The Wrong Box

Page 22

'This is the strangest thing that ever happened,' she said, with another burst of laughter. 'It is certainly Morris's handwriting, and I had a letter from him only this morning, telling me to expect a barrel. Is there a barrel coming too, do you think, Mr Forsyth?'

"'Statuary with Care, Fragile,'" read Gideon aloud from the painted warning on the box. 'Then you were told nothing about this?'

'No,' responded Julia. 'O, Mr Forsyth, don't you think we might take a peep at it?'

'Yes, indeed,' cried Gideon. 'Just let me have a hammer.'

'Come down, and I'll show you where it is,' cried Julia. 'The shelf is too high for me to reach'; and, opening the door of the kitchen stair, she bade Gideon follow her. They found both the hammer and a chisel; but Gideon was surprised to see no sign of a servant. He also discovered that Miss Hazeltine had a very pretty little foot and ankle; and the discovery embarrassed him so much that he was glad to fall at once upon the packing-case.

He worked hard and earnestly, and dealt his blows with the precision of a blacksmith; Julia the while standing silently by his side, and regarding rather the workman than the work. He was a handsome fellow; she told herself she had never seen such beautiful arms. And suddenly, as though he had overheard these thoughts, Gideon turned and smiled to her. She, too, smiled and coloured; and the double change became her so prettily that Gideon forgot to turn away his eyes, and, swinging the hammer with a will, discharged a smashing blow on his own knuckles. With admirable presence of mind he crushed down an oath and substituted the harmless comment, 'Butter fingers!' But the pain was sharp, his nerve was shaken, and after an abortive trial he found he must desist from further operations.

In a moment Julia was off to the pantry; in a moment she was back again with a basin of water and a sponge, and had begun to bathe his wounded hand.

'I am dreadfully sorry!' said Gideon apologetically. 'If I had had any manners I should have opened the box first and smashed my hand afterward. It feels much better,' he added. 'I assure you it does.'

'And now I think you are well enough to direct operations,' said she. 'Tell me what to do, and I'll be your workman.'

'A very pretty workman,' said Gideon, rather forgetting himself. She turned and looked at him, with a suspicion of a frown; and the indiscreet young man was glad to direct her attention to the packing-case. The bulk of the work had been accomplished; and presently Julia had burst through the last barrier and disclosed a zone of straw. in a moment they were kneeling side by side, engaged like haymakers; the next they were rewarded with a glimpse of something white and polished; and the next again laid bare an unmistakable marble leg.

'He is surely a very athletic person,' said Julia.

'I never saw anything like it,' responded Gideon. 'His muscles stand out like penny rolls.'

Another leg was soon disclosed, and then what seemed to be a third. This resolved itself, however, into a knotted club resting upon a pedestal.

'It is a Hercules,' cried Gideon; 'I might have guessed that from his calf. I'm supposed to be rather partial to statuary, but when it comes to Hercules, the police should interfere. I should say,' he added, glancing with disaffection at the swollen leg, 'that this was about the biggest and the worst in Europe. What in heaven's name can have induced him to come here?'

'I suppose nobody else would have a gift of him,' said Julia. 'And for that matter, I think we could have done without the monster very well.'

'O, don't say that,' returned Gideon. 'This has been one of the most amusing experiences of my life.'

'I don't think you'll forget it very soon,' said Julia. 'Your hand will remind you.'

'Well, I suppose I must be going,' said Gideon reluctantly. 'No,' pleaded Julia. 'Why should you? Stay and have tea with me.'

'If I thought you really wished me to stay,' said Gideon, looking at his hat, 'of course I should only be too delighted.'

'What a silly person you must take me for!' returned the girl. 'Why, of course I do; and, besides, I want some cakes for tea, and I've nobody to send.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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