B proposes self and two securities. B is accepted. Two securities give a bond. B assures his own life for double the amount, and brings two friends' lives also--just to patronize the office. Ha ha, ha! Is that a good notion?'
'Ecod, that's a capital notion!' cried Jonas. 'But does he really do it?'
'Do it!' repeated the chairman. 'B's hard up, my good fellow, and will do anything. Don't you see? It's my idea.'
'It does you honour. I'm blest if it don't,' said Jonas.
'I think it does,' replied the chairman, 'and I'm proud to hear you say so. B pays the highest lawful interest--'
'That an't much,' interrupted Jonas.
'Right! quite right!' retorted Tigg. 'And hard it is upon the part of the law that it should be so confoundedly down upon us unfortunate victims; when it takes such amazing good interest for itself from all its clients. But charity begins at home, and justice begins next door. Well! The law being hard upon us, we're not exactly soft upon B; for besides charging B the regular interest, we get B's premium, and B's friends' premiums, and we charge B for the bond, and, whether we accept him or not, we charge B for "inquiries" (we keep a man, at a pound a week, to make 'em), and we charge B a trifle for the secretary; and in short, my good fellow, we stick it into B, up hill and down dale, and make a devilish comfortable little property out of him. Ha, ha, ha! I drive B, in point of fact,' said Tigg, pointing to the cabriolet, 'and a thoroughbred horse he is. Ha, ha, ha!'
Jonas enjoyed this joke very much indeed. It was quite in his peculiar vein of humour.
'Then,' said Tigg Montague, 'we grant annuities on the very lowest and most advantageous terms known in the money market; and the old ladies and gentlemen down in the country buy 'em. Ha, ha, ha! And we pay 'em too--perhaps. Ha, ha, ha!'
'But there's responsibility in that,' said Jonas, looking doubtful.
'I take it all myself,' said Tigg Montague. 'Here I am responsible for everything. The only responsible person in the establishment! Ha, ha, ha! Then there are the Life Assurances without loans; the common policies. Very profitable, very comfortable. Money down, you know; repeated every year; capital fun!'
'But when they begin to fall in,' observed Jonas. 'It's all very well, while the office is young, but when the policies begin to die--that's what I am thinking of.'
'At the first start, my dear fellow,' said Montague, 'to show you how correct your judgment is, we had a couple of unlucky deaths that brought us down to a grand piano.'
'Brought you down where?' cried Jonas.
'I give you my sacred word of honour,' said Tigg Montague, 'that I raised money on every other individual piece of property, and was left alone in the world with a grand piano. And it was an upright- grand too, so that I couldn't even sit upon it. But, my dear fellow, we got over it. We granted a great many new policies that week (liberal allowance to solicitors, by the bye), and got over it in no time. Whenever they should chance to fall in heavily, as you very justly observe they may, one of these days; then--' he finished the sentence in so low a whisper, that only one disconnected word was audible, and that imperfectly. But it sounded like 'Bolt.'
'Why, you're as bold as brass!' said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.
'A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!' cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. 'You'll dine with me to-morrow?'
'At what time?' asked Jonas.
'Seven. Here's my card. Take the documents. I see you'll join us!'
'I don't know about that,' said Jonas. 'There's a good deal to be looked into first.'
'You shall look,' said Montague, slapping him on the back, 'into anything and everything you please. But you'll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!'
Obedient to the summons and the little bell, the waistcoat appeared. Being charged to show Jonas out, it went before; and the voice within it cried, as usual, 'By your leave there, by your leave! Gentleman from the board-room, by your leave!'
Mr Montague being left alone, pondered for some moments, and then said, raising his voice:
'Is Nadgett in the office there?'
'Here he is, sir.' And he promptly entered; shutting the board-room door after him, as carefully as if he were about to plot a murder.