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   Chapter 7 LOVE'S YOUNG DREAM.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 11879

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

The trap rattled up crooked George street, and swung around and down to classic-looking Richmond Bridge, with its gorgeous vistas of river scenery right and left over the low parapets. Madge was very quiet for a time, and it was evident that she felt some misgivings as to the propriety of what she had consented to do at Jack's urgent request. She had left home soon after her father's departure for town, and she must be back before six o'clock to meet him on his return. Her secret was shared with the old servant, Mrs. Sedgwick, who was foolishly fond of the girl, and naturally well-disposed toward Jack because he had saved Madge's life. This faithful creature, on the death of her young husband twenty years before, had entered Mrs. Foster's service; she practically managed Stephen Foster's establishment, assisted by a housemaid and by the daily visits of a charwoman.

Until Richmond was left behind, Jack was as serious and thoughtful as his companion. He had a high sense of honor, a hatred of anything underhanded, and his conscience pricked him a little. However, it was not his fault, he told himself. Stephen Foster had no business to be churlish and ungrateful, and treat his daughter as though she were a school miss still in her teens. And what wrong could there be about the day's outing together, if no harm was intended? It would all come right in the end, unless, unless-

He felt reassured as he stole a glance at Madge's face, and saw her quick blush. She laughed merrily, and nestled a little closer to his side.

"You are not sorry?" he asked.

"Sorry? Oh, no. It is so good of you, Jack, and the weather is perfect-we could not have had a better day."

Their depression vanished like a summer cloud, as they rode through Twickenham and Teddington, under the shade of the great trees, enjoying the occasional views of the shining river, and the peeps into the walled gardens of the fine old houses.

"It is all new to me," said Madge, with a sigh. "I used to go to Hampton Court with father on Sundays, but that was long ago; he doesn't take me anywhere now, except to the theatre once or twice a year."

"It is a shame," Jack replied indignantly, "when you enjoy things so much."

"Oh, but I dearly love Strand-on-the-Green. I am very happy there."

"And you never long for a wider life?"

"Yes-sometimes. I want to go abroad and travel. It must be delightful to see the places and countries one has read about, to roam in foreign picture galleries."

"I would like to show you the Continent," said Jack. "We have the same tastes, and-"

A rapturous "Oh!" burst from Madge. They had turned suddenly in at the gates of Bushey Park, and before them was the twenty-mile-long perspective of the chestnut avenue, bounded by the white sunlit walls of the hospitable Greyhound. The girl's eyes sparkled with pleasure, and in her excitement, as some fresh bit of beauty was revealed, she rested a tiny gloved hand on Jack's arm.

"I will take you out often, if you will let me," he said.

They drove out of the park, and swung around the weather-beaten wall of Hampton Court. Red-coated soldiers were lounging by the barracks in the palace yard, and the clear notes of a bugle rose from quarters; a tide of people and vehicles was flowing in the sunlight over Molesey Bridge. Jack turned off into the lower river road, and so on by shady and picturesque ways to the ancient village of Hampton.

They put up the horse and trap at the Flower Pot, and lunched in the coffee-room of that old-fashioned hostelry, at a little table laid in the bow-window, looking out on the quaint high-street. It was a charming repast, and both were hungry enough to do it justice. The Chambertin sparkled like rubies as it flowed from the cobwebbed bottle, and Jack needed little urging from Madge to light a fragrant Regalia.

Then they sauntered forth into the sunshine, down to the river shore, and Jack chose a big roomy boat, fitted with the softest of red cushions. He pulled for a mile or more up the rippling Thames, chatting gaily with Madge, who sat opposite to him and deftly managed the rudder-ropes. A little-known backwater was the goal, and suddenly he drove the boat under a screen of low-drooping bushes and into a miniature lake set in a frame of leafy trees that formed a canopy of dense foliage overhead.

"What do you think of it?" Jack asked, as he ran the bow gently ashore and pulled in the oars.

"It is like fairyland. It is too beautiful for words."

Madge averted her eyes from his, and pushed back a tress of golden hair that had strayed from under her hat; she took off one glove, and dipped the tips of her fingers in the water.

"I wish I had brought a book," she said. "Why don't you smoke? You have my permission, sir. But we must not stop long."

Jack felt for his cigar-case and dropped it again. The next instant he was beside the girl, and one arm encircled her waist.

"Madge, my darling!" he cried. "Don't you know-can't you guess-why I brought you here?"

Her silence, the droop of her blushing face, emboldened him. The old, old story, the story that was born when the world began, fell from his lips. They were honest, manly words, with a ring of heartfelt passion and pleading.

"Have I surprised you, Madge?" he went on. "Have I spoken too soon? We have known each other only a short time, it is true, but I could not care more for you had we been acquainted for months or years. I am not an impulsive boy-I know my own heart. I loved you from the day you came into my life. I love you now, and will always love you. I will be a good and true husband. Have you no answer for me, dear?"

The girl suddenly raised her face to his. Half-shed tears glistened in her eyes, but there was also a radiant look there which trilled his heart with unspeakable joy. He knew that he had won her.

"Madge, my sweet Madge!" he whispered.

She trembled as h

is arm tightened about her waist.

"Jack, do you really, really love me?"

"More than I can tell you, dear. Can you doubt me? Have you nothing to say? Do you think it so strange-"

"Strange? Yes, it is more than I dared to hope for. Don't think me unwomanly, Jack, for telling the truth, but-but I do love you with all my heart."

"Madge! You have made me the happiest man alive! God grant that I be always worthy of your affection!"

A bird began to sing overhead, and Jack thought it was the sweetest music he had ever heard, as he drew Madge to him and pressed a lover's first kiss on her lips. Side by side they sat there in the leafy retreat, heedless of time, while the afternoon sun drooped lower in the sky. They had much to talk of-many little confidences to exchange. They lived over again the events of that brief period in which they had known each other.

"You have upset all my plans," said Madge, with a pretty pout. "I was going to devote my life to art, and become a second Rosa Bonheur or Lady Butler."

"One artist in the family will be enough," her lover answered, laughingly. "But you shall continue to paint, dearest. We will roam over Europe with our sketch-books."

"Oh, how delightful! To think of it-my dreams will be realized! I knew your work, Jack, before I knew you. But I am so ignorant of the world-even of the little world of London."

"Madge, you are talking nonsense. You are my queen-you are the dearest, sweetest little woman that ever man won. And I love you the better because you are as fresh and pure as a flower, untainted by the wicked world, where innocence rubs off her bloom on vice's shoulders. I am not old, dear, but I have lived long enough to appreciate the value of-"

"Hush, or I shall think you do not mean all you say. Oh, Jack, promise me that you will never repent of your bargain. I wonder that some woman did not enslave you long ago."

A shadow crossed Jack's face, and he was silent for a moment.

"Madge," he said, hesitatingly, "I have not been a bad man in my time, nor have I been a particularly good one. I was an art student in Paris for years, and Paris is a city of dissipation, full of pitfalls and temptations to young fellows like myself. There is something connected with my past, which I feel it is my duty to-"

"Don't tell me, Jack-please don't. I might not like to hear it. I will try to forget that you had a past, and I will never ask you about it. You are mine now, and we will think only of the present and the future. I trust you, dear, and I know that you are good and true. You will always love me, won't you?"

"Always, my darling," Jack replied in a tone of relief. He told himself, as he kissed the troubled look from the girl's eyes, that it was better to keep silence. What could he gain by dragging up the black skeleton of the past? He was a free man now, and the withholding of that bitter chapter of his life would be the wisest course. If the future ever brought it to light, Madge would remember that she herself had checked the story on his lips.

"Jack, you are looking awfully serious."

"Am I? Well, I won't any more. But, I say, Madge, when will you be my wife? And how about speaking to your father? You know-"

"I can't tell him yet, Jack, really-you must wait a while. You won't mind, will you?"

"I hate this deception."

"So do I. But father has not been quite himself lately-I think something troubles him."

"Does he want to marry you to any one else?" Jack asked, jealously. "Is there anything of the sort between him and that young chap who comes to the house?"

"I can't be certain, Jack, but sometimes I imagine so, though father has never spoken to me about it. I dislike Mr. Royle, and discourage his attentions."

"His attentions?"

"Oh, Jack, don't look at me in that way-you make me feel wretched. Won't you trust me and believe me? I love you with all my heart, and I am as really yours as if I were married to you."

"My darling, I do trust you," he said contritely. "Forgive me-I was very foolish. I know that nothing can separate us, and I will await your own time in patience. And when you are willing to have me speak to your father-"

"It shall be very soon, dear," whispered Madge, looking up at him with a soft light in her eyes. "If I find him in a good humor I will tell him myself. We are great chums, you know."

Jack kissed her, and then glanced at his watch.

"Four o'clock," he said, regretfully. "We must be off."

He pulled the boat back to Hampton, and ordered the hostler at the Flower Pot to get the trap ready. The world looked different, somehow, to the happy couple, as they drove Londonwards. Love's young dream had been realized, and they saw no shadow in the future.

The ride home was uneventful until they reached Richmond. Then, on the slope of the hill in front of the Talbot, where the traffic was thick and noisy, a coach with half a dozen young men on top was encountered, evidently bound for a convivial dinner at the Star and Garter or the Roebuck. A well-known young lord was driving, and beside him sat Victor Nevill. He smiled and nodded at Jack, and turned to gaze after his fair companion.

"That was an old friend of mine," remarked Jack, as the trap passed on. "A jolly good fellow, too."

"Drive faster, please," Madge said, abruptly. "I am afraid it is late."

There was a troubled, half-frightened look on her face, and she was very quiet until the station was reached, where she was sure to get a train to Gunnersbury within a few minutes. She sprang lightly to the pavement, and let her hand rest in Jack's for a moment, while her eyes, full of unspeakable affection, gazed into his. Then, with a brief farewell, she had vanished down the steps.

"She is mine," thought Jack, as he drove on toward Kew and Chiswick. "I have won a pearl among women. I think I should kill any man who came between us."

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