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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 31. Drexley Foresees Danger
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The Survivor - Chapter 31. Drexley Foresees Danger Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2613

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The Survivor - Chapter 31. Drexley Foresees Danger


It was house-dinner night at the club, and there was a larger gathering even than usual. Douglas was there, light-hearted and in capital spirits, taking his first holiday for a week. Things were going well enough with him now. His novel was nearly finished, and the last few articles he had written for the Courier had brought a special visit from Rawlinson, who had patted him on the back and raised his salary. He felt like a man who had buffeted his way through the rough waters into the smooth shelter of the harbour--already he had almost forgotten how near they had come to closing over his head. Spring was coming, and the love of life was once more hot in his veins. Westwards, the chestnuts were budding and the lilac was in blossom. London was beginning to raise herself with a great yawn, and to remember that at this season of the year, at least, she had a place amongst the beautiful cities of the world. Douglas, good-natured always, to-night particularly happy, saw Drexley standing alone as usual by the terrace window, and crossed over to his side.

"Play me a game of billiards, Drexley," he exclaimed. "I've only half an hour to spare."

Drexley turned his head only just sufficiently to see who it was that addressed him.

"Is that you, Jesson?" he said. "No thanks. I gave up billiards long ago."

Douglas remained by his side.

"They tell me," he remarked, "that two years ago you were the best player in the club. Why don't you keep it up?"

"Lost interest," was the brief reply. "You can't do things well that you don't care about, can you?"

Douglas forgot to answer. He was aware that his companion was watching some one--a shabby, wan figure leaning over the palisading which bordered the terrace below. His own heart gave a throb. He knew at once who it was.

"David!" he exclaimed.

Drexley turned upon him sharply.

"You know him?"

Douglas nodded.

"Yes," he said. "It is David Strong. He is mad."

"You know that it was he--"

"Yes." Drexley drew a long breath.

"Look at him," he said, softly. "To-night he is safe--quite harmless. Some one has been giving him money. He is quite drunk. Thank God!"

Douglas stared at him--surprised.

"Drunk," Drexley explained, quietly, "he is safe. He will curl down in some odd corner somewhere soon and sleep till morning. There are other times when I have followed him about for hours, when I have seen the knife bulge in his pocket, and known that murder was in his heart. I have dogged him about the streets then till daylight--from her house to theatre steps, to concert rooms, restaurants, and private houses. Anywhere, where he imagined that she might be. I have seen him loiter about the pavements for hours, when the canvas archway and awning has been put out from one of the great West-end houses, just in the hope that she might be amongst the guests. So far he has been unlucky, but some day I feel that for all my watching they will meet, and then may God help her! You have influence over her, Jesson. I wish you would persuade her to have him put under restraint. She could identify him quite well as the man who shot at her on the terrace of her house, and so could you. Or if she will not do this, she might keep away from England for a few more months."

"Influence over her," Douglas repeated, with a sudden bitterness in his tone. "I have so much, that although I was with her on that terrible evening, and have written to her time after time, I have never had a line from her since she left England."

Drexley laughed oddly.

"You, too," he exclaimed. "Your day is over then. Well, it was a short and a merry one. You bear it well, my young friend."

Douglas shrugged his shoulders, but avoided Drexley's earnest gaze.

"Emily de Reuss was very kind to me," he said, "but she is not the only woman in the world." "For those who have known her," Drexley said, "none can come after."

"Then I must be one of those who have never known her," Douglas answered, with a lightness which sounded natural enough, "for I am going to take the most charming little girl in London to the theatre to-night."

Drexley pointed downwards. The slouching figure which they had been watching had half collapsed against the railings. He was obviously overpowered with drink.

"He was once like that," Drexley said, "as young and eager and confident as you. When she was first unkind, he laughed and tried a week in Paris. But he came back. Always there is the coming back. It was the same with young Morrison--with me--it will be the same with you. It creeps into the blood, and no man's will, nor any other woman's, can rid you of it."

Douglas had already repented of that instinct of good nature which had led him to address Drexley. A spectre which for months he had been doing his best to stifle was stalking once more by his side.

He turned away abruptly.

"Well," he said, "I think you're talking rot. I shall go down and see whether anything can be done for that poor wretch there."

Drexley turned and clutched him by the shoulder.

"Don't," he said. "At least, listen to me for a moment. Strong was in my office once. I knew him at his best, I watched his decline, I have known him always. He's absolutely beyond help from you or me, or any living person. Three times I have given him the money to emigrate, and he has pocketed it and laughed at me. He has no conscience nor any sense of honour. His life, or what is left of it, is a desire--a desire to kill. He would take your money and spend it in bribing servants or in procuring fresh weapons. In any case it would go towards helping him in his horrible purpose. Propose to kill him, if you like, and I am with you at all risks. But don't go near him, don't give him money."

Douglas lit a cigarette and turned his back to the window.

"Very well," he said. "I will forget him. You had better do the same."

Drexley nodded slowly.

"For to-night, perhaps," he said. "To-morrow it will begin again. I watch him all my spare time. Even then I scarcely dare open a morning paper."

Douglas looked at him suddenly, moved by the man's wonderful faithfulness. Of his own sufferings he seemed oblivious.

"What are you going to do to-night, Drexley?" he asked.

Drexley shrugged his shoulders.

"Sit about here," he answered. "Smoke and drink, I suppose, till eleven, and then go home. Not that I'm complaining. There's nothing else I care to do."

Douglas laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Look here," he said. "I've an idea. I'm taking Miss Strong and a friend to the 'Gaiety.' We want a fourth, and I was just looking round for a man. Come with us."

Drexley laughed grimly.

"You're talking nonsense," he said. "Very good of you, of course," he added, "but you must please excuse me. That sort of thing's not in my way at all."

Douglas was persistent.

"There's no reason why it shouldn't be in your way," he said. "You know Miss Strong, and I'll look after the other girl. I've a fancy to have you come."

Drexley took up a paper.

"Go and pick up one of the young men," he said. "There are plenty of them who will be glad to spend the evening with Miss Strong. As for me, it's out of the question. I should only be a wet blanket."

"You or no one, Drexley," Douglas said, taking out his watch. "Look here. You've twenty minutes to change your clothes. The girls are calling here at eight o'clock. Hurry, please."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," Drexley snorted. "There's Molyneux. Ask him. I've an engagement later on."

Douglas took out his watch again.

"You've only eighteen minutes now," he said. "I know you'll keep them waiting."

* * * * *

For the first half an hour it was doubtful whether the evening was going to be a success. Drexley was gloomy, and had not altogether lost the air of having been forced to do something which bored him. He was polite, but monosyllabic and gloomy, and his interest in the play was obviously feigned. Douglas wisely left him to Cicely, and devoted himself to her little friend, and he soon had the pleasure of seeing Drexley thaw. Cicely only laughed at his momentary lapses, and she was far too charming a companion to be ignored. Before the first act was ended she had conquered. Drexley was watching her with a quiet smile upon his lips, amused at her eagerness, answering her many questions readily. In the corridor after the play was over he touched Douglas on the shoulder.

"You are all coming to the 'Milan' to supper with me," he said. "Miss Strong and I arranged it, after the second act, and I sent a commissionaire down for a table."

Cicely laughed up at him.

"Isn't it delightful?" she exclaimed. "Milly and I are so hungry, and we're dying to see the 'Milan.' Will you bring Milly in another hansom?"

Douglas nodded and lit a cigarette. He wondered whether, after all, this experiment was going to be such a brilliant success.

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