The Wrong Box

Page 45

'But the joke is this, Mr Michael--see, ye're upsettin' the sauce, that's a clean tablecloth-- the best of the joke is that he thinks your father's dead and you're keepin' it dark.'

Michael whistled. 'Set a thief to catch a thief,' said he.

'Exac'ly what I told him!' cried the delighted dame.

'I'll make him dance for that,' said Michael.

'Couldn't ye get the law of him some way?' suggested Teena truculently.

'No, I don't think I could, and I'm quite sure I don't want to,' replied Michael. 'But I say, Teena, I really don't believe this claret's wholesome; it's not a sound, reliable wine. Give us a brandy and soda, there's a good soul.' Teena's face became like adamant. 'Well, then,' said the lawyer fretfully, 'I won't eat any more dinner.'

'Ye can please yourself about that, Mr Michael,' said Teena, and began composedly to take away.

'I do wish Teena wasn't a faithful servant!' sighed the lawyer, as he issued into Kings's Road.

The rain had ceased; the wind still blew, but only with a pleasant freshness; the town, in the clear darkness of the night, glittered with street-lamps and shone with glancing rain-pools. 'Come, this is better,' thought the lawyer to himself, and he walked on eastward, lending a pleased ear to the wheels and the million footfalls of the city.

Near the end of the King's Road he remembered his brandy and soda, and entered a flaunting public-house. A good many persons were present, a waterman from a cab-stand, half a dozen of the chronically unemployed, a gentleman (in one corner) trying to sell aesthetic photographs out of a leather case to another and very youthful gentleman with a yellow goatee, and a pair of lovers debating some fine shade (in the other). But the centre-piece and great attraction was a little old man, in a black, ready-made surtout, which was obviously a recent purchase. On the marble table in front of him, beside a sandwich and a glass of beer, there lay a battered forage cap. His hand fluttered abroad with oratorical gestures; his voice, naturally shrill, was plainly tuned to the pitch of the lecture room; and by arts, comparable to those of the Ancient Mariner, he was now holding spellbound the barmaid, the waterman, and four of the unemployed.

'I have examined all the theatres in London,' he was saying; 'and pacing the principal entrances, I have ascertained them to be ridiculously disproportionate to the requirements of their audiences. The doors opened the wrong way--I forget at this moment which it is, but have a note of it at home; they were frequently locked during the performance, and when the auditorium was literally thronged with English people. You have probably not had my opportunities of comparing distant lands; but I can assure you this has been long ago recognized as a mark of aristocratic government. Do you suppose, in a country really self-governed, such abuses could exist? Your own intelligence, however uncultivated, tells you they could not. Take Austria, a country even possibly more enslaved than England. I have myself conversed with one of the survivors of the Ring Theatre, and though his colloquial German was not very good, I succeeded in gathering a pretty clear idea of his opinion of the case. But, what will perhaps interest you still more, here is a cutting on the subject from a Vienna newspaper, which I will now read to you, translating as I go. You can see for yourselves; it is printed in the German character.' And he held the cutting out for verification, much as a conjuror passes a trick orange along the front bench.

'Hullo, old gentleman! Is this you?' said Michael, laying his hand upon the orator's shoulder.

The figure turned with a convulsion of alarm, and showed the countenance of Mr Joseph Finsbury. 'You, Michael!' he cried. 'There's no one with you, is there?'

'No,' replied Michael, ordering a brandy and soda, 'there's nobody with me; whom do you expect?'

'I thought of Morris or John,' said the old gentleman, evidently greatly relieved.

'What the devil would I be doing with Morris or John?' cried the nephew.

The Wrong Box Page 46

Robert Louis Stevenson

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