He began to shift about so irritably in his chair, that, in the interests of my work, I was obliged to make an effort to calm him.
“It must be a pleasant occupation for you in your present prosperity,” said I, “to look back sometimes at the gradual processes by which you passed from poverty to competence, and from that to the wealth you now enjoy.”
“Gradual, did you say?” cried Mr. Boxsious; “it wasn’t gradual at all. I was sharp—damned sharp, and I jumped at my first start in business slap into five hundred pounds in one day.”
“That was an extraordinary step in advance,” I rejoined. “I suppose you contrived to make some profitable investment—”
“Not a bit of it! I hadn’t a spare sixpence to invest with. I won the money by my brains, my hands, and my pluck; and, what’s more, I’m proud of having done it. That was rather a curious case, Mr. Artist. Some men might be shy of mentioning it; I never was shy in my life and I mention it right and left everywhere—the whole case, just as it happened, except the names. Catch me ever committing myself to mentioning names! Mum’s the word, sir, with yours to command, Thomas Boxsious.”
“As you mention ‘the case’ everywhere,” said I, “perhaps you would not be offended with me if I told you I should like to hear it?”
“Man alive! haven’t I told you already that I can’t be offended? And didn’t I say a moment ago that I was proud of the case? I’ll tell you, Mr. Artist—but stop! I’ve got the interests of the Town Council to look after in this business. Can you paint as well when I’m talking as when I’m not? Don’t sneer, sir; you’re not wanted to sneer—you’re wanted to give an answer—yes or no?”
“Yes, then,” I replied, in his own sharp way. “I can always paint the better when I am hearing an interesting story.”
“What do you mean by talking about a story? I’m not going to tell you a story; I’m going to make a statement. A statement is a matter of fact, therefore the exact opposite of a story, which is a matter of fiction. What I am now going to tell you really happened to me.”
I was glad to see that he settled himself quietly in his chair before he began. His odd manners and language made such an impression on me at the time, that I think I can repeat his “statement” now, almost word for word as he addressed it to me.
A STOLEN LETTER.
I served my time—never mind in whose office—and I started in business for myself in one of our English country towns, I decline stating which. I hadn’t a farthing of capital, and my friends in the neighborhood were poor and useless enough, with one exception. That exception was Mr. Frank Gatliffe, son of Mr. Gatliffe, member for the county, the richest man and the proudest for many a mile round about our parts. Stop a bit, Mr. Artist, you needn’t perk up and look knowing. You won’t trace any particulars by the name of Gatliffe. I’m not bound to commit myself or anybody else by mentioning names. I have given you the first that came into my head.