At last Mr. Bartlett gave Alfred some hopes he was taking in the truth; for he tore a leaf out of his memorandum-book, wrote on it, and passed it to Dr. Terry. The ancient took it with a smile, and seemed to make an effort to master it, but failed; it dropped simultaneously from his finger and his mind.
Not a question was put to Alfred; so he was fain to come to an end; he withdrew suddenly, and caught Mrs. Archbold at the keyhole. "Noble adversary!" said he, and stalked away, and hid himself hard by: and no sooner did the inspectors come out, and leave the coast clear, than he darted in and looked for the paper Mr. Bartlett had passed to Dr. Terry.
He found it on the floor: and took it eagerly up; and full of hope, and expectation, read these words:
WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE STUFF THE MATRON'S GOWN IS MADE OF? I SHOULD LIKE TO BUY MRS. BARTLETT ONE LIKE IT.
Alfred stood and read this again, and again he searched for some hidden symbolical meaning in the words. High-minded, and deeply impressed with his own wrongs, he could not conceive a respectable man, paid fifteen hundred a year to spy out wrongs, being so heartless hard as to write this single comment during the earnest recital of a wrong so gigantic as his. Poor Alfred learned this to his cost, that to put small men into great places is to create monsters. When he had realised the bitter truth, he put the stony-hearted paper in his pocket, crept into the yard, and sat down, and, for all he could do, scalding tears ran down his cheeks.
"Homunculi quanti sunt!" he sobbed; "homunculi quanti sunt!"
Presently he saw Dr. Terry come wandering towards him alone. The Archbold had not deigned to make him safe; senectitude had done that. Alfred, all heart--sick as he was, went to the old gentleman out of veneration for the outside of his head--which was Shakespearian--and pity for his bodily infirmity; and offered him an arm. The doctor thanked him sweetly, and said, "Pray, young man, have you anything to communicate?"
Then Alfred saw that the ancient man had already forgotten his face, and so looking at him with that rare instrument of official inspection, the naked eye, had seen he was sane; and consequently taken him for a keeper.