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   Chapter 9 UNCLE AND NEPHEW.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 15381

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Victor Nevill was on his feet instantly, and by a quick move he intercepted Foster and clutched him by the arm. He repeated his question: "What are you going to do?"

"Take your hand off me. I shall hear from Madge's own lips a denial of your words. How dare you accuse her of stooping to an intrigue?"

"I wouldn't call it that. Madge is young and innocent. She knows little of the censorious world. She has been left pretty much to herself, and naturally she sees no harm in meeting Vernon. As for denying my words-she can't do that."

"I will call her to account, and make her confess everything."

"But not to-night," urged Nevill. "Come, sit down."

Stephen Foster yielded to the solicitation of his companion, and went back to his chair. He mixed a whisky and soda, and drank half of it.

"I forget," he muttered, "that my little Madge has grown to womanhood. Her very innocence would make her an easy prey to some unscrupulous scoundrel. I must speak to her, Nevill."

"Yes, by all means."

"And why not to-night?"

"Need you ask? Would not Madge know at once that it was I who told you? And what, then, would be my chance of winning her?"

"It couldn't be any poorer than it is now," thought Stephen Foster. "Did she see you yesterday?" he said aloud.

"No, by good luck she did not-at least I feel pretty sure of it. A jolly good thing, too, for Vernon recognized me and nodded to me. But whether Madge saw me or not won't make much difference under present circumstances. If you go downstairs now and start a row with her, she will be sure to suspect that you received your information from me."

"Quite likely. What do you want me to do?"

"Wait until to-morrow evening, when you return from town. Then tell her that some stock-broking friend of yours in the city saw her near Richmond station."

"That is the best plan," assented Stephen Foster. "I will take your advice."

"Of course you will forbid her to have anything more to do with Vernon, and will see that your wishes are enforced?"

"Decidedly. The man has behaved badly, and I can't believe that he has any honorable intentions. He has been simply amusing himself with the girl."

"That's like him," Nevill said carelessly. "Jack Vernon was always a rake and a roue; though, as I am a friend of his, I ought not to tell you this. But for your daughter's sake-"

"I understand. The warning is timely, and I will see that the girl's eyes are opened."

"And you will give Madge to me if I can win her consent."

"She shall marry the man she loves-the man of her choice," replied Stephen Foster, "provided he is worthy of her. But I won't compel her to do anything against her wishes."

"I am not asking you to do that. I have your permission, then, to visit here as a suitor?"

"Yes; I shall be glad to see you a couple of times a week."

Stephen Foster did not speak very cordially, and his expression was not that of a father who has found a suitable husband for his daughter; but Victor Nevill had gained his point, and was satisfied with what he had so far accomplished. He was a vain man, and possessed an overweening amount of self-confidence, especially where women were concerned.

The two had other subjects to discuss. For a couple of hours-long after Madge had forsaken the piano and gone to bed-a whispered conversation was carried on that had no reference to the girl. It was nearly eleven o'clock when Nevill left the house, and bade Stephen Foster good-night on the step. He knew the way in spite of the darkness and the paucity of street lamps. Having lighted a cigar, he walked briskly toward Gunnersbury.

"It was a narrow squeak yesterday," he reflected. "Until I met the girl to-night, I was doubtful as to her having failed to see me on the coach. It would have been most unfortunate had both of them recognized me; they would have compared notes in that case, and discovered that Victor Nevill and Mr. Royle were one and the same. I must be more careful in future. Foster was rather inclined to be ugly, but he promised certain things, and he knows that he can't play fast and loose with me. I am afraid some harm has been done already, but it will blow over if he keeps a tight rein on his daughter. As for Vernon, he must be forced to decamp. Curse the fate that brought him across my path! There's not much I would stop at if he became a dangerous rival. But there is no danger of that. I have the inner track, and by perseverance I will win the girl in the end. She is not a bit like other women-that's her charm-but it ought to count for something when she learns that I am Sir Lucius Chesney's heir. I've been going to the devil pretty fast, but I meant what I told Foster. I love Madge with all my better nature, and for her sake I would run as straight as a die. A look from her pretty eyes makes me feel like a blackguard."

Thus Nevill communed with himself until he neared Gunnersbury station, when the distant rumble of a train quickened his steps. He had just time to buy his ticket, dash down the steps, and jump into a first-class carriage. Getting out at Portland road, he took a cab to Regent street, and dropped in at the Cafe Royal for a few minutes. Then he started toward his lodgings on foot. It was that witching hour when West End London, before it goes to sleep, foams and froths like a glass of champagne that will soon be flat and flavorless. Men and women, inclined to be hilarious, thronged the pavements under the strong lights. Birds of prey, male and female, prowled alertly.

A jingling hansom swung from Piccadilly Circus into the Quadrant. Its occupants were a short, Jewish-looking man with a big diamond in his shirt-front, and a woman who leaned forward more prominently than her companion. She was richly dressed, and-at least by gaslight-strikingly beautiful, with great eyes of a purplish hue, and a mass of golden-red hair that might or might not have been natural; only at close range could one have detected the ravages of an unfortunate and unbridled life-the tell-tale marks that the lavish use of powder and rouge could not utterly hide.

The vehicle very nearly ran Victor Nevill down-he had been about to cross the street-and as he dodged back to the sidewalk his face was for an instant close to the woman's, and he saw her distinctly. He uttered an exclamation of surprise, and started as though an unseen hand had dealt him a blow. He hesitated briefly, seemingly dazed, and then started in pursuit. But he ran into a couple of men at the outset, and by the time he had stammered an apology, and was free to look about him again, the swift-moving hansom was lost to sight in a maze of similar vehicles.

"It's no use to follow in a cab," muttered Nevill. "And I must be mistaken, anyway. It can't be she whom I saw-she is dead."

He stood at the edge of the pavement, staring undecidedly up the curve of the street. When a brace of painted women, emboldened by his attitude, shot covert remarks at him, he turned on them sharply. But, seeing a policeman approaching, he walked on.

"By heavens, I was not mistaken!" he said to himself. "The papers must have blundered-such things often happen. She is much altered, but they were her eyes, her lips. To think that her peerless beauty should have brought her so low! She is nothing to me now, though I nearly broke my heart over her once. But she may serve as a useful tool. She will be a trump card to play, if need be. She has probably come to London recently, and if she stays any time it would not be a difficult matter for me to find her. I daresay she drained the Russian's purse, and then served him as she served me. The heartles

s vampire! But I am glad I saw her to-night. With her aid it will be easier than I hoped, perhaps, to win Madge."

* * *

Since ten o'clock an unexpected visitor had been waiting in Victor Nevill's rooms on Jermyn street. In a big basket-chair, drawn close to the light, sat Sir Lucius Chesney. He had helped himself to cigars and brandy-and-soda, and had dipped into half a dozen late novels that were scattered about the table, but without finding any to interest him. It was long past twelve now, and he was beginning to feel drowsy and out of temper. He wished he had remained in the smoking-room of his hotel, or hunted up some old acquaintances at the Country Club.

Sir Lucius was a medium-sized, slightly portly gentleman of fifty-eight, though he did not look his age, thanks to the correct life he led. He had a military carriage, a rubicund face, a heavy mustache, keen, twinkling eyes, and a head of iron-gray hair. He was a childless widower, and Victor Nevill, the son of his dead sister Elizabeth, was his nephew, and presumably his heir. He had had another sister-his favorite one-but many years ago he had cast her out of his life. He lived alone at his fine old place in Sussex, Priory Court, near to the sea and the downs. When he was at home he found occupation in shooting and fishing, riding, cultivating hot-house fruits, and breeding horses and cattle. These things he did to perfection, but his knowledge of art was not beyond criticism. He was particularly fond of old masters, but he bought all sorts of pictures, and had a gallery full of them. He made bad bargains sometimes, and was imposed upon by unscrupulous dealers. That, however, was nobody's business, as long as he himself was satisfied.

He cared nothing for London or for society, and seldom came up to town; but he liked to travel, and a portion of each year he invariably spent on the Continent or in more remote places. He smoked Indian cheroots from choice-he had once filled a civil position in Bombay for eighteen months-and his favorite wine was port. He was generous and kind-hearted, and believed that every young man must sow his crop of wild oats, and that he would be the better for it. But there was another and a deeper side to his character. In his sense of honor he was a counterpart of Colonel Newcome, and he had a vast amount of family pride; a sin against that he could neither forget nor forgive, and he was relentless to the offender.

It was twenty minutes to one when Victor Nevill mounted the stairs and opened his door, surprised to see that the gas was lighted in his rooms. If he was unpleasantly startled by the sight of his visitor, he masked his feelings successfully.

"My dear uncle," he cried, "I am delighted to see you!"

"You dog!" exclaimed Sir Lucius, with a beaming countenance. "You night-bird! Do you know that I have been here since ten o'clock?"

"I am awfully sorry, I assure you, sir. If you had only dropped me a line or wired. I have been dining with a friend in the suburbs, and the best train I could catch took me to Portland road."

Possibly Sir Lucius did not believe this explanation. He glanced keenly at his nephew, noting his flushed face and rumpled shirt-bosom, and a shadow of displeasure crossed his features.

"I hoped to spend a few quiet hours with you," he said. "I came to town this evening, and put up at Morley's. I am off to Norway in the morning, by a steamer that sails from the Thames, and from there I shall probably go to the Continent. I have been feeling a little run down-livery-and my physician has advised a complete change of air."

"You are a regular globe-trotter," replied Victor, laughing to hide his sudden look of relief. "I wish I could induce you to spend the season in London."

"That's well enough for an idle young dog like yourself-you can't exist out of London. What are you doing?"

"Nothing in particular. I read a good bit-"

"Yes, trashy novels. Does your income hold out?"

"I manage to get along, with economy."

"Economy? Humph! I have taken the liberty to look about your rooms. The landlady remembered me and let me in. You have a snug nest-more luxurious than the last time I was here. It is fit for a Sybarite. Your brandy is old liquor, and must have cost you a pretty penny. Your cigars are too good for me, sir, and I'll warrant you don't pay less than ten pounds a hundred for them. As for your clothing, you have enough to start a shop."

"I must keep up appearances, my dear uncle."

"Yes, I suppose so. I don't blame you for wanting to stand well with your friends, if you can afford it. Your father and mother spoiled you. You should have gone to the bar, or into the army or the church. However, it is too late to talk about that now. But, to be frank with you, my boy, it has come to my ears that you are leading a fast life."

"It is false!" Victor cried, indignantly.

"I sincerely trust so. I have heard only rumors, and I do not care to attach any credence to them. But a word of warning-of advice-may not be out of place. Young men must have their fling, and I think none the worse of them for it. But you are not young, in your knowledge of the world. It is six or seven years since you were thrown on the Continent with a full purse. You have been able to indulge every whim and fancy. You have had enough of wild oats. Fill your niche in Society and Clubdom, if you like. Be a butterfly and an ornament, if you feel no inclination for anything better. But be a gentleman-be honorable. If you ever forget yourself, and bring a shadow of shame upon the unsullied names of Chesney or Nevill, by gad, sir, you shall never touch a penny of my money. I will leave it all to charities, and turn Priory Court into a hospital. Mark that! If you go wrong, I'll hear of it. I'm good for twenty years yet, if I'm good for a day."

"You seem to have a very bad opinion of me, Uncle Lucius. I never give your fortune a thought. As for the honor of the family, it is as dear to me as it is to you."

"Glad to hear you say it, my boy," replied Sir Lucius, breathlessly. "It shows spirit. Well, I hope you'll overlook my sharp words. I meant them for your good. And if you want a check-"

"Thanks, awfully, but I don't need it," Victor interrupted, with a stroke of inspiration. "My income keeps me going all right. It is only in trifles that I am extravagant. I have inherited a taste, sir, for good cigars and old brandy."

"You dog, of course you have. Your maternal grandfather was noted for his wine cellar, and he bought his Havanas by the thousand from Fribourg and Treyer. That I should prefer cheroots is rank degeneracy. But I must be off, or I shall get no sleep. I won't ask you to come down to the dock in the morning-"

"But I insist upon coming, sir."

"Then breakfast with me at Morley's-nine o'clock sharp."

Uncle and nephew parted on the best of terms, but Sir Lucius was not altogether easy in mind as he walked down Regent street, tapping the now deserted pavement with his stick.

"I hope the boy is trustworthy," he thought. "He has some excuse for recklessness and extravagance, but none for dishonor. I told him the name of Chesney was unsullied-I forgot for a moment. It is strange that Mary should be so much in my mind lately. Poor girl! Perhaps I was too harsh with her. I wonder if she is still alive-if she has a son. But if she came to me this moment, I could not forgive her. Nearly thirty years have not softened me."

He sighed heavily as he entered Trafalgar Square, and to a wretched woman with an infant in her arms, crouching under the shadow of the Nelson Column, he tossed a silver piece.

* * *

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