“Poor little girl. How I pity her!” he thought, as she placed her hand confidingly in his, and when he saw how hopelessly she looked into his face, as she asked, with quivering lip, if “it wasn’t ever so far to New York yet?” the resolution he had been trying all the day to make was fully decided upon, and when alone with Edith in the room appropriated to her at, the Delavan House, he asked her why she supposed Richard Harrington would be willing to take her to Collingwood.
Very briefly Edith related to him the particulars of her interviews with the blind man, saying, when she had finished,
“Don’t you believe he likes me?”
“I dare say he does,” returned Arthur, at the same time asking if she would be afraid to stay alone one night in that great hotel, knowing he was gone?”
“Oh, Mr. Arthur, you won’t leave me here?” and in her terror Edith’s arms wound themselves around the young man’s neck as if she would thus keep him there by force.
Unclasping her hand’s, and holding them in his own, Arthur said,
“Listen to me, Edith. I will take the Boston train which leaves here very soon, and return to Shannondale, reaching there some time to-night. I will go to Collingwood, will tell Mr. Harrington what has happened, and ask him to take you, bringing him back here with me, if he will—–”
“And if he won’t?” interrupted Edith, joy beaming in every feature. “If he won’t have me, Mr. Arthur, will you? Say, will you have me if he won’t?”
“Yes, yes, I’ll have you,” returned Arthur, laughing to himself, as he thought of the construction which might be put upon this mode of speech.
But a child nine and a half years old could not, he knew, have any designs upon either himself or Richard Harrington, even had she been their equal, which he fancied she was not. She was a poor, neglected orphan, and as such he would care for her, though the caring compelled him to do what scarcely anything else could have done, to wit, to seek an interview with the man who held his cherished secret.
“Are you willing to stay here alone now?” he said again. “I’ll order your meals sent to your room, and to-morrow night I shall return.”
“If I only knew you meant for sure,” said Edith, trembling at the thought of being deserted in a strange city.
Suddenly she started, and looking him earnestly in the face, said to him,
“Do you love that pretty lady in the glass—the one Mrs. Atherton thinks I stole?”
Arthur turned white but answered her at once.
“Yes, I love her very, very much.”
“Is she your sister, Mr. Arthur?” and the searching black eyes seemed compelling him to tell the truth.
“No, not my sister, but a dear friend.”
“Where is she, Mr. Arthur? In New York?”
“No, not in New York.”
“In Albany then?”
“No, not in Albany. She’s in Europe with her father,” and a shade of sadness crept over Arthur’s face, “She was hardly a young lady when this picture was taken, and he drew the locket from its hiding place. She was only thirteen. She’s not quite sixteen now.”