“Good Heavens, can it be possible?” stammered the worthy lady; then, turning to her daughter, she added, “Go, my child.”
Edith Irwin had quickly recovered her composure. Standing up, her head proudly raised, she faced the indignant lady.
“I beg you to remember, Mrs. Kennedy, that no one should pass judgment without knowing the real state of things.”
“I think what I have seen needs no explanation.”
“If there is anything blameworthy in it, I alone am responsible,” interposed Heideck. “Spare me a few minutes in private, Mrs. Kennedy, and I will convince you that no blame attaches to Mrs. Irwin.”
“I want no one to defend me or intercede for me!” cried Edith passionately. “Why should we any longer conceal our love? This man, Mrs. Kennedy, has saved my life and honour more than once, and it is no humiliation for me to go on my knees before him.”
Perhaps there was something in her face and the tone of her voice that touched the Englishwoman’s heart, in spite of her outraged sense of propriety. The stern expression disappeared from her features, and she said with friendly, almost motherly gentleness—
“Come, my poor child! I have certainly no right to set up for a judge of your actions. But I am certainly old enough for you to trust in me.”
Edith, overcome by this sudden kindness, leaned her head on Mrs. Kennedy’s shoulder. Heideck felt it would be best to leave the two ladies to themselves.
“If you will permit me, ladies, I will leave you for the present.”
With a rapid movement Edith laid her hand upon his arm.
“You give me your word, Captain Heideck, that you will not leave without saying good-bye to me?”
“I give you my word.”
He left the room in a most painful state of mind. It seemed as if, in the fulfilment of his duty, he would have to pass over the body of the being who was dearest to him on earth.
In the evening Mrs. Kennedy’s maid brought him a short note from Edith, asking him to come to her at once. He found her in her dimly-lighted room on the couch; but as he entered she got up and went to meet him with apparent calmness.
“You are right, my friend; I have in the meantime come to my senses again. Nothing else is possible—we must part.”
“I swear to you, Edith—”
“Swear nothing. The future is in God’s hands alone.”
She drew from the ring-finger of her left hand the hoop-ring, set in valuable brilliants, which had given rise to their first serious conversation.
“Take this ring, my friend, and think of me whenever you look at it.” Tears choked her utterance. “Have no anxiety for me and my future. I am going with the Kennedys to England.”
A SUSPICIOUS FISHING-SMACK