‘You dear old boy,’ said the girl, ‘I am sure I wish it could be, with all my heart, if I have any heart.’
‘I don’t believe you have,’ replied the boy gloomily.
‘Well, but, Reg, consider; you’ve got no money.’
‘I’ve got five thousand pounds. If a man can’t make his way upon that he must be a poor stick.’
‘You would go abroad with it and dig, and take your wife with you—to wash and cook.’
‘We would do something with the money here. You should stay in London, Rosie.’
‘Yes. In a suburban villa, at Shepherd’s Bush, perhaps. No, Reg, when I marry, if ever I do—I am in no hurry—I will step out of this room into one exactly like it.’ The room was a splendid drawing-room in Palace Gardens, splendidly furnished. ‘I shall have my footmen and my carriage, and I shall—’
‘Rosie, give me the right to earn all these things for you!’ the young man cried impetuously.
‘You can only earn them for me by the time you have one foot in the grave. Hadn’t I better in the meantime marry some old gentleman with his one foot in the grave, so as to be ready for you against the time you come home? In two or three years the other foot, I dare say, would slide into the grave as well.’
‘You laugh at my trouble. You feel nothing.’
‘If the pater would part, but he won’t; he says he wants all his money for himself, and that I’ve got to marry well. Besides, Reg’—here her face clouded and she lowered her voice—’there are times when he looks anxious. We didn’t always live in Palace Gardens. Suppose we should lose it all as quickly as we got it. Oh!’ she shivered and trembled. ‘No, I will never, never marry a poor man. Get rich, my dear boy, and you may aspire even to the valuable possession of this heartless hand.’
She held it out. He took it, pressed it, stooped and kissed her. Then he dropped her hand and walked quickly out of the room.
‘Poor Reggie!’ she murmured. ‘I wish—I wish—but what is the use of wishing?’
Two men—one young, the other about fifty—sat in the veranda of a small bungalow. It was after breakfast. They lay back in long bamboo chairs, each with a cigar. It looked as if they were resting. In reality they were talking business, and that very seriously.
‘Yes, sir,’ said the elder man, with something of an American accent, ‘I have somehow taken a fancy to this place. The situation is healthy.’
‘Well, I don’t know; I’ve had more than one touch of fever here.’
‘The climate is lovely—’
‘Except in the rains.’
‘The soil is fertile—’
‘I’ve dropped five thousand in it, and they haven’t come up again yet.’
‘They will. I have been round the estate, and I see money in it. Well, sir, here’s my offer: five thousand down, hard cash, as soon as the papers are signed.’
Reginald sat up. He was on the point of accepting the proposal, when a pony rode up to the house, and the rider, a native groom, jumped off and gave him a note. He opened it and read. It was from his nearest neighbour, two or three miles away:
Don’t sell that man your estate. Gold has been found. The whole country is full of gold. Hold on. He’s an assayer. If he offers to buy, be quite sure that he has found gold on your land.
He put the note into his pocket, gave a verbal message to the boy, and turned to his guest, without betraying the least astonisment or emotion.
‘I beg your pardon. The note was from Bellamy, my next neighbour. Well? You were saying—’
‘Only that I have taken a fancy—perhaps a foolish fancy—to this place of yours, and I’ll give you, if you like, all that you have spent upon it.’
‘Well,’ he replied reflectively, but with a little twinkle in his eye, ‘that seems handsome. But the place isn’t really worth the half that I spent upon it. Anybody would tell you that. Come, let us be honest, whatever we are. I’ll tell you a better way. We will put the matter into the hands of Bellamy. He knows what a coffee plantation is worth. He shall name a price, and if we can agree upon that, we will make a deal of it.’
The other man changed colour. He wanted to settle the thing at once as between gentlemen. What need of third parties? But Reginald stood firm, and he presently rode away, quite sure that in a day or two this planter, too, would have heard the news.
A month later, the young coffee-planter stood on the deck of a steamer homeward bound. In his pocket-book was a plan of his auriferous estate; in a bag hanging round his neck was a small collection of yellow nuggets; in his boxes was a chosen assortment of quartz.
‘Well, sir,’ said the financier, ‘you’ve brought this thing to me. You want my advice. Well, my advice is, don’t fool away the only good thing that will ever happen to you. Luck such as this doesn’t come more than once in a lifetime.’
‘I have been offered ten thousand pounds for my estate.’
‘Oh! Have you! Ten thousand? That was very liberal—very liberal indeed. Ten thousand for a gold reef!’
‘But I thought as an old friend of my father you would, perhaps—’
‘Young man, don’t fool it away. He’s waiting for you, I suppose, round the corner, with a bottle of fizz, ready to close.’
‘Well, go and drink his champagne. Always get whatever you can. And then tell him that you’ll see him—’
‘I certainly will, sir, if you advise it. And then?’
‘And then—leave it to me. And, young man, I think I heard, a year or two ago, something about you and my girl Rosie.’
‘There was something, sir. Not enough to trouble you about it.’
‘She told me. Rosie tells me all her love affairs.’
‘Is she—is she unmarried?’
‘Oh, yes! and for the moment I believe she is free. She has had one or two engagements, but, somehow, they have come to nothing. There was the French count, but that was knocked on the head very early in consequence of things discovered. And there was the Boom in Guano, but he fortunately smashed, much to Rosie’s joy, because she never liked him. The last was Lord Evergreen. He was a nice old chap when you could understand what he said, and Rosie would have liked the title very much, though his grandchildren opposed the thing. Well, sir, I suppose you couldn’t understand the trouble we took to keep that old man alive for his own wedding. Science did all it could, but ’twas of no use—’ The financier sighed. ‘The ways of Providence are inscrutable. He died, sir, the day before.’
‘That was very sad.’
‘A dashing of the cup from the lip, sir. My daughter would have been a countess. Well, young gentleman, about this estate of yours. I think I see a way—I think, I am not yet sure—that I do see a way. Go now. See this liberal gentleman, and drink his champagne. And come here in a week. Then, if I still see my way, you shall understand what it means to hold the position in the City which is mine.’
‘And—and—may I call upon Rosie!’
‘Not till this day week—not till I have made my way plain.’
‘And so it means this. Oh, Rosie, you look lovelier than ever, and I’m as happy as a king. It means this. Your father is the greatest genius in the world. He buys my property for sixty thousand pounds—sixty thousand. That’s over two thousand a year for me, and he makes a company out of it with a hundred and fifty thousand capital. He says that, taking ten thousand out of it for expenses, there will be a profit of eighty thousand. And all that he gives to you—eighty thousand, that’s three thousand a year for you; and sixty thousand, that’s two more, my dearest Rosie. You remember what you said, that when you married you should step out of one room like this into another just as good?’
‘Oh, Reggie,’ she sank upon his bosom—’you know I never could love anybody but you. It’s true I was engaged to old Lord Evergreen, but that was only because he had one foot—you know—and when the other foot went in too, just a day too soon, I actually laughed. So the pater is going to make a company of it, is he? Well, I hope he won’t put any of his own money into it, I’m sure, because of late all the companies have turned out so badly.’
‘But, my child, the place is full of gold.’
‘Then why did he turn it into a company, my dear boy? And why didn’t he make you stick to it? But you know nothing of the City. Now, let us sit down and talk about what we shall do—don’t, you ridiculous boy!’
Another house just like the first. The bride stepped out of one palace into another. With their five or six thousand a year, the young couple could just manage to make both ends meet. The husband was devoted; the wife had everything that she could wish. Who could be happier than this pair in a nest so luxurious, their life so padded, their days so full of sunshine?
It was a year after marriage. The wife, contrary to her usual custom, was the first at breakfast. A few letters were waiting for her—chiefly invitations. She opened and read them. Among them lay one addressed to her husband. Not looking at the address, she opened and read that as well:
I venture to address you as an old friend of your own and school-fellow of your mother’s. I am a widow with four children. My husband was the vicar of your old parish—you remember him and me. I was left with a little income of about two hundred a year. Twelve months ago I was persuaded in order to double my income—a thing which seemed certain from the prospectus—to invest everything in a new and rich gold mine. Everything. And the mine has never paid anything. The company—it is called the Solid Gold Reef Company, is in liquidation because, though there is really the gold there, it costs too much to get it. I have no relatives anywhere to help me. Unless I can get assistance my children and I must go at once—tomorrow—into the workhouse. Yes, we are paupers. I am ruined by the cruel lies of that prospectus, and the wickedness which deluded me, and I know not how many others, out of my money. I have been foolish, and am punished; but those people, who will punish them? Help me, if you can, my dear Reginald. Oh! for GOD’S sake, help my children and me. Help your mother’s friend, your own old friend.
‘This,’ said Rosie meditatively, ‘is exactly the kind of thing to make Reggie uncomfortable. Why, it might make him unhappy all day. Better burn it.’ She dropped the letter into the fire. ‘He’s an impulsive, emotional nature, and he doesn’t understand the City. If people are so foolish—What a lot of fibs the poor old pater does tell, to be sure! He’s a regular novelist—Oh! here you are, you lazy boy!’
‘Kiss me, Rosie.’ He looked as handsome as Apollo, and as cheerful. ‘I wish all the world were as happy as you and me. Heigho! some poor devils, I’m afraid—’
‘Tea or coffee, Reg?’