“Oh, it was horrible!” said Mrs. Ellsworthy, covering her face with her hands. “I shudder at it even now—the coachman could not keep the horses in, and they went over you, and we thought you were killed. You were lifted into the carriage—such a ragged, thin little figure, with such a lovely face. You came to—you were not so badly hurt—it was nothing short of a miracle, for you ought to have been almost killed. My brother Arthur was with me, and when you opened your eyes you stretched out your arms to him. He just took you to his heart on the spot, and you were his son from that day forward. Well, Arthur, I don’t think, prosperity has done you any harm.”
“I had no choice,” said Noel. “Prosperity came to me as God’s gift. It so happens that I am now a rich man and I suppose even rich people can find their mission. The girls at present are poor; our cases are in no way parallel. Oh! how gladly I would help them, but believe me, I would help them to keep their independence.”
Mrs. Ellsworthy frowned.
“If you are going to thwart me, Arthur, I am done,” she said.
“Can you not help them without adopting them?” asked Arthur.
“Oh! my dear boy, what am I to do? I know lots of influential people, but I can’t go to them and say, ’I know three charming girls; they are all as ignorant as possible; they don’t know any of our manners and customs; they are not educated up to the required standard; they are fearfully independent. Will you, my dear friend, take the eldest into your family, and give her a governess’s salary, although she cannot teach? and will you, my other beloved friend, speak to the editor of the magazine you most admire, and ask him to accept poems which do not scan, and stories which are the feeble productions of an ambitious child? And will you, my last friend, come to the rescue by employing a certain sweet little girl to look after your kittens?’ Arthur, how can those girls be independent unless they are taught?”
“Still I believe the girls can be helped; and that it is the right and only thing to do,” said Noel. “I propose to talk to Miss Egerton about them. I will ask her to go into figures with me, and to state what sum she thinks ought to be expended on their education. She probably knows something about what talents they have by this time. After she and I have talked our plans over together we will ask you whether you are inclined to advance the necessary money. If you say ‘Yes,’ Miss Egerton will speak to the girls, and tell them quite openly what you are doing, and appeal to their common sense not to reject their only real chance of obtaining an independence bye-and-bye. They can, if they think right, arrange to pay you back within a certain term of years. I believe you will do best for them by making such an arrangement.”
Mrs. Ellsworthy both frowned and smiled, but finally agreed to allow Arthur Noel to have his own way.