Mr. Pole was closeted in his City counting-house with Mr. Pericles, before a heap of papers and newly-opened foreign letters; to one of which, bearing a Russian stamp, he referred fretfully at times, as if to verify a monstrous fact. Any one could have seen that he was not in a condition to transact business. His face was unnaturally patched with colour, and his grey-tinged hair hung tumbled over his forehead like waves blown by a changeing wind. Still, he maintained his habitual effort to look collected, and defeat the scrutiny of the sallow-eyed fellow opposite; who quietly glanced, now and then, from the nervous feet to the nervous fingers, and nodded to himself a sardonic outlandish nod.
“Now, listen to me,” said Mr. Pericles. “We shall not burst out about zis Riga man. He is a villain,—very well. Say it. He is a villain,— say so. And stop. Because” (and up went the Greek’s forefinger), “we must not have a scandal, in ze fairst place. We do not want pity, in ze second. Saird, we must seem to trust him, in spite. I say, yeas! What is pity to us of commerce? It is contempt. We trust him on, and we lose what he pocket—a sossand. We burst on him, and we lose twenty, serty, forty; and we lose reputation.”
“I’d have every villain hanged,” cried Mr. Pole. “The scoundrel! I’d hang him with his own hemp. He talks of a factory burnt, and dares to joke about tallow! and in a business letter! and when he is telling one of a loss of money to that amount!”
“Not bad, ze joke,” grinned Mr. Pericles. “It is a lesson of coolness. We learn it. But mind! he say, ‘possible loss.’ It is not positif. Hein! ze man is trying us. So! shall we burst out and make him desperate? We are in his hand at Riga, you see?”
“I see this,” said Mr. Pole, “that he’s a confounded rascal, and I’ll know whether the law can’t reach him.”
“Ha! ze law!” Mr. Pericles sneered. “So you are, you. English. Always, ze law! But, we are men—we are not machine. Law for a machine, not a man! We punish him, perhaps. Well; he is punished. He is imprisoned— forty monz. We pay for him a sossand pound a monz. He is flogged—forty lashes. We pay for him a sossand pound a lash. You can afford zat? It is a luxury like anozer. It is not for me.”
“How long are we to trust the villain?” said Mr. Pole. “If we trust him at all, mind! I don’t say I do, or will.”
“Ze money is locked up for a year, my friend. So soon we get it, so soon he goes, from ze toe off.” Mr. Pericles’ shining toe’s-tip performed an agile circuit, and he smoothed his square clean jaw and venomous moustache reflectively. “Not now,” he resumed. “While he hold us in his hand, we will not drive him to ze devil, or we go too, I believe, or part of ze way. But now, we say, zat money is frozen in ze Nord. We will make it in Australie, and in Greek waters. I have exposed to you my plan.”