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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 1. Beatrice Will Fit
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 1. Beatrice Will Fit Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1554

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 1. Beatrice Will Fit


"So," continued Mrs. Meadowsweet, settling herself in a lazy, fat sort of a way in her easy chair, and looking full at her visitor with a complacent smile, "so I called her Beatrice. I thought under the circumstances it was the best name I could give--it seemed to fit all round, you know, and as _he had no objection, being very easy-going, poor man, I gave her the name."

"Yes?" interrogated Mrs. Bertram, in a softly surprised, and but slightly interested voice; "you called your daughter Beatrice? I don't quite understand your remark about the name fitting all round."

Mrs. Meadowsweet raised one dimpled hand slowly and laid it on top of the other. Her smile grew broader.

"A name is a solemn thing, Mrs. Bertram," she continued. "A name is, so to speak, to fit the person to whom it is given, for life. Will you tell me how any mother, even the shrewdest, is to prophecy how an infant of a few weeks old is to turn out? I thought over that point a good deal when I gave the name, and said I to myself however matters turn 'Beatrice' will fit. If she grows up cozy and soft and petting and small, why she's Bee, and if she's sharp and saucy, and a bit too independent, as many lasses are in these days, what can suit her better than Trixie? And again if she's inclined to be stately, and to hold herself erect, and to think a little more of herself than her mother ever did--only not more than she deserves--bless her--why then she's Beatrice in full. Oh! and there you are, Beatrice! Mrs. Bertram has been good enough to call to see me. Mrs. Bertram, this is my daughter Beatrice."

A very tall girl came quietly into the room, bowed an acknowledgment of her mother's introduction, and sat down on the edge of the sofa. She was a dignified girl from the crown of her head to her finger-tips, and Mrs. Bertram, who had been listening languidly to the mother, favored the newcomer with a bright, quick, inquisitive stare, then rose to her feet.

"I am afraid I must say good-bye, Mrs. Meadowsweet. I am glad to have made your daughter's acquaintance, and another day I hope I shall see more of her. I have of course heard of you from Catherine, my dear," she added, holding out her hand frankly to the young girl.

"Yes. Is Catherine well?" asked Beatrice, in a sweet high-bred voice.

"She is well, my dear. Good-bye, Mrs. Meadowsweet. I quite understand the all-roundness and suitability of your choice in the matter of names."

Then the great lady sailed out of the room, and Beatrice flew to the window, placed herself behind the curtain and watched her down the street.

"What were you saying about me, mother?" she asked, when Mrs. Bertram had turned the corner.

"I was only telling about your name, my dearie girl. _He always gave me my way, poor man, so I fixed on Beatrice. I said it would fit all round, and it did. Shut that window, will you, Bee?--the wind is very sharp for the time of year. You don't mind my calling you Bee now and then--even if it doesn't seem quite to fit?" continued Mrs. Meadowsweet.

"No, mother, of course not. Call me anything in the world you fancy. What's in a name?"

"Don't say that, Trixie, there's a great deal in a name."

"Well, I get confused with mine now and then. Mother, I just came in to kiss you and run away again. Alice Bell and I are going to the lecture at the Town Hall. It begins at five, and it's half-past four now. Good-bye, I shall be home to supper."

"One moment, Bee, I am really pleased that your fine friend's mother has chosen to call at last."

Beatrice frowned.

"Catherine is not my fine friend," she said.

"Well, your _friend_, then, dearie. I am glad your friend's mother has called."

"I am not--that is, I am absolutely indifferent. Now, I really must run away. Good-bye until you see me again."

She tripped out of the room as lightly and carelessly as she had entered it, and Mrs. Meadowsweet sat on by the window which looked into the garden.

Mrs. Meadowsweet had the smoothest and most tranquil of faces. She had taken as her favorite motto in life, that somehow, if you only allowed them, things did fit all round. Each event in her own career, to use her special phraseology "fitted." As her husband had to die, he passed away from this life at the most fitting moment. As Providence had blessed her with only one child, a daughter was surely the most fitting companion for a widowed mother. The house Mrs. Meadowsweet lived in fitted her requirements to perfection. In short, she was fat and comfortable, both in mind and body; she never fretted, she never worried; she was not rasping and disagreeable; she was not fault-finding. If her nature lacked depth, it certainly did not lack affection, generosity, and a true spirit of kindliness. If she were a little too well pleased with herself, she was also well pleased with her neighbors. She was not especially appreciated, for she was considered prosy and commonplace. Prosy she undoubtedly was, but not commonplace, for invariable contentment and unbounded good-nature are more and more difficult to find in this censorious world.

Mrs. Meadowsweet now smiled gently to herself.

"However Beatrice may take it, I _am glad Mrs. Bertram called," she murmured. "_He'd have liked it, poor man! he never put himself out, and he never interfered with me, no, never, poor dear. But he liked people to show due respect--it's a respect to Beatrice for Mrs. Bertram to call. It shows that she appreciates Beatrice as her daughter's friend. Mrs. Bertram, notwithstanding her pride, is likely to be very much respected in Northbury, and no wonder. She's a little above most of us, but we like her all the better for that. We are going to be proud of her. It's nice to have some one to be proud of. And she has no airs when you come to know her, no, she hasn't airs; she's as pleasant as possible, and seems interested too, that is, as interested as people like us can expect from people like her. She didn't even condescend to Beatrice. I wonder how my little girl would have taken it, if she had condescended to her. Yes, Jane, do you want me?"

An elderly servant opened the drawing-room door.

"If you please, ma'am, Mrs. Morris has called, and she wants to know if it would disturb you very much to see her?"

"Disturb me? She knows it won't disturb me. Show her in at once. And Jane, you can get tea ready half-an-hour earlier than usual. I daresay, as Mrs. Morris has called she'd like a cup. How do you do, Mrs. Morris? I'm right glad to see you, right glad. Sit here, in this chair--or perhaps you'd rather sit in this one; this isn't too near the window. And you'll like a screen, I know;--not that there's any draught--for these windows fit as tight as tight when shut."

Mrs. Morris was a thin, tall woman. She always spoke in a whisper, for she was possessed of the belief that she had lost her voice in bronchitis. She had not, for when she scolded any one she found it again. She was not scolding now, however, and her tones were very low and smothered.

"I saw her coming in, my dear; I was standing at the back of the wire blind, and I saw her going up your steps, so I thought I'd come across quickly and hear the news. You'll tell me the news as soon as possible, won't you? Mrs. Butler and Miss Peters are coming to call in a few minutes. I met them and they told me so. They saw her, too. You'll tell me the news quickly, Lucy, for I'd like to be first, and it seems as if I had a right to that much consideration, being an old friend."

"So you have, Jessie."

Mrs. Meadowsweet looked immensely flattered.

"I suppose you allude to Mrs. Bertram having favored me with a call," she continued, in a would-be-humble tone, which, in spite of all her efforts, could not help swelling a little.

"Yes, dear, that's what I allude to; I saw her from behind the wire screen blind. We were having steak and onions for dinner, and the doctor didn't like me jumping up just when I had a hot bit on my plate. But I said, it's Mrs. Bertram, Sam, and she's standing on Mrs. Meadowsweet's steps! There wasn't a remonstrance out of him after that, and the only other remark he made was, 'You'll call round presently, Jessie, and inquire after Mrs. Meadowsweet's cold.' So here I am, my dear. And how _is your cold, by the way?"

"It's getting on nicely, Jessie. Wasn't that a ring I heard at the door bell?"

"Well, I never!" Mrs. Morris suddenly found her voice. "If it isn't that tiresome Mrs. Butler and Miss Peters. And now I won't be first with the news after all!"

Mrs. Meadowsweet smiled again.

"There really isn't so much to tell, Jessie. Mrs. Bertram was just affable like every one else. Ah, and how are you, Mrs. Butler? Now, I do call this kind and neighborly. Miss Peters, I trust your cough is better?"

"I'm glad to see you, Mrs. Meadowsweet," said Mrs. Butler, in a slightly out-of-breath tone.

"My cough is no better," snapped Miss Peters. "Although it's summer, the wind is due east; east wind always catches me in the throat."

Miss Peters was very small and slim. She wore little iron-gray, corkscrew curls, and had bright, beady black eyes. Miss Peters was Mrs. Butler's sister. She was a snappy little body, but rather afraid of Mrs. Butler, who was more snappy. This fear gave her an unpleasant habit of rolling her eyes in the direction of Mrs. Butler whenever she spoke. She rolled them now as she described the way the east wind had treated her throat.

Mrs. Butler seated herself in an aggressive manner on the edge of the sofa, and Miss Peters took a chair as close as possible to Mrs. Morris, who pushed hers away from her.

Each lady was anxious to engross the whole attention of Mrs. Meadowsweet, and it was scarcely possible for the good-natured woman not to feel flattered.

"Now, you'll all have a cup of tea with me," she said. "I know Jane's getting it, but I'll ring the bell to hasten her. Ah, thank you, Miss Peters."

Miss Peters had sprung to her feet, seized the bell-rope before any one could hinder her, and sounded a vigorous peal. Then she rolled her eyes at Mrs. Butler and sat down.

Mrs. Morris said that when Miss Peters rolled her eyes she invariably shivered. She shivered now in such a marked and open way that poor Mrs. Meadowsweet feared her friend had taken cold.

"Dear, dear--I only wish I had a fire lighted," she said. "Your bronchitis will be getting worse, if you aren't careful, Jessie. Miss Peters, a cup of tea will do your throat good. It always does mine when I get nipped."

"Don't encourage Maria in her fancies," snapped Mrs. Butler. "There's nothing ails her throat, only she will wrap herself in so much wool that she makes herself quite delicate. I tell her she fancies she is a hothouse plant."

"Oh, nothing of the kind," whispered Mrs. Morris.

"That's what I say," nodded back Mrs. Butler. "More of the nature of the hardy broom. But now we haven't come to discuss Maria and her fads. You have had a visitor to-day, Mrs. Meadowsweet."

"Ah, here comes the tea," exclaimed Mrs. Meadowsweet. "Bring the table over here, Jane. Now this is what I call cozy. Jane, you might ask cook to send up some buttered toast, and a little more cream. Yes, Mrs. Butler, I beg your pardon."

"I was remarking that you had a visitor," repeated Mrs. Butler.

"Ah, so I had. Mrs. Bertram called on me."

"And why shouldn't she call on you, dear?" suddenly whispered Mrs. Morris. "Aren't you quite as good as she is when all's said and done? Yes, dear, I'll have some of your delicious tea. Such a treat! Some more cream? Thank you, yes; I'll help myself. Why shouldn't Mrs. Bertram call on Mrs. Meadowsweet? That's what I say, ladies," continued Mrs. Morris, looking over the top of her cup of tea in a decidedly fight-me-if-you-dare manner.

"Nobody said she shouldn't call," answered Mrs. Butler. "Maria, you'll oblige me by going into the hall and fetching my wrap. There's rather a chill from this window--and the weather is very inclement for the time of year. No, thank you, Mrs. Morris, I wouldn't take your seat for the world. As you justly remark, why shouldn't Mrs Bertram call on our good friend here? And, for that matter, why shouldn't she cross the road, and leave her card on _you_, Mrs. Morris?"

Mrs. Morris was here taken with such a fit of bronchial coughing and choking that she could make no response. Miss Peters rolled her eyes at her sister in a manner which plainly said, "You had her there, Martha," and poor Mrs. Meadowsweet began nervously to wish that she had not been the honored recipient of Mrs. Bertram's favors.

"She came to see me on account of Beatrice," remarked the hostess. "At least I think that was why she came. I beg your pardon, did you say anything, ladies?"

"Oh! fie, fie! Mrs. Meadowsweet," said Miss Peters, "you are too modest. In my sister's name and my own, I say you are too modest."

"And in my name too," interrupted Mrs. Morris. "You are too humble, my dear friend. She called to see you for _your own dear sake and for no other."

"And now let us all be friendly," continued Miss Peters, "and learn the news. I think we are all of one mind in wishing to learn the news."

Mrs. Meadowsweet smoothed down the front of her black satin dress. She knew, and her friends knew, that she would have much preferred the honor of Mrs. Bertram's call to be due to Beatrice's charms than her own. She smiled, however, with her usual gentleness, and plunged into the conversation which the three other ladies were so eager to commence.

Before they departed they had literally taken Mrs. Bertram to pieces. They had fallen upon her tooth and nail, and dissected her morally, and socially, and with the closest scrutiny of all, from a religious point of view.

Mrs. Meadowsweet, who never spoke against any one, was amazed at the ingenuity with which the character of her friend (she felt she must call Mrs. Bertram her friend) was blackened. Before the ladies left Mrs. Meadowsweet's house they had proved, in the ablest and most thorough manner, that Mrs. Bertram was worldly and vain, that she lived beyond her means, that she trained her daughters to think of themselves far more highly than they ought to think, that in all probability she was not what she pretended to be, and, finally, that poor Mrs. Meadowsweet, dear Mrs. Meadowsweet, was in great danger on account of her friendship.

"I don't agree with you, ladies," said the good woman, as they were leaving the house, but they neither heeded nor heard her remark.

The explanation of their conduct was simple enough. They were devoured with jealousy. Had Mrs. Bertram called on any one of them, she would have been in that person's estimation the most fascinating woman in Northbury.

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