The next morning on rising, I learned that 'his Excellency' as Prince Rimanez was called by his own servants and the employes of the 'Grand,' had gone out riding in the Park, leaving me to breakfast alone. I therefore took that meal in the public room of the hotel, where I was waited upon with the utmost obsequiousness, in spite of my shabby clothes, which I was of course still compelled to wear, having no change. When would I be pleased to lunch? At what hour would I dine? Should my present apartment be retained ?— or was it not satisfactory? Would I prefer a 'suite' similar to that occupied by his Excellency? All these deferential questions first astonished and then amused me,—some mysterious agency had evidently conveyed the rumor of my wealth among those best fitted to receive it, and here was the first result. In reply I said my movements were uncertain,—I should be able to give definite instructions in the course of a few hours, and that in the meantime I retained my room. The breakfast over, I sallied forth to go to my lawyers, and was just about to order a hansom when I saw my new friend coming back from his ride. He bestrode a magnificent chestnut mare, whose wild eyes and strained quivering limbs showed she was fresh from a hard gallop and was scarcely yet satisfied to be under close control. She curveted and danced among the carts and cabs in a somewhat risky fashion, but she had her master in Rimanez, who if he had looked handsome by night looked still more so by day, with a slight colour warming the natural pallor of his complexion and his eyes sparkling with all the zest of exercise and enjoyment. I waited for his approach, as did also Amiel, who as usual timed his appearance in the hotel corridor in exact accordance with the moment of his master's arrival. Rimanez smiled as he caught sight of me, touching his hat with the handle of his whip by way of salutation.
"You slept late, Tempest"—he said, as he dismounted and threw the reins to a groom who had cantered up after him,— "Tomorrow you must come with me and join what they call in fashionable slang parlance the Liver Brigade. Once upon a time it was considered the height of indelicacy and low breeding to mention the 'liver' or any other portion of one's internal machinery,—but we have done with all that now, and we find a peculiar satisfaction in discoursing of disease and unsavoury medical matters generally. And in the Liver Brigade you see at a glance all those interesting fellows who have sold themselves to the devil for the sake of the fleshpots of Egypt,—men who eat till they are well-nigh bursting, and then prance up and down on good horses,—much too respectable beasts by the way to bear such bestial burdens— in the hope of getting out of their poisoned blood the evil they have themselves put in. They think me one of them, but I am not."
He patted his mare, and the groom led her away, the foam of her hard ride still flecking her glossy chest and forelegs.
"Why do you join the procession then!" I asked him, laughing and glancing at him with undisguised approval as I spoke, for he seemed more admirably built than ever in his well-fitting riding gear—" You are a fraud!"
"I am!" he responded lightly—"And do you know I am not the only one in London! Where are you off to?"
"To those lawyers who wrote to me last night;—Bentham and Ellis is the name of the firm. The sooner I interview them the better; don't you think so?"
"Yes—but see here,"—and he drew me aside—"You must have some ready cash. It doesn't look well to apply at once for advances,—and there is really no necessity to explain to these legal men that you were on the verge of starvation when their letter arrived. Take this pocket-book,—remember you promised to let me be your banker,—and on your way you might go to some well-reputed tailor and get properly rigged out. Ta-ta!"
He moved off at a rapid pace,—I hurried after him, touched to the quick by. his kindness.
"But wait—I say—Lucio !" And I called him thus by his familiar name for the first time. He stopped at once and stood quite still.
"Well?" he said, regarding me with an attentive smile.
"You don't give me time to speak"—I answered in a low voice, for we were standing in one of the public corridors of the hotel—"The fact is I have some money, or rather I can get it directly,—Carrington sent me a draft for fifty pounds in his letter—I forgot to tell you about it. It was very good of him to lend it to me,—you had better have it as security for this pocket-book,—by-the-bye how much is there inside it?"
"Five hundred, in bank notes of tens and twenties,"—he responded with business-like brevity.
"Five hundred! My dear fellow, I don't want all that. It's too much!"
"Better have too much than too little now-a-days,"—he retorted with a laugh—" My dear Tempest, don't make such a business of it. Five hundred pounds is really nothing. You can spend it all on a dressing-case for example. Better send back John Carrington's draft,—I don't think much of his generosity considering that he came into a mine worth a hundred thousand pounds sterling a few days before I left Australia.''
I heard this with great surprise, and, I must admit with a slight feeling of resentment too. The frank and generous character of my old chum 'Boffles' seemed to darken suddenly in my eyes,—why could he not have told me of his good fortune in his letter? Was he afraid I might trouble him for further loans? I suppose my looks expressed my thoughts, for Rimanez, who had observed me intently, presently added—
"Did he not tell you of his luck? That was not very friendly of him—but as I remarked last night, money often spoils a man."
"Oh, I daresay he meant no slight by the omission," I said hurriedly, forcing a smile—"No doubt he will make it the subject of his next letter. Now as to this five hundred"—
"Keep it, man, keep it"—he interposed impatiently— "What do you talk about security for? Haven't I got you as security?"
I laughed. "Well, I am fairly reliable now"—I said— "And I'm not going to run away."
"From me ?'' he queried, with a half cold, half kind glance. "No,—I fancy not!"
He waved his hand lightly, and left me, and I, putting the leather case of notes in my inner breast-pocket, hailed a hansom, and was driven off rapidly to Basinghall Street where my solicitors awaited me.
Arrived at my destination, I sent up my name, and was received at once with the utmost respect by two small chips of men in rusty black who represented 'the firm.' At my request they sent down their clerk to pay and dismiss my cab, while I, opening Lucio's pocket book, asked them to change me a ten-pound note into gold and silver which they did with ready good-will. Then we went into business together. My deceased relative, whom I had never seen as far as I myself remembered, but who had seen me as a motherless baby in my nurse's arms, had left me everything he possessed unconditionally, including several rare collections of pictures, jewels and curios. His will was so concisely and clearly worded that there were no possibilities of any legal hair-splitting over it,—and I was informed that in a week or ten days at the utmost, everything would be in order and at my sole disposition.
"You are a very fortunate man, Mr Tempest"—said the senior partner, Mr Bentham, as he folded up the last of the papers we had been looking through and put it by—"At your age this princely inheritance may be either a great boon to you or a great curse,—one never knows. The possession of such enormous wealth involves great responsibilities."
I was amused at what I considered the impertinence of this mere servant of the law in presuming to moralize on my luck.
"Many people would be glad to accept such responsibilities and change places with me,"—I said with a flippant air— "You yourself, for example?"
I knew this remark was not in good taste, but I made it wilfully, feeling that he had no business to preach to me as it were on the responsibilities of wealth. He took no offence however,—he merely gave me an observant side glance like that of some meditative crow.
"No, Mr Tempest, no"—he said drily—"I do not think I should at all be disposed to change places with you. I feel very well satisfied as I am. My brain is my bank, and brings me in quite sufficient interest to live upon, which is all that I desire. To be comfortable, and pay one's way honestly is enough for me. I have never envied the wealthy."
"Mr Bentham is a philosopher,"—interposed his partner Mr Ellis smiling—" In our profession Mr Tempest, we see so many ups and downs of life, that in watching the variable 'fortunes of our clients, we ourselves learn the lesson of content."
"Ah, it is a lesson that I have never mastered till now!" I responded merrily—"But at the present moment I confess myself satisfied."
They each gave me a formal little bow, and Mr Bentham shook hands.
"Business being concluded, allow me to congratulate you," he said politely—"Of course, if you should wish at any time to entrust your legal affairs to other hands my partner and myself are perfectly willing to withdraw. Your deceased relative had the highest confidence in us … "
"As I have also, I assure you"—I interrupted quickly— "Pray do me the favour to continue managing things for me as you did for my relative and be assured of my gratitude in advance."
Both little men bowed again, and this time Mr Ellis shook hands.
"We shall do our best for you, Mr Tempest, shall we not Bentham?" Bentham nodded gravely. "And now what do you say—shall we mention it Bentham ?—or shall we not mention it?"
"Perhaps," responded Bentham sententiously—"it would be as well to mention it."
I glanced from one to the other, not understanding what they meant. Mr Ellis rubbed his hands and smiled deprecatingly.
"The fact is Mr Tempest, your deceased relative had one very curious idea—he was a shrewd man and a clever one. but he certainly had one very curious idea—and perhaps if he had followed it up to any extent, it might—yes, it might have landed him in a lunatic asylum and prevented his disposing of his extensive fortune in the—er—the very just and reasonable manner he has done. Happily for himself and— er—for you, he did not follow it up, and to the last he retained his admirable business qualities and high sense of rectitude. But I do not think he ever quite dispossessed himself ot the idea itself, did he Bentham?"
Bentham gazed meditatively at the round black mark of the gas-burner where it darkened the ceiling,
"I think not,—no, I think not," he answered—" I believe he was perfectly convinced of it."
"And what was it?" I asked, getting impatient—"Did he want to bring out some patent ?—a new notion for a flyingmachine, and get rid of his money in that way?"
"No, no, no !" and Mr Ellis laughed a soft pleasant little laugh over my suggestion—" No, my dear sir—nothing of a purely mechanical or commercial turn captivated his imagination. He was too er—yes, I think I may say too profoundly opposed to what is called 'progress' in the world to aid it by any new invention or other means whatever. You see it is a little awkward for me to explain to you what really seems to be the most absurd and fantastic notion,—but—to begin with, we never really knew how he made his money, did we Bentham?"
Bentham shook his head and pursed his lips closely together.
"We had to take charge of large sums, and advise as to investments and other matters,—but it was not our business to inquire where the cash came from in the first place, was it, Bentham?"
Again Bentham shook his head solemnly.
"We were entrusted with it"—went on his partner, pressing the tips of his fingers together caressingly as he spoke— "and we did our best to fulfil that trust—with—er—with discretion and fidelity. And it was only after we had been for many years connected in business that our client mentioned— er—his idea;—a most erratic and extraordinary one, which was briefly this—that he had sold himself to the devil, and that his large fortune was one result of the bargain!" I burst out laughing heartily.
"What a ridiculous notion !" I exclaimed—" Poor man !— a weak spot in his brain somewhere evidently,—or perhaps he used the expression as a mere figure of speech?"
"I think not"—responded Mr Ellis half interrogatively, still caressing his fingers—"I think our client did not use the phrase 'sold to the devil' as a figure of speech merely, Mr Bentham ?''
"I am positive he did not"—said Bentham seriously—"He spoke of the 'bargain' as an actual and accomplished fact.''
I laughed again with a trifle less boisterousness.
"Well, people have all sorts of fancies now-a-days"—I said. "What with Blavatskyism, Besantism and hypnotism, it is no wonder if some folks still have a faint credence in the silly old superstition of a devil's existence. But for a thoroughly sensible man … "
"Yes—er, yes"—interrupted Mr Ellis—"Your relative Mr Tempest, was a thoroughly sensible man, and this—er— this idea was the only fancy that ever appeared to have taken root in his eminently practical mind. Being only an idea it seemed hardly worth mentioning—but perhaps it is well —Mr Bentham agreeing with me—that we have mentioned it."
"It is a satisfaction and relief to ourselves"—said Mr Bentham, "tohave had it mentioned."
I smiled, and thanking them, rose to go. They bowed to me once more, simultaneously, looking almost like twin brothers, so identically had their united practice of the law impressed itself upon their features.
"Good-day, Mr Tempest,"—said Mr Bentham—"I need scarcely say that we shall serve you as we served our late client, to the best of our ability. And in matters where advice may be pleasant or profitable, we may possibly be of use to you. May we ask whether you require any cash advances immediately?"
"No, thank you"—I answered, feeling grateful to my friend Rimanez for having placed me in a perfectly independent position to confront these solicitors—" I am amply provided."
They seemed, I fancied, a trifle surprised at this, but were too discreet to offer any remark. They wrote down my address at the Grand Hotel, and sent their clerk to show me to the door. I gave this man half-a-sovereign to drink my health which he very cheerfully promised to do,—then I walked round by the Law Courts, trying to realize that I was not in a dizzy dream, but that I was actually and solidly, five times a millionaire. As luck would have it, in turning a corner I jostled up against a man coming the other way, the very publisher who had returned me my rejected manuscript the day before.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed stopping short."Hullo!" I rejoined.
"Where are you off to?" he went on—"Going to try and place that unlucky novel? My dear boy, believe me it will never do as it is… ."
"It will do, it shall do"—I said calmly—" I am going to publish it myself."
He started. "Publish it yourself! Good heavens!—it will cost you—ah!—sixty or seventy, perhaps a hundred pounds.''
"I don't care if it costs me a thousand!" A red flush came into his face, and his eyes opened in astonishment.
"I thought … excuse me … " he stammered awkwardly, "I thought money was scarce with you"
"It was," I answered drily—" It isn't now."
THen, his utterly bewildered look, together with the whole topsy-turviness of things in my altered position, struck me so forcibly that I burst out laughing, wildly and with a prolonged noise and violence that apparently alarmed him, for he began looking nervously about him in all directions as if meditating flight. I caught him by the arm.
"Look here man," I said, trying to conquer my almost hysterical mirth—" I'm not mad—don't you think it,—I'm only a—millionaire!" And I began laughing again ; the situation seemed to me so sublimely ridiculous. But the worthy publisher did not see it at all—and his features expressed so much genuine alarm that I made a further effort to control myself and succeeded. "I assure you on my word of honour I'm not joking—it's a fact. Last night I wanted a dinner, and you like a good fellow offered to give me one,—to-day I possess five millions of money! Don't stare so! don't have a fit of apoplexy! And as I have told you, I shall publish my book myself at my own expense, and it shall succeed. Oh I'm in earnest, grim earnest, grim as death !—I've more than enough in my pocket book to pay for its publication now!"
I loosed my hold of him, and he fell back stupefied and confused.
"God bless my soul!" he muttered feebly—"It's like a dream !—I was never more astonished in my life!"
"Nor I!" I said, another temptation to laughter threatening my composure,—"But strange things happen in life as in fiction. And that book which the builders—I mean the readers—rejected, shall be the headstone of the corner—or —the success of the season. What will you take to bring it out?"
"Take? I? I bring it out?"
"Yes, you—why not? If I offer you a chance to turn an honest penny, shall your paid pack of 'readers' prevent your accepting it? Fie! you are not a slave,—this is a free country. I know the kind of people who 'read' for you,— the gaunt unlovable spinster of fifty,—the dyspeptic bookworm who is a 'literary failure' and can find nothing else to do but scrawl growling comments on the manuscript of promising work,—why in heaven's name should you rely on such incompetent opinion? I'll pay you for the publication of my book at as stiff a price as you choose and something over for good-will. And I guarantee you another thing—it shall not only make my name as an author, but yours as a publisher. I'll advertise royally, and I'll work the press. Everything in this world can be done for money … "
"Stop, stop,"—he interrupted.—"This is so sudden! You must let me think of it—you must give me time to consider"
"Take a day for your meditations then," I said—" But no longer. For if you don't say yes I'll get another man, and he'll have the big pickings instead of you. Be wise in time, my friend !—good-day!"
He ran after me.
"Stay,—look here! You're so strange, so wild—so erratic you know! Your head seems quite turned !''
"It is! The right way round this time!"
"Dear dear me," and he smiled benevolently—"Why you don't give me a chance to congratulate you. I really do, you know—I congratulate you sincerely!" And he shook me by the hand quite fervently. "And as regards the book, I believe there was really no fault found with it in the matter of literary style or quality,—it was simply too—too transcendental, and unlikely therefore to suit the public taste. The Domestic-Iniquity line is what we find pays best at present. But I will think about it—where will a letter find you?"
"Grand Hotel," I responded inwardly amused at his puzzled and anxious expression—I knew he was already mentally calculating how much he could make out of me in the pursuit of my literary whim—" Come there and lunch or dine with me to morrow if you like—only send me a word beforehand. Remember, I give you just a day's grace to decide,—it must be yes or no in twenty-four hours!"
And with this I left him, staring vaguely after me like a man who has seen some nameless wonder drop out of the sky at his feet. I went on, laughing to myself inaudibly, till I saw one or two passers by looking at me so surprisedly, that I came to the conclusion that I must put a disguise on my thoughts if I would not be taken for a madman. I walked briskly, and presently my excitement cooled down. I resumed the normal condition of the phlegmatic Englishman, who considers it the height of bad form to display any personal emotion whatever, and I occupied the rest of the morning in purchasing some ready-made apparel, which by unusual good luck happened to fit me, and also in giving an extensive, not to say extravagant order to a fashionable tailor in Sackville Street who promised me everything with punctuality and despatch. I next sent off the rent I owed to the landlady of my former lodgings, adding five pounds extra by way of recognition of the poor woman's long patience in giving me credit, and general kindness towards me during my stay in her dismal house,—and this done, I returned to the Grand in high spirits, looking and feeling very much the better for my ready-made outfit. A waiter met me in the corridor, and with the most obsequious deference, informed me that 'his Excellency the prince' was waiting luncheon for me in his own apartments. Thither I repaired at once, and found my new friend alone in his sumptuous drawing-room, standing near the full light of the largest window and holding in his hand an oblong crystal case through which he was looking with an almost affectionate solicitude.
"Ah, Geoffrey! Here you are!" he exclaimed—"I imagined you would get through your business by lunch time, so I waited."
"Very good of you!" I said, pleased at the friendly familiarity he displayed in thus calling me by my Christian name— "What have you got there?"
"A pet of mine"—he answered, smiling slightly—"Did you ever see anything like it before?"