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.
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.