“What if he should look down upon me? What if he should return and find me different from what he expected?”
And bitter tears burned in her eyes, as she walked rapidly and passionately along the deserted street. Then a revulsion came.
“No; love is worth nothing that is not worth every thing, and to be trusted through every thing. If he could forget me—could love any one better than me—me myself, no matter what I was—ugly or pretty, old or young, rich or poor—I would not care for his love. It would not be worth my having; I’d let it go. Robert, though it broke my heart, I’d let you go.”
Her eyes flashed; her poor little hand clenched itself under her shawl; and then, as a half reproach, she heard in fancy the steady loving voice—which could have calmed her wildest paroxysm of passion and pain—“You must trust me, Hilary.”
Yes, he was a man to be trusted. No doubt very much like other men, and by no means such a hero to the world at large as this fond girl made him out to be; but Robert Lyon had, with all people, and under all circumstances, the character of reliableness. He had also—you might read it in his face—a quality equally rare, faithfulness. Not merely sincerity, but faithfulness; the power of conceiving one clear purpose, or one strong love—in unity of strength—and of not only keeping true to it at the time, but of holding fast to it with a single-minded persistency that never even takes in the idea of voluntary change, as long as persistency is right or possible.
“Robert, Robert!” sobbed this forlorn girl, as if slowly waking up to a sense of her forlorness, and of the almost universal fickleness, not actual falseness, but fickleness, which prevails in the world and among mankind. “O Robert, be faithful! faithful to yourself—faithful to me!”
When Miss Hilary reached home Elizabeth opened the door to her; the parlor was deserted.
Miss Leaf had gone to lie down, and Miss Selina was away to see the Lord Mayor’s Show with Mr. Peter Ascott.
“With Mr. Peter Ascott!” Hilary was a little surprised; but on second thoughts she found it natural; Selina was glad of any amusement—to her, not only the narrowness but the dullness of their poverty was inexpressibly galling. “She will be back to dinner, I suppose?”
“I don’t know,” said Elizabeth briefly.
Had Miss Hilary been less preoccupied, she would have noticed something not quite right about the girl—something that at any other time would have aroused the direct question, “What is the matter, Elizabeth?” For Miss Hilary did not consider it beneath her dignity to observe that things might occasionally go wrong with this solitary young woman, away from her friends, and exposed to all the annoyances of London lodgings; that many trifles might happen to worry and perplex her. If the mistress could not set them right, she could at least give the word of kindly sympathy, as precious to “a poor servant” as to the Queen on her throne.