The name of the person to whom Mr. Cherrington’s house had been leased was Miss Elizabeth Whyte. She was twenty-five, and she was starting a school because it was necessary for her to earn her own living. She considered that life, from the point of view of happiness, was over for her; and yet, though she had made up her mind that she could never be really happy again, she was resolved neither to mope nor to be a burden on any one. Mr. Mills, the executor of Mr. Cherrington’s estate, who believed himself to be a judge of human nature withal, had observed that she seemed a little overwrought, as though she had lived on her nerves; but, on the other hand, he had been impressed by her direct, business-like manner, which argued that she was very much in earnest. Besides, she was vouched for by the best people, and Mrs. Cyrus Bangs was moving heaven and earth to procure pupils for her. It was clearly his duty as a business man to let her have the house.
Until within a few months Elizabeth Whyte had lived in a neighboring town–the seat of a college, where the minds of young men for successive generations have been cultivated, but sometimes at the expense of a long-suffering local community. Her father, who at the time of her birth was a clergyman with a parish, had subsequently evolved into an agnostic and an invalid without one, and she had been used to plain living and high thinking from her girlhood. Even parents who find it difficult to keep the wolf at a respectful distance by untiring economy will devise some means to make an only daughter look presentable on her first appearance in society. Fine feathers do not make fine birds, and yet the consciousness of a becoming gown will irradiate the cheek of beauty. Elizabeth at eighteen would have been fetching in any dress, but in each of her three new evening frocks she looked bewitching. She was a gay, trig little person, with snapping, dark eyes and an arch expression; a tireless dancer, quick and audacious at repartee; the very ideal of a college belle. The student world had fallen prostrate at her feet, and Tom Whittemore most conspicuously and devotedly of all.
Tom was, perhaps, the most popular man of his day; a Philadelphian of reputedly superfine stock, fresh-faced and athletic, with a jaunty walk. There was no one at the college assemblies who whispered so entrancingly in her ear when she was all alone with him in a corner, and no one who placed her new fleecy wrap about her shoulders with such an air of devotion when it was time to go home. She liked him from the very first; and all her girl friends babbled, “Wouldn’t it be a lovely match?” But Tom’s classmates from Philadelphia, when they became confidential in the small hours of the morning, asked each other what Tom’s mother would say. Tom was a senior, and it was generally assumed that matters would culminate on Class-day evening, that evening of all evenings in the collegiate world sacred to explanation and vows. Elizabeth lay awake all that night, remembering that she had let Tom have his impetuous say, and that at the end he had folded her in his arms and kissed her. Not until the next morning, and then merely as an unimportant fact, did it occur to her that, though Tom had told her she was dearer to him than all the world besides, there was no definite engagement between them. It was only when whispers reached her that Tom, who had gone to Philadelphia to attend the wedding of a relation, was not coming back to his Commencement, that she began to think a little. But she never really doubted until the news came that Tom had been packed off by his mother on a two years’ journey round the world.