Steadying my thoughts with an effort, I read every word of the document ove_gain deliberately, and the stupefaction of my wonder increased. Was I goin_ad, or sickening for a fever? Or could this startling, this stupendous piec_f information be really true? Because,—if indeed it were true, … goo_eavens!—I turned giddy to think of it, and it was only by sheer force of wil_hat I kept myself from swooning with the agitation of such sudden surpris_nd ecstasy. If it were true—why then the world was mine! —I was king instea_f beggar;—I was everything I chose to be! The letter,—the amazing letter,
bore the printed name of a noted firm of London solicitors, and stated i_easured and precise terms that a distant relative of my father's, of whom _ad scarcely heard, except remotely now and then during my boyhood, had die_uddenly in South America leaving me his sole heir.
" _The real and personal estate now amounting to something over Five Million_f Pounds Sterling, we should esteem it a favour if you could make i_onvenient to call upon us any day this week in order that we may go throug_he necessary_ for _malities together. The larger bulk of the cash is lodge_n the Bank of England, and a considerable amount is placed in Frenc_overnment securities. We should prefer going into further details with yo_ersonally rather than by letter. Trusting you will call on us without delay,
we are, Sir, yours obediently_ … "
Five Millions! … I, the starving literary hack,—the friendless, hopeless,
almost reckless haunter of low newspaper dens—I, the possessor of "over Fiv_illions of Pounds sterling"! I tried to grasp the astounding fact,—for fac_t evidently was,—but could not. It seemed to me a wild delusion, born of th_izzy vagueness which lack of food engendered in my brain. I stared round th_oom;—the mean miserable furniture,—the fireless grate,—the dirty lamp, —th_ow truckle bedstead,—the evidences of penury and want on every side;—an_hen,—then the overwhelming contrast between the poverty that environed me an_he news I had just received, struck me as the wildest, most ridiculou_ncongruity I had ever heard of or imagined,—and I gave vent to a shout o_aughter.
"Was there ever such a caprice of mad Fortune!" I cried aloud—" Who would hav_magined it! Good God! I! I, of all men in the world to be suddenly chosen ou_or this luck! By Heaven !—If it is all true I'll make society spin round lik_ top on my hand before I am many months older!"
And I laughed loudly again; laughed just as I had previously sworn, simply b_ay of relief to my feelings. Some one laughed in answer,—a laugh that seeme_o echo mine. I checked myself abruptly, somewhat startled, and listened. Rai_oured outside, and the wind shrieked like a petulant shrew,—the violinis_ext door was practising a brilliant roulade up and down his instrument,—bu_here were no other sounds than these. Yet I could have sworn I heard a man'_eep-chested laughter close behind me where I stood.
"It must have been my fancy," I murmured, turning the flame of the lamp u_igher in order to obtain more light in the room—"I am nervous I suppose,—n_onder! Poor Boffles!—good old chap!" I continued, remembering my friend'_raft for fifty pounds, which had seemed such a godsend a few minutes since—"
What a surprise is in store for you! You shall have your loan back as promptl_s you sent it, with an extra fifty added by way of interest for you_enerosity. And as for the new Maecenas you are sending to help me over m_ifficulties,—well, he may be a very excellent old gentleman, but he will fin_imself quite out of his element this time. I want neither assistance no_dvice nor patronage—I can buy them all! Titles, honours, possessions, —the_re all purchasable,—love, friendship, position,—they are all for sale in thi_dmirably commercial age and go to the highest bidder! By my soul!—the wealthy
'philanthropist' will find it difficult to match me in power! He will scarcel_ave more than five millions to waste, I warrant! And now for supper,—I shal_ave to live on credit till I get some ready cash,—and there is no reason wh_ should not leave this wretched hole at once and go to one of the best hotel_nd swagger it!"
I was about to leave the room on the swift impulse of excitement and joy, whe_ fresh and violent gust of wind roared down the chimney, bringing with it _hower of soot which fell in a black heap on my rejected manuscript where i_ay forgotten on the floor as I had despairingly thrown it. I hastily picke_t up and shook it free from the noisome dirt, wondering as I did so, wha_ould be its fate now ?— now, when I could afford to publish it myself, an_ot only publish it but advertise it, and not only advertise it but' push' it,
in all the crafty and cautious ways known to the inner circles of 'booming.' _miled as I thought of the vengeance I would take on all those who had scorne_nd slighted me and my labour,—how they should cower before me !—how the_hould fawn at my feet like whipt curs and whine their fulsome adulation!
Every stiff and stubborn neck should bend before me; this I resolved upon; fo_hough money does not always conquer everything, it only fails when it i_oney apart from brains. Brains and money together can move the world,—brain_an very frequently do this aloiid I without money, of which serious an_roved fact those who) I have no brains should beware! *"Full of ambitiou_hought, I now and then caught wild
sounds from the violin that was being played next door,— notes like sobbin_ries of pain, and anon rippling runs like a careless woman's laughter,—an_ll at once I remembered I had not yet opened the third letter addressed t_e,— the one coroneted in scarlet and gold, which had remained where it was o_he table almost unnoticed till now. I took it up and turned it over with a_dd sense of reluctance in my fingers, which were slow at the work of tearin_he thick envelope asunder. Drawing out an equally thick small sheet o_otepaper also coroneted, I read the following lines written in an admirabl_egible, small and picturesque hand.
I am the bearer of a letter of introduction to you from your former colleg_ompanion Mr John Carrington, now of Melbourne, who has been good enough t_hus give me the means of making the acquaintance of one, who, I understand,
is more than exceptionally endowed with the gift of literary genius. I shal_all upon you this evening between eight and nine o'clock, trusting to fin_ou at home and disengaged. I enclose my card, and present address, and beg t_emain,
Very faithfully yours
The card mentioned dropped on the table as I finished reading the note. I_ore a small exquisitely engraved coronet and the words
Prince Lucio Rimanez, while, scribbled lightly in pencil underneath was th_ddress 'Grand Hotel.'
I read the brief letter through again,—it was simple enough, —expressed wit_learness and civility. There was nothing remarkable about it,—nothin_hatever; yet it seemed to me surcharged with meaning. Why, I could no_magine. A curious fascination kept my eyes fastened on the characteristi_old handwriting, and made me fancy I should like the man who penned it. Ho_he wind roared!—and how that violin next door wailed like the restless spiri_f some forgotten musician in torment! My brain swam and my heart ache_eavily,—the drip drip of the rain outside sounded like the stealthy footfal_f some secret spy upon my movements. I grew irritable and nervous,—_oreboding of evil somehow darkened the bright consciousness of my sudden goo_ortune. Then an impulse of shame possessed me,— shame that this foreig_rince, if such he were, with limitless wealth at his back, should be comin_o visit me,— _me,_ now a millionaire,—in my present wretched lodging.
Already, before I had touched my riches, I was tainted by the miserabl_ulgarity of seeking to pretend I had never been really poor, but onl_mbarrassed by a little temporary difficulty! If I had had a sixpence abou_e, (which I had not) I should have sent a telegram to my approaching visito_o put him off.
"But in any case," I said aloud, addressing myself to the empty room and th_torm-echoes—"I will not meet him tonight. I'll go out and leave n_essage,—and if he comes he will think I have not yet had his letter. I ca_ake an appointment to see him when I am better lodged, and dressed more i_eeping with my present position,—in the meantime, nothing is easier than t_eep out of this would-be benefactor's way."
As I spoke, the flickering lamp gave a dismal crackle and went out, leaving m_n pitch darkness. With an exclamation more strong than reverent, I grope_bout the room for matches, or failing them, for my hat and coat,—and I wa_till engaged in a fruitless and annoying search, when I caught a sound o_alloping horses' hoofs coming to an abrupt stop in the street below.
Surrounded by black gloom, I paused and listened. There was a slight commotio_n the basement,—I heard my landlady's accents attuned to nervous civility,
mingling with the mellow tones of a deep masculine voice,—then steps, firm an_ven, ascended the stairs to my landing.
"The devil is in it!" I muttered vexedly—" Just like my wayward luck!—her_omes the very man I intended to avoid!"