The Wrong Box
Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
'Nothing like a little judicious levity,' says Michael Finsbury in the
text: nor can any better excuse be found for the volume in the reader's
hand. The authors can but add that one of them is old enough to be
ashamed of himself, and the other young enough to learn better.
R. L. S. L. O.
CHAPTER I. In Which Morris Suspects
How very little does the amateur, dwelling at home at ease, comprehend
the labours and perils of the author, and, when he smilingly skims the
surface of a work of fiction, how little does he consider the hours
of toil, consultation of authorities, researches in the Bodleian,
correspondence with learned and illegible Germans--in one word, the vast
scaffolding that was first built up and then knocked down, to while away
an hour for him in a railway train! Thus I might begin this tale with
a biography of Tonti--birthplace, parentage, genius probably inherited
from his mother, remarkable instance of precocity, etc--and a complete
treatise on the system to which he bequeathed his name. The material
is all beside me in a pigeon-hole, but I scorn to appear vainglorious.
Tonti is dead, and I never saw anyone who even pretended to regret him;
and, as for the tontine system, a word will suffice for all the purposes
of this unvarnished narrative.
A number of sprightly youths (the more the merrier) put up a certain sum
of money, which is then funded in a pool under trustees; coming on for
a century later, the proceeds are fluttered for a moment in the face of
the last survivor, who is probably deaf, so that he cannot even hear of
his success--and who is certainly dying, so that he might just as well
have lost. The peculiar poetry and even humour of the scheme is now
apparent, since it is one by which nobody concerned can possibly profit;
but its fine, sportsmanlike character endeared it to our grandparents.
When Joseph Finsbury and his brother Masterman were little lads
in white-frilled trousers, their father--a well-to-do merchant
in Cheapside--caused them to join a small but rich tontine of
seven-and-thirty lives. A thousand pounds was the entrance fee; and
Joseph Finsbury can remember to this day the visit to the lawyer's,
where the members of the tontine--all children like himself--were
assembled together, and sat in turn in the big office chair, and signed
their names with the assistance of a kind old gentleman in spectacles
and Wellington boots. He remembers playing with the children afterwards
on the lawn at the back of the lawyer's house, and a battle-royal that
he had with a brother tontiner who had kicked his shins. The sound of
war called forth the lawyer from where he was dispensing cake and
wine to the assembled parents in the office, and the combatants were
separated, and Joseph's spirit (for he was the smaller of the two)
commended by the gentleman in the Wellington boots, who vowed he had
been just such another at the same age. Joseph wondered to himself if
he had worn at that time little Wellingtons and a little bald head,
and when, in bed at night, he grew tired of telling himself stories
of sea-fights, he used to dress himself up as the old gentleman, and
entertain other little boys and girls with cake and wine.
In the year 1840 the thirty-seven were all alive; in 1850 their number
had decreased by six; in 1856 and 1857 business was more lively, for the
Crimea and the Mutiny carried off no less than nine. There remained
in 1870 but five of the original members, and at the date of my story,
including the two Finsburys, but three.
By this time Masterman was in his seventy-third year; he had long
complained of the effects of age, had long since retired from business,
and now lived in absolute seclusion under the roof of his son Michael,
the well-known solicitor. Joseph, on the other hand, was still up and
about, and still presented but a semi-venerable figure on the streets
in which he loved to wander. This was the more to be deplored because
Masterman had led (even to the least particular) a model British life.
Industry, regularity, respectability, and a preference for the four per
cents are understood to be the very foundations of a green old age. All
these Masterman had eminently displayed, and here he was, ab agendo, at
seventy-three; while Joseph, barely two years younger, and in the most
excellent preservation, had disgraced himself through life by idleness
and eccentricity. Embarked in the leather trade, he had early wearied
of business, for which he was supposed to have small parts. A taste for
general information, not promptly checked, had soon begun to sap his
manhood. There is no passion more debilitating to the mind, unless,
perhaps, it be that itch of public speaking which it not infrequently
accompanies or begets. The two were conjoined in the case of Joseph; the
acute stage of this double malady, that in which the patient delivers
gratuitous lectures, soon declared itself with severity, and not many
years had passed over his head before he would have travelled thirty
miles to address an infant school. He was no student; his reading was
confined to elementary textbooks and the daily papers; he did not even
fly as high as cyclopedias; life, he would say, was his volume. His
lectures were not meant, he would declare, for college professors; they
were addressed direct to 'the great heart of the people', and the
heart of the people must certainly be sounder than its head, for his
lucubrations were received with favour. That entitled 'How to Live
Cheerfully on Forty Pounds a Year', created a sensation among the
unemployed. 'Education: Its Aims, Objects, Purposes, and Desirability',
gained him the respect of the shallow-minded. As for his celebrated
essay on 'Life Insurance Regarded in its Relation to the Masses', read
before the Working Men's Mutual Improvement Society, Isle of Dogs, it
was received with a 'literal ovation' by an unintelligent audience of
both sexes, and so marked was the effect that he was next year elected
honorary president of the institution, an office of less than
no emolument--since the holder was expected to come down with a
donation--but one which highly satisfied his self-esteem.
While Joseph was thus building himself up a reputation among the more
cultivated portion of the ignorant, his domestic life was suddenly
overwhelmed by orphans. The death of his younger brother Jacob saddled
him with the charge of two boys, Morris and John; and in the course of
the same year his family was still further swelled by the addition of a
little girl, the daughter of John Henry Hazeltine, Esq., a gentleman
of small property and fewer friends. He had met Joseph only once, at a
lecture-hall in Holloway; but from that formative experience he returned
home to make a new will, and consign his daughter and her fortune to the
lecturer. Joseph had a kindly disposition; and yet it was not without
reluctance that he accepted this new responsibility, advertised for a
nurse, and purchased a second-hand perambulator. Morris and John he
more readily welcome; not so much because of the tie of consanguinity
as because the leather business (in which he hastened to invest their
fortune of thirty thousand pounds) had recently exhibited inexplicable
symptoms of decline. A young but capable Scot was chosen as manager to
the enterprise, and the cares of business never again afflicted Joseph
Finsbury. Leaving his charges in the hands of the capable Scot (who was
married), he began his extensive travels on the Continent and in Asia
With a polyglot Testament in one hand and a phrase-book in the other,
he groped his way among the speakers of eleven European languages.
The first of these guides is hardly applicable to the purposes of the
philosophic traveller, and even the second is designed more expressly
for the tourist than for the expert in life. But he pressed interpreters
into his service--whenever he could get their services for nothing--and
by one means and another filled many notebooks with the results of his
In these wanderings he spent several years, and only returned to England
when the increasing age of his charges needed his attention. The two
lads had been placed in a good but economical school, where they had
received a sound commercial education; which was somewhat awkward, as
the leather business was by no means in a state to court enquiry. In
fact, when Joseph went over his accounts preparatory to surrendering his
trust, he was dismayed to discover that his brother's fortune had not
increased by his stewardship; even by making over to his two wards
every penny he had in the world, there would still be a deficit of seven
thousand eight hundred pounds. When these facts were communicated to
two brothers in the presence of a lawyer, Morris Finsbury threatened
his uncle with all the terrors of the law, and was only prevented from
taking extreme steps by the advice of the professional man. 'You cannot
get blood from a stone,' observed the lawyer.
And Morris saw the point and came to terms with his uncle. On the one
side, Joseph gave up all that he possessed, and assigned to his
nephew his contingent interest in the tontine, already quite a hopeful
speculation. On the other, Morris agreed to harbour his uncle and Miss
Hazeltine (who had come to grief with the rest), and to pay to each
of them one pound a month as pocket-money. The allowance was amply
sufficient for the old man; it scarce appears how Miss Hazeltine
contrived to dress upon it; but she did, and, what is more, she never
complained. She was, indeed, sincerely attached to her incompetent
guardian. He had never been unkind; his age spoke for him loudly; there
was something appealing in his whole-souled quest of knowledge and
innocent delight in the smallest mark of admiration; and, though the
lawyer had warned her she was being sacrificed, Julia had refused to add
to the perplexities of Uncle Joseph.
In a large, dreary house in John Street, Bloomsbury, these four dwelt
together; a family in appearance, in reality a financial association.
Julia and Uncle Joseph were, of course, slaves; John, a gentle man with
a taste for the banjo, the music-hall, the Gaiety bar, and the sporting
papers, must have been anywhere a secondary figure; and the cares
and delights of empire devolved entirely upon Morris. That these are
inextricably intermixed is one of the commonplaces with which the bland
essayist consoles the incompetent and the obscure, but in the case of
Morris the bitter must have largely outweighed the sweet. He grudged no
trouble to himself, he spared none to others; he called the servants
in the morning, he served out the stores with his own hand, he took
soundings of the sherry, he numbered the remainder biscuits; painful
scenes took place over the weekly bills, and the cook was frequently
impeached, and the tradespeople came and hectored with him in the back
parlour upon a question of three farthings. The superficial might have
deemed him a miser; in his own eyes he was simply a man who had been
defrauded; the world owed him seven thousand eight hundred pounds, and
he intended that the world should pay.
But it was in his dealings with Joseph that Morris's character
particularly shone. His uncle was a rather gambling stock in which he
had invested heavily; and he spared no pains in nursing the security.
The old man was seen monthly by a physician, whether he was well or ill.
His diet, his raiment, his occasional outings, now to Brighton, now to
Bournemouth, were doled out to him like pap to infants. In bad weather
he must keep the house. In good weather, by half-past nine, he must
be ready in the hall; Morris would see that he had gloves and that his
shoes were sound; and the pair would start for the leather business
arm in arm. The way there was probably dreary enough, for there was no
pretence of friendly feeling; Morris had never ceased to upbraid
his guardian with his defalcation and to lament the burthen of Miss
Hazeltine; and Joseph, though he was a mild enough soul, regarded his
nephew with something very near akin to hatred. But the way there
was nothing to the journey back; for the mere sight of the place of
business, as well as every detail of its transactions, was enough to
poison life for any Finsbury.
Joseph's name was still over the door; it was he who still signed the
cheques; but this was only policy on the part of Morris, and designed
to discourage other members of the tontine. In reality the business was
entirely his; and he found it an inheritance of sorrows. He tried to
sell it, and the offers he received were quite derisory. He tried to
extend it, and it was only the liabilities he succeeded in extending; to
restrict it, and it was only the profits he managed to restrict. Nobody
had ever made money out of that concern except the capable Scot, who
retired (after his discharge) to the neighbourhood of Banff and built a
castle with his profits. The memory of this fallacious Caledonian Morris
would revile daily, as he sat in the private office opening his mail,
with old Joseph at another table, sullenly awaiting orders, or savagely
affixing signatures to he knew not what. And when the man of the heather
pushed cynicism so far as to send him the announcement of his second
marriage (to Davida, eldest daughter of the Revd. Alexander McCraw), it
was really supposed that Morris would have had a fit.
Business hours, in the Finsbury leather trade, had been cut to the
quick; even Morris's strong sense of duty to himself was not strong
enough to dally within those walls and under the shadow of that
bankruptcy; and presently the manager and the clerks would draw a long
breath, and compose themselves for another day of procrastination. Raw
Haste, on the authority of my Lord Tennyson, is half-sister to Delay;
but the Business Habits are certainly her uncles. Meanwhile, the leather
merchant would lead his living investment back to John Street like a
puppy dog; and, having there immured him in the hall, would depart for
the day on the quest of seal rings, the only passion of his life. Joseph
had more than the vanity of man, he had that of lecturers. He owned he
was in fault, although more sinned against (by the capable Scot) than
sinning; but had he steeped his hands in gore, he would still not
deserve to be thus dragged at the chariot-wheels of a young man, to sit
a captive in the halls of his own leather business, to be entertained
with mortifying comments on his whole career--to have his costume
examined, his collar pulled up, the presence of his mittens verified,
and to be taken out and brought home in custody, like an infant with
a nurse. At the thought of it his soul would swell with venom, and he
would make haste to hang up his hat and coat and the detested mittens,
and slink upstairs to Julia and his notebooks. The drawing-room at least
was sacred from Morris; it belonged to the old man and the young girl;
it was there that she made her dresses; it was there that he inked
his spectacles over the registration of disconnected facts and the
calculation of insignificant statistics.
Here he would sometimes lament his connection with the tontine. 'If it
were not for that,' he cried one afternoon, 'he would not care to keep
me. I might be a free man, Julia. And I could so easily support myself
by giving lectures.'
'To be sure you could,' said she; 'and I think it one of the meanest
things he ever did to deprive you of that amusement. There were those
nice people at the Isle of Cats (wasn't it?) who wrote and asked you so
very kindly to give them an address. I did think he might have let you
go to the Isle of Cats.'
'He is a man of no intelligence,' cried Joseph. 'He lives here literally
surrounded by the absorbing spectacle of life, and for all the good
it does him, he might just as well be in his coffin. Think of his
opportunities! The heart of any other young man would burn within him
at the chance. The amount of information that I have it in my power
to convey, if he would only listen, is a thing that beggars language,
'Whatever you do, my dear, you mustn't excite yourself,' said Julia;
'for you know, if you look at all ill, the doctor will be sent for.'
'That is very true,' returned the old man humbly, 'I will compose myself
with a little study.' He thumbed his gallery of notebooks. 'I wonder,'
he said, 'I wonder (since I see your hands are occupied) whether it
might not interest you--'
'Why, of course it would,' cried Julia. 'Read me one of your nice
stories, there's a dear.'
He had the volume down and his spectacles upon his nose instanter, as
though to forestall some possible retractation. 'What I propose to read
to you,' said he, skimming through the pages, 'is the notes of a highly
important conversation with a Dutch courier of the name of David Abbas,
which is the Latin for abbot. Its results are well worth the money
it cost me, for, as Abbas at first appeared somewhat impatient, I was
induced to (what is, I believe, singularly called) stand him drink. It
runs only to about five-and-twenty pages. Yes, here it is.' He cleared
his throat, and began to read.
Mr Finsbury (according to his own report) contributed about four hundred
and ninety-nine five-hundredths of the interview, and elicited from
Abbas literally nothing. It was dull for Julia, who did not require to
listen; for the Dutch courier, who had to answer, it must have been
a perfect nightmare. It would seem as if he had consoled himself by
frequent appliances to the bottle; it would even seem that (toward the
end) he had ceased to depend on Joseph's frugal generosity and called
for the flagon on his own account. The effect, at least, of some
mellowing influence was visible in the record: Abbas became suddenly a
willing witness; he began to volunteer disclosures; and Julia had just
looked up from her seam with something like a smile, when Morris burst
into the house, eagerly calling for his uncle, and the next instant
plunged into the room, waving in the air the evening paper.
It was indeed with great news that he came charged. The demise was
announced of Lieutenant-General Sir Glasgow Biggar, KCSI, KCMG, etc.,
and the prize of the tontine now lay between the Finsbury brothers. Here
was Morris's opportunity at last. The brothers had never, it is true,
been cordial. When word came that Joseph was in Asia Minor, Masterman
had expressed himself with irritation. 'I call it simply indecent,' he
had said. 'Mark my words--we shall hear of him next at the North Pole.'
And these bitter expressions had been reported to the traveller on his
return. What was worse, Masterman had refused to attend the lecture on
'Education: Its Aims, Objects, Purposes, and Desirability', although
invited to the platform. Since then the brothers had not met. On the
other hand, they never had openly quarrelled; Joseph (by Morris's
orders) was prepared to waive the advantage of his juniority; Masterman
had enjoyed all through life the reputation of a man neither greedy nor
unfair. Here, then, were all the elements of compromise assembled;
and Morris, suddenly beholding his seven thousand eight hundred pounds
restored to him, and himself dismissed from the vicissitudes of the
leather trade, hastened the next morning to the office of his cousin
Michael was something of a public character. Launched upon the law at a
very early age, and quite without protectors, he had become a trafficker
in shady affairs. He was known to be the man for a lost cause; it was
known he could extract testimony from a stone, and interest from a
gold-mine; and his office was besieged in consequence by all that
numerous class of persons who have still some reputation to lose, and
find themselves upon the point of losing it; by those who have
made undesirable acquaintances, who have mislaid a compromising
correspondence, or who are blackmailed by their own butlers. In
private life Michael was a man of pleasure; but it was thought his dire
experience at the office had gone far to sober him, and it was known
that (in the matter of investments) he preferred the solid to the
brilliant. What was yet more to the purpose, he had been all his life a
consistent scoffer at the Finsbury tontine.
It was therefore with little fear for the result that Morris presented
himself before his cousin, and proceeded feverishly to set forth his
scheme. For near upon a quarter of an hour the lawyer suffered him to
dwell upon its manifest advantages uninterrupted. Then Michael rose from
his seat, and, ringing for his clerk, uttered a single clause: 'It won't
It was in vain that the leather merchant pleaded and reasoned, and
returned day after day to plead and reason. It was in vain that he
offered a bonus of one thousand, of two thousand, of three thousand
pounds; in vain that he offered, in Joseph's name, to be content with
only one-third of the pool. Still there came the same answer: 'It won't
'I can't see the bottom of this,' he said at last. 'You answer none of
my arguments; you haven't a word to say. For my part, I believe it's
The lawyer smiled at him benignly. 'You may believe one thing,' said he.
'Whatever else I do, I am not going to gratify any of your curiosity.
You see I am a trifle more communicative today, because this is our last
interview upon the subject.'
'Our last interview!' cried Morris.
'The stirrup-cup, dear boy,' returned Michael. 'I can't have my business
hours encroached upon. And, by the by, have you no business of your own?
Are there no convulsions in the leather trade?'
'I believe it to be malice,' repeated Morris doggedly. 'You always hated
and despised me from a boy.'
'No, no--not hated,' returned Michael soothingly. 'I rather like you
than otherwise; there's such a permanent surprise about you, you look so
dark and attractive from a distance. Do you know that to the naked
eye you look romantic?--like what they call a man with a history? And
indeed, from all that I can hear, the history of the leather trade is
full of incident.'
'Yes,' said Morris, disregarding these remarks, 'it's no use coming
here. I shall see your father.'
'O no, you won't,' said Michael. 'Nobody shall see my father.'
'I should like to know why,' cried his cousin.
'I never make any secret of that,' replied the lawyer. 'He is too ill.'
'If he is as ill as you say,' cried the other, 'the more reason for
accepting my proposal. I will see him.'
'Will you?' said Michael, and he rose and rang for his clerk.
It was now time, according to Sir Faraday Bond, the medical baronet
whose name is so familiar at the foot of bulletins, that Joseph (the
poor Golden Goose) should be removed into the purer air of Bournemouth;
and for that uncharted wilderness of villas the family now shook off
the dust of Bloomsbury; Julia delighted, because at Bournemouth she
sometimes made acquaintances; John in despair, for he was a man of city
tastes; Joseph indifferent where he was, so long as there was pen and
ink and daily papers, and he could avoid martyrdom at the office; Morris
himself, perhaps, not displeased to pretermit these visits to the city,
and have a quiet time for thought. He was prepared for any sacrifice;
all he desired was to get his money again and clear his feet of leather;
and it would be strange, since he was so modest in his desires, and the
pool amounted to upward of a hundred and sixteen thousand pounds--it
would be strange indeed if he could find no way of influencing Michael.
'If I could only guess his reason,' he repeated to himself; and by day,
as he walked in Branksome Woods, and by night, as he turned upon his
bed, and at meal-times, when he forgot to eat, and in the bathing
machine, when he forgot to dress himself, that problem was constantly
before him: Why had Michael refused?
At last, one night, he burst into his brother's room and woke him.
'What's all this?' asked John.
'Julia leaves this place tomorrow,' replied Morris. 'She must go up to
town and get the house ready, and find servants. We shall all follow in
'Oh, brayvo!' cried John. 'But why?'
'I've found it out, John,' returned his brother gently.
'It? What?' enquired John.
'Why Michael won't compromise,' said Morris. 'It's because he can't.
It's because Masterman's dead, and he's keeping it dark.'
'Golly!' cried the impressionable John. 'But what's the use? Why does he
do it, anyway?'
'To defraud us of the tontine,' said his brother.
'He couldn't; you have to have a doctor's certificate,' objected John.
'Did you never hear of venal doctors?' enquired Morris. 'They're as
common as blackberries: you can pick 'em up for three-pound-ten a head.'
'I wouldn't do it under fifty if I were a sawbones,' ejaculated John.
'And then Michael,' continued Morris, 'is in the very thick of it. All
his clients have come to grief; his whole business is rotten eggs. If
any man could arrange it, he could; and depend upon it, he has his plan
all straight; and depend upon it, it's a good one, for he's clever, and
be damned to him! But I'm clever too; and I'm desperate. I lost seven
thousand eight hundred pounds when I was an orphan at school.'
'O, don't be tedious,' interrupted John. 'You've lost far more already
trying to get it back.'
CHAPTER II. In Which Morris takes Action
Some days later, accordingly, the three males of this depressing family
might have been observed (by a reader of G. P. R. James) taking their
departure from the East Station of Bournemouth. The weather was raw
and changeable, and Joseph was arrayed in consequence according to the
principles of Sir Faraday Bond, a man no less strict (as is well known)
on costume than on diet. There are few polite invalids who have not
lived, or tried to live, by that punctilious physician's orders. 'Avoid
tea, madam,' the reader has doubtless heard him say, 'avoid tea, fried
liver, antimonial wine, and bakers' bread. Retire nightly at 10.45;
and clothe yourself (if you please) throughout in hygienic flannel.
Externally, the fur of the marten is indicated. Do not forget to
procure a pair of health boots at Messrs Dail and Crumbie's.' And he has
probably called you back, even after you have paid your fee, to add
with stentorian emphasis: 'I had forgotten one caution: avoid kippered
sturgeon as you would the very devil.' The unfortunate Joseph was cut to
the pattern of Sir Faraday in every button; he was shod with the health
boot; his suit was of genuine ventilating cloth; his shirt of hygienic
flannel, a somewhat dingy fabric; and he was draped to the knees in
the inevitable greatcoat of marten's fur. The very railway porters at
Bournemouth (which was a favourite station of the doctor's) marked the
old gentleman for a creature of Sir Faraday. There was but one evidence
of personal taste, a vizarded forage cap; from this form of headpiece,
since he had fled from a dying jackal on the plains of Ephesus, and
weathered a bora in the Adriatic, nothing could divorce our traveller.
The three Finsburys mounted into their compartment, and fell immediately
to quarrelling, a step unseemly in itself and (in this case) highly
unfortunate for Morris. Had he lingered a moment longer by the window,
this tale need never have been written. For he might then have observed
(as the porters did not fail to do) the arrival of a second passenger in
the uniform of Sir Faraday Bond. But he had other matters on hand, which
he judged (God knows how erroneously) to be more important.
'I never heard of such a thing,' he cried, resuming a discussion which
had scarcely ceased all morning. 'The bill is not yours; it is mine.'
'It is payable to me,' returned the old gentleman, with an air of bitter
obstinacy. 'I will do what I please with my own property.'
The bill was one for eight hundred pounds, which had been given him at
breakfast to endorse, and which he had simply pocketed.
'Hear him, Johnny!' cried Morris. 'His property! the very clothes upon
his back belong to me.'
'Let him alone,' said John. 'I am sick of both of you.'
'That is no way to speak of your uncle, sir,' cried Joseph. 'I will not
endure this disrespect. You are a pair of exceedingly forward, impudent,
and ignorant young men, and I have quite made up my mind to put an end
to the whole business.'.
'O skittles!' said the graceful John.
But Morris was not so easy in his mind. This unusual act of
insubordination had already troubled him; and these mutinous words now
sounded ominously in his ears. He looked at the old gentleman uneasily.
Upon one occasion, many years before, when Joseph was delivering a
lecture, the audience had revolted in a body; finding their entertainer
somewhat dry, they had taken the question of amusement into their own
hands; and the lecturer (along with the board schoolmaster, the Baptist
clergyman, and a working-man's candidate, who made up his bodyguard)
ultimately driven from the scene. Morris had not been present on that
fatal day; if he had, he would have recognized a certain fighting
glitter in his uncle's eye, and a certain chewing movement of his lips,
as old acquaintances. But even to the inexpert these symptoms breathed
of something dangerous.
'Well, well,' said Morris. 'I have no wish to bother you further till we
get to London.'
Joseph did not so much as look at him in answer; with tremulous hands
he produced a copy of the British Mechanic, and ostentatiously buried
himself in its perusal.
'I wonder what can make him so cantankerous?' reflected the nephew. 'I
don't like the look of it at all.' And he dubiously scratched his nose.
The train travelled forth into the world, bearing along with it the
customary freight of obliterated voyagers, and along with these old
Joseph, affecting immersion in his paper, and John slumbering over
the columns of the Pink Un, and Morris revolving in his mind a dozen
grudges, and suspicions, and alarms. It passed Christchurch by the sea,
Herne with its pinewoods, Ringwood on its mazy river. A little behind
time, but not much for the South-Western, it drew up at the platform of
a station, in the midst of the New Forest, the real name of which (in
case the railway company 'might have the law of me') I shall veil under
the alias of Browndean.
Many passengers put their heads to the window, and among the rest an old
gentleman on whom I willingly dwell, for I am nearly done with him now,
and (in the whole course of the present narrative) I am not in the least
likely to meet another character so decent. His name is immaterial, not
so his habits. He had passed his life wandering in a tweed suit on the
continent of Europe; and years of Galignani's Messenger having at length
undermined his eyesight, he suddenly remembered the rivers of Assyria
and came to London to consult an oculist. From the oculist to the
dentist, and from both to the physician, the step appears inevitable;
presently he was in the hands of Sir Faraday, robed in ventilating cloth
and sent to Bournemouth; and to that domineering baronet (who was his
only friend upon his native soil) he was now returning to report. The
case of these tweedsuited wanderers is unique. We have all seen them
entering the table d'hote (at Spezzia, or Grdtz, or Venice) with a
genteel melancholy and a faint appearance of having been to India and
not succeeded. In the offices of many hundred hotels they are known by
name; and yet, if the whole of this wandering cohort were to disappear
tomorrow, their absence would be wholly unremarked. How much more, if
only one--say this one in the ventilating cloth--should vanish! He had
paid his bills at Bournemouth; his worldly effects were all in the van
in two portmanteaux, and these after the proper interval would be
sold as unclaimed baggage to a Jew; Sir Faraday's butler would be a
half-crown poorer at the year's end, and the hotelkeepers of Europe
about the same date would be mourning a small but quite observable
decline in profits. And that would be literally all. Perhaps the old
gentleman thought something of the sort, for he looked melancholy enough
as he pulled his bare, grey head back into the carriage, and the train
smoked under the bridge, and forth, with ever quickening speed, across
the mingled heaths and woods of the New Forest.
Not many hundred yards beyond Browndean, however, a sudden jarring of
brakes set everybody's teeth on edge, and there was a brutal stoppage.
Morris Finsbury was aware of a confused uproar of voices, and sprang to
the window. Women were screaming, men were tumbling from the windows
the track, the guard was crying to them to stay where they were; at the
same time the train began to gather way and move very slowly backward
toward Browndean; and the next moment--, all these various sounds were
blotted out in the apocalyptic whistle and the thundering onslaught of
the down express.
The actual collision Morris did not hear. Perhaps he fainted. He had a
wild dream of having seen the carriage double up and fall to pieces
like a pantomime trick; and sure enough, when he came to himself, he was
lying on the bare earth and under the open sky. His head ached savagely;
he carried his hand to his brow, and was not surprised to see it red
with blood. The air was filled with an intolerable, throbbing roar,
which he expected to find die away with the return of consciousness; and
instead of that it seemed but to swell the louder and to pierce the more
cruelly through his ears. It was a raging, bellowing thunder, like a
And now curiosity began to stir, and he sat up and looked about him. The
track at this point ran in a sharp curve about a wooded hillock; all
of the near side was heaped with the wreckage of the Bournemouth train;
that of the express was mostly hidden by the trees; and just at the
turn, under clouds of vomiting steam and piled about with cairns of
living coal, lay what remained of the two engines, one upon the other.
On the heathy margin of the line were many people running to and fro,
and crying aloud as they ran, and many others lying motionless like
Morris suddenly drew an inference. 'There has been an accident' thought
he, and was elated at his perspicacity. Almost at the same time his eye
lighted on John, who lay close by as white as paper. 'Poor old John!
poor old cove!' he thought, the schoolboy expression popping forth from
some forgotten treasury, and he took his brother's hand in his with
childish tenderness. It was perhaps the touch that recalled him;
at least John opened his eyes, sat suddenly up, and after several
ineffectual movements of his lips, 'What's the row?' said he, in a
The din of that devil's smithy still thundered in their ears. 'Let us
get away from that,' Morris cried, and pointed to the vomit of steam
that still spouted from the broken engines. And the pair helped each
other up, and stood and quaked and wavered and stared about them at the
scene of death.
Just then they were approached by a party of men who had already
organized themselves for the purposes of rescue.
'Are you hurt?' cried one of these, a young fellow with the sweat
streaming down his pallid face, and who, by the way he was treated, was
evidently the doctor.
Morris shook his head, and the young man, nodding grimly, handed him a
bottle of some spirit.
'Take a drink of that,' he said; 'your friend looks as if he needed it
badly. We want every man we can get,' he added; 'there's terrible work
before us, and nobody should shirk. If you can do no more, you can carry
The doctor was hardly gone before Morris, under the spur of the dram,
awoke to the full possession of his wits.
'My God!' he cried. 'Uncle Joseph!'
'Yes,' said John, 'where can he be? He can't be far off. I hope the old
party isn't damaged.'
'Come and help me to look,' said Morris, with a snap of savage
determination strangely foreign to his ordinary bearing; and then, for
one moment, he broke forth. 'If he's dead!' he cried, and shook his fist
To and fro the brothers hurried, staring in the faces of the wounded,
or turning the dead upon their backs. They must have thus examined forty
people, and still there was no word of Uncle Joseph. But now the course
of their search brought them near the centre of the collision, where the
boilers were still blowing off steam with a deafening clamour. It was
a part of the field not yet gleaned by the rescuing party. The ground,
especially on the margin of the wood, was full of inequalities--here
a pit, there a hillock surmounted with a bush of furze. It was a place
where many bodies might lie concealed, and they beat it like pointers
after game. Suddenly Morris, who was leading, paused and reached forth
his index with a tragic gesture. John followed the direction of his
In the bottom of a sandy hole lay something that had once been human.
The face had suffered severely, and it was unrecognizable; but that was
not required. The snowy hair, the coat of marten, the ventilating cloth,
the hygienic flannel--everything down to the health boots from Messrs
Dail and Crumbie's, identified the body as that of Uncle Joseph. Only
the forage cap must have been lost in the convulsion, for the dead man
'The poor old beggar!' said John, with a touch of natural feeling; 'I
would give ten pounds if we hadn't chivvied him in the train!'
But there was no sentiment in the face of Morris as he gazed upon the
dead. Gnawing his nails, with introverted eyes, his brow marked with
the stamp of tragic indignation and tragic intellectual effort, he stood
there silent. Here was a last injustice; he had been robbed while he was
an orphan at school, he had been lashed to a decadent leather business,
he had been saddled with Miss Hazeltine, his cousin had been defrauding
him of the tontine, and he had borne all this, we might almost say, with
dignity, and now they had gone and killed his uncle!
'Here!' he said suddenly, 'take his heels, we must get him into the
woods. I'm not going to have anybody find this.'
'O, fudge!' said John, 'where's the use?'
'Do what I tell you,' spirted Morris, as he took the corpse by the
shoulders. 'Am I to carry him myself?'
They were close upon the borders of the wood; in ten or twelve paces
they were under cover; and a little further back, in a sandy clearing of
the trees, they laid their burthen down, and stood and looked at it with
'What do you mean to do?' whispered John.
'Bury him, to be sure,' responded Morris, and he opened his pocket-knife
and began feverishly to dig.
'You'll never make a hand of it with that,' objected the other.
'If you won't help me, you cowardly shirk,' screamed Morris, 'you can go
to the devil!'
'It's the childishest folly,' said John; 'but no man shall call me a
coward,' and he began to help his brother grudgingly.
The soil was sandy and light, but matted with the roots of the
surrounding firs. Gorse tore their hands; and as they baled the sand
from the grave, it was often discoloured with their blood. An hour
passed of unremitting energy upon the part of Morris, of lukewarm help
on that of John; and still the trench was barely nine inches in depth.
Into this the body was rudely flung: sand was piled upon it, and then
more sand must be dug, and gorse had to be cut to pile on that; and
still from one end of the sordid mound a pair of feet projected and
caught the light upon their patent-leather toes. But by this time the
nerves of both were shaken; even Morris had enough of his grisly task;
and they skulked off like animals into the thickest of the neighbouring
'It's the best that we can do,' said Morris, sitting down.
'And now,' said John, 'perhaps you'll have the politeness to tell me
what it's all about.'
'Upon my word,' cried Morris, 'if you do not understand for yourself, I
almost despair of telling you.'
'O, of course it's some rot about the tontine,' returned the other. 'But
it's the merest nonsense. We've lost it, and there's an end.'
'I tell you,' said Morris, 'Uncle Masterman is dead. I know it, there's
a voice that tells me so.'
'Well, and so is Uncle Joseph,' said John.
'He's not dead, unless I choose,' returned Morris.
'And come to that,' cried John, 'if you're right, and Uncle Masterman's
been dead ever so long, all we have to do is to tell the truth and
'You seem to think Michael is a fool,' sneered Morris. 'Can't you
understand he's been preparing this fraud for years? He has the whole
thing ready: the nurse, the doctor, the undertaker, all bought, the
certificate all ready but the date! Let him get wind of this business,
and you mark my words, Uncle Masterman will die in two days and be
buried in a week. But see here, Johnny; what Michael can do, I can do.
If he plays a game of bluff, so can I. If his father is to live for
ever, by God, so shall my uncle!'
'It's illegal, ain't it?' said John.
'A man must have SOME moral courage,' replied Morris with dignity.
'And then suppose you're wrong? Suppose Uncle Masterman's alive and
'Well, even then,' responded the plotter, 'we are no worse off than we
were before; in fact, we're better. Uncle Masterman must die some day;
as long as Uncle Joseph was alive, he might have died any day; but we're
out of all that trouble now: there's no sort of limit to the game that I
propose--it can be kept up till Kingdom Come.'
'If I could only see how you meant to set about it' sighed John. 'But
you know, Morris, you always were such a bungler.'
'I'd like to know what I ever bungled,' cried Morris; 'I have the best
collection of signet rings in London.'
'Well, you know, there's the leather business,' suggested the other.
'That's considered rather a hash.'
It was a mark of singular self-control in Morris that he suffered this
to pass unchallenged, and even unresented.
'About the business in hand,' said he, 'once we can get him up to
Bloomsbury, there's no sort of trouble. We bury him in the cellar, which
seems made for it; and then all I have to do is to start out and find a
'Why can't we leave him where he is?' asked John.
'Because we know nothing about the country,' retorted Morris. 'This wood
may be a regular lovers' walk. Turn your mind to the real difficulty.
How are we to get him up to Bloomsbury?'
Various schemes were mooted and rejected. The railway station at
Browndean was, of course, out of the question, for it would now be a
centre of curiosity and gossip, and (of all things) they would be
least able to dispatch a dead body without remark. John feebly proposed
getting an ale-cask and sending it as beer, but the objections to this
course were so overwhelming that Morris scorned to answer. The purchase
of a packing-case seemed equally hopeless, for why should two gentlemen
without baggage of any kind require a packing-case? They would be more
likely to require clean linen.
'We are working on wrong lines,' cried Morris at last. 'The thing must
be gone about more carefully. Suppose now,' he added excitedly, speaking
by fits and starts, as if he were thinking aloud, 'suppose we rent
a cottage by the month. A householder can buy a packing-case without
remark. Then suppose we clear the people out today, get the packing-case
tonight, and tomorrow I hire a carriage or a cart that we could
drive ourselves--and take the box, or whatever we get, to Ringwood or
Lyndhurst or somewhere; we could label it "specimens", don't you see?
Johnny, I believe I've hit the nail at last.'
'Well, it sounds more feasible,' admitted John.
'Of course we must take assumed names,' continued Morris. 'It would
never do to keep our own. What do you say to "Masterman" itself? It
sounds quiet and dignified.'
'I will NOT take the name of Masterman,' returned his brother; 'you may,
if you like. I shall call myself Vance--the Great Vance; positively the
last six nights. There's some go in a name like that.'
'Vance?' cried Morris. 'Do you think we are playing a pantomime for our
amusement? There was never anybody named Vance who wasn't a music-
'That's the beauty of it,' returned John; 'it gives you some standing at
once. You may call yourself Fortescue till all's blue, and nobody cares;
but to be Vance gives a man a natural nobility.'
'But there's lots of other theatrical names,' cried Morris. 'Leybourne,
Irving, Brough, Toole--'
'Devil a one will I take!' returned his brother. 'I am going to have my
little lark out of this as well as you.'
'Very well,' said Morris, who perceived that John was determined to
carry his point, 'I shall be Robert Vance.'
'And I shall be George Vance,' cried John, 'the only original George
Vance! Rally round the only original!'
Repairing as well as they were able the disorder of their clothes, the
Finsbury brothers returned to Browndean by a circuitous route in quest
of luncheon and a suitable cottage. It is not always easy to drop at
a moment's notice on a furnished residence in a retired locality; but
fortune presently introduced our adventurers to a deaf carpenter, a man
rich in cottages of the required description, and unaffectedly eager to
supply their wants. The second place they visited, standing, as it did,
about a mile and a half from any neighbours, caused them to exchange a
glance of hope. On a nearer view, the place was not without depressing
features. It stood in a marshy-looking hollow of a heath; tall trees
obscured its windows; the thatch visibly rotted on the rafters; and the
walls were stained with splashes of unwholesome green. The rooms were
small, the ceilings low, the furniture merely nominal; a strange chill
and a haunting smell of damp pervaded the kitchen; and the bedroom
boasted only of one bed.
Morris, with a view to cheapening the place, remarked on this defect.
'Well,' returned the man; 'if you can't sleep two abed, you'd better
take a villa residence.'
'And then,' pursued Morris, 'there's no water. How do you get your
'We fill THAT from the spring,' replied the carpenter, pointing to a big
barrel that stood beside the door. 'The spring ain't so VERY far off,
after all, and it's easy brought in buckets. There's a bucket there.'
Morris nudged his brother as they examined the water-butt. It was
new, and very solidly constructed for its office. If anything had been
wanting to decide them, this eminently practical barrel would have
turned the scale. A bargain was promptly struck, the month's rent was
paid upon the nail, and about an hour later the Finsbury brothers might
have been observed returning to the blighted cottage, having along with
them the key, which was the symbol of their tenancy, a spirit-lamp, with
which they fondly told themselves they would be able to cook, a pork pie
of suitable dimensions, and a quart of the worst whisky in Hampshire.
Nor was this all they had effected; already (under the plea that they
were landscape-painters) they had hired for dawn on the morrow a light
but solid two-wheeled cart; so that when they entered in their new
character, they were able to tell themselves that the back of the
business was already broken.
John proceeded to get tea; while Morris, foraging about the house, was
presently delighted by discovering the lid of the water-butt upon the
kitchen shelf. Here, then, was the packing-case complete; in the absence
of straw, the blankets (which he himself, at least, had not the smallest
intention of using for their present purpose) would exactly take the
place of packing; and Morris, as the difficulties began to vanish from
his path, rose almost to the brink of exultation. There was, however,
one difficulty not yet faced, one upon which his whole scheme depended.
Would John consent to remain alone in the cottage? He had not yet dared
to put the question.
It was with high good-humour that the pair sat down to the deal table,
and proceeded to fall-to on the pork pie. Morris retailed the discovery
of the lid, and the Great Vance was pleased to applaud by beating on the
table with his fork in true music-hall style.
'That's the dodge,' he cried. 'I always said a water-butt was what you
wanted for this business.'
'Of course,' said Morris, thinking this a favourable opportunity to
prepare his brother, 'of course you must stay on in this place till I
give the word; I'll give out that uncle is resting in the New Forest. It
would not do for both of us to appear in London; we could never conceal
the absence of the old man.'
John's jaw dropped.
'O, come!' he cried. 'You can stay in this hole yourself. I won't.'
The colour came into Morris's cheeks. He saw that he must win his
brother at any cost.
'You must please remember, Johnny,' he said, 'the amount of the tontine.
If I succeed, we shall have each fifty thousand to place to our bank
account; ay, and nearer sixty.'
'But if you fail,' returned John, 'what then? What'll be the colour of
our bank account in that case?'
'I will pay all expenses,' said Morris, with an inward struggle; 'you
shall lose nothing.'
'Well,' said John, with a laugh, 'if the ex-s are yours, and
half-profits mine, I don't mind remaining here for a couple of days.'
'A couple of days!' cried Morris, who was beginning to get angry and
controlled himself with difficulty; 'why, you would do more to win five
pounds on a horse-race!'
'Perhaps I would,' returned the Great Vance; 'it's the artistic
'This is monstrous!' burst out Morris. 'I take all risks; I pay all
expenses; I divide profits; and you won't take the slightest pains to
help me. It's not decent; it's not honest; it's not even kind.'
'But suppose,' objected John, who was considerably impressed by his
brother's vehemence, 'suppose that Uncle Masterman is alive after all,
and lives ten years longer; must I rot here all that time?'
'Of course not,' responded Morris, in a more conciliatory tone; 'I only
ask a month at the outside; and if Uncle Masterman is not dead by that
time you can go abroad.'
'Go abroad?' repeated John eagerly. 'Why shouldn't I go at once? Tell
'em that Joseph and I are seeing life in Paris.'
'Nonsense,' said Morris.
'Well, but look here,' said John; 'it's this house, it's such a pig-sty,
it's so dreary and damp. You said yourself that it was damp.'
'Only to the carpenter,' Morris distinguished, 'and that was to reduce
the rent. But really, you know, now we're in it, I've seen worse.'
'And what am I to do?' complained the victim. 'How can I entertain a
'My dear Johnny, if you don't think the tontine worth a little trouble,
say so, and I'll give the business up.'
'You're dead certain of the figures, I suppose?' asked John.
'Well'--with a deep sigh--'send me the Pink Un and all the comic papers
regularly. I'll face the music.'
As afternoon drew on, the cottage breathed more thrillingly of its
native marsh; a creeping chill inhabited its chambers; the fire smoked,
and a shower of rain, coming up from the channel on a slant of wind,
tingled on the window-panes. At intervals, when the gloom deepened
toward despair, Morris would produce the whisky-bottle, and at first
John welcomed the diversion--not for long. It has been said this spirit
was the worst in Hampshire; only those acquainted with the county can
appreciate the force of that superlative; and at length even the Great
Vance (who was no connoisseur) waved the decoction from his lips. The
approach of dusk, feebly combated with a single tallow candle, added
a touch of tragedy; and John suddenly stopped whistling through his
fingers--an art to the practice of which he had been reduced--and
bitterly lamented his concessions.
'I can't stay here a month,' he cried. 'No one could. The thing's
nonsense, Morris. The parties that lived in the Bastille would rise
against a place like this.'
With an admirable affectation of indifference, Morris proposed a game
of pitch-and-toss. To what will not the diplomatist condescend! It was
John's favourite game; indeed his only game--he had found all the rest
too intellectual--and he played it with equal skill and good fortune. To
Morris himself, on the other hand, the whole business was detestable;
he was a bad pitcher, he had no luck in tossing, and he was one who
suffered torments when he lost. But John was in a dangerous humour, and
his brother was prepared for any sacrifice.
By seven o'clock, Morris, with incredible agony, had lost a couple of
half-crowns. Even with the tontine before his eyes, this was as much as
he could bear; and, remarking that he would take his revenge some other
time, he proposed a bit of supper and a grog.
Before they had made an end of this refreshment it was time to be at
work. A bucket of water for present necessities was withdrawn from the
water-butt, which was then emptied and rolled before the kitchen fire to
dry; and the two brothers set forth on their adventure under a starless
CHAPTER III. The Lecturer at Large
Whether mankind is really partial to happiness is an open question.
Not a month passes by but some cherished son runs off into the merchant
service, or some valued husband decamps to Texas with a lady help;
clergymen have fled from their parishioners; and even judges have been
known to retire. To an open mind, it will appear (upon the whole) less
strange that Joseph Finsbury should have been led to entertain ideas of
escape. His lot (I think we may say) was not a happy one. My friend, Mr
Morris, with whom I travel up twice or thrice a week from Snaresbrook
Park, is certainly a gentleman whom I esteem; but he was scarce a model
nephew. As for John, he is of course an excellent fellow; but if he was
the only link that bound one to a home, I think the most of us would
vote for foreign travel. In the case of Joseph, John (if he were a link
at all) was not the only one; endearing bonds had long enchained the old
gentleman to Bloomsbury; and by these expressions I do not in the least
refer to Julia Hazeltine (of whom, however, he was fond enough), but to
that collection of manuscript notebooks in which his life lay buried.
That he should ever have made up his mind to separate himself from these
collections, and go forth upon the world with no other resources than
his memory supplied, is a circumstance highly pathetic in itself, and
but little creditable to the wisdom of his nephews.
The design, or at least the temptation, was already some months old; and
when a bill for eight hundred pounds, payable to himself, was suddenly
placed in Joseph's hand, it brought matters to an issue. He retained
that bill, which, to one of his frugality, meant wealth; and he promised
himself to disappear among the crowds at Waterloo, or (if that should
prove impossible) to slink out of the house in the course of the
evening and melt like a dream into the millions of London. By a peculiar
interposition of Providence and railway mismanagement he had not so long
He was one of the first to come to himself and scramble to his feet
after the Browndean catastrophe, and he had no sooner remarked his
prostrate nephews than he understood his opportunity and fled. A man of
upwards of seventy, who has just met with a railway accident, and who is
cumbered besides with the full uniform of Sir Faraday Bond, is not
very likely to flee far, but the wood was close at hand and offered the
fugitive at least a temporary covert. Hither, then, the old gentleman
skipped with extraordinary expedition, and, being somewhat winded and
a good deal shaken, here he lay down in a convenient grove and was
presently overwhelmed by slumber. The way of fate is often highly
entertaining to the looker-on, and it is certainly a pleasant
circumstance, that while Morris and John were delving in the sand to
conceal the body of a total stranger, their uncle lay in dreamless sleep
a few hundred yards deeper in the wood.
He was awakened by the jolly note of a bugle from the neighbouring high
road, where a char-a-banc was bowling by with some belated tourists. The
sound cheered his old heart, it directed his steps into the bargain, and
soon he was on the highway, looking east and west from under his vizor,
and doubtfully revolving what he ought to do. A deliberate sound of
wheels arose in the distance, and then a cart was seen approaching, well
filled with parcels, driven by a good-natured looking man on a double
bench, and displaying on a board the legend, 'I Chandler, carrier'. In
the infamously prosaic mind of Mr Finsbury, certain streaks of poetry
survived and were still efficient; they had carried him to Asia Minor
as a giddy youth of forty, and now, in the first hours of his recovered
freedom, they suggested to him the idea of continuing his flight in Mr
Chandler's cart. It would be cheap; properly broached, it might even
cost nothing, and, after years of mittens and hygienic flannel, his
heart leaped out to meet the notion of exposure.
Mr Chandler was perhaps a little puzzled to find so old a gentleman, so
strangely clothed, and begging for a lift on so retired a roadside.
But he was a good-natured man, glad to do a service, and so he took the
stranger up; and he had his own idea of civility, and so he asked no
questions. Silence, in fact, was quite good enough for Mr Chandler;
but the cart had scarcely begun to move forward ere he found himself
involved in a one-sided conversation.
'I can see,' began Mr Finsbury, 'by the mixture of parcels and boxes
that are contained in your cart, each marked with its individual label,
and by the good Flemish mare you drive, that you occupy the post of
carrier in that great English system of transport which, with all its
defects, is the pride of our country.'
'Yes, sir,' returned Mr Chandler vaguely, for he hardly knew what to
reply; 'them parcels posts has done us carriers a world of harm.'
'I am not a prejudiced man,' continued Joseph Finsbury. 'As a young
man I travelled much. Nothing was too small or too obscure for me to
acquire. At sea I studied seamanship, learned the complicated knots
employed by mariners, and acquired the technical terms. At Naples,
I would learn the art of making macaroni; at Nice, the principles of
making candied fruit. I never went to the opera without first buying the
book of the piece, and making myself acquainted with the principal airs
by picking them out on the piano with one finger.'
'You must have seen a deal, sir,' remarked the carrier, touching up his
horse; 'I wish I could have had your advantages.'
'Do you know how often the word whip occurs in the Old Testament?'
continued the old gentleman. 'One hundred and (if I remember exactly)
'Do it indeed, sir?' said Mr Chandler. 'I never should have thought it.'
'The Bible contains three million five hundred and one thousand two
hundred and forty-nine letters. Of verses I believe there are upward of
eighteen thousand. There have been many editions of the Bible; Wycliff
was the first to introduce it into England about the year 1300. The
"Paragraph Bible", as it is called, is a well-known edition, and is so
called because it is divided into paragraphs. The "Breeches Bible" is
another well-known instance, and gets its name either because it was
printed by one Breeches, or because the place of publication bore that
The carrier remarked drily that he thought that was only natural, and
turned his attention to the more congenial task of passing a cart of
hay; it was a matter of some difficulty, for the road was narrow, and
there was a ditch on either hand.
'I perceive,' began Mr Finsbury, when they had successfully passed the
cart, 'that you hold your reins with one hand; you should employ two.'
'Well, I like that!' cried the carrier contemptuously. 'Why?'
'You do not understand,' continued Mr Finsbury. 'What I tell you is a
scientific fact, and reposes on the theory of the lever, a branch of
mechanics. There are some very interesting little shilling books upon
the field of study, which I should think a man in your station would
take a pleasure to read. But I am afraid you have not cultivated the art
of observation; at least we have now driven together for some time, and
I cannot remember that you have contributed a single fact. This is a
very false principle, my good man. For instance, I do not know if you
observed that (as you passed the hay-cart man) you took your left?'
'Of course I did,' cried the carrier, who was now getting belligerent;
'he'd have the law on me if I hadn't.'
'In France, now,' resumed the old man, 'and also, I believe, in the
United States of America, you would have taken the right.'
'I would not,' cried Mr Chandler indignantly. 'I would have taken the
'I observe again,' continued Mr Finsbury, scorning to reply, 'that you
mend the dilapidated parts of your harness with string. I have always
protested against this carelessness and slovenliness of the English
poor. In an essay that I once read before an appreciative audience--'
'It ain't string,' said the carrier sullenly, 'it's pack-thread.'
'I have always protested,' resumed the old man, 'that in their private
and domestic life, as well as in their labouring career, the lower
classes of this country are improvident, thriftless, and extravagant. A
stitch in time--'
'Who the devil ARE the lower classes?' cried the carrier. 'You are the
lower classes yourself! If I thought you were a blooming aristocrat, I
shouldn't have given you a lift.'
The words were uttered with undisguised ill-feeling; it was plain the
pair were not congenial, and further conversation, even to one of Mr
Finsbury's pathetic loquacity, was out of the question. With an angry
gesture, he pulled down the brim of the forage-cap over his eyes,
and, producing a notebook and a blue pencil from one of his innermost
pockets, soon became absorbed in calculations.
On his part the carrier fell to whistling with fresh zest; and if (now
and again) he glanced at the companion of his drive, it was with mingled
feelings of triumph and alarm--triumph because he had succeeded in
arresting that prodigy of speech, and alarm lest (by any accident) it
should begin again. Even the shower, which presently overtook and passed
them, was endured by both in silence; and it was still in silence that
they drove at length into Southampton.
Dusk had fallen; the shop windows glimmered forth into the streets of
the old seaport; in private houses lights were kindled for the evening
meal; and Mr Finsbury began to think complacently of his night's
lodging. He put his papers by, cleared his throat, and looked doubtfully
at Mr Chandler.
'Will you be civil enough,' said he, 'to recommend me to an inn?' Mr
Chandler pondered for a moment.
'Well,' he said at last, 'I wonder how about the "Tregonwell Arms".'
'The "Tregonwell Arms" will do very well,' returned the old man, 'if
it's clean and cheap, and the people civil.'
'I wasn't thinking so much of you,' returned Mr Chandler thoughtfully.
'I was thinking of my friend Watts as keeps the 'ouse; he's a friend of
mine, you see, and he helped me through my trouble last year. And I was
thinking, would it be fair-like on Watts to saddle him with an old party
like you, who might be the death of him with general information. Would
it be fair to the 'ouse?' enquired Mr Chandler, with an air of candid
'Mark me,' cried the old gentleman with spirit. 'It was kind in you to
bring me here for nothing, but it gives you no right to address me
in such terms. Here's a shilling for your trouble; and, if you do
not choose to set me down at the "Tregonwell Arms", I can find it for
Chandler was surprised and a little startled; muttering something
apologetic, he returned the shilling, drove in silence through several
intricate lanes and small streets, drew up at length before the bright
windows of an inn, and called loudly for Mr Watts.
'Is that you, Jem?' cried a hearty voice from the stableyard. 'Come in
and warm yourself.'
'I only stopped here,' Mr Chandler explained, 'to let down an old gent
that wants food and lodging. Mind, I warn you agin him; he's worse nor a
Mr Finsbury dismounted with difficulty, for he was cramped with his long
drive, and the shaking he had received in the accident. The friendly Mr
Watts, in spite of the carter's scarcely agreeable introduction, treated
the old gentleman with the utmost courtesy, and led him into the back
parlour, where there was a big fire burning in the grate. Presently a
table was spread in the same room, and he was invited to seat himself
before a stewed fowl--somewhat the worse for having seen service
before--and a big pewter mug of ale from the tap.
He rose from supper a giant refreshed; and, changing his seat to one
nearer the fire, began to examine the other guests with an eye to the
delights of oratory. There were near a dozen present, all men, and (as
Joseph exulted to perceive) all working men. Often already had he seen
cause to bless that appetite for disconnected fact and rotatory argument
which is so marked a character of the mechanic. But even an audience of
working men has to be courted, and there was no man more deeply versed
in the necessary arts than Joseph Finsbury. He placed his glasses on his
nose, drew from his pocket a bundle of papers, and spread them before
him on a table. He crumpled them, he smoothed them out; now he skimmed
them over, apparently well pleased with their contents; now, with
tapping pencil and contracted brows, he seemed maturely to consider some
particular statement. A stealthy glance about the room assured him of
the success of his manoeuvres; all eyes were turned on the performer,
mouths were open, pipes hung suspended; the birds were charmed. At the
same moment the entrance of Mr Watts afforded him an opportunity.
'I observe,' said he, addressing the landlord, but taking at the same
time the whole room into his confidence with an encouraging look, 'I
observe that some of these gentlemen are looking with curiosity in
my direction; and certainly it is unusual to see anyone immersed in
literary and scientific labours in the public apartment of an inn. I
have here some calculations I made this morning upon the cost of living
in this and other countries--a subject, I need scarcely say, highly
interesting to the working classes. I have calculated a scale of living
for incomes of eighty, one hundred and sixty, two hundred, and two
hundred and forty pounds a year. I must confess that the income of
eighty pounds has somewhat baffled me, and the others are not so exact
as I could wish; for the price of washing varies largely in foreign
countries, and the different cokes, coals and firewoods fluctuate
surprisingly. I will read my researches, and I hope you won't scruple to
point out to me any little errors that I may have committed either from
oversight or ignorance. I will begin, gentlemen, with the income of
eighty pounds a year.'
Whereupon the old gentleman, with less compassion than he would have
for brute beasts, delivered himself of all his tedious calculations.
As he occasionally gave nine versions of a single income, placing
the imaginary person in London, Paris, Bagdad, Spitzbergen,
Bassorah, Heligoland, the Scilly Islands, Brighton, Cincinnati, and
Nijni-Novgorod, with an appropriate outfit for each locality, it is no
wonder that his hearers look back on that evening as the most tiresome
they ever spent.
Long before Mr Finsbury had reached Nijni-Novgorod with the income of
one hundred and sixty pounds, the company had dwindled and faded away
a few old topers and the bored but affable Watts. There was a constant
stream of customers from the outer world, but so soon as they were
served they drank their liquor quickly and departed with the utmost
celerity for the next public-house.
By the time the young man with two hundred a year was vegetating in the
Scilly Islands, Mr Watts was left alone with the economist; and that
imaginary person had scarce commenced life at Brighton before the last
of his pursuers desisted from the chase.
Mr Finsbury slept soundly after the manifold fatigues of the day. He
rose late, and, after a good breakfast, ordered the bill. Then it was
that he made a discovery which has been made by many others, both before
and since: that it is one thing to order your bill, and another to
discharge it. The items were moderate and (what does not always follow)
the total small; but, after the most sedulous review of all his pockets,
one and nine pence halfpenny appeared to be the total of the old
gentleman's available assets. He asked to see Mr Watts.
'Here is a bill on London for eight hundred pounds,' said Mr Finsbury,
as that worthy appeared. 'I am afraid, unless you choose to discount it
yourself, it may detain me a day or two till I can get it cashed.'
Mr Watts looked at the bill, turned it over, and dogs-eared it with his
fingers. 'It will keep you a day or two?' he said, repeating the old
man's words. 'You have no other money with you?'
'Some trifling change,' responded Joseph. 'Nothing to speak of.'
'Then you can send it me; I should be pleased to trust you.'
'To tell the truth,' answered the old gentleman, 'I am more than half
inclined to stay; I am in need of funds.'
'If a loan of ten shillings would help you, it is at your service,'
responded Watts, with eagerness.
'No, I think I would rather stay,' said the old man, 'and get my bill
'You shall not stay in my house,' cried Mr Watts. 'This is the last time
you shall have a bed at the "Tregonwell Arms".'
'I insist upon remaining,' replied Mr Finsbury, with spirit; 'I remain
by Act of Parliament; turn me out if you dare.'
'Then pay your bill,' said Mr Watts.
'Take that,' cried the old man, tossing him the negotiable bill.
'It is not legal tender,' replied Mr Watts. 'You must leave my house at
'You cannot appreciate the contempt I feel for you, Mr Watts,' said the
old gentleman, resigning himself to circumstances. 'But you shall feel
it in one way: I refuse to pay my bill.'
'I don't care for your bill,' responded Mr Watts. 'What I want is your
'That you shall have!' said the old gentleman, and, taking up his
forage cap as he spoke, he crammed it on his head. 'Perhaps you are
too insolent,' he added, 'to inform me of the time of the next London
'It leaves in three-quarters of an hour,' returned the innkeeper with
alacrity. 'You can easily catch it.'
Joseph's position was one of considerable weakness. On the one hand, it
would have been well to avoid the direct line of railway, since it was
there he might expect his nephews to lie in wait for his recapture; on
the other, it was highly desirable, it was even strictly needful, to get
the bill discounted ere it should be stopped. To London, therefore, he
decided to proceed on the first train; and there remained but one point
to be considered, how to pay his fare.
Joseph's nails were never clean; he ate almost entirely with his knife.
I doubt if you could say he had the manners of a gentleman; but he had
better than that, a touch of genuine dignity. Was it from his stay in
Asia Minor? Was it from a strain in the Finsbury blood sometimes
alluded to by customers? At least, when he presented himself before the
station-master, his salaam was truly Oriental, palm-trees appeared to
crowd about the little office, and the simoom or the bulbul--but I leave
this image to persons better acquainted with the East. His appearance,
besides, was highly in his favour; the uniform of Sir Faraday, however
inconvenient and conspicuous, was, at least, a costume in which no
swindler could have hoped to prosper; and the exhibition of a valuable
watch and a bill for eight hundred pounds completed what deportment had
begun. A quarter of an hour later, when the train came up, Mr Finsbury
was introduced to the guard and installed in a first-class compartment,
the station-master smilingly assuming all responsibility.
As the old gentleman sat waiting the moment of departure, he was the
witness of an incident strangely connected with the fortunes of his
house. A packing-case of cyclopean bulk was borne along the platform
by some dozen of tottering porters, and ultimately, to the delight of a
considerable crowd, hoisted on board the van. It is often the cheering
task of the historian to direct attention to the designs and (if it may
be reverently said) the artifices of Providence. In the luggage van, as
Joseph was borne out of the station of Southampton East upon his way
to London, the egg of his romance lay (so to speak) unhatched. The
huge packing-case was directed to lie at Waterloo till called for, and
addressed to one 'William Dent Pitman'; and the very next article,
a goodly barrel jammed into the corner of the van, bore the
superscription, 'M. Finsbury, 16 John Street, Bloomsbury. Carriage
In this juxtaposition, the train of powder was prepared; and there was
now wanting only an idle hand to fire it off.
CHAPTER IV. The Magistrate in the Luggage Van
The city of Winchester is famed for a cathedral, a bishop--but he was
unfortunately killed some years ago while riding--a public school, a
considerable assortment of the military, and the deliberate passage of
the trains of the London and South-Western line. These and many
similar associations would have doubtless crowded on the mind of Joseph
Finsbury; but his spirit had at that time flitted from the railway
compartment to a heaven of populous lecture-halls and endless oratory.
His body, in the meanwhile, lay doubled on the cushions, the forage-cap
rakishly tilted back after the fashion of those that lie in wait for
nursery-maids, the poor old face quiescent, one arm clutching to his
heart Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper.
To him, thus unconscious, enter and exeunt again a pair of voyagers.
These two had saved the train and no more. A tandem urged to its last
speed, an act of something closely bordering on brigandage at the ticket
office, and a spasm of running, had brought them on the platform just
as the engine uttered its departing snort. There was but one carriage
easily within their reach; and they had sprung into it, and the leader
and elder already had his feet upon the floor, when he observed Mr
'Good God!' he cried. 'Uncle Joseph! This'll never do.'
And he backed out, almost upsetting his companion, and once more closed
the door upon the sleeping patriarch.
The next moment the pair had jumped into the baggage van.
'What's the row about your Uncle Joseph?' enquired the younger
traveller, mopping his brow. 'Does he object to smoking?'
'I don't know that there's anything the row with him,' returned the
other. 'He's by no means the first comer, my Uncle Joseph, I can tell
you! Very respectable old gentleman; interested in leather; been to Asia
Minor; no family, no assets--and a tongue, my dear Wickham, sharper than
a serpent's tooth.'
'Cantankerous old party, eh?' suggested Wickham.
'Not in the least,' cried the other; 'only a man with a solid talent
for being a bore; rather cheery I dare say, on a desert island, but on
a railway journey insupportable. You should hear him on Tonti, the ass
that started tontines. He's incredible on Tonti.'
'By Jove!' cried Wickham, 'then you're one of these Finsbury tontine
fellows. I hadn't a guess of that.'
'Ah!' said the other, 'do you know that old boy in the carriage is worth
a hundred thousand pounds to me? There he was asleep, and nobody there
but you! But I spared him, because I'm a Conservative in politics.'
Mr Wickham, pleased to be in a luggage van, was flitting to and fro like
a gentlemanly butterfly.
'By Jingo!' he cried, 'here's something for you! "M. Finsbury, 16 John
Street, Bloomsbury, London." M. stands for Michael, you sly dog; you
keep two establishments, do you?'
'O, that's Morris,' responded Michael from the other end of the van,
where he had found a comfortable seat upon some sacks. 'He's a little
cousin of mine. I like him myself, because he's afraid of me. He's
one of the ornaments of Bloomsbury, and has a collection of some
kind--birds' eggs or something that's supposed to be curious. I bet it's
nothing to my clients!'
'What a lark it would be to play billy with the labels!' chuckled Mr
Wickham. 'By George, here's a tack-hammer! We might send all these
things skipping about the premises like what's-his-name!'
At this moment, the guard, surprised by the sound of voices, opened the
door of his little cabin.
'You had best step in here, gentlemen,' said he, when he had heard their
'Won't you come, Wickham?' asked Michael.
'Catch me--I want to travel in a van,' replied the youth.
And so the door of communication was closed; and for the rest of the run
Mr Wickham was left alone over his diversions on the one side, and on
the other Michael and the guard were closeted together in familiar talk.
'I can get you a compartment here, sir,' observed the official, as the
train began to slacken speed before Bishopstoke station. 'You had best
get out at my door, and I can bring your friend.'
Mr Wickham, whom we left (as the reader has shrewdly suspected)
beginning to 'play billy' with the labels in the van, was a young
gentleman of much wealth, a pleasing but sandy exterior, and a highly
vacant mind. Not many months before, he had contrived to get himself
blackmailed by the family of a Wallachian Hospodar, resident for
political reasons in the gay city of Paris. A common friend (to whom he
had confided his distress) recommended him to Michael; and the lawyer
was no sooner in possession of the facts than he instantly assumed
the offensive, fell on the flank of the Wallachian forces, and, in the
inside of three days, had the satisfaction to behold them routed and
fleeing for the Danube. It is no business of ours to follow them on
this retreat, over which the police were so obliging as to preside
paternally. Thus relieved from what he loved to refer to as the
Bulgarian Atrocity, Mr Wickham returned to London with the most
unbounded and embarrassing gratitude and admiration for his saviour.
These sentiments were not repaid either in kind or degree; indeed,
Michael was a trifle ashamed of his new client's friendship; it had
taken many invitations to get him to Winchester and Wickham Manor; but
he had gone at last, and was now returning. It has been remarked by some
judicious thinker (possibly J. F. Smith) that Providence despises to
employ no instrument, however humble; and it is now plain to the dullest
that both Mr Wickham and the Wallachian Hospodar were liquid lead and
wedges in the hand of Destiny.
Smitten with the desire to shine in Michael's eyes and show himself a
person of original humour and resources, the young gentleman (who was a
magistrate, more by token, in his native county) was no sooner alone in
the van than he fell upon the labels with all the zeal of a reformer;
and, when he rejoined the lawyer at Bishopstoke, his face was flushed
with his exertions, and his cigar, which he had suffered to go out was
almost bitten in two.
'By George, but this has been a lark!' he cried. 'I've sent the
wrong thing to everybody in England. These cousins of yours have a
packing-case as big as a house. I've muddled the whole business up to
that extent, Finsbury, that if it were to get out it's my belief we
should get lynched.'
It was useless to be serious with Mr Wickham. 'Take care,' said
Michael. 'I am getting tired of your perpetual scrapes; my reputation is
beginning to suffer.'
'Your reputation will be all gone before you finish with me,' replied
his companion with a grin. 'Clap it in the bill, my boy. "For total loss
of reputation, six and eightpence." But,' continued Mr Wickham with more
seriousness, 'could I be bowled out of the Commission for this
little jest? I know it's small, but I like to be a JP. Speaking as a
professional man, do you think there's any risk?'
'What does it matter?' responded Michael, 'they'll chuck you out sooner
or later. Somehow you don't give the effect of being a good magistrate.'
'I only wish I was a solicitor,' retorted his companion, 'instead of a
poor devil of a country gentleman. Suppose we start one of those tontine
affairs ourselves; I to pay five hundred a year, and you to guarantee me
against every misfortune except illness or marriage.'
'It strikes me,' remarked the lawyer with a meditative laugh, as he
lighted a cigar, 'it strikes me that you must be a cursed nuisance in
this world of ours.'
'Do you really think so, Finsbury?' responded the magistrate, leaning
back in his cushions, delighted with the compliment. 'Yes, I suppose
I am a nuisance. But, mind you, I have a stake in the country: don't
forget that, dear boy.'
CHAPTER V. Mr Gideon Forsyth and the Gigantic Box
It has been mentioned that at Bournemouth Julia sometimes made
acquaintances; it is true she had but a glimpse of them before the
doors of John Street closed again upon its captives, but the glimpse
was sometimes exhilarating, and the consequent regret was tempered
with hope. Among those whom she had thus met a year before was a young
barrister of the name of Gideon Forsyth.
About three o'clock of the eventful day when the magistrate tampered
with the labels, a somewhat moody and distempered ramble had carried
Mr Forsyth to the corner of John Street; and about the same moment Miss
Hazeltine was called to the door of No. 16 by a thundering double knock.
Mr Gideon Forsyth was a happy enough young man; he would have been
happier if he had had more money and less uncle. One hundred and
twenty pounds a year was all his store; but his uncle, Mr Edward Hugh
Bloomfield, supplemented this with a handsome allowance and a great
deal of advice, couched in language that would probably have been judged
intemperate on board a pirate ship. Mr Bloomfield was indeed a figure
quite peculiar to the days of Mr Gladstone; what we may call (for the
lack of an accepted expression) a Squirradical. Having acquired years
without experience, he carried into the Radical side of politics those
noisy, after-dinner-table passions, which we are more accustomed to
connect with Toryism in its severe and senile aspects. To the opinions
of Mr Bradlaugh, in fact, he added the temper and the sympathies of that
extinct animal, the Squire; he admired pugilism, he carried a formidable
oaken staff, he was a reverent churchman, and it was hard to know which
would have more volcanically stirred his choler--a person who should
have defended the established church, or one who should have neglected
to attend its celebrations. He had besides some levelling catchwords,
justly dreaded in the family circle; and when he could not go so far
as to declare a step un-English, he might still (and with hardly less
effect) denounce it as unpractical. It was under the ban of this lesser
excommunication that Gideon had fallen. His views on the study of law
had been pronounced unpractical; and it had been intimated to him, in
a vociferous interview punctuated with the oaken staff, that he must
either take a new start and get a brief or two, or prepare to live on
his own money.
No wonder if Gideon was moody. He had not the slightest wish to modify
his present habits; but he would not stand on that, since the recall of
Mr Bloomfield's allowance would revolutionize them still more radically.
He had not the least desire to acquaint himself with law; he had looked
into it already, and it seemed not to repay attention; but upon this
also he was ready to give way. In fact, he would go as far as he could
to meet the views of his uncle, the Squirradical. But there was one part
of the programme that appeared independent of his will. How to get
a brief? there was the question. And there was another and a worse.
Suppose he got one, should he prove the better man?
Suddenly he found his way barred by a crowd. A garishly illuminated van
was backed against the kerb; from its open stern, half resting on the
street, half supported by some glistening athletes, the end of the
largest packing-case in the county of Middlesex might have been seen
protruding; while, on the steps of the house, the burly person of
the driver and the slim figure of a young girl stood as upon a stage,
'It is not for us,' the girl was saying. 'I beg you to take it away; it
couldn't get into the house, even if you managed to get it out of the
'I shall leave it on the pavement, then, and M. Finsbury can arrange
with the Vestry as he likes,' said the vanman.
'But I am not M. Finsbury,' expostulated the girl.
'It doesn't matter who you are,' said the vanman.
'You must allow me to help you, Miss Hazeltine,' said Gideon, putting
out his hand.
Julia gave a little cry of pleasure. 'O, Mr Forsyth,' she cried, 'I am
so glad to see you; we must get this horrid thing, which can only have
come here by mistake, into the house. The man says we'll have to take
off the door, or knock two of our windows into one, or be fined by
the Vestry or Custom House or something for leaving our parcels on the
The men by this time had successfully removed the box from the van, had
plumped it down on the pavement, and now stood leaning against it, or
gazing at the door of No. 16, in visible physical distress and mental
embarrassment. The windows of the whole street had filled, as if by
magic, with interested and entertained spectators.
With as thoughtful and scientific an expression as he could assume,
Gideon measured the doorway with his cane, while Julia entered his
observations in a drawing-book. He then measured the box, and, upon
comparing his data, found that there was just enough space for it to
enter. Next, throwing off his coat and waistcoat, he assisted the men to
take the door from its hinges. And lastly, all bystanders being pressed
into the service, the packing-case mounted the steps upon some
fifteen pairs of wavering legs--scraped, loudly grinding, through the
doorway--and was deposited at length, with a formidable convulsion, in
the far end of the lobby, which it almost blocked. The artisans of this
victory smiled upon each other as the dust subsided. It was true they
had smashed a bust of Apollo and ploughed the wall into deep ruts; but,
at least, they were no longer one of the public spectacles of London.
'Well, sir,' said the vanman, 'I never see such a job.'
Gideon eloquently expressed his concurrence in this sentiment by
pressing a couple of sovereigns in the man's hand.
'Make it three, sir, and I'll stand Sam to everybody here!' cried the
latter, and, this having been done, the whole body of volunteer porters
swarmed into the van, which drove off in the direction of the nearest
reliable public-house. Gideon closed the door on their departure, and
turned to Julia; their eyes met; the most uncontrollable mirth seized
upon them both, and they made the house ring with their laughter. Then
curiosity awoke in Julia's mind, and she went and examined the box, and
more especially the label.
'This is the strangest thing that ever happened,' she said, with another
burst of laughter. 'It is certainly Morris's handwriting, and I had a
letter from him only this morning, telling me to expect a barrel. Is
there a barrel coming too, do you think, Mr Forsyth?'
"'Statuary with Care, Fragile,'" read Gideon aloud from the painted
warning on the box. 'Then you were told nothing about this?'
'No,' responded Julia. 'O, Mr Forsyth, don't you think we might take a
peep at it?'
'Yes, indeed,' cried Gideon. 'Just let me have a hammer.'
'Come down, and I'll show you where it is,' cried Julia. 'The shelf is
too high for me to reach'; and, opening the door of the kitchen stair,
she bade Gideon follow her. They found both the hammer and a chisel;
but Gideon was surprised to see no sign of a servant. He also discovered
that Miss Hazeltine had a very pretty little foot and ankle; and the
discovery embarrassed him so much that he was glad to fall at once upon
He worked hard and earnestly, and dealt his blows with the precision
of a blacksmith; Julia the while standing silently by his side, and
regarding rather the workman than the work. He was a handsome fellow;
she told herself she had never seen such beautiful arms. And suddenly,
as though he had overheard these thoughts, Gideon turned and smiled to
her. She, too, smiled and coloured; and the double change became her
so prettily that Gideon forgot to turn away his eyes, and, swinging the
hammer with a will, discharged a smashing blow on his own knuckles. With
admirable presence of mind he crushed down an oath and substituted the
harmless comment, 'Butter fingers!' But the pain was sharp, his nerve
was shaken, and after an abortive trial he found he must desist from
In a moment Julia was off to the pantry; in a moment she was back again
with a basin of water and a sponge, and had begun to bathe his wounded
'I am dreadfully sorry!' said Gideon apologetically. 'If I had had
any manners I should have opened the box first and smashed my hand
afterward. It feels much better,' he added. 'I assure you it does.'
'And now I think you are well enough to direct operations,' said she.
'Tell me what to do, and I'll be your workman.'
'A very pretty workman,' said Gideon, rather forgetting himself.
She turned and looked at him, with a suspicion of a frown; and
the indiscreet young man was glad to direct her attention to the
packing-case. The bulk of the work had been accomplished; and presently
Julia had burst through the last barrier and disclosed a zone of straw.
in a moment they were kneeling side by side, engaged like haymakers; the
next they were rewarded with a glimpse of something white and polished;
and the next again laid bare an unmistakable marble leg.
'He is surely a very athletic person,' said Julia.
'I never saw anything like it,' responded Gideon. 'His muscles stand out
like penny rolls.'
Another leg was soon disclosed, and then what seemed to be a third. This
resolved itself, however, into a knotted club resting upon a pedestal.
'It is a Hercules,' cried Gideon; 'I might have guessed that from his
calf. I'm supposed to be rather partial to statuary, but when it comes
to Hercules, the police should interfere. I should say,' he added,
glancing with disaffection at the swollen leg, 'that this was about the
biggest and the worst in Europe. What in heaven's name can have induced
him to come here?'
'I suppose nobody else would have a gift of him,' said Julia. 'And for
that matter, I think we could have done without the monster very well.'
'O, don't say that,' returned Gideon. 'This has been one of the most
amusing experiences of my life.'
'I don't think you'll forget it very soon,' said Julia. 'Your hand will
'Well, I suppose I must be going,' said Gideon reluctantly. 'No,'
pleaded Julia. 'Why should you? Stay and have tea with me.'
'If I thought you really wished me to stay,' said Gideon, looking at his
hat, 'of course I should only be too delighted.'
'What a silly person you must take me for!' returned the girl. 'Why, of
course I do; and, besides, I want some cakes for tea, and I've nobody to
send. Here is the latchkey.'
Gideon put on his hat with alacrity, and casting one look at Miss
Hazeltine, and another at the legs of Hercules, threw open the door and
departed on his errand.
He returned with a large bag of the choicest and most tempting of cakes
and tartlets, and found Julia in the act of spreading a small tea-table
in the lobby.
'The rooms are all in such a state,' she cried, 'that I thought we
should be more cosy and comfortable in our own lobby, and under our own
vine and statuary.'
'Ever so much better,' cried Gideon delightedly.
'O what adorable cream tarts!' said Julia, opening the bag, 'and the
dearest little cherry tartlets, with all the cherries spilled out into
'Yes,' said Gideon, concealing his dismay, 'I knew they would mix
beautifully; the woman behind the counter told me so.'
'Now,' said Julia, as they began their little festival, 'I am going
to show you Morris's letter; read it aloud, please; perhaps there's
something I have missed.'
Gideon took the letter, and spreading it out on his knee, read as
DEAR JULIA, I write you from Browndean, where we are stopping over for
a few days. Uncle was much shaken in that dreadful accident, of which,
I dare say, you have seen the account. Tomorrow I leave him here with
John, and come up alone; but before that, you will have received a
barrel CONTAINING SPECIMENS FOR A FRIEND. Do not open it on any
but leave it in the lobby till I come.
Yours in haste,
P.S.--Be sure and leave the barrel in the lobby.
'No,' said Gideon, 'there seems to be nothing about the monument,'
and he nodded, as he spoke, at the marble legs. 'Miss Hazeltine,' he
continued, 'would you mind me asking a few questions?'
'Certainly not,' replied Julia; 'and if you can make me understand why
Morris has sent a statue of Hercules instead of a barrel containing
specimens for a friend, I shall be grateful till my dying day. And what
are specimens for a friend?'
'I haven't a guess,' said Gideon. 'Specimens are usually bits of stone,
but rather smaller than our friend the monument. Still, that is not the
point. Are you quite alone in this big house?'
'Yes, I am at present,' returned Julia. 'I came up before them to
prepare the house, and get another servant. But I couldn't get one I
'Then you are utterly alone,' said Gideon in amazement. 'Are you not
'No,' responded Julia stoutly. 'I don't see why I should be more afraid
than you would be; I am weaker, of course, but when I found I must sleep
alone in the house I bought a revolver wonderfully cheap, and made the
man show me how to use it.'
'And how do you use it?' demanded Gideon, much amused at her courage.
'Why,' said she, with a smile, 'you pull the little trigger thing on
top, and then pointing it very low, for it springs up as you fire, you
pull the underneath little trigger thing, and it goes off as well as if
a man had done it.'
'And how often have you used it?' asked Gideon.
'O, I have not used it yet,' said the determined young lady; 'but I
know how, and that makes me wonderfully courageous, especially when I
barricade my door with a chest of drawers.'
'I'm awfully glad they are coming back soon,' said Gideon. 'This
business strikes me as excessively unsafe; if it goes on much longer,
I could provide you with a maiden aunt of mine, or my landlady if you
'Lend me an aunt!' cried Julia. 'O, what generosity! I begin to think it
must have been you that sent the Hercules.'
'Believe me,' cried the young man, 'I admire you too much to send you
such an infamous work of art..'
Julia was beginning to reply, when they were both startled by a knocking
at the door.
'O, Mr Forsyth!'
'Don't be afraid, my dear girl,' said Gideon, laying his hand tenderly
on her arm.
'I know it's the police,' she whispered. 'They are coming to complain
about the statue.'
The knock was repeated. It was louder than before, and more impatient.
'It's Morris,' cried Julia, in a startled voice, and she ran to the door
and opened it.
It was indeed Morris that stood before them; not the Morris of ordinary
days, but a wild-looking fellow, pale and haggard, with bloodshot eyes,
and a two-days' beard upon his chin.
'The barrel!' he cried. 'Where's the barrel that came this morning?'
And he stared about the lobby, his eyes, as they fell upon the legs of
Hercules, literally goggling in his head. 'What is that?' he screamed.
'What is that waxwork? Speak, you fool! What is that? And where's the
'No barrel came, Morris,' responded Julia coldly. 'This is the only
thing that has arrived.'
'This!' shrieked the miserable man. 'I never heard of it!'
'It came addressed in your hand,' replied Julia; 'we had nearly to pull
the house down to get it in, that is all that I can tell you.'
Morris gazed at her in utter bewilderment. He passed his hand over his
forehead; he leaned against the wall like a man about to faint. Then his
tongue was loosed, and he overwhelmed the girl with torrents of abuse.
Such fire, such directness, such a choice of ungentlemanly language,
none had ever before suspected Morris to possess; and the girl trembled
and shrank before his fury.
'You shall not speak to Miss Hazeltine in that way,' said Gideon
sternly. 'It is what I will not suffer.'
'I shall speak to the girl as I like,' returned Morris, with a fresh
outburst of anger. 'I'll speak to the hussy as she deserves.'
'Not a word more, sir, not one word,' cried Gideon. 'Miss Hazeltine,' he
continued, addressing the young girl, 'you cannot stay a moment longer
in the same house with this unmanly fellow. Here is my arm; let me take
you where you will be secure from insult.'
'Mr Forsyth,' returned Julia, 'you are right; I cannot stay here longer,
and I am sure I trust myself to an honourable gentleman.'
Pale and resolute, Gideon offered her his arm, and the pair descended
the steps, followed by Morris clamouring for the latchkey.
Julia had scarcely handed the key to Morris before an empty hansom drove
smartly into John Street. It was hailed by both men, and as the cabman
drew up his restive horse, Morris made a dash into the vehicle.
'Sixpence above fare,' he cried recklessly. 'Waterloo Station for your
life. Sixpence for yourself!'
'Make it a shilling, guv'ner,' said the man, with a grin; 'the other
parties were first.'
'A shilling then,' cried Morris, with the inward reflection that he
would reconsider it at Waterloo. The man whipped up his horse, and the
hansom vanished from John Street.
CHAPTER VI. The Tribulations of Morris: Part the First
As the hansom span through the streets of London, Morris sought to
rally the forces of his mind. The water-butt with the dead body had
miscarried, and it was essential to recover it. So much was clear; and
if, by some blest good fortune, it was still at the station, all might
be well. If it had been sent out, however, if it were already in the
hands of some wrong person, matters looked more ominous. People who
receive unexplained packages are usually keen to have them open; the
example of Miss Hazeltine (whom he cursed again) was there to remind him
of the circumstance; and if anyone had opened the water-butt--'O Lord!'
cried Morris at the thought, and carried his hand to his damp forehead.
The private conception of any breach of law is apt to be inspiriting,
for the scheme (while yet inchoate) wears dashing and attractive
colours. Not so in the least that part of the criminal's later
reflections which deal with the police. That useful corps (as Morris
now began to think) had scarce been kept sufficiently in view when
he embarked upon his enterprise. 'I must play devilish close,' he
reflected, and he was aware of an exquisite thrill of fear in the region
of the spine.
'Main line or loop?' enquired the cabman, through the scuttle.
'Main line,' replied Morris, and mentally decided that the man should
have his shilling after all. 'It would be madness to attract attention,'
thought he. 'But what this thing will cost me, first and last, begins to
be a nightmare!'
He passed through the booking-office and wandered disconsolately on the
platform. It was a breathing-space in the day's traffic. There were
few people there, and these for the most part quiescent on the benches.
Morris seemed to attract no remark, which was a good thing; but, on the
other hand, he was making no progress in his quest. Something must be
done, something must be risked. Every passing instant only added to his
dangers. Summoning all his courage, he stopped a porter, and asked him
if he remembered receiving a barrel by the morning train. He was anxious
to get information, for the barrel belonged to a friend. 'It is a matter
of some moment,' he added, 'for it contains specimens.'
'I was not here this morning, sir,' responded the porter, somewhat
reluctantly, 'but I'll ask Bill. Do you recollect, Bill, to have got a
barrel from Bournemouth this morning containing specimens?'
'I don't know about specimens,' replied Bill; 'but the party as received
the barrel I mean raised a sight of trouble.'
'What's that?' cried Morris, in the agitation of the moment pressing a
penny into the man's hand.
'You see, sir, the barrel arrived at one-thirty. No one claimed it till
about three, when a small, sickly--looking gentleman (probably a curate)
came up, and sez he, "Have you got anything for Pitman?" or "Wili'm Bent
Pitman," if I recollect right. "I don't exactly know," sez I, "but I
rather fancy that there barrel bears that name." The little man went
up to the barrel, and seemed regularly all took aback when he saw the
address, and then he pitched into us for not having brought what he
wanted. "I don't care a damn what you want," sez I to him, "but if you
are Will'm Bent Pitman, there's your barrel."'
'Well, and did he take it?' cried the breathless Morris.
'Well, sir,' returned Bill, 'it appears it was a packing-case he was
after. The packing-case came; that's sure enough, because it was about
the biggest packing-case ever I clapped eyes on. And this Pitman he
seemed a good deal cut up, and he had the superintendent out, and
they got hold of the vanman--him as took the packing-case. Well, sir,'
continued Bill, with a smile, 'I never see a man in such a state.
Everybody about that van was mortal, bar the horses. Some gen'leman (as
well as I could make out) had given the vanman a sov.; and so that was
where the trouble come in, you see.'
'But what did he say?' gasped Morris.
'I don't know as he SAID much, sir,' said Bill. 'But he offered to
fight this Pitman for a pot of beer. He had lost his book, too, and the
receipts, and his men were all as mortal as himself. O, they were all
like'--and Bill paused for a simile--'like lords! The superintendent
sacked them on the spot.'
'O, come, but that's not so bad,' said Morris, with a bursting sigh. 'He
couldn't tell where he took the packing-case, then?'
'Not he,' said Bill, 'nor yet nothink else.'
'And what--what did Pitman do?' asked Morris.
'O, he went off with the barrel in a four-wheeler, very trembling like,'
replied Bill. 'I don't believe he's a gentleman as has good health.'
'Well, so the barrel's gone,' said Morris, half to himself.
'You may depend on that, sir,' returned the porter. 'But you had better
see the superintendent.'
'Not in the least; it's of no account,' said Morris. 'It only contained
specimens.' And he walked hastily away.
Ensconced once more in a hansom, he proceeded to reconsider his
position. Suppose (he thought), suppose he should accept defeat and
declare his uncle's death at once? He should lose the tontine, and with
that the last hope of his seven thousand eight hundred pounds. But on
the other hand, since the shilling to the hansom cabman, he had begun to
see that crime was expensive in its course, and, since the loss of the
water-butt, that it was uncertain in its consequences. Quietly at first,
and then with growing heat, he reviewed the advantages of backing out.
It involved a loss; but (come to think of it) no such great loss after
all; only that of the tontine, which had been always a toss-up, which
at bottom he had never really expected. He reminded himself of that
eagerly; he congratulated himself upon his constant moderation. He had
never really expected the tontine; he had never even very definitely
hoped to recover his seven thousand eight hundred pounds; he had been
hurried into the whole thing by Michael's obvious dishonesty. Yes, it
would probably be better to draw back from this high-flying venture,
settle back on the leather business--
'Great God!' cried Morris, bounding in the hansom like a Jack-in-a-box.
'I have not only not gained the tontine--I have lost the leather
Such was the monstrous fact. He had no power to sign; he could not draw
a cheque for thirty shillings. Until he could produce legal evidence
of his uncle's death, he was a penniless outcast--and as soon as he
produced it he had lost the tontine! There was no hesitation on the part
of Morris; to drop the tontine like a hot chestnut, to concentrate
all his forces on the leather business and the rest of his small but
legitimate inheritance, was the decision of a single instant. And the
next, the full extent of his calamity was suddenly disclosed to him.
Declare his uncle's death? He couldn't! Since the body was lost Joseph
had (in a legal sense) become immortal.
There was no created vehicle big enough to contain Morris and his woes.
He paid the hansom off and walked on he knew not whither.
'I seem to have gone into this business with too much precipitation,'
he reflected, with a deadly sigh. 'I fear it seems too ramified for a
person of my powers of mind.'
And then a remark of his uncle's flashed into his memory: If you want to
think clearly, put it all down on paper. 'Well, the old boy knew a thing
or two,' said Morris. 'I will try; but I don't believe the paper was
ever made that will clear my mind.'
He entered a place of public entertainment, ordered bread and cheese,
and writing materials, and sat down before them heavily. He tried the
pen. It was an excellent pen, but what was he to write? 'I have it,'
cried Morris. 'Robinson Crusoe and the double columns!' He prepared his
paper after that classic model, and began as follows:
Bad. ---- Good.
1. I have lost my uncle's body.
1. But then Pitman has found it.
'Stop a bit,' said Morris. 'I am letting the spirit of antithesis run
away with me. Let's start again.'
Bad. ---- Good.
1. I have lost my uncle's body.
1. But then I no longer require to bury it.
2. I have lost the tontine.
2.But I may still save that if Pitman disposes of the body, and
if I can find a physician who will stick at nothing.
3. I have lost the leather business and the rest of my uncle's
3. But not if Pitman gives the body up to the police.
'O, but in that case I go to gaol; I had forgot that,' thought Morris.
'Indeed, I don't know that I had better dwell on that hypothesis at all;
it's all very well to talk of facing the worst; but in a case of this
kind a man's first duty is to his own nerve. Is there any answer to No.
3? Is there any possible good side to such a beastly bungle? There must
be, of course, or where would be the use of this double-entry business?
And--by George, I have it!' he exclaimed; 'it's exactly the same as the
last!' And he hastily re-wrote the passage:
Bad. ---- Good.
3. I have lost the leather business and the rest of my uncle's
3. But not if I can find a physician who will stick at nothing.
'This venal doctor seems quite a desideratum,' he reflected. 'I want him
first to give me a certificate that my uncle is dead, so that I may get
the leather business; and then that he's alive--but here we are again at
the incompatible interests!' And he returned to his tabulation:
Bad. ---- Good.
4. I have almost no money.
4. But there is plenty in the bank.
5. Yes, but I can't get the money in the bank.
5. But--well, that seems unhappily to be the case.
6. I have left the bill for eight hundred pounds in Uncle
6. But if Pitman is only a dishonest man, the presence of this
bill may lead him to keep the whole thing dark and throw the body
into the New Cut.
7. Yes, but if Pitman is dishonest and finds the bill, he will
know who Joseph is, and he may blackmail me.
7. Yes, but if I am right about Uncle Masterman, I can blackmail
8. But I can't blackmail Michael (which is, besides, a very
dangerous thing to do) until I find out.
8. Worse luck!
9. The leather business will soon want money for current
expenses, and I have none to give.
9. But the leather business is a sinking ship.
10. Yes, but it's all the ship I have.
10. A fact.
11. John will soon want money, and I have none to give.
12. And the venal doctor will want money down.
13. And if Pitman is dishonest and don't send me to gaol, he will
want a fortune.
'O, this seems to be a very one-sided business,' exclaimed Morris.
'There's not so much in this method as I was led to think.' He crumpled
the paper up and threw it down; and then, the next moment, picked it
up again and ran it over. 'It seems it's on the financial point that
my position is weakest,' he reflected. 'Is there positively no way of
raising the wind? In a vast city like this, and surrounded by all the
resources of civilization, it seems not to be conceived! Let us have
no more precipitation. Is there nothing I can sell? My collection of
signet--' But at the thought of scattering these loved treasures the
blood leaped into Morris's check. 'I would rather die!' he exclaimed,
and, cramming his hat upon his head, strode forth into the streets.
'I MUST raise funds,' he thought. 'My uncle being dead, the money in
the bank is mine, or would be mine but for the cursed injustice that has
pursued me ever since I was an orphan in a commercial academy. I know
what any other man would do; any other man in Christendom would forge;
although I don't know why I call it forging, either, when Joseph's dead,
and the funds are my own. When I think of that, when I think that my
uncle is really as dead as mutton, and that I can't prove it, my gorge
rises at the injustice of the whole affair. I used to feel bitterly
about that seven thousand eight hundred pounds; it seems a trifle now!
Dear me, why, the day before yesterday I was comparatively happy.'
And Morris stood on the sidewalk and heaved another sobbing sigh.
'Then there's another thing,' he resumed; 'can I? Am I able? Why didn't
I practise different handwritings while I was young? How a fellow
regrets those lost opportunities when he grows up! But there's
one comfort: it's not morally wrong; I can try it on with a
clear conscience, and even if I was found out, I wouldn't greatly
care--morally, I mean. And then, if I succeed, and if Pitman is staunch,
there's nothing to do but find a venal doctor; and that ought to be
simple enough in a place like London. By all accounts the town's
alive with them. It wouldn't do, of course, to advertise for a corrupt
physician; that would be impolitic. No, I suppose a fellow has simply to
spot along the streets for a red lamp and herbs in the window, and
then you go in and--and--and put it to him plainly; though it seems a
He was near home now, after many devious wanderings, and turned up
John Street. As he thrust his latchkey in the lock, another mortifying
reflection struck him to the heart.
'Not even this house is mine till I can prove him dead,' he snarled, and
slammed the door behind him so that the windows in the attic rattled.
Night had long fallen; long ago the lamps and the shop-fronts had begun
to glitter down the endless streets; the lobby was pitch--dark; and, as
the devil would have it, Morris barked his shins and sprawled all his
length over the pedestal of Hercules. The pain was sharp; his temper was
already thoroughly undermined; by a last misfortune his hand closed on
the hammer as he fell; and, in a spasm of childish irritation, he turned
and struck at the offending statue. There was a splintering crash.
'O Lord, what have I done next?' wailed Morris; and he groped his way
to find a candle. 'Yes,' he reflected, as he stood with the light in
his hand and looked upon the mutilated leg, from which about a pound of
muscle was detached. 'Yes, I have destroyed a genuine antique; I may be
in for thousands!' And then there sprung up in his bosom a sort of angry
hope. 'Let me see,' he thought. 'Julia's got rid of--, there's nothing
to connect me with that beast Forsyth; the men were all drunk, and
(what's better) they've been all discharged. O, come, I think this is
another case of moral courage! I'll deny all knowledge of the thing.'
A moment more, and he stood again before the Hercules, his lips sternly
compressed, the coal-axe and the meat-cleaver under his arm. The next,
he had fallen upon the packing-case. This had been already seriously
undermined by the operations of Gideon; a few well-directed blows, and
it already quaked and gaped; yet a few more, and it fell about Morris in
a shower of boards followed by an avalanche of straw.
And now the leather-merchant could behold the nature of his task: and at
the first sight his spirit quailed. It was, indeed, no more ambitious a
task for De Lesseps, with all his men and horses, to attack the hills
of Panama, than for a single, slim young gentleman, with no previous
experience of labour in a quarry, to measure himself against that
bloated monster on his pedestal. And yet the pair were well encountered:
on the one side, bulk--on the other, genuine heroic fire.
'Down you shall come, you great big, ugly brute!' cried Morris aloud,
with something of that passion which swept the Parisian mob against the
walls of the Bastille. 'Down you shall come, this night. I'll have none
of you in my lobby.'
The face, from its indecent expression, had particularly animated the
zeal of our iconoclast; and it was against the face that he began his
operations. The great height of the demigod--for he stood a fathom
and half in his stocking-feet--offered a preliminary obstacle to this
attack. But here, in the first skirmish of the battle, intellect already
began to triumph over matter. By means of a pair of library steps,
the injured householder gained a posture of advantage; and, with great
swipes of the coal-axe, proceeded to decapitate the brute.
Two hours later, what had been the erect image of a gigantic coal-porter
turned miraculously white, was now no more than a medley of disjected
members; the quadragenarian torso prone against the pedestal; the
lascivious countenance leering down the kitchen stair; the legs, the
arms, the hands, and even the fingers, scattered broadcast on the lobby
floor. Half an hour more, and all the debris had been laboriously carted
to the kitchen; and Morris, with a gentle sentiment of triumph, looked
round upon the scene of his achievements. Yes, he could deny all
knowledge of it now: the lobby, beyond the fact that it was partly
ruinous, betrayed no trace of the passage of Hercules. But it was a
weary Morris that crept up to bed; his arms and shoulders ached, the
palms of his hands burned from the rough kisses of the coal-axe, and
there was one smarting finger that stole continually to his mouth. Sleep
long delayed to visit the dilapidated hero, and with the first peep of
day it had again deserted him.
The morning, as though to accord with his disastrous fortunes, dawned
inclemently. An easterly gale was shouting in the streets; flaws of rain
angrily assailed the windows; and as Morris dressed, the draught from
the fireplace vividly played about his legs.
'I think,' he could not help observing bitterly, 'that with all I have
to bear, they might have given me decent weather.'
There was no bread in the house, for Miss Hazeltine (like all women left
to themselves) had subsisted entirely upon cake. But some of this was
found, and (along with what the poets call a glass of fair, cold water)
made up a semblance of a morning meal, and then down he sat
to his delicate task.
Nothing can be more interesting than the study of signatures,
written (as they are) before meals and after, during indigestion and
intoxication; written when the signer is trembling for the life of his
child or has come from winning the Derby, in his lawyer's office, or
under the bright eyes of his sweetheart. To the vulgar, these seem never
the same; but to the expert, the bank clerk, or the lithographer, they
are constant quantities, and as recognizable as the North Star to the
night-watch on deck.
To all this Morris was alive. In the theory of that graceful art in
which he was now embarking, our spirited leather-merchant was beyond
all reproach. But, happily for the investor, forgery is an affair
of practice. And as Morris sat surrounded by examples of his uncle's
signature and of his own incompetence, insidious depression stole upon
his spirits. From time to time the wind wuthered in the chimney at his
back; from time to time there swept over Bloomsbury a squall so dark
that he must rise and light the gas; about him was the chill and the
mean disorder of a house out of commission--the floor bare, the sofa
heaped with books and accounts enveloped in a dirty table-cloth, the
pens rusted, the paper glazed with a thick film of dust; and yet these
were but adminicles of misery, and the true root of his depression lay
round him on the table in the shape of misbegotten forgeries.
'It's one of the strangest things I ever heard of,' he complained. 'It
almost seems as if it was a talent that I didn't possess.' He went once
more minutely through his proofs. 'A clerk would simply gibe at them,'
said he. 'Well, there's nothing else but tracing possible.'
He waited till a squall had passed and there came a blink of scowling
daylight. Then he went to the window, and in the face of all John Street
traced his uncle's signature. It was a poor thing at the best. 'But it
must do,' said he, as he stood gazing woefully on his handiwork. 'He's
dead, anyway.' And he filled up the cheque for a couple of hundred and
sallied forth for the Anglo-Patagonian Bank.
There, at the desk at which he was accustomed to transact business,
and with as much indifference as he could assume, Morris presented the
forged cheque to the big, red-bearded Scots teller. The teller seemed to
view it with surprise; and as he turned it this way and that, and even
scrutinized the signature with a magnifying-glass, his surprise appeared
to warm into disfavour. Begging to be excused for a moment, he
passed away into the rearmost quarters of the bank; whence, after an
appreciable interval, he returned again in earnest talk with a superior,
an oldish and a baldish, but a very gentlemanly man.
'Mr Morris Finsbury, I believe,' said the gentlemanly man, fixing Morris
with a pair of double eye-glasses.
'That is my name,' said Morris, quavering. 'Is there anything wrong.
'Well, the fact is, Mr Finsbury, you see we are rather surprised at
receiving this,' said the other, flicking at the cheque. 'There are no
'No effects?' cried Morris. 'Why, I know myself there must be
eight-and-twenty hundred pounds, if there's a penny.'
'Two seven six four, I think,' replied the gentlemanly man; 'but it was
'Drawn!' cried Morris.
'By your uncle himself, sir,' continued the other. 'Not only that, but
we discounted a bill for him for--let me see--how much was it for, Mr
'Eight hundred, Mr Judkin,' replied the teller.
'Bent Pitman!' cried Morris, staggering back.
'I beg your pardon,' said Mr Judkin.
'It's--it's only an expletive,' said Morris.
'I hope there's nothing wrong, Mr Finsbury,' said Mr Bell.
'All I can tell you,' said Morris, with a harsh laugh,' is that the
whole thing's impossible. My uncle is at Bournemouth, unable to move.'
'Really!' cried Mr Bell, and he recovered the cheque from Mr Judkin.
'But this cheque is dated in London, and today,' he observed. 'How d'ye
account for that, sir?'
'O, that was a mistake,' said Morris, and a deep tide of colour dyed his
face and neck.
'No doubt, no doubt,' said Mr Judkin, but he looked at his customer
'And--and--' resumed Morris, 'even if there were no effects--this is a
very trifling sum to overdraw--our firm--the name of Finsbury, is surely
good enough for such a wretched sum as this.'
'No doubt, Mr Finsbury,' returned Mr Judkin; 'and if you insist I will
take it into consideration; but I hardly think--in short, Mr Finsbury,
if there had been nothing else, the signature seems hardly all that we
'That's of no consequence,' replied Morris nervously. 'I'll get my uncle
to sign another. The fact is,' he went on, with a bold stroke, 'my uncle
is so far from well at present that he was unable to sign this cheque
without assistance, and I fear that my holding the pen for him may have
made the difference in the signature.'
Mr Judkin shot a keen glance into Morris's face; and then turned and
looked at Mr Bell.
'Well,' he said, 'it seems as if we had been victimized by a swindler.
Pray tell Mr Finsbury we shall put detectives on at once. As for this
cheque of yours, I regret that, owing to the way it was signed, the
bank can hardly consider it--what shall I say?--businesslike,' and he
returned the cheque across the counter.
Morris took it up mechanically; he was thinking of something very
'In a--case of this kind,' he began, 'I believe the loss falls on us; I
mean upon my uncle and myself.'
'It does not, sir,' replied Mr Bell; 'the bank is responsible, and
the bank will either recover the money or refund it, you may depend on
Morris's face fell; then it was visited by another gleam of hope.
'I'll tell you what,' he said, 'you leave this entirely in my hands.
I'll sift the matter. I've an idea, at any rate; and detectives,' he
added appealingly, 'are so expensive.'
'The bank would not hear of it,' returned Mr Judkin. 'The bank stands to
lose between three and four thousand pounds; it will spend as much more
if necessary. An undiscovered forger is a permanent danger. We shall
clear it up to the bottom, Mr Finsbury; set your mind at rest on that.'
'Then I'll stand the loss,' said Morris boldly. 'I order you to abandon
the search.' He was determined that no enquiry should be made.
'I beg your pardon,' returned Mr Judkin, 'but we have nothing to do with
you in this matter, which is one between your uncle and ourselves. If
he should take this opinion, and will either come here himself or let me
see him in his sick-room--'
'Quite impossible,' cried Morris.
'Well, then, you see,' said Mr Judkin, 'how my hands are tied. The whole
affair must go at once into the hands of the police.'
Morris mechanically folded the cheque and restored it to his
'Good--morning,' said he, and scrambled somehow out of the bank.
'I don't know what they suspect,' he reflected; 'I can't make them
out, their whole behaviour is thoroughly unbusinesslike. But it doesn't
matter; all's up with everything. The money has been paid; the police
are on the scent; in two hours that idiot Pitman will be nabbed--and the
whole story of the dead body in the evening papers.'
If he could have heard what passed in the bank after his departure he
would have been less alarmed, perhaps more mortified.
'That was a curious affair, Mr Bell,' said Mr Judkin.
'Yes, sir,' said Mr Bell, 'but I think we have given him a fright.'
'O, we shall hear no more of Mr Morris Finsbury,' returned the other;
'it was a first attempt, and the house have dealt with us so long that
I was anxious to deal gently. But I suppose, Mr Bell, there can be no
mistake about yesterday? It was old Mr Finsbury himself?'
'There could be no possible doubt of that,' said Mr Bell with a chuckle.
'He explained to me the principles of banking.'
'Well, well,' said Mr Judkin. 'The next time he calls ask him to step
into my room. It is only proper he should be warned.'
CHAPTER VII. In Which William Dent Pitman takes Legal Advice
Norfolk Street, King's Road--jocularly known among Mr Pitman's lodgers
as 'Norfolk Island'--is neither a long, a handsome, nor a pleasing
thoroughfare. Dirty, undersized maids-of-all-work issue from it in
pursuit of beer, or linger on its sidewalk listening to the voice of
love. The cat's-meat man passes twice a day. An occasional organ-grinder
wanders in and wanders out again, disgusted. In holiday-time the
street is the arena of the young bloods of the neighbourhood, and
the householders have an opportunity of studying the manly art of
self-defence. And yet Norfolk Street has one claim to be respectable,
for it contains not a single shop--unless you count the public-house at
the corner, which is really in the King's Road.
The door of No. 7 bore a brass plate inscribed with the legend 'W. D.
Pitman, Artist'. It was not a particularly clean brass plate, nor was
No. 7 itself a particularly inviting place of residence. And yet it
had a character of its own, such as may well quicken the pulse of
the reader's curiosity. For here was the home of an artist--and a
distinguished artist too, highly distinguished by his ill-success--which
had never been made the subject of an article in the illustrated
magazines. No wood-engraver had ever reproduced 'a corner in the back
drawing-room' or 'the studio mantelpiece' of No. 7; no young lady author
had ever commented on 'the unaffected simplicity' with which Mr Pitman
received her in the midst of his 'treasures'. It is an omission I would
gladly supply, but our business is only with the backward parts and
'abject rear' of this aesthetic dwelling.
Here was a garden, boasting a dwarf fountain (that never played) in the
centre, a few grimy-looking flowers in pots, two or three newly
planted trees which the spring of Chelsea visited without noticeable
consequence, and two or three statues after the antique, representing
satyrs and nymphs in the worst possible style of sculptured art. On one
side the garden was overshadowed by a pair of crazy studios, usually
hired out to the more obscure and youthful practitioners of British
art. Opposite these another lofty out-building, somewhat more carefully
finished, and boasting of a communication with the house and a private
door on the back lane, enshrined the multifarious industry of Mr Pitman.
All day, it is true, he was engaged in the work of education at a
seminary for young ladies; but the evenings at least were his own, and
these he would prolong far into the night, now dashing off 'A landscape
with waterfall' in oil, now a volunteer bust ('in marble', as he would
gently but proudly observe) of some public character, now stooping
his chisel to a mere 'nymph' for a gasbracket on a stair, sir', or a
life-size 'Infant Samuel' for a religious nursery. Mr Pitman had studied
in Paris, and he had studied in Rome, supplied with funds by a fond
parent who went subsequently bankrupt in consequence of a fall in
corsets; and though he was never thought to have the smallest modicum
of talent, it was at one time supposed that he had learned his business.
Eighteen years of what is called 'tuition' had relieved him of the
dangerous knowledge. His artist lodgers would sometimes reason with him;
they would point out to him how impossible it was to paint by gaslight,
or to sculpture life-sized nymphs without a model.
'I know that,' he would reply. 'No one in Norfolk Street knows it
better; and if I were rich I should certainly employ the best models
in London; but, being poor, I have taught myself to do without them. An
occasional model would only disturb my ideal conception of the figure,
and be a positive impediment in my career. As for painting by an
artificial light,' he would continue, 'that is simply a knack I have
found it necessary to acquire, my days being engrossed in the work of
At the moment when we must present him to our readers, Pitman was in his
studio alone, by the dying light of the October day. He sat (sure enough
with 'unaffected simplicity') in a Windsor chair, his low-crowned black
felt hat by his side; a dark, weak, harmless, pathetic little man, clad
in the hue of mourning, his coat longer than is usual with the laity,
his neck enclosed in a collar without a parting, his neckcloth pale in
hue and simply tied; the whole outward man, except for a pointed beard,
tentatively clerical. There was a thinning on the top of Pitman's head,
there were silver hairs at Pitman's temple. Poor gentleman, he was no
longer young; and years, and poverty, and humble ambition thwarted, make
a cheerless lot.
In front of him, in the corner by the door, there stood a portly barrel;
and let him turn them where he might, it was always to the barrel that
his eyes and his thoughts returned.
'Should I open it? Should I return it? Should I communicate with Mr
Sernitopolis at once?' he wondered. 'No,' he concluded finally, 'nothing
without Mr Finsbury's advice.' And he arose and produced a shabby
leathern desk. It opened without the formality of unlocking, and
displayed the thick cream-coloured notepaper on which Mr Pitman was
in the habit of communicating with the proprietors of schools and the
parents of his pupils. He placed the desk on the table by the window,
and taking a saucer of Indian ink from the chimney-piece, laboriously
composed the following letter:
'My dear Mr Finsbury,' it ran, 'would it be presuming on your kindness
if I asked you to pay me a visit here this evening? It is in no trifling
matter that I invoke your valuable assistance, for need I say more than
it concerns the welfare of Mr Semitopolis's statue of Hercules? I write
you in great agitation of mind; for I have made all enquiries, and
greatly fear that this work of ancient art has been mislaid. I labour
besides under another perplexity, not unconnected with the first. Pray
excuse the inelegance of this scrawl, and believe me yours in haste,
William D. Pitman.'
Armed with this he set forth and rang the bell of No. 233 King's Road,
the private residence of Michael Finsbury. He had met the lawyer at a
time of great public excitement in Chelsea; Michael, who had a sense of
humour and a great deal of careless kindness in his nature, followed
the acquaintance up, and, having come to laugh, remained to drop into
a contemptuous kind of friendship. By this time, which was four years
after the first meeting, Pitman was the lawyer's dog.
'No,' said the elderly housekeeper, who opened the door in person, 'Mr
Michael's not in yet. But ye're looking terribly poorly, Mr Pitman. Take
a glass of sherry, sir, to cheer ye up.'
'No, I thank you, ma'am,' replied the artist. 'It is very good in you,
but I scarcely feel in sufficient spirits for sherry. Just give Mr
Finsbury this note, and ask him to look round--to the door in the lane,
you will please tell him; I shall be in the studio all evening.'
And he turned again into the street and walked slowly homeward. A
hairdresser's window caught his attention, and he stared long and
earnestly at the proud, high--born, waxen lady in evening dress, who
circulated in the centre of the show. The artist woke in him, in spite
of his troubles.
'It is all very well to run down the men who make these things,'
he cried, 'but there's a something--there's a haughty, indefinable
something about that figure. It's what I tried for in my "Empress
Eugenie",' he added, with a sigh.
And he went home reflecting on the quality. 'They don't teach you that
direct appeal in Paris,' he thought. 'It's British. Come, I am going to
sleep, I must wake up, I must aim higher--aim higher,' cried the little
artist to himself. All through his tea and afterward, as he was giving
his eldest boy a lesson on the fiddle, his mind dwelt no longer on his
troubles, but he was rapt into the better land; and no sooner was he at
liberty than he hastened with positive exhilaration to his studio.
Not even the sight of the barrel could entirely cast him down. He flung
himself with rising zest into his work--a bust of Mr Gladstone from a
photograph; turned (with extraordinary success) the difficulty of
the back of the head, for which he had no documents beyond a hazy
recollection of a public meeting; delighted himself by his treatment
of the collar; and was only recalled to the cares of life by Michael
Finsbury's rattle at the door.
'Well, what's wrong?' said Michael, advancing to the grate, where,
knowing his friend's delight in a bright fire, Mr Pitman had not spared
the fuel. 'I suppose you have come to grief somehow.'
'There is no expression strong enough,' said the artist. 'Mr
Semitopolis's statue has not turned up, and I am afraid I shall be
answerable for the money; but I think nothing of that--what I fear, my
dear Mr Finsbury, what I fear--alas that I should have to say it!
is exposure. The Hercules was to be smuggled out of Italy; a thing
positively wrong, a thing of which a man of my principles and in my
responsible position should have taken (as I now see too late) no part
'This sounds like very serious work,' said the lawyer. 'It will require
a great deal of drink, Pitman.'
'I took the liberty of--in short, of being prepared for you,' replied
the artist, pointing to a kettle, a bottle of gin, a lemon, and glasses.
Michael mixed himself a grog, and offered the artist a cigar.
'No, thank you,' said Pitman. 'I used occasionally to be rather partial
to it, but the smell is so disagreeable about the clothes.'
'All right,' said the lawyer. 'I am comfortable now. Unfold your tale.'
At some length Pitman set forth his sorrows. He had gone today to
Waterloo, expecting to receive the colossal Hercules, and he had
received instead a barrel not big enough to hold Discobolus; yet
the barrel was addressed in the hand (with which he was perfectly
acquainted) of his Roman correspondent. What was stranger still, a case
had arrived by the same train, large enough and heavy enough to
contain the Hercules; and this case had been taken to an address now
undiscoverable. 'The vanman (I regret to say it) had been drinking, and
his language was such as I could never bring myself to repeat.
He was at once discharged by the superintendent of the line, who behaved
most properly throughout, and is to make enquiries at Southampton.
In the meanwhile, what was I to do? I left my address and brought the
barrel home; but, remembering an old adage, I determined not to open it
except in the presence of my lawyer.'
'Is that all?' asked Michael. 'I don't see any cause to worry. The
Hercules has stuck upon the road. It will drop in tomorrow or the day
after; and as for the barrel, depend upon it, it's a testimonial from
one of your young ladies, and probably contains oysters.'
'O, don't speak so loud!' cried the little artist. 'It would cost me my
place if I were heard to speak lightly of the young ladies; and besides,
why oysters from Italy? and why should they come to me addressed in
Signor Ricardi's hand?'
'Well, let's have a look at it,' said Michael. 'Let's roll it forward to
The two men rolled the barrel from the corner, and stood it on end
before the fire.
'It's heavy enough to be oysters,' remarked Michael judiciously.
'Shall we open it at once?' enquired the artist, who had grown decidedly
cheerful under the combined effects of company and gin; and without
waiting for a reply, he began to strip as if for a prize-fight, tossed
his clerical collar in the wastepaper basket, hung his clerical coat
upon a nail, and with a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other,
struck the first blow of the evening.
'That's the style, William Dent' cried Michael. 'There's fire for--your
money! It may be a romantic visit from one of the young ladies--a sort
of Cleopatra business. Have a care and don't stave in Cleopatra's head.'
But the sight of Pitman's alacrity was infectious. The lawyer could
sit still no longer. Tossing his cigar into the fire, he snatched the
instrument from the unwilling hands of the artist, and fell to himself.
Soon the sweat stood in beads upon his large, fair brow; his stylish
trousers were defaced with iron rust, and the state of his chisel
testified to misdirected energies.
A cask is not an easy thing to open, even when you set about it in the
right way; when you set about it wrongly, the whole structure must be
resolved into its elements. Such was the course pursued alike by the
artist and the lawyer. Presently the last hoop had been removed--a
couple of smart blows tumbled the staves upon the ground--and what
had once been a barrel was no more than a confused heap of broken and
In the midst of these, a certain dismal something, swathed in blankets,
remained for an instant upright, and then toppled to one side and
heavily collapsed before the fire. Even as the thing subsided, an
eye-glass tingled to the floor and rolled toward the screaming Pitman.
'Hold your tongue!' said Michael. He dashed to the house door and locked
it; then, with a pale face and bitten lip, he drew near, pulled aside
a corner of the swathing blanket, and recoiled, shuddering. There was a
long silence in the studio.
'Now tell me,' said Michael, in a low voice: 'Had you any hand in it?'
and he pointed to the body.
The little artist could only utter broken and disjointed sounds.
Michael poured some gin into a glass. 'Drink that,' he said. 'Don't be
afraid of me. I'm your friend through thick and thin.'
Pitman put the liquor down untasted.
'I swear before God,' he said, 'this is another mystery to me. In my
worst fears I never dreamed of such a thing. I would not lay a finger on
a sucking infant.'
'That's all square,' said Michael, with a sigh of huge relief. 'I
believe you, old boy.' And he shook the artist warmly by the hand. 'I
thought for a moment,' he added with rather a ghastly smile, 'I thought
for a moment you might have made away with Mr Semitopolis.'
'It would make no difference if I had,' groaned Pitman. 'All is at an
end for me. There's the writing on the wall.'
'To begin with,' said Michael, 'let's get him out of sight; for to be
quite plain with you, Pitman, I don't like your friend's appearance.'
And with that the lawyer shuddered. 'Where can we put it?'
'You might put it in the closet there--if you could bear to touch it,'
answered the artist.
'Somebody has to do it, Pitman,' returned the lawyer; 'and it seems as
if it had to be me. You go over to the table, turn your back, and mix me
a grog; that's a fair division of labour.'
About ninety seconds later the closet-door was heard to shut.
'There,' observed Michael, 'that's more homelike. You can turn now, my
pallid Pitman. Is this the grog?' he ran on. 'Heaven forgive you, it's a
'But, O, Finsbury, what are we to do with it?' walled the artist, laying
a clutching hand upon the lawyer's arm.
'Do with it?' repeated Michael. 'Bury it in one of your flowerbeds, and
erect one of your own statues for a monument. I tell you we should look
devilish romantic shovelling out the sod by the moon's pale ray. Here,
put some gin in this.'
'I beg of you, Mr Finsbury, do not trifle with my misery,' cried Pitman.
'You see before you a man who has been all his life--I do not hesitate
to say it--imminently respectable. Even in this solemn hour I can lay my
hand upon my heart without a blush. Except on the really trifling point
of the smuggling of the Hercules (and even of that I now humbly repent),
my life has been entirely fit for publication. I never feared the
light,' cried the little man; 'and now--now--!'
'Cheer up, old boy,' said Michael. 'I assure you we should count this
little contretemps a trifle at the office; it's the sort of thing that
may occur to any one; and if you're perfectly sure you had no hand in
'What language am I to find--' began Pitman.
'O, I'll do that part of it,' interrupted Michael, 'you have no
experience.' But the point is this: If--or rather since--you know
nothing of the crime, since the--the party in the closet--is
neither your father, nor your brother, nor your creditor, nor your
mother-in-law, nor what they call an injured husband--'
'O, my dear sir!' interjected Pitman, horrified.
'Since, in short,' continued the lawyer, 'you had no possible interest
in the crime, we have a perfectly free field before us and a safe game
to play. Indeed, the problem is really entertaining; it is one I have
long contemplated in the light of an A. B. case; here it is at last
under my hand in specie; and I mean to pull you through. Do you hear
that?--I mean to pull you through. Let me see: it's a long time since I
have had what I call a genuine holiday; I'll send an excuse tomorrow to
the office. We had best be lively,' he added significantly; 'for we must
not spoil the market for the other man.'
'What do you mean?' enquired Pitman. 'What other man? The inspector of
'Damn the inspector of police!' remarked his companion. 'If you won't
take the short cut and bury this in your back garden, we must find some
one who will bury it in his. We must place the affair, in short, in the
hands of some one with fewer scruples and more resources.'
'A private detective, perhaps?' suggested Pitman.
'There are times when you fill me with pity,' observed the lawyer. 'By
the way, Pitman,' he added in another key, 'I have always regretted that
you have no piano in this den of yours. Even if you don't play yourself,
your friends might like to entertain themselves with a little music
while you were mudding.'
'I shall get one at once if you like,' said Pitman nervously, anxious to
please. 'I play the fiddle a little as it is.'
'I know you do,' said Michael; 'but what's the fiddle--above all as you
play it? What you want is polyphonic music. And I'll tell you what it
is--since it's too late for you to buy a piano I'll give you mine.'
'Thank you,' said the artist blankly. 'You will give me yours? I am sure
it's very good in you.'
'Yes, I'll give you mine,' continued Michael, 'for the inspector of
police to play on while his men are digging up your back garden.' Pitman
stared at him in pained amazement.
'No, I'm not insane,' Michael went on. 'I'm playful, but quite coherent.
See here, Pitman: follow me one half minute. I mean to profit by the
refreshing fact that we are really and truly innocent; nothing but the
presence of the--you know what--connects us with the crime; once let us
get rid of it, no matter how, and there is no possible clue to trace
us by. Well, I give you my piano; we'll bring it round this very night.
Tomorrow we rip the fittings out, deposit the--our friend--inside, plump
the whole on a cart, and carry it to the chambers of a young gentleman
whom I know by sight.'
'Whom do you know by sight?' repeated Pitman.
'And what is more to the purpose,' continued Michael, 'whose chambers I
know better than he does himself. A friend of mine--I call him my friend
for brevity; he is now, I understand, in Demerara and (most likely)
in gaol--was the previous occupant. I defended him, and I got him off
too--all saved but honour; his assets were nil, but he gave me what he
had, poor gentleman, and along with the rest--the key of his chambers.
It's there that I propose to leave the piano and, shall we say,
'It seems very wild,' said Pitman. 'And what will become of the poor
young gentleman whom you know by sight?'
'It will do him good,'--said Michael cheerily. 'Just what he wants to
'But, my dear sit, he might be involved in a charge of--a charge of
murder,' gulped the artist.
'Well, he'll be just where we are,' returned the lawyer. 'He's
innocent, you see. What hangs people, my dear Pitman, is the unfortunate
circumstance of guilt.'
'But indeed, indeed,' pleaded Pitman, 'the whole scheme appears to me so
wild. Would it not be safer, after all, just to send for the police?'
'And make a scandal?' enquired Michael. '"The Chelsea Mystery; alleged
innocence of Pitman"? How would that do at the Seminary?'
'It would imply my discharge,' admitted the drawing--master. 'I cannot
'And besides,' said Michael, 'I am not going to embark in such a
business and have no fun for my money.'
'O my dear sir, is that a proper spirit?' cried Pitman.
'O, I only said that to cheer you up,' said the unabashed Michael.
'Nothing like a little judicious levity. But it's quite needless to
discuss. If you mean to follow my advice, come on, and let us get the
piano at once. If you don't, just drop me the word, and I'll leave you
to deal with the whole thing according to your better judgement.'
'You know perfectly well that I depend on you entirely,' returned
Pitman. 'But O, what a night is before me with that--horror in my
studio! How am I to think of it on my pillow?'
'Well, you know, my piano will be there too,' said Michael. 'That'll
raise the average.'
An hour later a cart came up the lane, and the lawyer's piano--a
momentous Broadwood grand--was deposited in Mr Pitman's studio.
CHAPTER VIII. In Which Michael Finsbury Enjoys a Holiday
Punctually at eight o'clock next morning the lawyer rattled (according
to previous appointment) on the studio door. He found the artist sadly
altered for the worse--bleached, bloodshot, and chalky--a man upon
wires, the tail of his haggard eye still wandering to the closet. Nor
was the professor of drawing less inclined to wonder at his friend.
Michael was usually attired in the height of fashion, with a certain
mercantile brilliancy best described perhaps as stylish; nor could
anything be said against him, as a rule, but that he looked a trifle
too like a wedding guest to be quite a gentleman. Today he had fallen
altogether from these heights. He wore a flannel shirt of washed-out
shepherd's tartan, and a suit of reddish tweeds, of the colour known to
tailors as 'heather mixture'; his neckcloth was black, and tied loosely
in a sailor's knot; a rusty ulster partly concealed these advantages;
and his feet were shod with rough walking boots. His hat was an old soft
felt, which he removed with a flourish as he entered.
'Here I am, William Dent!' he cried, and drawing from his pocket
two little wisps of reddish hair, he held them to his cheeks like
sidewhiskers and danced about the studio with the filmy graces of a
Pitman laughed sadly. 'I should never have known you,' said he.
'Nor were you intended to,' returned Michael, replacing his false
whiskers in his pocket. 'Now we must overhaul you and your wardrobe, and
disguise you up to the nines.'
'Disguise!' cried the artist. 'Must I indeed disguise myself. Has it
come to that?'
'My dear creature,' returned his companion, 'disguise is the spice of
life. What is life, passionately exclaimed a French philosopher, without
the pleasures of disguise? I don't say it's always good taste, and
I know it's unprofessional; but what's the odds, downhearted
drawing-master? It has to be. We have to leave a false impression on
the minds of many persons, and in particular on the mind of Mr Gideon
Forsyth--the young gentleman I know by sight--if he should have the bad
taste to be at home.'
'If he be at home?' faltered the artist. 'That would be the end of all.'
'Won't matter a d--,' returned Michael airily. 'Let me see your clothes,
and I'll make a new man of you in a jiffy.'
In the bedroom, to which he was at once conducted, Michael examined
Pitman's poor and scanty wardrobe with a humorous eye, picked out a
short jacket of black alpaca, and presently added to that a pair of
summer trousers which somehow took his fancy as incongruous. Then, with
the garments in his hand, he scrutinized the artist closely.
'I don't like that clerical collar,' he remarked. 'Have you nothing
The professor of drawing pondered for a moment, and then brightened;
'I have a pair of low-necked shirts,' he said, 'that I used to wear in
Paris as a student. They are rather loud.'
'The very thing!' ejaculated Michael. 'You'll look perfectly beastly.
Here are spats, too,' he continued, drawing forth a pair of those
offensive little gaiters. 'Must have spats! And now you jump into these,
and whistle a tune at the window for (say) three-quarters of an hour.
After that you can rejoin me on the field of glory.'
So saying, Michael returned to the studio. It was the morning of the
easterly gale; the wind blew shrilly among the statues in the garden,
and drove the rain upon the skylight in the studio ceiling; and at about
the same moment of the time when Morris attacked the hundredth version
of his uncle's signature in Bloomsbury, Michael, in Chelsea, began to
rip the wires out of the Broadwood grand.
Three-quarters of an hour later Pitman was admitted, to find the
closet-door standing open, the closet untenanted, and the piano
'It's a remarkably heavy instrument,' observed Michael, and turned
to consider his friend's disguise. 'You must shave off that beard of
yours,' he said.
'My beard!' cried Pitman. 'I cannot shave my beard. I cannot tamper with
my appearance--my principals would object. They hold very strong views
as to the appearance of the professors--young ladies are considered so
romantic. My beard was regarded as quite a feature when I went about the
place. It was regarded,' said the artist, with rising colour, 'it was
regarded as unbecoming.'
'You can let it grow again,' returned Michael, 'and then you'll be so
precious ugly that they'll raise your salary.'
'But I don't want to be ugly,' cried the artist.
'Don't be an ass,' said Michael, who hated beards and was delighted to
destroy one. 'Off with it like a man!'
'Of course, if you insist,' said Pitman; and then he sighed, fetched
some hot water from the kitchen, and setting a glass upon his easel,
first clipped his beard with scissors and then shaved his chin. He
could not conceal from himself, as he regarded the result, that his last
claims to manhood had been sacrificed, but Michael seemed delighted.
'A new man, I declare!' he cried. 'When I give you the windowglass
spectacles I have in my pocket, you'll be the beau-ideal of a French
Pitman did not reply, but continued to gaze disconsolately on his image
in the glass.
'Do you know,' asked Michael, 'what the Governor of South Carolina said
to the Governor of North Carolina? "It's a long time between drinks,"
observed that powerful thinker; and if you will put your hand into the
top left-hand pocket of my ulster, I have an impression you will find a
flask of brandy. Thank you, Pitman,' he added, as he filled out a glass
for each. 'Now you will give me news of this.'
The artist reached out his hand for the water-jug, but Michael arrested
'Not if you went upon your knees!' he cried. 'This is the finest liqueur
brandy in Great Britain.'
Pitman put his lips to it, set it down again, and sighed.
'Well, I must say you're the poorest companion for a holiday!' cried
Michael. 'If that's all you know of brandy, you shall have no more of
it; and while I finish the flask, you may as well begin business. Come
to think of it,' he broke off, 'I have made an abominable error: you
should have ordered the cart before you were disguised. Why, Pitman,
what the devil's the use of you? why couldn't you have reminded me of
'I never even knew there was a cart to be ordered,' said the artist.
'But I can take off the disguise again,' he suggested eagerly.
'You would find it rather a bother to put on your beard,' observed the
lawyer. 'No, it's a false step; the sort of thing that hangs people,' he
continued, with eminent cheerfulness, as he sipped his brandy; 'and
it can't be retraced now. Off to the mews with you, make all the
arrangements; they're to take the piano from here, cart it to Victoria,
and dispatch it thence by rail to Cannon Street, to lie till called for
in the name of Fortune du Boisgobey.'
'Isn't that rather an awkward name?' pleaded Pitman.
'Awkward?' cried Michael scornfully. 'It would hang us both! Brown is
both safer and easier to pronounce. Call it Brown.'
'I wish,' said Pitman, 'for my sake, I wish you wouldn't talk so much of
'Talking about it's nothing, my boy!' returned Michael. 'But take your
hat and be off, and mind and pay everything beforehand.'
Left to himself, the lawyer turned his attention for some time
exclusively to the liqueur brandy, and his spirits, which had been
pretty fair all morning, now prodigiously rose. He proceeded to adjust
his whiskers finally before the glass. 'Devilish rich,' he remarked, as
he contemplated his reflection. 'I look like a purser's mate.' And at
that moment the window-glass spectacles (which he had hitherto destined
for Pitman) flashed into his mind; he put them on, and fell in love with
the effect. 'Just what I required,' he said. 'I wonder what I look like
now? A humorous novelist, I should think,' and he began to practise
divers characters of walk, naming them to himself as--he proceeded.
'Walk of a humorous novelist--but that would require an umbrella. Walk
of a purser's mate. Walk of an Australian colonist revisiting the scenes
of childhood. Walk of Sepoy colonel, ditto, ditto. And in the midst
of the Sepoy colonel (which was an excellent assumption, although
inconsistent with the style of his make-up), his eye lighted on the
piano. This instrument was made to lock both at the top and at the
keyboard, but the key of the latter had been mislaid. Michael opened
it and ran his fingers over the dumb keys. 'Fine instrument--full, rich
tone,' he observed, and he drew in a seat.
When Mr Pitman returned to the studio, he was appalled to observe his
guide, philosopher, and friend performing miracles of execution on the
'Heaven help me!' thought the little man, 'I fear he has been drinking!
Mr Finsbury,' he said aloud; and Michael, without rising, turned upon
him a countenance somewhat flushed, encircled with the bush of the red
whiskers, and bestridden by the spectacles. 'Capriccio in B-flat on the
departure of a friend,' said he, continuing his noiseless evolutions.
Indignation awoke in the mind of Pitman. 'Those spectacles were to be
mine,' he cried. 'They are an essential part of my disguise.'
'I am going to wear them myself,' replied Michael; and he added, with
some show of truth, 'There would be a devil of a lot of suspicion
aroused if we both wore spectacles.'
'O, well,' said the assenting Pitman, 'I rather counted on them; but of
course, if you insist. And at any rate, here is the cart at the door.'
While the men were at work, Michael concealed himself in the closet
among the debris of the barrel and the wires of the piano; and as soon
as the coast was clear the pair sallied forth by the lane, jumped into
a hansom in the King's Road, and were driven rapidly toward town. It
was still cold and raw and boisterous; the rain beat strongly in their
faces, but Michael refused to have the glass let down; he had now
suddenly donned the character of cicerone, and pointed out and lucidly
commented on the sights of London, as they drove. 'My dear fellow,' he
said, 'you don't seem to know anything of your native city. Suppose we
visited the Tower? No? Well, perhaps it's a trifle out of our way.
But, anyway--Here, cabby, drive round by Trafalgar Square!' And on that
historic battlefield he insisted on drawing up, while he criticized the
statues and gave the artist many curious details (quite new to history)
of the lives of the celebrated men they represented.
It would be difficult to express what Pitman suffered in the cab: cold,
wet, terror in the capital degree, a grounded distrust of the commander
under whom he served, a sense of imprudency in the matter of the
low-necked shirt, a bitter sense of the decline and fall involved in the
deprivation of his beard, all these were among the ingredients of the
bowl. To reach the restaurant, for which they were deviously steering,
was the first relief. To hear Michael bespeak a private room was a
second and a still greater. Nor, as they mounted the stair under the
guidance of an unintelligible alien, did he fail to note with gratitude
the fewness of the persons present, or the still more cheering fact that
the greater part of these were exiles from the land of France. It was
thus a blessed thought that none of them would be connected with the
Seminary; for even the French professor, though admittedly a Papist, he
could scarce imagine frequenting so rakish an establishment.
The alien introduced them into a small bare room with a single table,
a sofa, and a dwarfish fire; and Michael called promptly for more coals
and a couple of brandies and sodas.
'O, no,' said Pitman, 'surely not--no more to drink.'
'I don't know what you would be at,' said Michael plaintively. 'It's
positively necessary to do something; and one shouldn't smoke before
meals I thought that was understood. You seem to have no idea
of hygiene.' And he compared his watch with the clock upon the
Pitman fell into bitter musing; here he was, ridiculously shorn,
absurdly disguised, in the company of a drunken man in spectacles, and
waiting for a champagne luncheon in a restaurant painfully foreign. What
would his principals think, if they could see him? What if they knew his
tragic and deceitful errand?
From these reflections he was aroused by the entrance of the alien with
the brandies and sodas. Michael took one and bade the waiter pass the
other to his friend.
Pitman waved it from him with his hand. 'Don't let me lose all
self-respect,' he said.
'Anything to oblige a friend,' returned Michael. 'But I'm not going to
drink alone. Here,' he added to the waiter, 'you take it.' And, then,
touching glasses, 'The health of Mr Gideon Forsyth,' said he.
'Meestare Gidden Borsye,' replied the waiter, and he tossed off the
liquor in four gulps.
'Have another?' said Michael, with undisguised interest. 'I never saw a
man drink faster. It restores one's confidence in the human race.
But the waiter excused himself politely, and, assisted by some one from
without, began to bring in lunch.
Michael made an excellent meal, which he washed down with a bottle of
Heidsieck's dry monopole. As for the artist, he was far too uneasy to
eat, and his companion flatly refused to let him share in the champagne
unless he did.
'One of us must stay sober,' remarked the lawyer, 'and I won't give you
champagne on the strength of a leg of grouse. I have to be cautious,' he
added confidentially. 'One drunken man, excellent business--two drunken
men, all my eye.'
On the production of coffee and departure of the waiter, Michael might
have been observed to make portentous efforts after gravity of mien.
He looked his friend in the face (one eye perhaps a trifle off), and
addressed him thickly but severely.
'Enough of this fooling,' was his not inappropriate exordium. 'To
business. Mark me closely. I am an Australian. My name is John Dickson,
though you mightn't think it from my unassuming appearance. You will be
relieved to hear that I am rich, sir, very rich. You can't go into this
sort of thing too thoroughly, Pitman; the whole secret is preparation,
and I can get up my biography from the beginning, and I could tell it
you now, only I have forgotten it.'
'Perhaps I'm stupid--' began Pitman.
'That's it!' cried Michael. 'Very stupid; but rich too--richer than I
am. I thought you would enjoy it, Pitman, so I've arranged that you were
to be literally wallowing in wealth. But then, on the other hand, you're
only an American, and a maker of india-rubber overshoes at that. And the
worst of it is--why should I conceal it from you?--the worst of it
is that you're called Ezra Thomas. Now,' said Michael, with a really
appalling seriousness of manner, 'tell me who we are.'
The unfortunate little man was cross-examined till he knew these facts
'There!' cried the lawyer. 'Our plans are laid. Thoroughly
consistent--that's the great thing.'
'But I don't understand,' objected Pitman.
'O, you'll understand right enough when it comes to the point,' said
'There doesn't seem any story to it,' said the artist.
'We can invent one as we go along,' returned the lawyer.
'But I can't invent,' protested Pitman. 'I never could invent in all my
'You'll find you'll have to, my boy,' was Michael's easy comment, and he
began calling for the waiter, with whom he at once resumed a sparkling
It was a downcast little man that followed him. 'Of course he is very
clever, but can I trust him in such a state?' he asked himself. And when
they were once more in a hansom, he took heart of grace.
'Don't you think,' he faltered, 'it would be wiser, considering all
things, to put this business off?'
'Put off till tomorrow what can be done today?' cried Michael, with
indignation. 'Never heard of such a thing! Cheer up, it's all right, go
in and win--there's a lion-hearted Pitman!'
At Cannon Street they enquired for Mr Brown's piano, which had duly
arrived, drove thence to a neighbouring mews, where they contracted
for a cart, and while that was being got ready, took shelter in the
harness-room beside the stove. Here the lawyer presently toppled against
the wall and fell into a gentle slumber; so that Pitman found himself
launched on his own resources in the midst of several staring loafers,
such as love to spend unprofitable days about a stable. 'Rough day,
sir,' observed one. 'Do you go far?'
'Yes, it's a--rather a rough day,' said the artist; and then, feeling
that he must change the conversation, 'My friend is an Australian; he is
very impulsive,' he added.
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'Mr Forsyth, I believe?' It was Michael who thus opened the engagement.
'We have come to trouble you with a piece of business. I fear it's
'I am afraid I ought to be instructed through a solicitor,' replied
'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
'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
'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
'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,
'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
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.
'It's a breach of promise case,' he said at last, in a low voice. 'I--I
am threatened with a breach of promise case.' Here, in desperate quest
of inspiration, he made a clutch at his beard; his fingers closed upon
the unfamiliar smoothness of a shaven chin; and with that, hope and
courage (if such expressions could ever have been appropriate in the
case of Pitman) conjointly fled. He shook Michael roughly. 'Wake up!'
he cried, with genuine irritation in his tones. 'I cannot do it, and you
know I can't.'
'You must excuse my friend,' said Michael; 'he's no hand as a narrator
of stirring incident. The case is simple,' he went on. 'My friend is
a man of very strong passions, and accustomed to a simple, patriarchal
style of life. You see the thing from here: unfortunate visit to Europe,
followed by unfortunate acquaintance with sham foreign count, who has a
lovely daughter. Mr Thomas was quite carried away; he proposed, he was
accepted, and he wrote--wrote in a style which I am sure he must
regret today. If these letters are produced in court, sir, Mr Thomas's
character is gone.'
'Am I to understand--' began Gideon.
'My dear sir,' said the Australian emphatically, 'it isn't possible to
understand unless you saw them.'
'That is a painful circumstance,' said Gideon; he glanced pityingly in
the direction of the culprit, and, observing on his countenance every
mark of confusion, pityingly withdrew his eyes.
'And that would be nothing,' continued Mr Dickson sternly, 'but I
wish--I wish from my heart, sir, I could say that Mr Thomas's hands were
clean. He has no excuse; for he was engaged at the time--and is still
engaged--to the belle of Constantinople, Ga. My friend's conduct was
unworthy of the brutes that perish.'
'Ga.?' repeated Gideon enquiringly.
'A contraction in current use,' said Michael. 'Ga. for Georgia, in The
same way as Co. for Company.'
'I was aware it was sometimes so written,' returned the barrister, 'but
not that it was so pronounced.'
'Fact, I assure you,' said Michael. 'You now see for yourself, sir, that
if this unhappy person is to be saved, some devilish sharp practice will
be needed. There's money, and no desire to spare it. Mr Thomas could
write a cheque tomorrow for a hundred thousand. And, Mr Forsyth,
there's better than money. The foreign count--Count Tarnow, he calls
himself--was formerly a tobacconist in Bayswater, and passed under
the humble but expressive name of Schmidt; his daughter--if she is his
daughter--there's another point--make a note of that, Mr Forsyth--his
daughter at that time actually served in the shop--and she now proposes
to marry a man of the eminence of Mr Thomas! Now do you see our game?
know they contemplate a move; and we wish to forestall 'em. Down you
go to Hampton Court, where they live, and threaten, or bribe, or both,
until you get the letters; if you can't, God help us, we must go to
court and Thomas must be exposed. I'll be done with him for one,' added
the unchivalrous friend.
'There seem some elements of success,' said Gideon. 'Was Schmidt at all
known to the police?'
'We hope so,' said Michael. 'We have every ground to think so. Mark
the neighbourhood--Bayswater! Doesn't Bayswater occur to you as very
For perhaps the sixth time during this remarkable interview, Gideon
wondered if he were not becoming light-headed. 'I suppose it's just
because he has been lunching,' he thought; and then added aloud, 'To
what figure may I go?'
'Perhaps five thousand would be enough for today,' said Michael. 'And
now, sir, do not let me detain you any longer; the afternoon wears
on; there are plenty of trains to Hampton Court; and I needn't try to
describe to you the impatience of my friend. Here is a five-pound note
for current expenses; and here is the address.' And Michael began to
write, paused, tore up the paper, and put the pieces in his pocket. 'I
will dictate,' he said, 'my writing is so uncertain.'
Gideon took down the address, 'Count Tarnow, Kurnaul Villa, Hampton
Court.' Then he wrote something else on a sheet of paper. 'You said you
had not chosen a solicitor,' he said. 'For a case of this sort, here is
the best man in London.' And he handed the paper to Michael.
'God bless me!' ejaculated Michael, as he read his own address.
'O, I daresay you have seen his name connected with some rather painful
cases,' said Gideon. 'But he is himself a perfectly honest man, and his
capacity is recognized. And now, gentlemen, it only remains for me to
ask where I shall communicate with you.'
'The Langham, of course,' returned Michael. 'Till tonight.'
'Till tonight,' replied Gideon, smiling. 'I suppose I may knock you up
at a late hour?'
'Any hour, any hour,' cried the vanishing solicitor.
'Now there's a young fellow with a head upon his shoulders,' he said to
Pitman, as soon as they were in the street.
Pitman was indistinctly heard to murmur, 'Perfect fool.'
'Not a bit of him,' returned Michael. 'He knows who's the best solicitor
in London, and it's not every man can say the same. But, I say, didn't I
pitch it in hot?'
Pitman returned no answer.
'Hullo!' said the lawyer, pausing, 'what's wrong with the long-suffering
'You had no right to speak of me as you did,' the artist broke out;
'your language was perfectly unjustifiable; you have wounded me deeply.'
'I never said a word about you,' replied Michael. 'I spoke of Ezra
Thomas; and do please remember that there's no such party.'
'It's just as hard to bear,' said the artist.
But by this time they had reached the corner of the by-street; and
there was the faithful shoeblack, standing by the horses' heads with
a splendid assumption of dignity; and there was the piano, figuring
forlorn upon the cart, while the rain beat upon its unprotected sides
and trickled down its elegantly varnished legs.
The shoeblack was again put in requisition to bring five or six strong
fellows from the neighbouring public-house; and the last battle of the
campaign opened. It is probable that Mr Gideon Forsyth had not yet taken
his seat in the train for Hampton Court, before Michael opened the door
of the chambers, and the grunting porters deposited the Broadwood grand
in the middle of the floor.
'And now,' said the lawyer, after he had sent the men about their
business, 'one more precaution. We must leave him the key of the piano,
and we must contrive that he shall find it. Let me see.' And he built a
square tower of cigars upon the top of the instrument, and dropped the
key into the middle.
'Poor young man,' said the artist, as they descended the stairs.
'He is in a devil of a position,' assented Michael drily. 'It'll brace
'And that reminds me,' observed the excellent Pitman, 'that I fear I
displayed a most ungrateful temper. I had no right, I see, to resent
expressions, wounding as they were, which were in no sense directed.'
'That's all right,' cried Michael, getting on the cart. 'Not a word
more, Pitman. Very proper feeling on your part; no man of self-respect
can stand by and hear his alias insulted.'
The rain had now ceased, Michael was fairly sober, the body had been
disposed of, and the friends were reconciled. The return to the mews was
therefore (in comparison with previous stages of the day's adventures)
quite a holiday outing; and when they had returned the cart and walked
forth again from the stable-yard, unchallenged, and even unsuspected,
Pitman drew a deep breath of joy. 'And now,' he said, 'we can go home.'
'Pitman,' said the lawyer, stopping short, 'your recklessness fills me
with concern. What! we have been wet through the greater part of the
day, and you propose, in cold blood, to go home! No, sir--hot Scotch.'
And taking his friend's arm he led him sternly towards the nearest
public-house. Nor was Pitman (I regret to say) wholly unwilling.
Now that peace was restored and the body gone, a certain innocent
skittishness began to appear in the manners of the artist; and when
he touched his steaming glass to Michael's, he giggled aloud like a
venturesome schoolgirl at a picnic.
CHAPTER IX. Glorious Conclusion of Michael Finsbury's Holiday
I know Michael Finsbury personally; my business--I know the awkwardness
of having such a man for a lawyer--still it's an old story now, and
there is such a thing as gratitude, and, in short, my legal business,
although now (I am thankful to say) of quite a placid character, remains
entirely in Michael's hands. 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
'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
'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
'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! 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
'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. 'But the joke
is this, Mr Michael--see, ye're upsettin' the sauce, that's a clean
tablecloth--the best of the joke is that he thinks your father's dead
and you're keepin' it dark.'
Michael whistled. 'Set a thief to catch a thief,' said he.
'Exac'ly what I told him!' cried the delighted dame.
'I'll make him dance for that,' said Michael.
'Couldn't ye get the law of him some way?' suggested Teena truculently.
'No, I don't think I could, and I'm quite sure I don't want to,'
replied Michael. 'But I say, Teena, I really don't believe this claret's
wholesome; it's not a sound, reliable wine. Give us a brandy and soda,
there's a good soul.' Teena's face became like adamant. 'Well, then,'
said the lawyer fretfully, 'I won't eat any more dinner.'
'Ye can please yourself about that, Mr Michael,' said Teena, and began
composedly to take away.
'I do wish Teena wasn't a faithful servant!' sighed the lawyer, as he
issued into Kings's Road.
The rain had ceased; the wind still blew, but only with a pleasant
freshness; the town, in the clear darkness of the night, glittered with
street-lamps and shone with glancing rain-pools. 'Come, this is better,'
thought the lawyer to himself, and he walked on eastward, lending a
pleased ear to the wheels and the million footfalls of the city.
Near the end of the King's Road he remembered his brandy and soda, and
entered a flaunting public-house. A good many persons were present, a
waterman from a cab-stand, half a dozen of the chronically unemployed, a
gentleman (in one corner) trying to sell aesthetic photographs out of
a leather case to another and very youthful gentleman with a yellow
goatee, and a pair of lovers debating some fine shade (in the other).
But the centre-piece and great attraction was a little old man, in a
black, ready-made surtout, which was obviously a recent purchase. On
the marble table in front of him, beside a sandwich and a glass of
beer, there lay a battered forage cap. His hand fluttered abroad with
oratorical gestures; his voice, naturally shrill, was plainly tuned to
the pitch of the lecture room; and by arts, comparable to those of
the Ancient Mariner, he was now holding spellbound the barmaid, the
waterman, and four of the unemployed.
'I have examined all the theatres in London,' he was saying; 'and pacing
the principal entrances, I have ascertained them to be ridiculously
disproportionate to the requirements of their audiences. The doors
opened the wrong way--I forget at this moment which it is, but have a
note of it at home; they were frequently locked during the performance,
and when the auditorium was literally thronged with English people. You
have probably not had my opportunities of comparing distant lands; but
I can assure you this has been long ago recognized as a mark
of aristocratic government. Do you suppose, in a country really
self-governed, such abuses could exist? Your own intelligence, however
uncultivated, tells you they could not. Take Austria, a country even
possibly more enslaved than England. I have myself conversed with one of
the survivors of the Ring Theatre, and though his colloquial German
was not very good, I succeeded in gathering a pretty clear idea of his
opinion of the case. But, what will perhaps interest you still more,
here is a cutting on the subject from a Vienna newspaper, which I will
now read to you, translating as I go. You can see for yourselves; it
is printed in the German character.' And he held the cutting out for
verification, much as a conjuror passes a trick orange along the front
'Hullo, old gentleman! Is this you?' said Michael, laying his hand upon
the orator's shoulder.
The figure turned with a convulsion of alarm, and showed the countenance
of Mr Joseph Finsbury. 'You, Michael!' he cried. 'There's no one with
you, is there?'
'No,' replied Michael, ordering a brandy and soda, 'there's nobody with
me; whom do you expect?'
'I thought of Morris or John,' said the old gentleman, evidently greatly
'What the devil would I be doing with Morris or John?' cried the nephew.
'There is something in that,' returned Joseph. 'And I believe I can
trust you. I believe you will stand by me.'
'I hardly know what you mean,' said the lawyer, 'but if you are in need
of money I am flush.'
'It's not that, my dear boy,' said the uncle, shaking him by the hand.
'I'll tell you all about it afterwards.'
'All right,' responded the nephew. 'I stand treat, Uncle Joseph; what
will you have?'
'In that case,' replied the old gentleman, 'I'll take another
sandwich. I daresay I surprise you,' he went on, 'with my presence in
a public-house; but the fact is, I act on a sound but little-known
principle of my own--'
'O, it's better known than you suppose,' said Michael sipping his brandy
and soda. 'I always act on it myself when I want a drink.'
The old gentleman, who was anxious to propitiate Michael, laughed a
cheerless laugh. 'You have such a flow of spirits,' said he, 'I am sure
I often find it quite amusing. But regarding this principle of which
I was about to speak. It is that of accommodating one's-self to the
manners of any land (however humble) in which our lot may be cast. Now,
in France, for instance, every one goes to a cafe for his meals; in
America, to what is called a "two-bit house"; in England the people
resort to such an institution as the present for refreshment. With
sandwiches, tea, and an occasional glass of bitter beer, a man can live
luxuriously in London for fourteen pounds twelve shillings per annum.'
'Yes, I know,' returned Michael, 'but that's not including clothes,
washing, or boots. The whole thing, with cigars and occasional sprees,
costs me over seven hundred a year.'
But this was Michael's last interruption. He listened in good-humoured
silence to the remainder of his uncle's lecture, which speedily branched
to political reform, thence to the theory of the weather-glass, with an
illustrative account of a bora in the Adriatic; thence again to the best
manner of teaching arithmetic to the deaf-and-dumb; and with that, the
sandwich being then no more, explicuit valde feliciter. A moment later
the pair issued forth on the King's Road.
'Michael, I said his uncle, 'the reason that I am here is because I
cannot endure those nephews of mine. I find them intolerable.'
'I daresay you do,' assented Michael, 'I never could stand them for a
'They wouldn't let me speak,' continued the old gentleman bitterly; 'I
never was allowed to get a word in edgewise; I was shut up at once with
some impertinent remark. They kept me on short allowance of pencils,
when I wished to make notes of the most absorbing interest; the daily
newspaper was guarded from me like a young baby from a gorilla. Now, you
know me, Michael. I live for my calculations; I live for my manifold and
ever-changing views of life; pens and paper and the productions of the
popular press are to me as important as food and drink; and my life
was growing quite intolerable when, in the confusion of that fortunate
railway accident at Browndean, I made my escape. They must think
me dead, and are trying to deceive the world for the chance of the
'By the way, how do you stand for money?' asked Michael kindly.
'Pecuniarily speaking, I am rich,' returned the old man with
cheerfulness. 'I am living at present at the rate of one hundred a year,
with unlimited pens and paper; the British Museum at which to get books;
and all the newspapers I choose to read. But it's extraordinary how
little a man of intellectual interest requires to bother with books in a
progressive age. The newspapers supply all the conclusions.'
'I'll tell you what,' said Michael, 'come and stay with me.'
'Michael,' said the old gentleman, 'it's very kind of you, but you
scarcely understand what a peculiar position I occupy. There are some
little financial complications; as a guardian, my efforts were not
altogether blessed; and not to put too fine a point upon the matter, I
am absolutely in the power of that vile fellow, Morris.'
'You should be disguised,' cried Michael eagerly; 'I will lend you a
pair of window-glass spectacles and some red side-whiskers.'
'I had already canvassed that idea,' replied the old gentleman, 'but
feared to awaken remark in my unpretentious lodgings. 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
'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
'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
'Paid it into a bank and drew twenty pounds,' answered Mr Finsbury
'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
'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
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. 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
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
'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,'
'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
'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
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
'Do you mean to insinuate anything?' cried Morris stormily, trying the
'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,'
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
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
Michael drank his glass deliberately, standing at the table; filled it
again, and returned to his chair, carrying the bottle along with him.
'The spoils of war!' he said apologetically. 'The weakest goes to the
wall. Science, Morris, science.' Morris could think of no reply, and for
an appreciable interval silence reigned. But two glasses of the still
champagne produced a rapid change in Michael.
'There's a want of vivacity about you, Morris,' he observed. 'You may be
deep; but I'll be hanged if you're vivacious!'
'What makes you think me deep?' asked Morris with an air of pleased
'Because you won't compromise,' said the lawyer. 'You're deep dog,
Morris, very deep dog, not t' compromise--remarkable deep dog. And
a very good glass of wine; it's the only respectable feature in the
Finsbury family, this wine; rarer thing than a title--much rarer. Now a
man with glass wine like this in cellar, I wonder why won't compromise?'
'Well, YOU wouldn't compromise before, you know,' said the smiling
Morris. 'Turn about is fair play.'
'I wonder why _I_ wouldn' compromise? I wonder why YOU wouldn'?'
enquired Michael. 'I wonder why we each think the other wouldn'? 'S
quite a remarrable--remarkable problem,' he added, triumphing over oral
obstacles, not without obvious pride. 'Wonder what we each think--don't
'What do you suppose to have been my reason?' asked Morris adroitly.
Michael looked at him and winked. 'That's cool,' said he. 'Next thing,
you'll ask me to help you out of the muddle. I know I'm emissary of
Providence, but not that kind! You get out of it yourself, like Aesop
and the other fellow. Must be dreadful muddle for young orphan o' forty;
leather business and all!'
'I am sure I don't know what you mean,' said Morris.
'Not sure I know myself,' said Michael. 'This is exc'lent vintage,
sir--exc'lent vintage. Nothing against the tipple. Only thing: here's a
valuable uncle disappeared. Now, what I want to know: where's valuable
'I have told you: he is at Browndean,' answered Morris, furtively wiping
his brow, for these repeated hints began to tell upon him cruelly.
'Very easy say Brown--Browndee--no' so easy after all!' cried Michael.
'Easy say; anything's easy say, when you can say it. What I don' like's
total disappearance of an uncle. Not businesslike.' And he wagged his
'It is all perfectly simple,' returned Morris, with laborious calm.
'There is no mystery. He stays at Browndean, where he got a shake in the
'Ah!' said Michael, 'got devil of a shake!'
'Why do you say that?' cried Morris sharply.
'Best possible authority. Told me so yourself,' said the lawyer. 'But if
you tell me contrary now, of course I'm bound to believe either the one
story or the other. Point is I've upset this bottle, still champagne's
exc'lent thing carpet--point is, is valuable uncle dead--an'--bury?'
Morris sprang from his seat. 'What's that you say?' he gasped.
'I say it's exc'lent thing carpet,' replied Michael, rising. 'Exc'lent
thing promote healthy action of the skin. Well, it's all one, anyway.
Give my love to Uncle Champagne.'
'You're not going away?' said Morris.
'Awf'ly sorry, ole man. Got to sit up sick friend,' said the wavering
'You shall not go till you have explained your hints,' returned Morris
fiercely. 'What do you mean? What brought you here?'
'No offence, I trust,' said the lawyer, turning round as he opened the
door; 'only doing my duty as shemishery of Providence.'
Groping his way to the front-door, he opened it with some difficulty,
and descended the steps to the hansom. The tired driver looked up as he
approached, and asked where he was to go next.
Michael observed that Morris had followed him to the steps; a brilliant
inspiration came to him. 'Anything t' give pain,' he reflected. . . .
'Drive Shcotlan' Yard,' he added aloud, holding to the wheel to steady
himself; 'there's something devilish fishy, cabby, about those cousins.
Mush' be cleared up! Drive Shcotlan' Yard.'
'You don't mean that, sir,' said the man, with the ready sympathy of the
lower orders for an intoxicated gentleman. 'I had better take you home,
sir; you can go to Scotland Yard tomorrow.'
'Is it as friend or as perfessional man you advise me not to go
Shcotlan' Yard t'night?' enquired Michael. 'All righ', never min'
Shcotlan' Yard, drive Gaiety bar.'
'The Gaiety bar is closed,' said the man.
'Then home,' said Michael, with the same cheerfulness.
'Where to, sir?'
'I don't remember, I'm sure,' said Michael, entering the vehicle, 'drive
Shcotlan' Yard and ask.'
'But you'll have a card,' said the man, through the little aperture in
the top, 'give me your card-case.'
'What imagi--imagination in a cabby!' cried the lawyer, producing his
card-case, and handing it to the driver.
The man read it by the light of the lamp. 'Mr Michael Finsbury, 233
King's Road, Chelsea. Is that it, sir?'
'Right you are,' cried Michael, 'drive there if you can see way.'
CHAPTER X. Gideon Forsyth and the Broadwood Grand
The reader has perhaps read that remarkable work, Who Put Back the
Clock? by E. H. B., which appeared for several days upon the railway
bookstalls and then vanished entirely from the face of the earth.
Whether eating Time makes the chief of his diet out of old editions;
whether Providence has passed a special enactment on behalf of authors;
or whether these last have taken the law into their own hand, bound
themselves into a dark conspiracy with a password, which I would
die rather than reveal, and night after night sally forth under some
vigorous leader, such as Mr James Payn or Mr Walter Besant, on their
task of secret spoliation--certain it is, at least, that the old
editions pass, giving place to new. To the proof, it is believed there
are now only three copies extant of Who Put Back the Clock? one in
the British Museum, successfully concealed by a wrong entry in the
catalogue; another in one of the cellars (the cellar where the music
accumulates) of the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh; and a third, bound
in morocco, in the possession of Gideon Forsyth. To account for the very
different fate attending this third exemplar, the readiest theory is
to suppose that Gideon admired the tale. How to explain that admiration
might appear (to those who have perused the work) more difficult; but
the weakness of a parent is extreme, and Gideon (and not his uncle,
whose initials he had humorously borrowed) was the author of Who Put
Back the Clock? He had never acknowledged it, or only to some intimate
friends while it was still in proof; after its appearance and alarming
failure, the modesty of the novelist had become more pressing, and the
secret was now likely to be better kept than that of the authorship of
A copy of the work (for the date of my tale is already yesterday) still
figured in dusty solitude in the bookstall at Waterloo; and Gideon, as
he passed with his ticket for Hampton Court, smiled contemptuously at
the creature of his thoughts. What an idle ambition was the author's!
How far beneath him was the practice of that childish art! With his hand
closing on his first brief, he felt himself a man at last; and the
muse who presides over the police romance, a lady presumably of French
extraction, fled his neighbourhood, and returned to join the dance round
the springs of Helicon, among her Grecian sisters.
Robust, practical reflection still cheered the young barrister upon his
journey. Again and again he selected the little country-house in its
islet of great oaks, which he was to make his future home. Like a
prudent householder, he projected improvements as he passed; to one he
added a stable, to another a tennis-court, a third he supplied with a
becoming rustic boat-house.
'How little a while ago,' he could not but reflect, 'I was a careless
young dog with no thought but to be comfortable! I cared for nothing
but boating and detective novels. I would have passed an old-fashioned
country-house with large kitchen-garden, stabling, boat-house, and
spacious offices, without so much as a look, and certainly would have
made no enquiry as to the drains. How a man ripens with the years!'
The intelligent reader will perceive the ravages of Miss Hazeltine.
Gideon had carried Julia straight to Mr Bloomfield's house; and
that gentleman, having been led to understand she was the victim of
oppression, had noisily espoused her cause. He worked himself into
a fine breathing heat; in which, to a man of his temperament, action
'I do not know which is the worse,' he cried, 'the fraudulent old
villain or the unmanly young cub. I will write to the Pall Mall and
expose them. Nonsense, sir; they must be exposed! It's a public duty.
Did you not tell me the fellow was a Tory? O, the uncle is a Radical
lecturer, is he? No doubt the uncle has been grossly wronged. But of
course, as you say, that makes a change; it becomes scarce so much a
And he sought and instantly found a fresh outlet for his alacrity. Miss
Hazeltine (he now perceived) must be kept out of the way; his houseboat
was lying ready--he had returned but a day or two before from his usual
cruise; there was no place like a houseboat for concealment; and that
very morning, in the teeth of the easterly gale, Mr and Mrs Bloomfield
and Miss Julia Hazeltine had started forth on their untimely voyage.
Gideon pled in vain to be allowed to join the party. 'No, Gid,' said his
uncle. 'You will be watched; you must keep away from us.' Nor had the
barrister ventured to contest this strange illusion; for he feared if
he rubbed off any of the romance, that Mr Bloomfield might weary of the
whole affair. And his discretion was rewarded; for the Squirradical,
laying a heavy hand upon his nephew's shoulder, had added these notable
expressions: 'I see what you are after, Gid. But if you're going to get
the girl, you have to work, sir.'
These pleasing sounds had cheered the barrister all day, as he sat
reading in chambers; they continued to form the ground-base of his manly
musings as he was whirled to Hampton Court; even when he landed at the
station, and began to pull himself together for his delicate interview,
the voice of Uncle Ned and the eyes of Julia were not forgotten.
But now it began to rain surprises: in all Hampton Court there was no
Kurnaul Villa, no Count Tarnow, and no count. This was strange; but,
viewed in the light of the incoherency of his instructions, not perhaps
inexplicable; Mr Dickson had been lunching, and he might have made some
fatal oversight in the address. What was the thoroughly prompt, manly,
and businesslike step? thought Gideon; and he answered himself at
once: 'A telegram, very laconic.' Speedily the wires were flashing the
following very important missive: 'Dickson, Langham Hotel. Villa and
persons both unknown here, suppose erroneous address; follow self next
train.--Forsyth.' And at the Langham Hotel, sure enough, with a brow
expressive of dispatch and intellectual effort, Gideon descended not
long after from a smoking hansom.
I do not suppose that Gideon will ever forget the Langham Hotel. No
Count Tarnow was one thing; no John Dickson and no Ezra Thomas, quite
another. How, why, and what next, danced in his bewildered brain; from
every centre of what we playfully call the human intellect incongruous
messages were telegraphed; and before the hubbub of dismay had quite
subsided, the barrister found himself driving furiously for his
chambers. There was at least a cave of refuge; it was at least a place
to think in; and he climbed the stair, put his key in the lock and
opened the door, with some approach to hope.
It was all dark within, for the night had some time fallen; but Gideon
knew his room, he knew where the matches stood on the end of the
chimney-piece; and he advanced boldly, and in so doing dashed himself
against a heavy body; where (slightly altering the expressions of the
song) no heavy body should have been. There had been nothing there when
Gideon went out; he had locked the door behind him, he had found it
locked on his return, no one could have entered, the furniture could not
have changed its own position. And yet undeniably there was a something
there. He thrust out his hands in the darkness. Yes, there was
something, something large, something smooth, something cold.
'Heaven forgive me!' said Gideon, 'it feels like a piano.'
And the next moment he remembered the vestas in his waistcoat pocket and
had struck a light.
It was indeed a piano that met his doubtful gaze; a vast and costly
instrument, stained with the rains of the afternoon and defaced
with recent scratches. The light of the vesta was reflected from the
varnished sides, like a staice in quiet water; and in the farther end of
the room the shadow of that strange visitor loomed bulkily and wavered
on the wall.
Gideon let the match burn to his fingers, and the darkness closed once
more on his bewilderment. Then with trembling hands he lit the lamp and
drew near. Near or far, there was no doubt of the fact: the thing was
a piano. There, where by all the laws of God and man it was impossible
that it should be--there the thing impudently stood. Gideon threw open
the keyboard and struck a chord. Not a sound disturbed the quiet of the
room. 'Is there anything wrong with me?' he thought, with a pang; and
drawing in a seat, obstinately persisted in his attempts to ravish
silence, now with sparkling arpeggios, now with a sonata of Beethoven's
which (in happier days) he knew to be one of the loudest pieces of that
powerful composer. Still not a sound. He gave the Broadwood two great
bangs with his clenched first. All was still as the grave. The young
barrister started to his feet.
'I am stark-staring mad,' he cried aloud, 'and no one knows it but
myself. God's worst curse has fallen on me.'
His fingers encountered his watch-chain; instantly he had plucked forth
his watch and held it to his ear. He could hear it ticking.
'I am not deaf,' he said aloud. 'I am only insane. My mind has quitted
me for ever.'
He looked uneasily about the room, and--gazed with lacklustre eyes at
the chair in which Mr Dickson had installed himself. The end of a cigar
lay near on the fender.
'No,' he thought, 'I don't believe that was a dream; but God knows
my mind is failing rapidly. I seem to be hungry, for instance; it's
probably another hallucination. Still I might try. I shall have one more
good meal; I shall go to the Cafe Royal, and may possibly be removed
from there direct to the asylum.'
He wondered with morbid interest, as he descended the stairs, how he
would first betray his terrible condition--would he attack a waiter? or
eat glass?--and when he had mounted into a cab, he bade the man drive to
Nichol's, with a lurking fear that there was no such place.
The flaring, gassy entrance of the cafe speedily set his mind at rest;
he was cheered besides to recognize his favourite waiter; his orders
appeared to be coherent; the dinner, when it came, was quite a sensible
meal, and he ate it with enjoyment. 'Upon my word,' he reflected, 'I
am about tempted to indulge a hope. Have I been hasty? Have I done what
Robert Skill would have done?' Robert Skill (I need scarcely mention)
was the name of the principal character in Who Put Back the Clock? It
had occurred to the author as a brilliant and probable invention; to
readers of a critical turn, Robert appeared scarce upon a level with his
surname; but it is the difficulty of the police romance, that the reader
is always a man of such vastly greater ingenuity than the writer. In the
eyes of his creator, however, Robert Skill was a word to conjure with;
the thought braced and spurred him; what that brilliant creature would
have done Gideon would do also. This frame of mind is not uncommon; the
distressed general, the baited divine, the hesitating author, decide
severally to do what Napoleon, what St Paul, what Shakespeare would
have done; and there remains only the minor question, What is that? In
Gideon's case one thing was clear: Skill was a man of singular decision,
he would have taken some step (whatever it was) at once; and the only
step that Gideon could think of was to return to his chambers.
This being achieved, all further inspiration failed him, and he stood
pitifully staring at the instrument of his confusion. To touch the keys
again was more than he durst venture on; whether they had maintained
their former silence, or responded with the tones of the last trump,
it would have equally dethroned his resolution. 'It may be a practical
jest,' he reflected, 'though it seems elaborate and costly. And yet what
else can it be? It MUST be a practical jest.' And just then his eye fell
upon a feature which seemed corroborative of that view: the pagoda of
cigars which Michael had erected ere he left the chambers. 'Why that?'
reflected Gideon. 'It seems entirely irresponsible.' And drawing near,
he gingerly demolished it. 'A key,' he thought. 'Why that? And why
so conspicuously placed?' He made the circuit of the instrument, and
perceived the keyhole at the back. 'Aha! this is what the key is for,'
said he. 'They wanted me to look inside. Stranger and stranger.' And
with that he turned the key and raised the lid.
In what antics of agony, in what fits of flighty resolution, in what
collapses of despair, Gideon consumed the night, it would be ungenerous
to enquire too closely.
That trill of tiny song with which the eaves-birds of London welcome
the approach of day found him limp and rumpled and bloodshot, and with a
mind still vacant of resource. He rose and looked forth unrejoicingly on
blinded windows, an empty street, and the grey daylight dotted with the
yellow lamps. There are mornings when the city seems to awake with a
sick headache; this was one of them; and still the twittering reveille
of the sparrows stirred in Gideon's spirit.
'Day here,' he thought, 'and I still helpless! This must come to an
end.' And he locked up the piano, put the key in his pocket, and set
forth in quest of coffee. As he went, his mind trudged for the hundredth
time a certain mill-road of terrors, misgivings, and regrets. To call
in the police, to give up the body, to cover London with handbills
describing John Dickson and Ezra Thomas, to fill the papers with
paragraphs, Mysterious Occurrence in the Temple--Mr Forsyth admitted to
bail, this was one course, an easy course, a safe course; but not, the
more he reflected on it, not a pleasant one. For, was it not to publish
abroad a number of singular facts about himself? A child ought to
have seen through the story of these adventurers, and he had gaped and
swallowed it. A barrister of the least self-respect should have refused
to listen to clients who came before him in a manner so irregular, and
he had listened. And O, if he had only listened; but he had gone upon
their errand--he, a barrister, uninstructed even by the shadow of
a solicitor--upon an errand fit only for a private detective; and
alas!--and for the hundredth time the blood surged to his brow--he had
taken their money! 'No,' said he, 'the thing is as plain as St Paul's. I
shall be dishonoured! I have smashed my career for a five-pound note.'
Between the possibility of being hanged in all innocence, and the
certainty of a public and merited disgrace, no gentleman of spirit
could long hesitate. After three gulps of that hot, snuffy, and muddy
beverage, that passes on the streets of London for a decoction of the
coffee berry, Gideon's mind was made up. He would do without the police.
He must face the other side of the dilemma, and be Robert Skill in
earnest. What would Robert Skill have done? How does a gentleman dispose
of a dead body, honestly come by? He remembered the inimitable story
of the hunchback; reviewed its course, and dismissed it for a worthless
guide. It was impossible to prop a corpse on the corner of Tottenham
Court Road without arousing fatal curiosity in the bosoms of the
passers-by; as for lowering it down a London chimney, the physical
obstacles were insurmountable. To get it on board a train and drop it
out, or on the top of an omnibus and drop it off, were equally out
of the question. To get it on a yacht and drop it overboard, was more
conceivable; but for a man of moderate means it seemed extravagant. The
hire of the yacht was in itself a consideration; the subsequent support
of the whole crew (which seemed a necessary consequence) was simply
not to be thought of. His uncle and the houseboat here occurred in very
luminous colours to his mind. A musical composer (say, of the name of
Jimson) might very well suffer, like Hogarth's musician before him, from
the disturbances of London. He might very well be pressed for time to
finish an opera--say the comic opera Orange Pekoe--Orange Pekoe, music
by Jimson--'this young maestro, one of the most promising of our
recent English school'--vigorous entrance of the drums, etc.--the whole
character of Jimson and his music arose in bulk before the mind of
Gideon. What more likely than Jimson's arrival with a grand piano (say,
at Padwick), and his residence in a houseboat alone with the unfinished
score of Orange Pekoe? His subsequent disappearance, leaving nothing
behind but an empty piano case, it might be more difficult to account
for. And yet even that was susceptible of explanation. For, suppose
Jimson had gone mad over a fugal passage, and had thereupon destroyed
the accomplice of his infamy, and plunged into the welcome river? What
end, on the whole, more probable for a modern musician?
'By Jove, I'll do it,' cried Gideon. 'Jimson is the boy!'
CHAPTER XI. The Maestro Jimson
Mr Edward Hugh Bloomfield having announced his intention to stay in the
neighbourhood of Maidenhead, what more probable than that the Maestro
Jimson should turn his mind toward Padwick? Near this pleasant riverside
village he remembered to have observed an ancient, weedy houseboat lying
moored beside a tuft of willows. It had stirred in him, in his careless
hours, as he pulled down the river under a more familiar name, a certain
sense of the romantic; and when the nice contrivance of his story was
already complete in his mind, he had come near pulling it all down
again, like an ungrateful clock, in order to introduce a chapter in
which Richard Skill (who was always being decoyed somewhere) should
be decoyed on board that lonely hulk by Lord Bellew and the American
desperado Gin Sling. It was fortunate he had not done so, he reflected,
since the hulk was now required for very different purposes.
Jimson, a man of inconspicuous costume, but insinuating manners,
had little difficulty in finding the hireling who had charge of the
houseboat, and still less in persuading him to resign his care. The rent
was almost nominal, the entry immediate, the key was exchanged against a
suitable advance in money, and Jimson returned to town by the afternoon
train to see about dispatching his piano.
'I will be down tomorrow,' he had said reassuringly. 'My opera is waited
for with such impatience, you know.'
And, sure enough, about the hour of noon on the following day, Jimson
might have been observed ascending the riverside road that goes from
Padwick to Great Haverham, carrying in one hand a basket of provisions,
and under the other arm a leather case containing (it is to be
conjectured) the score of Orange Pekoe. It was October weather; the
stone-grey sky was full of larks, the leaden mirror of the Thames
brightened with autumnal foliage, and the fallen leaves of the chestnuts
chirped under the composer's footing. There is no time of the year
in England more courageous; and Jimson, though he was not without his
troubles, whistled as he went.
A little above Padwick the river lies very solitary. On the opposite
shore the trees of a private park enclose the view, the chimneys of the
mansion just pricking forth above their clusters; on the near side the
path is bordered by willows. Close among these lay the houseboat, a
thing so soiled by the tears of the overhanging willows, so grown upon
with parasites, so decayed, so battered, so neglected, such a haunt of
rats, so advertised a storehouse of rheumatic agonies, that the heart
of an intending occupant might well recoil. A plank, by way of flying
drawbridge, joined it to the shore. And it was a dreary moment for
Jimson when he pulled this after him and found himself alone on this
unwholesome fortress. He could hear the rats scuttle and flop in the
abhorred interior; the key cried among the wards like a thing in pain;
the sitting-room was deep in dust, and smelt strong of bilge-water. It
could not be called a cheerful spot, even for a composer absorbed in
beloved toil; how much less for a young gentleman haunted by alarms and
awaiting the arrival of a corpse!
He sat down, cleared away a piece of the table, and attacked the cold
luncheon in his basket. In case of any subsequent inquiry into the fate
of Jimson, It was desirable he should be little seen: in other words,
that he should spend the day entirely in the house. To this end, and
further to corroborate his fable, he had brought in the leather case not
only writing materials, but a ream of large-size music paper, such as he
considered suitable for an ambitious character like Jimson's. 'And now
to work,' said he, when he had satisfied his appetite. 'We must leave
traces of the wretched man's activity.' And he wrote in bold characters:
J. B. JIMSON.
Vocal and p. f. score.
'I suppose they never do begin like this,' reflected Gideon; 'but then
it's quite out of the question for me to tackle a full score, and
Jimson was so unconventional. A dedication would be found convincing, I
believe. "Dedicated to" (let me see) "to William Ewart Gladstone, by his
obedient servant the composer." And now some music: I had better avoid
the overture; it seems to present difficulties. Let's give an air for
the tenor: key--O, something modern!--seven sharps.' And he made a
businesslike signature across the staves, and then paused and browsed
for a while on the handle of his pen. Melody, with no better inspiration
than a sheet of paper, is not usually found to spring unbidden in the
mind of the amateur; nor is the key of seven sharps a place of much
repose to the untried. He cast away that sheet. 'It will help to build
up the character of Jimson,' Gideon remarked, and again waited on
the muse, in various keys and on divers sheets of paper, but all with
results so inconsiderable that he stood aghast. 'It's very odd,' thought
he. 'I seem to have less fancy than I thought, or this is an off-day
with me; yet Jimson must leave something.' And again he bent himself to
Presently the penetrating chill of the houseboat began to attack the
very seat of life. He desisted from his unremunerative trial, and, to
the audible annoyance of the rats, walked briskly up and down the cabin.
Still he was cold. 'This is all nonsense,' said he. 'I don't care about
the risk, but I will not catch a catarrh. I must get out of this den.'
He stepped on deck, and passing to the bow of his embarkation, looked
for the first time up the river. He started. Only a few hundred yards
above another houseboat lay moored among the willows. It was very
spick-and-span, an elegant canoe hung at the stern, the windows were
concealed by snowy curtains, a flag floated from a staff. The more
Gideon looked at it, the more there mingled with his disgust a sense
of impotent surprise. It was very like his uncle's houseboat; it was
exceedingly like--it was identical. But for two circumstances, he
could have sworn it was the same. The first, that his uncle had gone to
Maidenhead, might be explained away by that flightiness of purpose which
is so common a trait among the more than usually manly. The second,
however, was conclusive: it was not in the least like Mr Bloomfield to
display a banner on his floating residence; and if he ever did, it
would certainly be dyed in hues of emblematical propriety. Now the
Squirradical, like the vast majority of the more manly, had drawn
knowledge at the wells of Cambridge--he was wooden spoon in the year
1850; and the flag upon the houseboat streamed on the afternoon air with
the colours of that seat of Toryism, that cradle of Puseyism, that
home of the inexact and the effete Oxford. Still it was strangely like,
And as he thus looked and thought, the door opened, and a young lady
stepped forth on deck. The barrister dropped and fled into his cabin--it
was Julia Hazeltine! Through the window he watched her draw in the
canoe, get on board of it, cast off, and come dropping downstream in his
'Well, all is up now,' said he, and he fell on a seat.
'Good-afternoon, miss,' said a voice on the water. Gideon knew it for
the voice of his landlord.
'Good-afternoon,' replied Julia, 'but I don't know who you are; do I? O
yes, I do though. You are the nice man that gave us leave to sketch from
the old houseboat.'
Gideon's heart leaped with fear.
'That's it,' returned the man. 'And what I wanted to say was as you
couldn't do it any more. You see I've let it.'
'Let it!' cried Julia.
'Let it for a month,' said the man. 'Seems strange, don't it? Can't see
what the party wants with it?'
'It seems very romantic of him, I think,' said Julia, 'What sort of a
person is he?'
Julia in her canoe, the landlord in his wherry, were close alongside,
and holding on by the gunwale of the houseboat; so that not a word was
lost on Gideon.
'He's a music-man,' said the landlord, 'or at least that's what he told
me, miss; come down here to write an op'ra.'
'Really!' cried Julia, 'I never heard of anything so delightful! Why, we
shall be able to slip down at night and hear him improvise! What' is his
'Jimson,' said the man.
'Jimson?' repeated Julia, and interrogated her memory in vain. But
indeed our rising school of English music boasts so many professors that
we rarely hear of one till he is made a baronet. 'Are you sure you have
'Made him spell it to me,' replied the landlord. 'J-I-M-S-O-N--Jimson;
and his op'ra's called--some kind of tea.'
'SOME KIND OF TEA!' cried the girl. 'What a very singular name for an
opera! What can it be about?' And Gideon heard her pretty laughter flow
abroad. 'We must try to get acquainted with this Mr Jimson; I feel sure
he must be nice.'
'Well, miss, I'm afraid I must be going on. I've got to be at Haverham,
'O, don't let me keep you, you kind man!' said Julia. 'Good afternoon.'
'Good afternoon to you, miss.'
Gideon sat in the cabin a prey to the most harrowing thoughts. Here he
was anchored to a rotting houseboat, soon to be anchored to it still
more emphatically by the presence of the corpse, and here was the
country buzzing about him, and young ladies already proposing pleasure
parties to surround his house at night. Well, that meant the gallows;
and much he cared for that. What troubled him now was Julia's
indescribable levity. That girl would scrape acquaintance with anybody;
she had no reserve, none of the enamel of the lady. She was familiar
with a brute like his landlord; she took an immediate interest (which
she lacked even the delicacy to conceal) in a creature like Jimson! He
could conceive her asking Jimson to have tea with her! And it was for a
girl like this that a man like Gideon--Down, manly heart!
He was interrupted by a sound that sent him whipping behind the door in
a trice. Miss Hazeltine had stepped on board the houseboat. Her sketch
was promising; judging from the stillness, she supposed Jimson not yet
come; and she had decided to seize occasion and complete the work
of art. Down she sat therefore in the bow, produced her block and
water-colours, and was soon singing over (what used to be called) the
ladylike accomplishment. Now and then indeed her song was interrupted,
as she searched in her memory for some of the odious little receipts
by means of which the game is practised--or used to be practised in the
brave days of old; they say the world, and those ornaments of the world,
young ladies, are become more sophisticated now; but Julia had probably
studied under Pitman, and she stood firm in the old ways.
Gideon, meanwhile, stood behind the door, afraid to move, afraid to
breathe, afraid to think of what must follow, racked by confinement and
borne to the ground with tedium. This particular phase, he felt with
gratitude, could not last for ever; whatever impended (even the gallows,
he bitterly and perhaps erroneously reflected) could not fail to be
a relief. To calculate cubes occurred to him as an ingenious and even
profitable refuge from distressing thoughts, and he threw his manhood
into that dreary exercise.
Thus, then, were these two young persons occupied--Gideon attacking the
perfect number with resolution; Julia vigorously stippling incongruous
colours on her block, when Providence dispatched into these waters a
steam-launch asthmatically panting up the Thames. All along the banks
the water swelled and fell, and the reeds rustled. The houseboat itself,
that ancient stationary creature, became suddenly imbued with life, and
rolled briskly at her moorings, like a sea-going ship when she begins
to smell the harbour bar. The wash had nearly died away, and the quick
panting of the launch sounded already faint and far off, when Gideon was
startled by a cry from Julia. Peering through the window, he beheld
her staring disconsolately downstream at the fast-vanishing canoe.
The barrister (whatever were his faults) displayed on this occasion a
promptitude worthy of his hero, Robert Skill; with one effort of his
mind he foresaw what was about to follow; with one movement of his body
he dropped to the floor and crawled under the table.
Julia, on her part, was not yet alive to her position. She saw she had
lost the canoe, and she looked forward with something less than avidity
to her next interview with Mr Bloomfield; but she had no idea that she
was imprisoned, for she knew of the plank bridge.
She made the circuit of the house, and found the door open and the
bridge withdrawn. It was plain, then, that Jimson must have come;
plain, too, that he must be on board. He must be a very shy man to
have suffered this invasion of his residence, and made no sign; and her
courage rose higher at the thought. He must come now, she must force him
from his privacy, for the plank was too heavy for her single strength;
so she tapped upon the open door. Then she tapped again.
'Mr Jimson,' she cried, 'Mr Jimson! here, come!--you must come, you
know, sooner or later, for I can't get off without you. O, don't be so
exceedingly silly! O, please, come!'
Still there was no reply.
'If he is here he must be mad,' she thought, with a little fear. And the
next moment she remembered he had probably gone aboard like herself in
a boat. In that case she might as well see the houseboat, and she pushed
open the door and stepped in. Under the table, where he lay smothered
with dust, Gideon's heart stood still.
There were the remains of Jimson's lunch. 'He likes rather nice things
to eat,' she thought. 'O, I am sure he is quite a delightful man. I
wonder if he is as good-looking as Mr Forsyth. Mrs Jimson--I don't
believe it sounds as nice as Mrs Forsyth; but then "Gideon" is so really
odious! And here is some of his music too; this is delightful. Orange
Pekoe--O, that's what he meant by some kind of tea.' And she trilled
with laughter. 'Adagio molto espressivo, sempre legato,' she read
next. (For the literary part of a composer's business Gideon was well
equipped.) 'How very strange to have all these directions, and
only three or four notes! O, here's another with some more. Andante
patetico.' And she began to glance over the music. 'O dear me,' she
thought, 'he must be terribly modern! It all seems discords to me. Let's
try the air. It is very strange, it seems familiar.' She began to sing
it, and suddenly broke off with laughter. 'Why, it's "Tommy make room
for your Uncle!"' she cried aloud, so that the soul of Gideon was filled
with bitterness. 'Andante patetico, indeed! The man must be a mere
And just at this moment there came a confused, scuffling sound from
underneath the table; a strange note, like that of a barn-door fowl,
ushered in a most explosive sneeze; the head of the sufferer was at
the same time brought smartly in contact with the boards above; and the
sneeze was followed by a hollow groan.
Julia fled to the door, and there, with the salutary instinct of the
brave, turned and faced the danger. There was no pursuit. The sounds
continued; below the table a crouching figure was indistinctly to be
seen jostled by the throes of a sneezing-fit; and that was all.
'Surely,' thought Julia, 'this is most unusual behaviour. He cannot be a
man of the world!'
Meanwhile the dust of years had been disturbed by the young barrister's
convulsions; and the sneezing-fit was succeeded by a passionate access
Julia began to feel a certain interest. 'I am afraid you are really
quite ill,' she said, drawing a little nearer. 'Please don't let me put
you out, and do not stay under that table, Mr Jimson. Indeed it cannot
be good for you.'
Mr Jimson only answered by a distressing cough; and the next moment
the girl was on her knees, and their faces had almost knocked together
under the table.
'O, my gracious goodness!' exclaimed Miss Hazeltine, and sprang to her
feet. 'Mr Forsyth gone mad!'
'I am not mad,' said the gentleman ruefully, extricating himself from
his position. 'Dearest. Miss Hazeltine, I vow to you upon my knees I am
'You are not!' she cried, panting.
'I know,' he said, 'that to a superficial eye my conduct may appear
'If you are not mad, it was no conduct at all,' cried the girl, with
a flash of colour, 'and showed you did not care one penny for my
'This is the very devil and all. I know--I admit that,' cried Gideon,
with a great effort of manly candour.
'It was abominable conduct!' said Julia, with energy.
'I know it must have shaken your esteem,' said the barrister. 'But,
dearest Miss Hazeltine, I beg of you to hear me out; my behaviour,
strange as it may seem, is not unsusceptible of explanation; and I
positively cannot and will not consent to continue to try to exist
without--without the esteem of one whom I admire--the moment is ill
chosen, I am well aware of that; but I repeat the expression--one whom I
A touch of amusement appeared on Miss Hazeltine's face. 'Very well, I
said she, 'come out of this dreadfully cold place, and let us sit down
on deck.' The barrister dolefully followed her. 'Now,' said she, making
herself comfortable against the end of the house, 'go on. I will hear
you out.' And then, seeing him stand before her with so much obvious
disrelish to the task, she was suddenly overcome with laughter. Julia's
laugh was a thing to ravish lovers; she rolled her mirthful descant with
the freedom and the melody of a blackbird's song upon the river, and
repeated by the echoes of the farther bank. It seemed a thing in its own
place and a sound native to the open air. There was only one creature
who heard it without joy, and that was her unfortunate admirer.
'Miss Hazeltine,' he said, in a voice that tottered with annoyance, 'I
speak as your sincere well-wisher, but this can only be called levity.'
Julia made great eyes at him.
'I can't withdraw the word,' he said: 'already the freedom with which I
heard you hobnobbing with a boatman gave me exquisite pain. Then there
was a want of reserve about Jimson--'
'But Jimson appears to be yourself,' objected Julia.
'I am far from denying that,' cried the barrister, 'but you did not
know it at the time. What could Jimson be to you? Who was Jimson? Miss
Hazeltine, it cut me to the heart.'
'Really this seems to me to be very silly,' returned Julia, with severe
decision. 'You have behaved in the most extraordinary manner; you
pretend you are able to explain your conduct, and instead of doing so
you begin to attack me.'
'I am well aware of that,' replied Gideon. 'I--I will make a clean
breast of it. When you know all the circumstances you will be able to
And sitting down beside her on the deck, he poured forth his miserable
'O, Mr Forsyth,' she cried, when he had done, 'I am--so--sorry! wish
I hadn't laughed at you--only you know you really were so exceedingly
funny. But I wish I hadn't, and I wouldn't either if I had only known.'
And she gave him her hand.
Gideon kept it in his own. 'You do not think the worse of me for this?'
he asked tenderly.
'Because you have been so silly and got into such dreadful trouble? you
poor boy, no!' cried Julia; and, in the warmth of the moment, reached
him her other hand; 'you may count on me,' she added.
'Really?' said Gideon.
'Really and really!' replied the girl.
'I do then, and I will,' cried the young man. 'I admit the moment is not
well chosen; but I have no friends--to speak of.'
'No more have I,' said Julia. 'But don't you think it's perhaps time you
gave me back my hands?'
'La ci darem la mano,' said the barrister, 'the merest moment more! I
have so few friends,' he added.
'I thought it was considered such a bad account of a young man to have
no friends,' observed Julia.
'O, but I have crowds of FRIENDS!' cried Gideon. 'That's not what I
mean. I feel the moment is ill chosen; but O, Julia, if you could only
'Don't call me by that beastly name!' cried the youth. 'Call me Gideon!'
'O, never that,' from Julia. 'Besides, we have known each other such a
'Not at all!' protested Gideon. 'We met at Bournemouth ever so long ago.
I never forgot you since. Say you never forgot me. Say you never forgot
me, and call me Gideon!'
'Isn't this rather--a want of reserve about Jimson?' enquired the girl.
'O, I know I am an ass,' cried the barrister, 'and I don't care a
halfpenny! I know I'm an ass, and you may laugh at me to your heart's
delight.' And as Julia's lips opened with a smile, he once more dropped
into music. 'There's the Land of Cherry Isle!' he sang, courting her
with his eyes.
'It's like an opera,' said Julia, rather faintly.
'What should it be?' said Gideon. 'Am I not Jimson? It would be strange
if I did not serenade my love. O yes, I mean the word, my Julia; and I
mean to win you. I am in dreadful trouble, and I have not a penny of
my own, and I have cut the silliest figure; and yet I mean to win you,
Julia. Look at me, if you can, and tell me no!'
She looked at him; and whatever her eyes may have told him, it is to be
supposed he took a pleasure in the message, for he read it a long while.
'And Uncle Ned will give us some money to go on upon in the meanwhile,'
he said at last.
'Well, I call that cool!' said a cheerful voice at his elbow.
Gideon and Julia sprang apart with wonderful alacrity; the latter
annoyed to observe that although they had never moved since they sat
down, they were now quite close together; both presenting faces of a
very heightened colour to the eyes of Mr Edward Hugh Bloomfield. That
gentleman, coming up the river in his boat, had captured the truant
canoe, and divining what had happened, had thought to steal a march upon
Miss Hazeltine at her sketch. He had unexpectedly brought down two birds
with one stone; and as he looked upon the pair of flushed and breathless
culprits, the pleasant human instinct of the matchmaker softened his
'Well, I call that cool,' he repeated; 'you seem to count very securely
upon Uncle Ned. But look here, Gid, I thought I had told you to keep
'To keep away from Maidenhead,' replied Gid. 'But how should I expect to
find you here?'
'There is something in that,' Mr Bloomfield admitted. 'You see I thought
it better that even you should be ignorant of my address; those rascals,
the Finsburys, would have wormed it out of you. And just to put them off
the scent I hoisted these abominable colours. But that is not all,
Gid; you promised me to work, and here I find you playing the fool at
'Please, Mr Bloomfield, you must not be hard on Mr Forsyth,' said Julia.
'Poor boy, he is in dreadful straits.'
'What's this, Gid?' enquired the uncle. 'Have you been fighting? or is
it a bill?'
These, in the opinion of the Squirradical, were the two misfortunes
incident to gentlemen; and indeed both were culled from his own career.
He had once put his name (as a matter of form) on a friend's paper; it
had cost him a cool thousand; and the friend had gone about with the
fear of death upon him ever since, and never turned a corner without
scouting in front of him for Mr Bloomfield and the oaken staff. As for
fighting, the Squirradical was always on the brink of it; and once, when
(in the character of president of a Radical club) he had cleared out
the hall of his opponents, things had gone even further. Mr Holtum,
the Conservative candidate, who lay so long on the bed of sickness, was
prepared to swear to Mr Bloomfield. 'I will swear to it in any court--it
was the hand of that brute that struck me down,' he was reported to have
said; and when he was thought to be sinking, it was known that he had
made an ante-mortem statement in that sense. It was a cheerful day for
the Squirradical when Holtum was restored to his brewery.
'It's much worse than that,' said Gideon; 'a combination of
circumstances really providentially unjust--a--in fact, a syndicate of
murderers seem to have perceived my latent ability to rid them of the
traces of their crime. It's a legal study after all, you see!' And with
these words, Gideon, for the second time that day, began to describe the
adventures of the Broadwood Grand.
'I must write to The Times,' cried Mr Bloomfield.
'Do you want to get me disbarred?' asked Gideon.
'Disbarred! Come, it can't be as bad as that,' said his uncle. 'It's
a good, honest, Liberal Government that's in, and they would certainly
move at my request. Thank God, the days of Tory jobbery are at an end.'
'It wouldn't do, Uncle Ned,' said Gideon.
'But you're not mad enough,' cried Mr Bloomfield, 'to persist in trying
to dispose of it yourself?'
'There is no other path open to me,' said Gideon.
'It's not common sense, and I will not hear of it,' cried Mr Bloomfield.
'I command you, positively, Gid, to desist from this criminal
'Very well, then, I hand it over to you,' said Gideon, 'and you can do
what you like with the dead body.'
'God forbid!' ejaculated the president of the Radical Club, 'I'll have
nothing to do with it.'
'Then you must allow me to do the best I can,' returned his nephew.
'Believe me, I have a distinct talent for this sort of difficulty.'
'We might forward it to that pest-house, the Conservative Club,'
observed Mr Bloomfield. 'It might damage them in the eyes of their
constituents; and it could be profitably worked up in the local
'If you see any political capital in the thing,' said Gideon, 'you may
have it for me.'
'No, no, Gid--no, no, I thought you might. I will have no hand in the
thing. On reflection, it's highly undesirable that either I or Miss
Hazeltine should linger here. We might be observed,' said the
president, looking up and down the river; 'and in my public position
the consequences would be painful for the party. And, at any rate, it's
'What?' cried Gideon, plunging for his watch. 'And so it is! Great
heaven, the piano should have been here hours ago!'
Mr Bloomfield was clambering back into his boat; but at these words he
'I saw it arrive myself at the station; I hired a carrier man; he had a
round to make, but he was to be here by four at the latest,' cried the
barrister. 'No doubt the piano is open, and the body found.'
'You must fly at once,' cried Mr Bloomfield, 'it's the only manly step.'
'But suppose it's all right?' wailed Gideon. 'Suppose the piano comes,
and I am not here to receive it? I shall have hanged myself by my
cowardice. No, Uncle Ned, enquiries must be made in Padwick; I dare
not go, of course; but you may--you could hang about the police office,
don't you see?'
'No, Gid--no, my dear nephew,' said Mr Bloomfield, with the voice of one
on the rack. 'I regard you with the most sacred affection; and I thank
God I am an Englishman--and all that. But not--not the police, Gid.'
'Then you desert me?' said Gideon. 'Say it plainly.'
'Far from it! far from it!' protested Mr Bloomfield. 'I only propose
caution. Common sense, Gid, should always be an Englishman's guide.'
'Will you let me speak?' said Julia. 'I think Gideon had better leave
this dreadful houseboat, and wait among the willows over there. If the
piano comes, then he could step out and take it in; and if the police
come, he could slip into our houseboat, and there needn't be any
more Jimson at all. He could go to bed, and we could burn his clothes
(couldn't we?) in the steam-launch; and then really it seems as if it
would be all right. Mr Bloomfield is so respectable, you know, and such
a leading character, it would be quite impossible even to fancy that he
could be mixed up with it.'
'This young lady has strong common sense,' said the Squirradical.
'O, I don't think I'm at all a fool,' said Julia, with conviction.
'But what if neither of them come?' asked Gideon; 'what shall I do
'Why then,' said she, 'you had better go down to the village after dark;
and I can go with you, and then I am sure you could never be suspected;
and even if you were, I could tell them it was altogether a mistake.'
'I will not permit that--I will not suffer Miss Hazeltine to go,' cried
'Why?' asked Julia.
Mr Bloomfield had not the least desire to tell her why, for it was
simply a craven fear of being drawn himself into the imbroglio; but with
the usual tactics of a man who is ashamed of himself, he took the high
hand. 'God forbid, my dear Miss Hazeltine, that I should dictate to a
lady on the question of propriety--' he began.
'O, is that all?' interrupted Julia. 'Then we must go all three.'
'Caught!' thought the Squirradical.
CHAPTER XII. Positively the Last Appearance of the Broadwood Grand
England is supposed to be unmusical; but without dwelling on the
patronage extended to the organ-grinder, without seeking to found any
argument on the prevalence of the jew's trump, there is surely one
instrument that may be said to be national in the fullest acceptance
of the word. The herdboy in the broom, already musical in the days of
Father Chaucer, startles (and perhaps pains) the lark with this exiguous
pipe; and in the hands of the skilled bricklayer,
'The thing becomes a trumpet, whence he blows'
(as a general rule) either 'The British Grenadiers' or 'Cherry Ripe'.
The latter air is indeed the shibboleth and diploma piece of the
penny whistler; I hazard a guess it was originally composed for this
instrument. It is singular enough that a man should be able to gain
a livelihood, or even to tide over a period of unemployment, by the
display of his proficiency upon the penny whistle; still more so, that
the professional should almost invariably confine himself to 'Cherry
Ripe'. But indeed, singularities surround the subject, thick like
blackberries. Why, for instance, should the pipe be called a penny
whistle? I think no one ever bought it for a penny. Why should the
alternative name be tin whistle? I am grossly deceived if it be made
of tin. Lastly, in what deaf catacomb, in what earless desert, does the
beginner pass the excruciating interval of his apprenticeship? We have
all heard people learning the piano, the fiddle, and the cornet; but
the young of the penny whistler (like that of the salmon) is occult from
observation; he is never heard until proficient; and providence (perhaps
alarmed by the works of Mr Mallock) defends human hearing from his first
attempts upon the upper octave.
A really noteworthy thing was taking place in a green lane, not far from
Padwick. On the bench of a carrier's cart there sat a tow-headed, lanky,
modest-looking youth; the reins were on his lap; the whip lay behind
him in the interior of the cart; the horse proceeded without guidance
or encouragement; the carrier (or the carrier's man), rapt into a higher
sphere than that of his daily occupations, his looks dwelling on the
skies, devoted himself wholly to a brand-new D penny whistle, whence he
diffidently endeavoured to elicit that pleasing melody 'The Ploughboy'.
To any observant person who should have chanced to saunter in that lane,
the hour would have been thrilling. 'Here at last,' he would have said,
'is the beginner.'
The tow-headed youth (whose name was Harker) had just encored himself
for the nineteenth time, when he was struck into the extreme of
confusion by the discovery that he was not alone.
'There you have it!' cried a manly voice from the side of the road.
'That's as good as I want to hear. Perhaps a leetle oilier in the run,'
the voice suggested, with meditative gusto. 'Give it us again.'
Harker glanced, from the depths of his humiliation, at the speaker. He
beheld a powerful, sun-brown, clean-shaven fellow, about forty years of
age, striding beside the cart with a non-commissioned military bearing,
and (as he strode) spinning in the air a cane. The fellow's clothes were
very bad, but he looked clean and self-reliant.
'I'm only a beginner,' gasped the blushing Harker, 'I didn't think
anybody could hear me.'
'Well, I like that!' returned the other. 'You're a pretty old beginner.
Come, I'll give you a lead myself. Give us a seat here beside you.'
The next moment the military gentleman was perched on the cart, pipe in
hand. He gave the instrument a knowing rattle on the shaft, mouthed it,
appeared to commune for a moment with the muse, and dashed into 'The
girl I left behind me'. He was a great, rather than a fine, performer;
he lacked the bird-like richness; he could scarce have extracted all
the honey out of 'Cherry Ripe'; he did not fear--he even ostentatiously
displayed and seemed to revel in he shrillness of the instrument; but
in fire, speed, precision, evenness, and fluency; in linked agility of
jimmy--a technical expression, by your leave, answering to warblers on
the bagpipe; and perhaps, above all, in that inspiring side-glance of
the eye, with which he followed the effect and (as by a human appeal)
eked out the insufficiency of his performance: in these, the fellow
stood without a rival. Harker listened: 'The girl I left behind me'
filled him with despair; 'The Soldier's Joy' carried him beyond jealousy
into generous enthusiasm.
'Turn about,' said the military gentleman, offering the pipe.
'O, not after you!' cried Harker; 'you're a professional.'
'No,' said his companion; 'an amatyure like yourself. That's one style
of play, yours is the other, and I like it best. But I began when I was
a boy, you see, before my taste was formed. When you're my age you'll
play that thing like a cornet-a-piston. Give us that air again; how does
it go?' and he affected to endeavour to recall 'The Ploughboy'.
A timid, insane hope sprang in the breast of Harker. Was it possible?
Was there something in his playing? It had, indeed, seemed to him at
times as if he got a kind of a richness out of it. Was he a genius?
Meantime the military gentleman stumbled over the air.
'No,' said the unhappy Harker, 'that's not quite it. It goes this
way--just to show you.'
And, taking the pipe between his lips, he sealed his doom. When he had
played the air, and then a second time, and a third; when the military
gentleman had tried it once more, and once more failed; when it became
clear to Harker that he, the blushing debutant, was actually giving a
lesson to this full-grown flutist--and the flutist under his care was
not very brilliantly progressing--how am I to tell what floods of glory
brightened the autumnal countryside; how, unless the reader were an
amateur himself, describe the heights of idiotic vanity to which
the carrier climbed? One significant fact shall paint the situation:
thenceforth it was Harker who played, and the military gentleman
listened and approved.
As he listened, however, he did not forget the habit of soldierly
precaution, looking both behind and before. He looked behind and
computed the value of the carrier's load, divining the contents of the
brown-paper parcels and the portly hamper, and briefly setting down the
grand piano in the brand-new piano-case as 'difficult to get rid of'.
He looked before, and spied at the corner of the green lane a little
country public-house embowered in roses. 'I'll have a shy at it,'
concluded the military gentleman, and roundly proposed a glass. 'Well,
I'm not a drinking man,' said Harker.
'Look here, now,' cut in the other, 'I'll tell you who I am: I'm
Colour-Sergeant Brand of the Blankth. That'll tell you if I'm a drinking
man or not.' It might and it might not, thus a Greek chorus would have
intervened, and gone on to point out how very far it fell short of
telling why the sergeant was tramping a country lane in tatters; or even
to argue that he must have pretermitted some while ago his labours for
the general defence, and (in the interval) possibly turned his attention
to oakum. But there was no Greek chorus present; and the man of war went
on to contend that drinking was one thing and a friendly glass another.
In the Blue Lion, which was the name of the country public-house,
Colour-Sergeant Brand introduced his new friend, Mr Harker, to a
number of ingenious mixtures, calculated to prevent the approaches of
intoxication. These he explained to be 'rekisite' in the service, so
that a self-respecting officer should always appear upon parade in a
condition honourable to his corps. The most efficacious of these devices
was to lace a pint of mild ate with twopenceworth of London gin. I am
pleased to hand in this recipe to the discerning reader, who may find
it useful even in civil station; for its effect upon Mr Harker was
revolutionary. He must be helped on board his own waggon, where he
proceeded to display a spirit entirely given over to mirth and music,
alternately hooting with laughter, to which the sergeant hastened to
bear chorus, and incoherently tootling on the pipe. The man of war,
meantime, unostentatiously possessed himself of the reins. It was plain
he had a taste for the secluded beauties of an English landscape; for
the cart, although it wandered under his guidance for some time, was
never observed to issue on the dusty highway, journeying between hedge
and ditch, and for the most part under overhanging boughs. It was plain,
besides, he had an eye to the true interests of Mr Harker; for though
the cart drew up more than once at the doors of public-houses, it was
only the sergeant who set foot to ground, and, being equipped himself
with a quart bottle, once more proceeded on his rural drive.
To give any idea of the complexity of the sergeant's course, a map of
that part of Middlesex would be required, and my publisher is averse
from the expense. Suffice it, that a little after the night had closed,
the cart was brought to a standstill in a woody road; where the sergeant
lifted from among the parcels, and tenderly deposited upon the wayside,
the inanimate form of Harker.
'If you come-to before daylight,' thought the sergeant, 'I shall be
surprised for one.'
From the various pockets of the slumbering carrier he gently collected
the sum of seventeen shillings and eightpence sterling; and, getting
once more into the cart, drove thoughtfully away.
'If I was exactly sure of where I was, it would be a good job,' he
reflected. 'Anyway, here's a corner.'
He turned it, and found himself upon the riverside. A little above him
the lights of a houseboat shone cheerfully; and already close at hand,
so close that it was impossible to avoid their notice, three persons, a
lady and two gentlemen, were deliberately drawing near. The sergeant put
his trust in the convenient darkness of the night, and drove on to meet
them. One of the gentlemen, who was of a portly figure, walked in the
midst of the fairway, and presently held up a staff by way of signal.
'My man, have you seen anything of a carrier's cart?' he cried.
Dark as it was, it seemed to the sergeant as though the slimmer of
the two gentlemen had made a motion to prevent the other speaking, and
(finding himself too late) had skipped aside with some alacrity. At
another season, Sergeant Brand would have paid more attention to the
fact; but he was then immersed in the perils of his own predicament.
'A carrier's cart?' said he, with a perceptible uncertainty of voice.
'Ah!' said the portly gentleman, and stood aside to let the sergeant
pass. The lady appeared to bend forward and study the cart with every
mark of sharpened curiosity, the slimmer gentleman still keeping in the
'I wonder what the devil they would be at,' thought Sergeant Brand; and,
looking fearfully back, he saw the trio standing together in the midst
of the way, like folk consulting. The bravest of military heroes are
not always equal to themselves as to their reputation; and fear, on some
singular provocation, will find a lodgment in the most unfamiliar bosom.
The word 'detective' might have been heard to gurgle in the sergeant's
throat; and vigorously applying the whip, he fled up the riverside road
to Great Haverham, at the gallop of the carrier's horse. The lights of
the houseboat flashed upon the flying waggon as it passed; the beat of
hoofs and the rattle of the vehicle gradually coalesced and died away;
and presently, to the trio on the riverside, silence had redescended.
'It's the most extraordinary thing,' cried the slimmer of the two
gentlemen, 'but that's the cart.'
'And I know I saw a piano,' said the girl.
'O, it's the cart, certainly; and the extraordinary thing is, it's not
the man,' added the first.
'It must be the man, Gid, it must be,' said the portly one.
'Well, then, why is he running away?' asked Gideon.
'His horse bolted, I suppose,' said the Squirradical.
'Nonsense! I heard the whip going like a flail,' said Gideon. 'It simply
defies the human reason.'
'I'll tell you,' broke in the girl, 'he came round that corner. Suppose
we went and--what do you call it in books?--followed his trail? There
may be a house there, or somebody who saw him, or something.'
'Well, suppose we did, for the fun of the thing,' said Gideon.
The fun of the thing (it would appear) consisted in the extremely close
juxtaposition of himself and Miss Hazeltine. To Uncle Ned, who was
excluded from these simple pleasures, the excursion appeared hopeless
from the first; and when a fresh perspective of darkness opened up,
dimly contained between park palings on the one side and a hedge and
ditch upon the other, the whole without the smallest signal of human
habitation, the Squirradical drew up.
'This is a wild-goose chase,' said he.
With the cessation of the footfalls, another sound smote upon their
'O, what's that?' cried Julia.
'I can't think,' said Gideon.
The Squirradical had his stick presented like a sword. 'Gid,' he began,
'O Mr Forsyth!' cried the girl. 'O don't go forward, you don't know what
it might be--it might be something perfectly horrid.'
'It may be the devil itself,' said Gideon, disengaging himself, 'but I
am going to see it.'
'Don't be rash, Gid,' cried his uncle.
The barrister drew near to the sound, which was certainly of a
portentous character. In quality it appeared to blend the strains of
the cow, the fog-horn, and the mosquito; and the startling manner of its
enunciation added incalculably to its terrors. A dark object, not unlike
the human form divine, appeared on the brink of the ditch.
'It's a man,' said Gideon, 'it's only a man; he seems to be asleep and
snoring. Hullo,' he added, a moment after, 'there must be something
wrong with him, he won't waken.'
Gideon produced his vestas, struck one, and by its light recognized the
tow head of Harker.
'This is the man,' said he, 'as drunk as Belial. I see the whole story';
and to his two companions, who had now ventured to rejoin him, he set
forth a theory of the divorce between the carrier and his cart, which
was not unlike the truth.
'Drunken brute!' said Uncle Ned, 'let's get him to a pump and give him
what he deserves.'
'Not at all!' said Gideon. 'It is highly undesirable he should see us
together; and really, do you know, I am very much obliged to him, for
this is about the luckiest thing that could have possibly occurred. It
seems to me--Uncle Ned, I declare to heaven it seems to me--I'm clear of
'Clear of what?' asked the Squirradical.
'The whole affair!' cried Gideon. 'That man has been ass enough to steal
the cart and the dead body; what he hopes to do with it I neither know
nor care. My hands are free, Jimson ceases; down with Jimson. Shake
hands with me, Uncle Ned--Julia, darling girl, Julia, I--'
'Gideon, Gideon!' said his uncle. 'O, it's all right, uncle, when
we're going to be married so soon,' said Gideon. 'You know you said so
yourself in the houseboat.'
'Did I?' said Uncle Ned; 'I am certain I said no such thing.'
'Appeal to him, tell him he did, get on his soft side,' cried Gideon.
'He's a real brick if you get on his soft side.'
'Dear Mr Bloomfield,' said Julia, 'I know Gideon will be such a very
good boy, and he has promised me to do such a lot of law, and I will
see that he does too. And you know it is so very steadying to young men,
everybody admits that; though, of course, I know I have no money, Mr
Bloomfield,' she added.
'My dear young lady, as this rapscallion told you today on the boat,
Uncle Ned has plenty,' said the Squirradical, 'and I can never forget
that you have been shamefully defrauded. So as there's nobody looking,
you had better give your Uncle Ned a kiss. There, you rogue,' resumed
Mr Bloomfield, when the ceremony had been daintily performed, 'this very
pretty young lady is yours, and a vast deal more than you deserve. But
now, let us get back to the houseboat, get up steam on the launch, and
away back to town.'
'That's the thing!' cried Gideon; 'and tomorrow there will be no
houseboat, and no Jimson, and no carrier's cart, and no piano; and when
Harker awakes on the ditchside, he may tell himself the whole affair has
been a dream.'
'Aha!' said Uncle Ned, 'but there's another man who will have a
different awakening. That fellow in the cart will find he has been too
clever by half.'
'Uncle Ned and Julia,' said Gideon, 'I am as happy as the King of
Tartary, my heart is like a threepenny-bit, my heels are like feathers;
I am out of all my troubles, Julia's hand is in mine. Is this a time
for anything but handsome sentiments? Why, there's not room in me for
anything that's not angelic! And when I think of that poor unhappy devil
in the cart, I stand here in the night and cry with a single heart God
'Amen,' said Uncle Ned.
CHAPTER XIII. The Tribulations of Morris: Part the Second
In a really polite age of literature I would have scorned to cast my eye
again on the contortions of Morris. But the study is in the spirit of
the day; it presents, besides, features of a high, almost a repulsive,
morality; and if it should prove the means of preventing any respectable
and inexperienced gentleman from plunging light-heartedly into crime,
even political crime, this work will not have been penned in vain.
He rose on the morrow of his night with Michael, rose from the leaden
slumber of distress, to find his hand tremulous, his eyes closed with
rheum, his throat parched, and his digestion obviously paralysed.
'Lord knows it's not from eating!' Morris thought; and as he dressed
he reconsidered his position under several heads. Nothing will so well
depict the troubled seas in which he was now voyaging as a review
of these various anxieties. I have thrown them (for the reader's
convenience) into a certain order; but in the mind of one poor human
equal they whirled together like the dust of hurricanes. With the same
obliging preoccupation, I have put a name to each of his distresses;
and it will be observed with pity that every individual item would have
graced and commended the cover of a railway novel.
Anxiety the First: Where is the Body? or, The Mystery of Bent Pitman. It
was now manifestly plain that Bent Pitman (as was to be looked for from
his ominous appellation) belonged to the darker order of the criminal
class. An honest man would not have cashed the bill; a humane man would
not have accepted in silence the tragic contents of the water-butt; a
man, who was not already up to the hilts in gore, would have lacked
the means of secretly disposing them. This process of reasoning left a
horrid image of the monster, Pitman. Doubtless he had long ago disposed
of the body--dropping it through a trapdoor in his back kitchen, Morris
supposed, with some hazy recollection of a picture in a penny dreadful;
and doubtless the man now lived in wanton splendour on the proceeds of
the bill. So far, all was peace. But with the profligate habits of a man
like Bent Pitman (who was no doubt a hunchback in the bargain), eight
hundred pounds could be easily melted in a week. When they were gone,
what would he be likely to do next? A hell-like voice in Morris's own
bosom gave the answer: 'Blackmail me.'
Anxiety the Second: The Fraud of the Tontine; or, Is my Uncle dead?
This, on which all Morris's hopes depended, was yet a question. He had
tried to bully Teena; he had tried to bribe her; and nothing came of
it. He had his moral conviction still; but you cannot blackmail a sharp
lawyer on a moral conviction. And besides, since his interview with
Michael, the idea wore a less attractive countenance. Was Michael
the man to be blackmailed? and was Morris the man to do it? Grave
considerations. 'It's not that I'm afraid of him,' Morris so far
condescended to reassure himself; 'but I must be very certain of my
ground, and the deuce of it is, I see no way. How unlike is life to
novels! I wouldn't have even begun this business in a novel, but what
I'd have met a dark, slouching fellow in the Oxford Road, who'd have
become my accomplice, and known all about how to do it, and probably
broken into Michael's house at night and found nothing but a waxwork
image; and then blackmailed or murdered me. But here, in real life, I
might walk the streets till I dropped dead, and none of the criminal
classes would look near me. Though, to be sure, there is always Pitman,'
he added thoughtfully.
Anxiety the Third: The Cottage at Browndean; or, The Underpaid
Accomplice. For he had an accomplice, and that accomplice was blooming
unseen in a damp cottage in Hampshire with empty pockets. What could be
done about that? He really ought to have sent him something; if it was
only a post-office order for five bob, enough to prove that he was kept
in mind, enough to keep him in hope, beer, and tobacco. 'But what
would you have?' thought Morris; and ruefully poured into his hand
a half-crown, a florin, and eightpence in small change. For a man in
Morris's position, at war with all society, and conducting, with the
hand of inexperience, a widely ramified intrigue, the sum was already a
derision. John would have to be doing; no mistake of that. 'But then,'
asked the hell-like voice, 'how long is John likely to stand it?'
Anxiety the Fourth: The Leather Business; or, The Shutters at Last: a
Tale of the City. On this head Morris had no news. He had not yet dared
to visit the family concern; yet he knew he must delay no longer, and
if anything had been wanted to sharpen this conviction, Michael's
references of the night before rang ambiguously in his ear. Well and
good. To visit the city might be indispensable; but what was he to do
when he was there? He had no right to sign in his own name; and, with
all the will in the world, he seemed to lack the art of signing with
his uncle's. Under these circumstances, Morris could do nothing to
procrastinate the crash; and, when it came, when prying eyes began to be
applied to every joint of his behaviour, two questions could not fail to
be addressed, sooner or later, to a speechless and perspiring insolvent.
Where is Mr Joseph Finsbury? and how about your visit to the bank?
Questions, how easy to put!--ye gods, how impossible to answer! The man
to whom they should be addressed went certainly to gaol, and--eh! what
was this?--possibly to the gallows. Morris was trying to shave when this
idea struck him, and he laid the razor down. Here (in Michael's words)
was the total disappearance of a valuable uncle; here was a time of
inexplicable conduct on the part of a nephew who had been in bad
blood with the old man any time these seven years; what a chance for a
judicial blunder! 'But no,' thought Morris, 'they cannot, they dare not,
make it murder. Not that. But honestly, and speaking as a man to a man,
I don't see any other crime in the calendar (except arson) that I don't
seem somehow to have committed. And yet I'm a perfectly respectable man,
and wished nothing but my due. Law is a pretty business.'
With this conclusion firmly seated in his mind, Morris Finsbury
descended to the hall of the house in John Street, still half-shaven.
There was a letter in the box; he knew the handwriting: John at last!
'Well, I think I might have been spared this,' he said bitterly, and
tore it open.
Dear Morris [it ran], what the dickens do you mean by it? I'm in an
awful hole down here; I have to go on tick, and the parties on the spot
don't cotton to the idea; they couldn't, because it is so plain I'm in a
stait of Destitution. I've got no bedclothes, think of that, I must have
coins, the hole thing's a Mockry, I wont stand it, nobody would. I would
have come away before, only I have no money for the railway fare. Don't
be a lunatic, Morris, you don't seem to understand my dredful situation.
I have to get the stamp on tick. A fact.
--Ever your affte. Brother,
'Can't even spell!' Morris reflected, as he crammed the letter in his
pocket, and left the house. 'What can I do for him? I have to go to the
expense of a barber, I'm so shattered! How can I send anybody coins?
It's hard lines, I daresay; but does he think I'm living on hot muffins?
One comfort,' was his grim reflection, 'he can't cut and run--he's got
to stay; he's as helpless as the dead.' And then he broke forth again:
'Complains, does he? and he's never even heard of Bent Pitman! If he had
what I have on my mind, he might complain with a good grace.'
But these were not honest arguments, or not wholly honest; there was a
struggle in the mind of Morris; he could not disguise from himself that
his brother John was miserably situated at Browndean, without news,
without money, without bedclothes, without society or any entertainment;
and by the time he had been shaved and picked a hasty breakfast at a
coffee tavern, Morris had arrived at a compromise.
'Poor Johnny,' he said to himself, 'he's in an awful box! I can't
send him coins, but I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll send him the Pink
Un--it'll cheer John up; and besides, it'll do his credit good getting
anything by post.'
Accordingly, on his way to the leather business, whither he proceeded
(according to his thrifty habit) on foot, Morris purchased and
dispatched a single copy of that enlivening periodical, to which (in
a sudden pang of remorse) he added at random the Athenaeum, the
Revivalist, and the Penny Pictorial Weekly. So there was John set up
with literature, and Morris had laid balm upon his conscience.
As if to reward him, he was received in his place of business with good
news. Orders were pouring in; there was a run on some of the back stock,
and the figure had gone up. Even the manager appeared elated. As for
Morris, who had almost forgotten the meaning of good news, he longed to
sob like a little child; he could have caught the manager (a pallid
man with startled eyebrows) to his bosom; he could have found it in
his generosity to give a cheque (for a small sum) to every clerk in
the counting-house. As he sat and opened his letters a chorus of airy
vocalists sang in his brain, to most exquisite music, 'This whole
concern may be profitable yet, profitable yet, profitable yet.'
To him, in this sunny moment of relief, enter a Mr Rodgerson, a
creditor, but not one who was expected to be pressing, for his
connection with the firm was old and regular.
'O, Finsbury,' said he, not without embarrassment, 'it's of course only
fair to let you know--the fact is, money is a trifle tight--I have some
paper out--for that matter, every one's complaining--and in short--'
'It has never been our habit, Rodgerson,' said Morris, turning pale.
'But give me time to turn round, and I'll see what I can do; I daresay
we can let you have something to account.'
'Well, that's just where is,' replied Rodgerson. 'I was tempted; I've
let the credit out of MY hands.'
'Out of your hands?' repeated Morris. 'That's playing rather fast and
loose with us, Mr Rodgerson.'
'Well, I got cent. for cent. for it,' said the other, 'on the nail, in a
'Cent. for cent.!' cried Morris. 'Why, that's something like thirty per
cent. bonus; a singular thing! Who's the party?'
'Don't know the man,' was the reply. 'Name of Moss.'
'A Jew,' Morris reflected, when his visitor was gone. And what could a
Jew want with a claim of--he verified the amount in the books--a claim
of three five eight, nineteen, ten, against the house of Finsbury? And
why should he pay cent. for cent.? The figure proved the loyalty of
Rodgerson--even Morris admitted that. But it proved unfortunately
something else--the eagerness of Moss. The claim must have been wanted
instantly, for that day, for that morning even. Why? The mystery of Moss
promised to be a fit pendant to the mystery of Pitman. 'And just when
all was looking well too!' cried Morris, smiting his hand upon the desk.
And almost at the same moment Mr Moss was announced.
Mr Moss was a radiant Hebrew, brutally handsome, and offensively polite.
He was acting, it appeared, for a third party; he understood nothing of
the circumstances; his client desired to have his position regularized;
but he would accept an antedated cheque--antedated by two months, if Mr
'But I don't understand this,' said Morris. 'What made you pay cent. per
cent. for it today?'
Mr Moss had no idea; only his orders.
'The whole thing is thoroughly irregular,' said Morris. 'It is not the
custom of the trade to settle at this time of the year. What are your
instructions if I refuse?'
'I am to see Mr Joseph Finsbury, the head of the firm,' said Mr Moss.
'I was directed to insist on that; it was implied you had no status
here--the expressions are not mine.'
'You cannot see Mr Joseph; he is unwell,' said Morris.
'In that case I was to place the matter in the hands of a lawyer. Let
me see,' said Mr Moss, opening a pocket-book with, perhaps, suspicious
care, at the right place--'Yes--of Mr Michael Finsbury. A relation,
perhaps? In that case, I presume, the matter will be pleasantly
To pass into the hands of Michael was too much for Morris. He struck his
colours. A cheque at two months was nothing, after all. In two months
he would probably be dead, or in a gaol at any rate. He bade the manager
give Mr Moss a chair and the paper. 'I'm going over to get a cheque
signed by Mr Finsbury,' said he, 'who is lying ill at John Street.'
A cab there and a cab back; here were inroads on his wretched capital!
He counted the cost; when he was done with Mr Moss he would be left with
twelvepence-halfpenny in the world. What was even worse, he had now been
forced to bring his uncle up to Bloomsbury. 'No use for poor Johnny
in Hampshire now,' he reflected. 'And how the farce is to be kept up
completely passes me. At Browndean it was just possible; in Bloomsbury
it seems beyond human ingenuity--though I suppose it's what Michael
does. But then he has accomplices--that Scotsman and the whole gang. Ah,
if I had accomplices!'
Necessity is the mother of the arts. Under a spur so immediate, Morris
surprised himself by the neatness and dispatch of his new forgery, and
within three-fourths of an hour had handed it to Mr Moss.
'That is very satisfactory,' observed that gentleman, rising. 'I was to
tell you it will not be presented, but you had better take care.'
The room swam round Morris. 'What--what's that?' he cried, grasping the
table. He was miserably conscious the next moment of his shrill tongue
and ashen face. 'What do you mean--it will not be presented? Why am I to
take care? What is all this mummery?'
'I have no idea, Mr Finsbury,' replied the smiling Hebrew. 'It was a
message I was to deliver. The expressions were put into my mouth.'
'What is your client's name?' asked Morris.
'That is a secret for the moment,' answered Mr Moss. Morris bent toward
him. 'It's not the bank?' he asked hoarsely.
'I have no authority to say more, Mr Finsbury,' returned Mr Moss. 'I
will wish you a good morning, if you please.'
'Wish me a good morning!' thought Morris; and the next moment, seizing
his hat, he fled from his place of business like a madman. Three streets
away he stopped and groaned. 'Lord! I should have borrowed from the
manager!' he cried. 'But it's too late now; it would look dicky to go
back; I'm penniless--simply penniless--like the unemployed.'
He went home and sat in the dismantled dining-room with his head in his
hands. Newton never thought harder than this victim of circumstances,
and yet no clearness came. 'It may be a defect in my intelligence,' he
cried, rising to his feet, 'but I cannot see that I am fairly used. The
bad luck I've had is a thing to write to The Times about; it's enough to
breed a revolution. And the plain English of the whole thing is that I
must have money at once. I'm done with all morality now; I'm long past
that stage; money I must have, and the only chance I see is Bent Pitman.
Bent Pitman is a criminal, and therefore his position's weak. He must
have some of that eight hundred left; if he has I'll force him to go
shares; and even if he hasn't, I'll tell him the tontine affair, and
with a desperate man like Pitman at my back, it'll be strange if I don't
Well and good. But how to lay hands upon Bent Pitman, except by
advertisement, was not so clear. And even so, in what terms to ask a
meeting? on what grounds? and where? Not at John Street, for it would
never do to let a man like Bent Pitman know your real address; nor yet
at Pitman's house, some dreadful place in Holloway, with a trapdoor
in the back kitchen; a house which you might enter in a light summer
overcoat and varnished boots, to come forth again piecemeal in a
market-basket. That was the drawback of a really efficient accomplice,
Morris felt, not without a shudder. 'I never dreamed I should come to
actually covet such society,' he thought. And then a brilliant idea
struck him. Waterloo Station, a public place, yet at certain hours of
the day a solitary; a place, besides, the very name of which must knock
upon the heart of Pitman, and at once suggest a knowledge of the latest
of his guilty secrets. Morris took a piece of paper and sketched his
WILLIAM BENT PITMAN, if this should meet the eye of, he will hear of
SOMETHING TO HIS ADVANTAGE on the far end of the main line departure
platform, Waterloo Station, 2 to 4 P.M., Sunday next.
Morris reperused this literary trifle with approbation. 'Terse,' he
reflected. 'Something to his advantage is not strictly true; but it's
taking and original, and a man is not on oath in an advertisement.
All that I require now is the ready cash for my own meals and for the
advertisement, and--no, I can't lavish money upon John, but I'll give
him some more papers. How to raise the wind?'
He approached his cabinet of signets, and the collector suddenly
revolted in his blood. 'I will not!' he cried; 'nothing shall induce me
to massacre my collection--rather theft!' And dashing upstairs to the
drawing-room, he helped himself to a few of his uncle's curiosities:
a pair of Turkish babooshes, a Smyrna fan, a water-cooler, a musket
guaranteed to have been seized from an Ephesian bandit, and a pocketful
of curious but incomplete seashells.
CHAPTER XIV. William Bent Pitman Hears of Something to his Advantage
On the morning of Sunday, William Dent Pitman rose at his usual hour,
although with something more than the usual reluctance. The day before
(it should be explained) an addition had been made to his family in the
person of a lodger. Michael Finsbury had acted sponsor in the business,
and guaranteed the weekly bill; on the other hand, no doubt with a spice
of his prevailing jocularity, he had drawn a depressing portrait of the
lodger's character. Mr Pitman had been led to understand his guest was
not good company; he had approached the gentleman with fear, and had
rejoiced to find himself the entertainer of an angel. At tea he had been
vastly pleased; till hard on one in the morning he had sat entranced by
eloquence and progressively fortified with information in the studio;
and now, as he reviewed over his toilet the harmless pleasures of
the evening, the future smiled upon him with revived attractions. 'Mr
Finsbury is indeed an acquisition,' he remarked to himself; and as
he entered the little parlour, where the table was already laid for
breakfast, the cordiality of his greeting would have befitted an
acquaintanceship already old.
'I am delighted to see you, sir'--these were his expressions--'and I
trust you have slept well.'
'Accustomed as I have been for so long to a life of almost perpetual
change,' replied the guest, 'the disturbance so often complained of by
the more sedentary, as attending their first night in (what is called) a
new bed, is a complaint from which I am entirely free.'
'I am delighted to hear it,' said the drawing-master warmly. 'But I see
I have interrupted you over the paper.'
'The Sunday paper is one of the features of the age,' said Mr Finsbury.
'In America, I am told, it supersedes all other literature, the bone and
sinew of the nation finding their requirements catered for; hundreds of
columns will be occupied with interesting details of the world's
doings, such as water-spouts, elopements, conflagrations, and public
entertainments; there is a corner for politics, ladies' work, chess,
religion, and even literature; and a few spicy editorials serve to
direct the course of public thought. It is difficult to estimate the
part played by such enormous and miscellaneous repositories in the
education of the people. But this (though interesting in itself)
partakes of the nature of a digression; and what I was about to ask you
was this: Are you yourself a student of the daily press?'
'There is not much in the papers to interest an artist,' returned
'In that case,' resumed Joseph, 'an advertisement which has appeared
the last two days in various journals, and reappears this morning,
may possibly have failed to catch your eye. The name, with a trifling
variation, bears a strong resemblance to your own. Ah, here it is. If
you please, I will read it to you:
WILIAM BENT PITMAN, if this should meet the eye of, he will hear of
SOMETHING TO HIS ADVANTAGE at the far end of the main line departure
platform, Waterloo Station, 2 to 4 P.M. today.
'Is that in print?' cried Pitman. 'Let me see it! Bent? It must be Dent!
SOMETHING TO MY ADVANTAGE? Mr Finsbury, excuse me offering a word
caution; I am aware how strangely this must sound in your ears, but
there are domestic reasons why this little circumstance might perhaps
be better kept between ourselves. Mrs Pitman--my dear Sir, I assure you
there is nothing dishonourable in my secrecy; the reasons are domestic,
merely domestic; and I may set your conscience at rest when I assure
you all the circumstances are known to our common friend, your excellent
nephew, Mr Michael, who has not withdrawn from me his esteem.'
'A word is enough, Mr Pitman,' said Joseph, with one of his Oriental
Half an hour later, the drawing-master found Michael in bed and reading
a book, the picture of good-humour and repose.
'Hillo, Pitman,' he said, laying down his book, 'what brings you here at
this inclement hour? Ought to be in church, my boy!'
'I have little thought of church today, Mr Finsbury,' said the
drawing-master. 'I am on the brink of something new, Sir.' And he
presented the advertisement.
'Why, what is this?' cried Michael, sitting suddenly up. He studied
it for half a minute with a frown. 'Pitman, I don't care about this
document a particle,' said he.
'It will have to be attended to, however,' said Pitman.
'I thought you'd had enough of Waterloo,' returned the lawyer. 'Have you
started a morbid craving? You've never been yourself anyway since you
lost that beard. I believe now it was where you kept your senses.'
'Mr Finsbury,' said the drawing-master, 'I have tried to reason this
matter out, and, with your permission, I should like to lay before you
'Fire away,' said Michael; 'but please, Pitman, remember it's Sunday,
and let's have no bad language.'
'There are three views open to us,' began Pitman. 'First this may
be connected with the barrel; second, it may be connected with Mr
Semitopolis's statue; and third, it may be from my wife's brother, who
went to Australia. In the first case, which is of course possible, I
confess the matter would be best allowed to drop.'
'The court is with you there, Brother Pitman,' said Michael.
'In the second,' continued the other, 'it is plainly my duty to leave no
stone unturned for the recovery of the lost antique.'
'My dear fellow, Semitopolis has come down like a trump; he has pocketed
the loss and left you the profit. What more would you have?' enquired
'I conceive, sir, under correction, that Mr Semitopolis's generosity
binds me to even greater exertion,' said the drawing-master. 'The whole
business was unfortunate; it was--I need not disguise it from you--it
was illegal from the first: the more reason that I should try to behave
like a gentleman,' concluded Pitman, flushing.
'I have nothing to say to that,' returned the lawyer. 'I have sometimes
thought I should like to try to behave like a gentleman myself; only
it's such a one-sided business, with the world and the legal profession
as they are.'
'Then, in the third,' resumed the drawing-master, 'if it's Uncle Tim, of
course, our fortune's made.'
'It's not Uncle Tim, though,' said the lawyer.
'Have you observed that very remarkable expression: SOMETHING TO HIS
ADVANTAGE?' enquired Pitman shrewdly.
'You innocent mutton,' said Michael, 'it's the seediest commonplace in
the English language, and only proves the advertiser is an ass. Let me
demolish your house of cards for you at once. Would Uncle Tim make
that blunder in your name?--in itself, the blunder is delicious, a huge
improvement on the gross reality, and I mean to adopt it in the future;
but is it like Uncle Tim?'
'No, it's not like him,' Pitman admitted. 'But his mind may have become
unhinged at Ballarat.'
'If you come to that, Pitman,' said Michael, 'the advertiser may be
Queen Victoria, fired with the desire to make a duke of you. I put it
to yourself if that's probable; and yet it's not against the laws of
nature. But we sit here to consider probabilities; and with your genteel
permission, I eliminate her Majesty and Uncle Tim on the threshold. To
proceed, we have your second idea, that this has some connection with
the statue. Possible; but in that case who is the advertiser? Not
Ricardi, for he knows your address; not the person who got the box, for
he doesn't know your name. The vanman, I hear you suggest, in a lucid
interval. He might have got your name, and got it incorrectly, at the
station; and he might have failed to get your address. I grant the
vanman. But a question: Do you really wish to meet the vanman?'
'Why should I not?' asked Pitman.
'If he wants to meet you,' replied Michael, 'observe this: it is because
he has found his address-book, has been to the house that got the
statue, and-mark my words!--is moving at the instigation of the
'I should be very sorry to think so,' said Pitman; 'but I still consider
it my duty to Mr Sernitopolis. . .'
'Pitman,' interrupted Michael, 'this will not do. Don't seek to impose
on your legal adviser; don't try to pass yourself off for the Duke of
Wellington, for that is not your line. Come, I wager a dinner I can read
your thoughts. You still believe it's Uncle Tim.'
'Mr Finsbury,' said the drawing-master, colouring, 'you are not a man in
narrow circumstances, and you have no family. Guendolen is growing up,
a very promising girl--she was confirmed this year; and I think you will
be able to enter into my feelings as a parent when I tell you she is
quite ignorant of dancing. The boys are at the board school, which is
all very well in its way; at least, I am the last man in the world to
criticize the institutions of my native land. But I had fondly hoped
that Harold might become a professional musician; and little Otho
shows a quite remarkable vocation for the Church. I am not exactly an
'Well, well,' interrupted Michael. 'Be explicit; you think it's Uncle
'It might be Uncle Tim,' insisted Pitman, 'and if it were, and I
neglected the occasion, how could I ever took my children in the face? I
do not refer to Mrs Pitman. . .'
'No, you never do,' said Michael.
'. . . but in the case of her own brother returning from Ballarat. . .'
'. . . with his mind unhinged,' put in the lawyer.
'. . . returning from Ballarat with a large fortune, her impatience may
be more easily imagined than described,' concluded Pitman.
'All right,' said Michael, 'be it so. And what do you propose to do?'
'I am going to Waterloo,' said Pitman, 'in disguise.'
'All by your little self?' enquired the lawyer. 'Well, I hope you think
it safe. Mind and send me word from the police cells.'
'O, Mr Finsbury, I had ventured to hope--perhaps you might be induced
to--to make one of us,' faltered Pitman.
'Disguise myself on Sunday?' cried Michael. 'How little you understand
'Mr Finsbury, I have no means of showing you my gratitude; but let me
ask you one question,' said Pitman. 'If I were a very rich client, would
you not take the risk?'
'Diamond, Diamond, you know not what you do!' cried Michael. 'Why, man,
do you suppose I make a practice of cutting about London with my clients
in disguise? Do you suppose money would induce me to touch this business
with a stick? I give you my word of honour, it would not. But I own I
have a real curiosity to see how you conduct this interview--that tempts
me; it tempts me, Pitman, more than gold--it should be exquisitely
rich.' And suddenly Michael laughed. 'Well, Pitman,' said he, 'have all
the truck ready in the studio. I'll go.'
About twenty minutes after two, on this eventful day, the vast and
gloomy shed of Waterloo lay, like the temple of a dead religion, silent
and deserted. Here and there at one of the platforms, a train lay
becalmed; here and there a wandering footfall echoed; the cab-horses
outside stamped with startling reverberations on the stones; or from the
neighbouring wilderness of railway an engine snorted forth a whistle.
The main-line departure platform slumbered like the rest; the
booking-hutches closed; the backs of Mr Haggard's novels, with which
upon a weekday the bookstall shines emblazoned, discreetly hidden behind
dingy shutters; the rare officials, undisguisedly somnambulant; and the
customary loiterers, even to the middle-aged woman with the ulster and
the handbag, fled to more congenial scenes. As in the inmost dells of
some small tropic island the throbbing of the ocean lingers, so here a
faint pervading hum and trepidation told in every corner of surrounding
At the hour already named, persons acquainted with John Dickson, of
Ballarat, and Ezra Thomas, of the United States of America, would have
been cheered to behold them enter through the booking-office.
'What names are we to take?' enquired the latter, anxiously adjusting
the window-glass spectacles which he had been suffered on this occasion
'There's no choice for you, my boy,' returned Michael. 'Bent Pitman
or nothing. As for me, I think I look as if I might be called Appleby;
something agreeably old-world about Appleby--breathes of Devonshire
cider. Talking of which, suppose you wet your whistle? the interview is
likely to be trying.'
'I think I'll wait till afterwards,' returned Pitman; 'on the whole, I
think I'll wait till the thing's over. I don't know if it strikes you
as it does me; but the place seems deserted and silent, Mr Finsbury, and
filled with very singular echoes.'
'Kind of Jack-in-the-box feeling?' enquired Michael, 'as if all these
empty trains might be filled with policemen waiting for a signal? and
Sir Charles Warren perched among the girders with a silver whistle to
his lips? It's guilt, Pitman.'
In this uneasy frame of mind they walked nearly the whole length of
the departure platform, and at the western extremity became aware of a
slender figure standing back against a pillar. The figure was plainly
sunk into a deep abstraction; he was not aware of their approach, but
gazed far abroad over the sunlit station. Michael stopped.
'Holloa!' said he, 'can that be your advertiser? If so, I'm done with
it.' And then, on second thoughts: 'Not so, either,' he resumed more
cheerfully. 'Here, turn your back a moment. So. Give me the specs.'
'But you agreed I was to have them,' protested Pitman.
'Ah, but that man knows me,' said Michael.
'Does he? what's his name?' cried Pitman.
'O, he took me into his confidence,' returned the lawyer. 'But I may say
one thing: if he's your advertiser (and he may be, for he seems to
have been seized with criminal lunacy) you can go ahead with a clear
conscience, for I hold him in the hollow of my hand.'
The change effected, and Pitman comforted with this good news, the pair
drew near to Morris.
'Are you looking for Mr William Bent Pitman?' enquired the
drawing-master. 'I am he.'
Morris raised his head. He saw before him, in the speaker, a person
of almost indescribable insignificance, in white spats and a shirt cut
indecently low. A little behind, a second and more burly figure
offered little to criticism, except ulster, whiskers, spectacles,
and deerstalker hat. Since he had decided to call up devils from the
underworld of London, Morris had pondered deeply on the probabilities
of their appearance. His first emotion, like that of Charoba when she
beheld the sea, was one of disappointment; his second did more justice
to the case. Never before had he seen a couple dressed like these; he
had struck a new stratum.
'I must speak with you alone,' said he.
'You need not mind Mr Appleby,' returned Pitman. 'He knows all.'
'All? Do you know what I am here to speak of?' enquired Morris--. 'The
Pitman turned pale, but it was with manly indignation. 'You are the
man!' he cried. 'You very wicked person.'
'Am I to speak before him?' asked Morris, disregarding these severe
'He has been present throughout,' said Pitman. 'He opened the barrel;
your guilty secret is already known to him, as well as to your Maker and
'Well, then,' said Morris, 'what have you done with the money?'
'I know nothing about any money,' said Pitman.
'You needn't try that on,' said Morris. 'I have tracked you down; you
came to the station sacrilegiously disguised as a clergyman, procured my
barrel, opened it, rifled the body, and cashed the bill. I have been to
the bank, I tell you! I have followed you step by step, and your denials
are childish and absurd.'
'Come, come, Morris, keep your temper,' said Mr Appleby.
'Michael!' cried Morris, 'Michael here too!'
'Here too,' echoed the lawyer; 'here and everywhere, my good fellow;
every step you take is counted; trained detectives follow you like your
shadow; they report to me every three-quarters of an hour; no expense is
Morris's face took on a hue of dirty grey. 'Well, I don't care; I have
the less reserve to keep,' he cried. 'That man cashed my bill; it's a
theft, and I want the money back.'
'Do you think I would lie to you, Morris?' asked Michael.
'I don't know,' said his cousin. 'I want my money.'
'It was I alone who touched the body,' began Michael.
'You? Michael!' cried Morris, starting back. 'Then why haven't you
declared the death?' 'What the devil do you mean?' asked Michael.
'Am I mad? or are you?' cried Morris.
'I think it must be Pitman,' said Michael.
The three men stared at each other, wild-eyed.
'This is dreadful,' said Morris, 'dreadful. I do not understand one word
that is addressed to me.'
'I give you my word of honour, no more do I,' said Michael.
'And in God's name, why whiskers?' cried Morris, pointing in a ghastly
manner at his cousin. 'Does my brain reel? How whiskers?'
'O, that's a matter of detail,' said Michael.
There was another silence, during which Morris appeared to himself to
be shot in a trapeze as high as St Paul's, and as low as Baker Street
'Let us recapitulate,' said Michael, 'unless it's really a dream, in
which case I wish Teena would call me for breakfast. My friend Pitman,
here, received a barrel which, it now appears, was meant for you. The
barrel contained the body of a man. How or why you killed him...'
'I never laid a hand on him,' protested Morris. 'This is what I have
dreaded all along. But think, Michael! I'm not that kind of man; with
all my faults, I wouldn't touch a hair of anybody's head, and it was all
dead loss to me. He got killed in that vile accident.'
Suddenly Michael was seized by mirth so prolonged and excessive that his
companions supposed beyond a doubt his reason had deserted him. Again
and again he struggled to compose himself, and again and again laughter
overwhelmed him like a tide. In all this maddening interview there had
been no more spectral feature than this of Michael's merriment; and
Pitman and Morris, drawn together by the common fear, exchanged glances
'Morris,' gasped the lawyer, when he was at last able to articulate,
'hold on, I see it all now. I can make it clear in one word. Here's the
key: I NEVER GUESSED IT WAS UNCLE JOSEPH TILL THIS MOMENT.'
This remark produced an instant lightening of the tension for Morris.
For Pitman it quenched the last ray of hope and daylight. Uncle Joseph,
whom he had left an hour ago in Norfolk Street, pasting newspaper
cuttings?--it?--the dead body?--then who was he, Pitman? and was this
Waterloo Station or Colney Hatch?
'To be sure!' cried Morris; 'it was badly smashed, I know. How stupid
not to think of that! Why, then, all's clear; and, my dear Michael, I'll
tell you what--we're saved, both saved. You get the tontine--I don't
grudge it you the least--and I get the leather business, which is really
beginning to look up. Declare the death at once, don't mind me in the
smallest, don't consider me; declare the death, and we're all right.'
'Ah, but I can't declare it,' said Michael.
'Why not?' cried Morris.
'I can't produce the corpus, Morris. I've lost it,' said the lawyer.
'Stop a bit,' ejaculated the leather merchant. 'How is this? It's not
possible. I lost it.'
'Well, I've lost it too, my son,' said Michael, with extreme serenity.
'Not recognizing it, you see, and suspecting something irregular in its
origin, I got rid of--what shall we say?--got rid of the proceeds at
'You got rid of the body? What made you do that?' walled Morris. 'But
you can get it again? You know where it is?'
'I wish I did, Morris, and you may believe me there, for it would be a
small sum in my pocket; but the fact is, I don't,' said Michael.
'Good Lord,' said Morris, addressing heaven and earth, 'good Lord, I've
lost the leather business!'
Michael was once more shaken with laughter.
'Why do you laugh, you fool?' cried his cousin, 'you lose more than I.
You've bungled it worse than even I did. If you had a spark of feeling,
you would be shaking in your boots with vexation. But I'll tell you one
thing--I'll have that eight hundred pound--I'll have that and go to Swan
River--that's mine, anyway, and your friend must have forged to cash it.
Give me the eight hundred, here, upon this platform, or I go straight to
Scotland Yard and turn the whole disreputable story inside out.'
'Morris,' said Michael, laying his hand upon his shoulder, 'hear reason.
It wasn't us, it was the other man. We never even searched the body.'
'The other man?' repeated Morris.
'Yes, the other man. We palmed Uncle Joseph off upon another man,' said
'You what? You palmed him off? That's surely a singular expression,'
'Yes, palmed him off for a piano,' said Michael with perfect simplicity.
'Remarkably full, rich tone,' he added.
Morris carried his hand to his brow and looked at it; it was wet with
sweat. 'Fever,' said he.
'No, it was a Broadwood grand,' said Michael. 'Pitman here will tell you
if it was genuine or not.'
'Eh? O! O yes, I believe it was a genuine Broadwood; I have played upon
it several times myself,' said Pitman. 'The three-letter E was broken.'
'Don't say anything more about pianos,' said Morris, with a strong
shudder; 'I'm not the man I used to be! This--this other man--let's come
to him, if I can only manage to follow. Who is he? Where can I get hold
'Ah, that's the rub,' said Michael. 'He's been in possession of the
desired article, let me see--since Wednesday, about four o'clock, and is
now, I should imagine, on his way to the isles of Javan and Gadire.'
'Michael,' said Morris pleadingly, 'I am in a very weak state, and I beg
your consideration for a kinsman. Say it slowly again, and be sure you
are correct. When did he get it?'
Michael repeated his statement.
'Yes, that's the worst thing yet,' said Morris, drawing in his breath.
'What is?' asked the lawyer.
'Even the dates are sheer nonsense,' said the leather merchant.
'The bill was cashed on Tuesday. There's not a gleam of reason in the
A young gentleman, who had passed the trio and suddenly started and
turned back, at this moment laid a heavy hand on Michael's shoulder.
'Aha! so this is Mr Dickson?' said he.
The trump of judgement could scarce have rung with a more dreadful note
in the ears of Pitman and the lawyer. To Morris this erroneous name
seemed a legitimate enough continuation of the nightmare in which he
had so long been wandering. And when Michael, with his brand-new bushy
whiskers, broke from the grasp of the stranger and turned to run, and
the weird little shaven creature in the low-necked shirt followed his
example with a bird-like screech, and the stranger (finding the rest of
his prey escape him) pounced with a rude grasp on Morris himself,
that gentleman's frame of mind might be very nearly expressed in the
colloquial phrase: 'I told you so!'
'I have one of the gang,' said Gideon Forsyth.
'I do not understand,' said Morris dully.
'O, I will make you understand,' returned Gideon grimly.
'You will be a good friend to me if you can make me understand
anything,' cried Morris, with a sudden energy of conviction.
'I don't know you personally, do I?' continued Gideon, examining his
unresisting prisoner. 'Never mind, I know your friends. They are your
friends, are they not?'
'I do not understand you,' said Morris.
'You had possibly something to do with a piano?' suggested Gideon.
'A piano!' cried Morris, convulsively clasping Gideon by the arm. 'Then
you're the other man! Where is it? Where is the body? And did you cash
'Where is the body? This is very strange,' mused Gideon. 'Do you want
'Want it?' cried Morris. 'My whole fortune depends upon it! I lost it.
Where is it? Take me to it?
'O, you want it, do you? And the other man, Dickson--does he want it?'
'Who do you mean by Dickson? O, Michael Finsbury! Why, of course he
does! He lost it too. If he had it, he'd have won the tontine tomorrow.'
'Michael Finsbury! Not the solicitor?' cried Gideon. 'Yes, the
solicitor,' said Morris. 'But where is the body?'
'Then that is why he sent the brief! What is Mr Finsbury's private
address?' asked Gideon.
'233 King's Road. What brief? Where are you going? Where is the body?'
cried Morris, clinging to Gideon's arm.
'I have lost it myself,' returned Gideon, and ran out of the station.
CHAPTER XV. The Return of the Great Vance
Morris returned from Waterloo in a frame of mind that baffles
description. He was a modest man; he had never conceived an overweening
notion of his own powers; he knew himself unfit to write a book, turn a
table napkin-ring, entertain a Christmas party with legerdemain--grapple
(in short) any of those conspicuous accomplishments that are usually
classed under the head of genius. He knew--he admitted--his parts to be
pedestrian, but he had considered them (until quite lately) fully equal
to the demands of life. And today he owned himself defeated: life had
the upper hand; if there had been any means of flight or place to flee
to, if the world had been so ordered that a man could leave it like a
place of entertainment, Morris would have instantly resigned all further
claim on its rewards and pleasures, and, with inexpressible contentment,
ceased to be. As it was, one aim shone before him: he could get home.
Even as the sick dog crawls under the sofa, Morris could shut the door
of John Street and be alone.
The dusk was falling when he drew near this place of refuge; and the
first thing that met his eyes was the figure of a man upon the step,
alternately plucking at the bell-handle and pounding on the panels. The
man had no hat, his clothes were hideous with filth, he had the air of a
hop-picker. Yet Morris knew him; it was John.
The first impulse of flight was succeeded, in the elder brother's
bosom, by the empty quiescence of despair. 'What does it matter now?' he
thought, and drawing forth his latchkey ascended the steps.
John turned about; his face was ghastly with weariness and dirt and
fury; and as he recognized the head of his family, he drew in a long
rasping breath, and his eyes glittered.
'Open that door,' he said, standing back.
'I am going to,' said Morris, and added mentally, 'He looks like
The brothers passed into the hall, the door closed behind them; and
suddenly John seized Morris by the shoulders and shook him as a terrier
shakes a rat. 'You mangy little cad,' he said, 'I'd serve you right to
smash your skull!' And shook him again, so that his teeth rattled and
his head smote upon the wall.
'Don't be violent, Johnny,' said Morris. 'It can't do any good now.'
'Shut your mouth,' said John, 'your time's come to listen.'
He strode into the dining-room, fell into the easy-chair, and taking off
one of his burst walking-shoes, nursed for a while his foot like one in
agony. 'I'm lame for life,' he said. 'What is there for dinner?'
'Nothing, Johnny,' said Morris.
'Nothing? What do you mean by that?' enquired the Great Vance. 'Don't
set up your chat to me!'
'I mean simply nothing,' said his brother. 'I have nothing to eat, and
nothing to buy it with. I've only had a cup of tea and a sandwich all
this day myself.'
'Only a sandwich?' sneered Vance. 'I suppose YOU'RE going to complain
next. But you had better take care: I've had all I mean to take; and
I can tell you what it is, I mean to dine and to dine well. Take your
signets and sell them.'
'I can't today,' objected Morris; 'it's Sunday.'
'I tell you I'm going to dine!' cried the younger brother.
'But if it's not possible, Johnny?' pleaded the other.
'You nincompoop!' cried Vance. 'Ain't we householders? Don't they know
us at that hotel where Uncle Parker used to come. Be off with you; and
if you ain't back in half an hour, and if the dinner ain't good, first
I'll lick you till you don't want to breathe, and then I'll go straight
to the police and blow the gaff. Do you understand that, Morris
Finsbury? Because if you do, you had better jump.'
The idea smiled even upon the wretched Morris, who was sick with famine.
He sped upon his errand, and returned to find John still nursing his
foot in the armchair.
'What would you like to drink, Johnny?' he enquired soothingly.
'Fizz,' said John. 'Some of the poppy stuff from the end bin; a bottle
of the old port that Michael liked, to follow; and see and don't shake
the port. And look here, light the fire--and the gas, and draw down the
blinds; it's cold and it's getting dark. And then you can lay the cloth.
And, I say--here, you! bring me down some clothes.'
The room looked comparatively habitable by the time the dinner came; and
the dinner itself was good: strong gravy soup, fillets of sole, mutton
chops and tomato sauce, roast beef done rare with roast potatoes,
cabinet pudding, a piece of Chester cheese, and some early celery: a
meal uncompromisingly British, but supporting.
'Thank God!' said John, his nostrils sniffing wide, surprised by joy
into the unwonted formality of grace. 'Now I'm going to take this chair
with my back to the fire--there's been a strong frost these two last
nights, and I can't get it out of my bones; the celery will be just the
ticket--I'm going to sit here, and you are going to stand there, Morris
Finsbury, and play butler.'
'But, Johnny, I'm so hungry myself,' pleaded Morris.
'You can have what I leave,' said Vance. 'You're just beginning to
pay your score, my daisy; I owe you one-pound-ten; don't you rouse the
British lion!' There was something indescribably menacing in the face
and voice of the Great Vance as he uttered these words, at which the
soul of Morris withered. 'There!' resumed the feaster, 'give us a glass
of the fizz to start with. Gravy soup! And I thought I didn't like gravy
soup! Do you know how I got here?' he asked, with another explosion of
'No, Johnny; how could I?' said the obsequious Morris.
'I walked on my ten toes!' cried John; 'tramped the whole way from
Browndean; and begged! I would like to see you beg. It's not so easy
as you might suppose. I played it on being a shipwrecked mariner from
Blyth; I don't know where Blyth is, do you? but I thought it sounded
natural. I begged from a little beast of a schoolboy, and he forked out
a bit of twine, and asked me to make a clove hitch; I did, too, I know I
did, but he said it wasn't, he said it was a granny's knot, and I was a
what-d'ye-call-'em, and he would give me in charge. Then I begged from
a naval officer--he never bothered me with knots, but he only gave me
a tract; there's a nice account of the British navy!--and then from a
widow woman that sold lollipops, and I got a hunch of bread from her.
Another party I fell in with said you could generally always get bread;
and the thing to do was to break a plateglass window and get into gaol;
seemed rather a brilliant scheme. Pass the beef.'
'Why didn't you stay at Browndean?' Morris ventured to enquire.
'Skittles!' said John. 'On what? The Pink Un and a measly religious
paper? I had to leave Browndean; I had to, I tell you. I got tick at
a public, and set up to be the Great Vance; so would you, if you were
leading such a beastly existence! And a card stood me a lot of ale and
stuff, and we got swipey, talking about music-halls and the piles of tin
I got for singing; and then they got me on to sing "Around her splendid
form I weaved the magic circle," and then he said I couldn't be Vance,
and I stuck to it like grim death I was. It was rot of me to sing, of
course, but I thought I could brazen it out with a set of yokels. It
settled my hash at the public,' said John, with a sigh. 'And then the
last thing was the carpenter--'
'Our landlord?' enquired Morris.
'That's the party,' said John. 'He came nosing about the place, and then
wanted to know where the water-butt was, and the bedclothes. I told him
to go to the devil; so would you too, when there was no possible thing
to say! And then he said I had pawned them, and did I know it was
felony? Then I made a pretty neat stroke. I remembered he was deaf, and
talked a whole lot of rot, very politely, just so low he couldn't hear
a word. "I don't hear you," says he. "I know you don't, my buck, and I
don't mean you to," says I, smiling away like a haberdasher. "I'm hard
of hearing," he roars. "I'd be in a pretty hot corner if you weren't,"
says I, making signs as if I was explaining everything. It was tip-top
as long as it lasted. "Well," he said, "I'm deaf, worse luck, but I
bet the constable can hear you." And off he started one way, and I the
other. They got a spirit-lamp and the Pink Un, and that old religious
paper, and another periodical you sent me. I think you must have been
drunk--it had a name like one of those spots that Uncle Joseph used to
hold forth at, and it was all full of the most awful swipes about poetry
and the use of the globes. It was the kind of thing that nobody could
read out of a lunatic asylum. The Athaeneum, that was the name! Golly,
what a paper!'
'Athenaeum, you mean,' said Morris.
'I don't care what you call it,' said John, 'so as I don't require to
take it in! There, I feel better. Now I'm going to sit by the fire in
the easy-chair; pass me the cheese, and the celery, and the bottle of
port--no, a champagne glass, it holds more. And now you can pitch in;
there's some of the fish left and a chop, and some fizz. Ah,' sighed the
refreshed pedestrian, 'Michael was right about that port; there's old
and vatted for you! Michael's a man I like; he's clever and reads books,
and the Athaeneum, and all that; but he's not dreary to meet, he don't
talk Athaeneum like the other parties; why, the most of them would throw
a blight over a skittle alley! Talking of Michael, I ain't bored myself
to put the question, because of course I knew it from the first. You've
made a hash of it, eh?'
'Michael made a hash of it,' said Morris, flushing dark.
'What have we got to do with that?' enquired John.
'He has lost the body, that's what we have to do with it,' cried Morris.
'He has lost the body, and the death can't be established.'
'Hold on,' said John. 'I thought you didn't want to?'
'O, we're far past that,' said his brother. 'It's not the tontine now,
it's the leather business, Johnny; it's the clothes upon our back.'
'Stow the slow music,' said John, 'and tell your story from beginning to
end.' Morris did as he was bid.
'Well, now, what did I tell you?' cried the Great Vance, when the other
had done. 'But I know one thing: I'm not going to be humbugged out of my
'I should like to know what you mean to do,' said Morris.
'I'll tell you that,' responded John with extreme decision. 'I'm going
to put my interests in the hands of the smartest lawyer in London; and
whether you go to quod or not is a matter of indifference to me.'
'Why, Johnny, we're in the same boat!' expostulated Morris.
'Are we?' cried his brother. 'I bet we're not! Have I committed forgery?
have I lied about Uncle Joseph? have I put idiotic advertisements in the
comic papers? have I smashed other people's statues? I like your cheek,
Morris Finsbury. No, I've let you run my affairs too long; now they
shall go to Michael. I like Michael, anyway; and it's time I understood
At this moment the brethren were interrupted by a ring at the bell,
and Morris, going timorously to the door, received from the hands of a
commissionaire a letter addressed in the hand of Michael. Its contents
ran as follows:
MORRIS FINSBURY, if this should meet the eye of, he will hear of
SOMETHING TO HIS ADVANTAGE at my office, in Chancery Lane, at 10
So utter was Morris's subjection that he did not wait to be asked, but
handed the note to John as soon as he had glanced at it himself.
'That's the way to write a letter,' cried John. 'Nobody but Michael
could have written that.'
And Morris did not even claim the credit of priority.
CHAPTER XVI. Final Adjustment of the Leather Business
Finsbury brothers were ushered, at ten the next morning, into a large
apartment in Michael's office; the Great Vance, somewhat restored from
yesterday's exhaustion, but with one foot in a slipper; Morris, not
positively damaged, but a man ten years older than he who had left
Bournemouth eight days before, his face ploughed full of anxious
wrinkles, his dark hair liberally grizzled at the temples.
Three persons were seated at a table to receive them: Michael in
the midst, Gideon Forsyth on his right hand, on his left an ancient
gentleman with spectacles and silver hair. 'By Jingo, it's Uncle Joe!'
But Morris approached his uncle with a pale countenance and glittering
'I'll tell you what you did!' he cried. 'You absconded!'
'Good morning, Morris Finsbury,' returned Joseph, with no less asperity;
'you are looking seriously ill.'
'No use making trouble now,' remarked Michael. 'Look the facts in the
face. Your uncle, as you see, was not so much as shaken in the accident;
a man of your humane disposition ought to be delighted.'
'Then, if that's so,' Morris broke forth, 'how about the body? You don't
mean to insinuate that thing I schemed and sweated for, and colported
with my own hands, was the body of a total stranger?'
'O no, we can't go as far as that,' said Michael soothingly; 'you may
have met him at the club.'
Morris fell into a chair. 'I would have found it out if it had come to
the house,' he complained. 'And why didn't it? why did it go to Pitman?
what right had Pitman to open it?'
'If you come to that, Morris, what have you done with the colossal
Hercules?' asked Michael.
'He went through it with the meat-axe,' said John. 'It's all in
spillikins in the back garden.'
'Well, there's one thing,' snapped Morris; 'there's my uncle again, my
fraudulent trustee. He's mine, anyway. And the tontine too. I claim the
tontine; I claim it now. I believe Uncle Masterman's dead.'
'I must put a stop to this nonsense,' said Michael, 'and that for ever.
You say too near the truth. In one sense your uncle is dead, and has
been so long; but not in the sense of the tontine, which it is even on
the cards he may yet live to win. Uncle Joseph saw him this morning; he
will tell you he still lives, but his mind is in abeyance.'
'He did not know me,' said Joseph; to do him justice, not without
'So you're out again there, Morris,' said John. 'My eye! what a fool
you've made of yourself!'
'And that was why you wouldn't compromise,' said Morris.
'As for the absurd position in which you and Uncle Joseph have been
making yourselves an exhibition,' resumed Michael, 'it is more than time
it came to an end. I have prepared a proper discharge in full, which you
shall sign as a preliminary.'
'What?' cried Morris, 'and lose my seven thousand eight hundred pounds,
and the leather business, and the contingent interest, and get nothing?
'It's like you to feel gratitude, Morris,' began Michael.
'O, I know it's no good appealing to you, you sneering devil!' cried
Morris. 'But there's a stranger present, I can't think why, and I appeal
to him. I was robbed of that money when I was an orphan, a mere child,
at a commercial academy. Since then, I've never had a wish but to get
back my own. You may hear a lot of stuff about me; and there's no doubt
at times I have been ill-advised. But it's the pathos of my situation;
that's what I want to show you.'
'Morris,' interrupted Michael, 'I do wish you would let me add one
point, for I think it will affect your judgement. It's pathetic too
since that's your taste in literature.'
'Well, what is it?' said Morris.
'It's only the name of one of the persons who's to witness your
signature, Morris,' replied Michael. 'His name's Moss, my dear.'
There was a long silence. 'I might have been sure it was you!' cried
'You'll sign, won't you?' said Michael.
'Do you know what you're doing?' cried Morris. 'You're compounding a
'Very well, then, we won't compound it, Morris,' returned Michael. 'See
how little I understood the sterling integrity of your character! I
thought you would prefer it so.'
'Look here, Michael,' said John, 'this is all very fine and large; but
how about me? Morris is gone up, I see that; but I'm not. And I was
robbed, too, mind you; and just as much an orphan, and at the blessed
same academy as himself.'
'Johnny,' said Michael, 'don't you think you'd better leave it to me?'
'I'm your man,' said John. 'You wouldn't deceive a poor orphan, I'll
take my oath. Morris, you sign that document, or I'll start in and
astonish your weak mind.'
With a sudden alacrity, Morris proffered his willingness. Clerks were
brought in, the discharge was executed, and there was Joseph a free man
'And now,' said Michael, 'hear what I propose to do. Here, John
and Morris, is the leather business made over to the pair of you in
partnership. I have valued it at the lowest possible figure, Pogram and
Jarris's. And here is a cheque for the balance of your fortune. Now, you
see, Morris, you start fresh from the commercial academy; and, as you
said yourself the leather business was looking up, I suppose you'll
probably marry before long. Here's your marriage present--from a Mr
Morris bounded on his cheque with a crimsoned countenance.
'I don't understand the performance,' remarked John. 'It seems too good
to be true.'
'It's simply a readjustment,' Michael explained. 'I take up Uncle
Joseph's liabilities; and if he gets the tontine, it's to be mine; if
my father gets it, it's mine anyway, you see. So that I'm rather
'Morris, my unconverted friend, you've got left,' was John's comment.
'And now, Mr Forsyth,' resumed Michael, turning to his silent guest,
'here are all the criminals before you, except Pitman. I really didn't
like to interrupt his scholastic career; but you can have him arrested
at the seminary--I know his hours. Here we are then; we're not pretty to
look at: what do you propose to do with us?'
'Nothing in the world, Mr Finsbury,' returned Gideon. 'I seem to
understand that this gentleman'---indicating Morris--'is the fons et
origo of the trouble; and, from what I gather, he has already paid
through the nose. And really, to be quite frank, I do not see who is to
gain by any scandal; not me, at least. And besides, I have to thank you
for that brief.'
Michael blushed. 'It was the least I could do to let you have some
business,' he said. 'But there's one thing more. I don't want you to
misjudge poor Pitman, who is the most harmless being upon earth. I
wish you would dine with me tonight, and see the creature on his native
heath--say at Verrey's?'
'I have no engagement, Mr Finsbury,' replied Gideon. 'I shall be
delighted. But subject to your judgement, can we do nothing for the man
in the cart? I have qualms of conscience.'
'Nothing but sympathize,' said Michael.