'Thank God!' he cried. 'Here comes a friend of mine. I'll borrow.' And he dashed to meet the tradesman. 'Sir,' said he, 'Mr. Godall, I have dealt with you--you doubtless know my face-- calamities for which I cannot blame myself have overwhelmed me. Oh, sir, for the love of innocence, for the sake of the bonds of humanity, and as you hope for mercy at the throne of grace, lend me two-and-six!'
'I do not recognise your face,' replied Mr. Godall; 'but I remember the cut of your beard, which I have the misfortune to dislike. Here, sir, is a sovereign; which I very willingly advance to you, on the single condition that you shave your chin.'
M'Guire grasped the coin without a word; cast it to the cabman, calling out to him to keep the change; bounded down the steps, flung the bag far forth into the river, and fell headlong after it. He was plucked from a watery grave, it is believed, by the hands of Mr. Godall. Even as he was being hoisted dripping to the shore, a dull and choked explosion shook the solid masonry of the Embankment, and far out in the river a momentary fountain rose and disappeared.
THE SUPERFLUOUS MANSION (Continued)
Somerset in vain strove to attach a meaning to these words. He had, in the meanwhile, applied himself assiduously to the flagon; the plotter began to melt in twain, and seemed to expand and hover on his seat; and with a vague sense of nightmare, the young man rose unsteadily to his feet, and, refusing the proffer of a third grog, insisted that the hour was late and he must positively get to bed.
'Dear me,' observed Zero, 'I find you very temperate. But I will not be oppressive. Suffice it that we are now fast friends; and, my dear landlord, au revoir!'
So saying the plotter once more shook hands; and with the politest ceremonies, and some necessary guidance, conducted the bewildered young gentleman to the top of the stair.
Precisely, how he got to bed, was a point on which Somerset remained in utter darkness; but the next morning when, at a blow, he started broad awake, there fell upon his mind a perfect hurricane of horror and wonder. That he should have suffered himself to be led into the semblance of intimacy with such a man as his abominable lodger, appeared, in the cold light of day, a mystery of human weakness. True, he was caught in a situation that might have tested the aplomb of Talleyrand. That was perhaps a palliation; but it was no excuse. For so wholesale a capitulation of principle, for such a fall into criminal familiarity, no excuse indeed was possible; nor any remedy, but to withdraw at once from the relation.
As soon as he was dressed, he hurried upstairs, determined on a rupture. Zero hailed him with the warmth of an old friend.
'Come in,' he cried, 'dear Mr. Somerset! Come in, sit down, and, without ceremony, join me at my morning meal.'
'Sir,' said Somerset, 'you must permit me first to disengage my honour. Last night, I was surprised into a certain appearance of complicity; but once for all, let me inform you that I regard you and your machinations with unmingled horror and disgust, and I will leave no stone unturned to crush your vile conspiracy.'
'My dear fellow,' replied Zero, with an air of some complacency, 'I am well accustomed to these human weaknesses. Disgust? I have felt it myself; it speedily wears off. I think none the worse, I think the more of you, for this engaging frankness. And in the meanwhile, what are you to do? You find yourself, if I interpret rightly, in very much the same situation as Charles the Second (possibly the least degraded of your British sovereigns) when he was taken into the confidence of the thief. To denounce me, is out of the question; and what else can you attempt? No, dear Mr. Somerset, your hands are tied; and you find yourself condemned, under pain of behaving like a cad, to be that same charming and intellectual companion who delighted me last night.'
'At least,' cried Somerset, 'I can, and do, order you to leave this house.'
'Ah!' cried the plotter, 'but there I fail to follow you.