'Here,' cried Zero, 'you behold this field of city, rich, crowded, laughing with the spoil of continents; but soon, how soon, to be laid low! Some day, some night, from this coign of vantage, you shall perhaps be startled by the detonation of the judgment gun-- not sharp and empty like the crack of cannon, but deep-mouthed and unctuously solemn. Instantly thereafter, you shall behold the flames break forth. Ay,' he cried, stretching forth his hand, 'ay, that will be a day of retribution. Then shall the pallid constable flee side by side with the detected thief. Blaze!' he cried, 'blaze, derided city! Fall, flatulent monarchy, fall like Dagon!'
With these words his foot slipped upon the lead; and but for Somerset's quickness, he had been instantly precipitated into space. Pale as a sheet, and limp as a pocket-handkerchief, he was dragged from the edge of downfall by one arm; helped, or rather carried, down the ladder; and deposited in safety on the attic landing. Here he began to come to himself, wiped his brow, and at length, seizing Somerset's hand in both of his, began to utter his acknowledgments.
'This seals it,' said he. 'Ours is a life and death connection. You have plucked me from the jaws of death; and if I were before attracted by your character, judge now of the ardour of my gratitude and love! But I perceive I am still greatly shaken. Lend me, I beseech you, lend me your arm as far as my apartment.'
A dram of spirits restored the plotter to something of his customary self-possession; and he was standing, glass in hand and genially convalescent, when his eye was attracted by the dejection of the unfortunate young man.
'Good heavens, dear Somerset,' he cried, 'what ails you? Let me offer you a touch of spirits.'
But Somerset had fallen below the reach of this material comfort.
'Let me be,' he said. 'I am lost; you have caught me in the toils. Up to this moment, I have lived all my life in the most reckless manner, and done exactly what I pleased, with the most perfect innocence. And now--what am I? Are you so blind and wooden that you do not see the loathing you inspire me with? Is it possible you can suppose me willing to continue to exist upon such terms? To think,' he cried, 'that a young man, guilty of no fault on earth but amiability, should find himself involved in such a damned imbroglio!' And placing his knuckles in his eyes, Somerset rolled upon the sofa.
'My God,' said Zero, 'is this possible? And I so filled with tenderness and interest! Can it be, dear Somerset, that you are under the empire of these out-worn scruples? or that you judge a patriot by the morality of the religious tract? I thought you were a good agnostic.'
'Mr. Jones,' said Somerset, 'it is in vain to argue. I boast myself a total disbeliever, not only in revealed religion, but in the data, method, and conclusions of the whole of ethics. Well! what matters it? what signifies a form of words? I regard you as a reptile, whom I would rejoice, whom I long, to stamp under my heel. You would blow up others? Well then, understand: I want, with every circumstance of infamy and agony, to blow up you!'
'Somerset, Somerset!' said Zero, turning very pale, 'this is wrong; this is very wrong. You pain, you wound me, Somerset.'
'Give me a match!' cried Somerset wildly. 'Let me set fire to this incomparable monster! Let me perish with him in his fall!'
'For God's sake,' cried Zero, clutching hold of the young man, 'for God's sake command yourself! We stand upon the brink; death yawns around us; a man--a stranger in this foreign land--one whom you have called your friend--'
'Silence!' cried Somerset, 'you are no friend, no friend of mine. I look on you with loathing, like a toad: my flesh creeps with physical repulsion; my soul revolts against the sight of you.'
Zero burst into tears. 'Alas!' he sobbed, 'this snaps the last link that bound me to humanity. My friend disowns--he insults me. I am indeed accurst.'
Somerset stood for an instant staggered by this sudden change of front.