HOW MR COMMISSIONER GUMPERTZ AND MR JOSEPH GOBBITT TALKED OF HIGH FINANCE

When Mr Joseph Gobbitt’s friends heard that “Old Joe” himself was
going out to Manila to bring order into the chaos caused by the sudden
death of young Albert Dunk, they shook their heads gravely. It was
a foolish and unnecessary thing to do, they declared. The firm of
Gobbitt and Dunk had not a very large sum at stake in the Philippines,
and one of the other young Dunks, or even Pretty, the chief clerk,
would have been able to do all that was necessary. Mr Gobbitt,
however, knew his own mind, and, after only a week of preparation,
started overland, to catch the Hong Kong mail steamer.

It is curious how some people get the names which suit them
exactly. Joseph Gobbitt was a case in point. Inevitably, you expected
a man of East Anglian tradesman stock; and the moment you set eyes on
him, you felt you had been right. Hosea Gobbitt, his father, had been
mayor and pork-butcher in a small Suffolk town, having risen to wealth
and position by what he called “judicious trading.” “A little bit of
all sorts, for all sorts of people,” he used to say to his particular
friends at the Tradesmen’s Meetings–which meant that those customers
who were particular got meat for which he had to pay the farmers
what he considered a wholly outrageous price, showing a bare profit
of sixty per cent.; whilst those who were careless, or in his debt,
as well as those who ventured on sausages and similar mysteries, were
liable to get the product of those diseased swine which the inspector
was kind enough, and wise enough, to let him have for a few shillings
each. After all, what is the use of holding Municipal Office unless
you make something out of it to pay for your time? What tradesman in
England ever did–at least what tradesman of his, Hosea Gobbitt’s,
ability? Footman the ironmonger, and Woods the grocer–“Sandy” Woods
they used to call him amongst themselves, because of his sugar, not
because of his hair–did very well over contracts, and there was no
reason why he should not do well over pork. After all, the inspector
was their servant; they could discharge him at any moment.

Joseph Gobbitt learnt the rudiments of business in his father’s shop;
but he had no intention of spending his life in a country town;
consequently, at the age of eighteen he went to London, and obtained
a junior clerkship in a Mincing Lane house. When he was thirty, he
entered into partnership with Henry Dunk, and proceeded to turn the
knowledge he had secured to such good use that, within five years,
he had pretty well ruined his former employers. When he was sixty,
he was reckoned, if not amongst the biggest men of Mincing Lane,
at least amongst the bigger ones. He had several branches in the
East, including one at Manila, which had been under the charge of
Albert Dunk, son of his late partner. Taken all round, matters were
going very well when, just about the time that Basil Hayle began the
campaign against Felizardo, Albert Dunk died suddenly, and, to Mr
Gobbitt’s mind, mysteriously. Edward Dunk, the new junior partner,
Albert’s elder brother, had volunteered to go out; but, greatly to
his surprise, Mr Gobbitt had declared his intention of going himself.

“You can manage here by yourself, Edward,” he said; “I have every
confidence in you, every confidence. The sea-trip will do me good,
and possibly there may be complications in Manila which we have
not foreseen.”

Edward Dunk, not unnaturally, took the latter sentence as a slur on his
brother’s memory, as foreshadowing unpleasant discoveries, and he laid
his plans accordingly, with a view to repaying Mr Gobbitt in kind. As a
matter of fact, however, it was a chance conversation with an American
consular official which had determined the senior partner to go to
the East. “It’s money they want out in the Islands,” the American had
said. “There’s lots of good things to be got cheap–concessions, hemp
lands, Church lands even; though our own people hold back, not knowing
if we shall stay out there, whilst the British banks and financiers
are too fastidious–won’t grease the Commissioners’ palms. There’s
a fortune, sir, for the man who will risk his dollars. And it isn’t
much risk, anyway. We are bound to stay in the Islands, now we’ve
been chuckleheads enough to take them.”

Mr Joseph Gobbitt pondered deeply over these words during the long
journey to Hong Kong, where, from his own manager, he obtained a
certain degree of confirmation; but before he had been in Manila
two days, he knew that they were true. He called officially on
Mr Commissioner Gumpertz, head of the Departments of Lands and
Registration, in the hope of obtaining full particulars concerning the
end of Albert Dunk, who had met his death somewhere near Hippapad,
which, of course, is on the other side of Felizardo’s mountains,
a full ten miles–more, perhaps–to the north of the range.

“The report was that he died of fever,” the official said. “They
buried him where he died. Violence? Murder? My dear sir, no. The
Islands are pacified now. You could go from end to end of them
unarmed. Pay no heed to the wild stories you will hear, stories
circulated deliberately by our political enemies, and by the Army,
which is jealous of our success. You are sure to hear them all, perhaps
more than I hear.” Unconsciously he slipped some blank sheets of paper
over a copy of Captain Basil Hayle’s report, which he had just been
studying anew–the grim record of forty-seven men out of sixty-five
slaughtered on Felizardo’s mountains by Felizardo’s bolomen. “You will
hear them because you are the type of man, a broad-minded capitalist,
whom they are specially anxious to keep out.”

His words gave Mr Gobbitt his cue, and a few minutes later they were no
longer talking officially, but privately, about a railway concession
and a copra concession, but most of all about some hemp lands. Mr
Gobbitt was essentially a business man, and he put his finger on the
weak spot, or what seemed the weak spot, at once. “Why,” he asked,
“if there is all this splendid hemp land vacant, have not people,
the natives for instance, or the Spaniards, made use of it?” And he
leaned back in his chair, twirling his gold-rimmed glasses.

The Commissioner met his objections with an easy smile. “You know what
the Spaniards were. Did they make use of anything? Moreover, in their
days there were large bands of ladrones in the neighbourhood.” Mr
Gobbitt knit his forehead, and was making a mental note of the
drawback, when the Commissioner went on: “But there are none now. We
have cleared them all out, all; and we have a company of Constabulary
under a most energetic officer, Captain Hayle, quartered permanently
in the district. Then, as to your other point, is it likely we should
allow any unauthorised person to seize this land?”

Mr Joseph Gobbitt got up. He divined that, at the first interview with
a high official, it would hardly be diplomatic to talk of business,
of the sort of business which was obviously intended. “I will think
it over,” he said. “Possibly I may hear from you.”

The Commissioner rose, too. “Very possibly some friends of mine might
call,” he answered.

Down at the Consulate, the Vice-Consul received Mr Gobbitt with what
that pillar of finance considered most unbecoming levity. “Got anything
out of old Gumpertz?” he asked. “I suppose you had a long lecture on
Liberty and Brown Brothers. No? You are lucky, then. He’s not what you
might call inspired, unless it’s on a question of dollars. He got his
job because he kept some big city solid for the Party, they say. He
owned, or bought up, all the bars in the place, lost his money over
it, and so, to keep him quiet and give him a chance to retrieve his
fortune, they sent him out here. He is retrieving fast, but he’s really
still what he was by birth, a petty, huckstering tradesman. They say
that his father used to be a pork-butcher in the Happy Fatherland.”

Had it not been for the last few words, Mr Gobbitt might have paid
some attention to the rest; but those decided him. Obviously, the
whole thing was rank prejudice. He got up, waving aside a proffered
cigar. “Thank you. I do not smoke. Is the Consul in?”

The Vice-Consul got up wearily. “Shan’t I do? Oh, very well. I’ll
see. He was having an extra siesta; didn’t feel quite the thing after
tiffin. I’d be careful of the Club whisky, if I were you. Rotten
brand they’ve got on tap now;” and, without noticing Mr Gobbitt’s
indignant looks, he lounged into the inner office.

The Consul, or rather Acting-Consul, the regular Consul-General being
on leave, did not seem exactly delighted to see Mr Gobbitt.

“Well, did you hear anything new from Gumpertz?” he asked.

Mr Gobbitt shook his head. “He says Mr Dunk died of fever and was
buried in the jungle. That is all they know.”

The Consul yawned. “It’s about their mark. The Army would have sent
out to see quick, and so would the Guardia Civil. Those people get
in a fluster if a native is killed, and don’t worry about a white
man. Is that all? Find your books all right?”

The visitor flushed. He did not like this man any better than he
liked the Vice-Consul. “They were correct,” he said severely. “The
books of our firm always are. But there is one curious thing–the day
before he left Manila Mr Dunk drew ten thousand pesos from the bank;
and we cannot trace to whom he paid it.”

“Whew! Ten thousand pesos, eh?” The Consul whistled in what struck
Mr Gobbitt as a most undignified manner. “A big sum that. Was he–do
you think he was mixed up in any sort of graft here–corruption,
you’d call it–with the officials?”

There was wrath on Mr Gobbitt’s face as he got up from his chair. “Sir,
members of our firm are not mixed up in such things…. No, sir,
I do not smoke; nor will I have a whisky-and-soda. I, myself, drink
only at meals.”

When he had gone, with such dignity as a large and perspiring man,
who wears a frock-coat in the Tropics, can command, the Acting-Consul
yawned again. “Queer old chap. Isn’t he in a paddy-whack!” Then he
went to the door and called the Vice-Consul. “I say, Blackiston,
come and drink the whisky-and-soda our heavy friend refused. Did he
slam the door as he went out?”

Mr Joseph Gobbitt did not go to the English Club that night, partly
because he was unwilling to run the risk of further shocks to his
dignity, but chiefly because he thought it possible that some friends
of Mr Commissioner Gumpertz might chance to call on him. The latter
supposition proved to be correct. He had just finished dinner, and was
waiting on the veranda of the hotel for his coffee, when the waiter
announced two gentlemen, who introduced themselves as Mr William
P. Hart and Senor de Vega, the latter being a mestizo. Mr Gobbitt
received them graciously, scenting business, and it only needed two
liqueurs to produce a definite proposition. Mr William P. Hart was
not shy, whilst Senor de Vega backed him loyally in all he had to
say. There was this splendid stretch of hemp-growing land on the north
of the range of mountains, which Mr Gobbitt had doubtless noticed. Mr
Commissioner Gumpertz had the selling of it, and the Commissioner’s
price would be so much for himself–or rather for himself, Mr Hart,
and Senor de Vega–and so much for the Government. There was no
useless beating about the bush, a feature which Mr Gobbitt rather
appreciated. It was, after all, a plain matter of business, and, as it
was shorn of all pretence and shams, a business man could discuss it.

They came to terms, provisionally. Mr Gobbitt had made careful
enquiries as to the value of really good hemp land in that part of
the island, and he knew that, if he bought at the figure named, he
would be making an amazingly good bargain. Unfortunately, however,
he did not know good hemp land from bad–or, for that matter, from
any other sort of land; and much though he respected the cleverness,
the money-making genius, of Commissioner Gumpertz, he was not going
to take that gentleman’s word for anything which involved financial
risk to himself.

“I must inspect this land first, of course,” he said. “That is only
a matter of common sense. I will find some reliable person who can
give me an expert opinion on it, and then, if he reports favourably,
I will come to terms with … with your Government.”

“And the Commissioner?” Mr Hart asked, with a leer.

The merchant bowed gravely. “And the Commissioner, of course. That
is understood.”

“Can’t be done without him.” Mr Hart was inclined to frankness.

“It is quite unnecessary to tell me that.” Mr Gobbitt spoke
severely. “I am accustomed to business.”

“There is one thing more.” Mr Hart laid a hand which was none too
clean on his host’s knee. “The Commissioner wants a deposit, so that
he has something to show the Government, in case another buyer happens
along. He wants six thousand dollars, gold, down; to be refunded if
you do not wish to complete the purchase at the end of three months.”

Mr Gobbitt frowned. It was a large sum; but then the value of the
land would be enormous. “Six thousand dollars. Humph! Twelve hundred
pounds–a great deal of money. If I considered the proposal–I do not
say I shall–I should require the proper receipt of the Department,
not the mere private receipt of the Commissioner.”

The readiness with which Mr Hart assented dissipated the other’s
suspicions. “Certainly, sir, it would be an official receipt; and
any time you wished to call off you could get your money back. It
is proposed just in your interest, to give you a free run with no
competition.”

When they had gone, Mr Gobbitt sat for a long time deep in
thought. This was the sort of business he had come out hoping to do,
and therefore he was prepared to make certain allowances for the
weakness of those with whom he was dealing. When one is about to reap
huge profits, one cannot be over-censorious concerning those who are
assisting one. He thought the whole scheme out before he went to bed
that night, the sum he would expend on it–it would be his private
venture, nothing to do with the firm of Gobbitt & Dunk–the sum for
which he would float it as soon as he had got it into working order,
and the profits which he himself would make out of the flotation. It
was all very simple and straightforward. There was always a demand for
hemp, always would be a demand for it. No crop paid better to raise,
no crop, so far as he knew, involved less capital expenditure on
clearing the land and planting. As for security of title, he would make
certain on that point before he parted with any of the purchase-money,
whilst he was shrewd enough to see that there was no prospect of
the Americans withdrawing from the Islands for many years to come,
until long after he had floated his company.

The matter of the deposit did not trouble him greatly. After all,
the sum was not a large one to him; he ran no risk of losing it; and
it would be a distinct advantage to have what would amount to a three
months’ option. It was a cheap option, after all, a very cheap one;
and the more he thought of it, the more convinced he became that,
in the end, he would be able to get the better of Mr Gumpertz in
many ways. He, himself, would have insisted on a payment outright,
in addition to the deposit.

In the morning, Mr Gobbitt set out to find a reliable man to advise him
on the question of the hemp lands. It was rather a delicate matter. He
did not want to advertise the fact that he had any business of the
kind in contemplation, yet, at the same time, he was anxious to
secure some one who would be thoroughly trustworthy. It would not do
to go to the new manager of the Manila branch of Gobbitt & Dunk, for
this was his personal affair–the Dunk family had done well enough
out of him already, even though old Dunk had found the capital in
the first instance–and he did not fancy the idea of consulting the
Acting-Consul. In the end, he decided to call on the bank manager,
to whom he could speak in confidence.




The bank manager looked dubious. “Yes, I can get you a good
man–several, if you like, men you can trust. There’s John Mackay,
a Scotchman, and Lucio Morales, a Spaniard–either would do well;
and I would take the opinion of either as final. Only, let me warn
you, Mr Gobbitt, that this is a risky form of speculation. Hemp pays
well enough until the insurrectos, or the pulajanes, or the ladrones
come along and burn your place and cut your men’s throats. It’s all
very well for Furber and Gumpertz and the rest to say the Islands are
at peace. Gumpertz may know all about pork-chops and public-houses,
but it doesn’t follow he understands these things.”

The son of Hosea Gobbitt, pork-butcher and mayor, flushed. It was
only too clear that Mr Gumpertz had been right when he talked about
unreasoning prejudice and a desire to injure the Government.

“I think I am fully aware of the conditions,” he said severely. “I
have made the most exhaustive enquiries from those who should
know.” Unconsciously he emphasised the last five words. “And now, if
you would give me the addresses of these two men, Mackay and Morales,
I will ask them to call on me.”

Senor Morales was the first to make his appearance at the hotel,
a grave young Spaniard, whose rather elaborate courtesy disconcerted
Mr Gobbitt somewhat; but when the proposition was put to him bluntly,
as such things should be put, he shook his head. “No, Senor. It is
impossible that I go. These Americans have got the country into such
a state, that—-” He spread out his hands expressively, and rose
to leave.

Mr Gobbitt rose too, a little annoyed at the waste of his time. “You
don’t like the Americans?” he said, with what he took for sternness,
and the other for rudeness.

The Spaniard laughed gently. “Why, no, Senor. Why should I, a
Spaniard, like them?” And he went out, leaving Mr Gobbitt more than
ever convinced of the intense prejudice against the administration.

Mr John Mackay, who did not arrive till late in the afternoon, proved
to be more suitable. He was middle-aged and hard-faced, at least
when he was talking business, and he went to the root of the matter
at once–the question of his professional fee, which was finally
settled more to his own satisfaction than to that of Mr Gobbitt, who
had a distinct aversion to giving mere employés a chance to imitate
the late Jeshurun, of whom the one recorded fact is that “he waxed
fat and kicked.” Still, John Mackay knew what he himself wanted,
and he had the knowledge which Mr Gobbitt wanted, so, for once in
his life at least, the merchant agreed to pay a fair wage.

“And where are we going to?” John Mackay asked.

Mr Gobbitt hesitated. “Well, I must tell you, I suppose; but it is
in confidence, the strictest confidence.”

The Scotchman gave a quick little nod; he was not prone to unnecessary
speech.

“We land at a place called Igut, and from there make our way round
the end of that large range of mountains to some land on the northern
side. They tell me–Commissioner Gumpertz tells me–that the journey
will not be a difficult one. We keep in the valley for some twenty-five
miles, then cross at an easy pass.”

“Taking any escort?” the Scotchman asked.

The merchant shook his head. “I am informed it is quite unnecessary;
though some of the native soldiers–Scouts, I think they are
called–will come along to help us with transport arrangements.”

John Mackay stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well, at least they all
know me well enough–Felizardo, and the others as well. I myself can
go anywhere;” a saying which gave food for thought to Mr Gobbitt,
who could not decide whether it was to be construed as encouraging
or otherwise.

Commissioner Gumpertz received Mr Gobbitt very graciously when that
gentleman came to pay the deposit. “I am delighted, sir,” he said,
“flattered to think you are taking my advice, which was given in
the interests of these Islands and their people, and proves, most
fortunately, to be in your interest as well. I might tell you, in
confidence, that there will be a bill before Congress next session
forbidding these large sales of land–a most unfortunate proposal;
but your business will be through long before then.”

When, however, Mr Gobbitt handed him a cheque, crossed, for the
deposit, the Commissioner looked doubtful. “I am afraid, sir, I
cannot take this–my dear sir, I mean no slight on yourself–but
the rules of the Department are very strict. No cheques taken, they
say. Still, would you write another one, a bearer cheque, and I will
send a messenger down to the bank with it. That will only take ten
minutes, and we can fix up the matter at once. If you will excuse me,
I will get the secretary to make out the receipt.”

He came back, a few minutes later, with the receipt which his
secretary, whose name was William P. Hart, had made out in due
form. It was already signed, and, as he handed it to his visitor,
the Commissioner for Lands and Registration remarked jocularly: “Now,
Mr Gobbitt, you have my receipt before I have the money. You have
only to stop the messenger on the way, and you can make six thousand
dollars out of the Department, or rather out of me, for they would
hold me responsible.”

Mr Gobbitt, who had assured himself at a glance that the receipt
was in due form, laughed too. “I don’t think in my firm we do
things like that,” he said. “We rather pride ourselves on being
old-fashioned–almost straight-laced, perhaps. My father always
impressed on me that honesty paid in the long run, and I have found
that he was right. I have no doubt your experience has been the same.”

The Commissioner nodded. This was a most admirable and tactful man
of business. It is always pleasant to keep affairs of this sort on a
certain high plane. If you talk of the Welfare of the People, or the
Will of the Multitude, or the Moral Aspect, you can make infinitely
more money than if you adopt a crudely-commercial tone, especially
if you have a William P. Hart in the background.

The messenger returned with the package of notes, which he handed
to Mr Gobbitt, who in turn handed them to Mr Commissioner Gumpertz;
and then the two men parted.

“The launch will be ready for you early to-morrow,” the official
said. “I will send you down letters of introduction from Commissioner
Furber–you must meet him on your return–to Captain Bush at Igut,
and Captain Basil Hayle, who has a camp somewhere on the edge of
the jungle. Captain Bush will arrange all your equipment for you,
or at least he will get the local officials to do so. Now, good-bye,
Mr Gobbitt, and good luck. I shall look forward to your early return.”

Mr Joseph Gobbitt was an experienced business man. He prided himself
on the fact that there was little he did not know about certain forms
of finance; yet, had he learnt that, instead of being paid into the
account of the Government, those notes of his were, that very night,
distributed, at a slight discount, through some of the most shady,
and even improper, quarters in Manila, he might have found food for
much speculation and thought.