“No, Arthur, I won’t betray their secret, poor little dears! they may have been headstrong, and silly, and rash, and, poor children, they may fail utterly, but they have not failed yet by any means, and if they wish not to be tempted into a luxurious and dependent life, even by the kindest friend, I, for one, will stand by them. You have come on me by accident, Arthur, and have learned about the girls by accident; you have no right to tell what you have thus discovered. I have studied those girls’ characters and I know that Primrose at least would die of a broken heart if her independence were taken from her. No, Arthur; if you wish really to help them you must put them in the way of earning their own living, and in this manner the Ellsworthys can doubtless assist, for they are rich, and have influence.”
Then Miss Egerton and her guest had another long and earnest discussion, at the end of which time a compromise was arrived at. Noel might tell the Ellsworthys that he and Miss Egerton knew where the girls lived, and the Ellsworthys might give in-direct help by aiding him in his efforts to find suitable work for Primrose and Jasmine—he too, could be their open and acknowledged friend, and he arranged with Miss Egerton to call and see them that very afternoon.
Finally, Miss Egerton again drew his attention to the envelope, which was only given to mock, as it contained nothing but blank paper.
Noel examined it carefully.
“This must have been given to the girls by Mr. Danesfield, the banker at Rosebury,” he said. “I know him well; he is the last person who would play them such a trick. Don’t you think, Miss Egerton it is quite possible that this envelope may have been opened, and the money removed?”
“But the envelope does not look tampered with,” answered Miss Egerton, turning it round, and examining it carefully.
“Thieves are very clever,” answered Noel. “It is easy to open an envelope by holding it over steaming water.”
“But Primrose always kept this letter locked up in her trunk.”
“Well, I will settle the point by writing direct, and in strict confidence, to Mr. Danesfield. In the meantime let us say nothing to Miss Mainwaring; and you will let me pay for the furniture, kind friend.”
But Miss Egerton’s face flushed brightly, and she drew back a step or two.
“No, my dear boy, I cannot. Since I drew that cheque I have felt strangely happy. I think this very small act of self-denial will bring me a blessing, and I don’t wish to be deprived of it. Good-bye, Arthur; come to see me again at three, and I will take you to my girls.”
VOICE OF THE PRINCE.