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In the smoking-room of Lady Wetherby's house, chewing the dead stump of a once imposing cigar, Dudley Pickering sat alone with his thoughts. He had been alone for half an hour now. Once Lord Wetherby had looked in, to withdraw at once coldly, with the expression of a groom who has found loathsome things in the harness-room. Roscoe Sherriff, good, easy man, who could never dislike people, no matter what they had done, had come for a while to bear him company; but Mr Pickering's society was not for the time being entertaining. He had answered with grunts the Press-agent's kindly attempts at conversation, and the latter Had withdrawn to seek a more congenial audience. And now Mr Pickering was alone, talking things over with his subconscious self.
A man's subconscious self is not the ideal companion. It lurks for the greater part of his life in some dark den of its own, hidden away, and emerges only to taunt and deride and increase the misery of a miserable hour. Mr Pickering's rare interviews with his subconscious self had happened until now almost entirely in the small hours of the night, when it had popped out to remind him, as he lay sleepless, that all flesh was grass and that he was not getting any younger. To-night, such had been the shock of the evening's events, it came to him at a time which was usually his happiest--the time that lay between dinner and bed. Mr Pickering at that point of the day was generally feeling his best. But to-night was different from the other nights of his life.
One may picture Subconscious Self as a withered, cynical, malicious person standing before Mr Pickering and regarding him with an evil smile. There has been a pause, and now Subconscious Self speaks again:
'You will have to leave to-morrow. Couldn't possibly stop on after what's happened. Now you see what comes of behaving like a boy.'
Mr Pickering writhed.
'Made a pretty considerable fool of yourself, didn't you, with your revolvers and your hidings and your trailings? Too old for that sort of thing, you know. You're getting on. Probably have a touch of lumbago to-morrow. You must remember you aren't a youngster. Got to take care of yourself. Next time you feel an impulse to hide in shrubberies and take moonlight walks through damp woods, perhaps you will listen to me.'
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