The £1,000,000 Bank Noteby Mark Twain
When I was twenty-seven years old, I was a mining-broker’s clerk in San Francisco, and an expert in all the details of stock traffic. I was alone in the world, and had nothing to depend upon but my wits and a clean reputation; but these were setting my feet in the road to eventual fortune, and I was content with the prospect. My time was my own after the afternoon board, Saturdays, and I was accustomed to put it in on a little sail-boat on the bay. One day I ventured too far, and was carried out to sea. Just at nightfall, when hope was about gone, I was picked up by a small brig which was bound for London. It was a long and stormy voyage, and they made me work my passage without pay, as a common sailor. When I stepped ashore in London my clothes were ragged and shabby, and I had only a dollar in my pocket. This money fed and sheltered me twenty-four hours. During the next twenty-four I went without food and shelter.
About ten o’clock on the following morning, seedy and hungry, I was dragging myself along Portland Place, when a child that was passing, towed by a nurse-maid, tossed a luscious big pear–minus one bite–into the gutter. I stopped, of course, and fastened my desiring eye on that muddy treasure. My mouth watered for it, my stomach craved it, my whole being begged for it. But every time I made a move to get it some passing eye detected my purpose, and of course I straightened up then, and looked indifferent, and pretended that I hadn’t been thinking about the pear at all. This same thing kept happening and happening, and I couldn’t get the pear. I was just getting desperate enough to brave all the shame, and to seize it, when a window behind me was raised, and a gentleman spoke out of it, saying:
“Step in here, please."
I was admitted by a gorgeous flunkey, and shown into a sumptuous room where a couple of elderly gentlemen were sitting. They sent away the servant, and made me sit down. They had just finished their breakfast, and the sight of the remains of it almost overpowered me. I could hardly keep my wits together in the presence of that food, but as I was not asked to sample it, I had to bear my trouble as best I could.
Now, something had been happening there a little before, which I did not know anything about until a good many days afterwards, but I will tell you about it now. Those two old brothers had been having a pretty hot argument a couple of days before, and had ended by agreeing to decide it by a bet, which is the English way of settling everything.
You will remember that the Bank of England once issued two notes of a million pounds each, to be used for a special purpose connected with some public transaction with a foreign country. For some reason or other only one of these had been used and canceled; the other still lay in the vaults of the Bank. Well, the brothers, chatting along, happened to get to wondering what might be the fate of a perfectly honest and intelligent stranger who should be turned adrift in London without a friend, and with no money but that million-pound bank-note, and no way to account for his being in possession of it. Brother A said he would starve to death; Brother B said he wouldn’t. Brother A said he couldn’t offer it at a bank or anywhere else, because he would be arrested on the spot. So they went on disputing till Brother B said he would bet twenty thousand pounds that the man would live thirty days, anyway, on that million, and keep out of jail, too. Brother A took him up. Brother B went down to the Bank and bought that note. Just like an Englishman, you see; pluck to the backbone. Then he dictated a letter, which one of his clerks wrote out in a beautiful round hand, and then the two brothers sat at the window a whole day watching for the right man to give it to.
They saw many honest faces go by that were not intelligent enough; many that were intelligent, but not honest enough; many that were both, but the possessors were not poor enough, or, if poor enough, were not strangers. There was always a defect, until I came along; but they agreed that I filled the bill all around; so they elected me unanimously, and there I was now waiting to know why I was called in. They began to ask me questions about myself, and pretty soon they had my story. Finally they told me I would answer their purpose. I said I was sincerely glad, and asked what it was. Then one of them handed me an envelope, and said I would find the explanation inside. I was going to open it, but he said no; take it to my lodgings, and look it over carefully, and not be hasty or rash. I was puzzled, and wanted to discuss the matter a little further, but they didn’t; so I took my leave, feeling hurt and insulted to be made the butt of what was apparently some kind of a practical joke, and yet obliged to put up with it, not being in circumstances to resent affronts from rich and strong folk.
I would have picked up the pear now and eaten it before all the world, but it was gone; so I had lost that by this unlucky business, and the thought of it did not soften my feeling towards those men. As soon as I was out of sight of that house I opened my envelope, and saw that it contained money! My opinion of those people changed, I can tell you! I lost not a moment, but shoved note and money into my vest pocket, and broke for the nearest cheap eating house. Well, how I did eat! When at last I couldn’t hold any more, I took out my money and unfolded it, took one glimpse and nearly fainted. Five millions of dollars! Why, it made my head swim.
I must have sat there stunned and blinking at the note as much as a minute before I came rightly to myself again. The first thing I noticed, then, was the landlord. His eye was on the note, and he was petrified. He was worshiping, with all his body and soul, but he looked as if he couldn’t stir hand or foot. I took my cue in a moment, and did the only rational thing there was to do. I reached the note towards him, and said, carelessly:
“Give me the change, please."
Then he was restored to his normal condition, and made a thousand apologies for not being able to break the bill, and I couldn’t get him to touch it. He wanted to look at it, and keep on looking at it; he couldn’t seem to get enough of it to quench the thirst of his eye, but he shrank from touching it as if it had been something too sacred for poor common clay to handle. I said:
“I am sorry if it is an inconvenience, but I must insist. Please change it; I haven’t anything else."
But he said that wasn’t any matter; he was quite willing to let the trifle stand over till another time. I said I might not be in his neighborhood again for a good while; but he said it was of no consequence, he could wait, and, moreover, I could have anything I wanted, any time I chose, and let the account run as long as I pleased. He said he hoped he wasn’t afraid to trust as rich a gentleman as I was, merely because I was of a merry disposition, and chose to play larks on the public in the matter of dress. By this time another customer was entering, and the landlord hinted to me to put the monster out of sight; then he bowed me all the way to the door, and I started straight for that house and those brothers, to correct the mistake which had been made before the police should hunt me up, and help me do it. I was pretty nervous; in fact, pretty badly frightened, though, of course, I was no way in fault; but I knew men well enough to know that when they find they’ve given a tramp a million-pound bill when they thought it was a one-pounder, they are in a frantic rage against him instead of quarreling with their own near-sightedness, as they ought. As I approached the house my excitement began to abate, for all was quiet there, which made me feel pretty sure the blunder was not discovered yet. I rang. The same servant appeared. I asked for those gentlemen.
“They are gone.” This in the lofty, cold way of that fellow’s tribe.
“Gone? Gone where?"
“On a journey."
“To the Continent, I think."
“Which way–by what route?"
“I can’t say, sir."
“When will they be back?"
“In a month, they said."
“A month! Oh, this is awful! Give me some sort of idea of how to get a word to them. It’s of the last importance."
“I can’t, indeed. I’ve no idea where they’ve gone, sir."
“Then I must see some member of the family."
“Family’s away, too; been abroad months–in Egypt and India, I think."
“Man, there’s been an immense mistake made. They’ll be back before night. Will you tell them I’ve been here, and that I will keep coming till it’s all made right, and they needn’t be afraid?"
“I’ll tell them, if they come back, but I am not expecting them. They said you would be here in an hour to make inquiries, but I must tell you it’s all right, they’ll be here on time and expect you."
So I had to give it up and go away. What a riddle it all was! I was like to lose my mind. They would be here “on time.” What could that mean? Oh, the letter would explain, maybe. I had forgotten the letter; I got it out and read it. This is what it said:
“You are an intelligent and honest man, as one may see by your face. We conceive you to be poor and a stranger. Enclosed you will find a sum of money. It is lent to you for thirty days, without interest. Report at this house at the end of that time. I have a bet on you. If I win it you shall have any situation that is in my gift–any, that is, that you shall be able to prove yourself familiar with and competent to fill."
No signature, no address, no date.
Well, here was a coil to be in! You are posted on what had preceded all this, but I was not. It was just a deep, dark puzzle to me. I hadn’t the least idea what the game was, nor whether harm was meant me or a kindness. I went into a park, and sat down to try to think it out, and to consider what I had best do. At the end of an hour my reasonings had crystallized into this verdict.
Maybe those men mean me well, maybe they mean me ill; no way to decide that–let it go. They’ve got a game, or a scheme, or an experiment, of some kind on hand; no way to determine what it is–let it go. There’s a bet on me; no way to find out what it is–let it go. That disposes of the indeterminable quantities; the remainder of the matter is tangible, solid, and may be classed and labeled with certainty. If I ask the Bank of England to place this bill to the credit of the man it belongs to, they’ll do it, for they know him, although I don’t; but they will ask me how I came in possession of it, and if I tell the truth, they’ll put me in the asylum, naturally, and a lie will land me in jail. The same result would follow if I tried to bank the bill anywhere or to borrow money on it. I have got to carry this immense burden around until those men come back, whether I want to or not. It is useless to me, as useless as a handful of ashes, and yet I must take care of it, and watch over it, while I beg my living. I couldn’t give it away, if I should try, for neither honest citizen nor highwayman would accept it or meddle with it for anything. Those brothers are safe. Even if I lose their bill, or burn it, they are still safe, because they can stop payment, and the Bank will make them whole; but meantime I’ve got to do a month’s suffering without wages or profit–unless I help win that bet, whatever it may be, and get that situation that I am promised. I should like to get that; men of their sort have situations in their gift that are worth having.
I got to thinking a good deal about that situation. My hopes began to rise high. Without doubt the salary would be large. It would begin in a month; after that I should be all right. Pretty soon I was feeling first-rate. By this time I was tramping the streets again. The sight of a tailor-shop gave me a sharp longing to shed my rags, and to clothe myself decently once more. Could I afford it? No; I had nothing in the world but a million pounds. So I forced myself to go on by. But soon I was drifting back again. The temptation persecuted me cruelly. I must have passed that shop back and forth six times during that manful struggle. At last I gave in; I had to. I asked if they had a misfit suit that had been thrown on their hands. The fellow I spoke to nodded his head towards another fellow, and gave me no answer. I went to the indicated fellow, and he indicated another fellow with his head, and no words. I went to him, and he said:
"‘Tend to you presently."
I waited till he was done with what he was at, then he took me into a back room, and overhauled a pile of rejected suits, and selected the rattiest one for me. I put it on. It didn’t fit, and wasn’t in any way attractive, but it was new, and I was anxious to have it; so I didn’t find any fault, but said, with some diffidence:
“It would be an accommodation to me if you could wait some days for the money. I haven’t any small change about me."
The fellow worked up a most sarcastic expression of countenance, and said:
“Oh, you haven’t? Well, of course, I didn’t expect it. I’d only expect gentlemen like you to carry large change."
I was nettled, and said:
“My friend, you shouldn’t judge a stranger always by the clothes he wears. I am quite able to pay for this suit; I simply didn’t wish to put you to the trouble of changing a large note."
He modified his style a little at that, and said, though still with something of an air:
“I didn’t mean any particular harm, but as long as rebukes are going, I might say it wasn’t quite your affair to jump to the conclusion that we couldn’t change any note that you might happen to be carrying around. On the contrary, we can."
I handed the note to him, and said:
“Oh, very well; I apologize."
He received it with a smile, one of those large smiles which goes all around over, and has folds in it, and wrinkles, and spirals, and looks like the place where you have thrown a brick in a pond; and then in the act of his taking a glimpse of the bill this smile froze solid, and turned yellow, and looked like those wavy, wormy spreads of lava which you find hardened on little levels on the side of Vesuvius. I never before saw a smile caught like that, and perpetuated. The man stood there holding the bill, and looking like that, and the proprietor hustled up to see what was the matter, and said, briskly:
“Well, what’s up? what’s the trouble? what’s wanting?"
I said: “There isn’t any trouble. I’m waiting for my change."
"Come, come; get him his change, Tod; get him his change."
Tod retorted: "Get him his change! It's easy to say, sir; but look at the bill yourself."
The proprietor took a look, gave a low, eloquent whistle, then made a dive for the pile of rejected clothing, and began to snatch it this way and that, talking all the time excitedly, and as if to himself:
"Sell an eccentric millionaire such an unspeakable suit as that! Tod's a fool--a born fool. Always doing something like this. Drives every millionaire away from this place, because he can't tell a millionaire from a tramp, and never could. Ah, here's the thing I am after. Please get those things off, sir, and throw them in the fire. Do me the favor to put on this shirt and this suit; it's just the thing, the very thing--plain, rich, modest, and just ducally nobby; made to order for a foreign prince--you may know him, sir, his Serene Highness the Hospodar of Halifax; had to leave it with us and take a mourning-suit because his mother was going to die-- which she didn't. But that's all right; we can't always have things the way we--that is, the way they--there! trousers all right, they fit you to a charm, sir; now the waistcoat; aha, right again! now the coat--lord! look at that, now! Perfect--the whole thing! I never saw such a triumph in all my experience."
I expressed my satisfaction.
"Quite right, sir, quite right; it'll do for a makeshift, I'm bound to say. But wait till you see what we'll get up for you on your own measure. Come, Tod, book and pen; get at it. Length of leg, 32"--and so on. Before I could get in a word he had measured me, and was giving orders for dress-suits, morning suits, shirts, and all sorts of things. When I got a chance I said:
"But, my dear sir, I can't give these orders, unless you can wait indefinitely, or change the bill."
"Indefinitely! It's a weak word, sir, a weak word. Eternally--that's the word, sir. Tod, rush these things through, and send them to the gentleman's address without any waste of time. Let the minor customers wait. Set down the gentleman's address and--"
"I'm changing my quarters. I will drop in and leave the new address."
"Quite right, sir, quite right. One moment--let me show you out, sir. There--good day, sir, good day."
Well, don't you see what was bound to happen? I drifted naturally into buying whatever I wanted, and asking for change. Within a week I was sumptuously equipped with all needful comforts and luxuries, and was housed in an expensive private hotel in Hanover Square. I took my dinners there, but for breakfast I stuck by Harris's humble feeding house, where I had got my first meal on my million-pound bill. I was the making of Harris. The fact had gone all abroad that the foreign crank who carried million-pound bills in his vest pocket was the patron saint of the place. That was enough. From being a poor, struggling, little hand-to-mouth enterprise, it had become celebrated, and overcrowded with customers. Harris was so grateful that he forced loans upon me, and would not be denied; and so, pauper as I was, I had money to spend, and was living like the rich and the great. I judged that there was going to be a crash by and by, but I was in now and must swim across or drown. You see there was just that element of impending disaster to give a serious side, a sober side, yes, a tragic side, to a state of things which would otherwise have been purely ridiculous. In the night, in the dark, the tragedy part was always to the front, and always warning, always threatening; and so I moaned and tossed, and sleep was hard to find. But in the cheerful daylight the tragedy element faded out and disappeared, and I walked on air, and was happy to giddiness, to intoxication, you may say.
And it was natural; for I had become one of the notorieties of the metropolis of the world, and it turned my head, not just a little, but a good deal. You could not take up a newspaper, English, Scotch, or Irish, without finding in it one or more references to the "vest-pocket million-pounder" and his latest doings and saying. At first, in these mentions, I was at the bottom of the personal-gossip column; next, I was listed above the knights, next above the baronets, next above the barons, and so on, and so on, climbing steadily, as my notoriety augmented, until I reached the highest altitude possible, and there I remained, taking precedence of all dukes not royal, and of all ecclesiastics except the primate of all England. But mind, this was not fame; as yet I had achieved only notoriety. Then came the climaxing stroke--the accolade, so to speak--which in a single instant transmuted the perishable dross of notoriety into the enduring gold of fame: Punch caricatured me! Yes, I was a made man now; my place was established. I might be joked about still, but reverently, not hilariously, not rudely; I could be smiled at, but not laughed at. The time for that had gone by. Punch pictured me all a-flutter with rags, dickering with a beef-eater for the Tower of London. Well, you can imagine how it was with a young fellow who had never been taken notice of before, and now all of a sudden couldn't say a thing that wasn't taken up and repeated everywhere; couldn't stir abroad without constantly overhearing the remark flying from lip to lip, "There he goes; that's him!" couldn't take his breakfast without a crowd to look on; couldn't appear in an operabox without concentrating there the fire of a thousand lorgnettes. Why, I just swam in glory all day long--that is the amount of it.
You know, I even kept my old suit of rags, and every now and then appeared in them, so as to have the old pleasure of buying trifles, and being insulted, and then shooting the scoffer dead with the million-pound bill. But I couldn't keep that up. The illustrated papers made the outfit so familiar that when I went out in it I was at once recognized and followed by a crowd, and if I attempted a purchase the man would offer me his whole shop on credit before I could pull my note on him. About the tenth day of my fame I went to fulfil my duty to my flag by paying my respects to the American minister. He received me with the enthusiasm proper in my case, upbraided me for being so tardy in my duty, and said that there was only one way to get his forgiveness, and that was to take the seat at his dinner-party that night made vacant by the illness of one of his guests. I said I would, and we got to talking. It turned out that he and my father had been schoolmates in boyhood, Yale students together later, and always warm friends up to my father's death. So then he required me to put in at his house all the odd time I might have to spare, and I was very willing, of course.
In fact, I was more than willing; I was glad. When the crash should come, he might somehow be able to save me from total destruction; I didn't know how, but he might think of a way, maybe. I couldn't venture to unbosom myself to him at this late date, a thing which I would have been quick to do in the beginning of this awful career of mine in London. No, I couldn't venture it now; I was in too deep; that is, too deep for me to be risking revelations to so new a friend, though not clear beyond my depth, as I looked at it. Because, you see, with all my borrowing, I was carefully keeping within my means--I mean within my salary. Of course, I couldn't know what my salary was going to be, but I had a good enough basis for an estimate in the fact, that if I won the bet I was to have choice of any situation in that rich old gentleman's gift provided I was competent--and I should certainly prove competent; I hadn't any doubt about that. And as to the bet, I wasn't worrying about that; I had always been lucky. Now my estimate of the salary was six hundred to a thousand a year; say, six hundred for the first year, and so on up year by year, till I struck the upper figure by proved merit. At present I was only in debt for my first year's salary. Everybody had been trying to lend me money, but I had fought off the most of them on one pretext or another; so this indebtedness represented only £300 borrowed money, the other £300 represented my keep and my purchases. I believed my second year's salary would carry me through the rest of the month if I went on being cautious and economical, and I intended to look sharply out for that. My month ended, my employer back from his journey, I should be all right once more, for I should at once divide the two years' salary among my creditors by assignment, and get right down to my work.
It was a lovely dinner-party of fourteen. The Duke and Duchess of Shoreditch, and their daughter the Lady Anne-Grace-Eleanor-Celeste-and-so-forth-and-so-forth-de-Bohun, the Earl and Countess of Newgate, Viscount Cheapside, Lord and Lady Blatherskite, some untitled people of both sexes, the minister and his wife and daughter, and his daughter's visiting friend, an English girl of twenty-two, named Portia Langham, whom I fell in love with in two minutes, and she with me--I could see it without glasses. There was still another guest, an American--but I am a little ahead of my story. While the people were still in the drawing-room, whetting up for dinner, and coldly inspecting the late comers, the servant announced:
"Mr. Lloyd Hastings."
The moment the usual civilities were over, Hastings caught sight of me, and came straight with cordially outstretched hand; then stopped short when about to shake, and said, with an embarrassed look:
"I beg your pardon, sir, I thought I knew you."
"Why, you do know me, old fellow."
"No. Are you the--the--"
"Vest-pocket monster? I am, indeed. Don't be afraid to call me by my nickname; I'm used to it."
"Well, well, well, this is a surprise. Once or twice I've seen your own name coupled with the nickname, but it never occurred to me that you could be the Henry Adams referred to. Why, it isn't six months since you were clerking away for Blake Hopkins in Frisco on a salary, and sitting up nights on an extra allowance, helping me arrange and verify the Gould and Curry Extension papers and statistics. The idea of your being in London, and a vast millionaire, and a colossal celebrity! Why, it's the Arabian Nights come again. Man, I can't take it in at all; can't realize it; give me time to settle the whirl in my head."
"The fact is, Lloyd, you are no worse off than I am. I can't realize it myself."
"Dear me, it is stunning, now isn't it? Why, it's just three months today since we went to the Miners' restaurant--"
"No; the What Cheer."
"Right, it was the What Cheer; went there at two in the morning, and had a chop and coffee after a hard six-hours grind over those Extension papers, and I tried to persuade you to come to London with me, and offered to get leave of absence for you and pay all your expenses, and give you something over if I succeeded in making the sale; and you would not listen to me, said I wouldn't succeed, and you couldn't afford to lose the run of business and be no end of time getting the hang of things again when you got back home. And yet here you are. How odd it all is! How did you happen to come, and whatever did give you this incredible start?" "Oh, just an accident. It's a long story--a romance, a body may say. I'll tell you all about it, but not now."
"The end of this month."
"That's more than a fortnight yet. It's too much of a strain on a person's curiosity. Make it a week."
"I can't. You'll know why, by and by. But how's the trade getting along?"
His cheerfulness vanished like a breath, and he said with a sigh:
"You were a true prophet, Hal, a true prophet. I wish I hadn't come. I don't want to talk about it."
"But you must. You must come and stop with me to-night, when we leave here, and tell me all about it."
"Oh, may I? Are you in earnest?" and the water showed in his eyes.
"Yes; I want to hear the whole story, every word."
"I'm so grateful! Just to find a human interest once more, in some voice and in some eye, in me and affairs of mine, after what I've been through here--lord! I could go down on my knees for it!"
He gripped my hand hard, and braced up, and was all right and lively after that for the dinner--which didn't come off. No; the usual thing happened, the thing that is always happening under that vicious and aggravating English system--the matter of precedence couldn't be settled, and so there was no dinner. Englishmen always eat dinner before they go out to dinner, because they know the risks they are running; but nobody ever warns the stranger, and so he walks placidly into trap. Of course, nobody was hurt this time, because we had all been to dinner, none of us being novices excepting Hastings, and he having been informed by the minister at the time that he invited him that in deference to the English custom he had not provided any dinner. Everybody took a lady and processioned down to the dining-room, because it is usual to go through the motions; but there the dispute began. The Duke of Shoreditch wanted to take precedence, and sit at the head of the table, holding that he outranked a minister who represented merely a nation and not a monarch; but I stood for my rights, and refused to yield. In the gossip column I ranked all dukes not royal, and said so, and claimed precedence of this one. It couldn't be settled, of course, struggle as we might and did, he finally (and injudiciously) trying to play birth and antiquity, and I "seeing" his Conqueror and "raising" him with Adam, whose direct posterity I was, as shown by my name, while he was of a collateral branch, as shown by his, and by his recent Norman origin; so we all processioned back to the drawing-room again and had a perpendicular lunch--plate of sardines and a strawberry, and you group yourself and stand up and eat it. Here the religion of precedence is not so strenuous; the two persons of highest rank chuck up a shilling, the one that wins has first go at his strawberry, and the loser gets the shilling. The next two chuck up, then the next two, and so on. After refreshment, tables were brought, and we all played cribbage, sixpence a game. The English never play any game for amusement. If they can't make something or lose something--they don't care which--they won't play.
We had a lovely time; certainly two of us had, Miss Langham and I. I was so bewitched with her that I couldn't count my hands if they went above a double sequence; and when I struck home I never discovered it, and started up the outside row again, and would have lost the game every time, only the girl did the same, she being in just my condition, you see; and consequently neither of us ever got out, or cared to wonder why we didn't; we only just knew we were happy, and didn't wish to know anything else, and didn't want to be interrupted. And I told her--I did, indeed--told her I loved her; and she--well, she blushed till her hair turned red, but she liked it; she said she did. Oh, there was never such an evening! Every time I pegged I put on a postscript; every time she pegged she acknowledged receipt of it, counting the hands the same. Why, I couldn't even say "Two for his heels" without adding, "My, how sweet you do look!" and she would say, "Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, and a pair are eight, and eight are sixteen--do you think so?" --peeping out aslant from under her lashes, you know, so sweet and cunning. Oh, it was just too-too!
Well, I was perfectly honest and square with her; told her I hadn't a cent in the world but just the million-pound note she'd heard so much talk about, and it didn't belong to me, and that started her curiosity; and then I talked low, and told her the whole history right from the start, and it nearly killed her laughing. What in the nation she could find to laugh about I couldn't see, but there it was; every half-minute some new detail would fetch her, and I would have to stop as much as a minute and a half to give her a chance to settle down again. Why, she laughed herself lame --she did, indeed; I never saw anything like it. I mean I never saw a painful story--a story of a person's troubles and worries and fears--produce just that kind of effect before. So I loved her all the more, seeing she could be so cheerful when there wasn't anything to be cheerful about; for I might soon need that kind of wife, you know, the way things looked. Of course, I told her we should have to wait a couple of years, till I could catch up on my salary; but she didn't mind that, only she hoped I would be as careful as possible in the matter of expenses, and not let them run the least risk of trenching on our third year's pay. Then she began to get a little worried, and wondered if we were making any mistake, and starting the salary on a higher figure for the first year than I would get. This was good sense, and it made me feel a little less confident than I had been feeling before; but it gave me a good business idea, and I brought it frankly out.
"Portia, dear, would you mind going with me that day, when I confront those old gentlemen?"
She shrank a little, but said:
"N-o; if my being with you would help hearten you. But--would it be quite proper, do you think?"
"No, I don't know that it would--in fact, I'm afraid it wouldn't; but, you see, there's so much dependent upon it that--"
"Then I'll go anyway, proper or improper," she said, with a beautiful and generous enthusiasm. "Oh, I shall be so happy to think I'm helping!"
"Helping, dear? Why, you'll be doing it all. You're so beautiful and so lovely and so winning, that with you there I can pile our salary up till I break those good old fellows, and they'll never have the heart to struggle."
Sho! you should have seen the rich blood mount, and her happy eyes shine!
"You wicked flatterer! There isn't a word of truth in what you say, but still I'll go with you. Maybe it will teach you not to expect other people to look with your eyes."
Were my doubts dissipated? Was my confidence restored? You may judge by this fact: privately I raised my salary to twelve hundred the first year on the spot. But I didn't tell her; I saved it for a surprise.
All the way home I was in the clouds, Hastings talking, I not hearing a word. When he and I entered my parlor, he brought me to myself with his fervent appreciations of my manifold comforts and luxuries.
"Let me just stand here a little and look my fill. Dear me! it's a palace --it's just a palace! And in it everything a body could desire, including cosy coal fire and supper standing ready. Henry, it doesn't merely make me realize how rich you are; it makes me realize, to the bone, to the marrow, how poor I am--how poor I am, and how miserable, how defeated, routed, annihilated!"
Plague take it! this language gave me the cold shudders. It scared me broad awake, and made me comprehend that I was standing on a half inch crust, with a crater underneath. I didn't know I had been dreaming --that is, I hadn't been allowing myself to know it for a while back; but now--oh, dear! Deep in debt, not a cent in the world, a lovely girl's happiness or woe in my hands, and nothing in front of me but a salary which might never--oh, would never--materialize! Oh, oh, oh! I am ruined past hope! nothing can save me!
"Henry, the mere unconsidered drippings of your daily income would--"
"Oh, my daily income! Here, down with this hot Scotch, and cheer up your soul. Here's with you! Or, no--you're hungry; sit down and--"
"Not a bite for me; I'm past it. I can't eat, these days; but I'll drink with you till I drop. Come!"
"Barrel for barrel, I'm with you! Ready? Here we go! Now, then, Lloyd, unreel your story while I brew."
"Unreel it? What, again?"
"Again? What do you mean by that?"
"Why, I mean do you want to hear it over again?"
"Do I want to hear it over again? This is a puzzler. Wait; don't take any more of that liquid. You don't need it."
"Look here, Henry, you alarm me. Didn't I tell you the whole story on the way here?"
"I'll be hanged if I heard a word of it."
"Henry, this is a serious thing. It troubles me. What did you take up yonder at the minister's?"
Then it all flashed on me, and I owned up like a man.
"I took the dearest girl in this world--prisoner!"
So then he came with a rush, and we shook, and shook, and shook till our hands ached; and he didn't blame me for not having heard a word of a story which had lasted while we walked three miles. He just sat down then, like the patient, good fellow he was, and told it all over again. Synopsized, it amounted to this: He had come to England with what he thought was a grand opportunity; he had an "option" to sell the Gould and Curry Extension for the "locators" of it, and keep all he could get over a million dollars. He had worked hard, had pulled every wire he knew of, had left no honest expedient untried, had spent nearly all the money he had in the world, had not been able to get a solitary capitalist to listen to him, and his option would run out at the end of the month. In a word, he was ruined. Then he jumped up and cried out:
"Henry, you can save me! You can save me, and you're the only man in the universe that can. Will you do it? Won't you do it?"
"Tell me how. Speak out, my boy."
"Give me a million and my passage home for my 'option'! Don't, don't refuse!"
I was in a kind of agony. I was right on the point of coming out with the words, "Lloyd, I'm a pauper myself--absolutely penniless, and in debt!" But a white-hot idea came flaming through my head, and I gripped my jaws together, and calmed myself down till I was as cold as a capitalist. Then I said, in a commercial and self-possessed way:
"I will save you, Lloyd--"
"Then I'm already saved! God be merciful to you forever! If ever I--"
"Let me finish, Lloyd. I will save you, but not in that way; for that would not be fair to you, after your hard work, and the risks you've run. I don't need to buy mines; I can keep my capital moving, in a commercial center like London, without that; it's what I'm at, all the time; but here is what I'll do. I know all about that mine, of course; I know its immense value, and can swear to it if anybody wishes it. You shall sell out inside of the fortnight for three millions cash, using my name freely, and we'll divide, share and share alike."
Do you know, he would have danced the furniture to kindling-wood in his insane joy, and broken everything on the place, if I hadn't tripped him up and tied him. Then he lay there, perfectly happy, saying:
"I may use your name! Your name--think of it! Man, they'll flock in droves, these rich Londoners; they'll fight for that stock! I'm a made man, I'm a made man forever, and I'll never forget you as long as I live!"
In less than twenty-four hours London was abuzz! I hadn't anything to do, day after day, but sit at home, and say to all comers:
"Yes; I told him to refer to me. I know the man, and I know the mine. His character is above reproach, and the mine is worth far more than he asks for it." Meantime I spent all my evenings at the minister's with Portia. I didn't say a word to her about the mine; I saved it for a surprise. We talked salary; never anything but salary and love; sometimes love, sometimes salary, sometimes love and salary together. And my! the interest the minister's wife and daughter took in our little affair, and the endless ingenuities they invented to save us from interruption, and to keep the minister in the dark and unsuspicious--well, it was just lovely of them! When the month was up at last, I had a million dollars to my credit in the London and County Bank, and Hastings was fixed in the same way. Dressed at my level best, I drove by the house in Portland Place, judged by the look of things that my birds were home again, went on towards the minister's and got my precious, and we started back, talking salary with all our might. She was so excited and anxious that it made her just intolerably beautiful. I said:
"Dearie, the way you're looking it's a crime to strike for a salary a single penny under three thousand a year."
"Henry, Henry, you'll ruin us!"
"Don't you be afraid. Just keep up those looks, and trust to me. It'll all come out right."
So, as it turned out, I had to keep bolstering up her courage all the way. She kept pleading with me, and saying:
"Oh, please remember that if we ask for too much we may get no salary at all; and then what will become of us, with no way in the world to earn our living?" We were ushered in by that same servant, and there they were, the two old gentlemen. Of course, they were surprised to see that wonderful creature with me, but I said:
"It's all right, gentlemen; she is my future stay and helpmate."
And I introduced them to her, and called them by name. It didn't surprise them; they knew I would know enough to consult the directory. They seated us, and were very polite to me, and very solicitous to relieve her from embarrassment, and put her as much at her ease as they could. Then I said:
"Gentlemen, I am ready to report."
"We are glad to hear it," said my man, "for now we can decide the bet which my brother Abel and I made. If you have won for me, you shall have any situation in my gift. Have you the million-pound note?"
"Here it is, sir," and I handed it to him.
"I've won!" he shouted, and slapped Abel on the back. "Now what do you say, brother?"
"I say he did survive, and I've lost twenty thousand pounds. I never would have believed it."
"I've a further report to make," I said, "and a pretty long one. I want you to let me come soon, and detail my whole month's history; and I promise you it's worth hearing. Meantime, take a look at that."
"What, man! Certificate of deposit for £200,000. Is it yours?"
"Mine. I earned it by thirty days' judicious use of that little loan you let me have. And the only use I made of it was to buy trifles and offer the bill in change."
"Come, this is astonishing! It's incredible, man!"
"Never mind, I'll prove it. Don't take my word unsupported."
But now Portia's turn was come to be surprised. Her eyes were spread wide, and she said:
"Henry, is that really your money? Have you been fibbing to me?"
"I have, indeed, dearie. But you'll forgive me, I know."
She put up an arch pout, and said:
"Don't you be so sure. You are a naughty thing to deceive me so!"
"Oh, you'll get over it, sweetheart, you'll get over it; it was only fun, you know. Come, let's be going."
"But wait, wait! The situation, you know. I want to give you the situation," said my man.
"Well," I said, "I'm just as grateful as I can be, but really I don't want one."
"But you can have the very choicest one in my gift."
"Thanks again, with all my heart; but I don't even want that one."
"Henry, I'm ashamed of you. You don't half thank the good gentleman. May I do it for you?"
"Indeed, you shall, dear, if you can improve it. Let us see you try."
She walked to my man, got up in his lap, put her arm round his neck, and kissed him right on the mouth. Then the two old gentlemen shouted with laughter, but I was dumfounded, just petrified, as you may say. Portia said:
"Papa, he has said you haven't a situation in your gift that he'd take; and I feel just as hurt as--"
"My darling, is that your papa?"
"Yes; he's my step-papa, and the dearest one that ever was. You understand now, don't you, why I was able to laugh when you told me at the minister's, not knowing my relationships, what trouble and worry papa's and Uncle Abel's scheme was giving you?"
Of course, I spoke right up now, without any fooling, and went straight to the point.
"Oh, my dearest dear sir, I want to take back what I said. You have got a situation open that I want."
"Well, well, well! But you know, if you haven't ever served in that capacity, you, of course, can't furnish recommendations of a sort to satisfy the conditions of the contract, and so--"
"Try me--oh, do, I beg of you! Only just try me thirty or forty years, and if--"
"Oh, well, all right; it's but a little thing to ask, take her along."
Happy, we two? There are not words enough in the unabridged to describe it. And when London got the whole history, a day or two later, of my month's adventures with that bank-note, and how they ended, did London talk, and have a good time?
My Portia's papa took that friendly and hospitable bill back to the Bank of England and cashed it; then the Bank canceled it and made him a present of it, and he gave it to us at our wedding, and it has always hung in its frame in the sacredest place in our home ever since. For it gave me my Portia. But for it I could not have remained in London, would not have appeared at the minister's, never should have met her. And so I always say, "Yes, it's a million-pounder, as you see; but it never made but one purchase in its life, and then got the article for only about a tenth part of its value."
二十七岁那年，我正给旧金山的一个矿业经济人打工，把证券交易所的门槛摸得清清楚楚。我是只身混世界，除了自己的聪明才智和一身清白，就再也没什么可依靠的了；不过，这反倒让我脚踏实地，不做那没影儿的发财梦，死心塌地奔自己的前程。 每到星期六下午股市收了盘，时间就全都是我自己的了，我喜欢弄条小船到海湾里去消磨这些时光。有一天我驶得远了点儿，漂到了茫茫大海上。正当夜幕降临，眼看就要没了盼头的时候，一艘开往伦敦的双桅帆船搭救了我。漫漫的旅途风狂雨暴，他们让我以工代票，干普通水手的活儿。到伦敦上岸的时候，我鹑衣百结，兜里只剩了一块钱。连吃带住，我用这一块钱顶了二十四个小时。再往后的二十四个小时里，我就饥肠辘辘，无处栖身了。 第二天上午大约十点钟光景，我破衣烂衫，饿着肚子正沿波特兰大道往前蹭。这时候，一个保姆领着孩子路过，那孩子把手上刚咬了一口的大个儿甜梨扔进了下水道。不用说，我停了下来，满含欲望的眼光罩住了那个脏兮兮的宝物儿。我口水直淌，肚子里都伸出手来，全心全意地乞求这个宝贝儿。可是，只要我刚一动弹，想去拣梨，总有哪一双过路的火眼金睛明察秋毫。我自然又站得直直的，没事人一样，好像从来就没在那个烂梨身上打过主意。这出戏演了一回又一回，我就是得不着那个梨。我受尽煎熬t正打算放开胆量、撕破脸皮去抓梨的时候，我身后的一扇窗子打开了，一位先生从里面发话： “请到这儿来。” 一个衣着华丽的仆人把我接了进去，领到一个豪华房间，里头坐着两位上了岁数的绅士。他们打发走仆人，让我坐下。他们刚刚吃了早餐，看着那些残羹剩饭，我简直透不过气来。有这些吃的东西在场，我无论如何也集中不了精力，可是人家没请我品尝，我也只好尽力忍着。 这里刚刚发生过的事，我是过了好多天以后才明白的，不过现在我就马上说给你听。这对老兄弟为一件事已经有两天争得不可开交了，最后他们同意打个赌来分出高低——无论什么事英国人靠打赌都能一了百了。 你也许记得，英格兰银行曾经发行过两张一百万英镑的大钞，用于和某国公对公交易之类的特殊目的。不知怎么搞的，这两张大钞只有一张用过后注销了；另一张则一直躺在英格兰银行的金库里睡大觉。且说这两兄弟聊着聊着，忽发奇想：假如一位有头脑、特诚实的外地人落难伦敦，他举目无亲，除了一张百万英镑的大钞以外一无所有，而且他还没法证明这张大钞就是他的——这样的一个人会有怎样的命运呢？大哥说这人会饿死；弟弟说饿不死。大哥说，别说去银行了，无论去哪儿这人也花不掉那张大钞，因为他会当场被抓住。兄弟两个就这样争执不下，后来弟弟说他愿出两万镑打赌，这人靠百万英镑大钞无论如何也能活三十天，而且进不了监狱。大哥同意打赌，弟弟就到英格兰银行把大钞买了回来。你看，英国男子汉就是这样，魄力十足。然后，他口述一信，叫一个文书用漂亮的楷体字誊清；然后，两兄弟在窗前坐了整整一天，巴望来一个能消受大钞的合适人选。 他们检阅着一张张经过窗前的脸。有的虽然老实，却不够聪明；有的够聪明，却不够老实；还有不少又聪明又老实的，可人穷得不彻底；等到个赤贫的。又不是外地人——总是不能尽如人意。就在这时，我来了；他们俩认定我具备所有条件，于是一致选定了我；可我呢，正等着知道叫我进来到底要干什么。他们开始问一些有关我个人的问题，很快就弄清楚了我的来龙去脉。最后，他们告诉我，我正合他们的心意。我说，我打心眼里高兴，可不知道这心意到底是什么意思。这时，俩人当中的一位交给我一个信封，说打开一看便知。我正要打开，可他又不让；要我带到住处去仔仔细细地看，不要草率从事，也不用慌慌张张。我满腹狐疑，想把话头再往外引一引，可是他们不干。我只好揣着一肚子被侮辱与被损害的感觉往外走，他们明摆着是自己逗乐，拿我耍着玩；不过，我还是得顺着他们，这时的处境容不得我对这些阔佬大亨耍脾气。 本来，我能把那个梨拣起来，明目张胆地吃进肚子去了，可现在那个梨已经无影无踪；就因为那倒霉的差事，把我的梨弄丢了。想到这里，我对那两个人就气不打一处来。走到看不见那所房子的地方，我打开信封一看，里边装的是钱哪！说真的，这时我对他们可是另眼相看喽！我急不可待地把信和钱往马甲兜里一塞，撒腿就朝最近的小吃店跑。好，这一顿猛吃呀！最后，肚子实在塞不下东西去了，我掏出那张钞票来展开，只扫了一眼，我就差点昏倒。五百万美元！乖乖，我懵了。 我盯着那张大钞头晕眼花，想必足足过了一分钟才清醒过来。这时候，首先映入我眼帘的是小吃店老板。他的目光粘在大钞上，像五雷轰顶一般。他正在全心全意地祷告上帝，看来手脚都不能动弹了。我一下子计上心来，做了这时按人之常情应该做的事。我把那张大钞递到他眼前，小心翼翼地说： “请找钱吧。” 他恢复了常态，连连道歉说他找不开这张大票，不论我怎么说他也不接。他心里想看，一个劲地打量那张大票；好像怎么看也饱不了眼福，可就是战战兢兢地不敢碰它，就好像凡夫俗子一接那票子上的仙气就会折了寿。我说： “不好意思，给您添麻烦了，可这事还得办哪。请您找钱吧，我没带别的票子。” 他却说没关系，这点小钱儿何足挂齿，日后再说吧。我说，我一时半会儿不会再到这儿来了；可他说那也不要紧，他可以等着，而且，我想什么时候来就什么时候来，想点什么就点什么，这账呢，想什么时候结就什么时候结。他说，我只不过因为好逗个乐于，愿意打扮成这样来跟老百姓开个玩笑，他总不至于因此就信不过像我这么有钱的先生吧。这时候又进来了一位顾客，小吃店老板示意我收起那张巨无霸，然后作揖打恭地一直把我送了出来。我径直奔那所宅子去找两兄弟，让他们在警察把我抓起来之前纠正这个错误。尽管这不是我的错，可我还是提心吊胆——说实在的，简直是胆战心惊。我见人见得多了，我明白，要是他们发现把一百万镑的大钞错当一镑给了一个流浪汉，他们决不会怪自己眼神不好，非把那个流浪汉骂个狗血喷头。快走到那宅子的时候，我看到一切如常，断定还没有人发觉这错票的事，也就不那么紧张了。我摁了门铃。原先那个仆人又出来了。我求见那两位先生。 “他们走了。”他用这类人那种不可一世的冷冰冰的口气说。 “走了？去哪儿了？” “出远门了。” “可——上哪儿啦？” “我想是去欧洲大陆了吧。” “欧洲大陆？” “没错，先生。” “怎么走的——走的是哪条路呀？” “我说不上，先生。” “什么时候回来呢？” “他们说，得一个月吧。” “一个月！唉，这可糟了！帮忙想想办法，看怎么能给他们传个话。这事要紧着哪。” 一实在办不到。他们上哪儿了我一无所知，先生。” “那，我一定要见这家的其他人。” “其他人也走了；出国好几个月了——我想，是去埃及和印度了吧。” “伙计，出了件大错特错的事。他们不到天黑就会转回来。请你告诉他们我来过，不把这事全办妥，我还会接着来，他们用不着担心。” “只要他们回来我就转告，不过，我想他们不会回来。他们说过，不出一个钟头你就会来打听，我呢，一定要告诉你什么事都没出；等时候一到，他们自然会在这儿候着你。” 我只好打住，走开了。搞的什么鬼！我真是摸不着头脑。“等时候一到”他们会在这儿。这是什么意思？哦，没准那封信上说了。我把刚才忘了的那封信抽出来一看，信上是这样说的： 看面相可知，你是个又聪明、又诚实的人。我们猜，你很穷，是个外地人。你会在信封里找到一笔钱。这笔钱借你用三十天，不计利息。期满时来此宅通报。我们在你身上打了一个赌。假如我赢了，你可以在我的职权范围内随意择一职位——也就是说，你能证明自己熟悉和胜任的任何职位均可。 没落款，没地址，也没有日期。 好嘛，这真是一团乱麻！现在你当然明白这件事的前因后果，可当时我并不知道。这个谜洞对我来说深不可测、漆黑一团。这出把戏我全然不晓，也不知道对我是福还是祸。我来到一个公园坐下来，想理清头绪，看看我怎么办才好。 我经过一个小时的推理，得出了如下结论。 那两个人也许对我是好意，也许是歹意；无从推断——这且不去管它。他们是玩把戏，搞阴谋，做实验，还是搞其他勾当，无从推断——且不去管它。他们拿我打了一个赌；赌什么无从推断——也不去管它。这些确定不了的部分清理完毕，其他的事就看得见、摸得着、实实在在，可以归为确定无疑之类了。假如我要求英格兰银行把这钞票存入那人名下，银行会照办的，因为虽然我不知道他是谁，银行却会知道；不过银行会盘问钞票怎么会到了我手里。说真话，他们自然会送我去收容所；说假话，他们就会送我去拘留所。假如我拿这钞票随便到哪儿换钱，或者是靠它去借钱，后果也是一样。无论愿不愿意，我只能背着这个大包袱走来走去，直到那两个人回来。虽然这东西对我毫无用处，形同粪土，可是我却要一边乞讨度日，一边照管它，看护它。就算我想把它给人，也出不了手，因为不管是老实的良民还是剪径的大盗，无论如何都不会收，连碰都不会碰一下。那两兄弟可以高枕无忧了。就算我把他们的钞票丢了，烧了，他们依然平安无事，因为他们能挂失，银行照样让他们分文不缺；与此同时，我倒要受一个月的罪，没薪水，也不分红——除非我能帮着赢了那个赌，谋到那个许给我的职位。我当然愿得到这职位，这种人赏下来的无论什么职位都值得一干。 我对那份美差浮想联翩，期望值也开始上升。不用说，薪水决不是个小数目。过一个月就要开始上班，从此我就会万事如意了。转眼间，我的自我感觉好极了。这时，我又在大街上逛了起来。看到一家服装店，一股热望涌上我的心头：甩掉这身破衣裳，给自己换一身体面的行头。我能买得起吗？不行；除了那一百万英镑，我在这世上一无所有。于是，我克制住自己，从服装店前走了过去。可是，不一会儿我又转了回来。那诱惑把我折磨得好苦。我在服装店前面来来回回走了足有六趟，以男子汉的气概奋勇抗争着。终于，我投降了；我只有投降。我问他们手头有没有顾客试过的不合身的衣服。我问的伙计没搭理我，只是朝另一个点点头。我向他点头示意的伙计走过去，那一个也不说话，又朝第三个人点点头，我朝第三个走过去，他说： “这就来。” 我等着。他忙完了手头的事，把我带到后面的一个房间，在一摞退货当中翻了一通，给我挑出一套最寒酸的来。我换上了这套衣服。这衣服不合身，毫无魅力可言，可它总是新的，而我正急着要衣服穿呢；没什么可挑剔的，我迟迟疑疑地说： “要是你们能等两天再结账。就帮了我的忙了。现在我一点零钱都没带。” 那店员端出一副刻薄至极的嘴脸说： “哦，您没带零钱？说真的，我想您也没带。我以为像您这样的先生光会带大票子呢。” 我火了，说： “朋友，对外地来的，你们不能总拿衣帽取人哪。这套衣服我买得起，就是不愿让你们找不开一张大票，添麻烦。” 他稍稍收敛了一点，可那种口气还是暴露无遗。他说： “我可没成心出口伤人，不过，您要是出难题的话，我告诉您，您一张口就咬定我们找不开您带的什么票子，这可是多管闲事。正相反，我们找得开。” 我把那张钞票递给他，说： “哦，那好；对不起了。” 他笑着接了过去，这是那种无处不在的笑容，笑里有皱，笑里带褶，一圈儿一圈儿的，就像往水池子里面扔了一块砖头；可是，只瞟了一眼钞票，他的笑容就凝固了，脸色大变，就像你在维苏威火山山麓那些平坎上看到的起起伏伏、像虫子爬似的凝固熔岩。我从来没见过谁的笑脸定格成如此这般的永恒状态。这家伙站在那儿捏着钞票，用这副架势定定地瞅。老板过来看到底出了什么事，他神采奕奕地发问： “哎，怎么啦？有什么问题？想要点什么？” 我说：“什么问题也没有。我正等着找钱哪。” “快点，快点；找给他钱，托德；找给他钱。” 托德反唇相讥：“找给他钱！说得轻巧，先生，自个儿看看吧，您哪。” 那老板看了一眼，低低地吹了一声动听的口哨，一头扎进那摞退货的衣服里乱翻起来。一边翻，一边不停唠叨，好像是自言自语： “把一套拿不出手的衣服卖给一位非同寻常的百万富翁！托德这个傻瓜！——生就的傻瓜。老是这个样子。把一个个百万富翁都气走了，就因为他分不清谁是百万富翁，谁是流浪汉，从来就没分清过。啊，我找的就是这件。先生，请把这些东西脱了，都扔到火里头去。您赏我一个脸，穿上这件衬衫和这身套装；合适，太合适了——简洁、考究、庄重，完全是王公贵族的气派；这是给一位外国亲王定做的——先生可能认识，就是尊敬的哈利法克斯·赫斯庞达尔殿下；他把这套衣眼放在这儿，又做了一套丧眼，因为他母亲快不行了——可后来又没有死。不过这没关系；事情哪能老按咱们——这个，老按他们——嘿！裤子正好，正合您的身，先生；再试试马甲；啊哈，也合适！再穿上外衣——上帝！看看，喏！绝了——真是绝了！我干了一辈子还没见过这么漂亮的衣服哪！” 我表示满意。 “您圣明，先生，圣明；我敢说，这套衣裳还能先顶一阵儿。不过，您等着，瞧我们按您自个儿的尺码给您做衣裳。快，托德，拿本子和笔；我说你记。裤长三十二英寸——”如此等等。还没等我插一句嘴，他已经量完了，正在吩咐做晚礼服、晨礼服、衬衫以及各色各样的衣服。我插了一个空子说： “亲爱的先生，我不能定做这些衣服，除非您能不定结账的日子，要不然就得给我换开这张钞票。” “不定日子！这不像话，先生，不像话。是永远——这才像话呢，先生。托德，赶紧把这些衣眼做出来，一刻也别耽搁，送到这位先生的府上去。让那些个不要紧的顾客等着。把这位先生的地址记下来，再——” “我就要搬家了。我什么时候来再留新地址。” “您圣明，先生，您圣明。稍等——我送送您，先生。好——您走好，先生，您走好。” 喏，往后的事你心里明白了吧？我顺其自然，想买什么就买什么，买完了，吆喝一声“找钱！”不出一个星期，我把所需的各色安享尊荣的行头统统置办齐备，在汉诺威广场一家价格不菲的旅馆安顿下来。我在那儿用晚餐，可早晨还是到哈里斯家的小吃店去吃个便饭，我就是在那儿靠一百万英镑的钞票吃的头一顿饭。是我成全了哈里斯。消息传开了，说马甲口袋里揣着百万大钞的古怪老外是这儿的财神爷。这就够了。这原本是一家穷得叮当响、苦巴苦结勉强糊口的小吃店，现在名声大振、顾客盈门了。哈里斯感激不尽，非要借钱给我，还不许我推辞；于是，我虽然一贫如洗，囊中却并不羞涩，日子过得又阔气，又排场。我心里也在打鼓，想着说不定哪天就会露馅，可是，事已至此也只有一往无前了。你看，这本来纯粹是件胡闹的事，可有了这种危机感，竟显出几分严肃、几分伤感和几分悲哀来。夜幕降临后，这悲哀总是在黑暗中走上前来警告我，威胁我；让我唉声叹气，辗转反侧，夜不能寐。然而，一到喜气洋洋的白天，这些悲剧因素就烟消云散，无影无踪了。我飘飘然，乐得晕头转向，像喝醉了酒一样。 说来也不足为奇；我已经成了这个世界大都会的显赫人物，我的思想何止是一星半点，简直是彻头彻尾地改造了。不管你翻开哪份报纸，无论是英格兰的，苏格兰的，还是爱尔兰的，你总会看到一两条有关“身藏百万英镑者”及其最新言行的消息。刚开始的时候，这些有关我的消息放在杂谈栏的尾巴上；接着我的位置就超过了各位爵士，后来盖过了二等男爵，再往后又凌驾于男爵之上了，如此这般，我的位置越升越高，名气也越来越响，直到无法再高的地方才停了下来。这时候，我已经居于皇室之下和众公爵之上；虽然比不上全英大主教，但足可俯瞰除他以外的一切神职人员。切记，直到这时，我还算不上有声望；只能说是有了名气。就在这时，高潮突起——就像封侯拜将一般——刹那间，我那过眼烟云似的名气化作了天长地久的金子般的声望：《笨拙》画刊登了我的漫画！是啊，如今我已经功成名就，站稳脚跟了。也许还有人调侃，可都透着尊重，既没出格，也不粗鲁；也许还有人发笑，却没有人嘲笑了。那样的日子已经过去。《笨拙》把我画得衣服都开了线，正跟一个伦敦塔的卫兵讨价还价。喏，你可以想见一个向来默默无闻的小伙子，突然间，他的每一句只言片语都会到处传扬；随便走到哪里，都能听见人们相互转告：“那个走路的，就是他！”吃早饭一直有人围得里三层外三层；在包厢一露面，成百上千的望远镜都齐刷刷地瞄了过去。嘿，我一天到晚出尽了风头——也可以说是独领风骚吧。 你看，我还留着那套破衣服呢，时不时地穿出去，为的是品味一下从前那种乐趣：先买点儿小东西，接着受一肚子气，最后用那张百万大钞把势力眼毙掉。可是，我的这种乐趣维持不下去了。画刊上把我的那套行头弄得尽人皆知，只要我穿着它一上街，就有一大群人跟在屁股后面；我刚想买东西，还没来得及拽出那张百万大钞，老板就已经要把整个铺子都赊给我了。 出了名以后的大约十天左右，我去拜会美国公使，想为祖国效一点儿犬马之劳。他用对我这种身份的人恰如其分的热情接待了我，批评我为祖国效力栅栅来迟。公使说当天晚上他正要宴客，刚好有一位嘉宾因病缺席，我只有补这位嘉宾的缺，才能获得公使的原谅。我应允之后，就和公使聊天。一说起来，原来他和我爸爸从小同学，后来又在耶鲁大学同窗就读；一直到我爸爸去世，他俩都是贴心朋友。因此，他吩咐我只要得闲，就来他府上走动走动；我当然愿意啦。 说真的，岂止愿意，我简直就是高兴。因为假如将来有个三长两短的，他也许能救我，让我免受灭顶之灾；他究竟怎么救我我不知道，不过他也许能想出办法来。事情已经到了这个地步，我已经不能冒险把自己的底细向他和盘托出；要是在这段伦敦奇遇一开场时就碰上他，我会马上说清楚。不行，现在我不敢说；我陷得太深了，深到不敢对刚结识的朋友说真话；不过，依我自己看来，也还没有深到完全没顶的地步。你知道，这是因为我小心不让全部外债超过我的支付能力——也就是说，不超过我的那份薪水。我当然不知道那份薪水到底有多少，不过有一点我有把握、也可以想见：假如我帮忙把这个赌打赢了，我就能在那位大亨的职权范围里任意选择一个职位，只要我干得了就行——我当然干得了啦；这一点我根本不怀疑。说到他们打的那个赌，我才不操心呢；我想必运气不错。至于薪水，我想年薪总会有六百到一千英镑；即使第一年只拿六百英镑，以后每过一年就要加薪，到我的能力得到证实的时候，薪水总能加到一千英镑了吧。尽管谁都想借给我钱，我却找出各种各样的借口婉言谢绝了一大部分；这样我欠的债只有借来的三百英镑现款，再加上拖欠的三百英镑生活费和赊的东西。我相信，只要我依旧小心节俭，靠我下一年度的薪水就能补上这一个这剩余日子的亏空，何况我真是格外小心，从不大手大脚。只等这个月到头，我的老板回来，就万事大吉了；那时，我就可以马上用头两年的薪水分头向各位债主还账，也就能立即开始工作了。 当天的宴会妙不可言，席上一共有十四个人。绍勒迪希公爵和公爵夫人以及他们的女儿安妮—格蕾丝—爱莲诺—赛来斯特—还有一串什么什么—德—波鸿女士，纽格特伯爵和伯爵夫人，契普赛德子爵，布拉瑟斯凯特爵士和夫人，几对没有头衔的夫妇，公使以及他的夫人和女儿，还有公使女儿的朋友、二十二岁的英国姑娘波蒂娅·朗姆。没出两分钟，我就爱上了她，她也爱上了我——这一点我不戴眼镜也看得出来。另外还有一位美国客人——我这故事讲得有点儿超前了。这些人正在客厅里等着，一边吊胃口，一边冷眼旁观后到的客人。这时仆人来报： “劳埃德·赫斯廷斯先生到。” 老一套的寒暄过后，赫斯廷斯瞧见了我，诚心诚意地伸出手，径直朝我走了过来；手还没握上，他忽然停了下来，不好意思地说： “对不起，先生，我还以为咱们认识呢。” “怎么，您当然认识我啦，老朋友。” “不。难道您就是——是——” “腰缠万贯的怪物吗？对，就是我。你别害怕喊我的外号，我听惯了。” “嗨嗨嗨，这可真没想到。有几次我看到你的名字和这个外号放在一块，我从来没想过他们说的那个亨利·亚当斯会是你。怎么？刚刚半年以前，你还在旧金山给布莱克·霍普金斯打工，为了挣点加班费经常开夜车，帮我整理核查古尔德和加利矿业公司的招股文件和统计数字呢。真没想到你会到了伦敦，成了百万富翁、当了名人了！好嘛，这可真是把天方夜谭重演了一遍。伙计，我一下还转不过弯子来，没弄明白；容我点时间来理理脑袋里头这一团乱麻。” “可是明摆着，你比我混得也不赖呀。我自己也弄不明白。” “好家伙，这真是万万没有想到的事，是吧？哎，咱俩上矿工饭馆才不过是三个月以前的事呢——” “不对，是上快活林。” “没错，是快活林；是过半夜两点钟去的，咱们赶那些增资文件用了六个钟头，然后到那儿去啃了块肉骨头，喝了杯咖啡，那时我想劝你跟我一起来伦敦，还主动要替你去请长假，外带为你出全部路费，只要那笔生意做成了，再给你好处；可是你不听我的，说我成不了，说你的工作断不得，一断，再回去的时候就接不上茬了。可是如今你却到这儿来了。稀奇稀奇！你是怎么来的，你这种不可思议的地位到底是怎么得来的呢？” “啊，纯系偶然。说来可就话长了——怎么说来着？简直是一篇传奇。我会原原本本告诉你，不过现在不行。” “什么时候？” “这个月底。” “那还得半个月呢。对一个好奇的人来说，这胃口吊得可太过分了。就一个星期吧。” “不行。慢慢你就知道到底是为什么了。接着说，你的生意怎么样了？” 他的精神头马上烟消云散，叹了一口气说： “你说得可真准，亨利，说得真准。我要不来才好呢。我不想提这件事。” “你不讲可不行。今天咱们走的时候，你一定要跟我走，到我那儿去呆一夜，把事情都讲给我听。” “啊，让我说？你这话当真？” “不错，我要从头到尾地听，一个字也别落下。” “太谢谢你啦！我在这儿混到这个地步，不成想又碰到有人用言辞、用眼神关心我、关心我的事了——上帝！就为这个，你该受我一拜！” 他用力握住我的手，精神振作起来，此后就心境坦然。高高兴兴地准备参加那场还没开始的宴会了。不成，又出老毛病了——在荒唐、可恨的英国体制下，这种问题总要发生——座次问题解决不了，饭就开不成。英国人出外赴宴的时候，总是先吃了饭再去，因为他们知道风险何在；可是并没有人告诫外来的客人，这些外来客就只有自讨苦吃了。当然，这一次没人吃苦，因为大家都赴过宴，除了赫斯廷斯以外都是老手，而赫斯廷斯自己在接到邀请时也听公使说过：为了尊重英国人的习惯，他根本就没有备正餐。每个人都挽着一位女士，鱼贯进入餐厅，因为通常都是这么干的；然而，争议就此开始了。绍勒迪希公爵想出人头地，要坐首席，他说他的地位高过公使，因为公使只是一个国家、而不是一个王朝的代表；可是我坚持自己的权利，不肯让步。在杂谈栏里，我的位置高过皇室成员以外的所有公爵，据此我要求坐那个位子。我们各显神通争执了一番，解决不了问题；最后他不明智地想炫耀自己的出身和先人，我算清他的王牌是征服者威廉，就拿亚当来对付他，说我是亚当的直系后代，有姓为证；而他只不过是旁支，不光有姓为证，还能从他并非悠久的诺曼人血统看得出来；于是我们大家又鱼贯回到客厅，在那儿站着吃——端着沙丁鱼碟子和草莓，自己凑对，就这样站着吃。在这里座次问题没有那么严重；两位地位最高的客人掷硬币猜先，赢的先吃草莓，输的得那枚硬币。地位次之的两个接着猜，然后又是以下两位，依此类推。用完小吃以后，搬过桌子来打牌，我们打克利比，一把六便士的彩。英国人从来不为玩而玩。假如不赢点什么、输点什么——至于输赢什么倒无所谓——他们决不玩。 我们度过了一段美妙的时光；当然说的是我们——朗姆小姐和我。我让她闹得魂不守舍，只要手里的牌超过两顺，我就数不清楚了，自己的分已经到了顶也看不出来，又接着从旁边的一排插起，这样打下去本来是把把必输，幸好那姑娘彼此彼此，和我的情况一模一样，你明白吗？于是我们两个人的得分总是到不了顶，分不出个输赢来，俩人都不在乎、也不想想这到底是怎么回事；我们只觉得彼此都很快活，其余的我们统统不闻不问，也不愿意让人搅了兴头。于是我告诉她——我真那样做了——告诉她我爱她；她呢——嘿，她臊得连头发根都红了，不过她喜欢着呢；她是说了，她喜欢。啊，我何曾经历过如此美妙的夜晚！每打完一把，我算分的时候，总要添油加醋，要是她算分，也心照不宣地和我一样数牌。喏，就算我说“跟两张牌”这句话，也得加上一句“哇，你真好看！”她呢，一边说“十五得两分，十五得四分，十五得六分，还有一对得八分，八分就算十六分，”一边问：“你算算对不对？”——她的眼睛在睫毛后头瞟着我，你是不知道：那么温柔，那么可爱。哎呀，真是太妙了！ 我们度过了一段美妙的时光；当然说的是我们——朗姆小姐和我。我让她闹得魂不守舍，只要手里的牌超过两顺，我就数不清楚了，自己的分已经到了顶也看不出来，又接着从旁边的一排插起，这样打下去本来是把把必输，幸好那姑娘彼此彼此，和我的情况一模一样，你明白吗？于是我们两个人的得分总是到不了顶，分不出个输赢来，俩人都不在乎、也不想想这到底是怎么回事；我们只觉得彼此都很快活，其余的我们统统不闻不问，也不愿意让人搅了兴头。于是我告诉她——我真那样做了——告诉她我爱她；她呢——嘿，她臊得连头发根都红了，不过她喜欢着呢；她是说了，她喜欢。啊，我何曾经历过如此美妙的夜晚！每打完一把，我算分的时候，总要添油加醋，要是她算分，也心照不宣地和我一样数牌。喏，就算我说“跟两张牌”这句话，也得加上一句“哇，你真好看！”她呢，一边说“十五得两分，十五得四分，十五得六分，还有一对得八分，八分就算十六分，”一边问：“你算算对不对？”——她的眼睛在睫毛后头瞟着我，你是不知道：那么温柔，那么可爱。哎呀，真是太妙了！ 不过，我对她可是襟怀坦白，光明正大。我告诉她，我连一个小钱都没有，就有一张她听说过的、被炒得沸沸扬扬的百万大钞，而且，那张大钞还不是我的，这让她非常好奇；我就悄悄地把前因后果统统给她说了一遍，把她笑了个半死。我搞不清楚她到底笑的是什么，反正她就是一个劲儿地咯咯咯直笑；隔半分钟，就有什么新的情节让她觉得可乐，于是我只好住嘴，给她平静下来的机会。嘿，她都快把自己笑傻了——她真是这样；我还从来没见过这样笑的。我是说从来没见过一个痛苦的故事——一个人的烦恼、焦急和担心——竟然制造出这样的效果。看到她在没什么高兴事的时候居然还能这么高兴，我对她的爱就愈发不可收拾了；你瞧，按那时的情况来看，也许我马上就用得着这么一位太太哪。当然我也告诉她，我们还得等两年，等到我用自己的薪水补上亏空的时候；不过她倒不在乎这些，只盼着我能在开支问题上尽量当心，别让我们第三年的花销有哪怕是一星半点的风险。接着，她开始有点担心了，她想知道我有没有搞错，把头一年起薪估计过高，高出我实得的数目。这话言之有理，让我把原来十足的自信略减了半成；同时，也启发我想出了一个好主意，我就直说了： “我亲爱的波蒂娜，到了我和两位老先生见面的那一天，你愿跟我一起去吗？” 她略微有点迟疑，不过还是说： “只要我去能让你踏实一点，我愿、愿意。可是——你觉得这样合适吗？” “我也不知道合不合适——我也担心这不大合适。不过，你知道，你去不去关系可大着呢，所——” “那就别管合不合适，我去就是了，”她用一种可爱的巾帼豪杰的口吻说。“啊，一想到能帮你点儿忙，我太高兴了！” “亲爱的，怎么是帮点儿忙？嘿，这事全靠你了。你这么漂亮，这么可爱，这么迷人，有你和我一起去，我准能把薪水提得高高的，让那两个好好老先生倾了家，荡了产，还心甘情愿。” 哦！你是没见到她当时的样子：满脸春色，眼睛幸福得闪闪发亮！ “讨厌鬼，光会说好听的！你连半句实话都没有，别管怎么样，我还是跟你一起去。也许这能给你个教训：别指望你怎么看人，人家就怎么看你。” 我心中的疑云一扫而空了吗？我重又信心十足了吗？你可以根据这件事来判断：我当时就私下把头一年的薪水提高到一千二百英镑。不过我没告诉他：我要留着这件事给她一个惊喜。 回家时我一路上像踩着棉花一样，赫斯廷斯说的话，一句都没钻进我耳朵里头去。直到赫斯廷斯跟着进了我的客厅，对应有尽有、豪华舒适的陈设赞不绝口的时候，我才清醒过来。 “让我在这儿站会儿，饱饱眼福。好家伙！这是宫殿呀——就是宫殿！想要什么，就有什么，暖融融的炭火，连晚餐都备好了。亨利，这不光让我明白了你到底有多阔；还让我彻头彻尾地明白了我自个儿到底有多穷——穷极了，惨透了，废物，没出路，没盼头了！” 天杀的！这一说让我打了个寒噤。他的话让我如梦初醒，我认识到自己是站在半寸厚的地壳上，下面就是火山口。我本来不知道自己是在做梦，——也就是说，我没容自己抽出时间来闹个明白；可是如今——乖乖！欠了一屁股债，一文不名，把一个姑娘的吉凶祸福攥在手心里，我自己却还前途未卜，只有一份也许是画饼充饥的薪水——唉，也许根本——就兑不了现！唉唉唉！我算是毁了，没有希望，没救了！ “亨利，你每天的收入只要漫不经心地散那么一星半点的，就可以——” “哼，我每天的收入！来，喝了这杯热酒，打起精神头来。咱们干一杯吧！啊，不行——你还饿着哪；坐下，来——” “我没觉得饿，饿过劲了。这些天我一直吃不下；不过，我一定陪你喝个够，喝到趴下为止。干！” “一人一杯，我奉陪！准备好了？一起干！劳埃德，我一边兑酒，你一边讲讲你那点事。” “讲一讲？怎么，再说一回？” “再说？这是什么意思？” “嗨，我是说，你想从头到尾再听一遍？” “我想再听一遍？这可把我闹迷糊了。等等，你别再灌这黄汤了。你不能再喝了。” “嗨嗨，亨利，你吓着我了。到这儿来的路上我不是把什么都对你说了吗？” “你？’， “是啊，我。” “我要是听见了一个字，我就不得好死。” “亨利，这事可严重了。别折腾我了。刚才在公使那里你到底搞什么鬼来着？” 这时我才恍然大悟，我敢做敢当，也就实话实说了。 “我把世界上最可爱的姑娘俘虏了！” 于是他冲了过来跟我握手，握呀，握呀，握得手都疼了；我们走了三英里路，他讲了一路故事，这故事我一句也没听见：这件事他不怪我了。接着，这个不急不躁的老好人坐下来，又把故事从头讲起。长话短说，他的经历大致如下：他来到英国时，本来以为遍地都是机会；他做了古尔德和加利矿业公司招股的代理，为勘探商出售开采权，超出一百万的部分全部归他。他竭尽全力，用上了全部关系，试遍了一切光明正大的手段，差不多花光了所有的钱，可是，没找到一个资本家愿听他的游说，而他的代理权这个月底就要到期了，他算是完了。说到这里，他跳起来大声嚷嚷着： “亨利，你能救我！你能救我，这世界上能救我的只有你了。你愿意拉我一把吗？你拉不拉？” “告诉我能帮你干什么。照直说，伙计。” “给我一百万，外加回家的路费，换我的‘代理权’！别，你可别拒绝！” 我有苦说不出。一句话已经到了嘴边：“劳埃德，我自己也是个要饭的——连一个小钱也没有，还欠着债。”可是，这时我脑子里电光石火般闪出一个念头来，我咬紧牙关，极力让自己冷静下来，直到冷静得像一个资本家。我用生意人沉着镇定的口气说： “劳埃德，我拉你一把——” “那我就已经有救了！上帝永远保佑你！有朝一日——” “劳埃德，让我说完。我要拉你一把，可不是那样拉；你吃了这么多苦，冒了这么多风险，那样办对你来说不公平。我用不着买矿山；在伦敦这样的商务中心，我用不着那样做也能赚钱；过去、现在我都不干这样的生意；不过我有一个办法。我对那座矿山的事情自然了如指掌；我知道那座矿山很有价值，为了它，谁让我赌咒发誓都成。你可以随意用我的名义去推销，在两三个星期里头就能卖得三百万现款，我们来对半分好了。” 你不知道，当时要不是我下了个绊，再把他绑起来的话，他定会在那阵狂喜中把我的家具都踩成劈柴，把坛坛罐罐全都打个稀巴烂。 后来，他说： “我可以用你的名义！你的名义——那还了得！嘿，这些伦敦阔佬准会成群结队地往这儿赶，为了认购股份非打起来不可！我赚了，我发了，今生今世我永远忘不了你！” 没过二十四小时，伦敦城就开了锅！我每天不干别的事，只是坐在屋里对来打听的人说： “没错，是我对他说的，有人问就来找我。我知道这个人，也知道这座矿山。他的人品无可挑剔，那矿山比他要的价值钱多啦。” 与此同时，我每天晚上都在公使府上陪着波蒂娅。矿山的事我对她只字未提；我留着这事给她一个惊喜。我们谈那笔薪水；除了薪水和爱情一切免谈；有时谈谈爱情，有时谈谈薪水，有时候两者兼谈。啊！那公使夫人和公使千金对我们的体贴无微不至，总是想方设法不让我们受打扰，只瞒着公使一个人，让他毫不疑心——你瞧，她们有多可爱呀！ 终于到了那个月的月底，我在伦敦国民银行的户头上已经有了一百万块钱，赫斯廷斯的钱数也是一样。当我穿着自己最体面的衣服，驱车经过波特兰大道那所宅子时，根据种种迹象判断，我的那两个家伙又回来了；我到公使府上接了我最亲爱的人，一边往回赶，一边起劲地谈论薪水的事。激动外加着急，使她显得分外妖烧。我说： “亲爱的，凭你现在的模样，我要的薪水比三千英镑少一个子儿都是罪过。” “亨利，亨利，你可别毁了咱们哪！” “你别怕。把这模样保持住，瞧我的吧。准保万事大吉。” 结果，这一路上反倒要我来一个劲地唱高调给她打气，她却一个劲地给我泼冷水；她说： “哎，请你记住，假如咱们要价太高了，也许一点儿薪水都捞不着；那时候咱们可怎么办呢，岂不是走投无路，没有生计了吗？” 还是那个仆人把我们领了进去，那两位老先生都在，看见有个尤物跟着我，他们很惊奇，可是我说： “这算不了什么，先生们；她是我日后的主心骨和帮手。” 于是我把他们介绍给她，提到他们时，都是直呼其名。他们对此倒是见怪不怪，因为他们知道我一定查过姓名录。他们让了座，对我极为客气，并且热情地消除波蒂哑的局促感，让她尽可能放松。这时我说： “先生们，我准备报告了。” “我们很高兴听你的报告，”我的那位先生说，“这样我哥哥亚贝尔和我打的赌就能见分晓了。你如果让我赢了，就可以在我的职权范围内得到一个职位。你拿来那张一百万英镑的钞票了吗？” “在这儿，先生，”我把钞票交给了他。 “我赢了！”他拍着亚贝尔的后背喊了起来。“哥哥，如今你还有什么可说的？” “我只好说，他真活下来了，我输了两万英镑。我真不敢相信。” “还有一事禀报，”我说，“这可就说来话长了。我请你们允许我再来一趟，详详细细地说说我这一个月的经历，我保证这值得一听。还有，瞧瞧这个。” “什么，好家伙！二十万英镑的存单。难道这是你的不成？” “是我的。我在三十天之内活用了阁下那笔小小的贷款，赚了这笔钱。至于这大钞本身，我只靠它买过小吃，付账让他们找零钱的时候用。” “嗬，这太了不起了，简直是匪夷所思，小伙子！” “没问题，我全都有根有据。别以为我说的都是天方夜谭。” 然而，这时轮到波蒂娅大吃一惊了。她眼睛睁得大大地说： “亨利，这真是你的钱吗？这些天你一直瞒着我？” “我确实瞒着你呢，亲爱的。不过，我想你会原谅我。” 她噘起上嘴唇，说： “别太肯定哦。你这个淘气鬼，敢这么骗我！” “啊，一会儿就过去了，心肝儿，一会儿就过去了；你明白吗，就是为了好玩。好了，咱们接着说吧。” “且慢，且慢！还有，那个职位呢。我得给你那个职位。”我的那位先生说。 “好吧，”我说，“我不胜感激，不过，我真是用不着再找那份差事啦。” “在我的职权范围之内，你可以选一个顶好的职位。” “谢谢，谢谢，我衷心感谢。不过，再好的职位我也不想要啦。” “亨利，我都替你不好意思了。别辜负了这位好先生的美意，要我替你来表示谢意吗？” “当然可以啦，亲爱的，只要你能做得更出色。看你的啦。” 她走到我的那位先生跟前，倚到他怀里，拿起他的胳膊搂住自己的脖子，对着他的嘴唇照直亲了起来。那两位先生哈哈大笑，我却不知所措，简直是傻了。波蒂娅说： “爸爸，他说在您的职权范围内没有他想要的职位，我真伤心，就好像——” “我的宝贝，他是你爸爸？” “对，他是我的继父，是全世界有史以来最好的。在公使家里时你还不知道我的家世，当时你告诉我，我爸爸和亚贝尔伯伯的花样让你多么烦恼，多么担心；现在你明白我当时为什么笑了吧。” 这样一来，我自然实话实说，不再闹着玩了；我直奔主题，说： “噢，最亲爱的先生，我想把刚才说的话收回来。您确实有个待聘的职位，我想应聘。” “说说是哪一个职位。” “女婿。” “哈，哈，哈！可是你知道，你既然没干过这份差事，显然你也不具备满足我们约定条件所需的长处，所以——” “让我试试——啊，一定让我试试，我求您了！只要让我试三四十年就行，假如——” “噢，好，好吧；这也不是什么大不了的要求，带她走好了。” 你说我们俩高不高兴？翻遍了全本的词典也凑不够词来形容啊。一两天之后，当伦敦人得知我和百万大钞一个月里的奇遇记始末以后，他们是不是兴致勃勃大聊了一通呢？正是如此。 我的波蒂姬的爸爸把那张肯帮忙而且好客的大钞送回英格兰银行兑了现；银行随后注销那张钞票并作为礼物赠给了他；他又把钞票在婚礼上送给了我们。从那以后，那张大钞镶了镜框，一直挂在我们家最神圣的位置上。是它给我送来了我的波蒂娜。要不是有了它，我哪能留在伦敦，哪能到公使家做客呢，更不要说遇上她了。所以我总是说，“不错，您没看走眼，这是一百万英镑；可这东西自从出世以来只用了一次，就再没花过；后来，我只出了大约十分之一的价钱，就把这东西弄到手了。”comments powered by Disqus