The Dynamiter

Page 58

Conceive me now, accused before one of your unjust tribunals; conceive the various witnesses appearing, and the singular variety of their reports! One will have visited me in this drawing-room as it originally stood; a second finds it as it is to-night; and to-morrow or next day, all may have been changed. If you love romance (as artists do), few lives are more romantic than that of the obscure individual now addressing you. Obscure yet famous. Mine is an anonymous, infernal glory. By infamous means, I work towards my bright purpose. I found the liberty and peace of a poor country, desperately abused; the future smiles upon that land; yet, in the meantime, I lead the existence of a hunted brute, work towards appalling ends, and practice hell's dexterities.'

Somerset, glass in hand, contemplated the strange fanatic before him, and listened to his heated rhapsody, with indescribable bewilderment. He looked him in the face with curious particularity; saw there the marks of education; and wondered the more profoundly.

'Sir,' he said--'for I know not whether I should still address you as Mr. Jones--'

'Jones, Breitman, Higginbotham, Pumpernickel, Daviot, Henderland, by all or any of these you may address me,' said the plotter; 'for all I have at some time borne. Yet that which I most prize, that which is most feared, hated, and obeyed, is not a name to be found in your directories; it is not a name current in post-offices or banks; and, indeed, like the celebrated clan M'Gregor, I may justly describe myself as being nameless by day. But,' he continued, rising to his feet, 'by night, and among my desperate followers, I am the redoubted Zero.'

Somerset was unacquainted with the name, but he politely expressed surprise and gratification. 'I am to understand,' he continued, 'that, under this alias, you follow the profession of a dynamiter?' {3}

The plotter had resumed his seat and now replenished the glasses.

'I do,' he said. 'In this dark period of time, a star--the star of dynamite--has risen for the oppressed; and among those who practise its use, so thick beset with dangers and attended by such incredible difficulties and disappointments, few have been more assiduous, and not many--' He paused, and a shade of embarrassment appeared upon his face--'not many have been more successful than myself.'

'I can imagine,' observed Somerset, 'that, from the sweeping consequences looked for, the career is not devoid of interest. You have, besides, some of the entertainment of the game of hide and seek. But it would still seem to me--I speak as a layman--that nothing could be simpler or safer than to deposit an infernal machine and retire to an adjacent county to await the painful consequences.'

'You speak, indeed,' returned the plotter, with some evidence of warmth, 'you speak, indeed, most ignorantly. Do you make nothing, then, of such a peril as we share this moment? Do you think it nothing to occupy a house like this one, mined, menaced, and, in a word, literally tottering to its fall?'

'Good God!' ejaculated Somerset.

'And when you speak of ease,' pursued Zero, 'in this age of scientific studies, you fill me with surprise. Are you not aware that chemicals are proverbially fickle as woman, and clockwork as capricious as the very devil? Do you see upon my brow these furrows of anxiety? Do you observe the silver threads that mingle with my hair? Clockwork, clockwork has stamped them on my brow-- chemicals have sprinkled them upon my locks! No, Mr. Somerset,' he resumed, after a moment's pause, his voice still quivering with sensibility, 'you must not suppose the dynamiter's life to be all gold. On the contrary, you cannot picture to yourself the bloodshot vigils and the staggering disappointments of a life like mine. I have toiled (let us say) for months, up early and down late; my bag is ready, my clock set; a daring agent has hurried with white face to deposit the instrument of ruin; we await the fall of England, the massacre of thousands, the yell of fear and execration; and lo! a snap like that of a child's pistol, an offensive smell, and the entire loss of so much time and plant! If,' he concluded, musingly, 'we had been merely able to recover the lost bags, I believe with but a touch or two, I could have remedied the peccant engine.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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