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Title: Rejuvenation
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 2001001h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  September 2020
Most recent update: September 2020

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By Arthur Gask

Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 1954), Thursday 3 September 1942.

MATHEW Ponting Brown lived a very humdrum life, and no one could have called it a happy one. At forty he was an old man with an habitual worried expression upon his face. He was short and slight of figure, his hair was greying, and he actually sported whiskers. As long as anyone had known him it was said he had always worn the same suit. That was not, however, true, for he bought a new one every four or five years. Still, as each new suit was the exact copy of the one before it in style, cut and color, it can easily be understood how the legend of the eternal durability of his clothes arose.

He was a bachelor, living in lodgings in an unpretentious street in North Adelaide, and his way of life was the same from one year's end to another. A ledger clerk at Boomer and Hunt's, he had been with the firm since he was seventeen, and was considered steady and trustworthy. Of very limited intelligence, however, he had never risen from a very subordinate position. By his fellow clerks and the employees of the firm, generally, he was called "Doormat," and he never seemed to resent the implied contempt in the nickname.

He had no vices and no hobby. He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he never went to races, and he had never been known to address any member of the other sex by her Christian name. Every Sunday, morning and evening, he attended a little church of some queer sect in a little bye-lane near Ovingham, but he never was seen to open his mouth there, and his interest in the affairs of the church appeared to end when he had come out of its doors. So, with no relations or friends, his surroundings were as lonely as possibly could be, and he slunk through life a very ghost of a man, interested in no one and with no one interested in him.

With his habits very simple, he was not troubled with any form of ill-health until well into his fortieth year. Then he began to suffer from what for a long while he thought was only indigestion. He did not take much notice of it at first but, the discomfort in the pit of his stomach continuing and getting no better, he suddenly started worrying that, perhaps, some dreadful disease might be setting in. Reading his morning paper from end to end, as he did every day, from its advertisement columns he had acquired a most comprehensive knowledge of the many ills which many quack doctors were anxious to treat, and so was mentally ripe for the suggestion of almost any kind of affliction.

Getting thoroughly frightened at last, he decided to see a doctor, but, knowing none, he could not make up his mind which particular one to choose. Then, remembering the advertisement of a Chinaman which had often caught his eye, after a lot of thinking, he came to the conclusion he could not do better than go to him.

The Chinaman was a Wei Hung Ling, who lived in a little bye-street off King William road. To Mathew's simple mind it seemed he must be a man of great knowledge, ministering, as he was able, according to his advertisements, to almost all the ailments human nature was prone to.

He described himself as a natural healer, specialising in eyes, nose, throat, heart, lungs, and other less romantic parts of the human body. Apart from this extensive repertoire, the Chinaman was also a psychologist, a hypnotist, and a vocational adviser. His advertisement, moreover, suggested he might be consulted about the stars. Altogether Mathew thought he would be quite safe in consulting him, and, accordingly, one afternoon, upon leaving Boomer and Hunt's, he made his way to the Chinaman's place of practice.

Now, whatever may have been the attainments of this Wei Hung Ling in the healing art, he was certainly a pretty shrewd judge of human nature, for directly he clapped eyes on the nervous, shrinking Mathew Brown, he saw possibilities of good profit. If rightly handled, the little chap was just the very kind to be kept hanging about for years.

Swallowing hard in his nervousness, Mathew described his symptoms, and, asking many questions about his occupation and mode of life, short of exactly finding out what his salary was a week, the Chinaman was speedily in possession of nearly all there was to learn about his new patient. Then he made him partly undress, and having prodded his stomach very hard and listened to its rumblings through a stethoscope, he tut-tutted very gravely many times. Finally he gave his verdict.

It was a good thing he had come to him, he told Mathew solemnly, for he had come only just in time. The pain and discomfort he had suffered from were far more than an ordinary indigestion. They were the first stage of a very serious trouble. Still, with patience and extended treatment, he was most hopeful everything would come all right in the end.

Mathew must have X-ray treatment, the galvanic battery and massage, as well as medicines. He must come to be treated three times a week. As to fees, Ling couldn't say how much it would cost, but with such treatments it was, of course, customary to pay something on account. Mathew was thoroughly frightened, and with no demur parted with five one pound notes on account. The treatment was started at once with a dose of the battery, which made him feel rather faint and sick. Indeed, he looked so white and shaky, that the Chinaman produced a good-sized tumbler full of port and insisted upon his drinking it. Never having taken alcohol before, Mathew responded at once to the heavy wine, and, except for rather wobbly legs, expressed himself as feeling much better. Finally, Ling bowed him out with a little box of evil-looking pills and the strict injunction he was to return in two days' time.

Mathew walked slowly down King William road towards the stop, where he would pick up a North Adelaide tram. He had to walk slowly, because not only could he not trust his legs over-much, but also there was a blurred mist before his eyes. However, he soon reached the stop, and was crossing over to the safety zone when everything seemed to go black and he felt faint again. It was only for a few seconds, and then he felt all right. His tram arriving, he mounted the step and sank gratefully into a seat. Really, he told himself, that Chinaman's medicine had been very strong. He had no idea it was just ordinary port wine he had been given.

That night, according to instructions, he took two pills and two more the next morning. He felt astonished with the effect they had on him. It was not only that they took away the pain in his stomach, but they gave him also such a feeling of well-being. He felt he was treading upon air and was so light-hearted, too. Passing out through the garden of the house where he lodged, he plucked one of his landlady's prize rosebuds, strangely enough not caring whether she saw him or not. He knew she would be very angry if she did, as she was showing a bouquet of roses at a local flower show the following week.

Arriving early at the office, he almost ran into one of the other clerks, pretty little Dolly Thompson, in the passage. They were the first to arrive. "Now then, Doormat, dear," she called out gaily, "where are you going? But how nice you smell! Who on earth gave you that dinky little rose?"

"I acquired it by conquest, pretty one," replied Mathew grandly, and it seemed to him it was some other person speaking. "In other words, I stole it from my landlady's garden."

"You wicked man," exclaimed the girl disgustedly, "give it to me at once," and then, when he had smilingly handed it over and she was busy arranging it in her dress, he bent over and gave her a resounding kiss as near to her mouth as he could get.

"You little beast, Doormat!" she exclaimed, pushing him away indignantly. "How dare you do that? Why, I'm almost inclined to scratch your eyes out, you wretch!"

"No, my dear, you're not," he retorted firmly. "And you'll say nothing about it either, and then I'll buy you a box of chocolates."

"A shilling one?" she queried scornfully.

"No, a five shilling one." And again it seemed to him someone else was speaking, as he added importantly, "Don't tell anyone, but I've come in for a lot of money. My old aunt died last week and left me a few hundred."

"Really?" asked the girl with her eyes opened very wide. "Then buy yourself some new clothes at once, and get your hair cut, too. It's the way you dress and those awful whiskers you've got that make you look such an old corpse." She pretended to look coy. "Why, I've let men much older than you take me out, when they dressed properly and looked decent."

Mathew had his hair cut that very day, and at the same time was measured for a suit of clothes by one of the best tailors in Adelaide. He had plenty of money, for he had saved more than £400.

When on the evening of the following day he kept his appointment with the Chinaman, and told him delightedly how much better he felt. "My indigestion is all gone, and I feel quite different all round." He laughed. "Why, I even see now when a girl's good-looking or not, and I haven't noticed that for years. Those pills of yours must be very strong."

Wei Hung Ling nodded. "Yes, they are restoring your vital energy and that's what I meant them to do." He smiled a cunning smile. "But it is not only the pills which are making you feel so much better." He fixed Mathew intently with his eyes and added very solemnly, "You didn't know, did you, that I had hypnotised you! Well, I had, and I had willed you should become young again." He spoke as one with great authority. "You do as I tell you and in six months I will have taken twenty years off your life."

Mathew was thrilled and, at the Chinaman's suggestion, so that there should be no slipping back, paid down a further two pounds for pills of an even stronger nature.

And in the months which followed, although he was being well and consistently milked by Wei Hung Ling, he never for one moment regretted having gone to him. His whole life was altered in a most extraordinary degree. He had become sharp and quick, where before he had been dull and slow, and, indeed, was now so capable in everything he undertook, that he soon found he was being given responsible duties, with his salary being raised accordingly.

After working hours, too, everything was different. He took Dolly Thompson out quite a lot, and both his kisses and his presents were now accepted as a matter of course. Indeed, the office was expecting that an engagement would be announced any day. Mathew, however, was taking his time there. Appetite had grown with eating and, although very taken with the charms of the fascinating little Dolly, he had several other little flirtations in hand at the same time. He had moved to a good-class guest home and a lively young widow there was beginning to regard him as her private property. Also, he was sweet on a girl in a lawyer's office. Her name was Penelope and she had a good eye for the main chance.

And not only was Mathew prospering in his work and his love affairs, but he was also most fortunate in other ways. Attending the local race meetings and knowing nothing whatsoever about horses, time after time he made quite useful sums of money by backing certain animals, either because he liked their names, or else because the numbers on their saddle-cloths coincided with those which he had cause to remember for some particular reason, quite unconnected with racing.

One afternoon, for instance, he had a pound on a horse because its number was 20 and he had suddenly remembered the Chinaman had said he would take that number of years off his life. The horse won and paid £185 10/ in the totalisator.

Splashing his money about as he now did, everyone seemed to want to be friendly with him and, going out quite a lot, he was always meeting people, anxious to share in his good fortune. Strangely enough, however, he had developed a great shrewdness of character and always managed to avoid the pitfalls which were being set for him. He flattered himself he could pick out the go-getters from the honest ones every time.

Instead of the little packet of measly sandwiches and the glass of milk which in the days gone by consisted of his lunch, he now made a substantial meal at a good-class café, and sitting always at the same table, got to know a young fellow who generally came to sit opposite to him.

Just nodding casually at each other, at first, it was some weeks before they began to talk of themselves, and then Mathew learnt his new acquaintance was a clerk in a lawyer's office, was twenty-six years of age, and half engaged to a very pretty girl, but had very poor prospects of being able to get married. He was always hoping, however, that one day some great happening would avalanche into his life, and everything would be quite different. He was a great believer in Fate.

"We can't help ourselves," he said. "We're running in a groove, and everything we say or do has been arranged years and years before we were born, to fit in with the lives of other people."

"Then why was it fated," smiled Mathew, "that I should come and sit down at your table."

"Don't know," replied the young fellow. He smiled, "Perhaps it was to teach me not to take so much salt. It was you who told me about it first, and I've learnt since then it makes your arteries grow hard as you get old." He nodded. "So, perhaps, just from this chance meeting with you, I may live ten or fifteen years longer than I should have done if it hadn't happened."

Mathew nodded back, feeling quite a thrill at the important part he might be playing in this boy's destiny.

One lunch-time the boy arrived looking very preoccupied, and after a long silence said earnestly:— "Look here, Mr. Brown, do you ever speculate? Do you ever take a risk?"

Mathew laughed. "I'm middle-aged with a bit of dough, and if I take a girl to the pictures and squeeze her hand in the dark, why, it's always on the cards that she'll be thinking I ought to mean business and start to sue me for breach of promise the next morning." He seemed very amused. "Yes, I'm accustomed to take risks."

The young man laughed back. "I didn't mean in that way. I meant do you ever speculate in stocks and shares?"

Mathew shook his head. "Don't know enough about them." He was anxious. "But what makes you ask?"

"Because," said the young man solemnly, "I'm pretty certain I've got some information about a certain gold-mine which may send the shares up from the few pence they are now to as many shillings, or, perhaps, even pounds. Oh, yes, I know a bit about gold shares. My Dad lost all his money in them and that's why we're so deuced poor today."

Mathew expressed his interest, and having promised the young man profound secrecy, the latter went on. "Listen, last month the Silver Moon people took over another gold mining property, a badly worked mine which so far has done no good, and everyone was very curious why they did it, for they are known as a very shrewd lot. Their shares now stand at seven pence."

"Seven pence!" exclaimed Mathew. "Surely that's not much for a share in a gold mine."

"Often too much," smiled the young man. He went on. "Now here comes the funny business. Next door to us lives a chap called Entwhistle, a retired mining engineer. He's really given up active work now, but sometimes he's still consulted because he's supposed to know more about gold mining than any man in Australia. People don't go to him often, because he charges a deuced big fee. Well, yesterday, he received a telegram, and, because that storm we had has flattened all the telephone posts in our road, the wire was delivered by hand, with the boy, as usual, waiting to know if there was any answer."

The young man spoke very solemnly. "Well, here Fate steps in. I was in our garden when Entwhistle came out of his front door to give the boy the reply to the telegram and as the old man is very deaf he shouted what the words were, 'Halliday, Silver Moon, Kalgoorlie,' he bawled, 'Accept terms—coming by plane tomorrow, Entwhistle.'"

"Then what does it all mean?" frowned Mathew.

"That they think they've struck it rich," was the instant reply, "and they want Entwhistle to assure them it's worth while going to the expense of putting down new machinery." He nodded, "And I'll bet they paid him a huge sum. He's always vowed he'd never set foot in a plane under five hundred guineas."

"And what do you think'll happen?" asked Mathew.

"The shares'll go up at once the moment it leaks out that Entwhistle's been called in. I shouldn't wonder if they don't go up tuppence or threepence this afternoon."

A short silence followed and then Mathew said with decision. "Look here, my boy, I'll go in with you. We'll buy a thousand shares each, at once, straight-away within the hour."

The young fellow got very red. "Can't do it, sir," he said. "I've no spare cash."

"Well, I'll lend it to you," nodded Mathew. "No, that's all right. It'll be a little excitement for us whatever happens. Now how do you set about getting these shares."

So it ended in the two hurriedly making their way to a stockbroker the young man knew. But the stockbroker was out and to fill in the few minutes before he returned, they went into a hotel and had some drinks. Under the influence of two sloe gins, Mathew took a most rosy view of everything and it ended in him buying two thousand shares for himself and one for his friend. They cost him, with commission, a little over £100.

Nothing happened for three days, and then the boy came rushing excitedly into the café at lunch time to give the startling information that not an hour previously Silver Moons had jumped from eightpence to two shillings.

"It's leaked out that Entwhistle was over there," he whispered hoarsely, "and some say he's given them a marvellous report."

And exactly what report the mining expert had given Mathew never knew. All that interested him was that he found himself being carried violently forward in the crest of a tremendous boom in Silver Moons. The shares soared and soared, from two shillings to five, from five shillings to a pound and then up, up, up until seventy odd shillings was reached. Then, upon the advice of his friend, Mathew sold out, finding himself in the possession of more than £7,000.

Keeping the whole matter to himself for a couple of weeks, he at last went to the heads of the firm and told them what had happened. They were aghast, but, their first surprise over, regarded him with great respect.

"Well, well, Mr. Brown," said old Boomer, "you do astonish us. Certainly, of late, you've given us good reason for surprise in many directions, but we didn't think you had as much go in you as this." He frowned. "And now, of course, I suppose you will be leaving us. You will want to——"

"No, no," broke in Mr. Hunt with a significant look at his partner, "decide nothing precipitately, Mr. Brown." He coughed. "Don't say anything for a few days, and we may have a suggestion to make to you." He smiled. "You know we are both older than we used to be, and don't want to go on working for ever."

In the meantime, Mathew's love affairs were becoming rather involved, and it seemed he was in the way of getting himself into trouble. He was inclined to think something of his good fortune must somehow have leaked out, as all his lady loves were most actively pushing their claims. He was practically engaged to Dolly Thompson on the quiet; he had been taking the little widow out and buying her expensive presents, and he spent as much time as he could with Penelope of the lawyer's office, when he could safely get away from the other two.

Strangely enough, his deceit did not worry him in the least. Indeed, he never gave it a thought, taking all his love adventures as the natural result of the rejuvenation Wei Hung Ling had promised him. He was free of the Chinaman now, and that did not trouble him either. A month back he had seen in the newspapers that the premises off King William road had been raided, and Ling committed for trial for trafficking in forbidden drugs.

Late one night Mathew took counsel of himself in his bedroom. Things had become very awkward, and a crisis was certainly approaching. That afternoon the partners had announced to their other employees that they were taking him into partnership, and Dolly had at once triumphantly broadcast their engagement. Yet, the previous evening after sitting with the widow on the parklands, and overcome by her caresses and the fragrance of the particular scent she had been using, he had asked her to marry him. Also, that very morning he had lunched with Penelope at a fashionable hotel, and snatched a passionate kiss from her in a secluded corner of the lounge when no one else was by. He had arranged, too, to spend the following Sunday with her at her home.

He looked into the mirror and thoughtfully regarded the image reflected there. He saw a distinguished, handsome man who did not look a day older than 30; a man with a strong, clever face, and calm, confident eyes.

"What a change from what I was six months ago!'' he nodded. "Yes, it's exactly six months to day, on May 2nd, since I first visited old Ling, and what a lot has happened in that time!" He went on. "Sure, you ought to go a long way, Mathew, for nothing now is beyond your grasp. A partner in an important business firm, you must get on the city council. Then it will be only another step to becoming the lord mayor. After that—who knows? You may be Sir Mathew very soon.

He undressed himself and quickly got into bed. "I must get a good sleep now. I have a busy day tomorrow. Dolly, Penelope and Susan, how shall I manage them all?" but, his head touching the pillow, his thoughts trailed away into nothingness and .... he was asleep.

* * * *

One of the house surgeons of the Adelaide Hospital was showing two interested elderly ladies over the new wing of the building. As they entered a small ward, some nurses were putting a screen round one of the beds.

"A patient just died?" whispered one of the ladies sympathetically.

The house surgeon nodded. "We expected it. A bad accident case! He hadn't a chance when they brought him in."

"How long ago, since it happened?"

The house surgeon considered. "Three days last Tuesday evening, May 2nd, he was knocked down by a motor lorry in King William road while waiting for a tram. His injuries were shocking. Fractured base of the skull, five ribs broken and a compound fracture of the thigh. But it was probably mostly his own fault, as he reeked of port wine when he was picked up."

"Was he a young man?"

"No, about forty, so his firm told us. He was a clerk in a soft-goods warehouse and, apparently, without any relations or friends, as not a soul's been to see him since he was brought in."

"Oh, what a dreadful death."

The house surgeon smiled. "The accident was dreadful, but the dying wasn't. He's been chock full of morphia and, judging by his talk, has had a lovely time. He won huge sums at the races and made a fortune in a gold-mine. Also, he became the head partner of his soft-goods firm. As for love affairs, why he had sweethearts all over the place, Penelope, Dorothy, Susan, and it seemed he was going to marry all of them."

"How shocking," murmured the other lady. "He must have been a thoroughly bad man!"

The house surgeon shook his head. "No, I don't think so. He was only just an ordinary man and in his dreams he let himself go." He laughed. "His name was Mathew, but he was certainly no saint."


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