She lay long awake, planning every conceivable scheme for saving money; till at length, her wits sharpened by the desperation of the circumstances, there flashed upon her an idea that came out of a talk she had had with Elizabeth that morning. True, it was a perfectly new and untried chance—and a mere chance; still it was right to overlook nothing. She would not have ventured to tell Selina of it for the world, and even to Johanna, she only said—finding her as wakeful as herself—said it in a careless manner, as if it had relation to nothing, and she expected nothing from it— “I think, as I have nothing else to do, I will go and see Miss Balquidder to-morrow morning.”
Miss Balquidder’s house was a handsome one, handsomely furnished, and a neat little to aid-servant showed Hilary at once into the dining-parlor, where the mistress sat before a business-like writing-table, covered with letters, papers, etc., all arranged with that careful order in disorder which indicates, even in the smallest things, the possession of an accurate, methodical mind, than which there are few greater possessions, either to its owner or to the world at large.
Miss Balquidder was not a personable woman; she had never been so even in youth; and age had told its tale upon those large, strong features—“thoroughly Scotch features,” they would have been called by those who think all Scotchwomen are necessarily big, raw-boned, and ugly; and have never seen that wonderfully noble beauty—not prettiness, but actual beauty in its highest physical as well as spiritual development—which is not seldom found across the Tweed.
But while there was nothing lovely, there was nothing unpleasant or uncomely in Miss Balquidder. Her large figure, in its plain black silk dress; her neat white cap, from under which peeped the little round curls of flaxen hair, neither gray nor snowy, but real “lint-white locks” still; and her good-humored, motherly look—motherly rather than old-maidish—gave an impression which may be best described by the word “comfortable.”—She was a “comfortable” woman. She had that quality—too rarely, alas! in all people, and rarest in women going solitary down the hill of life—of being able, out of the deep content of her own nature, to make other people the same.
Hilary was cheered in spite of herself: it always conveys hope to the young, when in sore trouble, if they see the old looking happy.
“Welcome, my dear! I was afraid you had forgotten your promise.”
“Oh no,” said Hilary, responding heartily to the hearty clasp of a hand large as a man’s, but soft as a woman’s.
“Why did you not come sooner?”
More than one possible excuse flashed thro’ Hilary’s mind, but she was too honest to give it. She gave none at all. Nor did she like to leave the impression that this was merely a visit, when she knew she had only come from secondary and personal motives.