Robert James Lees -Solving A Financial Crisis

Robert James Lees


 

Solving A Financial Problem
from `The Heretic', published 1900

 
   
`Pa !' exclaimed one of his sons, who came up at that instant, `two gentlemen are anxious to speak to you if you can spare the time.' He apologised to his friend, then turned and acknowledged the salutations of two strangers who were following him.

' I must ask you to pardon our intrusion at such a moment,' said the elder of the two, handing him cards upon which were engraved the names of Augustus Callenberg and F. D. Archbold respectively, but we have a matter of the utmost importance to ourselves we are anxious to bring under your notice, and could only learn your address as being here on Sunday afternoon. All we will now trouble you for is to know when and where we may meet you.'

Pawley pleasantly shrugged his shoulders in his indecision about making an appointment.
' The present IS generally my best time,' he replied. ' But our business has no kind of connection with the subject of your meeting.' ' I need not ask you whether it is honourable and legitimate,' he asked, carefully regarding their evident position. ' Of that you may rest assured. I was thinking of your recent effort, and probably your objection to turn your mind abruptly to matters you may consider irrelevant to the day.'

' I am neither faddist nor bigot,' he replied, in my religious ideas; the distinction I draw is rather between right and wrong than sacred and secular ,all that is right is inevitably sacred in my opinion. If therefore your business is right I shall be pleased to attend to it now as far as it may be in my power.'

It is of a strictly confidential nature, I might suggest,' answered Mr. Callenberg, as an excuse for not at once proceeding with it. In that case will you walk home with me ? My house is only on the edge of the Common.' 

.With pleasure.' As they walked the elder man chatted freely with the preacher about his work among the people, the extension of the neighbourhood and other local matters, but Archbold never ventured a word after he had acknowledged Pawley. He, no doubt, had a certain aversion for open-air orators, or at least so impressed our friend and it was only through the hope of personal advantage he was constrained to walk so far in his company.
Pawley was perfectly sensible of the feeling with which he was regarded, which acted upon him like an atmospheric depression upon a barometer, and even placed him at a disadvantage in his conversation with Callenberg. But the walk was not a long one, and Archbold had to recognise that he had come to ask for a favour rather than bestow a patronage, since St. Clear made his presence known to his fellow worker, translating Pawley into the superior position.

' Be seated, gentlemen,' said Ernest, as he closed the door of his unpretentious drawing-room. ' Now I shall be glad to know this business upon which you desire to consult me.'
, Perhaps it will suffice, until we know the light in which you regard our proposition, if we simply say we are directors of a large financial trust in the city, without mentioning its particular name.'

I think it will be well for us to be perfectly frank with each other,' Pawley answered, with one of his pleasant smiles. ' I think you represent the International Finance Corporation.'
`Why were you not honest with us and say you knew us from the beginning ?' asked Archbold, resenting what he conceived to be a possible lack of candour on Paw- ley's part.

' I think you have no reason to complain in that respect,' he replied.

' But why did you not tell us we were known to you from the first ?'

, Because I did not know you,' he returned, not a little amused at their bewilderment.

' May I be allowed to ask how it is you know us now ?' This inquiry came from Mr. Callenberg, who, though not so disturbed as his friend, was certainly more deeply impressed by what had occurred.

' I am sure you will excuse me entering into any needless explanations,' Pawley answered quietly; but unless I misunderstand your visit, it is to solicit my assistance, not to hear how or by what means I do the work God has given me to do.' But we don't want to lend ourselves to any hocus-pocus, fortune-telling business, you know,' exclaimed Archbold.
Neither have I asked you to do so at present,' calmly resented Pawley, as he rose from his seat, and perhaps it would be better to end the interview at one before I attempt to throw any imagined spell over you.'

I pray you will reconsider that suggestion,' pleaded Callenberg, and if my friend will leave the negotiations to you and I, I will promise not to detain you more than a few minutes.'
Let me ask you to bear in mind that you have sought me, and I must ask you to give me the respect due from one gentleman to another or it will be impossible to proceed.'

`I hope I have already done so.'

Archbold made no reply, but was evidently content to leave the further discussion of the matter in the hands of his friend.

' Will you Iet me hear your business as briefly as you can ?' asked Pawley, again inviting his visitors to be seated.

' Since you know who we are,' began Callenberg, you will understand something of the enormous extent of our business, and also the collateral interest the Govern- ment has in our existence. But we have a skeleton in our cupboard in the shape of a mystery which has baffled the ingenuity of the experts, I may say of the whole world to solve.'

` Indeed I What is it like ?'

` I need not tell you how careful we must necessarily be in every detail of our business, which is conducted by the best accountants available, and so divided and checked as to make errors, humanly speaking, impossible ; but in spite of all our system there has been a mysterious but continuous leakage going on for nearly twenty years which neither examination of books nor the employment of detectives can discover or interfere with. Every legitimate resource available has been employed, exhausted, and failed to throw any light upon the mystery, but your name was whispered into the ear of one of our Board as having been able to obtain some valuable information from ghosts or something of the sort, and when it was mentioned at our last meeting another of our members recalled how Swedenborg was reported to be gifted with a similar power. But, to be brief, it was finally resolved that Mr. Arch- bold and myself should seek an interview and ask if you think it possible that you can by any means help us in our dilemma. I may say that in addition to a very substantial and immediate reward for success, a life provision providing a very comfortable living will be guaranteed, and therefore, if you possess the powers attributed to you, the offer is one worthy of consideration.'

`Let me assure you in the first place,' Pawley answered, after a moment's consideration, that the thought of reward or pension will have no influence with me one way or the other. God, for some mysterious purpose, which He alone understands, has certainly endowed me with strange gifts to be used in accordance with guidance I receive from Him through certain appointed ministers with whom I am associated; but our services are not to be bought with gold or favour, but as God Himself sees His glory may be advanced.'
Excuse me. I had no thought of a bribe.' .I perfectly understand your position, and the offer you made was only a natural one, but I am very anxious that you should understand me. I have learned by an experience beyond argument that in God we have all things and abound; in the service of God I am preserved and cared for, very much more so, but upon the same principle as you propose to care for me if I can succeed in unravelling this mystery and so protect your interests. But there is this advantage. Men may change, our most sacred oaths and bonds may be broken; God never changes, His word cannot be broken, therefore I am more safe with Him, and that is why I say your reward and pension have no influence with me. I suppose your losses have been heavy ?'

.Yes ; more considerable, perhaps, than it is advisable to mention.'

`And have you no suspicion of anyone ?' .None! I suppose almost everyone connected with the Corporation has at some time fallen under the cloud but nothing has been discovered so far.'

`When is your next Board meeting ?', Tomorrow at noon.'

` Do you meet on the premises ?' 'Yes.'

` Well, gentlemen, I have heard your request, but I can give you no answer now. As I tell you, I do not stand alone and shall have to consult my friends as to what shall be done. Of myself I am not able to help you in any way, but if they see that the solution of this -enigma may in any sense help. to rectify a wrong and further their cause of right, I have no doubt as to what the result will be. But for the present I can say no more. Should they, however, accede to your proposition, I will call upon you to-morrow at one o'clock.'

The two magnates were singularly reticent of speech in their drive westward; each was occupied with his own thoughts, and they were not sufficiently sympathetic to invite the confidence of the other. Archbold had from the first assumed the superior position, and
in doing so had not only endangered their embassage for the moment but had suffered a personal defeat at the hands of the man he wished to patronise for policy's sake. Callenberg, though in many respects a kindred spirit with his friend, had been somewhat impressed with the power of Pawley in the discourse to which they had necessarily been compelled to listen, and, as we have seen, afterwards treated him with more consideration than he originally entertained towards a man who, though no doubt a charlatan, was a forlorn hope in their extremity. The latter disposition Pawley was always delighted to meet; honest doubt and even suspicion, if found in connection with an open mind, always possessed a certain attraction for him, and Callenberg was able to profit thereby, while the patronising spirit of his friend widened the breach at every turn and made approach impossible. Hence the one carried away a sullen silence in which he tried to hide his mortification, and the other food for reflection in the digestion of which he did not wish to be disturbed.

Coloured by such contrary feelings it may easily be fellow-directors oil the following day, and the conclusion arrived at was that Archbold's statement was no doubt the more correct one and their new-born hope had only proved to be another mirage.
Presently, a messenger entered and handed a card to Mr. Callenberg. The rigid placidity which is the recognised official facial expression of these princes of finance essayed to relax into an indication of a smile of satisfaction as he rose to his feet and calmlv announced, -, Mr. Chairman, it is with some little gratification after what has passed that I have to inform" you that Mr. Ernest Pawley has arrived and awaits our pleasure.'
The speaker maintained his gravity with more success than those to whom he spoke. The persons constituting that Board were in the habit of discussing questions deciding the weal or Woe of empires; within those four walls decisions were arrived at of more tremendous import than the victories of armies ; kings were in no small measure subject to the ruling of those wills, and parliaments were compelled to acknowledge that throne; yet the announcement of the presence . of an unknown, contemned and ridiculed preacher of righteousness produced a thrill of excitement empires might envy, and the name of Ernest Pawley abruptly stopped the deliberation in which the mandate of a king would have passed unheard.

But let us not misread the signs of the times; Pawley would raise ten thousand voices against such an error if he possessed them. We have distinctly seen-and the lesson has been again and again repeated-that of him self this insignificant heretic could do nothing. Had he gone into the building of the Corporation simply to pay a claim or cash a draft, he would have been an unrecognised circumstance in the day's transactions, only re- presented by the atomic result produced. But now he was there as an ambassador of God, he represented the Eternal Emperor of all Finance, had come in all official capacity and the question of stewardship, and, though unseen, the ordinary costume of the man of business ,was clothed upon by an authority before which the magnates of the International Finance Corporation must bow as lowly and reverently as those who were in the habit of: craving consideration from their hands. The chariots and the cohorts of God were round about His servant ; no wonder there was a thrill of excitement at his coming.

St Clear had been consulted, and in the mysterious providences of God saw his way to accept the proposition. The chances of success or failure constituted a daring test of Pawley's faith in those unseen powers operating in and through him, of which the world knew nothing but by results. But Pawley knew, and had confidence in his spiritual friendships, and went boldly forward, neither doubting nor fearing but that' all things are possible to him that believeth.' The pillar of cloud moved forward, he must needs follow.
If the congregation of the Common had seen him as he entered the Board room in the company of Mr. Callenberg, they would scarcely have recognised the preacher of yesterday; but if the more intimate circle who were accustomed to meet with him at home had been there, they would have seen that he was not alone. It was. Pawley, but more than Pawley; it was the form of the man, with the transformation due to an added power perceptibly invisible but undeniably present. Just as the personality of a judge is lost in the majestic over- shadowing of the law, so Pawley appeared as he recognised the salutation of the Board.

`Will you take a seat ?' asked the chairman, nonchalantly, and then' we shall be glad to hear if you think you will be able to render us any assistance in solving this mystery.'

` I came at your request for that purpose.' , I think our inquiry was whether you considered yourself able to give us any assistance by the aid of your peculiar practices.'

`It does not speak well for the commercial or religious morality of England when the practice of righteousness is designated peculiar,' he replied. ' But my answer to your deputation was that I would be here at one o'clock if I had the consent of God, whose alone I am and in whose cause I am now here.'

`Then you imagine you can help us ? How do you propose to proceed ?' inquired the chairman, anxious to get to business.

`Will someone briefly run over the facts of the case again, in order that I may make sure of them ?'

`You can do that as well as anyone, Mr. Ballantyne,' said the president to the secretary. ' I suppose you merely wish for an outline to begin with ?'

`That is all I want.' Whereupon the man who had spent his whole business life in the service of the Corporation, and had done much to establish its universal position, briefly recounted the facts we have already heard.
 

When he had finished Pawley asked, `Will you now recall to your mind all the persons who are connected with your company who by any possible .association, influence or advantage might secure an opportunity of entering into any arrangement to carry out any such diversion of money, and tell me if you cannot find some indication which may lead us to a clue? ,

`Let me say, for the sake of saving time,' interposed the chairman, , that we have already made a most laborious investigation in this direction again and again . without the least result.'

`I have nothing to do with your failures, sir; if you really wish to know where this money has gone and who has appropriated it, allow me to proceed; but if you do not wish to make the discovery it is useless to waste my time.'

The tone of authority he adopted, and the inference to be drawn from his significant words secured him against further interference, and turning again to the secretary he repeated his question in substance.

`Both Mr. Silchester and myself,' he answered, indicating the assistant secretary who sat beside him at a side table, have traversed the ground a thousand times. We have done it separately, together, and with the .assistance of the most skilled detectives the world can produce.'

`And you have found no cause of suspicion ?' , Nowhere.'

`Have you a good memory ?' The question was asked quietly, but there was a world of meaning in the look by which it was accompanied. Ballantyne himself did not appear to notice the glance, but he was the only man it did not move.

 "That do you mean ?' he inquired, as if the doubt possibly implied was intended to cast some sinister reflection upon his business capacity.

`Just what I ask,' replied Pawley. , I think my position sufficiently answers for that.' , Has Mr. Silchestcr also a good memory ?'

The shaft, whatever it was, found its mark in the assistant; but all Ballantyne's Scotch blood was boiling with indignation.

`What base insinuation is this you mean ?' he cried, taking a hurried step towards the intrepid Pawley.

Instantly the whole Board was on its feet, and never within the chamber had such a scene of excitement been witnessed. The whole air was charged with insult, recrimination, revelation and doubt, and the only man who was not disturbed thereby was he who had pushed the apparently trivial question. He sat in his luxurious armchair with his head resting upon his hand and quietly waited until the chairman had induced the secretary to return to his seat.

`Gentlemen, time is too precious for me to waste it, but I call you to witness that I am about to give every facility to the two gentlemen I have appealed to, to recall any possible knowledge they may not yet have utilised in this inquiry. And please do not misunderstand me nor attach any further Importance to my words at present than you are warranted in doing. There is a connection with which I am acquainted-1 will say so much to assist Jour two confidential officers- that will give us a clue to this whole mystery, and I wish again to as; if they can recollect anything likely to assist us?'

`Who knows the secrets of this Corporation best ?' demanded the secretary, his temper again rising into a threatening attitude. ' Who are you to come here flinging your insinuations around ?'

`I must ask you, Mr. Ballantyne, not to prolong this unpleasantness by any heated remarks. Let us keep calm and see where this man is about to lead us.'

`Calm, sir; could you be calm under the same circumstances ? In the course of this inquiry we have all at one time or the other had to endure a certain amount of suspicion which have been made by gentlemen, and we have come out of the ordeal creditably. 'We have met our equals with frankness, have given them every facility for their labours because they pursued them honourably; but what reparation have I against a contemptible mountebank whose name is a byword and his profession illegal ? I appeal to you, gentlemen, by the regard you have for your own reputations, if you have no respect for myself, to put an end at once to this charlatan's travesty .'

`There is a certain force in Mr. Ballantyne's contention,' replied the chairman, and I am somewhat of opinion that a mistake has been made. You have been most unfortunate,' he said addressing Pawley, in adopting a method of innuendo which might be allowed in other places, but is certainly out of place here. Still,. as you have indicated that something is known to you,. for the welfare of the institution, against my better personal judgement, I am willing to hear any statement you may have to make, but I cannot allow any further altercation between yourself and any gentleman present.'

`I am not here, gentlemen, at my own request, or on my own behalf. You sought me, and I granted your application to come and do for you what your social and commercial equals had failed to do. I may be charlatan mountebank or knave, let that be as the issue determines, but I will at once come to the point. My appeal to the memory of your officials was a merciful suggestion which, had they been wise, they would have profited by, and even now I am willing to give another opportunity to speak before I proceed, if they choose to accept it.'

He paused and waited. There was no doubt now what he intended to do; the only question was how he proposed to prove his point. Neither Ballantyne nor Silchester took the proffered advantage-

`I call you to witness, gentlemen, that I have been as lenient in this matter as may reasonably be expected-I have offered mercy as I would plead for it for myself ; but it is disregarded. Now to clear up your mystery.

`I believe Mr. Silchester resides upon the premises.' ' Yes " responded the chairman.
.In his bedroom there is a secret safe. I will ask two members of this Board to proceed to that room with Mr. Silchester and bring from that safe-lodged in a secret drawer-a small crimson leather account-book, locked with two secret combination locks. The key to -one lock is known only to your secretary, arid the other to his assistant, but when we have that book you will be in possession of all you need.'

If the universe had collapsed as Pawley deliberately -unfolded this information the consternation could not have been greater than he produced. The men, who had defied him to the last, were speechless now, and the rushing denouncement needed no confirmation further than was visible in the appalling terror they betrayed. There was no congratulation of Pawley, but the members of the Board shrank from him as if afraid. But on his face rested the shadow of a great sorrow, as if he felt a kindly commiseration for the fallen men.
It was an intensely painful moment. No one cared to speak, yet it was impossible not to proceed.

`Gentlemen,' said the chairman, presently, speaking under the influence of a very perceptible emotion, , in the presence of a disaster like this one can scarcely tell what to say. But, honestly speaking, I would rather this mystery had remained unsolved than discover it to be that which I fear to be the truth. I hope the solution we hear is a false one; we have not yet put it to the test, and for the sake of honourr and financial integrity I trust it will be falsified. But we must pursue this serious accusation, and yet with the hope of relieving the uncertainty at once I will ask one or both the gentlemen named if such a book as the one mentioned is in existence ?' Ballantyne had aged years since he had spoken five minutes before, but, crushed beneath the weight of the exposure he had suffered, he staggered to his feet by the aid of the table, upon which he threw his whole weight.
`Gentlemen,' he said in thick, guttural tones, .it is but too true-it is useless to deny it. For God's sake have mercy.'

`Amen,' responded Pawley ; , and now that I have performed the office you have asked from me, gentlemen, I have neither right nor wish to enter into your further deliberations. ' Still, if I may be permitted another word it would be to ask you to be merciful as you yourselves would seek for mercy. You may readily do this because you will find that the money which has been misappropriated has neither been frittered away nor squandered, but rather invested in such a way that your losses will be insignificant even if you realise at once, but by consenting to take over the property available you may be repaid in full. In such circumstances you may find that the natural but inevitable results of this disclosure will work its own punishment. and if my wish has any weight in framing your determination I pray that you may grant it so.'

`I think you have a right to see this painful business to the end,' urged the chairman, and whatever our feelings may be at this overwhelming disaster, not only our thanks but also our apologies are due to yourself'

`I sincerely trust you will not think of these things now,' interposed Pawley; , I have simply performed my duty honestly, according to the ability God has given me, and all the thanks are His. For the rest, what the contents of the book I have referred to will reveal I am already acquainted with, and it is better you should continue your deliberations in my absence.'

`Will you allow me to request that for the present this interview shall be regarded as confidential ?'

`So far as I am concerned it will always be so regarded It is God's business arid I have no more to do with it.'

`Then I must say that we are deeply grateful for your services, and I trust we shall meet again under more favourable circumstances a few days hence.'

Pawley then left. What he foretold afterwards proved to be correct in every particular. The secret book revealed a carefully- concealed and ingenious plan of manipulation in the diversion of funds by which it was morally impossible to discover the offenders, and well warranted the position Ballantyne assumed before the inquiry made him cognisant of the fact that he was not dealing in this instance with unaided human intelligence but rather with-as he mentally interpreted it-' the devil himself.' Still the money was discovered to have been well invested, with equally skilful care in obliterating identity, with all the financial acumen and ability of their position, and when the accounts were balanced" and full valuations made the Corporation was only at a trifling temporary loss, with a bright prospect of a full restoration at no distant date.
 
Under these circumstances it was determined by the directors, with the approval of their legal advisers, that, considering the valuable services of their late secretary and his assistant, the grounds of justice would be fully met in accepting the plea of Pawley, and the two men were dismissed to face the world with a certain consciousness that their impecuniosity was a merciful harvest of their own sin.

As for Pawley, he was recalled in order that the Board might make over to him the generous reward and provision that had been offered for a solution of the mystery ; but in the meantime he had discussed the matter with St Clear. Ernest was determined not to accept a penny for his share in the transaction, but his friend advised him otherwise. Through this means, he counselled, God had made provision to grant the request to give some permanent form to his work on the Common, and also make an acknowledgment of the faith in which he had hitherto laboured. Upon this under- standing he consented to receive one third of the amount which had been originally named as the reward, which, with a few personal donations, made in appreciation by individual directors, enabled him to restore his home to what he had so long desired for his wife and children's sake, and afterwards provide for the continuance of his work. After that he accepted so much of the pension as would relieve him of further anxiety and allow him to work with an easy mind.
The announcement of such an arrangement was received on the Common with loud acclaim on the following Sunday; but to all inquiries as to where and how it came about Pawley only answered, God sent it.

     

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