The Business 2

“Bankruptcies,” etc  Building World, vol 3, no 76, 27 March 1897, p. 402. The section follows job adverts, notices of competitive tenders, etc.

Olivia Corley and Tierney Shave

In response to our interviews with tradesmen detailed elsewhere on this site, we decided to transform the answers that we received into two short stories of the kind we find in The British Workman (influenced by more avant-garde Naturalism) that run parallel to each other, exploring the various obstacles of manual workers and what it means personally to them, involving the dramatic elements of bankruptcy (which The Building World carefully detailed) and the sacrifice of their original aspirations. 

The story parallel to this one can be found here.

* * *

“The business is now in your hands.”

Reginald’s eyes widened as those words left his father’s mouth. He knew that his father’s passing was inevitable and that something would have to be done with the family business, but he had hoped that when his father died the business would go with him. That doesn’t seem to be the case now. The business, much like his father’s health, had been deteriorating over the last few months; the work was sparse and when they did eventually find something, it was only a small job that wouldn’t bring in that much income. His father relied on word of mouth, the town they worked in wasn’t exceptionally large and with competing businesses it was incredibly difficult to find anyone who would pay the prices offered – not when there was a larger company who could afford to offer work at a cheaper price point. Reginald was aware of the lack of work. He was aware of the dwindling income. Reginald wasn’t aware that his father had not just left the business behind, but the debts that went along with it. 

Reginald received the first debt collection letter a week after laying his father to rest. The second arrived two days after the first. It appeared the debt collectors did not believe in allowing a family to mourn. From then on, they arrived like rain from the clouds, many and as often as each company felt like sending them; everyone a reminder of the large debt Reginald’s father had got himself into. Each letter was met with a sigh of disapproval, the swift action of crumpling them and throwing them into the fireplace. The door creaked open to reveal his wife standing, holding yet another letter. 

“If these keep arriving at the same rate they have been, we won’t be in need for any kindling this Winter.” She laughed lightly. She was always doing this, trying to make her husband see that every cloud has a silver lining. But he knew that the crease in her brow was beginning to deepen, the worry of how they were going to feed their growing family. With three children already and one more on the way their situation was worsening by the minute. 

“Hopefully that will be the last of them. I think I’ve managed to work out where we can save.” Reginald sighed, running a hand through his oil slicked hair. His wife hummed in acknowledgment, walking over to his desk and placing the letter in front of him.

“Your cousin called again.” She muttered; she never really took a liking to the extended family of her husband. “He said he would stop by later on today.” With this piece of information, Reginald knew the day would drag on until the moment his vexing cousin steps foot into his home. 

Reginald kept note of the total debt that always seemed to be rising rather than falling. He tried to pay it off piece by piece, but it seemed when he would finally have a breakthrough another letter would appear and set him right back to where he was. He was on the brink of letting the business fold and maybe trying to get a job as a clerk bank. The very thought made him laugh: a man who couldn’t even figure out his own family’s business finances going into a position dealing with money and numbers? He supposed he could let his cousin interfere; God knows the bastard had been itching to take control ever since his father first started to feel ill.

Reginald gave himself one last chance to try and figure out the financial issue and began trying to riffle through what was left of his father’s papers –  it seemed that they both had the habit of throwing into the fire letters with information they’d rather not face.

It was when digging through these papers that Reginald found a pamphlet, which upon closer inspection revealed itself to be a periodical. Amused by the sudden appearance of this distraction, Reginald sat back in his old wooden chair and flicked through the pages. It appeared to be all about the building world: its pages held how-to manuals, contract openings, and even a section on court hearings regarding certain building firms. If Reginald didn’t build up revenue soon, he would find himself featuring in the sub-heading titled “Bankruptcies”. Reginald couldn’t dwell on that thought for much longer: he’d rather ignore the thought of having to give it all up than read about all those who have had to give it all in times of struggle.

Once again, the door creaked open, he had been meaning to fix the door, maybe one of these how-to periodicals could help him, he scoffed at the thought. Reginald expected his wife to be standing in the doorway, instead he was greeted with a sight much worse.

“Hello cousin.” William smiled.

Reginald would have preferred another debt letter.

 “William, how are you?” Reginald remained seated at the table. William’s smile faltered slightly, he moved toward the table but did not take a seat and remained standing instead.

“I’ve been keeping well. Aunt Margery tells me you have been having business trouble, cousin?” Reginald grumbled, of all people to be news mongering it had to be his own mother.

 “I don’t know what she told you, William, but I’m perfectly fine – ”

“Now, now, cousin. Don’t go getting angry. She’s only looking out for her son. It’s what every mother does,” William interrupted.

Reginald knew his mother had her heart in the right place, if only her brain was too. The woman had no filter and was often known as the “church-bell” of their little town. He let out a frustrated sigh.

“What do you want William?”

“What do I want? I want to help out my dear cousin, Reggie.”

Reginald scowled at the patronising tone his cousin has now taken. William walked around the table, closer to his dear cousin.

“Don’t look at me like that Reg, I’m not Dracula,” he laughed to himself, “I’m just here to offer my services. If you want… I could loan you the money, get you back on your feet?”

Reginald wanted to shout. How dare William come into his house and proposition him with something like this! If he were to take the money, William would hold it over Reginald’s head for as long as he could. Reginald knew William dabbled in some questionable business ventures, so he had some sort of idea as to how his cousin had come into his little fortune. Did Reginald really want to use dirty money to save his company? If he did take the money, he’d be able to keep his head above water for the Winter until work picks up in the Summer. The more Reginald thought about it, the more the idea became appealing.

“Come on Reginald, when the work starts coming in, you’ll be able to pay it off in an instant.”

William leant over the table. “You can trust me Reg, we’re family.”

“Fine. I’ll take your offer. Thank you, William.”

A wide grin formed on William’s face. Like the cat who got the cream. He stood back up and straightened his coat. “You won’t regret this cousin. I’ll have it all arranged as soon as I can.”

Reginald gave a nod of his head as his cousin departed.

Reginald spent the next two days fretting and fidgeting. Had he made the right choice? The irrational side of him was calm in the knowledge that he would now have the funds to remove the company from bankruptcy, that the impending doom of ending up in The Buiding World‘s “Bankruptcies” section would never happen. But the rational side, the side Reginald often listened to more, was loud that he had made the wrong choice. It was a matter of pride. He didn’t want to be in his dandy cousin’s clutches. He didn’t want the business’s success to be built on the foundation of his cousin’s money. This was why he wrote to William informing him that he would no longer be needing his assistance. It may have been a poor choice, but he would rather have a clear conscience and clean company.

Reginald was sitting at the table once more, riffling through the week’s periodical. He avoided the dreaded “Bankruptcies” segment and carried on until he reached the “Contract Openings”. Reginald smiled to himself, this is how he would build his company up. Even if he did go bankrupt, he could still build it up from the dirt. He would not need to rely on anyone’s help. Reginald was making note of the local work available when his wife’s footsteps approached. He’d finally fixed the door that creaked with every opening. She delicately placed a letter on the table.

“More kindling, my dear?”

She smiled.

The story parallel to this one can be found here.