He gave her no answer, but lay composed with his eyes resting upon her. It was doubtful whether the cause of his illness had recurred to his weakened memory, for he had not attempted to speak of it. She went on to tell him what friends and neighbors had been to ask after his health—Mr. Chiverton, Sir Edward Lucas, Mr. Oliver Smith—and what letters to the same purport she had received from Lady Latimer, Lady Angleby, Mr. Cecil Burleigh, and others, to which she had replied. He acknowledged each item of her information with a glance, but he made no return inquiries.
Mr. Chiverton had called that day, and the form in which he carried intelligence home to his wife was, “Poor Fairfax will not die of this bout, but he has got his first warning.”
Mrs. Chiverton was sorry, but she did not refrain from speculating on how Miss Fairfax would be influenced in her fortunes by the triple catastrophe of her uncle Laurence’s marriage, her uncle Frederick’s death, and her grandfather’s impending demise. “I suppose if Mr. Laurence were unmarried, as all the world believed him to be, she would stand now as the greatest prospective heiress in this part of the county. If it was her fortune Mr. Cecil Burleigh wanted, he has had a deliverance.”
“I am far from sure that Burleigh thinks so,” returned Mr. Chiverton significantly.
“Oh, I imagined that projected marriage was one of convenience, a family compact.”
“In the first instance so it was. But the young lady’s rosy simplicity caught Burleigh’s fancy, and it is still in the power of Mr. Fairfax to make his granddaughter rich.”
Whether Mr. Fairfax would make his granddaughter rich was debated in circles where it was not a personal interest, but of course it was discussed with much livelier vivacity where it was. Lady Angleby expressed a confident expectation that as Miss Fairfax had been latterly brought up in anticipation of heiress-ship, her grandfather would endow her with a noble fortune, and Miss Burleigh, with ulterior views for her brother, ventured to hope the same. But Mr. Fairfax was in no haste to set his house in order. He saw his son Laurence for a few minutes twice, but gave him no encouragement to linger at Abbotsmead, and his reply to Mr. John Short on the only occasion when he openly approached the subject of will-making was, “There is time enough yet.”
The household was put into mourning, but as there was no bringing home of the dead and no funeral, the event of the eldest son’s death passed with little outward mark. Elizabeth was her grandfather’s chief companion in-doors, and she was cheerful for his sake under circumstances that were tryingly oppressive. To keep up to her duty she rode daily, rain or fair, and towards the month’s end there were many soft, wet days when all the wolds were wrapt in mist. People watched her go by often, with Joss at Janey’s heels, and Ranby following behind, and said they were sorry for Miss Fairfax; it was very sad for so young a girl to have to bear, unsupported, the burden of her grandfather’s declining old age. For the squire was still consistent in his obstinacy in refusing to be gracious to his son and his son’s wife and children, and Bessie, on her uncle Laurence’s advice, refrained from mentioning them any more. Old Jonquil alone had greater courage.