“I did as he asked. and he put the paper in his pocket.
” ‘There is one other detail,’ said he. ‘What do you intend to do about Mawson’s?’
“I had forgotten all about Mawson’s in my joy. ‘I’ll write and resign,’ said I.
” ‘Precisely what I don’t want you to do. I had a row over you with Mawson’s manager. I had gone up to ask him about you, and he was very offensive; accused me of coaxing you away from the service of the firm, and that sort of thing. At last I fairly lost my temper. “If you want good men you should pay them a good price,” said I.
” ‘ “He would rather have our small price than your big one,” said he.
” ‘ “I’ll lay you a fiver,” said I, “that when he has my offer you’ll never so much as hear from him again.”
” ‘ “Done!” said he. “We picked him out of the gutter, and he won’t leave us so easily.” Those were his very words.’
” ‘The impudent scoundrel!’ I cried. ‘I’ve never so much as seen him in my life. Why should I consider him in any way? I shall certainly not write if you would rather I didn’t.’
” ‘Good! That’s a promise,’ said he, rising from his chair. ‘Well, I’m delighted to have got so good a man for my brother. Here’s your advance of a hundred pounds, and here is the letter. Make a note of the address. 126B Corporation Street, and remember that one o’clock to-morrow is your appointment. Goodnight, and may you have all the fortune that you deserve!’
“That’s just about all that passed between us, as near as I can remember. You can imagine, Dr. Watson, how pleased I was at such an extraordinary bit of good fortune. I sat up half the night hugging myself over it, and next day I was off to Birmingham in a train that would take me in plenty time for my appointment. I took my things to a hotel in New Street, and then I made my way to the address which had been given me.
“It was a quarter of an hour before my time, but I thought that would makc no difference. 126B was a passage between two large shops, which led to a winding stone stair, from which there were many flats, let as offices to companies or professional men. The names of the occupants were painted at the bottom on the wall, but there was no such name as the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited. I stood for a few minutes with my heart in my boots, wondering whether the whole thing was an elaborate hoax or not, when up came a man and addressed me. He was very like the chap I had seen the night before, the same figure and voice, but he was clean-shaven and his hair was lighter.
” ‘Are you Mr. Hall Pycroft?’ he asked.
” ‘Yes,’ said I.
” ‘Oh! I was expecting you, but you are a trifle before your time. I had a note from my brother this morning in which he sang your praises very loudly.’
” ‘I was just looking for the offices when you came.’
” ‘We have not got our name up yet, for we only secured these temporary premises last week. Come up with me, and we will talk the matter over.’
“I followed him to the top of a very lofty stair, and there, right under the slates, were a couple of empty, dusty little rooms, uncarpeted and uncurtained, into which he led me. I had thought of a great office with shining tables and rows of clerks, such as I was used to, and I daresay I stared rather straight at the two deal chairs and one little table, which with a ledger and a waste-paper basket, made up the whole furniture.
” ‘Don’t be disheartened, Mr. Pycroft,’ said my new acquaintance, seeing the length of my face. ‘Rome was not built in a day, and we have lots of money at our backs, though we don’t cut much dash yet in offices. Pray sit down, and let me have your letter.’
“I gave it to him, and he read it over very carefully.
” ‘You seem to have made a vast impression upon my brother Arthur,’ said he, ‘and I know that he is a pretty shrewd judge. He swears by London, you know; and I by Birmingham; but this time I shall follow his advice. Pray consider yourself definitely engaged.’
” ‘What are my duties?’ I asked.
” ‘You will eventually manage the great depot in Paris, which will pour a flood of English crockery into the shops of a hundred and thirty-four agents in France. The purchase will be completed in a week, and meanwhile you will remain in Birmingham and make yourself useful.’
“For answer, he took a big red book out of a drawer.
” ‘This is a directory of Paris,’ said he, ‘with the trades after the names of the people. I want you to take it home with you and to mark off all the hardware-sellers, with their addresses. It would be of the greatest use to me to have them.’
” ‘Surely, there are classified lists?’ I suggested.
” ‘Not reliable ones. Their system is different from ours. Stick at it, and let me have the lists by Monday, at twelve. Good-day, Mr. Pycroft. If you continue to show zeal and intelligence you will find the company a good master.’
“I went back to the hotel with the big book under my arm, and with very conflicting feelings in my breast. On the one hand, I was definitely engaged and had a hundred pounds in my pocket; on the other, the look of the offices, the absence of name on the wall, and other of the points which would strike a business man had left a bad impression as to the position of my employers. However, come what might, I had my money, so l settled down to my task. All Sunday I was kept hard at work, and yet by Monday I had only got as far as H. I went round to my employer, found him in the same dismantled kind of room, and was told to keep at it until Wednesday, and then come again. On Wednesday it was still unfinished, so I hammered away until Friday — that is, yesterday. Then I brought it round to Mr. Harry Pinner.