Harry Musgrave had not yet arrived at Brook, but after a day devoted to her mother Bessie’s next opportunity for a visit was devoted to Harry’s mother. She mentioned to Lady Latimer where she was going, and though my lady looked stern she did not object. On Bessie’s return, however, she found something to say, and cast off all reserves: “Mr. Harry Musgrave has not come, but he is coming. Had I known beforehand, I should have preferred to have you here in his absence. Elizabeth, I shall consider that young man very deficient in honorable feeling if he attempt to interfere between you and your true interest.”
“That I am sure he never will,” said Bessie with animation.
“He is not over-modest. If you are advised by me you will be distant with him—you will give him no advantage by which he may imagine himself encouraged. Any foolish promise that you exchanged when you were last here must be forgotten.”
Bessie replied with much quiet dignity: “You know, Lady Latimer, that I was not brought up to think rank and riches essential, and the experience I have had of them has not been so enticing that I should care to sacrifice for their sake a true and tried affection. Harry Musgrave and I are dear friends, and, since you speak to me so frankly, I will tell you that we propose to be friends for life.”
Lady Latimer grew very red, very angry: “Do you tell me that you will marry that young man—without birth, without means, without a profession even? What has he, or is he, that should tempt you to throw away the fine position that awaits your acceptance?”
“He has a real kindness for me, a real unselfish love, and I would rather be enriched with that than be ever so exalted. It is an old promise. I always did love Harry Musgrave, and never anybody else.”
Lady Latimer fumed, walked about and sat down again: “How are you to live?”
“I don’t know,” said Bessie cheerfully. “Like other young people—partly on our prospects. But we do not talk of marrying yet.”
“It is a relief to hear that you do not talk of marrying yet, though how you can dream of marrying young Mr. Musgrave at all, when you have Mr. Cecil Burleigh at your feet, is to me a strange, incomprehensible infatuation.”
“Mr. Cecil Burleigh is not at my feet any longer. He has got up and gone back to Miss Julia Gardiner’s feet, which he ought never to have left. Grandpapa’s will has the effect of making two charming people happy, and I am glad of it.”
“Is it possible?” said Lady Latimer in a low, chagrined voice. “Then you have lost him. I presume that you felt the strain of such high companionship too severe for you? Early habits cling very close.”
“He had no fascination for me; it was an effort sometimes.”
“You must have been carrying on a correspondence with Mr. Harry Musgrave all this while.”
“We have corresponded during the last year,” said Bessie calmly.