I thought of Mrs. Merridew and her embroidery, and of Betteredge and his conscience. There is a wonderful sameness in the solid side of the English character - just as there is a wonderful sameness in the solid expression of the English face.
"When are you going to give me the laudanum?" asked Mr. Blake impatiently.
"You must wait a little longer," I said. "I will stay and keep you company till the time comes."
It was then not ten o'clock. Inquiries which I had made, at various times, of Betteredge and Mr. Blake, had led me to the conclusion that the dose of laudanum given by Mr. Candy could not possibly have been administered before eleven. I had accordingly determined not to try the second dose until that time.
We talked a little; but both our minds were preoccupied by the coming ordeal. The conversation soon flagged - then dropped altogether. Mr. Blake idly turned over the books on his bedroom table. I had taken the precaution of looking at them, when we first entered the room. THE GUARDIAN; THE TATLER; Richardson's PAMELA; Mackenzie's MAN OF FEELING; Roscoe's LORENZO DE MEDICI; and Robertson's CHARLES THE FIFTH - all classical works; all (of course) immeasurably superior to anything produced in later times; and all (from my present point of view) possessing the one great merit of enchaining nobody's interest, and exciting nobody's brain. I left Mr. Blake to the composing influence of Standard Literature, and occupied myself in making this entry in my journal.
My watch informs me that it is close on eleven o'clock. I must shut up these leaves once more.
Two o'clock A.M. - The experiment has been tried. With what result, I am now to describe.
At eleven o'clock, I rang the bell for Betteredge, and told Mr. Blake that he might at last prepare himself for bed.
I looked out of the window at the night. It was mild and rainy, resembling, in this respect, the night of the birthday - the twenty-first of June, last year. Without professing to believe in omens, it was at least encouraging to find no direct nervous influences - no stormy or electric perturbations - in the atmosphere. Betteredge joined me at the window, and mysteriously put a little slip of paper into my hand. It contained these lines:
"Mrs. Merridew has gone to bed, on the distinct understanding that the explosion is to take place at nine to-morrow morning, and that I am not to stir out of this part of the house until she comes and sets me free. She has no idea that the chief scene of the experiment is my sitting-room - or she would have remained in it for the whole night! I am alone, and very anxious. Pray let me see you measure out the laudanum; I want to have something to do with it, even in the unimportant character of a mere looker-on. - R.V."
I followed Betteredge out of the room, and told him to remove the medicine-chest into Miss Verinder's sitting-room.
The order appeared to take him completely by surprise. He looked as if he suspected me of some occult medical design on Miss Verinder! "Might I presume to ask," he said, "what my young lady and the medicine-chest have got to do with each other?"
"Stay in the sitting-room, and you will see."
Betteredge appeared to doubt his own unaided capacity to superintend me effectually, on an occasion when a medicine-chest was included in the proceedings.
"Is there any objection, sir" he asked, "to taking Mr. Bruff into this part of the business?"
"Quite the contrary! I am now going to ask Mr. Bruff to accompany me down-stairs."
Betteredge withdrew to fetch the medicine-chest, without another word. I went back into Mr. Blake's room, and knocked at the door of communication. Mr. Bruff opened it, with his papers in his hand - immersed in Law; impenetrable to Medicine.
"I am sorry to disturb you," I said. "But I am going to prepare the laudanum for Mr. Blake; and I must request you to be present, and to see what I do."
"Yes?" said Mr. Bruff, with nine-tenths of his attention riveted on his papers, and with one-tenth unwillingly accorded to me. "Anything else?"
"I must trouble you to return here with me, and to see me administer the dose."
"One thing more. I must put you to the inconvenience of remaining in Mr. Blake's room, and of waiting to see what happens."
"Oh, very good!" said Mr. Bruff. "My room, or Mr. Blake's room - it doesn't matter which; I can go on with my papers anywhere. Unless you object, Mr. Jennings, to my importing THAT amount of common sense into the proceedings?"
Before I could answer, Mr. Blake addressed himself to the lawyer, speaking from his bed.
"Do you really mean to say that you don't feel any interest in what we are going to do?" he asked. "Mr. Bruff, you have no more imagination than a cow!"
"A cow is a very useful animal, Mr. Blake," said the lawyer. With that reply he followed me out of the room, still keeping his papers in his hand.
We found Miss Verinder, pale and agitated, restlessly pacing her sitting-room from end to end. At a table in a corner stood Betteredge, on guard over the medicine-chest. Mr. Bruff sat down on the first chair that he could find, and (emulating the usefulness of the cow) plunged back again into his papers on the spot.
Miss Verinder drew me aside, and reverted instantly to her one all-absorbing interest - her interest in Mr. Blake.
"How is he now?" she asked. "Is he nervous? is he out of temper? Do you think it will succeed? Are you sure it will do no harm?"
"Quite sure. Come, and see me measure it out."
"One moment! It is past eleven now. How long will it be before anything happens?"
"It is not easy to say. An hour perhaps."
"I suppose the room must be dark, as it was last year?"
"I shall wait in my bedroom - just as I did before. I shall keep the door a little way open. It was a little way open last year. I will watch the sitting-room door; and the moment it moves, I will blow out my light. It all happened in that way, on my birthday night. And it must all happen again in the same way, musn't it?"