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.
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.