“What right has a woman to call herself a man’s widow when she has married again?” objected Mr. Fairfax.
“Mrs. Carnegie’s acknowledgment of our letter was courteous: we are on the safe side yet,” said the lawyer smoothly. “Suppose I continue the negotiation by seeking an interview with her to-morrow morning?”
“Have your own way. I am of no use, it seems. I wish I had stayed at Abbotsmead and had let you come alone.”
Mr. John Short echoed the wish with all his heart, though he did not give his thoughts tongue. He began to conjecture that some new aspect of the affair had been presented to his client’s mind by the encounter with Elizabeth in the Forest. And he was right. The old squire had conceived for her a sort of paradoxical love at first sight, and was become suddenly jealous of all who had an established hold on her affections. Here was the seed of an unforeseen complication, which was almost sure to become inimical to Bessie’s happiness when he obtained the guidance of her life.
When Mr. Carnegie’s pipe was out the sunset was past and the evening dews were falling. Nine had struck by the kitchen clock, supper was on the table, and the lamp was shedding its light through the open window.
“Come in, mother, come in, Bessie,” said the doctor. “And, Bessie, let us hear over again what was your adventure this afternoon?”
Bessie sat down before her cup of new milk and slice of brown bread, and told her simple tale a second time. It had been rather pooh-poohed the first, but it had made an impression. Said Mr. Carnegie: “And you jumped to the conclusion that this gentleman unknown was your grandfather, even before he asked your name? Now to describe him.”
“He came from Hampton, because he rode Jefferson’s old gray mare, and the other rode the brown horse with white socks. He is a little like Admiral Parkins—neither fat nor thin. He has white hair and a red and brown color. He looks stern and as proud as Lucifer” (Mrs. Carnegie gave Bessie a reproving glance), “and his voice sounds as if he were. Perhaps he could be kind—”
“You don’t flatter him in his portrait, Bessie. Apparently you did not take to him?”
“Not at all. I don’t believe we shall ever be friends.”
“Bessie dear, you must not set your mind against Mr. Fairfax,” interposed her mother. “Don’t encourage her in her nonsense and prejudice, Thomas; they’ll only go against her.”
“Now for your grandfather’s companion, Bessie: what was he like?”
“I did not notice. He was like everybody else—like Mr. Judson at the Hampton Bank.”
“That would be our correspondent, the lawyer, Mr. John Short of Norminster.”
Mr. Carnegie dropt the subject after this. His wife launched at him a deprecating look, as much as to say, Would there not be vexation enough for them all, without encouraging Bessie to revolt against lawful authority? The doctor, who was guided more than he knew, thereupon held his peace.