The Wrong Box

Page 40

'An Australian?' said another. 'I've a brother myself in Melbourne. Does your friend come from that way at all?'

'No, not exactly,' replied the artist, whose ideas of the geography of New Holland were a little scattered. 'He lives immensely far inland, and is very rich.'

The loafers gazed with great respect upon the slumbering colonist.

'Well,' remarked the second speaker, 'it's a mighty big place, is Australia. Do you come from thereaway too?'

'No, I do not,' said Pitman. 'I do not, and I don't want to,' he added irritably. And then, feeling some diversion needful, he fell upon Michael and shook him up.

'Hullo,' said the lawyer, 'what's wrong?'

'The cart is nearly ready,' said Pitman sternly. 'I will not allow you to sleep.'

'All right--no offence, old man,' replied Michael, yawning. 'A little sleep never did anybody any harm; I feel comparatively sober now. But what's all the hurry?' he added, looking round him glassily. 'I don't see the cart, and I've forgotten where we left the piano.'

What more the lawyer might have said, in the confidence of the moment, is with Pitman a matter of tremulous conjecture to this day; but by the most blessed circumstance the cart was then announced, and Michael must bend the forces of his mind to the more difficult task of rising.

'Of course you'll drive,' he remarked to his companion, as he clambered on the vehicle.

'I drive!' cried Pitman. 'I never did such a thing in my life. I cannot drive.'

'Very well,' responded Michael with entire composure, 'neither can I see. But just as you like. Anything to oblige a friend.'

A glimpse of the ostler's darkening countenance decided Pitman. 'All right,' he said desperately, 'you drive. I'll tell you where to go.'

On Michael in the character of charioteer (since this is not intended to be a novel of adventure) it would be superfluous to dwell at length. Pitman, as he sat holding on and gasping counsels, sole witness of this singular feat, knew not whether most to admire the driver's valour or his undeserved good fortune. But the latter at least prevailed, the cart reached Cannon Street without disaster; and Mr Brown's piano was speedily and cleverly got on board.

'Well, sir,' said the leading porter, smiling as he mentally reckoned up a handful of loose silver, 'that's a mortal heavy piano.'

'It's the richness of the tone,' returned Michael, as he drove away.

It was but a little distance in the rain, which now fell thick and quiet, to the neighbourhood of Mr Gideon Forsyth's chambers in the Temple. There, in a deserted by-street, Michael drew up the horses and gave them in charge to a blighted shoe-black; and the pair descending from the cart, whereon they had figured so incongruously, set forth on foot for the decisive scene of their adventure. For the first time Michael displayed a shadow of uneasiness.

'Are my whiskers right?' he asked. 'It would be the devil and all if I was spotted.'

'They are perfectly in their place,' returned Pitman, with scant attention. 'But is my disguise equally effective? There is nothing more likely than that I should meet some of my patrons.'

'O, nobody could tell you without your beard,' said Michael. 'All you have to do is to remember to speak slow; you speak through your nose already.'

'I only hope the young man won't be at home,' sighed Pitman.

'And I only hope he'll be alone,' returned the lawyer. 'It will save a precious sight of manoeuvring.'

And sure enough, when they had knocked at the door, Gideon admitted them in person to a room, warmed by a moderate fire, framed nearly to the roof in works connected with the bench of British Themis, and offering, except in one particular, eloquent testimony to the legal zeal of the proprietor. The one particular was the chimney-piece, which displayed a varied assortment of pipes, tobacco, cigar-boxes, and yellow-backed French novels.

'Mr Forsyth, I believe?' It was Michael who thus opened the engagement. 'We have come to trouble you with a piece of business.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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