Loveliness of color had a perpetual fascination for him. He was considering the tints in Bessie’s hair and in the delicate, downy rose-oval of her cheeks, and the effect upon them of the sunshine flickering through the vine leaves. When the after-glow was red in the west, the dark green cloth of the window-curtain, faded to purple and orange, made a rich background for her fair head, and he beheld in his fancy a picture that some day he would reproduce. On the tea-table he had laid down a twig of maple, the leaves of which were curiously crenated by some insect, and with it a clump of moss, and a stone speckled in delicious scarlet and tawny patches of lichen-growth—bits of Nature and beauty in which he saw more than others see, and had picked up in his walk by Great-Ash Ford through the Forest to Brook.
“I live in hope of some lucky accident to give me the leisure and opportunity for study; till then I must stick to my mechanical trade of painting and graining,” he was saying while his eyes roved about Bessie’s face, and his fingers toyed first with the twig of maple and then with the pearled moss. “My father thinks scorn of art for a living, and predicts me repentance and starvation. I tell him we shall see; one must not expect to be a prophet in one’s own country. But I am half promised a commission at the Hampton Theatre—a new drop-scene. My sketch is approved—it is a Forest view. The decision must come soon.”
Everybody present wished the young fellow success. “Though whether you have success or not you will have a share of happiness, because you are a dear lover of Nature, and Nature never lets her lovers go unrewarded,” said Mrs. Musgrave kindly.
“Ah! but I shall not be satisfied with her obscure favors,” cried little Christie airily.
“You must have applause: I don’t think I care for applause,” said young Musgrave; and he cut Bessie a slice of cake.
Bessie proceeded to munch it with much gravity and enjoyment—Harry’s mother made excellent cakes—and the father of the house, smiling at her serious absorption, patted her on the shoulder and said, “And what does Bessie Fairfax care for?”
“Only to be loved,” says Bessie without a thought.
“And that is what you will be, for love’s a gift,” rejoined Mr. Musgrave. “These skip-jacks who talk of setting the world on fire will be lucky if they make only blaze enough to warm themselves.”
“Ay, indeed—and getting rich. Talk’s cheap, but it takes a deal of money to buy land,” said his wife, who had a shrewd inkling of her son’s ambition, though he had not confessed it to her. “Young folks little think of the chances and changes of this mortal life, or it’s a blessing they’d seek before anything else.”
Bessie’s face clouded at a word of changes. “Don’t fret, Bessie, we’ll none of us forget you,” said the kind father. But this was too much for her tender heart. She pushed back her chair and ran out of the room. For the last hour the tears had been very near her eyes, and now they overflowed. Mrs. Musgrave followed to comfort her.