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