They saw many honest faces go by that were not intelligent enough; many that were intelligent, but not honest enough; many that were both, but the possessors were not poor enough, or, if poor enough, were not strangers.
There was always a defect, until I came along; but they agreed that I filled the bill all around; so they elected me unanimously, and there I was now waiting to know why I was called in. They began to ask me questions about myself, and pretty soon they had my story. Finally they told me I would answer their purpose. I said I was sincerely glad, and asked what it was. Then one of them handed me an envelope, and said I would find the explanation inside. I was going to open it, but he said no; take it to my lodgings, and look it over carefully, and not be hasty or rash.
I was puzzled, and wanted to discuss the matter a little further, but they didn’t; so I took my leave, feeling hurt and insulted to be made the butt of what was apparently some kind of a practical joke, and yet obliged to put up with it, not being in circumstances to resent affronts from rich and strong folk.
He smiled and took it. It was the kind of ubiquitous smile, with wrinkles in the smile and wrinkles in the smile, circle after circle, like throwing a brick into a pool; but, just glanced at it.
At the first glance at the banknote, his smile solidified, and his face changed drastically, just like the undulating, worm-crawling solidified lava you see on the hills on the foothills of Mount Vesuvius. I have never seen anyone whose smiling face freezes into such an eternal state.
This guy stood there, holding the banknotes, taking a steady look at it in this posture.
My time was my own after the afternoon board, Saturdays, and I was accustomed to put it in on a little sail-boat on the bay.
One day I ventured too far, and was carried out to sea. Just at nightfall, when hope was about gone, I was picked up by a small brig which was bound for London. It was a long and stormy voyage, and they made me work my passage without pay, as a common sailor. When I stepped ashore in London my clothes were ragged and shabby, and I had only a dollar in my pocket.
This money fed and sheltered me twenty-four hours. During the next twenty-four I went without food and shelter.
You know, I even kept my old suit of rags, and every now and then appeared in them, so as to have the old pleasure of buying trifles, and being insulted, and then shooting the scoffer dead with the million-pound bill.
But I couldn’t keep that up.
The illustrated papers made the outfit so familiar that when I went out in it I was at once recognized and followed by a crowd, and if I attempted a purchase the man would offer me his whole shop on credit before I could pull my note on him.
We had a lovely time; certainly two of us had, Miss Langham and I.
I was so bewitched with her that I couldn’t count my hands if they went above a double sequence; and when I struck home I never discovered it, and started up the outside row again, and would have lost the game every time, only the girl did the same, she being in just my condition, you see; and consequently neither of us ever got out, or cared to wonder why we didn’t; we only just knew we were happy, and didn’t wish to know anything else, and didn’t want to be interrupted. And I told her – I did, indeed – told her I loved her; and she – well, she blushed till her hair turned red, but she liked it; she said she did. Oh, there was never such an evening! Every time I pegged I put on a postscript; every time she pegged she acknowledged receipt of it, counting the hands the same.
Why, I couldn’t even say “Two for his heels” without adding, “My, how sweet you do look!” and she would say, “Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, and a pair are eight, and eight are sixteen – do you think so?” – peeping out aslant from under her lashes, you know, so sweet and cunning. Oh, it was just too-too!
About the tenth day of my fame I went to fulfil my duty to my flag by paying my respects to the American minister.
He received me with the enthusiasm proper in my case, upbraided me for being so tardy in my duty, and said that there was only one way to get his forgiveness, and that was to take the seat at his dinner-party that night made vacant by the illness of one of his guests. I said I would, and we got to talking. It turned out that he and my father had been schoolmates in boyhood, Yale students together later, and always warm friends up to my father’s death.
So then he required me to put in at his house all the odd time I might have to spare, and I was very willing, of course.