It was a place he had visited but once before: the memory of what had followed on that visit and the fear of Somerset having prevented his return. Even now, he looked in before he entered; but the shop was free of customers.
The young man behind the counter was so intently writing in a penny version-book, that he paid no heed to Challoner's arrival. On a second glance, it seemed to the latter that he recognised him.
'By Jove,' he thought, 'unquestionably Somerset!'
And though this was the very man he had been so sedulously careful to avoid, his unexplained position at the receipt of custom changed distaste to curiosity.
'"Or opulent rotunda strike the sky,"' said the shopman to himself, in the tone of one considering a verse. 'I suppose it would be too much to say "orotunda," and yet how noble it were! "Or opulent orotunda strike the sky." But that is the bitterness of arts; you see a good effect, and some nonsense about sense continually intervenes.'
'Somerset, my dear fellow,' said Challoner, 'is this a masquerade?'
'What? Challoner!' cried the shopman. 'I am delighted to see you. One moment, till I finish the octave of my sonnet: only the octave.' And with a friendly waggle of the hand, he once more buried himself in the commerce of the Muses. 'I say,' he said presently, looking up, 'you seem in wonderful preservation: how about the hundred pounds?'
'I have made a small inheritance from a great aunt in Wales,' replied Challoner modestly.
'Ah,' said Somerset, 'I very much doubt the legitimacy of inheritance. The State, in my view, should collar it. I am now going through a stage of socialism and poetry,' he added apologetically, as one who spoke of a course of medicinal waters.
'And are you really the person of the--establishment?' inquired Challoner, deftly evading the word 'shop.'
'A vendor, sir, a vendor,' returned the other, pocketing his poesy. 'I help old Happy and Glorious. Can I offer you a weed?'
'Well, I scarcely like . . . ' began Challoner.
'Nonsense, my dear fellow,' cried the shopman. 'We are very proud of the business; and the old man, let me inform you, besides being the most egregious of created beings from the point of view of ethics, is literally sprung from the loins of kings. "De Godall je suis le fervent." There is only one Godall.--By the way,' he added, as Challoner lit his cigar, 'how did you get on with the detective trade?'
'I did not try,' said Challoner curtly.
'Ah, well, I did,' returned Somerset, 'and made the most incomparable mess of it: lost all my money and fairly covered myself with odium and ridicule. There is more in that business, Challoner, than meets the eye; there is more, in fact, in all businesses. You must believe in them, or get up the belief that you believe. Hence,' he added, 'the recognised inferiority of the plumber, for no one could believe in plumbing.'
'A propos,' asked Challoner, 'do you still paint?'
'Not now,' replied Paul; 'but I think of taking up the violin.'
Challoner's eye, which had been somewhat restless since the trade of the detective had been named, now rested for a moment on the columns of the morning paper, where it lay spread upon the counter.
'By Jove,' he cried, 'that's odd!'
'What is odd?' asked Paul.
'Oh, nothing,' returned the other: 'only I once met a person called M'Guire.'
'So did I!' cried Somerset. 'Is there anything about him?'
Challoner read as follows: 'MYSTERIOUS DEATH IN STEPNEY. An inquest was held yesterday on the body of Patrick M'Guire, described as a carpenter. Doctor Dovering stated that he had for some time treated the deceased as a dispensary patient, for sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and nervous depression. There was no cause of death to be found. He would say the deceased had sunk. Deceased was not a temperate man, which doubtless accelerated death. Deceased complained of dumb ague, but witness had never been able to detect any positive disease. He did not know that he had any family.