Nevill went away, and Jimmie remained to comfort his friend. But there was no consolation for Jack, whose bitter mood had turned to dull despair and grief that would be more poignant in the morning, when he would be better able to comprehend the fell blow that had shattered his happiness and crushed his ambitions and dreams. He refused pipe and cigars. Until three o’clock he sat staring vacantly at the floor, seemingly oblivious of Jimmie’s presence, and occasionally helping himself to brandy. At last he fell asleep in the chair, and Jimmie, who had with difficulty kept his eyes open, dozed away on the couch.
Meanwhile, Victor Nevill had driven straight to his rooms in Jermyn street and had gone to bed. He rose about ten o’clock, and after a light breakfast he sat down and wrote a short letter, cleverly disguising his own hand, and imitating the scrawly penmanship and bad spelling of an illiterate woman.
“The last card in the game,” he reflected, as he addressed and stamped the envelope. “It may be superfluous, in case he sees or writes to her to-day. But he won’t do that—he will put off the ordeal as long as possible. My beautiful Madge, for your sake I am steeping myself in infamy! It is not the first time a man has sold himself to the devil for a woman. Yet why should I feel any scruples? It would have been far worse to let them go on living in their fool’s paradise.”
An hour later, as he walked down Regent street, he posted the letter he had written in the morning.
“It will be delivered at just about the right time,” he thought.
THE LAST CARD.
It was nine o’clock in the evening, and darkness had fallen rather earlier than usual, owing to a black, cloudy sky that threatened rain. Jimmie Drexell had gone during the afternoon, and Jack was alone in the big studio—alone with his misery and his anguish. He had scarcely tasted food since morning, much to the distress of Alphonse. He looked a mere wreck of his former self—haggard and unshaven, with hard lines around his weary eyes. He had not changed his clothes, and they were wrinkled and untidy. Across the polished floor was a perceptible track, worn by hours of restless striding to and fro. Now, after waiting impatiently for Victor Nevill, and wondering why he did not come, Jack had tried to nerve himself to the task that he dreaded, that preyed incessantly on his mind. He knew that the sooner it was over the better. He must write to Madge and tell her the truth—deal her the terrible blow that might break her innocent, loving heart.
“It’s no use—I can’t do it,” he said hoarsely, when he had been sitting at his desk for five minutes. “The words won’t come. My brain is dry. Would it be better to try to see her, and tell her all face to face? No—anything but that!”