Things wore much the same aspect as they had done on Arthur’s return from College and prior to his departure for the sunny plains of Hindostan some eighteen months since. Sir Jasper was apparently hale and hearty. Edith had finished her education, on which her uncle had spared no expense, for masters and professors had been procured from London to superintend her studies. She was perfectly happy, occasionally receiving letters from Arthur, which always afforded her much pleasure to peruse and think over, and frequently would she detect herself gazing upon his photograph in the pretty little locket he had sent her from Oxford by Tom Barton, and which, since his departure, she constantly wore.
Ralph Coleman’s visits had become more frequent of late; this at first did not attract Edith’s notice. She had never been prepossessed in his favour, but as her uncle’s kinsman, and being heir to the Baronetcy, her deportment to him had ever been polite and affable, but subsequently his attentions became so marked that they aroused her to a sense of his real meaning. Yet she could scarcely bring herself to believe that such was really the case, and but for the delicate hints and inuendos that occasionally fell from the double dealing widow, she would, there is no doubt, have remained for a much longer time unconvinced of his intentions towards her. However, time was passing on and Ralph made up his mind to bring matters to the point. One lovely afternoon, as he was entering the conservatory, he espied the fluttering of a woman’s dress among the shrubs and flowers, and on coming nearer, though still at some little distance, perceived a lady walking slowly and as if in deep thought. Feeling quite certain that it was no other than the one he was in quest of, and thanking the fates for giving him the long wished for opportunity, he advanced more quickly and was soon beside Edith (for she it proved to be) before she was aware that any one was near. Turning, with something of a surprised look on her lovely face, she exclaimed, “Oh, how you startled me. I thought you were on the way to London. I am quite amazed to find you here.”
“I hope my presence is not distasteful to you,” he said, gently, at the same time lifting his hat and bowing low before her. He really cared nothing for the beautiful girl at his side, for he was thoroughly selfish; nor did he care by what means or how low he had to stoop to gain possession of the object wished for.
Edith, knowing her own feelings, and not wishing to say aught to hurt or offend him more than was actually necessary, scarcely knew how to answer him, disliking him as she did. Still she had nothing to complain of, for he had ever paid her the most marked respect. Before she could frame her answer he spoke again, “Edith, I have for some time been wishing to speak to you on a subject very near my heart. I love you dearly and have long done so, will you be my wife, or, at least, give me some hope that my suit may be acceptable at some future time? only give me one encouraging smile, one ray of hope, and I will drudge on patiently until you bid me come to you.”