He sauntered to the huge end window of the studio, and looked out over the charming stretch of Ravenscourt Park. It was an ideal morning toward the close of April, 1897—such a morning as one finds at its best in the western suburbs of mighty London. The trees were in fresh leaf and bud, the crocuses were blooming in the well-kept beds, and the grass was a sheet of glittering emeralds. The singing of birds vied with the jangle of tram-bells out on the high-road.
“A pull on the river will take the laziness out of me,” thought Jack, as he yawned and extended his arms. “What glorious weather! It would be a shame to stop indoors.”
A mental picture of the silvery Thames, green-wooded and sunny, proved too strong an allurement to resist. Jack did not know that Destiny, watchful of opportunity, had taken this beguiling shape to lead him to a turning-point of his life—to steer him into the thick of troubled and restless waters, of gray clouds and threatening storms. He discarded his paint-smeared blouse—he had worn one since his Paris days—and, getting quickly into white flannel and a river hat, he lit a briar pipe and went forth whistling to meet his fate.
He was fond of walking, and he knew every foot of old Chiswick by heart. He struck across the high-road, down a street of trim villas to a more squalid neighborhood, and came out by the lower end of Chiswick Mall, sacred to memories of the past. He lingered for a moment by the stately house immortalized by Thackeray in Vanity Fair, and pictured Amelia Sedley rolling out of the gates in her father’s carriage, while Becky Sharpe hurled the offending dictionary at the scandalized Miss Pinkerton. Tempted by the signboard of the Red Lion, and by the red-sailed wherries clustered between the dock and the eyot, he stopped to quaff a foaming pewter on a bench outside the old inn.
A little later he had threaded the quaint passage behind Chiswick Church, left the sonorous hammering of Thorneycroft’s behind him, and was stepping briskly along Burlington Lane, with the high wall of Devonshire House on his right, and on his left, far over hedges and orchards, the riverside houses of Barnes. He was almost sorry when he reached Maynard’s boat-house, where he kept a couple of light and serviceable craft; but the dimpled bosom of the Thames, sparkling in the sunlight, woke a fresh enthusiasm in his heart, and made him long to transfer the picture to canvas.
“Even a Turner could not do it half justice,” he reflected.
It was indeed a scene to defy any artist, but there were some bold enough to attempt it. As Jack pulled up the river he saw, here and there, a fellow-craftsman ensconced in a shady nook with easel and camp-chair. His vigorous strokes sent him rapidly by Strand-on-the-Green, that secluded bit of a village which so few Londoners have taken the trouble to search out. A narrow paved quay, fringed with stately elm trees, separated the old-fashioned, many-colored houses from the reedy shore, where at high tide low great black barges, which apparently go nowhere, lie moored in picturesque array.