+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


THE great Foncier Capital Company was a
financial society of great power and influence,
and had been in existence a sufficient time to
acquire the respectability of age. It was willing
to deal in all sorts of securitieslands, houses,
rents, mortgages, bills; its principle was simply
to furnish money on any security that was worth
money. But what took it out of common
associations was its grandeur, for everything about
it was gigantic.

Some five years before, a number of enterprising
Scotch and English gentlemenMoney
Merchants, as they might be calledhad started
the United General Foncier Credit Company,
under the fairest auspices. Its capital was so
much, paid up, which was one of the auspices;
its secretary, a busy, daring, eager man, who
was to the bank what a good traveller is to
a manufacturer, was another; and Mr. Bowater,
M.P., chairman, and who brought connexion
and nobility into the concern, was another. It
flourished. It had first rented the premises of
a defunct insurance office in the City, which it cut
up and "underpinned" in the usual way, to suit
its own requirements. But soon Jenkinson, the
famous semi-mediæval and fancifully Byzantine
architect, was called in (a gentleman known to his
friends as "Middle-age Jenkinson"), and under
his direction the old insurance office was
removed, and a splendid tabernacle of
particoloured bricks, with an enormous deal of
carving, so that acorns, foliage, mediæval
monkeys and foxes totting up accounts at
ledgers, and other humorous and appropriate
conceits, seemed literally to overrun the house
from top to bottom, to say nothing of the gilded
railings and iron lace-work that edged
everything that could be edged. The windows were
so thoroughly Byzantine, and so much room
was required for the carved clerks at the ledgers
outside, that there was very little light for the
living clerks inside; and Middle-age Jenkinson's
splendid coronas and blue and gold gas-jets
had to be lit whenever the sun was not shining
out strongly. But this was a small drawback,
for the Byzantine edifice drew customers, and
Mr. Bowater, M.P., often showed an influential
customer the carved monkeys totting up the
accounts; and the influential customer brought
other friends to see this bit of art.

"It's allegorical, you know! Look at Amiens
and Rouen, you know! That was the real way !
Cost a mint of money! But, egad, sir, I wish
you or I had a share or two in itan original one!
There's Bowater, and Tillotson, and Midgely,
and two or three more, they keep it all among
themselves. Knowing fellows, those!"

On the lower floor was the bank, which ran
back in acres of counters and little frosted glass
partitions, behind which were glimpses of El
Dorado drawers, laid out with coin and what
seemed whole cushions of notes. It was a
charming perspective, and these golden passages,
paved with glittering tiles, were always crowded;
for the bank was doing good business, and
paying fifteen per cent.

Up-stairs,on the next story, were board-rooms,
where the directors assembled, and where Mr.
Samuel Bowater, M.P., sat in a green morocco
arm-chair, and looked at bills through a golden
eye-glass, and said, "I think we may take this,
Mr. Smiles, eh? Pretty safe here, Mr. Smiles."
And then, transferring the golden glass to his
nose, with the black ribbon trailing over his
cheek like a snake, the chairman would sign the
paper; not, of course, the mere vulgar tradesmen's
notes-of-hand, which were arranged below,
but gentlemen's securitiesgentlemen who
wanted five and ten thousand pounds.

"So you think St. Alans will do, Tillotson?"
said the chairman. " Very well. And who should
we send down to work the thingSmiles?
What do you say to Smiles? He is such a
business man. He has a wonderful headsuch
a long head. He will draw all the silver out of
every corner in the place. He cares for nothing
but business; lives, eats, and drinks, and sleeps
businessha! ha! I know Smiles."

Knowing Smiles so well, and, besides, being
chairman, he had no difficulty in naming that
officer to the post.

"A very fair list of local directors," continued
Mr. Bowater, tapping the paper with his golden
glass. " Some good names here. Tilnye alone
would carry us through. One of the best old
country families. My friend, Lord Oxberry,