Bessie laughed carelessly. “Poor Harry!” said she, and recollected the tragical and pathetic stories of the poets that they used to discuss, and of which they used to think so differently. She did not reflect how much temptation was implied in the words that told her Harry was short of money now and then. A degree of hardship to begin with was nothing more than all her heroes had encountered, and their biography had commonly succeeded in showing that they were the better for it—unless, indeed, they were so unlucky as to die of it—but Harry had far too much force of character ever to suffer himself to be beaten; in all her visions he was brave, steadfast, persistent, and triumphant. She said so to Mr. Christie, adding that they had been like brother and sister when they were children, and she felt as if she had a right to be interested in whatever concerned him. Mr. Christie looked on the carpet and said, “Yes, yes,” he remembered what friends and comrades they were—almost inseparable; and he had heard Harry say, not so very long ago, that he wished Miss Fairfax was still at hand when his spirits flagged, for she used to hearten him more than anybody else ever did. Bessie was too much gratified by this reminiscence to think of asking what the discouragements were that caused Harry to wish for her.
The next day Mrs. Chiverton’s portrait was begun, and the artist was as happy as the day was long. His temper was excellent unless he were interrupted at his work, and this Mr. Chiverton took care should not happen when he was at home. But one morning in his absence Mr. Gifford called on business, and was so obstinate to take no denial that Mrs. Chiverton permitted him to come and speak with her in the picture-gallery, where she was giving the artist a sitting. Bessie Fairfax, who had the tact never to be in the way, was there also, turning over his portfolio of sketches (some sketches on the beach at Yarmouth greatly interested her), but she looked up with curiosity when the visitor entered, for she knew his reputation.
He was a fat man of middle age, with a thin voice and jerky manner. “I had Forbes yesterday, Mrs. Chiverton, to speak to me in your name,” he announced. “Do you know him for the officious fellow he is, for ever meddling in other people’s matters? For ten years he has pestered me about Morte, which is no concern of mine.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Gifford, it is very much your concern,” Mrs. Chiverton said with calm deliberation. “Eleven laborers, employed by farmers on your estate, representing with their families over thirty souls, live in hovels at Morte owned by you or your agent Blagg. They are unfit for human habitation. Mr. Chiverton has given orders for the erection of groups of cottages sufficient to house the men employed on our farms, and they will be removed to them in the spring. But Mr. Fairfax and other gentlemen who also own land in the bad neighborhood of Morte object to the hovels our men vacate being left as a harbor for the ragamuffinery of the district. They require to have them cleared away; most of these, again, are in Blagg’s hands.”