The Wrong Box

Page 26

He reminded himself of that eagerly; he congratulated himself upon his constant moderation. He had never really expected the tontine; he had never even very definitely hoped to recover his seven thousand eight hundred pounds; he had been hurried into the whole thing by Michael's obvious dishonesty. Yes, it would probably be better to draw back from this high-flying venture, settle back on the leather business--

'Great God!' cried Morris, bounding in the hansom like a Jack-in-a-box. 'I have not only not gained the tontine--I have lost the leather business!'

Such was the monstrous fact. He had no power to sign; he could not draw a cheque for thirty shillings. Until he could produce legal evidence of his uncle's death, he was a penniless outcast--and as soon as he produced it he had lost the tontine! There was no hesitation on the part of Morris; to drop the tontine like a hot chestnut, to concentrate all his forces on the leather business and the rest of his small but legitimate inheritance, was the decision of a single instant. And the next, the full extent of his calamity was suddenly disclosed to him. Declare his uncle's death? He couldn't! Since the body was lost Joseph had (in a legal sense) become immortal.

There was no created vehicle big enough to contain Morris and his woes. He paid the hansom off and walked on he knew not whither.

'I seem to have gone into this business with too much precipitation,' he reflected, with a deadly sigh. 'I fear it seems too ramified for a person of my powers of mind.'

And then a remark of his uncle's flashed into his memory: If you want to think clearly, put it all down on paper. 'Well, the old boy knew a thing or two,' said Morris. 'I will try; but I don't believe the paper was ever made that will clear my mind.'

He entered a place of public entertainment, ordered bread and cheese, and writing materials, and sat down before them heavily. He tried the pen. It was an excellent pen, but what was he to write? 'I have it,' cried Morris. 'Robinson Crusoe and the double columns!' He prepared his paper after that classic model, and began as follows:

Bad. Good.

1. 1 have lost my uncle's body. 1. But then Pitman has found it.

'Stop a bit,' said Morris. 'I am letting the spirit of antithesis run away with me. Let's start again.'

Bad. Good.

1. I have lost my uncle's body. 1. But then I no longer require to bury it.

2. I have lost the tontine. 2.But I may still save that if Pitman disposes of the body, and if I can find a physician who will stick at nothing.

3. I have lost the leather business and the rest of my uncle's succession. 3. But not if Pitman gives the body up to the police.

'O, but in that case I go to gaol; I had forgot that,' thought Morris. 'Indeed, I don't know that I had better dwell on that hypothesis at all; it's all very well to talk of facing the worst; but in a case of this kind a man's first duty is to his own nerve. Is there any answer to No. 3? Is there any possible good side to such a beastly bungle? There must be, of course, or where would be the use of this double-entry business? And--by George, I have it!' he exclaimed; 'it's exactly the same as the last!' And he hastily re-wrote the passage:

Bad. Good.

3. I have lost the leather business and the rest of my uncle's succession. 3. But not if I can find a physician who will stick at nothing.

'This venal doctor seems quite a desideratum,' he reflected. 'I want him first to give me a certificate that my uncle is dead, so that I may get the leather business; and then that he's alive--but here we are again at the incompatible interests!' And he returned to his tabulation:

Bad. Good.

4. I have almost no money. 4. But there is plenty in the bank.

5. Yes, but I can't get the money in the bank. 5. But--well, that seems unhappily to be the case.

6. I have left the bill for eight hundred pounds in Uncle Joseph's pocket. 6.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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