On the day, however, of the second appearance of the companion work, a real inquirer did actually present himself before the eyes of Somerset.
This was a gentlemanly man, with some marks of recent merriment, and his voice under inadequate control.
'I beg your pardon,' said he, 'but what is the meaning of your extraordinary bill?'
'I beg yours,' returned Somerset hotly. 'Its meaning is sufficiently explicit.' And being now, from dire experience, fearful of ridicule, he was preparing to close the door, when the gentleman thrust his cane into the aperture.
'Not so fast, I beg of you,' said he. 'If you really let apartments, here is a possible tenant at your door; and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see the accommodation and to learn your terms.'
His heart joyously beating, Somerset admitted the visitor, showed him over the various apartments, and, with some return of his persuasive eloquence, expounded their attractions. The gentleman was particularly pleased by the elegant proportions of the drawing- room.
'This,' he said, 'would suit me very well. What, may I ask, would be your terms a week, for this floor and the one above it?'
'I was thinking,' returned Somerset, 'of a hundred pounds.'
'Surely not,' exclaimed the gentleman.
'Well, then,' returned Somerset, 'fifty.'
The gentleman regarded him with an air of some amazement. 'You seem to be strangely elastic in your demands,' said he. 'What if I were to proceed on your own principle of division, and offer twenty-five?'
'Done!' cried Somerset; and then, overcome by a sudden embarrassment, 'You see,' he added apologetically, 'it is all found money for me.'
'Really?' said the stranger, looking at him all the while with growing wonder. 'Without extras, then?'
'I--I suppose so,' stammered the keeper of the lodging-house.
'Service included?' pursued the gentleman.
'Service?' cried Somerset. 'Do you mean that you expect me to empty your slops?'
The gentleman regarded him with a very friendly interest. 'My dear fellow,' said he, 'if you take my advice, you will give up this business.' And thereupon he resumed his hat and took himself away.
This smarting disappointment produced a strong effect on the artist of the cartoons; and he began with shame to eat up his rosier illusions. First one and then the other of his great works was condemned, withdrawn from exhibition, and relegated, as a mere wall-picture, to the decoration of the dining-room. Their place was taken by a replica of the original wafered announcement, to which, in particularly large letters, he had added the pithy rubric: 'NO SERVICE.' Meanwhile he had fallen into something as nearly bordering on low spirits as was consistent with his disposition; depressed, at once by the failure of his scheme, the laughable turn of his late interview, and the judicial blindness of the public to the merit of the twin cartoons.
Perhaps a week had passed before he was again startled by the note of the knocker. A gentleman of a somewhat foreign and somewhat military air, yet closely shaven and wearing a soft hat, desired in the politest terms to visit the apartments. He had (he explained) a friend, a gentleman in tender health, desirous of a sedate and solitary life, apart from interruptions and the noises of the common lodging-house. 'The unusual clause,' he continued, 'in your announcement, particularly struck me. "This," I said, "is the place for Mr. Jones." You are yourself, sir, a professional gentleman?' concluded the visitor, looking keenly in Somerset's face.
'I am an artist,' replied the young man lightly.
'And these,' observed the other, taking a side glance through the open door of the dining-room, which they were then passing, 'these are some of your works. Very remarkable.' And he again and still more sharply peered into the countenance of the young man.
Somerset, unable to suppress a blush, made the more haste to lead his visitor upstairs and to display the apartments.
'Excellent,' observed the stranger, as he looked from one of the back windows.