The girl obeyed, looking into Jack’s eyes with a calmer expression. The steamer had stopped, and half a dozen row-boats were approaching from different directions. A grizzled waterman and his companion picked up the two and pulled them across to Strand-on-the-Green. Others followed towing Jack’s boat and the canoe, and the big steamer proceeded on her way to Kew Pier.
The Black Bull, close by the railway bridge, received the drenched couple, and the watermen were delighted by the gift of a sovereign. A motherly woman took the half-dazed girl upstairs, and Jack was led into the oak-panelled parlor of the old inn by the landlord, who promptly poured him out a little brandy, and then insisted on his having a change of clothing.
“Thank you; I fear I must accept your offer,” said Jack. “But I hope you will attend to the young lady first. Your wife seemed to know her.”
“Quite well, sir,” was the reply. “Bless you, we all know Miss Madge Foster hereabouts. She lives yonder at the lower end of the Green—”
“Then she had better be taken home.”
“I think this is the best place for her at present, sir. Her father is in town, and there is only an old servant.”
“You are quite right,” said Jack. “I suppose there is a doctor near by.”
“There is, sir, and I will send for him at once,” the landlord promised. “If you will kindly step this way—”
At that moment there was a stir among the curious idlers who filled the entrance passage of the inn. An authoritative voice opened a way between them, and a man pushed through to the parlor. His face changed color at the sight of Jack, who greeted him with a cry of astonishment.
AN OLD FRIEND
There was gladness as well as surprise in Jack’s hearty exclamation, for the man who stood before him in the parlor of the Black Bull was his old friend Victor Nevill, little altered in five years, except for a heavier mustache that improved his dark and handsome face. To judge from appearances, he had not run through with all his money. He was daintily booted and gloved, and wore morning tweeds of perfect cut; a sprig of violets was thrust in his button-hole. The two had not met since they parted in Paris on that memorable night, nor had they known of each other’s whereabouts.
“Nevill, old chap!” cried Jack, holding out a hand.
Nevill clasped it warmly; his momentary confusion had vanished.
“My dear Clare—” he began.
“Not that name,” Jack interrupted, laughingly. “I’m called Vernon on this side of the Channel.”
“What, John Vernon, the rising artist?”
“It’s news to me. I congratulate you, old man. If I had known I would have looked you up long ago, but I lost all trace of you.”
“That’s my case,” said Jack. “I supposed you were still abroad. Been back long?”