The Million Pound Banknote Part 1

pages 1 -4

When I was twenty-seven years old, I worked in San Francisco for a mining broker. I was an expert in all the details of buying and sellingstock. I was alone in the world, but I was intelligent and people thought well of me. So with these two things, I felt that I would soon be rich, and I was happy enough with that.

My time was my own after after work. On Saturdays I was in the habit of putting *that time into a little boat which I took sailing. One day I went too far out to sea, and was lost. Just as night fell, and I had almost lost hope, I was picked up by a small ship which was going to London. It was a long and stormy journey, and they made me work as a sailor to pay for my trip. When I stepped ashore in London my clothes were ragged and worn out, and I had only a dollar in my pocket. This money gave me somewhere to stay, and food to eat for twenty-four hours. During the next twenty-four hours I went without food and shelter.

About ten o’clock on the following morning, I was tired and hungry. In Portland Place, a child dropped a delicious big pear on the road after he had taken just one bite. I stopped, of course, and stared at that muddy pear as if it was treasure. My mouth watered for it, my stomach desired it, my whole body begged for the pear. But every time I made a move to get it someone saw what I was doing. Of course I straightened up then, and looked bored, and pretended that I hadn’t even been thinking about the pear. This kept happening and happening, and I still couldn’t get the pear

I was getting desperate enough to take the pear despite all the shame of people watching me do it. But then a window behind me opened, and a gentleman spoke to me, saying ‘Step in here, please’.

A well-dressed servant let me into the house. He took me to a richly-decorated room where a couple of elderly gentlemen were sitting. They sent away the servant, and made me sit down. They had just finished their breakfast. The sight of the food which was left over was almost too much for me. I could hardly think clearly in front of that food, but I was not asked to try any of it, so there was nothing I could do.

Now, something had been happening a little earlier. I didn’t know about it until many days afterwards, but I will tell you about it now. A few days before, those two old brothers had been having a pretty hot argument. They had ended up agreeing to decide who was right by a bet, which is the English way of settling everything.

You will remember that the Bank of England once printed two banknotes of a million pounds each. These were to be used in a business deal with a foreign country. For some reason only one of these banknotes had been used. The other was still the vaults of the Bank.

Well, the brothers were having a chat, and they started to wonder what would happen to a completely honest and intelligent stranger who was in London with no friends, and with no money but that million-pound bank-note, and no way to explain why he had that bank-note with him. Brother A said he would starve to death; Brother B said he wouldn’t.

Brother A said he couldn’t take the banknote to a bank because he would be arrested at once. So they went on arguing till Brother B said he would bet twenty thousand pounds that the man would live thirty days, at least, on that million, and keep out of jail as well. Brother A accepted the bet. Brother B went down to the Bank and bought that note. Then the brotherdictated a letter, which one of his clerks wrote out in a beautiful round handwriting. After that the two brothers sat looking out of the window all day. They were looking for the right man to give the letter and bank-note to.

They saw many honest people go past, they they were not intelligent enough. Other people were intelligent, but they not were honest enough. Many people were honest and intelligent, but they were not poor enough. If they were poor enough, they were not strangers in London. There was always something wrong, until I came along. However the brothers agreed that I was exactly what they were looking for; so they had chosen me without arguing about it. And now here I was, waiting to find out why they wanted to see me.

The brothers began to ask me questions about myself, and soon they knew my story. Finally, they told me that I was the man they had been looking for. I said I was very pleased, and asked why they were looking for someone. One of the brothers handed me an envelope, and said I would find the explanation inside. I started to open it, but he told me not to do that. Instead I should take the letter back to the place where I was staying. I should read it carefully, and think about what I would do next.

I was puzzled. I wanted to find out more, but now they didn’t want to talk to me. So I went out of the house, feeling hurt and insulted. It seemed that the two men had been having some kind of stupid joke with me. Yet I had to put up with it, because I was too poor and hungry to be able to get angry about insults from rich and powerful people.

I would have picked up the pear now and eaten it in front of everybody, but now it was gone. I had lost the pear because I had been called into the house. This made me even more upset with those two men. As soon as I was out of sight of the house I opened my envelope, and saw that there was money inside! I started to think differently about those people, I can tell you!

Go to Part 2 here.