It was all familiar to Jack, but he never tired of this stretch of the Thames. He dived under Kew Bridge, shot by Kew Gardens and ancient Brentford, and turned around off Isleworth. He rowed leisurely back, dropping the oars now and again to light his pipe.
“There’s nothing like this to brace a fellow up,” he said to himself, as he drew near Maynard’s. “I should miss the river if I took a studio in town. I’ll have a bit of lunch at the Red Lion, and then go home and do an afternoon’s work.”
A churning, thumping noise, which he had disregarded before, suddenly swelled louder and warned him of possible danger. He was about off the middle of Strand-on-the-Green, and, glancing around, he saw one of the big Thames excursion steamers, laden with passengers, ploughing up-stream within fifty yards of him, but at a safe distance to his right. The same glimpse revealed a pretty picture midway between himself and the vessel—a young girl approaching in a light Canadian canoe. She could not have been more than twenty, and the striking beauty of her face was due to those charms of expression and feature which are indefinable. A crimson Tam-o’-Shanter was perched jauntily on her golden hair, and a blue Zouave jacket, fitting loosely over her blouse, gave full play to the grace and skill with which she handled the paddle.
Jack was indifferent to women, and wont to boast that none could enslave him, but the sight of this fair young English maiden, if it did not weaken the citadel of his heart, at least made that organ beat a trifle faster. He shot one look of bold admiration, then turned and bent to the oars.
“I don’t know when I have seen so lovely a face,” he thought. “I wonder who she is.”
The steamer glided by, and the next moment Jack was nearly opposite to the canoe. What happened then was swift and unexpected. Above the splash of the revolving paddles he heard hoarse shouts and warning cries. He saw green waves approaching, flung up in the wake of the passing vessel. As he dropped the oars and leapt anxiously to his feet the frail canoe, unfitted to encounter such a peril, was clutched and lifted broadside by the foaming swell. Over it went instantly, and there was a flash of red and blue as the girl was flung headfirst into the river.
As quickly Jack clasped his hands and dived from his boat. He came to the top and swam forward with desperate strokes. He saw the upturned canoe, the floating paddle, the half-submerged Tam-o’-Shanter. Then a mass of dripping golden hair cleft the surface, only to sink at once.
But Jack had marked the spot, and, taking a full breath, he dived. To the onlookers the interval seemed painfully long, and a hundred cheering voices rent the air as the young artist rose to view, keeping himself afloat with one arm, while the other supported the girl. She was conscious, but badly scared and disposed to struggle.
“Be quite still,” Jack said, sharply. “You are in no danger—I will save you if you trust me.”