“Then let us go and try our luck with this miserable sum.”
“Don’t be a fool, Jasper. What mad notion has taken you now?”
“I have never gambled in my life,” I answered, “and may as well have a little excitement before the end comes. It’s not much of a sum, as you say; but the thought that we are playing for life or death may make up for that. Let us start at once.”
“It is the maddest folly.”
“Very well, Tom, we will share this. There may be some little difficulty over the halfpenny, but I don’t mind throwing that in. We will take half each, and you can hoard whilst I tempt fortune.”
“Jasper,” said Tom, his eyes filling with tears, “you have said a hard thing, but I know you don’t mean it. If you are absolutely set on this silly freak, we will stand or fall together.”
“Very well,” said I, “we will stand or fall together, for I am perfectly serious. The six and eightpence halfpenny, no more and no less, I propose to spend in supper. After that we shall be better prepared to face our chance. Do you agree?”
“I agree,” said Tom, sadly.
We took our hats, extinguished the candle, and stumbled down the stairs into the night.
We ordered supper at an eating-house in the Strand, and in all my life I cannot recall a merrier meal than this, which, for all we knew, would be our last. The very thought lent a touch of bravado to my humour, and presently Tom caught the infection. It was not a sumptuous meal in itself, but princely to our ordinary fare; and the unaccustomed taste of beer loosened our tongues, until our mirth fairly astonished our fellow-diners. At length the waiter came with the news that it was time for closing. Tom called for the bill, and finding that it came to half-a-crown apiece, ordered two sixpenny cigars, and tossed the odd eightpence halfpenny to the waiter, announcing at the same time that this was our last meal on earth. This done, he gravely handed me four half-crowns, and rose to leave. I rose also, and once more we stepped into the night.
Since the days of which I write, Leicester Square has greatly changed. Then it was an intricate, and, by night, even a dangerous quarter, chiefly given over to foreigners. As we trudged through innumerable by-streets and squalid alleys, I wondered if Tom had not forgotten his way. At length, however, we turned up a blind alley, lit by one struggling gas-jet, and knocked at a low door. It was opened almost immediately, and we groped our way up another black passage to a second door. Here Tom gave three knocks very loud and distinct. A voice cried, “Open,” the door swung back before us, and a blaze of light flashed in our faces.
TELLS OF THE LUCK OF THE GOLDEN CLASP.
As the door swung back I became conscious first of a flood of light that completely dazzled my eyes, next of the buzz of many voices that confused my hearing. By slow degrees, however, the noise and glare grew familiar and my senses were able to take in the strange scene.