The Wrong Box

Page 48

Let me see; what have I done today? Disposed of a dead body, saved Pitman, saved my Uncle Joseph, brightened up Forsyth, and drunk a devil of a lot of most indifferent liquor. Let's top off with a visit to my cousins, and be the instrument of Providence in earnest. Tomorrow I can turn my attention to leather; tonight I'll just make it lively for 'em in a friendly spirit.'

About a quarter of an hour later, as the clocks were striking eleven, the instrument of Providence descended from a hansom, and, bidding the driver wait, rapped at the door of No. 16 John Street.

It was promptly opened by Morris.

'O, it's you, Michael,' he said, carefully blocking up the narrow opening: 'it's very late.'

Michael without a word reached forth, grasped Morris warmly by the hand, and gave it so extreme a squeeze that the sullen householder fell back. Profiting by this movement, the lawyer obtained a footing in the lobby and marched into the dining-room, with Morris at his heels.

'Where's my Uncle Joseph?' demanded Michael, sitting down in the most comfortable chair.

'He's not been very well lately,' replied Morris; 'he's staying at Browndean; John is nursing him; and I am alone, as you see.'

Michael smiled to himself. 'I want to see him on particular business,' he said.

'You can't expect to see my uncle when you won't let me see your father,' returned Morris.

'Fiddlestick,' said Michael. 'My father is my father; but Joseph is just as much my uncle as he's yours; and you have no right to sequestrate his person.'

'I do no such thing,' said Morris doggedly. 'He is not well, he is dangerously ill and nobody can see him.'

'I'll tell you what, then,' said Michael. 'I'll make a clean breast of it. I have come down like the opossum, Morris; I have come to compromise.'

Poor Morris turned as pale as death, and then a flush of wrath against the injustice of man's destiny dyed his very temples. 'What do you mean?' he cried, 'I don't believe a word of it.' And when Michael had assured him of his seriousness, 'Well, then,' he cried, with another deep flush, 'I won't; so you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.'

'Oho!' said Michael queerly. 'You say your uncle is dangerously ill, and you won't compromise? There's something very fishy about that.'

'What do you mean?' cried Morris hoarsely.

'I only say it's fishy,' returned Michael, 'that is, pertaining to the finny tribe.'

'Do you mean to insinuate anything?' cried Morris stormily, trying the high hand.

'Insinuate?' repeated Michael. 'O, don't let's begin to use awkward expressions! Let us drown our differences in a bottle, like two affable kinsmen. The Two Affable Kinsmen, sometimes attributed to Shakespeare,' he added.

Morris's mind was labouring like a mill. 'Does he suspect? or is this chance and stuff? Should I soap, or should I bully? Soap,' he concluded. 'It gains time.' 'Well,' said he aloud, and with rather a painful affectation of heartiness, 'it's long since we have had an evening together, Michael; and though my habits (as you know) are very temperate, I may as well make an exception. Excuse me one moment till I fetch a bottle of whisky from the cellar.'

'No whisky for me,' said Michael; 'a little of the old still champagne or nothing.'

For a moment Morris stood irresolute, for the wine was very valuable: the next he had quitted the room without a word. His quick mind had perceived his advantage; in thus dunning him for the cream of the cellar, Michael was playing into his hand. 'One bottle?' he thought. 'By George, I'll give him two! this is no moment for economy; and once the beast is drunk, it's strange if I don't wring his secret out of him.'

With two bottles, accordingly, he returned. Glasses were produced, and Morris filled them with hospitable grace.

'I drink to you, cousin!' he cried gaily. 'Don't spare the wine-cup in my house.'

Michael drank his glass deliberately, standing at the table; filled it again, and returned to his chair, carrying the bottle along with him.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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