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   Chapter 14 THE DINNER AT RICHMOND.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 7721

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Three days later, at the unusually early hour of nine in the morning, Victor Nevill was enjoying his sponge bath. There appeared to be something of a pleasing nature on his mind, for as he dressed he smiled complacently at his own reflection in the glass. Having finished his toilet, he did not ring immediately for his breakfast. He sat down to his desk, and drew pen, ink and paper before him.

"My Dear Jack" he wrote, "will you dine with me at the Roebuck to-morrow night? Jimmie Drexell is coming, and I am going to drive him down. We will stop and pick you up on the way. An answer will oblige, if not too much trouble."

He put the invitation in an envelope and addressed it. Then he pulled the bell-cord, and a boy shortly entered the room with a tray containing breakfast and a little heap of letters. Nevill glanced over his correspondence carelessly-they were mostly cards for receptions and tradesmen's accounts-until he reached a letter bearing a foreign stamp. It was a long communication, and the reading of it caused him anything but satisfaction, to judge from the frown that gathered on his features.

"I wouldn't have credited Sir Lucius with such weakness," he muttered angrily. "What has possessed him?-and after all these years! He says his conscience troubles him! He fears he was too cruel and hard-hearted! Humph! it's pleasant for me, I must say. Fancy him putting me on the scent-asking me to turn private detective! I suppose I'll have to humor him, or pretend to. It will be the safest course. Can there be any truth in his theory, I wonder? No, I don't think so. And after such a lapse of time the task would be next to impossible. I will be a fool if I let the thing worry me."

Victor Nevill locked the offending letter in his desk, vowing that he would forget it. But that was easier said than done, and his gloomy countenance and preoccupied air showed how greatly he was disturbed. His breakfast was quite spoiled, and he barely tasted his coffee and rolls. With a savage oath he put on his hat, and went down into Jermyn street. He walked slowly in the direction of the Albany, where Jimmie Drexell had been fortunate enough to secure a couple of chambers.

The afternoon post brought Jack the invitation to dinner for the following night, and he answered it at once. He accepted with pleasure, but told Nevill not to stop for him on the way to Richmond. He would not be at home after lunch, he wrote, but would turn up at the Roebuck on time. Having thus disposed of the matter, he went to town, and he and Drexell dined together and spent the evening at the Palace, where the newest attraction was an American dancer with whom the susceptible Jimmie had more than a nodding acquaintance, a fact that possibly had something to do with his hasty visit to London.

Jack worked hard the next day-he had a lot of lucrative commissions on hand, and could not afford to waste much time. It was three o'clock when he left the studio, and half an hour later he was crossing Kew Bridge. He turned up the river, along the towing-path, and near the old palace he joined Madge. She had written to him a couple of days before, announcing her immediate return from Portland Terrace, and arranged for a meeting.

It was a perfect afternoon of early summer, with a cloudless sky and a refreshing breeze. It cast a spell over the lovers, and for a time they were silent as they trod the grassy path, with the rippling Thames, dotted with pleasure-craft, flowing on their right. Jack stole many a glance at the lovely, pensive face by his side. He was supremely happy, in a dreamy mood, and not a shadow of the gathering storm marred his content.

"It was always a beautiful world, Madge," he said, "but since you came into my life it has been a sort of a paradise. Work is a keener pleasure now-work for your sake. Existence

is a dreary thing, if men only knew it, without a good, pure woman's love."

The girl's face was rapturous as she looked up at him; she clung caressingly to his arm.

"You regret nothing, dearest?" he asked.

"Nothing, Jack. How could I?"

"You have been very silent."

"You can't read a woman's heart, dear. If I was silent, it was because I was so happy-because the future, our future, seemed so bright. There is only the one little cloud-"

"Your father?" he interrupted. "Is he still relentless, Madge?"

"I think he is softening. He has been much kinder to me since I came home. He does not mention your name, and he has not forbidden me to see you or write to you. I should not have hesitated to tell him that I was going to meet you to-day. He knows that I won't give you up."

"And, knowing that, he will make the best of it," Jack said, gladly. "He will come round all right, I feel sure. And now I want to ask you something, Madge, dear. You won't make me wait long, will you?"

She averted her eyes and blushed. Jack drew her to a lonely bench near the moat, and they sat down.

"I will tell you why I ask," he went on. "I got a letter this morning from a man who wants to buy my Academy pictures. He offers a splendid price-more than I hoped for-and I will put it aside for our honeymoon. Life is short enough, and we ought to make the most of it. Madge, what do you say? Will you marry me early in September? That is a glorious month to be abroad, roaming on the Continent-"

"It is so soon, Jack."

"To me it seems an age. You will consent if your father does?"

"Yes, I will."

"And if he refuses?"

The girl nestled closer to him, and looked into his face with laughing eyes.

"Then, I am afraid I shall have to disobey him, dear. If you wish it I will be your wife in September."

"My own sweet Madge!" he cried.

All his passionate love was poured out in those four little words. He forgot the past, and saw only the rich promise of the future. There was a lump in his throat as he added softly:

"You shall never repent your choice, darling!"

For an hour they sat on the bench, talking as they had never talked before, and many a whispered confidence of the girl's, many a phrase and sentence, burnt into Jack's memory to haunt him afterward. Then they parted, there by the riverside, and Madge tripped homeward.

Happy were Jack's reflections as he picked up a cab that rattled him swiftly into Richmond and up the famous Hill to the Roebuck. Nevill and Jimmie Drexell, who had arrived a short time before, greeted him hilariously.

The table was laid for Nevill and his guests in the coffee-room of the Roebuck, as cheerful and snug a place as can be found anywhere, with its snowy linen and shining silver and cut-glass, its buffet temptingly spread, and on the walls a collection of paintings that any collector might envy.

The Roebuck's chef was one of the best, and the viands served were excellent; the rare old wines gurgled and sparkled from cobwebbed bottles that had lain long in bin. The dinner went merrily, the evening wore on, and the sun dipped beneath the far-off Surrey Hills.

"This is a little bit of all right, my boys," said Jimmie, quoting London slang, as he stirred his creme de menthe frappe with a straw. "I'm jolly glad I crossed the pond. Many's the time I longed for a glimpse of Richmond and the river while I sweltered in the heat on the Casino roof-garden. Here's to 'Dear Old London Town,' in the words of-who did write that song?"

Nevill drained his chartreuse.

"Come, let's go and have a turn on the Terrace," he said. "It's too early to drive back to town."

They lighted their cigars and filed down stairs, laughing gaily, and crossed the road. Jack was the merriest of the three. Little did he dream that he was going to meet his fate.

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