The Wrong Box

Page 38

When Mr Pitman returned to the studio, he was appalled to observe his guide, philosopher, and friend performing miracles of execution on the silent grand.

'Heaven help me!' thought the little man, 'I fear he has been drinking! Mr Finsbury,' he said aloud; and Michael, without rising, turned upon him a countenance somewhat flushed, encircled with the bush of the red whiskers, and bestridden by the spectacles. 'Capriccio in B-flat on the departure of a friend,' said he, continuing his noiseless evolutions.

Indignation awoke in the mind of Pitman. 'Those spectacles were to be mine,' he cried. 'They are an essential part of my disguise.'

'I am going to wear them myself,' replied Michael; and he added, with some show of truth, 'There would be a devil of a lot of suspicion aroused if we both wore spectacles.'

'O, well,' said the assenting Pitman, 'I rather counted on them; but of course, if you insist. And at any rate, here is the cart at the door.'

While the men were at work, Michael concealed himself in the closet among the debris of the barrel and the wires of the piano; and as soon as the coast was clear the pair sallied forth by the lane, jumped into a hansom in the King's Road, and were driven rapidly toward town. It was still cold and raw and boisterous; the rain beat strongly in their faces, but Michael refused to have the glass let down; he had now suddenly donned the character of cicerone, and pointed out and lucidly commented on the sights of London, as they drove. 'My dear fellow,' he said, 'you don't seem to know anything of your native city. Suppose we visited the Tower? No? Well, perhaps it's a trifle out of our way. But, anyway--Here, cabby, drive round by Trafalgar Square!' And on that historic battlefield he insisted on drawing up, while he criticized the statues and gave the artist many curious details (quite new to history) of the lives of the celebrated men they represented.

It would be difficult to express what Pitman suffered in the cab: cold, wet, terror in the capital degree, a grounded distrust of the commander under whom he served, a sense of imprudency in the matter of the low-necked shirt, a bitter sense of the decline and fall involved in the deprivation of his beard, all these were among the ingredients of the bowl. To reach the restaurant, for which they were deviously steering, was the first relief. To hear Michael bespeak a private room was a second and a still greater. Nor, as they mounted the stair under the guidance of an unintelligible alien, did he fail to note with gratitude the fewness of the persons present, or the still more cheering fact that the greater part of these were exiles from the land of France. It was thus a blessed thought that none of them would be connected with the Seminary; for even the French professor, though admittedly a Papist, he could scarce imagine frequenting so rakish an establishment.

The alien introduced them into a small bare room with a single table, a sofa, and a dwarfish fire; and Michael called promptly for more coals and a couple of brandies and sodas.

'O, no,' said Pitman, 'surely not--no more to drink.'

'I don't know what you would be at,' said Michael plaintively. 'It's positively necessary to do something; and one shouldn't smoke before meals I thought that was understood. You seem to have no idea of hygiene.' And he compared his watch with the clock upon the chimney-piece.

Pitman fell into bitter musing; here he was, ridiculously shorn, absurdly disguised, in the company of a drunken man in spectacles, and waiting for a champagne luncheon in a restaurant painfully foreign. What would his principals think, if they could see him? What if they knew his tragic and deceitful errand?

From these reflections he was aroused by the entrance of the alien with the brandies and sodas. Michael took one and bade the waiter pass the other to his friend.

Pitman waved it from him with his hand. 'Don't let me lose all self-respect,' he said.

'Anything to oblige a friend,' returned Michael.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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