― 27 ―

Chapter III. The New Establishment.

IF the Professor had reason to be a proud man, four days afterwards, he could hardly be said to be a completely happy one. He was possessed of vanity and ignorance enough to have accepted any post, but the position wanted grappling with and getting accustomed to. These daily ablutions were decidedly irksome, and after being accustomed to limp linen, to be imprisoned in stiffly-starched shirts and collars was a trial, to say nothing about the soft carpets, and the flashy furniture, all on the hire system, which awed his silly soul. The habit of scratching was an ancient one and not easy to set aside, still he did his best to live up to his new surroundings and forego that luxury.

Jack Milton, in his character of John Williams, had engaged the servants and young ladies to wait upon expected clients. The Professor found them all on the spot when he arrived, with his bran new wardrobe, to take possession. Attractive and exceedingly sharp-looking girls, in sedate and well-fitting costumes, and a page-boy to open the door, with a face like a knife newly ground and eyes like a snake; not many page boys, even of the keenest colonial produce, would have had a chance with this remarkable boy, for activity, wide-awakeness

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and composure. He was a demon page, who could anticipate an order before it was half thought out, far less expressed.

The cook and housemaid were not beautiful, but they were agile and wonderfully constructed; quiet, freckled-faced women, who performed their duties deftly, and moved about the house like Malays or Chinamen. There was also a man kept on the premises to split wood in the cellar and look after the horse and dog-cart in the yard, for the Professor was stinted in nothing by his liberal patron; this man likewise had been chosen for his strength of muscles rather than his good looks, and he was very modest, for he seldom went out to the street. His duties lay solely in the back kitchen, cellars, and yard.

The sleeping partner and financier of the business took up his abode on the premises, and had his meals with the Professor, and generous meals they were, both as regards viands and liquors. The Professor for the first time in his chequered career had the delight of quaffing champagne and burgundy with his tucker, and like the hero he was, he went into those delights with heart-felt pleasure and thirsty energy when the daily duties were over. Each night after the hours of consultation, supper came on, and he never rose from that supper, but drank on, until he found the soft carpet sufficient as a couch for the night.

Jack Milton had been correct in his estimate of the gullibility of the Sydney people when the bait is presented to them with a blaze and glitter. In his

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small and mean way the Professor had been able to keep himself going, with the low fees asked for his priceless services, but he was astonished now at the crowds who waited in his ante-rooms, and the golden offerings which poured in during the fashionable hours of consultation. As soon as the fashionables grasped the fact that such an establishment had opened in the locality, and columns of advertisements made them suppose that there must be money at the back of the concern, they at once patronized it. And because it looked genuine and like a success, the public made it so, with their generous fees. Psychometry became a theme of conversation from Potts' Point to Botany Bay, and the Psychometrist a decided boom. Of course this peculiarity of encouraging and bending down to apparent success is not altogether confined to Sydney, although in other places the public may not be quite so quickly got at by such shams, nor so candid in their contempt for failure or poverty.

“Make hay while your sun shines,” Jack would say as he roused up the Professor from his hog-like repose each morning and superintended his bath and dressing. “Get as drunk as you like when business is over, but you must look capable to use the rake during the day.”

Yet although he was so strict with Mortikali, the sleeping partner, after he had braced up and set the fraudulent machine going, would prove his position in the firm by going off to his own bed and sleeping for the best part of the day. It was

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astonishing what a quantity of sleep he could do with. He said that he did not sleep well at nights, and that was why he took so much of it during the day. Certainly in the mornings he did look worn and wearied enough to justify his assertion that he could not sleep well at nights.

“I'll have to put you under my magnetic treatment, my boy, if you don't get better. Let me give you a few passes now,” remarked the Professor when he had picked himself up from the floor and cleared his muddled faculties somewhat with a shower-bath. “Them wines do pour the illectric force into a sensitive like me; I felt all of a tingle this morning, just see how my arms and hands are a-shaking; it's the healing power a-filling me to bursting point, that's what it is; my old mother, who was a rare mejum, used to tell me, I had the god-like gifts to make my fortune as a healer, and, by George! I begin to believe she was in the right.”

He was engaged, while gabbling on, in making hypnotic passes round the recumbent head of his stalwart friend, who had pitched himself wearily upon one of the couches in their private dining room.

“So your mother was a mejum, was she?” sleepily answered the drowsy Jack.

“Ay, one of the right old school, and no gammon about her; she wouldn't give a séance for nothink, not she, like as some of them blooming fools do now. Her familiar spurruts only worked for the £ s. d.”

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“Good old party, and what about your wife and family—where have you left them? Eh?”

“Don't mention them,” replied the Psychometrist with vicious emphasis. “I have cast them out of my heart for ever, leastways they chucked me out, the unnatural mob. That woman, my wife, fell to religion—the Methodists took her in hand and spoilt a first-rate trance mejum. She'd have nothink to do with me afterwards, and said that my gifts came from the devil, and what d'ye think my eldest son had the impudence to tell me?”

“I give it up.”

“That I was as ignorant as an unweaned pig—there, now, what d'ye think of that from a man's own son?”

Jack Milton, who had been gradually succumbing under his protégé's passes, or from his own fatigue, rallied a little at this, and burst into a hearty laugh, which however he qualified by saying:

“It was cheek, and no mistake.”

“What d'ye think, my boy, but that wasn't all, for he followed this nasty remark by taking me by the scruff of my neck and pitching me into the street, telling me never to darken the door or disgrace them again with my lousy presence. Ah! if they could see me now, though, wouldn't they feel ashamed.”

“It's quite likely they would,” murmured the patient, as he succumbed and fell asleep.

Barney, the stable hand and wood-chopper, was

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like his master during these hot mornings, and did a considerable amount of sleeping among the straw in the stable, after he had attended to the pony and split what wood was needed for the kitchen; however, as these were nearly all the duties yet asked of him, no one complained about his drowsy habits. The weather was too oppressively hot for anyone to work much, except the Professor, until the night came, and his work was not over-taxing either to the mind or muscles. He knew the formula of the cards, and how to prattle about the lines of life, girdle of Venus, and mount of Mars, with the breaks and crosses in between. His customers were also fairly credulous and not over critical either about the predictions or manners of the predictor. He was now well-dressed, his hair and beard were tidily trimmed, and his surroundings were flashy, and those completed the illusion. Each victim came to him desirous of listening, and with wishes to be gratified, and they gave him the key to those wishes quickly enough, therefore he sent them away happy, for he predicted exactly what they wanted to come to pass.

His fees had been raised to suit his new surroundings, one guinea for the future, revealed either by card or palm; four guineas if the stars were consulted, and a chart drawn out. He generously threw in a little phrenology, palmistry, and card shuffling along with the astrology for the same fee. His massage and magnetic treatment was a ten-guinea per visit affair, and a course, or

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series, of visits were required before success could be promised.

As we have said, the Professor became an instant and pronounced success, for although the establishment had only been opened for six days, he had hardly time at this stage to bolt his lunch, through the flux of customers, while the sovereigns and shillings rolled into his coffers in a perpetual stream. It was better than a gold mine while it lasted.

“A pity these booms are so soon over,” murmured Jack Milton regretfully to himself, as he took charge of the money each night, allowing the Professor just enough for his daily expenses. “I might have settled down comfortably in this business and dropped the other, but it can't go on.”

Perhaps one cause of this rapid success was that this knavish and foolish fraud of a Futurist had as firm a belief in the spirits, the cards, palmistry and the stars as his customers had, or pretended to have. He had before now paid his half-sovereigns to get his own future divulged by other professors in his own craft, and they in return came to him, now that he was successful, to see how he did it, and learn a trick, or out of good faith, and it was his bona fide air of faith and credence which helped to impose on others. A man must be in earnest even in roguery, to become a success. Cynics are never successful money-makers.

The new branch which had been added to the business, the selling of certain “tips” for the coming races and sports, caused the Professor a

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good deal of uneasiness and feeble remonstrance before he would consent to take it up, for he knew nothing about horses, cricket adepts, or other gambling transactions, and he said “the spurruts” were not always to be depended on in such mundane matters. “They are tricky and play larks at times, and then where will we be?—busted!”

But Jack was confident about the success of this branch. He knew all the tricks of the turf and would not admit of failure. He could tell when the spirits were likely to give false information, he said, and put them on the right track, “so plunge, my sage, philosopher and friend, for plunging is our game now.”

The Professor yielded, as he generally had to do when the daring Jack commanded. The first race would be over in eight more days, and this was Friday of their second week in possession, and that must either “bust” them up, or else draw the whole colony swarming into their net.

The Psychometrist trembled, but accepted the position, and braced up his courage by sundry glasses of brandy and soda, while the sporting victims came in and paid lavishly for the “certain tips,” promising him the fate of the welsher if he proved a false prophet. Each night also, while the wearied Futurist drank himself into a blissful state of unconsciousness with the generous juices of old France, Jack sat smoking hard, and concocting fresh advertisements for the newspapers in the name of “Mortikali the Great.” Florid and humorous compositions, regardless of expense,

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these were of Jack's, which filled whole columns, and delighted both the readers and proprietors of the different papers, and the editors proved their gratitude by giving the Professor and his establishment constant pars. extra, and appreciative interviews.

“Won't all them advertisements swamp our profits, mate?” the Professor would feebly ask.

“Not a bit of it, our arrangement is to pay at the end of the month, as we do the furniture establishment, and we'll have lots of money by that time.”

“How did you manage it?”

“Easy enough; in these dull times people are only too pleased to give credit. I paid our landlord a month in advance, and got him down to the Marble Hall to speak about it and my bank account which I showed him. Free drinks at the same Marble den of Tattersall's and the ‘Australian,’ with a little discreet bounce, fluency of gab and display of jewellery, drew the blinders over the eyes of the Press. They can only see the road I lead them into now. Do you savy, old sage and psychometrist, eh?”

“You're a big man, Jack, and ought to die a millionaire.”

“I ought, and I hope to live one also.”

A short time afterwards, as soon as the Professor had found his customary couch on the carpet, Jack Milton, attired in his white wig and blue spectacles, took his usual prowl round the newspaper offices, handing in his copy, and shouting drinks; afterwards

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visiting the fashionable places of resort and paying his money like a man, amongst both dudes and capitalists; then, on his way back, he dropped a letter into a post pillar for Mr. Arthur Chester, solicitor.

On his return he put on an old suit and woke up the strong-armed Barney, and went with him for an hour or two of real hard labour in the cellar, for when they came from those underground regions, they were covered with dirt and sweating profusely, yet both appeared satisfied.

“That job's ready at last, Barney, my boy, and to-morrow night we'll all have to lend a hand.”

“It'll be as clean a job as I ever was in, captain; when you take a thing in hand you does it neatly.”

Jack smiled at the compliment from his henchman, and after a drink of brandy and soda, they both went like brothers into the bath-room, and, after a good wash, for the first time during those past six days sought their beds before daylight.

On Saturday forenoon Jack paid an early visit to the bank next door, paying in a good number of sovereigns, and enjoying a pleasant half hour's chat with the genial manager in his private den.

The letter which Mr. Chester received ran as follows:

“Tell Rosa and her people that I have landed in Melbourne, and will be home on Sunday night.

“I shall also be at your house very early on Sunday morning, with the treasure I spoke about;

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leave your back yard and stable doors open for me, so that I needn't disturb the neighbours getting in, and be prepared for me.


“We shall all be prepared for you, Mr. Jack,” murmured Mr. Chester, with a sinister smile, as he read and destroyed this interesting epistle.