BESSIE GOES INTO EXILE.
The rapid action and variety of the next few days were ever after like a dream to Bessie Fairfax. A tiring day in Hampton town, a hurried walk to the docks in the sunset, the gorgeous autumnal sunset that flushed the water like fire; a splendid hour in the river, ships coming up full sail, and twilight down to the sea; a long, deep sleep. Then sunrise on rolling green waves, low cliffs, headlands of France; a vast turmoil, hubbub, and confusion of tongues; a brief excursion into Havre, by gay shops to gayer gardens, and breakfast in the gayest of glass-houses. Then embarkation on board the boat for Caen; a gentle sea-rocking; soldiers, men in blouses, women in various patterns of caps; the mouth of the Orne; fringes on the coast of fashionable resort for sea-bathers. Miles up the stream, dreary, dreary; poplars leaning aslant from the wind, low mud-banks, beds of osiers, reeds, rushes, willows; poplars standing erect as a regiment in line, as many regiments, a gray monotony of poplars; the tide flowing higher, laving the reeds, the sallows, all pallid with mist and soft driving rain. A gleam of sun on a lawn, on roses, on a conical red roof; orchards, houses here and there, with shutters closed, and the afternoon sun hot upon them; acres of market-garden, artichokes, flat fields, a bridge, rushy ditches, tall array of poplars repeated and continued endlessly.
“I think,” said Bessie, “I shall hate a poplar as long as I live!”
Mr. Carnegie agreed that the scenery was not enchanting. Beautiful France is not to compare with the beautiful Forest. Harry Musgrave was in no haste with his opinion; he was looking out for Caen, that ancient and famous town of the Norman duke who conquered England. He had been reading up the guide-book and musing over history, while Bessie had been letting the poplars weigh her mind down to the brink of despondency.
A repetition of the noisy landing at Havre, despatch of baggage to Madame Fournier’s, everybody’s heart failing for fear of that august, unknown lady. A sudden resolution on the doctor’s part to delay the dread moment of consigning Bessie to the school-mistress until evening, and a descent on Thunby’s hotel. A walk down the Rue St. Jean to the Place St. Pierre, and by the way a glimpse, through an open door in a venerable gateway, of a gravelled court-yard planted with sycamores and surrounded by lofty walls, draped to the summit with vines and ivy; in the distance an arcade with vistas of garden beyond lying drowsy in the sunshine, the angle of a large mansion, and fluttering lilac wreaths of wisteria over the portal.
“If this is Madame Fournier’s school, it is a hushed little world,” said the doctor.
Bessie beheld it with awe. There was a solemn picturesqueness in the prospect that daunted her imagination.
Harry Musgrave referred to his guide-book: “Ah, I thought so—this is the place. Bessie, Charlotte Corday lived here.”