Imágenes de páginas


BESSIE LEIGH. “TAEN you have made up your mind not to go to the squire's ball, Bessie. I thought you cared more for me than to refuse when you knew I looked forward to having you for my partner as the best thing there. Well, if you won't go, you won't; I dare say I shall find some one else willing enough to dance with me—not any one I shall like as well as you, Bessie," was added, in a relenting tone, as the speaker caught a timid, sorrowful glance from the eyes of the young girl with whom he was expostulating.

“I think I should have liked to go to the ball, Mr. Maxwell, and I'm sure I should have liked to dance with you, but the servants at the hall are much grander than I am; they dress as fine as ladies, and since grandfather died, and old grannie came to live with us, what with keeping hermthough no one grudges it to her - and what with paying for the boy's schooling, father has little enough to spare; he and mother work very hard; I could not look to them to spend their earnings in dressing me for a ball; besides, mother says young girls like me are best away from such places, and I think she's right, so I don't mean to go, though I'm thankful to the young ladies for inviting me, and it's kind of you to wish me to be there."

* All very fine, Miss Bessie. Well, if this is what you have made up your mind to, I must do my best to enjoy my evening without you. I dare say I shall manage it. I wish you good morning.”

And Philip Maxwell walked quickly away, striving to appear indifferent by whistling a gay air, and endeavouring to make himself believe he had great cause to be angry with Bessie for disappointing him in the pleasure he had promised himself of dancing with her at the ball which was to be given in the servants' hall at Wendley Court on New Year's-eve.

Philip Maxwell, a bright, manly young fellow of about six-andtwenty, with brown curly hair and laughing hazel eyes, was the son of a farmer near Woodstock, whose well-kept homestead, with its goodly ricks and lowing cows, yielding milk which produced the best butter in the country round, gave him the credit of being in circumstances so prosperous, that Philip was considered a great match, and had been made not a little conceited by the readiness with which his advances were met by the maidens whom he had dattered by his attentions. The last, and apparently the most deVOL. LIY.

loved with many bees, and mothers and siste

cided conquest that had been made of this fickle young gentleman, was that of little Bessie Leigh, a pretty blue-eyed lass of eighteen, the eldest daughter of one of the under-gardeners at Blenheim. Bessie was one of the prettiest and best girls near the town of Woodstock. Brought up in the school there, she was so great a favourite with the young ladies who taught in it, that when old enough to leave school she was offered by them the situation of young ladies' maid at Wendley Court; but just at this time her grandfather died, leaving little behind him but his Bible, an old pair of spectacles, a feather-bed, and a widow, who, though a cheery and intelligent old woman, had long been unable to do much more than sit in an arm-chair and work at her needle, and who, as her husband's sole legatee, took uncontested possession of his property, and came with it to spend the rest of her days in her son's family. So Bessie gave up the grand place at the squire's, and all the ease and plenty she would have had there, to wait upon her old grandmother, to rear poultry, and to help her mother in looking after the numerous young brothers and sisters who clustered round her like so many bees, and who, however troublesome and unruly, loved with all their hearts their kind, bright sister Bessie.

As Philip Maxwell walked whistling away something rose in Bessie's throat which made her feel as if she should be choked; her first impulse was to call him back, and to tell him she would go to the ball; but Bessie was a sensible girl, and modest withal, and having made up her mind she was doing her duty in staying away from it, she felt it would ill become her to yield to Philips solicitations. “He has been kind to me," she said, “but that is no reason why I should do a wrong thing to please him. I know I'm right,” she added, as she wiped away the tears that came to her relief; “such a ball as that will be is not the thing for me, and if Mr. Maxwell tempts me to wish for what I know would do me no good, the less I see him and talk to him the better. Why, all the money I have been saving for the children's Sunday frocks would not be enough to smarten me up for this grand ball, and I am sure I should not enjoy it if I had the thought that it would make me disappoint little Rose and Mary. No! I know I'm right. I wish Mr. Philip would think so too."

And once more little Bessie, wise and good girl though she was, wiped away the tears that would run down her cheeks when she remembered that her decision had probably driven from her one whose apparent partiality had produced many a happy feeling in her innocent young heart.

But Bessie had little time to be sentimental. All was in a bustle at the cottage when she reached home, for this conversation had taken place on Christmas-eve, and preparations-in forwarding which Bessie's assistance was greatly required—were being made for the morrow's feast. Mrs. Leigh, surrounded by her troop of sturdy children, was deep in the mysteries of pudding making; the

old lady was pulling out the white feathers of a goose, one of Bessie's own fattening, which was to be the principal dish of the Christmas dinner, while the father and his eldest boy, Jim, were digging from their garden the potatoes and cabbage by which the savory bird was to be supported. A clamour of voices was raised as Bessie entered, the children left their mother's side to show her the holly-branches with their bright red berries which they had gathered, and to single out a fine piece of mistletoe they had had the good luck to find, while Jim, who heard them, looked up and said:

“I know who'll get kissed under that, and I know who'll kiss her—eh, Bessie?”

“Why, Bessie, your cheeks are as red as the holly berries,” said mischievous Rose; while gentle little Mary squeezed her hand into Bessie's as she saw her lip tremble and her eyes fill with tears.

Bessie stooped down to kiss her young sister, and then, laying aside her bonnet and shawl, and turning her sleeves up above her rosy dimpled elbows, she bid her mother rest whilst she finished the pudding, and gave her advice as to the best way of fastening up the holly-branches. Bessie kept up bravely all the evening, but she was not sorry when bedtime came, and she was able in the stillness of her little chamber to think over the temptations of the day, and to ask in simple hearty prayer for help to do what was right. She felt stronger and happier—as who does not?-after she had prayed; but she could hardly help envying the peaceful untroubled sleep of the two little sisters, whose bed stood in a corner of her room. “I almost wish I was as young as Mary," said Bessie, as she looked at them. “She is dreaming of nothing but the happiness she expects to-morrow. I wonder whether old grannie ever had my sort of trouble? If she had, she has forgotten it by this time. I suppose I shall forget it some day; but not yet -not yet!”

Bright was the sun, and bright were the merry faces that shone on Bessie the next morning; her little bedfellow Dick, the youngest of the family, had clasped his fat arms round her neck and waked her with a kiss, while Rose and Mary were singing, with their sweet childish voices, the Christmas carol they had learnt at school. A sharp frost, preceded by a fall of snow, had clothed all without in a pure white dress fit for the holy morning, the arrival of which the bells of Woodstock Church were already welcoming with a merry peal.

“A happy Christmas to you, my lass,” said old Mrs. Leigh, as Bessie smoothed the grey hair and kissed the cheek of her grandmother before they started for church—“ay, a happy Christmas to my child, who does her duty, and keeps a smiling face to cheer the others, though she has something aching at her own heart. That's the best way to cure the aching, Bessie. Take an old woman's word

sauf the happiness my sort of treball forget it

had no more wells reside before had pr. Sprin

for it, there's nothing like forgetting oneself for the sake of making others happy, to drive away every trouble that God sees fit to send us. Then leave it in His hands, He knows what is best for us; blessed be His holy name," added the old lady, looking up with a pious, hopeful smile, and cheering Bessie, not only by her words, but by the knowledge they gave her that she had an observant and sympathising friend in her grandmother.

Christmas passed on, and New Year's-eve arrived, but Bessie had had no more entreaties from Philip Maxwell to resist. Not far from the Maxwells resided another farmer named Sprinks, whose wife some seventeen years before had presented him with a daughter. At the time of her baby's arrival, Mrs. Sprinks was so deeply filled with admiration of Goldsmith's poetry that nothing would content her but to name her child Angelina. This appellation, too grand for every-day use, had been miserably abbreviated to “ Angy." But although her name had been thus shorn of its fair proportions, and although passing years had added many successors to her firstborn child, Mrs. Sprinks had always clung to the idea that her Angelina was born to higher things than the life of a country farmer's daughter; and this conviction caused her, when Angy reached her fifteenth year, to worry her good-natured husband into a permission, given against his better judgment, to send the maiden to a “Ladies?” school at Oxford, where for the last two years she had been learning just enough in the way of showy accomplishments to make every useful occupation distasteful to her, and had acquired a taste for dress and gaiety which rendered a quiet country farm life irksome and disagreeable in a high degree.

With the Christmas holidays arrived Miss Angelina Sprinks, a pretty black-eyed, rosy-cheeked damsel, with a trim little figure, a sprightly animated manner when she was pleased, and plenty of that sort of conversation which attracts men who are accustomed to nothing more lively than discussions on farming, or the secondhand politics of a country town. Philip Maxwell, brooding over Bessie's unwillingness to comply with his request, and trying to teach himself that she neither cared for him nor was worth caring for, fell an easy prey to the fascinations of Angy, who was very willing to amuse herself by a flirtation with so handsome an admirer as Philip.

6 Why, Phil!” said Mrs. Maxwell, the day after the ball, “I couldn't keep my sides from shaking with laughter last night to see you and Angy Sprinks turning round like a pair of teetotums, and kicking your legs out for all the world as if you'd got St. Vity's dance; she, with those iron hoops round her, showing enough to make a modest woman hide her eyes for very shame, and you hauling her round the waist, with your face as red as a turkeycock, as if you thought you must hold on by main force or you'd both come sprawling down together. I couldn't hardly help wish

« AnteriorContinuar »