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“It is a scheme of some considerable imaging,” said Heaton, having various maps and documents already displayed on my arrival. I was grateful to have word he had news, as my absence seemed to be trying Carey’s patience, and it would ease my circumstances to have some sop for his growling appetite.
“The members of the Somerset Company include Carey’s younger brother,” Heaton continued, “and while he holds the second largest stake, he is by some distance the least notable shareholder. Cecil, the Baron Burleigh, who is the Queen’s good friend and counselor, holds the largest stake, with some shares held by other members of the Privy Council and leading members in the Worshipful Company or Mercers. And since the Mercers control the Bourse, at which shares of the company would be traded, their involvement is most convenient. I will have you know the company’s members have gone to some pains to protect their secrecy, their shares being held by other companies, the shares of which are held by yet other companies, so that to tease out the actual ownership of Somerset did much try my art and did, in some instances, come at the cost of some coins being passed to such with access to records that are beyond my view, and even so, I can call this account only my best reckoning and not for certain true.”
“When wish their congress secret it is oft in shame of their motives,” I said.
Heaton nodded. “Just so. Now, of note, if you consider this ledger, you will see that all members of the company gained their shares by purchase, save Carey the younger. His stake was secured in exchange for title to some considerable holdings in Shoreditch that he gained at his father’s.”
“And had he not inherited such properties, then he could not have joined the company?”
“Had he not inherited such properties, their likely would be no company,” Heaton said. “Let me explain further. The younger Carey’s properties went into the company as payment for his shares, but are not held by the company, the company having exchanged those properties holdings for cash, and then having broken those properties into various parcels that were distributed out to the shareholders as a kind of dividend – to all shareholders save Carey, as, he, having contributed the properties, could not expect also to benefit from their conversion.”
“This seems odd,” I said, “Is not the purpose of this company to consolidate mercantile properties in Shoreditch, the company being in essence a land venture? Why buy and hold titles to some properties within the company, but then take such trouble to not hold some others?”
Heaton nodded. “That struck me odd, too. Put aside the matter of Carey’s lands for a moment, and let us consider again the Company’s holdings. Your butcher’s account is largely accurate. Since early June, various agents have been buying leases or properties as he described so as to control almost all trade in Shoreditch and in that area of London nearest. And, while those leases and properties did all eventual end up in the Company, they were not bought by the company, but instead by numerous other agents who would buy them first and then sell them immediate into Somerset’s holdings, but at some profit. Somerset’s attorneys then would approach the affected tenants to secure them for this new venture.”
“But why use other agents to purchase these properties when this only served to increase their eventual cost for the company?” I asked.
“For one, so that each transaction would seem individual and not reveal the interest of the company in the entire district. Were I advising a client and I to learn that a single company had designs on all properties in some area, then I would tell my client to hold hard for a dear price. By using multiple agents, they this avoided landholders gaining this knowledge. But I think this only a minor concern. By this model, these properties purchased, all in one area, are now seen in public records to have sold once to one party, and then again to a seeming second party, and each time at a higher price. This already is creating some stir among those with the wealth to speculate in lands.”
“The appetites of greed being thus whetted, such buyers will pay yet a higher price, believing they are privy to some new trend, and that they will sell these holdings at some price yet higher still.”
Heaton again nodded. “Speculations are the current fever of the newly moneyed, as they see lands and goods and companies not as objects of some intrinsic value, but simply as conduits through which to attract wealth. You have bought some lands around Stratford. How do you think on these lands before you make purchase?”
I shrugged. “Their usual yield in crops and income in leases, so as to know what gain they may produce in compare to what price I will pay.”
“And you think so as your consider such lands as now being a part of your estate, but,” Heaton held up a finger, “for these speculators, such issues mean naught, for the value of the land itself is the only crop, which crop they fertilize with the avarice of others so that it grows tall in men’s minds, and they then sell this imagined bounty to some other, who then must make this crop seem somehow more wondrous still.”
“But such trend can only hold so long as profitable sales continue.”
Heaton held up a sheet that detailed the inventory of properties that the players to this scheme had amassed. “Somerset already has sold back lands it has purchased from its agents to other agents, again at a higher price, such actions having wafted the scent of gain into those airs that do breathe our new class of moneyed speculators, who now are so hungry for this perceived feast that they little question its cost. But, most peculiar, while Somerset offers this ravening crowd the varied morsels of those small properties within its company, its shareholders, who through their truck with Carey now hold many larger lands surrounding the company’s holdings, do not offer such for sale. More peculiar still is the current traffic in Somerset’s shares. Aside from the younger Carey, who’s ownership in Somerset is held plain in his own name, the company’s more shadowy shareholders hold their claim behind the veil of other interests in other companies, which interests, also, are being now sold through rapidly through the Bourse, and for staggering amounts. ”
From the gleaming in Heaton’s eye, I could see he had some larger and final mischief to reveal, but one he thought he might already have made clear. And so I pondered his map and ledgers a moment and then offered my guess.
“The younger Carey has been played the fool,” I said. “Through the inducement to be member of their august company, he was tricked into handing over to his fellows those properties that he would have held as his own, those properties being much larger in area than those contained now within the company itself. He was sold this same vision of some new district of stores and the company’s monopoly on that district’s congress that now is being whispered about as reason for profits in land in Shoreditch. But his fellow shareholders are selling the lands within its corporation to drive speculation in properties in the district, while holding the larger lands gained from Carey to sell at the last, highest price. Meanwhile, they also are selling their shares, so in the end, they will have profited twice from the same fictions, while Carey will be left landless and with shares in a company that is then worth nothing.”
“Less than nothing,” Heaton said, “for while Carey has contributed his own wealth to the enterprise, the other shareholders have paid for their interest with debts secured by and held in the name of this network of companies through which they make ownership, this debt being transferred, along with their shares, to the new owners while Carey’s fellows slink off, like rats from the sinking ship of commerce.”
We paused for a moment, and a matter that had some puzzled me was now clear.
“And thus the name,” I said.
“Pardon?” asked Heaton.
“To call the company Somerset, I did wonder after this, for it seemed likely to draw some attention to its enterprise that those of its creation might wish avoid. But this will end in scandal, with many investors feeling ill used. The only person they will find at which to point their wrath will be the younger Carey, the name of his house serving to confirm his place as head of this scheme. But as he, too, will be much harmed, it will not seem he conducted purposeful mischief, but instead did wager much in a game he too little understood. For him to claim other would mean to indict many with such status as to do him considerable ill, and on whose continued favor he will now be even more dependent, what few assets he was left for his own maintenance squandered. And, from your telling, I would suppose any proof to any claims against any other members of the Somerset Company would be much fogged in this maze of companies and loans and interest you have described, so that only the guilty, who built such maze, can find their way clear, while all else they have sucked into its labyrinth will wander to no end.”
Heaton sat back in his chair and smiled. “You should have been a lawyer Will, as you have such talents in conspiracy as it oft requires.”
“Invention of conspiracies is vital, too, to my own art,” I replied. “But mine are played out on stages, not in lives. I fear I do not have the appetite for the real dish.”
Heaton packed away the varied maps and documents that illustrated the scheme, leaving on the table only my Company’s lease for the theater. On seeing it, I made a wry smile.
“I suppose it is a weakness of my craft,” I said, “that I did become so engrossed in your tale as to forget that business that did first bring me here.”
“On that, I do not yet have news, but I am to meet with Miller today. Methinks the mischief to which he has unknowing attached himself being so grave and the parties to it of such weight, shall make it easy to settle matters to your liking.”
I left Heaton’s office and headed for Somerset where I had further business. I had much to consider. The late Lord Chamberlain had first fallen ill in May, and his condition such declined by June that his death did seem likely – and it was in June, it seemed, this scheme was hatched, accelerating upward toward its ends as the late Carey’s health tended down. His seeming recovery, while news dear to those who loved him, would much injure the purse of this Somerset Company’s players, the younger Carey’s inheritance being key to their plot, and this seemed motive enough for murder, plain. But by which hand? His son’s or some others? And how to know the fact of that?