“My dear Musgrave, that is the voice of despair, and for such a universal crux!”
“I don’t despair, but I am tried, partly by my hard lines and partly by the anxieties at home that infect me. To think that with this frame,” striking out his muscular right arm, “even Carnegie warns me as if I were a sick girl! The sins of the fathers are the modern Nessus’ shirt to their children. I shall do my utmost to hold on until I get my call to the bar and a platform to start from. If I cannot hold on so long, I’ll call it, as my mother does, defeat by visitation of God, and step down to be a poor fellow amongst other poor fellows. But that is not the life I planned for.”
“We all know that, Musgrave, and there is no quarter where you won’t meet the truest sympathy. Many a man has to come down from the tall pedestal where his hopes have set him, and, unless it be by his own grievous fault, he is tolerably sure to find his level of content on the common ground. That’s where I mean to walk with my Janey; and some day you’ll hold up a finger, and just as sweet a companion will come and walk hand in hand with you.”
Harry smiled despite his trouble; he knew what Christie meant, and he believed him. He parted with his friend there, and turned back in the soft gloom towards home, thinking of her all the way—dear little Bessie, so frank and warm-hearted. He remembered how, when he was a boy and lost a certain prize at school that he had reckoned on too confidently, she had whispered away his shame-faced disappointment with a rosy cheek against his jacket, and “Never mind, Harry, I love you.” And she would do it again, he knew she would. The feeling was in her—she could not hide it.
But at this point of his meditations his worldly wisdom came in to dash their beauty. Unless he could bridge with bow of highest promise the gulf that vicissitude had opened between them since those days of primitive affection, he need not set his mind upon her. He ought not, so he told himself, though his mind was set upon her already beyond the chance of turning. He did not know yet that he had a rival; when that knowledge came all other obstacles, sentimental, chivalrous, would be swallowed up in its portentous shadow. For to-night he held his reverie in peace.
“We thought you were lost,” was Lady Latimer’s greeting to Bessie Fairfax when she entered the Fairfield drawing-room, tired with her long walk, but still in buoyant spirits.
“Oh no!” said Bessie. “I have come from Brook. When I had seen them all at home my father carried me off there to tea.”
“I observed that you were not at the evening service. The Musgraves and those people drink tea at five o’clock: you must be ready for your supper now. Mr. Logger, will you be so good as to ring the bell?”
Bessie was profoundly absorbed in her own happiness, but Lady Latimer’s manner, and still more the tone of her voice, struck her with an uncomfortable chill. “Thank you, but I do not wish for anything to eat,” she said, a little surprised.