There--you see!--he is furious now, and I am quite helpless. One more prod, another kick: now he is a mere lunatic! Stand behind me; I am quite helpless!" Mr. Romaine, I am asking myself as to the background or motive of this singular jest, and whether the name of it should not be called treachery?'
'I can scarce wonder,' said he. 'In truth it has been a singular business, and we are very fortunate to be out of it so well. Yet it was not treachery: no, no, Mr. Anne, it was not treachery; and if you will do me the favour to listen to me for the inside of a minute, I shall demonstrate the same to you beyond cavil.' He seemed to wake up to his ordinary briskness. 'You see the point?' he began. 'He had not yet read the newspaper, but who could tell when he might? He might have had that damned journal in his pocket, and how should we know? We were--I may say, we are--at the mercy of the merest twopenny accident.'
'Why, true,' said I: 'I had not thought of that.'
'I warrant you,' cried Romaine, 'you had supposed it was nothing to be the hero of an interesting notice in the journals! You had supposed, as like as not, it was a form of secrecy! But not so in the least. A part of England is already buzzing with the name of Champdivers; a day or two more and the mail will have carried it everywhere: so wonderful a machine is this of ours for disseminating intelligence! Think of it! When my father was born- -but that is another story. To return: we had here the elements of such a combustion as I dread to think of--your cousin and the journal. Let him but glance an eye upon that column of print, and where were we? It is easy to ask; not so easy to answer, my young friend. And let me tell you, this sheet is the Viscount's usual reading. It is my conviction he had it in his pocket.'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said I. 'I have been unjust. I did not appreciate my danger.'
'I think you never do,' said he.
'But yet surely that public scene--' I began.
'It was madness. I quite agree with you,' Mr. Romaine interrupted. 'But it was your uncle's orders, Mr. Anne, and what could I do? Tell him you were the murderer of Goguelat? I think not.'
'No, sure!' said I. 'That would but have been to make the trouble thicker. We were certainly in a very ill posture.'
'You do not yet appreciate how grave it was,' he replied. 'It was necessary for you that your cousin should go, and go at once. You yourself had to leave to-night under cover of darkness, and how could you have done that with the Viscount in the next room? He must go, then; he must leave without delay. And that was the difficulty.'
'Pardon me, Mr. Romaine, but could not my uncle have bidden him go?' I asked.
'Why, I see I must tell you that this is not so simple as it sounds,' he replied. 'You say this is your uncle's house, and so it is. But to all effects and purposes it is your cousin's also. He has rooms here; has had them coming on for thirty years now, and they are filled with a prodigious accumulation of trash--stays, I dare say, and powder-puffs, and such effeminate idiocy--to which none could dispute his title, even suppose any one wanted to. We had a perfect right to bid him go, and he had a perfect right to reply, "Yes, I will go, but not without my stays and cravats. I must first get together the nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine chestsfull of insufferable rubbish, that I have spent the last thirty years collecting--and may very well spend the next thirty hours a-packing of." And what should we have said to that?'
'By way of repartee?' I asked. 'Two tall footmen and a pair of crabtree cudgels, I suggest.'
'The Lord deliver me from the wisdom of laymen!' cried Romaine. 'Put myself in the wrong at the beginning of a lawsuit? No, indeed! There was but one thing to do, and I did it, and burned my last cartridge in the doing of it. I stunned him. And it gave us three hours, by which we should make haste to profit; for if there is one thing sure, it is that he will be up to time again to-morrow in the morning.'
'Well,' said I, 'I own myself an idiot.