But what with the loss of plant and the almost insuperable scientific difficulties of the task, our friends in France are almost ready to desert the chosen medium. They propose, instead, to break up the drainage system of cities and sweep off whole populations with the devastating typhoid pestilence: a tempting and a scientific project: a process, indiscriminate indeed, but of idyllical simplicity. I recognise its elegance; but, sir, I have something of the poet in my nature; something, possibly, of the tribune. And, for my small part, I shall remain devoted to that more emphatic, more striking, and (if you please) more popular method, of the explosive bomb. Yes,' he cried, with unshaken hope, 'I will still continue, and, I feel it in my bosom, I shall yet succeed.'
'Two things I remark,' said Somerset. 'The first somewhat staggers me. Have you, then--in all this course of life, which you have sketched so vividly--have you not once succeeded?'
'Pardon me,' said Zero. 'I have had one success. You behold in me the author of the outrage of Red Lion Court.'
'But if I remember right,' objected Somerset, 'the thing was a fiasco. A scavenger's barrow and some copies of the Weekly Budget- -these were the only victims.'
'You will pardon me again,' returned Zero with positive asperity: 'a child was injured.'
'And that fitly brings me to my second point,' said Somerset. 'For I observed you to employ the word "indiscriminate." Now, surely, a scavenger's barrow and a child (if child there were) represent the very acme and top pin-point of indiscriminate, and, pardon me, of ineffectual reprisal.'
'Did I employ the word?' asked Zero. 'Well, I will not defend it. But for efficiency, you touch on graver matters; and before entering upon so vast a subject, permit me once more to fill our glasses. Disputation is dry work,' he added, with a charming gaiety of manner.
Once more accordingly the pair pledged each other in a stalwart grog; and Zero, leaning back with an air of some complacency, proceeded more largely to develop his opinions.
'The indiscriminate?' he began. 'War, my dear sir, is indiscriminate. War spares not the child; it spares not the barrow of the harmless scavenger. No more,' he concluded, beaming, 'no more do I. Whatever may strike fear, whatever may confound or paralyse the activities of the guilty nation, barrow or child, imperial Parliament or excursion steamer, is welcome to my simple plans. You are not,' he inquired, with a shade of sympathetic interest, 'you are not, I trust, a believer?'
'Sir, I believe in nothing,' said the young man.
'You are then,' replied Zero, 'in a position to grasp my argument. We agree that humanity is the object, the glorious triumph of humanity; and being pledged to labour for that end, and face to face with the banded opposition of kings, parliaments, churches, and the members of the force, who am I--who are we, dear sir--to affect a nicety about the tools employed? You might, perhaps, expect us to attack the Queen, the sinister Gladstone, the rigid Derby, or the dexterous Granville; but there you would be in error. Our appeal is to the body of the people; it is these that we would touch and interest. Now, sir, have you observed the English housemaid?'
'I should think I had,' cried Somerset.
'From a man of taste and a votary of art, I had expected it,' returned the conspirator politely. 'A type apart; a very charming figure; and thoroughly adapted to our ends. The neat cap, the clean print, the comely person, the engaging manner; her position between classes, parents in one, employers in another; the probability that she will have at least one sweet-heart, whose feelings we shall address: --yes, I have a leaning--call it, if you will, a weakness--for the housemaid. Not that I would be understood to despise the nurse. For the child is a very interesting feature: I have long since marked out the child as the sensitive point in society.' He wagged his head, with a wise, pensive smile.