“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.