The Wrong Box

Page 44

But the trouble is I have no natural talent for addresses; I learn one for every man--that is friendship's offering; and the friend who subsequently changes his residence is dead to me, memory refusing to pursue him. Thus it comes about that, as I always write to Michael at his office, I cannot swear to his number in the King's Road. Of course (like my neighbours), I have been to dinner there. Of late years, since his accession to wealth, neglect of business, and election to the club, these little festivals have become common. He picks up a few fellows in the smoking-room--all men of Attic wit--myself, for instance, if he has the luck to find me disengaged; a string of hansoms may be observed (by Her Majesty) bowling gaily through St James's Park; and in a quarter of an hour the party surrounds one of the best appointed boards in London.

But at the time of which we write the house in the King's Road (let us still continue to call it No. 233) was kept very quiet; when Michael entertained guests it was at the halls of Nichol or Verrey that he would convene them, and the door of his private residence remained closed against his friends. The upper storey, which was sunny, was set apart for his father; the drawing-room was never opened; the dining-room was the scene of Michael's life. It is in this pleasant apartment, sheltered from the curiosity of King's Road by wire blinds, and entirely surrounded by the lawyer's unrivalled library of poetry and criminal trials, that we find him sitting down to his dinner after his holiday with Pitman. A spare old lady, with very bright eyes and a mouth humorously compressed, waited upon the lawyer's needs; in every line of her countenance she betrayed the fact that she was an old retainer; in every word that fell from her lips she flaunted the glorious circumstance of a Scottish origin; and the fear with which this powerful combination fills the boldest was obviously no stranger to the bosom of our friend. The hot Scotch having somewhat warmed up the embers of the Heidsieck, It was touching to observe the master's eagerness to pull himself together under the servant's eye; and when he remarked, 'I think, Teena, I'll take a brandy and soda,' he spoke like a man doubtful of his elocution, and not half certain of obedience.

'No such a thing, Mr Michael,' was the prompt return. 'Clar't and water.'

'Well, well, Teena, I daresay you know best,' said the master. 'Very fatiguing day at the office, though.'

'What?' said the retainer, 'ye never were near the office!'

'O yes, I was though; I was repeatedly along Fleet Street,' returned Michael.

'Pretty pliskies ye've been at this day!' cried the old lady, with humorous alacrity; and then, 'Take care--don't break my crystal!' she cried, as the lawyer came within an ace of knocking the glasses off the table.

'And how is he keeping?' asked Michael.

'O, just the same, Mr Michael, just the way he'll be till the end, worthy man!' was the reply. 'But ye'll not be the first that's asked me that the day.'

'No?' said the lawyer. 'Who else?'

'Ay, that's a joke, too,' said Teena grimly. 'A friend of yours: Mr Morris.'

'Morris! What was the little beggar wanting here?' enquired Michael.

'Wantin'? To see him,' replied the housekeeper, completing her meaning by a movement of the thumb toward the upper storey. 'That's by his way of it; but I've an idee of my own. He tried to bribe me, Mr Michael. Bribe--me!' she repeated, with inimitable scorn. 'That's no' kind of a young gentleman.'

'Did he so?' said Michael. 'I bet he didn't offer much.'

'No more he did,' replied Teena; nor could any subsequent questioning elicit from her the sum with which the thrifty leather merchant had attempted to corrupt her. 'But I sent him about his business,' she said gallantly. 'He'll not come here again in a hurry.'

'He mustn't see my father, you know; mind that!' said Michael. 'I'm not going to have any public exhibition to a little beast like him.'

'No fear of me lettin' him,' replied the trusty one.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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