“I’m off,” he said, hoarsely. “God bless you, Jimmie—I’ll never forget this!”
“Sure you feel fit enough?”
“Quite; don’t worry about that.”
“Well, good luck to you, old man!”
Jack shouted good-by, and made for Piccadilly. He sprang into the first cab that came along, and he reached Waterloo just in time to catch a Shepperton train. He longed to be at his destination, and alternate hopes and fears beset him, as he watched the landscape flit by. He drew a deep breath when he found himself on the platform of the rustic little station. It was a beautiful spring-like day, warm and sunny, with birds making merry song and the air sweet and fragrant. He started off at a rapid pace along the hedge-bordered road, and, traversing the length of the quaint old village street, he stopped finally at a cottage on the farther outskirts. It was a pretty, retired place, lying near the ancient church-tower, and isolated by a walled garden full of trees and shrubbery.
Jack’s heart was beating wildly as he opened the gate. He walked up the graveled path, between the rows of tall green boxwood, and suddenly a vision rose before him. It was Madge herself, as lovely and fair as the springtime, in a white frock with a pathetic touch of black at the throat and waist. She approached slowly, then lifted her eyes and saw him. And on the mad impulse of the moment he sprang forward and seized her. He held her tight against his heart, as though he intended never to release her.
“At last, darling!” he whispered passionately. “At last I have found you! Cruel one, why did you hide so long? Can you forgive me, Madge? Can you bring back the past?—the happiness that was yours and mine in the old days?”
At first the girl lay mutely in his arms, quivering like a fragile flower with emotions that he could not read. Then she tried to break from his embrace, looking at him with a flushed and tear-stained face.
“Let me go!” she pleaded. “Oh, Jack, why did you come? It was wrong of you! I have tried to forget—you know that the past is dead!”
“Hush! I love you, Madge, with a love that can never die. I won’t lose you again. Be merciful! Don’t send me away! Is the shadow of the past—the heavy punishment that fell upon me for boyish follies—to blast your life and mine? Have I not suffered enough?”
The girl slipped from his arms and confronted him sadly.
“It is not that,” she said. “I am unworthy of you, Jack. What is your disgrace to mine? Would you marry the daughter of a man who—”
“Are you to blame for your father’s sins?” Jack interrupted. “Let the dead rest! He would have wished you to be happy. You are mine, mine! Nothing shall part us, unless—But I won’t believe that. Tell me, Madge, that you love me—that your feelings have not changed.”
“I do love you, Jack, with all my heart, but—”