The Wrong Box

Page 37

'Don't be an ass,' said Michael, who hated beards and was delighted to destroy one. 'Off with it like a man!'

'Of course, if you insist,' said Pitman; and then he sighed, fetched some hot water from the kitchen, and setting a glass upon his easel, first clipped his beard with scissors and then shaved his chin. He could not conceal from himself, as he regarded the result, that his last claims to manhood had been sacrificed, but Michael seemed delighted.

'A new man, I declare!' he cried. 'When I give you the windowglass spectacles I have in my pocket, you'll be the beau-ideal of a French commercial traveller.'

Pitman did not reply, but continued to gaze disconsolately on his image in the glass.

'Do you know,' asked Michael, 'what the Governor of South Carolina said to the Governor of North Carolina? "It's a long time between drinks," observed that powerful thinker; and if you will put your hand into the top left-hand pocket of my ulster, I have an impression you will find a flask of brandy. Thank you, Pitman,' he added, as he filled out a glass for each. 'Now you will give me news of this.'

The artist reached out his hand for the water-jug, but Michael arrested the movement.

'Not if you went upon your knees!' he cried. 'This is the finest liqueur brandy in Great Britain.'

Pitman put his lips to it, set it down again, and sighed.

'Well, I must say you're the poorest companion for a holiday!' cried Michael. 'If that's all you know of brandy, you shall have no more of it; and while I finish the flask, you may as well begin business. Come to think of it,' he broke off, 'I have made an abominable error: you should have ordered the cart before you were disguised. Why, Pitman, what the devil's the use of you? why couldn't you have reminded me of that?'

'I never even knew there was a cart to be ordered,' said the artist. 'But I can take off the disguise again,' he suggested eagerly.

'You would find it rather a bother to put on your beard,' observed the lawyer. 'No, it's a false step; the sort of thing that hangs people,' he continued, with eminent cheerfulness, as he sipped his brandy; 'and it can't be retraced now. Off to the mews with you, make all the arrangements; they're to take the piano from here, cart it to Victoria, and dispatch it thence by rail to Cannon Street, to lie till called for in the name of Fortune du Boisgobey.'

'Isn't that rather an awkward name?' pleaded Pitman.

'Awkward?' cried Michael scornfully. 'It would hang us both! Brown is both safer and easier to pronounce. Call it Brown.'

'I wish,' said Pitman, 'for my sake, I wish you wouldn't talk so much of hanging.'

'Talking about it's nothing, my boy!' returned Michael. 'But take your hat and be off, and mind and pay everything beforehand.'

Left to himself, the lawyer turned his attention for some time exclusively to the liqueur brandy, and his spirits, which had been pretty fair all morning, now prodigiously rose. He proceeded to adjust his whiskers finally before the glass. 'Devilish rich,' he remarked, as he contemplated his reflection. 'I look like a purser's mate.' And at that moment the window-glass spectacles (which he had hitherto destined for Pitman) flashed into his mind; he put them on, and fell in love with the effect. 'Just what I required,' he said. 'I wonder what I look like now? A humorous novelist, I should think,' and he began to practise divers characters of walk, naming them to himself as--he proceeded. 'Walk of a humorous novelist--but that would require an umbrella. Walk of a purser's mate. Walk of an Australian colonist revisiting the scenes of childhood. Walk of Sepoy colonel, ditto, ditto. And in the midst of the Sepoy colonel (which was an excellent assumption, although inconsistent with the style of his make-up), his eye lighted on the piano. This instrument was made to lock both at the top and at the keyboard, but the key of the latter had been mislaid. Michael opened it and ran his fingers over the dumb keys. 'Fine instrument--full, rich tone,' he observed, and he drew in a seat.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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