“Yes,” said she, “children are always good company to me, especially boys; and they behaved so nicely, though they are very high-spirited, that I don’t think they would have been inconvenient if you had stayed at home.”
“Indeed? I am glad to hear they are being well brought up,” said the squire; and then he turned to Jonquil and asked for his letters.
ABBOTSMEAD IN SHADOW.
Mr. Fairfax’s letters were brought to him, and after glancing cursorily through the batch, he gathered them all up and went off to his private room. Bessie conjectured that he would be busy for the rest of the afternoon, and she took a walk in the park until dusk, when she returned to the house and retired to her own parlor. The dressing-bell rang at a quarter to seven, as usual, and Mrs. Betts came to assist at her young lady’s toilet. Being dressed, Bessie descended to the octagon room, which she found empty.
It was a fine, frosty night, and the sky was full of stars. She put aside a curtain and looked out into the wintry garden, feeling more than ever alone and desolate amidst the grandeur of her home. It seemed as if the last unkindness she had suffered was the worst of all, and her heart yearned painfully towards her friends in the Forest. Oh, for their simple, warm affection! She would have liked to be sitting with her mother in the old-fashioned dining-room at Beechhurst, listening for the doctor’s return and the clink of Miss Hoyden’s hoofs on the hard frozen road, as they had listened often in the winters long ago. She forgot herself in that reverie, and scarcely noticed that the door had been opened and shut again until her grandfather spoke from the hearth, saying that Jonquil had announced dinner.
The amiable disposition in which the squire had come home appeared to have passed off completely. Bessie had seen him often crabbed and sarcastic, but never so irritable as he was that evening. Nothing went right, from the soup to the dessert, and Jonquil even stirred the fire amiss. Some matter in his correspondence had put him out. But as he made no allusion to his grievance, Bessie was of course blind and deaf to his untoward symptoms. The next day he went to Norminster to see Mr. John Short, and came back in no better humor—in a worse humor if possible—and Mrs. Stokes whispered to Bessie the explanation of it.
Mr. Fairfax had inherited a lawsuit with a small estate in Durham, bequeathed to him by a distant connexion, and this suit, after being for years a blister on his peace, had been finally decided against him. The estate was lost, and the plague of the suit with it, but there were large costs to pay and the time was inconvenient.
“Your grandfather contributed heavily to the election of Mr. Cecil Burleigh in the prospect of an event which it seems is not to be,” concluded the little lady with reproachful significance. “My Arthur told me all about it (Mr. Fairfax consults him on everything); and now there are I don’t know how many thousands to pay in the shape of back rents, interest, and costs, but it is an immense sum.”