But when Mr. Ascott appeared next day in solemn state as an accepted lover he seemed to care very little about the matter. He thought it was a good thing for every body to be independent; did not see why young women—he begged pardon, young ladies—should not earn their own bread if they liked. He only wished that the shop were a little further off than Kensington, and hoped the name of Leaf would not be put over the door.
But the bride-elect, indignant and annoyed, begged her lover to interfere, and prevent the scheme from being carried out.
“Don’t vex yourself, my dear Selina,” said he, dryly—how Hilary started to hear the stranger use the household name—“but I can’t see that it’s my business to interfere. I marry you, I don’t marry your whole family.”
“Mr. Ascott is quite right; we will end the subject,” said Johanna, with grave dignity while Hilary sat with burning cheeks, thinking that, miserable as the family had been, it had never till now known real degradation.
But her heart was very sore that day. It the morning had come the letter from India never omitted, never delayed; Robert Lyon was punctual as clock-work in every thing he did. It came, but this month it was a short and somewhat sad letter—hinting of failing health, uncertain prospects; full of a bitter longing to come home, and a dread that it would be years before that longing was realized.
“My only consolation is,” he wrote, for once betraying himself a little, “that however hard my life out here may be, I bear it alone.”
But that consolation was not so easy to Hilary. That they two should be wasting their youth apart, when just a little heap of yellow coins—of which men like Mr. Ascott had such profusion—would bring them together; and, let trials be many or poverty hard, give them the unutterable joy of being once more face to face and heart to heart—oh, it was sore, sore!
Yet when she went up from the parlor, where the newly-affianced couple sat together, “making-believe” a passion that did not exist, and acting out the sham courtship, proper for the gentleman to pay and the lady to receive—when she shut her bedroom door, and there, sitting in the cold, read again and again Robert Lyon’s letter to Johanna, so good, so honest; so sad, yet so bravely enduring—Hilary was comforted. She felt that true love, in its most unsatisfied longings, its most cruel delays, nay, even its sharpest agonies of hopeless separation, is sweeter ten thousand times than the most “respectable” of loveless marriages such as this.
So, at the week’s end, Hilary went patiently to her work at Kensington, and Selina began the preparations for her wedding.
In relating so much about her mistresses, I have lately seemed to overlook Elizabeth Hand.