The young ladies preferred to walk. Bessie had ridden that road with Mr. Carnegie many and many a time, but had walked it seldom, for there were short cuts through the brushwood and heather that she was wont to pursue in her gypsy excursions with the doctor’s boys. But these were not paths for Sunday. She recollected going along that road with Lady Latimer and her grandfather sorely against her inclination, and returning by the same way with her grandfather and Mr. Wiley, when the rector, admonishing her on the virtue of humility, roused her pride and ire by his reminder of the lowly occupations to which her early patronesses had destined her. She laughed to herself, but she blushed too, for the recollection was not altogether agreeable.
As they drew near to Beechhurst one familiar spot after another called her attention. Then the church-bells began to ring for morning service, and they were at the entrance of the town-street, with its little bow-windowed shops shut up, and its pretty thatched cottages half buried in flowery gardens that made sweet the air. Bessie’s heart beat fast and faster as she recognized one old acquaintance after another. Some looked at her and looked again, and did not know her, but most of those she remembered had a nod, a smile, or a kind word for her, and she smiled on all. They all seemed like friends. Now Miss Wort rushed out of her gate and rushed back, something necessary forgotten—gloves or prayer-book probably. Then the school-children swarmed forth like bees from a hive, loudly exhorted to peaceable behavior by jolly Miss Buff, who was too much absorbed in her duty of marshalling them in order to walk the twenty yards to church to see her young friend at first, but cried out in a gust of enthusiasm when she did see her, “Oh, you dear little Bessie! who would have thought it? I never heard you were coming. What a surprise for them all! They will be delighted.”
“I am staying at Fairfield,” said Bessie. “There had been so many disappointments before that I would not promise again. But here I am, and it seems almost too good to be true.”
“Here you are, and a picture of health and beauty; you don’t mind my telling you that? Nobody can say Woldshire disagrees with you.”
They walked on. They came in sight of the “King’s Arms”—of the doctor’s house. “There is dear old Jack in the porch,” said Bessie; and Miss Buff, with a kind, sympathetic nod, turned off to the church gate and left her. Jack marched down the path and Willie followed. Then Mrs. Carnegie appeared, hustling dilatory Tom before her, and leading by the hand Polly, a little white-frocked girl of nine. As they issued into the road Bessie stepped more quickly forward. The boys stared at the elegant young lady in mourning, and even her mother gazed for one moment with grave, unrecognizing scrutiny. It was but for one moment, and then the flooded blue eyes and tremulous lips revealed who it was.