“Beg pardon, sir,” he said humbly, “but ain’t you Mr. Victor Nevill?”
A FATEFUL DECISION.
Nevill paused, latch-key in hand; a cautious impulse checked the admission of his identity. The individual who had accosted him, seen by the glow of a distant street-lamp, was thickset and rakish-looking, with a heavy mustache. He repeated his question uneasily.
“If I’ve made a mistake—” he went on.
“No, you are not mistaken,” said Nevill. “But how did you learn my name, and what do you want with me?”
On a natural impulse, fancying he recognized a racing tipster who had been of service to him in the past, he reached for his pocket; the jingling of coin was heard.
“Stow that—I’m not a beggar!” the man said, sharply.
“I beg your pardon! I thought I recalled—”
“We never met before, Mr. Nevill.”
“Then it’s a queer time of night for a stranger to hunt me up. If you have business with me, come in the morning; or, better still, write to me.”
“I’ve got to talk to you to-night, sir, and I ain’t to be put off. For two blessed hours I’ve been hanging around this house, watching an’ waiting—”
“A sad waste of time! You are an impudent fellow, whoever you are. I refuse to have anything to do with you.”
“I think you’ll change your mind, sir. If you don’t you’ll be sorry till your dying day.”
“You scoundrel, do you dare to threaten me?” cried Nevill. “There is only one remedy for ruffians of your kind—” He looked up and down the street in search of a policeman.
“You can call an officer if you like,” the man said, scornfully; “or, if you choose to order me away, I’ll go. But in that case,” he bent nearer and dropped his voice to a whisper, “I’ll take my secret straight to Sir Lucius Chesney. And I’ll warrant he won’t refuse to hear it.”
Nevill’s countenance changed, and he seemed to wilt instantly.
“Your secret?” he muttered. “Are you telling the truth? What is it?”
“Do you suppose I’m going to give that away here in the street? It’s a private matter, and can only be told under shelter, where there ain’t no danger of eavesdroppers.”
“I’ll trust you,” replied Nevill, after a brief hesitation. “Come, you shall go to my rooms. But I warn you in advance that if you are playing a game of blackmail I’ll have no mercy on you.”
“I won’t ask none. Don’t you fear.”
Nevill opened the house door, and the two went softly up the dimly lit staircase. The gas-lamps were turned on, revealing the luxuries of the front apartment, and the visitor looked about him with bewildered admiration; he seemed to feel his unfitness for the place, and instinctively buttoned his coat over his shabby linen. But that was only for a moment. With an insolent smile he took possession of a basket-chair, helped himself to a cigar, and poured some brandy from a carafe into a glass. Meanwhile Nevill had drawn the window curtains, and when he turned around he had hard work to restrain his anger.