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? Yes.
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."