SOME DOUBTS AND FEARS.
Sir Edward Lucas was a gentleman for whom Lady Angleby had a considerable degree of favor: it was a pity he was so young, otherwise he might have done for Mary. Poor Mary! Mr. Forbes and she had a long, obstinate kindness for each other, but Lady Angleby stood in the way: Mr. Forbes did not satisfy any of her requirements. Besides, if she gave Mary up, who was to live with her at Brentwood? Therefore Mr. Forbes and Miss Burleigh, after a six years’ engagement, still played at patience. She did not drive into Norminster that afternoon. “Mr. Fairfax and Cecil will be glad of a seat back,” said she, and stood excused.
Sir Edward Lucas had more pleasure in facing his contemporary: Miss Fairfax he regarded as his contemporary. He was smitten with a lively admiration for her, and in course of the drive he sought her advice on important matters. Lady Angleby began to instruct him on what he ought to do for the improvement of his fine house at Longdown, but he wanted to talk rather of a new interest—the mineral wealth still waiting development on his property at Hippesley Moor.
“Now, what should you do, Miss Fairfax, supposing you had to earn your bread by a labor always horribly disagreeable and never unattended by danger?” he asked with great eagerness.
Bessie had not a doubt of what she should do: “I should work as hard as ever I could for the shortest possible time that would keep me in bread.”
“Just so,” said Sir Edward rubbing his hands. “So would I. Now, will that principle work amongst colliers? I am going to open a pit at Hippesley Moor, where the coal is of excellent quality. It is a fresh start, and I shall try to carry out your principle, Miss Fairfax; I am convinced that it is excellent and Christian.”
Christian! Bessie’s blue eyes widened with laughing alarm. “Oh, had you not better consult somebody of greater experience?” cried she.
Lady Angleby approved her modesty, and with smiling indulgence remarked, “I should think so, indeed!”
“No, no: experience is always for sticking to grooves,” said Sir Edward. “I like Miss Fairfax’s idea. It is shrewd—it goes to the root of the difficulty. We must get it out in detail. Now, if in three days’ hard work the collier can earn the week’s wages of an agricultural laborer and more—and he can—we have touched the reason why he takes so many play-days. It would be a very sharp spur of necessity indeed that would drive me into a coal-pit at all; and nothing would keep me there one hour after necessity was satisfied. I shall take into consideration the instinct of our common humanity that craves for some sweetness in life, and as far as I am able it shall be gratified. Now, the other three days: what shall be their occupation? Idleness will not do.”
“No, I should choose to have a garden and work in the sun,” said Bessie, catching some of his spirit.