The Wrong Box

Page 35

'There are times when you fill me with pity,' observed the lawyer. 'By the way, Pitman,' he added in another key, 'I have always regretted that you have no piano in this den of yours. Even if you don't play yourself, your friends might like to entertain themselves with a little music while you were mudding.'

'I shall get one at once if you like,' said Pitman nervously, anxious to please. 'I play the fiddle a little as it is.'

'I know you do,' said Michael; 'but what's the fiddle--above all as you play it? What you want is polyphonic music. And I'll tell you what it is--since it's too late for you to buy a piano I'll give you mine.'

'Thank you,' said the artist blankly. 'You will give me yours? I am sure it's very good in you.'

'Yes, I'll give you mine,' continued Michael, 'for the inspector of police to play on while his men are digging up your back garden.' Pitman stared at him in pained amazement.

'No, I'm not insane,' Michael went on. 'I'm playful, but quite coherent. See here, Pitman: follow me one half minute. I mean to profit by the refreshing fact that we are really and truly innocent; nothing but the presence of the--you know what--connects us with the crime; once let us get rid of it, no matter how, and there is no possible clue to trace us by. Well, I give you my piano; we'll bring it round this very night. Tomorrow we rip the fittings out, deposit the--our friend--inside, plump the whole on a cart, and carry it to the chambers of a young gentleman whom I know by sight.'

'Whom do you know by sight?' repeated Pitman.

'And what is more to the purpose,' continued Michael, 'whose chambers I know better than he does himself. A friend of mine--I call him my friend for brevity; he is now, I understand, in Demerara and (most likely) in gaol--was the previous occupant. I defended him, and I got him off too--all saved but honour; his assets were nil, but he gave me what he had, poor gentleman, and along with the rest--the key of his chambers. It's there that I propose to leave the piano and, shall we say, Cleopatra?'

'It seems very wild,' said Pitman. 'And what will become of the poor young gentleman whom you know by sight?'

'It will do him good,'--said Michael cheerily. 'Just what he wants to steady him.'

'But, my dear sit, he might be involved in a charge of--a charge of murder,' gulped the artist.

'Well, he'll be just where we are,' returned the lawyer. 'He's innocent, you see. What hangs people, my dear Pitman, is the unfortunate circumstance of guilt.'

'But indeed, indeed,' pleaded Pitman, 'the whole scheme appears to me so wild. Would it not be safer, after all, just to send for the police?'

'And make a scandal?' enquired Michael. '"The Chelsea Mystery; alleged innocence of Pitman"? How would that do at the Seminary?'

'It would imply my discharge,' admitted the drawing--master. 'I cannot deny that.'

'And besides,' said Michael, 'I am not going to embark in such a business and have no fun for my money.'

'O my dear sir, is that a proper spirit?' cried Pitman.

'O, I only said that to cheer you up,' said the unabashed Michael. 'Nothing like a little judicious levity. But it's quite needless to discuss. If you mean to follow my advice, come on, and let us get the piano at once. If you don't, just drop me the word, and I'll leave you to deal with the, whole thing according to your better judgement.'

'You know perfectly well that I depend on you entirely,' returned Pitman. 'But O, what a night is before me with that--horror in my studio! How am I to think of it on my pillow?'

'Well, you know, my piano will be there too,' said Michael. 'That'll raise the average.'

An hour later a cart came up the lane, and the lawyer's piano--a momentous Broadwood grand--was deposited in Mr Pitman's studio.

CHAPTER VIII. In Which Michael Finsbury Enjoys a Holiday

Punctually at eight o'clock next morning the lawyer rattled (according to previous appointment) on the studio door. He found the artist sadly altered for the worse--bleached, bloodshot, and chalky--a man upon wires, the tail of his haggard eye still wandering to the closet.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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