Mr. Cecil Burleigh met Bessie Fairfax again with a courteous vivacity and an air of intimate acquaintance. If he was not very glad to see her he affected gladness well, and Bessie’s vivid blushes were all the welcome that was necessary to delude the witnesses into a belief that they already understood one another. He was perfectly satisfied himself, and his sister Mary, who worshipped him, thought Bessie sweetly modest and pretty. And her mind was at peace for the results.
There was a dinner-party at Abbotsmead that evening. Colonel and Mrs. Stokes came, and Mr. Forbes and his mother, who lived with him (for he was unmarried), a most agreeable old lady. It was much like other dinner-parties in the country. The guests were all of one mind on politics and the paramount importance of the landed interest, which gave a delightful unanimity to the conversation. The table was round, so that Miss Fairfax did not appear conspicuous as the lady of the house, but she was not for that the less critically observed. Happily, she was unconscious of the ordeal she underwent. She looked lovely in the face, but her dress was not the elaborate dress of the other ladies; it was still her prize-day white muslin, high to the throat and long to the wrists, with a red rose in her belt, and an antique Normandy gold cross for her sole ornament. The cross was a gift from Madame Fournier. Mr. Cecil Burleigh, being seated next to her, was most condescending in his efforts to be entertaining, and Bessie was not quite so uneasy under his affability as she had been on board the yacht. Mrs. Stokes, who had heard much of the Tory candidate, but now met him for the first time, regarded him with awe, impressed by his distinguished air and fine manners. But Bessie was more diffident than impressed. She did not talk much; everybody else was so willing to talk that it was enough for her to look charming. Once or twice her grandfather glanced towards her, wishing to hear her voice—which was a most tunable voice—in reply to her magnificent neighbor, but Bessie sat in beaming, beautiful silence, lending him her ears, and at intervals giving him a monosyllabic reply. She might certainly have done worse. She might have spoken foolishly, or she might have