There was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Betts entered, complacent with the flattering things that had been said of her young lady in the steward’s room, and willing to repeat them on the smallest encouragement: “Miss Jocund is really cleverer than could have been supposed, miss. Your white silk fits most beautiful,” she began.
“I was not conscious of being newly dressed to-night, so her work must be successful,” replied Bessie, untying the black velvet round her fair throat. Mrs. Betts took occasion to suggest that a few more ornaments would not be amiss. “I don’t care for ornaments—I am fond of my old cross,” Bessie said, laying it in the rosy palm of her hand. Then looking up with a melancholy, reflective smile, she said, “All the shining stones in the world would not tempt me to sacrifice my liberty.” Mrs. Chiverton was in her thoughts, and Lady Latimer.
Mrs. Betts had a shrewd discernment, and she was beginning to understand her young lady’s character, and to respect it. She had herself a vein of feeling deeper than the surface; she had seen those she loved suffer, and she spoke in reply to Miss Fairfax with heartfelt solemnity: “It is a true thing, miss, and nobody has better cause than me to know it, that happiness does not belong to rank and riches. It belongs nowhere for certain, but them that are good have most of it. For let the course of their lives run ever so contrary, they have a peace within, given by One above, that the proud and craving never have. Mr. Frederick’s wife—she bears the curse that has been in her family for generations, but she had a pious bringing-up, and, poor lady! though her wits forsook her, her best comfort never did.”
“Some day, Mrs. Betts, I shall ask you to tell me her story,” Bessie said.
“There is not much to tell, miss. She was the second Miss Lovel (her sister and she were co-heiresses)—not to say a beauty, but a sweet young lady, and there was a true attachment between her and Mr. Frederick. It was in this very house they met—in this very house he slept after that ball where he asked her to marry him. It is not telling secrets to tell how happy she was. Your grandfather, the old squire, would have been better pleased had it been some other lady, because of what was in the blood, but he did not offer to stop it, and they lived at Abbotsmead after they were married. The house was all new done-up to welcome her; that octagon parlor was her design. She brought Mr. Frederick a great fortune, and they loved one another dearly, but it did not last long. She had a baby, and lost it, and was never quite herself after. Poor thing! poor thing!”
“And my uncle Laurence’s wife,” said Bessie, not to dwell on that tragedy of which she knew the issue.