“Their name is Mainwaring. My dear Arthur, where and how have you met them? My dear boy, I fully believe, I have always believed, in your good intentions, in your wish to do your utmost for every one; but if you have really known Primrose, and Jasmine and Daisy, and have taken them, as you say, under your protection, I must say that of late you have lost sight of them—you have not been as kind as you generally are to people in difficulties, for I never met three more absolutely friendless girls than these.”
“It was a good Providence sent me here this morning,” said Noel. “You are quite right, Miss Egerton; I did lose sight of the children. I tried to follow them, but they managed to hide themselves most effectually. Think of my coming up to see you this morning, with a message from Mrs. Ellsworthy, and finding that our lost lambs are all but safe in your kind fold. How relieved my dear mother-friend will be!”
“Mrs. Ellsworthy is the kindest and best of women,” said Miss Egerton; “I will receive your message presently, Arthur, but you puzzle me more and more when you tell me that she too knows my girls. I came across them quite accidentally. They called to ask me to give Jasmine lessons in English composition, and I took a fancy to them, and, in particular, felt drawn to the little one—for she reminded me of—, but no matter! The girls have been in and out of my house ever since. I saw that they were fearfully independent, but in many trivial ways I tried to help them. Well, Arthur, it is most surprising—it is altogether incomprehensible, but never during the months we have been seeing each other daily have they alluded to you or the Ellsworthys. They seemed perfectly unconstrained, and chatted many times of their cottage home in the country, but they never spoke of the Ellsworthys.”
“They would not be likely to do,” answered Noel. “I think, Miss Egerton, I must now tell you Mrs. Ellsworthy’s and my side of the story.”
Certainly Miss Egerton appeared to neglect her duties that morning; fortunately, her school had not yet re-opened, but Bridget waited for orders, and the tradesman left the house unattended to. Bridget knew that Miss Egerton was always greatly taken up with Mr. Noel, and she had to admit that he was a bonny-looking young man with a pleasant face; but Bridget hitherto had given her mistress credit for always putting duty before pleasure. What, therefore, did her present neglect of household management mean?
Arthur Noel had a long story to tell, and Miss Egerton listened, weighing each point, and not giving too undue sympathy to either party. Noel was of course enthusiastic in Mrs. Ellsworthy’s cause, and announced his intention of going to see her that very day.
“She is in town,” he said; “and if you give me the girls’ address I can bring her to them this afternoon.”
But here Miss Egerton laid her thin hand on the young man’s arm.