The Wrong Box

Page 39

'But I'm not going to drink alone. Here,' he added to the waiter, 'you take it.' And, then, touching glasses, 'The health of Mr Gideon Forsyth,' said he.

'Meestare Gidden Borsye,' replied the waiter, and he tossed off the liquor in four gulps.

'Have another?' said Michael, with undisguised interest. 'I never saw a man drink faster. It restores one's confidence in the human race.

But the waiter excused himself politely, and, assisted by some one from without, began to bring in lunch.

Michael made an excellent meal, which he washed down with a bottle of Heidsieck's dry monopole. As for the artist, he was far too uneasy to eat, and his companion flatly refused to let him share in the champagne unless he did.

'One of us must stay sober,' remarked the lawyer, 'and I won't give you champagne on the strength of a leg of grouse. I have to be cautious,' he added confidentially. 'One drunken man, excellent business--two drunken men, all my eye.'

On the production of coffee and departure of the waiter, Michael might have been observed to make portentous efforts after gravity of mien. He looked his friend in the face (one eye perhaps a trifle off), and addressed him thickly but severely.

'Enough of this fooling,' was his not inappropriate exordium. 'To business. Mark me closely. I am an Australian. My name is John Dickson, though you mightn't think it from my unassuming appearance. You will be relieved to hear that I am rich, sir, very rich. You can't go into this sort of thing too thoroughly, Pitman; the whole secret is preparation, and I can get up my biography from the beginning, and I could tell it you now, only I have forgotten it.'

'Perhaps I'm stupid--' began Pitman.

'That's it!' cried Michael. 'Very stupid; but rich too--richer than I am. I thought you would enjoy it, Pitman, so I've arranged that you were to be literally wallowing in wealth. But then, on the other hand, you're only an American, and a maker of india-rubber overshoes at that. And the worst of it is--why should I conceal it from you?--the worst of it is that you're called Ezra Thomas. Now,' said Michael, with a really appalling seriousness of manner, 'tell me who we are.'

The unfortunate little man was cross-examined till he knew these facts by heart.

'There!' cried the lawyer. 'Our plans are laid. Thoroughly consistent--that's the great thing.'

'But I don't understand,' objected Pitman.

'O, you'll understand right enough when it comes to the point,' said Michael, rising.

'There doesn't seem any story to it,' said the artist.

'We can invent one as we go along,' returned the lawyer.

'But I can't invent,' protested Pitman. 'I never could invent in all my life.'

'You'll find you'll have to, my boy,' was Michael's easy comment, and he began calling for the waiter, with whom he at once resumed a sparkling conversation.

It was a downcast little man that followed him. 'Of course he is very clever, but can I trust him in such a state?' he asked himself. And when they were once more in a hansom, he took heart of grace.

'Don't you think,' he faltered, 'it would be wiser, considering all things, to put this business off?'

'Put off till tomorrow what can be done today?' cried Michael, with indignation. 'Never heard of such a thing! Cheer up, it's all right, go in and win--there's a lion-hearted Pitman!'

At Cannon Street they enquired for Mr Brown's piano, which had duly arrived, drove thence to a neighbouring mews, where they contracted for a cart, and while that was being got ready, took shelter in the harness-room beside the stove. Here the lawyer presently toppled against the wall and fell into a gentle slumber; so that Pitman found himself launched on his own resources in the midst of several staring loafers, such as love to spend unprofitable days about a stable. 'Rough day, sir,' observed one. 'Do you go far?'

'Yes, it's a--rather a rough day,' said the artist; and then, feeling that he must change the conversation, 'My friend is an Australian; he is very impulsive,' he added.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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