Mr. Sinclair laughed mischievously.
"The fact is," he said, "Miss Lambert and I have met before this morning;" which was the truth, for Bessie had encountered him coming out of his hotel, and they had spent a pleasant hour together talking about many things; and this conversation had raised Mr. Sinclair very much in Bessie's estimation, and her interest was warmly reciprocated.
"You have never had a friend I liked so well as I do Miss Lambert," he said, as he and Edna were walking together. "She is a genuine girl—absolutely true, and without any pretense or nonsense."
"Daisy is a dear little thing, and I am as fond of her as possible. I am so glad you like her, Neville," and Edna looked very pleased.
Mr. Sinclair left on the following morning, and in the afternoon Miss Shelton arrived. She was a pleasant-looking woman, with a tranquil face and silvery-gray hair, and Bessie was prepossessed in her favor at once. She was evidently warmly attached to her old pupil, and the news of her reconciliation with her lover filled her with unbounded satisfaction, and her congratulations were very hearty.
"I have lived a great many years in the world," she said, "but I have never seen two better young men than Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Richard."
They were sitting round the fire in the twilight as Miss Shelton made this little speech; they had come in from their drive half an hour ago; the tea things had just been taken away, and Edna was sitting on the rug at Miss Shelton's feet.
"They are both admirable," she murmured; and this encomium on the absent Richard gratified Bessie.
"I don't think they are to be compared," observed Mrs. Sefton, rather superciliously. "My dear Miriam, Neville is infinitely superior. Richard has not got Neville's brains."
"Cleverness is not everything," replied Miss Shelton. "I respect Mr. Sinclair, and have the highest opinion of his abilities; but Mr. Richard has always been a favorite of mine. Very few people guess how much he has in him; but I found it out myself a long time ago."
"You and Ritchie were always good friends, dear Miss Shelton. Hush! I hear some one in the corridor; it cannot be Neville come back;" and Edna sprung up from her low seat with a heightened color; but as the door opened her voice fell. "No, it is only Ritchie," in a disappointed tone.
"Whom were you expecting, Edna?" asked her brother, advancing toward the fireside circle. "Your tone does not sound very promising for me. Mother, you see I have taken you by surprise. Miss Shelton, I am delighted to see you again. How do you do, Miss Lambert?" with a swift glance in her direction.
Bessie greeted him quietly, and went back to her corner; the surprise was a very pleasant one for her. Richard looked well, and more animated than usual.
"I thought we arranged that you were not to come until to-morrow week, Richard," observed Mrs. Sefton, in her usual cold manner: and it was evident that she was not pleased at her stepson's arrival. "I told you particularly Miss Shelton was coming this week."
"Oh, yes, I knew Miss Shelton would be here; but Saturday week would not have suited me at all. I don't mean to put you out, mother. I have taken a room at the Grand Hotel. I can have my meals there, too, if you like."
"Nonsense, Ritchie!" returned Edna, good-humoredly; "our dining-room is not so small as that. You may have your breakfast at your hotel, and then spend the rest of the day with us. Miss Shelton will be delighted to have you; she was singing your praises just now."
"I saw Neville in town this afternoon," observed Richard, with a significant glance at his sister. "'All's well that ends well,' eh, Edna? So the comedy of errors is played out."
"Come into the other room and I will tell you all about it," replied Edna, taking hold of his arm in a friendly fashion. "Mamma, I suppose there is enough dinner for Richard, but I don't mean to let him go away."
"Neither do I mean to go," added Richard, with a laugh, as he allowed himself to be led out of the room.
"How well he looks! older and nicer, I think," observed Miss Shelton, as the young people left the room.
"Do you think so?" replied Mrs. Sefton, indifferently. "Richard is always terribly boorish in appearance; and as to his manners, nothing will polish them. But what can you expect, when he affects the company of farmers? Neville is worth a hundred of him," she continued, as she rose, with a discontented expression, to give some further orders.
Miss Shelton shook her head in a disapproving fashion.
"What a mistake," she said quietly, "always to undervalue that poor boy! I am glad to see Edna is improved in that respect. He is a great favorite of mine, Miss Lambert. I found out he had a kind heart when I was in trouble once. As Edna says, we are great friends."
"He is very nice," agreed Bessie, and then she went to her room to prepare for dinner. Yes, she was very glad he had come, though the sight of his familiar face had brought back the memory of that last sad day at The Grange. They had not met for seven months; how much had happened since then!
But when the evening was over, she was obliged to confess that it had somehow disappointed her. Richard had said very little to her. Miss Shelton had engrossed his conversation; he hardly looked in Bessie's direction.
When dinner was over, and Edna went to the piano, he placed himself beside her; but he did not ask Bessie to sing. She sat at her work, and tried to think that she was enjoying herself, but she felt left out in the cold; she missed the old friendliness in Richard's manner; she wondered why he did not ask about her home. Could a few months have cooled his friendship? When she bade him good-night he hardly looked at her; he shook hands far more cordially with Miss Shelton.
Bessie felt chilled and depressed, for she was a faithful little soul, and was true to all her likes and dislikes; fickleness to her friends was not in her nature; if she liked a person she liked him or her always.
"It is very strange, very disappointing. I think I would rather he had not come," she thought; "but perhaps he will be nicer to-morrow;" and with this vague hope she fell asleep.
The next morning she was out at her usual time, and, as before, the crisp morning air seemed to dispel all uneasy thoughts; she felt brighter, more sanguine and cheerful than she had last night. Nature holds a store of comfort for those who love and seek her—she has all sorts of balmy messages to give them; a thousand mellow influences steal upon the jaded consciousness; hope is written legibly in the blue sky, the clear air, the sunshine; every flower, every leaf is a token of love; the birds sing, and, in spite of ourselves, our hearts grow lighter.
"It must have been my fancy," thought Bessie; "I hope I am not growing self-conscious;" and then she gave a little start of surprise, for surely she knew that brown tweed coat, and there was Richard coming to meet her; and it was with his old pleasant smile that he greeted her.
"What a lovely morning, Miss Lambert! I knew you would be out." He had expected her then. "Miss Shelton is an early riser, too, but she never walks before breakfast. I wanted to find you alone, and to tell you that I was at Cliffe the day before yesterday."
"At Cliffe?" And Bessie raised her clear eyes to his with such intense surprise that Richard laughed a little nervously.
"I had some business there," he began awkwardly, "and I wanted to see your father. I saw them all," hesitating, "except your brother—he has gone back to Oxford; they were very well, and sent their love."
"And you saw mother?"
"Yes; what a nice woman she is! I like her so much, and your father too; they were very kind—kinder than I expected. You are a little like your mother—at least, I saw a sort of likeness. I never felt more at home anywhere."
"I am so glad;" and Bessie did look glad. He was quite like himself this morning; she had got her friend back again. "Did father send me no other message?" she asked presently.
"No, I believe not; at least, I have no recollection of a message. Miss Lambert," and here Richard's manner was decidedly nervous, "don't you wonder what my business was at Cliffe?"
"Why, no," she said, so frankly and innocently that in spite of his nervousness Richard could not restrain a smile. "I suppose there was something you wanted."
"Yes, indeed," he replied promptly, for this remark helped him; "and I wanted it so much that I was obliged to apply to your father."
"Could father help you?" much astonished at this.
"He helped me a great deal. I should not be speaking to you now but for him. Miss Lambert—Bessie—can't you guess? It is so hard for me to bring it out. Can't you guess what it was I wanted from your father? I have never wanted anything so much in my life."
Richard's manner grew so earnest and imploring, that an idea of his meaning flashed across her with a suddenness that made her giddy; but she only said very gravely:
"I cannot understand unless you speak out."
"May I speak out, then—may I tell you plainly what I want? It is yourself, Bessie;" and, in spite of his nervousness, Richard spoke a few forcible words, very eloquent from their intense earnestness. "I have cared for you all this time, but I would not obtrude myself on your trouble; I thought it better to wait."
"It was very kind, very thoughtful of you," replied Bessie, in a low voice. And then she added, shyly: "This is all new to me. I never expected this, Mr. Sefton."
"I was afraid not, from your manner; but, Bessie, for my sake you will think of it now. We have been friends, and now you have grown necessary to my happiness. I have been very lonely all these years; I shall be lonelier than ever if you cannot bring yourself to love me." His voice was so sad that the tears came to Bessie's eyes. She longed to comfort him; but how was she to be sure of her own mind?
"Will you give me a little time, a few hours to think of it?" she said at last. "It will not be right to answer you now. Do my mother and father know about this?"
"Yes," he returned eagerly, for her words filled him with hope; she had not repulsed him, and her manner, though confused, was as gentle as ever. "They quite approved. You see, I knew you so well that I would not have ventured to speak to you without their sanction."
"You were right," she said softly; and then she looked at him in a beseeching way that made Richard say:
"You would like me to leave you alone for a little, would you not?"
"If you please—that is, if you do not mind."
"I will go, then. But, Bessie, you will be here to-morrow morning?"
"I will be content with that promise, then," and Richard lifted his hat and moved away, and Bessie went home.
Breakfast was ready when she arrived, and she took her place at once, and made an effort to talk as usual. Once Edna made a remark about Richard.
"I have promised to drive him over the downs," she said. "Bessie, Miss Shelton wants to do some shopping; do you mind taking charge of her for the morning?"
"Certainly not," replied Bessie, who would have given worlds to be quiet; but she could not refuse Edna. She was afraid, however, that Miss Shelton found her a stupid companion; every now and then her attention wandered; she was conscious that a grave decision, one that would affect her whole life, was hanging in the balance; she had promised Richard to think about it, but no such thought seemed possible.
"I am tiring you out, my dear," observed Miss Shelton at last, "and it must be nearly luncheon time. I dare say Edna has returned from her drive."
Yes, Edna was standing in the window when they entered, but Richard was not with her.
"Ritchie said he would lunch at his hotel," she observed; "and he is going over to Lewes this afternoon, and may be late for dinner; and in that case he will have a chop somewhere, as he does not want us to wait for him."
"He will come in afterward, I suppose," replied Miss Shelton; but Bessie said to herself that he would do no such thing. How thoughtful he was for her comfort! He was staying away purposely, that his presence might not confuse her; and Bessie felt grateful to him for the delicacy that shielded and spared her.
The afternoon was not much better than the morning. Edna carried off Miss Shelton to the Aquarium, and left Bessie to drive with her mother; and as Mrs. Sefton was very talkative and in excellent spirits, Bessie had to maintain her share of the conversation. They found visitors on their return, and Bessie had to pour out the tea, and help entertain them, as Edna was tired from her exertions.
As she had predicted, Richard never made his appearance at all, although Miss Shelton and Edna both expected him, and indulged in wondering comments on his prolonged absence. Bessie found her position unbearable at last, and she made an excuse to retire early to her room. She gave a sigh of relief when she closed the door.
"At last I can think," she said to herself, as she drew her chair to the fire.
How was she to answer Richard to-morrow? But even as she asked herself the question she knew she had her answer ready. True, he had taken her by surprise; she had never suspected that this was his meaning. Bessie's unconsciousness, her humble estimate of herself, had blinded her to the truth. She hardly knew herself how much he was to her until his words had broken the spell; but now there was no room for doubt. She respected him; he had claimed her sympathy long ago, and now he had won her love.
"Oh, if only my Hatty knew!" were her last thoughts that night, after she had finished her thanksgiving for the new blessing that had come into her life; and though she was still tremulous and confused with happiness, she quieted herself with a few childlike prayers, and soon slept soundly.
Bessie felt a little nervous as she left the house the next morning, but she tried not to think of herself. Richard was waiting for her on the Parade. One glance at him banished her nervousness; he looked pale and anxious, as though he had not slept, but he made an effort to smile as he held out his hand.
"Is there any hope for me, Bessie?"
"Yes," she said simply, as she left her hand in his; and Richard needed no further answer.
It was a bright, peaceful hour that followed, as they walked side by side, looking at the shining sea and speaking of the dim future that lay before them.
"I was afraid you were too good for me, Bessie," Richard said, bye and bye, when he had exhausted his gratitude a little. "Sometimes I used to lose hope. 'She will never care for such a rough fellow,' I often said to myself."
"You must not speak against yourself now," returned Bessie shyly.
"No, dear, for you have promised to take me just as I am, and that would make any fellow think more of himself. Bessie, you must not mind if my mother is not quite pleased at first; she is an ambitious woman, and her notions are very different from mine." Bessie did not answer for a moment, and her silence seemed to alarm Richard.
"She is only my stepmother; I am my own master, Bessie."
"Yes, I know," in a low voice. "I was thinking about that last night. I am afraid she will not like it, and it troubles me a little. We are not rich, and——"
"What does that matter?" with a touch of impatience. "I thought you were free from that sort of nonsense, Bessie."
"It does not matter to us," replied Bessie, with a slight emphasis on the "us" that was exquisite to Richard's ear. "I am only speaking of Mrs. Sefton; but she is not your own mother, and she has never made you happy, and she has no right to prevent you pleasing yourself."
"That is spoken like a sensible girl. I must thank you for that speech. Your father said much the same thing to me. 'You are your own master,' he remarked, 'and your stepmother has no right to control your choice; but, knowing her as I do, she will not be pleased.'"
"You will tell her as soon as possible, will you not—and Edna, too?"
"I will tell them this morning. You must leave everything to me. You shall be subjected to no unpleasantness that I can prevent. And, Bessie, I am going to take you down to Cliffe. I have made my mind up to that."
"Very well," she said, with a smile. And it was a new thing for Richard to assert himself and meet with no contradiction; and as he looked at the girl beside him, and met her clear, candid glance, his heart swelled within him for very gratitude.
"It is getting late; we must go home now," observed Bessie, wondering a little at his sudden silence.
"Yes, we will go home," he replied, rousing himself. "I was just thinking, dear, what life will mean to me when I have you beside me."
IN THE COOMBE WOODS.
Breakfast was a more difficult affair than it had been on the preceding morning, and Edna, who was very quick-witted, soon saw there was something amiss with Bessie; but she was a kind-hearted girl, and she threw herself with such animation into the conversation that Bessie's silence was unnoticed.
When the meal was finished Bessie withdrew to her room, and Edna would have followed her, but just then Richard came in, and begged her in a low voice to get rid of Miss Shelton for half an hour, as he wanted to speak to her and her mother; and then in a moment Edna guessed the truth.
Bessie remained a long time alone. She had finished her letter to her mother, and had just taken up her work, before Edna came in search of her.
Edna looked excited, and there were tears in her eyes as she kissed Bessie.
"You naughty little thing!" she said, trying to laugh. "Who ever would have thought of you and Ritchie falling in love with each other? I don't think I have ever been more surprised in my life."
"I was surprised, too," replied Bessie naively. "Dear Edna, are you very much shocked?"
"Not at all. On the whole, I am very much pleased at the idea of having you as a sister. I fell in love with you myself, Bessie. I told Ritchie that, so I ought not to be so surprised that he has followed my example. I am not quite sure that he is good enough for you. I suppose you think he is," doubtfully.
"Yes, indeed. It is I who am not good enough for him," replied Bessie, blushing, and looking so pretty that Edna hugged her again.
"You are very kind to me, Edna, but I am afraid your mother will not be pleased about this;" and then Edna's face grew somewhat grave.
"No, Bessie, she is not; and she is very hard upon poor Richard, as usual, and I had to take his part. Mamma is very proud, and that is why she approved so much of Neville, because he belongs to county people and is his uncle's heir. Neville will be terribly rich one day."
"And I am poor!" in a troubled voice.
"Yes, but Richard has plenty of money, and, as I tell mamma, I cannot see what that matters. You are a lady, Bessie; your mother is a perfect gentlewoman; and as for Dr. Lambert, mamma knows what he is—she cannot say a word against him. She says she is very fond of you personally, but all the same she does not want Richard to marry you. You see," hesitating a little, "mamma will have to leave The Grange when Ritchie marries, and she does not like the idea of that; but, as Richard justly said, his father hoped he would marry early, and he had a right, like any other man, to take a wife when he wishes. Of course, mamma has not a grain of right on her side, but she chooses to be angry with Richard because he has been down to Cliffe and settled everything without reference to her; she says it is the way he always treats her."
"I think I will go to your mother, Edna. Is—is your brother with her?"
"Yes, I believe so; but they are not talking now. Ritchie sent me to you. Must you go, Bessie, dear? mamma will not be a bit nice to you."
"I cannot help that; but I am as much to blame as your brother is, and I shall not leave him to bear the brunt of it all." And though Bessie looked a little pale as she said this, she carried out her resolve much to Mrs. Sefton's astonishment.
Richard met her at once, and took her hand.
"I have told my mother, Bessie," he said, in a clear, high voice that was a little defiant.
"Yes, I know now, when everything is arranged," returned Mrs. Sefton, in an injured tone.
"Dear Mrs. Sefton," said Bessie gently, "nothing was settled until this morning. Mr. Sefton took me by surprise yesterday, and I was hardly prepared. Indeed, I had no answer to give him until this morning, so not an hour has been lost."
"My mother knows all that," interrupted Richard, "but I cannot convince her no offence is intended. Mother, I think you might give Bessie a kinder reception; she has promised to marry me, and I think my future wife should be treated with consideration and respect."
"No, no; how can you talk so?" interrupted Bessie, for the young man spoke in a fiery manner. "Mrs. Sefton, please don't listen to him. You shall treat me as you will; but I shall always remember how good you have been to me. Of course you are not pleased with a poor girl like me; but you will be kind to me all the same—will you not? and I will try to follow all your wishes. It is not your son's fault either," very shyly, but trying to speak out bravely, "for he could not help caring for me, I suppose. Do, do try to forgive us both, and be kind to him." And here Bessie faltered and broke down.
Nothing could have been better than Bessie's little impetuous speech. Mrs. Sefton was a proud, ambitious woman, but she was not wholly without feelings, and she had always been fond of Bessie. The girl's sweetness and humility, her absence of all assumption, the childlike way in which she threw herself upon her womanly kindness, touched Mrs. Sefton's cold heart, and she kissed the wet, flushed cheek.
"Don't cry, Bessie. I suppose as things are settled we must just make the best of them. Richard put me out, and I said more than I meant. I was not pleased. I think I ought to have been consulted at least, not left so wholly in the dark."
"I am very sorry, mother, but you have never invited my confidence," replied Richard; but his lips quivered as he spoke.
"Yes; but you will be kinder to him now," and Bessie looked imploringly at her; "indeed, he has always loved you, but you have repelled him so. Richard," very softly, "will you not tell your mother that you mean to be good to her?"
Mrs. Sefton looked up, and her eyes met her stepson's. "It was not my fault, mother," he said, with suppressed emotion.
Bessie thought that he was speaking of their engagement, but Richard's words conveyed a different meaning to his stepmother's ears. He was going back to the past. Again he saw himself a shy, nervous boy, standing before the proud, handsome girl who had just become his father's wife. "He can never be anything to me," he heard her say; and her low, bitter tones lingered long in his ears. "If I had known of his existence it might have been different; but now—" and she turned away with a gesture of dislike.
"Ritchie, my boy, you must ask this lady to forgive us both," his father had observed, rather sadly.
How well Richard remembered that little scene! the discomfited expression of his father's face; his own puzzled, childish feelings. All these years he had suffered the consequences of his father's rash act. "He can never be anything to me," she had said, and her words had come true.
"Mother, it was not my fault," he said, looking into her eyes.
And for the first time she quailed before that sad, reproachful gaze; it seemed to compel her to acknowledge the truth. "No, Richard; it was your father's; it was he who estranged us," she returned slowly. "I was not the woman to forgive deceit. I wish—I wish things could have been different."
"They shall be different," he replied gently, "if you will have it so, mother; it is not too late yet;" and though she did not answer, and there was no response to that burst of generous feeling, there was something in her face that gave Richard hope; neither did she repulse him when he stooped over her and kissed her.
"Try to make the best of me," he said; and Mrs. Sefton sighed, and left her hand in his.
Richard took Bessie out with him after that. He was agitated and dispirited by the interview with his stepmother, and needed all the comfort Bessie could give him.
"It is very hard to bear," were his first words, when he found himself alone with her.
"Yes, it is very hard," she replied gently; "but you behaved so well it made me so proud to hear you;" and Richard felt a glow of satisfaction at her words.
"You were beside me, helping me all the time," he said simply. "Bessie, if you only knew what it is to me to be sure of your sympathy. My little blessing, I think you were born to be a peacemaker. It was you who softened my mother's heart; before you came in she was so hard, and said such bitter things, and then I lost my temper, and——"
"Do not go back to that," she said quietly. "Your mother was taken by surprise. She said herself that she spoke hastily. Let us give her time. She cannot alter her nature all at once. You have been very patient a long time, Richard; be patient still for my sake."
"There is nothing I would not do for your sake," he replied; and Bessie was pleased to see him smile.
After all, it was not difficult to comfort him; the cloud soon passed away from his face, and in a little while they were talking as happily together as though no unkind words had been said.
They had a quiet, peaceful Sunday together, and then Richard went back to Oatlands, on the understanding that he was to return on Wednesday night and take Bessie down to Cliffe the next day.
Bessie was not sorry to be left alone for two days to realize her own happiness; but, all the same, she was glad to welcome him back again on Wednesday, though she was secretly amused when Richard declared those two days of absence had been intolerably long; still she liked to hear him say it.
It was a happy evening to Bessie when she saw Richard for the first time in her own dear home, making one of the family circle, and looking as though he had been there for years. How kindly they had all greeted him! She saw by her mother's expression how pleased and excited she was. She took the young man under her motherly wing at once, and petted and made much of him; and it was easy to see how proud her father was of his son-in-law elect. Bessie thought she had never seen Richard to such advantage before. There was no awkwardness in his manner; he was alert, cheerful, and at his ease, ready to talk to Christine or to the younger girls, and full of delicate little attentions to his fiancee.
"A fine, manly fellow!" observed Dr. Lambert, as he wished his daughter good-night. "You have won a prize, my girl; I am perfectly satisfied with my future son-in-law," and Bessie blushed and smiled over her father's encomium.
But the most comfortable moment was when she had her mother to herself, for Mrs. Lambert had stolen upstairs after Bessie.
"Oh, mother, this is what I wanted," she said, drawing her mother down into the low chair beside the fire, and kneeling on the rug beside her. "How good of you to come up to me! I was so longing for a talk."
"I think your father wanted Mr. Sefton to himself, so I left them together."
"You must call him Richard," corrected Bessie; "he wants you to do so. It was so nice to see him with you to-night; he will never want a mother now. You like him, do you not?" rather shyly.
"Yes, indeed; we all like him; there is something so genuine about him. My darling, I have not felt so happy since our poor Hatty's death."
"I think she would have been pleased about this, mother; it is the one drop of bitterness in my cup of happiness that her congratulations are missing. You were all so dear and kind to me, and to Richard, too; but I missed my Hatty;" and Bessie leaned against her mother's shoulder, and shed a few quiet tears.
"I think I must tell you something," returned her mother soothingly. "Dear little Hatty used to talk in the strangest way sometimes. One night when she had been very ill, and I was sitting beside her, she told me that she had had such a funny dream about you—that you and Mr. Sefton were going to be married, and that she had seen you dressed in white, and looking so happy, and then she said very wistfully, 'Supposing my dream should come true, mother, and our Bessie really married him, how nice that would be!' and she would speak of it more than once, until I was obliged to remind her that I never cared to talk of such subjects, and that I did not like my girls to talk of them, either. 'But, all the same, mother, Bessie will not be an old maid,' she persisted, with such a funny little smile, and then she left off to please me."
"How strange!" replied Bessie thoughtfully. "I must tell Richard that; he was so kind about Hatty. Mother, is it not nice to be able to tell some one all one's thoughts, and be sure of their interest? That is how I begin to feel about Richard. He is always so kind and patient, and ready to hear everything, and he never laughs nor turn things into fun, as Tom does; and he is so clever; he knows things of which I am quite ignorant;" and Bessie rambled on in an innocent, girlish way of her lover's perfections, while her mother listened with a smile, remembering her own young days.
"She is very simple," she said to her husband that night; "she thinks only of him; she does not seem to remember that he is rich, and that one day she will be mistress of The Grange. That is so like our Bessie; she always goes to the heart of things."
"I am very much pleased with him," replied Dr. Lambert; "he is just as unsophisticated in his way as Bessie is in hers. You would have liked to have heard him, Dora. He seems to think there is no one like her. 'She is worth a dozen of me,' he said; and he meant it, too."
Richard spent several days at Cliffe, and they were golden days to him and Bessie. On the last evening they went out together, for in the Lamberts' crowded household there was little quiet for the lovers, and Richard had pleaded for one more walk. "I shall not see you for six whole weeks," he said disconsolately; and, as usual, Bessie yielded to his wishes.
They climbed up by the quarry into the Coombe Woods, and walked through the long, green alleys that seemed to stretch into space. The Coombe Woods were a favorite trysting-place for young couples, and many a village lad and lass carried on their rustic courtship there. The trees were leafless now, but the February sky was soft and blue, and the birds were twittering of the coming spring.
"And Edna is to be married in June," observed Bessie, breaking the silence. "I am glad Mrs. Sefton has given her consent."
"I suppose they gave her no option," replied Richard. "I knew when Sinclair went down on Saturday that he would settle something. Edna would not be likely to refuse him anything just now. You will have to be her bridesmaid, Bessie, so I am sure of some rides with you in June."
"Dear old Whitefoot! I shall be glad to mount him again."
"I shall get you a better horse before next winter. Whitefoot is growing old. Bessie, I ought not to be dissatisfied when you have been so good to me; but do you not think it would be possible to induce your father to change his mind?"
Bessie did not pretend to misunderstand his meaning; she only said gently:
"No, Richard; and I do not think it would be right to ask him;" and then she added, "You know dear Hatty will only have been dead a year."
"Yes, I see what you mean," he replied slowly, "and I must not be selfish; but next October is a long time to wait, Bessie."
"It will not seem so," she answered brightly, "and we must not hurry your mother; there will be Edna's marriage in June, and my visit to The Grange, and every now and then you will come here."
"Yes, and there will be my mother to settle in her new house—you see what Edna says in her letter, that they have decided not to separate; that means that my mother will take a house at Kensington. Well, I dare say that will be for the best; but when my mother goes The Grange will want its mistress."
"It will not want her long," she said very gently, "and Richard, dear, you have promised not to be impatient. Mother is not ready to part with me yet. I shall not like to think of you being lonely in that big house; but it will not be for long."
"And, after all, I shall not be lonely," he returned, for he was not to be outdone in unselfishness. "I shall be getting the house ready for you, and the new mare. Oh, and there will be a hundred things to do, and in the evenings I shall talk to Mac about his new mistress, and he will look up in my face with his wise, deep-set eyes, as though he understood every word, and was as glad as I was that October would soon come."
"Poor old Mac!" she exclaimed; and there was a soft color in her face as she interrupted him. "You must give him a pat from me, and to all the dear dogs—Leo, and Gelert, and Brand, and Bill Sykes—we must not forget Bill Sykes—and Tim, and Spot; and tell them—" And then she stopped and looked at him with a smile.
"What shall I tell them?" he asked coaxingly; "that you will be glad too, when October comes?"
"If you like," she answered quietly, "you may tell them that; but, Richard, when I think of the future, it is all like a dream. I cannot imagine that the dear old Grange is to be my home."
"You will find it very real," he replied. "Think what walks we shall have on Sunday afternoons, with Bill Sykes and his companions; and when you go into the drawing-room to make tea, Tim and Spot will not be left outside."
"Wait a moment, Richard look at that sunset;" and Bessie pointed to the western heavens, which were bathed in a glow of golden light. They had reached the end of the wood; a wide stretch of country lay before them. How still and quiet it was! even the birds' twitterings had ceased. Bessie's eyes grew soft and wistful; the sunset glories had reminded her of Hatty in her far-off home.
Down below them lay the bay, like a sea of glass mingled with fire. "Thank God, all is well with my Hatty!" she thought; and then she turned to Richard with a gentle smile, and they went slowly back through the wood again, talking quietly of the days that were to be.
Changes to the original publication have been made as follows:
Table of contents The Oatland Post-mark changed to The Oatlands Post-mark
Page 7 "I am sure I don't know" returned changed to "I am sure I don't know," returned
Page 17 in ice in Artic changed to in ice in Arctic
Page 56 I dont think Aunt changed to I don't think Aunt
Page 79 proudly to show her treassure changed to proudly to show her treasure
Page 80 manners My Bessie is changed to manners. My Bessie is
Page 92 embarrased manner changed to embarrassed manner
Page 94 live anywhere else?" changed to live anywhere else!"
Page 95 inintellect, of art changed to intellect, of art
Page 103 then her mother dotes on her. changed to then her mother dotes on her."
Page 109 "You may come in if you like, old fellow. changed to "You may come in if you like, old fellow."
Page 111 Hatty! Oh, you mean the little changed to "Hatty! Oh, you mean the little
Page 113 but for my part I think him changed to "but for my part I think him
Page 130 but I I can imagine what a changed to but I can imagine what a
Page 139 muff, but the man be has changed to muff, but the man he has
Page 162 he returned hastiiy changed to he returned hastily
Page 164 step-mother was young, and did not changed to stepmother was young, and did not
Page 173 I go there very often because changed to 'I go there very often because
Page 209 and the heorines have changed to and the heroines have
Page 216 "Hatty is not well," observed Bessie anxiously changed to "Hatty is not well," observed Bessie anxiously.
Page 222 What a terriffic clap! changed to What a terrific clap!
Page 267 effort to come, if only for my sake.' changed to effort to come, if only for my sake.
Page 283 is quite well," he continueed coldly changed to is quite well," he continued coldly
Page 297 You father will find that changed to Your father will find that
Page 309 "I had some business there, he began awkwardly changed to "I had some business there," he began awkwardly
Page 310 "Yes, indeed, he replied promptly changed to "Yes, indeed," he replied promptly