Chapter 7
 

At half-past nine he reached Little Ailie Street.

"Mr. Sherwood not here yet, I suppose?" asked Will.

"Oh yes, he is, sir," replied the manager; "been here for half an hour."

Warburton went on to the senior partner's room. There sat Godfrey Sherwood bent over a book which, to judge from the smile upon his face, could have nothing to do with the sugar-refining question.

"How do, Will?" he exclaimed, with even more than his usual cheerfulness. "Did you ever read 'The Adventures of a Younger Son'? Oh, you must. Listen here. He's describing how he thrashed an assistant master at school; thrashed him, he says, till 'the sweat dropped from his brows like rain-drops from the eaves of a pig-sty!' Ho-ho-ho! What do you think of that for a comparison? Isn't it strong? By Jove! a bracing book! Trelawny, you know; the friend of Byron. As breezy a book as I know. It does one good."

Godfrey Sherwood was, as regards his visage, what is called a plain young man, but his smile told of infinite good-nature, and his voice, notwithstanding its frequent note of energy or zeal, had a natural softness of intonation which suggested other qualities than the practical and vigorous.

"Enjoyed your holiday?" he went on, rising, stretching himself, and offering a box of cigarettes. "You look well. Done any summits? When we get our affairs in order, I must be off somewhere myself. Northward, I think. I want a little bracing cold. I should like to see Iceland. You know the Icelandic sagas? Magnificent! There's the saga of Grettir the Strong--by Jove! But come, this isn't business. I have news for you, real, substantial, hopeful news."

They seated themselves in roundbacked chairs, and Will lighted a cigarette.

"You know my thoughts were running on jam; jam is our salvation; of that I have long been convinced. I looked about, made a few inquiries, and by good luck, not long after you went off for your holiday, met just the man I wanted. You've heard of Applegarth's jams?"

Will said he had seen them advertised.

"Well, I came across Applegarth himself. I was talking to Linklater --and jams came up. 'You ought to see my friend Applegarth,' said he; and he arranged for us to meet. Applegarth happened to be in town, but he lives down in Somerset, and his factory is at Bristol. We all dined together at the Junior Carlton, and Applegarth and I got on so well that he asked me down to his place. Oxford man, clever, a fine musician, and an astronomer; has built himself a little observatory--magnificent telescope. By Jove! you should hear him handle the violin. Astonishing fellow! Not much of a talker; rather dry in his manner; but no end of energy, bubbling over with vital force. He began as a barrister, but couldn't get on, and saw his capital melting. 'Hang it!' said he, 'I must make some use of what money I have'; and he thought of jam. Brilliant idea! He began in a very modest way, down at Bristol, only aiming at local trade. But his jams were good; the demand grew; he built a factory; profits became considerable. And now, he wants to withdraw from active business, keeping an interest. Wants to find some one who would run and extend the concern--put in a fair capital, and leave him to draw his income quietly. You see?"

"Seems a good opportunity," said Warburton.

"Good? It's simply superb. He took me over the works--a really beautiful sight, everything so admirably arranged. Then we had more private talk. Of course I spoke of you, said I could do nothing till we had consulted together. I didn't seem too eager--not good policy. But we've had some correspondence, and you shall see the letters."

He handed them to his partner. Warburton saw that there was a question of a good many thousand pounds.

"Of course," he remarked, "I could only stand for a very small part in this."

"Well, we must talk about that. To tell you the truth, Will," Sherwood continued, crossing his legs and clasping his hands behind his head, "I don't see my way to find the whole capital, and yet I don't want to bring in a stranger. Applegarth could sell to a company any moment, but that isn't his idea; he wants to keep the concern in as few hands as possible. He has a first-rate manager; the mere jam-making wouldn't worry us at all; and the office work is largely a matter of routine. Will you take time to think about it?"

The figures which Warburton had before him were decidedly stimulating; they made a very pleasant contrast to the balance-sheets with which he had recently had to deal. He knew roughly what sum was at his disposal for investment; the winding-up of the business here could be completed at any moment, and involved no risk of surprises. But a thought had occurred to him which kept him silently reflecting for some minutes.

"I suppose," he said presently, "this affair has about as little risk as anything one could put money in?"

"I should say," Godfrey answered, with his man-of-business air, "that the element of risk is non-existent. What can be more solid than jam? There's competition to be sure; but Applegarth is already a good name throughout England, and in the West they swear by it. At Bristol, Exeter, Dorchester--all over there--Applegarth holds the field. Very seriously speaking, I see in this proposal nothing but sure and increasing gain."

"You know as well as I do," Will resumed, "how I stand. I have no resources of my own beyond what you are aware of. But I've been thinking--"

He broke off, stared at the window, drummed on the arm of his chair, Sherwood waiting with a patient smile.

"It's my mother and sister I have in mind," Will resumed. "That property of theirs; it brings them about a hundred and fifty pounds a year in cash, and three times that in worry. At any moment they might sell. A man at St. Neots offers four thousand pounds; I suspect more might be got if Turnbull, their lawyer, took the matter in hand. Suppose I advise them to sell and put the money in Applegarth?"

"By Jove!" cried Sherwood. "How could they do better? Splendid idea!"

"Yes--if all goes well. Bear in mind, on the other hand, that if they lost this money, they would have nothing to live upon, or as good as nothing. They draw some fifty pounds a year from another source, and they have their own house--that's all. Ought I to take this responsibility?"

"I don't hesitate to guarantee," said Sherwood, with glowing gravity, "that in two years' time their four thousand pounds shall produce three times what it does now. Only think, my dear fellow! Jam--think what it means!"

For ten minutes Godfrey rhapsodised on the theme. Warburton was moved by his eloquence.

"I shall run down to St. Neots," said Will at length.

"Do. And then we'll both of us go down to Bristol. I'm sure you'll like Applegarth. By the bye, you never went in for astronomy, did you? I felt ashamed of my ignorance. Why, it's one of the most interesting subjects a man can study. I shall take it up. One might have a little observatory of one's own. Do you know Bristol at all? A beastly place, the town, but perfectly delightful country quite near at hand. Applegarth lives in an ideal spot--you'll see."

There was a knock at the door and the manager entered. Other business claimed their attention.