« ZurückWeiter »
parts of the world-Bombay, Paris, Constantinople, and Monte Video. All this made me believe that I was about to be connected with a man in a very large way of business, and to rejoice, as well as wonder, at the good luck which had brought me, a man without a penny, to jump into a partnership with a firm that was doing so well.
Mr. Single told me that I was fully at liberty to inspect any and all the ledgers, day-books, bankers' books, and other documents in the office. "To you," he said, "I will make no secret of this fact, that I commenced without a farthing of capital, and that I have worked myself into a business which has so increased that I must take a partner. I wanted to find a gentleman who could speak French, and as you can do this, I think you will suit nie very well. I must tell you, that although I have a great deal of money floating on bills, I have but a very small balance at my bankers. In fact, I question whether besides the proceeds of bills that have been discounted, I could really call £300 my own, but I hope we shall get on better. At present, I have obtained from Mexico a contract to provide the army of the Republicans with a hundred thousand breech-loaders. My commission on this will be a matter of £5000 to £6000, and it will be paid, as will the invoice for the arms, on their being shipped here in London. But the difficulty is to obtain money enough to pay the Birmingham manufacturers, who not only will not give up the goods without the countervalue being paid them, but won't even commence upon the orders without a certain amount being paid them in advance. I propose ordering and shipping three thousand of these arms at a time, but to do this I must be provided with £6000 in hard cash, and your first piece of business shall be to provide me with these funds."
"I provide you with funds, my dear sir!" I exclaimed, "why, if you sold me into slavery, and gave all my future expectations to make up the balance, I could not raise six thousand pence, let alone six thousand pounds!"
"Yes, you can," said Single, "if you only know how, which I will teach you. Start for Lyons to-morrow; I will procure you letters of introduction to some of the best silk manufacturers there. When you go amongst these gentlemen, give out that you have come over to purchase a quantity of silks for the New York market, and that your instructions are to draw at three and six months upon the firm of Single and Co., of Maston Lane, London, whose references are the United Credit Bank of London, and Messrs. Smalldust, Watson, and Grednell, General Merchants, of Seer Street, London. These manu
facturers will at once write to both references, and the reply from each will be most favourable. The United Credit Bank believes me to be commission-agent of great respectability, and before the reference is made to them, I shall take care to have a balance of £20,000 in their hands, by discounting some duffing' bills which I will get Smalldust's firm to accept for me, by depositing in their hands the warrants of a lot of pig-iron which I bought with my own acceptances. Of course the bank will then give a favourable answer to the inquiries of the Lyons people, and Smalldust, Watson, and Grednell will be certain to do the same, for they are 'in' with me to a considerable amount. As soon, therefore, as these replies get to Lyons, you will be able to purchase all the silk in the place, and pay for it by bills which I will accept. But don't buy too much. Take about £8000 or £9000 worth, have it sent over at once to London, and when here we will sell it for cash, and then go to the Birmingham people with ready money in our hands and get the arms for the Mexicans at a figure which will leave us a very considerable margin for profit."
"But," said I, not being yet well up to the intricacies of trade and business, "what about the £8000 or £9000 for which I shall have drawn upon you at Lyons; will you be able to meet the bills when due ?"
"My dear sir, will the supply of bill-stamps, or of pen and ink, fail us?" was the reply. "How have I paid away hundreds of bills, and hundreds of thousands of pounds? Look at my ledgers, and you will find that during the three years I have been in business some £600,000 has passed through my hands-in bills. How have I paid them? I pay one bill by discounting another. Moreover, long before the Lyons bills become due, we shall have shipped the arms for the Mexicans, received the money, with a portion of it paid off the Lyons bills, and be able to recommence a like operation on the same plan again. Don't you begin to see how beautifully the wheels within wheels of that great machine called commerce work ?"
To hear was to obey. The very next day, armed with some good letters of introduction to Lyons, I started on my journey. Arrived there I began to purchase large quantities of fancy silks for the New York market, making it part of the bargain that I was to draw upon Messrs. Single and Co., Merchants and Commission-Agents of Maston Lane, London, and giving as references for the said firm the United Credit Bank of London, and Messrs. Smalldust, Watson, and Grednell, General Merchants, of Seer Street. As a matter of course replies were quickly had that the firm of Single and Co. was of the highest
respectability. In France, discounting bills is so much easier than in England, that the bills I gave were considered as good as cash. In a week I was back in London, the silk sold, and Mr. Single on his way to Birmingham to give the order for the arms, and pay the deposit to the manufacturer. In less than two months the breech-loaders were shipped, the money paid us for them, the bills we had drawn at Lyons duly met, and thereby another opening made into which, as Single remarked with a cheerful smile, we might any day shove a ten or fifteen thousand pounder of bills, if pressed for money.
There was one occasion-although I did not know it until the danger was over-on which we were nearer than ever coming to trouble, and that of a far more serious character than had ever happened to us before. We were one day in great need of £5000, in order to carry out a contract we had entered into for supplying coal. Although there was no actual panic in the money-market at the time, discount of any save the very best paper was very hard to get done. After a long consultation as to what we had best do, my partner said that he had received, some days before, the acceptance of a celebrated Leghorn house, in payment of an old debt for £6100, owed him by a third party before I joined the house. He showed me the bills, and they appeared to be all right, in sets of £500 and £600 each. They were, to all appearance, drawn by a house in Boston upon another in Genoa, there accepted by a well-known firm, and made payable at our office, which, I need hardly say, was a rather unusual proceeding-the custom invariably being to make mercantile bills payable at a bank. They were endorsed by two or three illegible names of foreign firms, and to me they certainly appeared quite correct, and en règle, as the French say. I remarked to Single at the time, that it was a curious custom to make bills payable at a firm with which the acceptors had never had any dealings; but my partner mumbled something about queer habits of foreigners, and walked off the bills to the bank, whence he returned in due time, saying he had discounted them. Three months later, when looking over our "BILLS PAYABLE" book, I observed that these acceptances would fall due in a few days, and asked him whether he had not better write to the firm at Genoa, and warn them to provide for their bills. As I always wrote the foreign letters, I should have had to advise the house at Genoa of these bills, as a matter of course. To my surprise, Single told me not to write the letter at all, as he had already provided for them, and would draw upon the house at Genoa for the countervalue, at three days' sight. It being my partner's
business to attend to the bill and banking department of the firm, and it being part of my compact to obey all orders of my senior, I said nothing whatever, but merely thought Single was doing business in a somewhat unbusiness-like manner. A day or two later the affair was explained, although certainly not altogether to my satisfaction. After his usual daily visit to the bank, Single came into the office with these bills in his hand, having taken them up at our bankers.
"Now," said he, "I'll let you into a little secret. I was very glad to get these bills back into my own hands, for I tell you the truth they were written by the wrong man."
"What do you mean?" said I, for I did not, all at once, catch the meaning of his words.
They were written," he repeated, "by the wrong man, and if we had not taken them up, we should have got into trouble about them. I drew, and accepted, and endorsed these bills from first to last. I was very hard pushed at the time, and so I went to work one evening at home, and fabricated them."
"Do you mean to say," I exclaimed, "that they were forgeries ?" "That," said he, "is rather an ugly word, but they were something in that line. However," continued he, as he tore them up and threw them into the fire, "there's an end of them now at any rate."
I made Single give me a solemn promise not only that he never would again offend in like way, but also that he would always let me see, at all times and under all circumstances, every letter having references to cash or bill transactions, no matter what they might be.
Taken one with another, all these various affairs were extremely profitable to us; so much so that, although by our deed of partnership I was only to receive a third of the net profits of the firm for the first two years, I found myself, at the end of six months, entitled to rather more than £400, being at the rate of £800 per annum, and the second six months produced nearly a third more; so that the commission of twenty per cent. which I had to pay Carskin, for the introduction to Mr. Single, served to fill in a very respectable cheque. After some eighteen months' work in London, the time arrived when we both felt that it was wise as well as prudent to enlarge our business, which we did in the following manner.
By this time I had become a thorough proficient in the art of money-making, or rather of buying and selling goods at a profit, without the aid of money, and of manipulating bills in such a way that they must turn to our profit. But we could not with one firm, or rather
with a firm that had no branches, be always sure of having the means at hand of getting money as we required it. Discounting bills in London had become more difficult than formerly, and moreover we were anxions to do more in the way of bona fide imports and exports, and less in financial business than we had hitherto. Our plan, therefore, was to establish a branch firm at Rotterdam, and one at Marseilles: of the latter I was to be the head-partner; at the former we placed for the moment a well-paid, trustworthy clerk, who had merely to attend to and obey all orders he received from Mr. Single, the head of our London house. This last firm continued, as before, to be called Messrs. Single, Mosman, and Co. The Marseilles house bore the denomination of Mosman and Co.; whilst the Rotterdam firm was called Single and Co. The chief care of these different firms was to have houses which could draw upon one another whenever they were in want of money. Thus, suppose that Messrs. Single, Mosman, and Co., of London, stood in need of funds, say £4000, their mode of procedure was very simple: they would draw upon Messrs. Mosman and Co., of Marseilles, at three months' date, for 100,000 francs, and being known in the City as the correspondents of that firm, would not find the smallest difficulty in selling their bills. The latter documents, when presented for acceptance, would, of course be duly honoured, and as the time drew near for their being paid, Messrs. Mosman and Co., of Marseilles, would draw upon their Rotterdam correspondents, Messrs. Single and Co., who in the same way accepted the bills; and if they were in want of funds, when the bills came to maturity, they would in their turn draw upon London. Thus, this triangular drawing of bills could be carried on almost indefinitely, and this with hardly any help necessary from discount houses, bankers, or any other description of money agents. The only partners in the three firms were Single and myself, and as we were really but one firm, had but one interest; and if one of us had fallen, the other must have come down also. This process of getting money was, in point of fact, like a man obtaining coin upon his own single signature; but like many other shams in the commercial world, as our business passed off as genuine and legitimate trading, people being firmly convinced that the two firms abroad, although offshoots from the London house, were quite distinct and independent of each other as to their capital.
Very few years of this work began to tell materially upon our profits and prospects. We now began to have a real substantial capital, and as we increased that fund our caution in trade became greater, and we