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Title: Mistress and Maid
Author: Craik, Dinah Maria Mulock, 1826-1887
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mistress and Maid" ***

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MISTRESS AND MAID. A Household Story.

BY

MISS MULOCH, AUTHOR OF
"JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN," "OLIVE," "THE OGILVIES,"
"THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY," "NOTHING NEW," "AGATHA'S HUSBAND," &c,, &c.

RICHMOND:
WEST & JOHNSTON, PUBLISHERS.
1864. Printed at the Lynchburg "Virginian" Book and Job Office.


MISTRESS AND MAID.



CHAPTER I.

She was a rather tall, awkward, and strongly-built girl of about
fifteen. This was the first impression the "maid" gave to her
"mistresses," the Misses Leaf, when she entered their kitchen,
accompanied by her mother, a widow and washer-woman, by name Mrs.
Hand. I must confess, when they saw the damsel, the ladies felt a
certain twinge of doubt as to whether they had not been rash in
offering to take her; whether it would not have been wiser to have
gone on in their old way--now, alas! grown into a very old way, so as
almost to make them forget they had ever had any other--and done
without a servant still.

Many consultations had the three sisters held before such a
revolutionary extravagance was determined on. But Miss Leaf was
beginning both to look and to feel "not so young as she had been;"
Miss Selina ditto; though, being still under forty, she would not
have acknowledged it for the world. And Miss Hilary young, bright,
and active as she was, could by no possibility do every thing that
was to be done in the little establishment: be, for instance, in
three places at once--in the school-room, teaching little boys and
girls, in the kitchen cooking dinner, and in the rooms up stairs busy
at house-maid's work. Besides, much of her time was spent in waiting
upon "poor Selina," who frequently was, or fancied her self, too ill
to take any part in either the school or house duties.

Though, the thing being inevitable, she said little about it, Miss
Leaf's heart was often sore to see Hilary's pretty hands smeared with
blacking of grates, and roughened with scouring of floors. To herself
this sort of thing had become natural--but Hilary!

All the time of Hilary's childhood, the youngest of the family had of
course, been spared all house-work; and afterward her studies had
left no time for it. For she was a clever girl, with a genuine love
of knowledge Latin, Greek, and even the higher branches of arithmetic
and mathematics, were not beyond her range; and this she found much
more interesting than washing dishes or sweeping floors. True, she
always did whatever domestic duty she was told to do; but her bent
was not in the household line. She had only lately learned to "see
dust," to make a pudding, to iron a shirt; and, moreover, to reflect,
as she woke up to the knowledge of how these things should be done,
and how necessary they were, what must have been her eldest sister's
lot during all these twenty years! What pains, what weariness, what
eternal toil must Johanna have silently endured in order to do all
those things which till now had seemed to do themselves!

Therefore, after much cogitation as to the best and most prudent way
to amend matters, and perceiving with her clear common sense that,
willing as she might be to work in the kitchen, her own time would be
much more valuably spent in teaching their growing school. It was
Hilary who these Christmas holidays, first started the bold idea, "We
must have a servant;" and therefore, it being necessary to begin with
a very small servant on very low wages, (£3 per annum was, I fear the
maximum), did they take this Elizabeth Hand. So, hanging behind her
parent, an anxious-eyed, and rather sad-voiced woman, did Elizabeth
enter the kitchen of the Misses Leaf.

The ladies were all there. Johanna arranging the table for their
early tea: Selina lying on the sofa trying to cut bread and butter:
Hilary on her knees before the fire, making the bit of toast, her
eldest sister's one luxury. This was the picture that her three
mistresses presented to Elizabeth's eyes: which, though they seemed
to notice nothing, must, in reality, have noticed every thing.

"I've brought my daughter, ma'am, as you sent word you'd take on
trial," said Mrs. Hand, addressing herself to Selina, who, as the
tallest, the best dressed, and the most imposing, was usually
regarded by strangers as the head of the family.

"Oh. Joanna, my dear."

Miss Leaf came forward, rather uncertainly, for she was of a shy
nature, and had been so long accustomed to do the servant's work of
the household, that she felt quite awkward in the character of
mistress. Instinctively she hid her poor hands, that would at once
have betrayed her to the sharp eyes of the working-woman, and then,
ashamed of her momentary false pride, laid them outside her apron and
sat down.

"Will you take a chair, Mrs. Hand? My sister told you. I believe all
our requirements We only want a good, intelligent girl. We are
willing to teach her every thing."

"Thank you, kindly; and I be willing and glad for her to learn,
ma'am," replied the mother, her sharp and rather free tone subdued in
spite of herself by the gentle voice of Miss Leaf. Of course, living
in the same country town, she knew all about the three
school-mistresses, and how till now they had kept no servant. "It's
her first place, and her'll be awk'ard at first, most like. Hold up
your head, Lizabeth."

"Is her name Elizabeth?"

"Far too long and too fine," observed Selina from the sofa. "Call her
Betty."

"Any thing you please, Miss; but I call her Lizabeth. It wor my young
missis' name in my first place, and I never had a second."

"We will call her Elizabeth," said Miss Leaf, with the gentle
decision she could use on occasion.

There was a little more discussion between the mother and the future
mistress as to holidays, Sundays, and so on, during which time the
new servant stood silent and impassive in the door-way between the
back kitchen and the kitchen, or, as it is called in those regions,
the house-place.

As before said, Elizabeth was by no means, a personable girl, and her
clothes did not set her off to advantage. Her cotton frock hung in
straight lines down to her ankles, displaying her clumsily shod feet
and woolen stockings; above it was a pinafore--a regular child's
pinafore, of the cheap, strong, blue-speckled print which in those
days was generally worn. A little shabby shawl, pinned at the throat,
and pinned very carelessly and crookedly, with an old black bonnet,
much too small for her large head and her quantities of ill kept
hair, completed the costume. It did not impress favorably a lady who,
being, or rather having been very handsome herself, was as much alive
to appearances as the second Miss Leaf.

She made several rather depreciatory observations, and insisted
strongly that the new servant should only be taken "on trial," with
no obligation to keep her a day longer than they wished. Her feeling
on the matter communicated itself to Johanna, who closed the
negotiation with Mrs. Hand, by saying.

"Well, let us hope your daughter will suit us. We will give her a
fair chance at all events."

"Which is all I can ax for, Miss Leaf. Her bean't much to look at,
but her's willin' sharp, and her's never told me a lie in her life.
Courtesy to thy missis, and say thee'lt do thy best, Lizabeth."

Pulled forward Elizabeth did courtesy, but she never offered to
speak. And Miss Leaf, feeling that for all parties the interview had
better be shortened, rose from her chair.

Mrs. Hand took the hint and departed, saying only, "Good-by,
Lizabeth," with a nod, half-encouraging, half-admonitory, which
Elizabeth silently returned. That was all the parting between mother
and daughter; they neither kissed nor shook hands, which
undemonstrative farewell somewhat surprised Hilary.

Now, Miss Hilary Leaf had all this while gone on toasting. Luckily
for her bread the fire was low and black; meantime, from behind her
long drooping curls (which Johanna would not let her "turn up,"
though she was twenty), she was making her observations on the new
servant. It might be that, possessing more head than the one and more
heart than the other, Hilary was gifted with deeper perception of
character than either of her sisters, but certainly her expression,
as she watched Elizabeth, was rather amused and kindly that
dissatisfied.

"Now, girl, take off your bonnet," said Selina, to whom Johanna had
silently appealed in her perplexity as to the next proceeding with
regard to the new member of the household.

Elizabeth obeyed, and then stood, irresolute, awkward, and wretched
to the last degree, at the furthest end of the house-place.

"Shall I show you where to hang up your things?" said Hilary,
speaking for the first time; and at the new voice, so quick,
cheerful, and pleasant, Elizabeth visibly started.

Miss Hilary rose from her knees, crossed the kitchen, took from the
girl's unresisting hands the old black bonnet and shawl, and hung
them up carefully on a nail behind the great eight-day clock. It was
a simple action, done quite without intention, and accepted without
acknowledgment, except one quick glance of that keen, yet soft grey
eye; but years and years after Elizabeth reminded Hilary of it.

And now Elizabeth stood forth in her own proper likeness, unconcealed
by bonnet or shawl, or maternal protection. The pinafore scarcely
covered her gaunt neck and long arms; that tremendous head of rough,
dusky hair was evidently for the first time gathered into a comb.
Thence elf locks escaped in all directions, and were forever being
pushed behind her ears, or rubbed (not smoothed; there was nothing
smooth about her) back from her forehead, which, Hilary noticed, was
low, broad, and full. The rest of her face, except the
before-mentioned eyes was absolutely and undeniably plain. Her
figure, so far as the pinafore exhibited it, was undeveloped and
ungainly, the chest being contracted and the shoulders rounded, as if
with carrying children or other weights while still a growing girl.
In fact, nature and circumstances had apparently united in dealing
unkindly with Elizabeth Hand.

Still here she was; and what was to be done with her?

Having sent her with the small burden, which was apparently all her
luggage, to the little room--formerly a box-closet--where she was to
sleep, the Misses Leaf--or as facetious neighbors called them, the
Miss Leaves--took serious counsel together over their tea.

Tea itself suggested the first difficulty. They were always in the
habit of taking that meal, and indeed every other, in the kitchen. It
saved time, trouble, and fire, besides leaving the parlor always tidy
for callers, chiefly pupils' parents, and preventing these latter
from discovering that the three orphan daughters of Henry Leaf, Esq.,
solicitor, and sisters of Henry Leaf, Junior, Esq., also solicitor,
but whose sole mission in life seemed to have been to spend every
thing, make every body miserably, marry, and die, that these three
ladies did always wait upon themselves at meal-time, and did
sometimes breakfast without butter, and dine without meat. Now this
system would not do any longer.

"Besides, there is no need for it," said Hilary, cheerfully. "I am
sure we can well afford both to keep and to feed a servant, and to
have a fire in the parlor every day. Why not take our meals there,
and sit there regularly of evenings?"

"We must," added Selina, decidedly. "For my part, I couldn't eat, or
sew, or do any thing with that great hulking girl sitting starting
opposite, or standing; for how could we ask her to sit with us?
Already, what must she have thought of us--people who take tea in the
kitchen?"

"I do not think that matters," said the eldest sister, gently, after
a moment's silence. "Every body in the town knows who and what we
are, or might, if they chose to inquire. We cannot conceal our
poverty if we tried; and I don't think any body looks down upon us
for it. Not even since we began to keep school, which you thought was
such a terrible thing, Selina."

"And it was. I have never reconciled myself to teaching the baker's
two boys and the grocer's little girl. You were wrong, Johanna, you
ought to have drawn the line somewhere, and it ought to have excluded
trades-people."

"Beggars can not be choosers," began Hilary.

"Beggars!" echoed Selina.

"No, my dear, we were never that," said Miss Leaf, interposing
against one of the sudden storms that were often breaking out between
these two. "You know well we have never begged or borrowed from any
body, and hardly ever been indebted to any body, except for the extra
lessons that Mr. Lyon would insist upon giving to Ascott at home."

Here Johanna suddenly stopped, and Hilary, with a slight color rising
in her face, said--

"I think, sisters, we are forgetting that the staircase is quite
open, and though I am sure she has an honest look and not that of a
listener, still Elizabeth might hear. Shall I call her down stairs,
and tell her to light a fire in the parlor?"

While she is doing it, and in spite of Selina's forebodings to the
contrary, the small maiden did it quickly and well, especially after
a hint or two from Hilary--let me take the opportunity of making a
little picture of this same Hilary.

Little it should be, for she was a decidedly little woman: small
altogether, hands, feet, and figure being in satisfactory proportion.
Her movements, like those of most little women, were light and quick
rather than elegant; yet every thing she did was done with a neatness
and delicacy which gave an involuntary sense of grace and harmony.
She was, in brief, one of those people who are best described by the
word "harmonious;" people who never set your teeth on edge, or rub
you up the wrong way, as very excellent people occasionally do. Yet
she was not over-meek or unpleasantly amiable; there was a liveliness
and even briskness about her, as if the every day wine of her life
had a spice of Champagniness, not frothiness but natural
effervescence of spirit, meant to "cheer but not inebriate" a
household.

And in her own household this gift was most displayed. No centre of a
brilliant, admiring circle could be more charming, more witty, more
irresistibly amusing than was Hilary sitting by the kitchen fire,
with the cat on her knee, between her two sisters, and the school-boy
Ascott Leaf, their nephew--which four individuals, the cat being not
the least important of them, constituted the family.

In the family, Hilary shone supreme. All recognized her as the light
of the house, and so she had been, ever since she was born, ever
since her

    "Dying mother mild,
     Said, with accents undefiled,
    'Child, be mother to this child.'"

It was said to Johanna Leaf--who was not Mrs. Leaf's own child. But
the good step-mother, who had once taken the little motherless girl
to her bosom, and never since made the slightest difference between
her and her own children, knew well whom she was trusting.

From that solemn hour, in the middle of the night, when she lifted
the hour-old baby out of its dead mother's bed into her own, it
became Johanna's one object in life. Through a sickly infancy, for it
was a child born amidst trouble, her sole hands washed, dressed, fed
it; night and day it "lay in her bosom, and was unto her as a
daughter."

She was then just thirty: not too old to look forward to woman's
natural destiny, a husband and children of her own. But years slipped
by, and she was Miss Leaf still. What matter! Hilary was her
daughter.

Johanna's pride in her knew no bounds. Not that she showed it much;
indeed she deemed it a sacred duty not to show it; but to make
believe her "child" was just like other children. But she was not.
Nobody ever thought she was--even in externals.--Fate gave her all
those gifts which are sometimes sent to make up for the lack of
worldly prosperity. Her brown eyes were as soft a doves' eyes, yet
could dance with fun and mischief if they chose; her hair, brown
also, with a dark-red shade in it, crisped itself in two wavy lines
over her forehead, and then turn bled down in two glorious masses,
which Johanna, ignorant, alas! of art, called very "untidy," and
labored in vain to quell under combs, or to arrange in proper,
regular curls Her features--well, they too, were good; better than
those unartistic people had any idea of--better even than Selina's,
who in her youth had been the belle of the town. But whether
artistically correct or not, Johanna, though she would on no account
have acknowledged it, believed solemnly that there was not such a
face in the whole world as little Hillary's.

Possibly a similar idea dawned upon the apparently dull mind of
Elizabeth Hand, for she watched her youngest mistress intently, from
kitchen to parlor, and from parlor back to kitchen; and once when
Miss Hilary stood giving information as to the proper abode of broom,
bellows, etc., the little maid gazed at her with such admiring
observation that the scuttle she carried was titled, and the coals
were strewn all over the kitchen floor. At which catastrophe Miss
Leaf looked miserable. Miss Selina spoke crossly, and Ascott, who
just then came in to his tea, late as usual, burst into a shut of
laughter.

It was as much as Hilary could do to help laughing herself, she being
too near her nephew's own age always to maintain a dignified
aunt-like attitude, but nevertheless, when, having disposed of her
sisters in the parlor, she coaxed Ascott into the school-room, and
insisted upon his Latin being done--she helping him, Aunt Hilary
scolded him well, and bound him over to keep the peace toward the new
servant.

"But she is such a queer one. Exactly like a South Sea Islander. When
she stood with her grim, stolid countenance, contemplating the coals
oh, Aunt Hilary, how killing she was!"

And the regular, rollicking, irresistible boy-laugh broke out again.

"She will be great fun. Is she really to stay?"

"I hope so," said Hilary, trying to be grave. "I hope never again to
see Aunt Johanna cleaning the stairs, and getting up to light the
kitchen fire of winter mornings, as she will do if we have not a
servant to do it for her. Don't you see, Ascott?"

"Oh, I see," answered the boy, carelessly, "But don't bother me,
please. Domestic affairs are for women, not men."

Ascott was eighteen, and just about to pass out of his caterpillar
state as a doctor's apprentice-lad into the chrysalis condition of a
medical student in London. "But," with sudden reflection, "I hope she
won't be in my way. Don't let her meddle with any of my books and
things."

"No; you need not be afraid. I have put them all into your room. I
myself cleared your rubbish out of the box closet."

"The box-closet! Now, really, I can't stand--"

"She is to sleep in the box-closet; where else could she sleep?" said
Hilary, resolutely, though inly quaking a little; for somehow, the
merry, handsome, rather exacting lad bad acquired considerable
influence in this household of women. "You must put up with the loss
of your 'den.' Ascott; it would be a great shame if you did not, for
the sake of Aunt Johanna and the rest of us."

"Um!" grumbled the boy, who, though he was not a bad fellow at heart,
had a boy's dislike to "putting up" with the slightest inconvenience.

"Well, it won't last long. I shall be off shortly. What a jolly life
I'll have in London, Aunt Hilary! I'll see Mr. Lyon there too."

"Yes," said Aunt Hilary, briefly, returning to Dido and Æneas; humble
and easy Latinity for a student of eighteen; but Ascott was not a
brilliant boy, and, being apprenticed early, his education had been
much neglected, till Mr. Lyon came as usher to the Stowbury
grammar-school, and happening to meet and take an interest in him,
taught him and his Aunt Hilary Latin, Greek, and mathematics
together, of evenings.

I shall make no mysteries here. Human nature is human nature all the
world over. A tale without love in it would be unnatural, unreal--in
fact, a simple lie; for there are no histories and no lives without
love in them: if there could be, Heaven pity and pardon them, for
they would be mere abortions of humanity.

Thank Heaven, we, most of us, do not philosophize: we only live. We
like one another, we hardly know why; we love one another, we still
less know why. If on the day she first saw--in church it was--Mr.
Lyon's grave, heavy-browed, somewhat severe face--for he was a
Scotsman, and his sharp, strong Scotch features did look "hard"
beside the soft, rosy, well conditioned youth of Stowbury--if on that
Sunday any one had told Hilary Leaf that the face of this stranger
was to be the one face of her life, stamped upon brain and heart, and
soul with a vividness that no other impressions were strong enough to
efface, and retained there with a tenacity that no vicissitudes of
time, or place, or fortunes had power to alter, Hilary would--yes, I
think she would--have quietly kept looking on. She would have
accepted her lot, such as it was, with its shine and shade, its joy
and its anguish; it came to her without her seeking, as most of the
solemn things in life do; and whatever it brought with it, it could
have come from no other source than that from which all high, and
holy, and pure loves ever must come--the will and permission of GOD.

Mr. Lyon himself requires no long description. In his first visit he
had told Miss Leaf all about himself that there was to be known; that
he was, as they were, a poor teacher, who had altogether "made
himself," as so many Scotch students do. His father, whom he scarcely
remembered, had been a small Ayrshire farmer; his mother was dead,
and he had never had either brother or sister.

Seeing how clever Miss Hilary was, and how much as a schoolmistress
she would need all the education she could get, he had offered to
teach her along with her nephew; and she and Johanna were only too
thankful for the advantage. But during the teaching he had also
taught her another thing, which neither had contemplated at the
time--to respect him with her whole soul, and to love him with her
whole heart.

Over this simple fact let no more be now said. Hilary said nothing.
She recognized it herself as soon as he was gone; a plain, sad,
solemn truth, which there was no deceiving herself did not exist,
even had she wished its non-existence. Perhaps Johanna also found it
out, in her darling's extreme paleness and unusual quietness for a
while; but she too said nothing. Mr. Lyon wrote regularly to Ascott,
and once or twice to her, Miss Leaf; but though every one knew that
Hilary was his particular friend in the whole family, he did not
write to Hilary. He had departed rather suddenly, on account of some
plan which he said, affected his future very considerably; but which,
though he was in the habit of telling them his affairs, he did not
further explain. Still Johanna knew he was a good man, and though no
man could be quite good enough for her darling, she liked him, she
trusted him.

What Hilary felt none knew. But she was very girlish in some things;
and her life was all before her, full of infinite hope. By-and-by her
color returned, and her merry voice and laugh were heard about the
house just as usual.

This being the position of affairs, it was not surprising that after
Ascott's last speech Hilary's mind wandered from Dido and Æneas to
vague listening, as the lad began talking of his grand future--the
future of a medical student, all expenses being paid by his
godfather, Mr. Ascott, the merchant, of Russell Square, once a shop
boy of Stowbury.

Nor was it unnatural that all Ascott's anticipations of London
resolved themselves, in his aunt's eyes, into the one fact that he
would "see Mr. Lyon."

But in telling thus much about her mistresses, I have for the time
being lost sight of Elizabeth Hand.

Left to herself, the girl stood for a minute or two looking around
her in a confused manner, then, rousing her faculties, began
mechanically to obey the order with which her mistress had quitted
the kitchen, and to wash up the tea-things. She did it in a fashion
that, if seen, would have made Miss Leaf thankful that the ware was
only the common set, and not the cherished china belonging to former
days: still she did it, noisily it is true, but actively, as if her
heart were in her work. Then she took a candle and peered about her
new domains.

These were small enough; at least they would have seemed so to other
eyes than Elizabeth's; for, until the school-room and box-closet
above had been kindly added by the landlord, who would have done any
thing to show his respect for the Misses Leaf, it had been merely a
six-roomed cottage--parlor kitchen, back kitchen, and three upper
chambers. It was a very cozy house notwithstanding, and it seemed to
Elizabeth's eyes a perfect palace.

For several minutes more she stood and contemplated her kitchen, with
the fire shining on the round oaken stand in the centre, and the
large wooden-bottomed chairs, and the loud-ticking clock, with its
tall case, the inside of which, with its pendulum and weights, had
been a perpetual mystery and delight, first to Hilary's and then to
Ascott's childhood. Then there was the sofa, large and ugly, but, oh!
so comfortable, with its faded, flowered chintz, washed and worn for
certainly twenty years. And, overall, Elizabeth's keen observation
was attracted by a queer machine apparently made of thin rope and
bits of wood, which hung up to the hooks on the ceiling--an
old-fashioned baby's swing. Finally, her eye dwelt with content on
the blue and red diamond tiled floor, so easily swept and mopped, and
(only Elizabeth did not think of that, for her hard childhood had
been all work and no play) so beautiful to whip tops upon! Hilary and
Ascott, condoling together over the new servant, congratulated
themselves that their delight in this occupation had somewhat failed,
though it was really not so many years ago since one of the former's
pupils, coming suddenly out of the school-room, had caught her in the
act of whipping a meditative top round this same kitchen floor.

Meantime Elizabeth penetrated farther, investigating the back
kitchen, with its various conveniences; especially the pantry, every
shelf of which was so neatly arranged and beautifully clean.
Apparently this neatness impressed the girl with a sense of novelty
and curiosity; and though she could hardly be said to meditate--her
mind was not sufficiently awakened for that--still, as she stood at
the kitchen fire, a slight thoughtfulness deepened the expression of
her face, and made it less dull and heavy than it had at first
appeared.

"I wonder which on 'em does it all. They must work pretty hard, I
reckon; and two o' them's such little uns."

She stood a while longer; for sitting down appeared to be to
Elizabeth as new a proceeding as thinking; then she went up stairs,
still literally obeying orders, to shut windows and pull down blinds
at nightfall. The bedrooms were small, and insufficiently, nay,
shabbily furnished; but the floors were spotless--ah! poor
Johanna!--and the sheets, though patched and darned to the last
extremity, were white and whole. Nothing was dirty, nothing untidy.
There was no attempt at picturesque poverty--for whatever novelists
may say, poverty can not be picturesque; but all things were decent
and in order. The house, poor as it was, gave the impression of
belonging to "real ladies;" ladies who thought no manner of work
beneath them, and who, whatever they had to do, took the pains to do
it as well as possible.

Mrs. Hand's roughly-brought-up daughter had never been in such a
house before, and her examination of every new corner of it seemed
quite a revelation. Her own little sleeping nook was fully as tidy
and comfortable as the rest, which fact was not lost upon Elizabeth.
That bright look of mingled softness and intelligence--the only thing
which beautified her rugged face--came into the girl's eyes as she
"turned down" the truckle-bed, and felt the warm blankets and sheets,
new and rather coarse, but neatly sewed.

"Her's made 'em hersel', I reckon. La!" Which of her mistresses the
"her" referred to remained unspecified; but Elizabeth, spurred to
action by some new idea, went briskly back into the bedrooms, and
looked about to see if there was any thing she could find to do. At
last, with a sudden inspiration, she peered into a wash-stand, and
found there an empty ewer. Taking it in one hand and the candle in
the other, she ran down stairs.

Fatal activity! Hilary's pet cat, startled from sleep on the kitchen
hearth, at the same instant ran wildly up stairs; there was a
start--a stumble--and then down came the candle, the ewer, Elizabeth,
and all.

It was an awful crash. It brought every member of the family to see
what was the matter.

"What has the girl broken?" cried Selina.

"Where has she hurt herself?" anxiously added Johanna.

Hilary said nothing, but ran for a light, and then picked up first
the servant, then the candle, and then the fragments of crockery.

"Why, it's my ewer, my favorite ewer, and it's all smashed to bits,
and I never can match it again. You careless, clumsy,
good-for-nothing creature!"

"Please, Selma," whispered her eldest sister.

"Very well, Johanna. You are the mistress, I suppose; why don't you
speak to your servant?"

Miss Leaf, in an humbled, alarmed way, first satisfied herself that
no bodily injury had been sustained by Elizabeth, and then asked her
how this disaster had happened? For a serious disaster she felt it
was. Not only was the present loss annoying, but a servant with a
talent for crockery breaking would be a far too expensive luxury for
them to think of retaining. And she had been listening in the
solitude of the parlor to a long lecture from her always dissatisfied
younger sister, on the great doubts Selina had about Elizabeth's
"suiting."

"Come, now," seeing the girl hesitated, "tell me the plain truth. How
was it?"

"It was the cat," sobbed Elizabeth.

"What a barefaced falsehood." exclaimed Selina. "You wicked girl, how
could it possibly be the cat? Do you know that you are telling a lie,
and that lies are hateful, and that all liars go to--"

"Nonsense, hush!" interrupted Hilary, rather sharply; for Selina's
"tongue," the terror of her childhood, now merely annoyed her.
Selina's temper was a long understood household fact--they did not
much mind it, knowing that her bark was worse than her bite--but it
was provoking that she should exhibit herself so soon before the new
servant.

The latter first looked up at the lady with simple surprise; then, as
in spite of the other two, Miss Selina worked herself up into a
downright passion, and unlimited abuse fell upon the victim's devoted
head, Elizabeth's manner changed. After one dogged repetition of, "It
was the cat!" not another word could be got out of her. She stood,
her eyes fixed on the kitchen floor, her brows knitted, and her under
lip pushed out--the very picture of sullenness. Young as she was,
Elizabeth evidently had, like her unfortunate mistress, "a temper of
her own"--a spiritual deformity that some people are born with, as
others with hare-lip or club-foot; only, unlike these, it may be
conquered, though the battle is long and sore, sometimes ending only
with life.

It had plainly never commenced with poor Elizabeth Hand. Her
appearance, as she stood under the flood of sharp words poured out
upon her, was absolutely repulsive. Even Miss Hilary turned away, and
began to think it would have been easier to teach all day and do
house work half the night, than have the infliction of a servant--to
say nothing of the disgrace of seeing Selina's "peculiarities" so
exposed before a stranger.

She knew of old that to stop the torrent was impracticable. The only
chance was to let Selina expend her wrath and retire, and then to
take some quiet opportunity of explaining to Elizabeth that sharp
language was only "her way," and must be put up with. Humiliating as
this was, and fatal to domestic authority that the first thing to be
taught a new servant was to "put up" with one of her mistresses,
still there was no alternative.--Hilary had already foreboded and
made up her mind to such a possibility, but she had hoped it would
not occur the very first evening.

It did, however, and its climax was worse even than she anticipated.
Whether, irritated by the intense sullenness of the girl. Selina's
temper was worse than usual, or whether, as is always the case with
people like her, something else had vexed her, and she vented it upon
the first cause of annoyance that occurred, certain it is that her
tongue went on unchecked till it failed from sheer exhaustion. And
then, as she flung herself on the sofa--oh, sad mischance!--she
caught sight of her nephew standing at the school-room door, grinning
with intense delight, and making faces at her behind her back.

It was too much. The poor lady had no more words left to scold with;
but she rushed up to Ascott, and big lad as he was, she soundly boxed
his ears.

On this terrible climax let the curtain fall.



CHAPTER II.

Common as were the small fends between Ascott and his Aunt Selina,
they seldom reached such a catastrophe as that described in my last
chapter. Hilary had to fly to the rescue, and literally drag the
furious lad back into the school-room; while Johanna, pale and
trembling, persuaded Selina to quit the field and go and lie down.
This was not difficult; for the instant she saw what she had done,
how she had disgraced herself and insulted her nephew. Selina felt
sorry. Her passion ended in a gush of "nervous" tears under the
influence of which she was led up stairs and put to bed, almost like
a child--the usual termination of these pitiful outbreaks.

For the time nobody thought of Elizabeth. The hapless cause of all
stood "spectatress of the fray" beside her kitchen fire. What she
thought history saith not. Whether in her own rough home she was used
to see brothers and sisters quarrelling, and mothers boxing their
childrens' ears, can not be known; whether she was or was not
surprised to see the same proceedings among ladies and gentlemen, she
never betrayed, but certain it is that the little servant became
uncommonly serious; yes, serious rather than sulky, for her "black"
looks vanished gradually, as soon as Miss Selina left the kitchen.

On the reappearance of Miss Hilary it had quite gone. But Hilary took
no notice of her; she was in search of Johanna, who, shaking and cold
with agitation, came slowly down stairs.

"Is she gone to bed?"

"Yes, my dear. It was the best thing for her; she is not at all well
to-day."

Hilary's lip curled a little, but she replied not a word. She had not
the patience with Selina that Johanna had. She drew her elder sister
into the little parlor, placed her in the arm-chair, shut the door,
came and sat beside her, and took her hand. Johanna pressed it, shed
a quiet tear or two, and wiped them away. Then the two sisters
remained silent, with hearts sad and sore.

Every family has its skeleton in the house: this was theirs. Whether
they acknowledged it or not, they knew quite well that every
discomfort they had, every slight jar which disturbed the current of
household peace, somehow or other originated with "poor Selina." They
often called her "poor" with a sort of pity--not unneeded. Heaven
knows! for if the unhappy are to be pitied, ten times more so are
those who make others miserable.

This was Selina's case, and had been all her life. And, sometimes,
she herself knew it. Sometimes, after an especially bad outbreak, her
compunction and remorse would be almost as terrible as her passion;
forcing her sisters to make every excuse for her; she "did not mean
it," it was only "ill health," or "nerves," or her "unfortunate way
of taking things."

But they knew in their hearts that not all their poverty and the
toils it entailed, not all the hardships and humiliation of their
changed estate, were half so bitter to bear as this something--no
moral crime, and yet in its results as fatal as crime--which they
called Selina's "way."

Ascott was the only one who did not attempt to mince matters. When a
little boy he had openly declared he hated Aunt Salina; when he grew
up he as openly defied her, and it was a most difficult matter to
keep even decent peace between them. Hilary's wrath had never gone
further than wishing Selina was married, that appearing the easiest
way of getting rid of her. Latterly she had ceased this earnest
aspiration; it might be, because, learning to think more seriously of
marriage, she felt that a woman who is no blessing in her own
household, is never likely much to bless a husband's; and that,
looking still farther forward, it was, on the whole, a mercy of
Providence, which made Selina not the mother of children.

Yet her not marrying had been somewhat a surprise; for she had been
attractive in her day, handsome and agreeable in society. But
perhaps, for all that, the sharp eye of the opposite sex had
discovered the cloven foot; since, though she had received various
promising attentions, poor Selina had never had an offer. Nor,
fortunately, had she ever been known to care for any body; she was
one of those women who would have married as a matter of course, but
who never would have been guilty of the weakness of falling in love.
There seemed small probability of shipping her off, to carry into a
new household the restlessness, the fretfulness, the captious
fault-finding with others, the readiness to take offence at what was
done and said to herself, which made poor Selina Leaf the
unacknowledged grief and torment of her own.

Her two sisters sat silent. What was the use of talking? It would be
only going ever and over again the old thing; trying to ease and
shift a little the long familiar burden which they knew must be
borne. Nearly every household has, near or remote, some such burden,
which Heaven only can lift off or help to bear. And sometimes,
looking round the world outside, these two congratulated themselves,
in a half sort of way, that theirs was as light as it was; that
Selina was after all, a well-meaning well-principled woman, and, in
spite of her little tempers, really fond of her family, as she truly
was, at least as fond as a nature which has its centre in self can
manage to be.

Only when Hilary looked, as to-night, into her eldest sister's pale
face, where year by year the lines were deepening, and saw how every
agitation such as the present shook her more and more--she who ought
to have a quiet life and a cheerful home, after so many hard
years--then Hilary, fierce in the resistance of her youth, felt as if
what she could have borne for herself she could not bear for Johanna,
and at the moment, sympathized with Ascott in actually "hating" Aunt
Selina.

"Where is that boy? He ought to be spoken to," Johanna said, at
length, rising wearily.

"I have spoken to him; I gave him a good scolding. He is sorry, and
promises never to be so rude again."

"Oh no; not till the next time," replied Miss Leaf. hopelessly. "But
Hilary." with a sudden consternation, "what are we to do about
Elizabeth?"

The younger sister had thought of that. She had turned over in her
mind all the pros and cons, the inevitable "worries" that would
result from the presence of an additional member of the family,
especially one from whom the family skeleton could not be hid, to
whom it was already only too fatally revealed.

But Hilary was a clear headed girl, and she had the rare faculty of
seeing things as they really were, undistorted by her own likings or
dislikings--in fact, without reference to herself at all. She
perceived plainly that Johanna ought not to do the housework, that
Selina would not, and that she could not: ergo, they must keep a
servant. Better, perhaps, a small servant, over whom they could have
the same influence as over a child, than one older and more
independent, who would irritate her mistresses at home, and chatter
of them abroad. Besides, they had promised Mrs. Hand to give her
daughter a fair trial. For a month, then, Elizabeth was bound to
stay; afterward, time would show. It was best not to meet troubles
half way.

This explained, in Hilary's cheerful voice, seemed greatly to
reassure and comfort her sister.

"Yes, love, you are right; she must remain her month out, unless she
does something very wrong. Do you think that really was a lie she
told?"

"About the cat? I don't quite know what to think. Let us call her,
and put the question once more. Do you put it, Johanna. I don't think
she could look at you and tell you a story."

Other people, at sight of that sweet, grave face, its bloom faded,
and hairs silvered long before their time, yet beautiful, with an
almost childlike simplicity and childlike peace--most other people
would have been of Hilary's opinion.

"Sit down; I'll call her. Dear me, Johanna, we shall have to set up a
bell as well as a servant, unless we had managed to combine the two."

But Hilary's harmless little joke failed to make her sister smile;
and the entrance of the girl seemed to excite positive apprehension.
How was it possible to make excuse to a servant for her mistress's
shortcomings? how scold for ill-doing this young girl, to whom, ere
she had been a night in the house, so bad an example had been set?
Johanna half expected Elizabeth to take a leaf out of Selina's book
and begin abusing herself and Hilary.

No: she stood very sheepish, very uncomfortable, but not in the least
bold or sulky--on the whole, looking rather penitent and humble.

Her mistress took courage.

"Elizabeth I want you to tell me the truth about that unfortunate
breakage. Don't be afraid. I had rather you broke every thing in the
house than have told me what was not true."

"It was true; it was the cat."

"How could that be possible? You were coming down stairs with the
ewer in your hand."

"Her got under my feet, and throwed me down, and so I tumbled, and
smashed the thing agin the floor."

The Misses Leaf glanced at each other. This version of the momentous
event was probable enough, and the girl's eager, honest manner gave
internal confirmatory evidence pretty strong.

"I am sure she is telling the truth." said Hilary. "And remember what
her mother said about her word being always reliable."

This reference was too much for Elizabeth. She burst out, not into
actual crying, but into a smothered choke.

"If you donnot believe me, missus, I'd rather go home to mother."

"I do believe you," said Miss Leaf, kindly then waited till the
pinafore, used as a pocket handkerchief, had dried up grief and
restored composure.

"I can quite well understand the accident now; and I am sure if you
had put it as plainly at first, my sister would have understood it
too. She was very much annoyed, and no wonder. She will be equally
glad to find she was mistaken."

Here Miss Leaf paused, somewhat puzzled how to express what she felt
it her duty to say, so as to be comprehended by the servant, and yet
not let down the dignity of the family Hilary came to her aid.

"Miss Selina is sometimes hasty; but she means kindly always. You
must take care not to vex her, Elizabeth; and you must never answer
her back again, however sharply she speaks. It is not your business;
you are only a child, and she is your mistress."

"Is her? I thought it was this 'un."

The subdued clouding of Elizabeth's face, and her blunt pointing to
Miss Leaf as "this 'un." were too much for Hilary's gravity She was
obliged to retreat to the press, and begin an imaginary search for a
book.

"Yes, I am the eldest, and I suppose you may consider me specially as
your mistress," said Johanna, simply."

"Remember always to come to me in any difficulty; and above all, to
tell me every thing outright, as soon as it happens. I can forgive
you almost any fault, if you are truthful and honest; but there is
one thing I never could forgive, and that is deception. Now go with
Miss Hilary, and she will teach you how to make the porridge for
supper."

Elizabeth obeyed silently; she had apparently a great gift for
silence. And she was certainly both obedient and willing; not stupid,
either, though a nervousness of temperament which Hilary was
surprised to find in so big and coarse-looking a girl, made her
rather awkward at first. However, she succeeded in pouring out and
carrying into the parlor, without accident, three platefuls of that
excellent condiment which formed the frugal supper of the family; but
which they ate, I grieve to say, in an orthodox southern fashion,
with sugar or treacle, until Mr. Lyon--greatly horrified thereby--had
instituted his national custom of "supping" porridge with milk.

It may be a very unsentimental thing to confess, but Hilary, who even
at twenty was rather practical than poetical, never made the porridge
without thinking of Robert Lyon, and the day when he first staid to
supper, and ate it, or as he said and was very much laughed at, ate
"them" with such infinite relish Since then, whenever he came, he
always asked for his porridge, saying it carried him back to his
childish days. And Hilary, with that curious pleasure that women take
in waiting upon any one unto whom the heart is ignorantly beginning
to own the allegiance, humble yet proud, of Miranda to Ferdinand:

    "To be your fellow
     You may deny me; but I'll be your servant
     Whether you will or no."

Hilary always contrived to make his supper herself.

Those pleasant days were now over. Mr. Lyon was gone. As she stool
alone over the kitchen fire, she thought--as now and then she let
herself think for a minute or two in her busy prosaic life--of that
August night, standing at the front door, of his last "good-by," and
last hand-clasp, tight, warm, and firm; and somehow she, like
Johanna, trusted in him.

Not exactly in his love; it seemed almost impossible that he should
love her, at least till she grew much more worthy of him than now;
but in himself, that he would never be less himself, less thoroughly
good and true than now. That, some time, he would be sure to come
back again, and take up his old relations with them, brightening
their dull life with his cheerfulness; infusing in their feminine
household the new element of a clear, strong, energetic, manly will,
which sometimes made Johanna say that instead of twenty-five the
young man might be forty; and, above all, bringing into their poverty
the silent sympathy of one who had fought his own battle with the
world--a hard one, too, as his face sometimes showed--though he never
said much about it.

Of the results of this pleasant relation--whether she being the only
truly marriageable person in the house. Robert Lyon intended to marry
her, or was expected to do so, or that society would think it a very
odd thing if he did not do so--this unsophisticated Hilary never
thought at all. If he had said to her that the present state of
things was to go on forever; she to remain always Hilary Leaf, and he
Robert Lyon, the faithful friend of the family, she would have smiled
in his face and been perfectly satisfied.

True, she had never had any thing to drive away the smile from that
innocent face; no vague jealousies aroused; no maddening rumors
afloat in the small world that was his and theirs. Mr. Lyon was grave
and sedate in all his ways; he never paid the slightest attention to,
or expressed the slightest interest in, any woman whatsoever.

And so this hapless girl loved, him--just himself; without the
slightest reference to his "connections," for he had none; or his
"prospects," which, if he had any, she did not know of. Alas! to
practical and prudent people I can offer no excuse for her; except,
perhaps what Shakspeare gives in the creation of the poor Miranda.

When the small servant re-entered the kitchen, Hilary, with a half
sigh, shook off her dreams, called Ascott out of the school-room, and
returned to the work-a-day world and the family supper.

This being ended, seasoned with a few quiet words administered to
Ascott, and which on the whole he took pretty well, it was nearly ten
o'clock.

"Far too late to have kept up such a child as Elizabeth; we must not
do it again," said Miss Leaf, taking down the large Bible with which
she was accustomed to conclude the day--Ascott's early hours at
school and their own house-work making it difficult of mornings. Very
brief the reading was, sometimes not more than half a dozen verses,
with no comment thereon; she thought the Word of God might safely be
left to expound itself Being a very humble-minded woman, she did not
feel qualified to lead long devotional "exercises," and she disliked
formal written prayers. So she merely read the Bible to the family,
and said after it the Lord's Prayer.

But, constitutionally shy as Miss Leaf was to do even this in
presence of a stranger cost her some effort; and it was only a sense
of duty that made her say "yes" to Hilary's suggestion, "I suppose we
ought to call in Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth came.

"Sit down," said her mistress: and she sat down, staring uneasily
round about her, as if wondering what was going to befall her next.
Very silent was the little parlor; so small, that it was almost
filled up by its large square piano, its six cane-bottomed chairs,
and one easy chair, in which sat Miss Leaf with the great Book in her
lap.

"Can you read, Elizabeth?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Hilary, give her a bible."

And so Elizabeth followed, guided by her not too clean finger, the
words, read in that soft, low voice, somewhere out of the New
Testament; words simple enough for the comprehension of a child or a
heathen. The "South Sea Islander," as Ascott persisted in calling
her, then, doing as the family did, turned round to kneel down; but
in her confusion she knocked over a chair, causing Miss Leaf to wait
a minute till reverent silence was restored. Elizabeth knelt, with
her eyes fixed on the wall: it was a green paper, patterned with
bunches of nuts. How far she listened, or how much she understood, it
was impossible to say; but her manner was decent and decorous.

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against
us." Unconsciously Miss Leaf's gentle voice rested on these words, so
needed in the daily life of every human being, and especially of
every family. Was she the only one who thought of "poor Selina?"

They all rose from their knees, and Hilary out the Bible away. The
little servant "hung about," apparently uncertain what was next to be
done, or what was expected of her to do. Hilary touched her sister.

"Yes," said Miss Leaf. recollecting herself, and assuming the due
authority, "it is quite time for all the family to be in bed. Take
care of your candle, and mind and be up at six tomorrow morning."

This was addressed to the new maiden, who dropped a courtesy, and
said, almost cheerfully, "Yes, ma'am."

"Very well, Good night. Elizabeth."

And following Miss Leaf's example, the other two, even Ascott, said
civilly and kindly, "Good night, Elizabeth."



CHAPTER III.

The Christmas holidays ended, and Ascott left for London. It was the
greatest household change the Misses Leaf had known for years, and
they missed him sorely. Ascott was not exactly a lovable boy, and
yet, after the fashion of womankind, his aunts were both fond and
proud of him; fond, in their childless old maidenhood, of any sort of
nephew, and proud, unconsciously, that the said nephew was a big
fellow, who could look over all their heads, besides being handsome
and pleasant mannered, and though not clever enough to set the Thames
on fire, still sufficiently bright to make them hope that in his
future the family star might again rise.

There was something pathetic in these three women's idealization of
him--even Selina's who though quarrelling with him to his face always
praised him behind his back,--that great, good-looking, lazy lad;
who, every body else saw clearly enough, thought more of his own
noble self than of all his aunts put together.

The only person he stood in awe of was Mr. Lyon--for whom he always
protested unbounded respect and admiration. How far Robert Lyon liked
Ascott even Hilary could never quite find out; but he was always very
kind to him.

There was one person in the house who, strange to say, did not
succumb to the all-dominating youth. From the very first there was a
smouldering feud between him and Elizabeth. Whether she overheard,
and slowly began to comprehend his mocking gibes about the "South Sea
Islander," or whether her sullen and dogged spirit resisted the first
attempts the lad made to "put upon her"--as he did upon his aunts, in
small daily tyrannies--was never found out; but certainly Ascott, the
general favorite, found little favor with the new servant. She never
answered when he "hollo'd" for her; she resisted blacking his boots
more than once a day; and she obstinately cleared the kitchen
fire-place of his "messes," as she ignominiously termed various pots
and pans belonging to what he called his "medical studies."

Although the war was passive rather than aggressive, and sometimes a
source of private amusement to the aunts, still, on the whole, it was
a relief when the exciting cause of it departed; his new and most
gentlemanly port manteau being carried down stairs by Elizabeth
herself, of her own accord, with an air of cheerful alacrity, foreign
to her mien for some weeks past, and which, even in the midst of the
dolorous parting, amused Hilary extremely.

"I think that girl is a character," she said afterward to Johanna.
"Any how she has curiously strong likes and dislikes."

"You may say that, my dear; for she brightens up whenever she looks
at you."

"Does she? Oh, that must be because I have most to do with her. It is
wonderful how friendly one gets over sauce pans and brooms; and what
reverence one inspires in the domestic mind when one really knows how
to make a bed or a pudding."

"How I wish you had to do neither!" sighed Johanna, looking fondly at
the bright face and light little figure that was flitting about
putting the school-room to rights before the pupils came in.

"Nonsense--I don't wish any such thing. Doing it makes me not a whit
less charming and lovely." She often applied these adjectives to
herself, with the most perfect conviction that she was uttering a
fiction patent to every body. I must be very juvenile also, for I'm
certain the fellow-passenger at the station to-day took me for
Ascott's sweetheart. When we were saying good by an old gentleman who
sat next him was particularly sympathetic, and you should have seen
how indignantly Ascott replied, "It's only my aunt!"

Miss Leaf laughed, and the shadow vanished from her face, as Hilary
had meant it should. She only said, caressing her, "Well, my pet,
never mind. I hope you will have a real sweetheart some day."

"I'm in no hurry, thank you, Johanna."

But now was heard the knock after knock of the little boys and girls,
and there began that monotonous daily round of school labor, rising
from the simplicities of c, a, t, cat, and d, o, g, dog--to the
sublime heights of Pinnock and Lennie, Telemaque and Latin Delectus.
No loftier; Stowbury being well supplied with first class schools,
and having a vague impression that the Misses Leaf, born ladies and
not brought up as governesses, were not competent educators except of
very small children.

Which was true enough until lately. So Miss Leaf kept contentedly to
the c, a, t, cat, and d, o, g, dog, of the little butchers and
bakers, as Miss Selina, who taught only sewing, and came into the
school-room but little during the day, scornfully termed them. The
higher branches such as they were, she left gradually to Hilary, who,
of late, possibly out of sympathy with a friend of hers, had begun to
show an actual gift for teaching school.

It is a gift--all will allow; and chiefly those who have it not,
among which was poor Johanna Leaf. The admiring envy with which she
watched Hilary, moving briskly about from class to class, with a word
of praise to one and rebuke to another, keeping every one's attention
alive, spurring on the dull, controlling the unruly, and exercising
over every member in this little world that influence, at once the
strongest and most intangible and inexplicable--personal
influence--was only equaled by the way in which, at pauses in the
day's work, when it grew dull and monotonous or when the stupidity of
the children ruffled her own quick temper beyond endurance, Hilary
watched Johanna.

The time I am telling of now is long ago.

The Stowbury children, who were then little boys and girls, are now
fathers and mothers--doubtless a large proportion being decent
tradesfolk in Stowbury still; though, in this locomotive quarter,
many must have drifted elsewhere--where, Heaven knows. But not a few
of them may still call to mind Miss Leaf, who first taught them their
letters--sitting in her corner between the fire and the window, while
the blind was drawn down to keep out, first the light from her own
fading eyes, and, secondly, the distracting view of green fields and
trees from the youthful eyes by her side. They may remember still her
dark plain dress and her white apron, on which the primers, torn and
dirty, looked half ashamed to lie; and above all, her sweet face and
sweeter voice, never heard in any thing sharper than that grieved
tone which signified their being "naughty children." They may recall
her unwearied patience with the very dullest and most wayward of
them; her unfailing sympathy with every infantile pleasure and pain.
And I think they will acknowledge that whether she taught them much
or little--in this advancing age it might be thought little--Miss
Leaf taught them one thing--to love her. Which, as Ben Johnson said
of the Countess of Pembroke, was in itself a "liberal education."

Hilary, too. Often when Hilary's younger and more restless spirit
chafed against the monotony of her life; when, instead of wasting her
days in teaching small children, she would have liked to be learning,
learning--every day growing wiser and cleverer, and stretching out
into that busy, bright, active world of which Robert Lyon had told
her--then the sight of Johanna's meek face bent over those dirty
spelling books would at once rebuke and comfort her. She felt, after
all, that she would not mind working on forever, so long as Johanna
still sat there.

Nevertheless, that winter seemed to her very long--especially after
Ascott was gone. For Johanna, partly for money, and partly for
kindness, had added to her day's work four evenings a week when a
half educated mother of one of her little pupils came to be taught to
write a decent hand, and to keep the accounts of her shop. Upon which
Selina, highly indignant, had taken to spending her evenings in the
school room, interrupting Hilary's solitary studies there by many a
lamentation over the peaceful days when they all sat in the kitchen
together and kept no servant. For Selina was one of those who never
saw the bright side of any thing till it had gone by.

"I'm sure I don't know how we are to manage with Elizabeth. That
greedy--"

"And growing," suggested Hilary.

"I say that greedy girl eats as much as any two of us. And as for her
clothes--her mother does not keep her even decent."

"She would find it difficult upon three pounds a year."

"Hilary, how dare you contradict me! I am only stating a plain fact."

"And I another. But, indeed, I don't want to talk Selina."

"You never do except when you are wished to be silent; and then your
tongue goes like any race horse."

"Does it? Well, like Gilpin's,

    'It carries weight: it rides a race,
    'Tis for a thousand pound?'

--and I only wish it were. Heigh ho! if I could but earn a thousand
pounds!"

Selina was too vexed to reply and for five quiet minutes Hilary bent
over her Homer which Mr. Lyon had taken such pleasure in teaching
her, because he said, she learned it faster than any of his grammar
school boys. She had forgotten all domestic grievances in a vision of
Thetis and the water nymphs; and was repeating to herself, first in
the sonorous Greek and then in Pope's small but sweet English, that
catalogue of oceanic beauties ending with

    "Black Janira and Janassa fair,
    And Amatheia with her amber hair."

"Black, did you say? I'm sure she was as black as a chimney sweep all
to-day. And her pinafore"

"Her what? Oh, Elizabeth, you mean--"

"Her pinafore had three rents in it, which she never thinks of
mending though I gave her needles and thread myself a week ago. But
she does not know how to use them any more than a baby."

"Possibly, nobody ever taught her."

"Yes; she went for a year to the National School, she says, and
learned both marking and sewing."

"Perhaps she has never practiced them since. She could hardly have
had time, with all the little Hands to look after, as her mother says
she did. All the better for us. It makes her wonderfully patient with
our troublesome brats. It was only to day, when that horrid little
Jacky Smith hurt himself so, that I saw Elizabeth take him into the
kitchen, wash his face and hands, and cuddle him up and comfort him,
quite motherly. Her forte is certainly children."

"You always find something to say for her."

"I should be ashamed if I could not find something to say for any
body who is always abused."

Another pause--and then Selina returned to the charge.

"Have you ever observed, my dear, the extraordinary way she has of
fastening, or rather, not fastening her gown behind? She just hooks
it together at the top and at the waist, while between there is a--"

"Hiatus valde deflendus. Oh dear me! what shall I do? Selina, how can
I help it if a girl of fifteen years old is not a paragon of
perfection? as of course we all are, if we only could find it out."

And Hilary, in despair, rose to carry her candle and books into the
chilly but quiet bedroom, biting her lips the while lest she should
be tempted to say something which Selina called "impertinent," which
perhaps it was, from a younger sister to an elder. I do not set
Hilary up as a perfect character. Through sorrow only do people go on
to perfection; and sorrow, in its true meaning, the cherished girl
had never known.

But that night, talking to Johanna before they went to sleep--they
had always slept together since the time when the elder sister used
to walk the room of nights with that pulling, motherless infant in
her arms--Hilary anxiously started the question of the little
servant.

"I am afraid I vexed Selina greatly about her to-night, and yet what
can one do? Selina is so very unjust--always expecting
impossibilities. She would like to have Elizabeth at once a first
rate cook, a finished house-maid, and an attentive lady's maid, and
all without being taught! She gives her things to do, neither waiting
to see if they are comprehended by her, nor showing her how to do
them. Of course the girl stands gaping and staring and does not do
them, or does them so badly, that she gets a thorough scolding."

"Is she very stupid, do you think?" asked Johanna, in unconscious
appeal to her pet's stronger judgment.

"No, I don't. Far from stupid; only very ignorant, and--you would
hardly believe it--very nervous. Selina frightens her. She gets on
extremely well with me."

"Any one would, my dear. That is," added the conscientious elder
sister, still afraid of making the "child" vain, "any one whom you
took pain with. But do you think you can ever make any thing out of
Elizabeth? Her month ends to-morrow. Shall we let her go?"

"And perhaps get in her place a story-teller--a tale-bearer--even a
thief. No, no; let us

    'Rather bear the ills we have,
    Than fly to others that we know not of;'

and a thief would be worse than even a South Sea Islander."

"Oh yes, my dear," said Johanna, with a shiver.

"By-the-by, the first step in the civilization of the Polynesians was
giving them clothes. And I have heard say that crime and rags often
go together; that a man unconsciously feels that he owes something to
himself and society in the way of virtue when he has a clean face and
clean shirt, and a decent coat on. Suppose we try the experiment of
dressing Elizabeth. How many old gowns have we?"

The number was few. Nothing in the Leaf family was ever cast off till
its very last extremity of decay; the talent that

    "Gars auld claes look amaist as gude's the new"

being specially possessed by Hilary. She counted over her own
wardrobe and Johanna's but found nothing that could be spared.

"Yes, my love, there is one thing. You certainly shall never put on
that old brown merino again; though you have laid it so carefully by,
as if you meant it to come out as fresh as ever next winter. No,
Hilary, you must have a new gown, and you must give Elizabeth your
brown merino."

Hilary laughed, and replied not.

Now it might be a pathetic indication of a girl who had very few
clothes, but Hilary had a superstitious weakness concerning
hers.--Every dress had its own peculiar chronicle of the scenes where
it had been, the enjoyments she had shared in it. Particular dresses
were special memorials of her loves, her pleasures, her little
passing pains; as long as a bit remained of the poor old fabric the
sight of it recalled them all.

This brown merino--in which she had sat two whole winters over her
Greek and Latin by Robert Lyon's side, which he had once stopped to
touch and notice, saying what a pretty color it was, and how he liked
soft-feeling dresses for women--to cut up this old brown merino
seemed to hurt her so she could almost have cried.

Yet what would Johanna think if the refused? And there was Elizabeth
absolutely in want of clothes. "I must be growing very wicked,"
thought poor Hilary.

She lay a good while silent in the dark, while Johanna planned and
replanned--calculating how, even with the addition of an old cape of
her own, which was out of the same piece, this hapless gown could be
made to fit the gaunt frame of Elizabeth Hand.--Her poor kindly brain
was in the last extremity of muddle, when Hilary, with a desperate
effort, dashed in to the rescue, and soon made all clear, contriving
body, skirt, sleeves and all.

"You have the best head in the world, my love. I don't know whatever
I should do without you."

"Luckily you are never likely to be tried. So give me a kiss; and
good night, Johanna."

I misdoubt many will say I am writing about small, ridiculously
small, things. Yet is not the whole of life made up of
infinitesimally small things? And in its strange and solemn mosaic,
the full pattern of which we never see clearly till looking back on
it from far away, dare we say of any thing which the hand of Eternal
Wisdom has put together, that it is too common or too small?



CHAPTER IV.

While her anxious mistresses were thus talking her over the servant
lay on her humble bed and slept. They knew she did, for they heard
her heavy breathing through the thin partition wall. Whether, as
Hilary suggested, she was too ignorant to notice the days of the
week, or month, or, as Selina thought, too stupid to care for any
thing beyond eating, drinking, and sleeping. Elizabeth manifested no
anxiety about herself or her destiny.

She went about her work just as usual; a little quicker and readier,
now she was becoming familiarized to it; but she said nothing. She
was undoubtedly a girl of silent and undemonstrative nature.

"Sometimes still waters run deep," said Miss Hilary.

"Nevertheless. there are such things as canals," replied Johanna.
"When do you mean to have your little talk with her?"

Hilary did not know. She was sitting, rather more tired than usual,
by the school-room fire, the little people having just departed for
their Saturday half-holiday. Before clearing off the debris which
they always left behind, she stood a minute at the window, refreshing
her eyes with the green field opposite, and the far-away wood,
crowned by a dim white monument, visible in fair weather, on which
those bright brown eyes had a trick of lingering, even in the middle
of school hours. For the wood and the hill beyond belonged to a
nobleman's "show" estate, five miles off--the only bit of real
landscape beauty that Hilary had ever beheld. There, during the last
holidays but one, she, her sisters, her nephew, and, by his own
special request, Mr. Lyon, had spent a whole long, merry, midsummer
day. She wondered whether such a day would ever come again!

But spring was coming again, any how; the field looked smiling and
green, specked here and there with white dots which, she opined.
might possibly be daisies. She half wished she was not too old and
dignified to dart across the road, leap the sunk fence, and run to
see.

"I think, Johanna--Hark, what can that be?"

For at this instant somebody came tearing down the stairs, opened the
front door, and did--exactly what Hilary had just been wishing to do.

"It's Elizabeth, without her bonnet or shawl, with something white
flying behind her. How she is dashing across the field! What can she
be after? Just look."

But loud screams from Selina's room, the front, one, where she had
been lying in bed all morning, quite obliterated the little servant
from their minds. The two sisters ran hastily up stairs.

Selina was sitting up, in undisguised terror and agitation.

"Stop her! Hold her! I'm sure she has gone mad. Lock the door, or
she'll come back and murder us all."

"Who? Elizabeth! Was she here? What has been the matter?"

But it was some time before they could make out any thing. At last
they gathered that Elizabeth had been waiting upon Miss Selina,
putting vinegar cloths on her head, and doing various things about
the room. "She is very handy when one is ill." even Selina allowed.

"And I assure you I was talking most kindly to her; about the duties
of her position, and how she ought to dress better, and be more civil
behaved, or else she never could except to keep any place. And she
stood in her usual sulky way of listening, never answering a
word--with her back to me, staring right out of window. And I had
just said, Elizabeth, my girl'--indeed, Hilary, I was talking to her
in my very kindest way--"

"I've no doubt of it--but do get on."

"When she suddenly turned round, snatched a clean towel from a chair
back, and another from my head--actually from my very head,
Johanna--and out she ran. I called after her, but she took no more
notice than if I had been a stone. And she left the door wide
open--blowing upon me. Oh, dear; she has given me my death of cold."
And Selina broke out into piteous complainings.

Her elder sister soothed her as well as she could, while Hilary ran
down to the front door and looked, and enquired every where for
Elizabeth. She was not to be seen on field or road; and along that
quiet terrace not a soul had even perceived her quit the house.

"It's a very odd thing." said Hilary, returning. "What can have come
over the girl? You are sure, Selina, that you said nothing which--"

"Now I know what you are going to say, You are going to blame me.
Whatever happens in this house you always blame me. And perhaps
you're right. Perhaps I am a nuisance--a burden--would be far better
dead and buried. I wish I were!"

When Selina took this tack, of course her sisters were silenced. They
quited her a little, and then went down and searched the house all
over.

All was in order; at least in as much order as was to be expected the
hour before dinner. The bowl of half-peeled potatoes stood on the
back kitchen "sink;" the roast was down before the fire; the knives
were ready for cleaning. Evidently Elizabeth flight had not been
premeditated.

"It's all nonsense about her going mad. She has as sound a head as I
have," said Hilary to Johanna, who began to look seriously uneasy.
"She might have run away in a fit of passion, certainly; and yet that
is improbable; her temper is more sullen than furious. And having no
lack of common sense she must know that doing a thing like this is
enough to make her lose her place at once."

"Yes," said Johanna, mournfully, "I'm afraid after this she must go."

"Wait and see what she has to say for herself." pleaded Hilary. "She
will surely be back in two or three minutes."

But she was not, nor even in two or three hours.

Her mistresses' annoyance became displeasure, and that again subsided
into serious apprehension. Even Selina ceased talking over and over
the incident which gave the sole information to be arrived at; rose,
dressed, and came down to the kitchen. There, after long and anxious
consultation, Hilary, observing that "Somebody had better do
something," began to prepare the dinner as in pre-Elizabethan days;
but the three ladies' appetites were small.

About three in the afternoon, Hilary, giving utterance to the hidden
alarm of all, said--

"I think, sisters, I had better go down as quickly as I can to Mrs.
Hand's."

This agreed, she stood consulting with Johanna as to what could
possibly be said to the mother in case that unfortunate child had not
gone home, when the kitchen door opened, and the culprit appeared.

Not, however, with the least look of a culprit. Hot she was, and
breathless; and with her hair down about her ears, and her apron
rolled up round her waist, presented a most forlorn and untidy
aspect; but her eyes were bright, and her countenance glowing.

She took a towel from under her arm.--"There's one on 'em--and you'll
get back--the other--when it's washed."

Having blurted out this, she leaned against the wall, trying to
recover her breath.

"Elizabeth! Where have you been? How dared you go? Your behavior is
disgraceful--most disgraceful, I say. Johanna, why don't you speak to
your servant?" (When, for remissness in reproving others, the elder
sister herself fell under reproof, it was always emphatically "your
sister--"your nephew"--"your servant.")

But, for once, Miss Selina's sharp voice failed to bring the
customary sullen look to Elizabeth's face, and when Miss Leaf, in her
milder tones, asked where she had been, she answered unhesitatingly--

"I've been down the town."

"Down the town!" the three ladies cried, in one chorus of
astonishment.

"I've been as quick as I could, missis. I runned all the way there
and back; but it was a good step, and he was some'at heavy, though he
is but a little'un,"

"He! who on earth is he?"

"Deary me! I never thought of axing; but his mother lives in Hall
street. Somebody saw me carrying him to the doctor, and went and told
her. Oh! he was welly killed, Miss Leaf--the doctor said so; but
he'll do now, and you'll get your towel clean washed tomorrow."

While Elizabeth spoke so incoherently, and with such unwonted energy
and excitement, Johanna looked as if she thought her sister's fears
were true, and the girl had really gone mad; but Hilary's quicker
perceptions jumped at a different conclusion.

"Quiet yourself, Elizabeth," said she, taking a firm hold of her
shoulder, and making her sit down, when the rolled-up apron dropped,
and showed itself all covered with blood spots. Selina screamed
outright.

Then Elizabeth seemed to become half conscious that she had done
something blamable, or was at least a suspected character. Her warmth
of manner faded; the sullen cloud of dogged resistance to authority
was rising in her poor dirty face, when Hilary, beginning with, "Now,
we are not going to scold you; but we must hear the reason of this,"
contrived by adroit questions, and not a few of them, to elicit the
whole story.

It appeared that, while standing at Miss Selina's window, Elizabeth
had watched three little boys, apparently engaged in a very favorite
amusement of little boys in that field, going quickly behind a horse,
and pulling out the longest and handsomest hairs in his tail to make
fishing lines of. She saw the animal give a kick, and two of the boys
ran away; the other did not stir. For a minute or so she noticed a
black lump lying in the grass; then, with the quick instinct for
which nobody had ever given her credit, she guessed what had
happened, and did immediately the wisest and only thing possible
under the circumstances, namely, to snatch up a towel, run across the
field, bind up the child's head as well as she could, and carry it,
bleeding and insensible, to the nearest doctor, who lived nearly a
mile off.

She did not tell--and they only found it out afterward--how she had
held the boy while under the doctor's hands, the skull being so badly
fractured that the frightened mother fainted at the sight; how she
had finally carried him home, and left him comfortably settled in
bed, his senses returned, and his life saved.

"Ay, my arms do ache above a bit," she said, in answer to Miss Leaf's
questions. "He wasn't quite a baby--nigh upon twelve, I reckon; but
then he was very small of his age. And he looked just as if he was
dead--and he bled so."

Here, just for a second or two, the color left the big girl's lips,
and she trembled a little. Miss Leaf went to the kitchen cupboard,
and took out their only bottle of wine--administered in rare doses,
exclusively as medicine.

"Drink this, Elizabeth; and then go and wash your face and eat your
dinner. We will talk to you by-and-by."

Elizabeth looked up with a long, wistfull stare of intense surprise,
and then added, "Have I done any thing wrong, missis?"

"I did not say so. But drink this; and don't talk, child."

She was obeyed. By-and-by Elizabeth disappeared into the back
kitchen, emerged thence with a clean face, hands, and apron; and went
about her afternoon business as if nothing had happened.

Her mistresses' threatened "talk" with her never came about. What,
indeed, could they say? No doubt the little servant had broken the
strict letter of domestic law by running off in that highly eccentric
and inconvenient way; but, as Hilary tried to explain by a series of
most ingenious ratiocinations, she had fulfilled, in the spirit of
it, the very highest law--that of charity. She had also shown prompt
courage, decision, practical and prudent forethought, and above all,
entire self-forgetfulness.

"And I should like to know," said Miss Hilary, warming with her
subject, "if those are not the very qualities that go to constitute a
hero."

"But we don't want a hero; we want a maid-of-all-work."

"I'll tell you what we want, Selina. We want a woman; that is, a girl
with the making of a good woman in her. If we can find that, all the
rest will follow. For my part, I would rather take this child, rough
as she is, but with her truthfulness, conscientiousness, kindliness
of heart, and evident capability of both self-control and
self-devotedness, than the most finished servant we could find. My
advice is--keep her."

This settled the matter, since it was a curious fact that the
"advice" of the youngest Miss Leaf was, whether they knew it or not,
almost equivalent to a family ukase.

When Elizabeth had brought in the tea-things, which she did with
especial care, apparently wishing to blot out the memory of the
morning's escapade by astonishingly good behavior for the rest of the
day, Miss Leaf called her, and asked if she knew that her month of
trial ended this day?

"Yes, ma'am," with the strict normal courtesy, something between that
of the old-world family domestic--as her mother might have been to
the Miss Elizabeth Something she was named after--and the abrupt
"dip" of the modern National school girl; which constituted Elizabeth
Hand's sole experience of manners.

"If you had not been absent I should have gone to speak with your
mother to-day. Indeed Miss Hilary was going when you came in; but it
would have been with a very different intention from what we had in
the morning. However, that is not likely to happen again."

"Eh?" said Elizabeth, inquiringly.

Miss Leaf hesitated, and looked uneasily at her two sisters. It was
always a trial to her shy nature to find herself the mouth-piece of
the family; and this same shyness made it still more difficult to
break through the stiff barriers which seemed to rise up between her,
a gentlewoman well on in years, and this coarse working girl. She
felt, as she often complained, that with the-kindest intentions, she
did not quite know how to talk to Elizabeth.

"My sister means," said Hilary, "that as we are not likely to have
little boys half killed in the field every day, she trusts you will
not be running away again as you did this morning. She feels sure
that you would not do such a thing, putting us all to so great
annoyance and uneasiness, for any less cause than such as happened
to-day. You promise that?"

"Yes, Miss Hilary."

"Then we quite forgive you as regards ourselves. Nay"--feeling in
spite of Selina's warning nudge, that she had hardly been kind
enough--"we rather praise than blame you, Elizabeth. And if you like
to stay with us and will do your best to improve, we are willing to
keep you as our servant."

"Thank you ma'am. Thank you, Miss Hilary. Yes, I'll stop."

She said no more--but sighed a great sigh, as if her mind were
relieved--("So," thought Hilary, "she was not so indifferent to us as
we imagined")--and bustled back into her kitchen.

"Now for the clothing of her," observed Miss Leaf, also looking much
relieved that the decision was over. "You know what we agreed upon;
and there is certainly no time to be lost. Hilary, my dear, suppose
you bring down your brown merino?" Hilary went without a word.

People who inhabit the same house, eat, sit, and sleep
together--loving one another and sympathizing with one another, ever
so deeply and dearly--nevertheless inevitably have momentary seasons
when the intense solitude in which we all live, and must expect ever
to live, at the depth of our being, forces itself painfully upon the
heart. Johanna must have had many such seasons when Hilary was a
child; Hilary had one now.

She unfolded the old frock, and took out of its pocket, a hiding
place at once little likely to be searched, and harmless if
discovered, a poor little memento of that happy midsummer day.

    "Dear Miss Hilary. To-morrow, then, I shall come.
        Yours truly, Robert Lyon."

The only scrap of note she had ever received; he always wrote to
Johanna; as regularly as ever, or more so, now Ascott was gone; but
only to Johanna. She read over the two lines, wondered where she
should keep them now that Johanna might not notice them; and then
recoiled, as if the secret were a wrong to that dear sister who loved
her so well.

"But nothing makes me love her less; nothing ever could. She thinks
me quite happy, as I am; and yet--oh, if I did not miss him so!"

And the aching, aching want which sometimes came over began again.
Let us not blame her. God made all our human needs. God made love.
Not merely affection but actual love--the necessity to seek and find
out some other being, not another but the complement of one's
self--the "other half," who brings rest and strength for weakness,
sympathy in aspiration, and tenderness for tenderness, as no other
person ever can. Perhaps, even in marriage, this love is seldom
found, and it is possible in all lives to do without it. Johanna had
done so. But then she had been young, and was now growing old; and
Hilary was only twenty, with a long life before her. Poor child, let
us not blame her!

She was not in the least sentimental, her natural disposition
inclining her to be more than cheerful, actually gay. She soon
recovered herself, and when, a short time after, she stood, scissors
in hand, demonstrating how very easy it was to make something out of
nothing, her sisters never suspected how very near tears had lately
been to those bright eyes, which were always the sunshine of the
house.

"You are giving yourself a world of trouble," said Selina. "If I were
you, I would just make over the dress to Elizabeth, and let her do
what she could with it."

"My dear, I always find I give myself twice the trouble by expecting
people to do what they can't do. I have to do it myself afterward.
Prove how a child who can't even handle a needle and thread is
competent to make a gown for herself, and I shall be most happy to
secede in her favor."

"Nay," put in the eldest sister, afraid of a collision of words,
"Selina is right; if you do not teach Elizabeth to make her own gowns
how can she learn?"

"Johanna, you are the brilliantest of women! and you know you don't
like the parlor littered with rags and cuttings. You wish to get rid
of me for the evening? Well, I'll go! Hand me the work basket and the
bundle, and I'll give my first lesson in dress making to our South
Sea Islander."

But Fate stood in the way of Miss Hilary's good intentions.

She found Elizabeth not as was her wont, always busy, over the
perpetual toil of those who have not yet learned the mysterious art
of arrangement and order, nor, as sometimes, hanging sleepily over
the kitchen fire, waiting for bedtime; but actually sitting, sitting
down at the table. Her candle was flaring on one side of her; on the
other was the school room inkstand, a scrap of waste paper, and a pen
But she was not writing; she sat with her head on her hands, in an
attitude of disconsolate idleness, so absorbed that she seemed not to
hear Hilary's approach.

"I did not know you could write, Elizabeth."

"No more I can," was the answer, in the most doleful of voices. "It
bean't no good. I've forgotten all about it. T' letters wonna join."

"Let me look at them." And Hilary tried to contemplate gravely the
scrawled and blotted page, which looked very much as if a large
spider had walked into the ink bottle, and then walked out again on a
tour of investigation. "What did you want to write?" asked she,
suddenly.

Elizabeth blushed violently. "It was the woman, Mrs. Cliffe, t'
little lad's mother, you know; she wanted somebody to write to her
husband as is at work at Birmingham, and I said I would. I'd learned
at the National, but I've forgotten it all. I'm just as Miss Selina
says--I'm good for nowt."

"Come, come, never fret;" for there was a sort of choke in the girl's
voice. "There's many a good person who never learned to write. But I
don't see why you should not learn. Shall I teach you?"

Utter amazement, beaming gratitude, succeeded one another, plain as
light, in Elizabeth's eyes, but she only said, "Thank you, Miss
Hilary."

"Very well. I have brought you an old gown of mine, and was going to
show you how to make it up for yourself, but I'll look over your
writing instead. Sit down and let me see what you can do."

In a state of nervous trepidation, pitiful to behold, Elizabeth took
the pen. Terrible scratches resulted; blots innumerable; and one
fatal deluge of ink, which startled from their seats both mistress
and maid, and made Hilary thankful that she had taken off her better
gown for a common one, as, with sad thriftiness, the Misses Leaf
always did of evenings.

When Elizabeth saw the mischief she had done, her contrition and
humility were unbounded. "No, Miss Hilary, you can't make nothin' of
me. I be too stupid, I'll give it up."

"Nonsense!" And the bright active little lady looked steadily into
the heavy face of this undeveloped girl, half child, half woman,
until some of her own spirit seemed to be reflected there. Whether
the excitement of the morning had roused her, or her mistresses'
kindness had touched Elizabeth's heart, and--as in most women--the
heart was the key to the intellect; or whether the gradual daily
influence of her changed life during the last month had been taking
effect, now for the first time to appear--certain it is that Hilary
had never perceived before what an extremely intelligent face it was;
what good sense was indicated in the well shaped head and forehead;
what tenderness and feeling in the deep-set grey eyes.

"Nonsense," repeated she. "Never give up any thing; I never would.
We'll try a different plan, and begin from the beginning, as I do
with my little scholars. Wait, while I fetch a copy book out of the
parlor press."

She highly amused her sisters with a description of what she called
her "newly instituted Polynesian Academy;" returned, and set to work
to guide the rough, coarse hand through the mysteries of calligraphy.

To say this was an easy task would not be true. Nature's own laws and
limits make the using of faculties which have been unused for
generations very difficult at first. To suppose that a working man,
the son of working men, who applies himself to study, does it with as
little trouble as your upper-class children, who have been
unconsciously undergoing education ever since the cradle, is a great
mistake. All honor, therefore, to those who do attempt, and to ever
so small a degree succeed in, the best and wisest culture of all,
self-culture.

Of this honor Elizabeth deserved her share.

"She is stupid enough," Hilary confessed, after the lesson was over;
"but there is a dogged perseverance about the girl which I actually
admire. She blots her fingers, her nose, her apron, but she never
gives in; and she sticks to the grand principle of one thing at a
time. I think she did two whole pages of a's, and really performed
them satisfactorily, before she asked to go on to b's. Yes! I believe
she will do."

"I hope she will do her work, any how," said Selina, breaking into
the conversation rather crossly. "I'm sure I don't see the good of
wasting time over teaching Elizabeth to write, when there's so much
to be done in the house by one and all of us, from Monday morning
till Saturday night."

"Ay, that's it," answered Hilary, meditatively. "I don't see how I
ever shall get time to teach her, and she is so tired of nights when
the work is all done; she'll be dropping asleep with the pen in her
hand--I have done it myself before now."

Ay, in those days when, trying so hard to "improve her mind," and
make herself a little more equal and companionable to another mind
she knew, she had, after her daily house cares and her six hours of
school teaching, attempted at nine P. M. to begin close study on her
own account. And though with her strong will she succeeded tolerably,
still, as she told Johanna, she could well understand how slow was
the, "march of intellect" (a phrase which had just then come up)
among day laborers and the like; and how difficult it was for these
Mechanics Institutions, which were now talked so much of, to put any
new ideas into the poor tired heads, rendered sluggish and stupid
with hard bodily labor, "Suppose I were to hold my Polynesian Academy
on a Sunday?" and she looked inquiringly at her sisters, especially
Johanna.

Now the Misses Leaf were old fashioned country folk, who lived before
the words Sabbatarian and un-Sabbatarian had ever got into the
English language. They simply "remembered the Sabbath day to keep it
holy;" they arranged so as to make it for all the household a day of
rest: and they went regularly to church once--sometimes Selina and
Hilary went twice. For the intervening hours, their usual custom was
to take an afternoon walk in the fields; begun chiefly for Ascott's
sake, to keep the lad out of mischief, and put into his mind better
thoughts than he was likely to get from his favorite Sunday
recreation of sitting on the wall throwing stones. After he left for
London there was Elizabeth to be thought of; and they decided that
the best Sabbath duty for the little servant was to go and see her
mother. So they gave her every Sunday afternoon free; only requiring
that she should be at home punctually after church time, at eight
o'clock. But from thence till bedtime was a blank two hours, which,
Hilary had noticed, Elizabeth not infrequently spent in dozing over
the fire.

"And I wonder," said she, giving the end of her long meditation out
loud, "whether going to sleep is not as much Sabbath breaking as
learning to write? What do you say, Johanna?"

Johanna, simple, God-fearing woman as she was, to whom faith and love
came as natural as the breath she drew, had never perplexed herself
with the question. She only smiled acquiescence. But Selina was
greatly shocked. Teaching to write on a Sunday! Bringing the week day
work into the day of rest! Doing one's own pleasure on the holy day!
She thought it exceedingly wrong. Such a thing had never been heard
of in their house. Whatever else might be said of them, the Leafs
were always a respectable family as to keeping Sunday. Nobody could
say that even poor Henry--

But here Selina's torrent of words stopped.

When conversation revived, Hilary, who had been at first half annoyed
and half amused, resumed her point seriously.

"I might say that writing isn't Elizabeth's week-day work, and that
teaching her is not exactly doing my own pleasure; but I won't creep
out of the argument by a quibble. The question is, What is keeping
the Sabbath day 'holy?' I say--and I stick to my opinion--that it is
by making it a day of worship, a rest day--a cheerful and happy
day--and by doing as much good in it as we can. And therefore I mean
to teach Elizabeth on a Sunday."

"She'll never understand it. She'll consider it work."

"And if she did, work is a more religious thing than idleness. I am
sure I often feel that, of the two, I should be less sinful in
digging potatoes in my garden, or sitting mending stockings in my
parlor, than in keeping Sunday as some people do--going to church
genteelly in my best clothes, eating a huge Sunday dinner, and then
nodding over a good book, or taking a regular Sunday nap till
bedtime."

"Hush, child!" said Johanna, reprovingly; for Hilary's cheeks were
red, and her voice angry. She was taking the hot, youthful part which
in its hatred of forms and shams, sometimes leads--and not seldom led
poor Hilary--a little too far on the other side. "I think," Miss Leaf
added, "that our business is with ourselves, and not with our
neighbors. Let us keep the Sabbath according to our conscience. Only,
I would take care never to do any thing which jarred against my
neighbor's feelings. I would, like Paul, 'eat no meat while the world
standeth' rather than 'make my brother to offend.' "

Hilary looked in her sister's sweet, calm face, and the anger died
out of her own.

"Shall I give up my academy?" she said, softly.

"No, my love. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, and
teaching a poor ignorant girl to write is an absolute good. Make her
understand that, and you need not be afraid of any harm ensuing."

"You never will make her understand," said Selina, sullenly. "She is
only a servant."

"Nevertheless I'll try."

Hilary could not tell how far she succeeded in simplifying to the
young servant's comprehension this great question, involving so many
points--such as the following of the spirit and the letter, the law
of duty and the compulsion of love, which, as she spoke, seemed
opening out so widely and awfully that she herself involuntarily
shrank from it, and wondered that poor finite creatures should, ever
presume to squabble about it at all.

But one thing the girl did understand--her young mistress's kindness.
She stood watching the delicate little hand that had so patiently
guided hers, and now wrote copy after copy for her future benefit. At
last she said--

"You're taking a deal o' trouble wi' a poor wench, and it's very kind
in a lady like you."

Miss Hilary was puzzled what answer to make. True enough it was
"kind," and she was "a lady;" and between her and Mrs. Hand's rough
daughter was an unmistakable difference and distinction. That
Elizabeth perceived it was proved by her growing respectfulness of
manner--the more respectful, it seemed, the more she herself
improved. Yet Hilary could not bear to make her feel more sharply
than was unavoidable the great gulf that lies and ever must lie--not
so much between mistress and servant, in their abstract
relation--(and yet that is right, for the relation and authority are
ordained of God)--but between the educated and the ignorant, the
coarse and the refined.

"Well," she said, after a pause of consideration, "you always have it
in your power to repay my 'kindness,' as you call it. The cleverer
you become the more useful you will be to me; and the more good you
grow the better I shall like you."

Elizabeth smiled--that wonderfully bright, sudden smile which seemed
to cover over all her plainness of feature.

"Once upon a time," Hilary resumed by-and-by, "when England was very
different from what it is now, English ladies used to have what they
call 'bower-women,' whom they took as girls, and brought up in their
service; teaching them all sorts of things--cooking, sewing,
spinning, singing, and, probably, except that the ladies of that time
were very ill-educated themselves, to read and write also. They used
to spend part of every day among their bower-women; and as people can
only enjoy the company of those with whom they have some sympathies
in common, we must conclude that--"

Here Hilary stopped, recollecting she must be discoursing miles above
the head of her little bower-maiden, and that, perhaps, after all,
her theory would be best kept to herself, and only demonstrated
practically.

"So, Elizabeth, if I spend a little of my time in teaching you, you
must grow up my faithful and attached bower-maiden?"

"I'll grow up any thing, Miss Hilary, if it's to please you," was the
answer, given with a smothered intensity that quite startled the
young mistress.

"I do believe the girl is getting fond of me," said she, half
touched, half laughing to Johanna. "If so, we shall get on. It is
just as with our school children, you know. We have to seize hold of
their hearts first, and their heads afterward. Now, Elizabeth's head
may be uncommonly tough, but I do believe she likes me."

Johanna smiled; but she would not for the world have said--never
encouraging the smallest vanity in her child--that she did not think
this circumstance so very remarkable.



CHAPTER V.

A household exclusively composed of women has its advantages and its
disadvantages. It is apt to become somewhat narrow in judgment,
morbid in feeling, absorbed in petty interests, and bounding its
vision of outside things to the small horizon which it sees from its
own fireside. But, on the other hand, by this fireside often abides a
settled peace and purity, a long-suffering, generous forbearance, and
an enduring affectionateness which the other sex can hardly
comprehend or credit. Men will not believe, what is nevertheless the
truth, that we can "stand alone" better than they can; that we can do
without them far easier, and with less deterioration of character,
than they can do without us; that we are better able to provide for
ourselves interests, duties, and pleasures; in short, strange as it
may appear, that we have more real self-sustaining independence than
they.

Of course, that the true life, the highest life, is that of man and
woman united, no one will be insane enough to deny; I am speaking of
the substitute for it, which poor humanity has so often to fall back
upon and make the best of--a better best very frequently than what
appears best in the eyes of the world. In truth, many a troubled,
care ridden, wealthy family, torn with dissensions, or frozen up in
splendid formalities, might have envied that quiet, humble, maiden
household of the Misses Leaf, where their only trial was poverty, and
their only grief the one which they knew the worst of, and had met
patiently for many a year--poor Selina's "way."

I doubt not it was good for Elizabeth Hand that her first place--the
home in which she received her first impressions--was this feminine
establishment, simple and regular, in which was neither waste nor
disorder allowed. Good, too, that while her mistresses' narrow means
restricted her in many things enjoyed by servants in richer families,
their interests, equally narrow, caused to be concentrated upon
herself a double measure of thought and care. She became absolutely
"one of the family," sharing in all its concerns. From its small and
few carnal luxuries--such as the cake, fruit, or pot of preserve,
votive offerings from pupils' parents--up to the newspaper and the
borrowed book, nothing was either literally or metaphorically
"locked" up from Elizabeth.

This grand question of locking up had been discussed in full conclave
the day after her month of preparation ended, the sisters taking
opposite sides, as might have been expected. Selina was for the
immediate introduction of a locksmith and a key basket.

"While she was only on trial, it did not so much signify; besides, if
it did, we had only buttons on the press doors; but now she is our
regular servant we ought to institute a regular system of authority.
How can she respect a family that never locks up any thing?"

"How can we respect a servant from whom we lock up every thing!"

"Respect a servant! What do you mean, Hilary?"

"I mean that if I did not respect a servant I would be very sorry to
keep her one day in any house of mine."

"Wait till you've a house of your own to keep, Miss," said Selina,
crossly. "I never heard such nonsense. Is that the way you mean to
behave to Elizabeth? leave every thing open to her--clothes, books,
money; trust her with all your secrets; treat her as your most
particular friend?"

"A girl of fifteen would be rather an inconvenient particular friend!
And I have happily few secrets to trust her with. But if I could not
trust her with our coffee, tea, sugar, and so on, and bring her up
from the very first in the habit of being trusted, I would recommend
her being sent away to-morrow."

"Very fine talking; and what do you say, Johanna?--if that is not an
unnecessary question after Hilary has given her opinion."

"I think," replied the elder sister, taking no notice of the long
familiar innuendo, "that in this case Hilary is right. How people
ought to manage in great houses I can not say; but in our small house
it will be easier and better not to alter our simple ways. Trusting
the girl--if she is a good girl--will only make her more trustworthy;
if she is bad, we shall the sooner find it out and let her go."

But Elizabeth did not go. A year passed; two years; her wages were
raised, and with them her domestic position. From a "girl" she was
converted into a regular servant; her pinafores gave place to
grown-up gowns and aprons; and her rough head, at Miss Selina's
incessant instance, was concealed by a cap--caps being considered by
that lady as the proper and indispensable badge of servant-hood.

To say that during her transition state, or even now that she had
reached the cap era, Elizabeth gave her mistresses no trouble, would
be stating a self-evident improbability. What young lass under
seventeen, of any rank, does not cause plenty of trouble to her
natural guardians? Who can "put an old head on young shoulders?" or
expect from girls at the most unformed and unsatisfactory period of
life that complete moral and mental discipline, that unfailing
self-control, that perfection of temper, and every thing else which,
of course, all mistresses always have?

I am obliged to confess that Elizabeth had a few--nay, not a
few--most obstinate faults; that no child tries its parents, no pupil
its school teachers, more than she tried her three mistresses at
intervals. She was often thoughtless and careless, brusque in her
manner, slovenly, in her dress; sometimes she was down-right "bad,"
filled full--as some of her elders and betters are, at all ages--with
absolute naughtiness; when she would sulk for hours and days
together, and make the whole family uncomfortable, as many a servant
can make many a family small as that of the Misses Leaf.

But still they never lost what Hilary termed their "respect" for
Elizabeth; they never found her out in a lie, a meanness, or an act
of deception or dishonesty. They took her faults as we must take the
surface faults of all connected with us--patiently rather than
resentfully, seeking to correct rather than to punish. And though
there were difficult elements in the household, such as their being
three mistresses to be obeyed the youngest mistress a thought too lax
and the second one undoubtedly too severe, still no girl could live
with these high-principled, much-enduring women without being
impressed with two things which the serving class are slowest to
understand--the dignity of poverty, and the beauty of that which is
the only effectual law to bring out good and restrain evil--the law
of loving-kindness.

Two fracas, however, must be chronicled, for after both, the girl's
dismissal hung on a thread. The first was when Mrs. Cliffe, mother of
Tommy Cliffe, who was nearly killed in the field, being discovered to
be an ill sort of woman, and in the habit of borrowing from Elizabeth
stray shillings, which were never returned, was forbidden the house,
Elizabeth resented it so fiercely that she sulked for a whole week
afterward.

The other and still more dangerous crisis in Elizabeth's destiny was
when a volume of Scott's novels, having been missing for some days,
was found hidden in her bed, and she lying awake reading it was thus
ignominiously discovered at eleven P. M. by Miss Selina, in
consequence of the gleam of candle light from under her door.

It was true neither of these errors were actual moral crimes. Hilary
even roused a volley of sharp words upon herself by declaring they
had their source in actual virtues; that a girl who would stint
herself of shillings, and hold resolutely to any liking she had, even
if unworthy, had a creditable amount of both self-denial and fidelity
in her disposition. Also that a tired out maid-of all-work, who was
kept awake of nights by her ardent appreciation of the "Heart of
Mid-Lothian," must possess a degree of both intellectual and moral
capacity which deserved cultivation rather than blame. And though
this surreptitious pursuit of literature under difficulties could not
of course be allowed, I grieve to say that Miss Hilary took every
opportunity of not only giving the young servant books to read, but
of talking to her about them. And also that a large proportion of
these books were--to Miss Selina's unmitigated horror--absolutely
fiction! stories, novels, even poetry--books that Hilary liked
herself--books that had built up in her own passionate dream of life;
wherein all the women were faithful, tender, heroic, self-devoted;
and all the men were--something not unlike Robert Lyon.

Did she do harm? Was it; as Selina and even Johanna said sometimes,
"dangerous" thus to put before Elizabeth a standard of ideal
perfection, a Quixotic notion of life--life in its full purpose
power, and beauty--such as otherwise never could have crossed the
mind of this working girl, born of parents who, though respectable
and worthy, were in no respect higher than the common working class?
I will not argue the point: I am not making Elizabeth a text for a
sermon; I am simply writing her story.

One thing was certain, that by degrees the young woman's faults
lessened; even that worst of them, the unmistakable bad temper, not
aggressive, but obstinately sullen, which made her and Miss Selina
sometimes not on speaking terms for a week together. But she simply
"sulked;" she never grumbled or was pert; and she did her work just
as usual--with a kind of dogged struggle not only against the
superior powers but against something within herself much harder to
fight with.

"She makes me feel more sorry for her than angry with her," Miss Leaf
would sometimes say, coming out of the kitchen with that grieved
face, which was the chief sign of displeasure her sweet nature ever
betrayed. "She will have up-hill work through life, like us all, and
more than many of us, poor child!"

But gradually Elizabeth, too, copying involuntarily the rest of the
family, learned to put up with Miss Selina; who, on her part, kept a
sort of armed neutrality. And once, when a short but sharp illness of
Johanna's shook the house from its even tenor, startled every body
out of their little tempers, and made them cling together and work
together in a sort of fear-stricken union against one common grief,
Selina allowed that they might have gone farther and fared worse on
the day they engaged Elizabeth.

After this illness of his Aunt. Ascott came home. It was his first
visit since he had gone to London: Mr. Ascott, he said, objected to
holidays. But now, from some unexplained feeling, Johanna in her
convalescence longed after the boy--no longer a boy, however, but
nearly twenty, and looking fully his age. How proud his aunts were to
march him up the town, and hear every body's congratulations on his
good looks and polished manners! It was the old story--old as the
hills! I do not pretend to invent any thing new. Women, especially
maiden aunts, will repeat the tale till the end of time, so long as
they have youths belonging to them on whom to expend their natural
tendency to clinging fondness, and ignorant, innocent hero worship.
The Misses Leaf--ay, even Selina, whose irritation against the
provoking boy was quite mollified by the elegant young man--were no
wiser than their neighbors.

But there was one person in the household who still obstinately
refused to bow the knee to Ascott. Whether it was, as psychologists
might explain, some instinctive polarity in their natures; or
whether, having once conceived a prejudice, Elizabeth held on to it
like grim death; still there was the same unspoken antagonism between
them. The young fellow took little notice of her except to observe
"that she hadn't grown any handsomer;' but Elizabeth watched him with
a keen severity that overlooked nothing, and resisted, with a passive
pertinacity that was quite irresistible, all his encroachments on the
family habits, all the little self-pleasing ways which Ascott had
been so used to of old, that neither he nor his aunts apparently
recognized them as selfish.

"I canna bear to see him" ("can not," suggested her mistress, who not
seeing any reason why Elizabeth should not speak the Queen's English
as well as herself, had instituted h's, and stopped a few more
glaring provincialisms.) "I cannot bear to see him, Miss Hilary,
lolling on the arm-chair, when Missis looks so tired and pale, and
sitting up o' nights, burning double fires, and going up stairs at
last with his boots on, and waking every body. I dunnot like it, I
say."

"You forget; Mr. Ascott has his studies. He must work for the next
examination."

"Why doesn't he get up of a morning then instead of lying in bed, and
keeping the break-fast about till ten? Why can't he do his learning
by daylight? Daylight's cheaper than mould candles, and a deal better
for the eyes."

Hilary was puzzled. A truth was a truth, and to try and make it out
otherwise, even for the dignity of the family, was something from
which her honest nature revolted. Besides, the sharp-sighted servant
would be the first to detect the inconsistency of one law of right
for the parlor and another for the kitchen. So she took-refuge in
silence and in the apple-pudding she was making.

But she resolved to seize the first opportunity of giving Ascott, by
way of novelty, the severest lecture that tongue of aunt could
bestow. And this chance occurred the same afternoon, when the other
two aunts had gone out to tea, to a house which Ascott voted "slow,"
and declined going to. She remained to make tea for him, and in the
mean time took him for a constitutional up and down the public walks
hard by.

Ascott listened at first very good humoredly; once or twice calling
her "a dear little prig," in his patronizing way--he was rather fond
of patronizing his Aunt Hilary. But when she seriously spoke of his
duties, as no longer a boy but a man, who ought now to assume the
true, manly right of thinking for and taking care of other people,
especially his aunts, Ascott began to flush up angrily.

"Now stop that, Aunt Hilary: I'll not have you coming Mr. Lyon over
me."

"What do you mean?"

For of late Ascott had said very little about Mr. Lyon--not half so
much as Mr. Lyon, in his steadily persistent letters to Miss Leaf,
told her about her nephew Ascott.

"I mean that I'll not be preached to like that by a woman. It's bad
enough to stand it from a man; but then Lyon's a real sharp fellow,
who knows the world, which women don't, Aunt Hilary. Besides, he
coaches me in my Latin and Greek; so I let him pitch into me now and
then. But I won't let you; so just stop it; will you."

Something new in Ascott's tone--speaking more of the resentful
fierceness of the man than the pettishness of the boy--frightened his
little aunt, and silenced her. By-and-by she took comfort from the
reflection that, as the lad had in his anger betrayed, he had beside
him in London a monitor whose preaching would be so much wiser and
more effectual than her own that she determined to say no more.

The rare hearing of Mr. Lyon's name--for, time and absence having
produced their natural effect, except when his letter came, he was
seldom talked about now--set Hilary thinking.

"Do you go to see him often?" she said, at last.

"Who? Mr. Lyon?" And Ascott, delighted' to escape into a fresh
subject, became quite cheerful and communicative. "Oh, bless you! He
wouldn't care for my going to him. He lives in a two-pair back, only
one room, 'which serves him for kitchen and parlor and all:' dines at
a cook shop for nine-pence a day, and makes his own porridge night
and morning. He told me so once, for he isn't a bit ashamed of it.
But he must be precious hard up sometimes. However, as he contrives
to keep a decent coat on his back, and pay his classes at the
University, and carry off the very first honors going there, nobody
asks any questions. That's the good of London life, Aunt Hilary,"
said the young fellow, drawing himself up with great wisdom. "Only
look like a gentleman, behave yourself as such, and nobody asks any
questions."

"Yes," acquiesced vaguely Aunt Hilary. And then her mind wandered
yearningly to the solitary student in the two-pair back. He might
labor and suffer; he might be ill; he might die, equally solitary,
and "nobody would ask any questions." This phase of London life let a
new light in upon her mind. The letters to Johanna had been chiefly
filled with whatever he thought would interest them. With his
characteristic Scotch reserve, he had said very little about himself,
except in the last, wherein he mentioned that he had "done pretty
well" at the college this term, and meant to "go in for more work"
immediately.

What this work entailed--how much more toil, how much more
poverty--Hilary knew not. Perhaps even his successes, which Ascott
went on to talk of, had less place in her thoughts than the picture
of the face she knew, sharpened with illness, wasted with hard work
and solitary care.

"And I can not help him--I can not help him!" was her bitter cry;
until, passing from the dream-land of fancy, the womanly nature
asserted itself. She thought if it had been, or if it were to be, her
blessed lot to be chosen by Robert Lyon, how she would take care of
him! what an utter slave she would be to him! How no penury would
frighten her, no household care oppress or humble her, if done for
him and for his comfort. To her brave heart no battle of life seemed
too long or too sore, if only it were fought for him and at his side.
And as the early falling leaves were blown in gusts across her path,
and the misty autumn night began to close in, nature herself seemed
to plead in unison with the craving of her heart, which sighed that
youth and summer last not always; and that, "be it ever so humble,"
as the song says, there is no place so bright and beautiful as the
fireside of a loveful home.

While the aunt and nephew were strolling thus, thinking of very
different things, their own fire newly lit--Ascott liked a fire--was
blazing away in solitary glory, for the benefit of all passers-by. At
length one--a gentleman--stopped at the gate, and looked in, then
took a turn to the end of the terrace, and stood gazing in once more.
The solitude of the room apparently troubled him; twice his hand was
on the latch before he opened it and knocked at the front door.

Elizabeth appeared, which seemed to surprise him.

"Is Miss Leaf at home?"

"No, Sir."

"Is she well? Are all the family well?" and he stepped right into the
passage, with the freedom of a familiar foot.

("I should ha' slammed the door in his face," was Elizabeth's comment
afterward; "only, you see, Miss Hilary, he looked a real gentleman.")

The stranger and she mutually examined one another.

"I think I have heard of you," said he, smiling. "You are Miss Leaf's
servant--Elizabeth Hand."

"Yes, Sir," still grimly, and with a determined grasp of the door
handle.

"If your mistresses are likely to be home soon, will you allow me to
wait for them? I am an old friend of theirs. My name is Lyon."

Now Elizabeth was far too much one of the family not to have heard of
such a person. And his knowing her was a tolerable proof of his
identity; besides, unconsciously, the girl was influenced by that
look and mien of true gentlemanhood, as courteous to the poor
maid-of-all-work as he would have been to any duchess born; and by
that bright, sudden smile, which came like sunshine over his face,
and like sunshine warmed and opened the heart of every one that met
it.

It opened that of Elizabeth. She relaxed her Cerberus keeping of the
door, and even went so far as to inform him that Miss Leaf and Miss
Selina were out to tea, but Miss Hilary and Mr. Ascott would be at
home shortly. He was welcome to wait in the parlor if he liked.

Afterward, seized with mingled curiosity and misgiving, she made
various errands to go in and look at him; but she had not courage to
address him, and he never spoke to her. He sat by the window, gazing
out into the gloaming. Except just turning his head at her entrance;
she did not think he had once stirred the whole time.

Elizabeth went back to her kitchen, and stood listening for her young
mistress's familiar knock. Mr. Lyon seemed to have listened too, for
before she could reach it the door was already opened.

There was a warm greeting--to her great relief: for she knew she had
broken the domestic laws in admitting a stranger unawares--and then
Elizabeth heard them all three go into the parlor, where they
remained talking, without ringing for either tea or candles, a full
quarter of an hour.

Miss Hilary at last came out, but much to Elizabeth's surprise, went
straight up into her bedroom without entering the kitchen at all.

It was some minutes more before she descended; and then, after giving
her orders for tea, and seeing that all was arranged with special
neatness, she stood absently by the kitchen fire. Elizabeth noticed
how wonderfully bright her eyes were, and what a soft, happy smile
she had. She noticed it, because she had never seen Miss Hilary look
exactly like that before; and she never did again.

"Don't you be troubling yourself with waiting about here," she said;
and her mistress seemed to start at being spoken to. "I'll get the
tea all right, Miss Hilary. Please go back into the parlor."

Hilary went in.



CHAPTER VI.

Elizabeth got tea ready with unwonted diligence and considerable
excitement. Any visitor was a rare occurrence in this very quiet
family; but a gentleman visitor--a young gentleman too--was a
remarkable fact, arousing both interest and curiosity. For in the
latter quality this girl of seventeen could scarcely be expected to
be deficient; and as to the former, she had so completely identified
herself with the family she served, that all their concerns were her
concerns also. Her acute comments on their few guests, and on their
little scholars, sometimes amused Hilary as much as her criticisms on
the books she read. But as neither were ever put forward intrusively
or impertinently, she let them pass, and only laughed over them with
Johanna in private.

In speaking of these said books, and the questions they led to, it
was not likely but that mistress and maid--one aged twenty-two, and
the other seventeen--should occasionally light upon a subject rather
interesting to women of their ages, though not commonly discussed
between mistresses and maids. Nevertheless, when it did come in the
way, Miss Hilary never shirked it, but talked it out, frankly and
freely, as she would to any other person.

"The girl has feelings and notions on the matter, like all other
girls, I suppose," reasoned she to herself; "so it is important that
her notions should be kept clear, and her feelings right. It may do
her some good, and save her from much harm."

And so it befell that Elizabeth Hand, whose blunt ways, unlovely
person, and temperament so oddly nervous and reserved, kept her from
attracting any "sweetheart" of her own class, had unconsciously
imbibed her mistress's theory of love. Love, pure and simple, the
very deepest and highest, sweetest and most solemn thing in life: to
be believed in devoutly until it came, and when it did come, to be
held to, firmly, faithfully, with a single-minded, settled constancy,
till death. A creed, quite impossible, many will say, in this
ordinary world, and most dangerous to be put into the head of a poor
servant. Yet a woman is but a woman, be she maid-servant or queen;
and if, from queens to maid-servants, girls were taught thus to think
of love, there might be a few more "broken" hearts perhaps, but there
would certainly be fewer wicked hearts; far fewer corrupted lives of
men, and degraded lives of women; far fewer unholy marriages, and
desolated, dreary, homeless homes.

Elizabeth, having cleared away her tea-things, stood listening to the
voices in the parlor, and pondering. She had sometimes wondered in
her own mind that no knight ever came to carry off her charming
princess--her admired and beloved Miss Hilary. Miss Hilary, on her
part, seemed totally indifferent to the youths at Stowbury; who
indeed were, Elizabeth allowed, quite unworthy her regard. The only
suitable lover for her young mistress must be somebody exceedingly
grand and noble--a compound of the best heroes of Shakespeare, Scott,
Fenimore Cooper, Maria Edgeworth, and Harriet Martineau. When this
strange gentleman appeared--in ordinary coat and hat, or rather
Glengary bonnet, neither particularly handsome nor particularly tall,
yet whose coming had evidently given Miss Hilary so much pleasure,
and who, once or twice while waiting at tea, Elizabeth fancied she
had seen looking at Miss Hilary as nobody ever looked before--when
Mr. Robert Lyon appeared on the horizon, the faithful "bower maiden"
was a good deal disappointed.

She had expected something better; at all events, something
different. Her first brilliant castle in the air fell, poor lass! but
she quickly built it up again, and, with the vivid imagination of her
age, she mapped out the whole future, ending by a vision of Miss
Hilary, all in white, sweeping down the Terrace in a carriage and
pair--to fortune and happiness; leaving herself, though with a sore
want at her heart, and a great longing to follow, to devote the
remainder of her natural life to Miss Johanna.

"Her couldna do without somebody to see to her--and Miss Selina do
worrit her so." muttered Elizabeth, in the excitement of this
Almaschar vision, relapsing into her old provincialisms. "So, even if
Miss Hilary axes me to come, I'll stop, I reckon. Ay, I'll stop wi'
Miss Leaf."

This valorous determination taken, the poor maid servant's dream was
broken by the opening of the parlor door, and an outcry of Ascott's
for his coat and gloves, he having to fetch his aunts home at nine
o'clock, Mr. Lyon accompanying him. And as they all stood together at
the front door, Elizabeth overheard Mr. Lyon say something about what
a beautiful night it was.

"It would do you no harm, Miss Hilary; will you walk with us?"

"If you like."

Hilary went up stairs for her bonnet and shawl; but when, a minute or
two after, Elizabeth followed her with a candle, she found her
standing in the centre of the room, all in the dark, her face white
and her hands trembling.

"Thank you, thank you!" she said mechanically, as Elizabeth folded
and fastened her shawl for her--and descended immediately. Elizabeth
watched her take, not Ascott's arm, but Mr. Lyon's, and walk down the
terrace in the starlight.

"Some'at's wrong. I'd like to know who's been a-vexin' of her,"
thought fiercely the young servant.

No, nobody had been "a-vexing" her mistress. There was nobody to
blame; only there had happened to Hilary one of those things which
strike like a sword through a young and happy heart, taking all the
life and youth out of it.

Robert Lyon had, half an hour ago, told her--and she had had to hear
it as a piece of simple news, to which she had only to say,
"Indeed!"--that to day and to-morrow were his two last days at
Stowbury--almost his last in England. Within a week he was to sail
for India.

There had befallen him what most people would have considered a piece
of rare good fortune. At the London University, a fellow student,
whom he had been gratuitously "coaching" in Hindostanee, fell ill,
and was "thrown upon his hands." as he briefly defined services which
must have been great, since they had resulted in this end. The young
man's father--a Liverpool and Bombay merchant--made him an offer to
go out there, to their house, at a rising salary of 300 rupees a
month for three years; after the third year to become a junior
partner; remaining at Bombay in that capacity for two years more.

This he told to Hilary and Ascott in almost as few words as I have
here put it--for brevity seemed a refuge to him. It was also to one
of them. But Ascott asked so many questions that his aunt needed to
ask none. She only listened, and tried to take all in, and understand
it, that is, in a consecutive, intelligent, business shape, without
feeling it. She dared not let herself feel it, not for a second, till
they were out, arm-in-arm, under the quiet winter stars. Then she
heard his voice asking her, "So you think I was right?"

"Right?" she echoed mechanically.

"I mean in accepting that sudden chance, and changing my whole plan
of life. I did not do it--believe me--without a motive."

"What motive?" she would once unhesitatingly have asked; now she could
not.

Robert Lyon continued speaking, distinctly and yet in an undertone,
that though Ascott was walking a few yards off, Hilary felt was meant
for her alone to hear.

"The change is, you perceive, from the life of a student to that of a
man of business. I do not deny that I preferred the first. Once upon
a time to be a fellow in a college, or a professor, or the like, was
my utmost aim and I would have half killed myself to attain it. Now,
I think differently."

He paused, but did not seem to require an answer, and it did not
come.

"I want, not to be rich but to get a decent competence, and to get it
as soon as I can. I want not to ruin my health with incessant study.
I have already injured it a good deal."

"Have you been ill? You never said so."

"Oh no, it was hardly worth while. And I knew an active life would
soon set me right again. No fear! there's life in the old dog yet. He
does not wish to die. But," Mr. Lyon pursued, "I have had a 'sair
fecht' the last year or two. I would not go through it again, nor see
any one dear to me go through it. It is over, but it has left its
scars. Strange! I have been poor all my life, yet I never till now
felt an actual terror of poverty."

Hilary shrank within herself; less even at the words than at
something in their tone--something hard, nay fierce; something at
once despairing and aggressive.

"It is strange," she said; "such a terror is not like you. I feel
none; I can not even understand it."

"No, I knew you could not," he muttered; and was silent.

So was Hilary. A vague trouble came over her. Could it be that he,
Robert Lyon, had been seized with the _auri sacra fames_, which he had
so often inveighed against and despised? that his long battle with
poverty had caused in him such an overweening desire for riches that,
to obtain them, he would sacrifice every thing else, exile himself to
a far country for years, selling his very life and soul for gold?

Such a thought of him was so terrible--that is, would have been were
it tenable--that Hilary for an instant felt herself shiver all over.
The next she spoke out--in justice to him she forced herself to speak
out--all her honest soul.

"I do believe that this going abroad to make a fortune, which young
men so delight in, is often a most fatal mistake. They give up far
more than they gain--country, home, health. I think a man has no
right to sell his life any more than his soul for so many thousands a
year."

Robert Lyon smiled--"No, and I am not selling mine. With my temperate
habits I have as good a chance of health at Bombay as in
London--perhaps better. And the years I must be absent I would have
been absent almost as much from you--I mean they would have been
spent in work as engrossing and as hard. They will soon pass, and
then I shall come home rich--rich. Do you think I am growing
mercenary?"

"No."

"Tell me what you do think about me?"

"I--can not quite understand."

"And I cannot make you understand. Perhaps I will, some day when I
come back again. Till then, you must trust me, Hilary."

It happens occasionally, in moments of all but tolerable pain, that
some small thing, a word, a look, a touch of a hand, lets in such a
gleam of peace that nothing ever extinguishes the light of it: it
burns on for years and years, sometimes clear, sometimes obscured,
but as ineffaceable from life and memory as a star from its place in
the heavens. Such, both then, and through the lonely years to come,
were those five words, "You must trust me. Hilary."

She did; and in the perfection of that trust her own separate
identity, with all its consciousness of pain, seemed annihilated; she
did not think of herself at all, only of him, and with him, and for
him. So, for the time being, she lost all sense of personal
suffering, and their walk that night was as cheerful and happy as if
they were to walk together for weeks and months and years, in
undivided confidence and content, instead of its being the last--the
very last.

Some one has said that all lovers have, soon or late, to learn to be
only friends: happiest and safest are those in whom the friendship is
the foundation--always firm and ready to fall back upon, long after
the fascination of passion dies. It may take a little from the
romance of these two if I own that Robert Lyon talked to Hilary not a
word about love, and a good deal about pure business, telling her all
his affairs and arrangements, and giving her as clear an idea of his
future life as it was possible to do within the limits of one brief
half hour.

Then casting a glance round, and seeing that Ascott was quite out of
ear-shot, he said, with that tender fall of the voice that felt, as
some poet hath it,

        "Like a still embrace,"

"Now tell me as much as you can about yourself."

At first there seemed nothing to tell; but gradually he drew from
Hilary a good deal. Johanna's feeble health, which caused her
continuing to teach to be very unadvisable; and the gradual
diminishing of the school--from what cause they could not
account--which made it very doubtful whether some change would not
soon or late be necessary.

What this change should be she and Mr. Lyon discussed a little--as
far as in the utterly indefinite position of affairs was possible.
Also, from some other questions of his, she spoke to him about
another dread which had lurked in her mind, and yet to which she
could give no tangible shape, about Ascott. He could not remove it,
he did not attempt; but he soothed it a little, advising with her as
to the best way of managing the willful lad. His strong, clear sense,
just judgment, and, above all, a certain unspoken sense of union, as
if all that concerned her and hers he took naturally upon himself as
his own, gave Hilary such comfort that, even on this night, with a
full consciousness of all that was to follow, she was happy--nay, she
had not been so happy for years. Perhaps (let the truth be told), the
glorious truth of true love, that its recognition, spoken or silent,
constitutes the only perfect joy of life that of two made perhaps she
had never been so really happy since she was born.

The last thing he did was to make her give him an assurance that in
any and all difficulty she would apply to him.

"To me, and to no one else, remember. No one but myself must help
you. And I will, so, long as I am alive. Do you believe this?"

She looked up at him by the lamp light, and said, "I do."

"And you promise?"

"Yes."

Then they loosed arms, and Hilary knew that they should never walk
together again till--when and how?

Returning, of course, he walked with Miss Leaf; and throughout the
next day, a terribly wet Sunday, spent by them entirely in the little
parlor, they had not a minute of special or private talk together. He
did not seem to wish it; indeed, almost avoided it.

Thus slipped away the strange, still day--a Sunday never to be
forgotten. At night, after prayers were, over, Mr. Lyon rose
suddenly, saying he must leave them now; he was obliged to start from
Stowbury at daybreak.

"Shall we not see you again?" asked Johanna.

"No. This will be my last Sunday in England. Good-by!"

He turned excessively pale, shook hands silently with them
all--Hilary last--and almost before they recognized the fact, he was
gone.

With him departed, not all Hilary's peace or faith or courage of
heart, for to all who love truly, while the best beloved lives, and
lives worthily, no parting is hopeless and no grief overwhelming; but
all the brightness of her youth, all the sense of joy that young
people have in loving, and in being beloved again, in fond meetings
and fonder partings, in endless walks and talks, in sweet kisses and
clinging arms. Such happiness was not for her: when she saw it the
lot of others, she said to herself sometimes with a natural sharp
sting of pain, but oftener with a solemn acquiescence, "It is the
will of God; it is the will of God."

Johanna, too, who would have given her life almost to bring some
color back to the white face of her darling, of whom she asked no
questions, and who never complained nor confessed any thing, many and
many a night when Hilary either lay awake by her side, or tossed and
moaned in her sleep, till the elder sister took her in her arms like
a baby--Johanna, too, said to herself, "This is the will of God."

I have told thus much in detail the brief sad story of Hilary's
youth, to show how impossible it was that Elizabeth Hand could live
in the house with these two women without being strongly influenced
by them, as every person--especially every woman--influences for good
or for evil every other person connected with her, or dependent upon
her. Elizabeth was a girl of close observation and keen perception.
Besides, to most people, whether or not their sympathy be universal,
so far as the individual is concerned, any deep affection generally
lends eyes, tact, and delicacy.

Thus when on the Monday morning at breakfast Miss Selina observed,
"What a fine day Mr. Lyon was having for his journey; what a lucky
fellow he was; how he would be sure to make a fortune, and if so, she
wondered whether they should ever see or hear any thing of him
again"--Elizabeth, from the glimpse she caught of Miss Hilary's face,
and from the quiet way in which Miss Leaf merely answered, "Time will
show;" and began talking to Selina about some other
subject--Elizabeth resolved never in any way to make the smallest
allusion to Mr. Robert Lyon. Something had happened, she did not know
what; and it was not her business to find out; the family affairs, so
far as she was trusted with them, were warmly her own, but into the
family secrets she had no right to pry.

Yet, long after Miss Selina had ceased to "wonder" about him, or even
to name him--his presence or absence did not touch her personally,
and she was always the centre of her own small world of interest--the
little maidservant kept in her mind, and pondered over at odd times
every possible solution of the mystery of this gentleman's sudden
visit; of the long wet Sunday when he sat all day talking with her
mistresses in the parlor; of the evening prayer, when Miss Leaf had
twice to stop, her voice faltered so; and of the night when, long
after all the others had gone to bed, Elizabeth, coming suddenly into
the parlor, had found Miss Hilary sitting alone over the embers of
the fire, with the saddest, saddest look! so that the girl had softly
shut the door again without ever speaking to "Missis."

Elizabeth did more; which, strange as it may appear, a servant who is
supposed to know nothing of any thing that has happened can often do
better than a member of the family who knows every thing, and this
knowledge is sometimes the most irritating consciousness a sufferer
has. She followed her young mistress with a steady watchfulness, so
quiet and silent that Hilary never found it out; saved her every
little household care, gave her every little household treat. Not
much to do, and less to be chronicled; but the way in which she did
it was all.

During the long dull winter days, to come in and find the parlor fire
always bright, the hearth clean swept, and the room tidy; never to
enter the kitchen without the servant's face clearing up into a
smile; when her restless irritability made her forget things and grow
quite vexed in the search after them, to see that somehow her shoes
were never misplaced, and her gloves always came to hand in some
mysterious manner--these trifles; in her first heavy days of
darkness, soothed Hilary more than words could tell.

And the sight of Miss Hilary going about the house and school room as
usual, with that poor white face of hers; nay, gradually bringing to
the family fireside, as usual, her harmless little joke, and her
merry laugh at it and herself--who shall say what lessons may not
have been taught by this to the humble servant, dropping deep sown
into her heart, to germinate and fructify, as her future life's needs
required?

It might have been so--God knows! He alone can know, who, through
what (to us) seem the infinite littleness of our mortal existence, is
educating us into the infinite greatness of His and our immortality.



CHAPTER VII.

Autumn soon lapsed into winter: Christmas came and went, bringing,
not Ascott, as they hoped and he had promised, but a very serious
evil in the shape of sundry bills of his, which, he confessed in a
most piteous letter to his Aunt Hilary, were absolutely unpayable out
of his godfather's allowance. They were not large--or would not have
seemed so to rich people--and they were for no more blamable luxuries
than horse hire, and a dinner or two to friends out in the country;
but they looked serious to a household which rarely was more than
five pounds beforehand with the world.

He had begged Aunt Hilary to keep his secret, but that was evidently
impossible; so on the day the school accounts were being written out
and sent in, and their amount anxiously reckoned, she laid before her
sisters the lad's letter, full of penitence and promises: "I will be
careful--I will indeed--if you will help me out this once, dear Aunt
Hilary; and don't think too ill of me. I have done nothing wicked.
And you don't know London; you don't know, with a lot of young
fellows about one, how very hard it is to say no."

At that unlucky postscript the Misses Leaf sorrowfully exchanged
looks. Little the lad thought about it; but these few words were the
very sharpest pang Ascott had ever given to his aunts.

"What's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh." "Like father
like son." "The sins of the parents shall be visited on the
children." So runs many a proverb: so confirms the unerring decree of
a just God, who would not be a just God did He allow Himself to break
His own righteous laws for the government of the universe; did He
falsify the requirements of His own holy and pure being, by
permitting any other wages for sin than death. And though, through
His mercy, sin forsaken escapes sin's penalty, and every human being
has it in his own power to modify, if not to conquer, any hereditary
moral as well as physical disease, thereby avoiding the doom and
alleviating the curse, still the original law remains in force, and
ought to remain, an example and a warning. As true as that every
individual sin that a man commits breeds multitudes more, is it that
every individual sin may transmit his own peculiar type of weakness
or wickedness to a whole race, disappearing in one generation,
re-appearing in another, exactly the same as physical peculiarities
do, requiring the utmost caution of education to counteract the
terrible tendencies of nature--the "something in the blood" which is
so difficult to eradicate: which may even make the third and fourth
generation execrate the memory of him or her who was its origin.

The long life-curse of Henry Leaf the elder, and Henry Leaf the
younger, had been--the women of the family well knew--that they were
men who "couldn't say No." So keenly were the three sisters alive to
this fault--it could hardly be called a crime, and yet in its
consequences it was so--so sickening the terror of it which their own
wretched experience had implanted in their minds, that during
Ascott's childhood and youth his very fractiousness and roughness,
his little selfishness, and his persistence in his own will against
theirs, had been hailed by his aunts as a good omen that he would
grow up "so unlike his poor father."

If the two unhappy Henry Leafs--father and son--could have come out
of their graves that night and beheld these three women, daughters
and sisters, sitting with Ascott's letter on the table, planning how
the household's small expenses could be contracted, its still smaller
luxuries relinquished, in order that the boy might honorably pay for
pleasures he might so easily have done without! If they could have
seen the weight of apprehension which then sank like a stone on these
long-tried hearts, never to be afterward removed: lightened
sometimes, but always--however Ascott might promise and amend--always
there! On such a discovery, surely, these two "poor ghosts" would
have fled away moaning, wishing they had died childless, or that
during their mortal lives any amount of self restraint and self
compulsion had purged from their natures the accursed thing; the sin
which had worked itself out in sorrow upon every one belonging to
them, years after their own heads were laid in the quiet dust.

"We must do it," was the conclusion the Misses Leaf unanimously came
to; even Selina; who with all her faults, had a fair share of good
feeling and of that close clinging to kindred which is found in
fallen households, or households whom the sacred bond of common
poverty, has drawn together in a way that large, well-to-do home
circles can never quite understand.

"We must not let the boy remain in debt; it would be such a disgrace
to the family."

"It is not the remaining in debt, but the incurring of it, which is
the real disgrace to Ascott and the family."

"Hush Hilary," said Johanna, pointing to the opening door; but it was
too late.

Elizabeth, coming suddenly in--or else the ladies had been so
engrossed with their conversation that they had not noticed her--had
evidently heard every word of the last sentence. Her conscious face
showed it; more especially the bright scarlet which covered both her
cheeks when Miss Leaf said "Hush!" She stood, apparently irresolute
as to whether she should run away again; and then her native honesty
got the upper hand, and she advanced into the room.

"If you please, missis, I didn't mean to--but I've heard--"

"What have you heard; that is, how much?"

"Just what Miss Hilary said. Don't be afeared. I shan't tell. I never
chatter about the family. Mother told me not."

"You owe a great deal, Elizabeth, to your good mother. Now go away."

"And another time." said Miss Selina, "knock at the door."

This was Elizabeth's first initiation into what many a servant has to
share--the secret burden of the family. After that day, though they
did not actually confide in her, her mistresses used no effort to
conceal that they had cares; that the domestic economies must, this
winter, be especially studied; there must be no extra fires, no
candles left burning to waste; and once a week or so, a few
butterless breakfasts or meatless dinners must be partaken of
cheerfully, in both parlor and kitchen. The Misses Leaf never stinted
their servant in any thing in which they did not stint themselves.

Strange to say, in spite of Miss Selina's prophecies, the girl's
respectful conduct did not abate: on the contrary, it seemed to
increase. The nearer she was lifted to her mistress's level, the more
her mind grew, so that she could better understand her mistresses
cares, and the deeper her consciousness of the only thing which gives
one human being any real authority over another--personal character.

Therefore, though the family means were narrowed, and the family
luxuries few, Elizabeth cheerfully put up with all; she even felt a
sort of pride in wasting nothing and in making the best of every
thing, as the others did. Perhaps, it may be said she was an
exceptional servant; and yet I would not do her class the wrong to
believe so-I would rather believe that there are many such among it;
many good, honest, faithful girls, who only need good mistresses unto
whom to be honest and faithful, and they would be no less so than
Elizabeth Hand.

The months went by--heavy and anxious months; for the school
gradually dwindled away, and Ascott's letter--now almost the only
connection his aunts had with the outer world, for poverty
necessarily diminished even their small Stowbury society--became more
and more unsatisfactory; and the want of information in them was not
supplied by those other letters which had once kept Johanna's heart
easy concerning the boy.

Mr. Lyon had written once before sailing, nay, after sailing, for he
had sent it home by the pilot from the English Channel; then there
was, of course, silence. October, November, December, January,
February, March--how often did Hilary count the months, and wonder
how soon a letter would come, whether a letter ever would come again.
And sometimes--the sharp present stinging her with its small daily
pains, the future looking dark before her and them all--she felt so
forlorn, so forsaken, that but for a certain tiny well-spring of
hope, which rarely dries up till long after three-and twenty, she
could have sat down and sighed, "My good days are done."

Rich people break their hearts much sooner than poor people; that is,
they more easily get into that morbid state which is glorified by the
term, "a broken heart." Poor people can not afford it. Their constant
labor "physics pain." Their few and narrow pleasures seldom pall.
Holy poverty! black as its dark side is, it has its bright side too,
that is, when it is honest, fearless, free from selfishness.
wastefulness, and bickerings; above all, free from the terror of
debt.

"We'll starve, we'll go into the work house rather than we'll go into
debt!" cried Hilary once, in a passion of tears, when she was in sore
want of a shawl, and Selina urged her to get it, and wait till she
could pay for it. "Yes; the work house! It would be less shame to be
honorably indebted to the laws of the land than to be meanly
indebted, under false pretences, to any individual in it".

And when, in payment for some accidental lessons, she got next month
enough money to buy a shawl, and a bonnet, too--nay, by great
ingenuity, another bonnet for Johanna--Hilary could have danced and
sang--sang, in the gladness and relief of her heart, the glorious
euthanasia of poverty.

But these things happened only occasionally; the daily life was hard
still; ay, very hard, even though at last came the letter from
"foreign parts;" and following it, at regular intervals, other
letters. They were full of facts rather than feelings--simple,
straightforward; worth little as literary compositions; school-master
and learned man as he was, there was nothing literary or poetical
about Mr. Lyon; but what he wrote was like what he spoke, the
accurate reflection of his own clear, original mind and honest,
tender heart.

His letters gave none the less comfort because, nominally, they were
addressed to Johanna. This might have been from some crotchet of
over-reserve, delicacy, or honor--the same which made him part from
her for years with no other word than 'You must trust me, Hilary;'
but whatever it was she respected it, and she did trust him. And
whether Johanna answered his letters or not, month by month they
unfailingly came, keeping her completely informed of all his
proceedings, and letting out, as epistles written from over the seas
often do, much more of himself and his character than he was probably
aware that he betrayed.

And Hilary, whose sole experience of mankind had been the scarcely
remembered father, the too well remembered brother, and the anxiously
watched nephew, thanked God that there seemed to be one man in the
world whom a woman could lean her heart upon, and not feel the
support break like a reed beneath her--one man whom she could
entirely believe in, and safely and sacredly trust.



CHAPTER VIII.

Time slipped by. Robert Lyon had been away more than three years. But
in the monotonous life of the three sisters at Stowbury, nothing was
changed. Except, perhaps, Elizabeth, who had grown quite a woman;
might have passed almost for thirty; so solidly old fashioned were
her figure and her manners.

Ascott Leaf had finished his walking the hospitals and his
examinations, and was now fitted to commence practice for himself.
His godfather had still continued his allowance, though once or
twice, when he came down to Stowbury, he had asked his aunts to help
him in small debts the last time in one a little more serious; when,
after some sad and sore consultation, it had been resolved to tell
him he must contrive to live within his own allowance. For they were
poorer than they used to be; many more schools had arisen in the
town, and theirs had dwindled away. It was becoming a source of
serious anxiety whether they could possibly make ends meet; and when,
the next Christmas, Ascott sent them a five pound note--an actual
five pound note, together with a fond, grateful letter that was worth
it all--the aunts were deeply thankful, and very happy.

But still the school declined. One night they were speculating upon
the causes of this, and Hilary was declaring, in a half jocular, half
earnest way, that it must be because a prophet is never a prophet in
his own country.

"The Stowbury people will never believe how clever I am. Only, it is
a useless sort of cleverness, I fear. Greek, Latin, and mathematics
are no good to infants under seven, such as Stowbury persists in
sending to us."

"They think I am only fit to teach little children--and perhaps it is
true," said Miss Leaf.

"I wish you had not to teach at all. I wish I was a daily
governess--I might be, and earn enough to keep the whole family;
only, not here."

"I wonder," said Johanna, thoughtfully, "if we shall have to make a
change."

"A change!" It almost pained the elder sister to see how the younger
brightened up at the word. "Where to--London? Oh, I have so longed to
go and live in London! But I thought you would not like it, Johanna."

That was true. Miss Leaf, whom feeble health had made prematurely
old, would willingly have ended her days in the familiar town; but
Hilary was young and strong. Johanna called to mind the days when she
too had felt that rest was only another name for dullness; and when
the most difficult thing possible to her was what seemed now so
easy--to sit down and endure.

Besides, unlike herself, Hilary had her life all before her. It might
be a happy life, safe in a good man's tender keeping; those unfailing
letters from India seemed to prophecy that it would. But no one could
say. Miss Leaf's own experience had not led her to place much faith
in either men or happiness.

Still, whatever Hilary's future might be, it would likely be a very
different one from that quiet, colorless life of hers. And as she
looked at her younger sister, with the twilight glow on her
face--they were taking an evening stroll up and down the
terrace--Johanna hoped and prayed it might be so. Her own lot seemed
easy enough for herself; but for Hilary--she would like to see Hilary
something better than a poor schoolmistress at Stowbury.

No more was said at that time, but Johanna had the deep, still,
Mary-like nature, which "kept" things, and "pondered them in her
heart." So that when the subject came up again she was able to meet
it with that sweet calmness which was her especial
characteristic--the unruffled peace of a soul which no worldly storms
could disturb overmuch, for it had long since cast anchor in the
world unseen.

The chance which revived the question of the Great Metropolitan
Hegira, as Hilary called it, was a letter from Mr. Ascott, as
follows:

"MISS LEAF.  MADAM,--I shall be obliged by your informing me if it is
your wish, as it seems to be your nephew's, that instead of returning
to Stowbury, he should settle in London as a surgeon and general
practitioner? His education complete, I consider that I have done my
duty by him; but I may assist him occasionally still, unless he turns
out--as his father did before him--a young man who prefers being
helped to helping himself, in which case I shall have nothing more to
do with him. I remain, Madam, your obedient servant,
    PETER ASCOTT."

The sisters read this letter, passing it round the table, none of
them apparently liking to be the first to comment upon it. At length
Hilary said: "I think that reference to poor Henry is perfectly
brutal."

"And yet he was very kind to Henry. And if it had not been for his
common sense in sending poor little Ascott and the nurse down to
Stowbury the baby might have died. But you don't remember any thing
of that time, my dear," said Johanna, sighing.

"He has been kind enough, though he has done it in such a patronizing
way," observed Selina. "I suppose that's the real reason of his doing
it. He thinks it fine to patronize us, and show kindness to our
family; he, the stout, bullet-headed grocer's boy, who used to sit
and stare at us all church time."

"At you--you mean. Wasn't he called your beau?" said Hilary
mischievously, upon which Selina drew herself up in great
indignation.

And then they fell to talking of that anxious question--Ascott's
future. A little they reproached themselves that they had left the
lad so long in London--so long out of the influence that might have
counteracted the evil, sharply hinted in his godfather's letter. But
once away--to lure him back to their poor home was impossible.

"Suppose we were to go to him," suggested Hilary.

The poor and friendless possess one great advantage--they have nobody
to ask advice of; nobody to whom it matters much what they do or
where they go. The family mind has but to make itself up, and act
accordingly. Thus within an hour or two of the receipt of Mr.
Ascott's letter Hilary went into the kitchen, and told Elizabeth that
as soon as her work was done Miss Leaf wished to have a little talk
with her.

"Eh! what's wrong? Has Miss Selina been a-grumbling at me?"

Elizabeth was in one of her bad humors, which, though of course they
never ought to have, servants do have as well as their superiors.
Hilary perceived this by the way she threw the coals on and tossed
the chairs about. But to-day her heart was full of far more serious
cares than Elizabeth's ill temper. She replied, composedly--

"I have not heard that either of my sisters is displeased with you.
What they want to talk to you about is for your own good. We are
thinking of making a great change. We intend to leave Stowbury and
going to live in London."

"Going to live in London!"

Now, quick as her tact and observation were--her heart taught her
these things--Elizabeth's head was a thorough Saxon one, slow to
receive impressions. It was a family saying, that nothing was so hard
as to put a new idea into Elizabeth except to get it out again.

For this reason Hilary preferred paving the way quietly, before
startling her with the sudden intelligence of their contemplated
change.

"Well, what do you say to the plan?" asked she, good-humoredly.

"I dunnot like it at all," was the brief gruff answer of Elizabeth
Hand.

Now it was one of Miss Hilary's doctrines that no human being is good
for much unless he or she has what is called "a will of one's own."
Perhaps this, like many another creed, was with her the result of
circumstances. But she held it firmly, and with that exaggerated
one-sidedness of feeling which any bitter family or personal
experience is sure to leave behind--a strong will was her first
attraction to every body. It had been so in the case of Robert Lyon,
and not less in Elizabeth's.

But this quality has its inconveniences. When the maid began sweeping
up her hearth with a noisy, angry gesture, the mistress did the
wisest and most dignified thing a mistress could do under the
circumstances and which she knew was the sharpest rebuke she could
administer to the sensitive Elizabeth--she immediately quitted the
kitchen.

For an hour after the parlor bell did not ring; and though it was
washing day, no Miss Hilary appeared to help in folding up the
clothes. Elizabeth, subdued and wretched, waited till she could wait
no longer; then knocked at the door, and asked humbly if she should
bring in supper?

The extreme kindness of the answer, to the effect that she must come
in, as they wanted to speak to her, crushed the lingering fragments
of ill humor out of the girl.

"Miss Hilary has told you our future plans, Elizabeth; now we wish to
have a little talk with you about yours."

"Eh?"

"We conclude you will not wish to go with us to London; and it would
be hardly advisable you should. You can get higher wages now than any
we can afford to give you; indeed, we have more than once thought of
telling you so, and offering you your choice of trying for a better
place."

"You're very kind," was the answer, stolid rather than grateful.

"No; I think we are merely honest. We should never think of keeping a
girl upon lower wages than she was worth. Hitherto, however, the
arrangement has been quite fair you know, Elizabeth, you have given
us a deal of trouble in the teaching of you." And Miss Leaf smiled,
half sadly, as if this, the first of the coming changes, hurt her
more than she liked to express. "Come, my girl," she added, "you
needn't look so serious. We are not in the least vexed with you; we
shall be very sorry to lose you, and we will give you the best of
characters when you leave."

"I dunnot--mean--to leave."

Elizabeth threw out the words like pellets, in a choked fashion, and
disappeared suddenly from the parlor.

"Who would have thought it!" exclaimed Selina; "I declare the girl
was crying."

No mistake about that; though when, a few minutes after, Miss Hilary
entered the kitchen, Elizabeth tried in a hurried, shamefaced way to
hide her tears by being very busy over something. Her mistress took
no notice, but began, as usual on washing days, to assist in various
domestic matters, in the midst of which she said, quietly, "And so,
Elizabeth, you would really like to go to London?"

"No! I shouldn't like it at all; never said I should. But if you go,
I shall go too; though Missis is so ready to get shut o' me."

"It was for your own good, you know."

"You always said it was for a girl's good to stop in one place; and
if you think I'm going to another. I aren't that's all."

Rude as the form of the speech was--almost the first rude speech that
Elizabeth had ever made to Miss Hilary, and which, under other
circumstances she would have felt bound severely to reprove--the
mistress passed it over. That which lay beneath it, the sharpness of
wounded love, touched her heart. She felt that, for all the girl's
rough manner, it would have been hard to go into her London kitchen
and meet a strange London face, instead of that fond homely one of
Elizabeth Hand's.

Still, she thought it right to explain to her that London life might
have many difficulties, that; for the present at least, her wages
could not be raised, and the family might at first be in even more
straitened circumstances than they were at Stowbury.

"Only at first, though, for I hope to find plenty of pupils, and
by-and-by our nephew will get into practice."

"Is it on account of him you're going, Miss Hilary?"

"Chiefly."

Elizabeth gave a grunt which said as plainly as words could say, "I
thought so;" and relapsed into what she, no doubt, believed to be
virtuous indignation, but which, as it was testified against the
wrong parties, was open to the less favorable interpretation of ill
humor--a small injustice not uncommon with us all.

I do not pretend to paint this young woman as a perfect character.
She had her fierce dislikes as well as her strong fidelities; her
faults within and without, which had to be struggled with, as all of
us have to struggle to the very end of our days. Oftentimes not till
the battle is high over--sometimes not till it is quite over--does
God give us the victory.

Without more discussion on either side, it was agreed that Elizabeth
should accompany her mistresses. Even Mrs. Hand seemed to be pleased
thereat, her only doubt being lest her daughter should meet and be
led astray by that bad woman, Mrs. Cliffe, Tommy Cliffe's mother, who
was reported to have gone to London. But Miss Hilary explained that
this meeting was about as probable as the rencontre of two needles in
a hay-rick; and besides, Elizabeth was not the sort of girl to be
easily "led astray" by any body.

"No, no; her's a good wench, though I says it," replied the mother,
who was too hard worked to have much sentiment to spare. "I wish the
little 'uns may take pattern by our Elizabeth. You'll send her home,
may be, in two or three years' time, to let us have a look at her?"

Miss Hilary promised, and then took her way back through the familiar
old town--so soon to be familiar no more--thinking anxiously, in
spite of herself, upon those two or three years, and what they might
bring.

It happened to be a notable day--that sunshiny 28th of June--when the
little, round-cheeked damsel, who is a grandmother now, had the crown
of three kingdoms first set upon her youthful head; and Stowbury,
like every other town in the land, was a perfect bower of green
arches, garlands, banners; white covered tables were spread in the
open air down almost every street, where poor men dined, or poor
women drank tea; and every body was out and abroad, looking at or
sharing in the holiday' making, wild with merriment, and brimming
over with passionate loyalty to the Maiden Queen.

That day is now twenty-four years ago; but all those who remember it
must own there never has been a day like it, when, all over the
country, every man's heart throbbed with chivalrous devotion, every
woman's with womanly tenderness, toward this one royal girl, who, God
bless her! has lived to retain and deserve it all.

Hilary called for, and protected through the crowd, the little,
timid, widow lady who had taken off the Misses Leaf's hands their
house and furniture, and whom they had made very happy--as the poor
often can make those still poorer than themselves--by refusing to
accept any thing for the "good will" of the school. Then she was
fetched by Elizabeth, who had been given a whole afternoon's holiday;
and mistress and maid went together home, watching the last of the
festivities, the chattering groups that still lingered in the
twilight streets, and listening to the merry notes of the "Triumph"
which came down through the lighted windows of the Town Hall, where
the open-air tea drinkers had adjourned to dance country dances, by
civic permission, and in perfectly respectable jollity.

"I wonder," said Hilary--while, despite some natural regret, her
spirit stretched itself out eagerly from the narrowness of the place
where she was born into the great wide world; the world where so many
grand things were thought and written and done; the world Robert Lyon
had so long fought with, and was fighting bravely still--"I wonder,
Elizabeth, what sort of place London is, and what our life will be in
it?"

Elizabeth said nothing. For the moment her face seemed to catch the
reflected glow of her mistress's, and then it settled down into that
look of mingled resistance and resolution which was habitual to her.
For the life that was to be, which neither knew--oh, if they had
known!--she also was prepared.



CHAPTER IX.

The day of the Grand Hegira came.

"I remember," said Miss Leaf, as they rumbled for the last time
through the empty morning streets of poor old Stowbury: "I remember
my grandmother telling me that when my grandfather was courting her,
and she out of coquetry refused him, he set off on horseback to
London, and she was so wretched to think of all the dangers he ran on
the journey, and in London itself, that she never rested till she got
him back, and then immediately married him."

"No such catastrophe is likely to happen to any of us, except,
perhaps, to Elizabeth," said Miss Hilary, trying to get up, a little
feeble mirth, any thing to pass away the time and lessen the pain of
parting, which was almost too much for Johanna. "What do you say? Do
you mean to get married in London, Elizabeth?"

But Elizabeth could make no answer, even to kind Miss Hilary. They
had not imagined she felt the leaving her native place so much. She
had watched intently the last glimpse of Stowbury church tower, and
now sat with reddened eyes, staring blankly out of the carriage
window,

"Silent as a stone."

Once or twice a large slow tear gathered on each of her eyes, but it
was shaken off angrily from the high check bones, and never settled
into absolute crying. They thought it best to take no notice of her.
Only, when reaching the new small station, where the "resonant steam
eagles" were, for the first time, beheld by the innocent Stowbury
ladies, there arose a discussion as to the manner of traveling. Miss
Leaf said, decidedly "Second class; and then we can keep Elizabeth
with us." Upon which Elizabeth's mouth melted into something between
a quiver and a smile.

Soon it was all over, and the little house-hold was compressed into
the humble second class carriage, cheerless and cushionless, whirling
through indefinite England in a way that confounded all their
geography and topography. Gradually as the day darkened into heavy,
chilly July rain, the scarcely kept up spirits of the four passengers
began to sink. Johanna grew very white and worn, Selina became, to
use Ascott's phrase, "as cross as two sticks," and even Hilary,
turning her eyes from the gray sodden looking landscape without,
could find no spot of comfort to rest on within the carriage, except
that round rosy face of Elizabeth Hand's.

Whether it was from the spirit of contradiction existing in most such
natures, which, especially in youth, are more strong than sweet, or
from a better feeling, the fact was noticeable, that when every one
else's spirits went down Elizabeth's went up. Nothing could bring her
out of a "grumpy" fit so satisfactorily as her mistresses falling
into one. When Miss Selina now began to fidget hither and thither,
each tone of her fretful voice seeming to go through her eldest
sister's every nerve, till even Hilary said, impatiently, "Oh,
Selina, can't you be quiet?" then Elizabeth rose from the depth of
her gloomy discontent up to the surface immediately.

She was only a servant; but Nature bestows that strange vague thing
that we term "force of character" independently of position. Hilary
often remembered afterward, how much more comfortable the end of the
journey was than she had expected--how Johanna lay at ease, with her
feet in Elizabeth's lap, wrapped in Elizabeth's best woolen shawl;
and how, when Selina's whole attention was turned to an ingenious
contrivance with a towel and fork and Elizabeth's basket, for
stopping the rain out of the carriage roof--she became far less
disagreeable, and even a little proud of her own cleverness. And so
there was a temporary lull in Hilary's cares, and she could sit
quiet, with her eyes fixed on the rainy landscape, which she did not
see, and her thoughts wandering toward that unknown place and unknown
life into which they were sweeping, as we all sweep, ignorantly,
unresistingly, almost unconsciously, into new destinies. Hilary, for
the first time, began to doubt of theirs. Anxious as she had been to
go to London, and wise as the proceeding appeared, now that the die
was cast and the cable cut, the old simple, peaceful life at Stowbury
grew strangely dear.

"I wonder if we shall ever go back again, or what is to happen to us
before we do go back," she thought, and turned, with a half defined
fear, toward her eldest sister, who looked so old and fragile beside
that sturdy, healthful servant girl. "Elizabeth!" Elizabeth, rubbing
Miss Leaf's feet, started at the unwonted sharpness of Miss Hilary's
tone.

"There; I'll do that for my sister. Go and look out of the window at
London."

For the great smoky cloud which began to rise in the rainy horizon
was indeed London. Soon through the thickening nebula of houses they
converged to what was then the nucleus of all railway traveling, the
Euston Terminus, and were hustled on to the platform, and jostled
helplessly to and fro these poor country ladies! Anxiously they
scanned the crowd of strange faces for the one only face they knew in
the great metropolis--which did not appear.

"It is very strange; very wrong of Ascott. Hilary, you surely told
him the hour correctly. For once, at least, he might have been in
time"

So chafed Miss Selina, while Elizabeth, who by some miraculous effort
of intuitive genius, had succeeded in collecting the luggage, was now
engaged in defending it from all comers, especially porters, and
making of it a comfort able seat for Miss Leaf.

"Nay, have patience, Selina. We will give him just five minutes more,
Hilary."

And Johanna sat down, with her sweet, calm, long suffering face
turned upward to that younger one, which was, as youth is apt to be,
hot, and worried, and angry. And so they waited till the terminus was
almost deserted, and the last cab had driven off, when, suddenly,
dashing up the station yard out of another, came Ascott.

He was so sorry, so very sorry, downright grieved, at having kept his
aunts waiting. But his watch was wrong--some fellows at dinner
detained him--the train was before its time surely. In fact, his
aunts never quite made out what the excuse was; but they looked into
his bright handsome face, and their wrath melted like clouds before
the sun. He was so gentlemanly, so well dressed--much better dressed
than even at Stowbury--and he seemed so unfeignedly glad to see them.
He handed them all into the cab--even Elizabeth. though whispering
meanwhile to his Aunt Hilary, "What on earth did you bring her for?"
and their was just going to leap on to the box himself, when he
stopped to ask "Where he should tell cabby to drive to?"

"Where to?" repeated his aunts in undisguised astonishment. They had
never thought of any thing but of being taken home at once by their
boy.

"You see," Ascott said, in a little confusion, "you wouldn't be
comfortable with me. A young fellow's lodgings are not like a house
of one's own, and, besides--"

"Besides, when a young fellow is ashamed of his old aunts, he can
easily find reasons."

"Hush, Selina!" interposed Miss Leaf. "My dear boy, your old aunts
would never let you inconvenience yourself for them. Take us to an
inn for the night, and to morrow we will find lodgings for
ourselves."

Ascott looked greatly relieved.

"And you are not vexed with me, Aunt Johanna?" said he, with
something of his old childish tone of compunction, as he saw--he
could not help seeing--the utter weariness which Johanna tried so
hard to hide.

"No, my dear, not vexed. Only I wish we had known this a little
sooner that we might have made arrangements. Now, where shall we go?"

Ascott mentioned a dozen hotels, but they found he only knew them by
name. At last Miss Leaf remembered one, which her father used to go
to, on his frequent journeys to London, and whence, indeed, he had
been brought home to die. And though all the recollections about it
were sad enough, still it felt less strange than the rest, in this
dreariness of London. So she proposed going to the "Old Bell,"
Holborn.

"A capital place!" exclaimed Ascott, eagerly. "And I'll take and
settle you there: and we'll order supper, and make a jolly night of
it. All right. Drive on, cabby."

He jumped on the box, and then looked in mischievously, flourishing
his lit cigar and shaking his long hair--his Aunt Selina's two great
abominations--right in her indignant face: but withal looking so
merry and good tempered that she shortly softened into a smile.

"How handsome the boy is growing!"

"Yes," said Johanna, with a slight sigh; "and did you notice? how
exceedingly like his--"

The sentence was left unfinished. Alas! if every young man, who
believes his faults and follies injure himself alone, could feel what
it must be, years afterward, to have his nearest kindred shrink from
saying as the saddest, most ominous thing they could say of his son,
that the lad is growing "so like his father!"

It might have been--they assured each other that it was--only the
incessant roll, roll of the street sounds below their windows, which
kept the Misses Leaf awake half the night of this their first night
in London. And when they sat down to breakfast--having waited an hour
vainly for their nephew--it might have been only the gloom of the
little parlor which cast a slight shadow over them all. Still the
shadow was there.

It deepened despite the sunshiny morning into which the last night's
rain had brightened till Holborn Bars looked cheerful, and Holborn
pavement actually clean, so that, as Elizabeth said, "you might eat
your dinner off it;" which was the one only thing she condescended to
approve in London. She had sat all evening mute in her corner, for
Miss Leaf would not send her away into the terra incognita of a
London hotel. Ascott, at first considerably annoyed at the presence
of what he called a "skeleton at the feast," had afterward got over
it; and run on with a mixture of childish glee and mannish pomposity
about his plans and intentions--how he meant to take a house, he
thought, in one of the squares, or a street leading out of them: how
he would put up the biggest of brass plates, with "Mr. Leaf,
surgeon." and soon get an extensive practice, and have all his aunts
to live with him. And his aunts had smiled and listened, forgetting
all about the silent figure in the corner, who perhaps had gone to
sleep, or had also listened.

"Elizabeth, come and look out at London."

So she and Miss Hilary whiled away another heavy three quarters of an
hour in watching and commenting on the incessantly shifting crowd
which swept past Holborn Bars. Miss Selina sometimes looked out too,
but more often sat fidgeting and wondering why Ascott did not come;
while Miss Leaf, who never fidgeted, became gradually more and more
silent. Her eyes were fixed on the door, with an expression which, if
Hilary could have remembered so far back, would have been to her
something not painfully new, but still more painfully old--a look
branded into her face by many an anxious hour's listening for the
footstep that never came, or only came to bring distress. It was the
ineffaceable token of that long, long struggle between affection and
conscience, pity and scarcely repressible contempt, which, for more
than one generation, had been the appointed burden of this family--at
least the women of it--till sometimes it seemed to hang over them
almost like a fate.

About noon Miss Leaf proposed calling for the hotel bill. Its length
so alarmed the country ladies that Hilary suggested not staying to
dine, but going immediately in search of lodgings.

"What, without a gentleman! Impossible! I always understood ladies
could go nowhere in London without a gentleman!"

"We shall come very ill off then, Selina. But any how I mean to try.
You know the region where, we have heard, lodgings are cheapest and
best--that is, best for us. It can not be far from here. Suppose I
start at once?"

"What, alone?" cried Johanna, anxiously.

"No, dear, I'll take the map with me, and Elizabeth. She is not
afraid."

Elizabeth smiled, and rose, with that air of dogged devotedness with
which she would have prepared to follow Miss Hilary to the North
Pole, if necessary. So, after a few minutes of arguing with Selina,
who did not press her point overmuch, since she herself had not to
commit the impropriety of the expedition. After a few minutes more of
hopeless lingering about--till even Miss Leaf said they had better
wait no longer--mistress and maid took a farewell nearly as pathetic
as if they had been really Arctic voyagers, and plunged right into
the dusty glare and hurrying crowd of the "sunny side" of Holborn in
July.

A strange sensation, and yet there was something exhilarating in it.
The intense solitude that there is in a London crowd these country
girls--for Miss Hilary herself was no more than a girl--could not as
yet realize. They only felt the life of it; stirring, active,
incessantly moving life; even though it was of a kind that they knew
as little of it as the crowd did of them. Nothing struck Hilary more
than the self-absorbed look of passers-by: each so busy on his own
affairs, that, in spite of Selina's alarm, for all notice taken of
them, they might as well be walking among the cows and horses in
Stowbury field.

Poor old Stowbury! They felt how far away they were from it when a
ragged, dirty, vicious looking girl offered them a moss rose bud for
"one penny, only one penny;" which Elizabeth, lagging behind, bought,
and found it only a broken off bud stuck on to a bit of wire.

"That's London ways, I suppose," said she, severely, and became so
misanthropic that she would hardly vouchsafe a glance to the hand
some square they turned into, and merely observed of the tall houses,
taller than any Hilary had ever seen, that she "wouldn't fancy
running up and down them stairs."

But Hilary was cheerful in spite of all. She was glad to be in this
region, which, theoretically, she knew by heart--glad to find herself
in the body, where in the spirit she had come so many a time. The
mere consciousness of this seemed to refresh her. She thought she
would be much happier in London; that in the long years to come that
must be borne, it would be good for her to have something to do as
well as to hope for; something to fight with as well as to endure.
Now more than ever came pulsing in and out of her memory a line once
repeated in her hearing, with an observation of how "true" it was.
And though originally it was applied by a man to a woman, and she
smiled sometimes to think how "unfeminine" some people--Selina for
instance--would consider her turning it the other way, still she did
so. She believed that, for woman as for man, that is the purest and
noblest love which is the most self-existent, most independent of
love returned; and which can say, each to the other equally on both
sides, that the whole solemn purpose of life is, under God's service,

"If not to win, to feel more worthy thee."

Such thoughts made her step firmer and her heart lighter; so that she
hardly noticed the distance they must have walked till the close
London air began to oppress her, and the smooth glaring London
pavements made her Stowbury feet ache sorely.

"Are you tired, Elizabeth? Well, we'll rest soon. There must be
lodgings near here. Only I can't quite make out--"

As Miss Hilary looked up to the name of the street the maid noticed
what a glow came into her mistress's face, pale and tired as it was.
Just then a church clock struck the quarter hour.

"That must be St. Pancras. And this--yes, this is Burton Street,
Burton Crescent."

"I'm sure Missis wouldn't like to live there;" observed Elizabeth,
eyeing uneasily the gloomy rez de-chaussee, familiar to many a
generation of struggling respectability, where, in the decadence of
the season, every second house bore the announcement "apartments
furnished."

"No," Miss Hilary replied, absently. Yet she continued to walk up and
down the whole length of the street; then passed out into the dreary,
deserted looking Crescent, where the trees were already beginning to
fade; not, however, into the bright autumn tint of country woods, but
into a premature withering, ugly and sad to behold.

"I am glad he is not here--glad, glad!" thought Hilary, as she
realized the unutterable dreariness of those years when Robert Lyon
lived and studied in his garret from month's end to month's
end--these few dusty trees being the sole memento of the green
country life in which he had been brought up, and which she knew he
so passionately loved. Now she could understand, that "calenture"
which he had sometimes jestingly alluded to, as coming upon him at
times, when he felt literally sick for the sight of a green field or
a hedge full of birds. She wondered whether the same feeling would
ever come upon her in this strange desert of London, the vastness of
which grew upon her every hour.

She was glad he was away; yes, heart glad! And yet, if this minute
she could only have seen him coming round the Crescent, have met his
smile, and the firm, warm clasp of his hand--

For an instant there rose up in her one of those wild, rebellious
outcries against fate, when to have to waste years of this brief life
of ours, in the sort of semi-existence that living is, apart from the
treasure of the heart and delight of the eyes, seems so cruelly,
cruelly hard!

"Miss Hilary."

She started, and "put herself under lock and key" immediately. "Miss
Hilary; you do look so tired!"

"Do I? Then we will go and sit down in this baker's shop, and get
rested and fed. We cannot afford to wear ourselves out, you know. We
have a great deal to do to-day."

More indeed, than she calculated, for they walked up one street and
down another, investigating at least twenty lodgings before any
appeared which seemed fit for them. Yet some place must be found
where Johanna's poor, tired head could rest that night. At last,
completely exhausted, with that oppressive exhaustion which seems to
crush mind as well as body after a day's wandering in London.
Hilary's courage began to ebb. Oh for an arm to lean on, a voice to
listen for, a brave heart to come to her side, saying, "Do not be
afraid, there are two of us!" And she yearned, with an absolutely
sick yearning such as only a woman who now and then feels the utter
helplessness of her womanhood can know, for the only arm she cared to
lean on, the only voice dear enough to bring her comfort, the only
heart that she felt she could trust.

Poor Hilary! And yet why pity her? To her three alternatives could
but happen: were Robert Lyon true to her she would be his entirely
and devotedly, to the end of her days; did he forsake her, she would
forgive him should he die, she would be faithful to him eternally.
Love of this kind may know anguish, but not the sort of anguish that
lesser and weaker loves do. If it is certain of nothing else, it can
always be certain of itself.

    "Its will is strong;
    'It suffers; but it can not suffer long."

And even in its utmost pangs is an underlying peace which often
approaches to absolute joy.

Hilary roused herself, and bent her mind steadily on lodgings till
she discovered one from the parlor of which you could see the trees
of Burton Crescent and hear the sound of Saint Pancras's clock.

"I think we may do here--at least for a while," said she cheerfully;
and then Elizabeth heard her inquiring if an extra bedroom could be
had if necessary.

There was only one small attic. "Ascott never could put up with
that," said Hilary, half to herself. Then suddenly--"I think I will
see Ascott before I decide. Elizabeth, will you go with me, or remain
here?"

"I'll go with you, if you please, Miss Hilary."

"If you please," sounded not unlike, "if I please," and Elizabeth had
gloomed over a little. "Is Mr. Ascott to live with us?"

"I suppose so."

No more words were interchanged till they reached Gower street, when
Miss Hilary observed, with evident surprise, what a handsome street
it was.

"I must have made some mistake. Still we will find out Mr. Ascott's
number, and inquire."

No, there was no mistake. Mr. Ascott Leaf had lodged there for three
months, but had given up his rooms that very morning.

"Where had he gone to?"

The servant--a London lodging house servant all over--didn't know;
but she fetched the landlady, who was after the same pattern of the
dozen London landladies with whom Hilary had that day made
acquaintance, only a little more Cockney, smirking, dirty, and
tawdrily fine.

"Yes, Mr. Leaf had gone, and he hadn't left no address. Young College
gentlemen often found it convenient to leave no address. P'raps he
would if he'd known there would be a young lady a calling to see
him."

"I am Mr. Leaf's aunt," said Hilary, turning as hot as fire.

"Oh, in-deed," was the answer, with civil incredulousness.

But the woman was sharp of perception--as often-cheated London
landladies learn to be. After looking keenly at mistress and maid,
she changed her tone; nay, even launched out into praises of her late
lodger: what a pleasant gentleman he was; what good company he kept,
and how he had promised to recommend her apartments to his friends.

"And as for the little some'at of rent, Miss--tell him it makes no
matter, he can pay me when he likes. If he don't call soon p'raps I
might make bold to send his trunk and his books over to Mr. Ascott's
of--dear me, I forget the number and the square."

Hilary unsuspiciously supplied both.

"Yes, that's it--the old gen'leman as Mr. Leaf went to dine with
every other Sunday, a very rich old gentleman, who, he says, is to
leave him all his money. Maybe a relation of yours, Miss?"

"No," said Hilary; and adding something about the landlady's hearing
from Mr. Leaf very soon, she hurried out of the house, Elizabeth
following.

"Won't you be tired if you walk so fast, Miss Hilary?"

Hilary stopped, choking. Helplessly she looked up and down the
forlorn, wide, glaring, dusty street; now sinking into the dull
shadow of a London afternoon.

"Let us go home!" And at the word a sob burst out--just one
passionate pent up sob. No more. She could not afford to waste
strength in crying.

"As you say, Elizabeth, I am getting tired, and that will not do. Let
me see; something must be decided." And she stood still, passing her
hand over her hot brow and eyes. "I will go back and take the
lodgings, leave you there to make all comfortable, and then fetch my
sisters from the hotel. But stay first, I have forgotten something."

She returned to the house in Gower Street, and wrote on one of her
cards an address--the only permanent address she could think of--that
of the city broker who was in the habit of paying them their yearly
income of £50.

"If any creditors inquire for Mr. Leaf, give them this. His friends
may always hear of him at the London University."

"Thank you, ma'am," replied the now civil landlady. "Indeed, I wasn't
afraid of the young gentleman giving us the slip. For though he was
careless in his bills he was every inch the gentleman. And I wouldn't
object to take him in again. Or p'raps you yourself, ma'am, might be
a-wanting rooms."

"No, I thank you. Good morning." And Hilary hurried away.

Not a word did she say to Elizabeth, or Elizabeth to her, till they
got into the dull, dingy parlor--henceforth, to be their sole apology
for "home:" and then she only talked about domestic
arrangements--talked fast and eagerly, and tried to escape the
affectionate eyes which she knew were so sharp and keen. Only to
escape them--not to blind them; she had long ago found out that
Elizabeth was too quick-witted for that, especially in any thing that
concerned "the family." She felt convinced the girl had heard every
syllable that passed at Ascott's lodgings: that she knew all that was
to be known, and guessed what was to be feared as well as Hilary
herself.

"Elizabeth"--she hesitated long, and doubted whether she should say
the thing before she did say it--"remember we are all strangers in
London, and family matters are best kept within the family. Do not
mention either in writing home, or to any body here, about--about--"

She could not name Ascott; she felt so horribly ashamed.



CHAPTER X.

Living in lodgings, not temporarily, but permanently, sitting down to
make one's only "home" in Mrs. Jones's parlor or Mrs. Smith's first
floor, of which not a stick or a stone that one looks at is one's
own, and whence one may be evicted or evade, with a week's notice or
a week's rent, any day--this sort of life is natural and even
delightful to some people. There are those who, like strawberry
plants, are of such an errant disposition, that grow them where you
will, they will soon absorb all the pleasantness of their habitat,
and begin casting out runners elsewhere; may, if not frequently
transplanted, would actually wither and die. Of such are the pioneers
of society--the emigrants, the tourists, the travelers round the
world; and great is the advantage the world derives from them,
active, energetic, and impulsive as they are. Unless, indeed, their
talent for incessant locomotion degenerates into rootless
restlessness, and they remain forever rolling stones, gathering no
moss, and acquiring gradually a smooth, hard surface, which adheres
to nothing, and to which nobody dare venture to adhere.

But there are others possessing in a painful degree this said quality
of adhesiveness, to whom the smallest change is obnoxious; who like
drinking out of a particular cup, and sitting in a particular chair;
to whom even a variation in the position of furniture is unpleasant.
Of course, this peculiarity has its bad side, and yet it is not in
itself mean or ignoble. For is not adhesiveness, faithfulness,
constancy--call it what you will--at the root of all citizenship,
clanship, and family love? Is it not the same feeling which, granting
they remain at all, makes old friendships dearer than any new? Nay,
to go to the very sacredest and closest bond, is it not that which
makes an old man see to the last in his old wife's faded face the
beauty which perhaps nobody ever saw except himself, but which he
sees and delights in still, simply because it is familiar and his
own.

To people who possess a large share of this rare--shall I say
fatal?--characteristic of adhesiveness, living in lodgings is about
the saddest life under the sun. Whether some dim foreboding of this
fact crossed Elizabeth's mind as she stood at the window watching for
her mistresses' first arrival at "home," it is impossible to say. She
could feel, though she was not accustomed to analyze her feelings.
But she looked dull and sad. Not cross, even Ascott could not have
accused her of "savageness."

And yet she had been somewhat tried. First, in going out what she
termed "marketing," she had traversed a waste of streets, got lost
several times, and returned with light weight in her butter, and sand
in her moist sugar; also with the conviction that London tradesmen
were the greatest rogues alive. Secondly, a pottle of strawberries,
which she had bought with her own money to grace the tea-table with
the only fruit Miss Leaf cared for, had turned out a large delusion,
big and beautiful at top, and all below small, crushed, and stale.
She had thrown it indignantly, pottle and all, into the kitchen fire.

Thirdly, she had a war with the landlady, partly on the subject of
their fire--which, with her Stowbury notions on the subject of coals,
seemed wretchedly mean and small--and partly on the question of table
cloths at tea, which Mrs. Jones had "never heard of," especially when
the use of plate and lines was included in the rent. And the
dinginess of the article produced at last out of an omnium-gatherum
sort of kitchen cupboard, made an ominous impression upon the country
girl, accustomed to clean, tidy, country ways--where the kitchen was
kept as neat as the parlor, and the bedrooms were not a whit behind
the sitting rooms in comfort and orderliness. Here it seemed as if,
supposing people could show a few respectable living rooms, they were
content to sleep any where, and cook any how, out of anything, in the
midst of any quantity of confusion and dirt. Elizabeth set all this
down as "London," and hated it accordingly.

She had tried to ease her mind by arranging and rearranging the
furniture--regular lodging house furniture--table, six chairs,
horse-hair sofa, a what not, and the chiffonnier, with a tea-caddy
upon it, of which the respective keys had been solemnly presented to
Miss Hilary. But still the parlor looked homeless and bare; and the
yellowish paper on the walls, the large patterned, many colored
Kidderminster on the floor, gave an involuntary sense of discomfort
and dreariness. Besides, No. 15 was on the shady side of the
street--cheap lodgings always are; and no one who has not lived in
the like lodgings--not a house--can imagine what it is to inhabit
perpetually one room where the sunshine just peeps in for an hour a
day, and vanishes by eleven A. M.; leaving behind in winter a chill
dampness, and in summer a heavy, dusty atmosphere, that weighs like
lead on the spirits in spite of one's self. No wonder that, as is
statistically known and proved, cholera stalks, fever rages, and the
registrar's list is always swelled along the shady side of a London
street.

Elizabeth felt this, though she had not the dimmest idea why. She
stood watching the sunset light fade out of the topmost windows of
the opposite house--ghostly reflection of some sunset over fields and
trees far away; and she listened to the long monotonous cry melting
away round the crescent, and beginning again at the other end of the
street--"Straw-berries--straw-ber-ries!" Also, with an eye to
tomorrow's Sunday dinner, she investigated the cart of the tired
costermonger, who crawled along beside his equally tired donkey,
reiterating at times, in tones hoarse with a day's bawling, his
dreary "Cauli-flower! Cauli-flower!--Fine new pease, sixpence peck!"

But, alas! the pease were neither fine nor new; and the cauliflowers
were regular Saturday night's cauliflowers. Besides, Elizabeth
suddenly doubted whether she had any right, unordered, to buy these
things which, from being common garden necessaries, had become
luxuries. This thought, with some others that it occasioned, her
unwonted state of Idleness and the dullness of every thing about
her--what is so dull as a "quiet" London street on a summer
evening?--actually made Elizabeth stand, motionless and meditative,
for a quarter of an hour. Then she started to hear two cabs drive up
to the door; the "family" had at length arrived.

Ascott was there too. Two new portmanteaus and a splendid hat-box
east either ignominy or glory upon the poor Stowbury luggage;
and--Elizabeth's sharp eye noticed--there was also his trunk which
she had seen lying detained for rent in his Gower Street lodgings.
But he looked quite easy and comfortable: handed out his Aunt
Johanna, commanded the luggage about, and paid the cabmen with such a
magnificent air, that they touched their bats to him, and winked at
one another as much as to say. "That's a real gentleman!"

In which statement the landlady evidently coincided, and courtesied
low when Miss Leaf introducing him as "my nephew," hoped that a room
could be found for him. Which at last there was, by his appropriating
Miss Leaf's, while she and Hilary took that at the top of the house.
But they agreed, Ascott must have a good airy room to study in.

"You know, my dear boy," said his Aunt Johanna to him--and at her
tender tone he looked a little downcast, as when he was a small
fellow and had been forgiven something -- "You know you will have to
work very hard."

"All right, aunt! I'm your man for that! This will be a jolly room;
and I can smoke up the chimney capitally!"

So they came down stairs quite cheerfully, and Ascott applied himself
with the best of appetites to what he called a "hungry" tea. True,
the ham, which Elizabeth had to fetch from an eating house some
streets off, cost two shillings a pound, and the eggs, which caused
her another war below over the relighting of a fire to boil them,
were dismissed by the young gentleman as "horrid stale." Still,
woman-like, when there is a man in the question, his aunts let him,
have his why. It seemed as if they had resolved to try their utmost
to make the new home to which he came, or rather was driven, a
pleasant home, and to bind him to it with cords of love, the only
cords worth any thing, though sometimes--Heaved knows why--even they
fail, and are snapped and thrown aside like straws.

Whenever Elizabeth went in and out of the parlor she always heard
lively talk going on among the family; Ascott making his jokes,
telling about his college life, and planning his life to come as a
surgeon in full practice, on the most extensive scale. And when she
brought in the chamber candles, she saw him kiss his aunts
affectionately, and even help his Aunt Johanna--who looked
frightfully pale and tired, but smiling still--to her bed-room door.

"You'll not sit up long, my dear? No reading to night?" said she,
anxiously.

"Not a bit of it. And I'll be up with the lark to-morrow morning. I
really will auntie. I'm going to turn over a new leaf, you know."

She smiled again at the immemorial joke, kissed and blessed him, and
the door shut up on her and Hilary.

Ascott descended to the parlor, threw himself on the sofa with an air
of great relief, and an exclamation of satisfaction that "the women"
were all gone. He did not perceive Elizabeth, who, hidden behind, was
kneeling to arrange something in the chiffonnier, till she rose up
and proceeded to fasten the parlor shutters.

"Hollo! are you there? Come, I'll do that when I go to bed. You may
'slope' if you like."

"Eh, Sir."

"Slope, mizzle, cut your stick; don't you understand. Any how, don't
stop here, bothering me."

"I don't mean to," replied Elizabeth; gravely, rather than gruffly,
as if she had made up her mind to things as they were, and was
determined to be a belligerent party no longer. Besides, she was
older now; too old to have things forgiven to her that might be
overlooked in a child; and she had received a long lecture from Miss
Hilary on the necessity of showing respect to Mr. Ascott, or Mr.
Leaf, as it was now decided he was to be called, in his dignity and
responsibility as the only masculine head of the family. As he lay
and lounged there, with his eyes lazily shut, Elizabeth stood a
minute gazing at him. Then, steadfast in her new good behavior, she
inquired "if he wanted any thing more to-night?"

"Confound you! no! Yes; stop." And the young man took a furtive
investigation of the plain, honest face, and not over-graceful,
ultra-provincial figure, which still characterized his aunt's "South
Sea Islander."

"I say, Elizabeth, I want you to do something for me." He spoke so
civilly, almost coaxingly, that Elizabeth turned round surprised.
"Would you just go and ask the landlady if she has got such thing as
a latch key?"

"A what, Sir?"

"A latch-key--a--oh, she knows. Every London house has it. Tell her
I'll take care of it, and lock the front door all right. She needn't
be afraid of thieves."

"Very well, Sir."

Elizabeth went, but shortly reappeared with the information that Mrs.
Jones had gone to bed: in the kitchen, she supposed, as she could not
get in. But she laid on the table the large street door key.

"Perhaps that's what you wanted, Mr. Leaf. Though I think you needn't
be the least afraid of robbers, for there's three bolts, and a chain
besides."

"All right!" cried Ascott, smothering down a laugh. "Thank you!
That's for you," throwing a half-crown across the table.

Elizabeth took it up demurely, and put it down again. Perhaps she did
not like him enough to receive presents from him; perhaps she
thought, being an honest minded girl, that a young man who could not
pay his rent had no business to be giving away half-crowns; or else
she herself had not been so much as many servants are, in the habit
of taking them. For Miss Hilary had put into Elizabeth some of her
own feeling as to this habit of paying an inferior with money for any
little civility or kindness which, from an equal, would be accepted
simply as kindness, and only requited with thanks. Any how, the coin
remained on the table, and the door was just shutting upon Elizabeth,
when the young gentleman turned round again.

"I say, since my aunts are so horridly timid of robbers and such
like, you'd better not tell them any thing about the latch-key."

Elizabeth stood a minute perplexed, and then replied briefly: "Miss
Hilary isn't a bit timid; and I always tells Miss Hilary every
thing."

Nevertheless, though she was so ignorant as never to have heard of a
latch-key, she had the wit to see that all was not right. She even
lay awake, in her closet off Miss Leaf's room, whence she could hear
the murmur of her two mistresses talking together, long after they
retired--lay broad awake for an hour or more, trying to put things
together--the sad things that she felt certain must have happened
that day, and wondering what Mr. Ascott could possibly want with the
key. Also, why he had asked her about it, instead of telling his
aunts at once; and why he had treated her in the matter with such
astonishing civility.

It may be said a servant had no business to think about these things,
to criticize her young master's proceedings, or wonder why her
mistresses were sad: that she had only to go about her work like an
automaton, and take no interest in any thing. I can only answer to
those who like such service, let them have it: and as they sow they
will assuredly reap. But long after Elizabeth, young and hearty, was
soundly snoring on her hard, cramped bed, Johanna and Hilary Leaf,
after a brief mutual pretence of sleep, soon discovered by both, lay
consulting together over ways and means. How could the family
expenses, beginning with twenty-five shillings per week as rent,
possibly be met by the only actual certain family income, their £50
per annum from a mortgage? For the Misses Leaf were or that
old-fashioned stamp which believed that to reckon an income by mere
probabilities is either insanity or dishonesty.

Common arithmetic soon proved that this £50 a year could not maintain
them; in fact they must soon draw on the little sum--already dipped
into to-day, for Ascott--which had been produced by the sale of the
Stowbury furniture. That sale, they now found had been a mistake; and
they half feared whether the whole change from Stowbury to London had
not been a mistake--one of those sad errors in judgment which we all
commit sometimes, and have to abide by, and make the best of, and
learn from if we can. Happy those who "Dinna greet ower spilt
milk"--a proverb wise as cheerful, which Hilary, knowing well who it
came from, repeated to Johanna to comfort her--teaches a second brave
lesson, how to avoid spilling the milk a second time. And then they
consulted anxiously about what was to be done to earn money.

Teaching presented itself as the only resource. In those days women's
work and women's rights had not been discussed so freely as at
present. There was a strong feeling that the principal thing required
was our duties--owed to ourselves, our home, our family and friends.
There was a deep conviction--now, alas! slowly disappearing--that a
woman, single or married, should never throw herself out of the safe
circle of domestic life till the last extremity of necessity; that it
is wiser to keep or help to keep a home, by learning how to expend
its income, cook its dinners, make and mend its clothes, and, by the
law that "prevention is better than cure," studying all those
preservative means of holding a family together--as women, and women
alone, can--than to dash into men's sphere of trades and professions,
thereby, in most instances, fighting an unequal battle, and coming
out of it maimed, broken, unsexed; turned into beings that are
neither men nor women, with the faults and corresponding sufferings
of both, and the compensations of neither.

"I don't see," said poor Hilary, "what I can do but teach. And oh, if
I could only get daily pupils, so that I might come home or nights,
and creep into the fireside; and have time to mend the stockings and
look after Ascott's linen, that he need not be so awfully
extravagant."



CHAPTER XI.

Aunt Hilary fixed her honest eyes on the lad's face--the lad, so
little younger than herself, and yet who at tunes, when he let out
sayings such as this, seemed so awfully, so pitifully old; and she
felt thankful that, at all risks and costs, they had come to London
to be beside him, to help him, to save him, if he needed saving, as
women only can. For, after all, he was but a boy. And though as he
walked by her side, stalwart and manly, the thought smote her
painfully that many a young fellow of his age was the stay and bread
winner of some widowed mother or sister, nay even of wife and child,
still she repeated cheerfully. "What can one expect from him? He is
only a boy."

God help the women who, for those belonging to them--husbands,
fathers, brothers, lovers, sons--have ever so tenderly to apologize.

When they came in sight of St. Pancras's Church, Ascott said,
suddenly, "I think you'll knew your way now, Aunt Hilary."

"Certainly. Why?"

"Because--you wouldn't be vexed if I left you? I have an engagement;
some fellows that I dine with, out at Hampstead, or Richmond, or
Blackwell, every Sunday. Nothing wicked, I assure you. And you know
it's capital for one's health to get a Sunday in fresh air."

"Yes; but Aunt Johanna will be sorry to miss you."

"Will she? Oh, you'll smooth her down. Stay! Tell her I shall be back
to tea."

"We shall be having tea directly."

"I declare I had quite forgotten. Aunt Hilary, you must change your
hours. They don't suit me at all. No men can ever stand early
dinners. By, by! You are the very prettiest auntie. Be sure you get
home safe. Hollo, there! That's my omnibus."

He jumped on the top of it, and was off.

Aunt Hilary stood quite confounded, and with one of those strange
sinkings of the heart which had come over her several times this day.
It was not that Ascott showed any unkindness--that there was any
actual badness in his bright and handsome young face. Still there was
a want there--want of earnestness, steadfastness, truthfulness, a
something more discoverable as the lack of something else than as
aught in itself tangibly and perceptibly wrong. It made her sad; it
caused her to look forward to his future with an anxious heart. It
was so different from the kind of anxiety, and yet settled repose,
with which she thought of the only other man in whose future she felt
the smallest interest. Of Robert Lyon, she was certain that whatever
misfortune visited him he would bear it in the best way it could be
borne; whatever temptation assailed him he would fight against it as
a brave and good Christian should fight. But Ascott?

Ascott's life was as yet an unanswered query. She could but leave it
in Omnipotent hands.

So she found her way home, asking it once or twice of civil
policemen, and going a little distance round--dare I make this
romantic confession about so sensible and practical a little
woman?--that she might walk once up Burton Street and down again. But
nobody knew the fact, and it did nobody any harm.

Meantime at No 15 the afternoon had passed heavily enough. Miss
Selina had gone to lie down; she always did of Sundays, and
Elizabeth, after making her comfortable, by the little attentions the
lady always required, had descended to the dreary wash house, which
had been appropriated to herself, under the name of a "private
kitchen," in the which, after all the cleanings and improvements she
could achieve, sat like Marius among the rains of Carthage, and
sighed for the tidy bright house place at Stowbury. Already, from her
brief experience, she had decided that London people were horrid
shams, because they did not in the least care to have their kitchens
comfortable. She wondered how she should ever exist in this one, and
might have carried her sad and sullen face up stairs, if Miss Leaf
had not come down stairs, and glancing about with that ever gentle
smile of hers, said kindly, "Well, it is not very pleasant, but you
have made the best of it, Elizabeth. We must all put up with
something, you know. Now, as my eyes are not very good to-day,
suppose you come up and read me a chapter."

So, in the quiet parlor, the maid sat down opposite her mistress, and
read aloud out of that Book which says distinctly: "Servants, be
obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with
fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ: knowing,
that whatsoever good thing a man doeth, the same shall he receive of
the Lord, whether he be bond or free."

And yet says immediately after:  "Ye masters, to the same things unto
them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in
heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him."

And I think that Master whom Paul served, not in preaching only, but
also in practice, when he sent back the slave Onesimus to Philemon,
praying that he might be received, "no' now as a servant, but above a
servant, a brother beloved," that Divine Master must have looked
tenderly upon these two women--both women, though of such different
age and position, and taught them through His Spirit in His word, as
only He can teach.

The reading was disturbed by a carriage driving up to the door, and a
knock, a tremendously grand and forcible footman's knock, which made
Miss Leaf start in her easy chair.

"But it can't be visitors to us. We know nobody. Sit still,
Elizabeth."

It was a visitor, however, though by what ingenuity he found them out
remained, when they came to think of it, a great puzzle. A card was
sent in by the dirty servant of Mrs. Jones, speedily followed by a
stout, bald headed, round faced man--I suppose I ought to write
"gentleman"--in whom, though she had not seen him for years, Miss
Leaf found no difficulty in recognizing the grocer's prentice boy,
now Mr. Peter Ascott, of Russell Square.

She rose to receive him: there was always a stateliness in Miss
Leaf's reception of strangers; a slight formality belonging to her
own past generation, and to the time when the Leafs were a "county
family." Perhaps this extra dignity, graceful as it was, overpowered
the little man; or else, being a bachelor, he was unaccustomed to
ladies' society: but he grew red in the face, twiddled his hat, and
then cast a sharp inquisitive glance toward her.

"Miss Leaf, I presume, ma'am. The eldest?"

"I am the eldest Miss Leaf, and very glad to have an opportunity of
thanking you for your long kindness to my nephew. Elizabeth, give Mr.
Ascott a chair."

While doing so, and before her disappearance, Elizabeth took a rapid
observation of the visitor, whose name and history were perfectly
familiar to her. Most small towns have their hero, and Stowbury's was
Peter Ascott, the grocer's boy, the little fellow who had gone up to
London to seek his fortune, and had, strange to say, found it.
Whether by industry or luck--except that industry is luck, and luck
is only another word for industry--he had gradually risen to be a
large city merchant, a dry-salter I conclude it would be called, with
a handsome house, carriage, etc. He had never revisited his native
place, which indeed could not be expected of him, as he had no
relations, but, when asked, as was not seldom of course, he
subscribed liberally to its charities.

Altogether he was a decided hero in the place, and though people
really knew very little about him, the less they knew the more they
gossiped, holding him up to the rising generation as a modern Dick
Whittington, and reverencing him extremely as one who had shed glory
on his native town. Even Elizabeth had conceived a great idea of Mr.
Ascott. When she saw this little fat man, coarse and common looking
in spite of his good clothes and diamond ring, and in manner a
curious mixture of pomposity and awkwardness, she laughed to herself,
thinking what a very uninteresting individual it was about whom
Stowbury had told so many interesting stories. However, she went up
to inform Miss Selina, and prevent her making her appearance before
him in the usual Sunday dishabille in which she indulged when no
visitors were expected.

After his first awkwardness, Mr. Peter Ascott became quite at his
ease with Miss Leaf. He began to talk--not of Stowbury, that was
tacitly ignored by both--but of London, and then of "my house in
Russell Square," "my carriage," "my servants"--the inconvenience of
keeping coachmen who would drink, and footmen who would not clean the
plate properly; ending by what was a favorite moral axiom of his,
that "wealth and position are heavy responsibilities."

He himself seemed, however, not to have been quite overwhelmed by
them; he was fat and flourishing--with an acuteness and power in the
upper half of his face which accounted for his having attained his
present position. The lower half, somehow Miss Leaf did not like it,
she hardly knew why, though a physiognomist might have known. For
Peter Ascott had the underhanging, obstinate, sensual lip, the large
throat--bull-necked, as it has been called--indications of that
essentially animal nature which may be born with the nobleman as with
the clown; which no education can refine, and no talent, though it
may co-exist with it, can ever entirely remove. He reminded one,
perforce, of the rough old proverb; "You can't make a silk purse out
of a sow's ear."

Still, Mr. Ascott was not a bad man, though something deeper than his
glorious indifference to grammar, and his dropped h's--which, to
steal some one's joke, might have been swept up in bushels from Miss
Leaf's parlor--made it impossible for him ever to be, by any culture
whatever, a gentleman.

They talked of Ascott, as being the most convenient mutual subject;
and Miss Leaf expressed the gratitude which her nephew felt, and she
earnestly hoped would ever show, toward his kind godfather.

Mr. Ascott looked pleased.

"Um--yes, Ascott's not a bad fellow--believe he means well: but weak,
ma'am, I'm afraid he's weak. Knows nothing of business--has no
business habits whatever. However, we must make the best of him; I
don't repent any thing I've done for him."

"I hope not," said Miss Leaf, gravely.

And then there ensued an uncomfortable pause, which was happily
broken by the opening of the door, and the sweeping in of a large,
goodly figure.

"My sister, Mr. Ascott; my sister Selina."

The little stout man actually started, and, as he bowed, blushed up
to the eyes.

Miss Selina was, as I have stated, the beauty of the family, and had
once been an acknowledged Stowbury belle. Even now, though nigh upon
forty, when carefully and becomingly dressed, her tall figure, and
her well featured, fair complexioned, unwrinkled face, made her still
appear a very personable woman. At any rate, she was not faded
enough, nor the city magnate's heart cold enough to prevent a sudden
revival of the vision which--in what now seemed an almost
antediluvian stage of existence--had dazzled, Sunday after Sunday,
the eyes of the grocer's lad. If there is one pure spot in a man's
heart--oven the very worldliest of men--it is usually his boyish
first love.

So Peter Ascott looked hard at Miss Selina, then into his hat, then,
as good luck would have it, out of the window, where he caught sight
of his carriage and horses. These revived his spirits, and made him
recognize what he was--Mr. Ascott, of Russell Square, addressing
himself in the character of a benevolent patron to the Leaf family.

"Glad to see you, Miss. Long time since we met--neither of us so
young as we have been--but you do wear well, I must say."

Miss Selina drew back; she was within an inch of being highly
offended, when she too happened to catch a glimpse of the carriage
and horses. So she sat down and entered into conversation with him;
and when she liked, nobody could be more polite and agreeable than
Miss Selina. So it happened that the handsome equipage crawled round
and round the Crescent, or stood pawing the silent Sunday street
before No. 15, for very nearly an hour, even till Hilary came home.
It was vexatious to have to make excuses for Ascott: particularly as
his godfather said with a laugh, that "young fellows would be young
fellows," they needn't expect to see the lad till midnight, or till
to-morrow morning.

But though in this, and other things, he somewhat annoyed the ladies
from Stowbury, no one could say he was not civil to them--exceedingly
civil. He offered them Botanical Garden tickets--Zoological Garden
tickets; he even, after some meditation and knitting of his shaggy
grey eyebrows, bolted out with an invitation for the whole family to
dinner at Russell Square the following Sunday.

"I always give my dinners on Sunday. I've no time any other day,"
said he, when Miss Leaf gently hesitated. "Come or not, just as you
like."

Miss Selina, to whom the remark was chiefly addressed, bowed the most
gracious acceptance. The visitor took very little notice of Miss
Hilary. Probably, if asked, he would have described her as a small,
shabbily-dressed person, looking very like a governess. Indeed, the
fact of her governess-ship seemed suddenly to recur to him; he asked
her if she meant to set up another school, and being informed that
she rather wished private pupils, promised largely that she should
have the full benefit of his "patronage" among his friends. Then he
departed, leaving a message for Ascott to call next day, as he wished
to speak to him.

"For you must be aware, Miss Leaf, that though your nephew's
allowance is nothing--a mere drop in the bucket out of my large
income--still, when it comes year after year, and no chance of his
shifting for himself, the most benevolent man in the world feels
inclined to stop the supplies. Not that I shall do that--at least not
immediately: he is a fine young fellow, whom I'm rather proud to have
helped a step up the ladder, and I've a great respect"--here he bowed
to Miss Selina--"a great respect for your family. Still there must
come a time when I shall be obliged to shut up my purse-strings. You
understand, ma'am."

"I do," Miss Leaf answered, trying to speak with dignity, and yet
with patience, for she saw Hilary's face beginning to flame. "And I
trust, Mr. Ascott, my nephew will soon cease to be an expense to you.
It was your own voluntary kindness that brought it upon yourself, and
I hope you have not found, never will find, either him or us
ungrateful."

"Oh, as to that, ma'am, I don't look for gratitude. Still, if Ascott
does work his way into a good position--and he'll be the first of his
family that ever did, I reckon--but I beg your pardon, Miss Leaf.
Ladies, I'll bid you good day. Will your servant call my carriage?"

The instant he was gone Hilary burst forth--

"If I were Ascott, I'd rather starve in a garret, break stones in the
high road, or buy a broom and sweep a crossing, than I'd be dependent
on this man, this pompous, purse-proud, illiterate fool!"

"No, not a fool," reproved Johanna. "An acute, clear-headed, nor, I
think, bad-hearted man. Coarse and common, certainly; but if we were
to hate every thing coarse or common, we should find plenty to hate.
Besides, though he does his kindness in an unpleasant way, think how
very, very kind he has been to Ascott."

"Johanna, I think you would find a good word for the de'il himself,
as we used to say," cried Hilary, laughing. "Well, Selina; and what
is your opinion of our stout friend?"

Miss Selina, bridling a little, declared that she did not see so much
to complain of in Mr. Ascott. He was not educated, certainly, but he
was a most respectable person. And his calling upon them so soon was
most civil and attentive. She thought, considering his present
position, they should forget--indeed, as Christians they were bound
to forget--that he was once their grocer's boy, and go to dine with
him next Sunday.

"For my part, I shall go, though it is Sunday. I consider it quite a
religious duty--my duty towards my neighbor."

"Which is to love him as yourself. I am sure, Selina, I have no
objection. It would be a grand romantic wind-up to the story which
Stowbury used to tell--of how the 'prentice boy stared his eyes out
at the beautiful young lady; and you would get the advantage of 'my
house in Russell Square,' 'my carriage and servants,' and be able to
elevate your whole family. Do, now! set your cap at Peter Ascott."
Here Hilary, breaking out into one of her childish fits of
irrepressible laughter, was startled to see Selina's face in one
blaze of indignation.

"Hold your tongue, you silly chit, and don't chatter about things you
don't understand."

And she swept majestically out of the room.

"What have I done? Why she is really vexed. If I had thought she
would have taken it in earnest I would never have said a word. Who
would have thought it!"

But Miss Selina's fits of annoyance were so common that the sisters
rarely troubled themselves long on the matter. And when at tea-time
she came down in the best of spirits, they met her half-way, as they
always did, thankful for these brief calms in the family atmosphere,
which never lasted too long. It was a somewhat heavy evening. They
waited supper till after ten; and yet Ascott did not appear. Miss
Leaf read the chapter as usual; and Elizabeth was sent to bed, but
still no sign of the absentee.

"I will sit up for him. He cannot be many minutes new," said his Aunt
Hilary, and settled herself in the solitary parlor, which one candle
and no fire made as cheerless as could possibly be. There she waited
till midnight before the young man came in. Perhaps he was struck
with compunction by her weary white face--by her silent lighting of
his candle, for he made her a thousand apologies.

"'Pon my honor, Aunt Hilary, I'll never keep you up so late again.
Poor dear auntie, how tired she looks!" and he kissed her
affectionately. "But if you were a young fellow, and got among other
young fellows, and they over-persuaded you."

"You should learn to say, No."

"Ah"--with a sigh--"so I ought, if I were as good as my Aunt Hilary."



CHAPTER XII.

Months slipped by; the trees in Burton Crescent had long been all
bare; the summer cries of itinerant vegetable dealers and flower
sellers had vanished out of the quiet street.--The three sisters
almost missed them, sitting in that one dull parlor from morning till
night, in the intense solitude of people who, having neither heart
nor money to spend in gayeties, live forlorn in London lodgings, and
knowing nobody, have nobody to visit, nobody to visit them.

Except Mr. Ascott, who still called, and occasionally stayed to tea.
The hospitalities, however, were all on their side. The first
entertainment--to which Selina insisted upon going, and Johanna
thought Hilary and Ascott had better go too--was splendid enough, but
they were the only ladies present; and though Mr. Ascott did the
honors with great magnificence, putting Miss Selina at the head of
his table, where she looked exceedingly well, still the sisters
agreed it was better that all further invitations to Russell Square
should be declined. Miss Selina herself said it would be more
dignified and decorous.

Other visitors they had none. Ascott never offered to bring any of
his friends; and gradually they saw very little of him. He was
frequently out, especially at meal times, so that his aunts gave up
the struggle to make the humble dinners better and more to his
liking, and would even have hesitated to take the money which he was
understood to pay for his board, had he ever offered it, which he did
not. Yet still whenever he did happen to remain with them a day, or
an evening, he was good and affectionate, and always entertained them
with descriptions of all he would do as soon as he got into practice.

Meantime they kept house as economically as possible upon the little
ready money they had, hoping that more would come in--that Hilary
would get pupils.

But Hilary never did. To any body who knows London this will not be
surprising.--The wonder was in the Misses Leaf being so simple as to
imagine that a young country lady, settling herself in lodgings in an
obscure metropolitan street, without friends or introduction, could
ever expect such a thing. No thing but her own daring, and the
irrepressible well-spring of hope that was in her healthy youth,
could have sustained her in what, ten years after, would have
appeared to her, as it certainty was, downright insanity. But Heaven
takes care of the mad, the righteously and unselfishly mad, and
Heaven took care of poor Hilary.

The hundred labors she went through--weariness of body and travail of
soul, the risks she ran, the pitfalls she escaped--what need to
record here? Many have recorded the like, many more have known them,
and acknowledged that when such histories are reproduced in books how
utterly imagination fades before reality. Hilary never looked
back-upon that time herself without a shuddering wonder how she could
have dared all and gone through all. Possibly she never could, but
for the sweet old face, growing older yet sweeter every day, which
smiled upon her the minute she opened the door of that dull parlor,
and made even No. 15 look like home.

When she told, sometimes gayly, sometimes with burning, bursting
tears, the tale of her day's efforts and day's failures, it was
always comfort to feel Johanna's hand on her hair Johanna's voice
whispering over her, "Never mind, my child, all will come right in
time All happens for good."

And the face, withered and worn, yet calm as a summer sea, full of
the "peace which passeth all understanding," was a living comment on
the truth of these words.

Another comfort Hilary had--Elizabeth.--During her long days of
absence, wandering from one end of London to the other, after
advertisements that she had answered, or governess institutions that
she had applied to the domestic affairs fell almost entirely into the
hands of Elizabeth. It was she who bought in, and kept a jealous eye,
not unneeded, over provisions; she who cooked and waited, and
sometimes even put a helping hand, coarse, but willing, into the
family sewing and mending. This had now become so vital a necessity
that it was fortunate Miss Leaf had no other occupation, and Miss
Selina no other entertainment, than stitch, stitch, stitch, at the
ever-beginning, never-ending wardrobe wants which assail decent
poverty every where, especially in London.

"Clothes seem to wear out frightfully fast," said Hilary one day,
when she was putting on her oldest gown, to suit a damp, foggy day,
when the streets were slippery with the mud of settled rain.

"I saw such beautiful merino dresses in a shop in Southampton Row,"
insinuated Elizabeth; but her mistress shook her head.

"No, no; my old black silk will do capitally, and I can easily put on
two shawls. Nobody knows me; and people may wear what they like in
London. Don't look so grave, Elizabeth. What does it signify if I can
but keep myself warm? Now, run away."

Elizabeth obeyed, but shortly reappeared with a bundle--a large, old
fashioned thick shawl.

"Mother gave it me; her mistress gave it her; but we've never worn
it, and never shall. If only you didn't mind putting it on, just this
once--this terrible soaking day!"

The scarlet face, the entreating tones--there was no resisting them.
One natural pang Hilary felt--that in her sharp poverty she had
fallen so low as to be indebted to her servant, and then she too
blushed, less for shame at accepting the kindness than for her own
pride that could not at once receive it as such.

"Thank you, Elizabeth," she said, gravely and gently, and let herself
be wrapped in the thick shawl. Its gorgeous reds and yellows would,
she knew, make her noticeable, even though "people might wear any
thing in London." Still, she put it on with a good grace, and all
through her peregrinations that day it warmed not only her shoulders,
but her heart.

Coming home, she paused wistfully before a glittering shoe shop; her
poor little feet were so soaked and cold. Could she possibly afford a
new pair of boots? It was not a matter of vanity--she had passed
that. She did not care now how ugly and shabby looked the "wee feet"
that had once been praised; but she felt it might be a matter of
health and prudence. Suppose she caught cold--fell ill--died: died,
leaving Johanna to struggle alone; died before Robert Lyon came home.
Both thoughts struck sharp. She was too young still, or had not
suffered enough, calmly to think of death and dying.

"It will do no harm to inquire the price. I might stop it out in
omnibuses."

For this was the way that every new article of dress had to be
procured--"stopping it cut" of something else.

After trying several pairs-with a fierce, bitter blush at a small
hole which the day's walking had worn in her well darned stockings,
and which she was sure the shopman saw, as well as an old lady who
sat opposite--Hilary bought the plainest and stoutest of boots. The
bill overstepped her purse by six pence, but she promised that sum on
delivery, and paid the rest. She had got into a nervous horror of
letting any account stand over for a single day.

Look tenderly, reader, on this picture of struggles so small, of
sufferings so uninteresting and mean. I paint it not because it is
original, but because it is so awfully true. Thousands of women, well
born, well reared, know it to be true--burned into them by the cruel
conflict of their youth; happy they if it ended in their youth, while
mind and body had still enough vitality and elasticity to endure! I
paint it, because it accounts for the accusation sometimes
made--especially by men--that women are naturally stingy. Possibly
so: but in many instances may it not have been this petty struggle
with petty wants this pitiful calculating of penny against penny, how
best to save here and spend there, which narrows a woman's nature in
spite of herself? It sometimes takes years of comparative ease and
freedom from pecuniary cares to counteract the grinding, lowering
effects of a youth of poverty.

And I paint this picture, too, literally, and not on its picturesque
side--it, indeed, poverty has a picturesque side--in order to show
another side which it really has--high, heroic, made up of dauntless
endurance, self sacrifice, and self control Also, to indicate that
blessing which narrow circumstances alone bestow, the habit of
looking more to the realities than to the shows of things, and of
finding pleasure in enjoyments mental rather than sensuous, inward
rather than external. When people can truly recognize this they cease
either to be afraid or ashamed of poverty.

Hilary was not ashamed:--not even now, when hers smote sharper and
harder than it had ever done at Stowbury. She felt it a sore thing
enough; but it never humiliated nor angered her. Either she was too
proud or not proud enough; but her low estate always seemed to her
too simply external a thing to affect her relations with the world
outside. She never thought of being annoyed with the shopkeeper, who,
though he trusted her with the sixpence, carefully took down her name
and address: still less to suspecting the old lady opposite, who sat
and listened to the transaction--apparently a well-to-do customer,
clad in a rich black silk and handsome sable furs--of looking down
upon her and despising her. She herself never despised any body,
except for wickedness.

So she waited contentedly, neither thinking of herself, nor of what
others thought of her; but with her mind quietly occupied by the two
thoughts, which in any brief space of rest always recurred, calming
down all annoyances, and raising her above the level of petty
pains--Johanna and Robert Lyon. Under the influence of these her
tired face grew composed, and there was a wishful, far away, fond
look in her eyes, which made it not wonderful that the said old
lady--apparently an acute old soul in her way--should watch her, as
we do occasionally watch strangers in whom we have become suddenly
interested.

There is no accounting for these interests, or to the events to which
they give rise. Sometimes they are pooh-pooh-ed as "romantic,"
"unnatural," "like a bit in a novel;" and yet they are facts
continually occurring, especially to people of quick intuition,
observation, and sympathy. Nay, even the most ordinary people have
known or heard of such, resulting in mysterious, life-long loves;
firm friendships; strange yet often wonderful happy marriages; sudden
revolutions of fortune and destiny: things utterly unaccountable for,
except by the belief in the inscrutable Providence which

    "Shapes our ends,
     Rough-how them as we will."

When Hilary left the shop she was startled by a voice at her elbow.

"I beg your pardon, but if your way lies up Southampton Row, would
you object to give an old woman a share of that capital umbrella of
yours?"

"With pleasure," Hilary answered, though the oddness of the request
amused her. And it was granted really with pleasure; for the old lady
spoke with those "accents of the mountain tongue" which this foolish
Hilary never recognized without a thrill at the heart.

"May be you think an old woman ought to take a cab, and not be
intruding upon strangers; but I am hale and hearty, and being only a
streets length from my own door, I dislike to waste unnecessary
shillings."

"Certainly," acquiesced Hilary, with a half sigh: shillings were only
too precious to her.

"I saw you in the boot shop, and you seemed the sort of young lady
who would do a kindness to an old body like me; so I said to myself,
'Ill ask her.'"

"I am glad you did." Poor girl! she felt unconsciously pleased at
finding herself still able to show a kindness to any body.

They walked on and on--it was certainly a long street's length--to
the stranger's door, and it took Hilary a good way round from hers;
but she said nothing of this, concluding, of course, that her
companion was unaware of where she lived; in which she was mistaken.
They stopped at last before a respectable house near Brunswick
Square, bearing a brass plate, with the words "Miss Balquidder."

"That is my name, and very much obliged to you, my dear. How it
rains! Ye're just drenched."

Hilary smiled and shook her damp shawl. "I shall take no harm. I am
used to go out in all weathers."

"Are you a governess?" The question was so direct and kindly, that it
hardly seemed an impertinence.

"Yes; but I have no pupils, and I fear I shall never get any."

"Why not?"

"I suppose, because I know nobody here. It seems so very hard to get
teaching in London. But I beg your pardon."

"I beg yours," said Miss Balquidder--not without a certain
dignity--"for asking questions of a stranger. But I was once a
stranger here myself, and had a 'sair fecht,' as we say in Scotland,
before I could earn even my daily bread. Though I wasn't a governess,
still I know pretty well what the sort of life is, and if I had
daughters who must work for their bread, the one thing I would urge
upon them should be--'Never become a governess.' "

"Indeed. For what reason?"

"I'll not tell you now, my dear, standing with all your wet clothes
on; but as I said, if you will do me the favor to call."

"Thank you!" said Hilary, not sufficiently initiated in London
caution to dread making a new acquaintance. Besides, she liked the
rough hewn, good natured face; and the Scotch accent was sweet to her
ear.

Yet when she reached home she was half shy of telling her sisters the
engagement she had made. Selina was extremely shocked, and considered
it quite necessary that the London Directory, the nearest clergyman,
or, perhaps, Mr. Ascott, who living in the parish, must know--should
be consulted as to Miss Balquidder's respectability.

"She has much more reason to question ours," recollected Hilary, with
some amusement; for I never told her my name or address. She does not
know a single thing about me.

Which fact, arguing the matter energetic ally two days after, the
young lady might not have been so sure of, could she have penetrated
the ceiling overhead. In truth, Miss Balquidder, a prudent person,
who never did things by halves, and, like most truly generous people,
was cautious even in her extremist fits of generosity, at that very
moment was sitting in Mrs. Jones's first floor, deliberately
discovering every single thing possible to be learned about the Leaf
family.

Nevertheless, owing to Selina's indignant pertinacity, Hilary's own
hesitation, and a dim hope of a pupil which rose up and faded like
the rest, the possible acquaintance lay dormant for two or three
weeks; till, alas! the fabulous wolf actually came to the door; and
the sisters, after paying their week's rent, looked aghast at one
another, not knowing where in the wide world the next week's rent was
to come from.

"Thank God, we don't owe any thing: not a penny!" gasped Hilary.

"No; there is comfort in that," said Johanna. And the expression of
her folded hands and upward face was not despairing, even though that
of the poor widow, when her barrel of meal was gone, and her cruse of
oil spent, would hardly have been sadder.

"I am sure we have wasted nothing, and cheated nobody;--surely God
will help us."

"I know He will, my child."

And the two sisters, elder and younger, kissed one another, cried a
little, and then sat down to consider what was to be done.

Ascott must be told how things were with them. Hitherto they had not
troubled him much with their affairs: indeed, he was so little at
home. And after some private consultation, both Johanna and Hilary
decided that it was wisest to let the lad come and go as he liked;
not attempting--as he once indignantly expressed it--"to tie him to
their apron strings." For instinctively these maiden ladies felt that
with men, and, above all, young men, the only way to bind the
wandering heart was to leave it free, except by trying their utmost
that home should be always a pleasant home.

It was touching to see their efforts, when Ascott came in of
evenings, to enliven for his sake the dull parlor at No. 15. How
Johanna put away her mending, and Selina ceased to grumble, and
Hilary began her lively chat, that never failed to brighten and amuse
the household. Her nephew even sometimes acknowledged that wherever
he went, he met nobody so "clever" as Aunt Hilary.

So, presuming upon her influence with him, on this night, after the
rest were gone to bed, she, being always the boldest to do any
unpleasant thing, said to him.

"Ascott, how are your business affairs progressing? When do you think
you will be able to get into practice?"

"Oh, presently. There's no hurry."

"I am not so sure of that. Do you know, my dear boy"--and she opened
her purse, which contained a few shillings--"this is all the money we
have in the world."

"Nonsense," said Ascott, laughing. "I beg your pardon," he added,
seeing it was with her no laughing matter; "but I am so accustomed to
be hard up that I don't seem to care. It always comes right
somehow--at least with me."

"How?"

"Oh, I don't exactly know; but it does. Don't fret, Aunt Hilary. I'll
lend you a pound or two."

She drew back. These poor, proud, fond women, who, if their boy,
instead of a fine gentleman, had been a helpless invalid, would have
tended him, worked for him, nay, begged for him--cheerfully, oh, how
cheerfully! wanting nothing in the whole world but his love--they
could not ask him for his money. Even now, offered thus, Hilary felt
as if to take it would be intolerable.

Still the thing must be done.

"I wish, Ascott"--and she nerved herself to say what somebody ought
to say to him--"I would you would not lend but pay us the pound a
week you said you could so easily spare."

"To be sure I will. What a thoughtless fellow I have been!
But--but--I fancied you would have asked me if you wanted it. Never
mind, you'll get it all in a lump. Let me see--how much will it come
to? You are the best head going for arithmetic, Aunt Hilary. Do
reckon it all up?" She did so; and the sum total made Ascott open his
eyes wide.

"Upon my soul I had no idea it was so much. I'm very sorry, but I
seem fairly cleaned out this quarter--only a few sovereigns left to
keep the mill going. You shall have them, or half of them, and I'll
owe you the rest. Here!"

He emptied on the table, without counting, four or five pounds.
Hilary took two, asking him gravely "If he was sure he could spare so
much? She did not wish to inconvenience him."

"Oh, not at all; and I wouldn't mind if it did; you have been good
aunts to me."

He kissed her, with a sudden fit of compunction, and bade her
good-night, looking as if he did not care to be "bothered" any more.

Hilary retired, more sad, more hopeless about him than if he had
slammed the door in her face, or scolded her like a trooper. Had he
met her seriousness in the same spirit, even though it had been a
sullen or angry spirit--and little as she said he must have felt she
wished him to feel--that his aunts were displeased with him; but that
utterly unrepressible light-heartedness of his--there was no doing
any thing with it. There was so to speak, "no catching hold" of
Ascott. He meant no harm. She repeated over and over again that the
lad meant no harm. He had no evil ways; was always pleasant,
good-natured, and affectionate, in his own careless fashion; but was
no more to be relied on than a straw that every wind blows hither and
thither; or, to use a common simile, a butterfly that never sees any
thing farther than the nearest flower. His was, in short, the
pleasure-loving temperament, not positively sinful or sensual, but
still holding pleasure as the greatest good; and regarding what
deeper natures call "duty," and find therein their strong-hold and
consolation, as a mere bugbear or a sentimental theory, or an
impossible folly.

Poor lad! and he had the world to fight with; how would it use him?
Even if no heavy sorrows for himself or others smote him, his
handsome face would have to grow old, his strong frame to meet
sickness--death.--How would he do it? That is the thought which
always recurs. What is the end of such men as these? Alas! the answer
would come from hospital wards, alms-houses and work-houses, debtors'
prisons and lunatic asylums.

To apprehensions like this--except the last, happily it was as yet
too far off--Hilary had been slowly and sadly arriving about Ascott
for weeks past; and her conversation with him to-night seemed to make
them darken down upon her with added gloom. As she went up stairs she
set her lips together hard.

"I see there is nobody to do any thing except me. But I must not tell
Johanna."

She lay long awake, planning every conceivable scheme for saving
money; till at length, her wits sharpened by the desperation of the
circumstances, there flashed upon her an idea that came out of a talk
she had had with Elizabeth that morning. True, it was a perfectly new
and untried chance--and a mere chance; still it was right to overlook
nothing. She would not have ventured to tell Selina of it for the
world, and even to Johanna, she only said--finding her as wakeful as
herself--said it in a careless manner, as if it had relation to
nothing, and she expected nothing from it-- "I think, as I have
nothing else to do, I will go and see Miss Balquidder to-morrow
morning."



CHAPTER XIII.

Miss Balquidder's house was a handsome one, handsomely furnished, and
a neat little to aid-servant showed Hilary at once into the
dining-parlor, where the mistress sat before a business-like
writing-table, covered with letters, papers, etc., all arranged with
that careful order in disorder which indicates, even in the smallest
things, the possession of an accurate, methodical mind, than which
there are few greater possessions, either to its owner or to the
world at large.

Miss Balquidder was not a personable woman; she had never been so
even in youth; and age had told its tale upon those large, strong
features--"thoroughly Scotch features," they would have been called
by those who think all Scotchwomen are necessarily big, raw-boned,
and ugly; and have never seen that wonderfully noble beauty--not
prettiness, but actual beauty in its highest physical as well as
spiritual development--which is not seldom found across the Tweed.

But while there was nothing lovely, there was nothing unpleasant or
uncomely in Miss Balquidder. Her large figure, in its plain black
silk dress; her neat white cap, from under which peeped the little
round curls of flaxen hair, neither gray nor snowy, but real
"lint-white locks" still; and her good-humored, motherly
look--motherly rather than old-maidish--gave an impression which may
be best described by the word "comfortable."--She was a "comfortable"
woman. She had that quality--too rarely, alas! in all people, and
rarest in women going solitary down the hill of life--of being able,
out of the deep content of her own nature, to make other people the
same.

Hilary was cheered in spite of herself: it always conveys hope to the
young, when in sore trouble, if they see the old looking happy.

"Welcome, my dear! I was afraid you had forgotten your promise."

"Oh no," said Hilary, responding heartily to the hearty clasp of a
hand large as a man's, but soft as a woman's.

"Why did you not come sooner?"

More than one possible excuse flashed thro' Hilary's mind, but she
was too honest to give it. She gave none at all. Nor did she like to
leave the impression that this was merely a visit, when she knew she
had only come from secondary and personal motives.

"May I tell you why I came to-day?--Because I want advice and help,
and I think you can give it, from something I heard about you
yesterday."

"Indeed! From whom?"

"In rather a roundabout way; from Mrs. Jones, who told our
maid-servant."

"The same girl I met on the staircase at your bones? I beg your
pardon, but I know where you live, Miss Leaf; your landlady happens
to be an acquaintance of mine."

"So she said: and she told our Elizabeth that you were a rich and
benevolent woman, who took a great interest in helping other women;
not in money"--blushing scarlet at be idea--"I don't mean that, but
in procuring them work. I want work--oh! so terribly. If you only
knew--"

"Sit down, my dear;" for Hilary was rambling much, her voice
breaking, and her eyes filling, in spite of all her self-command.

Miss Balquidder--who seemed accustomed to wait upon herself--went out
of the room, and returned with cake and glasses; then she took the
wine from the side-board, poured some oat for herself and Hilary, and
began to talk.

"It is nearly my luncheon-time, and I am a great friend to regular
eating and drinking. I never let any thing interfere with my own
meals, or other folks' either, if I can help it. I would as soon
expect that fire to keep itself up without coals, as my mind to go on
working if I don't look after my body. You understand? You seem to
have good health, Miss Leaf. I hope you are a prudent girl, and take
care of it."

"I think I do;" and Hilary smiled. "At any rate my sister does for
me, and also Elizabeth."

"Ah, I liked the look of that girl. If families did but know that the
most useful patent of respectability they can carry about with them
is their maid-servant! That is how I always judge my new
acquaintances."

"There's reason in it, too," said Hilary, amused and drawn out of
herself by the frank manner and the cordial voice--I use the
adjective advisedly; none the less sweet because its good terse
English had a decided Scotch accent, with here and there a Scotch
word. Also there was about Miss Balquidder a certain dry humor
essentially Scotch--neither Irish "wit" nor English "fun," but Scotch
humor; a little ponderous perhaps, yet sparkling: like the sparkles
from a large lump of coal, red-warm at the heart, and capable of
warming a whole household. As many a time it had warmed the little
household at Stowbury--for Robert Lyon had it in perfection. Like a
waft as from old times, it made Hilary at once feel at home with Miss
Balquidder. Equally, Miss Balquidder might have seen something in
this girl's patient, heroic, forlorn youth which reminded her of her
own. Unreasoning as these sudden attractions appear, there is often a
hidden something beneath which in reality makes them both natural and
probable, as was the case here. In half an hour these two women were
sitting talking like old friends; and Hilary had explained her
present position, needs and desires. They ended in the one
cry--familiar to how many thousands more of helpless young women!--"I
want work!"

Miss Balquidder listened thoughtfully. Not that it was a new
story--alas! she heard it every day; but there was something new in
the telling of it; such extreme directness and simplicity, such utter
want of either false pride or false shame, No asking of favors, and
yet no shrinking from well-means kindness; the poor woman speaking
freely to the rich one, recognizing the common womanhood of both, and
never supposing for an instant that mere money or position could make
any difference between them.

The story ended, both turned, as was the character of both, to the
practical application of it--what it was exactly that Hilary needed,
and what Miss Balquidder could supply.

The latter said, after a turn or two up and down the room, with her
hands behind her--the only masculine trick she had--

"My dear, before going further, I ought to tell you one thing--I am
not a lady."

Hilary looked at her in no little bewilderment.

"That is," explained Miss Balquidder, laughing, "not an educated
gentlewoman like you. I made my money myself--in trade. I kept an
outfitter's shop."

"You must have kept it uncommonly well," was the involuntary reply,
which, in its extreme honesty and naivete, was perhaps the best thing
that Hilary could have said.

"Well, perhaps I did," and Miss Balquidder laughed her hearty laugh,
betraying one of her few weaknesses--a consciousness of her own
capabilities as a woman of business, and a pleasure at her own
deserved success.

"Therefore, you see. I can not help you as a governess. Perhaps I
would not if I could, for, so far as I see, a good clearance of one
half the governesses into honest trades would be for their own
benefit, and greatly to the benefit of the other half. But that's not
my affair. I only meddle with things I understand. Miss Leaf, would
you be ashamed of keeping a shop?"

It is no reflection upon Hilary to confess that this point-blank
question startled her.--Her bringing up had been strictly among the
professional class; and in the provinces sharper than even in London
is drawn the line between the richest tradesman who "keeps a shop,"
and the poorest lawyer, doctor, or clergyman who ever starved in
decent gentility. It had been often a struggle for Hilary Leaf's
girlish pride to have to teach A B C to little boys and girls whose
parents stood behind counters; but as she grew older she grew wiser,
and intercourse with Robert Lyon had taught her much. She never
forgot, one day, when Selina asked him something about his
grandfather or great-grandfather, and he answered quickly, smiling,
"Well, I suppose I had one, but I really never heard." Nevertheless
it takes long to conquer entirely the class prejudices of years, nay,
more, of generations. In spite of her will Hilary felt herself wince,
and the color rush all over her face, at Miss Balquidder's question.

"Take time to answer, and speak out, my dear. Don't be afraid. You'll
not offend me."

The kindly cheerful tone made Hilary recover her balance immediately.

"I never thought of it before; the possibility of such a thing did
not occur to me; but I hope I should not be ashamed of any honest
work for which I was competent. Only--to serve in a shop--to want
upon strangers--I am so horribly shy of strangers." And again the
sensitive color rushed in a perfect tide over checks and forehead.

Miss Balquidder looked, half amused, compassionately at her.

"No, my dear, you would not make a good shop-woman, at least there
are many who are better fitted for it than you; and it is my maxim
that people should try to find out, and to do, only that which they
are best fitted for. If they did we might not have so many cases of
proud despair and ambitious failure in the world. It looks very grand
and interesting sometimes to try and do what you can't de, and then
tear your hair, and think the world has ill-used you--very grand, but
very silly: when all the while, perhaps, there is something else you
can do thoroughly well; and the world will be exceedingly obliged to
you for doing it, and not doing the other thing.--As doubtless the
world was to me, when, instead of being a mediocre musician, as I
once wished to be--it's true, my dear--I took to keeping one of the
best ladies' outfitting warehouses in London."

While she talked her companion had quite recovered herself, and Miss
Balquidder then went on to explain, what I will tell more briefly, if
less graphically, than the good Scotchwoman, who, like all who have
had a hard struggle in their youth, liked a little to dilate upon it
in easy old age. Hard as it was, however, it had ended early, for at
fifty she found herself a woman of independent property, without kith
or kin, still active, energetic, and capable of enjoying life. She
applied her mind to find out what she could best do with herself and
her money.

"I might have bought a landed estate to be inherited by--nobody; or a
house in Belgravia, and an opera-box, to be shared by--nobody. We all
have our pet luxuries; none of these were exactly mine."

"No," assented Hilary, somewhat abstractedly. She was thinking--if
she could make a fortune, and--and give it away!--if, by any means,
any honorable, upright heart could be made to understand that it did
not signify, in reality, which side the money came from; that it
sometimes showed deeper, the very deepest attachment, when a proud,
poor man had self-respect and courage enough to say to a woman, "I
love you, and I will marry you; I am not such a coward as to be
afraid of your gold."

But, oh! what a ridiculous dream!--and she sat there, the penniless
Hilary Leaf, listening to Miss Balquidder, the rich lady, whose life
seemed so easy. For the moment, perhaps, her own appeared hard. But
she had hope, and she was young. She knew nothing of the years and
years that had had to be lived through before those kind eyes looked
as clear and cloudless as now; before the voice had gained the sweet
evenness of tone which she liked to listen to, and felt that it made
her quiet and "good," almost like Johanna's.

"You see, my dear," said Miss Balquidder, "when one has no duties,
one must just make them; when we have nobody to care for us, we must
take to caring for every body. I suppose"--here a slight pause
indicated that this life, like all women's lives, had had its tale,
now long, long told--"I suppose I was not meant to be a wife; but I
am quite certain I was meant to be a mother. And"--with her peculiar,
bright, humorous look--"you'd be astonished, Miss Leaf, if you knew
what lots of 'children' I have in all parts of the world."

Miss Balquidder then went on to explain, that finding, from her own
experience, how great was the number, and how sore the trial of young
women who nowadays are obliged to work--obliged to forget that there
is such a thing as the blessed privilege of being worked for--she had
set herself, in her small way, to try and help them. Her pet project
was to induce educated women to quit the genteel starvation of
governesships for some good trade thereby bringing higher
intelligence into a class which needed, not the elevation of the work
itself, which was comparatively easy and refined, but of the workers.
She had therefore invested sum after sum of her capital in setting up
various small shops in the environs of London, in her own former
line, and others--stationers, lace-shops, etc.--trades which could be
well carried on by women.--Into the management of these she put as
many young girls as she could find really fitted for it, or willing
to learn, paying them regular salaries, large or small, according to
their deserts.

"Fair work, fair pay; not one penny more or less; I never do it; it
would not be honest. I overlook each business myself, and it is
carried on in my name. Sometimes it brings me in a little profit;
sometimes not. Of course," she added, smiling. "I would rather have
profits than losses; still, I balance one against the other, and it
leaves me generally a small interest for my money--two or three per
cent., which is all I care about. Thus, you see. I and my young
people make a fair bargain on both sides; it's no charity. I don't
believe in charity."

"No," said Hilary, feeling her spirit rise. She was yet young enough,
yet enough unworn by the fight to feel the deliciousness of
work--honest work for honest pay. "I think I could do it," she added.
"I think, with a little practice, I really could keep a shop."

"At all events, perhaps you could do what I find more difficult to
get done, and well done, for it requires a far higher class of women
than generally apply: you could keep the accounts of a shop; you
should be the head, and it would be easy to find the hands, Let me
see; there is a young lady, she has managed my stationer's business
at Kensington these two years, and now she is going to be married.
Are you good at figures; do you understand book-keeping?"

And suddenly changing into the woman of business, and one who was
evidently quite accustomed both to arrange and command, Miss
Balquidder put Hilary through a sort of extempore arithmetical
catechism, from which she came off with flying colors.

"I only wish there were more like you. I wish there were more young
ladies brought up like--"

"Like boys!" said Hilary, laughing, "for I always used to say that
was my case."

"No, I never desire to see young women made into men." And Miss
Balquidder seemed a little scandalized. "But I do wish girls were
taught fewer accomplishments, and more reading, writing, and
arithmetic; were made as accurate, orderly, and able to help
themselves as boys are. But to business. Will you take the management
of my stationer's shop?"

Hilary's breath came hard and fast. Much as she had longed for work,
to get this sort of work--to keep a stationer's shop? What would her
sisters say? what would he say! But she dared not think of that just
now.

"How much should I be able to earn, do you think?"

Miss Balquidder considered a moment, and then said, rather shortly,
for it was not exactly acting on her own principles; she knew the pay
was above the work. "I will give you a hundred a year."

A hundred a year! actually certain, and over and above any other
income. It seemed a fortune to poor Hilary.

"Will you give me a day or two to think about it and consult my
sisters?"

She spoke quietly, but Miss Balquidder could see how agitated she
was; how she evidently struggled with many feelings that would be
best struggled with alone. The good old lady rose.

"Take your own time, my dear; I will keep the situation open for you
for one week from this date. And now I must send you away, for I have
a great deal to do."

They parted quite like friends; and Hilary went out, walking quickly,
feeling neither the wind nor the rain. Yet when she reached No. 15
she could not bring herself to enter, but took another turn or two
round the Crescent, trying to be quite sure of her own mind before
she opened the matter to her sisters.--

And there was one little battle to be fought which the sisters did
know.

It was perhaps foolish, seeing she did not belong to him in any open
way, and he had no external right over her life or her actions, that
she should go back and back to the question, "What would Robert Lyon
say?"

He knew she earned her daily bread; sometimes this had seemed to vex
and annoy him, but it must be done; and when a thing was inevitable,
it was not Mr. Lyon's way to say much about it. But being a governess
was an accredited and customary mode of a young lady's earning her
livelihood. This was different. If he should think it too public, too
unfeminine: he had such a horror of a woman's being any thing but a
woman, as strong and brave as she could, but in a womanly way; doing
any thing, however painful, that she was obliged to do, but never out
of choice or bravado, or the excitement of stepping out of her own
sphere into man's. Would Robert Lyon think less of her, Hilary,
because she had to earn to take care of herself, to protect herself,
and to act in so many ways for herself, contrary to the natural and
right order of things? That old order--God forbid it should ever
change!--which ordained that the women should be "keepers at home;"
happy rulers of that happy little world, which seemed as far off as
the next world from this poor Hilary.

"What if he should look down upon me? What if he should return and
find me different from what he expected?"

And bitter tears burned in her eyes, as she walked rapidly and
passionately along the deserted street. Then a revulsion came.

"No; love is worth nothing that is not worth every thing, and to be
trusted through every thing. If he could forget me--could love any
one better than me--me myself, no matter what I was--ugly or pretty,
old or young, rich or poor--I would not care for his love. It would
not be worth my having; I'd let it go. Robert, though it broke my
heart, I'd let you go."

Her eyes flashed; her poor little hand clenched itself under her
shawl; and then, as a half reproach, she heard in fancy the steady
loving voice--which could have calmed her wildest paroxysm of passion
and pain--"You must trust me, Hilary."

Yes, he was a man to be trusted. No doubt very much like other men,
and by no means such a hero to the world at large as this fond girl
made him out to be; but Robert Lyon had, with all people, and under
all circumstances, the character of reliableness. He had also--you
might read it in his face--a quality equally rare, faithfulness. Not
merely sincerity, but faithfulness; the power of conceiving one clear
purpose, or one strong love--in unity of strength--and of not only
keeping true to it at the time, but of holding fast to it with a
single-minded persistency that never even takes in the idea of
voluntary change, as long as persistency is right or possible.

"Robert, Robert!" sobbed this forlorn girl, as if slowly waking up to
a sense of her forlorness, and of the almost universal fickleness,
not actual falseness, but fickleness, which prevails in the world and
among mankind. "O Robert, be faithful! faithful to yourself--faithful
to me!"



CHAPTER XIV.

When Miss Hilary reached home Elizabeth opened the door to her; the
parlor was deserted.

Miss Leaf had gone to lie down, and Miss Selina was away to see the
Lord Mayor's Show with Mr. Peter Ascott.

"With Mr. Peter Ascott!" Hilary was a little surprised; but on second
thoughts she found it natural; Selina was glad of any amusement--to
her, not only the narrowness but the dullness of their poverty was
inexpressibly galling. "She will be back to dinner, I suppose?"

"I don't know," said Elizabeth briefly.

Had Miss Hilary been less preoccupied, she would have noticed
something not quite right about the girl--something that at any other
time would have aroused the direct question, "What is the matter,
Elizabeth?" For Miss Hilary did not consider it beneath her dignity
to observe that things might occasionally go wrong with this solitary
young woman, away from her friends, and exposed to all the annoyances
of London lodgings; that many trifles might happen to worry and
perplex her. If the mistress could not set them right, she could at
least give the word of kindly sympathy, as precious to "a poor
servant" as to the Queen on her throne.

This time, however, it came not, and Elizabeth disappeared below
stairs immediately.

The girl was revolving in her own mind a difficult ethical question.
To-day, for the first time in her life, she had not "told Miss Hilary
every thing." Two things had happened, and she could not make up her
mind as to whether she ought to communicate them.

Now Elizabeth had a conscience, by nature a very tender one, and
which, from circumstances, had been cultivated into a much higher
sensitiveness than, alas! is common among her class, or, indeed, in
any class. This, if an error, was Miss Hilary's doing; it probably
caused Elizabeth a few more miseries, and vexations, and painful
shocks in the world than she would have had had she imbibed only the
ordinary tone of morality, especially the morality of ordinary
domestic servants; but it was an error upon which, in summing up her
life, the Recording Angel would gravely smile.

The first trial had happened at breakfast time. Ascott, descending
earlier than his wont, had asked her. Did any gentleman, short and
dirty, with a hooked nose, inquire for him yesterday?

Elizabeth thought a minute, and recollected that some person
answering the above not too flattering description had called, but
refused to leave his name, saying he did not know the ladies, but was
a particular friend of Mr. Leaf's.

Ascott laughed. "So he is--a very particular friend; but my aunts
would not fancy him, and I don't want him to come here. Say, if he
calls, that I'm gone out of town."

"Very well, sir. Shall you start before dinner?" said Elizabeth,
whose practical mind immediately recurred to that meal, and to the
joint, always contrived to be hot on the days that Ascott dined at
home.

He seemed excessively tickled. "Bless you, you are the greatest
innocent! Just say what I tell you, and never mind--hush! here's Aunt
Hilary."

And Miss Hilary's anxious face, white with long wakefulness, had put
out of Elizabeth's head the answer that was coming; indeed the matter
slipped from her mind altogether, in consequence of another
circumstance which gave her much more perplexity.

During her young mistress's absence, supposing Miss Selina out too,
and Miss Leaf up stairs, she had come suddenly into the parlor
without knocking. There, to her amazement, she saw Miss Selina and
Mr. Ascott standing, in close conversation, over the fire. They were
so engrossed that they did not notice her, and she shut door again
immediately. But what confounded her was, that she was certain,
absolutely certain, Mr. Ascott had his arm round Miss Selina's waist!

Now that was no business of hers, and yet the faithful domestic was a
good deal troubled; still more so, when, by Miss Leaf's excessive
surprise at hearing of the visitor who had come and gone, carrying
Miss Selina away to the city, she was certain the elder sister was
completely in the dark as to any thing going to happen in the family.

Could it be a wedding? Could Miss Selina really love, and be
intending to marry, that horrid little man? For strange to say, this
young servant had, what many a young beauty of rank and fashion has
not, or has lost forever--the true, pure, womanly creed, that loving
and marrying are synonymous terms; that to let a man put his arm
round your waist when you do not intend to marry him, or to intend to
marry him for money or any thing else when you do not really love
him, are things quite impossible and incredible to any womanly mind.
A creed somewhat out of date, and perhaps existing only in stray
nooks of the world; but thank God! it does exist. Hilary had it, and
she had taught it to Elizabeth.

"I wonder whether Miss Hilary knows of this? I wonder what she would
say to it?"

And now arose the perplexing ethical question aforesaid, as to
whether Elizabeth ought to tell her.

It was one of Miss Hilary's doctrines--the same for the kitchen as
for the parlor, nay, preached strongest in the kitchen, where the
mysteries of the parlor are often so cruelly exposed--that a secret
accidentally found out should be kept as sacred as if actually
confided; also, that the secret of an enemy should no more be
betrayed than that of a beloved and trusting friend.

"Miss Selina isn't my enemy," smiled Elizabeth: "but I'm not overfond
of her, and so I'd rather not tell of her, or vex her if I can help
it. Any how, I'll keep it to myself for a bit."

But the secret weighed heavily upon her, and besides, her honest
heart felt a certain diminution of respect for Miss Selina. What
could she see to like in that common looking, commonplace man, whom
she could not have met a dozen times, of whose domestic life she knew
nothing, and whose personality Elizabeth, with the sharp observation
often found in her class, probably because coarse people do not care
to hide their coarseness from servants, had speedily set down at her
own valuation--

"Neither carriage nor horses, nor nothing, will ever make him a
gentleman?"

He, however, sent Miss Selina home magnificently in the said
carriage; Ascott with her, who had been picked up somewhere in the
City and who came in to his dinner, without the slightest reference
to going "out of town."

But in spite of her Lord Mayor's Show, and the great attention which
she said she had received from "various members of the Common Council
of the City of London," Miss Selina was, for her, meditative, and did
not talk quite so much as usual. There was in the little parlor an
uncomfortable atmosphere, as if all of them had something on their
minds. Hilary felt the ice must be broken, and if she did not do it
nobody else would. So she said, stealing her hand into Johanna's
under shelter of the dim fire-light, "Selina, I wanted to have a
little family consultation. I have just received an offer."

"An offer!" repeated Miss Selina, with a visible start. "Oh, I
forgot; you went to see your friend, Miss Balquidder, this morning.
Did you get any thing out of her? Has she any nephews and nieces
wanting a governess?"

"She has no relations at all. But I will just tell you the story of
my visit."

"I hope it's interesting," said Ascott, who was lying on the sofa,
half asleep, his general habit after dinner. He woke, however, during
his Aunt Hilary's relation, and when she reached its climax, that the
offer was for her to manage a stationer's shop, he burst out heartily
laughing:

"Well, that is a rich idea. I'll come and buy of you. You'll look so
pretty standing behind a counter."

But Selina said, angrily, "You cannot even think of such a thing. It
would be a disgrace to the family."

"No," said Hilary, clasping tightly her eldest sister's hand--they
two had already talked the matter over: "I can not see any disgrace.
If our family is so poor that the women must earn their living as
well as the men, all we have to see is that it should be honestly
earned. What do you say, Ascott?"

She looked earnestly at him; she wanted sorely to find out what he
really thought.

But Ascott took it, as he did every thing, very easily. "I don't see
why Aunt Selina should make such a fuss. Why need you do anything,
Aunt Hilary? Can't we hold out a little longer, and live upon tick
till I get into practice? Of course, I shall then take care of you
all; I'm the head of the family. How horribly dark this room is!"

He started up, and gave the fire a fierce poke, which consumed in
five minutes a large lump of coal that Hilary had hoped--oh, cruel,
sordid economy--would have lasted half the evening.

She broke the uneasy silence which followed by asking Johanna to give
her opinion.

Johanna roused herself and spoke:

"Ascott says right; he is the head of the family, and, by-and-by. I
trust will take care of us all. But he is not able to do it now, and
meantime we must live."

"To be sure, we must Auntie."

"I mean, my boy, we must live honestly; we must not run into debt:"
and her voice sharpened as with the reflected horror of her young
days--if, alas! there ever had been any youth for Henry Leaf's eldest
daughter. "No, Ascott, out of debt out of danger. For myself"--she
laid her thin old fingers on his arm, and looked up at him with a
pitiful mixture of reliance and hopelessness--"I would rather see you
breaking stones in the road than living like a gentleman, as you call
it, and a swindler, as I call it, upon other people's money."

Ascott sprang up, coloring violently. "You use strong language, Aunt
Johanna. Never mind. I dare say you are right. However, it's no
business of mine. Good-night, for I have an engagement."

Hilary said, gravely, she wished he would stay and join in the family
consultation.

"Oh no; I bate talking over things. Settle it among yourselves. As I
said, it isn't my business."

"You don't care, then, what becomes of us all? I sometimes begin to
think so."

Struck by the tone, Ascott stopped in the act of putting on his lilac
kid gloves. "What have I done? I may be a very bad fellow, but I'm
not quite so bad as that. Aunt Hilary."

"She didn't mean it, my boy," said Aunt Johanna, tenderly.

He was moved, more by the tenderness than the reproach. He came and
kissed his eldest aunt in that warm-hearted, impulsive way, which had
won him forgiveness for many a boyish fault. It did so now.

"I know I'm not half good enough to you, Auntie, but I mean to be. I
mean to work hard, and be a rich man some day; and then you may be
sure I shall not let my Aunt Hilary keep a shop. Now, good-night, for
I must meet a fellow on business--really business--that may turn out
good for us all, I assure you."

He went away whistling, with that air of untroubled, good-natured
liveliness peculiar to Ascott Leaf, which made them say continually
that he was "only a boy," living a boy's life, as thoughtless and as
free. When his handsome face disappeared the three women sat down
again round the fire.

They made no comments on him whatever; they were women, and he was
their own. But--passing him over as if he had never existed--Hilary
began to explain to her sisters all particulars of her new scheme for
maintaining the family. She told these details in a matter of-fact
way, as already arranged; and finally hoped Selina would make no more
objections.

"It is a thing quite impossible," said Selina, with dignity.

"Why impossible? I can certainly do the work; and it can not make me
less of a lady. Besides, we had better not be ladies if we can not be
honest ones. And, Selina, where is the money to come from? We have
none in the house; we can not get any till Christmas."

"Opportunities might occur. We have friends."

"Not one in London; except, perhaps, Mr. Ascott, and I would not ask
him for a farthing. You don't see, Selina, how horrible it would be
to be helped, unless by some one dearly loved. I couldn't bear it!
I'd rather beg, starve: almost steal!"

"Don't be violent, child."

"Oh, but it's hard!" and the cry of long-smothered pain burst out.
"Hard enough to have to earn one's bread in a way one doesn't like;
harder still to have to be parted from Johanna from Monday morning
till Saturday night. But it must be, I'll go. It's a case between
hunger, debt, and work: the first is unpleasant, the second
impossible, the third is my only alternative. You must consent,
Selina, for I will do it."

"Don't!" Selina spoke more gently, and not without some natural
emotion. "Don't disgrace me, child; for I may as well tell you--I
meant to do so to-night--Mr. Ascott has made me an offer of marriage,
and I--I have accepted it." Had a thunder-bolt fallen in the middle
of the parlor at No. 15, its inmates--that is, two of them--could not
have been more astounded.

No doubt this surprise was a great instance of simplicity on their
part. Many women would have prognosticated, planned the thing from
the first; thought it a most excellent match; seen glorious visions
of the house in Russell Square, of the wealth and luxury that would
be the portion of "dear Selina," and the general benefit that the
marriage would be to the whole Leaf family.

But these two were different from others. They only saw their sister
Selina, a woman no longer young, and not without her peculiarities,
going to be married to a man she knew little or nothing about--a man
whom they themselves had endured rather than liked, and for the sake
of gratitude. He was trying enough merely as a chance visitor; but to
look upon Mr. Ascott as a brother-in-law, as a husband-- "Oh, Selina!
you can not be in earnest?"

"Why not? Why should I not be married as well as my neighbors?" said
she, sharply.

Nobody arguing that point, both being indeed too bewildered to argue
at all, she continued, majestically,

"I assure you, sisters, there could not be a more unexceptionable
offer. It is true, Mr. Ascott's origin was rather humble; but I can
overlook that. In his present wealth, and with his position and
character, he will make the best of husbands."

Not a word was answered; what could be answered? Selina was free to
marry if she liked, and whom she liked. Perhaps, from her nature, it
was idle to expect her to marry in any other way than this; one of
the thousand and one unions where the man desires a handsome,
lady-like wife for the head of his establishment, and the woman
wishes an elegant establishment to be mistress of; so they strike a
bargain--possibly as good as most other bargains.

Still, with one faint lingering of hope, Hilary asked if she had
quite decided.

"Quite. He wrote to me last night, and I gave him his answer this
morning."

Selina certainly had not troubled any body with her "love affairs."
It was entirely a matter of business.

The sisters saw at once that she had made up her mind. Henceforward
there could be no criticism of Mr. Peter Ascott.

Now all was told, she talked freely of her excellent prospects.

"He had behaved handsomely--very much so. He makes a good settlement
on me, and says how happy he will be to help my family, so as to
enable you always to make a respectable appearance."

"We are exceedingly obliged to him."

"Don't be sharp, Hilary. He means well. And he must feel that this
marriage is a sort of--ahem! condescension on my part, which I never
should have dreamed of twenty years ago."

Selina sighed; could it be at the thought of that twenty years ago?
Perhaps, shallow as she seemed, this woman might once have had some
fancy, some ideal man whom she expected to meet and marry; possibly a
very different sort of man from Mr. Peter Ascott. However, the sigh
was but momentary; she plunged back again into all the arrangements
of her wedding, every one of which, down to the wedding-dress, she
had evidently decided.

"And therefore you see," she added, as it the unimportant, almost
forgotten item of discussion had suddenly occurred to her, "it's
quite impossible that my sister should keep a shop. I shall tell Mr.
Ascott, and you will see what he says to it."

But when Mr. Ascott appeared next day in solemn state as an accepted
lover he seemed to care very little about the matter. He thought it
was a good thing for every body to be independent; did not see why
young women--he begged pardon, young ladies--should not earn their
own bread if they liked. He only wished that the shop were a little
further off than Kensington, and hoped the name of Leaf would not be
put over the door.

But the bride-elect, indignant and annoyed, begged her lover to
interfere, and prevent the scheme from being carried out.

"Don't vex yourself, my dear Selina," said he, dryly--how Hilary
started to hear the stranger use the household name--"but I can't see
that it's my business to interfere. I marry you, I don't marry your
whole family."

"Mr. Ascott is quite right; we will end the subject," said Johanna,
with grave dignity while Hilary sat with burning cheeks, thinking
that, miserable as the family had been, it had never till now known
real degradation.

But her heart was very sore that day. It the morning had come the
letter from India never omitted, never delayed; Robert Lyon was
punctual as clock-work in every thing he did. It came, but this month
it was a short and somewhat sad letter--hinting of failing health,
uncertain prospects; full of a bitter longing to come home, and a
dread that it would be years before that longing was realized.

"My only consolation is," he wrote, for once betraying himself a
little, "that however hard my life out here may be, I bear it alone."

But that consolation was not so easy to Hilary. That they two should
be wasting their youth apart, when just a little heap of yellow
coins--of which men like Mr. Ascott had such profusion--would bring
them together; and, let trials be many or poverty hard, give them the
unutterable joy of being once more face to face and heart to
heart--oh, it was sore, sore!

Yet when she went up from the parlor, where the newly-affianced
couple sat together, "making-believe" a passion that did not exist,
and acting out the sham courtship, proper for the gentleman to pay
and the lady to receive--when she shut her bedroom door, and there,
sitting in the cold, read again and again Robert Lyon's letter to
Johanna, so good, so honest; so sad, yet so bravely enduring--Hilary
was comforted. She felt that true love, in its most unsatisfied
longings, its most cruel delays, nay, even its sharpest agonies of
hopeless separation, is sweeter ten thousand times than the most
"respectable" of loveless marriages such as this.

So, at the week's end, Hilary went patiently to her work at
Kensington, and Selina began the preparations for her wedding.



CHAPTER XV.

In relating so much about her mistresses, I have lately seemed to
overlook Elizabeth Hand.

She was a person easy enough to be overlooked. She never put herself
forward, not even now, when Miss Hilary's absence caused the weight
of housekeeping and domestic management to fall chiefly upon her. She
went about her duties as soberly and silently as she had done in her
girlhood; even Miss Leaf could not draw her into much
demonstrativeness: she was one of those people who never "come out"
till they are strongly needed, and then-- But it remained to be
proved what this girl would be.

Years afterward Hilary remembered with what a curious reticence
Elizabeth used to go about in those days: how she remained as
old-fashioned as ever; acquired no London ways, no fripperies of
dress or flippancies of manner. Also, that she never complained of
anything; though the discomforts of her lodging-house life must have
been great--greater than her mistresses had any idea of at the time.
Slowly, out of her rough, unpliant girlhood, was forming that
character of self-reliance and self-control, which, in all ranks,
makes of some women the helpers rather than the helped, the laborers
rather than the pleasure-seekers; women whose constant lot it seems
to be to walk on the shadowed side of life, to endure rather than to
enjoy.

Elizabeth had very little actual enjoyment. She made no
acquaintances, and never asked for holidays. Indeed she did not seem
to care for any. Her great treat was when, on a Sunday afternoon,
Miss Hilary sometimes took her to Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's;
when her pleasure and gratitude always struck her mistress--may, even
soothed her, and won her from her own many anxieties. It is such a
blessing to be able to make any other human being, even for an hour
or two, entirely happy.

Except these bright Sundays, Elizabeth's whole time was spent in
waiting upon Miss Leaf, who had seemed to grow suddenly frail and
old. It might be that living without her child six days out of the
seven was a greater trial than had at first appeared to the elder
sister, who until now had never parted with her since she was born;
or it was perhaps a more commonplace and yet natural cause, the
living in London lodgings, without even a change of air from room to
room; and the want of little comforts and luxuries, which, with all
Hilary's care, were as impossible as ever to their limited means.

For Selina's engagement, which, as a matter of decorum, she had
insisted should last six months, did not lessen expenses. Old gowns
were shabby, and omnibuses impossible to the future Mrs. Ascott of
Russell Square; and though, to do her justice, she spent as little as
to her self-pleasing nature was possible, still she spent something.

"It's the last; I shall never cost you any more," she would say,
complacently; and revert to that question of absorbing interest, her
trousseau, an extremely handsome one, provided liberally by Mr.
Ascott. Sorely had this arrangement jarred upon the pride of the Leaf
family; yet it was inevitable. But no personal favors would the other
two sisters have accepted from Mr. Ascott, even had he offered
them--which he did not--save a dress each for the marriage, and a
card for the marriage breakfast, which, he also arranged, was to take
place at a hotel.

So, in spite of the expected wedding, there was little change in the
dull life that went on at No. 15. Its only brightness was when Miss
Hilary came home from Saturday to Monday. And in those brief
glimpses, when, as was natural, she on her side, and they on theirs,
put on their best face, so to speak, each trying to hide from the
other any special care, it so fell out that Miss Hilary never
discovered a thing which, week by week, Elizabeth resolved to speak
to her about, and yet never could. For it was not her own affair; it
seemed like presumptuously middling in the affairs of the family.
Above all, it involved the necessity of something which looked like
tale-bearing and backbiting of a person she disliked, and there was
in Elizabeth--servant as she was--an instinctive chivalrous honor
which made her especially anxious to be just to her enemies.

Enemy, however, is a large word to use; and yet day by day her
feelings grew more bitter toward the person concerned--namely. Mr.
Ascott Leaf. It was not from any badness in him: he was the sort of
young man always likely to be a favorite with what would be termed
his "inferiors;" easy, good-tempered, and gentlemanly, giving a good
deal of trouble certainly, but giving it so agreeably that few
servants would have grumbled, and paying for it--as he apparently
thought every thing could be paid for--with a pleasant word and a
handful of silver.

But Elizabeth's distaste for him had deeper roots. The principal one
was his exceeding indifference to his aunts' affairs, great and
small, from the marriage, which he briefly designated as a "jolly
lark," to the sharp economies which, even with the addition of Miss
Hilary's salary, were still requisite.--None of these latter did he
ever seem to notice, except when they pressed upon himself; when he
neither scolded nor argued, but simply went out and avoided them.

He was now absent from home more than ever, and apparently tried as
much as possible to keep the household in the dark as to his
movements--leaving at uncertain times, never saying what hour he
would be back, or if he said so, never keeping to his word. This was
the more annoying as there were a number of people continually
inquiring for him, hanging about the house, and waiting to see him
"on business;" and some of these occasionally commented on the young
gentleman in such unflattering terms that Elizabeth was afraid they
would reach the ear of Mrs. Jones, and henceforward tried always to
attend to the door herself.

But Mrs. Jones was a wide awake woman. She had not let lodgings for
thirty years for nothing. Ere long she discovered, and took good care
to inform Elizabeth of her discovery, that Mr. Ascott Leaf was what
is euphuistically termed "in difficulties."

And here one word, lest in telling this poor lad's story I may be
supposed to tell it harshly or uncharitably, as if there was no crime
greater than that which a large portion of society seems to count as
none; as if, at the merest mention of the ugly word debt, this rabid
author flew out, and made all the ultra virtuous persons whose
history is here told fly out, like turkeys, after a bit of red cloth
which is a very harmless scrap of red cloth after all.

Most true, some kind of debt deserves only compassion. The merchant
suddenly failing; the tenderly reared family who by some strange
blunder or unkind kindness have been kept in ignorance of their real
circumstances, and been spending pounds for which there was only
pence to pay; the individuals, men or women, who, without any laxity
of principle, are such utter children in practice, that they have to
learn the value and use of money by hard experience, much as a child
does, and are little better than children in all that concerns L. S.
D. to the end of their days.

But these are debtors by accident, not error. The deliberate debtor,
who orders what he knows he has no means of paying for; the pleasure
loving debtor, who can not renounce one single luxury for conscience'
sake; the well-meaning, lazy debtor, who might make "ends meet," but
does not, simply because he will not take the trouble; upon such as
these it is right to have no mercy--they deserve none.

To which of these classes young Ascott Leaf belonged his story will
show. I tell it, or rather let it tell itself, and point its own
moral; it is the story of hundreds and thousands.

That a young fellow should not enjoy his youth would be hard; that it
should not be pleasant to him to dress well, live well, and spend
with open hand upon himself as well as others, no one will question.
No one would ever wish it otherwise. Many a kindly spendthrift of
twenty-one makes a prudent paterfamilias at forty, while a man who in
his twenties showed a purposeless niggardliness, would at sixty grow
into the most contemptible miser alive. There is something even in
the thoughtless liberality of youth to which one's heart warms, even
while one's wisdom reproves.--But what struck Elizabeth was that
Ascott's liberalities were always toward himself, and himself only.

Sometimes when she took in a parcel of new clothes, while others yet
unpaid for were tossing in wasteful disorder about his room, or when
she cleaned indefinite pairs of handsome boots, and washed dozens of
the finest cambric pocket-handkerchiefs, her spirit grew hot within
her to remember Miss Hilary's countless wants and contrivances in the
matter of dress, and all the little domestic comforts which Miss
Leaf's frail health required--things which never once seemed to cross
the nephew's imagination. Of course not, it will be said; how could a
young man be expected to trouble himself about these things?

But they do though. Answer, many a widow's son; many a heedful
brother of orphan sisters; many a solitary clerk living and paying
his way upon the merest pittance; is it not better to think of others
than one's self? Can a man, even a young man, find his highest
happiness in mere personal enjoyment?

However, let me cease throwing these pebbles of preaching under the
wheels of my story; as it moves on it will preach enough for itself.

Elizabeth's annoyances, suspicions, and conscience-pricks as to
whether she ought or ought not to communicate both, came to an end at
last. Gradually she made up her mind that, even if it did look like
tale bearing, on the following Saturday night Miss Hilary must know
all.

It was an anxious week; for Miss Leaf had fallen ill. Not seriously;
and she never complained until her sister had left, when she returned
to her bed and did not again rise. She would not have Miss Hilary
sent for, nor Miss Selina, who was away paying a ceremonious
prenuptial visit to Mr. Ascott's partner's wife at Dulwich.

"I don't want any thing that you can not do for me. You are becoming
a first rate nurse. Elizabeth," she said, with that passive, peaceful
smile which almost frightened the girl; it seemed as if she were
slipping away from this world and all its cares into another
existence. Elizabeth felt that to tell her any thing about her
nephew's affairs was perfectly impossible. How thankful she was that
in the quiet of the sick-room her mistress was kept in ignorance of
the knocks and inquiries at the door, and especially of a certain
ominous paper which had fallen into Mrs. Jones's hands, and informed
her, as she took good care to inform Elizabeth, that any day "the
bailiffs" might be after her young master.

"And the sooner the whole set of you clear out of my house the
better; I am a decent respectable woman," said Mrs. Jones, that very
morning; and Elizabeth had had to beg her as a favor not to disturb
her sick mistress, but to wait one day, till Miss Hilary came home.

Also, when Ascott, ending with a cheerful and careless countenance
his ten minutes' after breakfast chat in his aunt's room, had met
Elizabeth on the staircase, he had stopped to bid her say if any body
wanted him he was gone to Birmingham, and would not be home till
Monday. And on Elizabeth's hesitating, she having determined to tell
no more of these involuntary lies, he had been very angry, and then
stooped to entreaties, begging her to do as he asked, or it would be
the ruin of him. Which she understood well enough when, all the day,
she--grown painfully wise, poor girl!--watched a Jewish-looking man
hanging about the house, and noticing every body that went in or out
of it.

Now, sitting at Miss Leaf's window, she fancied she saw this man
disappear into the gin-palace opposite, and at the same moment a
figure darted hurriedly round the street corner, and into the door of
No. 15. Elizabeth looked to see if her mistress were asleep, and then
crept quietly out of the room, shutting the door after her.
Listening, she heard the sound of the latch-key, and of some one
coming stealthily up stairs.

"Hollo!--Oh, it's only you, Elizabeth."

"Shall I light your candle, sir?"

But when she did the sight was not pleasant.  Drenched with rain, his
collar pulled up, and his hat slouched, so as in some measure to act
as a disguise, breathless and trembling--hardly any body would have
recognized in this discreditable object that gentlemanly young man,
Mr. Ascott Leaf.

He staggered into his room and threw himself across the bed.

"Do you want anything, Sir?" said Elizabeth, from the door.

"No--yes--stay a minute. Elizabeth, are you to be trusted?"

"I hope I am, Sir."

"The bailiffs are after me. I've just dodged them. If they know I'm
here the game's all up--and it will kill my aunt."

Shocked as she was, Elizabeth was glad to hear him say that--glad to
see the burst of real emotion with which he flung himself down on the
pillow, muttering all sorts of hopeless self-accusations.

"Come, Sir, 'tis no use taking on so," said she, much as she would
have spoken to a child, for there was something childish rather than
man like in Ascott's distress. Nevertheless, she pitied him, with the
unreasoning pity a kind heart gives to any creature, who, blameworthy
or not, has fallen into trouble. "What do you mean to do?"

"Nothing. I'm cleaned out. And I haven't a friend in the world."

He turned his face to the wall in perfect despair.

Elizabeth tried hard not to sit in judgment upon what the catechism
would call her "betters;" and yet her own strong instinct of almost
indefinite endurance turned with something approaching contempt from
this weak, lightsome nature, broken by the first touch of calamity.

"Come, it's no use making things worse than they are. If no body
knows that you are here, lock your door and keep quiet. I'll bring
you some dinner when I bring up Missis' tea, and not even Mrs. Jones
will be any the wiser."

"You're a brick, Elizabeth--a regular brick!" cried the young fellow,
brightening up at the least relief. "That will be capital.--Get me a
good slice of beef, or ham, or something. And mind you, don't
forget!--a regular stunning bottle of pale ale."

"Very well, Sir."

The acquiescence was somewhat sullen, and had he watched Elizabeth's
face he might have seen there an expression not too flattering. But
she faithfully brought him his dinner, and kept his secret, even
though, hearing from over the staircase Mrs. Jones resolutely deny
that Mr. Leaf had been at home since morning, she felt very much as
if she were conniving at a lie. With a painful, half-guilty
consciousness she waited for her mistress's usual question. "Is my
nephew come home?" but fortunately it was not asked.--

Miss Leaf lay quiet and passive, and her faithful nurse settled her
for the night with a strangely solemn feeling, as if she were leaving
her to her last rest, safe and at peace before the overhanging storm
broke upon the family.

But all shadow of this storm seemed to have passed away from him who
was its cause. As soon as the house was still Ascott crept down and
fell to his supper with as good an appetite as possible. He even
became free and conversational.

"Don't look so glum, Elizabeth. I shall soon weather through. Old
Ascott will fork out; he couldn't help it. I'm to be his nephew you
know. Oh, that was a clever catch of Aunt Selina's. If only Aunt
Hilary would try another like it."

"If you please, Sir, I'm going to bed."

"Off with you, then, and I'll not forget the gown at Christmas.
You're a sharp young woman, and I'm much obliged to you." And for a
moment he looked as if he were about to make the usual unmannerly
acknowledgment of civility from a young gentleman to a servant maid,
viz., kissing her, but he pulled a face and drew back. He really
couldn't; she was so very plain. At this moment there came a violent
ring, and "Fire!" was shouted through the key-hole of the door.
Terrified, Elizabeth opened it, when, with a burst of laughter, a man
rushed in and laid hands upon Ascott.

It was the sheriff's officer.

When his trouble came upon him Ascott's manliness returned. He turned
very white, but he made no opposition; had even enough of his wits
about him--or something better than wits--to stop Mrs. Jones from
rushing up in alarm and indignation to arouse Miss Leaf.

"No; she'll know it quite soon enough.--Let her sleep till morning.
Elizabeth, look here." He wrote upon a card the address of the place
he was to be taken to. "Give Aunt Hilary this. Say if she can think
of a way to get me out of this horrid mess; but I don't
deserve--Never mind. Come on, you fellows."

He pulled his hat over his eyes, jumped into the cab, and was gone.
The whole thing had not occupied five minutes.

Stupefied, Elizabeth stood and considered what was best to be done.
Miss Hilary must be told; but how to get at her in the middle of the
night, thereby leaving her mistress to the mercy of Mrs. Jones. It
would never do. Suddenly she thought of Miss Balquidder.--She might
send a message. No, not a message--for the family misery and disgrace
must not be betrayed to a stranger--but a letter to Kensington. With
an effort Elizabeth composed herself sufficiently to write one--her
first--to her dear Miss Hilary.

"HONORED MADAM,--Mr. Leaf has got himself into trouble, and is taken
away somewhere; and I dare not tell missis; and I wish you was at
home, as she is not well, but better than she has been, and she shall
know nothing about it till you come.--Your obedient and affectionate
servant,
ELIZABETH HAND."

Taking Ascott's latch-key she quitted the house and slipped out into
the dark night, almost losing her way among the gloomy squares, where
she met not a creature except the solitary policeman, plashing
steadily along the wet pavement. When he turned the glimmer of his
bull's eye upon her she started like a guilty creature, till she
remembered that she really was doing nothing wrong, and so need not
be afraid of any thing. This was her simple creed, which Miss Hilary
had taught her, and it upheld her, even till she knocked at Miss
Balquidder's door. There, poor girl, her heart sank, especially when
Miss Balquidder, in an anomalous costume and a severe voice, opened
the door herself, and asked who was there, disturbing a respectable
family at this late hour?

Elizabeth answered, what she had before determined to say, as
sufficiently explaining her errand, and yet betraying nothing that
her mistress might wish concealed.

"Please, ma'am, I'm Miss Leaf's servant. My missis is ill, and I want
a letter sent at once to Miss Hilary."

"Oh! come in, then. Elizabeth, I think, your name is?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"What made you leave home at this hour of the night? Did your
mistress send you?"

"No."

"Is she so very ill? It seems sudden. I saw Miss Hilary to-day, and
she knew nothing at all about it."

Elizabeth shrank a little before the keen eye that seemed to read her
through.

"There's more amiss than you have told me, young woman. Is it because
your mistress is in serious danger that you want to send for her
sister?"

"No."

"What is it then? You had better tell me at once. I hate
concealment."

It was a trial; but Elizabeth held her ground.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am; but I don't think missis would like any
body to know, and therefore I'd rather not tell you."

Now the honest Scotswoman, as she said, hated any thing underhand,
but she respected the right of every human being to maintain silence
if necessary. She looked sharply in Elizabeth's face, which
apparently re-assured her, for she said, not unkindly,

"Very well, child, keep your mistress's secrets by all means. Only
tell me what you want. Shall I take a cab and fetch Miss Hilary at
once?"

Elizabeth thanked her, but said she thought that would not do; it
would be better just to send the note the first thing to-morrow
morning, and then Miss Hilary would come home just as if nothing had
happened, and Miss Leaf would not be frighted by her sudden
appearance.

"You are a good, mindful girl," said Miss Balquidder. "How did you
learn to be so sensible?"

At the kindly word and manner, Elizabeth, bewildered and exhausted
with the excitement she had gone through, and agitated by the feeling
of having, for the first time in her life, to act on her own
responsibility, gave way a little. She did not exactly cry, but she
was very near it.

Miss Balquidder called over the stair-head, in her quick, imperative
voice--

"David, is your wife away to her bed yet?"

"No, ma'am."

"Then tell her to fetch this young woman to the kitchen and give her
some supper. And afterward, will you see her safe home, poor lassie?
She's awfully tired, you see."

"Yes, ma'am."

And following David's gray head, Elizabeth, for the first time since
she came to London, took a comfortable meal in a comfortable kitchen,
seasoned with such stories of Miss Balquidder's goodness and
generosity, that when, an hour after, she went home and to sleep, it
was with a quieter and more hopeful than she could have believed
possible under the circumstances.



CHAPTER XVI.

Next morning, while with that cheerful, unanxious countenance which
those about an invalid must learn continually to wear, Elizabeth was
trying to persuade her mistress not to rise, she heard a knock, and
made some excuse for escaping. She well knew what it was and who had
come.

There, in the parlor, sat Miss Hilary, Mrs. Jones talking at her
rather than to her, for she hardly seemed to hear. But that she had
heard every thing was clear enough. Her drawn white face, the tight
clasp of her hands, showed that the ill tidings had struck her hard.

"Go away, Mrs. Jones," cried Elizabeth, fiercely. "Miss Hilary will
call when she wants you."

And with an ingenious movement that just fell short of a push,
somehow the woman was got on the other side of the parlor door, which
Elizabeth immediately shut. Then Miss Hilary stretched her hands
across the table and looked up piteously in her servant's face.

Only a servant; only that poor servant to whom she could look for any
comfort in this sore trouble, this bitter humiliation. There was no
attempt at disguise or concealment between mistress and maid.

"Mrs. Jones has told me every thing, Elizabeth. How is my sister? She
does not know?"

"No; and I think she is a good deal better this morning. She has been
very bad all week; only she would not let me send for you. She is
really getting well now; I'm sure of that!"

"Thank God!" And then Miss Hilary began to weep.

Elizabeth also was thankful, even for those tears, for she had been
perplexed by the hard, dry-eyed look of misery, deeper than anything
she could comprehend, or than the circumstances seemed to warrant.

It was deeper. The misery was not only Ascott's arrest; many a lad
has got into debt and got out again--the first taste of the law
proving a warning to him for life; but it was this ominous "beginning
of the end." The fatal end--which seemed to overhang like a
hereditary cloud, to taint as with hereditary disease, the Leaf
family.

Another bitterness (and who shall blame it, for when love is really
love, have not the lovers a right to be one another's first
thought?)--what would Robert Lyon say? To his honest Scotch nature
poverty was nothing; honor every thing. She knew his horror of debt
was even equal to her own. This, and her belief in his freedom from
all false pride, had sustained her against many doubts lest he might
think the less of her because of her present position--might feel
ashamed could he see her sitting at her ledger in that high desk, or
even occasionally serving in the shop.

Many a time things she would have passed over lightly on her own
account she had felt on his; felt how they would annoy and vex him.
The exquisitely natural thought which Tennyson has put into poetry--

        "If I am dear to some one else,
        Then I should be to myself more dear"--

had often come, prosaically enough perhaps, into her head, and
prevented her from spoiling her little hands with unnecessarily rough
work, or carelessly passing down ill streets and by-ways, where she
knew Robert Lyon, had he been in London, would never have allowed her
to go. Now what did such things signify? What need of taking care of
herself? These were all superficial, external disgraces, the real
disgrace was within. The plague-spot had burst out anew; it seemed as
if this day were the recommencement of that bitter life of penury,
misery, and humiliation, familiar through three generations to the
women of the Leaf family.

It appeared like a fate. No use to try and struggle out of it,
stretching her arms up to Robert Lyon's tender, honest, steadfast
heart, there to be sheltered, taken care of, and made happy. No
happiness for her! Nothing but to go on enduring and enduring to the
end.

Such was Hilary's first emotion; morbid perhaps, yet excusable. It
might have lasted longer--though in her healthy nature it could not
have lasted very long--had not the reaction come, suddenly and
completely, by the opening of the parlor door, and the appearance of
Miss Leaf.

Miss Leaf--pale, indeed; but neither alarmed nor agitated, who
hearing somehow that her child had arrived, had hastily dressed
herself, and come down stairs, in order not to frighten Hilary. And
as she took her in her arms, and kissed her with those mother-like
kisses, which were the sweetest Hilary had as yet ever known--the
sharp anguish went out of the poor girl's heart.

"Oh, Johanna! I can bear any thing as long as I have you"

And so in this simple and natural way the miserable secret about
Ascott came out.

Being once out, it did not seem half so dreadful; nor was its effect
nearly so serious as Miss Hilary and Elizabeth had feared.--Miss Leaf
bore it wonderfully; she might almost have known it beforehand; they
would have thought she had, but that she said decidedly she had not.

"Still you need not have minded telling me; though it was very good
and thoughtful of you Elizabeth. You have gone through a great deal
for our sakes, my poor girl."

Elizabeth burst into one smothered sob the first and the last.

"Nay," said Miss Leaf, very kindly; for this unwonted emotion in
their servant moved them both. "You shall tell me the rest another
time. Go down now, and get Miss Hilary some breakfast."

When Elizabeth had departed the sisters turned to one another. They
did not talk much; where was the use of it? They both knew the worst,
both as to facts and fears.

"What must be done. Johanna?"

Johanna, after a long pause, said, "I see but one thing--to get him
home."

Hilary started up, and walked to and fro along the room.

"No, not that. I will never agree to it.--We can not help him. He
does not deserve helping. If the debts were for food now, or any
necessaries; but for mere luxuries, mere fine clothes; it is his
tailor who has arrested him, you know. I would rather have gone in
rags! I would rather see us all in rags!--It's mean, selfish,
cowardly, and I despise him for it. Though he is my own flesh and
blood, I despise him."

"Hilary!"

"No." and the tears burst from her angry eyes, "I don't mean that I
despise him. I'm sorry for him: there is good in him, poor dear lad;
but I despise his weakness; I feel fierce to think how much it will
cost us all, and especially you, Johanna. Only think what comforts of
all sorts that thirty pounds would have brought to you!"

"God will provide," said Johanna, earnestly. "But I know, my dear,
this is sharper to you than to me. Besides, I have been more used to
it."

She closed her eyes, with a half shudder, as if living over again the
old days--when Henry Leaf's wife and eldest daughter used to have
to give dinner parties upon food that stuck in their throats, as if
every morsel had been stolen; which in truth it was, and yet they
were helpless, innocent thieves; when they and the children had to
wear clothes that seemed to poison them like the shirt of Dejanira;
when they durst not walk along special streets, nor pass particular
shops, for the feeling that the shop people must be staring, and
pointing, and jibing at them, "Pay me what thou owest!"

"But things can not again be so bad as those days, Hilary. Ascott is
young; he may mend. People can mend, my child; and he had such a
different bringing up from what his father had, and his grandfather,
too. We must not be hopeless yet. You see," and making Hilary kneel
down before her, she took her by both hands, as if to impart
something of her own quietness to this poor heart, struggling as
young, honest, upright hearts do struggle with something which their
whole nature revolts against, and loathes, and scorns--"you see, the
boy is our boy; our own flesh and blood. We were very foolish to let
him away from us for so long. We might have made him better if we had
kept him at Stowbury. But he is young; that is my hope of him; and he
was always fond of his aunts, and is still, I think."

Hilary smiled sadly. "Deeds, not words I don't believe in words."

"Well, let us put aside believing, and only act. Let us give him
another chance."

Hilary shook her head. "Another, and another, and another--it will be
always the same. I know it will. I can't tell how it is, Johanna; but
whenever I look at you, I feel so stern and hard to Ascott. It seems
as if there were circumstances when pity to some, to one, was wicked
injustice to others: as if there were times when it is right and
needful to lop off, at once and forever, a rotten branch rather than
let the whole tree go to rack and ruin. I would do it! I should think
myself justified in doing it."

"But not just yet. He is only a boy--our own boy."

And the two women, in both of whom the maternal passion existed
strong and deep, yet in the one never had found, and in the other
never might find, its natural channel, wept together over this lad,
almost as mothers weep.

"But what can we do?" said Hilary at last.

"Thirty pounds, and not a halfpenny to pay it with; must we borrow?"

"Oh no--no," was the answer, with a shrinking gesture; "no borrowing.
There is the diamond ring."

This was a sort of heir-loom from eldest daughter to eldest daughter
of the Leaf family which had been kept even as a sort of
superstition, through all temptations of poverty.--The last time Miss
Leaf looked at it she had remarked, jestingly, it should be given
some day to that important personage talked of for many a year among
the three aunts--Mrs. Ascott Leaf.

"Who must do without it now," said Johanna, looking regretfully at
the ring; "that is, if he ever takes to himself a wife, poor boy."

Hilary answered, beneath her breath, "Unless he alters, I earnestly
hope he never may." And there came over her involuntarily a wild,
despairing thought, Would it not be better that neither Ascott nor
herself should ever be married, that the family might die out, and
trouble the world no more?

Nevertheless she rose up to do what she knew had to be done, and what
there was nobody to do but herself.

"Don't mind it, Johanna; for indeed I do not. I shall go to a first
rate, respectable jeweler, and he will not cheat me; and then I shall
find my way to the sponging-house--isn't that what they call it? I
dare say many a poor woman has been there before me. I am not the
first, and shall not be the last, and no body will harm me. I think I
look honest, though my name is Leaf."

She laughed--a bitter laugh; but Johanna silenced it in a close
embrace; and when Hilary rose up again she was quite her natural
self. She summoned Elizabeth, and began giving her all domestic
directions, just as usual; finally, bade her sister good by in a tone
as like her usual tone as possible, and left her settled on the sofa
in content and peace.

Elizabeth followed to the door. Miss Hilary had asked her for the
card on which Ascott had written the address of the place where he
had been taken to; and though the girl said not a word, her anxious
eyes made piteous inquiry.

Her mistress patted her on the shoulder.

"Never mind about me; I shall come to no harm, Elizabeth."

"It's a bad place; such a dreadful place, Mrs. Jones says."

"Is it?" Elizabeth guessed part, not the whole of the feelings that
made Hilary hesitate, shrink even, from the duty before her, turning
first so hot, and then so pale. Only as a duty could she have done it
at all. "No matter, I must go. Take care of my sister."

She ran down the door steps, and walked quickly through the Crescent.
It was a clear, sunshiny, frosty day--such a day as always both
cheered and calmed her. She had, despite all her cares, youth,
health, energy; and a holy and constant love lay like a sleeping
angel in her heart. Must I tell the truth, and own that before she
had gone two streets' length Hilary ceased to feel so very, very
miserable?

Love--this kind of love of which I speak--is a wonderful thing, the
most wonderful thing in all the world. The strength it gives, the
brightness, the actual happiness, even in hardest times, is often
quite miraculous. When Hilary sat waiting in the jeweler's shop, she
watched a little episode of high life--two wealthy people choosing
their marriage plate; the bride, so careless and haughty; the
bridegroom, so unutterably mean to look at, stamped with that innate
smallness and coarseness of soul which his fine clothes only made
more apparent. And she thought--oh, how fondly she thought!--of that
honest, manly mein; of that true, untainted heart, which she felt
sure, had never loved any woman but herself; of the warm, firm hand,
carving its way thro' the world for her sake, and waiting patiently
till it could openly clasp hers, and give her every thing it had won.
She would not have exchanged him. Robert Lyon, with his penniless
love, his half-hopeless fortunes, or maybe his lot of never ending
care, for the "brawest bridegroom" under the sun.

Under this sun--the common, everyday winter sun of Regent and Oxford
streets--she walked now as brightly and bravely as if there were no
trouble before her, no painful meeting with Ascott, no horrid
humiliation from which every womanly feeling in her nature shrunk
with acute pain. "Robert, my Robert!" she whispered in her heart, and
felt him so near to her that she was at rest, she hardly knew why.

Possibly grand, or clever, or happy people who condescend to read
this story may despise it, think it unideal, uninteresting; treating
of small things and common people--"poor persons," in short. I can
not help it. I write for the poor; not to excite the compassion of
the rich toward them, but to show them their own dignity and the
bright side of their poverty. For it has its bright side; and its
very darkest, when no sin is mixed up therewith, is brighter than
many an outwardly prosperous life.

"Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, than a stalled ox and
hatred therewith. Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith,
than a house full of sacrifices and strife."

With these two sage proverbs--which all acknowledge and scarcely any
really believe, or surely they would act a little more as if they
did--I leave Johanna Leaf sitting silently in her solitary parlor,
knitting stockings for her child; weaving many a mingled web of
thought withal, yet never letting a stitch go down; and Hilary Leaf
walking cheerily and fearlessly up one strange street and down
another to find out the "bad" place, where she once had no idea it
would ever have been her lot to go.--One thing she knew, and gloried
in the knowledge, that if Robert Lyon had known she was going, or
known half the cares she had to meet, he would have recrossed the
Indian seas--have risked fortune, competence, hope of the future,
which was the only cheer of his hard present--in order to save her
from them all.

The minute history of this painful day I do not mean to tell. Hilary
never told it till, years after, she wept it out upon a bosom that
could understand the whole, and would take good care that while the
life beat in his she never should go through the like again.

Ascott came home--that is, was brought home--very humbled, contrite,
and grateful. There was no one to meet him but his Aunt Johanna, and
she just kissed him quietly, and bade him come over to the fire; he
was shivering, and somewhat pale. He had even two tears in his
handsome eyes, the first Ascott had been known to shed since he was a
boy. That he felt a good deal, perhaps as much as was in his nature
to feel, there could be no doubt. So his two aunts were glad and
comforted; gave him his tea and the warmest seat at the hearth; said
not a harsh word to him, but talked to him about indifferent
things.--Tea being over, Hilary was anxious to get every thing
painful ended before Selina came home--Selina, who, they felt by
instinct, had now a separate interest from themselves, and had better
not be told this sad story if possible; so she asked her nephew "if
he remembered what they had to do this evening?"

"Had to do? Oh, Aunt Hilary, I'm so tired! can't you let me be quiet?
Only this one night. I promise to bring you everything on Monday."

"Monday will be too late. I shall be away. And you know you can't do
without my excellent arithmetic," she added with a faint smile. "Now,
Ascott, be a good boy--fetch down all those bills and let us go over
them together."

"His debts came to more than the thirty pounds then?" said his Aunt
Johanna, when he was gone.

"Yes. But the ring sold for fifty." And Hilary drew to the table, got
writing materials, and sat waiting, with a dull, silent patience in
her look, at which Johanna sighed and said no more.

The aunt and nephew spent some time in going over that handful of
papers, and approximating to the sum total, in that kind of awful
arithmetic when figures cease to be mere figures, but grow into
avenging monsters, bearing with them life or death.

"Is that all! You are quite sure it is all?" said Hilary at last,
pointing to the whole amount, and looking steadily into Ascott's
eyes.

He flushed up, and asked what she meant by doubting his word?

"Not that, but you might easily have made a mistake; you are so
careless about money matters."

"Ah, that's it. I'm just careless, and so I come to grief. But I
never mean to be careless any more. I'll be as precise as you. I'll
balance my books every week--every day if you like--exactly as you do
at that horrid shop, Aunt Hilary."

So he was rattling on, but Hilary stopped him by pointing to the
figures.

"You see, this sum is more than we expected. How is it to be met?
Think for yourself. You are a man now."

"I know that," said Ascott, sullenly; "but what's the use of
it?--money only makes the man, and I have none. If the ancient Peter
would but die now and leave me his heir, though to be sure Aunt
Selina might be putting her oar in. Perhaps--considering I'm Aunt
Selina's nephew--if I were to walk into the old chap now he might be
induced to fork out! Hurrah! that's a splendid idea."

"What idea?"

"I'll borrow the money from old Ascott."

"That means, because he has already given, you would have him keep on
giving--and you would take and take and take--Ascott, I'm ashamed of
you."

But Ascott only burst out laughing. "Nonsence!--he has money and I
have none; why shouldn't he give it me?"

"Why?"--she repeated, her eyes flashing and her little feminine
figure seeming to grow taller as she spoke--"I'll tell you, since you
don't seem yourself to understand it. Because a young man, with
health and strength in him, should blush to eat any bread but what he
himself earns. Because he should work at any thing and every thing,
stint himself of every luxury and pleasure, rather than ask or
borrow, or, except under rare circumstances, rather than be indebted
to any living soul for a single half-penny. I would not, if I were a
young man."

"What a nice young man you would make, Aunt Hilary!"

There was something in the lad's imperturbable good humor at once
irritating and disarming. Whatever his faults, they were more
negative than positive; there was no malice prepense about him, no
absolute personal wickedness. And he had the strange charm of manner
and speech which keeps up one's outer surface of habitual affection
toward a person long after all its foundations of trust and respect
have hopelessly crumbled away.

"Come now, my pretty aunt must go with me. She will manage the old
ogre much better than I. And he must be managed somehow. It's all
very fine talking of independence, but isn't it hard that a poor
fellow should be living in constant dread of being carried off to
that horrid, uncleanly, beastly den--bah! I don't like thinking of
it--and all for the want of twenty pounds? You must go to him, Aunt
Hilary."

She saw they must--there was no help for it. Even Johanna said so. It
was after all only asking for Ascott's quarterly allowance three days
in advance, for it was due on Tuesday. But what jarred against her
proud, honest spirit was the implication that such a request gave of
taking as a right that which had been so long bestowed as a favor.
Nothing but the great strait they were in could ever have driven her
to consent that Mr. Ascott should be applied to at all; but since it
must be done, she felt that she had better do it herself. Was it from
some lurking doubt or dread that Ascott might not speak the entire
truth, as she had insisted upon its being spoken, before Mr. Ascott
was asked for any thing? since whatever he gave must be given with a
full knowledge on his part of the whole pitiable state of affairs.

It was with a strange, sad feeling--the sadder because he never
seemed to suspect it, but talked and laughed with her as usual--that
she took her nephew's arm and walked silently through the dark
squares, perfectly well aware that he only asked her to go with him
in order to do an unpleasant thing which he did not like to do
himself, and that she only went with him in the character of watch,
or supervisor, to try and save him from doing something which she
herself would be ashamed should be done.

Yet he was ostensibly the head, hope, and stay of the family. Alas!
many a family has to submit to, and smile under an equally melancholy
and fatal sham.



CHAPTER XVII.

Mr. Ascott was sitting half asleep in his solitary dining room, his
face rosy with wine, his heart warmed also, probably from the same
cause. Not that he was in the least "tipsy"--that low-word
applicable only to low people, and not men of property, who have a
right to enjoy all the good things of this life. He was scarcely even
"merry," merely "comfortable," in that cozy, benevolent state which
middle aged or elderly gentlemen are apt to fall into after a good
dinner and good wine, when they have no mental resources, and the
said good dinner and good wine constitutes their best notion of
felicity.

Yet wealth and comfort are not things to be despised. Hilary herself
was not insensible to the pleasantness of this warm, well-lit,
crimson-atmosphered apartment. She as well as her neighbors liked
pretty things about her, soft, harmonious colors to look at and wear,
well-cooked food to eat, cheerful rooms to live in. If she could have
had all these luxuries with those she loved to share them, no doubt
she would have been much happier. But yet she felt to the full that
solemn truth that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of
things that he possesses;" and though hers was outwardly so dark, so
full of poverty, anxiety, and pain, still she knew that inwardly it
owned many things, one thing especially, which no money could buy,
and without which fine houses, fine furniture, and fine
clothes--indeed, all the comforts and splendors of existence, would
be worse that valueless, actual torment. So as she looked around her
she felt not the slightest envy of her sister Selina.

Nor of honest Peter, who rose up from his arm-chair, pulling the
yellow silk handkerchief from his sleepy face, and, it must be
confessed, receiving his future connections very willingly, and even
kindly.

Now how was he to be told? How when she and Ascott sat over the wine
and desert he had ordered for them, listening to the rich man's
complaisant pomposities, were they to explain that they had come a
begging, asking him, as the climax to his liberalities, to advance a
few pounds in order to keep the young man whom he had for years
generously and sufficiently maintained out of prison? This, smooth it
over as one might, was, Hilary felt, the plain English of the matter,
and as minute after minute lengthened, and nothing was said of their
errand, she sat upon thorns.

But Ascott drank his wine and ate his walnuts quite composedly.

At last Hilary said, in a sort of desperation, "Mr. Ascott, I want to
speak to you."

"With pleasure, my dear young lady. Will you come to my study?--I
have a most elegantly furnished study, I assure you. And any affair
of yours--"

"Thank you, but it is not mine; it concerns my nephew here."

And then she braced up all her courage, and while Ascott busied
himself over his walnuts--he had the grace to look excessively
uncomfortable--she told, as briefly as possible, the bitter truth.

Mr. Ascott listened, apparently without surprise, and any how,
without comment. His self-important loquacity ceased, and his
condescending smile passed into a sharp, reticent, business look. He
knitted his shaggy brows, contracted that coarsely-hung, but resolute
mouth, in which lay the secret of his success in life, buttoned up
his coat, and stuck his hands behind him over his coat-tails. As he
stood there on his own hearth, with all his comfortable splendors
about him--a man who had made his own money, hardly and honestly, who
from the days when he was a poor errand-lad had had no one to trust
to but himself, yet had managed always to help himself, ay, and
others too--Hilary's stern sense of justice contrasted him with the
graceful young man who sat opposite to him, so much his inferior, and
so much his debtor. She owned that Peter Ascott had a right to look
both contemptuously and displeased.

"A very pretty story, but I almost expected it," said he.

And there he stopped. In his business capacity he was too acute a man
to be a man of many words, and his feelings, if they existed, were
kept to himself.

"It all comes to this, young man," he continued, after an
uncomfortable pause, in which Hilary could have counted every beat of
her heart, and even Ascott played with his wine glass in a nervous
kind of way--"you want money, and you think I'm sure to give it,
because it wouldn't be pleasant just now to have discreditable
stories going about concerning the future Mrs. Ascott's relatives.
You're quite right, it wouldn't. But I'm too old a bird to be caught
with chaff for all that. You must rise very early in the morning to
take me in."

Hilary started up in an agony of shame. "That's not fair, Mr. Ascott.
We do not take you in. Have we not told you the whole truth? I was
determined you should know it before we asked you for one farthing of
your money. If there were the smallest shadow of a chance for Ascott
in any other way, we never would have come to you at all. It is a
horrible, horrible humiliation!"

It might be that Peter Ascott had a soft place in his heart, or that
this time, just before his marriage, was the one crisis which
sometimes occurs in a hard man's life, when, if the right touch
comes, he becomes malleable ever after; but he looked kindly at the
poor girl, and said, in quite a gentle way, "Don't vex yourself, my
dear. I shall give the young fellow what he wants: nobody ever called
Peter Ascott stingy. But he has cost me enough already: he must shift
for himself now. Hand me over that check-book, Ascott; but remember
this is the last you'll ever see of my money."

He wrote the memorandum of the check inside the page, then tore off
the check itself, and proceeded to write the words "Twenty pounds,"
date it, and sign it, lingering over the signature, as if he had a
certain pride in the honest name "Peter Ascott," and was well aware
of its monetary value on Change and elsewhere.

"There, Miss Halary, I flatter myself that's not a bad signature, nor
would be easily forged. One can not be too careful over-- What's
that? a letter, John?"

By his extreme eagerness, almost snatching it from his footman's
hands, it was one of importance. He made some sort of rough apology,
drew the writing materials to him, wrote one or two business-looking
letters, and made out one or two more checks.

"Here's yours Ascott; take it, and let me have done with it," said
he, throwing it across the table folded up. "Can't waste time on such
small transactions. Ma'am, excuse me, but five thousand pounds
depends on my getting these letters written and sent off within a
quarter of an hour."

Hilary bent her head, and sat watching the pen scratch, and the clock
tick on the mantle-piece; thinking if this really was to be the last
of his godfather's allowance, what on earth would become of Ascott?
For Ascott himself, he said not a word. Not even when, the letters
dispatched, Mr. Ascott rose, and administering a short, sharp homily,
tacitly dismissed his visitors: Whether this silence was sullenness,
cowardice, or shame, Hilary could not guess.

She quitted the house with a sense of grinding humiliation almost
intolerable. But still the worst was over; the money had been begged
and given--there was no fear of a prison. And spite of every thing,
Hilary felt a certain relief that this was the last time Ascott would
be indebted to his godfather. Perhaps this total cessation of
extraneous help might force the young man upon his own resources,
compel his easy temperament into active energy, and bring out in him
those dormant qualities that his aunts still fondly hoped existed in
him.

"Don't be down-hearted, Ascott," she said: "we will manage to get on
somehow till you bear of a practice, and then you must work--work
like a 'brick,' as you call it. You will, I know."

He answered nothing.

"I won't let you give in, my boy," she went on, kindly. "Who would
ever dream of giving in at your age, with health and strength, a good
education, and no encumbrances whatever--not even aunts! for we will
not stand in your way, be sure of that. If you can not settle here,
you shall try to get out abroad, as you have sometimes wished, as an
army surgeon or a ship's doctor; you say these appointments are easy
enough to be had. Why not try? Any thing; we will consent to any
thing, if only we can see your life busy and useful and happy."

Thus she talked, feeling far more tenderly to him in his forlorn
despondency than when they had quitted the house two hours before.
But Ascott took not the slightest notice. A strange fit of sullenness
or depression seemed to have come over him, which, when they reached
home and met Aunt Johanna's silently-questioning face, changed into
devil-may-care indifference.

"Oh yes, aunt, we've done it; we've got the money, and now I may go
to the dogs as soon as I like."

"No," said Aunt Hilary, "it is nothing of the sort: it is only that
Ascott must now depend upon himself, and not upon his godfather. Take
courage," she added, and went up to him and kissed him on the
forehead; "we'll never let our boy go to the dogs! and as for this
disappointment, or any disappointment, why it's just like a cold
bath, it takes away your breath for the time, and then you rise up
out of it brisker and fresher than ever."

But Ascott shook his head with a fierce denial. "Why should that old
fellow be as rich as Croesus and I as poor as a rat? Why should I be
put into the world to enjoy myself, and can't? Why was I made like
what I am, and then punished for it? Whose fault is it?"

Ay, whose? The eternal, unsolvable problem rose up before Hilary's
imagination. The ghastly spectre of that everlasting doubt, which
haunts even the firmest faith sometimes--and which all the nonsense
written about that mystery which,

    "Binding nature fate to fate,
     Leaves free the human will,"

only makes darker than before--oppressed her for the time being with
an inexpressible dread.

Ay, why was it that the boy was what he was? From his inherited
nature, his temperament, or his circumstances? What, or more awful
question still, who was to blame?

But as Hilary's thoughts went deeper down the question answered
itself--at least as far as it ever can be answered in this narrow,
finite stage of being. Whose will--we dare not say whose blame--is it
that evil must inevitably generate evil? that the smallest
wrong-doing in any human being rouses a chain of results which may
fatally involve other human beings in an almost incalculable circle
of misery? The wages of sin is death. Were it not so sin would cease
to be sin, and holiness, holiness. If He, the All-holy, who for some
inscrutable purpose saw fit to allow the existence of evil, allowed
any other law than this, in either the spiritual or material world,
would He not be denying Himself, counteracting the necessities of His
own righteous essence, to which evil is so antagonistic, that we can
not doubt it must be in the end cast into total annihilation--into
the allegorical lake of fire and brimstone, which is the "second
death?" Nay, do they not in reality deny Him and His holiness almost
as much as Atheists do, who preach that the one great salvation which
He has sent into the world is a salvation from punishment--a keeping
out of hell and getting into heaven--instead of a salvation from sin,
from the power and love of sin, through the love of God in Christ?

I tell these thoughts, because like lighting they passed through
Hilary's mind, as sometimes a whole chain of thoughts do, link after
link, and because they helped her to answer her nephew quietly and
briefly, for she saw he was in no state of mind to be argued with.

"I can not explain, Ascott, why it is that any of us are what we are,
and why things happen to us as they do; it is a question we none of
us understand, and in this world never shall. But if we know what we
ought to be, and how we may make the best of every thing, good or
bad, that happens to us, surely that is enough without perplexing
ourselves about any thing more."

Ascott smiled, half contemptuously, half carelessly: he was not a
young fellow likely to perplex himself long or deeply about these
sort of things.

"Any how, I've got £20 in my pocket, so I can't starve for a day or
two. Let's see; where is it to be cashed? Hillo! who would have
thought the old fellow would have been so stupid? Look there, Aunt
Hilary!"

She was so unfamiliar with checks for £20, poor little woman! that
she did not at first recognize the omission of the figures "£20" at
the left-hand corner. Otherwise the check was correct.

"Ho, ho!" laughed Ascott, exceedingly amused, so easily was the
current of his mind changed. "It must have been the £5000 pending
that muddled the 'cute old fellow's brains. I wonder whether he will
remember it afterward, and come posting up to see that I've taken no
ill-advantage of his blunder; changed this 'Twenty' into 'Seventy.' I
easily could, and put the figures £70 here. What a good joke!"

"Had ye not better go to him at once, and have the matter put right?"

"Rubbish! I can put it right myself. It makes no difference who fills
up a check, so that it is signed all correct. A deal you women know
of business!"

But still Hilary, with a certain womanish uneasiness about money
matters, and an anxiety to have the thing settled beyond doubt, urged
him to go.

"Very well; just as you like. I do believe you are afraid of my
turning forger."

He buttoned his coat with a half sulky, half defiant air, left his
supper untasted, and disappeared.

It was midnight before he returned. His aunts were still sitting up,
imagining all sorts of horrors, in an anxiety too great for words;
but when Hilary ran to the door, with the natural "Oh, Ascott, where
have you been?" he pushed her aside with a gesture that was almost
fierce in its repulsion.

"Where have I been? taking a walk round the Park; that's all. Can't I
come and go as I like, without being pestered by women? I'm horribly
tired. Let me alone--do!"

They did let him alone. Deeply wounded, Aunt Johanna took no further
notice of him than to set his chair a little closer to the fire, and
Aunt Hilary slipped down stairs for more coals. There she found
Elizabeth, who they thought had long since gone to bed, sitting on
the stairs, very sleepy, but watching still.

"Is he come in?" she asked; "because there are more bailiffs after
him. I'm sure of it; I saw them."

This, then, might account for his keeping out of the way till after
twelve o'clock, and also for his wild, haggard look. Hilary put aside
her vague dread of some new misfortune; assured Elizabeth that all
was right; he had got wherewithal to pay every body on Monday
morning, and would be safe till then. All debtors were safe on
Sunday.

"Go to bed now--there's a good girl; it is hard that you should be
troubled with our troubles."

Elizabeth looked up with those fond gray eyes of hers. She was but a
servant, and yet looks like these engraved themselves ineffaceably on
her mistress's heart, imparting the comfort that all pure love gives
from any one human being to another.

And love has its wonderful rights and rewards. Perhaps Elizabeth, who
thought herself nothing at all to her mistress, would have marveled
to know how much closer her mistress felt to this poor, honest,
loving girl, whose truth she believed in, and on whose faithfulness
she implicitly depended, than toward her own flesh and blood, who sat
there moodily over the hearth; deeply pitied, sedulously cared for,
but as for being confided in relied on, in great matters or small,
his own concerns or theirs--the thing was impossible.

They could not even ask him--they dared not, in such a strange mood
was he--the simple question, Had he seen Mr. Ascott, and had Mr.
Ascott been annoyed about the check? It would not have been referred
to at all had not Hilary, in holding his coat to dry, taken his
pocket book out of the breast pocket, when he snatched at it angrily.

"What are you meddling with my things for? Do you want to get at the
check, and be peering at it to see if it's all right? But you can't;
I've paid it away. Perhaps you'd like to know who to? Then you
shan't. I'll not be accountable to you for all my proceedings. I'll
not be treated like a baby. You'd better mind what you are about,
Aunt Hilary."

Never, in all his childish naughtiness, or boyish impertinence, had
Ascott spoken to her in such a tone. She regarded him at first with
simple astonishment, then hot indignation, which spurred her on to
stand up for her dignity, and not submit to be insulted by her own
nephew. But then came back upon her her own doctrine, taught by her
own experience, that character and conduct alone constitutes real
dignity or authority. She had, in point of fact, no authority over
him; no one can have, not even parents, over a young man of his age,
except that personal influence which is the strongest sway of all.

She said only, with a quietness that surprised herself--"You mistake,
Ascott; I have no wish to interfere with you whatever; you are your
own master, and must take your own course. I only expect from you the
ordinary respect that a gentleman shows to a lady. You must be very
tired and ill, or you would not have forgotten that."

"I didn't; or, if I did, I beg your pardon," said he, half subdued.
"When are you going to bed?"

"Directly. Shall I light your candle also?"

"Oh no; not for the world; I couldn't sleep a wink. I'd go mad if I
went to bed. I think I'll turn out and have a cigar."

His whole manner was so strange that his Aunt Johanna, who had sat
aloof, terribly grieved, but afraid to interfere, was moved to rise
up and go over to him.

"Ascott, my dear, you are looking quite ill. Be advised by your old
auntie. Go to bed at once, and forget every thing till morning."

"I wish I could; I wish I could. Oh, Auntie, Auntie!"

He caught hold of her hand, which she had laid upon his head, looked
up a minute into her kind, fond face, and burst into a flood of
boyish tears.

Evidently his troubles had been too much for him; he was in a state
of great excitement. For some minutes his sobs were almost
hysterical: then by a struggle he recovered him-self, seemed
exceedingly annoyed and ashamed, took up his candle, bade them a
hurried goodnight, and went to bed.

That is, he went to his room; but they heard him moving about
overhead for a long while after: nor were they surprised that he
refused to rise next morning, but lay most of the time with his door
locked, until late in the afternoon, when he went out for a long
walk, and did not return till supper, which he ate almost in silence.
Then, after going up to his room, and coming down again, complaining
bitterly how very cold it was, he crept in to the fireside with a
book in his hand, of which Hilary noticed he scarcely read a line.

His aunts said nothing to him; they had determined not: they felt
that further interference would be not only useless but dangerous.

"He will come to himself by-and by; his moods, good or bad, never
last long, you know," said Hilary, somewhat bitterly. "But, in the
mean time, I think we had better just do as he says--let him alone."

And in that sad, hopeless state they passed the last hours of that
dreary Sunday--afraid either to comfort him or reason with him;
afraid, above all, to blame him lest it might drive him altogether
astray. That he was in a state of great misery, halt sullen, half
defiant, they saw, and were scarcely surprised at it; it was very
hard not to be able to open their loving hearts to him, as those of
one family should always do, making every trouble a common care, and
every joy a universal blessing. But in his present state of mind--the
sudden obstinacy of a weak nature conscious of its weakness, and
dreading control--it seemed impossible either to break upon his
silence or to force his confidence.

They might have been right in this, or wrong; afterward Hilary
thought the latter. Many a time she wished and wished, with a bitter
regret, that instead of the quiet "Good night, Ascott!" and the one
rather cold kiss on his forehead, she had flung her arms round his
neck, and insisted on his telling out his whole mind to her, his
nearest kinswoman, who had been half aunt and half sister to him all
his life. But it was not done: she parted from him, as she did Sunday
after Sunday, with a sore sick feeling of how much he might be to
her, to them all, and how little he really was.

If this silence of hers was a mistake--one of those mistakes which
sensitive people sometimes make--it was, like all similar errors,
only too sorrowfully remembered and atoned for.



CHAPTER XVIII.

The week passed by, and Hilary received no ill tidings from home.
Incessant occupation kept her from dwelling too much on anxious
subjects: besides, she would not have thought it exactly right, while
her time and her mental powers were for so many hours per diem
legally Miss Balquidder's, to waste the one and weaken the other by
what is commonly called "fretting." Nor, carrying this conscientious
duty to a higher degree, and toward a higher Master, would she have
dared to sit grieving overmuch over their dark future. And yet it was
very dark. She pondered over what was to be done with Ascott, or
whether he was still to be left to the hopeless hope of doing
something for himself: how long the little establishment at No. 15
could be kept together, or if, after Selina's marriage, it would not
be advisable to make some change that should contract expenses, and
prevent this hard separation, from Monday to Saturday, between
Johanna and herself.

These, with equally anxious thoughts, attacked her in crowds every
day and every hour; but she had generally sufficient will to put them
aside: at least till after work was done, and they could neither
stupefy nor paralyze her. Trouble had to her been long enough
familiar to have taught her its own best lesson--that the mind can,
in degree, rule itself, even as it rules the body.

Thus, in her business duties, which were principally keeping
accounts; in her management of the two young people under her, and of
the small domestic establishment connected with the shop, Hilary went
steadily on, day after day; made no blunders in her arithmetic, no
mistakes in her housekeeping. Being new to all her responsibilities,
she had to give her whole mind to them; and she did it: and it was a
blessing to her--the sanctified blessing which rests upon labor,
almost seeming to neutralize its primeval curse.

But night after night, when work was over, she sat alone at her
sewing--the only time she had for it--and her thoughts went faster
than her needle. She turned over plan after plan, and went back upon
hope after hope, that had risen and broken like waves of the
sea--nothing happening that she had expected; the only thing which
had happened, or which seemed to have any permanence or reality,
being two things which she had never expected at all--Selina's
marriage, and her own engagement with Miss Balquidder. It often
happens so, in most people's lives, until at last they learn to live
on from day to day, doing each day's duty within the day, and
believing that it is a righteous as well as a tender hand which keeps
the next day's page safely folded down.

So Hilary sat, glad to have a quiet hour, not to grieve in, but to
lay out the details of a plan which had been maturing in her mind all
week, and which she meant definitely to propose to Johanna when she
went home next day. It would cost her something to do so, and she had
had some hesitations as to the scheme itself, until at last she threw
them all to the winds, as an honest-hearted, faithful and
faithfully-trusting woman would. Her plan was, that they should write
to the only real friend the family had--the only good man she
believed in--stating plainly their troubles and difficulties about
their nephew; asking his advice, & possibly his help. He might know
of something--some opening for a young surgeon in India, or some
temporary appointment for the voyage out and home, which might catch
Ascott's erratic and easily attracted fancy: give him occupation for
the time being, and at least detach him from his present life, with
all its temptations and dangers.

Also, it might result in bringing the boy again under that influence
which had been so beneficial to him while it lasted, and which Hilary
devoutly believed was the best influence in the world. Was it
unnatural, if, mingled with an earnest desire for Ascott's good, was
an under-lying delight that that good should be done to him by Robert
Lyon?

So when her plan was made, even to the very words in which she meant
to unfold it to Johanna, and the very form in which Johanna should
write the letter, she allowed herself a few brief minutes to think of
him--Robert Lyon--to call up his eyes, his voice, his smile; to
count, for the hundreth time, how many months--one less than
twenty-four, so she could not say years now--it would be before he
returned to England. Also, to speculate when and where they would
first meet, and how he would speak the one word--all that was needful
to change "liking" into "love," and "friend" into "wife."

They had so grown together during so many years not the less so
during these years of absence, that it seemed as if such a change
would hardly make any difference. And yet--and yet--as she sat and
sewed, wearied with her day's labors, sad and perplexed, she
thought--if only, by some strange magic, Robert Lyon were standing
opposite, holding open his arms, ready and glad to take her and all
her cares to his heart, how she would cling there! how closely she
would creep to him, weeping with joy and content, neither afraid nor
ashamed to let him see how dearly she loved him!

Only a dream! ah, only a dream! and she started from it at the sharp
sound of the doorbell--started, blushing and trembling, as if it had
been Robert Lyon himself, when she knew it was only her two young
assistants whom she had allowed to go out to tea in the neighborhood.
So she settled herself to her work again; put all her own thoughts by
in their little private corners, and waited for the entrance and the
harmless gossip of these two orphan girls, who were already beginning
to love her, and make a friend of her, and toward whom she felt
herself quite an elderly and responsible person. Poor little Hilary!
It seemed to be her lot always to take care of somebody or other.
Would it ever be that any body should take care of her?

So she cleared away some of her needlework, stirred the fire, which
was dropping hollow and dull, and looked up pleasantly to the opening
door. But it was not the girls: it was a man's foot and a man's
voice.

"Any person of the name of Leaf living here? I wish to see her, on
business."

At another time she would have laughed at the manner and words, as if
it were impossible so great a gentleman as Mr. Ascott could want to
see so small a person as the "person of the name of Leaf," except on
business. But now she was startled by his appearance at all. She
sprang up only able to articulate "My sister--"

"Don't be frightened; your sisters are quite well. I called at No. 15
an hour ago."

"You saw them?"

"No; I thought it unadvisable, under the circumstances."

"What circumstances?"

"I will explain, if you will allow me to sit down; bah! I've brought
in sticking to me a straw out of that confounded shaky old cab. One
ought never to be so stupid as to go any where except in one's own
carriage. This is rather a small room, Miss Hilary."

He eyed it curiously round; and, lastly, with his most acute look he
eyed herself, as if he wished to find out something from her manner,
before going into further explanations.

But she stood before him a little uneasy, and yet not very much so.
The utmost she expected was some quarrel with her sister Selina;
perhaps the breaking off of the match, which would not have broken
Hilary's heart at all events.

"So you have really no idea what I'm come about!"

"Not the slightest."

"Well!" said Peter Ascott. "I hardly thought it; but when one has
been taken in as I have been, and this isn't the first time by your
family--"

"Mr. Ascott! will you explain yourself?"

"I will, ma'am. It's a very unpleasant business I come about; any
other gentleman but me would have come with a police officer at his
back. Look here, Miss Hilary Leaf--did you ever set eyes on this
before?"

He took out his check book, turned deliberately over the small
memorandum halves of the page, till he came to one in particular,
then hunted in his pocket book for something.

"My banker sent in to-day my canceled checks, which I don't usually
go over oftener than three months; he knew that, the scamp."

Hilary looked up.

"Your nephew, to be sure. See!"

He spread before her a check, the very one she had watched him write
seven days before, made payable to "Ascott Leaf, or bearer," and
signed with the bold, peculiar signature. "Peter Ascott." Only
instead of being a check for twenty pounds it was for seventy.

Instantly the whole truth flashed upon Hilary: Ascott's remark about
how easily the T could be made into an S, and what a "good joke" it
would be; his long absence that night; his strange manner: his
refusal to let her see the check again; all was clear as daylight.

Unfortunate boy! the temptation had been too strong for him. Under
what sudden, insane impulse he had acted--under what delusion of
being able to repay in time; or of Mr. Ascott's not detecting the
fraud; or if discovered, of its being discovered after the marriage,
when to prosecute his wife's nephew would be a disgrace to himself,
could never be known. But there unmistakable was the altered check,
which had been presented and paid, the banker of course not having
the slightest suspicion of any thing amiss.

"Well, isn't this a nice return for all my kindness? So cleverly
done, too. But for the merest chance I might not have found it out
for three months. Oh, he's a precious young rascal, this nephew of
yours. His father was only a fool, but he-- Do you know that this is
a matter of forgery--forgery, ma'am," added Mr. Ascott, waxing hot in
his indignation.

Hilary uttered a bitter groan.

Yes, it was quite true. Their Ascott, their own boy, was no longer
merely idle, extravagant, thoughtless--faults bad enough, but capable
of being mended as he grew older: he had done that which to the end
of his days he could never blot out. He was a swindler and a forger.

She clasped her hands tightly together, as one struggling with sharp
physical pain, trying to read the expression of Mr. Ascott's face. At
last she put her question into words.

"What do you mean to do? Shall you prosecute him?"

Mr. Ascott crossed his legs, and settled his neckcloth with a
self-satisfied air. He evidently rather enjoyed the importance of his
position. To be dictator, almost of life and death, to this
unfortunate family was worth certainly fifty pounds.

"Well, I haven't exactly determined. The money, you see, is of no
moment to me, and I couldn't get it back any how. He'll never be
worth a half-penny, that rascal. I might prosecute, and nobody would
blame me; indeed, if I were to decline marrying your sister, and cut
the whole set of you, I don't see," and he drew himself up, "that any
thing could be said against me. But--"

Perhaps, hard man as he was, he was touched by the agony of suspense
in Hilary's face, for he added.

"Come, come, I won't disgrace your family; I won't do any thing to
harm the fellow."

"Thank you!" said Hilary, in a mechanical, unnatural voice.

"As for my money, he's welcome to it, and much good may it do him.
'Set a beggar on horseback, and he'll ride to the devil,' and in
double quick time too. I won't hinder him. I wash my hands of the
young scape-grace. But he'd better not come near me again."

"No," acquiesced Hilary, absently.

"In fact," said Mr. Ascott, with a twinkle of his sharp eye, "I have
already taken measures to frighten him away, so that he may make
himself scarce, and give neither you nor me any farther trouble. I
drove up to your door with a policeman, asked to see Mr. Leaf, and
when I heard that he was out--a lie, of course I left word I'd be
back in half an hour. Depend upon it," and he winked confidentially,
"he will smell a rat, and make a moonlight flitting of it, and we
shall never hear of him any more."

"Never hear of Ascott any more?" repeated Hilary; and for an instant
she ceased to think of him as what he was--swindler, forger,
ungrateful to his benefactors, a disgrace to his home and family. She
saw only the boy Ascott, with his bright looks and pleasant ways,
whom his aunts had brought up from his cradle, and loved with all his
faults--perhaps loved still. "Oh, I must go home. This will break
Johanna's heart!"

Mr. Peter Ascott possibly never had a heart, or it had been so
stunted in its growth that it had never reached its fair development.
Yet he felt sorry in his way for the "young person," who looked so
deadly white, yet tried so hard not to make a scene, nay, when her
two assistants came into the one little parlor, deported herself with
steady composure; told them that she was obliged suddenly to go home,
but would be back, if possible, the next morning. Then, in that
orderly, accurate way which Peter Ascott could both understand and
appreciate, she proceeded to arrange with them about the shop and the
house in case she might be detained till Monday.

"You're not a bad woman of business," said he, with a patronizing
air. "This seems a tidy little shop; I dare say you'll get on in it."

She looked at him with a bewildered air, and went on speaking to the
young woman at the door.

"How much might your weekly receipts be in a place like this? And
what salary does Miss--Miss What's-her-name give to each of you?
You're the head shop-woman, I suppose?"

Hilary made no answer: she scarcely heard. All her mind was full of
but one thing: "Never see Ascott any more!"

There came back upon her all the dreadful stories she had ever heard
of lads who had committed forgery or some similar offense, and, in
dread of punishment, had run away in despair, and never been heard of
for years--come to every kind of misery, perhaps even destroyed
themselves. The impression was so horribly vivid, that when, pausing
an instant in putting her books in their places, she heard the door
bell ring Hilary with difficulty repressed a scream.

But it was no messenger of dreadful tidings, it was only Elizabeth
Hand; and the quiet fashion in which she entered showed Hilary at
once that nothing dreadful had happened at home.

"Oh no, nothing has happened," confirmed the girl. "Only Miss Leaf
sent me to see if you could come home to night instead of tomorrow.
She is quite well, that is, pretty well; but Mr. Leaf--"

Here, catching sight of Miss Hilary's visitor, Elizabeth stopped
short. Peter Ascott was one of her prejudices. She determined in his
presence to let out no more of the family affairs.

On his part, Mr. Ascott had always treated Elizabeth as people like
him usually do treat servants, afraid to lose an inch of their
dignity, lest it should be an acknowledgment of equal birth and
breeding with the class from which they are so terribly ashamed to
have sprung. He regarded her now with a lordly air.

"Young woman--I believe you are the young woman who this afternoon
told me that Mr. Leaf was out. It was a fib, of course."

Elizabeth turned round indignantly. "No, Sir; I don't tell fibs. He
was out."

"Did you give him my message when he came in?"

"Yes, Sir."

"And what did he say, oh?"

"Nothing."

This was the literal fact; but there was something behind which
Elizabeth had not the slightest intention of communicating. In fact,
she set herself, physically and mentally, in an attitude of dogged
resistance to any pumping of Mr. Ascott: for though, as she had truly
said, nothing special had happened, she felt sure that he was at the
bottom of something which had gone wrong in the household that
afternoon.

It was this. When Ascott returned, and she told him of his
godfather's visit, the young man had suddenly turned so ghastly pale
that she had to fetch him a glass of water; and his Aunt
Johanna--Miss Selina was out--had to tend him and soothe him for
several minutes before he was right again. When at last he seemed
returning to his natural self, he looked wildly up at his aunt, and
clung to her in such an outburst of feeling, that Elizabeth had
thought it best to slip out of the room. It was tea time, but still
she waited outside for a half hour or longer, when she gently
knocked, and after a minute or two Miss Leaf came out. There seemed
nothing wrong, at least not much--not more than Elizabeth had noticed
many and many a time after talks between Ascott and his aunts.

"I'll take the tea in myself," she said; "for I want you to start at
once for Kensington to fetch Miss Hilary. Don't frighten her--mind
that Elizabeth. Say I am much as usual myself; but that Mr. Leaf is
not quite well, and I think she might do him good. Remember the exact
words."

Elizabeth did, and would have delivered them accurately, it Mr.
Ascott had not been present, and addressed her in that authoritative
manner. Now, she resolutely held her tongue.

Mr. Ascott might in his time have been accustomed to cringing,
frightened, or impertinent servants, but this was a phase of the
species with which he was totally unfamiliar. The girl was neither
sullen nor rude, yet evidently quite independent; afraid neither of
her mistress, nor of himself. He was sharp enough to see that
whatever he wanted to get out of Elizabeth must be got in another
way.

"Come, my wench, you'd better tell; it'll be none the worse for you,
and it shan't harm the young fellow, though I dare say he has paid
you well for holding your tongue."

"About what, sir?"

"Oh! you know what happened when you told him I had called, eh?
Servants get to know all about their master's affairs."

"Mr. Leaf isn't my master, and his affairs are nothing to me; I don't
pry into 'em," replied Elizabeth. "If you want to know any thing,
Sir, hadn't you better ask himself! He's at home to-night. I left
him and my missus going to their tea."

"Left them at home, and at tea?"

"Yes, Miss Hilary."

It was an inexpressible relief. For the discovery must have come.
Ascott must have known or guessed that Mr. Ascott had found him out;
he must have confessed all to his Aunt, or Johanna would never have
done two things which her sister knew she strongly disliked--sending
Elizabeth wandering through London at night, and fetching Hilary home
before the time. Yet they had been left sitting quietly at their tea!

Perhaps, after all, the blow had not been so dreadful. Johanna saw
comfort through it all. Vague hopes arose in Hilary also; visions of
the poor sinner sitting "clothed and in his right mind," contrite and
humbled; comforted by them all, with the inexpressible tenderness
with which we yearn over one who "was dead and is alive again, was
lost, and is found;" helped by them all in the way that women--some
women especially, and these were of them--seem formed to help the
erring and unfortunate; for, erring as he was, he had also been
unfortunate.

Many an excuse for him suggested itself. How foolish of them,
ignorant women that they were, to suppose that seventeen years of the
most careful bringing up could, with his temperament, stand against
the countless dangers of London life; of any life where a young man
is left to himself in a great town, with his temptations so many, and
his power of resistance so small.

And this might not, could not be a deliberate act. It must have been
committed under a sudden impulse, to be repented of for the rest of
his days. Nay, in the strange way in which our sins and mistakes are
made not only the whips to scourge us, but the sicknesses out of
which we often come--suffering and weak indeed, but yet relieved, and
fresh, and sound--who could tell but that this grave fault, this
actual guilt, the climax of so many lesser errors, might not work out
in the end Ascott's complete reformation?

So in the strange way in which, after a great shock, we begin to
revive a little, to hope against hope, to see a slender ray breaking
through the darkness, Hilary composed herself, at least so far as to
enable her to bid Elizabeth go down stairs, and she would be ready
directly.

"I think it is the best thing I can do--to go home at once," said
she.

"Certainly, my dear." replied Mr. Ascott, rather flattered by her
involuntary appeal, and by an inward consciousness of his own
exceeding generosity. "And pray don't disturb yourselves. Tell your
sister from me--your sister Selina, I mean--that I overlook every
thing, on condition that you keep him out of my sight, that young
blackguard!"

"Don't, don't!" cried Hilary, piteously.

"Well, I won't, though it's his right name--a fellow who could-- Look
you, Miss Hilary, when his father sent to me to beg ten pounds to
bury his mother with. I did bury her, and him also, a month after,
very respectably too, though he had no claim upon me, except that he
came from Stowbury. And I stood godfather to the child, and I've done
my duty by him. But mark my words, what's bred in the bone will come
in the flesh. He was born in a prison, and he'll die in a prison."

"God forbid!" said Hilary, solemnly. And again she felt the strong
conviction, that whatever his father had been, or his mother, of whom
they had heard nothing till she was dead, Ascott could not have lived
all these years of his childhood and early boyhood with his three
aunts at Stowbury without gaining at least some good, which might
counteract the hereditary evil; as such evil can be counteracted,
even as hereditary disease can be gradually removed by wholesome and
careful rearing in a new generation.

"Well, I'll not say any more," continued Peter Ascott: "only the
sooner the young fellow takes himself off the better. He'll only
plague you all. Now, can you send out for a cab for me?"

Hilary mechanically rang the bell, and gave the order.

"I'll take you to town with me if you like. It'll save you the
expense of the omnibus. I suppose you always travel by omnibus?"

Hilary answered something, she hardly knew what, except that it was a
declining of all these benevolent attentions. At last she got Mr.
Ascott outside the street door, and returning, put her hand to her
head with a moan.

"Oh, Miss Hilary, don't look like that."

"Elizabeth, do you know what has happened?"

"No."

"Then I don't want you to know. And you must never try to find it
out; for it is a secret that ought to be kept strictly within the
family. Are you to be trusted?"

"Yes, Miss Hilary."

"Now, get me my bonnet, and let us make haste and go home."

They walked down the gas-lit Kensington High Street, Hilary taking
her servant's arm; for she felt strangely weak. As she sat in the
dark corner of the omnibus she tried to look things in the face, and
form some definite plan; but the noisy rumble at once dulled and
confused her faculties. She felt capable of no consecutive thought,
but found herself stupidly watching the two lines of faces,
wondering, absently, what sort of people they were; what were their
lives and histories; and whether they all had, like herself, their
own personal burden of woe. Which was, alas! the one fact that never
need be doubted in this world.

It was nigh upon eleven o'clock when Hilary knocked at the door of
No. 15.

Miss Leaf opened it; but for the first time in her life she had no
welcome for her child.

"Is it Ascott? I thought it was Ascott," she cried, peering eagerly
up and down the street.

"He is gone out, then? When did he go?" asked Hilary, feeling her
heart turn stone-cold.

"Just after Selina came in. She--she vexed him. But he can not be
long? Is not that man he?"

And just as she was, without shawl or bonnet, Johanna stepped out
into the cold, damp night, and strained her eyes into the darkness;
but in vain.

"I'll walk round the Crescent once, and may be I shall find him. Only
go in, Johanna."

And Hilary was away again into the dark, walking rapidly, less with
the hope of finding Ascott than to get time to calm herself, so as to
meet, and help her sisters to meet, this worst depth of their
calamity. For something warned her that this last desperation of a
weak nature is more to be dreaded than any overt obstinacy of a
strong one. She had a conviction that Ascott never would come home.

After a while they gave up waiting and watching at the front door,
and shut themselves up in the parlor. The first explanation past,
even Selina ceased talking; and they sat together, the three women,
doing nothing, attempting to do nothing, only listening; thinking
every sound was a step on the pavement or a knock at the door. Alas!
what would they not have given for the fiercest knock, the most
impatient, angry footstep, if only it had been their boy's?

About one o'clock, Selina had to be put to bed in strong hysterics.
She had lashed her nephew with her bitter tongue till he had rushed
out of the house, declaring that none of them should ever see his
face again. Now she reproached herself as being the cause of all, and
fell into an agony of remorse, which engrossed her sisters' whole
care; until her violent emotion having worn itself out, she went to
sleep, the only one who did sleep in that miserable family.

For Elizabeth also, having been sent to bed hours before, was found
by Miss Hilary sitting on the kitchen stairs, about four in the
morning. Her mistress made no attempt at reproach, but brought her
into the parlor to share the silent watch, never broken except to
make up the fire or light a fresh candle; till candles burned up, and
shutters were opened, and upon their great calamity stared the broad
unwelcome day.



CHAPTER XIX.

"Missing"--"Lost"--"To--"--all the initials of the alphabet--we read
these sort of advertisements in the newspapers; and unless there
happens to be in them something intensely pathetic, comical, or
horrible, we think very little about them. Only those who have
undergone all that such an advertisement implies can understand its
depth of misery: the sudden missing of the person out of the home
circle, whether going away in anger or driven away by terror or
disgrace; the hour after hour and day after day of agonized suspense;
the self-reproach, real or imaginary, lest any thing might have been
said or done that was not said or done--any thing prevented that was
not prevented; the gnawing remorse for some cruel, or careless, or
bitter word, that could so easily have been avoided.

Alas! if people could only be made to feel that every word, every
action carries with it the weight of an eternity; that the merest
chance may make something said or done quite unpremeditatedly, in
vexation, sullenness, or spite, the last action, the last word; which
may grow into an awful remembrance, rising up between them and the
irredeemable past, and blackening the future for years!

Selina was quite sure her unhappy nephew had committed suicide, and
that she had been the cause of it. This conviction she impressed
incessantly on her two sisters as they waited upon her, or sat
talking by her bedside during that long Saturday, when there was
nothing else to be done.

That was the misery of it. There was nothing to be done. They had not
the slightest clew to Ascott's haunts or associates. With the last
fingering of honest shame, or honest respect for his aunts, he had
kept all these things to himself. To search for him in wide London
was altogether impossible.

Two courses suggested themselves to Hilary--one, to go and consult
Miss Balquidder; the other--which came into her mind from some
similar case she had heard of--to set on foot inquiries at all police
stations. But the first idea was soon rejected: only at the last
extremity could she make patent the family misery--the family
disgrace. To the second, similar and even stronger reasons applied.
There was something about the cool, matter-of-fact, business-like act
of setting a detective officer to hunt out their nephew, from which
these poor women recoiled. Besides, impressed as he was--he had told
his Aunt Johanna so--with the relentlessness of Mr. Ascott, might not
the chance of his discovering that he was hunted drive him to
desperation?

Hardly to suicide. Hilary steadfastly disbelieved in that. When
Selina painted horrible pictures of his throwing himself off Waterloo
Bridge: or being found hanging to a tree in one of the parks; or
locking himself in a hotel bed chamber and blowing out his brains,
her younger sister only laughed--laughed as much as she could--if
only to keep Johanna quiet.

Yet she herself had few fears. For she knew that Ascott was, in a
sense, too cowardly to kill himself. He so disliked physical pain,
physical unpleasantness of all kinds. She felt sure he would stop
short, even with the razor or the pistol in his hand, rather than do
a thing so very disagreeable.

Nevertheless, in spite of herself, while she and her sisters sat
together, hour after hour, in a stillness almost like that when there
is a death in the house, these morbid terrors took a double size.
Hilary ceased to treat them as ridiculous impossibilities, but began
to argue them out rationally. The mere act of doing so made her
recoil; for it seemed an acknowledgment that she was fighting not
with chimeras but realities.

"It is twenty-four hours since he went," she reasoned. "If he had
done anything desperate he would have done it at once, and we should
have heard of it long before now; ill news always travels fast.
Besides, his name was marked on all his clothes in full. I did it
myself. And his coat pockets were always stuffed with letters; he
used to cram them in as soon as he got them, you know."

And at this small remembrance of one of his "ways," even though it
was an unkind way, and had caused them many a pain, from the want of
confidence it showed, his poor, fond aunts turned aside to hide their
starting tears. The very phrase "he used to," seemed such an
unconscious admission that his life with them was over and done; that
he never would either please them or vex them any more.

Yet they took care that during the whole day every thing should be
done as if he were expected minute by minute; that Elizabeth should
lay the fourth knife and fork at dinner, the fourth cup and saucer at
tea. Elizabeth, who throughout had faithfully kept her pledge; who
went about silently and unobservantly, and by every means in her
power put aside the curiosity of Mrs. Jones as to what could be the
reason that her lodgers had sat up all night, and what on earth had
become of young Mr. Leaf.

After tea, Johanna, quite worn out, consented to go to bed; and then
Hilary, left to her own responsibility, set herself to consider how
long this dreadful quietness was to last, whether nothing could be
done. She could endure whatever was inevitable, but it was against
her nature as well as her conscience to sit down tamely to endure any
thing whatsoever till it did become inevitable.

In the first place, she determined on that which a certain sense of
honor, as well as the fear of vexing him should he come home, had
hitherto prevented the examining of Ascott's room, drawers, clothes,
and papers. It was a very dreary business--almost like doing the like
to a person who was dead, only without the sad sanctity that belongs
to the dead, whose very errors are forgotten and forgiven, who can
neither suffer nor make others suffer any more.

Many things she found, and more she guessed at--things which stabbed
her to the heart, things that she never told, not even to Johanna;
but she found no clew whatever to Ascott's whereabouts, intentions,
or connections. One thing, however, struck her--that most of his
clothes, and all his somewhat extensive stock of jewelry were gone;
every thing, in short, that could be convertible into money. It was
evident that his flight, sudden as it was, had been premeditated as
at least a possibility.

This so far was satisfactory. It took away the one haunting fear of
his committing suicide; and made it likely that he was still
lingering about, hiding from justice and Mr. Ascott, or perhaps
waiting for an opportunity to escape from England--from the fear that
his godfather, even if not prosecuting him, had the power and
doubtless the will completely to crush his future, wherever he was
known.

Where could he go? His Aunt tried to think over every word he had
ever let fall about America, Australia, or any other place to which
the hopeless outlaws of this country fly; but she could recollect
nothing to enable her to form any conclusion. One thing only she was
sure of--that if once he went away, his own words would come true;
they would never see his face again. The last tie, the last
constraint that bound him to home and a steady, righteous life would
be broken; he would go all adrift, be tossed hither and thither on
every wave of circumstance--what he called circumstance--till Heaven
only knew what a total wreck he might speedily become, or in what
forlorn and far off seas his ruined life might go down. He, Ascott
Leaf, the last of the name and family.

"It can not be; it shall not be!" cried Hilary. A sharp, bitter cry
of resistance to the death; and her heart seemed to go out to the
wretched boy and her hands to clutch at him, as if he were drowning,
and she were the only one to save him. How could she do it?

If she could only get at him, by word or letter! But that seemed
impossible, until, turning over scheme after scheme, she suddenly
thought of the one which so many people had tried in similar
circumstances, and which she remembered they had talked over and
laughed over, they and Ascott, one Sunday evening not so very long
ago. This was--a Times advertisement.

The difficulty how to word it, so as to catch his attention and yet
escape publicity, was very great, especially as his initials were so
common. Hundreds of "A. L.'s" might be wandering away from home, to
whom all that she dared say to call Ascott back would equally apply.
At last a bright thought struck her.

"A. leaf" (will a small l) "will be quite safe wherever found. Come.
Saturday. 15."

As she wrote it--this wretched double-entendre--she was seized with
that sudden sense of the ludicrous which sometimes intrudes in such a
ghastly fashion in the very midst of great misery. She burst into
uncontrollable laughter, fit after fit; so violent that Elizabeth,
who came in by chance, was terrified out of her wits, and kneeling
beside her mistress, implored her to be quiet. At last the paroxysm
ended in complete exhaustion. The tension of the last twenty-four
hours had given way, and Hilary knew her strength was gone. Yet the
advertisement ought to be taken to the Times office that very night,
in order to be inserted without fail on Monday morning.

There was but one person whom she could trust--Elizabeth.

She looked at the girl, who was kneeling beside the sofa, rubbing her
feet, and sometimes casting a glance round, in the quiet way of one
well used to nursing, who can find out how the sufferer is without
"fussing" with questions. She noticed, probably because she had seen
little of her of late, a curious change in Elizabeth. It must have
been gradual, but yet its result had never been so apparent before.
Her brusqueness had softened down, and there had come into her and
shone out of her, spite of all her natural uncomeliness of person,
that beautiful, intangible something, common alike to peasant and
queen, as clear to see and as sad to miss in both--womanliness. Added
thereto was the gentle composure of mein which almost invariably
accompanied it, which instinctively makes you fell that in great
things or small, whatever the woman has to do, she will do it in the
womanliest, wisest, and best way.

So thought Miss Hilary as she lay watching her servant, and then
explained to her the errand upon which she wished to send her.

Not much explanation, for she merely gave her the advertisement to
read, and told her what she wished done with it. And Elizabeth, on
her part, asked no questions, but simply listened and obeyed.

After she was gone Hilary lay on the sofa, passive and motionless.
Her strength and activity seemed to have collapsed at once into that
heavy quietness which comes when one has endured to the utmost limit
of endurance when one feels as if to speak a word or to lift a finger
would be as much as life was worth.

"Oh, if I could only go to sleep!" was all she thought.

By-and-by sleep did come, and she was taken far away out of these
miseries. By the strange peculiarity of dreams that we so seldom
dream about any grief that oppresses us at the time but generally of
something quite different, she thought she was in some known unknown
land, lovely and beautiful, with blue hills rising in the distance,
and blue seas creeping and curling on to the shore. On this shore she
was walking with Robert Lyon, just as he used to be, with his true
face and honest voice. He did not talk to her much; but she felt him
there, and knew they had but "one heart between them." A heart which
had never once swerved, either from the other; a heart whole and
sound, into which the least unfaith had never come--that had never
known, or recognized even as a possibility, the one first doubt, the
ominous --


    "Little rift within the lute,
    That by-and-by will make the music mute,
    And ever widening slowly silence all."


Is it ever so in this world? Does God ever bring the faithful man to
the faithful woman, and make them love one another with a righteous,
holy, persistent tenderness, which dare look in His face, nor be
ashamed; which sees in this life only the beginning of the life to
come; and in the closest, most passionate human love something to be
held with a loose hand, something frail as glass and brittle as
straw, unless it is perfected and sanctified by the love divine?

Hilary at least believed so. And when at Elizabeth's knock she woke
with a start, and saw--not the sweet sea-shore and Robert Lyon, but
the dull parlor, and the last flicker of the fire, she thanked God
that her dream was not all a dream--that, sharp as her misery was, it
did not touch this--the love of her heart: she believed in Robert
Lyon still.

And so she rose and spoke quite cheerfully, asking Elizabeth how she
had managed, and whether the advertisement would be sure to be in on
Monday morning.

"Yes, Miss Hilary; it is sure to be all right."

And then the girl hung about the room in an uneasy way, as if she had
something to tell, which was the fact.

Elizabeth had had an adventure. It was a new thing in her monotonous
life; it brightened her eyes, and flushed her cheeks, and made her
old nervousness of manner return. More especially as she was somewhat
perplexed, being divided in her mind between the wish she had to tell
her mistress every thing, and the fear to trouble her, at this
troublous time, with any small matter that merely concerned herself.

The matter was this. When she had given in her advertisement at the
Times office, and was standing behind the counter waiting for her
change and receipt, there stood beside her a young man, also waiting.
She had hardly noticed him, till on his talking to the clerk about
some misprint in his advertisement, apparently one of the great
column of "Want Places," her ear was caught by the unmistakable
Stowbury accent.

It was the first time she had heard it since she left home, and to
Elizabeth's tenacious nature home in absence had gained an additional
charm, had grown to be the one place in the world about which her
affections clung. In these dreary wilds of London, to hear a Stowbury
tongue, to catch sight of a Stowbury person, or even one who might
know Stowbury, made her heart leap up with a bound of joy. She turned
suddenly, and looked intently at the young man, or rather the lad,
for he seemed a mere lad, small, slight, and whiskerless.

"Well, Miss. I hope you'll know me again next time." said the young
fellow. At which remark Elizabeth saw that he was neither so young
nor so simple as she had at first thought. She drew back, very much
ashamed, and coloring deeply.

Now, if Elizabeth ever looked any thing like comely, it was when she
blushed; for she had the delicate skin peculiar to the young women of
her district; and when the blood rushed through it, no cheek of lady
fair ever assumed a brighter rose. That, or the natural vanity of man
in being noticed by woman, caught the youth's attention.

"Come now, Miss, don't be shy or offended. Perhaps I'm going your
way? Would you like company home?"

"No, thank you," said Elizabeth, with great dignity.

"Well, won't you even tell a fellow your name? Mine's Tom Cliffe, and
I live--"

"Cliffe! Are you little Tommy Cliffe, and do you come from Stowbury?"

And all Elizabeth's heart was in her eyes.

As has been said, she was of a specially tenacious nature. She liked
few people, but those she did like she held very fast. Almost the
only strong interest of her life, except Miss Hilary, had been the
little boy whom she had snatched from under the horse's heels; and
though he was rather a scape-grace, and cared little for her, and his
mother was a decidedly objectionable woman, she had clung to them
both firmly till she lost sight of them.

Now it was not to be expected that she should recognize in this
London stranger the little lad whose life she had saved--a lad, too,
from her beloved Stowbury--without a certain amount of emotion, at
which the individual in question broadly stared.

"Bless your heart, I am Tommy Cliffe from Stowbury, sure enough. Who
are you?"

"Elizabeth Hand."

Whereupon ensued a most friendly greeting. Tom declared he should
have known her any where, and had never forgotten her--never! How far
that was true or not, he certainly looked as if it were; and two
great tears of pleasure dimmed Elizabeth's kind eyes.

"You've grown a man now, Tommy," said she, looking at him with a sort
of half-maternal pride, and noticing his remarkably hand some and
intelligent face, so intelligent that it would have attracted notice,
though it was set upon broad, stooping shoulders, and a small, slight
body. "Let me see; how old are you?"

"I'm nineteen, I think."

"And I'm two-and-twenty. How aged we are growing!" said Elizabeth,
with a smile.

Then she asked after Mrs. Cliffe, but got only the brief answer,
"Mother's dead," given in a tone as if no more inquiries would be
welcome. His two sisters, also, had died of typhus in one week, and
Tom had been "on his own hook," as he expressed it, for the last
three years.

He was extremely frank and confidential; told how he had begun life
as a printer's "devil," afterward become a compositor, and his health
failing, had left the trade, and gone as servant to a literary
gentleman.

"An uncommon clever fellow is master; keeps his carriage, and has
dukes to dinner, all out of his books. Maybe you've heard of them,
Elizabeth?" and he named a few, in a patronizing way; at which
Elizabeth smiled, for she knew them well. But she nevertheless
regarded with a certain awe the servant of so great a man, and
"little Tommy Cliffe" took a new importance in her eyes.

Also, as he walked with her along the street to find an omnibus, she
could not help perceiving what a sharp little fellow he had grown
into; how, like many another printer's boy, he had caught the
influence of the atmosphere of letters, and was educated,
self-educated, of course, to a degree far beyond his position. When
she looked at him, and listened to him, Elizabeth involuntarily
thought of Benjamin Franklin, and of many more who had raised
themselves from the ink-pot and the compositor's desk to fame and
eminence, and she fancied that such might be the lot of "little Tommy
Cliffe." Why not? If so, how excessively proud she should be!

For the moment she had forgotten her errand; forgotten even Miss
Hilary. It was not till Tom Cliffe asked her where she lived, that
she suddenly recollected her mistress might not like, under present
circumstances, that their abode or any thing concerning them should
be known to a Stowbury person.

It was a struggle. She would have liked to see the lad again; have
liked to talk over with him Stowbury things and Stowbury people; but
she felt she ought not, and she would not.

"Tell me where you live, Tom, and that will do just as well; at least
till I speak to my mistress. I never had a visitor before, and my
mistress might not like it."

"No followers allowed, eh?"

Elizabeth laughed. The idea of little Tommy Clifie as her "follower,"
seemed so very funny.

So she bade him good-by; having, thanks to his gay frankness, been
made acquainted with all about him, but leaving him in perfect
ignorance concerning herself and her mistress. She only smiled when
he declared contemptuously, and with rather a romantic emphasis, that
he would hunt her out, though it were half over London.

This was all her adventure. When she came to tell it, it seemed very
little to tell, and Miss Hilary listened to it rather indifferently,
trying hard to remember who Tommy Cliffe was, and to take an interest
in him because he came from Stowbury. But Stowbury days were so far
off now--with such a gulf or pain between.

Suddenly the same fear occurred to her that had occurred to
Elizabeth.

"The lad did not see the advertisement, I hope? You did not tell him
about us?"

"I told him nothing." said Elizabeth. speaking softly, and looking
down. "I did not even mention any body's name."

"That was right; thank you."

But oh, the bitterness of knowing, and feeling sure Elizabeth knew
too, the thing for which she thanked her; and that not to mention
Ascott's name was the greatest kindness the faithful servant could
show toward the family.



CHAPTER XX.

Ascott Leaf never came home.

Day after day appeared the advertisement, sometimes slightly altered,
as hope or fear suggested; but no word, no letter, no answer of any
kind reached the anxious women.

By-and-by, moved by their distress, or perhaps feeling that the
scape-grace would be safer got rid of if found and dispatched abroad
in some decent manner, Mr. Ascott himself took measures for privately
continuing the search. Every outward-bound ship was examined; every
hospital visited; every case of suicide investigated: but in vain.
The unhappy young man had disappeared, suddenly and completely, as
many another has disappeared, out of the home circle, and been never
heard of more.

It is difficult to understand how a family can possibly hear such a
sorrow, did we not know that many have had to bear it, and have borne
it, with all its load of agonizing suspense, slowly dying hope,

"The hope that keeps alive despair," settling down into a permanent
grief, compared to which the grief for loss by death is light and
endurable.

The Leaf family went through all this. Was it better or worse for
them that their anguish had to be secret? that there were no friends
to pity, inquire, or console? that Johanna had to sit hour by hour
and day by day in the solitary parlor, Selina having soon gone back
to her old ways of "gadding about," and her marriage preparations;
and that, hardest of all, Hilary had on the Monday morning to return
to Kensington and work, work, work, as nothing were amiss?

But it was natural that all this should tell upon her; and one day
Miss Balquidder said, after a long covert observation of her face,
"My dear, you look ill. Is there any thing troubling you? My young
people always tell me their troubles, bodily or mental. I doctor
both."

"I am sure of it," said Hilary, with a sad smile, but entered into no
explanation, and Miss Balquidder had the wise kindliness to inquire
no further. Nevertheless, on some errand or other she came to
Kensington nearly every evening and took Hilary back with her to
sleep at No. 15.

"Your sister Selina must wish to have you with her as much as
possible till she is married." she said, as a reason for doing this.

And Hilary acquiesced, but silently, as we often do acquiesce in what
ought to be a truth, but which we know to be the saddest, most
painful falsehood.

For Selina, it became plain to see, was one of the family no more.
After her first burst of self-reproachful grief she took Mr. Ascott's
view of her nephew's loss--that it was a good riddance; went on
calmly with her bridal preparations, and seemed only afraid lest any
thing should interfere to prevent her marriage.

But the danger was apparently tided over. No news of Ascott came.
Even the daily inquiries for him by his creditors had ceased. His
Aunt Selina was beginning to breathe freely, when, the morning before
the wedding day, as they were all sitting in the midst of white
finery, but as sadly and silently as if it were a funeral, a person
was suddenly shown in "on business."

It was a detective officer sent to find out from Ascott Leaf's aunts
whether a certain description of him, in a printed hand-bill, was
correct. For his principal creditor, exasperated, had determined on
thus advertising him in the public papers as having "absconded."

Had a thunder-bolt fallen in the little parlor the three aunts could
not have been more utterly overwhelmed. They made no "scene"--a
certain sense of pride kept these poor gentlewomen from betraying
their misery to a strange man; though he was a very civil man, and
having delivered himself of his errand, like an automaton, sat
looking into his hat, and taking no notice of aught around him. He
was accustomed to this sort of thing.

Hilary was the first to recover herself. She glanced round at her
sisters, but they had not a word to say. In any crisis of family
difficulty they always left her to take the helm.

Rapidly she ran over in her mind all the consequences that would
arise from this new trouble--the public disgrace; Mr. Ascott's anger
and annoyance, not that she cared much for this, except so far as it
would affect Selina; lastly, the death-blow it was to any possible
hope of reclaiming the poor prodigal. Who she did not believe was
dead, but still, fondly trusted he would return one day from his
wanderings and his swine's husks, to have the fatted calf killed for
him and glad tears shed over him. But after being advertised as
"absconded," Ascott never would, never could, come home any home.

Taking as cool and business-like a tone as she could, she returned
the paper to the detective.

"This is a summary proceeding. Is there no way of avoiding it?"

"One, Miss," replied the man, very respectfully. "If the family would
pay the debt."

"Do you know how much it is?"

"Eighty pounds."

"Ah!"

That hopeless sigh of Johanna's was sufficient answer, though no one
spoke.

But in desperate cases some women acquire a desperate courage, or
rather it is less courage than faith--the faith which is said to
"remove mountains"--the belief that to the very last there must be
something to be done, and, if it can be done, they will have strength
to do it. True, the mountain may not be removed, but the mere act of
faith, or courage sometimes teaches how to climb over it.

"Very well. Take this paper back to your employer. He must be aware
that his only chance of payment is by suppressing it. If he will do
that, in two days he shall hear from us, and we will make
arrangements about paying the debt."

Hilary said this, to her sisters' utter astonishment; so utter that
they let her say it, and let the detective go away with a civil "Good
morning," before they could interfere or contradict by a word.

"Paying the debt! Hilary, what have you promised? It is an
impossibility."

"Like the Frenchman's answer to his mistress--'Madame, if it had been
possible it would have been done already; if it is impossible, it
shall be done.' It shall, I say."

"I wonder you can jest about our misfortunes," said Selina, in her
most querulous voice.

"I'm not jesting. But where is the use of sitting down to moan! I
mean what I say. The thing must be done."

Her eyes glittered--her small, red lips were set tightly together.

"If it is not done, sisters--if his public disgrace is not prevented,
don't you see the result? Not as regards your marriage, Selina--the
man must be a coward who would refuse to marry a woman he cared for,
even though her nearest kinsman had been hanged at the Old
Bailey--but Ascott himself. The boy is not a bad boy, though he has
done wickedly; but there is a difference between a wicked act and a
wicked nature. I mean to save him if I can."

"How?"

"By saving his good name; by paying the debt."

"And where on earth shall you get the money?"

"I will go to Miss Balquidder and--"

"Borrow it?"

"No, never! I would as soon think of stealing it."

Then controlling herself, Hilary explained that she meant to ask Miss
Balquidder to arrange for her with the creditor to pay the eighty
pounds by certain weekly or monthly installments, to be deducted from
her salary at Kensington.

"It is not a very great favor to ask of her: merely that she should
say, 'This young woman is employed by me: I believe her to be honest,
respectable, and so forth; also, that when she makes a promise to
pay, she will to the best of her power perform it.' A character which
is at present rather a novelty in the Leaf family."

"Hilary!"

"I am growing bitter, Johanna; I know I am. Why should we suffer so
much! Why should we be always dragged down--down--in this way? Why
should we never have had any one to cherish and take care of us, like
other women! Why--"

Miss Leaf laid her finger on her child's lips--

"Because it is the will of God."

Hilary flung herself on her dear old sister's neck and burst into tears.

Selina too cried a little, and said that she should like to help in
paying the debt, if Mr. Ascott had no objection. And then she turned
back to her white splendors, and became absorbed in the annoyance of
there being far too much clematis and far too little orange blossom
in the bridal bonnet--which it was now too late to change. A little,
also, she vexed herself about the risk of confiding in Miss
Balquidder, lest by any chance the story might get round to Russell
Square; and was urgent that at least nothing should be said or done
until after to-morrow. She was determined to be married, and dreaded
any slip between the cup and lip.

But Hilary was resolute. "I said that in two days the matter should
be arranged, and so it must be, or the man will think we too break
our promises."

"You can assure him to the contrary," said Selina, with dignity. "In
fact, why can't you arrange with him without going at all to Miss
Balquidder?"

Again the fierce, bitter expression returned to Hilary's face.

"You forget, Miss Balquidder's honest name is his only guarantee
against the dishonesty of ours."

"Hilary, you disgrace us--disgrace me--speaking in such a way. Are we
not gentle women?"

"I don't know, Selina. I don't seem to know or to feel any thing,
except that I would live on bread and water in order to live
peaceably and honestly. Oh, will it ever, ever be?"

She walked up and down the parlor, disarranging the white draperies
which lay about, feeling unutterable contempt for them and for her
sister. Angry and miserable, with every nerve quivering, she was at
war with the whole world.

This feeling lasted even when, after some discussion, she gained her
point and was on her way to call on Miss Balquidder. She went round
and round the Square many times, trying to fix in her mind word for
word what she meant to say; revealing no more of the family history
than was absolutely necessary, and stating her business in the
briefest, hardest, most matter-of-fact way--putting it as a
transaction between employer and employed, in which there was no more
favor asked or bestowed than could possibly be avoided. And as the
sharp east wind blew across her at every corner, minute by minute she
felt herself growing more fierce, and hard, and cold.

"This will never do. I shall be wicked by-and-by. I must go in and
get it over."

Perhaps it was as well. Well for her, morally as physically, that
there should have been that sudden change from the blighting weather
outside to the warm, well-lighted room where the good rich woman sat
at her early and solitary tea.

Very solitary it looked--the little table in the centre of that large
handsome parlor, with the one cup and saucer, the one easy-chair. And
as Hilary entered she noticed, amidst all this comfort and luxury,
the still, grave, almost sad expression which solitary people always
get to wear.

But the next minute Miss Balquidder had turned round, and risen,
smiling.

"Miss Leaf, how very kind of you to come and see me! Just the day
before the wedding, too, when you must be so busy! Sit down and tell
me all about it. But first, my dear, how wet your boots are! Let me
take them off at once."

Which she did, sending for her own big slippers, and putting them on
the tiny feet with her own hands.

Hilary submitted--in truth she was too much surprised to resist.

Miss Balquidder had, like most folk, her opinions or "crotchets"--as
they might be--and one of them was, to keep her business and friendly
relations entirely distinct and apart. Whenever she went to
Kensington or her other establishments she was always emphatically
"the mistress"--a kindly and even motherly mistress, certainly, but
still authoritative, decided. Moreover, it was her invariable rule to
treat all her employees alike--"making no step-bairns" among them.
Thus for some time it had happened that Hilary had been, and felt
herself to be, just Miss Leaf, the book keeper, doing her duty to
Miss Balquidder, her employer, and neither expecting nor attaining
any closer relation.

But in her own house, or it might be from the sudden apparition of
that young face at her lonely fireside, Miss Balquidder appeared
quite different.

A small thing touches a heart that is sore with trouble. When the
good woman rose up--after patting the little feet, and approving
loudly of the woolen stockings--she saw that Hilary's whole face was
quivering with the effort to keep back her tears.

There are some woman of whom one feels by instinct that they were, as
Miss Balquidder had once jokingly said of herself, specially meant to
be mothers. And though, in its strange providence, Heaven often
denies the maternity, it can not and does not mean to shut up the
well-spring of that maternal passion--truly a passion to such women
as these, almost as strong as the passion of love--but lets the
stream, which might otherwise have blessed one child or one family,
flow out wide and far, blessing wherever it goes.

In a tone that somehow touched every fibre of Hilary's heart, Miss
Balquidder said, placing her on a low chair beside her own.

"My dear, you are in trouble. I saw it a week or two ago, but did not
like to speak. Couldn't you say it out, and let me help you? You need
not be afraid. I never tell any thing, and every body tells every
thing to me."

That was true. Added to this said mother-liness of hers, Miss
Balquidder, possessed that faculty, which some people have in a
remarkable degree, and some--very good people too--are totally
deficient in, of attracting confidence. The secrets she had been
trusted with, the romances she had been mixed up in, the Quixotic
acts she had been called upon to perform during her long life, would
have made a novel--or several novels--such as no novelist could dare
to write, for the public would condemn them as impossible and
unnatural. But all this experience--though happily it could never be
put into a book--had given to the woman herself a view of human
nature at once so large, lenient, and just, that she was the best
person possible to hear the strange and pitiful story of young Ascott
Leaf.

How it came out Hilary hardly knew; she seemed to have told very
little, and yet Miss Balquidder guessed it all. It did not appear to
surprise or shock her. She neither began to question nor preach; she
only laid her hand, her large, motherly, protecting hand, on the
bowed head, saying.

"How much you must have suffered, my poor bairn!"

The soft Scotch tone and word--the grave, quiet Scotch manner,
implying more than it even expressed--was it wonderful if underlying
as well as outside influences made Hilary completely give way?

Robert Lyon had had a mother, who died when he was seventeen, but of
whom he kept the tenderest remembrance, often saying that of all the
ladies he had met with in the world there was none equal to her--the
strong, tender, womanly peasant woman--refined in mind and word and
ways--though to the last day of her life she spoke broad Scotch, and
did the work of her cottage with her own hands. It seems as if that
mother--toward whom Hilary's fancy had clung, lovingly as a woman
ought to cling, above all others, to the mother of the man she
loves--were speaking to her now, comforting her and helping
her--comfort and help that it would have been sweeter to receive from
her than from any woman living.

A mere fancy; but in her state of long uncontrolled excitement it
took such possession of her that Hilary fell on her knees and hid her
face in Miss Balquidder's lap, sobbing aloud.

The other was a little surprised; it was not her Scotch way to yield
to emotion before folk; but she was a wise woman she asked no
questions, merely held the quivering hands and smoothed the throbbing
head, till composure returned. Some people have a magical, mesmeric
power of soothing and controlling; it was hers. When she took the
poor face between her hands, and looked straight into the eyes, with,
"There, you are better now," Hilary returned the gaze as steadily,
nay, smilingly, and rose.

"Now, may I tell you my business?"

"Certainly, my dear. When one's friends are in trouble, the last
thing one ought to do is to sit down beside them and moan. Did you
come to ask my advice, or had you any definite plan of your own?"

"I had." And Hilary told it.

"A very good plan, and very generous in you to think of it. But I see
two strong objections: first, whether it can be carried out;
secondly, whether it ought."

Hilary shrank, sensitively.

"Not on my account, my dear, but your own. I often see people making
martyrs of themselves for some worthless character on whom the
sacrifice is utterly wasted. I object to this, as I would object to
throwing myself or my friend into a blazing house, unless I were
morally certain there was a life to be saved. Is there in this case?"

"I think there is! I trust in Heaven there is!" said Hilary,
earnestly.

There was both pleasure and pity expressed in Miss Balquidder's
countenance as she replied, "Be it so: that is a matter on which no
one can judge except yourself. But on the other matter you ask my
advice, and I must give it. To maintain two ladies and pay a debt of
eighty pounds out of one hundred a year is simply impossible."

"With Johanna's income and mine it will be a hundred and twenty
pounds and some odd shillings a year."

"You accurate girl! But even with this it can not be done, unless you
were to live in a manner so restricted in the commonest comforts that
at your sister's age she would be sure to suffer. You must look on
the question from all sides, my dear. You must be just to others as
well as to that young man, who seems never to-- But I will leave him
unjudged."

They were both silent for a minute, and then Miss Balquidder said: "I
feel certain there is but one rational way of accomplishing the thing
if you are bent upon doing it, if your own judgment and conscience
tell you it ought to be done. Is it so?"

"Yes," said Hilary, firmly.

The old Scotswoman took her hand with a warm pressure. "Very well. I
don't blame you. I might have done the same myself. Now to my plan.
Miss Leaf, have you known me long enough to confer on me the
benediction--one of the few that we rich folk possess 'It is more
blessed to give than to receive?' "

"I don't quite understand."

"Then allow me to explain. I happen to know this creditor of your
nephew's. He being a tailor and outfitter, we have had dealings
together in former times, and I know him to be a hard man, an
unprincipled man, such a one as no young woman should have to do
with, even in business relations. To be in his power, as you would be
for some years if your scheme of gradual payment were carried out, is
the last thing I should desire for you. Let me suggest another way.
Take me for your creditor instead of him. Pay him at once, and I will
write you a check for the amount."

The thing was put so delicately, in such an ordinary manner, as if it
were a mere business arrangement, that at first Hilary hardly
perceived all it implied. When she did--when she found that it was in
plain terms a gift or loan of eighty pounds offered by a person
almost a stranger, she was at first quite bewildered. Then (ah! let
us not blame her if she carried to a morbid excess that noble
independence which is the foundation of all true dignity in man or
woman) she shrunk back into herself, overcome with annoyance and
shame. At last she forced herself to say, though the words came out
rather coldly.

"You are very good, and I am exceedingly obliged to you; but I never
borrowed money in my life. It is quite impossible."

"Very well; I can understand your feelings. I beg your pardon,"
replied Miss Balquidder, also somewhat coldly.

They sat silent and awkward, and then the elderly lady took out a
pencil and began to make calculations in her memorandum book.

"I am reckoning what is the largest sum per month that you could
reasonably be expected to spare, and how you may make the most of
what remains. Are you aware that London lodgings are very expensive?
I am thinking that if you were to exchange out of the Kensington shop
into another I have at Richmond, I could offer you the first floor
above it for much less rent than you pay Mrs. Jones; and you could
have your sister living with you."

"Ah! that would make us both so much happier! How good you are!"

"You will see I only wish to help you to help yourself; not to put
you under any obligation. Though I can not see any thing so very
terrible in your being slightly indebted to an old woman, who has
neither chick nor child, and is at perfect liberty to do what she
likes with her own."

There was a pathos in the tone which smote Hilary into quick
contrition.

"Forgive me! But I have such a horror of borrowing money--you must
know why after what I have told you of our family. You must surely
understand--"

"I do fully; but there are limits even to independence. A person who,
for his own pleasure, is ready to take money from any body and every
body, without the slightest prospect or intention of returning it, is
quite different from a friend who in a case of emergency accepts help
from another friend, being ready and willing to take every means of
repayment, as I knew you were, and meant you to be. I meant, as you
suggested, to stop out of your salary so much per month, till I had
my eighty pounds sate back again."

"But suppose you never had it back? I am young and strong; still I
might fall ill--I might die, and you never be repaid."

"Yes, I should," said Miss Balquidder, with a serious smile. "You
forget, my dear bairn, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of these
little ones, ye have done it unto ME.' 'He that giveth to the poor
lendeth to the LORD.' I have lent Him a good deal at different times,
and He has always paid me back with usury."

There was something at once solemn and a little sad in the way the
old lady spoke. Hilary forgot her own side of the subject; her pride,
her humiliation.

"But do you not think, Miss Balquidder, that one ought to work on,
struggle on, to the last extremity, before one accepts an obligation,
most of all a money obligation?"

"I do, as a general principle. Yet money is not the greatest thing in
this world, that a pecuniary debt should be the worst to bear. And
sometimes one of the kindest acts you can do to a
fellow-creature--one that touches and softens his heart, nay, perhaps
wins it to you for life, is to accept a favor from him."

Hilary made no reply.

"I speak a little from experience. I have not had a very happy life
myself; at least most people would say so if they knew it; but the
Lord has made it up to me by giving me the means of bringing
happiness, in money as well as other ways, to other people. Most of
us have our favorite luxuries; this is mine. I like to do people
good; I like, also--though maybe that is a mean weakness--to feel
that I do it. If all whom I have been made instrumental in helping
had said to me, as you have done, 'I will not be helped, I will not
be made happy,' it would have been rather hard for me."

And a smile, half humorous, half sad, came over the hard-featured
face, spiritualizing its whole expression.

Hilary wavered. She compared her own life, happy still, and hopeful,
for all its cares, with that of this lonely woman, whose only
blessing was her riches, except the generous heart which sanctified
them, and made them such. Humbled, nay, ashamed, she took and kissed
the kindly hand which has succored so many, yet which, in the
inscrutable mystery of Providence, had been left to go down to the
grave alone; missing all that is personal, dear, and precious to a
woman's heart, and getting instead only what Hilary now gave her--the
half-sweet, half-bitter payment of gratitude.

"Well, my bairn, what is to be done?"

"I will do whatever you think right," murmured Hilary.



CHAPTER XXI.

It was not a cheerful morning on which to be married. A dense,
yellow, London fog, the like of which the Misses Leaf had never yet
seen, penetrated into every corner of the parlor at No. 15, where
they were breakfasting drearily by candle-light, all in their wedding
attire. They had been up since six in morning, and Elizabeth had
dressed her three mistresses one after the other, taking exceeding
pleasure in the performance. For she was still little more than a
girl, to whom a wedding was a wedding, and this was the first she had
ever had to do with in her life.

True, it disappointed her in some things. She was a little surprised
that last evening had passed off just like all other evenings. The
interest and bustle of packing soon subsided--the packing consisting
only of the traveling trunk, for the rest of the trousseau went
straight to Russell Square, every means having been taken to ignore
the very existence of No. 15; and then the three ladies had supper as
usual, and went to bed at their customary hour without any special
demonstrations of emotion of affection. To Elizabeth this was
strange. She had not yet learned the unspeakable bitterness of a
parting where no body has any grief to restrain.

On a wedding morning, of course, there is no time to be spared for
sentiment. The principal business appeared to be--dressing. Mr.
Ascott had insisted on doing his part in making his new connections
appear "respectable" at his marriage, and for Selina's sake they had
consented. Indeed, it was inevitable: they had no money whatever to
clothe themselves withal. They must either have accepted Mr. Ascott's
gifts--in which, to do him justice, he was both thoughtful and
liberal--or they must have staid away from the wedding altogether,
which they did not like to do "for the sake of the family."

So, with a sense of doing their last duty by the sister, who would
be, they felt, henceforward a sister no more, Miss Leaf attired
herself in her violet silk and white China shawl, and Miss Hilary put
on her silver-grey poplin, with a cardinal cape, as was then in
fashion, trimmed with white swan's-down. It was rather an elderly
costume for a bridemaid; but she was determined to dress warmly, and
not risk, in muslins and laces, the health which to her now was
money, life--nay, honor.

For Ascott's creditor had been already paid: Miss Balquidder never
let grass grow under her feet. When Hilary returned to her sisters
that day there was no longer any fear of public exposure; she had the
receipted bill in her hand, and she was Miss Balquidder's debtor to
the extent of eighty pounds.

But it was no debt of disgrace or humiliation, nor did she feel it as
such. She had learned the lesson which the large hearted rich can
always teach the poor, that, while there is sometimes, to some
people, no more galling chain, there is to others--and these are the
highest natures, too--no more firm and sacred bond than gratitude.
But still the debt was there; and Hilary would never feel quite easy
till it was paid--in money, at least. The generosity she never wished
to repay. She would rather feel it wrapping her round, like an arm
that was heavy only through its exceeding tenderness, to the end of
her days.

Nevertheless she had arranged that there was to be a regular monthly
deduction from her salary; and how, by retrenchment, to make this
monthly payment as large as she could, was a question which had
occupied herself and Johanna for a good while after they had retired
to rest. For there was no time to be lost. Mrs. Jones must be given
notice to; and there was another notice to be given, if the Richmond
plan were carried out; another sad retrenchment, foreboding which,
when Elizabeth brought up supper, Miss Hilary could hardly look the
girl in the face, and, when she bade her good night, had felt almost
like a secret conspirator.

For she knew that, if the money to clear this debt was to be saved,
they must part with Elizabeth.

No doubt the personal sacrifice would be considerable, for Hilary
would have to do the work of their two rooms with her own hands, and
give up a hundred little comforts in which Elizabeth, now become a
most clever and efficient servant, had made herself necessary to them
both. But the two ladies did not think of that at the moment; they
only thought of the pain of parting with her. They thought of it
sorely, even though she was but a servant, and there was a family
parting close at hand. Alas! people must take what they earn. It was
a melancholy fact that, of the two impending losses, the person they
should miss most would be, not their sister, but Elizabeth.

Both regrets combined made them sit at the breakfast table--the last
meal they should ever take together as a family--sad and sorry,
speaking about little else than the subject which presented itself as
easiest and uppermost, namely, clothes.

Finally, they stood all completely arrayed, even to bonnets; Hilary
looking wonderfully bewitching in hers, which was the very pattern of
one that may still be seen in a youthful portrait of our gracious
Queen--a large round brim, with a wreath of roses inside; while Miss
Leaf's was somewhat like it, only with little bunches of white
ribbon: "for," she said, "my time of roses has gone by." But her
sweet faded face had a peace that was not in the other two--not even
in Hilary's.

But the time arrived; the carriage drew up at the door. Then nature
and sisterly feeling asserted themselves for a minute. Miss Selina
"gave way," not to any loud or indecorous extent, to nothing that
could in the least harm her white satin, or crumple her laces and
ribbons; but she did shed a tear or two--real honest tears--kissed
her sisters affectionately, hoped they would be very happy at
Richmond, and that they would often come to see her at Russell
Square.

"You know," said she, half apologetically, "it is a great deal better
for one of us at least to be married and settled. Indeed I assure
you. I have done it all for the good of my family."

And for the time being she devoutly believed she had.

So it was all over. Elizabeth herself, from the aisle of St. Pancras
Church, watched the beginning and ending of the show; a very fine
show, with a number of handsomely dressed people, wedding guests, who
seemed to stare about them a good deal and take little interest in
either bride or bridegroom. The only persons Elizabeth recognized
were her mistresses--Miss Leaf, who kept her veil down and never
stirred; and Miss Hilary, who stood close behind the bride, listening
with downcast eyes to the beautiful marriage service. It must have
touched her more than on her sister's account, for a tear, gathered
under each eyelash, silently rolled down the soft cheek and fell."

"Miss Hilary's an angel, and he'll be a lucky man that gets her,"
meditated her faithful "bower-maiden" of old; as, a little excited by
the event of the morning, she stood by the mantle-piece and
contemplated a letter which had come after the ladies departed; one
of these regular monthly Indian letters, after which, Elizabeth was
sharp enough to notice, Miss Hilary's step always grew lighter and
her eye brighter for many days.

"It must be a nice thing to have somebody fond of one, and somebody
to be fond of," meditated she. And "old fashioned piece of goods" as
she was--according to Mrs. Jones (who now, from the use she was in
the Jones's menage, patronized and confided in her extremely) some
little bit of womanly craving after the woman's one hope and crown of
bliss crept into the poor maid-servant's heart. But it was not for
the maid-servant's usual necessity--a "sweet heart"--somebody to
"keep company with;" it was rather for somebody to love, and perhaps
take care of a little. People love according to their natures; and
Elizabeth's was a strong nature; its principal element being a
capacity for passionate devotedness, almost unlimited in extent. Such
women, who love most, are not always, indeed very rarely, loved best.
And so it was perhaps as well that poor Elizabeth should make up her
mind, as she did very composedly, that she herself should never be
married; but after that glorious wedding of Miss Hilary's to Mr.
Lyon, should settle down to take care of Miss Leaf all her days.

"And if I turn out only half as good and contented as my mistress, it
can't be such a dreadful thing to be an old maid after all,"
stoically said Elizabeth Hand.

The words were scarcely out of her mouth when her attention was
caught by some one in the passage inquiring for her; yes, actually
for her. She could hardly believe her eyes when she perceived it was
her new-found old acquaintance, Tom Cliffe.

He was dressed very well, out of livery; indeed, he looked so
extremely like a gentleman that Mrs. Jones's little girl took him for
one, called him "Sir," and showed him into the parlor.

"All right. I thought this was the house. Uncommon sharp of me to
hunt you out; wasn't it Elizabeth?"

But Elizabeth was a little stiff, flurried, and perplexed. Her
mistresses were out; she did not know whether she ought to ask Tom
in, especially as it must be into the parlor; there was no other
place to take him to.

However, Tom settled the matter with a conclusive, "Oh, gammon!"--sat
himself down, and made himself quite comfortable. And Elizabeth was
so glad to see him--glad to have another chance of talking about dear
old Stowbury. It could not be wrong; she would not say a word about,
the family, not even tell him she lived with the Misses Leaf if she
could help it. And Tom did not seem in the least curious.

"Now, I call this quite a coincidence. I was stopping at St. Pancras
Church to look at a wedding--some old city fogy who lives in Russell
Square, and is making a great splash; and there I see you, Elizabeth,
standing in the crowd, and looking so nice and spicy--as fresh as an
apple and as brisk as a bee. I hummed and hawed and whistled, but I
couldn't catch your eye; then I missed you, and was vexed above a
bit, till I saw one like you going in at this door, so I just knocked
and asked; and here you are! 'Pon my life, I am very glad to see
you."

"Thank you, Tom," said Elizabeth, pleased, even grateful for the
trouble he had taken about her: she had so few friends; in truth,
actually none.

They began to talk, and Tom Cliffe talked exceedingly well. He had
added to his natural cleverness a degree of London sharpness, the
result of much "knocking about" ever since childhood. Besides, his
master, the literary gentleman, who had picked him out of the
printing office, had taken a deal of pains with him. Tom was, for his
station, a very intelligent and superior young man. Not a boy, though
he was still under twenty, but a young man: that precocity of
development which often accompanies a delicate constitution, making
him appear, as he was indeed, in mind and character, fully six or
seven years older than his real age.

He was a handsome fellow, too, though small; dark haired, dark eyed,
with regular and yet sensitive and mobile features. Altogether Tom
Cliffe was decidedly interesting, and Elizabeth took great pleasure
in looking at him, and in thinking, with a certain half motherly,
half romantic satisfaction, that but for her, and her carrying him
home from under the horse's heels, he might, humanly speaking, have
been long ago buried in Stowbury church yard.

"I have a 'church yard cough' at times still," said he, when speaking
of this little episode of early life. "I don't think I shall ever
live to be a middle-aged man." And he shook his head, and looked
melancholy and poetical; nay, even showed Elizabeth some poetry that
he himself had written on the subject, which was clever enough in its
way.

Elizabeth's interest grew. An ordinary baker or butcher boy would not
have attracted her in the least; but here was something in the shape
of a hero, somebody who at once touched her sympathies and roused her
admiration. For Tom was quite as well informed as she was herself;
more so, indeed. He was one of the many shrewd and clever working men
who were then beginning to rise up and think for themselves, and
educate themselves. He attended classes at mechanics' institutions,
and young men's debating societies; where every topic of the day,
religion, politics, political economy, was handled freely, as the
young do handle these serious things. He threw himself, heart and
soul, into the new movement, which, like all revolutions, had at
first its great and fatal dangers, but yet resulted in much good;
clearing the political sky, and bringing all sorts of hidden abuses
under the sharp eyes of that great scourge of evil-doers--public
opinion.

Yet Elizabeth, reared under the wing of the conservative Misses Leaf,
was a little startled when Tom Cliffe, who apparently liked talking
and being listened to, gave her a long dissertation on the true
principles of the Charter, and how Frost, Williams, and Jones--names
all but forgotten now--were very ill-used men, actual martyrs. She
was more than startled--shocked indeed--until there came a reaction
of the deepest pity--when he confessed that he never went to church.
He saw no use in going, he said; the parsons were all shams, paid
largely to chatter about what they did not understand; the only real
religion was that which a man thought out for himself, and acted out
for himself. Which was true enough, though only a half truth; and
innocent Elizabeth did not see the other half.

But she was touched and carried away by the earnestness and
enthusiasm of the lad, wild, fierce iconoclast as he was, ready to
cast down the whole fabric of Church and State; though without any
personal hankering after lawless rights and low pleasures. His sole
idol was, as he said, intellect, and that was his preservation.

Also, the fragile health which was betrayed in every flash of his
eye, every flush of his sallow cheek, made Tom Cliffe, even in the
two hours he staid with her, come very close to Elizabeth's heart. It
was such a warm heart, such a liberal heart, thinking so little of
itself or of its own value.

So here began to be told the old story, familiar in kitchens as
parlors; but, from the higher bringing up of the two parties
concerned, conducted in this case more after the fashion of the
latter than the former.

Elizabeth Hand was an exceptional person, and Tom had the sense to
see that at once. He paid her no coarse attentions, did not attempt
to make love to her; but he liked her, and he let her see that he
did. True, she was not pretty, and she was older than he; but that to
a boy of nineteen is rather flattering than otherwise. Also, for
there is a law even under the blind mystery of likings and fallings
in love--a certain weakness in him, that weakness which generally
accompanies the poetical nature, clung to the quiet, solid, practical
strength of hers. He liked to talk and be listened to by those
silent, admiring, gentle gray eyes; and he thought it very pleasant
when, with a motherly prudence, she warned him to be careful over his
cough, and gave him a flannel breast-plate to protect his chest
against the cold.

When he went away Tom was so far in love that, following the free and
easy ways of his class, he attempted to give Elizabeth a kiss; but
she drew back so hotly that he begged her pardon, and slipped away
rather confounded.

"That's an odd sort of young woman; there's something in her," said
he to himself. "I'll get a kiss, though, by-and-by."

Meanwhile Elizabeth, having forgotten all about her dinner, sat
thinking, actually doing nothing but thinking, until within half an
hour of the time when her mistresses might be expected back. They
were to go direct to the hotel, breakfast, wait till the
newly-married couple had departed, and then come home. They would be
sure to be weary, and want their tea.

So Elizabeth made every thing ready for them, steadily putting Tom
Cliffe out of her mind. One thing she was glad of, that talking so
much about his own affairs, he had forgotten to inquire concerning
hers, and was still quite ignorant even of her mistresses' name. He
therefore could tell no tales of the Leaf family at Stowbury. Still
she determined at once to inform Miss Hilary that he had been here,
but that, if she wished it, he should never come again. And it spoke
well for her resolve, that while resolving she was startled to find
how very sorry she should feel if Tom Cliffe never came again.

I know I am painting this young woman with a strangely tender
conscience, a refinement of feeling, and a general moral
sensitiveness which people say is seldom or never to be found in her
rank of life. And why not? Because mistresses treat servants as
servants, and not as women; because in the sharp, hard line they
draw, at the outset, between themselves and their domestics, they
give no chance for any womanliness to be developed. And therefore
since human nature is weak, and without help from without, a long
degraded class can never rise, sweet-hearts will still come crawling
through back entries and down at area doors; mistresses will still
have to dismiss helpless and fallen, or brazen in iniquity, many a
wretched girl who once was innocent; or, if nothing actually vicious
results, may have many a good, respectable servant, who left to get
married, return, complaining that her "young man," whom she knew so
little about, has turned out a drunken scoundrel of a husband, who
drives her back to her old comfortable "place" to beg for herself and
her starving babies a morsel of bread.

When, with a vivid blush that she could not repress, Elizabeth told
her mistress that Tom Cliffe had been to see her, the latter replied
at first carelessly, for her mind was preoccupied. Then, her
attention caught by the aforesaid blush, Miss Hilary asked.

"How old is the lad?"

"Nineteen."

"That's a bad age, Elizabeth. Too old to be a pet, and rather too
young for a husband."

"I never thought of such a thing," said Elizabeth, warmly--and
honestly, at the time.

"Did he want to come and see you again?"

"He said so."

"Oh, well, if he is a steady, respectable lad there can be no
objection. I should like to see him myself next time."

And then a sudden sharp recollection that there would likely be no
next time, in their service at least, made Miss Hilary feel quite a
hypocrite.

"Elizabeth," said she, "we will speak about Tom Cliffe--is not that
his name?--by-and-by. Now, as soon as tea is over, my sister wants to
talk to you. When you are ready, will you come up stairs?"

She spoke in an especially gentle tone, so that by no possibility
could Elizabeth fancy they were displeased with her.

Now, knowing the circumstances of the family, Elizabeth's conscience
had often smitten her that she must eat a great deal, that her wages,
paid regularly month by month, must make a great hole in her
mistress's income. She was, alack! a sad expense, and she tried to
lighten her cost in every possible way. But it never struck her that
they could do without her, or that any need would arise for their
doing so. So she went into the parlor quite unsuspiciously, and found
Miss Leaf lying on the sofa, and Miss Hilary reading aloud the letter
from India. But it was laid quietly aside as she said, "Johanna,
Elizabeth is here."

Then Johanna, rousing herself to say what must be said, but putting
it as gently and kindly as she could, told Elizabeth, what mistresses
often think it below their dignity to tell to servants, the plain
truth--namely, that circumstances obliged herself and Miss Hilary to
retrench their expenses as much as they possibly could. That they
were going to live in two little rooms at Richmond, where they would
board with the inmates of the house.

"And so, and so--" Miss Leaf faltered. It was very hard to say it
with those eager eyes fixed upon her.

Hilary took up the word-- "And so, Elizabeth, much as it grieves us,
we shall be obliged to part with you. We cannot any longer afford to
keep a servant."

No answer.

"It is not even as it was once before, when we thought you might do
better for yourself. We know, if it were possible, you would rather
stay with us, and we would rather keep you. It is like parting with
one of our own family." And Miss Hilary's voice too failed. "However,
there is no help for it; we must part."

Elizabeth, recovered from her first bewildered grief, was on the
point of bursting out into entreaties that she might do like many
another faithful servant, live without wages, put up with any
hardships, rather than be sent away. But something in Miss Hilary's
manner told her it would be useless--worse than useless, painful: and
she would do any thing rather than give her mistress pain. When,
utterly unable to control it, she gave vent to one loud sob, the
expression of acute suffering on Miss Hilary's countenance was such
that she determined to sob no more. She felt that, for some reason or
other, the thing was inevitable; that she must take up her burden, as
her mistress had done, even though it were the last grief of
all--leaving that beloved mistress.

"That's right, Elizabeth," said Miss Hilary, softly. "All these
changes are very bitter to us also, but we bear them. There is
nothing lasting in this world, except doing right, and being good and
faithful and helpful to one another."

She sighed. Possibly there had been sad tidings in the letter which
she still held in her hand, clinging to it as we do to something
which, however sorely it hurts us, we would not part with for the
whole world. But there was no hopelessness or despair in her tone,
and Elizabeth caught the influence of that true courageous heart.

"Perhaps you may be able to take me back again soon, Ma'am," said
she, looking toward Miss Leaf. "And meantime I might get a place;
Mrs. Jones has told me of several;" and she stopped, afraid lest it
might be found out how often Mrs. Jones had urged her to "better
herself," and she had indignantly refused. "Or," (a bright idea
occurred) "I wonder if Miss Selina, that is, Mrs. Ascott, would take
me in at Russell Square?"

Hilary looked hard at her.

"Would you really like that?"

"Yes, I should; for I should see and hear of you. Miss Hilary, if you
please, I wish you would ask Mrs. Ascott to take me."

And Hilary, much surprised--for she was well acquainted with
Elizabeth's sentiments toward both Mr. Ascott and the late Miss
Selina---promised.



CHAPTER XXII.

And now I leave Miss Hilary for a time; leave her in, if not
happiness, great peace. Peace which, after these stormy months, was
an actual paradise of calm to both herself and Johanna.

Their grief for Ascott had softened down. Its very hopelessness gave
it resignation. There was nothing more to be done; they had done all
they could, both to find him out and to save him from the public
disgrace which might blight any hope of reformation. Now the result
must be left in higher hands.

Only at times fits of restless trouble would come; times when a
sudden knock at the door would make Johanna shake nervously for
minutes afterward; when Hilary walked about every where with her mind
preoccupied, and her eyes open to notice every chance passerby; nay,
she had sometimes secretly followed down a whole street some figure
which, in its light jaunty step and long fashionably-cut hair,
reminded her of Ascott.

Otherwise they were not unhappy, she and her dearest sister. Poor as
they were, they were together, and their poverty had no sting. They
knew exactly how much they would receive monthly, and how much they
ought to spend. Though obliged to calculate every penny, still their
income and expenses were alike certain; there was no anxiety about
money matters, which of itself was an indescribable relief. Also
there was that best blessing--peace at home. Never in all her days
had Johanna known such an easy life; sitting quietly in her parlor
while Hilary was engaged in the shop below; descending to dinner,
where she took the head of the table, and the young people soon
learned to treat her with great respect and even affection; then
waiting for the happy tea in their own room, and the walk afterward,
in Richmond Park or along the Thames banks toward Twickenham. Perhaps
it was partly from the contrast to that weary year in London, but
never, in any spring, had the air seemed so balmy, or the trees so
green. They brought back to Hilary's face the youthful bloom which
she had begun to lose; and, in degree, her youthful brightness, which
had also become slightly overclouded. Again she laughed and made her
little domestic jokes, and regained her pretty ways of putting
things, so that every thing always appeared to have a cheerful, and
comical, side.

Also--for while we are made as we are, with capacity for happiness,
and especially the happiness of love, it is sure to be thus--she had
a little private sunbeam in her own heart, which brightened outside
things. After that sad letter from India which came on Selina's
wedding day, every succeeding one grew more cheerful, more
demonstrative, nay, even affectionate; though still with that queer
Scotch pride of his, that would ask for nothing till it could ask and
have every thing, and give every thing in return--the letters were
all addressed to Johanna.

"What an advantage it is to be an old woman!" Miss Leaf would
sometimes say, mischievously, when she received them. But more often
she said nothing, waiting in peace for events to develop themselves.
She did not think much about herself, and had no mean jealousy over
her child; she knew that a righteous and holy love only makes all
natural affections more sacred and more dear.

And Hilary? She held her head higher and prouder; and the spring
trees looked greener, and the river ran brighter in the sunshine. Ah,
Heaven pity us all! it is a good thing to have love in one's life; it
is a good thing, if only for a time, to be actually happy. Not merely
contented, but happy!

And so I will leave her, this little woman; and nobody need mourn
over her because she is working too hard, or pity her because she is
obliged to work; has to wear common clothes, and live in narrow
rooms, and pass on her poor weary feet the grand carriages of the
Richmond gentry, who are not a bit more well-born or well-educated
than she; who never take the least notice of her, except sometimes to
peer curious at the desk where she sits in the shop-corner, and
wonder who "that young person with the rather pretty curls" can be.
No matter, she is happy.

How much happiness was there in the large house at Russell Square?

The Misses Leaf could not tell; their sister never gave them an
opportunity of judging.

        "My son's my son till he gets him a wife,
        But my daughter's my daughter all her life."

And so, most frequently, is "my sister." But not in this case. It
could not be; they never expected it would.

When on here rare visits to town Hilary called at Russell Square she
always found Mrs. Ascott handsomely dressed, dignified, and gracious.
Not in the slightest degree uncivil or unsisterly, but
gracious--perhaps a thought too gracious. Most condescendingly
anxious that she should stay to luncheon, and eat and drink the best
the house afforded, but never by any chance inviting her to stay to
dinner. Consequently, as Mr. Ascott was always absent in the city
until dinner, Hilary did not see him for months together, and her
brother-in-law was, she declared, no more to her than any other man
upon 'Change, or the man in the moon, or the Great Mogul.

His wife spoke little about him. After a few faint, formal questions
concerning Richmond affairs, somehow her conversation always recurred
to her own: the dinners she had been at, those she was going to give;
her carriages, clothes, jewelry, and so on. She was altogether a very
great lady, and Hilary, as she avouched laughingly--it was, in this
case, better to laugh than to grieve--felt an exceedingly small
person beside her.

Nevertheless Mrs. Ascott showed no unkindness--nay, among the various
changes that matrimony had produced in her, her temper appeared
rather to have improved than otherwise; there was now seldom any
trace of that touchy sharpness which used to be called "poor Selina's
way." And yet Hilary never quitted the house without saying to
herself, with a sigh, the old phrase, "Poor Selina!"

Thus, in the inevitable consequences of things, her visits to Russell
Square became fewer and fewer; she kept them up as a duty, not
exacting any return, for she felt that was impossible, though still
keeping up the ghostly shadow of sisterly intimacy. Nevertheless she
knew well it was but a shadow; that the only face that looked honest,
glad welcome, or that she was honestly glad to see in her
brother-in-law's house was the under house-maid, Elizabeth Hand.

Contrary to all expectations, Mrs. Ascott had consented to take
Elizabeth into her service. With many stipulations and warnings never
to presume on past relations, never even to mention Stowbury, on pain
of instant dismissal--still, she did take her, and Elizabeth staid.
At every one of Miss Hilary's visits, lying in wait in the bed
chamber, or on the staircase, or creeping up at the last minute to
open the hall door, was sure to appear the familiar face, beaming all
over. Little conversation passed between them--Mrs. Ascott evidently
disliked it; still Elizabeth looked well and happy, and when Miss
Hilary told her so she always silently smiled.

But this story must tell the whole truth which lay beneath that fond
acquiescing smile.

Elizabeth was certainly in good health, being well fed, well housed,
and leading on the whole an easy life; happy, too, when she looked at
Miss Hilary. But her migration from Mrs. Jones's lodgings to this
grand mansion had not been altogether the translation from Purgatory
to Paradise that some would have supposed.

The author of this simple story having--unfortunately for it--never
been in domestic service, especially in the great houses of London,
does not pretend to describe the ins and outs of their "high life
below stairs;" to repeat kitchen conversations, to paint the humors
of the servants' hall--the butler and housekeeper getting tipsy
together, the cook courting the policeman, and the footman making
love successively to every house-maid and ladys'-maid. Some writers
have depicted all this, whether faithfully or not they know best; but
the present writer declines to attempt any thing of the kind. Her
business is solely with one domestic, the country girl who came
unexpectedly into this new world of London servant-life--a world
essentially its own, and a life of which the upper classes are as
ignorant as they are of what goes on in Madagascar and Otabeite.

This fact was the first which struck the unsophisticated Elizabeth.
She, who had been brought up in a sort of feudal relationship to her
dear mistresses, was astonished to find the domestics of Russell
Square banded together into a community which, in spite of their
personal bickerings and jealousies, ended in alliance offensive and
defensive against the superior powers, whom they looked upon as their
natural enemies. Invisible enemies, certainly; for "master" they
hardly ever saw; and, excepting the ladys' maid, were mostly as
ignorant of "missis." The housekeeper was the middle link between the
two estates--the person with whom all business was transacted, and to
whom all complaints had to be made. Beyond being sometimes talked
over, generally in a quizzical, depreciatory, or condemnatory way,
the heads of the establishment were no more to their domestics than
the people who paid wages, and exacted in return certain duties,
which most of them made as small as possible, and escaped whenever
they could.

If this be an exaggerated picture of a state of things perhaps in
degree inevitable--and yet it should not be, for it is the source of
incalculable evil, this dividing of a house against itself--if I have
in any way said what is not true, I would that some intelligent
"voice from the kitchen" would rise up and tell us what is true, and
whether it be possible on either side to find means of amending what
so sorely needs reformation.

Elizabeth sometimes wanted Tom Cliffe to do this--to "write a book,"
which he, eager young malcontent, was always threatening to do, upon
the evils of society, and especially the tyranny of the upper
classes. Tom Cliffe was the only person to whom she imparted her
troubles and perplexities: how different her life was from that she
had been used to; how among her fellow-servants there was not one who
did not seem to think and act in a manner totally opposed to every
thing she had learned from Miss Hilary. How consequently she herself
was teased, bullied, threatened, or at best "sent to Coventry," from
morning till night.

"I am quite alone, Tom--I am, indeed," said she, almost crying, the
first Sunday night when she met him accidentally in going to church,
and, in her dreary state of mind, was exceedingly glad to see him. He
consoled her, and even went to church with her, half promising to do
the same next Sunday, and calling her "a good little Christian, who
almost inclined him to be a Christian too."

And so, with the vague feeling that she was doing him good and
keeping him out of harm--that lad who had so much that was kindly and
nice about him--Elizabeth consented, not exactly to an appointment,
but she told him what were her "Sundays out," and the church she
usually attended, if he liked to take the chance of her being there.

Alack! she had so few pleasures; she so seldom got even a breath of
outside air--it was not thought necessary for servants. The only hour
she was allowed out was the church-going on alternate Sunday
evenings. How pleasant it was to creep out then, and see Tom waiting
for her under the opposite trees, dressed so smart and gentlemanlike,
looking so handsome and so glad to see her--her, the poor countrified
Elizabeth, who was quizzed incessantly by her fellow-servants on her
oddness, plainness, and stupidity.

Tom did not seem to think her stupid, for he talked to her of all his
doings and plannings, vague and wild as those of the young tailor in
"Alton Locke," yet with a romantic energy about them that strongly
interested his companion; and he read her his poetry, and addressed a
few lines to herself, beginning,

    "Dearest and best, my long familiar friend;"

which was rather a poetical exaggeration, since he had altogether
forgotten her in the interval of their separation. But she never
guessed this; and so they both clung to the early tie, making it out
to be ten times stronger than it really was, as people do who are
glad of any excuse for being fond of one another.

Tom really was getting fond of Elizabeth. She touched the higher half
of his nature--the spiritual and imaginative half. That he had it,
though only a working-man, and she too, though only a domestic
servant, was most true: probably many more of their class have it
than we are at all aware of. Therefore, these two being special
individuals, were attracted by each other; she by him, because he was
clever, and he by her, because she was so good. For he had an ideal,
poor Tom Cliffe! and though it had been smothered and laid to sleep
by a not too regular life, it woke up again under the kind, sincere
eyes of this plain, simple-minded, honest Elizabeth Hand.

He knew she was plain, and so old-fashioned in her dress, that Tom,
who was particular about such things, did not always like walking
with her: but she was so interesting and true; she sympathized with
him so warmly; he found her so unfailingly and unvaryingly good to
him through all the little humors and pettishnesses that almost
always accompany a large brain, a nervous temperament, and delicate
health. Her quietness soothed him, her strength of character
supported him; he at once leaned on her, and ruled over her.

As to Elizabeth's feelings toward Tom, they will hardly bear
analyzing; probably hardly any strong emotion will, especially one
that is not sudden but progressive. She admired him extremely, and
yet she was half sorry for him. Some things in him she did not at all
like, and tried heartily to amend. His nervous fancies, irritations,
and vagaries she was exceedingly tender over; she looked up to him,
and yet took care of him; this thought of him, and anxiety over him,
became by degrees the habit of her life. People love in so many
different ways; and perhaps that was the natural way in which a woman
like Elizabeth would love, or creep into love without knowing it,
which is either the safest or the saddest form which the passion can
assume.

Thus things went on, till one dark, rainy Sunday night, walking round
and round the inner circle of the square, Tom expressed his feelings.
At first, in somewhat high flown and poetical phrases, then melting
into the one, eternally old and eternally new, "Do you love me?"
followed by a long, long kiss, given under shelter of the umbrella,
and in mortal fear of the approaching policeman; who, however, never
saw them, or saw them only as "pair of sweet-hearts"--too common an
occurrence on his beat to excite any attention.

But to Elizabeth the whole thing was new, wonderful; a bliss so far
beyond any thing that had ever befallen her simple life, and so
utterly unexpected therein, that when she went to her bed that night
she cried like a child over the happiness of Tom's loving her, and
her exceeding unworthiness of the same.

Then difficulties arose in her mind. "No followers allowed," was one
of the strict laws of the Russell Square dynasty. Like many another
law of that and of much higher dynasties it was only made to be
broken; for stray sweet-hearts were continually climbing down area
railings, or over garden walls, or hiding themselves behind kitchen
doors. Nay, to such an extent was the system carried out, each
servant being, from self-interest, a safe co-conspirator, that very
often when Mr. and Mrs. Ascott went out to dinner, and the old
housekeeper retired to bed, there were regular symposia held below
stairs--nice little supper-parties, where all the viands in the
pantry and the wines in the cellar were freely used; where every
domestic had his or her "young man" or "young woman," and the
goings-on, though not actually discreditable, were of the most lively
kind.

To be cognizant of these, and yet to feel that, as there was no
actual wickedness going on, she was not justified in "blabbing," was
a severe and perpetual trial to Elizabeth. To join them, or bring Tom
among them as her "young man," was impossible.

"No, Tom," she said, when he begged hard to come in one evening--for
it was raining fast, and he had a bad cough--

"No, Tom, I can't let you. If other folks break the laws of the
house, I won't--you must go. I can only meet you out of
doors."

And yet to do this surreptitiously, just as if she were ashamed of
him, or as if there were something wrong in their being fond of one
another, jarred upon Elizabeth's honest nature. She did not want to
make a show of him, especially to her fellow-servants: she had the
true woman's instinct of liking to keep her treasures all to herself;
but she had also her sex's natural yearning for sympathy in the great
event of a woman's life. She would have liked to have somebody unto
whom she could say, "Tom has asked me to marry him," and who would
have answered cordially, "It's all right: he is a good fellow: you
are sure to be happy."

Not that she doubted this: but it would have been an additional
comfort to have a mother's blessing, or a sister's, or even a
friend's, upon this strange and sweet emotion which had come into her
life. So long as it was thus kept secret there seemed a certain
incompleteness and unsanctity about even their happy love.

Tom did not comprehend this at all. He only laughed at her for
feeling so "nesh" (that means tender, sensitive--but the word is
almost unexplainable to other than Stowbury ears) on the subject. He
liked the romance and excitement of secret courtship--men often do;
rarely women, unless there is something in them not quite right, not
entirely womanly.

But Tom was very considerate, and though he called it "silly," and
took a little fit of crossness on the occasion, he allowed Elizabeth
to write to mother about him, and consented that on her next holiday
she should go to Richmond, in order to speak to Miss Hilary on the
same subject, and ask her also to write to Mrs. Hand, stating how
good and clever Tom was, and how exceedingly happy was Tom's
Elizabeth.

"And won't you come and fetch me, Tom?" asked she, shyly. "I am sure
Miss Hilary would not object, nor Miss Leaf neither."

Tom, protested he did not care two straws whether they objected or
not; he was a man of twenty, in a good trade--he had lately gone back
to the printing, and being a clever workman, earned capital wages. He
had a right to choose whom he liked, and marry when he pleased. If
Elizabeth didn't care for him, she might leave him alone.

"Oh, Tom!" was all she answered, with a strange gentleness that no
one could have believed would ever have come into the manner of South
Sea Islander. And quitting the subject then, she afterward persuaded
him, and not for the first time, into consenting to what she thought
right. There is something rather touching in a servant's holiday. It
comes so seldom. She must count on it for so long beforehand, and
remember it for so long afterward. This present writer owns to a
strong sympathy with the holiday-makers on the grand gala-days of the
English calendar. It is a pleasure to watch the innumerable groups of
family folk, little, children, and prentice lands.

    --"Dressed in all their best,
    To walk abroad with Sally."

And the various "Sallys" and their corresponding swains can hardly
feel more regret than she when it happens to be wet weather on Easter
week or at Whitsuntide.

Whit-Monday, the day when Tom escaped from the printing-office, and
Elizabeth got leave of absence for six hours, was as glorious a June
day as well could be. As the two young people perched themselves on
the top of the Richmond omnibus and drove through Kensington,
Hammersmith, Turnham Green, and over Kew Bridge--Tom pointing out all
the places, and giving much curious information about them--Elizabeth
thought there never was a more beautiful country, or a more lovely
summer day: she was, she truly said, "as happy as a Queen."

Neverthless, when the omnibus stopped, she, with great self-denial,
insisted on getting rid of Tom for anytime. She thought Miss Hilary
might not quite like Tom's knowing where she lived, or what her
occupation was, lest he might gossip about it to Stowbury people; so
she determined to pay her visit by herself, and appointed to meet him
at a certain hour on Richmond Bridge, over which bridge she watched
him march sulkily, not without a natural pleasure that he should be
so much vexed at losing her company for an hour or two. But she knew
he would soon come to himself--as he did, before he had been half a
mile on the road to Hampton Court, meeting a young fellow he knew,
and going with him over that grand old palace, which furnished them
with a subject at their next debating society, where they both came
out very strong on the question of hypocritical priests and obnoxious
kings, with especial reference to Henry VIII, and Cardinal Wolsey.

Meanwhile Elizabeth went in search of the little shop--which nobody
need expect to find at Richmond now--bearing the well-known name
"Janet Balquidder." Entering it, for there was no private door, she
saw, in the far corner above the curtained desk, the pretty curls of
her dear Miss Hilary. Elizabeth had long known that her mistress
"kept a shop," and with the notions of gentility which are just as
rife in her class as in any other, had mourned bitterly over this
fact. But when she saw how fresh and well the young lady looked, how
busily and cheerfully she seemed to work with her great books before
her, and with what a composed grace and dignity she came forward when
asked for, Elizabeth secretly confessed that not even keeping a shop
had made or could make the smallest difference in Miss Hilary.

She herself was much more changed.

"Why, Elizabeth, I should hardly have known you!" was the involuntary
exclamation of her late mistress.

She certainly did look very nice; not smart--for her sober taste
preferred quiet colors--but excessively neat and well-dressed. In her
new gown of gray "coburg," her one handsome shawl, which had been
honored several times by Miss Hilary's wearing, her white straw
bonnet and white ribbons, underneath which the smooth black hair and
soft eyes showed to great advantage, she appeared, not "like a
lady"--a servant can seldom do that let her dress be ever so
fine--but like a thoroughly respectable, intelligent, and
pleasant-faced young woman.

And her blushes came and went so fast, she was so nervous and yet so
beamingly happy, that Miss Hilary soon suspected there was more in
this visit than at first appeared. Knowing that with Elizabeth's
great shyness the mystery would never come out in public, she took an
opportunity of asking her to help her in the bedroom, and there, with
the folding-doors safely shut, discovered the whole secret. Miss
Hilary was a good deal surprised at first. She had never thought of
Elizabeth as likely to get married at all--and to Tom Cliffe.

"Why, isn't he a mere boy; ever so much younger than you are?"

"Three years."

"That is a pity--a great pity: women grow old so much faster than
men."

"I know that," said Elizabeth, somewhat sorrowfully.

"Besides, did you not tell me he was very handsome and clever?"

"Yes: and I'm neither the one nor the other. I have thought all that
over too, many a time; indeed I have, Miss Hilary. But Tom likes
me--or fancies he does. Do you think"--and the intense humility which
true love always has, struck into Miss Hilary's own conscious heart a
conviction of how very true this poor girl's love must be. "Do you
think he is mistaken? that his liking me--I mean in that sort of
way--is quite impossible?"

"No, indeed, and I never said it; never thought it," was the earnest
reply. "But consider; three years younger than yourself; handsomer
and cleverer than you are--".

Miss Hilary stopped; it seemed so cruel to say such things, and yet
she felt bound to say them. She knew her former "bower-maiden" well
enough to be convinced that if Elizabeth were not happy in marriage
she would be worse than unhappy--might grow actually bad.

"He loves you now; you are sure of that; but are you sure that he is
a thoroughly stable and reliable character? Do you believe he will
love you always?"

"I can't tell. Perhaps--if I deserved it," said poor Elizabeth.

And, looking at the downcast eyes, at the thorough womanly sweetness
and tenderness which suffused the whole face, Hilary's doubts began
to melt away. She thought how sometimes men, captivated by inward
rather than outward graces, have fallen in love with plain women, or
women older than themselves, and actually kept to their attachment
through life, with a fidelity rare as beautiful. Perhaps this young
fellow, who seemed by all accounts superior to his class--having had
the sense to choose that pearl in an oyster-shell, Elizabeth
Hand--might also have the sense so appreciate her, and go on loving
her to the end of his days, Anyhow, he loved her now, and she loved
him; and it was useless reasoning any more about it.

"Come, Elizabeth," cried her mistress, cheerfully, "I have said all
my say, and now I have only to give my good wishes. If Tom Cliffe
deserves you, I am sure you deserve him, and I should like to tell
him so."

"Should you, Miss Hilary?" and with a visible brightening up
Elizabeth betrayed Tom's whereabouts, and her little conspiracy to
bring him here, and her hesitation lest it might be "intruding."

"Not at all. Tell him to come at once. I am not like my sister; we
always allow 'followers.' I think a mistress stands in the relation
of a parent, for the time being; and that can not be a right or good
love which is concealed from her, as if it were a thing to be ashamed
of."

"I think so too. And I'm not a bit ashamed of Tom, nor he of me,"
said Elizabeth, so energetically that Miss Hilary smiled.

"Very well; take him to have his tea in the kitchen, and then bring
him up stairs to speak to my sister and me."

At that interview, which of course was rather trying, Tom acquitted
himself to every body's satisfaction. He was manly, modest,
self-possessed; did not say much--his usual talkativeness being
restrained by the circumstances of the case, and the great impression
made upon him by Miss Hilary, who, he afterward admitted to
Elizabeth, "was a real angel, and he should write a poem upon her."
But the little he did say gave the ladies a very good impression of
the intelligence and even refinement of Elizabeth's sweet-heart. And
though they were sorry to see him look so delicate, still there was a
something better than handsomeness in his handsome face, which made
them not altogether surprised at Elizabeth's being so fond of him. As
she watched the young couple down Richmond Street, in the soft summer
twilight--Elizabeth taking Tom's arm, and Tom drawing up his stooping
figure to its utmost extent, both a little ill-matched in height as
they were in some other things, but walking with that air of perfect
confidence and perfect contentedness in each other which always
betrays, to a quick eye, those who have agreed to walk through the
world together--Miss Hilary turned from the window and sighed.



CHAPTER XXIII.

Following Miss Hilary's earnest advice that every thing should be
fair and open, Elizabeth, on the very next day after that happy
Whit-Monday, mustered up her courage, asked permission to speak to
her mistress, and told her she was going to be married to Tom Cliffe:
not immediately, but in a year's time or so, if all went well.

Mrs. Ascott replied sharply that it was no affair of hers, and she
could not be troubled about it. For her part she thought, if servants
knew their own advantages, they would keep a good place when they had
it, and never get married at all. And then, saying she had heard a
good character of her from the housekeeper, she offered Elizabeth the
place of upper house-maid, a young girl, a protegee of the
housekeeper's, being substituted in hers.

"And when you have sixteen pounds a year, and somebody to do all your
hard work for you, I dare say you'll think better of it, and not be
so foolish as to go and get married."

But Elizabeth had her own private opinion on that matter. She was but
a woman, poor thing! and two tiny rooms of her own, with Tom to care
for and look after, seemed a far happier home than that great house,
where she had not only her own work to do, but the responsibility of
teaching and taking charge of that careless, stupid, pretty Esther,
who had all the forwardness, untidiness, and unconscientiousness of a
regular London maid-servant, and was a sore trial to the staid,
steady Elizabeth.

Tom consoled her, in his careless but affectionate way; and another
silent consolation was the "little bits of things," bought out of her
additional wages, which she began to put by in her box--sticks and
straws for the new sweet nest that was a-building: a metal teapot,
two neat glass salt-cellars, and, awful extravagance!--two real
second-hand silver spoons--Tom did so like having things nice about
him! These purchases, picked up at stray times, were solid,
substantial and useful; domestic rather than personal; and all with a
view to Tom rather than herself. She hid them with a magpie-like
closeness, for Esther and she shared the same room; but sometimes
when Esther was asleep she would peep at them with an anxious,
lingering tenderness, as if they made more of an assured reality what
even now seemed so very like a dream.

--Except, indeed, on those Sunday nights when Tom and she went to
church together and afterward took a walk, but always parted at the
corner of the square. She never brought him in to the house, nor
spoke of him to her fellow servants. How much they guessed of her
engagement she neither knew nor cared.

Mrs. Ascott, too, had apparently quite forgotten it. She seemed to
take as little interest in her servants' affairs as they in hers.

Nevertheless, ignorant as the lower regions were in general of what
was passing in the upper, occasionally rumors began to reach the
kitchen that "Master had been a-blowing up Missis, rather!" And once,
after the solemn dinner, with three footmen to wait on two people,
was over, Elizabeth, passing through the hall, caught the said
domestics laughing together, and saying it was "as good as a play;
cat and dog was nothing to it." After which "the rows up stairs"
became a favorite joke in the servants' hall.

But still Mr. Ascott went out daily after breakfast, and came home to
dinner; and Mrs. Ascott spent the morning in her private sitting
room, or "boudoir," as she called it; lunched, and drove out in her
handsome carriage, with her footman behind; dressed elegantly for
dinner, and presided at her own table with an air of magnificent
satisfaction in all things. She had perfectly accommodated herself to
her new position; and if under her satins and laces beat a solitary,
dissatisfied, or aching heart, it was nobody's business but her own.
At least, she kept up the splendid sham with a most creditable
persistency.

But all shams are dangerous things. Be the surface ever so smooth and
green, it will crack sometimes, and a faint wreath of smoke betray
the inward volcano. The like had happened once or twice, as on the
day when the men-servants were so intensely amused. Also Elizabeth,
when putting in order her mistress's bedroom, which was about the
hour Mr. Ascott left for the city, had several times seen Mrs. Ascott
come in there suddenly, white and trembling. Once, so agitated was
she, that Elizabeth had brought her a glass of water; and instead of
being angry or treating her with the distant dignity which she had
always kept up her mistress had said, almost in the old Stowbury
tone, "Thank you, Elizabeth."

However, Elizabeth had the wisdom to take no notice, but to slip from
the room, and keep her own counsel.

At last one day the smouldering domestic earthquake broke out. There
was "a precious good row," the footman suspected, at the
breakfast-table; and after breakfast, Master, without waiting for the
usual attendance of that functionary, with his hat and gloves and a
Hansom cab had flung himself out at the hall door, slamming it after
him with a noise that startled the whole house. Shortly afterward
"Missis's" bell had rung violently, and she had been found lying on
the floor of her bedroom in a dead faint, her maid, a foolish little
Frenchwoman, screaming over her.

The frightened servants gathered round in a cluster, but nobody
attempted to touch the poor lady, who lay rigid and helpless, hearing
none of the comments that were freely made upon her, or the
conjectures as to what Master had done or said that produced this
state of things. Mistress she was, and these four or five woman, her
servants, had lived in her house for months, but nobody loved her;
nobody knew any thing about her; nobody thought of doing aught for
her, till a kitchen-maid, probably out of former experience in some
domestic emergency, suggested, "Fetch Elizabeth."

The advice was eagerly caught at, every body being so thankful to
have the responsibility shifted to some other body's shoulders; so in
five minutes Elizabeth had the room cleared, and her mistress laid
upon the bed, with nobody near except herself and the French maid.

By-and-by Mrs. Ascott opened her eyes.

"Who's that? What are you doing to me?"

"Nothing, ma'am. It's only me--Elizabeth."

At the familiar soothing voice the poor woman--a poor, wretched,
forlorn woman she looked, lying there, in spite of all her
grandeur--turned feebly round.

"Oh, Elizabeth, I'm so ill! take care of me." And she fainted away
once more.

It was some time before she came quite to herself, and then the first
thing she said was to bid Elizabeth bolt the door and keep every body
out.

"The doctor, ma'am if he comes?"

"I'll not see him. I don't want him. I know what it is. I--"

She pulled Elizabeth closer to her, whispered something in her ear,
and then burst into a violent fit of hysterical weeping.

Amazed, shocked, Elizabeth at first did not know what to do; then she
took her mistress's head on her shoulder, and quieted her by degrees
almost as she would a child. The sobbing ceased, and Mrs. Ascott lay
still a minute, till suddenly she clutched Elizabeth's arm.

"Mind you don't tell. He doesn't know, and he shall not; it would
please him so. It does not please me. Sometimes I almost think I
shall hate it because it is his child."

She spoke with a fierceness that was hardly credible either in the
dignified Mrs. Peter Ascott or the languid Miss Selina. To think of
Miss Selina expecting a baby! The idea perfectly confounded poor
Elizabeth.

"I don't know very much about such matters," said she, deprecatingly;
"but I'm sure, ma'am, you ought to keep yourself quiet, and I
wouldn't hate the poor little baby if I were you. It may be a very
nice little thing, and turn out a great comfort to you."

Mrs. Ascott lifted her heavy eyes to the kindly, sympathetic, womanly
face--thorough woman, for, as Elizabeth went on, her heart warmed
with the strong instinct which comes almost of itself.

"Think, to have a tiny little creature lying here beside you;
something your very own, with its pretty face looking so innocent and
sweet at you, and its pretty fingers touching you." Here Elizabeth's
voice quite faltered over the picture she had drawn. "Oh, ma'am, I'm
sure you would be so fond of it."

Human nature is strong. This cold, selfish woman, living her forty
years without any strong emotion, marrying without love, and reaping,
not in contrition, but angry bitterness, the certain punishment of
such a marriage, even this woman was not proof against the glorious
mystery of maternity, which should make every daughter of Eve feel
the first sure hope of her first born child to be a sort of Divine
annunciation.

Mrs. Ascott lay listening to Elizabeth. Gradually through her shut
eyelids a few quiet tears began to flow.

"Do you mind me talking to you this way, ma'am?"

"No, no! Say what you like. I'm glad to have any body to speak to.
Oh, I am a very miserable woman!"

Strange that Selina Ascott should come to betray, and to Elizabeth
Hand, of all people, that she was a "miserable woman." But
circumstances bring about unforeseen confidences; and the confidence
once given is not easily recalled. Apparently the lady did not wish
to recall it. In the solitude of her splendid house, in her total
want of all female companionship--for she refused to have her sisters
sent for--"he would only insult them, and I'll not have my family
insulted"--poor Selina clung to her old servant as the only comfort
she had.

During the dreary months that followed, when, during the long, close
summer days, the sick lady scarcely stirred from her bedroom, and,
fretful, peevish, made the very most of what to women in general are
such patiently borne and sacred sufferings, Elizabeth was her
constant attendant. She humored all her whims, endured all her
ill-tempers, cheered her in her low spirits, and was, in fact, her
mistress's sole companion and friend.

This position no one disputed with her. It is not every woman who
has, as Miss Leaf used to say of Elizabeth, "a genius for nursing;"
and very few patients make nursing a labor of love. The whole
household were considerably relieved by her taking a responsibility
for which she was so well fitted and so little envied. Even Mr.
Ascott, who, when his approaching honors could no longer be concealed
from him, became for the nonce a most attentive husband, and
succumbed dutifully to every fancy his wife entertained, openly
expressed his satisfaction in Elizabeth, and gave her one or two
bright golden guineas in earnest of his gratitude.

How far she herself appreciated her new and important position;
whether her duties were done from duty, or pity, or that determined
self-devotedness which some women are always ready to carry out
toward any helpless thing that needs them, I can not say, for she
never told. Not even to Miss Hilary, who at last was permitted to
come and pay a formal visit; nor to Tom Cliffe, whom she now saw very
rarely, for her mistress, with characteristic selfishness, would
hardly let her out of her sight for half an hour.

Tom at first was exceedingly savage at this: by degrees he got more
reconciled, and met his sweet-heart now and then for a few minutes at
the area gate or wrote her long poetical letters, which he confided
to some of her fellow-servants, who thereby got acquainted with their
secret. But it mattered little, as Elizabeth had faithfully promised
that, when her mistress's trial was over, and every thing smooth and
happy, she would marry Tom at once. So she took the jokes below
stairs with great composure; feeling, indeed, too proud and content
to perplex herself much about any thing.

Nevertheless, her life was not easy, for Mrs. Ascott was very
difficult to manage. She resisted angrily all the personal sacrifices
entailed by impending motherhood, and its terrors and forebodings
used to come over her--poor weak woman that she was!--in a way that
required all Elizabeth's reasonings to counteract, and all her
self-control to hide the presentiment of evil, not unnatural under
the circumstances.

Yet sometimes poor Mrs. Ascott would take fits of pathetic happiness;
when she busied herself eagerly over the preparations for the
new-comer; would make Elizabeth take out, over and over again, the
little clothes, and examine them with childish delight. Sometimes she
would gossip for hours over the blessing that was sent to her so late
in life--half-regretting that it had come so late; that she should be
almost an old woman before her little son or daughter was grown up.

"Still, I may live to see it, you know: to have a pretty girl to take
on my arm into a ball-room, or a big fellow to send to College: the
Leafs always went to College in old times. He shall be Henry Leaf
Ascott, that I am determined on; and if it's a girl, perhaps I may
call her Johanna. My sister would like it; wouldn't she?"

For more and more, in the strange softening of her nature, did Selina
go back to the old ties.

"I am not older than my mother was when Hilary was born. She died,
but that was because of trouble. Women do not necessarily die in
childbirth even at forty; and in twenty years more I shall only be
sixty--not such a very old woman. Besides, mothers never are old; at
least not to their children. Don't you think so, Elizabeth?"

And Elizabeth answered as she best could. She too, out of sympathy or
instinct, was becoming wondrous wise.

But I am aware all this will be thought very uninteresting, except by
women and mothers. Let me hasten on.

By degrees, as Mrs. Ascott's hour approached, a curious tranquility
and even gentleness came over her. Her fretful dislike of seeing any
face about her but Elizabeth's became less. She even endured her
husband's company for an hour of an evening; and at last humbled her
pride enough to beg him to invite her sisters to Russell Square from
Saturday to Monday, the only time when Hilary could be spared.

"For we don't know what may happen," said she to him, rather
seriously.

And though he answered, "Oh, nonsense!" and desired her to get such
ridiculous fancies out, of her head, still he consented, and himself
wrote to Miss Leaf, giving the formal invitation.

The three sisters spent a happy time together, and Hilary made some
highly appreciated family jokes about the handsome Christmas box that
Selina was going to be so kind as to give them, and the small
probability that she would have much enjoyment of the Christmas
dinner to which Mr. Ascott, in the superabundance of his good
feeling, had invited his sisters-in-law. The baby, blessed innocent!
seemed to have softened down all things--as babies often do.

Altogether, it was with great cheerfulness, affectionateness, and
hope that they took leave of Selina: she, with unwonted
consideration, insisting that the carriage should convey them all the
way to Richmond.

"And," she said, "perhaps some of these days my son, if he is a son,
may have the pleasure of escorting his aunts home. I shall certainly
call him 'Henry Leaf,' and bring him up to be in every way a credit
to our family."

When the ladies were away, and Mrs. Ascott had retired to bed, it was
still only nine o'clock, and a bright moonlight night. Elizabeth
thought she could steal down stairs and try to get a breath of fresh
air round the square. Her long confinement made her almost sick
sometimes for a sight of the outer world, a sight of--let me tell the
entire truth--her own faithful Tom.

She had not seen him now for fourteen days, and though his letters
were very nice and exceedingly clever, still she craved for a look at
his face, a grasp of his hand, perhaps even a kiss, long and close
and tender, such as he would sometimes insist upon giving her, in
spite of all policemen. His love for her, demonstrative as was his
nature, had become to this still, quiet girl inexpressibly sweet, far
sweeter than she knew.

It was a clear winter night, and the moon went climbing over the
fleecy white clouds in a way that made beauty even in Russell Square.
Elizabeth looked up at the sky, and thought how Tom would have
enjoyed it, and wished he were beside her, and was so glad to think
he would soon be beside her always, with all his humors and
weaknesses, all his little cross-selfishness, and complainings; she
could put up with all, and be happy through all, if only she had him
with her and loving her.

His love for her, though fitful and fanciful, was yet so warm and
real that it had become a necessity of her life. As he always told
her--especially after he had had one of his little quarrels with
her--hers was to him.

"Poor Tom, I wonder how he gets on without me! Well, it won't be for
long."

And she wished she could have let him know she was out here, that
they might have had a chat for just ten minutes.

Unconsciously she walked toward their usual trysting place, a large
overhanging plane-tree on the Keppel Street corner of the square.

Surely, surely, that could not be Tom! Quite impossible, for he was
not alone. Two people, a young man and a young woman, stood at the
tryst, absorbed in conversation: evidently sweethearts, for he had
one arm round her, and he kissed her unresisted several times.

Elizabeth gazed, fascinated, almost doubting the evidence of her own
senses. For the young men's figure was so excessively like Tom's. At
length, with the sort of feeling that makes one go steadily up to a
shadow by the roadside, some ugly spectre that we feel sure, if we
stare it out, will prove to be a mere imagination, she walked
deliberately up to and past these "sweethearts."

They did not see her; they were far too much occupied with one
another; but she saw them, and saw at once that it was Tom, Tom's own
self, and with him her fellow-servant, Esther.

People may write volumes on jealousy, and volumes will still remain
to be written. It is next to remorse for guilt, the sharpest, sorest,
most maddening torment that human nature can endure.

We may sit and gaze from the boxes at our Othellos and Biancas; we
may laugh at the silly heart-burnings between Cousin Kate and Cousin
Lucy in the ball-room, or the squabbles of Mary and Sally in the
kitchen over the gardener's lad; but there the thing remains. A man
can not make love to two women, a woman can not coquet with two men,
without causing in degree that horrible agony, cruel as death, which
is at the root of half the tragedies, and the cause of half the
crimes of this world.

The complaint comes in different forms: sometimes it is a case of
slow poisoning or of ordeal by red-hot irons, which though not fatal,
undermines the whole character, and burns ineffaceable scars into the
soul. And people take it in various ways--some fiercely, stung by a
sense of wounded self-love; others haughtily:

"Pride's a safe robe, I'll wear it; but no rags."

Others, again, humble, self-distrustful natures, whose only pride
came through love, have nothing left them except rags. In a moment
all their thin robes of happiness are torn off; they stand shivering,
naked and helpless before the blasts of the bitter world.

This was Elizabeth's case. After the first instant of stunned
bewilderment and despair she took it all quite naturally, as if it
were a thing which she ought all along to have known was sure to
happen, and which was no more than she expected and deserved.

She passed the couple, still unobserved by them, and then walked
round the other side of the square, deliberately home.

I am not going to make a tragic heroine of this poor servant girl.
Perhaps, people may say, there is nothing tragic about the incident.
Merely a plain, quiet, old-fashioned woman, who is so foolish as to
like a handsome young swain, and to believe in him, and to be
surprised when he deserts her for a pretty girl of eighteen. All
quite after the way things go on in the world, especially in the
servant-world; and the best she can do is to get over it, or take
another sweetheart as quickly as possible. A very common story after
all, and more of a farce than a tragedy.

But there are some farces which, if you look underneath the surface,
have a good many of the elements of tragedy.

I shall neither paint Elizabeth tearing her own hair nor Esther's,
nor going raging about the square in moonlight in an insane fit of
jealousy. She was not given to "fits" under any circumstances, or
about any thing. All she felt went deep down into her heart, rooted
itself, and either blossomed or cankered there.

On this night she, as I said, walked round the square to her home:
then quietly went up stairs to her garret, locked the door, and sat
down upon her bed.

She might have sat there for an hour or more, her bonnet and shawl
still on, without stirring, without crying, altogether cold and hard
like a stone, when she fancied she heard her mistress's bell ring,
and mechanically rose up and went down stairs to listen. Nothing was
wanted, so she returned to her garret and crept to bed in the dark.

When soon afterward Esther likewise came up to bed, Elizabeth
pretended to be asleep. Only once, taking a stealthy glance at the
pretty girl who stood combing her hair at the looking-glass, she was
conscious of a sick sense of repulsion, a pain like a knife running
thro' her, at sight of the red young lips which Tom had just been
kissing, of the light figure which he had clasped as he used to clasp
her. But she never spoke, not one word.

Half an hour after she was roused by the nurse coming to her bedside.
Mrs. Ascott was very ill, and was calling for Elizabeth. Soon the
whole establishment was in confusion, and in the sharp struggle
between birth and death Elizabeth had no time to think of any thing
but her mistress.

Contrary to every expectation, all ended speedily and happily; and
before he went off to the City next day the master of the house, who,
in the midst of his anxiety and felicity, had managed to secure a
good night's sleep and a good breakfast, had the pleasure of sending
off a special messenger to the Times office with the notification,
"The Lady of Peter Ascott, Esq., of a son and heir."



CHAPTER XXIV.

A fortnight's time rather increased than diminished the excitement
incident on the event at Russell Square.

Never was there such a wonderful baby, and never was there such a
fuss made over it. Unprejudiced persons might have called it an ugly,
weakly little thing; indeed, at first there were such apprehensions
of its dying that it had been baptized in a great hurry, "Henry Leaf
Ascott," according to the mother's desire, which in her critical
position nobody dared to thwart. Even at the end of fourteen days the
"son and heir" was still a puling, sickly, yellow-faced baby. But to
the mother it was every thing.

From the moment she heard its first cry Mrs. Ascott's whole nature
seemed to undergo a change. Her very eyes--those cold blue eyes of
Miss Selina's--took a depth and tenderness whenever she turned to
look at the little bundle that lay beside her. She never wearied of
touching the tiny hands and feet, and wondering at them, and
showing--to every one of the household who was favored with a sight
of it--"my baby," as if it had been a miracle of the universe. She
was so unutterably happy and proud.

Elizabeth, too, seemed not a little proud of the baby. To her arms it
had first been committed; she had stood by at its first washing and
dressing, and had scarcely left it or her mistress since. Nurse, a
very grand personage, had been a little jealous of her at first, but
soon grew condescending, and made great use of her in the sick room,
alleging that such an exceedingly sensible young person, so quiet and
steady, was almost as good as a middle-aged married woman. Indeed,
she once asked Elizabeth if she was a widow, since she looked as if
she had "seen trouble:" and was very much surprised to learn she was
single and only twenty-three years old.

Nobody else took any notice of her. Even Miss Hilary was so engrossed
by her excitement and delight over the baby that she only observed,
"Elizabeth, you look rather worn-out; this has been a trying time for
you." And Elizabeth had just answered, "Yes"-no more.

During the fortnight she had seen nothing of Tom. He had written her
a short note or two, and the cook told her he had been to the kitchen
door several times asking for her, but being answered that she was
with her mistress up stairs, had gone away.

"In the sulks, most like, though he didn't look it. He's a pleasant
spoken young man and I'm sure I wish you luck with him," said Cookie,
who, like all the other servants, was now exceedingly civil to
Elizabeth.

Her star had risen; she was considered in the household a most
fortunate woman. It was shortly understood that nurse--majestic
nurse, had spoken so highly of her, that at the month's end the baby
was to be given entirely into her charge, with, of course, an almost
fabulous amount of wages.

"Unless," said Mrs. Ascott, when this proposition was made, suddenly
recurring to the fact which seemed hitherto to have quite slipped
from her mind--"unless you are still willing to get married, and
think you would be happier married. In that case I won't hinder you.
But it would be such a comfort to me to keep you a little longer."

"Thank you, ma'am," answered Elizabeth, softly, and busied herself
with walking baby up and down the room, hushing it on her shoulder.
If in the dim light tears fell on its puny face, God help her, poor
Elizabeth!

Mrs. Ascott made such an excellent recovery that in three weeks' time
nobody was the least anxious about her, and Mr. Ascott arranged to
start on a business journey to Edinburgh; promising, however, to be
back in three days for the Christmas dinner, which was to be a grand
celebration. Miss Leaf and Miss Hilary were to appear thereat in
their wedding dresses; and Mrs. Ascott herself took the most vital
interest in Johanna's having a new cap for the occasion. Nay, she
insisted upon ordering it from her own milliner, and having it made
of the most beautiful lace--the "sweetest" old lady's cap that could
possibly be invented.

Evidently this wonderful baby had opened all hearts, and drawn every
natural tie closer. Selina, lying on the sofa, in her graceful white
wrapper, and her neat close cap, looked so young, so pretty, and,
above all, so exceedingly gentle and motherly, that her sisters'
hearts were full to overflowing. They acknowledged that happiness,
like misery, was often brought about in a fashion totally unforeseen
and incredible. Who would have thought, for instance, on that
wretched night when Mr. Ascott came to Hilary at Kensington, or on
that dreary heartless wedding-day, that they should ever have been
sitting in Selina's room so merry and comfortable, admiring the baby,
and on the friendliest terms with baby's papa?

"Papa" is a magical word, and let married people have fallen ever so
wide asunder, the thought, "my child's mother," "my baby's father,"
must in some degree bridge the gulf between them. When Peter Ascott
was seen stooping, awkwardly enough, over his son's cradle, poking
his dumpy fingers into each tiny cheek in a half-alarmed,
half-investigating manner, as if he wondered how it had all come
about, but, on the whole, was rather pleased than otherwise--the good
angel of the household might have stood by and smiled, trusting that
the ghastly skeleton therein might in time crumble away into harmless
dust, under the sacred touch of infant fingers.

The husband and wife took a kindly, even affectionate leave of one
another. Mrs. Ascott called him "Peter," and begged him to take care
of himself, and wrap up well that cold night. And when he was gone,
and her sisters also, she lay on her sofa with her eyes open,
thinking. What sort of thoughts they were, whether repentant or
hopeful, solemn or tender, whether they might have passed away and
been forgotten, or how far they might have influenced her life to
come, none knew, and none ever did know.

When there came a knock at the door, and a message for Elizabeth,
Mrs. Ascott suddenly overheard it and turned round.

"Who is wanting you? Tom Cliffe? Isn't that the young man you are to
be married to? Go down to him at once. And stay, Elizabeth, as it's
such a bitter night, take him for half an hour into the housekeeper's
room. Send her up stairs, and tell her I wished it, though I don't
allow 'followers.' "

"Thank you, ma'am," said Elizabeth once more, and obeyed. She must
speak to Tom some time, it might as well be done to-night as not.
Without pausing to think, she went down with dull heavy steps to the
housekeeper's room.

Tom stood there alone. He looked so exactly his own old self, he came
forward to meet her so completely in his old familiar way, that for
the instant she thought she must be under some dreadful delusion;
that the moonlight night in the square must have been all a dream;
Esther, still the silly little Esther, whom Tom had often heard of
and laughed at; and Tom, her own Tom, who loved nobody but her.

"Elizabeth, what an age it is since I've had a sight of you!"

But though the manner was warm as ever,

        "In his tone
        A something smote her, as if Duty tried
        To mock the voice of Love, how long since flown,"

and quiet as she stood, Elizabeth shivered in his arms.

"Why, what's the matter? Aren't you glad to see me? Give me another
kiss, my girl, do!"

He took it; and she crept away from him and sat down.

"Tom, I've got something to say to you, and I'd better say it at
once."

"To be sure. 'Tisn't any bad news from home, is it? Or"--looking
uneasily at her--"I haven't vexed you, have I?"

"Vexed me," she repeated, thinking what a small foolish word it was
to express what had happened, and what she had been suffering. "No,
Tom, not vexed me exactly. But I want to ask you a question. Who was
it that you stood talking with, under our tree in the square, between
nine and ten o'clock, this night three weeks ago?"

Though there was no anger in the voice it was so serious and
deliberate that it made Tom start.

"Three weeks ago; how can I possibly tell?"

"Yes, you can; for it was a fine moonlight night, and you stood there
a long time."

"Under the tree, talking to somebody? What nonsense! Perhaps it
wasn't me at all."

"It was, for I saw you."

"The devil you did!" muttered Tom.

"Don't be angry, only tell me the plain truth. The young woman that
was with you was our Esther here, wasn't she?"

For a moment Tom looked altogether confounded. Then he tried to
recover himself, and said crossly, "Well, and if it was, where's the
harm? Can't a man be civil to a pretty girl without being called over
the coals in this way?"

Elizabeth made no answer, at least not immediately. At last she said,
in a very gentle, subdued voice,

"Tom, are you fond of Esther? You would not kiss her if you were not
fond of her. Do you like her as--as you used to like me?"

And she looked right up into his eyes. Hers had no reproach in them,
only a piteous entreaty, the last clinging to a hope which she knew
to be false.

"Like Esther? Of course I do? She's a nice sort of girl, and we're
very good friends."

"Tom, a man can't be 'friends,' in that sort of way, with a pretty
girl of eighteen, when he is going to be married to somebody else. At
least, in my mind, he ought not."

Tom laughed in a confused manner. "I say, you're jealous, and you'd
better get over it."

Was she jealous? was it all fancy, folly? Did Tom stand there, true
as steel, without a feeling in his heart that she did not share,
without a hope in which she was not united, holding her, and
preferring her, with that individuality and unity of love which true
love ever gives and exacts, as it has a right to exact?

Not that poor Elizabeth reasoned in this way, but she felt the thing
by instinct without reasoning.

"Tom," she said, "tell me outright, just as if I was somebody else,
and had never belonged to you at all, do you love Esther Martin."

Truthful people enforce truth. Tom might be fickle, but he was not
deceitful; he could not look into Elizabeth's eyes and tell her a
deliberate lie; somehow he dared not.

"Well, then--since you will have it out of me--I think I do."

So Elizabeth's "ship went down." It might have been a very frail
vessel, that nobody in their right senses would have trusted any
treasure with, still she did; and it was all she had, and it went
down to the bottom like a stone.

It is astonishing how soon the sea closes over this sort of wreck;
and how quietly people take--when they must take, and there is no
more disbelieving it--the truth which they would have given their
lives to prove was an impossible lie.

For some minutes Tom stood facing the fire, and Elizabeth sat on her
chair opposite without speaking. Then she took off her brooch, the
only love-token he had given her, and put it into his hand.

"What's this for?" asked he, suddenly.

"You know. You'd better give it to Esther. It's Esther, not me, you
must marry now."

And the thought of Esther, giddy, flirting, useless Esther, as Tom's
wife, was almost more than she could bear. The sting of it put even
into her crushed humility a certain honest self-assertion.

"I'm not going to blame you, Tom; but I think I'm as good as she. I'm
not pretty, I know, nor lively, nor young, at least I'm old for my
age; but I was worth something. You should not have served me so."

Tom said, the usual excuse, that he "couldn't help it." And suddenly
turning round, he begged her to forgive him, and not forsake him.

She forsake Tom! Elizabeth almost smiled.

"I do forgive you: I'm not a bit angry with you. If I ever was I have
got over it."

"That's right. You're a dear soul. Do you think that I don't like
you, Elizabeth?"

"Oh yes," she said, sadly, "I dare say you do, a little, in spite of
Esther Martin. But that's not my way of liking, and I couldn't stand
it."

"What couldn't you stand?"

"Your kissing me to-day, and another girl to-morrow: your telling me
I was every thing to you one week, and saying exactly the same thing
to another girl the next. It would be hard enough to bear if we were
only friends, but as sweet-hearts, as husband and wife, it would be
impossible. No Tom, I tell you the truth, I could not stand it."

She spoke strongly, unhesitatingly, and for an instant there flowed
out of her soft eyes that wild fierce spark, latent even in these
quiet humble natures, which is dangerous to meddle with.

Tom did not attempt it. He felt all was over. Whether he had lost or
gained: whether he was glad or sorry, he hardly knew.

"I'm not going to take this back, any how," he said, "fiddling" with
the brooch; and then going up to her, he attempted, with trembling
hands, to refasten it in her collar.

The familiar action, his contrite look, were too much. People who
have once loved one another, though the love is dead (for love can
die), are not able to bury it all at once, or if they do, its pale
ghost will still come knocking at the door of their hearts, "Let me
in, let me in!"

Elizabeth ought, I know, in proper feminine dignity, to have bade Tom
farewell without a glance or a touch. But she did not. When he had
fastened her brooch she looked up in his familiar face a sorrowful,
wistful, hungering look, and then clung about his neck:

"O Tom, Tom, I was so fond of you!"

And Tom mingled his tears with hers, and kissed her many times, and
even felt his old affection returning, making him half oblivious of
Esther; but mercifully--for love rebuilt upon lost faith is like a
house founded upon sands--the door opened, and Esther herself came
in.

Laughing, smirking, pretty Esther, who, thoughtless as she was, had
yet the sense to draw back when she saw them.

"Come here, Esther!" Elizabeth called, imperatively; and she came.

"Esther, I've given up Tom; you may take him if he wants you. Make
him a good wife, and I'll forgive you. If not--"

She could not say another word. She shut the door upon them, and
crept up stairs, conscious only of one thought--if she only could get
away from them, and never see either of their faces any more!

And in this fate was kind to her, though in that awful way in which
fate--say rather Providence--often works; cutting, with one sharp
blow, some knot that our poor, feeble, mortal fingers have been long
laboring at in vain, or making that which seemed impossible to do the
most natural, easy, and only thing to be done.

How strangely often in human life "one woe doth tread upon the
other's heel!" How continually, while one of those small private
tragedies that I have spoken of is being enacted within, the actors
are called upon to meet some other tragedy from without, so that
external energy counteracts inward emotion, and holy sympathy with
another's sufferings stifles all personal pain. That truth about
sorrows coming "in battalions" may have a divine meaning in it--may
be one of those mysterious laws which guide the universe--laws that
we can only trace in fragments, and guess at the rest, believing, in
deep humility, that one day we shall "know even as we are known."

Therefore I ask no pity for Elizabeth, because ere she had time to
collect herself, and realize in her poor confused mind that she had
indeed said good by to Tom, given him up and parted from him forever,
she was summoned to her mistress's room, there to hold a colloquy
outside the door with the seriously-perplexed nurse.

One of those sudden changes had come which sometimes, after all seems
safe, strike terror into a rejoicing household, and end by carrying
away, remorseless, the young wife from her scarcely tasted bliss, the
mother of many children from her close circle of happy duties and
yearning loves.

Mrs. Ascott was ill. Either she had taken cold or been too much
excited, or, in the overconfidence of her recovery, some slight
neglect had occurred--some trifle which nobody thinks of till
afterward, and which yet proves the fatal cause, "the little pin"
that

        "Bores through the castle wall"

of mortal hope, and King Death enters in all his awful state.

Nobody knew it or dreaded it; for though Mrs. Ascott was certainly
ill, she was not at first very ill; and there being no telegraphs in
those days no one thought of sending for either her husband or her
sisters. But that very hour, when Elizabeth went up to her mistress,
and saw the flush on her cheek and the rest-less expression of her
eye, King Death had secretly crept in at the door of the mansion in
Russell Square.

The patient was carefully removed back into her bed. She said little,
except once, looking up uneasily--

"I don't feel quite myself, Elizabeth."

And when her servant soothed her in the long-familiar way, telling
her she would be better in the morning, she smiled contentedly, and
turned to go to sleep.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth did not go to her bed, but sat behind the
curtain, motionless, for an hour or more.

Toward the middle of the night, when her baby was brought to her, and
the child instinctively refused its natural food, and began screaming
violently, Mrs. Ascott's troubled look returned.

"What is the matter? What are you doing, nurse? I won't be parted
from my baby--I won't, I say!"

And when, to sooth her, the little thing was again put into her arms,
and again turned from her, a frightened expression came into the
mother's face.

"Am I going to be ill?--is baby--"

She stopped; and as nurse determinately carried it away, she
attempted no resistance, only followed it across the room with eager
eyes. It was the last glimmer of reason there. From that time her,
mind began to wander, and before morning she was slightly delirious.
Still nobody apprehended danger. Nobody really knew any thing about
the matter except nurse, and she, with a selfish fear of being blamed
for carelessness, resisted sending for the doctor till his usual hour
of calling. In that large house, as in many other large houses, every
body's business was nobody's business, and a member of the family,
even the mistress, might easily be sick or dying in some room
therein, while all things else went on just as usual, and no one was
any the wiser.

About noon even Elizabeth's ignorance was roused up to the conviction
that something was very wrong with Mrs. Ascott, and that nurse's
skill could not counteract it. On her own responsibility she sent, or
rather she went to fetch the doctor. He came; and his fiat threw the
whole household into consternation.

Now they knew that the poor lady whose happiness had touched the very
stoniest hearts in the establishment hovered upon the brink of the
grave. Now all the women-servants, down to the little kitchen-maid
with her dirty apron at her eyes, crept up stairs, one after the
other, to the door of what had been such a silent, mysterious room,
and listened, unhindered, to the ravings that issued thence. "Poor
Missis," and the "poor little baby," were spoken of softly at the
kitchen dinner table, and confidentially sympathized over with
inquiring tradespeople at the area gate. A sense of awe and suspense
stole over the whole house, gathering thicker hour by hour of that
dark December day.

When her mistress was first pronounced "in danger," Elizabeth, aware
that there was no one to act but herself, had taken a brief
opportunity to slip from the room and write two letters, one to her
master in Edinburgh, and the other to Miss Hilary. The first she gave
to the footman to post; the second she charged him to send by special
messenger to Richmond. But he, being lazily inclined, or else
thinking that, as the order was only given by Elizabeth, it was of
comparatively little moment, posted them both. So vainly did the poor
girl watch and wait; neither Miss Leaf nor Miss Hilary came.

By night Mrs. Ascott's delirium began to subside, but her strength
was ebbing fast. Two physicians--three--stood by the unconscious
woman, and pronounced that all hope was gone, if, indeed, the case
had not been hopeless from the beginning.

"Where is her husband? Has she no relations--no mother or sisters?"
asked the fashionable physician, Sir ---- ----, touched by the slight
or this poor lady dying alone, with only a nurse and a servant about
her. "If she has, they ought to be sent for immediately."

Elizabeth ran down stairs, and rousing the old butler from his bed,
prevailed on him to start immediately in the carriage to bring back
Miss Leaf and Miss Hilary. It would be midnight before he reached
Richmond; still it must be done.

"I'll do it, my girl," said he, kindly; "and I'll tell them as gently
as I can. Never fear."

When Elizabeth returned to her mistress's room the doctors were all
gone, and nurse, standing at the foot of Mrs. Ascott's bed, was
watching her with the serious look which even a hireling or a
stranger wears in the presence of that sight which, however familiar,
never grows less awful--a fellow creature slowly passing from this
life into the life unknown. Elizabeth crept up to the other side. The
change, indescribable yet unmistakable, which comes over a human face
when the warrant for its dissolution has gone forth, struck her at
once. Never yet had Elizabeth seen death. Her father's she did not
remember, and among her few friends and connections none other had
occurred. At twenty-three years of age she was still ignorant of that
solemn experience which every woman must go through some time, often
many times during her life. For it is to women that all look in their
extreme hour. Very few men, even the tenderest hearted, are able to
watch by the last struggle and close the eyes of the dying.

For the moment, as she glanced round the darkened room, and then at
the still figure on the bed, Elizabeth's courage failed. Strong love
might have overcome this fear--the natural recoil of youth and life
from coming into contact with death and mortality; but love was not
exactly the bond between her and Mrs. Ascott. It was rather duty,
pity, the tenderness that would have sprung up in her heart toward
any body she had watched and tended so long.

"If she should die, die in the night, before Miss Hilary comes!"
thought the poor girl, and glanced once more around the shadowy room,
where she was now left quite alone. For nurse, thinking with true
worldly wisdom of the preservation of the "son and heir," which was
decidedly the most important question now, had stolen away, and was
busy in the next room, seeing various young women whom the doctors
had sent, one of whom was to supply to the infant the place of the
poor mother whom it would never know. There was nobody left but
herself to watch this dying mother, so Elizabeth took her lot upon
her, smothered down her fears, and sat by the bedside waiting for the
least expression of returning reason in the sunken face, which was
very quiet now. Consciousness did return at last, as the doctors had
said it would. Mrs. Ascott opened her eyes; they wandered from side
to side, and then she said, feebly, "Elizabeth, where's my baby?"

What Elizabeth answered she never could remember; perhaps nothing, or
her agitation betrayed her, for Mrs. Ascott said again, "Elizabeth,
am I going to--to leave my baby?"

Some people might have considered it best to reply with a lie--the
frightened, cowardly lie that is so often told at death-beds to the
soul passing direct to its God. But this girl could not and dared
not.

Leaning over her mistress, she whispered as softly as she could,
choking down the tears that might have disturbed the peace which,
mercifully, seemed to have come with dying,

"Yes, you are going very soon--to God. He will watch over baby, and
give him back to you again some day quite safe."

"Will He?"

The tone was submissive, half-inquiring; like that of a child
learning something it had never learned before--as Selina was now
learning. Perhaps even those three short weeks of motherhood had
power so to raise her whole nature that she now gained the composure
with which even the weakest soul can sometimes meet death, and had
grown not unworthy of the dignity of a Christian's dying.

Suddenly she shivered. "I am afraid; I never thought of--this. Will
nobody come and speak to me?"

Oh, how Elizabeth longed for Miss Hilary, for any body, who would
have known what to say to the dying woman; who perhaps, as her look
and words implied, till this hour had never thought of dying. Once it
crossed the servant's mind to send for some clergyman; but she knew
none, and was aware that Mrs. Ascott did not either. She had no
superstitious feeling that any clergyman would do; just to give a
sort of spiritual extreme unction to the departing soul. Her own
religious faith was of such an intensely personal silent kind, that
she did not believe in any good to be derived from a strange
gentleman coming and praying by the bedside of a stranger, repeating
set sayings with a set countenance, and going away again. And yet
with that instinct which comes to almost every human soul, fast
departing, Mrs. Ascott's white lips whispered, "Pray."

Elizabeth had no words, except those which Miss Leaf used to say
night after night in the little parlor at Stowbury. She knelt down,
and in a trembling voice repeated in her mistress's ear--"Our Father
which art in heaven"--to the end.

After it Mrs. Ascott lay very quiet. At length she said,
"Please--bring--my--baby." It had been from the first, and was to the
last, "my" baby. The small face was laid close to hers that she might
kiss it.

"He looks well; he does not miss me much yet, poor little fellow!"
And the strong natural agony came upon her, conquering even the
weakness of her last hour. "Oh, it's hard, hard! Will nobody teach my
baby to remember me?"

And then lifting herself up on her elbow she caught hold of nurse.

"Tell Mr. Ascott that Elizabeth is to take care of baby. Promise,
Elizabeth. Johanna is old--Hilary may be married; you will take care
of my baby?"

"I will--as long as I live," said Elizabeth Hand.

She took the child in her arms, and for almost another hour stood
beside the bed thus, until nurse whispered, "Carry it away; its
mother doesn't know it now."

But she did; for she feebly moved her fingers as if in search of
something. Baby was still asleep, but Elizabeth contrived, by
kneeling down close to the bed, to put the tiny hand under those cold
fingers; they closed immediately upon it, and so remained till the
last. When Miss Leaf and Miss Hilary came in, Elizabeth was still
kneeling there, trying softly to take the little hand away; for the
baby had wakened and began its piteous wail. But it did not disturb
the mother now.

"Poor Selina" was no more. Nothing of her was left to her child
except the name of a mother. It may have been better so.



CHAPTER XXV.

    "IN MEMORY OF
    SELINA,
    THE BELOVED WIFE OF PETER ASCOTT, ESQ.,
    OF RUSSELL SQUARE, LONDON,
    AND DAUGHTER OF
    THE LATE HENRY LEAF, ESQ.,
    OF THIS TOWN.
    DIED DECEMBER 24, 1839.
    AGED 41 YEARS."

Such was the inscription which now, for six months, had met the eyes
of the inhabitants of Stowbury, on a large, dazzlingly white marble
monument, the first that was placed in the Church-yard of the New
Church. What motive induced Mr. Ascott to inter his wife
here--whether it was a natural wish to lay her, and some day lay
beside her, in their native earth; or the less creditable desire of
showing how rich he had become, and of joining his once humble name,
even on a tombstone, with one of the oldest names in the annals of
Stowbury--nobody could find out. Probably nobody cared.

The Misses Leaf were content that he should do as he pleased in the
matter: he had shown strong but not exaggerated grief at his loss; if
any remorse mingled therewith, Selina's sisters happily did not know
it. Nobody ever did know the full history of things except Elizabeth,
and she kept it to herself. So the family skeleton was buried quietly
in Mrs. Ascott's grave.

Peter Ascott showed, in his coarse fashion, much sympathy and
consideration for his wife's sisters. He had them staying in the
house till a week after the funeral was over, and provided them with
the deepest and handsomest mourning. He even, in a formal way took
counsel with them as to the carrying out of Mrs. Ascott's wishes, and
the retaining of Elizabeth in charge of the son and heir, which was
accordingly settled. And then they went back to their old life at
Richmond, and the widower returned to his solitary bachelor ways. He
looked as usual; went to and from the City as usual; and his brief
married life seemed to have passed away from him like a dream.

Not altogether a dream. Gradually he began to awake to the
consciousness of an occasional child's cry in the house--that large,
silent, dreary house, where he was once more the sole, solitary
master. Sometimes, when he came in from church of Sundays, he would
mount another flight of stairs, walk into the nursery at the top of
the house, and stare with distant curiosity at the little creature in
Elizabeth's arms, pronounce it a "fine child, and did her great
credit!" and then walk down again. He never seemed to consider it as
his child, this poor old bachelor of so many years' standing; he had
outgrown apparently all sense of the affections or the duties of a
father. Whether they ever would come into him; whether, after
babyhood was passed, he would begin to take an interest in the little
creature who throve and blossomed into beauty--which, as if watched
by guardian angles, dead mothers' children often seem to do--was a
source of earnest speculation to Elizabeth.

In the mean time he treated both her and the baby with extreme
consideration, allowed her to do just as she liked, and gave her
indefinite sums of money to expend upon the nursery.

When summer came, and the doctor ordered change of air, Mr. Ascott
consented to her suggestion of taking a lodging for herself and baby
near baby's aunts at Richmond; only desiring that the lodging should
be as handsome as could be secured, and that every other Sunday she
should bring up his son to spend the day at Russell Square.

And so, during the long summer months, the motherless child, in its
deep mourning--which looks so pathetic on a very young baby--might be
seen carried about in Elizabeth's arms every where. When, after the
first six weeks, the wet nurse left--in fact, two or three nurses
successively were abolished--she took little Henry solely under her
own charge. She had comparatively small experience, but she had
common sense, and the strong motherly instinct which comes by nature
to some women. Besides, her whole soul was wrapped up in this little
child.

From the hour when, even with her mistress dying before her eyes,
Elizabeth had felt a strange thrill of comfort in the new duty which
had come into her blank life, she took to this duty as women only can
whose life has become a blank. She received the child as a blessing
sent direct from God; by unconscious hands--for Mrs. Ascott knew
nothing of what happened; something that would heal her wounded
heart, and make her forget Tom.

And so it did. Women and mothers well know how engrossing is the care
of an infant; how each minute of the day is filled up with something
to be done or thought of; so that "fretting" about extraneous things
becomes quite impossible. How gradually the fresh life growing up and
expanding puts the worn out or blighted life into the back ground,
and all the hopes and fancies cling around the small, beautiful
present, the ever developing, the ever marvelous mystery of a young
child's existence! Why it should be so, we can only guess; but that
it is so, many a wretched wife, many a widowed mother, many a broken
hearted, forlorn aunt, has thankfully proved.

Elizabeth proved it likewise. She did not exactly lose all memory of
her trouble, but it seemed lighter; it was swallowed up in this
second passion of adopted motherhood. And so she sank, quietly and at
once, into the condition of a middle aged woman, whose life's
story--and her sort of women have but one--was a mere episode, told
and ended.

For Esther had left and been married to Tom Cliffe within a few
week's of Mrs. Ascott's funeral. Of course, the household knew every
thing; but nobody condoled with Elizabeth. There was a certain
stand-off-ishness about her which made them hold their tongues. They
treated her with much respect, as her new position demanded. She took
this, as she took every thing, with the grave quietness which was her
fashion from her youth up; assumed her place as a confidential upper
servant; dressed well but soberly, like a woman of forty, and was
called "Mrs. Hand."

The only trace her "disappointment" left upon her was a slightly
bitter way of speaking about men in general, and a dislike to any
chatter about love affairs and matrimony. Her own story she was never
known to refer to in the most distant way, except once.

Miss Hilary--who, of course, had heard all, but delicately kept
silence--one night, when little Henry was not well, remained in the
lodgings on Richmond Hill, and slept in the nursery, Elizabeth making
up for herself a bed on the floor close beside baby and cradle. In
the dead of night, the two women, mistress and maid, by some chance,
said a few things to one another which never might have been said in
the daylight, and which, by tacit consent, were never afterward
referred to by either, any more than if they had been spoken in a
dream.

Elizabeth told briefly, though not without emotion, all that had
happened between herself and Tom, and how he was married to Esther
Martin. And then both women went back, in a moralizing way, to the
days when they had both been "young" at Stowbury, and how different
life was from what they then thought and looked forward to--Miss
Hilary and her "bower maiden."

"Yes," answered the former with a sigh, "things are indeed not as
people fancy when they are girls. We dream, and dream, and think we
see very far into the future, which nobody sees but God. I often
wonder how my life will end."

Elizabeth said, after a pause, "I always felt sure you would be
married, Miss Hilary. There was one person--Is he alive still? Is he
ever coming home?"

"I don't know."

"I am sure he was very fond of you. And he looked like a good man."

"He was the best man I ever knew."

This was all Miss Hilary said, and she said it softly and mournfully.
She might never have said it at all; but it dropped from her unawares
in the deep feeling of the moment, when her heart was tender over
Elizabeth's own sad, simply told story. Also because of a sudden and
great darkness which had come over her own.

Literally, she did not now know whether Robert Lyon were alive or
dead. Two months ago his letters had suddenly ceased, without any
explanation, his last being exactly the same as the others--as frank,
as warmly affectionate, as cheerful and brave.

One solution to this was his possible coming home. But she did not,
after careful reasoning on the subject, believe that likely. She knew
exactly his business relations with his employers; that there was a
fixed time for his return to England, which nothing except the very
strongest necessity could alter. Even in the chance of his health
breaking, so as to incapacitate him for work, he should, he always
said, have to go to the hills, rather than take the voyage home
prematurely. And in that case he certainly would have informed his
friends of his movements. There was nothing erratic, or careless, or
eccentric about Robert Lyon; he was a practical, business-like
Scotchman--far too cautious and too regular in all his habits to be
guilty of those accidental negligences by which wanderers abroad
sometimes cause such cruel anxieties to friends at home.

For the same reason, the other terrible possibility--his death--was
not likely to have happened without their hearing of it. Hilary felt
sure, with the strong confidence of love, that he would have taken
every means to leave her some last word--some farewell token--which
would reach hereafter he was gone, and comfort her with the assurance
of what, living, he had never plainly told. Sometimes, when a wild
terror of his death seized her, this settled conviction drove it back
again. He must be living, or she would have heard.

There was another interpretation of the silence, which many would
have considered the most probable of all--he might be married. Not
deliberately, but suddenly; drawn into it by some of those impelling
trains of circumstance which are the cause of so many marriages,
especially with men; or, impelled by one of those violent passions
which occasionally seize on an exceedingly good man, fascinating him
against his conscience, reason, and will, until he wakes up to find
himself fettered and ruined for life. Such things do happen,
strangely, pitifully often. The like might have happened to Robert
Lyon.

Hilary did not actually believe it, but still her common sense told
her that it was possible. She was not an inexperienced girl now; she
looked on the world with the eyes of a woman of thirty; and though,
thank Heaven! the romance had never gone out of her--the faith, and
trust, and tender love--still it had sobered down a little. She knew
it was quite within the bounds of possibility that a young man,
separated from her for seven years, thrown into all kinds of
circumstances and among all sorts of people, should have changed very
much in himself, and, consequently, toward her. That, without
absolute faithlessness, he might suddenly have seen some other woman
he liked better, and have married at once. Or, if he came back
unmarried--she had taught herself to look this probability also
steadily in the face--he might find the reality of her--Hilary
Leaf--different from his remembrance of her; and so, without actual
falseness to the old true love, might not love her any more.

These fears made her resolutely oppose Johanna's wish to write to the
house of business at Liverpool, and ask what had become of Mr. Lyon.
It seemed like seeking after him, trying to hold him by the slender
chain which he had never attempted to make any stronger, and which,
already, he might have broken, or desired to break.

She could not do it. Something forbade her; that something in the
inmost depths of a woman's nature which makes her feel her own value,
and exact that she shall be sought; that, if her love be worth
having, it is worth seeking; that, however dear a man may be to her,
she refuses to drop into his mouth like an overripe peach from a
garden wall. In her sharpest agony of anxiety concerning him, Hilary
felt that she could not, on her part, take any step that seemed to
compel love--or even friendship--from Robert Lyon. It was not pride,
she could hardly be called a proud woman; it was an innate sense of
the dignity of that love which, as a free gift, is precious as "much
fine gold." yet becomes the merest dross, utterly and insulting
poor--when paid as a debt of honor, or offered as a benevolent
largess.

And so, though oftentimes her heart felt breaking, Hilary labored on;
sat the long day patiently at her desk; interested herself in the
young people over whom she ruled; became Miss Balquidder's right hand
in all sorts of schemes which that good woman was forever carrying
out for the benefit of her fellow-creatures; and at leisure times
occupied herself with Johanna, or with Elizabeth and the baby, trying
to think it was a very beautiful and happy world, with love still in
it, and a God of love ruling over it--only, only--

Women are very humble in their cruelest pride. Many a day she felt as
if she could have crawled a hundred miles in the dust--like some
Catholic pilgrim--just to get one sight of Robert Lyon.

Autumn came--lovely and lingering late. It was November, and yet the
air felt mild as May, and the sunshine had that peculiar genial
brightness which autumnal sunshine alone possesses; even as, perhaps,
late happiness has in it a holy calm and sweetness which no youthful
ecstasy can ever boast.

The day happened to be Hilary's birthday. She had taken a holiday,
which she, Johanna, Elizabeth, and the baby, had spent in Richmond
Park, watching the rabbits darting about under the brown fern, and
the deer grazing contentedly hard by. They had sat a long time under
one of the oak trees with which the Park abounds, listening for the
sudden drop, drop of an occasional acorn among the fallen leaves; or
making merry with the child, as a healthy, innocent, playful child
always can make good women merry.

Still, Master Henry was not a remarkable specimen of infanthood, and
had never occupied more than his proper nepotal corner in Hilary's
heart. She left him chiefly to Elizabeth, and to his aunt Johanna, in
whom the grandmotherly character had blossomed out in full
perfection. And when these two became engrossed in his infant
majesty. Hilary sat a little apart, unconsciously folding her hands
and fixing her eyes on vacancy; becoming fearfully alive to the sharp
truth, that of all griefs, a strong love unreturned or unfulfilled is
the grief which most blights a woman's life. Say, rather, any human
life; but it is worst to a woman, because she must necessarily endure
passively. So enduring, it is very difficult to recognize the good
hand of God therein. Why should He ordain longings, neither selfish
nor unholy, which yet are never granted; tenderness which expends
itself in vain; sacrifices which are wholly unheeded; and sufferings
which seem quite thrown away? That is, if we dared allege of any
thing in the moral or in the material world, where so much
loveliness, so much love, appear continually wasted, that it is
really "thrown away." We never know through what divine mysteries of
compensation the Great Father of the universe may be carrying out his
sublime plan; and those three words, "God is love," ought to contain,
to every doubting soul, the solution of all things.

As Hilary rose from under the tree there was a shadow on her sweet
face, a listless weariness in her movements, which caught Johanna's
attention. Johanna had been very good to her child. When, do what she
would, Hilary could not keep down fits of occasional dullness or
impatience, it was touching to see how this woman of over sixty years
slipped from her due pedestal of honor and dignity, to be patient
with her younger sister's unspoken bitterness and incommunicable
care.

She now, seeing how restless Hilary was, rose when she rose, put her
arm in hers, and accompanied her, speaking or silent, with quick
steps or slow, as she chose, across the beautiful park, than which,
perhaps, all England can not furnish a scene more thoroughly sylvan,
thoroughly English. They rested on that high ground near the gate of
Pembroke Lodge, where the valley of the Thames lies spread out like a
map, stretching miles and miles away in luxuriant greenery.

"How beautiful! I wonder what a foreigner would think of this view?
Or any one who had been long abroad? How inexpressibly sweet and
home-like it would seem to him!"

Hilary turned sharply away, and Johanna saw at once what her words
had implied. She felt so sorry, so vexed with herself; but it was
best to leave it alone. So they made their way homeward, speaking of
something else; and then that happened which Johanna had been almost
daily expecting would happen, though she dared not communicate her
hopes to Hilary, lest they might prove fallacious.

The two figures, both in deep mourning, might have attracted any
one's attention: they caught that of a gentleman, who was walking
quickly and looking about him, as if in search of something. He
passed them at a little distance, then repassed, then turned, holding
out both his hands.

"Miss Leaf; I was sure it was you."

Only the voice; every thing else about him was so changed that Hilary
herself would certainly have passed him in the street, that brown,
foreign looking, middle aged man, nor recognized him as Robert Lyon.
But for all that it was himself; it was Robert Lyon.

Nobody screamed, nobody fainted. People seldom do that in real life,
even when a friend turns up suddenly from the other end of the world.
They only hold out a warm hand, and look silently in one another's
faces, and try to believe that all is real, as these did.

Robert Lyon shook hands with both ladies, one after the other, Hilary
last, then placed himself between them.

"Miss Leaf, will you take my arm?"

The tone, the manner, were so exactly like himself, that in a moment
all these intervening years seemed crushed into an atom of time.
Hilary felt certain, morally and absolutely certain, that, in spite
of all outward change, he was the same Robert Lyon who had bade them
all good-by that Sunday night in the parlor at Stowbury. The same,
even in his love for herself, though he had simply drawn her little
hand under his arm, and never spoken a single word.

Hilary Leaf, down, secretly, on your heart's lowest knees, and thank
God! Repent of all your bitterness, doubts, and pains; be joyful, be
joyful! But, oh, remember to be so humble withal.

She was. As she walked silently along by Robert Lyon's side, she
pulled down her veil to hide the sweetest, most contrite, most
child-like tears. What did she deserve, more than her neighbors, that
she should be so very, very happy? And when, a good distance across
the park, she saw the dark, solitary figure of Elizabeth carrying
baby, she quietly guided her companions into a different path, so as
to avoid meeting, lest the sight of her happiness might in any way,
hurt poor Elizabeth.

"I only landed last night at Southampton," Mr. Lyon explained to Miss
Leaf, after the fashion people have, at such meetings, of falling
upon the most practical and uninteresting details. "I came by the
Overland Mail. It was a sudden journey, I had scarcely more than a
few hours' notice. The cause of it was some very unpleasant
defalcations in our firm."

Under any other circumstances Hilary might have smiled; maybe she did
smile, and tease him many a time afterward, because the first thing
he could find to talk about, after seven years' absence, was
"defalcations in our firm. But now she listened gravely, and
by-and-by took her part in the unimportant conversation which always
occurs after such a meeting as this.

"Were you going home, Miss Leaf? They told me at your house you were
expected to dinner. May I come with you? for I have only a few hours
to stay. To-night I must go on to Liverpool."

"But we shall hope soon to see you again?"

"I hope so. And I trust, Miss Leaf, that I do not intrude to-day."

He said this with his Scotch shyness, or pride, or whatever it was;
so like his old self, that it made somebody smile! But somebody loved
it. Somebody lifted up to his face eyes of silent welcome; sweet,
soft, brown eyes, where never, since he knew them, had he seen one
cloud of anger darken, one shadow of unkindness rise.

"This is something worth coming home to," he said in a low voice, and
not over lucidly. Ay, it was.

"I am by no means disinterested in the matter of dinner, Miss Leaf;
for I have no doubt of finding good English roast beef and plum
pudding on your sister's birth day.--Happy returns of the day, Miss
Hilary."

She was so touched by his remembering this, that, to hide it, she put
on a spice of her old mischievousness, and asked him if he was aware
how old she was?

"Yes; you are thirty; I have known you for fifteen years."

"It is a long time," said Johanna, thoughtfully.

Johanna would not have been human had she not been a little
thoughtful and silent on the way home, and had she not many times,
out of the corners of her eyes, sharply investigated Mr. Robert Lyon.

He was much altered; there was no doubt of that. Seven years of
Indian life would change any body; take the youthfulness out of any
body. It was so with Robert Lyon. When coming into the parlor he
removed his hat, many a white thread was visible in his hair, and
besides the spare, dried-up look which is always noticeable in people
who have lived long in hot climates, there was an "old" expression in
his face, indicating many a worldly battle fought and won, but not
without leaving scars behind. Even Hilary, as she sat opposite to
him, at table, could not but feel that he was no longer a young man
either in appearance or reality. We ourselves grow old, or older,
without knowing it, but when we suddenly come upon the same fact in
another it startles us. Hilary had scarcely recognized how far she
herself had left her girlish days behind till she saw Robert Lyon.

"You think me very much changed?" said he, guessing by his curiously
swift intuition of old what she was thinking of.

"Yes, a good deal changed," she answered truthfully; at which he was
silent.

He could not read--perhaps no man's heart could--all the emotion that
swelled in hers as she looked at him, the love of her youth, no
longer young. How the ghostly likeness of the former face gleamed out
under the hard worn lines of the face that now was touching her with
ineffable tenderness. Also, with solemn content came a sense of the
entire indestructibleness of that love which through all decay or
alteration traces the ideal image still, clings to it, and cherishes
it with a tenacity that laughs to scorn the grim dread of "growing
old."

In his premature and not specially comely middle age, in his gray
hairs, in the painful, anxious, half melancholy expression which
occasionally flitted across his features, as if life had gone hard
with him, Robert Lyon was a thousand times dearer to her than when
the world was all before them both in the early days at Stowbury.

There is a great deal of a sentimental nonsense talked about people
having been "young together." Not necessarily is that a bond. Many a
tie formed in youth dwindles away and breaks off naturally in maturer
years. Characters alter, circumstances divide. No one will dare to
allege that there may not be loves and friendships formed in middle
life as dear, as close, as firm as any of those of youth; perhaps,
with some temperaments, infinitely more so. But when the two go
together, when the calm election of maturity confirms the early
instinct, and the lives have been parallel, as it were, for many
years, there can be no bond like that of those who say as these two
did, "We were young together."

He said so when, after dinner, he came and stood by the window where
Hilary was sitting sewing. Johanna had just gone out of the room;
whether intentionally or not, this history can not avouch. Let us
give her the benefit of the doubt; she was a generous woman.

During the three hours that Mr. Lyon had been with her, Hilary's
first agitation had subsided. That exceeding sense of rest which she
had always felt beside him--the sure index of people who, besides
loving, are meant to guide and help and bless one another--returned
as strong as ever. That deep affection which should underlie all love
revived and clung to him with a chidlike confidence strengthening at
every word he said, every familiar look and way.

He was by no means so composed as she was, especially now when coming
up to her side and watching her hands moving for a minute or so, he
asked her to tell him, a little more explicitly, of what had happened
to her since they parted.

"Things are rather different from what I thought;" and he glanced
with a troubled air round the neat but very humbly furnished parlor.
"And about the shop?"

"Johanna told you."

"Yes; but her letters have been so few, so short--not that I could
expect more. Still--now, if you will trust me--tell me all."

Hilary turned to him, her friend for fifteen years. He was that if he
was nothing more. And he had been very true; he deserved to be
trusted. She told him, in brief, the history of the last year or two,
and then added:

"But after all it is hardly worth the telling, because, you see, we
are very comfortable now. Poor Ascott, we suppose, must be in
Australia. I earn enough to keep Johanna and myself, and Miss
Balquidder is a good friend to us. We have repaid her, and owe nobody
any thing. Still, we have suffered a great deal. Two years ago; oh!
it was a dreadful time."

She was hardly aware of it, but her candid tell-tale face betrayed
more even than her words. It cut Robert Lyon to the heart.

"You suffered, and I never knew it."

"I never meant you to know."

"Why not?" He walked the room in great excitement. "I ought to have
been told; it was cruel not to tell me. Suppose you had sunk under
it; suppose you had died, or been driven to do what many a woman does
for the sake of mere bread and a home--what your poor sister
did--married. But I beg your pardon."

For Hilary had started up with her face all aglow.

"No," she cried; "no poverty would have sunk me as low as that. I
might have starved, but I should never have married."

Robert Lyon looked at her, evidently uncomprehending, then said
humbly, though rather formally,

"I beg your pardon once more. I had no right to allude to any thing
of the kind."

Hilary replied not. It seemed as if now, close together, they were
further apart than when the Indian seas rolled between them.

Mr. Lyon's brown cheek turned paler and paler; he pressed his lips
hard together; they moved once or twice, but still he did not utter a
word. At last, with a sort of desperate courage, and in a tone that
Hilary had never heard from him in her life before, he said:

"Yes, I believe I have a right, the right that every man has when his
whole happiness depends upon it, to ask you one question. You know
every thing concerning me; you always have known; I meant that you
should--I have taken the utmost care that you should. There is not a
bit of my life that has not been as open to you as if--as if--. But I
know nothing whatever concerning you."

"What do you wish to know?" she faltered.

"Seven years is a long time. Are you free? I mean, are you engaged to
be married?"

"No."

"Thank God!"

He dropped his head down between his hands and did not speak for a
long time.

And then with difficulty--for it was always hard to him to speak
out--he told her, at least he somehow made her understand, how he had
loved her. No light fancy of sentimental youth, captivated by every
fresh face it sees, putting upon each one the coloring of his own
imagination, and adorning not what is, but what itself creates; no
sudden, selfish, sensuous passion, caring only to attain its object,
irrespective of reason, right, or conscience; but the strong deep
love of a just man, deliberately choosing one woman as the best woman
out of all the world, and setting himself resolutely to win her.
Battling for her sake with all hard fortune; keeping, for her sake,
his heart pure from all the temptations of the world; never losing
sight of her; watching over her so far as he could, consistently with
the sense of honor (or masculine pride--which was it? but Hilary
forgave it, any how) which made him resolutely compel himself to
silence; holding her perfectly free, while he held himself bound.
Bound by a faithfulness perfect as that of the knights of old--asking
nothing, and yet giving all.

Such was his love--this brave, plain spoken, single hearted Scotsman.
Would that there were more such men and more such love in the world!
Few women could have resisted it, certainly not Hilary, especially
with a little secret of her own lying perdu at the bottom of her
heart; that "sleeping angel" whence half her strength and courage had
come; the noble, faithful, generous love of a good woman for a good
man. But this secret Robert Lyon had evidently never guessed, or
deemed himself wholly unworthy of such a possession.

He took her hand at last, and held it firmly.

"And now that you know all, do you think in time--I'll not hurry
you--but in time, do you think I could make you love me?"

She looked up in his face with her honest eyes. Smiling as they were,
there was pathos in them; the sadness left by those long years of
hidden suffering, now forever ended.

"I have loved you all my life," said Hilary.



CHAPTER XXVI.

Let us linger a little over this chapter of happy love: so sweet, so
rare a thing. Aye, most rare: though hundreds continually meet, love,
or fancy they do, engage themselves, and marry; and hundreds more go
through the same proceeding, with the slight difference of the love
omitted--Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out. But the real love,
steady and true: tried in the balance, and not found wanting: tested
by time, silence, separation; by good and ill fortune; by the natural
and inevitable change which years make in every character--this is
the rarest thing to be found on earth, and the most precious.

I do not say that all love is worthless which is not exactly this
sort of love. There have been people who have succumbed instantly and
permanently to some mysterious attraction, higher than all reasoning;
the same which made Hilary "take an interest" in Robert Lyon's face
at church, and made him, he afterward confessed, the very first time
he gave Ascott a lesson in the parlor at Stowbury, say to himself,
"If I did marry, I think I should like such a wife as that brown-eyed
bit lassie." And there have been other people, who choosing their
partners from accidental circumstances, or from mean worldly motives,
have found Providence kinder to them than they deserved, and settled
down into happy, affectionate husbands and wives.

But none of these loves can possibly have the sweetness, the
completeness of such a love as that between Hilary Leaf and Robert
Lyon.

There was nothing very romantic about it. From the moment when
Johanna entered the parlor, found them standing hand-in-hand at the
fireside, and Hilary came forward and kissed her, and after a slight
hesitation Robert did the same, the affair proceeded in most millpond
fashion:

        "Unruffled by those cataracts and breaks,
        That humor interposed too often makes.':

There were no lovers' quarrels; Robert Lyon had chosen that best
blessing next to a good woman, a sweet tempered woman; and there was
no reason why they should quarrel more as lovers than they had done
as friends. And, let it be said to the eternal honor of both, now, no
more than in their friendship days, was there any of that hungry
engrossment of each other's society, which is only another form of
selfishness, and by which lovers so often make their own happy
courting time a season of never-to-be-forgotten bitterness to every
body connected with them.

Johanna suffered a little: all people do when the new rights clash
with the old ones; but she rarely betrayed it. She was exceedingly
good: she saw her child happy, and she loved Robert Lyon dearly. He
was very mindful of her, very tender; and as Hilary still persisted
in doing her daily duty in the shop, he spent more of his time with
the elder sister than he did with the younger, and sometimes declared
solemnly that if Hilary did not treat him well he intended to make an
offer to Johanna!

Oh, the innumerable little jokes of those happy days! Oh, the long,
quiet walks by the river side, through the park, across Ham
Common--any where--it did not matter; the whole world looked lovely,
even on the dullest winter day! Oh, the endless talks; the renewed
mingling of two lives, which, though divided, had never been really
apart, for neither had any thing to conceal; neither had ever loved
any but the other.

Robert Lyon was, as I have said, a good deal changed, outwardly and
inwardly. He had mixed much in society, taken an excellent position
therein, and this had given him not only a more polished manner, but
an air of decision and command, as of one used to be obeyed. There
could not be the slightest doubt, as Johanna once laughingly told
him, that he would always be "master in his own house."

But he was very gentle with his "little woman" as he called her. He
would sit for hours at the "ingle-neuk"--how he did luxuriate in the
English fires!--with Hilary on a footstool beside him, her arm
resting on his knee, or her hand fast clasped in his. And sometimes,
when Johanna went out of the room, he would stoop and gather her
close to his heart. But I shall tell no tales; the world has no
business with these sort of things.

Hilary was very shy of parading her happiness; she disliked any
demonstrations thereof, even before Johanna. And when Miss
Balquidder, who had, of course, been told of the engagement, came
down one day expressly to see her "fortunate fellow countryman," this
Machiavellian little woman actually persuaded her lover to have an
important engagement in London! She could not bear him to be "looked
at."

"Ah, well, you must leave me, and I will miss you terribly, my deal,"
said the old Scotch woman. But it's an ill wind that blows nobody
good, and I have another young lady quite ready to step into your
shoes. When shall you be married?"

"I don't know--hush: we'll talk another time," said Hilary, glancing
at Johanna.

Miss Balquidder took the hint and was silent.

That important question was indeed beginning to weigh heavily on
Hilary's mind. She was fully aware of what Mr. Lyon wished, and
indeed, expected; that when, the business of the firm being settled,
in six months hence he returned to India, he should not return alone.
When he said this, she had never dared to answer, hardly even to
think. She let the peaceful present float on, day by day, without
recognizing such a thing as the future.

But this could not be always. It came to an end one January
afternoon, when he had returned from a second absence in Liverpool.
They were walking up Richmond Hill. The sun had set frostily and red
over the silver curve of the Thames, and Venus, large and bright, was
shining like a great eye in the western sky. Hilary long remembered
exactly how every thing looked, even to the very tree they stood
under, when Robert Lyon asked her to fix definitely the day that she
would marry him. Would she consent--there seemed no special reason to
the contrary--that it should be immediately? Or would she like to
remain with Johanna as she was, till just before they sailed? He
wished to be as good as possible to Johanna--still.

And something in his manner impressed Hilary more than ever before
with the conviction of all she was to him; likewise, all he was to
her. More, much more than even a few short weeks since. Then, intense
as it was, the love had a dream like unreality; now it was close,
home-like, familiar. Instinctively she clung to his arm; she had
become so used to being Robert's darling now. She shivered as she
thought of the wide seas rolling between them; of the time when she
should look for him at the daily meal and daily fireside, and find
him no more.

"Robert, I want to talk to you about Johanna."

"I guess what it is," said he, smiling; "you would like her to go out
to India with us. Certainly, if she chooses. I hope you did not
suppose I should object."

"No; but it is not that. She would not live six months in a hot
climate; the doctor tells me so."

"You consulted him?"

"Yes, confidentially, without her knowing it. But I thought it right.
I wanted to make quite sure before--before-- Oh, Robert--."

The grief of her tone caused him to suspect what was coming, He
started.

"You don't mean that? Oh no, you can not! My little woman, my own
little woman--she could not be so unkind."

Hilary turned sick at heart. The dim landscape, the bright sky,
seemed to mingle and dance before her, and Venus to stare at her with
a piercing, threatening, baleful lustre.

"Robert, let me sit down on the bench, and sit you beside me. It is
too dark for people to notice us, and we shall not be very cold."

"No, my darling;" and he slipped his plaid round her shoulders, and
his arm with it.

She looked up pitifully. "Don't be vexed with me, Robert, dear; I
have thought it all over; weighed it on every side; nights and nights
I have been awake pondering what was right to do. And it always comes
to the same thing."

"What?"

"It's the old story," she answered with a feeble smile. "'I canna
leave my minnie.' There is nobody in the world to take care of
Johanna but me, not even Elizabeth, who is engrossed in little Henry.
If I left her, I am sure it would kill her. And she can not come with
me. Dear!" (the only fond name she ever called him) "for these three
years--you say it need only be three years--you will have to go back
to India alone."

Robert Lyon was a very good man; but he was only a man, not an angle;
and though he made comparatively little show of it, he was a man very
deeply in love. With that jealous tenacity over his treasure, hardly
blamable, since the love is worth little which does not wish to have
its object "all to itself," he had, I am afraid, contemplated not
without pleasure the carrying off of Hilary to his Indian home; and
it had cost him something to propose that Johanna should go too. He
was very fond of Johanna; still--

If I tell what followed will it forever lower Robert Lyon in the
estimation of all readers? He said, coldly, "As you please, Hilary;"
rose up, and never spoke another word till they reached home.

It was the first dull tea table they had ever known; the first time
Hilary had ever looked at that dear face, and seen an expression
there which made her look away again. He did not sulk; he was too
gentlemanly for that; he even exerted himself to make the meal pass
pleasantly as usual; but he was evidently deeply wounded; nay, more,
displeased. The strong, stern man's nature within him had rebelled;
the sweetness had gone out of his face, and something had come into
it which the very best of men have sometimes: alas for the woman who
cannot understand and put up with it!

I am not going to preach the doctrine of tyrants and slaves; but when
two walk together they must be agreed, or if by any chance they are
not agreed, one must yield. It may not always be the weaker, or in
weakness may lie the chiefest strength; but it must be one or other
of the two who has to be the first to give way; and, save in very
exceptional cases, it is, and it ought to be, the woman. God's law
and nature's which is also God's, ordains this; instinct teaches it;
Christianity enforces it.

Will it inflict a death blow upon any admiration she may have
excited, this brave little Hilary, who fought through the world by
herself; who did not shrink from traversing London streets alone at
seemly and unseemly hours; from going into sponging houses and
debtor's prisons; from earning her own livelihood, even in a shop--if
I confess that Robert Lyon, being angry with her, justly or unjustly,
and she, looking upon him as her future husband, her "lord and
master" if you will, whom she would one day promise, and intended,
literally "to obey"--she thought it her duty, not only her pleasure
but her duty, to be the first to make reconciliation between them?
ay, and at every sacrifice, except that of principle.

And I am afraid, in spite of all that "strong-minded" women may
preach to the contrary, that all good women will have to do this to
all men who stand in any close relation toward them, whether fathers,
husbands, brothers, or lovers, if they wish to preserve peace, and
love, and holy domestic influence; and that so it must be to the end
of time.

Miss Leaf might have discovered that something was amiss; but she was
too wise to take any notice, and being more than usually feeble that
day, immediately after tea she went to lie down. When Hilary followed
her, arranged her pillows, and covered her up, Johanna drew her
child's face close to her and whispered,

"That will do, love. Don't stay with me. I would not keep you from
Robert on any account."

Hilary all but broke down; and yet the words made her stronger
firmer; set more clearly before her the solemn duty which young folks
in love are so apt to forget, that there can be no blessing on the
new tie, if for any thing short of inevitable necessity they let go
one link of the old.

Yet, Robert-- It was such a new and dreadful feeling to be standing
outside the door and shrink from going in to him; to see him rise up
formally, saying, "Perhaps he had better leave;" and have to answer
with equal formality, "Not unless you are obliged;" and for him then,
with a shallow pretence of being at ease, to take up a book and offer
to read aloud to her while she worked. He--who used always to set his
face strongly against all sewing of evenings--because it deprived him
temporarily of the sweet eyes, and the little soft hand. Oh, it was
hard, hard!

Nevertheless, she sat still and tried to listen; but the words went
in at one ear and out at the other; she retained nothing. By-and-by
her throat began to swell, and she could not see her needle and
thread. Yet still he went on reading. It was only when, by some
blessed chance, turning to reach a paper cutter, he caught sight of
her, that he closed the book and looked discomposed; not softened,
only discomposed.

Who shall be first to speak? Who shall catch the passing angel's
wing? One minute, and it may have passed over. I am not apologizing
for Hilary the least in the world. I do not know even if she
considered whether it was her place or Robert's to make the first
advance. Indeed, I fear she did not consider it at all, but just
acted upon impulse, because it was so cruel, so heart breaking, to be
at variance with him. But if she had considered it I doubt not she
would have done from duty exactly what she did by instinct--crept up
to him as he sat at the fireside, and laid her little hand on his.

"Robert, what makes you so angry with me still?"

"Not angry; I have no right to be."

"Yes, you would have if I had really done wrong. Have I?"

"You must judge for yourself. For me--I thought you loved me better
than I find you do, and I made a mistake; that is all."

Ay, he had made a mistake, but it was not that one. It was the other
mistake that men continually make about women; they can not
understand that love is not worth having, that it is not love at all,
but merely a selfish carrying out of selfish desires, if it blinds us
to any other duty, or blunts in us any other sacred tenderness. They
can not see how she who is false in one relation may be false in
another; and that, true as human nature's truth, ay, and often
fulfilling itself, is Brabantio's ominous warning to Othello--

        "Look to her, Moor! have a good eye to see;
        She has deceived her father, and may thee."

Perhaps as soon as he had said the bitter word Mr. Lyon was sorry,
any how, the soft answer which followed it thrilled through every
nerve of the strong willed man--a man not easily made angry, but when
he was, very hard to move.

"Robert, will you listen to me for two minutes?"

"For as long as you like, only you must not expect me to agree with
you. You can not suppose I shall say it is right for you to forsake
me."

"I forsake you? Oh, Robert!"

Words are not always the wisest arguments. His "little woman" crept
closer, and laid her head on his breast: he clasped convulsively.

"Oh, Hilary, how could you wound me so?"

And in lieu of the discussion, a long silence brooded over the
fireside--the silence of exceeding love.

"Now, Robert, may I talk to you?"

"Yes. Preach away, my little conscience."

"It shall not be preaching, and it is not altogether for conscience,"
said she smiling. "You would not like me to tell you I did not love
Johanna?"

"Certainly not. I love her very much myself, only I prefer you, as is
natural. Apparently you do not prefer me, which may also be natural."

"Robert!"

There are times when a laugh is better than a reproach; and something
else, which need not be more particularly explained, is safer than
either. It is possible Hilary tried the experiment, and then resumed
her "say."

"Now, Robert put yourself in my place, and try to think for me. I
have been Johanna's child for thirty years; she is entirely dependent
upon me. Her health is feeble; every year of her life is at least
doubtful. If she lost me I think she would never live out the next
three years. You would not like that?"

"No."

"In all divided duties like this somebody must suffer; the question
is, which can suffer best? She is old and frail, we are young; she is
alone, we are two; she never had any happiness in her life, except,
perhaps me; and we--oh how happy we are! I think, Robert, it would be
better for us to suffer than poor Johanna."

"You little Jesuit," he said: but the higher nature of the man was
roused; he was no longer angry.

"It is only for a short time, remember--only three years."

"And how can I do without you for three years?"

"Yes, Robert, you can." And she put her arms round his neck, and
looked at him, eye to eye. "You know I am your very own, a piece of
yourself, as it were; that when I let you go it is like tearing
myself from myself; yet I can bear it, rather than do, or let you do,
in the smallest degree, a thing which is not right."

Robert Lyon was not a man of many words; but he had the rare faculty
of seeing a case clearly, without reference to himself, and of
putting it clearly also, when necessary.

"It seems to me, Hilary, that this is hardly a matter of abstract
right or wrong, or a good deal might be argued on my side of the
subject. It is more a case of personal conscience. The two are not
always identical, though they look so at first; but they both come to
the same result."

"And that is--"

"If my little woman thinks it right to act as she does, I also think
it right to let her. And let this be the law of our married life, if
we ever are married," and he sighed, "that when we differ each should
respect the other's conscience, and do right in the truest sense, by
allowing the other to do the same."

"Oh, Robert! how good you are."

So these two, an hour after, met Johanna with cheerful faces; and she
never knew how much both had sacrificed for her sake. Once only, when
she was for a few minutes absent from the parlor, did Robert Lyon
renew the subject, to suggest a medium course.

But Hilary resolutely refused. Not that she doubted him--she doubted
herself. She knew quite well by the pang that darted through her like
a shaft of ice, as she felt his warm arm round her, and thought of
the time when she would feel it no more, that, after she had been
Robert Lyon's happy wife for three months, to let him go to India
without her would be simply and utterly impossible.

Fast fled the months; they dwindled into weeks, and then into days. I
shall not enlarge upon this time. Now, when the ends of the world
have been drawn together, and every family has one or more relatives
abroad, a grief like Hilary's has become so common that nearly every
one can, in degree, understand it. How bitter such partings are, how
much they take out of the brief span of mortal life, and, therefore,
how far they are justifiable, for any thing short of absolute
necessity, Heaven knows.

In this case it was an absolutely necessity. Robert Lyon's position
in "our firm," with which he identified himself with the natural
pride of a man who has diligently worked his way up to fortune, was
such that he could not, without sacrificing his future prospects, and
likewise what he felt to be a point of honor, refuse to go back to
Bombay until such time as his senior partner's son, the young fellow
whom he had "coached" in Hindostanee, and nursed through a fever
years ago, could conveniently take his place abroad.

"Of course," he said, explaining this to Hilary and her sister,
"accidental circumstances might occur to cause my return home before
the three years were out, but the act must be none of mine; I must do
my duty."

"Yes, you must," answered Hilary, with a gleam lighting up her eyes.
She loved so in him this one great principle of his life--the
back-bone of it, as it were--duty before all things.

Johanna asked no questions. Once she had inquired, with a tremulous,
hardly concealed alarm, whether Robert wished to take Hilary back
with him, and Hilary had kissed her, smilingly, saying, "No, that was
impossible." Afterward the subject was never revived.

And so these two lovers, both stern in what they thought their duty,
went on silently together to the last day of parting.

It was almost as quiet a day as that never-to-be-forgotten Sunday at
Stowbury. They went a long walk together, in the course of which Mr.
Lyon forced her to agree to what hitherto she had steadfastly
resisted, that she and Johanna should accept from him enough, in
addition to their own fifty pounds a year, to enable them to live
comfortably without her working any more.

"Are you ashamed of my working?" she asked, with something between a
tear and a smile. "Sometimes I used to be afraid you would think the
less of me because circumstances made me an independent woman,
earning my own bread. Do you?"

"My darling, no. I am proud of her. But she must never work any more.
Johanna says right; it is a man's place, and not a woman's. I will
not allow it."

When he spoke in that tone Hilary always submitted.

He told her another thing while arranging with her all the business
part of their concerns, and to reconcile her to this partial
dependence upon him, which, he urged, was only forestalling his
rights; that before he first quitted England, seven years ago, he had
made his will, leaving her, if still unmarried, his sole heir and
legatee, indeed in exactly the position that she would have been had
she been his wife.

"This will exists still; so that in any case you are safe. No further
poverty can ever befall my Hilary."

His--his own--Robert Lyon's own. Her sense of this was so strong that
it took away the sharpness of the parting, made her feel, up to the
very last minute, when she clung to him--was pressed close to
him--heart to heart and lip to lip--for a space that seemed half a
life-time of mixed anguish and joy--that he was not really going;
that somehow or other, next day or next week he would be back again,
as in his frequent re-appearances, exactly as before.

When he was really gone--when, as she sat with her tearless eyes
fixed on the closed door--Johanna softly touched her, saying, "My
child" then Hilary learned it all.

The next twenty-four hours will hardly bear being written about. Most
people know what it is to miss the face out of the house--the life
out of the heart. To come and go, to eat and drink, to lie down and
rise, and find all thing the same, and gradually to recognize that it
must be the same, indefinitely, perhaps always. To be met continually
by small trifles--a dropped glove, a book, a scrap of handwriting
that yesterday would have been thrown into the fire, but to-day is
picked up and kept as a relic; and at times, bursting through the
quietness which must be gained, or at least assumed, the cruel
craving for one word more--one kiss more--for only one five minutes
of the eternally ended yesterday!

All this hundreds have gone through; so did Hilary. She said
afterward it was good for her that she did; it would make her feel
for others in a way she had never felt before. Also, because it
taught her that such a heart-break can be borne and lived through
when help is sought where only real help can be found; and where,
when reason fails, and those who, striving to do right irrespective
of the consequences, cry out against their torments and wonder why
they should be made so to suffer, childlike faith comes to their
rescue. For, let us have all the philosophy at our fingers' ends,
what are we but children? We know not what a day may bring forth. All
wisdom resolves itself into the simple hymn which we learned when we
were young:

        "Deep in unfathomable mines
        Of never-failing skill.
        He treasures up His vast designs,
        And works His sovereign will.

        "Blind unbelief is sure to err.
        And scan His work in vain:
        God is His own interpreter.
        And He will make it plain."

The night after Robert Lyon left, Hilary and Johanna were sitting
together in their parlor. Hilary had been writing a long letter to
Miss Balquidder, explaining that she would now give up in favor of
the other young lady, or any other of the many to whom it would be a
blessing, her position in the shop; but that she hoped still to help
her--Miss Balquidder--in any way she could point out that would be
useful to others. She wished, in her humble way, as a sort of thank
offering from one who had passed through the waves and been landed
safe ashore, to help those who were still struggling, as she herself
had struggled once. She desired, as far as in her lay, to be Miss
Balquidder's "right hand" till Mr. Lyon came home.

This letter she read aloud to Johanna, whose failing eye sight
refused all candle light occupation, and then came and sat beside her
in silence. She felt terribly worn and weary, but she was very quiet
now.

"We must go to bed early," was all she said.

"Yes, my child."

And Johanna smoothed her hair in the old, fond way, making no attempt
to console her, but only to love her--always the safest consolation.
And Hilary was thankful that never, even in her sharpest agonies of
grief, had she betrayed that secret which would have made her
sister's life miserable, have blotted out the thirty years of
motherly love, and caused the other love to rise up like a cloud
between her and it, never to be lifted until Johanna sank into the
possibly not far-off grave.

"No, no," she thought to herself, as she looked on that frail, old
face, which even the secondary, grief of this last week seemed to
have made frailer and older. "No, it is better as it is; I believe I
did right. The end will show."

The end was nearer than she thought. So, sometimes--not often, lest
self-sacrifice should become a less holy thing than it is--Providence
accepts the will for the act, and makes the latter needless.

There was a sudden knock at the hall door. "It is the young people
coming in to supper."

"It's not," said Hilary, starting up--"it's not their knock. It is--"

She never finished the sentence, for she was sobbing in Robert Lyon's
arms.

"What does it all mean?" cried the bewildered Johanna, of whom, I
must confess, for once nobody took the least notice.

It meant that, by one of these strange accidents, as we call them,
which in a moment alter the whole current of things, the senior
partner had suddenly died, and his son, not being qualified to take
his place in the Liverpool house, had to go out to India instead of
Robert Lyon, who would now remain permanently, as the third senior
partner, in England.

This news had met him at Southampton. He had gone thence direct to
Liverpool, arranged affairs so far as was possible, and returned,
traveling without an hour's intermission, to tell his own tidings, as
was best--or as he thought it was.

Perhaps at the core of his heart lurked the desire to come suddenly
back, as, it is said, if the absent or the dead should come, they
would find all things changed; the place filled up in home and
hearth--no face of welcome--no heart leaping to heart in the ecstasy
of reunion.

Well, if Robert Lyon had any misgivings--and being a man, and in
love, perhaps he had--they were ended now.

"Is she glad to see me?" was all he could find to say when, Johanna
having considerately vanished, he might have talked as much as he
pleased.

Hilary's only answer was a little, low laugh of inexpressible
content.

He lifted up between his bands the sweet face, neither so young nor
so pretty as it had been, but oh! so sweet, with the sweetness that
long outlives beauty--a face that a man might look on all his life
time and never tire of--so infinitely loving, so infinitely true! And
he knew it was his wife's face, to shine upon him day by day, and
year by year, till it faded into old age--beautiful and beloved even
then. All the strong nature of the man gave way; he wept almost like
a child in his "little woman's" arms.

Let us leave them there, by that peaceful fireside--these two, who
are to sit by one fire-side as long as they live. Of their further
fortune we know nothing--nor do they themselves--except the one fact,
in itself joy enough for any mortal cup to hold, that it will be
shared together. Two at the hearth, two abroad; two to labor, two to
rejoice; or, if so it must be, two to weep, and two to comfort one
another; the man to be the head of the woman, and the woman the heart
of the man. This is the ordination of God; this is the perfect life;
none the less perfect that so many fall short of it.

So let us bid them good-by: Robert Lyon and Hilary Leaf, "Good-by;
God be with ye!" for we shall see them no more.



CHAPTER XXVII.

Elizabeth stood at the nursery window, pointing out to little Henry
how the lilacs and laburnums were coming into flower in the square
below, and speculating with him whether the tribe of sparrows which
they had fed all the winter from the mignonette boxes on the window
sill would be building nests in the tall trees of Russell Square; for
she wished, with her great aversion to London, to make her nursling
as far as possible "a country child."

Master Henry Leaf Ascott was by no means little now. He would run
about on his tottering fat legs, and he could say, "Mammy Lizzie,"
also, "Pa-pa," as had been carefully taught him by his conscientious
nurse. At which papa had been at first excessively surprised, then
gratified, and had at last taken kindly to the appellation as a
matter of course.

It inaugurated a new era in Peter Ascott's life. At first twice a
week, and then every day, he sent up for "Master Ascott" to keep him
company at dessert; he then changed his dinner hour from half past
six to five, because Elizabeth, with her stern sacrifice of every
thing to the child's good, had suggested to him, humbly but firmly,
that late hours kept little Henry too long out of his bed. He gave up
his bottle of port and his after-dinner sleep, and took to making
water-lilies and caterpillars out of oranges and boats out of walnut
shells, for his boy's special edification. Sometimes when, at half
past six, Elizabeth, punctual as clock-work, knocked at the dining
room door, she heard father and son laughing together in a most
jovial manner, though the decanters were in their places and the wine
glasses untouched.

And even after the child disappeared, the butler declared that master
usually took quietly to his newspaper, or rang for his tea, or
perhaps dozed harmlessly in his chair till bedtime.

I do not allege that Peter Ascott was miraculously changed; people do
not change, especially at his age; externally he was still the same
pompous, overbearing, coarse man, with whom, no doubt, his son would
have a tolerably sore bargain in years to come. But still the child
had touched a soft corner in his heart, the one soft corner which in
his youth had yielded to the beauty of Miss Selina Leaf; and the old
fellow was a better fellow than he had once been. Probably, with
care, he might be for the rest of his life at least manageable.

Elizabeth hoped so for his boy's sake, and little as she liked him,
she tried to conquer her antipathy as much as she could. She always
ways took care to treat him with extreme respect, and to bring up
little Henry to do the same. And, as often happens, Mr. Ascott began
gradually to comport himself in a manner deserving of respect. He
ceased his oaths and his coarse language; seldom flew into a passion;
and last, not least, the butler avouched that master hardly ever went
to bed "muzzy" now. Toward all his domestics, and especially his
son's nurse, he behaved himself more like a master and less like a
tyrant; so that the establishment at Russell Square went on in a way
more peaceful than had ever been known before.

There was no talk of his giving it a new mistress; he seemed to have
had enough of matrimony. Of his late wife he never spoke; whether he
loved her or not, whether he had regretted her or not, the love and
regret were now alike ended.

Poor Selina! It was Elizabeth only, who, with a sacred sense of duty,
occasionally talked to little Henry about "mamma up there"--pointing
to the blank bit of blue sky over the trees of Russell Square, and
hoped in time to make him understand something about her, and how she
had loved him, her "baby." This love, the only beautiful emotion her
life had known, was the one fragment that remained of it after her
death; the one remembrance she left to her child.

Little Henry was not in the least like her, nor yet like his father.
He took after some forgotten type, some past generation of either
family, which reappeared in this as something new. To Elizabeth he
was a perfect revelation of beauty and infantile fascination. He
filled up every corner of her heart. She grew fat and flourishing,
even cheerful; so cheerful that she bore with equanimity the parting
with her dear Miss Hilary, who went away in glory and happiness as
Mrs. Robert Lyon, to live in Liverpool, and Miss Leaf with her. Thus
both Elizabeth's youthful dreams ended in nothing, and it was more
than probable that for the future their lives and hers being so
widely apart, she would see very little of her beloved mistresses any
more. But they had done their work in her and for her; and it had
borne fruit a hundred fold, and would still.

"I know you will take care of this child--he is the hope of the
family," said Miss Leaf, when she was giving her last kiss to little
Henry. "I could not bear to leave him, if I were not leaving him with
you."

And Elizabeth had taken her charge proudly in her arms, knowing she
was trusted, and in vowing to be worthy of that trust.

Another dream was likewise ended; so completely that she sometimes
wondered if it was ever real, whether she had ever been a happy girl,
looking forward as girls do to wifehood and motherhood; or whether
she had not been always the staid middle aged person she was now,
whom nobody ever suspected of any such things.

She had been once back to her old home, to settle her mother
comfortably upon a weekly allowance, to 'prentice her little brother,
to see one sister married, and the other sent off to Liverpool, to be
servant to Mrs. Lyon. While at Stowbury, she had heard by chance of
Tom Cliffe's passing through the town as a Chartist lecturer, or
something of the sort, with his pretty, showy London wife, who, when
he brought her there, had looked down rather contemptuously upon the
street where Tom was born.

This was all Elizabeth knew about them. They, too, had passed from
her life as phases of keen joy and keener sorrow do pass, like a
dream and the shadows of a dream. It may be, life itself will seem at
the end to be nothing more.

But Elizabeth Hand's love story was not so to end.

One morning, the same morning when she had been pointing out the
lilacs to little Henry, and now came in from the square with a branch
of them in her hand, the postman gave her a letter; the handwriting
of which made her start as if it had been a visitation from the dead.

"Mammy Lizzie, mammy Lizzie!" cried little Henry, plucking at her
gown, but for once his nurse did not notice him. She stood on the
door-step, trembling violently; at length she put the letter into her
pocket, lifted the child, and got up stairs somehow. When she had
settled her charge to his mid-day sleep, then, and not till then, did
she take out and read the few lines, which, though written on shabby
paper, and with more than one blot, were so like--yet so terribly
unlike--Tom's calligraphy of old:

"DEAR ELIZABETH,--I have no right to ask any kindness of you; but if
you would like to see an old friend alive, I wish you would come and
see me. I have been long of asking you, lest you might fancy I wanted
to get something out of you; for I'm as poor as a rat; and once
lately I saw you, looking so well and well-to-do. But it was the same
kind old face, and I should like to get one kind look from it before
I go where I sha'n't want any kindness from any body. However, do
just as you choose.

"Yours affectionately,
T. CLIFFE.

"Underneath is my address."

It was in one of those wretched nooks in Westminster, now swept away
by Victoria Street and other improvements. Elizabeth happened to have
read about it in one of the many charitable pamphlets, reports, etc.,
which were sent continually to the wealthy Mr. Ascott, and which he
sent down stairs to light fires with. What must not poor Tom have
sunk to before he had come to live there? His letter was like a cry
out of the depths, and the voice was that of her youth, her first
love.

Is any woman ever deaf to that? The love may have died a natural
death; many first loves do: a riper, completer, happier love may have
come in its place; but there must be something unnatural about the
woman and man likewise, who can ever quite forget it--the dew of
their youth--the beauty of their dawn.

"Poor Tom, poor Tom!" sighed Elizabeth, "my own poor Tom!"

She forgot Esther; either from Tom's not mentioning her, or in the
strong return to old times which his letter produced; forgot her for
the time being as completely as if she had never existed. Even when
the recollection came it made little difference. The sharp jealousy,
the dislike and contempt had all calmed down: she thought she could
now see Tom's wife as any other woman. Especially if, as the letter
indicated, they were so very poor and miserable.

Possibly Esther had suggested writing it? Perhaps, though Tom did
not, Esther did "want to get something out of her"--Elizabeth Hand,
who was known to have large wages, and to be altogether a thriving
person? Well, it mattered little. The one fact remained: Tom was in
distress; Tom needed her; she must go.

Her only leisure time was of an evening, after Henry was in bed. The
intervening hours, especially the last one, when the child was down
stairs with his father, calmed her; subdued the tumult of old
remembrances that came surging up and beating at the long shut door
of her heart. When her boy returned, leaping and laughing, and
playing all sorts of tricks as she put him to bed, she could smile
too. And when kneeling beside her in his pretty white night gown, he
stammered through the prayer she had thought it right to begin to
teach him, though of course he was too young to understand it--the
words "Thy will be done;" "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
those who trespass against us;" and lastly, "Lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil," struck home to his nurse's in
most soul.

"Mammy, mammy Lizzie's 'tying."

Yes, she was crying, but it did her good. She was able to kiss her
little boy, who slept like a top in five minutes: then she took off
her good silk gown, and dressed herself; soberly and decently, but so
that people should not suspect, in that low and dangerous
neighborhood, the sovereigns that she carried in an under pocket,
ready to use as occasion required. Thus equipped, without a minute's
delay, she started for Tom's lodging.

It was poorer than even she expected. One attic room, bate almost as
when it was built. No chimney or grate, no furniture except a box
which served as both table and chair; and a heap of straw, with a
blanket thrown over it. The only comfort about it was that it was
clean; Tom's innate sense of refinement had abided with him to the
last.

Elizabeth had time to make all these observations, for Tom was
out--gone, the landlady said, to the druggist's shop, round the
corner.

"He's very bad, ma'am," added the woman, civilly, probably led
thereto by Elizabeth's respectable appearance, and the cab in which
she had come--lest she should lose a minute's time. "Can't last long,
and Lord knows who's to bury him."

With that sentence knelling in her ears, Elizabeth waited till she
heard the short cough and the hard breathing of some one toiling
heavily up the stair. Tom, Tom himself. But oh, so altered! with
every bit of youth gone out of him; with death written on every line
of his haggard face, the death he had once prognosticated with a
sentimental pleasure, but which now had come upon him in all its
ghastly reality.

He was in the last stage of consumption. The disease was latent in
his family, Elizabeth knew: she had known it when she belonged to
him, and fondly thought that, as his wife, her incessant care might
save him from it; but nothing could save him now.

"Who's that?" said he, in his own sharp, fretful voice.

"Me, Tom. But don't speak. Sit down till your cough's over."

Tom grasped her hand as she stood by him, but he made no further
demonstration, nor used any expression of gratitude. He seemed far
too ill. Sick people are always absorbed in the sad present; they
seldom trouble themselves much about the past. Only there was
something in the way Tom clung to her hand, helplessly, imploringly,
that moved the inmost heart of Elizabeth.

"I'm very bad, you see. This cough; oh, it shakes me dreadfully;
especially of nights."

"Have you any doctor?"

"The druggist close by, or rather, the druggist's shopman. He's a
very kind young fellow, from our county, I fancy, for he asked me
once if I wasn't a Stowbury man; and ever since he has doctored me
for nothing, and given me a shilling too, now and then, when I've
been a'most clemmed to death in the winter."

"Oh, Tom, why didn't you write to me before. Have you actually wanted
food?"

"Yes, many a time. I've been out of work this twelvemonth."

"But Esther?"

"Who?" screamed Tom.

"Your wife?"

"My wife? I've got none? She spent every thing till I fell ill, and
then she met a fellow with lots of money. Curse her!"

The fury with which he spoke shook him all over, and sent him into
another violent fit of coughing, out of which he revived by degrees,
but in a state of such complete exhaustion that Elizabeth hazarded no
more questions. He must evidently be dealt with exactly like a child.

She made up her mind in her own silent way, as indeed she had done
ever since she came into the room.

"Lie down, Tom, and keep yourself quiet for a little. I'll be back as
soon as I can--back with something to do you good. You won't
object."

"No, no; you can do any thing you like with me. You always could."

Elizabeth groped her way down stairs strangely calm and
self-possessed. There was need. Tom, dying, had come to her as his
sole support and consolation--throwing himself helplessly upon her,
never doubting either her will or her power to help him. Neither must
fail. The inexplicable woman's strength, sometimes found in the very
gentlest, quietest, and apparently the weakest character, nerved her
now.

She went up and down, street after street, looking for lodgings, till
the evening darkened, and the Abbey towers rose grimly against the
summer sky. Then she crossed over Westminster Bridge, and in a little
street on the Surrey side she found what she wanted--a decent room,
half sitting, half bedroom, with what looked like a decent landlady.
There was no time to make many inquiries; any thing was better than
to leave Tom an other night where he was.

She paid a week's rent in advance; bought firing and provisions;
every thing she could think of to make him comfortable; and then she
went to fetch him in a cab.

The sick man offered no resistance; indeed, he hardly seemed to know
what she was doing with him. She discovered the cause of this half
insensibility when, in making a bundle of his few clothes, she found
a package labeled "opium."

"Don't take it from me," he said pitifully, "it's the only comfort I
have."

But when he found himself in the cheerful room, with the fire blazing
and the tea laid out, he woke up like a person out of a bad dream.

"Oh, Elizabeth, I'm so comfortable!"

Elizabeth could have wept.

Whether the wholesome food and drink revived him, or whether it was
one of the sudden flashes of life that often occur in consumptive
patients, but he seemed really better, and began to talk, telling
Elizabeth about his long illness, and saying over again how very kind
the druggist's young man had been to him.

"I'm sure he's a gentleman, though he has come down in the world;
for, as he says, 'misery makes a man acquainted with strange
bedfellows, and takes the nonsense out of him.' I think so too, and
if ever I get better, I don't mean to go about the country speaking
against born gentlefolks any more. They're much of a muchness with
ourselves--bad and good; a little of all sorts; the same flesh and
blood as we are. Aren't they, Elizabeth?"

"I suppose so."

"And there's another thing I mean to do. I mean to try and be good
like you. Many a night, when I've lain on that straw, and thought I
was dying, I've remembered you and all the things you used to say to
me. You are a good woman; there never was a better."

Elizabeth smiled, a faint rather sad smile. For, as she was washing
up the tea things, she had noticed Tom's voice grow feebler, and his
features sharper and more wan.

"I'm very tired," he said. "I'm afraid to go to bed, I get such
wretched nights; but I think, if I lay down in my clothes, I could go
to sleep."

Elizabeth helped him to the small pallet, shook his pillow, and
covered him up as if he had been a child.

"You're very good to me," he said, and looked up at her--Tom's
bright, fond look of years ago. But it passed away in a moment, and
he closed his eyes, saying he was so terribly tired.

"Then I'll bid you good-by, for I ought to have been at home by now.
You'll take care of yourself, Tom, and I'll come and see you again
the very first hour I can be spared. And if you want me you'll send
to me at once? You know where?"

"I will," said Tom. "Its the same house, isn't it, in Russell
Square?"

"Yes." And they were both silent.

After a minute, Tom asked, in a troubled voice.

"Have you forgiven me?"

"Yes, Tom, quite."

"Won't you give me one kiss, Elizabeth?"

She turned away. She did not mean to be hard, but somehow she could
not kiss Esther's husband.

"Ah, well; it's all the same! good-by!"

"Good-by, Tom."

But as she stood at the door, and looked back at him lying with his
eyes shut, and as white as if he were dead, Elizabeth's heart melted.
He was her Tom, her own Tom, of whom she had been so fond, so proud;
whose future she had joyfully anticipated long before she thought of
herself as mixed up with it; and he was dying, dying at
four-and-twenty; passing away to the other world, where, perhaps, she
might meet him yet, with no cruel Esther between.

"Tom," she said, and knelt beside him, "Tom, I didn't mean to vex
you. I'll try to be as good as a sister to you. I'll never forsake
you as long as you live."

"I know you never will."

"Good-by, then for to-night."

And she did kiss him, mouth to mouth, quietly and tenderly. She was
so glad of it afterward.

It was late enough when she reached Russell Square; but nobody ever
questioned the proceedings of Mrs. Hand, who was a privileged person.
She crept in beside her little Henry, and as the child turned in his
sleep and put his arms about her neck, she clasped him tight, and
thought there was still something to live for in this weary world.

All night she thought over what best could be done for Tom. Though
she never deceived herself for a moment as to his state, still she
thought, with care and proper nursing, he might live a few months.
Especially if she could get him into the Consumption Hospital, newly
started in Chelsea, of which she was aware Mr. Ascott--who dearly
loved to see his name in a charity list--was one of the governors.

There was no time to be lost; she determined to speak to her master
at once.

The time she chose was when she brought down little Henry, who was
now always expected to appear, and say, "Dood morning, papa," before
Mr. Ascott went into the city.

As they stood, the boy laughing in his father's face, and the father
beaming all over with delight, the bitter, almost fierce thought,
smote Elizabeth, Why should Peter Ascott be standing there fat and
flourishing, and poor Tom dying? It made her bold to ask the only
favor she ever had asked of the master whom she did not care for, and
to whom she had done her duty simply as duty, without, until lately,
one fragment of respect.

"Sir, if you please, might I speak with you a minute before you go
out?"

"Certainly, Mrs. Hand. Any thing about Master Henry? Or perhaps
yourself? You want more wages? Very well. I shall be glad, in any
reasonable way, to show my satisfaction at the manner in which you
bring up my son."

"Thank you, Sir," said Elizabeth, curtseying. "But it is not that."

And in the briefest language she could find she explained what it
was.

Mr. Ascott knitted his brows and looked important. He never scattered
his benefits with a silent hand, and he dearly liked to create
difficulties, if only to show how he could smooth them down.

"To get a patient admitted at the Consumption Hospital, is, you
should be aware, no easy matter, until the building at Queen's Elm is
complete. But I flatter myself I have influence. I have subscribed a
deal of money. Possibly the person may be got in in time. Who did you
say he was?"

"Thomas Cliffe. He married one of the servants here, Esther--"

"Oh, don't trouble yourself about the name; I shouldn't recollect it.
The housekeeper might. Why didn't his wife apply to the housekeeper?"

The careless question seemed hardly to expect an answer, and
Elizabeth gave none. She could not bear to make public Tom's misery
and Esther's shame.

"And you say he is a Stowbury man? That is certainly a claim. I
always feel bound, somewhat as a member of Parliament might be, to do
my best for any one belonging to my native town. So be satisfied,
Mrs. Hand; consider the thing settled."

And he was going away; but time being of such great moment, Elizabeth
ventured to detain him till he had written the letter of
recommendation, and found out what days the application for admission
could be received. He did it very patiently, and even took out his
purse and laid a sovereign on the top of the letter.

"I suppose the man is poor; you can use this for his benefit."

"There is no need, thank you, Sir," said Elizabeth, putting it gently
aside. She could not bear that Tom should accept any body's money but
her own.

At her first spare moment she wrote him a long letter explaining what
she had done, and appointing the next day but one, the earliest
possible, for taking him out to Chelsea herself. If he objected to
the plan, he was to write and say so; but she urged him as strongly
as she could not to let slip this opportunity of obtaining good
nursing and first rate medical care.

Many times during the day the thought of Tom alone in his one
room--comfortable though it was, and though she had begged the
landlady to see that he wanted nothing--came across her with a sudden
pang. His face, feebly lifted up from the pillow, with its last
affectionate smile, the sound of his cough as she stood listening
outside on the stair head, haunted her all through that sunshiny June
day; and, mingled with it, came ghostly visions of that other day in
June--her happy Whitsun holiday--her first and her last.

No letter coming from Tom on the appointed morning, she left Master
Henry in the charge of the house-maid, who was very fond of him--as
indeed he bade fair to be spoiled by the whole establishment at
Russell Square--and went down to Westminster.

There was a long day before her, so she took a minute's breathing
space on Westminster Bridge, and watched the great current of London
life ebbing and flowing--life on the river and life on the shore;
every body so busy and active and bright.

"Poor Tom, poor Tom!" she sighed, and wondered whether his ruined
life would ever come to any happy ending, except death.

She hurried on, and soon found the street where she had taken his
lodging. At the corner of it was, as is too usual in London streets,
a public house, about which more than the usual number of
disreputable idlers were hanging. There were also one or two
policemen, who were ordering the little crowd to give way to a group
of twelve men, coming out.

"What is that?" asked Elizabeth.

"Coroner's inquest; jury proceeding to view the body."

Elizabeth, who had never come into contact with any thing of the
sort, stood aside with a sense of awe, to let the little procession
pass, and then followed up the street.

It stopped; oh no! not at that door! But it was; there was no
mistaking the number, nor the drawn-down blind in the upper
room--Tom's room.

"Who is dead?" she asked, in a whisper that made the policeman stare.

"Oh! nobody particular; a young man, found dead in his bed; supposed
to be a case of consumption; verdict will probably be, 'Died by the
visitation of God!' "

Ay, that familiar phrase, our English law's solemn recognition of our
national religious feeling, was true. God had "visited" poor Tom; he
suffered no more.

Elizabeth leaned against the door-way, and saw the twelve jurymen go
up stairs with a clatter of feet, and come down again, one after the
other, less noisily, and some of them looking grave. Nobody took any
notice of her, until the lodging house mistress appeared.

"Oh, here she is, gentlemen. This is the young woman as saw him last
alive. She'll give her evidence. She'll tell you I'm not a bit to
blame."

And pulling Elizabeth after her, the landlady burst into a torrent of
explanation; how she had done her very best for the poor fellow; how
she listened at his door several times during the first day, and
heard him cough, that is, she thought she had, but toward night all
was so very quiet; and there having come a letter by post, she
thought she would take it up to him.

"And I went in, gentlemen, and I declare, upon my oath, I found him
lying just as he is now, and as cold as a stone."

"Let me pass; I'm a doctor," said somebody behind; a young man, very
shabbily dressed, with a large beard. He pushed aside the landlady
and Elizabeth, till he saw the latter's face.

"Give that young woman a chair and a glass of water, will you?" he
called out; and his authoritative manner impressed the jurymen, who
gathered around him, ready and eager to hear any thing he could say.

He gave his name as John Smith, druggist's assistant; said that the
young man who lodged up stairs, whose death he had only just heard
of, had been his patient for some months, and was in the last stage
of consumption. He had no doubt the death had ensued from perfectly
natural causes, as he explained in such technical language as
completely to overpower the jury, and satisfy them accordingly. They
quitted the parlor, and proceeded to the public house, where, after a
brief consultation, they delivered their verdict, as the astute
policeman had foretold, "Died by the visitation of God;" took pipes
and brandy all round at the bar, and then adjourned to their several
homes, gratified at having done their duty to their country.

Meantime, Elizabeth crept up stairs. Nobody hindered or followed her;
nobody cared any thing for the solitary dead.

There he lay--poor Tom! almost as she had left him; the counterpane
was hardly disturbed, the candle she had placed on the chair had
burned down to a bit of wick, which still lay in the socket. Nobody
had touched him, or any thing about him, as, in all cases of "Found
dead," English law exacts.

Whether he had died soon after she quitted him that night, or whether
he had lingered through the long hours of darkness, or of day-light
following, alive and conscious perhaps, yet too weak to call any one,
even had there been any one he cared to call--when, or how, the
spirit had passed away unto Him who gave it, were mysteries that
could never be known.

But it was all over now; he lay at rest with the death smile on his
face. Elizabeth, as she stood and looked at him, could not, dared not
weep.

"My poor Tom, my own dear Tom," was all she thought, and knew that he
was all her own now; that she had loved him through every thing, and
loved him to the end.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

Elizabeth spent the greatest part of her holiday in that house, in
that room. Nobody interfered with her; nobody asked in what relation
she stood to the deceased, or what right she had to take upon herself
the arrangements for his funeral. Every body was only too glad to let
her assume a responsibility which would otherwise have fallen on the
parish.

The only person who appeared to remember either her or the dead man
was the druggist's assistant, who sent in the necessary medical
certificate as to the cause of death. Elizabeth took it to the
Registrar, and thence proceeded to an undertaker hard by, with whom
she arranged all about the funeral, and that it should took place in
the new cemetery at Kensal Green. She thought she should like that
better than a close, noisy London church yard.

Before she left the house she saw poor Tom laid in his coffin, and
covered up forever from mortal eyes. Then, and not till then, she sat
herself down beside him and wept.

Nobody contested with her the possession of the few things that had
belonged to him, which were scarcely more than the clothes he had on
when he died; so she made them up into a parcel and took them away
with her. In his waistcoat pocket she found one book, a little
Testament, which she had given him herself. It looked as if it had
been a good deal read. If all his studies, all his worship of "pure
intellect," as the one supreme good, had ended in that, it was a
blessed ending.

When she reached home Elizabeth went at once to her master, returned
him his letter of recommendation, and explained to him that his
kindness was not needed now.

Mr. Ascott seemed a good deal shocked, inquired from her a few
particulars, and again took out his purse, his one panacea for all
mortal woes. But Elizabeth declined; she said she would only ask him
for an advance of her next half-year's wages. She preferred burying
her old friend herself.

She buried him, herself the only mourner, on a bright summer's day,
with the sun shining dazzlingly on the white grave stones in Kensal
Green. The clergyman appeared, read the service, and went away again.
A few minutes ended it all. When the undertaker and his men had also
departed, she sat down on a bench near to watch the sexton filling up
the grave--Tom's grave. She was very quiet, and none but a closely
observant person watching her face could have penetrated into the
truth of what your impulsive characters, always in the extremes of
mirth or misery, never understand about quiet people, that "still
waters run deep."

While she sat there some one came past her, and turned round. It was
the shabby-looking chemist's assistant, who had a appeared at the
inquest, and given the satisfactory evidence which had prevented the
necessity of her giving-hers.

Elizabeth rose and acknowledged him with a respectable courtesy; for
under his threadbare clothes was the bearing of a gentleman, and he
had been so kind to Tom.

"I am too late," he said; "the funeral is over. I meant to have
attended it, and seen the last of the poor fellow."

"Thank you, Sir," replied Elizabeth, gratefully.

The young man stood before her, looking at her earnestly for a minute
or two, and then exclaimed, with a complete change of voice and
manner.

"Elizabeth, don't you know me? What has become of my aunt Johanna?"

It was Ascott Leaf.

But no wonder Elizabeth had not recognized him. His close cropped
hair, his large beard hiding half his face, and a pair of spectacles
which he had assumed, were a sufficient disguise. Besides, the great
change from his former "dandy" appearance to the extreme of
shabbiness; his clothes being evidently worn as long as they could
possibly hold together, and his generally depressed air, giving the
effect of one who had gone down in the world, made him, even without
the misleading "John Smith," most unlikely to be identified with the
Ascott Leaf of old.

"I never should have known you, Sir!" said Elizabeth truthfully, when
her astonishment had a little subsided; "but I am very glad to see
you. Oh how thankful your aunts will be!"

"Do you think so? I thought it was quite the contrary. But it does
not matter; they will never hear of me unless you tell them--and I
believe I may trust you. You would not betray me, if only for the
sake of that poor fellow yonder?"

"No, Sir."

"Now, tell me something about my aunts, especially my aunt Johanna."

And sitting down in the sunshine, with his arms upon the back of the
bench, and his hand hiding his eyes, the poor prodigal listened in
silence to every thing Elizabeth told him; of his Aunt Selina's
marriage and death, and of Mr. Lyon's return, and of the happy home
at Liverpool.

"They are all quite happy, then?" said he, at length; "they seem to
have begun to prosper ever since they got rid of me. Well, I'm glad
of it. I only wanted to hear of them from you. I shall never trouble
them any more. You'll keep my secret, I know. And now I must go, for
I have not a minute more to spare. Good-by, Elizabeth."

With a humility and friendliness, strange enough in Ascott Leaf, he
held out his hand--empty, for he had nothing to give now--to his
aunt's old servant. But Elizabeth detained him.

"Don't go, Sir, please, don't; not just yet." And then she added,
with an earnest respectfulness that touched the heart of the poor,
shabby man, "I hope you'll pardon the liberty I take. I'm only a
servant, but I knew you when you were a boy, Mr. Leaf: and if you
would trust me, if you would let me be of use to you in any way--if
only because you were so good to him there."

"Poor Tom Cliffe; he was not a bad fellow; he liked me rather, I
think; and I was able to doctor him and help him a little. Heigh-ho;
it's a comfort to think I ever did any good to any body."

Ascott sighed, drew his rusty coat sleeves across his eyes, and sat
contemplating his boots, which were any thing but dandy boots now.

"Elizabeth, what relation was Tom to you? If I had known you were
acquainted with him I should have been afraid to go near him; but I
felt sure, though he came from Stowbury, he did not guess who I was;
he only knew me as Mr. Smith; and he never once mentioned you. Was he
your cousin, or what?"

Elizabeth considered a moment, and then told the simple fact; it
could not matter now.

"I was once going to be married to him, but he saw somebody he liked
better, and married her."

"Poor girl; poor Elizabeth?"

Perhaps nothing could have shown the great change in Ascott more than
the tone in which he uttered these words; a tone of entire respect
and kindly pity, from which he never once departed during that
conversation, and many, many others, so long as their confidential
relations lasted.

"Now, Sir, would you be so kind as to tell me something about
yourself? I'll not repeat any thing to your aunts, if you don't wish
it."

Ascott yielded. He had been so long, so utterly forlorn. He sat down
beside Elizabeth, and then, with eyes often averted, and with many
breaks between, which she had to fill up as best as she could, he
told her all his story, even to the sad secret of all, which had
caused him to run away from home, and hide himself in the last place
where they would have thought he was, the safe wilderness of London.
There, carefully disguised, he had lived decently while his money
lasted, and then, driven step by step to the brink of destitution, he
had offered himself for employment in the lowest grade of his own
profession, and been taken as assistant by the not over scrupulous
chemist and druggist in that not too respectable neighborhood of
Westminster, with a salary of twenty pounds a year.

"And I actually live upon it!" added he, with a bitter smile. "I
can't run into debt; for who would trust me? And I dress in rags
almost, as you see. And I get my meals how and where I can; and I
sleep under the shop counter. A pretty life for Mr. Ascott Leaf,
isn't it now? What would my aunts say if they knew it?"

"They would say that it was an honest life, and that they were not a
bit ashamed of you."

Ascott drew himself up a little, and his chest heaved visibly under
the close buttoned, thread bare coat.

"Well, at least, it is a life that makes nobody else miserable."

Ay, that wonderful teacher, Adversity,

        "Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
        Wears yet a precious jewel in its head,"

had left behind this jewel in the young man's heart. A disguised,
beggared outcast, he had found out the value of an honest name;
forsaken, unfriended, he had learned the preciousness of home and
love; made a servant of, tyrannized over, and held in low esteem, he
had been taught by hard experience the secret of true humility and
charity--the esteeming of others better than himself.

Not with all natures does misfortune so work, but it did with his. He
had sinned; he had paid the cost of his sin in bitter suffering; but
the result was cheaply bought, and he already began to feel that it
was so.

"Yes," said he, in answer to a question of Elizabeth's, "I really am,
for some things, happier than I used to be. I feel more like what I
was in the old days, when I was a little chap at Stowbury. Poor old
Stowbury! I often think of the place in a way that's perfectly
ridiculous. Still, if any thing happened to me, I should like my
aunts to know it, and that I didn't forget them."

"But, Sir," asked Elizabeth earnestly, "do you never mean to go near
your aunts again?"

"I can't say; it all depends upon circumstances. I suppose," he
added, "if, as is said, one's sin is sure to find one out, the same
rule goes by contraries. It seems poor Cliffe once spoke of me to a
district visitor, the only visitor he ever had; and this gentleman,
hearing of the inquest, came yesterday to inquire about him of me;
and the end was that he offered me a situation with a person he knew,
a very respectable chemist in Tottenham Court Road."

"And shall you go?"

"To be sure. I've learned to be thankful for small mercies. Nobody
will find me out or recognize me. You didn't. Who knows? I may even
have the honor of dispensing drugs to Uncle Ascott of Russell
Square."

"But," said Elizabeth, after a pause, "you will not always remain as
John Smith, druggist's shopman, throwing away all your good
education, position, and name?"

"Elizabeth," said he, in a humbled tone, "how dare I ever resume my
own name and get back my rightful position while Peter Ascott lives?
Can you or any body point out a way?"

She thought the question over in her clear head; clear still, even at
this hour, when she had to think for others, though all personal
feeling and interest were buried in that grave over which the sexton
was now laying the turf that would soon grow smoothly green.

"If I might advise, Mr. Leaf, I should say, save up all your money,
and then go, just as you are, with an honest, bold front, right into
my master's house, with the fifty pounds in your hand--"

"By Jove, you've hit it!" cried Ascott, starting up. "What a thing a
woman's head is! I've turned over scheme after scheme, but I never
once thought of any thing so simple as that. Bravo, Elizabeth! You're
a remarkable woman."

She smiled--a very sad smile--but still she felt glad. Any thing that
she could possibly do for any creature belonging to her dear
mistresses seemed to this faithful servant the natural and bounden
duty of her life.

Long after the young man, whose mercurial temperament no trouble
could repress, had gone away in excellent spirits, leaving her an
address where she could always find him, and give him regular news of
his aunts, though he made her promise to give them, as yet, no
tidings in return, Elizabeth sat still, watching the sun decline and
the shadows lengthen over the field of graves. In the calmness and
beauty of this solitary place an equal calm seemed to come over her;
a sense of how wonderfully events had linked themselves together and
worked themselves out; how even poor Tom's mournful death had brought
about this meeting, which might end in restoring to her beloved
mistresses their lost sheep, their outcast, miserable boy. She did
not reason the matter out, but she felt it, and felt that in making
her in some degree His instrument God had been very good to her in
the midst of her desolation.

It seemed Elizabeth's lot always to have to put aside her own
troubles for the trouble of somebody else. Almost immediately after
Tom Cliffe's death her little Henry fell ill with scarlatina and
remained for many months in a state of health so fragile as to
engross all her thought and care. It was with difficulty that she
contrived a few times to go for Henry's medicines to the shop where
"John Smith" served.

She noticed that every time he looked healthier, brighter, freer from
that aspect of broken-down respectability which had touched her so
much. He did not dress any better, but still "the gentleman" in him
could never be hidden or lost, and he said his master treated him
"like a gentleman," which was apparently a pleasant novelty.

"I have some time to myself also. Shop shuts at nine, and I get up at
5 A. M.--bless us! what would my Aunt Hilary say? And it's not for
nothing. There are more ways than one of turning an honest penny,
when a young fellow really sets about it. Elizabeth, you used to be a
literary character yourself; look into the ---- and the ----,"
(naming two popular magazines), "and if you find a series of
especially clever papers on sanitary reform, and so on, I did 'em:"

He slapped his chest with Ascott's merry laugh of old. It cheered
Elizabeth for a long while afterward.

By-and-by she had to take little Henry to Brighton, and lost sight of
"John Smith" for some time longer.

It was on a snowy February day, when, having brought the child home
quite strong, and received unlimited gratitude and guineas from the
delighted father, Master Henry's faithful nurse stood in her usual
place at the dining-room door, waiting for the interminable grace of
"only five minutes more" to be over, and her boy carried
ignominiously but contentedly to bed.

The footman knocked at the door. "A young man wanting to speak to
master on particular business.

"Let him send in his name."

"He says you wouldn't know it, Sir."

"Show him in, then. Probably a case of charity, as usual. Oh!"

And Mr. Ascott's opinion was confirmed by the appearance of the
shabby young man with the long beard, whom Elizabeth did not wonder
he never recognized in the least. She ought to have retired, and yet
she could not. She hid herself partly behind the door, afraid of
passing Ascott; dreading alike to wound him by recognition or
non-recognition. But he took no notice. He seemed excessively
agitated.

"Come a-begging, young man, I suppose? Wants a situation, as hundreds
do, and think that I have half the clerkships in the city at my
disposal, and that I am made of money besides. But it's no good, I
tell you, Sir; I never give nothing to strangers, except--Here,
Henry, my son, take that person there this half crown."

And the little boy, in his pretty purple velvet frock and his
prettier face, trotted across the room and put the money into poor
Ascott's hand. He took it; and then to the astonishment of Master
Henry, and the still greater astonishment of his father, lifted up
the child and kissed him.

"Young man, young fellow--"

"I see you don't know me, Mr. Ascott, and it's not surprising. But I
have come to repay you this--" he laid a fifty pound note down on the
table. "Also, to thank you earnestly for not prosecuting me, and to
say--"

"Good God!"--the sole expletive Peter Ascott had been heard to use
for long. "Ascott Leaf, is that you? I thought you were in Australia,
or dead, or something."

"No, I'm alive and here, more's the pity perhaps. Except that I have
lived to pay you back what I cheated you out of. What you generously
gave me I can't pay, though I may sometime. Meantime, I have brought
you this. It's honestly earned. Yes." observing the keen doubtful
look, "though I have hardly a coat to my back, I assure you it's
honestly earned."

Mr. Ascott made no reply. He stooped over the bank-note, examined it,
folded it, and put it into his pocket-book; then, after another
puzzled investigation of Ascott, cleared his throat.

"Mrs. Hand, you had better take Master Henry up stairs."

An hour after, when little Henry had long been sound asleep, and she
was sitting at her usual evening sewing in her solitary nursery,
Elizabeth learned that the "shabby young man" was still in the
dining-room with Mr. Ascott, who had rung for tea, and some cold meat
with it. And the footman stated, with undisguised amazement, that the
shabby young man was actually sitting at the same table with master!

Elizabeth smiled to herself and held her tongue. Now, as ever, she
always kept the secrets of the family.

About ten o'clock she was summoned to the dining-room.

There stood Peter Ascott, pompous as ever, but with a certain kindly
good-humor lightening up his heavy face, looking condescendingly
around him, and occasionally rubbing his hands slowly together, as if
he were exceedingly well pleased with himself. There stood Ascott
Leaf, looking bright and handsome, in spite of his shabbiness, and
quite at his ease--which small peculiarity was never likely to be
knocked out of him under the most depressing circumstances.

He shook hands with Elizabeth warmly.

"I wanted to ask you if you have any message for Liverpool. I go
there to-morrow on business for Mr. Ascott, and afterward I shall
probably go and see my aunts." He faltered a moment, but quickly
shook the emotion off. "Of course, I shall tell them all about you,
Elizabeth. Any special message, eh?"

"Only my duty, Sir, and Master Henry is quite well again," said
Elizabeth, formally, and dropping her old-fashioned courtesy; after
which, as quickly as she could, she slipped out of the dining-room.

But, long, long after, when all the house was gone to bed, she stood
at the nurser window, looking down upon the trees of the square, that
stretched their motionless arms up into the moonlight sky--just such
a moonlight as it was once, more than three years ago, the night
little Henry was born. And she recalled all the past, from the day
when Miss Hilary hung up her bonnet for her in the house-place at
Stowbury; the dreary life at No. 15; the Sunday nights when she and
Tom Cliffe used to go wandering round and round the square.

"Poor Tom," said she to herself, thinking of Ascott Leaf, and how
happy he had looked, and how happy his aunts would be to-morrow.
"Well, Tom would be glad too, if he knew all."

But, happy as every body was, there was nothing so close to
Elizabeth's heart as the one grave over which the snow was now lying,
white and peaceful, out at Kensal Green.

Elizabeth is still living--which is a great blessing, for nobody
could well do without her. She will probably attain a good old age;
being healthy and strong, very equable in temper now, and very
cheerful too, in her quiet way.

Doubtless, she will yet have Master Henry's children climbing her
knees, and calling her "Mammy Lizzie."

But she will never marry--She never loved any body but Tom.

THE END.





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