The Englishman’s voice was so low that it seemed as if he were talking more to himself than to his listener.
‘What happened to that swine?’ he ejaculated suddenly. ’I mean the one I almost killed. By any chance, did he die?’
‘I saw in a paragraph last week,’ said Selwyn, ’that he was out on crutches for the first time. The paper also commented on your complete disappearance.’
‘I wish I had killed him,’ said the young man grimly. ’If I ever get a chance I’ll tell you about him. I was drunk at the time—that’s what saved his life. If I had been sober I should have finished him. Well, it’s a damp night, my friend, and I won’t keep you any longer from a decent billet.’
‘Look here, Durwent,’ said Selwyn; ’come along to my rooms. You’re soaked to the skin, and I could give you a change and a shakedown for the night.’
‘Thanks very much; but I’m accustomed to this kind of thing.’
‘You won’t be seen,’ urged Selwyn. ’I have accepted so much from your family that you would do me a kindness in coming.’
’Well, I must say I’m not married to this place. If you don’t mind taking in a disreputable wharf-rat’——
‘That’s the idea,’ said Selwyn, helping him to his feet. The Englishman shivered slightly.
‘You haven’t a flask, have you?’ he queried. ’I didn’t know how cold I was.’
‘I haven’t anything with me,’ said the American; ’but I can give you a whisky and something to eat at my rooms.’
‘Right! Thanks very much.’
Tucking the cape under his arm, and shaking his waterproof cap to clear it of water, Dick Durwent followed the American on to the Embankment, where the two sphinxes of Egypt squatted, silent sentinels.
To avoid the crowds as much as possible, the two men followed the Embankment, and had reached the Houses of Parliament, intending to make a detour into St. James’s Square, when Selwyn felt a hand upon his shoulder. He turned quickly about, and Durwent moved off to one side to be out of the light of a lamp.
‘Sweet son of liberty,’ said the new-comer, ‘how fares it?’
It was Johnston Smyth, more airily shabby than ever. Over his head he held an umbrella in such disrepair that the material hung from the ribs in shreds. A profuse black tie hid any sign of shirt, and both the legs of his trousers and the sleeves of his coat seemed to have shrunk considerably with the damp.
‘How are you?’ said Selwyn, shaking hands.
’Temperamentally on tap; artistically beyond question; gastronomically unsatisfied.’ At this concise statement of his condition, Smyth took off his hat, gazed at it as if he had been previously unaware of its existence, and replaced it on the very back of his head.
‘Things are not going too well, then?’ said Selwyn, glancing anxiously towards Durwent, and wondering how he could get rid of the garrulous artist.