Hilary went in.
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