The Wrong Box

Page 36

Nor was the professor of drawing less inclined to wonder at his friend. Michael was usually attired in the height of fashion, with a certain mercantile brilliancy best described perhaps as stylish; nor could anything be said against him, as a rule, but that he looked a trifle too like a wedding guest to be quite a gentleman. Today he had fallen altogether from these heights. He wore a flannel shirt of washed-out shepherd's tartan, and a suit of reddish tweeds, of the colour known to tailors as 'heather mixture'; his neckcloth was black, and tied loosely in a sailor's knot; a rusty ulster partly concealed these advantages; and his feet were shod with rough walking boots. His hat was an old soft felt, which he removed with a flourish as he entered.

'Here I am, William Dent!' he cried, and drawing from his pocket two little wisps of reddish hair, he held them to his cheeks like sidewhiskers and danced about the studio with the filmy graces of a ballet-girl.

Pitman laughed sadly. 'I should never have known you,' said he.

'Nor were you intended to,' returned Michael, replacing his false whiskers in his pocket. 'Now we must overhaul you and your wardrobe, and disguise you up to the nines.'

'Disguise!' cried the artist. 'Must I indeed disguise myself. Has it come to that?'

'My dear creature,' returned his companion, 'disguise is the spice of life. What is life, passionately exclaimed a French philosopher, without the pleasures of disguise? I don't say it's always good taste, and I know it's unprofessional; but what's the odds, downhearted drawing-master? It has to be. We have to leave a false impression on the minds of many persons, and in particular on the mind of Mr Gideon Forsyth--the young gentleman I know by sight--if he should have the bad taste to be at home.'

'If he be at home?' faltered the artist. 'That would be the end of all.'

'Won't matter a d--,' returned Michael airily. 'Let me see your clothes, and I'll make a new man of you in a jiffy.'

In the bedroom, to which he was at once conducted, Michael examined Pitman's poor and scanty wardrobe with a humorous eye, picked out a short jacket of black alpaca, and presently added to that a pair of summer trousers which somehow took his fancy as incongruous. Then, with the garments in his hand, he scrutinized the artist closely.

'I don't like that clerical collar,' he remarked. 'Have you nothing else?'

The professor of drawing pondered for a moment, and then brightened; 'I have a pair of low-necked shirts,' he said, 'that I used to wear in Paris as a student. They are rather loud.'

'The very thing!' ejaculated Michael. 'You'll look perfectly beastly. Here are spats, too,' he continued, drawing forth a pair of those offensive little gaiters. 'Must have spats! And now you jump into these, and whistle a tune at the window for (say) three-quarters of an hour. After that you can rejoin me on the field of glory.'

So saying, Michael returned to the studio. It was the morning of the easterly gale; the wind blew shrilly among the statues in the garden, and drove the rain upon the skylight in the studio ceiling; and at about the same moment of the time when Morris attacked the hundredth version of his uncle's signature in Bloomsbury, Michael, in Chelsea, began to rip the wires out of the Broadwood grand.

Three-quarters of an hour later Pitman was admitted, to find the closet-door standing open, the closet untenanted, and the piano discreetly shut.

'It's a remarkably heavy instrument,' observed Michael, and turned to consider his friend's disguise. 'You must shave off that beard of yours,' he said.

'My beard!' cried Pitman. 'I cannot shave my beard. I cannot tamper with my appearance--my principals would object. They hold very strong views as to the appearance of the professors--young ladies are considered so romantic. My beard was regarded as quite a feature when I went about the place. It was regarded,' said the artist, with rising colour, 'it was regarded as unbecoming.'

'You can let it grow again,' returned Michael, 'and then you'll be so precious ugly that they'll raise your salary.'

'But I don't want to be ugly,' cried the artist.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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