The Dynamiter

Page 27

Near the Marble Arch they found a hansom, which rapidly conveyed them to the terminus at Euston Square; and here, in the hotel, they sat down to an excellent breakfast. The young lady's first step was to call for writing materials and write, upon one corner of the table, a hasty note; still, as she did so, glancing with smiles at her companion. 'Here,' said she, 'here is the letter which will introduce you to my cousin.' She began to fold the paper. 'My cousin, although I have never seen her, has the character of a very charming woman and a recognised beauty; of that I know nothing, but at least she has been very kind to me; so has my lord her father; so have you--kinder than all--kinder than I can bear to think of.' She said this with unusual emotion; and, at the same time, sealed the envelope. 'Ah!' she cried, 'I have shut my letter! It is not quite courteous; and yet, as between friends, it is perhaps better so. I introduce you, after all, into a family secret; and though you and I are already old comrades, you are still unknown to my uncle. You go then to this address, Richard Street, Glasgow; go, please, as soon as you arrive; and give this letter with your own hands into those of Miss Fonblanque, for that is the name by which she is to pass. When we next meet, you will tell me what you think of her,' she added, with a touch of the provocative.

'Ah,' said Challoner, almost tenderly, 'she can be nothing to me.'

'You do not know,' replied the young lady, with a sigh. 'By-the- bye, I had forgotten--it is very childish, and I am almost ashamed to mention it--but when you see Miss Fonblanque, you will have to make yourself a little ridiculous; and I am sure the part in no way suits you. We had agreed upon a watchword. You will have to address an earl's daughter in these words: "NIGGER, NIGGER, NEVER DIE;" but reassure yourself,' she added, laughing, 'for the fair patrician will at once finish the quotation. Come now, say your lesson.'

'"Nigger, nigger, never die,"' repeated Challoner, with undisguised reluctance.

Miss Fonblanque went into fits of laughter. 'Excellent,' said she, 'it will be the most humorous scene.' And she laughed again.

'And what will be the counterword?' asked Challoner stiffly.

'I will not tell you till the last moment,' said she; 'for I perceive you are growing too imperious.'

Breakfast over, she accompanied the young man to the platform, bought him the Graphic, the Athenaeum, and a paper-cutter, and stood on the step conversing till the whistle sounded. Then she put her head into the carriage. 'BLACK FACE AND SHINING EYE!' she whispered, and instantly leaped down upon the platform, with a thrill of gay and musical laughter. As the train steamed out of the great arch of glass, the sound of that laughter still rang in the young man's ears.

Challoner's position was too unusual to be long welcome to his mind. He found himself projected the whole length of England, on a mission beset with obscure and ridiculous circumstances, and yet, by the trust he had accepted, irrevocably bound to persevere. How easy it appeared, in the retrospect, to have refused the whole proposal, returned the money, and gone forth again upon his own affairs, a free and happy man! And it was now impossible: the enchantress who had held him with her eye had now disappeared, taking his honour in pledge; and as she had failed to leave him an address, he was denied even the inglorious safety of retreat. To use the paper-knife, or even to read the periodicals with which she had presented him, was to renew the bitterness of his remorse; and as he was alone in the compartment, he passed the day staring at the landscape in impotent repentance, and long before he was landed on the platform of St. Enoch's, had fallen to the lowest and coldest zones of self-contempt.

As he was hungry, and elegant in his habits, he would have preferred to dine and to remove the stains of travel; but the words of the young lady, and his own impatient eagerness, would suffer no delay.

The Dynamiter Page 28

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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