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The Younger Son by A. A. Milne

 

It is a hard thing to be the younger son of an ancient but impoverished family. The fact that your brother Thomas is taking most of the dibs restricts your inheritance to a paltry two thousand a year, while pride of blood forbids you to supplement this by following any of the common professions. Impossible for a St Verax to be a doctor, a policeman or an architect. He must find some nobler means of existence.

For three years Roger St Verax had lived precariously by betting. To be a St Verax was always to be a sportsman. Roger's father had created a record in the sporting world by winning the Derby and the Waterloo Cup with the same animal—though, in each case, it narrowly escaped disqualification. Roger himself almost created another record by making betting pay. His book, showing how to do it, was actually in the press when disaster overtook him.

He began by dropping (in sporting parlance) a cool thousand on the Jack Joel Selling Plate at Newmarket. On the next race he dropped a cool five hundred, and later on in the afternoon a cool seventy- five pounds ten. The following day found him at Lingfield, where he dropped a cool monkey (to persevere with the language of the racing stable) on the Solly Joel Cup, picked it up on the next race, dropped a cool pony, dropped another cool monkey, dropped a cool wallaby, picked up a cool hippopotamus, and finally, in the last race of the day, dropped a couple of lukewarm ferrets. In short, he was (as they say at Tattersall's Corner) entirely cleaned out.

When a younger son is cleaned out there is only one thing for him to do. Roger St Verax knew instinctively what it was. He bought a new silk hat and a short black coat, and went into the City.

What a wonderful place, dear reader, is the City! You, madam, who read this in your daintily upholstered boudoir, can know but little of the great heart of the City, even though you have driven through its arteries on your way to Liverpool Street Station, and have noted the bare and smoothly brushed polls of the younger natives. You, sir, in your country vicarage, are no less innocent, even though on sultry afternoons you have covered your head with the Financial Supplement of The Times in mistake for the Literary Supplement, and have thus had thrust upon you the stirring news that Bango-Bangos were going up. And I, dear friends, am equally ignorant of the secrets of the Stock Exchange. I know that its members frequently walk to Brighton, and still more frequently stay there; that while finding a home for all the good stories which have been going the rounds for years, they sometimes invent entirely new ones for themselves about the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and that they sing the National Anthem very sternly in unison when occasion demands it. But there must be something more in it than this, or why are Bango-Bangos still going up?

I don't know. And I am sorry to say that even Roger St Verax, a Director of the Bango-Bango Development Company, is not very clear about it all.

It was as a Director of the Bango-Bango Exploration Company that he took up his life in the City. As its name implies, the Company was originally formed to explore Bango-Bango, an impenetrable district in North Australia; but when it came to the point it was found much more profitable to explore Hampstead, Clapham Common, Blackheath, Ealing and other rich and fashionable suburbs. A number of hopeful ladies and gentlemen having been located in these parts, the Company went ahead rapidly, and in 1907 a new prospector was sent out to replace the one who was assumed to have been eaten.

In 1908, Roger first heard the magic word "reconstruction," and to his surprise found himself in possession of twenty thousand pounds and a Directorship of the new Bango-Bango Mining Company.

In 1909 a piece of real gold was identified, and the shares went up like a rocket.

In 1910 the Stock Exchange suddenly woke to the fact that rubber tyres were made of rubber, and in a moment the Great Boom was sprung upon an amazed City. The Bango-Bango Development Company was immediately formed to take over the Bango-Bango Mining Company (together with its prospector, if alive, its plant, shafts and other property, not forgetting the piece of gold) and more particularly to develop the vegetable resources of the district with the view of planting rubber trees in the immediate future. A neatly compiled prospectus put matters very clearly before the stay-at-home Englishman. It explained quite concisely that, supposing the trees were planted so many feet apart throughout the whole property of five thousand square miles, and allowing a certain period for the growth of a tree to maturity, and putting the average yield of rubber per tree at, in round figures, so much, and assuming for the sake of convenience that rubber would remain at its present price, and estimating the cost of working the plantation at say, roughly, 100,000 pounds, why, then it was obvious that the profits would be anything you liked up to two billion a year—while (this was important) more land could doubtless be acquired if the share- holders thought fit. And even if you were certain that a rubber-tree couldn't possibly grow in the Bango-Bango district (as in confidence it couldn't), still it was worth taking shares purely as an investment, seeing how rapidly rubber was going up; not to mention the fact that Roger St Verax, the well-known financier, was a Director ... and so on.

In short the Bango-Bango Development Company was, in the language of the City, a safe thing.

Let me hasten to the end of this story. At the end of 1910 Roger was a millionaire; and for quite a week afterwards he used to wonder where all the money had come from. In the old days, when he won a cool thousand by betting, he knew that somebody else had lost a cool thousand by betting, but it did not seem to be so in this case. He had met hundreds of men who had made fortunes through rubber; he had met hundreds who bitterly regretted that they had missed making a fortune; but he had never met any one who had lost a fortune. This made him think the City an even more wonderful place than before.

But before he could be happy there remained one thing for him to do; he must find somebody to share his happiness. He called on his old friend, Mary Brown, one Sunday.

"Mary," he said, with the brisk confidence of the City man, "I find I'm disengaged next Tuesday. Will you meet me at St George's Church at two? I should like to show you the curate and the vestry, and one or two things like that."

"Why, what's happened?"

"I am a millionaire," said Roger calmly. "So long as I only had my beggarly pittance, I could not ask you to marry me. There was nothing for it but to wait in patience. It has been a long weary wait, dear, but the sun has broken through the clouds at last. I am now in a position to support a wife. Tuesday at two," he went on, consulting his pocket diary; "or I could give you half an hour on Monday morning."

"But why this extraordinary hurry? Why mayn't I be married properly, with presents and things?"

"My dear," said Roger reproachfully, "you forget. I am a City man now, and it is imperative that I should be married at once. Only a married man, with everything in his wife's name, can face with confidence the give and take of the bustling City."

 
 
 

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