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?"
"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.