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.
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.