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BUSINESS AS USUAL.
"Business as usual!" said Mr Pamphlett heartily to his clerk Mr Hendy, as he let himself in at 9.40 by the side door of the Bank. Mr Hendy lived on the premises, which his wife served as caretaker, with a "help" to do the scrubbing.
Mr Hendy, always punctual, stood ready in the passage, awaiting his master. He received Mr Pamphlett's top-hat and walking-stick, helped him off with his black frock-coat, helped him on with the light alpaca jacket in which during the hot weather Mr Pamphlett combined banking with comfort.
"Business as usual!" said Mr Pamphlett, slipping into the alpaca. "That's the motto. Old England's sound, Hendy!"
"Yes, sir: leastways, I hope so."
"Sound as a bell. It's money will put us through this, Hendy, as it always has. We mayn't wear uniforms"--Mr Pamphlett smoothed down the alpaca over his stomach--"but we're the real sinews of this War."
Mr Hendy--a slight middle-aged man, with fluffy straw-coloured hair which he grew long above his ears, to compensate for the baldness of his cranium--answered that he was glad Mr Pamphlett took it in so hearty a fashion, but for his part, if it wasn't for the Missus, he was dying to enlist and have a slap at the Germans. Mr Pamphlett laughed and entered his private office. Here every morning he dealt with his correspondence; while Hendy, in the main room of the Bank, unlocked the safe, fetched out the ready cash and the ledgers, and generally made preparations before opening the door for business on the stroke of ten.
Five or six letters awaited Mr Pamphlett. One he recognised by envelope and handwriting as a missive from headquarters: and he opened it first, wondering a little, pausing, as he broke the seal, to examine the post-marks. "Yesterday had been Bank Holiday. . . . But, to be sure, in these times the Head Office would very likely be neglecting Bank Holidays, the clerks working at high pressure. . . ."
But no: the London post-mark bore date "Aug. 1." The letter had been received and delivered at Polpier on the 2nd, and had been lying in the bank letter-box for two whole days. He broke the seal in some trepidation: for he had spent the last sixty hours or so of national emergency on a visit with Mrs Pamphlett to her brother-in-law, a well-to-do farmer, who dwelt some twelve miles inland. Here Mr Pamphlett, after punctual and ample meals, had gently stimulated digestion with hot brandy-and-water (which never comes amiss, even in August, if you happen to be connected with farming and have duly kept the Sabbath), and had sat with one leg crossed over the other, exchanging--rather by his composed bearing than in actual words-- confidence in Britain's financial stability against confidence in her agriculture. His presence had somewhat eased a trying situation at Lawhilly Farm, where his young fool of a nephew--an only son, too-- fired by the war, had gone so far as to distress his parents with talk of enlisting.
"Business as usual!" had been Mr Pamphlett's advice to the young man. "There was, for a day or two--I won't deny it--a certain--er-- tendency to what I may call nervousness in the City. Can we wonder at it, holding as we do so many--er--threads?" Mr Pamphlett held up his two hands, and spread them as though they contained a skein of wool to be unwound. "But the Chancellor of the Exchequer took steps. Opposed as I am in a general way to the present Government, I am free to admit that, at this juncture, the Chancellor of the Exchequer realised his responsibilities and--er--took steps. Markets may--er-- fluctuate for some weeks to come--may, as I would put it, exhibit a certain amount of--er--unsteadiness. But we shall tide that over, easily--as I am advised, quite easily. Great Britain's credit is solid; that's the word, solid: and if that--er--solidarity holds true of our monetary system with"--here Mr Pamphlett expanded and contracted his fingers as if gathering gossamers--"its delicate and far-reaching complexities. . . That was an excellent duck, James," said he, turning to his brother-in-law. "I don't remember when I've tasted a better."
"Maria believes in basting, I thank God," said his brother-in-law, Farmer Pearce acknowledging the compliment. "'Tis a more enterprisin' life you lead by the sea, if your business calls you that way. You pick up more money--which is everything in these days--and you see the ships and yachts going to and fro, and so forth. But you can't breed ducks for table. Once they get nigh to tidal water, though it be but to the head of a creek, the flesh turns fishy, and you can't prevent it. We must set it down to Natur', I suppose. But inland ducks for me!"
"Maria has a great gift with the stuffing, too. . . . You're spoilt, Ebenezer--and so too is Obed here--up in this fat of the land, though you don't know it. Eh?" said Mr Pamphlett sharply as his nephew Obed, who had been sitting by and listening sulkily, made an impatient movement,--"But as I was going on to say, if we, that hold (as I may put it) the threads of commerce in these times, believe in sitting solid, why surely the same applies--only more so--to agriculture."
"Which is the backbone of Old England," interposed Farmer Pearce, "an' always has been."
"There's two ends to most backbones," put in young Obed, who had been tracing patterns with his fingers on the surface of the mahogany table. "And I don't pretend to have the cleverer one. But I don't want the other to be kicked into doin' summat; which is what'll happen to us farmin' chaps if we don't start enlistin'."
"The aggericultural community," persisted his father, who had picked up that resonant term at meetings of the Farmers' Union, "is, an' always has been, the backbone of England."
"Then 'tis time we showed it, in the Yeomanry."
"I wish you'd hold your tongue on that word; when you know your mother never hears it spoke but she wakes me up at night with the palpitations. . . . We be showin' it, I tell 'ee. We be doin' something for our country in this here crisis. Why, didn' Squire Tresawna ride over but yesterday an' commandeer Tory an' Pleasant?-- that's my two best waggon-hosses," the farmer explained to his brother-in-law. "An' didn' he say as most likely he'd be over again, inside a fortni't, after light draught hosses for the Artillery? I don't murmur, for my part. We must all be prepared to make sacrifices in these times. But all I say is, you can't pick up draught hosses--light or heavy--off a greengrocer, nor yet off a bird-fancier; an' the man who says you can, I'll tell him to his face he's no better than a liar," concluded Farmer Pearce, suddenly growing crimson in the face, and smiting the table with unnecessary heat.
"If the hosses be goin', why should the men linger?" young Obed urged. "An' I don't see what you sacrificed either, over Tory an' Pleasant; for you told me yourself the Squire gave a very fair price for 'em."
"Well, an' I should hope so! You don't reckon as I was goin' to make Government a present of 'em, do 'ee?--a man rated up to the ears, as I be!" Here he glanced nervously at his brother-in-law, who (as a town-dweller) held the monstrous belief that farmers enjoyed their share, and even a little more, of relief from rating, and had more than once shown argumentative fight on this subject in the piping times of peace. But Mr Pamphlett tactfully ignored the challenge.
"Listen to me, Obed," he put in. "By what I hear from London, as well as what I read in the papers, the most serious question before this country just now is to maintain--or, as I might put it, to keep up--an adequate supply of foodstuffs. To which end," pursued Mr Pamphlett, in the weighty periods of the "leading article" from which he had gathered this information, "it appears to us--I mean, to me-- that our agricultural friends would be well advised, at this juncture, in considering the advisability, as well as the feasibility, of restoring a quantity of their pasture-land to an arable condition, and cultivating it as such. The Board of Agriculture, it is understood, will shortly issue a circular--er--on these lines. Now you cannot effect the change thus indicated without labour--"
"That there Board of Agriculture," put in the farmer, "is always settin' up to know us farmers' business better than we d'know it ourselves. Grow wheat--must we? All very well, an' for my country's good I'm willin' enough, provided it can be done at a profit. Will Government guarantee that? . . . No, brother Pamphlett: what you say about your callin', I says about mine. 'Business as usual'-- that's my word: an' let Obed here be a good son to his mother an' bide at home, defyin' all the Germans in Christendom."
Mr Pamphlett, then, had spent his week-end in rural comfort, and with the consciousness of being useful--a steadying influence in a household threatened by youthful restlessness, which (Heaven knew) might so easily turn to recklessness. His wife, too, was devotedly attached to her sister, whose heart had always been liable to palpitations. But he realised at sight of the letter, which had been lying so long in the box, that a phrase is not everything: that "business as usual," while it might serve as a charm or formula against panic in the market-place, and even sustain in private many a doubting soul accustomed to take things on trust, was an incantation something less than adequate to calm the City of London, or the Bank directors and their confidential clerks, who maybe had been working in a frenzy through Sunday and Bank Holiday in their closed offices at headquarters. For a moment Mr Pamphlett realised this, and it gave him a scare. In the act of opening the letter he cast his eyes around on the chance that a telegram had followed the letter, demanding to know the cause that took him from his post at this crisis. But there was no telegram. The envelope held two enclosures. He scanned them hurriedly: the blood came back to his face, and he was a man again.
The first enclosure merely acknowledged, in conventional words, the receipt of certain returns posted by him last Friday. The second ran--
New Bank Premises: Polpier Branch.
With reference to the above, the Board has had under consideration your letter of the 23rd ult.; and directs me to say that, in the present unsettled situation abroad, and the consequent need of strict watchfulness over capital expenditure (however small), it may be wise to defer the issuing of tenders, as suggested by you, until further notice. The Board has, in its confidence, entrusted you with almost complete discretion in this matter; and possibly you may find it difficult, at this juncture, to delay matters as suggested. If so, please advise.--
Walter P. Schmidt,
So that was all right! It might defer building operations, but it need not defer his dealing with Nanjivell, his own tenant, who paid nothing. He could turn Nanjivell out, and then--well, whenever the Bank chose to start building, the Directors (having gone so far) would no doubt consider the length of time the premises had been standing idle.
His brow cleared. He opened the next letter, with the handwriting of which he was familiar enough. One Retallack, a speculative builder, suggested a small increase on his overdraft, offering security. This would not do, in War time. Mr Pamphlett dealt with it at once--
You are doubtless aware that the outbreak of a European War compels the Banking Houses to look jealously after all advances, or extensions of credit, even the smallest.
It is not so much a question of declining this new request on your part as of reconsidering very carefully the present position of your account. I will satisfy myself concerning this and advise you without delay.--I am, dear sir, yours faithfully,
"Business as usual"--Mr Pamphlett repeated it many times to himself as he went through the rest of his correspondence. His spirit--in revulsion after his brief scare--soared almost to gaiety. He walked into the main room of the Bank as Hendy started to pull the door-bolts.
"We don't open for business to-day, Hendy."
Hendy had shown himself flatly incapable of understanding the Moratorium; what it was or how it worked. Mr Pamphlett, for his part, was uncertain about the details. But he explained them to Hendy.
Then he returned to his private office, pausing by the rack in the passage to draw from the tail pocket of his frock-coat there a folded copy of The Western Morning News. There was something furtive in his action: he would have started guiltily had he been surprised in it, even by the meek Hendy.
Business--well, business could not be altogether as usual in these times. As a rule Mr Pamphlett read his paper through, before and during breakfast, and left it at home for Mrs Pamphlett to scan the births, deaths, and marriages, the "wanteds," the Court Circular, and any report there might happen to be of a colliery explosion (she specialised in colliery explosions: they appealed to her as combining violent death with darkness) before interviewing the cook. But to-day, with all Europe in the melting-pot--so to speak--Mr Pamphlett had broken his rule. He craved to know the exact speed at which Russia was "steam-rolling." There was a map in the paper, and it might repay study.
Before studying the map his eye fell on a paragraph headed "Rise in Prices." He paused and spent some time over this.
He was still conning it when the door opened, and Hendy appeared. Mr Pamphlett muttered "Consols," and refolded the newspaper hastily.
"Nanjivell is here to see you, sir: at the side door. 'Says he must speak to you in private."
"Oh . . . confound Nanjivell! I've had enough of that man. . . . Very well; but tell him I can't spare a moment over five minutes."
Hendy ushered in Nicky-Nan, who hobbled forward to the table, hat in hand.
"Good-morning, Nanjivell!" said Mr Pamphlett.
"Another plea, I suppose?--when you had my word on Saturday that I'd done with you."
"Then what is it? . . . For I hardly suppose 'tis to pay up--rent and arrears."
"One--two--three--four--five--six--seven!" Nicky-Nan dived in his pocket for the fistful of coins, picked them out carefully, and laid them one by one on the table. "I'll take the change an' a receipt, if you please."
"How came you by this money?" asked the Bank Manager, after a pause, staring at the gold.
"What the hell is that to you?" demanded Nicky-Nan.
For a moment Mr Pamphlett made no reply. Then he leaned forward and picked up one of the coins.
"I asked," he said, "because one of these happens to be a guinea-piece--a spade guinea, and scarcely worn at all."
"'Tis as good as a sovereign's worth, hey?"
"Certainly: worth more in fact."
"I'll trust 'ee for the difference then," said Nicky-Nan. "As for how I came by it, I came by it honest, an' that's enough. A man o' my family may have a bit o' hoard put by--by his forefathers."
"I see," said Mr Pamphlett thoughtfully. "Hendy shall make out the receipt. But this doesn't include costs of the ejectment order, you know."
"I'll bring 'em to-morrow, if you'll let me know the amount."
"Hendy shall give you a note of it. . . No--to be fair, the ejectment order still stands against you. I have power to turn you out to-morrow."
"But you won't!"
"If you use that tone with me, my man, I certainly will. If you take your receipt and clear out, I may relent so far as to give you a short grace."
When Nicky-Nan had taken his leave, Mr Pamphlett picked up the spade guinea and considered it curiously. It had a beautifully sharp impression, and might have been minted yesterday. He thought it would go very well on his watch-chain.
Then he opened the paper again, sought out the paragraph headed "Rise in Prices," and read it through, pausing now and again to pencil a note or two on the back of an envelope.
On his way homeward in the dinner-hour he called at Mrs Pengelly's shop and gave that good woman an order for groceries. The size of it almost caused her to faint. It ran into double figures in pounds sterling.
"Business as usual!" repeated Mr Pamphlett to himself complacently, as he pursued his way up the hill.
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