The village of Bleighton contained as many affectionate young people as any other place of its size, and was not without young ladies, for the possession of whose hearts two or more young men strove against each other. When, however, allusion was ever made to “the rivals” no one doubted to whom the reference applied: it was always understood that the young men mentioned were those two of Miss Florence Elserly’s admirers for whom Miss Elserly herself seemed to have more regard than she manifested toward any one else.
There has always been some disagreement among the young ladies of Bleighton as to Miss Elserly’s exact rank among beauties, but there was no possibility of doubt that Miss Elserly attracted more attention than any other lady in the town, and that among her admirers had been every young man among whom other Bleighton ladies of taste would have chosen their life-partners had the power of choosing pertained to their own sex.
The good young men of the village, the successful business men who were bachelors, and the stylish young fellows who came from the neighboring city in the Summer, bowed before Miss Elserly as naturally as if fate, embodied in the person of the lady herself, commanded them.
How many proposals Miss Elserly had received no one knew; for two or three years no one was able to substantiate an opinion, from the young lady’s walk and conversation, that she specially preferred any one of her personal acquaintances; but at length it became evident that she evinced more than the interest of mere acquaintanceship in Hubert Brown, the best of the native-born young men of the village.
Mr. Brown was a theological student, but the march of civilization had been such at Bleighton that a prospective shepherd of souls might listen to one of Beethoven’s symphonies in a city opera-house without having any sin imputed unto him! Such music-loving inhabitants of Bleighton as listened to one of these symphonies, which was also heard by Mr. Brown and Miss Elserly, noticed that when the young couple exchanged words and glances, Miss Elserly’s well-trained features were not so carefully guarded as they usually were in society. Such ladies as had nothing to do, and even a few who were not without pressing demands upon their time, canvassed the probabilities of the match quite exhaustively, and made some prophecies, but were soon confused by the undoubted fact that Miss Elserly drove out a great deal with Major Mailing, the dashing ex-soldier, and successful broker from the city.
The charm of uncertainty being thus added to the ordinary features of interest which pertain to all persons suspected of being in love, made Miss Elserly’s affairs of unusual importance to every one who knew the young lady even by sight, and for three whole months “the rivals” were a subject of conversation next in order to the weather. At length there came a day when the case seemed decided. For three days Hubert Brown’s face was very seldom seen on the street, and when seen it was longer and more solemn than was required even by that order of sanctity in which theological students desire to live.