There was a touch of pardonable pride in that last thought, for few artists in London could boast of such luxuriously decorated quarters, or of such a collection of treasures as Jack’s purse and good taste had enabled him to gather around him. The hard oak floor, oiled and polished by the hands of Alphonse, was sparsely strewn with Oriental rugs and a couple of tiger skins. A screen of stamped leather hid three sides of the French stove. The eye met a picturesque confusion of inlaid cabinets with innumerable drawers, oak chests and benches, easy chairs of every sort, Chippendale trays and escritoires, Spanish lanterns dangling from overhead, old tables worn hollow on top with age, countless weapons and pieces of armor, and shelves stacked with blue delf china and rows of pewter plates. A long costume case flashed its glass doors at a cosy corner draped with art muslin. On the walls, many of them presented by friends, were scores of water-colors and oil paintings, etchings and engravings, no two of them framed alike. Minor articles were scattered about in profusion, and a couple of bulging sketch-books bore witness to their owner’s summer wanderings about England.
The letters finished and stamped, Jack closed his desk with a sigh of relief. The evening was chilly, and he had started a small fire of coals in the grate—he used his stove only in wintry weather. He pulled a big chair to the blaze, stretched his legs against the fender, and fell straightway into a reverie; an expression that none of his English companions had ever seen there softened his handsome face.
“I wonder what she is doing now,” he thought. “I fancy I can see her sitting opposite to her father, at the dinner table, with the soft lamplight on her lovely cheeks, and that bewitching look in her eyes. I am a conceited fool to believe that she cares for me, and yet—and yet—By Jove, I would marry her in a minute. She is the most winsome girl I ever saw. It is not like the passion I had for Diane—I was a foolish, hot-headed boy then. Madge would be my good angel. In spite of myself, she has come into my life and taken a deep hold on my heart—I can’t put her out again. Jack, my boy, you had better have gone on that sketching tour—better have fled to Devonian wilds before it was too late.”
But was it too late now? If so, the fact did not seem to trouble Jack much, for he laughed softly as he stirred the fire. He, the impregnable and boastful one, the woman-hater, had fallen a victim when he believed himself most secure. It was unutterably sweet to him—this second passion—and he knew that it was not to be shaken off.
During the past ten days he had seen Madge frequently. Nearly every afternoon, when the fading sun glimmered through a golden haze, he had wandered down to Strand-on-the-Green, confident that the girl would not be far away, that she would welcome him shyly and blushingly, with that radiant light in her eyes which he hoped he could read aright. They had enjoyed a couple of tramps together, when time permitted—once up the towing-path toward Richmond, and again down the river to Barnes.