“I am in exile,” the letter concluded, “and the dragon is a watchful jailer. But she sleeps in the afternoon, and at three o’clock to-morrow I will be inside the Charles street gate.”
“To-morrow” meant to-day, and until lunch time Jack’s brush flew energetically over the canvas. He was at the trysting-place at the appointed hour, and Madge was there waiting for him, so ravishingly dressed that he could scarcely resist the temptation to gather her in his arms. As they strolled through the park he rather gloomily described his visit from Stephen Foster, but the girl’s half-smiling, half-tearful look of affection reassured him.
“You foolish boy!” she said, chidingly. “As if there were any danger of your losing me. Why, I wouldn’t give you up if you wanted me to! I think you got the best of father, dear. He understands now, and by and by he will relent. He is a good sort, really, and you will like him when you know him better.”
“We made a bad beginning,” Jack said, ruefully.
They had reached the lake by this time, and they went on to a bench in a shady and sequestered spot. Madge’s high spirits seemed suddenly to desert her, and she looked pensively across the glimmering water to the tall mansions of Hanover Terrace.
“Madge, something troubles you,” her lover said, anxiously.
“Yes, Jack. I—I received an anonymous letter at noon. Mrs. Sedgewick forwarded it to me. Oh, it is shameful to speak of it—”
“An anonymous letter? There is nothing more vile or cowardly! Did it concern me?”
“And spoke badly of me?”
“It didn’t say anything good.”
“I wish I had the scoundrel by the throat! You have no idea who sent it?”
“None, dear. It was in a strange, scrawly hand, and was postmarked Paddington.”
“It is a mystery I am powerless to explain,” Jack said dismally. “To the best of my knowledge I have not an enemy in the world. I can recall no one who would wish to do me an ill turn. And the writer lied foully if he gave me a bad character, Madge. Where is the letter?”
“I destroyed it at once. I hated to see it, to touch it.”
“I am sorry you did that. It might have contained some clew. Tell me all, Madge. Surely, darling, you don’t believe—”
“Jack, how can you think so?” She glanced up at him with a tender, trustful, and yet half-distressed look in her eyes. “Forgive me, dear. It is not that I doubt you, but—but I must ask you one question. You are a free man? There is no tie that could forbid you to marry me?”
“I am a free man,” Jack answered her solemnly. “Put such evil thoughts out of your mind, my darling. By the passionate love I feel for you, by my own honor, I swear that I have an honest man’s right to make you mine. But, as I told you before, I had a reckless past—”
“I don’t want to hear about it,” Madge interrupted.