Opposite the parlor window was the fireplace, the lofty mantelshelf being surmounted by a circular mirror, so inclined as to reflect the landscape outside. Upon the panelled walls hung numerous specimens of the elegant industry of Bessie’s predecessors—groups of flowers embroidered on tarnished white satin; shepherds and shepherdesses with shell-pink painted faces and raiment of needlework in many colors; pallid sketches of scenery; crayon portraits of youths and maidens of past generations, none younger than fifty years ago. There was a bookcase of white wood ruled with gold lines, like the spindly chairs and tables, and here Bessie could study, if she pleased, the literary tastes of ancient ladies, matrons and virgins, long since departed this life in the odor of gentility and sanctity. The volumes were in bindings rich and solid, and the purchase or presentation of each had probably been an event. Bessie took down here and there one. Those ladies who spent their graceful leisure at embroidery-frames were students of rather stiff books. Locke On the Conduct of the Human Understanding and Paley’s Evidences of the Christian Religion Bessie took down and promptly restored; also the Sermons of Dr. Barrow and the Essays of Dr. Goldsmith. The Letters of Mrs. Katherine Talbot and Mrs. Elizabeth Carter engaged her only a few minutes, and the novels of Miss Edgeworth not much longer. The most modern volumes in the collection were inscribed with the name of “Dorothy Fairfax,” who reigned in the days of Byron and Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley, and had through them (from the contents of three white vellum-covered volumes of extracts in her autograph) learnt to love the elder poets whose works in quarto populated the library. To Bessie these volumes became a treasure out of which she filled her mind with songs and ballads, lays and lyrics. The third volume had a few blank pages at the end, and these were the last lines in it:
“Absence, hear thou my protestation
Against thy strength,
Distance and length;
Do what thou canst for alteration:
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join, and Time doth settle.”
Twice over Bessie read this, then to herself repeated it aloud—all with thoughts of her friends in the Forest.
The next minute her fortitude gave way, tears rushed to her eyes, Madame Fournier’s precepts vanished out of remembrance, and she cried like a child wanting its mother. In which unhappy condition Mrs. Betts discovered her, sitting upon the floor, when the little page came flying to announce luncheon and visitors. It was two o’clock already.
NEIGHBORS TO ABBOTSMEAD.
Some recent duties of Mrs. Betts’s service had given her, on occasion, an authoritative manner, and she was impelled to use it when she witnessed the forlornness of her young lady. “I am surprised that you should give way, miss,” said she. “In the middle of the day, too, when callers are always liable, and your dear, good grandpapa expects a smiling face! To make your eyes as red as a ferret—”