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!”