Desirous as Lady Latimer was to do Mr. Harry Musgrave a service, her good-will towards him ended there. She perversely affected to believe that Miss Fairfax’s avowed promise to him constituted no engagement, and on this plea put impediments in the way of her visits to Brook, lest a handle should be given to gossip. Bessie herself was not concerned to hinder gossip. With the exception of Lady Latimer, all her old friends in the Forest were ready to give her their blessing. The Wileys were more and more astonished that she should be so short-sighted, but Mr. Phipps shook her by both hands and expressed his cordial approbation, and Miss Buff advised her to have her own way, and let those who were vexed please themselves again.
Bessie suffered hours of argument from my lady, who, when she found she could prevail nothing, took refuge in a sort of scornful, compassionate silence. These silences were, however, of brief duration. She appealed to Mr. Carnegie, who gave her for answer that Bessie was old enough to know her own mind, and if that leant towards Mr. Harry Musgrave, so much the better for him; if she were a weak, impulsive girl, he would advise delay and probation, but she was of full age and had a good sensible head of her own; she knew Mr. Harry Musgrave’s circumstances, tastes, prejudices, and habits—what she would gain in marrying him, and what she would resign. What more was there to say? Mr. Laurence Fairfax had neither the power nor the will to interpose authoritatively; he made inquiries into Mr. Harry Musgrave’s university career, and talked of him to Mr. Cecil Burleigh, who replied with magnanimity that but for the break-down of his health he was undoubtedly one of those young men from whose early achievement and mental force the highest successes might have been expected in after-life. Thereupon Mr. Laurence Fairfax and his gentle wife pitied him, and could not condemn Elizabeth.
Mrs. Carnegie considered that Bessie manifested signal prudence, forethought, and trust in God when she proposed that her nest-egg, which was now near a thousand pounds, should supply the means of living in Italy for a couple of years, without reference to what might come after. But when Elizabeth wrote to her uncle Laurence to announce what manner of life she was preparing to enter upon, and what provision was made for it, though he admired her courage he wrote back that it should not be so severely tested. It was his intention to give her the portion that would have been her father’s—not so much as the old squire had destined for her had she married as he wished (that, she knew, had gone another way), but a competence sufficient to live on, whether at home or abroad. He told her that one-half of her fortune ought to be settled on Mr. Harry Musgrave, to revert to her if he died first, and he concluded by offering himself as one of her trustees.