Ian Fleming

A  bird  in  the  hand


“One hundred and twenty pounds. Take it or leave it.”

 Henry Farquhar examined the buildings.  Rather dilapidated.  Henry wanted to conclude a satisfactory deal with this property, recently inherited from his uncle. George Iverson had expressed interest in a rental arrangement and Henry imagined this could produce some welcome additional income, contributing to his retirement in rather a “nice” way.

Henry looked at his pocket watch. It would be very like Iverson to keep him waiting. 

George Iverson.  Their relationship went back to their early school days. One memory, a bout of fisticuffs behind the lavatories, was sharply etched in Henry’s mind. Iverson, already well known for his quick, rather cruel tongue, had joked disparagingly  about Henry’s status as a scholarship student.  Both arms flailing like a windmill, Henry had rushed his opponent.  Iverson had laughed, calmly waited for the right moment, and punched Henry on the nose!   Henry’s face reddened as he heard again the jeers of his classmates.

 He forced the sound out of his head. Circumstances had changed since those boyhood days. As one of the three local Market Agents, Henry knew himself to be well liked and highly regarded in the community. He had worked hard, cultivated friendships astutely, and moved in the proper circles. By dint of this, he had established for himself a special place in the sun, one he richly deserved.  So, dash it all! – Henry’s chin jutted forward, his fists clenched – why should his hard-earned confidence falter at the thought of meeting with Iverson? He breathed deeply, and directed his thoughts elsewhere: attempting to see his reflection in the grime-streaked window of the vacant building.

Henry thought that his dress was not too flowery.  His cravat was neatly ironed.  His velveteen waistcoat reflected that he was not a simple journeyman.  Overall he thought he would rate as an equal to any man-of-the-world.  A few years previously, the first of January 1900 had slid into current time without fuss, and Henry was filled with the optimism of the new century.  His efforts on the Jubilee Committee would soon be rewarded and this would favourably influence his acceptance in various other committees. Although … there too Iverson was proving rather a problem. 

He looked down the roughly paved road as the sound of hooves on cobbled stones broke into his musings.

George Iverson, a self-trained alchemist with some business acumen and a flair for manufacturing, presented a generally smart and suave appearance as he came along the roadway. A helper ran alongside, holding the reins, and bringing the horse to a halt within a few paces of Henry.   The two men nodded to each other with polite reserve.

 Iverson had barely alighted from his horse when Henry came to the point – the speech as he had rehearsed it in front of his bedroom mirror:

“You  know that I inherited this property, used for quite some time by my uncle in his business activities.   It should   provide you with premises from which to conduct a manufacturing venture.”

Iverson, also obviously prepared for this sort of negotiation,  responded : “I understand that the Borough Management have become strict in setting conditions that would apply to manufacturing?”

“Yes”, replied Henry, “but they are in fact not too onerous, although they will have to be observed, quite clearly”.

Iverson again:  “It may reduce the value of the property if there are limitations, and consequently, the amount of rent you might expect”.

Henry quelled his irritation. A typical response from Iverson, just as when their opinions differed on the Jubilee Committee.  He still couldn’t comprehend how Iverson had been selected after the chairman had died, when he, Henry, was a natural successor. Be that as it may. Henry was determined not to be bested again.

His next words were abruptly resolute: “The rental is one hundred and twenty pounds.  Take it or leave it”.

Iverson seemed taken back.  “I am sure that I could discover suitable premises for less?”

“But not with such a convenient source of fresh water. The furrow from the power station is a short way upstream,” was Henry’s pointed observation.

The argue-bargue continued, points made and taken, until Iverson spoke with finality: “Seven pounds ten shillings a month, payable annually in advance for a period of five years.  Then an option for another two years at an appropriate increase.”

Henry reflected.  He had actually done very well out of Iverson: negotiations had been resolved quite satisfactorily.  As he volunteered his hand to conclude the deal, another memory slid into his mind: overhearing Iverson Senior referring to one of his tenants, Henry’s ageing pater as it happened, as “a wily old bird”, an odious, uncalled for comparison.  Henry smiled slightly and shook his new tenant’s hand firmly.

He no longer thought the buildings looked  dilapidated.