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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33


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Archimago took me, first thing next morning, to the owner of the shop that had been burned, as I have related. We found him talking to his son, a young man of twenty-two years of age.

"I come, Mr. Hinkster, to condole with you upon this inexplicable and unavoidable misfortune that has befallen you," said the wily Tenebrosa.

We had learned an hour before, that the fire had arisen from Mr. Hinkster having left a quantity of paper near the stove on leaving the shop, which had ignited there.

"Ah, but my dear friend, faith and prudence save us from much that the world esteems misfortune. I have been lecturing my son, here, on his sad ways. Last night he was engaged in that detestable and ungodly vice—gaming, and lost fifteen pounds. How different was it with me. My property was destroyed, and I have gained five hundred pounds."

"How is that?" enquired the Arch Dissembler.

"I insured that sum over and above the true value of my property."

Archimago looked strangely at the son, who seemed quickened by the glance, and sharply said to his father,—

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"Then that is not gaming, is it not? I see you only deplore my losing. If I had won, there would have been no wrong."

"Explain yourself," demanded the father.

"Why, the Insurance Company wagered you a hundred pounds to four and sixpence, that your property would not be burnt. You accepted the bet, and entered into a solemn agreement, called a policy, for the execution of the bet. You've won. That's all."

Mr. Hinkster waxed full of wrath at these words, and we left him in its full enjoyment, Archimago being in great glee at the rupture between parent and son.

"Is it not thus in all things?" he said, as we went towards Cheapside. "A man sells you goods for twenty pounds, which cost him fifteen; takes your bill, or gives you credit for three months. In other words, he wagers fifteen to twenty that you will pay him for your interest's sake. The seller often loses. He prefers, in a general way, to wager fifteen to sixteen for cash on delivery; and even that is a risk."

"Then what about Shares—Government Securities?"

"Yes, what about them?—" replied the Spirit, with a pregnant interrogation. Then breaking off, he continued, "Now, see where the fire has been. Survey the spot. A contractor is employed to restore the premises. A score of agents are here to supply a new stock of goods. A score of principals are here to purchase the fragments that are saved, which they will afterwards publicly proclaim that they sell at an enormous sacrifice, and as such will sell more goods than ever that shop would hold. As for the Insurance Company, who pay for all, they rejoice at it as a great gain. page 82 They will settle for the whole without loss of time, publish the fact in the newspapers and in their own circulars. They will thus double the number of their insurers; for who does not love cash prompt. You see now that the Providence of our friend—which is Mammon, you would notice—is not sleeping here."

I now thought of the prime object of my life, and took Archimago to the usual news-room. What I had seen, led me to refer to another class of advertisement; and I could not help sighing when I saw the many good investments advertised, and remembered the money I had lost. I spoke freely to my crafty Director, who said—

"We shall investigate what these bagatelles are about. Which would have suited you best?"

I selected the following :—

"Partnership.—Wanted, an Active or Sleeping Partner, with £200, in a first-class, old established, general business, capable of great extension. Apply to X. M.,———Street, E.C."

We went to enquire, and met a crafty-looking, dark, hook-nosed man, Mr. Turntwist, who said that the coming partner must pay cash down, and sleep for three months, when he would be admitted to the business.

"Exactly so," cried I, articulating without the effort of the will, "and when that time is up you will show a beggarly scheme, and pocket his money."

The man turned livid as a lily with rage, deeming not that he spoke to one inspired by the Spirit that was the master of his own.

As we retired, Tenebrosa remarked—

"You are correct in this instance. Your money would be little better in that investment than with page 83 your late lamented Friend, who wants an epitaph, although he had all the virtues of a millionaire.—"

"But all are not of this description," I said.

"Yes, they all would he so to you, my confident and innocent young man. For does not every man spread his net by his advertisement, and the finer the threads he is able to weave the more fish he catches : after that, it depends on his strength to bring them ashore. The matter at issue is, whether you cannot catch the man in his own net."

"How do you mean?" I enquired.

"Why, look you, this is the counterpart to the advertisement we have just seen."

Out of his pocket, he produced a scrap of paper, dirty, crumpled and worn, and read from it as follows :—

"Partnership.—A Partner wanted in a well-established and highly-lucrative business. Capital required, from £2,000 to £3,000, to purchase the good will of an old-established firm retiring. Address———. Principals only need apply."

"The net there caught the inventor. That same man, Mr. Turntwist, appeared as an applicant with £3,000 in ready money, for which a lawyer and three other persons vouched. He would not, however, pay the money for six months, so that he might be fairly introduced into the business, as he said. Before that time he made himself appear as one of the firm, and collected monies to the extent of many hundreds of golden pieces. He was very sharp indeed. He bound not himself by the law, but took care in his proceedings that the law should not bind him; nor did he make restitution."