The Dynamiter

Page 57

In a flash his mind reverted to the advertisement in the Standard newspaper. The great height of his lodger, the disproportionate breadth of his shoulders, and the strange particulars of his instalment, all pointed to the same conclusion.

The vesta had now burned to his fingers; and taking the coat upon his arm, Somerset hastily returned to the lighted drawing-room. There, with a mixture of fear and admiration, he pored upon its goodly proportions and the regularity and softness of the pile. The sight of a large pier-glass put another fancy in his head. He donned the fur-coat; and standing before the mirror in an attitude suggestive of a Russian prince, he thrust his hands into the ample pockets. There his fingers encountered a folded journal. He drew it out, and recognised the type and paper of the Standard; and at the same instant, his eyes alighted on the offer of two hundred pounds. Plainly then, his lodger, now no longer mysterious, had laid aside his coat on the very day of the appearance of the advertisement.

He was thus standing, the tell-tale coat upon his back, the incriminating paper in his hand, when the door opened and the tall lodger, with a firm but somewhat pallid face, stepped into the room and closed the door again behind him. For some time, the two looked upon each other in perfect silence; then Mr. Jones moved forward to the table, took a seat, and still without once changing the direction of his eyes, addressed the young man.

'You are right,' he said. 'It is for me the blood money is offered. And now what will you do?'

It was a question to which Somerset was far from being able to reply. Taken as he was at unawares, masquerading in the man's own coat, and surrounded by a whole arsenal of diabolical explosives, the keeper of the lodging-house was silenced.

'Yes,' resumed the other, 'I am he. I am that man, whom with impotent hate and fear, they still hunt from den to den, from disguise to disguise. Yes, my landlord, you have it in your power, if you be poor, to lay the basis of your fortune; if you be unknown, to capture honour at one snatch. You have hocussed an innocent widow; and I find you here in my apartment, for whose use I pay you in stamped money, searching my wardrobe, and your hand-- shame, sir!--your hand in my very pocket. You can now complete the cycle of your ignominious acts, by what will be at once the simplest, the safest, and the most remunerative.' The speaker paused as if to emphasise his words; and then, with a great change of tone and manner, thus resumed: 'And yet, sir, when I look upon your face, I feel certain that I cannot be deceived: certain that in spite of all, I have the honour and pleasure of speaking to a gentleman. Take off my coat, sir--which but cumbers you. Divest yourself of this confusion: that which is but thought upon, thank God, need be no burthen to the conscience; we have all harboured guilty thoughts: and if it flashed into your mind to sell my flesh and blood, my anguish in the dock, and the sweat of my death agony- -it was a thought, dear sir, you were as incapable of acting on, as I of any further question of your honour.' At these words, the speaker, with a very open, smiling countenance, like a forgiving father, offered Somerset his hand.

It was not in the young man's nature to refuse forgiveness or dissect generosity. He instantly, and almost without thought, accepted the proffered grasp.

'And now,' resumed the lodger, 'now that I hold in mine your loyal hand, I lay by my apprehensions, I dismiss suspicion, I go further- -by an effort of will, I banish the memory of what is past. How you came here, I care not: enough that you are here--as my guest. Sit ye down; and let us, with your good permission, improve acquaintance over a glass of excellent whisky.'

So speaking, he produced glasses and a bottle: and the pair pledged each other in silence.

'Confess,' observed the smiling host, 'you were surprised at the appearance of the room.'

'I was indeed,' said Somerset; 'nor can I imagine the purpose of these changes.'

'These,' replied the conspirator, 'are the devices by which I continue to exist.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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