The Superfluous Mansion - Concluded

SOMERSET ran straight upstairs; the door of the drawing-room, contrary to all custom, was unlocked; and bursting in, the young man found Zero seated on a sofa in an attitude of singular dejection. Close beside him stood an untasted grog, the mark of strong preoccupation. The room besides was in confusion: boxes had been tumbled to and fro; the floor was strewn with keys and other implements; and in the midst of this disorder lay a lady's glove.

`I have come,' cried Somerset, `to make an end of this. Either you will instantly abandon all your schemes, or (cost what it may) I will denounce you to the police.'

`Ah!' replied Zero, slowly shaking his head. `You are too late, dear fellow! I am already at the end of all my hopes, and fallen to be a laughing-stock and mockery. My reading,' he added, with a gentle despondency of manner, `has not been much among romances; yet I recall from one a phrase that depicts my present state with critical exactitude; and you behold me sitting here ``like a burst drum.'''

`What has befallen you?' cried Somerset.

`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.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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