Bessie was sorry, very sorry, and showed it with so much sense and sympathy that her grandfather presently revealed his vexations to her himself, and having once mentioned them, he found her a resource to complain to again. She hoped that he would get over his defeat the sooner for talking of it, but he did not. He was utterly convinced that he had right on his side, and he wanted a new trial, from which Mr. John Short could hardly dissuade him. The root of his profound annoyance was that Abbotsmead must be encumbered to pay for the lost suit, unless his son Frederick, who had ready money accumulated from the unspent fortune of his wife, would come to the rescue. In answer to his father’s appeal Frederick wrote back that a certain considerable sum which he mentioned was at his service, but as for the bulk of his wife’s fortune, he intended it to revert to her family. Mr. Laurence Fairfax made, through the lawyer, an offer of further help to keep Abbotsmead clear of mortgages, and with the bitter remark that it was Laurence’s interest to do so, the squire accepted his offer.
So much at this crisis did Bessie hear of money and the burden and anxiety of great estates that she thought poverty must be far preferable. The squire developed a positively bad temper under his worries. And he was not irritable only: by degrees he became ill, and yet would have no advice. Jonquil was greatly troubled about him, and when he refused to mount his horse one splendid hunting morning in February, though he was all equipped and ready, Bessie also began to wonder what ailed him besides crossness, for he was a man of strong constitution and not subject to fanciful infirmities.
Early in March, Mr. Frederick Fairfax wrote home that his Russian tour was accomplished, and that he was impatient to be on board his yacht again. The weather was exceedingly rough and tempestuous later in the month, and the squire, watching the wrack of the storm on the wolds, often expressed anxiety lest his son should be rash and venturesome enough to trust himself out of port in such weather. Everybody was relieved when April opened with sunny showers and the long and severe winter seemed to be at an end. It had not made Bessie more in love with her life at Abbotsmead: there had, indeed, been times of inexpressible dreariness in it very trying to her fortitude. With the dawning of brighter days in spring she could not but think of the Forest with fresh longing, and she watched each morning’s post for the arrival of that invitation to Fairfield which Lady Latimer had promised to send. At length it came, and after brief demur received a favorable answer. The squire had a mortified consciousness that his granddaughter’s life was not very cheerful, and, though he did not refuse her wish, he was unable to grant it heartily. However, the fact of his consent overcame the manner of it, and Bessie was enjoying the pleasures of anticipation, and writing ecstatically to her mother, when an event happened that threw Abbotsmead into mourning and changed the bent even of her desires.