“He—whom?” said the Sister. Then, as the girl did not reply, she looked hard at her and sighed again.
“Now you will sleep,” she said, “Will you kiss me?”
With the impulsiveness of girlhood Jessica threw her arms round the linen-banded neck and kissed the Sister’s pale face.”
“Good-night,” she said.
The Sister smoothed the coarse pillow, covered her up, and went softly from the room.
When Jessica awoke the woman was again beside her with a cup of tea, and some bread-and-butter. But the girl refused to eat.
“I am not hungry. I am not tired now, either, and I will go.”
The Sister put her hand on the girl’s arm. “Not yet,” she said. “Where have you to go?”
“Nowhere,” Jessica answered listlessly.
“Then stay with me,” said the woman kindly. “See”—she brought a basket to the bedside—“here’s some work. I will teach you to do this, and we will live together. Will you not stay?”
Jessica looked at the work, and silently nodded acquiescence. But nevertheless she sighed. To a nature such as hers freedom was life itself, and she was bartering it away for mere food. Besides, how could she now follow the one who had been so kind to her?
But she stayed, and patiently worked all day, striving earnestly to catch the knack of the needle, and emulating the tireless industry of the Sister, who worked thus during daylight that she might pursue her mission of mercy and succour at night. Thus passed some days, and then Jessica’s blood grew restless; the narrow room seemed to her stifling and unendurable, and she pined for the open air, as a caged blackbird longs for its native woods.
The longing grew so irresistible that at last she succumbed to it; and one day, finding herself alone, she threw down the piece of work on which she was employed, and rising, snatched up her weather-stained hat.
“I can’t stay,” she sobbed; “I can’t breathe here! I must go, or I shall die. I’ll leave before she comes back. Oh! I wish she had not been so kind to me. I feel a worthless, miserable, ungrateful creature!”
Then she stole down the stairs, very much as she had slipped away from Adrien’s residence, and gained the streets anew.
It was the night of the great ball at Lady Merivale’s town house. A Blue Hungarian Band was playing dreamily the waltz of the season, to the accompaniment of light laughter and gaily tripping feet. The scent of roses filled the air. Masses of their great pink blooms lurked in every small nook and corner; while in the centre of the room, half-hidden by them, a fountain sent its silver spray into the heated air.
If wealth and luxury alone could bring happiness, then surely Eveline Merivale should have been the most envied woman in the world. A renowned beauty, a leader of fashion, with every wish and ambition gratified—save the one which, at present, the chief object of her life—to enslave and retain, as her exclusive property, Adrien Leroy.