“No use to keep this up,” he concluded, vexatiously. “I am a few minutes late, and she has gone out, thinking that I would not come. There is no mistake about the room. I won’t wait—I’ll write to her to-morrow, and give her twenty-four hours to get out of London.”
He went slowly down the dark stairs, and as he stepped into the street he brushed against a stout, elderly woman. With a muttered apology, he moved aside. The woman turned and looked after him sharply for an instant, then entered the house and closed the door.
Jack thought nothing of the incident. How to put in the evening was the question that concerned him. He was walking undecidedly down the Quadrant when he saw approaching an artist friend whom he did not care to meet. On the impulse of the moment he darted across the street, narrowly missing the wheels of a hansom, and in front of the Cafe Royal he ran into the arms of Victor Nevill.
“Hello, old chap; you are in a hurry!” cried Nevill. “What’s up now? Seen my uncle?”
Jack was flushed and breathless.
“No; I couldn’t manage it,” he panted. “I left a note at Morley’s for him. I had to make a call—party wasn’t at home.”
“Where are you bound for? Morley’s?”
“No; it’s too late. Shall we have some refreshment?”
“Sorry, but I can’t,” replied Nevill. “I’m going to a reception. Will you come to my rooms at eleven?”
“Yes, if I’m not too far away. But don’t count on me. Good-night, in case I don’t see you again.”
“Good-night,” echoed Nevill.
As he looked after Jack, the latter pulled out his handkerchief, and a white object fluttered from it to the pavement. He walked on, unconscious of its loss. Nevill hurried to the spot, and picked up a letter.
“A woman’s!” he muttered, as he thrust it quickly into his pocket. “And the writing seems familiar. I’ll examine this when I get a chance. Everything is fair in the game I am playing.”
Jack wandered irresolutely to Piccadilly Circus, seeking distraction. In the American bar at the St. James’ he met a man named Ingram, who suggested that they should go to see a mutual friend—an artist—who lived in Bedford Park. Jack agreed, and they drove in a cab. They found a lot of other men they knew at the studio, and whisky and tobacco made the hours fly. They left at two o’clock in the morning—a convivial party of five—and they had to walk to Hammersmith before they picked up a hansom. They dropped off one by one, and Jack was the only occupant when he reached Sloane street. It was long past four when the cab put him down at his lodgings on the Surrey side.
A THUNDERBOLT FROM THE BLUE.
Another day dawned, as wet and gloomy as the preceding ones. It was the middle of the morning when Jack got out of bed, and as he dressed he heard the penetrating voices of newsboys ringing through the Waterloo Bridge road. He could not distinguish what they were saying, though he judged that the papers must contain some intelligence of unusual importance. He rang for his breakfast, and his landlady, Mrs. Jones, appeared in person, bringing coffee, rolls and bacon on a tray. Her face was flushed with excitement.