Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 2 of 3)



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To lead intelligently up to the disclosure, it may be mentioned that some short time before Jeremiah Pamflett had conceived the ambitious idea of becoming Miser Farebrother's son-in-law, a business transaction introduced him to scenes altogether new to him. Of course it was a money-lending transaction, and the debtor, to whom in the first instance he had lent thirty pounds out of his own pocket, was a certain Captain Ablewhite. It may not have been his rightful name, but into this we will not too curiously inquire, nor into his antecedents; and yet he was undoubtedly well connected. He knew and mixed with a great number of "swells," and his name might occasionally be seen in some of the "society" papers; he dressed in most perfect taste, and was seldom seen without an expensive exotic in his button-hole; you would judge him from outward observance to be a man of good-breeding; he had had a sufficient education; his manners were easy, confident, smiling; he seemed to know everything and everybody – all of which did not prevent him from being chronically hard up. It may not have troubled him much, he was so accustomed to it; and although he met with many obstacles in his career of continual borrowing and seldom paying, there was never seen upon his face any but the pleasantest of smiling expressions. He was a good-looking man, with a handsome moustache and blue eyes, and he carried himself like a soldier; hence, maybe, his "captainship," though how captain, or captain of what, was never inquired into. Misery, it is said, makes us acquainted with strange bed-fellows; so does such a career as Captain Ablewhite's. It was a career the successful steering of which required peculiar ingenuity, and the waters upon which it floated were not of the sweetest. One day Captain Ablewhite presented himself with his smiling face and his choice exotic at the office over which Jeremiah Pamflett presided. He came with the intention of borrowing a large sum of money, some three or four hundred pounds, upon a bill backed by half a dozen names. Miser Farebrother did not do an advertising business; you did not read in the papers that he was prepared to advance, immediately upon application, any amount of money, from ten pounds to ten thousand, without security, to noblemen and gentlemen; his connection was a private one, and new clients presented themselves at the office of their own accord, or through private recommendation. However it came about, there was Captain Ablewhite, ready and willing to confer an obligation upon Jeremiah Pamflett – believing him to be the principal, and Farebrother an assumed name, as is generally the case with money-lenders, either from being ashamed of their own, or from a wish to do their dirty work in the dark. Jeremiah, who was launching out for himself, and who, by fraudulently trading on his own account with his master's funds, was already making money, never contradicted a client upon this point when he scented some personal advantage; and he scented it in Captain Ablewhite.

Here was an opportunity of worming himself into the society of swells, where pigeons most do congregate, and it was not to be thrown away. Jeremiah played with Captain Ablewhite, who was the soul of candour; he was a new kind of client for Jeremiah's study and observation, and the cunning young money-thirster saw a grand prospect of the future, through Captain Ablewhite's introduction, dotted by sons of peers and suckling young fools sowing their oats.

Now, out of this encounter, which came the victor, the man who desired to borrow the money, or the man who had to lend?

Nothing was done on the first day, but on the second Jeremiah was the possessor of a three-months' bill, well backed, for fifty pounds, and Captain Ablewhite walked out of the office with seven five-pound notes in his pocket. Instead of landing a large fish, Captain Ablewhite had landed a very small one, but there was a satisfied smile on his face as he strolled away. It was not bad interest – fifty pounds for thirty-five, at three months; but Captain Ablewhite was content, even though upon Jeremiah Pamflett's table lay six of the gallant Captain's finest Havanas, which Jeremiah wrapped carefully in paper and put into a drawer.

This was the commencement of the business transactions of Jeremiah Pamflett and Captain Ablewhite, a recountal of the details of which is not necessary. Say, for general purposes, that their course was the usual course, and all is said that need be said. What it is important to mention is that one evening Jeremiah Pamflett found himself at the door of Captain Ablewhite's chambers in Piccadilly.

Strictly speaking, it was night, the hour being eleven. Captain Ablewhite had been giving a little dinner to a few friends, and when Jeremiah's name was announced the men were beginning to play. There were two card-tables, five playing poker at one, six playing baccarat at another. Captain Ablewhite was at the baccarat table.

Jeremiah's visit was the result of a bargain. There had been a bill to be renewed, and Jeremiah had indirectly bid for the invitation.

"All right," said Captain Ablewhite; "come at eleven or twelve. Evening dress you know."

He received his visitor with a smiling "How d'ye do?" and waved a general introduction by saying "Mr. Pamflett," his guests having been previously informed that "a fellow might drop in who finances for me." This was received with a laugh and some slight show of interest, "fellows who finance" for fellows who require it being very necessary joints in the society machine upon which Captain Ablewhite and most of his chums rode.

"He's a cub," said Captain Ablewhite; "but that's neither here nor there."

"The main point is," observed a middle-aged punter, "that he'll do a bill."

"Yes, that's it," said Captain Ablewhite.

Therefore Jeremiah Pamflett was not unexpected. The party, however, were too interested in their game to take much notice of him. "Make yourself at home," said Captain Ablewhite, pointing to a corner of the room, where there was a buffet, with drinks and cigars. All the men were smoking, and Jeremiah with an assumption of ease by no means successful, helped himself. He knew the quality of Captain Ablewhite's cigars, and appreciated them. That he put a handful in his pocket on the sly was, as Captain Ablewhite had said, "neither here nor there."

With his cigar in his mouth, Jeremiah stood at the tables and looked on. The game of "poker" he did not understand, but his eyes glittered as he saw the free flowing of notes and gold, and the easy way in which money was lost and won. By close peering and study he soon mastered the rudiments of the game, and followed the play. It was a ten-pound limit, the minimum "ante" half a sovereign. At first he was confused at the "bluffing" which took place, but what he learned convinced him that money was to be won by cool heads, and his heart beat more quickly than usual when he saw a player with nothing in his hand take a large pool. He stood for some time at the baccarat table, and watched the game there. It was much more easily mastered than poker, and in a very few moments he understood it fairly well.

"You don't play?" said Captain Ablewhite to him, who held the bank at that moment.

"No," said Jeremiah; "not to-night."

At each table there was a player who profited by the indifferent play of his comrades, and who, according to Jeremiah's just calculation, was bound to rise a winner. "It is easy enough," said Jeremiah mentally; "only what they win they don't keep. I would!" A new world seemed to be opening out to this young man – a new world filled with fools emptying their purses into his. Why not? He did not disturb or interfere with the players, and although one superstitious man fidgeted about uneasily when Jeremiah stood at his back looking over his cards, Jeremiah's conduct was sufficiently unobtrusive and quiet not to excite displeasure.

At about two o'clock there was a kind of informal supper, of which Jeremiah freely partook, amazed at the profusion of good things handed about by the waiters. The liberality was a revelation to him, but he was discreet enough to betray no outward surprise. He was taking a lesson which he meant to profit by. Most men would have drunk too much, and most of the men in Captain Ablewhite's rooms did, but not Jeremiah Pamflett; still the two or three glasses of champagne he drank (the glasses being goblets) had a slight effect upon him. He maintained his equilibrium, however, physically and mentally. The fortunes of the night had pretty well declared themselves: three men had lost each some hundreds of pounds, and were desperately striving to get it back by plunging; others had lost in a lesser degree; the only winners were Captain Ablewhite and the two cool-headed players, one at each table, who continued playing their steady game. Jeremiah thought he would try his luck, and he took a sovereign from his pocket, and followed in the wake of the cool-headed gamester at the baccarat table. He won, and staked it again, and won. No one took any notice of his winnings, which were pushed across to him quite carelessly. At half-past four in the morning Jeremiah walked out of Captain Ablewhite's rooms with forty odd sovereigns winning money in his pocket. He walked along in a high state of elation, with his hand in his trousers pocket, clutching the gold and counting it. Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, forty-four. Yes; forty-four sovereigns. And so easily won!

He felt quite fresh, although it was his habit to be in bed before midnight. He reviewed the scene at which he had been present, recalled different hands of cards he had seen dealt out, and the course of the play, and calculated how much he might have won had he done this or that. That he would have done the right thing always he was sure; and it is likely he was correct, because it was a simple matter of calculation of odds and chances. One of the cool-headed players had won six hundred pounds; the other, four hundred. "I might have done the same," thought Jeremiah.

Captain Ablewhite had said something to him before he left.

"I wonder you don't play a bit. With your head for figures you would win a fortune."

That was it – with his head for figures. "I could snuff them all out," he thought.

Captain Ablewhite had also said, "Drop in to-morrow at two or three."

In compliance with this invitation, Jeremiah walked up the stairs of the house in Piccadilly at half-past two o'clock on the following day. In this – the being master of his time, left entirely to himself to do as he pleased – lay the great value of his situation with Miser Farebrother. He was his own master. With the miser eternally at the office looking over him, niggling and naggling at this and that, Jeremiah would have had but scant opportunities for attending to Number One.

At the door of the outer of Captain Ablewhite's rooms stood a man-servant, who asked Jeremiah's name.

"Mr. Pamflett," said Jeremiah. "Captain Ablewhite expects me."

"If you will wait here a moment," said the man, "I will tell Captain Ablewhite."

He returned very quickly, and Captain Ablewhite with him.

"Ah, Mr. Pamflett," said the Captain. "Just one word." He drew Jeremiah aside: "What you see inside is private."

"Not to be spoken of?" said Jeremiah rather mystified.

"Not to a soul," said Captain Ablewhite. "Is that settled?"

"Yes."

"Come along, then."

The rooms had undergone a transformation. There was an air of serious business about them and the twenty or thirty men assembled there. Every one of the men had a little book, which he consulted, and in which he was making calculations. At two tables sat two clerks with account-books. There was a "tape" in the room, and a man standing by it, reading the messages aloud.

"False start," this man said aloud as Jeremiah Pamflett entered.

"Go and help yourself," said Captain Ablewhite, pointing to the buffet, which was in its accustomed corner, crowded with bottles, glasses, cigars and sandwiches.

CHAPTER XIII
JEREMIAH DISCOVERS A "SYSTEM" BY WHICH HE MUST MAKE A LARGE FORTUNE

Just before the man called out "False start," there had been a momentary lull in the room, the principal bets having been made and booked, but when the two words were spoken a buzz of eager inquiries commenced. "How much Silver Rose?" "Northampton for a pony – what price?" "I'll take twelves and threes Peter Simple, a tenner each way." "I want to back an outsider for a fiver." To most of these propositions rapid answers were returned by a man who seemed to have the direction of affairs. He was a man with a face like a ribstone pippin and clear grey eyes. A great number of the propositions led to business and booking on both sides. Then came the sound of the tape, and another hush, everybody craning forward to hear the message. "They're off!" said the man at the tape. At this the betting practically ceased, and all in the room waited in expectancy, with more or less eagerness. The distinguishing mark of the company was that nearly every man in it was a swell, half of them, at least, having titles to their names. Presently the little bell, the tinkling of which preceded the ticking of each fresh message, rang, and the tape recommenced its labours. "Result," called the man: "Prickly Pear first, Silver Rose second, Peter Simple third." A hubbub ensued. "I told you to back the favourite; it was a dead certainty; at least a stone in hand." "I've cleared a century." "I lose a hundred and forty. Cursed luck!" And so on, and so on. In a few instances money changed hands, and Jeremiah saw the passing of new Bank of England notes. He was joined by Captain Ablewhite.

"Do you understand it?" asked the Captain.

"A betting club" said Jeremiah.

"Not at all," said the smiling Captain. "A little party of friends amusing themselves privately, just to pass the time. Do you see that tall gentleman with the gray moustache? That's Major Rex-Schon. He backed the favourite for a monkey at even money."

"Who lost it?" inquired Jeremiah.

"The book-maker," said Captain Ablewhite, laughing. "A bad race for him. So was the first one. Both the favourites have won. He'll get his money back, with interest, before the day's out. You won a few sovs. last night; put three or four on Praxis for the next race; a sure thing. The starters are being called out."

The man at the tape gave the names of the horses as they went up on the board a hundred miles away. There were eleven, Praxis being among them.

"Butterfly's favourite," said Captain Ablewhite, "and won't win."

The betting on the third race began. How much this? – how much that? – how much t'other? What's Butterfly's price? Evens. Done for a hundred. I'll take an even fifty. A pony for me. Five to two, Anonyma. Eights, Geranium. Eight ponies? All right. Praxis, twenties.

Not one backed the horse recommended by Captain Ablewhite. Jeremiah screwed up his courage.

"Can I bet a sovereign?" he whispered to the Captain.

"Certainly. Take my advice; make it five."

"No. Two."

"Very well. Forty to two."

He made the bet with the book-maker for Jeremiah, and took four hundred to twenty for himself.

"I've made yours ready money," he said. "You can give me two sovs. now, or when the race is over, if Praxis loses."

Jeremiah nodded; he was too much excited to speak; it was his first bet on a race, and his heart went thump, thump, and he could scarcely distinguish what was being said. "Horses at the post. False start. Butterfly bolted." Thus proclaimed the man at the tape.

"I told you so," said Captain Ablewhite to Jeremiah. "Cost three thou. as a yearling; not worth his keep."

The man at the tape spoke again.

"Butterfly pulled up, and at the post again. Another false start. Another. They're off!"

Jeremiah did not know whether he was glad or sorry that he had risked two sovereigns. He was animated by new sensations; the spirit of gambling was awakened within him.

Then came the result, and Jeremiah could scarcely refrain from shouting when he heard the name of the winner – Praxis.

"Here's your money," said Captain Ablewhite, after "All right!" was called out by the man at the tape. He handed Jeremiah four ten-pound notes. "Easy, isn't it? Done the trick this time. Major Rex-Schon backed it; he has a system, and has won eight thousand this year if he's won a penny."

"A system?" said Jeremiah, handling the forty pounds with delight.

"Yes. See which horse he backs in the next race, and follow him. Reckon you've won thirty pounds, and back the Major's fancy for a tenner."

Jeremiah, after some hesitation, decided to take the advice, and backed the Major's fancy for ten pounds at six to one. Again he was fortunate, and he won sixty pounds. His head throbbed with the possibilities of the future. Major Rex-Schon, satisfied with his winnings, took his departure, and Jeremiah bet no more on that occasion.

"What are you going to do to-night?" asked Captain Ablewhite.

"Nothing," replied Jeremiah.

"Come and have a bit of dinner with me," said the Captain.

To enjoy anything at another man's expense was an opportunity which Jeremiah never neglected, and he and Captain Ablewhite had their bit of dinner at a French restaurant. The Captain was a man of expensive tastes, and the dinner was the best meal which Jeremiah had ever sat down to. The wines were hock, champagne, and claret, and Jeremiah took his share; he was entering upon a new world. When the dinner was over, and they were finishing the claret and smoking the Captain's best cigars, Jeremiah's host gave his views of betting on horse-racing.

"The great thing," he said, "is a head for figures. Most men lose; the clever ones win great fortunes. Major Rex-Schon, when he began to bet, was a ruined man. He has been at it three years, and is worth fifty thousand – every penny of it. What he can do, others can do. For my part, I don't mind confessing it, I haven't a level head, and I lose when I ought to win. I make up my mind beforehand, and I don't keep to it; I get led away. If I had been wise, being in the swim as I am, I ought to be a millionaire; but it's not too late. There are better chances now than ever. Yes, I ought to have been a millionaire, and I should have been if I had had a man like you at my back. It's a great thing, you know, being in the swim, in a position to get at the stable secrets. Why, there was only yesterday now: the owner of Robert Macaire dropped me a hint to bet against his horse for the Liverpool Cup. Instead of taking his advice I, like a fool, mentioned it to Major Rex-Schon. What does he do? An hour afterwards he bets seven thousand to one against Robert Macaire, and to-day at one o'clock the horse is scratched. Result, the level-headed Major is a clear thousand in pocket, which should have been in mine. Waiter, bring me the Daily Telegraph and the special Standard. Now, look here at the Telegraph this morning. Ah, here it is. 'Liverpool Cup, 7000 to 1000 against Robert Macaire.' That was the Major's bet, made last night. Here's the special Standard. 'Scratchings: Robert Macaire out of the Liverpool Cup, at 1.10 P.M.' I don't cry, 'What infernal luck!' I know that I lost a thousand pounds by my own folly – that's the long and the short of it. I'll tell you what the best of this kind of speculation is. You get your money; no owings. Ready money down, if you like; that's what would suit you?"

"Yes," said Jeremiah, sucking in every word, and yet believing that it was he who was pumping Captain Ablewhite, and not Captain Ablewhite who was pumping him; "that is the best plan."

"Of course it is. You got your money to-day, didn't you? And how long did it take? Forty pounds in ten minutes on Praxis. You ought to have done as I told you, and made a hundred."

"I ought," groaned Jeremiah, feeling as if somebody had cheated him out of sixty pounds.

"I don't blame you entirely; you are not used to this sort of thing, and you were cautious. But I'll be bound you never made forty pounds first and sixty pounds afterward so quickly. That's the beauty of the thing."

"Do you know," inquired Jeremiah, "what the Major's system is?"

"Catch the Major telling anybody!" said Captain Ablewhite. "No, sir; he keeps it to himself – as you would do if you had a sure thing, as I would do, as anybody would do. If he finds any one watching him he puts him off the scent, or drops betting. Know his system! I would give ten thousand pounds to know it. But what matters? There are more systems than one, and if there's a man in the country who can discover them, you are the man. A long head like yours – such a calculator as you! There's backing first favourites; there's backing second favourites; there's backing them both together; there's backing outsiders; there's backing short odds and long odds; there's backing jockeys. If one thing won't do alone, there are combinations. Why, there never was such a field and such opportunities for a head like yours! With what I can learn from the stables, and what you could discover, such an absolute certainty never presented itself. Everything hasn't been discovered yet. There are a thousand fortunes in figures and calculations which some fellows will make. Why not you, for one, and me, for another? I won't make a pretence of disguising from you that I want a little bit of it. That's natural enough, and you won't make a pretence of denying it. Fair play's a jewel. Then there's the people I can introduce you to – young men who come into great estates and get into messes. There's another field for you. Keep it all to yourself; but give me a commission. I don't ask for more than that. The puddings shall be yours; give me a little plum now and then. Then there's such games as you saw going on last night in my rooms. There are kites and pigeons, and we know it. Why, some of the fellows know about as much of baccarat and poker as a blue-bottle – and they will play when they get a chance! Always have done, and always will. But the great thing is racing. It's waiting for you and made for you every day for nine months in the year. Wants a little pluck now and then; but the result is a moral. Your slow, timid, cautious ones, what do they make? A hundred a year instead of a hundred thousand."



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