A Village of Millionaires
Lazy John had just left school, and should have been looking for a steady job, but he preferred to sit around doing nothing. "I'm waiting," he said, "for someone to leave me a fortune!"
Then one night an angel appeared by his bedside. "Would you like a job?" asked the angel.
"No thank you," replied John angrily, "and I'll trouble you to mind your own business and leave me alone!"
"Then would you like me to give you a fortune?" said the angel.
John's manner changed instantly. He sat bolt upright. "What did you say? A fortune? Can you do it? How much? Where from? When?"
"You could be a millionaire by tomorrow morning," smiled the angel.
"Oh my!" exclaimed John, "That would suit me fine!"
Almost immediately there were loud pings on the roof, which rapidly increased to a deafening roar, as 10p and 50p coins came pouring out of the sky, inundating the garden and the whole countryside. John jumped out of bed and ran to the window; the moonlight glinted on piles of silver as far as the eye could see. Then came a hail-storm, the stones rattling down the roof and bouncing into the street. John was afraid to poke his nose outside, even after he had discovered that they were not hail-stones but diamonds, clattering down in millions from the sky, collecting in the gutters and in every nook and cranny.
Afterwards it began to snow, and John gazed hungrily out of the window as the great flakes came drifting down, settling over everything - each flake being a crisp new pound note signed by the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. Lastly the window-pane became frosted over with a sparkling rime. He scraped it off with his finger nail, and found it was a thin deposit of pure gold leaf.
Next morning he went outside and quickly filled a waste-paper basket with pound notes, a pail with diamonds, another pail with silver coins, and a hat-box with gold leaf. Then, filling his pockets with some of everything, he set out for the village. Everywhere people were in the streets, laughingly scooping up money. "We are a village of millionaires!" someone shouted out to him.
John began to consider in his mind all the things he would purchase with his unexpected fortune. But, on reaching the High Street, he found to his dismay that the shops were all shut! There was Mr. Butcher out on the pavement shoveling diamonds. "No need for me to work now," he grinned as John greeted him. "I'm a millionaire!"
John's special friend was Mr. Baker. His shop door was open, and John went inside, but the counter and trays in the window were all empty.
"Am I too early for my loaf?" asked John anxiously, looking at the clock which stood at 11.30. "Haven't you started baking yet?"
"No," answered Mr. Baker, yawning. "I lay late in bed this morning. My wife got up at the usual time, and told me the good news - that we are all millionaires. It didn't seem worth while to heat up the oven for the small profits I can make. I've just been shoveling up those 50p coins."
Lazy John did not fully grasp the situation. He proudly produced a wad of bank-notes. "See here," he said, "I want you to bake me the best cake you have ever made in your life. I'll give you £10 for it."
The baker looked at him sleepily. "There are at least a hundred of those slips of paper swept under the counter," he said. "They are useless."
"But..." John was horrified. "Do you mean to say you are not going to bake at all today? What about my usual small white loaf? You must at least supply me with that!"
"Oh, I shall be baking soon," drawled the baker. "There's my friend Mr. Butcher, who has promised me half-a-dozen eggs in exchange for a loaf, and I shall be swapping some doughnuts with Mr. Farmer for a carton of milk."
John's brain began to move at last. "If it's a question of swapping," he said, "how about giving me a loaf for this jacket?"
The baker gave one glance at his shabby secondhand coat and smiled. "Look here, Lazy John," he said, "if you want me to reserve you a loaf, you can help me with the baking. But you will have to work hard!"
John was forced to accept the offer, and hurried hither and thither around the bakehouse in a terrible state of nerves. But, as his blood began to flow quicker with the unusual exercise, he found he was quite enjoying himself. And when he smelt the good smell coming out through the cracks in the oven, his heart swelled with pride and his stomach with hunger. No lunch in all the world had ever tasted better than the lunch the baker gave him; and when he returned home in the afternoon with a crisp new loaf and a bag of rock-cakes for his tea, his spirits were so light that he even began to whistle !
Next day Mr. Baker gave John a large basket full of loaves of bread, and a shopping list. Money being useless now, loaves had become a kind of currency, and he was to exchange them for the shopping items Mr. Baker needed. Other people came around with other objects for barter - bottles of aspirin, mousetraps, and suchlike. But John's main job was still working in the bakehouse, and Mr. Baker gave him a white overall and hat, and encouraged him to take over more and more responsibility. He was becoming quite proud of himself as an apprentice baker.
At the end of the week the angel came again to John's bedside. "What's it like, being a millionaire?" asked the angel.
"It's not all it's cracked up to be; you can't eat money!" said John with a wry smile.
"Well," admitted the angel, "as a matter of fact I was only kidding you the other night. It wasn't real money that came down from the sky, nor genuine diamonds or gold leaf. I was just trying them out! Tonight they will all turn into water."
And that is exactly what happened. There was water everywhere: trickling out of the wastepaper baskets, soaking his pockets, coming out of the drawers of the cupboard. The pails were half full of dirty slush, and the hat-box had sagged badly. Moans of disappointment were to be heard in every cottage, and everything. became exactly as it had been before.
There was, however, one great change.
John had got a job.