One morning Mr. Cecil Burleigh was pacing the garden without his hat, his head bent down, and his arms clasped behind him as his custom was, when Bessie, after regarding him with pensive abstraction for several minutes, remarked to Dora in a quaint, melancholy voice: “Mr. Cecil Burleigh’s hyacinthine locks grow thin—he is almost bald.” My lady jumped up hastily to look, and declared it nonsense—it was only the sun shining on his head. Dora added that he was growing round-shouldered too.
“Why not say humpbacked at once?” exclaimed Lady Latimer angrily. Both the girls laughed: it was very naughty.
“But he is not humpbacked, Aunt Olympia,” said the literal Dora.
My lady walked about in a fume, moved and removed books and papers, and tried to restrain a violent impulse of displeasure. She took up the review that contained Harry Musgrave’s paper, and said with impatience, “Dora, how often must I beg of you to put away the books that are done with? Surely this is done with.”
“I have not finished reading Harry’s article yet: please let me take it,” said Bessie, coming forward.
“‘Harry’s article’? What do you mean?” demanded Lady Latimer with austerity: “‘Mr. Harry Musgrave’ would sound more becoming.”
“I forgot to tell you: the paper you and Mr. Logger were discussing the first evening I was here was written by Mr. Harry Musgrave,” said Bessie demurely, but not without pride.
“Oh, indeed! The crudeness Mr. Logger remarked in it is accounted for, then,” said my lady, and Bessie’s triumph was abated. Also my lady carried off the review, and she saw it no more.
“It is only Aunt Olympia’s way,” whispered Dora to comfort her. “It will go off. She is very fond of you, but you must know you are dreadfully provoking. I wonder how you dare?”
“And is not she dreadfully provoking?” rejoined Bessie, and began to laugh. “But I am too happy to be intimidated. She will forgive me—if not to-day, then to-morrow, or if not to-morrow, then the day after; or I can have patience longer. But I will not be ruled by her—never!”
It was on this day, when Bessie Fairfax’s happiness primed her with courage to resist my lady’s imperious will, that Harry Musgrave learnt for a certainty he had a rival. The rector was his informant. Mr. Wiley overtook Harry sauntering in the Forest, and asked him how he did, adding that he regretted to hear from his mother that there was a doubt of his being able to continue his law-studies in London, and reminding him of his own unheeded warnings against his ambition to rise in the world.
“Oh, I shall pull through, I trust,” replied the young man, betraying no disquiet. “My mother is a little fanciful, as mothers often are. You must not encourage her anxieties.”