'My last batch,' returned the plotter wearily, 'like all the others, is a hollow mockery and a fraud. In vain do I combine the elements; in vain adjust the springs; and I have now arrived at such a pitch of disconsideration that (except yourself, dear fellow) I do not know a soul that I can face. My subordinates themselves have turned upon me. What language have I heard to-day, what illiberality of sentiment, what pungency of expression! She came once; I could have pardoned that, for she was moved; but she returned, returned to announce to me this crushing blow; and, Somerset, she was very inhumane. Yes, dear fellow, I have drunk a bitter cup; the speech of females is remarkable for . . . well, well! Denounce me, if you will; you but denounce the dead. I am extinct. It is strange how, at this supreme crisis of my life, I should be haunted by quotations from works of an inexact and even fanciful description; but here,' he added, 'is another: "Othello's occupation's gone." Yes, dear Somerset, it is gone; I am no more a dynamiter; and how, I ask you, after having tasted of these joys, am I to condescend to a less glorious life?'
'I cannot describe how you relieve me,' returned Somerset, sitting down on one of several boxes that had been drawn out into the middle of the floor. 'I had conceived a sort of maudlin toleration for your character; I have a great distaste, besides, for anything in the nature of a duty; and upon both grounds, your news delights me. But I seem to perceive,' he added, 'a certain sound of ticking in this box.'
'Yes,' replied Zero, with the same slow weariness of manner, 'I have set several of them going.'
'My God!' cried Somerset, bounding to his feet.
'Machines!' returned the plotter bitterly. 'Machines indeed! I blush to be their author. Alas!' he said, burying his face in his hands, 'that I should live to say it!'
'Madman!' cried Somerset, shaking him by the arm. 'What am I to understand? Have you, indeed, set these diabolical contrivances in motion? and do we stay here to be blown up?'
'"Hoist with his own petard?"' returned the plotter musingly. 'One more quotation: strange! But indeed my brain is struck with numbness. Yes, dear boy, I have, as you say, put my contrivance in motion. The one on which you are sitting, I have timed for half an hour. Yon other--'
'Half an hour!--' echoed Somerset, dancing with trepidation. 'Merciful Heavens, in half an hour?'
'Dear fellow, why so much excitement?' inquired Zero. 'My dynamite is not more dangerous than toffy; had I an only child, I would give it him to play with. You see this brick?' he continued, lifting a cake of the infernal compound from the laboratory-table. 'At a touch it should explode, and that with such unconquerable energy as should bestrew the square with ruins. Well now, behold! I dash it on the floor.'
Somerset sprang forward, and with the strength of the very ecstasy of terror, wrested the brick from his possession. 'Heavens!' he cried, wiping his brow; and then with more care than ever mother handled her first-born withal, gingerly transported the explosive to the far end of the apartment: the plotter, his arms once more fallen to his side, dispiritedly watching him.
'It was entirely harmless,' he sighed. 'They describe it as burning like tobacco.'
'In the name of fortune,' cried Somerset, 'what have I done to you, or what have you done to yourself, that you should persist in this insane behaviour? If not for your own sake, then for mine, let us depart from this doomed house, where I profess I have not the heart to leave you; and then, if you will take my advice, and if your determination be sincere, you will instantly quit this city, where no further occupation can detain you.'
'Such, dear fellow, was my own design,' replied the plotter. 'I have, as you observe, no further business here; and once I have packed a little bag, I shall ask you to share a frugal meal, to go with me as far as to the station, and see the last of a broken- hearted man.