The Dynamiter

Page 02

Godall.' The interior of the shop was small, but commodious and ornate; the salesman grave, smiling, and urbane; and the two young men, each puffing a select regalia, had soon taken their places on a sofa of mouse-coloured plush and proceeded to exchange their stories.

'I am now,' said Somerset, 'a barrister; but Providence and the attorneys have hitherto denied me the opportunity to shine. A select society at the Cheshire Cheese engaged my evenings; my afternoons, as Mr. Godall could testify, have been generally passed in this divan; and my mornings, I have taken the precaution to abbreviate by not rising before twelve. At this rate, my little patrimony was very rapidly, and I am proud to remember, most agreeably expended. Since then a gentleman, who has really nothing else to recommend him beyond the fact of being my maternal uncle, deals me the small sum of ten shillings a week; and if you behold me once more revisiting the glimpses of the street lamps in my favourite quarter, you will readily divine that I have come into a fortune.'

'I should not have supposed so,' replied Challoner. 'But doubtless I met you on the way to your tailors.'

'It is a visit that I purpose to delay,' returned Somerset, with a smile. 'My fortune has definite limits. It consists, or rather this morning it consisted, of one hundred pounds.'

'That is certainly odd,' said Challoner; 'yes, certainly the coincidence is strange. I am myself reduced to the same margin.'

'You!' cried Somerset. 'And yet Solomon in all his glory--'

'Such is the fact. I am, dear boy, on my last legs,' said Challoner. 'Besides the clothes in which you see me, I have scarcely a decent trouser in my wardrobe; and if I knew how, I would this instant set about some sort of work or commerce. With a hundred pounds for capital, a man should push his way.'

'It may be,' returned Somerset; 'but what to do with mine is more than I can fancy. Mr. Godall,' he added, addressing the salesman, 'you are a man who knows the world: what can a young fellow of reasonable education do with a hundred pounds?'

'It depends,' replied the salesman, withdrawing his cheroot. 'The power of money is an article of faith in which I profess myself a sceptic. A hundred pounds will with difficulty support you for a year; with somewhat more difficulty you may spend it in a night; and without any difficulty at all you may lose it in five minutes on the Stock Exchange. If you are of that stamp of man that rises, a penny would be as useful; if you belong to those that fall, a penny would be no more useless. When I was myself thrown unexpectedly upon the world, it was my fortune to possess an art: I knew a good cigar. Do you know nothing, Mr. Somerset?'

'Not even law,' was the reply.

'The answer is worthy of a sage,' returned Mr. Godall. 'And you, sir,' he continued, turning to Challoner, 'as the friend of Mr. Somerset, may I be allowed to address you the same question?'

'Well,' replied Challoner, 'I play a fair hand at whist.'

'How many persons are there in London,' returned the salesman, 'who have two-and-thirty teeth? Believe me, young gentleman, there are more still who play a fair hand at whist. Whist, sir, is wide as the world; 'tis an accomplishment like breathing. I once knew a youth who announced that he was studying to be Chancellor of England; the design was certainly ambitious; but I find it less excessive than that of the man who aspires to make a livelihood by whist.'

'Dear me,' said Challoner, 'I am afraid I shall have to fall to be a working man.'

'Fall to be a working man?' echoed Mr. Godall. 'Suppose a rural dean to be unfrocked, does he fall to be a major? suppose a captain were cashiered, would he fall to be a puisne judge? The ignorance of your middle class surprises me. Outside itself, it thinks the world to lie quite ignorant and equal, sunk in a common degradation; but to the eye of the observer, all ranks are seen to stand in ordered hierarchies, and each adorned with its particular aptitudes and knowledge.

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Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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