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The Disbursement Sheet
by [?]

The old man was dead, and his son Edward reigned in his stead. The old man had risen from a humble position in life; his rule was easy, and his manner of conducting business eminently approved of by the rough old seamen who sailed his small craft round the coast, and by that sharp clerk Simmons, on whose discovery the old man was wont, at times, to hug himself in secret. The proceedings, when one of his skippers came home from a voyage, were severely simple. The skipper would produce a bag, and, emptying it upon the table, give an account of his voyage; whenever he came to an expenditure, raking the sum out of the heap, until, at length, the cash was divided into two portions, one of which went to the owner, the other to the skipper.

But other men other manners. The books of the inimitable Simmons being overhauled, revealed the startling fact that they were kept by single entry; in addition to which, a series of dots and dashes appeared against the figures forming a code, the only key to which was locked up somewhere in Simmons’s interior.

“It’s a wonder the firm hasn’t gone bankrupt long ago,” said the new governor, after the clerk had explained the meaning of various signs and wonders. “What does this starfish against the entry mean?”

“It isn’t a starfish, sir,” said Simmons; “it means that one bag of sugar got wetted a little; then, if the consignees notice it, we shall know we have got to allow for it.”

“A pretty way of doing business, upon my word. It’ll all have to be altered,” said the other. “I must have new offices too; this dingy little hole is enough to frighten people away.”

The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Captain Fazackerly, of the schooner Sarah Ann, who, having just brought up in the river, had hastened to the office to report.

“Mornin’, sir,” said the captain respectfully; “I’m glad to see you here, sir, but the office don’t seem real-like without your father sitting in it. He was a good master, and we’re all sorry to lose him.”

“You’re very good,” said the new master somewhat awkwardly.

“I expect it’ll take some time for you to get into the way of it,” said the captain, with a view to giving the conversation a more cheerful turn.

“I expect it will,” said the new master, thinking of the starfish.

“It’s a mercy Simmons wasn’t took too,” said the captain, shaking his head. “As it is, he’s spared; he’ll be able to teach you. There ain’t”–he lowered his voice, not wishing to make Simmons unduly proud–“there ain’t a smarter clerk in all Liverpool than wot he is.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said the new master, regarding the old man with raised eyebrows, as he extricated a plethoric-looking canvas bag from his jacket pocket and dropped it with a musical crash on the chipped office table. His eyebrows went still higher, as the old man unfastened the string, and emptying the contents on to the table, knitted his brows into reflective wrinkles, and began to debit the firm with all the liabilities of a slow but tenacious memory.

“Oh, come,” said the owner sharply, as the old man lovingly hooked out the sum of five-and sixpence as a first instalment, “this won’t do, cap’n.”

“Wot won’t do, Mas’r Edward?” inquired the old man in surprise.

“Why, this way of doing business,” said the other. “It’s not businesslike at all, you know.”

“Well, it’s the way me an’ your pore old father has done it this last thirty year,” said the skipper, “an’ I’m sure I’ve never knowingly cheated him out of a ha’penny; and a better man o’ business than your father never breathed.”

“Yes; well, I’m going to do things a bit differently,” said the new master. “You must give me a proper disbursement sheet, cap’n, if you please.”