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Ainslee's, March 1901

The Lottery Ticket

by Rafael Sabatini

Andreas Schumacher had been a failure in life. Moreover, he had grown fat.

To look at the dumpy little old man as he climbed on to his high stool at Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co.'s office, it would have been difficult to have pictured the bright, slender, well-groomed youth who had come to London thirty years before, to study the English system of commerce.

It had been his father's desire that he should remain three years in England to perfect his knowledge of the language and of business, and then return to the partnership which Schumacher the elder would offer him in the then prosperous Hamburg house of Schumacher & Steinholz.

But a great bank failure supervened and dragged that eminent firm through the bankruptcy tribunals. Old Schumacher died of heart disease accelerated by the disaster, and Andreas was left a penniless orphan to fight his battle of life unaided, uncheered, and unloved.

He remained in London, and Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel, & Co., moved to their inmost soul by his misfortune, befriended him to the magnanimous extent of twenty-three shillings and sixpence a week. They offered him this extravagant salary partly in consideration of the many favors they owed the late firm of Schumacher & Steinholz, and partly because they thought it unlikely they would find anybody else willing to do the work they apportioned him for less. He took it in the same spirit, realizing that elsewhere he might not get as much.

He had fought shabbiness a hard battle—eventually succumbing—and had studied temperate habits of living with an assiduity beyond praise.

For thirty years he had lived the miserable, soul-crushing life that fate had forced upon him, without a smile, without a groan, and almost (one might opine from his appearance) without a wash. Parsimonious living is not conducive to an excessive degree of cleanliness.

But gradually his lot had improved. By dint of hard work and a sacrifice of everything that constitutes the verb "to live" he had proved himself worthy of an increased salary. By the time he had been for twenty years a dingy fixture of Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co.'s dingy office, his stipend had reached the full tide of three hundred a year. For ten years after that there had been no further advances, nor could he hope for any, nor—for that matter—did he wish for any. To wish for things one must have ambition, to have ambition one must have a soul, and poor Schumacher's soul had been drowned in ink long ago.

He had grown fat. Not the pale, puffy, fat of good fare and sensuous indulgence, but the moist, crimson fat of stupidity, selfishness, and too much sleep—the slothful obesity that begins in the mind, or in the lack of it.

His character, like most men's, was to be read in his clothes—baggy, faded, irregularly adorned with grease spots, whilst with your finger you might have written your name in the dust on his hat.

How far removed he stood from this world's vanities was attested by his supreme indifference to the shape or fashion of his buttons, shoe laces, and neckties.

Such was Andreas Schumacher at the age of fifty-four, an unclean thing to look at, with a round red face, a large mouth shaded by short, stubbly mustache, small eyes that peered suspiciously through a pair of steel rimmed spectacles, and no nose to speak of. His hair alone gave you a suspicion of the artist. Its general untidiness and lordly contempt of the comb was such as is affected by priests of the muses.

He had never married. He had never thought of it. When he was too young he had not the means; now that he was old he had not the figure to inspire passion—even had he had the inclination.

But of late he had found lodgings uncomfortable. He had moved into a small, dismal house in Bloomsbury and engaged a housekeeper—a decayed lady who had the conventional qualifications of having seen better days and a husband who drank himself to death.

He spent a hundred pounds a year on himself, his housekeeper and his establishment. The other two hundred he banked. Not that he had any definite object in this; he had acquired the habit, and although he might suffer discomfort, two-thirds of his income he set aside.

For two years he lived in this fashion, peacefully, sordidly, and sleepily. Then a snake entered his slothful paradise. He discovered that Mrs. Leighton, his housekeeper, gambled.

Now, men of Schumacher's stamp are usually virtuous. Their lethargy of soul is too intense to be pierced by temptation; moreover, vice costs money, and if there was one thing that would appeal to Schumacher as sinful, it was that which cost money. Imagine, therefore, how appalling to him would appear the crime of gambling. What to him could be more immoral than the purchase of a lottery ticket? Was it not wicked, useless waste of six shillings?

As he thought of all the things that could be bought for six shillings his bosom swelled with righteous indignation. It was worse than spending money on tobacco!

He spoke severely to Mrs. Leighton, and with a dirty forefinger he emphasized his demonstration of her crime.

She was a slender, fragile woman of fifty, easily daunted, and she listened meekly, with folded hands, then sighed and looked penitent.

"I suppose it's very wrong of me, Mr. Shoemaker, and since you put it that way, I promise to have no more to do with it. But, dear me, Mr. Shoemaker, I've bought a lottery ticket twice a year for the last six years. I've always had a hope of winning something, and then, ye see, I might—"

"Herrgott," Schumacher interrupted—usually his English was fluent enough though guttural, but in rare moments of excitement he would take refuge in unseemly expressions of his mother tongue—" you have bought two tickets a year; twelve shillings a year, which," he pursued, setting the matter at once upon a sound mathematical basis, "makes seventy-two shillings in all. "Donnerwetter! Think, woman, think how much that is! What you want with any verfluchte lottery? What have you won? Nothing." And spreading his flabby hands before her, he screwed his face into an awful expression of condemnation and disgust.

Mrs. Leighton repeated her assurances that she would have no more to do with such things, and to show how earnest were his words, she put the ticket on the table and bade him take it and do what he liked with it.

But he recoiled from that certificate of crime— which bore the name of the "Fortuna Gesellschaft," and in large, black figures, the number 5400— and with many Teutonic adjectives of vituperation, he solemnly vowed that he would not touch it.

So, with another sigh, she returned it to her shabby purse, and with renewed protestations that she would gamble no more, the incident was ended, and Andreas went to sleep in his chair.

A week went by, and the incident was all but forgotten, when, chancing one morning to open the Hamburger Tageblatt— which paper was regularly received at the offices of Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co.— his eyes alighted upon the number 5400 conspicuously printed in the center of the page. There was something familiar about it that arrested his attention. It represented his age multiplied by a hundred, and he had a hazy recollection of having thought the same of some number seen not long ago. Then he read the equally conspicuous heading, "Fortuna Gesellschaft ," and he remembered. With trembling hands, he held the paper whilst he perused the announcement that the holder of ticket No. 5400 was the winner of 50,000 marks— roughly, twenty-five thousand pounds sterling.

The paper fluttered from his grasp, his flabby cheeks grew white, and his lips opened to whisper the name— Theresa Leighton.

Then his miserly soul was filled with envy and a sort of rage. He fell to reviling himself for not having bought the ticket from his housekeeper without stopping to consider whether she would have sold it, and utterly oblivious of his own moral attitude towards gambling. Like many another he confined his moral objections to the unprofitable.

His mental anger was suddenly interrupted by another thought. What if Mrs. Leighton were yet in ignorance of her good fortune? He knew that it would take perhaps two or three days to trace the lucky ticket. What could he do in two or three days? Buy it from her? No. That was out of the question. She would divine his motive for wasting six shillings.

He thought hard for some moments— harder than he had ever thought in his life— and at last the only solution presented itself. He must marry her. But how could it be done in two or three days? There was Sharpe. Sharpe would know; he had been in a lawyer's office.

Andreas slipped down from his stool, and shuffled quickly into the outer office. In his quiet, unobtrusive way, he sneaked up to Sharpe's desk, and peering at him through his spectacles in a strangely perturbed fashion.

"Mr. Sharpe," he whispered, timidly. "Will you come and have a drink with me?"

In the profoundest amazement, Fred Sharpe turned round and stared at the little German.

"I beg your pardon," he said at last.

"Will you come and have a drink with me?"

Without another word, Sharpe reached out for his hat. He was a young gentleman of twenty-one who cut a lordly figure in the world on twenty-five shillings a week and reversible cuffs. Schumacher was not his ideal companion, but a drink was a drink, and Schumacher, for some mysterious reason, was going to pay for it.

Intimating to his fellow clerks that he was "just going round to the bank,"Sharpe followed Andreas out of the office, and piloted him round to a quiet little house in a back street close at hand.

He ordered a whisky and soda, whereat Schumacher winced. All unversed as he was in refreshment tariffs, he realized that a drink concocted with two fluids must be more expensive than an unmixed one. He requested a small lemonade for himself, and having gone through the agony of paying, he proceeded to obtain the requisite information and advice.

"What's the quickest way of getting married, Mr. Sharpe?"

Mr. Sharpe eyed him with evident alarm. An idea that had occurred to him when Andreas had displayed the unusual trait of generosity was confirmed. Old Schumacher was going mad. It was only when Andreas repeated the question that he answered: "Special license."

"That's the quickest, is it? Well, how can I get one?"

"Thirty pounds, a reason and an affidavit that there's no impediment."

"Thirty pounds! Herrgott!" And he went as white as chalk. Then remembering the stake he was playing for he regained courage and his normal complexion. "What would be considered a reason?"

Sharpe supplied him with half a dozen.

"If you can substantiate any one of those, swear no impediment, the thing's done."

"But I can't substantiate any one of them."

"Then what the dickens do you want to get married for?"

Andreas ignored the question.

"Is there no other way?"

"No. You can lie, of course, but the Lord help you if they find you out."

Schumacher realized that he would have to lie, and accepted his fate with surprising resignation.

"Supposing I get the license, when can I be married?"

"If you look sharp you might do it tomorrow morning. But you'll have to look very sharp."

That was enough. Schumacher ordered another drink for his matrimonial mentor, and proceeded to learn from him what he should do and say. How he should explain his haste to the Bishop and how substantiate his explanation in all necessary details.

Then Schumacher returned to the office, and having informed old Mr. Hartmann that he was feeling very ill, he got into his green overcoat—originally it had been black—and left. Sharpe saw him go, and half an hour later a wonderful story was current in the establishment.

Meanwhile, Schumacher went straight to the bank, and, for the first time in his life, he drew a check. He drew thirty pounds and ten shillings—the ten shillings he thought might be necessary for his wedding expenses.

With the notes safely stowed away in his breast pocket, he reached Bloomsbury three-quarters of an hour later, and alarmed Mrs. Leighton by the unusual event.

He told her that he didn't feel well, and so he had thought that a few days' holiday would do him good. She applauded his resolution. Indeed, he looked anything but well—the anxiety that was consuming him gave him a sickly air.

Fools are often cunning. But the cunning displayed by Andreas on this occasion might have done credit to a clever man. In five minutes he was able to breathe freely, in the conviction that she knew nothing of the result of the "Fortuna Gesellschaft" lottery.

Then he went craftily to work. He had thought it all out on his way home, and what he said made Theresa Leighton realize to the full how she had misjudged his character, and how bitterly she had wronged him hitherto.

He was growing old, he said, and the slight indisposition he felt that day had reminded him that it might not be very long before he would have to pay the debt of the flesh and visit another world—whether a better one or otherwise, he did not specify.

"You have been very good to me, Theresa," he simpered. "And the thought struck me what would become of you if I die. You are getting old, dear friend, and you cannot work very much longer. I have savings. I have two thousand pounds. That would be something for you. I am fond of you."

He stopped and breathed, whilst she dropped her eyes and turned red. Then he took her thin, emaciated hand in his great, fleshy paw, and with a clever shake in his voice: "Will you marry me?" he inquired, softly.

"Oh, Mr. Shoemaker!"

"Will you marry me?" he repeated.

She was silent for a moment, and during that moment she considered the situation.

She compared him to her late husband. The gay, handsome, drunken Mr. Leighton was very different indeed, and how passionately he had wooed her! Andreas proposed like a jellyfish. But Andreas had two thousand pounds and an income of three hundred a year. Then, what he had said of her position was only too true; she was growing old. Altogether she had much to gain from accepting him. He was evidently fond of her. So in the end she raised her eyes and whispered her acquiescence.

Had he ever read a novel he would have known what was expected of him. He would have gathered her to his adipose bosom, and impressed the bond-sealing kiss upon her lips—there is a world of wooing deportment to be gathered from a novel. But Andreas knew nothing and cared less about such trivial pastimes.

With an anxiety that brought great beads of perspiration to his brow, he proceeded to tell her how he had hoped for this; how he had resolved whilst walking home that day that if she consented, they should avail themselves of his present holiday to get married at once and have a day or two in the country.

She thought it very sudden, but he explained that his holiday would be so very short that they had best do as he suggested. Moreover, he added with sudden inspiration, they were both growing old, and they had a right to grudge every moment of the life of connubial happiness that lay before them. Let them enter upon it without delay, and, if possible, get married next morning.

She was rather frightened for a moment, but no suspicion crossed her mind, and it never occurred to her that there was anything very strange in the affair. What he said appeared reasonable enough, and having no notion of the cost of a special license, there was nothing to arouse her mistrust.

And so, to be succinct, they were married the following afternoon. Andreas lost a couple of pounds—avoirdupois—during the twenty-four hours that preceded his marriage, out of sheer anxiety lest at the last moment she should get wind of the fortune that belonged to her.

At last when he heard her utter the fateful "I will" a great sigh of relief escaped his lips, and he felt ready to caper with joy—he would have cut rather a curious figure capering.

He was rich. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co. might go hang. He would keep no more books for them.

He drew another check for ten pounds, and they went into the country for a quiet honeymoon, abandoning themselves to the all-satisfying contemplation of each other.

At his request, Sharpe had sent him a bundle of copies of the Hamburger Tageblatt, among which was the one containing the result of the "Fortuna Gesellschaft" lottery. He read them all on the second evening of their holiday, ignoring the announcement in question. He greatly preferred that she should learn of it through another quarter.

But when a third day went by and she continued in ignorance of what had taken place, he thought it would be only kind of him to enlighten her.

He was turning the papers over in a careless way, that evening, when suddenly he uttered a sharp cry and seizing one of them he set himself to read vigorously. She raised her head at this sign of excitement.

"What is it, Andrew?"

"What was the number of your lottery ticket?" he cried.

"Five thousand four hundred," she answered. "Why? You don't mean to tell me that it's won anything?"

"Won anything? Potzteufel! It's won the big prize—five hundred thousand marks. Look!" And he held out the paper, setting his fat, unclean finger against the number.

Mrs. Andreas Schumacher did not look. She sat rigid and white, staring at him with parted lips.

"It's your fault, Andreas," she said. "You bullied me so about wasting money that I sold the ticket next day to Mrs. Armstrong."

Then seeing the spasm of pain that crossed his face, and thinking—poor, unsuspecting soul!—that her harsh reproof had caused it, she forgot her loss and grew tender.

Going over to where he sat, she put her arm round his neck, and drawing his head on to her shoulder: "Never mind, dear," she said, softly, "you were quite right in a way, and we have each other."

"Yes," he echoed, mechanically, "we have each other." And as he realized fully what that meant, "we have each other," he repeated. "Herrgott! We have each other!"

And he fainted.

This story appears on The Life and Work of Rafael Sabatini web site.
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