But Nevill himself, and one other individual, knew better. The bulk of his fortune exhausted by reckless living on the Continent, he had returned to London with a thousand pounds in cash, and a secured annuity of two hundred pounds, which he was too prudent to try to negotiate. The thousand pounds did not last long, but by the time they were spent he had drifted into degraded and evil ways. None had ever dared to whisper—none had ever suspected—that Victor Nevill was a rook for money-lenders and a dangerous friend for young men. He knew what a perilous game he was playing, but he studied every move and guarded shrewdly against discovery. There were many reasons, and one in particular, for keeping his reputation clean and untarnished. It was a matter of the utmost satisfaction to him that his uncle, Sir Lucius Chesney, of Priory Court in Sussex, cared but little for London, and seldom came up to town. For Sir Lucius was childless, elderly, and possessed of fifteen thousand pounds a year.
Victor Nevill’s progress along Piccadilly was frequently interrupted by friends, fashionably dressed young men like himself, whose invitations to come and have a drink he declined on the plea of an engagement. Just beyond Devonshire House he was accosted eagerly by a fresh-faced, blond-haired boy—he was no more than twenty-two—who was coming from the opposite direction.
“Hullo, Bertie,” Nevill said carelessly, as he shook hands. “I was on my way to the club.”
“I got tired of waiting. You are half an hour over the time, Vic. I thought of going to your rooms.”
“I slept later than I intended,” Nevill replied. “I had a night of it.”
“So had I—a night of sleeplessness.”
The Honorable Bertie Raven, second son of the Earl of Runnymede, might have stepped out of one of Poole’s fashion-plates, so far as dress was concerned. But there was a strained look on his handsome, patrician face, and in his blue eyes, that told of a gnawing mental anxiety. He linked arms with his companion, and drew him to the edge of the pavement.
“Is it all right?” he asked, pleadingly and hurriedly. “Were you able to fix the thing up for me?”
“You are sure there is no other way, Bertie?”
“None, Vic. I have until this evening, and then—”
“Don’t worry. I saw Benjamin and Company yesterday.”
“And they will accommodate me?”
“Yes, at my request.”
“You mean for your indorsement on the bill?” the lad exclaimed, blushing. “Vic, you’re a trump. You’re the best fellow that ever lived, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am. God only knows what a weight you’ve lifted from my mind. I’m going to run steady after this, and with economy I can save enough out of my allowance—”
“My dear boy, you are wasting your gratitude over a trifle. Could I refuse so simple a favor to a friend?”
“I don’t know any one else who would have done as much, Vic. I was in an awful hole. Will—will they give me plenty of time?”