Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 569
A Hill-girl christened Elizabeth, but known as Lispeth according to local pronunciation, grows up in the Kotgarh valley in Northern India. Her parents, having become Christians out of destitute poverty, bring their baby daughter to the Kotgarh chaplain to be baptized. When both her parents die of cholera, Lispeth becomes...
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A Hill-girl christened Elizabeth, but known as Lispeth according to local pronunciation, grows up in the Kotgarh valley in Northern India. Her parents, having become Christians out of destitute poverty, bring their baby daughter to the Kotgarh chaplain to be baptized. When both her parents die of cholera, Lispeth becomes half servant, half companion to the wife of the chaplain then residing in Kotgarh. She grows tall, vigorous, and as lovely as a Greek goddess. Unlike other Hill-girls, when she reaches womanhood she does not give up the Christianity she has accepted. She is happy playing with the chaplain’s children, taking Sunday school classes, reading all the books in the house, and taking long walks in the hills. When she is seventeen, however, an event takes place that completely changes her attitude toward the English. Interaction with them at a deeper level reveals to her that the ways of her people are more congenial and acceptable to her than the supposedly superior culture represented by the chaplain of Kotgarh, his wife, and an Englishman.
One day at dusk, Lispeth returns home from her long walk in the hills carrying a heavy burden: a young Englishman who is unconscious from a cut on the head. She falls in love with him and announces that she intends to marry him when he is well again. Horrified, the chaplain and his wife rebuke her for the impropriety of her feelings, but she is firm in her resolve.
The Englishman is a traveler in the East who lost his footing and fell while hunting for butterflies and plants in the Simla hills. Lispeth discovered and saved him. Recovering coherence after two weeks, he spends two more leisurely weeks regaining his strength. While doing so, even though he is engaged to a girl in England, he finds it very pleasant to walk and talk with Lispeth and say sweet, endearing words to her. All this means everything to her but nothing to him, for he finds Lispeth’s love for himself merely amusing and romantic. Even when he takes leave of her, he puts his arm around her waist and repeatedly promises to return, knowing all the time that his promises are false. He acts, in fact, according to the advice of the chaplain’s wife, who wants to avoid a scandal. After Lispeth waits in vain for three months, the chaplain’s wife tells her the truth. Lispeth is incredulous, for the Englishman had professed love and the chaplain’s wife had assured her of his return. She wants to know how what they told her could be untrue. When the chaplain’s wife self-righteously explains their strategy to keep her quiet, Lispeth realizes that they lied to her deliberately. She leaves in silent indignation, and comes back in the garb of a Hill-girl with braided hair to make a twofold announcement: that she is returning to her people as a devotee of Tarka Devi, and that she thinks the English are all liars.
Thereafter, Lispeth takes to her people with great ardor and soon marries a woodcutter who beats her in the manner of the Hill-people. Her beauty fades, and she grows very old. However, she may be persuaded, when drunk, to recount in perfect English the romance of her first love affair. It is hard to believe that this very old, wrinkled, and withered woman is the formerly beautiful Lispeth.