There are some people who imperceptibly float away from their youth into middle age, and thence pass into declining life with the soft and gentle motion of happy years. There are others who are whirled, in spite of themselves, down dizzy rapids of agony away from their youth at one great bound, into old age with another sudden shock; and thence into the vast calm ocean where there are no shore-marks to tell of time.
This last, it seemed, was to be Ellinor’s lot. Her youth had gone in a single night, fifteen years ago, and now she appeared to have become an elderly woman; very still and hopeless in look and movement, but as sweet and gentle in speech and smile as ever she had been in her happiest days. All young people, when they came to know her, loved her dearly, though at first they might call her dull, and heavy to get on with; and as for children and old people, her ready watchful sympathy in their joys as well as their sorrows was an unfailing passage to their hearts. After the first great shock of Mr. Corbet’s marriage was over, she seemed to pass into a greater peace than she had known for years; the last faint hope of happiness was gone; it would, perhaps, be more accurate to say, of the bright happiness she had planned for herself in her early youth. Unconsciously, she was being weaned from self-seeking in any shape, and her daily life became, if possible, more innocent and pure and holy. One of the canons used to laugh at her for her constant attendance at all the services, and for her devotion to good works, and call her always the reverend sister. Miss Monro was a little annoyed at this faint clerical joke; Ellinor smiled quietly. Miss Monro disapproved of Ellinor’s grave ways and sober severe style of dress.
“You may be as good as you like, my dear, and yet go dressed in some pretty colour, instead of those perpetual blacks and greys, and then there would be no need for me to be perpetually telling people you are only four-and-thirty (and they don’t believe me, though I tell them so till I am black in the face). Or, if you would but wear a decent-shaped bonnet, instead of always wearing those of the poky shape in fashion when you were seventeen.”
The old canon died, and some one was to be appointed in his stead. These clerical preferments and appointments were the all-important interests to the inhabitants of the Close, and the discussion of probabilities came up invariably if any two met together, in street or house, or even in the very cathedral itself. At length it was settled, and announced by the higher powers. An energetic, hard-working clergyman from a distant part of the diocese, Livingstone by name, was to have the vacant canonry.