PAST AND PRESENT.
The next morning Bessie was left entirely at liberty to amuse herself. Mr. Fairfax had breakfasted alone, and was gone to Norminster before she came down stairs. Jonquil made the communication. Bessie wondered whether it was often so, and whether she would have to make out the greater part of the days for herself. But she said nothing; some feeling that she did not reason about told her that there must be no complaining here, let the days be what they might. She wrote a long letter to Madame Fournier, and then went out of doors, having declined Mrs. Betts’s proposed attendance.
“Where is the village?” she asked a boy who was sweeping up fallen leaves from the still dewy lawn. He pointed her the way to go. “And the church and parsonage?” she added.
“They be all together, miss, a piece beyond the lodge.”
With an object in view Bessie could feel interested. She was going to see her mother’s home, the house where she was herself born; and on the road she began to question whether she had any kinsfolk on her mother’s side. Mrs. Carnegie had once told her that she believed not—unless there were descendants of her grandfather Bulmer’s only brother in America, whither he had emigrated as a young man; but she had never heard of any. A cousin of some sort would have been most acceptable to Bessie in her dignified isolation. She did not naturally love solitude.
The way across the park by which she had been directed brought her out upon the high-road—a very pleasant road at that spot, with a fir wood climbing a shallow hill opposite, bounded by a low stone fence, all crusted with moss and lichen, age and weather.
For nearly half a mile along the roadside lay an irregular open space of broken ground with fine scattered trees upon it, and close turf where primroses were profuse in spring. An old woman was sitting in the shade knitting and tending a little black cow that cropped the sweet moist grass. Only for the sake of speaking Bessie asked again her way to the village.
“Keep straight on, miss, you can’t miss it,” said the old woman, and gazed up at her inquisitively.
So Bessie kept straight on until she came to the ivy-covered walls of the lodge; the porch opened upon the road, and Colonel Stokes was standing outside in conversation with another gentleman, who was the vicar of Kirkham, Mr. Forbes. Bessie went on when she had passed them, shyly disconcerted, for Colonel Stokes had come forward with an air of surprise and had asked her if she was lost. Perhaps it was unusual for young ladies to walk alone here? She did not know.
The gentlemen watched her out of sight. “Miss Fairfax, of course,” said the vicar. “She walks admirably—I like to see that.”
“A handsome girl,” said Colonel Stokes. And then they reverted to their interrupted discussion, the approaching election at Norminster. The clergyman was very keen about it, the old Indian officer was almost indifferent.