He felt reassured as he stole a glance at Madge’s face, and saw her quick blush. She laughed merrily, and nestled a little closer to his side.
“You are not sorry?” he asked.
“Sorry? Oh, no. It is so good of you, Jack, and the weather is perfect—we could not have had a better day.”
Their depression vanished like a summer cloud, as they rode through Twickenham and Teddington, under the shade of the great trees, enjoying the occasional views of the shining river, and the peeps into the walled gardens of the fine old houses.
“It is all new to me,” said Madge, with a sigh. “I used to go to Hampton Court with father on Sundays, but that was long ago; he doesn’t take me anywhere now, except to the theatre once or twice a year.”
“It is a shame,” Jack replied indignantly, “when you enjoy things so much.”
“Oh, but I dearly love Strand-on-the-Green. I am very happy there.”
“And you never long for a wider life?”
“Yes—sometimes. I want to go abroad and travel. It must be delightful to see the places and countries one has read about, to roam in foreign picture galleries.”
“I would like to show you the Continent,” said Jack. “We have the same tastes, and—”
A rapturous “Oh!” burst from Madge. They had turned suddenly in at the gates of Bushey Park, and before them was the twenty-mile-long perspective of the chestnut avenue, bounded by the white sunlit walls of the hospitable Greyhound. The girl’s eyes sparkled with pleasure, and in her excitement, as some fresh bit of beauty was revealed, she rested a tiny gloved hand on Jack’s arm.
“I will take you out often, if you will let me,” he said.
They drove out of the park, and swung around the weather-beaten wall of Hampton Court. Red-coated soldiers were lounging by the barracks in the palace yard, and the clear notes of a bugle rose from quarters; a tide of people and vehicles was flowing in the sunlight over Molesey Bridge. Jack turned off into the lower river road, and so on by shady and picturesque ways to the ancient village of Hampton.
They put up the horse and trap at the Flower Pot, and lunched in the coffee-room of that old-fashioned hostelry, at a little table laid in the bow-window, looking out on the quaint high-street. It was a charming repast, and both were hungry enough to do it justice. The Chambertin sparkled like rubies as it flowed from the cobwebbed bottle, and Jack needed little urging from Madge to light a fragrant Regalia.
Then they sauntered forth into the sunshine, down to the river shore, and Jack chose a big roomy boat, fitted with the softest of red cushions. He pulled for a mile or more up the rippling Thames, chatting gaily with Madge, who sat opposite to him and deftly managed the rudder-ropes. A little-known backwater was the goal, and suddenly he drove the boat under a screen of low-drooping bushes and into a miniature lake set in a frame of leafy trees that formed a canopy of dense foliage overhead.