The narrator of this story is a lady with several children. She enjoys sitting at the window watching life in the Road below; and in this way she has observed the courtship of two young people (whose names she later learns): John Ridgway a clerk in an office, and Ellen Harwood a music teacher. As the years pass she wonders why they do not marry; and when her youngest child needs music lessons, she uses this as an excuse to get acquainted with Ellen. It turns out to be the old story of self-sacrifice, and the narrator wonders if she can do anything to help.
Biographical and other notes
"Self-sacrifice" was a Victorian value nearly always applied to a young woman who was expected to sacrifice her own life for the good of others. Margaret Oliphant did not believe in this concept, especially as used by selfish people to control others.
This story is dedicated to "F.W.C." and "B.C." - Francis Warre-Cornish and his wife Blanche Warre-Cornish. At this time Francis was a master at Eton (Mrs Oliphant's sons' school); and later he was Eton's Vice-Provost. Margaret Oliphant knew them well, living just across the river at Windsor. She had a double bond with Blanche, being close friends with Blanche's second cousin, novelist Anne Thackeray. (Anne was also Blanche's sister-in-law, having married Blanche's brother Richmond Ritchie in 1877.) A little book preserving witticisms of Blanche Cornish (and also of AC Benson) is Bensoniana and Cornishiana.
British publishing information
Periodical: Cornhill Magazine Nov-Dec 1880
First edition: MacMillan and Co (collected in Neighbours on the Green) 1889