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The Tuppenny Millionaire
by [?]

In the crowd that strolled on the Promenade des Etrangers, enjoying the morning sunshine, there were some who had come to Roville for their health, others who wished to avoid the rigours of the English spring, and many more who liked the place because it was cheap and close to Monte Carlo.

None of these motives had brought George Albert Balmer. He was there because, three weeks before, Harold Flower had called him a vegetable.

What is it that makes men do perilous deeds? Why does a man go over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Not for his health. Half an hour with a skipping-rope would be equally beneficial to his liver. No; in nine cases out of ten he does it to prove to his friends and relations that he is not the mild, steady-going person they have always thought him. Observe the music-hall acrobat as he prepares to swing from the roof by his eyelids. His gaze sweeps the house. ‘It isn’t true,’ it seems to say. ‘I’m not a jelly-fish.’

It was so with George Balmer.

In London at the present moment there exist some thousands of respectable, neatly-dressed, mechanical, unenterprising young men, employed at modest salaries by various banks, corporations, stores, shops, and business firms. They are put to work when young, and they stay put. They are mussels. Each has his special place on the rock, and remains glued to it all his life.

To these thousands George Albert Balmer belonged. He differed in no detail from the rest of the great army. He was as respectable, as neatly-dressed, as mechanical, and as unenterprising. His life was bounded, east, west, north, and south, by the Planet Insurance Company, which employed him; and that there were other ways in which a man might fulfil himself than by giving daily imitations behind a counter of a mechanical figure walking in its sleep had never seriously crossed his mind.

On George, at the age of twenty-four, there descended, out of a dear sky, a legacy of a thousand pounds.

Physically, he remained unchanged beneath the shock. No trace of hauteur crept into his bearing. When the head of his department, calling his attention to a technical flaw in his work of the previous afternoon, addressed him as ‘Here, you–young what’s-your-confounded-name!’ he did not point out that this was no way to speak to a gentleman of property. You would have said that the sudden smile of Fortune had failed to unsettle him.

But all the while his mind, knocked head over heels, was lying in a limp heap, wondering what had struck it.

To him, in his dazed state, came Harold Flower. Harold, messenger to the Planet Insurance Company and one of the most assiduous money-borrowers in London, had listened to the office gossip about the legacy as if to the strains of some grand, sweet anthem. He was a bibulous individual of uncertain age, who, in the intervals of creeping about his duties, kept an eye open for possible additions to his staff of creditors. Most of the clerks at the Planet had been laid under contribution by him in their time, for Harold had a way with him that was good for threepence any pay-day, and it seemed to him that things had come to a sorry pass if he could not extract something special from Plutocrat Balmer in his hour of rejoicing.

Throughout the day he shadowed George, and, shortly before closing-time, backed him into a corner, tapped him on the chest, and requested the temporary loan of a sovereign.

In the same breath he told him that he was a gentleman, that a messenger’s life was practically that of a blanky slave, and that a young man of spirit who wished to add to his already large fortune would have a bit on Giant Gooseberry for the City and Suburban. He then paused for a reply.