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Whenever he came into Shepherd's Inn, it was money that brought the unlucky Baronet into those precincts; and there was commonly a gentleman of the money-dealing world in waiting for him at Strong's chambers, or at Campion's below; and a question of bills to negotiate or to renew. Clavering was a man who had never looked his debts fairly in the face, familiar as he had been with them all his life; as long as he could renew a bill, his mind was easy regarding it; and he would sign almost anything for to-morrow, provided to-day could be left unmolested. He was a man whom scarcely any amount of fortune could have benefited permanently, and who was made to be ruined, to cheat small tradesmen, to be the victim of astuter sharpers: to be niggardly and reckless, and as destitute of honesty as the people who cheated him, and a dupe, chiefly because he was too mean to be a successful knave. He had told more lies in his time, and undergone more baseness of stratagem in order to stave off a small debt, or to swindle a poor creditor, than would have sufficed to make a fortune for a braver rogue. He was abject and a shuffler in the very height of his prosperity. Had he been a Crown Prince—he could not have been more weak, useless, dissolute or ungrateful. He could not move through life except leaning on the arm of somebody; and yet he never had an agent but he mistrusted him; and marred any plans which might be arranged for his benefit, by secretly acting against the people whom he employed. Strong knew Clavering, and judged him quite correctly. It was not as friends that this pair met; but the Chevalier worked for his principal, as he would when in the army have pursued a harassing march, or undergone his part in the danger and privations of a siege; because it was his duty, and because he had agreed to it. "What is it he wants?" thought the two officers of the Shepherd's Inn garrison, when the Baronet came among them.
His pale face expressed extreme anger and irritation. "So, sir," he said, addressing Altamont, "you've been at your old tricks."
"Which of 'um?" asked Altamont, with a sneer."You have been at the Rouge et Noir: you were there last night," cried the Baronet.
"How do you know,—were you there?" the other said. "I was at the Club: but it wasn't on the colours I played,—ask the Captain,—I've been telling him of it. It was with the bones. It was at hazard, Sir Francis, upon my word and honour it was;" and he looked at the Baronet with a knowing humorous mock humility, which only seemed to make the other more angry.
"What the deuce do I care, sir, how a man like you loses his money, and whether it is at hazard or roulette?" screamed the Baronet, with a multiplicity of oaths, and at the top of his voice. "What I will not have, sir, is that you should use my name, or couple it with yours.—Damn him, Strong, why don't you keep him in better order? I tell you he has gone and used my name again, sir,—drawn a bill upon me, and lost the money on the table—I can't stand it—I won't stand it. Flesh and blood won't bear it—Do you know how much I have paid for you, sir?"
"This was only a very little 'un, Sir Francis—only fifteen pound, Captain Strong, they wouldn't stand another: and it oughtn't to anger you, Governor. Why it's so trifling I did not even mention it to Strong,—did I now, Captain? I protest it had quite slipped my memory, and all on account of that confounded liquor I'took."
"Liquor or no liquor, sir, it is no business of mine. I don't care what you drink, or where you drink it—only it shan't be in my house. And I will not have you breaking into my house of a night, and a fellow like you intruding himself on my company: how dared you show yourself in Grosvenor Place last night, sir,—and—and what do you suppose my friends must think of me when they see a man of your sort walking into my dining-room uninvited, and drunk, and calling for liquor as if you were the master of the house?"
"They'll think you know some very queer sort of people, I dare say," Altamont said with impenetrable good-humour. "Look here, Baronet, I apologise; on my honour I do, and ain't an apology enough between two gentlemen? It was a strong measure I own, walking into your cuddy, and calling for drink as if I was the Captain: but I had had too much before, you see, that's why I wanted some more; nothing can be more simple—and it was because they wouldn't give me no more money upon your name at the Black and Red, that I thought I would come down and speak to you about it. To refuse me was nothing: but to refuse a bill drawn on you that have been such a friend to the shop, and are a baronet and a member of parliament, and a gentleman and no mistake— damme, it's ungrateful."
"By heavens, if ever you do it again,—if ever you dare to show yourself in my house; or give my name at a gambling-house or at any other house, by Jove—at any other house—or give any reference at all to me, or speak to me in the street, by Gad, or anywhere else until I speak to you—I'll disclaim you altogether—I won't give you another shilling."
"Governor, don't be provoking," Altamont said, surlily. "Don't talk to me about daring to do this thing or t'other, or when my dander is up it's the very thing to urge me on. I oughtn't to have come last night, I know I oughtn't: but I told you I was drunk, and that ought to be sufficient between gentleman and gentleman."
"You a gentleman! dammy, sir," said the Baronet, "how dares a fellow like you to call himself a gentleman?"
"I ain't a baronet, I know," growled the other; "and I've forgotten how to be a gentleman almost now, but—but I was one once, and my father was one, and I'll not have this sort of talk from you, Sir F. Clavering, that's flat. I want to go abroad again. Why don't you come down with the money, and let me go? Why the devil are you to be rolling in riches, and me to have none? Why should you have a house and a table covered with plate, and me be in a garret here in this beggarly Shepherd's Inn? We're partners, ain't we? I've as good a right to be rich as you have, haven't I? Tell the story to Strong here, if you like; and ask him to be umpire between us. I don't mind letting my secret out to a man that won't split. Look here, Strong—perhaps you guess the story already—the fact is, me and the Governor"
"D—, hold your tongue," shrieked out the Baronet in a fury. "You shall have the money as soon as I can get it. I ain't made of money. I'm so pressed and badgered, I don't Vol. n. P 4
know where to turn. I shall go mad; by Jove, I shall. I wish I was dead, for I'm the most miserable brute alive. I say, Mr. Altamont, don't mind me. When I'm out of health—and I'm devilish bilious this morning—hang me, I abuse everybody, and don't know what I say. Excuse me if I've offended you. I—I'll try and get that little business done. Strong shall try. Upon my word he shall. And I say, Strong, my boy, I want to speak to you. Come into the office for a minute."
Almost all Clavering's assaults ended in this ignominious way, and in a shameful retreat. Altamont sneered after the Baronet as he left the room, and entered into the office, to talk privately with his factotum.
"What is the matter now?" the latter asked of him. "It's the old story, I suppose."
"D— it, yes," the Baronet said. "I dropped two hundred in ready money at the Little Coventry last night, and gave a cheque for three hundred more. On her ladyship's bankers, too, for to-morrow; and I must meet it, for there'll be the deuce to pay else. The last time she paid my play-debts, I swore I would not touch a dice-box again, and she'll keep her word, Strong, and dissolve partnership, if I go on. I wish I had three hundred a year, and was away. At a German watering-place you can do devilish well with three hundred a year. But my habits are so d— reckless: I wish I was in the Serpentine. I wish I was dead, by Gad I wish I was. I wish I had never touched those confounded bones. I had such a run of luck last night, with five for the main, and seven to five all night, until those ruffians wanted to pay me with Altamont's bill upon me. The luck turned from that minute. Never held the box again for three mains, and came away cleared out, leaving that infernal cheque behind me. How shall I pay it? Blackland won't hold it over. Hulker and Bullock will write about it directly to her ladyship. By Jove, Ned, I'm the most miserable brute in all England."
It was necessary for Ned to devise some plan to console the Baronet under this pressure of grief; and no doubt he found the means of procuring a loan for his patron, for he was closeted at Mr. Campion's offices that day for some time. Altamont had once more a guinea or two in his pocket, with a promise of a farther settlement; and the Baronet had no need to wish himself dead for the next two or three months at least. And Strong, putting together what he had learned from the Colonel and Sir Francis, began to form in his own mind a pretty accurate opinion as to the nature of the tie which bound the two men together.