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. You may, if you please, enact the part of Judas; but if, as I suppose, you recoil from that extremity of meanness, I am, on my side, far too intelligent to leave these lodgings, in which I please myself exceedingly, and from which you lack the power to drive me. No, no, dear sir; here I am, and here I propose to stay.'

`I repeat,' cried Somerset, beside himself with a sense of his own weakness, `I repeat that I give you warning. I am the master of this house; and I emphatically give you warning.'

`A week's warning?' said the imperturbable conspirator. `Very well: we will talk of it a week from now. That is arranged; and in the meanwhile, I observe my breakfast growing cold. Do, dear Mr. Somerset, since you find yourself condemned, for a week at least, to the society of a very interesting character, display some of that open favour, some of that interest in life's obscurer sides, which stamp the character of the true artist. Hang me, if you will, to-morrow; but to-day show yourself divested of the scruples of the burgess, and sit down pleasantly to share my meal.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.