The aristocracy, I am well aware--'
'But see here,' interrupted Michael, 'how do you come to have any money at all? Don't make a stranger of me, Uncle Joseph; I know all about the trust, and the hash you made of it, and the assignment you were forced to make to Morris.'
Joseph narrated his dealings with the bank.
'O, but I say, this won't do,' cried the lawyer. 'You've put your foot in it. You had no right to do what you did.'
'The whole thing is mine, Michael,' protested the old gentleman. 'I founded and nursed that business on principles entirely of my own.'
'That's all very fine,' said the lawyer; 'but you made an assignment, you were forced to make it, too; even then your position was extremely shaky; but now, my dear sir, it means the dock.'
'It isn't possible,' cried Joseph; 'the law cannot be so unjust as that?'
'And the cream of the thing,' interrupted Michael, with a sudden shout of laughter, 'the cream of the thing is this, that of course you've downed the leather business! I must say, Uncle Joseph, you have strange ideas of law, but I like your taste in humour.'
'I see nothing to laugh at,' observed Mr Finsbury tartly.
'And talking of that, has Morris any power to sign for the firm?' asked Michael.
'No one but myself,' replied Joseph.
'Poor devil of a Morris! O, poor devil of a Morris!' cried the lawyer in delight. 'And his keeping up the farce that you're at home! O, Morris, the Lord has delivered you into my hands! Let me see, Uncle Joseph, what do you suppose the leather business worth?'
'It was worth a hundred thousand,' said Joseph bitterly, 'when it was in my hands. But then there came a Scotsman--it is supposed he had a certain talent--it was entirely directed to bookkeeping--no accountant in London could understand a word of any of his books; and then there was Morris, who is perfectly incompetent. And now it is worth very little. Morris tried to sell it last year; and Pogram and Jarris offered only four thousand.'
'I shall turn my attention to leather,' said Michael with decision.
'You?' asked Joseph. 'I advise you not. There is nothing in the whole field of commerce more surprising than the fluctuations of the leather market. Its sensitiveness may be described as morbid.'
'And now, Uncle Joseph, what have you done with all that money?" asked the lawyer.
'Paid it into a bank and drew twenty pounds,' answered Mr Finsbury promptly. 'Why?'
'Very well,' said Michael. 'Tomorrow I shall send down a clerk with a cheque for a hundred, and he'll draw out the original sum and return it to the Anglo-Patagonian, with some sort of explanation which I will try to invent for you. That will clear your feet, and as Morris can't touch a penny of it without forgery, it will do no harm to my little scheme.'
'But what am I to do?' asked Joseph; 'I cannot live upon nothing.'
'Don't you hear?' returned Michael. 'I send you a cheque for a hundred; which leaves you eighty to go along upon; and when that's done, apply to me again.'
'I would rather not be beholden to your bounty all the same,' said Joseph, biting at his white moustache. 'I would rather live on my own money, since I have it.'
Michael grasped his arm. 'Will nothing make you believe,' he cried, 'that I am trying to save you from Dartmoor?'
His earnestness staggered the old man. 'I must turn my attention to law,' he said; 'it will be a new field; for though, of course, I understand its general principles, I have never really applied my mind to the details, and this view of yours, for example, comes on me entirely by surprise. But you may be right, and of course at my time of life--for I am no longer young--any really long term of imprisonment would be highly prejudicial. But, my dear nephew, I have no claim on you; you have no call to support me.'
'That's all right,' said Michael; 'I'll probably get it out of the leather business.'
And having taken down the old gentleman's address, Michael left him at the corner of a street.
'What a wonderful old muddler!' he reflected, 'and what a singular thing is life! I seem to be condemned to be the instrument of Providence.