His letters gave none the less comfort because, nominally, they were addressed to Johanna. This might have been from some crotchet of over-reserve, delicacy, or honor—the same which made him part from her for years with no other word than ‘You must trust me, Hilary;’ but whatever it was she respected it, and she did trust him. And whether Johanna answered his letters or not, month by month they unfailingly came, keeping her completely informed of all his proceedings, and letting out, as epistles written from over the seas often do, much more of himself and his character than he was probably aware that he betrayed.
And Hilary, whose sole experience of mankind had been the scarcely remembered father, the too well remembered brother, and the anxiously watched nephew, thanked God that there seemed to be one man in the world whom a woman could lean her heart upon, and not feel the support break like a reed beneath her—one man whom she could entirely believe in, and safely and sacredly trust.
Time slipped by. Robert Lyon had been away more than three years. But in the monotonous life of the three sisters at Stowbury, nothing was changed. Except, perhaps, Elizabeth, who had grown quite a woman; might have passed almost for thirty; so solidly old fashioned were her figure and her manners.
Ascott Leaf had finished his walking the hospitals and his examinations, and was now fitted to commence practice for himself. His godfather had still continued his allowance, though once or twice, when he came down to Stowbury, he had asked his aunts to help him in small debts the last time in one a little more serious; when, after some sad and sore consultation, it had been resolved to tell him he must contrive to live within his own allowance. For they were poorer than they used to be; many more schools had arisen in the town, and theirs had dwindled away. It was becoming a source of serious anxiety whether they could possibly make ends meet; and when, the next Christmas, Ascott sent them a five pound note—an actual five pound note, together with a fond, grateful letter that was worth it all—the aunts were deeply thankful, and very happy.
But still the school declined. One night they were speculating upon the causes of this, and Hilary was declaring, in a half jocular, half earnest way, that it must be because a prophet is never a prophet in his own country.
“The Stowbury people will never believe how clever I am. Only, it is a useless sort of cleverness, I fear. Greek, Latin, and mathematics are no good to infants under seven, such as Stowbury persists in sending to us.”
“They think I am only fit to teach little children—and perhaps it is true,” said Miss Leaf.
“I wish you had not to teach at all. I wish I was a daily governess—I might be, and earn enough to keep the whole family; only, not here.”