The Wrong Box

Page 41

I fear it's scarcely professional--'

'I am afraid I ought to be instructed through a solicitor,' replied Gideon.

'Well, well, you shall name your own, and the whole affair can be put on a more regular footing tomorrow,' replied Michael, taking a chair and motioning Pitman to do the same. 'But you see we didn't know any solicitors; we did happen to know of you, and time presses.'

'May I enquire, gentlemen,' asked Gideon, 'to whom it was I am indebted for a recommendation?'

'You may enquire,' returned the lawyer, with a foolish laugh; 'but I was invited not to tell you--till the thing was done.'

'My uncle, no doubt,' was the barrister's conclusion.

'My name is John Dickson,' continued Michael; 'a pretty well-known name in Ballarat; and my friend here is Mr Ezra Thomas, of the United States of America, a wealthy manufacturer of india-rubber overshoes.'

'Stop one moment till I make a note of that,' said Gideon; any one might have supposed he was an old practitioner.

'Perhaps you wouldn't mind my smoking a cigar?' asked Michael. He had pulled himself together for the entrance; now again there began to settle on his mind clouds of irresponsible humour and incipient slumber; and he hoped (as so many have hoped in the like case) that a cigar would clear him.

'Oh, certainly,' cried Gideon blandly. 'Try one of mine; I can confidently recommend them.' And he handed the box to his client.

'In case I don't make myself perfectly clear,' observed the Australian, 'it's perhaps best to tell you candidly that I've been lunching. It's a thing that may happen to any one.'

'O, certainly,' replied the affable barrister. 'But please be under no sense of hurry. I can give you,' he added, thoughtfully consulting his watch--'yes, I can give you the whole afternoon.'

'The business that brings me here,' resumed the Australian with gusto, 'is devilish delicate, I can tell you. My friend Mr Thomas, being an American of Portuguese extraction, unacquainted with our habits, and a wealthy manufacturer of Broadwood pianos--'

'Broadwood pianos?' cried Gideon, with some surprise. 'Dear me, do I understand Mr Thomas to be a member of the firm?'

'O, pirated Broadwoods,' returned Michael. 'My friend's the American Broadwood.'

'But I understood you to say,' objected Gideon, 'I certainly have it so in my notes--that your friend was a manufacturer of india--rubber overshoes.'

'I know it's confusing at first,' said the Australian, with a beaming smile. 'But he--in short, he combines the two professions. And many others besides--many, many, many others,' repeated Mr Dickson, with drunken solemnity. 'Mr Thomas's cotton-mills are one of the sights of Tallahassee; Mr Thomas's tobacco-mills are the pride of Richmond, Va.; in short, he's one of my oldest friends, Mr Forsyth, and I lay his case before you with emotion.'

The barrister looked at Mr Thomas and was agreeably prepossessed by his open although nervous countenance, and the simplicity and timidity of his manner. 'What a people are these Americans!' he thought. 'Look at this nervous, weedy, simple little bird in a lownecked shirt, and think of him wielding and directing interests so extended and seemingly incongruous! 'But had we not better,' he observed aloud, 'had we not perhaps better approach the facts?'

'Man of business, I perceive, sir!' said the Australian. 'Let's approach the facts. It's a breach of promise case.'

The unhappy artist was so unprepared for this view of his position that he could scarce suppress a cry.

'Dear me,' said Gideon, 'they are apt to be very troublesome. Tell me everything about it,' he added kindly; 'if you require my assistance, conceal nothing.'

'You tell him,' said Michael, feeling, apparently, that he had done his share. 'My friend will tell you all about it,' he added to Gideon, with a yawn. 'Excuse my closing my eyes a moment; I've been sitting up with a sick friend.'

Pitman gazed blankly about the room; rage and despair seethed in his innocent spirit; thoughts of flight, thoughts even of suicide, came and went before him; and still the barrister patiently waited, and still the artist groped in vain for any form of words, however insignificant.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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