Meanwhile Bessie reached the church—a very ancient church, spacious and simple, with a square tower and a porch that was called Norman. The graveyard surrounded it. A flagged pathway led from the gate between the grassy mounds to the door, which stood open that the Saturday sun might drive out the damp vapors of the week. She went in and saw whitewashed walls; thick round pillars between the nave and aisles; deep-sunken windows dim with fragmentary pieces of colored glass, and all more or less out of the perpendicular; a worm-eaten oak-screen separating the chancel and a solemn enclosure, erst a chapel, now the Fairfax pew; a loft where the choir sat in front for divine service, with fiddle and bassoon, and the school-children sat behind, all under the eye of the parson and his clerk, who was also the school-master.
In the chancel were several monuments to the memory of defunct pastors. The oldest was very old, and the inscription in Latin on brass; the newest was to Bessie’s grandfather—the “Reverend Thomas Bulmer, for forty-six years vicar of this parish.” From the dates he had married late, for he had died in a good old age in the same year as his daughter Elizabeth, and only two months before her. In smaller letters below the inscription-in-chief it was recorded that his wife Letitia was buried at Torquay in Cornwall, and that this monument was erected to their pious memory by their only child—“Elizabeth, the wife of the Reverend Geoffry Fairfax, rector of Beechhurst in the county of Hants.”
All gone—not one left! Bessie pondered over this epitome of family history, and thought within herself that it was not without cause she felt alone here. With a shiver she returned into the sunshine and proceeded up the public road. The vicarage was a little low house, very humble in its externals, roofed with fluted tiles, and the walls covered to the height of the chamber windows with green latticework and creepers. It stood in a spacious garden and orchard, and had outbuildings at a little distance on the same homely plan. The living was in the gift of Abbotsmead, and the Fairfaxes had not been moved to house their pastor, with his three hundred a year, in a residence fit for a bishop. It was a simple, pleasant, rustic spot. The lower windows were open, so was the door under the porch. Bessie saw that it could not have undergone any material change since the summer days of twenty years ago, when her father, a bright young fellow fresh from college, went to read there of a morning with the learned vicar, and fell in love with his pretty Elizabeth, and wooed and won her.
Bessie, imperfectly informed, exaggerated the resentment with which Mr. Fairfax had visited his offending son. It was never an active resentment, but merely a contemptuous acceptance of his irrevocable act. He said, “Geoffry has married to his taste. His wife is used to a plain way of living; they will be more useful in a country parish living on so, free from the temptations of superfluous means.” And he gave the young couple a bare pittance. Time might have brought him relenting, but time does not always reserve us opportunities. And here was Bessie Fairfax considering the sorrows and early deaths of her parents, charging them to her grandfather’s account, and confirming herself in her original judgment that he was a hard and cruel man.