The Wrong Box

Page 29

To the vulgar, these seem never the same; but to the expert, the bank clerk, or the lithographer, they are constant quantities, and as recognizable as the North Star to the night-watch on deck.

To all this Morris was alive. In the theory of that graceful art in which he was now embarking, our spirited leather-merchant was beyond all reproach. But, happily for the investor, forgery is an affair of practice. And as Morris sat surrounded by examples of his uncle's signature and of his own incompetence, insidious depression stole upon his spirits. From time to time the wind wuthered in the chimney at his back; from time to time there swept over Bloomsbury a squall so dark that he must rise and light the gas; about him was the chill and the mean disorder of a house out of commission--the floor bare, the sofa heaped with books and accounts enveloped in a dirty table-cloth, the pens rusted, the paper glazed with a thick film of dust; and yet these were but adminicles of misery, and the true root of his depression lay round him on the table in the shape of misbegotten forgeries.

'It's one of the strangest things I ever heard of,' he complained. 'It almost seems as if it was a talent that I didn't possess.' He went once more minutely through his proofs. 'A clerk would simply gibe at them,' said he. 'Well, there's nothing else but tracing possible.'

He waited till a squall had passed and there came a blink of scowling daylight. Then he went to the window, and in the face of all John Street traced his uncle's signature. It was a poor thing at the best. 'But it must do,' said he, as he stood gazing woefully on his handiwork. 'He's dead, anyway.' And he filled up the cheque for a couple of hundred and sallied forth for the Anglo-Patagonian Bank.

There, at the desk at which he was accustomed to transact business, and with as much indifference as he could assume, Morris presented the forged cheque to the big, red-bearded Scots teller. The teller seemed to view it with surprise; and as he turned it this way and that, and even scrutinized the signature with a magnifying-glass, his surprise appeared to warm into disfavour. Begging to be excused for a moment, he passed away into the rearmost quarters of the bank; whence, after an appreciable interval, he returned again in earnest talk with a superior, an oldish and a baldish, but a very gentlemanly man.

'Mr Morris Finsbury, I believe,' said the gentlemanly man, fixing Morris with a pair of double eye-glasses.

'That is my name,' said Morris, quavering. 'Is there anything wrong.

'Well, the fact is, Mr Finsbury, you see we are rather surprised at receiving this,' said the other, flicking at the cheque. 'There are no effects.'

'No effects?' cried Morris. 'Why, I know myself there must be eight-and-twenty hundred pounds, if there's a penny.'

'Two seven six four, I think,' replied the gentlemanly man; 'but it was drawn yesterday.'

'Drawn!' cried Morris.

'By your uncle himself, sir,' continued the other. 'Not only that, but we discounted a bill for him for--let me see--how much was it for, Mr Bell?'

'Eight hundred, Mr Judkin,' replied the teller.

'Bent Pitman!' cried Morris, staggering back.

'I beg your pardon,' said Mr Judkin.

'It's--it's only an expletive,' said Morris.

'I hope there's nothing wrong, Mr Finsbury,' said Mr Bell.

'All I can tell you,' said Morris, with a harsh laugh,' is that the whole thing's impossible. My uncle is at Bournemouth, unable to move.'

'Really!' cried Mr Bell, and he recovered the cheque from Mr Judkin. 'But this cheque is dated in London, and today,' he observed. 'How d'ye account for that, sir?'

'O, that was a mistake,' said Morris, and a deep tide of colour dyed his face and neck.

'No doubt, no doubt,' said Mr Judkin, but he looked at his customer enquiringly.

'And--and--' resumed Morris, 'even if there were no effects--this is a very trifling sum to overdraw--our firm--the name of Finsbury, is surely good enough for such a wretched sum as this.'

'No doubt, Mr Finsbury,' returned Mr Judkin; 'and if you insist I will take it into consideration; but I hardly think--in short, Mr Finsbury, if there had been nothing else, the signature seems hardly all that we could wish.'

'That's of no consequence,' replied Morris nervously.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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