'You have a lodger?--you?' she cried. 'And pray, how did you get him?'
'By advertisement,' replied the young man. 'O madam, I have not lived unobservantly. I adopted'--his eyes involuntarily shifted to the cartoons--'I adopted every method.'
Her eyes had followed his; for the first time in Somerset's experience, she produced a double eye-glass; and as soon as the full merit of the works had flashed upon her, she gave way to peal after peal of her trilling and soprano laughter.
'Oh, I think you are perfectly delicious!' she cried. 'I do hope you had them in the window. M'Pherson,' she continued, crying to her maid, who had been all this time grimly waiting in the hall, 'I lunch with Mr. Somerset. Take the cellar key and bring some wine.'
In this gay humour she continued throughout the luncheon; presented Somerset with a couple of dozen of wine, which she made M'Pherson bring up from the cellar--'as a present, my dear,' she said, with another burst of tearful merriment, 'for your charming pictures, which you must be sure to leave me when you go;' and finally, protesting that she dared not spoil the absurdest houseful of madmen in the whole of London, departed (as she vaguely phrased it) for the continent of Europe.
She was no sooner gone, than Somerset encountered in the corridor the Irish nurse; sober, to all appearance, and yet a prey to singularly strong emotion. It was made to appear, from her account, that Mr. Jones had already suffered acutely in his health from Mrs. Luxmore's visit, and that nothing short of a full explanation could allay the invalid's uneasiness. Somerset, somewhat staring, told what he thought fit of the affair.
'Is that all?' cried the woman. 'As God sees you, is that all?'
'My good woman,' said the young man, 'I have no idea what you can be driving at. Suppose the lady were my friend's wife, suppose she were my fairy godmother, suppose she were the Queen of Portugal; and how should that affect yourself or Mr. Jones?'
'Blessed Mary!' cried the nurse, 'it's he that will be glad to hear it!'
And immediately she fled upstairs.
Somerset, on his part, returned to the dining-room, and with a very thoughtful brow and ruminating many theories, disposed of the remainder of the bottle. It was port; and port is a wine, sole among its equals and superiors, that can in some degree support the competition of tobacco. Sipping, smoking, and theorising, Somerset moved on from suspicion to suspicion, from resolve to resolve, still growing braver and rosier as the bottle ebbed. He was a sceptic, none prouder of the name; he had no horror at command, whether for crimes or vices, but beheld and embraced the world, with an immoral approbation, the frequent consequence of youth and health. At the same time, he felt convinced that he dwelt under the same roof with secret malefactors; and the unregenerate instinct of the chase impelled him to severity. The bottle had run low; the summer sun had finally withdrawn; and at the same moment, night and the pangs of hunger recalled him from his dreams.
He went forth, and dined in the Criterion: a dinner in consonance, not so much with his purse, as with the admirable wine he had discussed. What with one thing and another, it was long past midnight when he returned home. A cab was at the door; and entering the hall, Somerset found himself face to face with one of the most regular of the few who visited Mr. Jones: a man of powerful figure, strong lineaments, and a chin-beard in the American fashion. This person was carrying on one shoulder a black portmanteau, seemingly of considerable weight. That he should find a visitor removing baggage in the dead of night, recalled some odd stories to the young man's memory; he had heard of lodgers who thus gradually drained away, not only their own effects, but the very furniture and fittings of the house that sheltered them; and now, in a mood between pleasantry and suspicion, and aping the manner of a drunkard, he roughly bumped against the man with the chin-beard and knocked the portmanteau from his shoulder to the floor.