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.”
A fortnight’s time rather increased than diminished the excitement incident on the event at Russell Square.