Anyhow it was my innings that time, and I don't ever wish to feel better pleased. The screw was a pound a week rise, and the duties just about the same as at Coxon's.
And now I come to the queer part of the business. I was in diggings out Hampstead way, 17 Potter's Terrace. Well, I was sitting doing a smoke that very evening after I had been promised the appointment, when up came my landlady with a card which had "Arthur Pinner, Financial Agent," printed upon it. I had never heard the name before and could not imagine what he wanted with me; but, of course, I asked her to show him up. In he walked, a middle-sized, dark- haired, dark-eyed, black-bearded man, with a touch of the Sheeny about his nose. He had a brisk kind of way with him and spoke sharply, like a man who knew the value of time.
"Mr. Hall Pycroft, I believe?" said he.
"Yes, sir," I answered, pushing a chair towards him.
"Lately engaged at Coxon & Woodhouse's?"
"And now on the staff of Mawson's."
"Well," said he, "the fact is that I have heard some really extraordinary stories about your financial ability. You remember Parker, who used to be Coxon's manager? He can never say enough about it."
Of course I was pleased to hear this. I had always been pretty sharp in the office, but I had never dreamed that I was talked about in the City in this fashion.
"You have a good memory?" said he.
"Pretty fair," I answered, modestly.
"Have you kept in touch with the market while you have been out of work?" he asked.
"Yes. I read the stock exchange list every morning."
"Now that shows real application!" he cried. "That is the way to prosper! You won't mind my testing you, will you? Let me see. How are Ayrshires?"
"A hundred and six and a quarter to a hundred and five and seven-eighths."
"And New Zealand consolidated?"
"A hundred and four."
"And British Broken Hills?"
"Seven to seven-and-six."
"Wonderful!" he cried, with his hands up. "This quite fits in with all that I had heard. My boy, my boy, you are very much too good to be a clerk at Mawson's!"
This outburst rather astonished me, as you can think. "Well," said I, "other people don't think quite so much of me as you seem to do, Mr. Pinner. I had a hard enough fight to get this berth, and I am very glad to have it."
"Pooh, man; you should soar above it. You are not in your true sphere. Now, I'll tell you how it stands with me. What I have to offer is little enough when measured by your ability, but when compared with Mawson's, it's light to dark. Let me see. When do you go to Mawson's?"
"Ha, ha! I think I would risk a little sporting flutter that you don't go there at all."
"Not go to Mawson's?"
"No, sir. By that day you will be the business manager of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, with a hundred and thirty-four branches in the towns and villages of France, not counting one in Brussels and one in San Remo."
This took my breath away. "I never heard of it," said I.
"Very likely not. It has been kept very quiet, for the capital was all privately subscribed, and it's too good a thing to let the public into. My brother, Harry Pinner, is promoter, and joins the board after allotment as managing director. He knew I was in the swim down here, and asked me to pick up a good man cheap. A young, pushing man with plenty of snap about him. Parker spoke of you, and that brought me here tonight. We can only offer you a beggarly five hundred to start with."
"Five hundred a year!" I shouted.
"Only that at the beginning; but you are to have an overriding commission of one per cent on all business done by your agents, and you may take my word for it that this will come to more than your salary."
"But I know nothing about hardware."
"Tut, my boy; you know about figures."
My head buzzed, and I could hardly sit still in my chair. But suddenly a little chill of doubt came upon me.
"I must be frank with you," said I.