“To go all amongst strangers!” sobbed Bessie; and her philosophy quite failed her when that prospect recurred in its dreadful blankness. Happily, the time of night did not allow of long lamentation. Presently Harry called at the stair’s foot that it was seven o’clock. And she kissed his mother and bade Brook good-bye.
The walk home was through the Forest, between twilight and moonlight. The young men talked and Bessie was silent. She had no favor towards young Christie previously, but she liked his talk to-night and his devotion to Harry Musgrave, and she enrolled him henceforward amongst those friends and acquaintances of her happy childhood at Beechhurst concerning whom inquiries were to be made in writing home when she was far away.
FAREWELL TO THE FOREST.
A few days after his meeting with Bessie Fairfax at Brook, young Christie left at the doctor’s door a neat, thin parcel addressed to her with his respects. Lady Latimer and Mrs. Wiley, who were still interesting themselves in her affairs, were with Mrs. Carnegie at the time, giving her some instructions in Bessie’s behalf. Mrs. Carnegie was rather bothered than helped by their counsels, but she did not discourage them, because of the advantage to Bessie of having their countenance and example. Bessie, sitting apart at the farther side of the round table, untied the string and unfolded the silver paper. Then there was a blush, a smile, a cry of pleasure. At what? At a picture of herself that little Christie had painted, and begged to make an offering of. It was handed round for the inspection of the company.
“A slight thing,” said Mrs. Wiley with a negligent glance. “Young Christie fishes with sprats to catch whales, as Askew told him yesterday. He brought his portfolio and a drawing of the church to show, but we did not buy anything. We are afraid that he will turn out a sad, idle fellow, going dawdling about instead of keeping to his trade. His father is much grieved.”
“This is sketchy, but full of spirit,” said Lady Latimer, holding the drawing at arm’s length to admire.
“It is life itself! We must hear what your father says to it, Bessie,” Mrs. Carnegie added in a pleased voice.
“If her father does not buy it, I will. It is a charming little picture,” said my lady.
Bessie was gratified, but she hoped her father would not let anybody else possess it.
“A matter of a guinea, and it will be well paid for,” said the rector’s wife.
No one made any rejoinder, but Mr. Carnegie gave the aspiring artist five guineas (he would not have it as a gift, which little Christie meant), and plenty of verbal encouragement besides. Lady Latimer further invited him to paint her little friends, Dora and Dandy. He accepted the commission, and fulfilled it with effort and painstaking, but not with such signal success as his portrait of Bessie. That was an inspiration. The doctor hung up the picture in the dining-room for company every day in her absence, and promised that it should keep her place for her in all their hearts and memories until she came home again.