When I was 27 years old I worked as a clerk in a company in San Francisco. I was a perfect worker. It was easy for me to work there. I had a great reputation and good skills.
On Saturday I sailed a boat in my free time. One day I sailed too far and I was lost in the sea. When I almost lost hope to be saved, I was picked up by a small brig floating to London. I couldn’t buy a ticket so I worked as a sailor there. When I got to London I had one dollar in my pocket, so I could find some food and a place to sleep for just one night.
Next morning I was walking along Portland Place. I saw a little child, who threw a pear on the ground. It was bitten only once. When I was about to pick up the pear, I heard some noise behind me. The window opened and a gentleman shouted to me, “come in here, please”.
A servant opened the door and let me in. I went to the room where two old gentlemen were sitting. They asked me to take a seat. I saw that they had just finished breakfast by the moment I came in. Unfortunately, nobody was going to share any food.
It turned out that these two gentlemen had made a bet.
You remember that the Bank of England made two notes of a million pounds each. It was for some transaction with a foreign country. For some reason only one of them had been used, when the other one was still in the Bank. The old gentlemen imagined a situation where a complete stranger went to London with no friends and money, only with that million-pound banknote. The first man was sure that a stranger would starve to death or would be arrested if going with this banknote to the bank. The second one bet that a stranger would survive with a million-pound banknote at least for a month. The bet was accepted. They bought this very banknote and waited for a suitable person.
It wasn’t easy to find a suitable man. Some strangers weren’t intelligent or honest enough. Intelligent and honest people didn’t look like poor strangers. Finally, they met me and I was perfect in every aspect. I answered all the questions they asked me. After that, I was given an envelope and told to open it later. I was puzzled, but I had no choice in my situation.
When I was outside I decided to open the envelope. I found money there and it was real. I found myself in the nearest cheap restaurant and when I had enough to eat I looked at the banknote very carefully. Five million dollars. I was about to faint.
Then I noticed the owner who was looking at the banknote. I didn’t know what to do, but then I gave him the banknote and asked him to change it. He said to me that he was really sorry, but he couldn’t do that.
“I am afraid I have nothing but this banknote. I’m asking you to change it,” I said.
The owner said it was fine and he was ready to wait for me to change it. Moreover, he added that I could eat whatever I wanted in this restaurant and I could pay later. I was going to visit those gentlemen to correct the mistake they had made. When I came there I asked the servant if I could see the old men.
“They are gone,” said the servant.
“Gone? Where?” I asked.
“On a journey.”
“When will they be back?”
“In a month,” the servant answered.
“In a month! That’s awful! Tell me the address where I can write to them,” I begged.
“If I knew I would tell you.”
“Can I see their family?”
“The family is away, too. They are probably in India or Egypt,” he explained.
“I must see them. A stupid mistake has been made. Tell them I’ve been here.”
“They told me that you would be here in an hour asking me questions. You shouldn’t worry. Everything’s fine.”
I had no idea what to do, but then I remembered about the letter. I took it out and read. It said the following:
“You seem to be an intelligent and honest man. We think you are poor and a stranger in London. You will find some money in here. It’s all yours for 30 days. You have to keep it. Come back to this house in a month. I have bet on you. If I win I will give you any job you want.”
No signature. No address. No date.
What did these old gentlemen want from me? I didn’t understand anything, but I knew that I couldn’t change the banknote because I could be arrested. If I lost or burnt the banknote, the brothers would be able to go to the bank and get their money back. If I lost this game, I wouldn’t get a suitable position for me.
I was dreaming about my new possible job. I was sure that my salary would be high. This thought made me relaxed. I was walking by a tailors’ workshop and I felt like I wanted to change my rags. I made myself forget about it, because I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t remember how it happened, but I entered and asked if they had any suits available.
One of the workers gave me a suit which wasn’t so attractive and it didn’t fit me well, but it was brand new. I got so excited that I wasn’t ready to take it off.
“Can I ask you to wait for a few days as I have got money, but don’t think you can change it,” I begged.
“I’m not surprised. Gentlemen like you always say that,” he answered.
“You shouldn’t judge people by what they wear. I can pay for this suit. I think that it will be difficult for you to change my note,” I explained.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, sir. We can change any note you’ll give to us,” the man said.
“Sorry, then here you are.” I gave him my banknote.
I saw a smile on his face when he took my note. After he looked at it his face changed. The man was standing still when the owner came up to us.
“What’s going on?” He asked.
“I’m waiting for my change,” I answered.
“Tod, give him the change,” the owner said.
“Give him the change? Look at this banknote yourself,” Tod said.
The owner turned over and rushed to the suits.
“He gave a millionaire such a suit. Tod is a fool. He always has been. Turning away all the millionaires. He can’t even understand what kind of a person is standing in front of him,” the owner complained. “I’ve got it, sir! Take that stuff off and put on this suit. I’m sure this is what you want. It’ll be perfect on you. It looks great, but modest. Everything fits you so well. I’ve never seen anything better!”
I was on cloud nine.
“Sir, we must make something according to your own size. Tod, give me a book and a pen,” the owner said excitedly.
“Wait a second, please. I can’t order all these items. Only if you are ready to wait a while or change the banknote,” I explained.
“For some time? Oh, we can wait forever, sir,” the man said and smiled. “Tod, hurry up! Send all the things to the gentlemen. Ask him to give you his address.”
“I’m moving now. I think I can drop by later and give you my new address,” I replied.
“Yes, sir, of course. Then have a good day, sir!” The owner said.
I started buying different things and asking to change the devil’s note. A week later I looked amazing, I lived in a very expensive hotel. I had lunch there, but for breakfast I used to go to the place where I had my first meal on my million-pound bill. Thanks to me that place became really popular. The owner of the place, Harris, was so thankful to me that he begged me to take some money which I didn’t have to give back. I knew that everything would be over one day and it frightened me.
I became famous very fast and it was driving me crazy. I could take any newspaper and I could find an article about me. I was called a “Fat Cat”. I liked pretending to be poor when going to shops. People didn’t want to sell anything to me, but then I showed my banknote and it shocked them.
One day the American ambassador invited me for dinner and I agreed. I found out that my father and the ambassador were rather close friends. It was a pleasure for me to be his guest.
To be honest, I was hoping that he would be able to help me. I wanted to tell him everything, but I couldn’t. I thought that I would win the bet. I wanted to give all the money back, that’s why I needed a job. I counted everything and I had to give back about 300 pounds. It would take me a year to pay everything back, if my salary was high.
The dinner was amazing, especially because I met one young lady, named Portia Langham. She looked beautiful. It took me two minutes to fall in love with her. I felt she had the same feelings. We were looking at each other when the servant announced, “Mr. Lloyd Hastings.”
The new guest noticed me. He was coming up to me, ready to shake my hand. Then he got confused and stopped.
“I’m sorry, sir. I thought I knew you,” he said.
“Of course you know me,” I smiled.
“You are…the…” The guest was really shocked.
“Fat Cat. It’s me. It’s okay if you call me by this nickname. I’m used to it,” I replied.
“What a surprise! I never thought that it was you, Henry Adams. I remember like a year ago you were an ordinary clerk working for Blake Hopkins in Frisco. Now you are in London, a famous millionaire. It’s impossible,” Mr. Lloyd Hastings said.
“I still don’t believe it, too!” I exclaimed.
“Oh My God, we were sitting in some great restaurant just three months ago,” he said. “We were fed up with our job. I tried to persuade you to come with me to London. You refused, but now you’re in London. How did it happen?” He asked.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you everything later,” I promised.
“But I want to know now!” He said.
“I can’t. Wait, please. Tell me about yourself?” I asked.
His smile vanished.
“You were right. I failed. I don’t want to talk about it,” Mr. Lloyd sighed.
“You must tell me everything! You may stay at my place and tell me there,” I said.
“Are you kidding? Really?” He was so excited.
“Yes, I want to know everything in detail,” I replied.
“Thank you! That sounds great especially after what I’ve been through here,” he said.
Dinner was more like a ritual and we had to eat beforehand. Everyone took a lady and we went to the dining room. It was impossible for guests to decide who was the most important figure there. We could argue forever about who would sit at the head of the table. Finally we went back to the living room. We were forced to stand up and eat.
Miss Langham and I had a wonderful time. I told her I loved her and then her cheeks blushed. I didn’t want to hide anything from her so I told her the truth. Miss Langham was laughing to tears while I was telling her everything. I couldn’t understand why because my story was a kind of upsetting. Anyway I was ready to marry this lady, but I asked her to wait.
“Dear Portia, would you like to go with me to meet those old gentlemen in two weeks?” I asked.
“If it would cheer you up,” she answered.
“Yes, of course it would,” I exclaimed.
“Then I’m going with you. I’d be happy to help you,” she replied.
When Hastings was telling me something I heard nothing because I was in such high spirits. We entered my study and he got excited.
“Dear me, this is a palace!” He exclaimed. “You’ve got everything you need. Now I feel like you are rich and I’m poor. I’m just hopeless,” he added.
Suddenly I got frightened again, because my life was going to be ruined and nobody could save me.
“Have you got anything to drink?” Mr. Lloyd asked.
“Yes, sure,” I replied. “Now tell me your story, please,” I asked.
“One more time? I’ve already told you everything.” He said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes. You’re scaring me. Is everything okay?” Mr. Lloyd asked.
I decided to tell him everything.
“I met the most wonderful girl in the world!” I exclaimed.
Mr. Lloyd was happy for me. He was too kind and patient, so he told me the story again. In short; he came to London with a great plan. He was going to sell some mines and make some profit from it. He worked really hard, but unfortunately his plan didn’t work and he was broke.
“Henry, you can save me. Only you in the whole world can help me. Will you do it?” He begged.
“How can I help you? Tell me,” I asked.
“Give me a million, please. Don’t refuse.”
At first I was going to tell him that I was poor. But then a great idea came to my mind.
“I will save you, Lloyd.” I said. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You will sell your mine in two weeks for three million pounds in cash. You will use my name. After that we’ll share the money,” I finished.
“I may use your name! I’m sure these rich Londoners will fight for it. I will never forget you!” He exclaimed.
In about 24 hours people started talking about this and asking me questions.
“Yes, I told him to refer to me. I know the man and you can trust him,” I assured everyone.
At the end of the month I had two hundred thousand pounds in the London and Country Bank and Hastings got his money, too. I looked perfect when we went to the old gentlemen. Miss Langham was with me, as she promised. The same servant let us in and I could see those brothers. They were shocked when they saw me with Portia. I explained to them that she would be my future wife.
“Gentlemen, I’m ready to report.”
“We’ll be glad to hear it,” the gentlemen said. “If you have won the bet you can get any position you want. Have you got the million-pound note?”
I gave him the banknote.
“I’ve won! What do you say now, brother?” He exclaimed.
“I say that he’s alive and I’ve lost twenty thousand pounds,” his brother sighed.
“I can tell you everything if you let me. Now look at this,” I said.
“What? 200 thousand pounds? Is this your money?”
“Yes, I earned it,” I replied.
Portia was shocked.
“Henry, is it your money? You told me lies!” She said.
“Yes, my dear Portia, but I know you will forgive me,” I replied. “Now I think we should go.”
“Wait! I want to give you a position. Did you forget about that?” The gentleman asked.
“Oh, I’m really thankful. I don’t think I need it anymore”, I said.
“Henry, you are not grateful enough! May I thank this gentleman?” Portia asked.
“If you want, yes, sure.” I said.
She came up to the gentleman and kissed him.
“Father, I’m as surprised as you are. He doesn’t want to take a job you offer. He’s so rude.” Portia said.
“Is he your father?” I interrupted her.
“He’s my step-father. I think now you realise why I laughed at your story. I knew that my step-father and my uncle had made your life a bit more complicated,” she explained.
“Sir, I’m sorry. I take my words back. There’s one position which I would like to take,” I said.
“Which one?” Portia’s step-father asked.
“Son-in-law,” I replied.
“Well… I’m not sure you’ve got any experience in this sphere,” he said.
“I will try as hard as I can. You’ll see,” I promised her father.
“All right, then take her,” he answered.
I can’t find the words to describe how happy we were. People in London talked at lengths about my adventures with the banknote. Portia’s father gave the banknote back to The Bank of London. They cancelled it and gave it back to him as a present. At our wedding it was given to us. I put it in a frame on the wall.
“As you can see, it’s a million-pound banknote. I made only one purchase, but I got something which was much more precious than that.”