Our Bessie Part 32

"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 a.s.sumption, 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 pa.s.sed 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."

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