To meet Lady Latimer and Mr. Oliver Smith at Abbotsmead, Lady Angleby and Mr. Cecil Burleigh came over from Brentwood. Bessie Fairfax was sorry. She longed to have my lady to herself. She thought that she might then ask questions about other friends in the Forest—about friends at Brook—which she felt it impossible to ask in the presence of uninterested or adverse witnesses. But Lady Latimer wished for no confidential communications. She had received at Brentwood full particulars of the alliance that was projected between the families of Fairfax and Burleigh, and considered it highly desirable. My lady’s principle was entirely against any wilfulness of affection in young girls. In this she was always consistent, and Bessie’s sentimental constancy to the idea of Harry Musgrave would have provoked her utter disapproval. It was therefore for Bessie’s comfort that no opportunity was given her of betraying it.
At luncheon the grand ladies introduced their philanthropic hobbies, and were tedious to everybody but each other. They supposed the two young people would be grateful to be left to entertain themselves; but Bessie was not grateful at all, and her grandfather sat through the meal looking terribly like Mr. Phipps—meditating, perhaps, on the poor results in the way of happiness that had attended the private lives of his guests, who were yet so eager to meddle with their neighbors’ lives. When luncheon was over, Lady Latimer, quitting the dining-room first, walked through the hall to the door of the great drawing-room. The little page ran quickly and opened to her, then ran in and drew back the silken curtains to admit the light. The immense room was close yet chill, as rooms are that have been long disused for daily purposes.
“Ah, you do not live here as you used to do formerly?” she said to Mr. Fairfax, who followed her.
“No, we are a diminished family. The octagon parlor is our common sitting-room.”
Bessie had promised Macky that some rainy day she would make a tour of the house and view the pictures, but she had not done it yet, and this room was strange to her. The elder visitors had been once quite familiar with it. Lady Latimer pointed to a fine painting of the Virgin and Child, and remarked, “There is the Sasso-Ferrato,” then sat down with her back to it and began to talk of political difficulties in Italy. Mr. Cecil Burleigh was interested in Italy, so was Mr. Oliver Smith, and they had a very animated conversation in which the others joined—all but Bessie. Bessie listened and looked on, and felt not quite happy—rather disenchanted, in fact. Lady Latimer was the same as ever—she overflowed with practical goodness—but Bessie did not regard her with the same simple, adoring confidence. Was it the influence of the old love-story that she had heard? My lady seemed entirely free from pathetic or tender memories, and domineered in the conversation here as she did everywhere. Even Lady Angleby was half effaced, and the squire had nothing to say.