Fatal Zero. A Diary Kept at Homburg. by Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald
Chapter VII

Chapter VII.

Thursday.—I have not yet heard from Frankfort, but they tell me here that the merchant is away at his estates. There is no hurry, however—nay, I should wish for a little time to devote myself to this mission, as I may call it. I have watched Grainger all this day, and he has not gone in—at least I have not seen him myself; for I must keep to my fixed rule of not entering that cruel spiders' net, that tigers' den. I asked him this evening. He laughed, and would give me no answer. "Don't expect miracles," he said; "you can't expect a man to reform all at once. That little picture we made out together last night is still going about with me, dancing before my eyes. I wish I could shut it out; I did so for some years. Come in," he added, "and let us at least look at them, as the hungry beggars find some relief in looking into a cook-shop window."

I shook my head. "I have made a sort of resolution," I said, "and must keep to it. It would be sanctioning, in some sort, what I cannot approve."

"What rubbish!" he said, suddenly turning on me, then checked himself. "I beg your pardon; I have not got rid of my old ways as yet. I wish I had had those scruples. Talk to me now about her, about Dora—Mrs. Austen, I mean. It's like Annot Lyle and her harp."

These little allusions and turns of expressions which dotted over all Grainger's conversation, with many others that I cannot recal, show what a cultivated taste he had. I did not give him credit for being so entertaining and amusing. We dined together that day, and again we strayed back to the old subject.

"The night," he said, "when I got that news, is one I cannot dare to look back to. It makes my head unsteady; you know the feeling. Here, kellner, cognac! That's the only thing."

"No," I said, "it is not the only thing; it is as dangerous as the other. Forgive me if I advise you again. I am going to have some sherry, and oblige me by taking some of it instead."

He groaned, laughed a little roughly, as his habit was, and said:

"Well, I suppose so. No cognac, then. What on earth is all this? You are making me do things that no other man could attempt."

"I have no power," I said, looking down. "I am working with another charm."

He paused. "Ah, yes; I suppose that is so."

I had already come to know the clergyman of the place. He had sent me his book, and I suspect some of the gamblers' money figured there to a good amount. I met this gentleman in the evening, and he came up to speak to me. There was something about him I did not like, and he had an authoritative air which I was inclined to resent. (I hear Dora, who believes in clergymen to the very bottom of her gentle heart, and, I suspect, believes that, with their coats, shovel hats, white ties, &c., they have come down straight from Heaven; have a sort of angelic conformation, wings folded up, &c.)

"I see," he said, sitting down next me on one of the green garden chairs—"I see you are intimate with that man here, Mr. Grainger, or Captain Grainger, as he calls himself. May I ask, do you know what his character is?"

I was happy to answer him with both facts and logic.

"The War Office also calls him captain," I said; "and I do know a good deal about him."

"I am afraid nothing good, then; for it is my duty to warn you, as a sort of temporary parishioner, the care of whose soul I have, that his character is very bad indeed, and that he is not a person any one of character should be seen with. He is a most dangerous man. You are young and inexperienced, Mr. Austen, and he has led several, as young and experienced, into mischief already. That is the reason I speak to you."

I could not help smiling. This rustic clergyman, fetched out of some outlying district to this doubtful duty, lecturing me and others! It was, of course, in his duty, and he meant well; but I think it was rather free and easy to a mere stranger.

"I am quite capable of taking care of myself, Mr. Lewis," I said. "I have my own reasons for associating with that gentleman. What if I succeeded in influencing him in changing his life and heart; does that at all enter into your philosophy?"

"Oh, well and good," he said, smiling. "God forbid I should interfere. But we must judge these things by the ordinary rule of the world. Have you any reason to lead you to hope?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, then, you ought to go and look after him now; for I was passing from the news-room just now, and saw him playing frantically. Come with me, and I will show him to you."

"I never go into that place," I said, coldly, and meaning a rebuke.

"Into the news-room?" he said. "Why not? Ah, you haven't patience to wait for the papers. It's a very good school for patience."

"As you ask me the reason, I do not wish to be indebted to men who fatten on human misery. I make no merit of it, but I think it better not."

"This sounds strange," he said. "Let me ask, do you know the Bishop of Gravesend? He goes there every day. Do you know the good Lord Calborough, who takes the chair at his meetings? I have seen him looking over shoulders at the roulette. Ah, I see you distrust yourself. Well, there is no disgrace in flying from the danger."

I have always resented this sort of superior knowledge of you which some clergymen affect, much as a doctor says, "Ah, I know—feel a pain here—exactly—a sense of fluttering after meals—exactly so." This rather nettled me. I had heard, too, he was rather sarcastic, and was said to know the world. Then he didn't know me. Afraid to trust myself! I might have been afraid to trust him, but not myself.

He went away. I was hardly inclined to accept what he said about the Bishop of Gravesend or the apostolic Lord Calborough. Still he spoke with authority and with an air of circumstance. What was that pattering on the glass overhead? Rain, rain coming down in pailfuls. There is a general sauve qui peut from the gardens. They come rushing up the steps, eager, laughing, chattering like monkeys—creatures which, in other respects, some of the men resemble. All, of course, ascend and go pouring into the cave. The bountiful rain, here, is unconsciously one of the faithful friends and servants of the administration. They should put him in their gew-gaw livery—green, gold, and scarlet—in which they dress up their disguised "bullies," who prowl about the room, ready to rush up on the slightest signal of a disturbance. I am almost alone on the terrace—a place of which I am getting tired. "Afraid to trust myself." I can't put that self-sufficient clergyman's speech out of my head. Thus it is with some natures: when they leap to a conclusion, it is always sure to be the meanest one that can present itself.

After all, I have made no vow, and am bound by no promise; nor do I, more than the Bishop of Gravesend or my Lord Calborough, think it any harm to go through, those rooms, or even to linger there for some good object, provided your behaviour is not to be construed into an endorsement or approbation of the proceedings. I am no casuist, and there is a good broad band of common sense, I flatter myself, running through my composition. I would not be tied down, as a weaker mind, by an abstract adherence to the mere letter of a resolution; I would look entirely to the spirit; and therefore, to assert this principle, I rise from my solitude on the terrace and walk into the cave. I wish to find Grainger.