When I was 27 years old I worked as a clerk in a company in San Francisco. I was an excellent worker. It was easy for me to handle any stock transaction. Thanks to my perfect reputation and brilliant abilities, I could always rely on myself.
On Saturday I would sail a boat as I had a lot of spare time. One day I sailed too far and I was swept out to sea. When it got dark I almost lost hope to be saved, but I was picked up by a small brig floating to London. I couldn’t buy a ticket so I was made to work as a sailor there. When I got to London I had one dollar in my pocket, but I was able to find some food and a place to sleep for just one night.
Next morning I was wandering along Portland Place. I saw a little child throwing a pear on the ground. It was bitten only once. I was hungry as a wolf so I stared at that pear ready to pick it up. There were too many people looking at me so I had to pretend that I didn’t care about the pear. My stomach was rumbling so I was about to take the pear when 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. He led me to the room where two old gentlemen were sitting. They asked me to take a seat. I could see that they had just finished breakfast by the moment I came in. I saw some pieces of bread on the table, but nobody was going to share any food.
Later I learnt that these two gentlemen had had an argument earlier. They bet on it, as it was a usual thing for English people.
You remember that the Bank of England issued two notes of a million pounds each. It was necessary 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 were discussing a situation when a complete stranger appeared in London with no friends and money. Although he had that million-pound banknote, he couldn’t explain how he got it. The first man was sure that a stranger would starve to death when the second man refused this idea. One of the brothers said that a stranger would be arrested if going with this bank note to the bank. The other 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 man.
It was a challenge to find a suitable person. Some strangers weren’t intelligent enough, others weren’t honest enough. Intelligent and honest people didn’t look like poor strangers. Finally, they met me and I was perfect in all aspects. They fired me questions in order to get to know me better. After that the gentlemen gave me their verdict that I was suitable. I was given an envelope and told to open it later. On the one hand, I was disappointed that they used me for their purposes, but on the other hand, I had to put up with it, because I had no choice in my situation.
When I was far away from their house I decided to open the envelope. I found money there and it was real. I rushed to the nearest cheap restaurant. 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 keeping his eye on the banknote. I was puzzled at first, but then I came up with only one possible solution. I gave him the banknote and said, “Give me the change, please.”
He said to me that he was really sorry, because he couldn’t do that. What’s more, he was afraid to even touch the bank note. It seemed to be something sacred for the owner. “I am afraid I have nothing but this banknote. I’m asking you to change it”, I said.
The owner said it was absolutely fine and he was ready to wait for me to change it. Moreover, he added that I could demand whatever I wanted in this restaurant and I could pay later. He thought it was a joke when a rich man dressed up like a poor one and came here. Another guest was entering the restaurant and I was asked to hide that precious banknote. I was going to visit those gentlemen to correct the mistake they had made, before the police could arrive. I was frightened because I understood how furious they might be as they had given me much more money. When I reached the house I asked the servant if I could see the old men.
“They are gone,” said the servant.
“Gone? Where?” I asked.
“On a journey.”
“I have no idea, sir.”
“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 the members of the family?”
“The family is away, too. They haven’t been here for a long time. 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 warned me that you would be here in an hour trying to make things clear. You shouldn’t worry. Everything’s fine.”
I had to go away. I was confused. I forgot about the letter they had put in the envelope! I took out the letter and read. It said the following:
“You seem to be an intelligent and honest man. We suppose 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.
I was shocked and confused. I decided to go to a park and think about everything. I had to decide what to do next.
I couldn’t understand what those old men had planned to do. What did they want from me? What should I do with the banknote? I was trying to answer these questions, but it was rather difficult. I couldn’t change the bank-note because I could possibly 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 started thinking about a new possible position. I was sure that my salary would be high. I could earn some money in a month and that thought made me relaxed. I was walking by a tailors’ workshop and I felt like I wanted to change my rags. Could I afford it? No, because I had that devil’s paper with a million pounds. I forced myself to forget about it and move forward. Then I came back to the place again. I didn’t remember how many times that repeated, but at last I was standing in front of that sailors’ workshop. I entered and asked if they had any suits available. One of the workers asked me to wait a minute.
He gave me a suit which had been returned. It 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 a favour? I’m asking 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’m able to 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? It’s easier said than done, sir. 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 has always been. Turning away all the millionaires. He’s not even able to realize 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 rich and modest. Everything fits you so well. I’ve never seen anything better!”
I was over the moon.
“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.
Didn’t you see what happened to me? I started buying different things and asking to change the devil’s note. A week later I was dressed to kill, I lived in a very expensive and luxurious 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. There were rumors that a stranger visited this place very often carrying a million-pound bill. 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 understood that it was going to be over one day and some consequences would follow for sure. At night I was scared to death because of it, but then the next day came and I was cheerful and excited again.
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”. Wherever I went people stared at me. I kept my rags for some special occasions. I pretended to be poor in shops. When I wanted to buy something sellers could scream at me. Then I showed them that banknote and it shocked them. I really enjoyed doing this. However, many people remembered my rags and recognised me. Even if I wasn’t going to buy anything they offered me the whole shop.
It was the tenth day of my fame when I decided to pay some respect to my country. I was going to visit the American ambassador. He invited me for dinner and I agreed. I figured out that my father and the ambassador were rather close friends. I was invited to spend all my spare time at his house. It was a pleasure for me to accept this offer.
Frankly speaking, I was hoping that he would be able to help me. I knew that something terrible would happen to me in the near future. I wanted to tell him the truth, but everything went too far. I thought that I would win the bet. Then I would be given a job and I would be able to earn money and pay for everything. I meant it, I wanted to give all the money back. I counted everything and I had to give back about 300 pounds. I needed to work for a year with a high salary to be able to pay everything back.
The dinner was amazing. There were about fourteen notable people. One young girl, named Portia Langham, looked gorgeous. I needed about 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 a usual clerk working for Blake Hopkins in Frisco. It seemed to me you worked overtime. Now you are in London, a famous millionaire. I can’t imagine that! It’s impossible,” Mr. Lloyd Hastings said.
“I still don’t believe it,too!” I exclaimed.
“Oh My God, we were sitting in that restaurant called Miner’s just three months ago,” he said.
“No, It was called The What Cheer,” I clarified.
“Oh yes, you’re right,” Mr. Lloyd agreed. “We had been working for 6 hours and then went there. It was two a.m. and we were so exhausted. I remember I tried to persuade you to come with me to London. You didn’t believe I could succeed here, but now you’re in London. How did it happen?”
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you everything later,” I promised.
“When?” He asked.
“At the end of the month,” I answered.
“In two weeks then? But I’m so curious,” he said.
“I can’t. Wait, please. Tell me about yourself?” I asked.
His smile vanished.
“You were right. I wish I hadn’t come here. 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 about to cry.
“Yes, I want to know everything in detail,” I replied.
“I’m so grateful! Someone is interested in my life. That sounds great especially after what I’ve been through here,” he said.
The thing is that we weren’t going to eat dinner. It was more like a ritual and we had to eat beforehand. Everyone took a lady and we went to the dining room. One duke wanted to go first and sit at the head of the table. I was sure that I had a right to become the most important figure of the party. It seemed to me that we could argue forever. Finally, we came back to the living room. We were forced to stand up and eat. The plates with sardines and strawberries were brought there.
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. I told her that I had nothing, but that banknote which wasn’t even mine. She was curious so I told her everything in detail. Miss Langham laughed to tears and I couldn’t understand why because my story was a kind of upset. Anyway I loved her even more as she could laugh when there was no reason for that. I was ready to marry this lady, but I asked her to wait. She agreed, but asked me not to spend too much money.
“Dear Portia, would you like to go with me to 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.
“You’re so beautiful and lovely. Looking at you makes me more confident. I’ll persuade those brothers to give me a position with a very high salary. They won’t be able to refuse!” I said. I could see happiness in her eyes. “You are flattering me!” She said.
When Hastings was telling me something I heard nothing because I was on cloud nine. 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 miserable. I’m nothing,” he added.
Suddenly I got frightened again. I had so much money to pay back. I had no job, but a beautiful girl whose happiness depended on me. 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?” He asked.
“One more time? What do you mean?” I asked.
“I told you everything while we were on our way here,” Mr. Lloyd explained.
“You did?” I asked.
“Yes. You’re scaring me. Is everything okay?” He asked.
I decided to let the cat out of the bag.
“I met the most wonderful girl in the world!” I exclaimed.
Mr. Lloyd didn’t get angry with me, because I heard no word of his story. On the contrary, he 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 no one wanted to listen to him. Eventually 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.
“I’m already saved then. Thank you so-”
“Let me finish. Here’s what we’re going to do. You will sell it in two weeks for three million pounds in cash. You will use my name. After that we’ll share the money,” I finished.
This idea drove him crazy.
“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. He’s trustworthy you can believe me,” I assured everyone.
At the end of the month I had a million dollars in the London and Country Bank and Hastings got his money, too. I was wearing my best suit on that day when we went to the old gentlemen.
“You’re so beautiful now,” I said.
“I’m a bit worried,” Miss Langham replied.
“Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine. Trust me,” I said.
The same servant let us in and I could see those brothers. They were shocked when they saw me with Portia.
“She is my future wife,” I said.
I introduced them to her. They weren’t surprised that I knew their names. They knew I would figure everything out.
“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? A million dollars? Is it 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 gentlemen 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-”
“Is he your father?” I interrupted her.
“He’s my step-father. The best step-father in the world. I think now you realize 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.”