“I wish you could see yourself,” he howled. “It’s not exactly the awakening of Venus. You wouldn’t be undressed, so we had to tuck you away as you were—some chaps helped to bring you here.”
“You beggar!” growled Jack. “You look as fresh as a new penny.”
“Two whiskies is my limit, old boy—I don’t go beyond it. And I had a page black-and-white to do to-day. Stir yourself, and we’ll have breakfast. The kettle is boiling. Wait—I’ll bring you a pick-me-up.”
The pick-me-up, compounded on the principle that like cures like, did not belie its name. It got Jack to his feet and soothed his head. The two men were about of a size, and Dickens loaned his friend a shirt and collar and a tweed suit, promising to send his dress clothes home by a trusty messenger.
“No; I’ll attend to that,” demurred Jack, who did not care to tell where he lived.
He nibbled at his breakfast, drank four cups of strong tea, and then sauntered to the window. It was drizzling rain, and the streets between the river and the King’s road were wrapped in a white mist.
“This sort of thing won’t do,” he reflected. “I must pull up short, or I’ll be a complete wreck.” He remembered the brief, sad note—with more love than bitterness in it—which he had received from Madge in reply to his letter of explanation. “I owe something to her,” he thought. “She forgave me, and begged me to face the future bravely. And, by heavens, I’ll do it! I hope she doesn’t know the life I’ve been leading since I came back. Work is the thing, and I’ll buckle down to it again.”
Fired by his new resolve, Jack settled himself in a cozy corner and lighted a pipe. With a stimulating interest he watched Dickens, who had finished his black-and-white, and was doing a water color from a sketch made that summer at Walberswick, a quaint fishing village on the Suffolk coast. He blobbed on the paint, working spasmodically, and occasionally he refreshed himself at the piano with a verse of the latest popular song.
“By Jove, this is Friday!” he said suddenly; “and I’m due at the London Sketch Club to-night. Will you come there and have supper with me at nine?”
“Sorry, but I can’t,” Jack replied, remembering his promise to Sir Lucius Chesney. “I’m off now. I’ll drop in to-morrow and get my dress-suit—don’t trouble to send it.”
Dickens vainly urged a change of mind. Jack was not to be coerced, and, putting on a borrowed cap and overcoat, he left the studio. He walked to Sloane square, and took a train to the Temple; but he was so absorbed in a paper that he was carried past his station. He got out at Blackfriars, and lingered doubtfully on the greasy pavement, staring at the sea of traffic surging in the thick, yellow fog. He had reached another turning-point in his life, but he did not know it.
“I’ll go to the ‘Cheese,’” he decided, “and have some supper.”