Now, the blow which had tumbled down Gus so heartily had, so to speak, tumbled down the striker in his own mind just as thoroughly. Jim Cotton’s mind was not a subtle one, but the minute after he had floored Gus and shut the door on him, his better mind told him distinctly that he was a cad. Why? Because when he struck Gus the feeling was as though he had struck a cripple. Gus had doubled up under the weight of his hand as though he had been a leaf. Cotton dimly felt that for a fellow of his build and weight to let Gus have the full benefit of both was not fair. “That is how it must feel, I suppose, to strike a girl. My fist seems unclean,” he said, in huge disgust. “I’d give Todd his three sovs. back if I could recall that blow. I wish I’d left the fool alone, and anyhow, it’s my opinion I don’t shine much in our little squabble. Todd has been playing the man since his Perry cropper, and I’ve been playing the cad just because he was once useful to me and I did not want to let him go.” Cotton devoted the next few hours to a little honest unselfish thinking, and the result was that he came pretty near to despising himself. “I’ll go and apologize to Gus, and if he shies the poker at my head I’m hanged if I dodge it.”
That is why Gus was received in his own room by the fellow who had so lately knocked him down. Gus stared at Jim, his swollen lip trembling with anger and his eyes blazing with indignation.
“I say, Gus, old man, I am an utter out-and-out cad, and I’ve come to apologize.”
Gus murmured something indistinctly.
“When I knocked you down I did the most blackguardly thing that even I have ever done, and, you may believe me or not, I am now about disgusted with myself. I felt that there was only one thing that I could do, and that was to apologize.”
Jim was so obviously cut up by remorse that Gus thereupon buried the hatchet. He did not throw the poker at Jim’s head, and you may be surprised to hear—or you may not—that Gus and Jim Cotton took their after-dinner coffee at Hooper’s, as in the old time. The conversation was staccato at first, but interesting.
“But who sent the order?” said Gus.
“Dunno, really; but I could almost bet my boots that Taylor is the criminal.”
“Taylor! What does he know of my affairs?”
“Well, that beastly house list with your red raw agony column made him most suspicious, and I believe he knows to a hair exactly how big a cad I’ve been.”
“Go on, old man; leave that.”
“He sucked Philips dry about the Penfold tombstone, and although he said nothing to me personally, Philips gave me to understand that I’m not in favour with the parson. Taylor is the man who’s provided your sub. for the Penfold, take my word for it.”
“He’s not half such a bad fellow, Jim.”
“No,” said Jim, with an uneasy laugh; “Taylor’s all right, but he’ll make me squirm when he has the chance.”