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   Chapter 23 ON THE TRACK.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 10840

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

In answer to Jimmie's question, Bertie gave him a puzzled look; he clearly did not understand. At the same instant the conversation in the next room was brought to a close. Some person said "Good-morning, Benjamin," and there was a sound of a door closing and of retreating footsteps; one of the speakers had gone, probably by another exit. The house, as Jimmie suspected, fronted on Duke street, and it was the rear portion that was connected with the court.

The elderly Jew, who was Mr. Benjamin himself, promptly entered the office, adjusting a black skull-cap to his head. He gave a barely perceptible start of surprise at sight of his visitors; he could not have known that they were there. He apologized extravagantly, and inquired what he could have the pleasure of doing for them. Mr. Grimsby stated their business, and the Jew listened with an inscrutable face; his deep-sunken eyes blinked uneasily.

"Do I understand," he said, addressing himself to the Honorable Bertie, "that you wish to take up not only the bill which is due to-day-"

"No; all of them, Benjamin," Bertie interrupted. "My friend wants to pay you to the last penny."

"I shall be happy to oblige," said the Jew, rubbing his hands. "I always knew that you were an honest young gentleman, Mr. Raven. I am sorry that I had to insist on payment, but my partner-"

"Will you let me have the paper, sir," Jimmie put in, curtly.

The Jew at once bestirred himself. He opened a safe in which little bundles of documents were neatly arranged, and in a couple of minutes he produced the sheaf of bills that had so nearly been the ruin of his aristocratic young client. The first one was among the number; it had been renewed several times, on Nevill's indorsement.

The affair was quickly settled. The solicitor went carefully over Mr. Benjamin's figures, representing principal and interest up to date, and expressed himself as satisfied; it was extortionate but legal, he declared. The sum total was a little over twenty-five hundred pounds-Bertie had received less than two-thirds of it in cash-and Jimmie promptly hauled out a fat roll of Bank of England notes and paid down the amount. He took the canceled paper, nodded coldly to the Jew, and left the money-lender's office with his companions.

Mr. Grimsby, declining an invitation to lunch, hailed a cab and went off to the city to keep an appointment with a client. The other two walked on to Piccadilly, and Bertie remembered that morning, months before, when Victor Nevill had helped him out of his difficulties, only to get him into a tighter hole.

"No person but myself was to blame," he thought. "Nevill meant it as a kindness, and he advised me to pull up when he found what I was drifting into-I never mentioned the last bill to him. Dear old Jimmie, he's given me another chance! How jolly to feel that one is rid of such a burden! I haven't drawn an easy breath for weeks."

"We'll go to my place first," said Jimmie. "I want a wash after the atmosphere of that Jew's den. And then we'll lunch together."

It was a dull and cheerless day, but the sitting-room in the Albany looked quite different to Bertie as he entered it. Was it only a few hours before, he wondered, that he had stood there by the window in the act of taking that life which had become too great a burden to bear? And in the blackness of his despair, when he saw no glimmer of hope, the clouds had rolled away. He glanced at the pistol, harmlessly resting on a shelf, and a rush of gratitude filled his heart and brought tears to his eyes. He clasped his friend's hand and tried incoherently to thank him.

"Come, none of that," Jimmie said, brusquely. "Let us talk of something more interesting. I have a pot of money; and this stuff," pulling out the packet of bills, "don't even make a hole in it. It was a jolly little thing to do-"

"It wasn't a little thing for me, old chap. I shall never forget, and be assured that you will get your money back some day, with interest."

"Oh, hang the money!" exclaimed Jimmie. "If I'm ever hard up I'll ask for it. If you want to show your gratitude, my boy, see that you stick to your promise and run straight as a die hereafter."

"I swear I will, Jimmie. I would be worse than a blackguard if I didn't. Don't worry-I've had my lesson!"

"Then let it be a lasting one. There are plenty of fellows who never get clear of the Jews."

Jimmie vanished into the next room, and in a few moments reappeared, rubbing his face vigorously with a towel.

"Do you remember in the Jew's den," he said abruptly, "my calling your attention to the men talking in the back office?"

"Yes, but I didn't know what you meant."

"Didn't one of the voices sound familiar to you?"

"By Jove, you're right, come to think of it. It reminded me of-"

"Of Victor Nevill," said Jimmie. "Benjamin's companion talked exactly like him, it struck me."

"That's it. Queer, wasn't it? But, of course, it was only a coincidence. Nevill couldn't have been there."

"No; I hardly think so," Jimmie answered, slowly and seriously.

"I'm positive about it," exclaimed Bertie. "Surely you wouldn't insinuate that Nevill is a-"

"No, I can't believe him to be that-a tout for money-lenders. But it was wonderfully like his voice."

"Don't get such an idea into your head," protested Bertie. "Nevill was only in the place twice, and then he went to obli

ge me. He hates the Jews, and won't have anything to do with them himself. And he don't need to. He has a settled income of two or three thousand a year."

"Yet he refused to help you, and pleaded that he was hard up?"

"Yes," assented Bertie, "but he didn't put it exactly in that way. He explained how he was fixed, and I quite understand it. He must save all his spare cash just now. He is going to be married soon."

"That's news," said Jimmie. "I hadn't an inkling of it."

"Nor I," declared Bertie, "until a week ago. I was dining with Nevill, and he had taken half a bottle too much, you know. That's when he let it out."

"Who is the girl?"

"A Miss Foster, I believe. She lives somewhere near Kew Bridge, in a big, old-fashioned house on the river. I suppose her father has money. From what Nevill said-"

A sharp exclamation fell from Jimmie's lips, and his face expressed blank astonishment.

"By Jove! Nevill engaged to Madge Foster?" he cried.

"That's the girl, and he's going to marry her!"

Jimmie turned away to hide his feelings. This was a most astounding piece of news, but under the circumstances he was satisfied that it must be true. So Nevill knew Miss Foster! That in itself was a strange revelation! And suddenly a vague suspicion came into his mind-a chilling doubt-as he recalled Nevill's demeanor, and certain little actions of his, on the night when Jack Vernon's French wife confronted him under the trees of Richmond Terrace. Had a jealous rival planned that Diane should be there?-that she should come to life again to blast the happiness of the man who believed her dead? He tried to put away the suspicion, but it would not be stifled; it grew stronger.

"I say, old man, what's gone wrong?" asked Bertie. "You're acting queerly. I hope you've not been hit in that quarter."

Jimmie faced around and laughed.

"No fear, Bertie," he said. "I'm not a marrying man. I wouldn't know Miss Foster from your precious Flora, for I've never seen either of them." He suddenly remembered the photograph Jack had shown him, and his cheeks flushed. "It gave me a bit of a start to hear that Nevill was going to be married," he added, hastily. "I thought he was too fond of a bachelor's existence to tie himself to a wife."

"It's funny what a woman can do with a chap," Bertie sagely observed.

"You ought to know," Jimmie replied, pointedly, as he pulled on his coat. "Come along! It's past my lunch hour, and I'm hungry."

On their way to a noted restaurant in the vicinity Jimmy engaged in deep reflection.

"I'll do it," he vowed, mentally. "I'll keep an eye on Mr. Victor Nevill, and get to the bottom of this thing. I remember that I took a dislike to him in Paris from the first. I hate a traitor, and if Nevill has been playing the part of a false friend, I'll block his little game. He seemed rather too anxious to take Diane away that night. And he'll bear watching for another reason-I'm almost certain that it was his voice I heard in the Jew's back room. Benjamin and Company, like charity, may cover a multitude of sins. Nevill was going a rapid pace when he was abroad, and he couldn't well have kept it up all these years on his legacy."

* * *

It was eleven o'clock at night, and the theatres were pouring their audiences from pit and stalls, galleries and boxes, into the crowded, tumultuous, clamoring Strand, blazing and flashing like a vast, long furnace, echoing to the roar of raucous throats, and throbbing to the rumble of an endless invasion of cabs and private carriages. A fascinating scene, and one of the most interesting that London can show.

The uniformed commissionaire of the Ambiguity, reading the wishes of a lady and gentleman who pressed across the pavement to the curb, promptly claimed a hansom and opened the door. Stephen Foster helped his daughter into it and followed her. Madge looked fragile and tired, but her sweet beauty attracted the attention of the bystanders; she drew her fluffy opera-cloak about her white throat and shoulders as she nestled in a corner of the seat. Nevill, who had been separated from them by the crush, came forward just then.

"I'm sorry you won't have some supper," he said. "It is not late."

"It will be midnight before we get home," Stephen Foster replied. "We are indebted to you for a delightful evening."

"Yes, we enjoyed it so much," Madge added, politely.

"I hope you will let me repeat it soon," Nevill said.

The girl did not answer. She held out her hand, and it was cold to Nevill's touch. He bade them both good-night, and stepped aside to give the cabby his directions. He watched the vehicle roll away, and then scowled at the commissionaire, who waited expectantly for a tip.

"As beautiful as a dream," he thought, savagely, "but with a heart of ice-at least to me. Will I never be able to melt her?"

It is no easy matter to cross the Strand when the theaters are dismissing their audiences, and five minutes were required for Nevill to accomplish that operation; even then he had to avail himself of a stoppage of the traffic by a policeman. He bent his steps to the grill-room of the Grand, and enjoyed a chop and a small bottle of wine. Lighting a cigar, he sauntered slowly to Jermyn street, and as he reached his lodgings a man started up suddenly before him.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said humbly, "but ain't you Mr. Victor Nevill?"

* * *

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