Burton did not get very far with his novel. About nine o’clock on the same evening, Mr. Waddington, who was spending a quiet hour or two with his books, was disturbed by a hasty knock at the door of his rooms. He rose with some reluctance from his chair to answer the summons.
“Burton!” he exclaimed.
Burton came quickly in. He was paler, even, than usual, and there were black shadows under his eyes. There was a change in his face, indescribable but very apparent. His eyes had lost their dreamy look, he glanced furtively about him, he had the air of a man who has committed a crime and fears detection. His dress was not nearly so neat as usual. Mr. Waddington, whose bachelor evening clothes—a loose dinner-jacket and carefully tied black tie—were exactly as they should be, glanced disparagingly at his visitor.
“My dear Burton,” he gasped, “whatever is the matter with you? You seem all knocked over.”
Burton had thrown himself into a chair. He was contemplating the little silver box which he had drawn from his pocket.
“I’ve got to take one of these,” he muttered, “that’s all. When I have eaten it, there will be three left. I took the last one exactly two months and four days ago. At the same rate, in just eight months and sixteen days I shall be back again in bondage.”
Mr. Waddington was very much interested. He was also a little distressed.
“Are you quite sure,” he asked, “of your symptoms?”
“Absolutely certain,” Burton declared sadly. “I found myself this evening trying to kiss my landlady’s daughter, who is not in the least good-looking. I was attracted by the programme of a music hall and had hard work to keep from going there. A man asked me the way to Leicester Square just now, and I almost directed him wrongly for the sheer pleasure of telling a lie. I nearly bought some ties at an outfitter’s shop in the Strand—such ties! It’s awful—awful, Mr. Waddington!”
Mr. Waddingon nodded his head compassionately.
“I suppose you know what you’re talking about,” he said. “You see, I have already taken my second bean and to me the things that you have spoken of seem altogether incredible. I could not bring myself to believe that an absolute return to those former horrible conditions would be possible for either you or me. By the bye,” he added, with a sudden change of tone, “I’ve just managed to get a photograph of the Romney I was telling you of.”
Burton waved it away.
“It doesn’t interest me in the least,” he declared gloomily. “I very nearly bought a copy of Ally Sloper on my way down here.”
Mr. Waddington shivered.
“I suppose there is no hope for you,” he said. “It is excessively painful for me to see you in this state. On the whole, I think that the sooner you take the bean, the better.”