“Have I hurt you?” he asked gently, placing his hand on her shoulder.
At his touch the girl started up with a cry of distress; and, as the shawl fell back from her head, Leroy was almost startled by the vivid freshness of her beauty.
“Oh,” she exclaimed in terrified accents, “I wasn’t doing any harm! I will move on—I—I was only resting.” Then, as she saw the kindly face looking into hers, she subsided into silence.
She was quite young, not more than about sixteen, and so slenderly formed as to appear almost a child. Her features were clear-cut as a cameo and she had a slightly foreign air. Her eyes were brown, but as the light of the gas-lamp fell full on her upturned face, they showed so dark and velvety as almost to appear black, while masses of dark hair clustered in heavy waves round her forehead.
Unconsciously Leroy raised his hat as he repeated his question. She shook her head at him as he bent over her, but made no reply.
“How is it you are out on such a night as this?” he asked. “Have you no home? Where do you live?”
“Cracknell Court, Soho,” she replied, in tones singularly free from any trace of Cockney accent.
“With your parents?” queried Leroy, feeling for some money.
“No,” said the girl, her red lips quivering for a moment. “Haven’t got any—only Johann and Martha—and they don’t care.”
“Who is Johann?” said Leroy, with an encouraging smile.
“I don’t know,” she answered listlessly. “He’s Johann Wilfer, that’s all.”
“Why have you run away, then?”
“Johann came home drunk and beat me—so I ran out.”
She pushed back her ragged shawl and held up her arm, on which bruises showed up cruelly distinct. Leroy uttered an exclamation of anger.
“You poor child!” he said almost tenderly. “What can I do for you? If I give you money——”
“Johann will take it and make me beg for more,” she interrupted; and Leroy withdrew his hand from his pocket, fearing this to be but too true.
“Will you go home, if I take you?” he began.
The girl shook her head, and dragged the old shawl closer round her shivering body.
“Not till morning,” she said decidedly. “I shall be all right then.”
“But you’ll freeze to death here!”
She laughed harshly.
“I wish I was dead,” she said, with an earnestness that made Leroy’s heart ache, as he thought of her extreme youth and saw the bitter despair in the great dark eyes.
He drew himself up sharply as if he had decided on his course of action.
“I cannot leave you here,” he said quietly, “and money is of no use to you to-night. Will you come with me?” He held out his hand as he spoke, and, without a word, the girl rose wearily and laid her own cold one in his. They proceeded thus, in silence, for the length of the square; but Leroy soon saw that, whether, from cold or from hunger, the girl’s steps were growing feebler and more uncertain. Without further ado, he picked her up in his arms, wrapping her shawl more warmly round her.