A FRUITLESS ERRAND.
The merest trifles often have far-reaching results, and Jack’s careless decision, prompted by a hungry stomach, made him the puppet of fate. The crossing at Blackfriars station is the most dangerous in London, and he did not reach the other side without much delay and several narrow escapes. It was a shoulder-and-elbow fight to the mouth of the dingy little court in which is the noted hostelry he sought, and then compensation and a haven of rest—the dining-room of the “Cheshire Cheese!” Here there was no trace of the fog, and the rumble of wheels was hushed to a soothing murmur. An old-world air pervaded the place, with its low ceiling and sawdust-sprinkled floor, its well-worn benches and tables and paneling. The engravings on the walls added to the charm, and the head waiter might have stepped from a page of Dickens. Savory smells abounded, and the kettle rested on the hob over the big fireplace, to the right of which Doctor Johnson’s favorite seat spoke eloquently of the great lexicographer, who in time past was wont to foregather here with his friends.
Jack was too hungry to be sentimental. He sat down in one of the high-backed compartments, and, glancing indifferently at a man sitting opposite to him, he recognized the editor of the Illustrated Universe.
“By Jove!” Hunston cried, in surprise, “you’re the very chap I want to see. Where have you been hiding yourself, Vernon? I searched for you high and low.”
“I’ve not been out of town,” said Jack. “I intended to look you up, or to send my address, but one thing and another interfered—”
“Yes, I understand,” Hunston interrupted. “London is fresh to a man who has just come back from India. I hope you’ve had your fling, and are ready to do some work.”
“As soon as you like,” Jack replied.
“I’m glad to hear it—I was afraid you had given me the slip altogether. I want some of your sketches enlarged to double-page drawings, and I am thinking of issuing a photographic album of the snap-shots you took on the frontier.”
“That’s not a bad idea. I’ll come in to-morrow.”
“I’ll expect you, then. You haven’t a studio at present?”
“Well, I can give you a room on the premises to work in. By the bye, there is a letter for you at the office. It came this morning.”
“I’ll get it to-morrow. I don’t suppose it’s important.”
“It is in a woman’s handwriting,” said Hunston, with a smile.
“A woman?” exclaimed Jack. “Where does it come from—England or abroad?”
“London postmark,” was the reply.
Jack changed color, and a lump seemed to rise in his throat.
“It must be from Madge,” he thought. “But why would she write to me?”
“If you would like the letter to-night—” Hunston went on.