One evening in the cool Bessie walked with Miss Foster up the wide thoroughfare, at the country end of which are the old convent walls and gardens which enclose the modern buildings of the Bon Sauveur. They were not a dozen paces from the gates when the wicket was opened by a sister, and Mr. Frederick Fairfax came out. Bessie’s face flushed and her eyes filled with tears of compassion.
“You know where I have been, then, Elizabeth?” said he—“to visit my poor wife. She seems happier in her little room full of birds and flowers than on the yacht with me, yet the good nuns assure me she is the better for her sea-trip. The nuns are most kind.”
Bessie acquiesced, and Miss Foster remarked that it was at the Bon Sauveur gentle usage of the insane had first superseded the cruel old system of restraints and terror. Mr. Frederick Fairfax shivered, stood a minute gazing dejectedly into space, and then walked on.
“He loves her,” said Bessie, deeply touched. “I suppose death is a light affliction in comparison with such a separation.”
The wicket was still open, the sister was still looking out. There was a glimpse of lofty houses, open windows, grapevines rich in purple clusters on the walls, and boxes of mignonette and gayer flowers upon the window-sills. Miss Foster asked Bessie if she would like to see what of the asylum was shown; and though Bessie’s taste did not incline to painful studies, before she had the decision to refuse she found herself inside the gates and the sister was reciting her monotonous formula.
These tall houses in a crescent on the court were occupied by lady-boarders not suffering from mental alienation or any loss of faculty, but from decayed fortunes. The deaf and dumb, the blind, the crippled, epileptic, and insane had separate dwellings built apart in the formal luxuriant gardens. “We have patients of all nations,” said the sister. “Strangers see none of these; there have been distressing recognitions.” Bessie was not desirous of seeing any. She breathed more freely when she was outside the gates. It was a nightmare to imagine the agonies massed within those walls, though all is done that skill and charity can do for their alleviation.
* * * * *
“You will not forget us: if ever you come back to Caen, you will not forget us?” The speaker was little Mrs. Foster.
Bessie had learned to love Mrs. Foster’s crowded, minute salon, her mixed garden of flowers and herbs; and she had learned to love the old lady too, by reason of the kindnesses she had done her and her over-worked daughter. Mr. Fairfax had made his granddaughter an allowance of pocket-money so liberal that she was never at a loss for a substantial testimony of her gratitude to any one who earned it. And now her farewell visits to all who had been kind to her were paid, and she was surprised how much she was leaving that she regretted. The word had come for her to be ready at a moment’s call. The yacht was in the river, her luggage was gone on board, and Mrs. Betts had completed her final arrangements for the comfort of the young lady. Only Mr. Cecil Burleigh was to wait for—that was the last news for Bessie: Mr. Cecil Burleigh was to join the yacht, and to be carried to England with her.