After service Colonel and Mrs. Stokes walked home with Mr. Fairfax and Bessie, lunched at Abbotsmead, and lounged about the garden afterward. This was an institution. Sunday is long in country houses, and good neighbors help one another to get rid of it. The Stokes’s boys came in the afternoon, to Bessie’s great joy; they made a noisy playground of the garden, and behaved just like Jack and Tom and Willie Carnegie, kicking up their heels and laughing at nothing.
“There are no more gooseberries,” cried their mother, catching the younger of the two, a bluff copy of herself, and offering him to Bessie to kiss. Bessie kissed him heartily. “You are fond of children, I can see,” said her new friend.
“I like a houseful! Oh, when have I had a nice kiss at a boy’s hard, round cheeks? Not for years! years! I have five little brothers and two sisters at home.”
Mrs. Stokes regarded Bessie with a touched surprise, but she asked no questions; she knew her story in a general inaccurate way. The boy gazed in her face with a pretty lovingness, rubbed his nose suddenly against hers, wrestled himself out of her embrace, and ran away. “When you feel as if you want a good kiss, come to my house,” said his mother, her blue eyes shining tenderly. “It must be dreadful to miss little children when you have lived with them. I could not bear it. Abbotsmead always looks to me like a great dull splendid prison.”
“My grandfather makes it as pleasant to me as he can; I don’t repine,” said Bessie quickly. “He has given me a beautiful little filly to ride, but she is not quite trained yet; and I shall beg him to let me have a companionable dog; I love a dog.”
The church-bells began to ring for afternoon service. Mrs. Stokes shook her head at Bessie’s query: nobody ever went, she said, but servants and poor people. Evening service there was none, and Mr. Forbes dined with the squire; that also was an institution. The gentlemen talked of parochial matters, and Bessie, wisely inferring that they could talk more freely in her absence, left them to themselves and retreated to her private parlor, to read a little and dream a great deal of her friends in the Forest.
At dusk there was a loud jangling indoors and out, and Mrs. Betts summoned her young lady down stairs. She met her grandfather and Mr. Forbes issuing from the dining-room, and they passed together into the hall, where the servants of the house stood on parade to receive their pastor and master. They were assembled for prayers. Once a week, after supper, this compliment was paid to the Almighty—a remnant of ancient custom which the squire refused to alter or amend. When Bessie had assisted at this ceremony she had gone through the whole duty of the day, and her reflection on her experience since she came to Abbotsmead was that life as a pageant must be dull—duller than life as a toil.