The Million Pound Banknote Part 3

Pages 9-12

Those brothers are safe. Even if I lose their banknote, or burn it, they are still safe. They can stop payment, and the Bank will return the money to them. But in the meantime I’ve got to suffer for a month without getting anything from it. But if I help to win that bet, whatever that bet is, they promised me that I would get a job. That would be good. Men like the brothers would be able to give me very good employment.

I started to think a lot about that job. My hopes began to rise high. I was sure that the salary would be large. It would begin in a month; after that I should be all right. Pretty soon I was feeling very happy again. By this time I was walking around the streets once more. The sight of a tailor’s shop gave me a strong desire to get out of the rags I was wearing. I wanted to be properly dressed once more. Could I afford it? No; I had nothing in the world but a million pounds.

So I made myself go past the shop. But soon I came back again. I was feeling very tempted by the idea of getting a suit. I must have passed that shop six times while I struggled with temptation. At last I gave in; I had to. I asked in the shop if they had a badly-fitting suit that no-one wanted. The fellow I spoke to nodded his head towards another fellow, and gave me no answer. I went to the fellow, and he pointed to another fellow, and still no-one spoke to me.

I waited till this other fellow had finished what he was doing. He then took me into a back room, and went through a pile of rejected suits. He selected the rattiest one for me, but I put it on. It didn’t fit, and wasn’t in any way attractive. But it was a new suit, and I very much wanted to have it; so I didn’t complain.

I said, very politely ‘It would be an big help to me if you could wait some days for the money. I am not carrying any small change on me.’

The fellow’s face showed that he did not believe I could pay for the suit. He said ‘Oh, you haven’t any small change? Well, of course not, I didn’t expect it. I’d only expect gentlemen like you to carry large change.’

This made me rather annoyed. So I said ‘My friend, you shouldn’t always judge a stranger by the clothes he wears. I am quite able to pay for this suit. I simply thought that it would be inconvenient for you to have to give change from a large banknote.’

His behaviour changed a a bit when he heard that. But he still acted as though he was much better than I was. He said ‘I didn’t mean any particular harm. But if we are criticizing each other, I might say that you have no reason to think that we can’t give change for any note that you are carrying around. You are wrong, because we can.’

I handed the note to him, and said ‘Oh, all right then; I apologize.’

He smiled and took the banknote. He had one of those large smiles which goes all around the face. There are folds in it, and it curves, and it looks like where you have thrown a brick into a pond. Then when he looked quickly at the banknote this smile froze solid. His face turned yellow, and the smile looked like those wavy, worm-like spreads of lava which have hardened on the side of Mount Vesuvius.

I never before saw a smile which froze into place like that. The man stood there holding the bill, and looking like that until the shop owner came over to see what was the matter. He said, briskly: ‘Well, what’s up? what’s the trouble? What does the customer still need? Come on; get him his change, Tod; get him his change.’

Tod replied ‘Get him his change! It’s easy to say, Sir; but look at the bill yourself.’ The owner took a look at the banknote and whistled under his breath with a lot of feeling. Then he dived for the pile of rejected clothing. He began to throw the clothes around, all the time talking excitedly to himself;

‘Sell an eccentric millionaire such a terrible suit as that! Tod’s a fool – a born fool. He is always doing something like this. He pushes every millionaire away from this place, because he can’t tell a millionaire from a tramp, and never could. Ah, here’s the thing I am after. Please get those things off, Sir, and throw them in the fire.’

‘Please put on this shirt and this suit for me. It’s just right, exactly right. It is not showy, but rich and modest. It was made for a foreign prince – you may know him. His name is His Serene Highness the Hospodar of Halifax. He had to leave the suit with us and order something suitable for a funeral instead. His mother was going to die – but she didn’t. That’s all right; things can’t always happen the way we – that is, the way they – there! The trousers are all right, they fit you perfectly, Sir. Now the waistcoat; aha, right again! And the coat; look at that, now! Perfect – the whole thing! In all my time as a tailor I have never seen something fit so well.’

I said that I was very pleased.

‘Quite right, Sir, quite right. I have to say it will do as a temporary suit for you. But wait. When we have measured you, we will make something even better. Come, Tod, take a book and pen; get busy. Length of leg, 32 inches’. And so on. Before I could say a word he had measured me, and was giving orders for me to get dress-suitsmorning suits, shirts, and all sorts of clothing.

When I got a chance I said: ‘But, my dear Sir, I can’t order these things. I don’t know when I can pay you unless you give me change for the banknote.’

‘Don’t know! Weak words, Sir, weak words. For ever – that’s right, Sir. I can wait for ever. Tod, rush these things through, and send them to the gentleman’s address without wasting time. Let the less important customers wait.’

Go to Part 4 here.