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   Chapter 22 ANOTHER CHANCE.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 11179

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Sir Lucius Chesney remained for an hour to further discuss the affair of the two Rembrandts with Mr. Lamb, and the conversation became so interesting that he almost forgot that he had arranged to leave Paddington for Oxford at eight o'clock; when he suddenly remembered the fact he hurried off, fearful of losing his dinner, and St. Martin's in the Fields indicated a quarter to seven as he entered Morley's Hotel.

At that time a little party of three persons were sitting down to a table in one of the luxurious dining-rooms of the Trocadero. Victor Nevill was the host, and his guests were Stephen Foster and his daughter; later they were all going to see the production of a new musical comedy.

Madge, as lovely as a dream in her lustrous, shimmering evening gown, fell under the sway of the lights and the music, and was more like her old self than she had been for months; the papers had been kept out of her way, and she did not know that Jack had returned from India. Stephen Foster was absorbed in the menu and the wine-card, and Nevill, in the highest of spirits, laughed and chatted incessantly. He was ignorant of something that had occurred that very day, else his evening's pleasure would surely have been spoiled.

To understand the incident, the reader must go back to the previous night, or rather an early hour of the morning. For the last of the West End restaurants were putting out their lights and closing their doors when Jimmie Drexell, coming home from a "smoker" at the Langham Sketch Club, ran across Bertie Raven in Piccadilly. It was a fortunate meeting. The Honorable Bertie was with a couple of questionable companions, and he was intoxicated and very noisy; so much so that he had attracted the attention of a policeman, who was moving toward the group.

Jimmie, like a good Samaritan, promptly rescued his friend and took him to his own chambers in the Albany, as he was obviously unfit to go elsewhere. Bertie demurred at first, but his mood soon changed, and he became pliant and sullen. He roused a little when he found himself indoors, and demanded a drink. That being firmly refused, he muttered some incoherent words, flung himself down on a big couch in Jimmie's sitting-room, and lapsed into a drunken sleep.

Jimmie threw a rug over him, locked up the whisky, and went off to bed. His first thought, when he woke about nine the next morning, was of his guest. Hearing footsteps in the outer room, he hurriedly got into dressing-gown and slippers and opened the communicating door. He was not prepared for what he saw. Bertie stood by the window, with the dull gray light on his haggard face and disordered hair, his crushed shirt-front and collar. A revolver, taken from a nearby cabinet, was in his hand. He was about to raise it to his forehead.

Jimmie was across the room at a bound, and, striking his friend's arm down, he sent the weapon clattering to the floor.

"Good God!" he cried. "What were you going to do?"

"End it all," gasped Bertie. He dropped into a chair and gave way to a burst of tears, which he tried hard to repress.

"What does it mean?" exclaimed Jimmie, breathing quick and deep. "Are you mad?"

Bertie lifted a ghastly, distorted face.

"It means ruin, old chap," he replied. "That's the plain truth. I wish you had let me alone."

"Come, this won't do, you know," said Jimmie. "You are not yourself this morning, and I don't wonder, after the condition I found you in last night. Things always look black after a spree. You exaggerate, of course, when you talk about ruin. You are all unstrung, Bertie. Tell me your troubles, and I'll do what I can to help you out of them."

Bertie shuddered as his eyes fell on the pistol at his feet.

"It's awfully good of you, old fellow," he answered huskily, "but you can't help me."

"How do you know that? Come, out with your story. Make a clean breast of it!"

Moved by his friend's kind appeal, the wretched young man confessed his troubles, speaking in dull, hopeless tones. It was the old story-a brief career on the road to ruin, from start to finish. A woman was at the bottom of it-when is it otherwise? Bertie had not reformed when he had the chance; Flora, the chorus-girl of the Frivolity, had exercised too strong an influence over him. His income would scarcely have kept her in flowers, and to supply her with jewels and dinners and a hundred other luxuries, as well as to repay money lost at cards, he had plunged deeper into the books of Benjamin and Company, hoping each time that some windfall would stave off disaster. Disregarding the advice of a few sincere friends, he had continued his mad course of dissipation. And now the blow had fallen-sooner than he had reason to expect. A bill for a large amount was due that very day, and Benjamin and Company refused to renew it; they demanded both interest and principal, and would give no easier terms.

"You'd better let me have that," Bertie concluded, desperately, pointing to the pistol.

Jimmie kicked the weapon under the table, put his hands deep into the pockets of his dressing gown, and whistled thoughtfully.

"Yes, it's bad," he said. "So you've gone to the Jews! You ought to have known better-but that's the way with you chaps who are fed with silver spoons. I'm not a saint myself-"

"Are you going to preach?" put in Bertie, sullenly.

"No; my little lecture is over. Cheer up and face the music, my boy. It's not as bad as you think. Surely your father will get you out of the scrape."

"Do you suppose I would tell him?" Bertie cried, savagely. "T

hat would be worse than-well, you know what I was going to do. It's just because of the governor that I can't bear to face the thing. He has paid my debts three times before, and he vowed that if I ran up any more bills he would ship me off to one of his ranches in Western America. He will keep his word, too."

"Ranch life isn't bad," said Jimmie.

"Don't talk about it! I would rather kill myself than go out there, away from England and all that one cares for. You know how it is, old man, don't you? London is the breath of life to me, with its clubs and theaters, and suppers, and jolly good fellows, and-"

"And Flora!" Jimmie supplemented drily.

"D-n Flora! She threw up the Friv yesterday and slipped off to the Continent with Dozy Molyneaux. I'm done with her, anyway! But what does it all matter? I'm ruined, and I must go under. Give me a drink, old chap-a stiff one."

"You can't have it, Bertie. Now, don't get riled-listen to me. Where was your father while you were going the pace so heavily?"

"In Scotland-at Runnymede Castle. He's there still, and knows nothing of what I've been doing. I dare say he thinks I've been living comfortably on my income-a beggarly five hundred a year!"

"What amount is the bill that falls due to-day?"

"Seven hundred and fifty pounds, with interest."

"And there are others?"

"Yes; three more-all renewals."

"And the total sum? Can you give it to me?"

"What's the use?" Bertie muttered. "But if you want to know-" He took a bit of paper from his pocket. "I counted it up yesterday," he added. "I can't get clear of the Jews for less than twenty-five hundred pounds."

"It's a heavy sum!"

"I can't raise a fraction of it. And the worst of it is that Victor Nevill is on-By Jove, I shouldn't have let that out!"

"You mean that Nevill indorsed the paper-all of it?"

"Only the first bill, and the next one Benjamin and Company took without an indorsement, as they did with the later ones. Nevill warned me what would happen if I kept on. I wish I had listened to him!"

Jimmie looked very grave.

"So Nevill steered you to the Jews!" he said, in a troubled tone. "It was hardly the act of a friend. Have you spoken to him in regard to this matter?"

"Yes, but he was short of money, and couldn't help me," Bertie replied. "He was awfully cut up about it, and went to see the Jews. It was no good-they refused to renew the bill on his indorsement."

"And heretofore they have accepted paper bearing your own signature only! Of course they knew that you had future expectations, or that your father would protect them from loss. It's the old game!"

"My expectations are not what they were," Bertie said sullenly, "and that's about what has brought things to a crisis. I can see through a millstone when there is a hole in it. I have a bachelor uncle on my mother's side-a woman-hater-who always said that he would remain single and make me his heir. But he changed his mind a couple of months ago, and married."

"Be assured that Benjamin and Company know that," Jimmie answered; "it's their reason for refusing to renew the bill."

"Yes; Nevill told me the same. He advised me to own up to the governor."

"How about your eldest brother-Lord Charters?"

"No good," the Honorable Bertie replied, gloomily; "we are on bad terms. And George is in New York."

"Then I must put you on your feet again."

"You!"

"Yes; I will lift your paper-the whole of it."

"Impossible! I can't accept money from a friend!"

"I'm more than that, my boy-or will be. Isn't your brother going to marry my cousin? And, anyway, we'll call it a loan. I'll take your I O U for the amount, and you can have twenty years to repay it-a hundred if you like. I can easily spare the money."

"I tell you I won't-"

"Don't tell me anything. It's settled. I mean to do it."

Bertie broke down; his scruples yielded before his friend's persistence.

"I'll pay it back," he cried, half sobbingly. "I'll be able to some day. God bless you, Jimmie-you don't know what you've saved me from. Another chance! I will make the most of it! I'll cut the old life and run straight-I mean it this time. I'm done with cards and evil companions, and all the rest of it!"

"Glad to hear it," said Jimmie. "I want your word of honor that you won't exceed your income hereafter, and that you will leave London for six months and go home."

"I will; I swear it!"

"And you will have nothing more to do with Flora and her kind?"

"Never again!"

"I believe you," said Jimmie, patting the young man on the shoulder. "Cheer up now and we'll breakfast together presently, and meanwhile I'll send a man round to your rooms for some morning togs. Then I'll leave you here while I go down to the city to see my bankers. I'll be back before noon, and bring a solicitor with me; I want the thing done ship-shape."

With that, Jimmie retired to the bedroom, where he was soon heard splashing in his tub. An hour later, when breakfast was over, he hurried away. He returned at half-past twelve, accompanied by an elderly gentleman of legal aspect, Mr. Grimsby by name. Bertie was ready, dressed in a suit of brown tweeds, and the three went on foot to Duke street, St. James'. They passed through the narrow court, and, without knocking, entered the office of Benjamin and Company. No one was there, but two persons were talking in a rear apartment, the door of which stood open an inch or so. And one of the voices sounded strangely familiar to Jimmie.

"Listen!" he whispered to Bertie. "Do you hear that?"

* * *

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