The Wrong Box

Page 27

But if Pitman is only a dishonest man, the presence of this bill may lead him to keep the whole thing dark and throw the body into the New Cut.

7. Yes, but if Pitman is dishonest and finds the bill, he will know who Joseph is, and he may blackmail me. 7. Yes, but if I am right about Uncle Masterman, I can blackmail Michael.

8. But I can't blackmail Michael (which is, besides, a very dangerous thing to do) until I find out. 8. Worse luck!

9. The leather business will soon want money for current expenses, and I have none to give. 9. But the leather business is a sinking ship.

10. Yes, but it's all the ship I have. 10. A fact.

11. John will soon want money, and I have none to give. 11.

12. And the venal doctor will want money down. 12.

13. And if Pitman is dishonest and don't send me to gaol, he will want a fortune. 13.

'O, this seems to be a very one-sided business,' exclaimed Morris. 'There's not so much in this method as I was led to think.' He crumpled the paper up and threw it down; and then, the next moment, picked it up again and ran it over. 'It seems it's on the financial point that my position is weakest,' he reflected. 'Is there positively no way of raising the wind? In a vast city like this, and surrounded by all the resources of civilization, it seems not to be conceived! Let us have no more precipitation. Is there nothing I can sell? My collection of signet--' But at the thought of scattering these loved treasures the blood leaped into Morris's check. 'I would rather die!' he exclaimed, and, cramming his hat upon his head, strode forth into the streets.

'I MUST raise funds,' he thought. 'My uncle being dead, the money in the bank is mine, or would be mine but for the cursed injustice that has pursued me ever since I was an orphan in a commercial academy. I know what any other man would do; any other man in Christendom would forge; although I don't know why I call it forging, either, when Joseph's dead, and the funds are my own. When I think of that, when I think that my uncle is really as dead as mutton, and that I can't prove it, my gorge rises at the injustice of the whole affair. I used to feel bitterly about that seven thousand eight hundred pounds; it seems a trifle now! Dear me, why, the day before yesterday I was comparatively happy.'

And Morris stood on the sidewalk and heaved another sobbing sigh.

'Then there's another thing,' he resumed; 'can I? Am I able? Why didn't I practise different handwritings while I was young? How a fellow regrets those lost opportunities when he grows up! But there's one comfort: it's not morally wrong; I can try it on with a clear conscience, and even if I was found out, I wouldn't greatly care--morally, I mean. And then, if I succeed, and if Pitman is staunch, there's nothing to do but find a venal doctor; and that ought to be simple enough in a place like London. By all accounts the town's alive with them. It wouldn't do, of course, to advertise for a corrupt physician; that would be impolitic. No, I suppose a fellow has simply to spot along the streets for a red lamp and herbs in the window, and then you go in and--and--and put it to him plainly; though it seems a delicate step.'

He was near home now, after many devious wanderings, and turned up John Street. As he thrust his latchkey in the lock, another mortifying reflection struck him to the heart.

'Not even this house is mine till I can prove him dead,' he snarled, and slammed the door behind him so that the windows in the attic rattled.

Night had long fallen; long ago the lamps and the shop-fronts had begun to glitter down the endless streets; the lobby was pitch--dark; and, as the devil would have it, Morris barked his shins and sprawled all his length over the pedestal of Hercules. The pain was sharp; his temper was already thoroughly undermined; by a last misfortune his hand closed on the hammer as he fell; and, in a spasm of childish irritation, he turned and struck at the offending statue. There was a splintering crash.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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