Chapter XX. Montague Nevitt Finesses.
 

Guy rose mechanically, and followed him to the door. Nevitt still held the forged cheque in his hand. Guy thought of it so to himself in plain terms, as the forgery. Yet somehow, he knew not why, he followed that sinister figure through the passage and down the stairs like one irresistibly and magnetically drawn forward. Why, he couldn't let any one go forth upon the streets of London--with the cheque he himself had forged in his hands--unwatched and unshadowed.

Nevitt called a cab; and jumped in, and beckoned him. Guy, still as in a dream, jumped after him hastily.

"To the London and West Country Bank, in Lombard Street," Nevitt called through the flap.

The cab drove off; and Guy Waring leaned back, all trembling and irresolute, with his head on the cushions.

At last, after a short drive, during which Guy's head seemed to be swimming most dreamily, they reached the bank--that crowded bank in Lombard Street. Nevitt thrust the cheque bodily into his companion's hand.

"Take it in, now, and cash it," he said with an authoritative air. "Do you hear what I say? Take it in--and cash it."

Guy, as if impelled by some superior power, walked inside the door, and presented it timidly.

The cashier glanced at the sum inscribed on the cheque with no little surprise.

"It's a rather large amount, Mr. Waring," he said, scanning his face closely. "How will you take it?"

Guy trembled violently from head to foot as he answered, in a voice half choked with terror, "Bank of England hundreds, if you please. It is a large sum, as you say; but I'm placing it elsewhere."

The cashier retired for a few minutes; then he returned once more, bringing a big roll of notes, and a second clerk by his side--just to prevent mistake--stared hard at the customer. "All square," the second clerk said, in a half-whispered aside. "It's him right enough."

And the cashier proceeded to count out the notes with oft-wetted fingers.

Guy took them up mechanically, like a drunken man, counted them over one by one in a strange, dazed way; and staggered out at last to the cab to Nevitt.

Nevitt leaned forward and took the bundle from his hands. Guy stood on the pavement and looked vacantly in at him! "That's right," Nevitt said, clasping the bundle tight. "Rio Negro Diamond and Sapphire Mines, cabby, 127, Knatchbull Street, Cheapside."

The cabman whipped up his horse and disappeared round the corner, leaving Guy Waring alone--like a fool--on the pavement.

For a minute or two the dazed and dazzled journalist stood there awaking by degrees as from some trance or stupefaction. At first he could only stand still and gaze vacantly down the street after the disappearing cab; but as his brain cleared slowly, and the mist that hung over his mind dispelled itself bit by bit, he was able to walk a few steps at a time towards the nearest shops, where he looked in at the windows intently with a hollow stare, and tried to collect his scattered wits for a great effort at understanding this strange transaction.

All at once, as he looked, the full folly of his deed burst in its true light upon his muddled brain. He had handed Nevitt six thousand pounds in Bank of England notes; to waste, or lose, or speculate, or run away with.

Six--thousand--pounds of Cyril's money! Not that for one moment he suspected Nevitt. Guy Waring was too innocent to suspect anybody. But as he woke up more fully now to the nature of his own act, a horrible sense of guilt and pollution crept slowly over him. He put his hand ito his forehead. Cold sweat stood in clammy small drops upon his brow. Bit by bit, the hateful truth dawned clearly upon him. Nevitt had lured him by strange means, he knew not how, into hateful crime--into a disgraceful conspiracy. Word by word, the self-accusing sentence framed itself upon his lips.

He spoke it out, aloud: "Why--this--is forgery!"

Dazzled and stunned by the intensity of that awful awaking from some weird possession or suggestion of evil by a stronger mind, Guy Waring began to walk on in a feverish fashion, fast, fast, oh, so fast, not knowing where he went, but conscious only that he must keep moving, lest an accusing conscience should gnaw his very heart out.

Whither, he hadn't as yet the faintest idea. His whole being for the moment was centred and summed up in that unspeakable remorse. He had done a great wrong. He had made himself a felon. And now, in the first recoil of his revolted nature, he must go after the man who held the evidences of his guilt, and by force or persuasion demand them at once from him. Those notes were Cyril's. He must get them. He must get them.

Possessed by this one idea, with devouring force, but still in a very nebulous and hazy form, Guy began walking towards the Strand and the Embankment, at the hot top of his speed, to get the notes back--at Montague Nevitt's chambers. He had walked with fiery zeal in that wrong direction for nearly a mile, his heart burning within him all the way, and his brain in a whirl, before it began to strike him, in a flash of common sense, that Montague Nevitt wouldn't be there at all. He had driven off to the office. Guy clapped his hand to his forehead once more, in an agony of remorse. Great heavens, what folly! He had heard him tell the cabman the address himself--"127, Knatchbull Street, Cheapside."

Even now he hadn't sense enough to hail a cab and go after him. His faculties were still numbed and entranced by that horrible spell of Montague Nevitt's eye. He had but one thought--to walk on, walk hastily. He tramped along the streets in the direction of Cheapside, straining every muscle to arrive at the office before Nevitt had parted with Cyril's six thousand--but he never even thought of saving the precious moments by driving the distance between instead of walking it. Montague Nevitt's personality still weighed down half his brain, and rendered his mind almost childish or imbecile.

Hurrying on so through the crowded streets, now walking, now running, now pausing, now panting, knocking up here against a little knot of wayfarers, and delayed again there by an untimely block at some crowded crossing, he turned the corner at last with a beating heart into the narrow pavement of an alley marked up as Knatchbull Street. Number 127 was visible from afar.

A mob of excited people marked its site by loitering about the door. Two policemen held off the angrier spirits among the shareholders. But, nothing daunted by the press, Guy forced his way in and looked around the room trembling, for Montague Nevitt. Too late! Too late! Nevitt wasn't there. The unhappy dupe turned to the clerk in charge.

"Has Mr. Montague Nevitt been here?" he asked, in a voice all tremulous with emotion.

"Mr. Montague Nevitt?" the clerk responded. "Just gone ten minutes ago. Came to settle Mr. Whitley's call--his brother-in-law's. Went off in a cab. Can I do anything for you?"

"He's paid in six thousand pounds?" Guy gasped out interrogatively.

The clerk gazed at him hard with a suspicious glance. "Are you a shareholder?" he asked, with one eye on the policeman. "What do you want to know for?"

"Yes, I'm a shareholder, unfortunately," Guy answered, still in a maze. "I hold three hundred original shares. My name's Guy Waring. You've got me on your books. Mr. Nevitt has paid three thousand in Mr. Whitley's name, and three thousand for me. That was our arrangement."

The clerk glanced hard at him again. "Waring!" he repeated, turning over the leaves of his big book for further verification. "Waring! Waring! Waring! Ah, here it is; Waring, Guy; journalist; 22, Staple Inn; 300 shares. Three hundred pounds paid. Then we call up to three thousand. No, Mr. Nevitt didn't settle for you, sir. He paid Mr. Whitley's call in full. That was all. Nothing else. You're still our debtor."

"He didn't pay up!" Guy exclaimed, clapping his hands to his head, all the black guile and treachery of the man coining home to him at once, at one fell blow. "He didn't pay up for me! Oh, this is too, too terrible!"

He paused for a moment. Floods of feeling rushed over him. He knew now that he had committed that forgery for nothing. Cyril's money was gone. And Montague Nevitt had stolen the three thousand Guy intrusted to him at the bank for the second payment. Yet Guy knew he had no legal remedy save by acknowledging the forgery! This was almost more than human nature could stand. If Montague Nevitt had been by his side that moment Guy would have leapt at his throat, and it would have gone hard with him if he had left the villain living.

He clapped his hands to his ears in the horror and agony of that hideous disclosure.

"The thief!" he cried aloud, in a choking voice. "Did he pay what he paid from a big roll of notes, and did he take the rest of the notes in the roll away with him?"

"Yes, just so," the clerk answered calmly. "He didn't mention your name. But perhaps he's coming back by-and-by to settle for you."

Guy knew better. He saw through the man's whole black nature at once.

"I've been robbed," he said slowly. "I've been robbed and deserted. I must follow the man and compel him to disgorge. When I've got the cash back I'll return and pay you. ... No, I won't, though. I forgot. I'll take it home to the bank for Cyril."

The clerk gazed at him with a smile of pitying contempt. Mad, mad; quite mad! The loss of his fortune had, no doubt, unhinged this shareholder's reason. But Guy, never heeding him, rushed out into the street and hailed a passing cab.

"Temple Flats," he cried aloud, and drove to Nevitt's chambers. Too late, once more! The housekeeper told him Mr. Nevitt was out. He'd just started off, portmanteau and all, as hard as a hansom could drive, to Waterloo Station.

"Waterloo, then!" Guy shouted, in wild despair, to the cabman. "We must follow this man post haste. Alive or dead, I won't rest till I catch him!"

It was an unhappy phrase. In the events that came after, it was remembered against him.