The afternoon post brought Jack the invitation to dinner for the following night, and he answered it at once. He accepted with pleasure, but told Nevill not to stop for him on the way to Richmond. He would not be at home after lunch, he wrote, but would turn up at the Roebuck on time. Having thus disposed of the matter, he went to town, and he and Drexell dined together and spent the evening at the Palace, where the newest attraction was an American dancer with whom the susceptible Jimmie had more than a nodding acquaintance, a fact that possibly had something to do with his hasty visit to London.
Jack worked hard the next day—he had a lot of lucrative commissions on hand, and could not afford to waste much time. It was three o’clock when he left the studio, and half an hour later he was crossing Kew Bridge. He turned up the river, along the towing-path, and near the old palace he joined Madge. She had written to him a couple of days before, announcing her immediate return from Portland Terrace, and arranged for a meeting.
It was a perfect afternoon of early summer, with a cloudless sky and a refreshing breeze. It cast a spell over the lovers, and for a time they were silent as they trod the grassy path, with the rippling Thames, dotted with pleasure-craft, flowing on their right. Jack stole many a glance at the lovely, pensive face by his side. He was supremely happy, in a dreamy mood, and not a shadow of the gathering storm marred his content.
“It was always a beautiful world, Madge,” he said, “but since you came into my life it has been a sort of a paradise. Work is a keener pleasure now—work for your sake. Existence is a dreary thing, if men only knew it, without a good, pure woman’s love.”
The girl’s face was rapturous as she looked up at him; she clung caressingly to his arm.
“You regret nothing, dearest?” he asked.
“Nothing, Jack. How could I?”
“You have been very silent.”
“You can’t read a woman’s heart, dear. If I was silent, it was because I was so happy—because the future, our future, seemed so bright. There is only the one little cloud—”
“Your father?” he interrupted. “Is he still relentless, Madge?”
“I think he is softening. He has been much kinder to me since I came home. He does not mention your name, and he has not forbidden me to see you or write to you. I should not have hesitated to tell him that I was going to meet you to-day. He knows that I won’t give you up.”
“And, knowing that, he will make the best of it,” Jack said, gladly. “He will come round all right, I feel sure. And now I want to ask you something, Madge, dear. You won’t make me wait long, will you?”
She averted her eyes and blushed. Jack drew her to a lonely bench near the moat, and they sat down.
“I will tell you why I ask,” he went on. “I got a letter this morning from a man who wants to buy my Academy pictures. He offers a splendid price—more than I hoped for—and I will put it aside for our honeymoon. Life is short enough, and we ought to make the most of it. Madge, what do you say? Will you marry me early in September? That is a glorious month to be abroad, roaming on the Continent—”