"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 grat.i.tude 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 a.s.sert 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 grat.i.tude.
"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 navely. "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."
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