What a picture she was as she sat there, my own Bessie! and what a strange place it was to rest on, those church steps! Behind us lay the Woolsey woods, with their wooing fragrance of pine and soft rushes of scented air; and the lakes were in the distance, lying very calm in the cloud-shadows and seeming to wait for us to come. But to-day Bessie would nothing of lakes or ledges: she would sit on the church steps.
In front of us, straight to the gate, ran a stiff little walk of white pebbles, hard and harsh as some bygone creed.
“Think of little bare feet coming up here, Bessie!” I said with a shiver. “It is too hard. And every carriage that comes up the hill sees us.”
“And why shouldn’t they see us?” said my lady, turning full upon me. “I am not ashamed to be here.”
“Churches should always have soft walks of turf; and lovers,” I would fain have added, “should have naught but whispering leaves about them.”
But Bessie cut me short in her imperious way: “But we are not lovers this morning: at least,” with a half-relenting look at my rueful face, “we are very good friends, and I choose to sit here to show people that we are.”
“What do you care for people—the Bartons or the Meyricks?” as I noticed a familiar family carriage toiling up the hill, followed by a lighter phaeton. I recognized already in the latter vehicle the crimson feather of Fanny Meyrick, and “the whip that was a parasol.”
“Shall I step out into the road this minute, and stop those ladies like a peaceable highwayman, and tell them you have promised to marry me, and that their anxiety as to our intimacy may be at rest? Give me but leave and I will do it. It will make Mrs. Barton comfortable. Then you and I can walk away into those beckoning woods, and I can have you all to myself.”
Indeed she was worth having. With the witchery that some girls know, she had made a very picture of herself that morning, as I have said. Some soft blue muslin stuff was caught up around her in airy draperies—nothing stiff or frilled about her: all was soft and flowing, from the falling sleeve that showed the fair curve of her arm to the fold of her dress, the ruffle under which her little foot was tapping, impatiently now. A little white hat with a curling blue feather shaded her face—a face I won’t trust myself to describe, save by saying that it was the brightest and truest, as I then thought, in all the world.
She said something rapidly in Italian—she is always artificial when she uses a foreign tongue—and this I caught but imperfectly, but it had a proverbial air about it of the error of too hasty assumptions.
“Well, now I’ll tell you something,” she said as the carriages disappeared over the top of the hill. “Fanny Meyrick is going abroad in October, and we shall not see her for ever so long.”