“Who is to go? You or I?” asked the squire testily.
“Both, if you like. But you would do best to go alone, to see the little girl and the good people who have taken care of her, and to let the whole matter be transacted on a friendly footing.”
Mr. Fairfax shrank from the awkwardness of the task, from the humiliation of it, and said, “Could not Short manage it by post, without a personal encounter?” Mr. Short thought not. Finally, it was agreed that if another week elapsed without bringing the promised answer from Mrs. Carnegie, they would go to Beechhurst together and settle the matter on the spot.
The doctor’s procrastination stole the second seven days as it had stolen the first.
“Those people mean to make us some difficulty,” said Mr. Fairfax with secret irritation.
Mr. John Short gave no encouragement to this suspicion; instead, he urged the visit to Beechhurst. “We need not give more than three days to it—one to go, one to stay, one to return,” said he.
Mr. Fairfax objected that he disliked travelling in a fuss. The lawyer could return when their business was accomplished; as for himself, being in the Forest, he should make a tour of it, the weather favoring. And thus the journey was settled.
* * * * *
There was not a lovelier spot within children’s foot-range of Beechhurst than Great-Ash Ford. On a glowing midsummer day it was a perfect paradise for idlers. Not far off, yet half buried out of sight amongst its fruit trees, was a farmhouse thatched with reeds, very old, and weather-stained of all golden, brown, and orange tints. A row of silver firs was in the rear, and a sweep of the softest velvety sward stretched from its narrow domain to the river. To watch the cattle come from the farther pastures in single file across the shallow water at milking-time was as pretty a bit of pastoral as could be seen in all the Forest.
Bessie Fairfax loved this spot with a peculiar affection. Beyond the ford went a footpath, skirting the river, to the village of Brook, where young Musgrave lived—a footpath overshadowed by such giant fir trees, such beeches and vast oaks as are nowhere else in England. The Great Ash was a storm-riven fragment, but its fame continued, and its beauty in sufficient picturesqueness for artistic purposes. Many a painter had made the old russet farmhouse his summer lodging; and one was sketching now where the water had dried in its pebbly bed, and the adventurous little bare feet of Jack and Willie Carnegie were tempting an imaginary peril in quest of the lily which still whitened the stream under the bank.