The story of the past two weeks—since Jack’s return from India—was a sad one. He tried his best to drown the bitter memories of Madge, of what he had lost. He cut loose from Jimmie and other old friends, took lodgings in an out-of-the-way quarter, and turned night into day. He had plenty of money, and he had not been near the office of the Universe. He found boon companions among the wildest acquaintances of his Paris days, including Tony Mostyn and his set. But a fortnight had dispelled the glamour, and life looked blacker to him than it had ever looked before. Courage and manhood were at a low ebb. He laughed recklessly as he wondered what the end would be.
“Let us go and get a drink,” he said to his companion.
As he spoke a tumult broke out at the far end of the room. Scuffling feet and men’s angry voices mingled with cries of protest and women’s shrill screams. Then followed a heavy fall, a groan, and a rush of people. The music had stopped and the dancers were still.
“There’s been a row,” exclaimed Mostyn. “It’s bad for the club.”
Idle curiosity led Jack to the spot, and Mostyn accompanied him. They elbowed their way through, and saw a flashily-dressed man with blue-black cheeks and a curling black mustache lying on the floor. He was bleeding from an ugly wound on the forehead, where he had been struck by a bottle. His assailant had slipped away, scared, and was being smuggled out of the room and down stairs by his friends.
“What a shame!” ejaculated a terrified woman.
“It’s no fair fighting,” added another.
“Shut up, all of you!” angrily cried a harsh-voiced man—clearly one in authority—as he elbowed his way to the front. “Do you want to bring the police down on us?”
The warning had a prompt effect, and comparative silence ensued. The injured man tried to rise, but his potations had weakened him more than the loss of blood.
“Where’s the bloke what hit me?” he feebly demanded.
His maudlin speech and woe-begone manner roused Jack’s sympathy. He knelt down beside him, and made a brief examination.
“It’s nothing serious—the bottle glanced off,” he said. “Fetch water and a sponge, and I’ll soon stop the bleeding. Who has a bit of plaster?”
No sponge was to be had, but a basin of water was quickly produced. Jack tore his handkerchief in two and wet part of it. He was about to begin operations when a hand tapped him on the shoulder and a familiar voice pronounced his name.
A QUICK DECISION.
Jack turned around, and when he saw Victor Nevill bending over him he looked first confused and then pleasurably surprised.
“Hello, old chap,” he said. “Wait a bit, will you?”
“You’ve led me a chase,” Nevill whispered in a low voice. “I want to talk to you. Important!”