“Sypher wanted you—to give him some new gods.”
“He could have sent for me himself. Why did he ask you?”
“He didn’t,” cried Septimus. “He doesn’t know anything about it. He hasn’t the faintest idea that you’re in London to-night. Was I wrong in bringing you back?”
To Zora the incomprehensible aspect of the situation was her own attitude. She did not know whether Septimus was wrong or not. She told herself that she ought to resent the summons which had caused her such needless anxiety as to his welfare, but she could feel no resentment. Sypher had failed. The mighty had fallen. She pictured a broken-hearted man, and her own heart ached for him.
“You did right, Septimus,” she said very gently. “But of what use can I be to him?”
Septimus said: “He’s the one to tell you that.”
“But do you think he knows? He didn’t before. He wanted me to stay as a kind of Mascotte for the Cure—simply sit still while he drew influence out of me or something. It was absurd.”
It was on this occasion that Septimus made his one contribution to pessimistic philosophy.
“When you analyze anything in life,” said he, “don’t you think that you always come down to a reductio ad absurdum?”
“I’m very sorry to leave you, Mr. Sypher,” said Shuttleworth, “but my first duty is to my wife and family.”
Clem Sypher leaned back in his chair behind his great office desk and looked at his melancholy manager with the eyes of a general whose officers refuse the madness of a forlorn hope.
“Quite so,” he said tonelessly. “When do you want to go?”
“You engaged me on a three-months’ notice, but—”
“But you want to go now?”
“I have a very brilliant position offered me if I can take it up in a fortnight.”
“Very well,” said Sypher.
“You won’t say it’s a case of rats deserting a sinking ship, will you, sir? As I say, my wife and family—”
“The ship’s sinking. You’re quite right to leave it. Is the position offered you in the same line of business?”
“Yes,” said Shuttleworth, unable to meet his chief’s clear, unsmiling eyes.
“One of the rival firms?”
Shuttleworth nodded, then broke out into mournful asseverations of loyalty. Tithe Cure had flourished he would have stayed with Mr. Sypher till the day of his death. He would have refused the brilliant offer. But in the circumstances—”
“Sauve qui peut,” said Sypher. “Another month or two and Sypher’s Cure becomes a thing of the past. Nothing can pull it through. I was too sanguine. I wish I had taken your advice oftener, Shuttleworth.”
Shuttleworth thanked him for the compliment.
“One learns by experience,” said he modestly. “I was born and bred in the patent-medicine business. It’s very risky. You start a thing. It catches on for a while. Then something else more attractive comes on the market. There’s a war of advertising, and the bigger capital wins. The wise man gets out of it just before the rival comes. If you had taken my advice five years ago, and turned it into a company, you’d have been a rich man now, without a care in the world. Next time you will.”