Being editors is not the best way to wealth. We all feel this now, and highwaymen are not respected any more like they used to be.
I am sure we had tried our best to restore our fallen fortunes. We felt their fall very much, because we knew the Bastables had been rich once. Dora and Oswald can remember when Father was always bringing nice things home from London, and there used to be turkeys and geese and wine and cigars come by the carrier at Christmas-time, and boxes of candied fruit and French plums in ornamental boxes with silk and velvet and gilding on them. They were called prunes, but the prunes you buy at the grocer's are quite different. But now there is seldom anything nice brought from London, and the turkey and the prune people have forgotten Father's address.
'How can we restore those beastly fallen fortunes?' said Oswald. 'We've tried digging and writing and princesses and being editors.'
'And being bandits,' said H. O.
'When did you try that?' asked Dora quickly. 'You know I told you it was wrong.'
'It wasn't wrong the way we did it,' said Alice, quicker still, before Oswald could say, 'Who asked you to tell us anything about it?' which would have been rude, and he is glad he didn't. 'We only caught Albert-next-door.'
'Oh, Albert-next-door!' said Dora contemptuously, and I felt more comfortable; for even after I didn't say, 'Who asked you, and cetera,' I was afraid Dora was going to come the good elder sister over us. She does that a jolly sight too often.
Dicky looked up from the paper he was reading and said, 'This sounds likely,' and he read out—
'L100 secures partnership in lucrative business for sale of
useful patent. L10 weekly. No personal attendance necessary.
Jobbins, 300, Old Street Road.'
'I wish we could secure that partnership,' said Oswald. He is twelve, and a very thoughtful boy for his age.
Alice looked up from her painting. She was trying to paint a fairy queen's frock with green bice, and it wouldn't rub. There is something funny about green bice. It never will rub off; no matter how expensive your paintbox is—and even boiling water is very little use.
She said, 'Bother the bice! And, Oswald, it's no use thinking about that. Where are we to get a hundred pounds?'
'Ten pounds a week is five pounds to us,' Oswald went on—he had done the sum in his head while Alice was talking—'because partnership means halves. It would be A1.'
Noel sat sucking his pencil—he had been writing poetry as usual. I saw the first two lines—
I wonder why Green Bice
Is never very nice.
Suddenly he said, 'I wish a fairy would come down the chimney and drop a jewel on the table—a jewel worth just a hundred pounds.'
'She might as well give you the hundred pounds while she was about it,' said Dora.
'Or while she was about it she might as well give us five pounds a week,' said Alice.
'Or fifty,' said I.
'Or five hundred,' said Dicky.
I saw H. O. open his mouth, and I knew he was going to say, 'Or five thousand,' so I said—
'Well, she won't give us fivepence, but if you'd only do as I am always saying, and rescue a wealthy old gentleman from deadly peril he would give us a pot of money, and we could have the partnership and five pounds a week. Five pounds a week would buy a great many things.'
Then Dicky said, 'Why shouldn't we borrow it?' So we said, 'Who from?' and then he read this out of the paper—
MONEY PRIVATELY WITHOUT FEES
THE BOND STREET BANK
Manager, Z. Rosenbaum.
Advances cash from L20 to L10,000 on ladies' or gentlemen's
note of hand alone, without security. No fees. No inquiries.
Absolute privacy guaranteed.
'What does it all mean?' asked H. O.
'It means that there is a kind gentleman who has a lot of money, and he doesn't know enough poor people to help, so he puts it in the paper that he will help them, by lending them his money—that's it, isn't it, Dicky?'
Dora explained this and Dicky said, 'Yes.' And H. O. said he was a Generous Benefactor, like in Miss Edgeworth. Then Noel wanted to know what a note of hand was, and Dicky knew that, because he had read it in a book, and it was just a letter saying you will pay the money when you can, and signed with your name.
'No inquiries!' said Alice. 'Oh—Dicky—do you think he would?'
'Yes, I think so,' said Dicky. 'I wonder Father doesn't go to this kind gentleman. I've seen his name before on a circular in Father's study.'
'Perhaps he has.' said Dora.
But the rest of us were sure he hadn't, because, of course, if he had, there would have been more money to buy nice things. Just then Pincher jumped up and knocked over the painting-water. He is a very careless dog. I wonder why painting-water is always such an ugly colour? Dora ran for a duster to wipe it up, and H. O. dropped drops of the water on his hands and said he had got the plague. So we played at the plague for a bit, and I was an Arab physician with a bath-towel turban, and cured the plague with magic acid-drops. After that it was time for dinner, and after dinner we talked it all over and settled that we would go and see the Generous Benefactor the very next day. But we thought perhaps the G. B.—it is short for Generous Benefactor—would not like it if there were so many of us. I have often noticed that it is the worst of our being six—people think six a great many, when it's children. That sentence looks wrong somehow. I mean they don't mind six pairs of boots, or six pounds of apples, or six oranges, especially in equations, but they seem to think you ought not to have five brothers and sisters. Of course Dicky was to go, because it was his idea. Dora had to go to Blackheath to see an old lady, a friend of Father's, so she couldn't go. Alice said she ought to go, because it said, 'Ladies and gentlemen,' and perhaps the G. B. wouldn't let us have the money unless there were both kinds of us.
H. O. said Alice wasn't a lady; and she said he wasn't going, anyway. Then he called her a disagreeable cat, and she began to cry.
But Oswald always tries to make up quarrels, so he said—
'You're little sillies, both of you!'
And Dora said, 'Don't cry, Alice; he only meant you weren't a grown-up lady.'
Then H. O. said, 'What else did you think I meant, Disagreeable?'
So Dicky said, 'Don't be disagreeable yourself, H. O. Let her alone and say you're sorry, or I'll jolly well make you!'
So H. O. said he was sorry. Then Alice kissed him and said she was sorry too; and after that H. O. gave her a hug, and said, 'Now I'm really and truly sorry,' So it was all right.
Noel went the last time any of us went to London, so he was out of it, and Dora said she would take him to Blackheath if we'd take H. O. So as there'd been a little disagreeableness we thought it was better to take him, and we did. At first we thought we'd tear our oldest things a bit more, and put some patches of different colours on them, to show the G. B. how much we wanted money. But Dora said that would be a sort of cheating, pretending we were poorer than we are. And Dora is right sometimes, though she is our elder sister. Then we thought we'd better wear our best things, so that the G. B. might see we weren't so very poor that he couldn't trust us to pay his money back when we had it. But Dora said that would be wrong too. So it came to our being quite honest, as Dora said, and going just as we were, without even washing our faces and hands; but when I looked at H. O. in the train I wished we had not been quite so particularly honest.
Every one who reads this knows what it is like to go in the train, so I shall not tell about it—though it was rather fun, especially the part where the guard came for the tickets at Waterloo, and H. O. was under the seat and pretended to be a dog without a ticket. We went to Charing Cross, and we just went round to Whitehall to see the soldiers and then by St James's for the same reason—and when we'd looked in the shops a bit we got to Brook Street, Bond Street. It was a brass plate on a door next to a shop—a very grand place, where they sold bonnets and hats—all very bright and smart, and no tickets on them to tell you the price. We rang a bell and a boy opened the door and we asked for Mr Rosenbaum. The boy was not polite; he did not ask us in. So then Dicky gave him his visiting card; it was one of Father's really, but the name is the same, Mr Richard Bastable, and we others wrote our names underneath. I happened to have a piece of pink chalk in my pocket and we wrote them with that.
Then the boy shut the door in our faces and we waited on the step. But presently he came down and asked our business. So Dicky said—
'Money advanced, young shaver! and don't be all day about it!'
And then he made us wait again, till I was quite stiff in my legs, but Alice liked it because of looking at the hats and bonnets, and at last the door opened, and the boy said—
'Mr Rosenbaum will see you,' so we wiped our feet on the mat, which said so, and we went up stairs with soft carpets and into a room. It was a beautiful room. I wished then we had put on our best things, or at least washed a little. But it was too late now.
The room had velvet curtains and a soft, soft carpet, and it was full of the most splendid things. Black and gold cabinets, and china, and statues, and pictures. There was a picture of a cabbage and a pheasant and a dead hare that was just like life, and I would have given worlds to have it for my own. The fur was so natural I should never have been tired of looking at it; but Alice liked the one of the girl with the broken jug best. Then besides the pictures there were clocks and candlesticks and vases, and gilt looking-glasses, and boxes of cigars and scent and things littered all over the chairs and tables. It was a wonderful place, and in the middle of all the splendour was a little old gentleman with a very long black coat and a very long white beard and a hookey nose—like a falcon. And he put on a pair of gold spectacles and looked at us as if he knew exactly how much our clothes were worth.
And then, while we elder ones were thinking how to begin, for we had all said 'Good morning' as we came in, of course, H. O. began before we could stop him. He said:
'Are you the G. B.?'
'The what?' said the little old gentleman.
'The G. B.,' said H. O., and I winked at him to shut up, but he didn't see me, and the G. B. did. He waved his hand at me to shut up, so I had to, and H. O. went on—'It stands for Generous Benefactor.'
The old gentleman frowned. Then he said, 'Your Father sent you here, I suppose?'
'No he didn't,' said Dicky. 'Why did you think so?'
The old gentleman held out the card, and I explained that we took that because Father's name happens to be the same as Dicky's.
'Doesn't he know you've come?'
'No,' said Alice, 'we shan't tell him till we've got the partnership, because his own business worries him a good deal and we don't want to bother him with ours till it's settled, and then we shall give him half our share.'
The old gentleman took off his spectacles and rumpled his hair with his hands, then he said, 'Then what did you come for?'
'We saw your advertisement,' Dicky said, 'and we want a hundred pounds on our note of hand, and my sister came so that there should be both kinds of us; and we want it to buy a partnership with in the lucrative business for sale of useful patent. No personal attendance necessary.'
'I don't think I quite follow you,' said the G. B. 'But one thing I should like settled before entering more fully into the matter: why did you call me Generous Benefactor?'
'Well, you see,' said Alice, smiling at him to show she wasn't frightened, though I know really she was, awfully, 'we thought it was so very kind of you to try to find out the poor people who want money and to help them and lend them your money.'
'Hum!' said the G. B. 'Sit down.'
He cleared the clocks and vases and candlesticks off some of the chairs, and we sat down. The chairs were velvety, with gilt legs. It was like a king's palace.
'Now,' he said, 'you ought to be at school, instead of thinking about money. Why aren't you?'
We told him that we should go to school again when Father could manage it, but meantime we wanted to do something to restore the fallen fortunes of the House of Bastable. And we said we thought the lucrative patent would be a very good thing. He asked a lot of questions, and we told him everything we didn't think Father would mind our telling, and at last he said—
'You wish to borrow money. When will you repay it?'
'As soon as we've got it, of course,' Dicky said.
Then the G. B. said to Oswald, 'You seem the eldest,' but I explained to him that it was Dicky's idea, so my being eldest didn't matter. Then he said to Dicky—'You are a minor, I presume?'
Dicky said he wasn't yet, but he had thought of being a mining engineer some day, and going to Klondike.
'Minor, not miner,' said the G. B. 'I mean you're not of age?'
'I shall be in ten years, though,' said Dicky. 'Then you might repudiate the loan,' said the G. B., and Dicky said 'What?'
Of course he ought to have said 'I beg your pardon. I didn't quite catch what you said'—that is what Oswald would have said. It is more polite than 'What.'
'Repudiate the loan,' the G. B repeated. 'I mean you might say you would not pay me back the money, and the law could not compel you to do so.'
'Oh, well, if you think we're such sneaks,' said Dicky, and he got up off his chair. But the G. B. said, 'Sit down, sit down; I was only joking.'
Then he talked some more, and at last he said—'I don't advise you to enter into that partnership. It's a swindle. Many advertisements are. And I have not a hundred pounds by me to-day to lend you. But I will lend you a pound, and you can spend it as you like. And when you are twenty-one you shall pay me back.'
'I shall pay you back long before that,' said Dicky. 'Thanks, awfully! And what about the note of hand?'
'Oh,' said the G. B., 'I'll trust to your honour. Between gentlemen, you know—and ladies'—he made a beautiful bow to Alice—'a word is as good as a bond.'
Then he took out a sovereign, and held it in his hand while he talked to us. He gave us a lot of good advice about not going into business too young, and about doing our lessons—just swatting a bit, on our own hook, so as not to be put in a low form when we went back to school. And all the time he was stroking the sovereign and looking at it as if he thought it very beautiful. And so it was, for it was a new one. Then at last he held it out to Dicky, and when Dicky put out his hand for it the G. B. suddenly put the sovereign back in his pocket.
'No,' he said, 'I won't give you the sovereign. I'll give you fifteen shillings, and this nice bottle of scent. It's worth far more than the five shillings I'm charging you for it. And, when you can, you shall pay me back the pound, and sixty per cent interest—sixty per cent, sixty per cent.'
'What's that?' said H. O.
The G. B. said he'd tell us that when we paid back the sovereign, but sixty per cent was nothing to be afraid of. He gave Dicky the money. And the boy was made to call a cab, and the G. B. put us in and shook hands with us all, and asked Alice to give him a kiss, so she did, and H. O. would do it too, though his face was dirtier than ever. The G. B. paid the cabman and told him what station to go to, and so we went home.
That evening Father had a letter by the seven-o'clock post. And when he had read it he came up into the nursery. He did not look quite so unhappy as usual, but he looked grave.
'You've been to Mr Rosenbaum's,' he said.
So we told him all about it. It took a long time, and Father sat in the armchair. It was jolly. He doesn't often come and talk to us now. He has to spend all his time thinking about his business. And when we'd told him all about it he said—
'You haven't done any harm this time, children; rather good than harm, indeed. Mr Rosenbaum has written me a very kind letter.'
'Is he a friend of yours, Father?' Oswald asked. 'He is an acquaintance,' said my father, frowning a little, 'we have done some business together. And this letter—' he stopped and then said: 'No; you didn't do any harm to-day; but I want you for the future not to do anything so serious as to try to buy a partnership without consulting me, that's all. I don't want to interfere with your plays and pleasures; but you will consult me about business matters, won't you?'
Of course we said we should be delighted, but then Alice, who was sitting on his knee, said, 'We didn't like to bother you.'
Father said, 'I haven't much time to be with you, for my business takes most of my time. It is an anxious business—but I can't bear to think of your being left all alone like this.'
He looked so sad we all said we liked being alone. And then he looked sadder than ever.
Then Alice said, 'We don't mean that exactly, Father. It is rather lonely sometimes, since Mother died.'
Then we were all quiet a little while. Father stayed with us till we went to bed, and when he said good night he looked quite cheerful. So we told him so, and he said—
'Well, the fact is, that letter took a weight off my mind.' I can't think what he meant—but I am sure the G. B. would be pleased if he could know he had taken a weight off somebody's mind. He is that sort of man, I think.
We gave the scent to Dora. It is not quite such good scent as we thought it would be, but we had fifteen shillings—and they were all good, so is the G. B.
And until those fifteen shillings were spent we felt almost as jolly as though our fortunes had been properly restored. You do not notice your general fortune so much, as long as you have money in your pocket. This is why so many children with regular pocket-money have never felt it their duty to seek for treasure. So, perhaps, our not having pocket-money was a blessing in disguise. But the disguise was quite impenetrable, like the villains' in the books; and it seemed still more so when the fifteen shillings were all spent. Then at last the others agreed to let Oswald try his way of seeking for treasure, but they were not at all keen about it, and many a boy less firm than Oswald would have chucked the whole thing. But Oswald knew that a hero must rely on himself alone. So he stuck to it, and presently the others saw their duty, and backed him up.