per cent. return.
But it happened that Carfew had received a note on the very morning of the appointment of the receiver—a note which promised well, since it embodied an invitation to lunch with a man who was so rich that he could afford to be friendly to everybody.
Carfew was preparing for the momentous meal when there came into his office no less a person than the Right Hon. Lord Tupping.
Tuppy, as everybody knows, was a bright young man of no particular financial stability, but with an unfortunate capacity for thinking out schemes upon which he could "draw."
Carfew, who judged humanity by uncomplimentary standards, was satisfied in his mind that Tuppy invented all his schemes between the front door of Langwood House and the fifth floor. Possibly Carfew was right, but certain it is that Tuppy was plausible. On this occasion Tuppy came on a most unselfish errand. It was to make Carfew's fortune. Midway between Middelkerke and Westende-Bains, on the Belgian coast, there is an expanse of sand dune, a perfect beach, and a lot of sea, and Tuppy had an idea that if some person or persons built a casino, erected a magnificent kursaal, laid out a racecourse and put up a few thousand pounds for prizes, laid out a golf course and erected a swagger club-house, those persons would make a fortune.
"In fact, my dear old bird," said his lordship, with unwonted enthusiasm, "there's a million in it."
He was a small man, beautifully dressed. He wore the shiniest of silk hats on the back of the glossiest of heads, and the fact that he kept it on in Carfew's office—in Carfew's private office—revealed the measure of his friendship.
"I've just come back," he went on, stretching his snowy-spatted shoes to Carfew's wastepaper basket. "I've given the matter a most tremendous amount of thought—I get positively sick with thinking—I do, upon my word. Surveyed the ground most thoroughly——"
"What happened, Tuppy," interrupted Carfew, tapping the (lesk with an ivory ruler, "was something like this. You surveyed the ground from a motor-car travelling at sixty miles an hour along the road to Nieupoort, and your immense idea jumped at you whilst you were fastening your collar at the Belle Vue."
Tuppy eyed him with a look of injury.
"My charmin' lad!" he expostulated. "My cynical old dear! You didn't imagine I was going to get out amongst all those beastly dunes and things, gettin' my shoes filled with sand and muck of that sort, did you?"
"I didn't," admitted Carfew. He paused and frowned thoughtfully. "Your scheme is quite a good one," he said. "I should say that all we want is about five millions."
"Float a company," said Tuppy eagerly; "it's as easy as eatin' pie. Call the place Tuppyville-sur-Mer—good name, eh? I thought it out comin' over on the boat. Make the company the Tuppy Development and Land Company. Capital, five million, divided into fifty thousand shares of one hundred pounds. You give me a few thousand in cash and a few thousand in shares for the idea, and make whatever you can out of the business."
"It seems simple," said Carfew. "The only objection I can see to the scheme is the absence of necessary capital."
"Float it, my dear feller!" said the exasperated Tuppy. "British public, my old bird—dear old silly B. P., my lad. Get it out of 'em; issue a prospectus, and all that sort of rot."
"Five millions is a lot of money," said Carfew, and he spoke in the tone of one who could lay his hand on the amount, but was disinclined to make the effort.
"It is nothing." Tuppy brushed aside the suggestion airily, as being too preposterous for consideration.
Carfew sat on the edge of his desk and thought, and Tuppy occupied the only other seat which the dimensions of the office allowed. Carfew was thinking of his lunch, and he was very anxious to get rid of his visitor; but Tuppy, scanning his face expectantly, thought he saw a great scheme taking shape, which shows——
"Dear lad," Tuppy broke in upon the other's meditation excitedly, "you've a chance that another feller would jump at! There's a Johnny in the City, Kenneth Macnam——"
"Eh? Kenneth Macnam?" repeated Carfew.
"Kenneth Macnam," said Tuppy.
"Ugly devil, big nose, big glasses, coppery face?"
"That's the cove," said Tuppy. "Well, this Kenneth Macnam——"
"Zolomon!" said Carfew, with unpleasant brusqueness. "I know the blight—the gentleman."
Tuppy looked at him suspiciously, and in a weak moment became diplomatic, adopting a variety of diplomacy which has made his name as Machiavelli a byword in Fleet Street.
"Of course," he said carelessly, "if you don't want to take up my little affair, I'll see Zolomon. I thought of seeing him. He bombards me—positively, old lad, bombards me—with letters askin' me to see him. I wonder if he's a relation of old Zolomon?" he asked.
"Of course he is. The young 'un's a moneylender," said Carfew impatiently, for he really had a most important engagement. "He writes to everybody, you silly ass. Why don't you go along and see him?" he questioned suddenly. I'm going past his office, and I'll drop you there."
A good scheme from every point of view. Carfew was only five minutes late for lunch.
It was rather an unfortunate lunch, as it turned out, for Carfew engaged himself in the almost heartbreaking task of inducing a Northern ironmaster to take an uncommercial risk.
Yet Gray's made the finest artificial paving the world has seen, and there was no reason why, under vigorous management, the firm should not succeed. Gray's briquettes were fireproof; they were dustproof; they deteriorated to the action neither of sun, moon, star, nor of any other solar manifestation; rain they laughed at; frost they ignored; "wear and tear" were words unknown in their vocabulary. Gray was dead; young Gray—whose name was Smith—was broke; the business could be bought from the receiver for a song. Would Carfew's vis-à-vis furnish the melody?
Mr. Jasper Grittlewood, the gentleman under persuasion, was a typical Midland magnate. He was a young man of thirty, with an Oxford accent, a pretty taste in shirts, and a flat in Piccadilly. He shook his sleek head sorrowfully over Carfew's proposal.
"I'd awfully like to go into it with you," he said, "but my idea, when I heard of it, was that you, being in the same line, might like to take it up on your own. You're in Shamstone's, aren't you?"
Carfew nodded, and his host took a dainty little engagement-book from his waistcoat pocket. "I am going to Ascot for a week," he said, "and afterwards to my villa on Lake Como. Just let me know how matters develop. I might be able to assist you later."
Mr. Grittlewood folded up his serviette carefully and neatly, after the manner of very rich men who have come by their money honestly, and shook his head again.
There is the mournful shake, the admonitory shake, the doubtful shake, the amused but mildly disapproving, the denying shake, and the puzzled shake, and Jasper included them all, with the exception of that which might indicate any amusement.
"It is a speculation," he said with some emphasis, "which a young man like yourself might take up with profit—that is why I wrote to you. I thought, perhaps——"
Carfew "thought, perhaps," too, but in a different direction.
Gray's did not strike him as a proposition to tackle alone. It had "gone down" the wrong way. There is a right and a wrong way in these matters, and Gray's had deteriorated in a manner which was distinctly wrong.
It was probably true that young Mr. Smith looked upon the wine when it was red, but it is certainly true that he looked upon the horse when it was last. To back bad horses is bad; to back bad bills is very bad. Combine the two pursuits, and you reach Carey Street by the most rapid form of transit yet invented.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Mr. Jasper, as he bit his cigar in the vestibule of the hotel. "If you can get anybody to get Gray's an order—a real big order, don't you know—I'll take up the option which you have, and you can make your profit."
"A real big order?" repeated Carfew. "And what do you call a real big order?"
The ironmaster looked at his cigar critically.
"Say a twenty thousand pound order," he said. "You can have commission on that, too. Anyway, you give a moribund business a certain vitality which at present it does not possess."
"If I could get a twenty thousand pound order," said Carfew, "it would pay me to buy the business myself."
Jasper nodded. "I think you would make a fortune," he said seriously.
Carfew returned to his office in the philosophical condition of mind which comes alike to those who have loved and lost, and to those who have hoped for the best and got an inferior brand.
He himself had no use either for Gray's cement bricks, or Gray's ferro-concrete drainpipes, nor for Gray's asbestos flooring. If he had, he would have taken it to Shamstone's.
His office was empty save for the scent of bad cigars, and he opened the window and unlocked his desk. Then it was that he saw, pushed into the space between the top of the desk and the desk itself, a folded note. It was written in pencil, and the fact that there were two "t's" in "waiting" showed him it had been written by a peer of the realm.
"Dear Carfew," it ran, "just seen—seen"—Tuppy had a trick of stammering in his epistles—"old Zolomon, young Zolomon's uncle, the chap you tried to swindle. Think Tuppyville idea will be taken up—up. Come over to Graham Street Hotel; waitting for you. Tuppy."
Carfew frowned, and his frown was justifiable. It was preposterous to suppose that anybody would take old Tuppy seriously. It was more than preposterous that the person to commit so insane an indiscretion should be the Zolomon of whom Tuppy wrote in terms offensive to his friend.
Carfew sat down to think the matter over.
It was wrong, all wrong. Such things do not happen. People do not finance the wild-cat schemes of impecunious peers—at least, people named Zolomon, who lived in the City of London, did not.
It was all Carfew's "eye and maiden aunt." He had a wild hope that Tuppy, in his very innocence and child-like confidence, had beguiled the enemy to his undoing, but it was a spark of hope upon which Carfew immediately turned a cold and sparkling stream of reason. People like Zolomon were not convinced by the child-like, nor the bland, since they themselves were dealers in similar quantities. Tuppy was lying.
Carfew rose and put on his hat. Graham Street Hotel was a stone's throw distant. He found Tuppy and his companions entirely surrounding an ash-tray and three coffee cups in a smoke-room of the hotel.
Mr. Zolomon smiled gravely as Carfew entered.
The eminent financier was stout and bald, and somewhat pallid by the dispensation of Providence rather than from any misgivings as to Carfew's possible attitude.
He offered his grave hand, and in his gravest tone expressed his desire that Carfew should find a seat somewhere.
"We meet under happier conditions, I trust," he said, and that was all the reference he made to the black past.
"You know my nephew?"
The two young gentlemen exchanged poisonous smiles.
"And you know Lord Tupping?"
"I should say he did," said Tuppy, with a chuckle. "Old Carfew and I are——" He interrupted himself full of good tidings. "Old Zolomon thinks Tuppyville is a cinch—the company is as good as formed. Carfew, my lad, we're on a million to nothing!"
Mr. Zolomon, more coherent, was also more informative.
"You understand, Mr. Carfew," he said, "Lord Tupping has only anticipated a desire I have often expressed to found a new Ostend to the west of the great plage. He has a concession——"
"You never told me that," said Carfew reproachfully.
"Didn't give me time, dear old bird," said Tuppy. "Got a concession from a Johnny named—forget his beastly name—owner of land, and all that sort of thing—gave me the option on an enormous lump of sand."
"In fact," Mr. Zolomon, senior, broke in, "the thing is virtually accomplished. Now"—he laid a large and plump hand on Carfew's sensitive knee—"I bear no malice, Mr. Carfew, none whatever. You tried to get the better of me; I got away with it. I can't ask you to accept a commission on this transaction, because it is obvious you have had nothing to do with it, but what I will do"—he gripped Carfew impressively—"what I will do—I'll let you stand in in any way possible."
Carfew looked at him thoughtfully and then turned his eyes swiftly in the direction of Zolomon, junior.
In that brief second of time he caught a glint of excitement in the young man's eyes disproportionate to the matter at issue. Only for a second he saw it, and then the fire died down, and the eyes took on their usual dull and expressionless stare.
"We naturally want to create this new resort as cheaply as possible," old Mr. Zolomon went on, "though we are not short of money." He smiled. "I am betraying no secret when I tell you that here, in this place, not more than an hour ago, I called up ten men, each of whom has guaranteed a hundred thousand pounds for construction purposes."
Carfew nodded. Such things had been done before, but why should Tuppy have secured an option if it was worth anything? Was it possible for an ass like Tuppy to flounder into a fortune which patient schemers like Zolomon had worked steadily towards? The thought was revolting to a man of intelligence.
"Now," continued the older man—and his tone was friendly to a point of compassion—"if you have any line of business that can be helpful to us—why, I'll give you all the work you can do."
The thought leapt into Carfew's mind, and all his leisurely suspicions vanished in the contemplation of a new and magnificent opportunity.
What was it obsessed his mind at that moment?
Was it Gray's briquettes, unmoved and unworn by tread of foot or vagary of atmosphere? Gray's ferro-concrete drain-pipes, designed to last for eternity, and to carry off surplus drainage from a new and promising plage? Gray's asbestos fire-proof flooring, such as no high-class modern hotel can afford to dispense with?
It was none of these. Still——
"I am interested in a patent concrete concern," he said, with an effort to appear unconcerned.
Mr. Zolomon held up his large hand in delight.
"The very thing," he said. "You remember, Lord Tupping, I was saying——"
Tuppy nodded vigorously.
"By Jove, old Carfew, you're made! Old Zolomon was remarking just before you came in——"
"I was saying," said Mr. Zolomon, in his gravest manner, "concrete or nothing; ferro-concrete or nothing. If you can execute a fifty thousand pound order, Mr. Carfew—why, you can have it!"
Carfew said nothing.
Again he had intercepted the eager gleam in young Zolomon's eyes.
Carfew looked at Tuppy. That happy man was beaming largely on the world, doubtless already spending the big and immediate profit which would be his.
"I'll tell you what I'll do." It was Zolomon, senior, again. "I'll get an architect friend of mine to submit me a rough idea of the quantities we shall want, and you can send me an estimate in the morning."
Carfew thought. He thought, and he thought, did Carfew. He had never thought so rapidly or so profoundly in his life.
"I want to telephone," he said, and went out. He was away for about ten minutes.
"I am going to be frank with you," he said, when he returned. "I can arrange to carry out such a contract if I can borrow three thousand pounds. Will you lend me three thousand, taking the business as a security? I shall want the money for twelve months at six per cent."
Mr. Zolomon was a quicker thinker than Carfew.
"You have the remainder of the money?" he asked.
"You understand," said Mr. Zolomon, "I cannot absolutely guarantee yon shall have any order from me in respect to this scheme of Lord Tupping's. I say this as a business man, desiring only to take every precaution for my own protection."
"I understand that," said Carfew.
"You can have the money now," said Mr. Zolomon, and produced his cheque-book. Carfew took the oblong slip and wrote a receipt in his vile hand.
It was an agreement, sufficiently binding, to repay the sum within twelve months, together with interest at the rate of six per cent. per annum. It undertook, further, that the sum should constitute a first charge upon the assets of a business in which Carfew undertook the money should be invested.
"You would like the cheque open?" asked Mr. Zolomon.
Carfew nodded. He had an eye to the clock. It wanted ten minutes to four. At four o'clock precisely he issued from the Merchant Jobber's Bank with thirty notes, each of a hundred pounds value.
Two days later Messrs. Zolomon, senior and junior, came to Carfew's office. They were both perturbed, or so Carfew imagined, but he greeted them with a seraphic smile.
"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Mr. Zolomon, by no means grave.
"Of which?" asked the innocent Carfew.
"You have not purchased Gray's at all. You undertook to do so," stormed the other. "You shall return the three thousand pounds unless you complete the purchase to-day."
Carfew shook his head.
"Pardon me," he said gently, "you have made a slight mistake. I never intended purchasing Gray's at all."
"You see," explained Carfew, "when you and young Jasper Grittlewood—an admirable name—were appointed receivers for Gray's, and you looked round for what is known in the higher financial circles for a 'mug' to whom you could sell the old iron which constituted your assets, you did not realise that there were other cement properties in the market of greater promise—the Shamstone Company, for example. And when you sent old Tuppy prowling along the Belgian coast looking for a site for Tuppyville, you did not appreciate my extreme suspicion of Tuppy and his business qualities."
"Do you suggest," asked Mr. Zolomon, "that I have engaged in a conspiracy to rob myself of three thousand pounds!"
"I suggest," said Carfew carefully, "that you were engaged in a conspiracy with Jasper Grittlewood to rob me of thirty thousand pounds. If I paid for your poor old moth-eaten concrete works, you would have divided anything up to ten thousand pounds between you—you could afford to lend me three thousand pounds. You see," Carfew went on, "as soon as I tumbled to the business, I got on the 'phone to my broker to discover who the receivers were, and I found they were the Midland Commercial Trust. Then we discovered that the Midland Trust were Grittlewood and Zolomon. It was very clever."
"What have you done with my money?" roared Mr. Zolomon, pink with anger.
"Invested it," said Carfew, "in a business, as per agreement."
"What business?" demanded the other, in a choking voice.
"That," said Carfew conventionally but with truth, "is my business."
A further episode in the career of Carfew will appear in the next number.
Copyright, 1914, by Edgar Wallace, in the United States of America.