THE VICISSITUDES OF BESSIE FAIRFAX.
(MISS HARRIET PARR),
AUTHOR OF "SYLVAN HOLT'S DAUGHTER," "KATHIE BRAND," ETC.
"Not what we could wish, but what we must even put up with."
PORTER & COATES.
I. HER BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 5 II. THE LAWYER'S LETTER 10 III. THE COMMUNITY OF BEECHHURST 15 IV. A RIDE WITH THE DOCTOR 29 V. GREAT-ASH FORD 37 VI. AGAINST HER INCLINATION 46 VII. HER FATE IS SEALED 59 VIII. BESSIE'S FRIENDS AT BROOK 65 IX. FAREWELL TO THE FOREST 77 X. BESSIE GOES INTO EXILE 80 XI. SCHOOL-DAYS AT CAEN 89 XII. IN COURSE OF TIME 98 XIII. BESSIE LEARNS A FAMILY SECRET 112 XIV. ON BOARD THE "FOAM" 117 XV. A LITTLE CHAPTER BY THE WAY 124 XVI. A LOST OPPORTUNITY 127 XVII. BESSIE'S BRINGING HOME 135 XVIII. THE NEXT MORNING 145 XIX. NEIGHBORS TO ABBOTSMEAD 152 XX. PAST AND PRESENT 160 XXI. A DISCOVERY 170 XXII. PRELIMINARIES 177 XXIII. BESSIE SHOWS CHARACTER 188 XXIV. A QUIET POLICY 194 XXV. A DINNER AT BRENTWOOD 198 XXVI. A MORNING AT BRENTWOOD 209 XXVII. SOME DOUBTS AND FEARS 216 XXVIII. IN MINSTER COURT 223 XXIX. LADY LATIMER IN WOLDSHIRE 228 XXX. MY LADY REVISITS OLD SCENES 235 XXXI. A SUCCESS AND A REPULSE 241 XXXII. A HARD STRUGGLE 254 XXXIII. A VISIT TO CASTLEMOUNT 256 XXXIV. BESSIE'S PEACEMAKING 266 XXXV. ABBOTSMEAD IN SHADOW 273 XXXVI. DIPLOMATIC 282 XXXVII. SUNDAY MORNING AT BEECHHURST 285 XXXVIII. SUNDAY EVENING AT BROOK 294 XXXIX. AT FAIRFIELD 305 XL. ANOTHER RIDE WITH THE DOCTOR 311 XLI. FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES 318 XLII. HOW FRIENDS MAY FALL OUT 323 XLIII. BETWEEN THEMSELVES 328 XLIV. A LONG DULL DAY 336 XLV. THE SQUIRE'S WILL 343 XLVI. TENDER AND TRUE 349 XLVII. GOODNESS PREVAILS 360 XLVIII. CERTAIN OPINIONS 365 XLIX. BESSIE'S LAST RIDE WITH THE DOCTOR 372 L. FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE 381
THE VICISSITUDES OF BESSIE FAIRFAX.
HER BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.
The years have come and gone at Beechhurst as elsewhere, but the results of time and change seem to have almost passed it by. Every way out of the scattered forest-town is still through beautiful forest-roads—roads that cleave grand avenues, traverse black barren heaths, ford shallow rivers, and climb over ferny knolls whence the sea is visible. The church is unrestored, the parsonage is unimproved, the long low house opposite is still the residence of Mr. Carnegie, the local doctor, and looks this splendid summer morning precisely as it looked in the splendid summer mornings long ago, when Bessie Fairfax was a little girl, and lived there, and was very happy.
Bessie was not akin to the doctor. Her birth and parentage were on this wise. Her father was Geoffry, the third and youngest son of Mr. Fairfax of Abbotsmead in Woldshire. Her mother was Elizabeth, only child of the Reverend Thomas Bulmer, vicar of Kirkham. Their marriage was a love-match, concluded when they had something less than the experience of forty years between them. The gentleman had his university debts besides to begin life with, the lady had nothing. As the shortest way to a living he went into the Church, and the birth of their daughter was contemporary with Geoffry's ordination. His father-in-law gave him a title for orders, and a lodging under his roof, and Mr. Fairfax grudgingly allowed his son two hundred a year for a maintenance.
The young couple were lively and handsome. They had done a foolish thing, but their friends agreed to condone their folly. Before very long a south-country benefice, the rectory of Beechhurst, was put in Geoffry's way, and he gayly removed with his wife and child to that desirable home of their own. They were poor, but they were perfectly contented. Nature is sometimes very kind in making up to people for the want of fortune by an excellent gift of good spirits and good courage. She was very kind in this way to Geoffry Fairfax and his wife Elizabeth; so kind that everybody wondered with great amazement what possessed that laughing, rosy woman to fall off in health, and die soon after the birth of a second daughter, who died also, and was buried in the same grave with her mother.
The rector was a cheerful exemplification of the adage that man is not made to live alone. He wore the willow just long enough for decency, and then married again—married another pretty, portionless young woman of no family worth mentioning. This reiterated indiscretion caused a breach with his father, and the slender allowance that had been made him was resumed. But his new wife was good to his little Bessie, and Abbotsmead was a long way off.
There were no children of this second marriage, which was lucky; for three years after, the rector himself died, leaving his widow as desolate as a clergyman's widow, totally unprovided for, can be. She had never seen any member of her husband's family, and she made no claim on Mr. Fairfax, who, for his part, acknowledged none. Bessie's near kinsfolk on her mother's side were all departed this life; there was nobody who wanted the child, or who would have regarded her in any light but an incumbrance. The rector's widow therefore kept her unquestioned; and being a woman of much sense and little pride, she moved no farther from the rectory than to a cottage-lodging in the town, where she found some teaching amongst the children of the small gentry, who then, as now, were its main population.
It was hard work for meagre reward, and perhaps she was not sorry to exchange her mourning-weeds for bride-clothes again when Mr. Carnegie asked her; for she was of a dependent, womanly character, and the doctor was well-to-do and well respected, and ready with all his heart to give little Bessie a home. The child was young enough when she lost her own parents to lose all but a reflected memory of them, and cordially to adopt for a real father and mother those who so cordially adopted her.
Still, she was Bessie Fairfax, and as the doctor's house grew populous with children of his own, Bessie was curtailed of her indulgences, her learning, her leisure, and was taught betimes to make herself useful. And she did it willingly. Her temper was loving and grateful, and Mrs. Carnegie had her recompense in Bessie's unstinting helpfulness during the period when her own family was increasing year by year; sometimes at the rate of one little stranger, and sometimes at the rate of twins. The doctor received his blessings with a welcome, and a brisk assurance to his wife that the more they were the merrier. And neither Mrs. Carnegie nor Bessie presumed to think otherwise; though seven tiny trots under ten years old were a sore handful; and seven was the number Bessie kept watch and ward over like a fairy godmother in the doctor's nursery, when her own life had attained to no more than the discretion and philosophy of fifteen. The chief of them were boys—boys on the plan of their worthy father; five boys with excellent lungs and indefatigable stout legs; and two little girls no whit behind their brothers for voluble chatter and restless agility. Nobody complained, however. They had their health—that was one mercy; there was enough in the domestic exchequer to feed, clothe, and keep them all warm—that was another mercy; and as for the future, people so busy as the doctor and his wife are forced to leave that to Providence—which is the greatest mercy of all. For it is to-morrow's burden breaks the back, never the burden of to-day.
A constant regret with Mrs. Carnegie (when she had a spare moment to think of it) was her inability, from stress of annually recurring circumstances, to afford Bessie Fairfax more of an education, and especially that she was not learning to speak French and play on the piano. But Bessie felt no want of these polite accomplishments. She had no accomplished companions to put her to shame for her deficiencies. She was fond of a book, she could write an unformed, legible hand, and add up a simple sum. The doctor, not a bad judge, called her a shrewd, reasonable little lass. She had mother-wit, a warm heart, and a nice face, as sweet and fresh as a bunch of roses with the dew on them, and he did not see what she wanted with talking French and playing the piano; if his wife would believe him, she would go through life quite as creditably and comfortably without any fashionable foreign airs and graces. Thus it resulted, partly from want of opportunity, and partly from want of ambition in herself, that Bessie Fairfax remained a rustic little maid, without the least tincture of modern accomplishments. Still, the doctor's wife did not forget that her dear drudge and helpful right hand was a waif of old gentry, whose restoration the chapter of accidents might bring about any day. Nor did she suffer Bessie to forget it, though Bessie was mighty indifferent, and cared as little for her gentle kindred as they cared for her. And if these gentle kindred had increased and multiplied according to the common lot, Bessie would probably never have been remembered by them to any purpose; she might have married as Mr. Carnegie's daughter, and have led an obscure, happy life, without vicissitude to the end of it, and have died leaving no story to tell.
But many things had happened at Abbotsmead since the love-match of Geoffry Fairfax and Elizabeth Bulmer. When Geoffry married, his brothers were both single men. The elder, Frederick, took to himself soon after a wife of rank and fortune; but there was no living issue of the marriage; and the lady, after a few years of eccentricity, went abroad for her health—that is, her husband was obliged to place her under restraint. Her malady was pronounced incurable, though her life might be prolonged. The second son, Laurence, had distinguished himself at Oxford, and had become a knight-errant of the Society of Antiquaries. His father said he would traverse a continent to look at one old stone. He was hardly persuaded to relinquish his liberty and choose a wife, when the failure of heirs to Frederick disconcerted the squire's expectations, and, with the proverbial ill-luck of learned men, he chose badly. His wife, from a silly, pretty shrew, matured into a most bitter scold; and a blessed man was he, when, after three years of tribulation, her temper and a strong fever carried her off. His Xantippe left no child. Mr. Fairfax urged the obligations of ancient blood, old estate, and a second marriage; but Laurence had suffered conjugal felicity enough, and would no more of it. It was now that the squire first bethought himself seriously of his son Geoffry's daughter. He proposed to bring her home to Abbotsmead, and to marry her in due time to some poor young gentleman of good family, who would take her name, and give the house of Fairfax a new lease, as had been done thrice before in its long descent, by means of an heiress. The poor young man who might be so obliging was even named. Frederick and Laurence gave consent to whatever promised to mitigate their father's disappointment in themselves, and the business was put into the hands of their man of law, John Short of Norminster, than whom no man in that venerable city was more respected for sagacity and integrity.
If Mr. Fairfax had listened to John Short in times past, he would not have needed his help now. John Short had urged the propriety of recalling Bessie from Beechhurst when her father died; but no good grandmother or wise aunt survived at Kirkham to insist upon it, and the thing was not done. The man of law did not, however, revert to what was past remedy, but gave his mind to considering how his client might be extricated from his existing dilemma with least pain and offence. Mr. Fairfax had a legal right to the custody of his young kinswoman, but he had not the conscience to plead his legal right against the long-allowed use and custom of her friends. If they were reluctant to let her go, and she were reluctant to come, what then? John Short confessed that Mr. Carnegie and Bessie herself might give them trouble if they were so disposed; but he had a reasonable expectation that they would view the matter through the medium of common sense.
Thus much by way of prelude to the story of Bessie Fairfax's Vicissitudes, which date from this momentous era of her life.
THE LAWYER'S LETTER.
"The postman! Run, Jack, and bring the letter."
The letter, said Mr. Carnegie; for the correspondence between the doctor's house and the world outside it was limited. Jack jumped off his chair at the breakfast-table and rushed to do his father's bidding.
"For mother!" cried he, returning at the speed of a small whirlwind, the epistle held aloft. Down he clapped it on the table by her plate, mounted into his chair again, and resumed the interrupted business of the hour.
Mrs. Carnegie glanced aside at the letter, read the post-mark, and reflected aloud: "Norminster—who can be writing to us from Norminster? Some of Bessie's people?"
"The shortest way would be to open the letter and see. Hand it over to me," said the doctor.
Bessie pricked her ears; but Mr. Carnegie read the letter to himself, while his wife was busy replenishing the little mugs that came up in single file incessantly for more milk. A momentary pause in the wants of her offspring gave her leisure to notice her husband's visage—a dusk-red and weather-brown visage at its best, but gathered now into extraordinary blackness. She looked, but did not speak; the doctor was the first to speak.
"It is about Bessie—from her grandfather's agent," said he with suppressed vexation as he replaced the large full sheet in its envelope.
"What about me?" cried Bessie in an explosion of natural curiosity.
"Your mother will tell you presently. Mind, boys, you are good to-day, and don't tire your sister."
So unusual an admonition made the boys stare, and everybody was hushed with a presentiment of something going to happen that nobody would approve. Mrs. Carnegie had her conjectures, not far wide of the truth, and Bessie was conscious of impatience to get the children out of the way, that she might have her curiosity appeased.
The doctor discerned the insurrection of self in her face, and said, almost bitterly, "Wait till I am gone, Bessie; you will have all the rest of your life to think of it. Now, boys, you have done eating; be off, and get ready for school."
Jack and the rest cleared out of the parlor and pattered up stairs, Bessie following close on their heels, purposely deaf to her mother's voice: "You may stay, love." She was hurt and perturbed. An idea of what was impending had flashed into her mind. After all, her abrupt exit was convenient to her elders; they could discuss the circumstances more freely in her absence. Mrs. Carnegie began.
"Well, Thomas, what does this wonderful letter say? I think I can guess—Bessie is to go home?"
"Home! What place can be home to her if this is not?" rejoined the doctor, and strode across the room to shut the door on his retreating progeny, while his wife entered on the perusal of the letter.
It was from Mr. John Short, on the business that we wot of. To Mr. Carnegie it read like a cool intimation that Bessie Fairfax was wanted—was become of importance at Abbotsmead, and must break with her present associations. It would have been impossible to convey in palatable words the requisition that the lawyer was put upon making; but to Mrs. Carnegie the demand did not sound harsh, nor the manner of it insolent. She had always kept her mind in a state of preparedness for some such change, and the only sense of annoyance that smote her was for her own shortcomings—for how she had suffered Bessie to be almost a servant to her own children, and how she could neither speak French nor play on the piano.
The doctor pooh-poohed her remorse. "You have done the best for her you could, Jane. What right has her grandfather to expect anything? He left her on your hands without a penny."
"Bessie has been worth more than she costs, if that were the way to look at it. But she will have to leave us now; she will have to go."
"Yes, she will have to go. But the old gentleman shall never deny our share in her."
"The future will rest with Bessie herself."
"And she has a good heart and a will of her own. She will be a woman with brains, whether she can play on the piano or not. Don't fret yourself, Jane, for any fancied neglect of Bessie."
"I am sadly grieved for her, Thomas; she will be sent to school, and what a life she will lead, dear child, so backward in her learning!"
"Nonsense! She is a bit of very good company. Wherever Bessie goes she will hold her own. She has plenty of character, and, take my word for it, character tells more in the long-run than talking French. There is the gig at the gate, and I must be off, though Bessie was starting for Woldshire by the next post. The letter is not one to be answered on the spur of the moment; acknowledge it, and say that it shall be answered shortly."
With a comfortable kiss the doctor bade his wife good-bye for the day, admonishing her not to fall a-crying with Bessie over what could not be remedied. And so he left her with the tears in her eyes already. She sat a few minutes feeling rather than reflecting, then with the lawyer's letter in her hands went up stairs, calling softly as she went, "Bessie dear, where are you?"
"Here, mother, in my own room;" and Bessie appeared in the doorway handling a scarlet feather-brush with which she was accustomed to dust her small property in books and ornaments each morning after the housemaid had performed her heavier task.
Mrs. Carnegie entered with her, and shut the door; for the two-leaved lattice was wide open, and the muslin curtains were blowing half across the tiny triangular nook under the thatch, which had been Bessie Fairfax's "own room" ever since she came to live in the doctor's house. Bessie was very fond of it, very proud of keeping it neat. There were assembled all the personal memorials of no moneysworth that had been rescued from the rectory-sale after her father's death; two miniatures, not valuable as works of art, but precious as likenesses of her parents; a faint sketch in water-colors of Kirkham Church and Parsonage House, and another sketch of Abbotsmead; an Indian work-box, a China bowl, two jars and a dish, very antiquated, and diffusing a soft perfume of roses; and about a hundred and fifty volumes of books, selected by his widow from the rectory library, for their binding rather than their contents, and perhaps not very suitable for a girl's collection. But Bessie set great store by them; and though the ancient Fathers of the Church accumulated dust on their upper shelves, and the sages of Greece and Rome were truly sealed books to her, she could have given a fair account of her Shakespeare and of the Aldine Poets to a judicious catechist, and of many another book with a story besides; even of her Hume, Gibbon, Goldsmith, and Rollin, and of her Scott, perennially delightful. She was, in fact, no dunce, though she had not been disciplined in the conventional routine of education; and as for training in the higher sense, she could not have grown into a more upright or good girl under any guidance, than under that of her tender and careful mother.
And in appearance what was she like, this Bessie Fairfax, subjected so early to the caprices of fortune? It is not to be pretended that she reached the heroic standard. Mr. Carnegie said she bade fair to be very handsome, but she was at the angular age when the framework of a girl's bones might stand almost as well for a boy's, and there was, indeed, something brusque, frank, and boyish in Bessie's air and aspect at this date. She walked well, danced well, rode well—looked to the manner born when mounted on the little bay mare, which carried the doctor on his second journeys of a day, and occasionally carried Bessie in his company when he was going on a round, where, at certain points, rest and refreshment were to be had for man and beast. Her figure had not the promise of majestic height, but it was perfectly proportioned, and her face was a capital letter of introduction. Feature by feature, it was, perhaps, not classical, but never was a girl nicer looking taken altogether; the firm sweetness of her mouth, the clear candor of her blue eyes, the fair breadth of her forehead, from which her light golden-threaded hair stood off in a wavy halo, and the downy peach of her round cheeks made up a most kissable, agreeable face. And there were sense and courage in it as well as sweetness; qualities which in her peculiar circumstances would not be liable to rust for want of using.
The mistiness of tears clouded Bessie's eyes when her mother, without preamble, announced the purport of the letter in her hand.
"It has come at last, Bessie, the recall that I have kept you in mind was sure to come sooner or later; not that we shall be any the less grieved to lose you, dear. Father will miss his clever little Bessie sadly,"—here the kind mother paused for emotion, and Bessie, athirst to know all, asked if she might read the letter.
The letter was not written for her reading, and Mrs. Carnegie hesitated; but Bessie's promptitude overruled her doubt in a manner not unusual with them. She took possession of the document, and sat down in the deep window-seat to study it; and she had read but a little way when there appeared signs in her face that it did not please her. Her mother knew these signs well; the stubborn set of the lips, the resolute depression of the level brows, much darker than her hair, the angry sparkle of her eyes, which never did sparkle but when her temper was ready to flash out in impetuous speech. Mrs. Carnegie spoke to forewarn her against rash declarations.
"It is of no use to say you won't, Bessie, for you must. Your father said, before he went out, that we have no choice but to let you go."
Bessie did not condescend to any rejoinder yet. She was reading over again some passage of the letter by which she felt herself peculiarly affronted. She continued to the end of it, and it was perhaps lucky that her tenderness had then so far prevailed over her wrath that she could only give way to tears of self-pity, instead of voice to the defiant words that had trembled on her tongue a minute ago.
"I did hope, dear, that you would not take it so much to heart," said her mother, comforting her. "But it is mortifying to think of being sent to school. What a pity we have let time go on till you are fifteen, and can neither speak a word of French nor play a note on the piano!"
Bessie had so often heard Mr. Carnegie's opinion of these accomplishments that her mother's regrets wore a comic aspect to her mind, and between laughing and crying she protested that she did not care, she should not try to improve to please them—meaning her Woldshire kinsfolk mentioned in the lawyer's letter.
"You have good common-sense, Bessie, and I am sure you will use it," said her mother with persuasive gravity. "If you show off with your tempers, that will give a color to their notion that you have been badly brought up. You must do us and yourself what credit you can, going amongst strangers. I am not afraid for you, unless you set up your little back, and determine to be downright naughty and perverse."
Bessie's countenance was not promising as she gave ear to these premonitions. Her upper lip was short, and her nether lip pressed against it with a scorny indignation. Her back was very much up, indeed, in the moral sense indicated by her mother, and as these inauspicious moods of hers were apt to last the longer the longer they were reasoned with, her mother prudently refrained from further disquisition. She bade her go about her ordinary business as if nothing had happened, and Bessie did go about these duties with a quiet practical obedience to law and order which bore out the testimony to her good common-sense. She thought of Mr. John Short's letter, it is true, and once she stood for a minute considering the sketch of Abbotsmead which hung above her chest of drawers. "Gloomy dull old place," was her criticism on it; but even as she looked, there ensued the reflection that the sun must shine upon it sometimes, though the artist had drawn it as destitute of light and shade as the famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth, when she wished to be painted fair, and was painted merely insipid.
THE COMMUNITY OF BEECHHURST.
The lawyer's letter from Norminster had thrust aside all minor interests. Even the school-feast that was to be at the rectory that afternoon was forgotten, until the boys reminded their mother of it at dinner-time. "Bessie will take you," said Mrs. Carnegie, and Bessie acquiesced. The one thing she found impossible to-day was to sit still. We will go to the school-feast with the children. The opportunity will be good for introducing to the reader a few persons of chief consideration in the rural community where Bessie Fairfax acquired some of her permanent views of life.
Beechhurst Rectory was the most charming rectory-house on the Forest. It would be delightful to add that the rector was as charming as his abode; but Beechhurst did not call itself happy in its pastor at this moment—the Rev. Askew Wiley. Mr. Wiley's immediate predecessor—the Rev. John Hutton—had been a pattern for country parsons. Hale, hearty, honest as the daylight; knowing in sport, in farming, in gardening; bred at Westminster and Oxford; the third son of a family distinguished in the Church; happily married, having sons of his own, and sufficient private fortune to make life easy both in the present and the future. Unluckily for Beechhurst, he preferred the north to the south country, and, after holding the benefice a little over one year, he exchanged it against Otterburn, a moorland border parish of Cumberland, whence Mr. Wiley had for some time past been making strenuous efforts to escape. Both were crown livings, but Otterburn stood for twice as much in the king's books as Beechhurst. Mr. Wiley was, however, willing to pay the forfeiture of half his income to get away from it. He had failed to make friends with the farmers, his principal parishioners, and the vulgar squabbles of Otterburn had grown into such a notorious scandal that the bishop was only too thankful to promote his removal. Mrs. Wiley's health was the ostensible reason, and though Otterburn knew better, Beechhurst accepted it in good faith, and gave its new rector a cordial welcome—none the less cordial that his wife came on the scene a robust and capable woman, ready and fit for parish work, and with no air of the fragile invalid it had been led to expect.
But men are shrewd on the Forest as on the Border, and the Rev. Askew Wiley was soon at a discount. His appearance was eminently clerical, but no two of his congregation formed the same opinion of what he was besides, unless the opinion that they did not like him. It was a clear case of Dr. Fell; for there was nothing in his life to except to, and in his character only a deficiency of courage. Only? But stay—consider what a crop of servile faults spring from a deficiency of courage.
"He do so beat the devil about the bush that there is no knowing where to have him," was the dictum early enunciated by a village Solomon, which went on to be verified more and more, until the new rector was as much despised on the Forest as on the Border. But he had a different race to deal with. At Otterburn the rude statesmen provoked and defied him with loud contempt; at Beechhurst his congregation dwindled down to the gentlefolks, who tolerated him out of respect to his office, and to the aged poor, who received a weekly dole of bread, bequeathed by some long-ago benefactor; and these were mostly women. Mr. Carnegie was a fair sample of the men, and he made no secret of his aversion.
The Reverend Askew Wiley, see him as he paces the lawn, his supple back writhed just a little towards my lady deferentially, his head just a little on one side, lending her an ear. By the gait of him he is looking another way. Yes; for now my lady turns, he turns too, and they halt front to front; his pallid visage half averted from her observation, his glittering eyes roving with bold stealth over the populous garden, and his thin-lipped, scarlet mouth working and twisting incessantly in the covert of his thick-set beard.
My lady speaks with an impatience scarcely controlled. She is the great lady of Beechhurst, the Dowager Lady Latimer, in the local estimation a very great lady indeed; once a leader in society, now retired from it, and living obscurely on her rich dower in the Forest, with almsdeeds and works of patronage and improvement for her pleasure and her occupation. My lady always loved her own way, but she had worked harmoniously with Mr. Hutton through his year's incumbency. He was sufficient for his duties, and gave her no opportunity for the exercise of unlawful authority, no ground for encroachments, no room for interference. But it was very different with poor Mr. Wiley. Everybody knew that he was a trial to her. He could not hold his own against her propensity to dictate. He deferred to her, and contrived to thwart her, to do the very thing she would not have done, and to do it in the most obnoxious way. The puzzle was—could he help it? Was he one of those tactless persons who are for ever blundering, or had he the will to assert himself, and not the pluck to do it boldly? His refuge was in round-about manoeuvres, and my lady felt towards him as those intolerant Cumberland statesmen felt before their enmity made the bleak moorland too hot for him. He was called an able man, but his foibles were precisely of the sort to create in the large-hearted of the gentle sex an almost masculine antipathy to their spiritual pastor. Bessie Fairfax could not bear him, and she could render a reason. Mr. Wiley received pupils to read at his house, and he had refused to receive a dear comrade of hers. It was his rule to receive none but the sons of gentlemen. Young Musgrave was the son of a farmer on the Forest, who called cousins with the young Carnegies. As the connection was wide, perhaps the vigorous dislike of more important persons than Bessie Fairfax is sufficiently accounted for. All the world is agreed that a slight wound to men's self-love rankles much longer than a mortal injury.
It is not, however, to be supposed that the Beechhurst people spited themselves so far as to keep away from the rector's school-treat because they did not love the rector. (By the by, it was not his treat, but only buns and tea by subscription distributed in his grounds, with the privilege of admittance to the subscribers.) The orthodox gentility of the neighborhood assembled in force for the occasion when the sun shone upon it as it shone to-day, and the entertainment was an event for children of all classes. If the richer sort did not care for buns, they did for games; and the Carnegie boys were so eager to lose none of the sport that they coaxed Bessie to take time by the forelock, and presented themselves almost first on the scene. Mrs. Wiley, ready and waiting out of doors to welcome her more distinguished guests, met a trio of the little folks, in Bessie's charge, trotting round the end of the house to reach the lawn.
"Always in good time, Bessie Carnegie," said she. "But is not your mother coming?"
"No, thank you, Mrs. Wiley," said Bessie with prim decorum.
"By the by, that is not your name. What is your name, Bessie?"
"Ah! yes; now I remember—Elizabeth Fairfax. And is your uncle pretty well? I suppose we shall see him later in the day? He ought to look in upon us before we break up. There! run away to the children in the orchard, and leave the lawn clear."
Bessie accepted her dismissal gladly, thankful to escape the catechetical ordeal that would have ensued had there been leisure for it. She was almost as shy of the rector's wife as of the rector. Mrs. Wiley had a brusque, absent manner, and it was a trick of hers to expose her young acquaintance to a fire of questions, of which she as regularly forgot the answers. She had often affronted Bessie Fairfax by asking her real name, and in the next breath calling her affably Bessie Carnegie, the doctor's step-daughter, niece or other little kinswoman whom he kept as a help in his house for charity's sake.
Bessie had but faint recollections of the rectory as her home, for since her father's death she had never gone there except as a visitor on public days. But the tradition was always in her memory that once she had lived in those pleasant rooms, had run up and down those broad sunny stairs, and played on the spacious lawns of that mossy, tree-shadowed garden. In the orchard had assembled, besides the children, a group of their ex-teachers—Miss Semple and her sister, the village dressmakers, Miss Genet, the daughter at the post-office, and the two Miss Mittens—well-behaved and well-instructed young persons whom Mr. Wiley's predecessors had been pleased to employ, but for whom Mrs. Wiley found no encouragement. She had the ordering of the school, and preferred gentlewomen for her lay-sisters. She had them, and only herself knew what trouble in keeping them punctual to their duty and in keeping the peace amongst them. There was dear fat Miss Buff, who had been right hand in succession to Mr. Fairfax, Mr. Roebuck and Mr. Hutton, who adored supremacy, and exercised it with the easy sway of long usage; she felt herself pushed on one side by that ardent young Irish recruit, Miss Thusy O'Flynn, whose peculiar temper no one cared to provoke, and who ruled by the terror of it with a caprice that was trying in the last degree. Miss Buff gave way to her, but not without grumbling, appealing, and threatening to withdraw her services. But she loved her work in the school and in the choir, and could not bear to punish herself or let Miss Thusy triumph to the extent of driving her into private life; so she adhered to her charge in the hope of better days, when she would again be mistress paramount. And the same did Miss Wort—also one of the old governing body—but from higher motives, which she was not afraid to publish: she distrusted Mr. Wiley's doctrine, and she feared that he was inclined to truckle to the taste for ecclesiastical decoration manifested by certain lambs of his flock who doted on private theatricals and saw no harm in balls. She adhered to her post, that the truth might not suffer for want of a witness; and if the rising generation of girls in preposterous hats had taken her for their pattern of a laborious teacher, true to time as the school-bell itself, Mrs. Wiley's preference for young ladies over young persons would have been better justified, and Lady Latimer would not have been able to find fault with the irregular attendance of the children, to express her opinion that the school was not what it might be, and to throw out hints that she must set about reforming it unless it soon reformed itself.
Bessie Fairfax was on speaking terms with nearly everybody, and Miss Mitten called her the moment she appeared to help in setting a ring for "drop hankercher." Two of the little Carnegies merrily joined hands with the rest, and they were just about to begin, Jack being unanimously nominated as first chase for his dexterous running, when a shrill voice called to them peremptorily to desist.
"Why have you fallen out of rank? You ought to have kept your ranks until you had sung grace before tea. Get into line again quickly, for here come the buns;" and there was Miss Thusy O'Flynn, perched on a mole-hill, in an attitude of command, waving her parasol and demonstrating how they were to stand.
"The buns, indeed! It is time, I'm sure," muttered Miss Buff, substantial in purple silk and a black lace bonnet. Her rival was a pretty, red-haired, resolute little girl, very prettily dressed, who showed to no disadvantage on the mole-hill. But Miss Buff could see no charm she had; she it was who had given leave for a game, to pass the time before tea. The children had been an hour in the orchard, and the feast was still delayed.
"Perhaps the kettle does not boil," suggested Miss Wort, indulgently.
"We are kept waiting for Miss O'Flynn's aunt," rejoined Miss Buff. "Here she comes, with our angelical parson, and Lady Latimer, out in the cold, walking behind them."
Bessie Fairfax looked up. Lady Latimer was her supreme admiration. She did not think that another lady so good, so gracious, so beautiful, enriched the world. If there did, that lady was not the Viscountess Poldoody. Bessie had a lively sense of fun, and the Irish dame was a figure to call a smile to a more guarded face than hers—a short squab figure that waddled, and was surmounted by a negative visage composed of pulpy, formless features, and a brown wig of false curls—glaringly false, for they were the first thing about her that fixed the eye, though there were many matters besides to fascinate an observer with leisure to look again. She seemed, however, a most free and cheerful old lady, and talked in a loud, mellow voice, with a pleasant touch of the brogue. She had been a popular Dublin singer and actress in her day—a day some forty years ago—but only Lady Latimer and herself in the rectory garden that afternoon were aware of the fact.
Grand people possessed an irresistible attraction for Mr. Wiley. The Viscountess Poldoody had taken a house in his parish for the fine season, and came to his church with her niece; he had called upon her, and now escorted her to the orchard with a fulsome assiduity which was betrayed to those who followed by the uneasy writhing of his back and shoulders. With many complimentary words he invited her to distribute the prizes to the children.
"If your ladyship will so honor them, it will be a day in their lives to remember."
"Give away the prizes? Oh yes, if ye'll show me which choild to give 'em to," replied the viscountess with a good-humored readiness. Then, with a propriety of feeling which was thought very nice in her, she added, in the same natural, distinct manner, standing and looking round as she spoke:
"But is it not my Lady Latimer's right? What should I know of your children, who am only a summer visitor?"
Lady Latimer acknowledged the courteous disclaimer with that exquisite smile which had been the magic of her loveliness always. The children would appreciate the kindness of a stranger, she said; and with a perfect grace yielded the precedence, and at the same time resigned the opportunity she had always enjoyed before of giving the children a monition once a year on their duty to God, their parents, their pastors and masters, elders and betters, and neighbors in general. Whether my lady felt aggrieved or not nobody could discern; but the people about were aggrieved for her, and Miss Buff confided to a friend, in a semi-audible whisper of intense exasperation, that the rector was the biggest muff and toady that ever it had been her misfortune to know. Miss Buff, it will be perceived, liked strong terms; but, as she justly pleaded in extenuation of a taste for which she was reproached, what was the use of there being strong terms in the language if they were not to be applied on suitable occasions?
The person, however, on whom this incident made the deepest impression was Bessie Fairfax. Bessie admired Lady Latimer because she was admirable. She had listened too often to Mr. Carnegie's radical talk to have any reverence for rank and title unadorned; but her love of beauty and goodness made her look up with enthusiastic respect to the one noble lady she knew, of whom even the doctor spoke as "a great woman." The children sang their grace and sat down to tea, and Lady Latimer stood looking on, her countenance changed to a stern gravity; and Bessie, quite diverted from the active business of the feast, stood looking at her and feeling sorry. The child's long abstracted gaze ended by drawing my lady's attention. She spoke to her, and Bessie started out of her reverie, wide-awake in an instant.
"Is there nothing for you to do, Bessie Fairfax, that you stand musing? Bring me a chair into the shade of the old walnut tree over yonder. I have something to say to you. Do you remember what we talked about that wet morning last winter at my house?"
"Yes, my lady," replied Bessie, and brought the chair with prompt obedience.
On the occasion alluded to Bessie had been caught in a heavy rain while riding with the doctor. He had deposited her in Lady Latimer's kitchen, to be dried and comforted by the housekeeper while he went on his farther way; and my lady coming into the culinary quarter while Bessie was there, had given her a delicious cheese-cake from a tin just hot out of the oven, and had then entered into conversation with her about her likes and dislikes, concluding with the remark that she had in her the making of an excellent National School mistress, and ought to be trained for that special walk in life. Bessie had carried home a report of what Lady Latimer had said; but neither her father nor mother admired the suggestion, and it had not been mentioned again. Now, however, being comfortably seated, my lady revived it in a serious, methodical way, Bessie standing before her listening and blushing with a confusion that increased every moment. She was thinking of the letter from Norminster, but she did not venture yet to arrest Lady Latimer's flow of advice. My lady did not discern that anything was amiss. She was accustomed to have her counsels heard with deference. From advice she passed into exhortation, assuming that Bessie was, of course, destined to some sort of work for a living—to dressmaking, teaching or service in some shape—and encouraging her to make advances for her future, that it might not overtake her unprepared. Lady Latimer had not come into the Forest until some years after the Reverend Geoffry Fairfax's death, and she had no knowledge of Bessie's birth, parentage and connections; but she had a principle against poor women pining in the shadow of gentility when they could help themselves by honest endeavors; and also, she had a plan for raising the quality of National School teaching by introducing into the ranks of the teachers young gentlewomen unprovided by fortune. She advised no more than she would have done, and all she said was good, if Bessie's circumstances had been what she assumed. But Bessie, conscious that they were about to suffer a change, felt impelled at last to set Lady Latimer right. Her shy face mitigated the effect of her speech.
"I have kindred in Woldshire, my lady, who want me. I am the only child in this generation, and my grandfather Fairfax says that it is necessary for me to go back to my own people."
Lady Latimer's face suddenly reflected a tint of Bessie's. But no after-thought was in Bessie's mind, her simplicity was genuine. She esteemed it praise to be selected as a fit child to teach children; and, besides, whatever my lady had said at this period would have sounded right in Bessie's ears. When she had uttered her statement, she waited till Lady Latimer spoke.
"Do you belong to the Fairfaxes of Kirkham? Is your grandfather Richard Fairfax of Abbotsmead?" she said in a quick voice, with an inflection of surprise.
"Yes, my lady. My father was Geoffry, the third son; my mother was Elizabeth Bulmer."
"I knew Abbotsmead many years ago. It will be a great change for you. How old are you, Bessie? Fourteen, fifteen?"
"Fifteen, my lady, last birthday, the fourth of March."
Lady Latimer thought to herself, "Here is an exact little girl!" Then she said aloud, "It would have been better for you if your grandfather had recalled you when you were younger."
Bessie was prepared to hear this style of remark, and to repudiate the implication. She replied almost with warmth, "My lady, I have lost nothing by being left here. Beechhurst will always be home to me. If I had my choice I would not go to Kirkham."
Lady Latimer thought again what a nice voice Bessie had, and regarded her with a growing interest, that arose in part out of her own recollections. She questioned her concerning her father's death, and the circumstances of her adoption by Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie, and reflected that, happily, she was too simple, too much of a child yet, for any but family attachments—happily, because, though Bessie had no experience to measure it by, there would be a wide difference between her position as the doctor's adopted daughter amongst a house full of children, and as heiress presumptive of Mr. Fairfax of Abbotsmead.
"Have you ever seen Abbotsmead, Bessie?" she said.
"No, my lady, I have never been in Woldshire since I was a baby. I was born at Kirkham vicarage, my grandfather Bulmer's house, but I was not a year old when we came away. I have a drawing of Abbotsmead that my mother made—it is not beautiful."
"But Abbotsmead is very beautiful—the country round about is not so delicious as the Forest, for it has less variety: it is out of sight of the sea, and the trees are not so grand, but Abbotsmead itself is a lovely spot. The house stands on a peninsula formed by a little brawling river, and in the park are the ruins that give the place its name. I remember the garden at Abbotsmead as a garden where the sun always shone."
Bessie was much cheered. "How glad I am! In my picture the sun does not shine at all. It is the color of a dark day in November."
The concise simplicity of Bessie's talk pleased Lady Latimer. She decided that Mrs. Carnegie must be a gentlewoman, and that Bessie had qualities capable of taking a fine polish. She would have held the child in conversation longer had not Mrs. Wiley come up, and after a word or two about the success of the feast, bade Bessie run away and see that her little brothers were not getting into mischief. Lady Latimer nodded her a kind dismissal, and off she went.
Six o'clock struck. By that time the buns were all eaten, the prizes were all distributed, and the cream of the company had driven or walked away, but cricket still went on in the meadow, and children's games in the orchard. One or two gentlemen had come on the scene since the fervor of the afternoon abated. Admiral Parkins, who governed Beechhurst under Lady Latimer, was taking a walk round the garden with his brother church-warden, Mr. Musgrave, and Mr. Carnegie had made his bow to the rector's wife, who was not included in his aversion for the rector. Mr. Phipps, also a gentleman of no great account in society, but a liberal supporter of the parish charities, was there—a small, grotesque man to look at, who had always an objection in his mouth. Was any one praised, he mentioned a qualification; was any one blamed, he interposed a plea. He had a character for making shrewd, incisive remarks, and was called ironical, because he had a habit of dispersing flattering delusions and wilful pretences by bringing the dry light of truth to bear upon them—a gratuitous disagreeableness which was perhaps the reason why he was now perched on a tree-stump alone, casting shy, bird-like glances hither and thither—at two children quarrelling over a cracked tea-cup, at the rector halting about uncomfortably amongst the "secondary people," at his wife being instructed by Lady Latimer, at Lady Latimer herself, tired but loath to go, at Bessie Fairfax, full of spirit and forgetfulness, running at speed over the grass, a vociferous, noisy troop of children after her.
"Stop, stop, you are not to cross the lawn!" cried Mrs. Wiley. "Bessie Carnegie, what a tomboy you are! We might be sure if there was any roughness you were at the head of it."
Lady Latimer also looked austere at the infringement of respect. Bessie did not hear, and sped on till she reached the tree-stump where Mr. Phipps was resting, and touched it—the game was "tiggy-touch-wood." There she halted to take breath, her round cheeks flushed, her carnation mouth open, and her pursuers baffled.
"You are a pretty young lady!" said Mr. Phipps, not alluding to Bessie's beauty, but to her manner sarcastically. Bessie paid no heed. They were very good friends, and she cared nothing for his sharp observations. But she perceived that the rout of children was being turned back to the orchard, and made haste to follow them.
Admiral Parkins and Mr. Musgrave had foregathered with Mr. Carnegie to discuss some matters of parish finance. They drew near to Mr. Phipps and took him into the debate. It was concerning a new organ for the church, a proposed extension of the school-buildings, an addition to the master's salary, and a change of master. The present man was old-fashioned, and the spirit of educational reform had reached Beechhurst.
"If we wait until Wiley moves in the business, we may wait till doomsday. The money will be forthcoming when it is shown that it is wanted," said the admiral, whose heart was larger than his income.
"Lady Latimer will not be to ask twice," said Mr. Musgrave. "Nor Mr. Phipps."
"We must invite her ladyship to take the lead," said Mr. Carnegie.
"Let us begin by remembering that, as a poor community, we have no right to perfection," said Mr. Phipps. "The voluntary taxes of the locality are increasing too fast. It is a point of social honor for all to subscribe to public improvements, and all are not gifted with a superfluity of riches. If honor is to be rendered where honor is due, let Miss Wort take the lead. Having regard to her means, she is by far the most generous donor in Beechhurst."
Mr. Phipps's proposal was felt to need no refutation. The widow's mite is such a very old story—not at all applicable to the immense operations of modern philanthropy. Besides, Miss Wort had no ambition for the glory of a leader, nor had she the figure for the post. Mr. Phipps was not speaking to be contradicted, only to be heard.
Lady Latimer, on her way to depart, came near the place where the gentlemen were grouped, and turned aside to join them, as if a sudden thought had struck her. "You are discussing our plans?" she said. "A certificated master to supersede poor old Rivett must be the first consideration in our rearrangement of the schools. The children have been sacrificed too long to his incompetence. We must be on the look-out for a superior man, and make up our minds to pay him well."
"Poor old Rivett! he has done good work in his day, but he has the fault that overtakes all of us in time," said Mr. Phipps. "For the master of a rural school like ours, I would choose just such another man—of rough common-sense, born and bred in a cottage, and with an experimental knowledge of the life of the boys he has to educate. Certificated if you please, but the less conventionalized the better."
Lady Latimer did not like Mr. Phipps—she thought there was something of the spy in his nature. She gazed beyond him, and was peremptory about her superior man—so peremptory that she had probably already fixed on the fortunate individual who would enjoy her countenance. Half an hour later, when Bessie Fairfax was carrying off her reluctant brothers to supper and to bed, my lady had not said all she had to say. She was still projecting, dissenting, deciding and undoing, and the gentlemen were still listening with patient deference. She had made magnificent offers of help for the furtherance of their schemes, and had received warm acknowledgments.
"Her ladyship is bountiful as usual—for a consideration," said Mr. Phipps, emitting a long suppressed groan of weariness, when her gracious good-evening released them. Mr. Phipps revolted against my lady's yoke, the others wore it with grace. Admiral Parkins said Beechhurst would be in a poor way without her. Mr. Musgrave looked at his watch, and avowed the same opinion. Mr. Carnegie said nothing. He knew so much good of Lady Latimer that he had an almost unlimited indulgence for her. It was his disposition, indeed, to be indulgent to women, to give them all the homage and sympathy they require.
Mr. Phipps and Mr. Carnegie quitted the rectory-garden, and crossed the road to the doctor's house in company. Bessie Fairfax, worn out with the emotions and fatigues of the day, had left the children to their mother and stout Irish nurse, and had collapsed into her father's great chair in the parlor. She sprang up as the gentlemen entered, and was about to run away, when Mr. Phipps spread out his arms to arrest her flight.
"Well, Cinderella, the pumpkin-coach has not come yet to fetch you away?" said he. The application of the parable of Cinderella to her case was Mr. Phipps's favorite joke against Bessie Fairfax.
"No, but it is on the road. I hear the roll of the wheels and the crack of Raton's whip," said she with a prodigious sigh.
"So it is, Phipps—that's true! We are going to lose our Bessie," said Mr. Carnegie, drawing her upon his knee as he sat down.
"Poor little tomboy! A nice name Mrs. Wiley has fitted her with! And she is going to be a lady? I should not wonder if she liked it," said Mr. Phipps.
"As if ladies were not tomboys too!" said she with wise scorn, half laughing, half pouting. Then with wistfulness: "Will it be so very different? Why should it? I hate the idea of going away from Beechhurst!" and she laid her cheek against the doctor's rough whisker with the caressing, confiding affection that made her so inexpressibly dear to him.
"Here is my big baby," said he. "A little more, and she will persuade me to say I won't part with her."
Bessie flashed out impetuously: "Do say so! do say so! If you won't part with me, I won't go. Who can make us?"
Mrs. Carnegie came into the room, serious and reasonable. She had caught Bessie's last words, and said: "If we were to let you have your own way now, Bessie dear, ten to one that you would live to reproach us with not having done our duty by you. My conscience is clear that we ought to give you up. What is your opinion, Mr. Phipps?"
"My opinion is, Mrs. Carnegie, that when the pumpkin-coach calls for Cinderella, she will jump in, kiss her hand to all friends in the Forest, and drive off to Woldshire in a delicious commotion of tearful joy and impossible expectation."
Bessie cried out vehemently against this.
"There, there!" said the doctor, as if he were tired, "that is enough. Let us proclaim a truce. I forbid the subject to be mentioned again unless I mention it. And let my word be law."
Mr. Carnegie's word, in that house, was law.
A RIDE WITH THE DOCTOR.
The next morning Mr. Carnegie was not in imperative haste to start on his daily circuit. The boys had to give him an account of yesterday's fun. He heard them comfortably, and rejoiced the heart of Bessie by telling her to be ready to ride with him at ten o'clock—her mother could spare her. Bessie was not to wait for when the hour came. These rides with her father were ever her chief delight. She wore a round beaver hat with a rosette in front, and a habit of dark blue serge. (There had been some talk of a new one for her, but now her mother reflected that it would not be wanted.)
It was a delicate morning, the air was light and clear, the sky gray and silvery. Bessie rode Miss Hoyden, the doctor's little mare, and trotted along at a brisk pace by his stout cob Brownie. She had a sense of the keenest enjoyment in active exercise. Mr. Carnegie looked aside at her often, his dear little Bessie, thinking, but not speaking, of the separation that impended. Bessie's pleasure in the present was enough to throw that into the background. She did not analyze her sensations, but her cheeks glowed, her eyes shone, and she knew that she was happy. They were on their way to Littlemire, where Mr. Moxon lived—a poor clergyman with whom young Musgrave was reading. Almost as soon as they were clear of the village they struck into a green ride through the beeches, and cut off a great angle of the high-road, coming out again on a furzy opening dotted with old oaks, where the black pigs of the cottagers would by and by feast and grow fat on their common rights. It was a lovely, damp, perilous spot, haunted by the ghost of fever and ague. The soft, vivid turf was oozy there, and the long-rooted stones were clothed with wet, rusted moss. The few cottages of the hamlet wore deep hoods of thatch, and stood amongst prosperous orchards; one of them, a little larger than the rest, being the habitation of Mr. Moxon, the vicar of Littlemire, whose church, dame-school, and income were all of the same modest proportions as his dwelling. He had an invalid wife and no attraction for resident pupils, but he was thankful when he could get one living not too far off. Young Musgrave walked from Brook twice a week—a long four miles—to read with him.
The lad was in the vicar's parlor when Mr. Carnegie and Bessie Fairfax stopped at the gate. He came out with flushed brow and ruffled hair to keep Bessie company and hold the doctor's horse while he went up stairs with Mr. Moxon to visit his wife. That room where she lay in pain often, in weakness always, was a mean, poorly-furnished room, with a window in the thatch, and just a glimpse of heaven beyond, but that glimpse was all reflected in the blessedness of her peaceful face. Mr. Moxon's threadbare coat hung loosely on his large lean frame, like the coat of a poor, negligent gentleman, such as he was. He had the reputation of being a capital scholar, but he had not made the way in the world that had been expected of him. He was vicar of Littlemire when the Reverend Geoffry Fairfax came into the Forest, and he was vicar of Littlemire still, with no prospect of promotion. Perhaps he did not seek it. His wife loved this buried nook, and he loved it for her sake. Mr. Carnegie took it often in his rides, because they called him their friend and he could help them. They had not many besides: Lady Latimer and Mr. Phipps did not forget them, but they were quite out of the way of the visiting part of the community.
"You have done with Hampton, then, Harry?" Bessie said, waiting with her comrade at the gate.
"Yes, so far as school goes, except that I shall always have a kindness for the old place and the old doctor. It was a grand thing, my winning that scholarship, Bessie."
"And now you will have your heart's desire—you will go to Oxford."
"Yes; Moxon is an Oxford man, and the old doctor says out-and-out the best classic of his acquaintance. You have not seen my prize-books yet. When are you coming to Brook, Bessie?"
"The first time I have a chance. What are the books, Harry?"
"All standard books—poetry," Harry said.
The young people's voices, chiming harmoniously, sounded in Mrs. Moxon's room. The poor suffering lady, who was extended on an inclined couch below the window, looked down at them, and saw Harry standing at Miss Hoyden's head, with docile Brownie's bridle on his left arm, and Bessie, with the fine end of her slender whip, teasing the dark fuzz of his hair. They made a pretty picture at the gate, laughing and chattering their confidences aloud.
"What did Harry Musgrave say to your news, Bessie?" her father asked as they rode away from the vicar's house.
"I forgot to tell him!" cried she, pulling up and half turning round. "I had so much to hear." But Mr. Carnegie said it was not worth while to bring Harry out again from his books. How fevered the lad looked! Why did not Moxon patronize open windows?
The road they were pursuing was a gradual long ascent, which brought them in sight of the sea and of a vast expanse of rolling heath and woodland. When they reached the top of the hill they breathed their horses a few minutes and admired the view, then struck into a bridle-track across the heath, and regained the high-road about a mile from Beechhurst. Scudding along in front of them was the familiar figure of Miss Wort in her work-a-day costume—a drab cloak and poke bonnet, her back up, and limp petticoats dragging in the dust. She turned swiftly in at the neat garden-gate that had a green space before it, where numerous boles of trees, lopt of their branches, lay about in picturesque confusion. A wheelwright's shed and yard adjoined the cottage, and Mr. Carnegie, halting without dismounting, whistled loud and shrill to call attention. A wiry, gray-headed man appeared from the shed, and came forward with a rueful, humorous twinkle in his shrewd blue eyes.
"Done again, Mr. Carnegie!" said he. "The old woman's done you again. It is no good denying her physic, for physic she will have. She went to Hampton Infirmary last Saturday with a ticket from Miss Wort, and brought home two bottles o' new mixture. So you see, sir, between 'em, you're frustrated once more."
"I am not surprised. Drugging is as bad a habit as drinking, and as hard to leave off. Miss Wort has just gone in to your wife, so I will not intrude. What is your son doing at present, Christie?"
"He's about somewhere idling with his drawing-book and bits o' colors. He takes himself off whenever it is a finer day than common. Most likely he's gone to Great-Ash Ford. He's met with a mate there after his own mind—an artist chap. Was you wanting him, Mr. Carnegie?"
"There is a job of painting to do at my stable, but it can wait. Only tell him, and he will suit his convenience."
At this moment Miss Wort reappeared in a sort of furtive hurry. She gave a timid, sidelong glance at the doctor, and then addressed Bessie. Mr. Carnegie had his eye upon her: she was the thorn in his professional flesh. She meddled with his patients—a pious woman for whom other people's souls and internal complaints supplied the excitement absent from her own condition and favorite literature. She had some superfluous income and much unoccupied time, which she devoted to promiscuous visiting and the relief (or otherwise) of her poorer and busier neighbors. Mr. Carnegie had refused to accept the plea of her good heart in excuse of her bad practice, and had denounced her, in a moment of extreme irritation, as a presumptuous and mischievous woman; and Miss Wort had publicly rejoined that she would not call in Mr. Carnegie if she were at death's door, because who could expect a blessing on the remedies of a man who was not a professor of religion? The most cordial terms they affected was an armed neutrality. The doctor was never free from suspicion of Miss Wort. Though she looked scared and deprecating, she did not shrink from responsibility, and would administer a dose of her own prescribing in even critical cases, and pacify the doubts and fears of her unlucky patient with tender assurances that if it did her no good, it could do her no harm. Men she let alone, they were safe from her: she did not pretend to know the queer intricacies of their insides; also their aversion for physic she had found to be invincible.
"Two of the pills ten minutes afore dinner-time, Miss Wort, ma'am, did you say? It is not wrote so plain on the box as it might be," cried a plaintive treble from the cottage door. The high hedge and a great bay tree hid Mr. Carnegie from Mrs. Christie's view, but Miss Wort, timorously aware of his observation, gave a guilty start, and shrieking convulsively in the direction of the voice, "Yes, yes!" rushed to the doctor's stirrup and burst into eager explanation:
"It is only Trotter's strengthening pills, Mr. Carnegie. The basis of them is iron—iron or steel. I feel positive that they will be of service to Mrs. Christie, poor thing! with that dreadful sinking at her stomach; for I have tried them myself on similar occasions. No, Mr. Carnegie, a crust of bread would not be more to the purpose. A crust of bread, indeed! Dr. Thomson of Edinburgh, the famous surgeon, has the highest opinion of Trotter."
Mr. Carnegie's face was a picture of disgust. He would have felt himself culpable if he had not delivered an emphatic protest against Miss Wort's experiments. Mrs. Christie had come trembling to the gate—a pretty-featured woman, but sallow as old parchment—and the doctor addressed his expostulations to her. Many defeats had convinced him of the futility of appealing to Miss Wort.
"If you had not the digestion of an ostrich, Mrs. Christie, you would have been killed long ago," said he with severe reprobation. "You have devoured half a man's earnings, and spoilt as fine a constitution as a woman need be blessed with, by your continual drugging."
"No, Mr. Carnegie, sir—with all respect to your judgment—I never had no constitution worth naming where constitutions come," said Mrs. Christie, deeply affronted. "That everybody's witness as knew me afore ever I married into the Forest. And what has kept me up since, toiling and moiling with a husband and boys, if the drugs hasn't? I hope I'm thankful for the blessing that has been sent with them." Miss Wort purred her approval of these pious sentences.
"Some day you'll be in a hurry for an antidote, Mrs. Christie: that will be the end of taking random advice."
"Well, sir, if so I be, my William is not the man to grudge me what's called for. As you are here, Mr. Carnegie, I should wish to have an understanding whether you mean to provide me with doctor's stuff; if not, I'll look elsewhere. I've not heard that Mr. Robb sets his face against drugs yet; which it stands to reason has a use, or God Almighty wouldn't have given them."
Mr. Carnegie rode off with a curt rejoinder to Mrs. Christie that he would not supply her foolish cravings, Robb or no Robb. Miss Wort was sorry for his contempt of the divine bounties, and sought an explanation in his conduct: "Poor fellow! he has not entered a church since Easter, unless he walks over to Littlemire, which is not likely."
"If he has not entered Mr. Wiley's church, I'm with him, and so is my William," said Mrs. Christie with sudden energy. "I can't abide Mr. Wiley. Oh, he's an arrogant man! It's but seldom he calls this way, and I don't care if it was seldomer; for could he have spoken plainer if it had been to a dog? 'You'd be worse if you ailed aught, Mrs. Christie,' says he, and grins. I'd been giving him an account of the poor health I enjoy. And my William heard him with his own ears when he all but named Mr. Carnegie in the pulpit, and not to his credit; so he's in the right of it to keep away. A kinder doctor there is not far nor near, for all he has such an unaccountable prejudice against what he lives by."
"But that is not Christian. We ought not to absent ourselves from the holy ordinances because the clergyman happens to offend us. We ought to bear patiently being told of our faults," urged Miss Wort, who on no account would have allowed one of the common people to impugn the spiritual authorities unrebuked: her own private judgment on doctrine was another matter.
"'Between him and thee,' yes," said Mrs. Christie, who on some points was as sensitive and acute as a well-born woman. "But it is taking a mean advantage of a man to talk at him when he can't answer; that's what my William says. For if he spoke up for himself, they'd call it brawling in church, and turn him out. He ain't liked, Miss Wort; you can't say he is, to tell truth. Not many of the gentlemen does attend church, except them as goes for the look o' the thing, like the old admiral and a few more."
Miss Wort groaned audibly, then cheered up, and with a gush of feeling assured her humble friend that it would not be so in a better world; there all would be love and perfect harmony. And so she went on her farther way. Mr. Carnegie and Bessie Fairfax, riding slowly, were still in sight. The next visit Miss Wort had proposed to pay was to a scene of genuine distress, and she saw with regret that the doctor would forestall her. He dismounted and entered a cottage by the roadside, and when she reached it the door was shut, Brownie's bridle hung on the paling, and Bessie was letting Miss Hoyden crop the sweet grass on the bank while she waited. Miss Wort determined to stay for the doctor's exit; she had remedies in her pocket for this case also.
Within the cottage there was a good-looking, motherly woman, and a large-framed young man of nineteen or twenty who sat beside the fire with a ghastly face, and hands hanging down in dark despondency. He had the aspect of one rising from a terrible illness; in fact, he had just come out of prison after a month's hard labor.
"It is his mind that's worst hurt, sir," said his mother, lifting her eyes full of tears to Mr. Carnegie's kind face. "But he has a sore pain in his chest, too, that he never used to have."
"Stand up, Tom, and let me have a look at you," said the doctor, and Tom stood up, grim as death, starved, shamed, unutterably miserable.
"Mr. Wiley's been in, but all he had to say was as he hoped Tom would keep straight now, since he'd found out by unhappy experience as the way of transgressors is hard," the poor woman told her visitor, breaking into a sob as she spoke.
Mr. Carnegie considered the lad, and told him to sit down again, then turned to the window. His eye lit on Miss Wort Standing outside with downcast face, and hands as if she were praying. He tapped on the glass, and as she rushed to the door he met her with a flag of truce in the form of a requisition for aid.
"Miss Wort, I know you are a liberal soul, and here is a case where you can do some real good, if you will be guided," he said firmly. "I was going to appeal to Lady Latimer, but I have put so much on her ladyship's kindness lately—"
"Oh, Mr. Carnegie! I have a right to help here," interrupted Miss Wort. "A right, for poor Tom was years and years in my Sunday-school class; so he can't be very bad! Didn't Admiral Parkins and the other magistrates say that they would rather send his master to prison than him, if they had the power?"
"Yes; but he has done his prison now, and the pressing business is to keep him from going altogether to the deuce. I want him to have a good meal of meat three or four times a week, and light garden-work—all he is fit for now. And then we shall see what next."
"I wo'ant list and I wo'ant emigrate; I'll stop where I am and live it down," announced Tom doggedly.
"Yes, yes, that is what I should expect of you, Tom," said Miss Wort. "Then you will recover everybody's good opinion."
"I don't heed folks' opinions, good or bad. I know what I know."
"Well, then, get your cap, and come home to dinner with me; it is roast mutton," said Miss Wort, as if pleading with a fractious child.
Tom rose heavily, took his cap, and followed her out. Mr. Carnegie watched them as they turned down a back lane to the village, the lathy figure of the lad towering by the head and shoulders above the poke bonnet and drab cloak of Miss Wort. He was talking with much violent gesture of arm and fist, and she was silent. But she was not ruminating physic.
"Miss Wort is like one of the old saints—she is not ashamed in any company," said Bessie Fairfax.
"If justice were satisfied with good intentions, Miss Wort would be a blameless woman," said her father.
A few minutes more brought the ride to an end at the doctor's door. And there was a messenger waiting for him with a peremptory call to a distance. It was a very rare chance indeed that he had a whole holiday. His reputation for skill stood high in the Forest, and his practice was extensive in proportion. But he had health, strength, and the heart for it; and in fact it was his prosperity that bore half the burden of his toils.
A week elapsed. Lady Latimer called twice on Mrs. Carnegie to offer counsel and countenance to Bessie Fairfax. The news that she was going to leave the doctor's house for a rise in the world spread through the village. Mrs. Wiley and Miss Buff called with the same benevolent intentions as my lady. Mrs. Carnegie felt this oppressive, but tried to believe that it was kind; Bessie grew impatient, and wished she could be let alone. Mr. Phipps laughed at her, and asked if she did not enjoy her novel importance. Bessie rejoined with a scorny "No, indeed!" Mr. Phipps retaliated with a grimace of incredulity.
Mr. John Short's letter had been acknowledged, but it did not get itself answered. Mr. Carnegie said, and said again, that there was no hurry about it. In fact, he could not bear to look the loss of Bessie in the face. He took her out to ride with him twice in that seven days, and when his wife meekly urged that the affair must go on and be finished, he replied that as Kirkham had done without Bessie for fourteen years, it might well sustain her absence a little longer. Kirkham, however, having determined that it was its duty to reclaim Bessie, was moved to be imperious. As Mr. Fairfax heard nothing from his lawyer, he went into Norminster to bid him press the thing on. Mr. John Short pleaded to give the Carnegies longer law, and when Mr. Fairfax refused to see any grounds for it, he suggested a visit to Beechhurst as more appropriate than another letter.
"Who is to go? You or I?" asked the squire testily.
"Both, if you like. But you would do best to go alone, to see the little girl and the good people who have taken care of her, and to let the whole matter be transacted on a friendly footing."
Mr. Fairfax shrank from the awkwardness of the task, from the humiliation of it, and said, "Could not Short manage it by post, without a personal encounter?" Mr. Short thought not. Finally, it was agreed that if another week elapsed without bringing the promised answer from Mrs. Carnegie, they would go to Beechhurst together and settle the matter on the spot.
The doctor's procrastination stole the second seven days as it had stolen the first.
"Those people mean to make us some difficulty," said Mr. Fairfax with secret irritation.
Mr. John Short gave no encouragement to this suspicion; instead, he urged the visit to Beechhurst. "We need not give more than three days to it—one to go, one to stay, one to return," said he.
Mr. Fairfax objected that he disliked travelling in a fuss. The lawyer could return when their business was accomplished; as for himself, being in the Forest, he should make a tour of it, the weather favoring. And thus the journey was settled.
* * * * *
There was not a lovelier spot within children's foot-range of Beechhurst than Great-Ash Ford. On a glowing midsummer day it was a perfect paradise for idlers. Not far off, yet half buried out of sight amongst its fruit trees, was a farmhouse thatched with reeds, very old, and weather-stained of all golden, brown, and orange tints. A row of silver firs was in the rear, and a sweep of the softest velvety sward stretched from its narrow domain to the river. To watch the cattle come from the farther pastures in single file across the shallow water at milking-time was as pretty a bit of pastoral as could be seen in all the Forest.
Bessie Fairfax loved this spot with a peculiar affection. Beyond the ford went a footpath, skirting the river, to the village of Brook, where young Musgrave lived—a footpath overshadowed by such giant fir trees, such beeches and vast oaks as are nowhere else in England. The Great Ash was a storm-riven fragment, but its fame continued, and its beauty in sufficient picturesqueness for artistic purposes. Many a painter had made the old russet farmhouse his summer lodging; and one was sketching now where the water had dried in its pebbly bed, and the adventurous little bare feet of Jack and Willie Carnegie were tempting an imaginary peril in quest of the lily which still whitened the stream under the bank.
It was not often that Bessie, with the children alone, wandered so far afield. But the day had beguiled them, and a furtive hope that Harry Musgrave might be coming to Beechhurst that way had given Bessie courage. He had not been met, however, when it was time to turn their faces towards home. The boys had their forest pony, and mounted him by turns. It was Tom's turn now, and Bessie was leading Jerry, and carrying the socks and boots of the other two in the skirt of her frock, gathered up in one hand. She was a little subdued, a little downcast, it might be with fatigue and the sultry air, or it might be with her present disappointment; but beyond and above all wearied sensations was the jar of unsettledness that had come into her life, and perplexed and confused all its sweet simplicities. She made no haste, but lingered, and let the children linger as they pleased.
The path by the river was not properly a bridle-path, but tourists for pleasure often lost their way in the forest, and emerged upon the roads unexpectedly from such delicious, devious solitudes. Thus it befell to-day when two gentlemen on horseback overtook Bessie, where she had halted with Tom and the pony to let Jack and Willie come up. They were drying their pink toes preparatory to putting on again their shoes and stockings as the strangers rode by.
"Is this the way to Beechhurst, my little gypsy?" quoth the elder of the two, drawing rein for a moment.
Bessie looked up with a sunburnt face under her loose fair hair. "Yes, sir," said she. Then a sudden intelligence gleamed in her eyes, her cheeks blazed more hotly, and she thought to herself, "It is my grandfather!"
The gentlemen proceeded some hundred paces in silence, and then the one whom Bessie suspected as her grandfather said to the other, "Short, that is the girl herself! She has the true Fairfax face as it is painted in a score of our old portraits."
"I believe you are right, sir. Let us be certain—let us ask her name," proposed the lawyer.
Bessie's little troop were now ready to march, and they set off at a run, heedless of her cry to stop a while behind the riders, "Else we shall be in the dust of their heels," she said. Lingering would not have saved her, however; for the strangers were evidently purposed to wait until she came up. Jack was now taking his turn on Jerry, and Jerry with his head towards his stable wanted no leading or encouraging to go. He was soon up with the gentlemen and in advance of them. Next Tom and Willie trotted by and stood, hand-in-hand, gazing at the horses. Bessie's feet lagged as if leaden weights were tied to them, and her conscious air as she glanced in the face of the stranger who had addressed her before set at rest any remaining doubt of who she was.
"Are you Elizabeth Fairfax who lives with Mrs. Carnegie?" he asked in an abrupt voice—the more abrupt and loud for a certain nervousness and agitation that arose in him at the sight of the child.
"Yes, sir, I am," replied Bessie, like a veritable echo of himself.
"Then, as we are travelling the same road, you will be our guide, eh?"
"The children are little; they cannot keep pace with men on horseback," said Bessie. They were a mile and a half from Beechhurst yet. Mr. John Short spoke hastily in an endeavor to promote an understanding, and blundered worse than his client: his suggestion was that they might each take up one of the bairns; but the expression of Bessie's eyes was a reminder that she might not please to trudge at their bridle, though the little and weak ones were to be carried.
"You are considering who is to take you up?" hazarded Mr. Fairfax.
Bessie recovered her countenance and said, as she would have said to any other strangers on horseback who might have invited her to be their guide on foot, "You cannot miss the way. It lies straight before you for nearly a mile over the heath; then you will come to cross-roads and a guide-post. You will be at Beechhurst long before we shall."
The gentlemen accepted their dismissal and rode on. Was Bessie mollified at all by the mechanical courtesy with which their hats were lifted at their departure? They recognized, then, that she was not the little gypsy they had hailed her. It did not enter into her imagination that they had recognized also the true Fairfax face under her dishevelled holiday locks, though she was persuaded that the one who had asked her name was her wicked grandfather: that her grandfather was a wicked man Bessie had quite made up her mind. Mr. John Short admired her behavior. It did not chafe his dignity or alarm him for the peace of his future life. But Mr. Fairfax was not a man of humor; he saw no fun whatever in his prospects with that intrepid child, who had evidently inherited not the Fairfax face only, but the warm Fairfax temper.
"Do you suppose that she guessed who we are?" he asked his man of law.
"Yes, but she did not add to that the probability that we knew that she guessed it, though she looks quick enough."
Mr. Fairfax was not flattered: "I don't love a quick woman. A quick woman is always self-willed and wanting in feminine sweetness."
"There was never a Fairfax yet, man or woman, of mean understanding," said the lawyer. "Since the little girl has the family features, the chances are that she has the family brains, and no lack of wit and spirit."
Mr. Fairfax groaned. He held the not uncommon opinion that wit and spirit endanger a man's peace and rule in a house. And yet in the case of his son Laurence's Xantippe he had evidence enough that nothing in nature is so discordant and intractable as a fool. Then he fell into a silence, and turned his horse off the highway upon the margin of sward at one side of it. Mr. John Short took the other; and so Bessie and the boys soon lost sight of them.
It was a beautiful forest-road when they had crossed the heath. No hedges shut it in, but here and there the great beech trees stood in clumps or in single grace, and green rides opened vistas into cool depths of shade which had never changed but with the seasons for many ages. It was quite old-world scenery here. Neither clearings nor enclosures had been thought of, and the wild sylvan beauty had all its own perfect way. Presently there were signs of habitation. A curl of smoke from a low roof so lost in its orchard that but for that domestic flag it might have escaped observation altogether; a triangular green with a pond, geese and pigs; more thatched cottages, gardens, small fields, large hedges, high, bushy, unpruned; hedgerow trees; a lonely little chapel in a burial-ground, a woodyard, a wheelwright's shop, a guide-post pointing three ways, a blacksmith's forge at one side of the road, and an old inn opposite; cows, unkempt children; white gates, gravelled drives, chimney-pots of gentility, hidden away in bowers of foliage. Then a glimpse of the church-tower, a sweep in the road; the church and crowded churchyard, the rectory, the doctor's house, and a stone's throw off the "King's Arms" at the top of the town-street, which sloped gently all down hill. Another forge, tiled houses, shops with queer bow-windows and steps up to the half-glazed doors, where a bell rang when the latch was lifted. More white gates, more well-kept shrubberies; green lanes, roads branching, curving to right and left; and everywhere those open spaces of lawn and magnificent beech trees, as if the old town had an unlimited forest-right to scatter its dwellings far and wide, just as caprice or the love of beauty might dictate.
"This is very lovely—it is a series of delightful pictures. Only to live here must be a sort of education," said Mr. Fairfax as they arrived within view of the ancient church and its precincts.
Mr. John Short saw and smelt opportunities of improvement, but he agreed that Beechhurst for picturesqueness was most desirable. Every cottage had its garden, and every garden was ablaze with flowers. Flowers love that moist sun and soil, and thrive joyfully. Gayest of the gay within its trim holly hedge was the Carnegies. The scent of roses and mignonette suffused the warm air of evening. The doctor was going about with a watering-pot, tending his beauties and favorites, while he watched for the children coming home. His name and profession, set forth on a bright brass plate, adorned the gate, from which a straight box-edged path led to the white steps of the porch. The stable entrance was at the side. Everything about the place had an air of well-doing and of means enough; and the doctor himself, whom the strangers eyed observantly from the height of their saddles, looked like his own master in all the independence of easy circumstances.
Visitors to the Forest were too numerous in summer to attract notice. Mr. Carnegie lifted his head for a moment, and then continued his assiduities to a lovely old yellow rose which had manifested delicate symptoms earlier in the season. Next to his wife and children the doctor was fond of roses. The travellers rode past to the door of the "King's Arms," and there dismounted. Half an hour after they were dining in an up-stairs, bow-windowed room which commanded a cheerful prospect up and down the village street, with a view of the church opposite and a side glance of Mr. Carnegie's premises. They witnessed the return of Bessie and the boys, and the fatherly help and reception they had. They saw the doctor lift up Bessie's face to look at her, saw him pat her on the shoulder encouragingly as she made him some brief communication, saw him open the door and send her into the house, and then hurry round to the stable to prevent the boys lingering while Jerry was rubbed down. He had leisure and the heart, it seemed, for all such offices of kindness, and his voice was the signal of instant obedience.
Later in the evening they were all out in the garden—Mrs. Carnegie too. One by one the children were dismissed to bed, and when only Bessie was left, the doctor filled his pipe and had a smoke, walking to and fro under the hedge, over which he conversed at intervals with passing neighbors. His wife and Bessie sat in the porch. The only thing in all this that Mr. Fairfax could except to was the doctor's clay pipe. He denounced smoking as a low, pernicious habit; the lawyer, more tolerant, remarked that it was an increasing habit and good for the revenue, but bad for him: he believed that many a quarrel that might have ripened into a lawsuit had prematurely collapsed in the philosophy that comes of tobacco-smoke.
"Perhaps it would prepare me with equanimity to meet my adversary," said Mr. Fairfax.
Mr. John Short had not intended to give the conversation this turn. He feared that his client was working himself into an unreasonable humor, in which he would be ready to transfer to Mr. Carnegie the reproaches that were due only to himself. He was of a suspicious temper, and had already insinuated that the people who had kept his grandchild must have done it from interested and ulterior motives. The lawyer could not see this, but he did see that if Mr. Fairfax was bent on making a contest of what might be amicably arranged, no power on earth could hinder him. For though it proverbially takes two to make a quarrel, the doctor did not look as if he would disappoint a man of sharp contention if he sought it. The soft word that turns away anger would not be of his speaking.
"It will be through sheer mismanagement if there arise a hitch," Mr. John Short said. "You desire to obtain possession of the child—then you must go quietly about it. She is of an age to speak for herself, and our long neglect may well have forfeited our claim. She is not your immediate successor; there are infinite possibilities in the lives of your two sons. If the case were dragged before the courts, she might be given her choice where she would live; and if she has a heart she would stay at Beechhurst, with her father's widow—and we are baulked."
"What right has a woman to call herself a man's widow when she has married again?" objected Mr. Fairfax.
"Mrs. Carnegie's acknowledgment of our letter was courteous: we are on the safe side yet," said the lawyer smoothly. "Suppose I continue the negotiation by seeking an interview with her to-morrow morning?"
"Have your own way. I am of no use, it seems. I wish I had stayed at Abbotsmead and had let you come alone."
Mr. John Short echoed the wish with all his heart, though he did not give his thoughts tongue. He began to conjecture that some new aspect of the affair had been presented to his client's mind by the encounter with Elizabeth in the Forest. And he was right. The old squire had conceived for her a sort of paradoxical love at first sight, and was become suddenly jealous of all who had an established hold on her affections. Here was the seed of an unforeseen complication, which was almost sure to become inimical to Bessie's happiness when he obtained the guidance of her life.
When Mr. Carnegie's pipe was out the sunset was past and the evening dews were falling. Nine had struck by the kitchen clock, supper was on the table, and the lamp was shedding its light through the open window.
"Come in, mother, come in, Bessie," said the doctor. "And, Bessie, let us hear over again what was your adventure this afternoon?"
Bessie sat down before her cup of new milk and slice of brown bread, and told her simple tale a second time. It had been rather pooh-poohed the first, but it had made an impression. Said Mr. Carnegie: "And you jumped to the conclusion that this gentleman unknown was your grandfather, even before he asked your name? Now to describe him."
"He came from Hampton, because he rode Jefferson's old gray mare, and the other rode the brown horse with white socks. He is a little like Admiral Parkins—neither fat nor thin. He has white hair and a red and brown color. He looks stern and as proud as Lucifer" (Mrs. Carnegie gave Bessie a reproving glance), "and his voice sounds as if he were. Perhaps he could be kind—"
"You don't flatter him in his portrait, Bessie. Apparently you did not take to him?"
"Not at all. I don't believe we shall ever be friends."
"Bessie dear, you must not set your mind against Mr. Fairfax," interposed her mother. "Don't encourage her in her nonsense and prejudice, Thomas; they'll only go against her."
"Now for your grandfather's companion, Bessie: what was he like?"
"I did not notice. He was like everybody else—like Mr. Judson at the Hampton Bank."
"That would be our correspondent, the lawyer, Mr. John Short of Norminster."
Mr. Carnegie dropt the subject after this. His wife launched at him a deprecating look, as much as to say, Would there not be vexation enough for them all, without encouraging Bessie to revolt against lawful authority? The doctor, who was guided more than he knew, thereupon held his peace.
AGAINST HER INCLINATION.
Mr. Fairfax was not a man of sentimental recollections. Nevertheless, it did occur to him, as the twilight deepened, that somewhere in the encumbered churchyard that he was looking down upon lay his son Geoffry and Geoffry's first wife, Elizabeth. He felt a very lonely old man as he thought of it. None of his sons' marriages were to boast of, but Geoffry's, as it turned out, was the least unfortunate of any—Geoffry's marriage with Elizabeth Bulmer, that is. If he had not approved of that lady, he had tolerated her—pity that he had not tolerated her a little more! The Forest climate had not suited the robust young Woldshire folk. Once Geoffry had appealed to his father to help him to change his benefice, but had experienced a harsh refusal. This was after Elizabeth had suffered from an attack of rheumatism and ague, when she longed to escape from the lovely, damp screens of the Forest to fresh Wold breezes. She died, and Geoffry took another wife. Then he died of what was called in the district marsh-fever. Mr. Fairfax was not impervious to regret, but no regret would bring them to life again.
The next morning, while the dew was on the grass, he made his way into the churchyard, and sought about for Geoffry's grave. He discovered it in a corner, marked by a plain headstone and shaded by an elder bush. It was the stone Geoffry had raised in memory of his Elizabeth, and below her name his was inscribed, with the date of his death. The churchyard was all neatly kept—this grave not more neatly than the others. Mrs. Carnegie's affections had flowed into other channels, and Bessie had no turn for meditation amongst the tombs. Mr. Fairfax felt rather more forlorn after he had seen his son's last home than before, and might have sunk into a fit of melancholy but for the diversion of his mind to present matters. Just across the road Mr. Carnegie was mounting his horse for his morning ride to the union workhouse, and Bessie was at the gate seeing him off.
The little girl was not at all tired, flushed, or abstracted now. She was cheerful as a lark, fresh, fair, rosy—more like a Fairfax than ever. But when she caught sight of her grandfather over the churchyard wall, she put on her grave airs and mentioned the fact to Mr. Carnegie. Mr. John Short had written already to bespeak an interview with Bessie's guardian, and to announce the arrival of Mr. Fairfax at the "King's Arms." But at the same moment had come an imperative summons from the workhouse, and Mr. Carnegie was not the doctor to neglect a sick poor man for any business with a rich one that could wait. He had bidden his wife receive the lawyer, and was leaving her to appoint the time when Bessie directed his attention to her grandfather. With a sudden movement he turned his horse, touched his hat with his whip-handle, and said, "Sir, are you Mr. Fairfax?" The stranger assented. "Then here is our Bessie, your granddaughter, ready to make your acquaintance. My wife will see your agent. As for myself, I have an errand elsewhere this morning." With that, and a reassuring nod to Bessie, the doctor started off at a hard trot, and the two, thus summarily introduced, stood confronting one another with a wall, the road, and a gate between them. There was an absurdity in the situation that Bessie felt very keenly, and blushes, mirth, and vexation flowed over her tell-tale visage as she waited holding the gate, willing to obey if her grandfather called her, or to stay till he came.
By a singular coincidence, while they were at a halt what to do or say, Lady Latimer advanced up the village street, having walked a mile from her house at Fairfield since breakfast. She was an early riser and a great walker: her life must have been half as long again as the lives of most ladies from the little portion of it she devoted to rest. She was come to Beechhurst now on some business of school, or church, or parish, which she assumed would, unless by her efforts, soon be at a deadlock. But years will tell on the most vigorous frames, and my lady looked so jaded that, if she had fallen in with Mr. Carnegie, he would have reminded her, for her health's sake, that no woman is indispensable. She gave Bessie that sweet smile which was flattering as a caress, and was about to pass on when something wistful in the child's eyes arrested her notice. She stopped and asked if there was any more news from Woldshire. Bessie's round cheeks were two roses as she replied that her grandfather Fairfax had come—that he was there at the very moment, watching them from the churchyard.
"Where?" said my lady, and turned about to see.
Mr. Fairfax knew her. He descended the steps, came out at the lych-gate, and met her. At that instant the cast of his countenance reminded Bessie of her cynical friend Mr. Phipps, and a thought crossed her mind that if Lady Latimer had not recognized her grandfather and made a movement to speak, he would not have challenged her. It would have seemed a very remote period to Bessie, but it did not seem so utterly out of date to themselves, that Richard Fairfax in his adolescence had almost run mad for love of my lady in her teens. She had not reciprocated his passion, and in a fit of desperation he had married his wife, the mother of his three sons. Perhaps the cool affection he had borne them all his life was the measure of his indifference to that poor lady, and that indifference the measure of his vindictive constancy to his first idol. They had not seen each other for many years; their courses had run far apart, and they had grown old. But a woman never quite forgets to feel interested in a man who has once worshipped her, though he may long since have got up off his knees and gone and paid his devotions at other shrines. Lady Latimer had not been so blessed in her life and affections that she could afford to throw away even a flattering memory. Bessie's talk of her grandfather had brought the former things to her mind. Her face kindled at the sight of her friend, and her voice was the soul of kindness. Mr. Fairfax looked up and pitied her, and lost his likeness to Mr. Phipps. Ambitious, greedy of power, of rank, and riches—thus and thus had he once contemned her; but there was that fascinating smile, and so she would charm him if they met some day in Hades.
* * * * *
Bessie went in-doors to apprise her mother of the visitors who were at hand. Mr. Fairfax and Lady Latimer stood for a quarter of an hour or longer in the shade of the churchyard trees, exchanging news, the chief news being the squire's business at Beechhurst. Lady Latimer offered him her advice and countenance for his granddaughter, and assured him that Bessie had fine qualities, much simplicity, and the promise of beauty. Meanwhile Mrs. Carnegie, forewarned of the impending interview, collected herself and prepared for it. She sent Bessie into the rarely-used drawing-room to pull up the blinds and open the glass door upon the lawn; and, further to occupy the nervous moments, bade her gather a few roses for the china bowl on the round table. Bessie had just finished her task, and was standing with a lovely Devoniensis in her hand, when her grandfather appeared, supported by Lady Latimer.
Mr. Fairfax was received by Mrs. Carnegie with courtesy, but without effusion. It was the anxious desire of her heart that no ill-will should arise because of Bessie's restoration. She was one of those unaffected, reasonable, calm women whom circumstances rarely disconcert. Then her imagination was not active. She did not pensively reflect that here was her once father-in-law, but she felt comfortable in the consciousness that Bessie had on a nice clean pink gingham frock and a crimped frill round her white throat, in which she looked as pretty as she could look. Bessie's light hair, threaded with gold, all crisp and wavy, and her pure bright complexion, gave her an air of health and freshness not to be surpassed. Her beauty was not too imposing—it was of everyday; and though her wicked grandfather seemed to frown at her with his bushy gray brows, and to search her through with his cold keen eyes, he was not displeased by her appearance. He was gratified that she took after his family. Bessie's expression as she regarded him again made him think of that characteristic signature of her royal namesake, "Yours, as you demean yourself, ELIZABETH," and he framed a resolution to demean himself with all the humility and discretion at his command. He experienced an impulse of affection towards her stronger than anything he had ever felt for his sons: perhaps he discerned in her a more absolute strain of himself. His sons had all taken after their mother.