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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 13. The White Boat And The Green
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 13. The White Boat And The Green Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1309

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 13. The White Boat And The Green

CHAPTER XIII. THE WHITE BOAT AND THE GREEN

About a fortnight after the events mentioned in the last chapter, the landlady of the Blue Lion, the little slatternly village inn where Mr. Hart and his granddaughter had their quarters, was somewhat disappointed, somewhat puzzled, and certainly possessed by the demon of curiosity when Hart told her that he and his granddaughter intended to take their departure that evening. Hart often went away; Mrs. Timms was quite accustomed to his sudden exits, but his granddaughter was always left as a hostage behind. Hart with his queer ways, his erratic payments, was perhaps not the most inviting lodger for an honest landlady to count upon, but Mrs. Timms had grown accustomed to him. She scolded him, and grumbled at him, but on the whole she made a good thing out of him, for no one could be more generous than old Hart when he was at all flush of cash.

He came down, however, this morning, and told her he was going.

"For a fortnight or so?" responded Mrs. Timms. "You'll leave Miss Josephine behind as usual? I'll take good care of her."

"No, Miss Josephine is also going. Make out our bills, my good Timms, I can pay you in full."

That evening there arrived at Northbury by the seven o'clock train a single first-class passenger--a girl dressed in a long gray cloak, and a big, picturesque shady hat stepped on to the platform. She was the only passenger to alight at Northbury, and the one or two sleepy porters regarded her with interest and admiration. She was very graceful, and her light-colored eyes had a peculiar quick expression which made people turn to watch her again.

The strange girl had scarcely any luggage--only a small portmanteau covered with a neat case of brown holland, and a little trunk to match.

She asked one of the porters to call a cab, did not disdain the shaky and ghastly-looking conveyance which Loftus Bertram had been too proud to use; sprang lightly into it, desired the porter to put her luggage on the roof, and gave the address of Rosendale Manor.

"Oh, that accounts for it," said the man to his mate. "She's one of them proud Bertram folk. I thought by the looks of her as she didn't belong to none of the Northbury people."

The other laughed.

"She have got an eye," he said. "My word, don't it shine? Seems to scorch one up."

"There's the 7.12 luggage train signalled, Jim!" exclaimed the other.

The men forgot the strange girl and returned to their duties.

Meanwhile, she sat back in her cab, and gazed complacently about her. She knew the scene through which she was passing--she had looked on it before. Very travel-stained and weary she had been then; very fresh and keen, and all alive she felt now.

She threw open the windows of the close cab, and took a long breath of the delicious sea air. It was a hot evening towards the middle of July, but a slight breeze rippled the little waves in the harbor, and then travelled up and up until it reached the girl in the dusty cab.

The Northburians were most of them out on the water. No one who knew anything of the ways of Northbury expected to see the good folk in the streets on an evening like this. No, the water was their highway, the water was their pleasure-scene. Each house owned a boat, each garden ended in steps against which the said boat was moored. It was the tiniest walk from the supper room or the high tea-table to the little green-painted boat, and then away to float over the limpid waves.

All the girls in Northbury could row, steer--in short, manage a boat as well as their brothers.

There was a view of the straggling, steep little High Street from the water; and the Bells now, in a large white boat with four oars, and occupied at the present moment by Mrs. Bell, fat and comfortable in the stern, Alice and Sophy each propelling a couple of oars, and the blushing, conscious Matty in the bow, where Captain Bertram bore her company, all saw the old cab, as it toiled up the hill in the direction of Rosendale Manor.

"Do look at Davis's cab!" exclaimed Matty. "Look, Captain Bertram, it's going in your direction. I wonder now, if any one has come by the train. It's certainly going to the Manor. There are no other houses out in that direction. Do look, Captain Bertram."

"Lor, Matty, you are so curious!" exclaimed her sister Sophy, who overheard these remarks from her position as bow oar. "As if Captain Bertram cared! You always do so fuss over little things, Matty. Even if there are visitors coming to the Manor, I'm sure the captain doesn't care. He is not like us who never see anybody. Are you, Captain Bertram?"

"I beg your pardon," said the captain, waking put of a reverie into which he had sunk. "Did you speak, Miss Bell?" he continued, turning with a little courteous movement, which vastly became him, towards the enamored Matty.

"I said a cab was going up the hill," said Matty.

"Oh, really! A cab _is an interesting sight, particularly a Northbury cab. Shall I make a riddle for you on the spot, Miss Bell? What is the sole surviving curiosity still to be found out of Noah's ark?"

Matty went off into her usual half-hysterical laughter.

"Oh! I do declare, Captain Bertram, you are too killingly clever for anything," she responded. "Oh, my poor side--I'll die if I laugh any more. Oh, do have mercy on me! To compare that poor cab to Noah's ark!"

"I didn't; it isn't the least like the ark, only I think it must once have found a shelter within that place of refuge."

"Oh! oh! oh! I am taken with such a stitch when I laugh. You are too witty, Captain Bertram. Sophy, you must hear what the captain has said. Oh, you killing, funny man--you must repeat that lovely joke to Sophy."

"Excuse me, it was only meant for Miss Matty's ears."

Matty stopped laughing, to blush all over her face, and Sophy thought it more decorous to turn her back on the pair.

"Does not that green boat belong to Miss Meadowsweet?" interrupted Bertram. "Look, Miss Bell, I am sure that is Miss Meadowsweet's boat."

(He had seen it for the last ten minutes, and had been secretly hoping that Mrs. Bell would unconsciously steer in that direction; she was going the other way, however, and he was obliged to speak.)

"Yes, that's Beatrice," said Matty, in an indifferent tone. "She generally goes for a row in the evening."

"All alone like that?"

"Yes, Mrs. Meadowsweet is such a coward. She is afraid of the water."

"Poor Miss Meadowsweet, how sad for her to be by herself!"

Matty gave a furtive and not too well-pleased glance at her captain.

"Bee likes to be alone," she said.

"I should never have thought it. She seems a sociable, bright sort of girl. Don't you want to talk to her? I know you do. I see it in your face. You think it will be irksome for me, but, never mind, we need not stay long. I must not be selfish nor indulge in the wish to keep you all to myself. I know you want to talk to Miss Meadowsweet, and so you shall,--I _won't have you balked."

Here he raised his voice.

"Mrs. Bell, will you steer over to Miss Meadowsweet's boat? Miss Matty, here, has something to say to her."

Not an earthly thing had Matty to communicate to her friend, but the captain had managed to put the matter in such a light that she could only try to look pleased, and pretend to acquiesce.

"Oh, yes, she had always lots to say to her darling Bee," she murmured. And then, somehow, her poor little silly spirits went down, and she had a sensation of feeling rather flat.

As will be seen by the foregoing remarks, Captain Bertram had a rare gift for making killing and funny speeches.

Matty had over and over pronounced him to be the most brilliantly witty person she had ever in the whole course of her life encountered. But his talent as a supposed wit was nothing at all to the cleverness with which he now managed to keep the large white boat by the side of the small green one for the remainder of the evening. It was entirely managed by the superior will of one person, for certainly none of the Bells wished for this propinquity.

Mrs. Bell, who like a watchful hen-mother was apparently seeing nothing, and yet all the time was tenderly brooding over the little chick whom she hoped was soon about to take flight from the parent nest, saw at a glance that her chick looked nothing at all beside that superior chicken of Mrs. Meadowsweet's. For Matty's little nose was sadly burnt, and one lock of her thin limp hair was flying not too picturesquely in the breeze. And her home-cut jacket was by no means remarkably becoming, and one of her small, uncovered hands--why _would Matty take her gloves off?--was burnt red, not brown by the sun. Beatrice, on the contrary, looked as she always did, trim and neat, and bright and gracious. She had on the gray cashmere dress which she had worn when Captain Bertram first began to lose his heart to her, and over this, tonight, she had twisted a long bright crimson scarf. Into her white hat, too, she had pinned a great bunch of crimson roses, so that, altogether, Beatrice in her pretty green boat made a beautiful picture. She would have made this in any case, for her pose was so good, and her figure fine, but when, in addition, there was a sweet intelligent face without one scrap of self-consciousness about it, and two gray eyes full of a tender and sympathetic light, and when the rosy lips only opened to make the pleasantest and most appropriate speeches, and only to give utterance to words of tact and kindness, Mrs. Bell was not very far wrong when she felt a sense of uneasiness for her own poor chick.

Shuffle, however, as she would up in the stern, viciously pull the rudder string so as to incline the boat away from Beatrice, the captain's will still kept the green boat and the white together. Was he likely to give in or to succumb to a woman like Mrs. Bell? Had he not planned this meeting in his own mind from an early hour that morning? For had he not met Beatrice and incidentally gathered that she would be sure to be on the water that night? And after receiving this information, had he not carefully made his plans, wandering about on the quay just when the Bells were getting into their boat, accepting the invitation eagerly given that he should go on the water with them, and afterwards come home to supper.

"Sophy," Mrs. Bell had gasped, at that critical and triumphant moment in a whisper, pulling her youngest daughter aside, "fly up to Gibb's at the corner, and order in two lobsters for supper. The captain loves lobsters with the coral in them. Be sure you see that they have the coral in them, Sophy. Fly, child. We'll wait for you here."

And Captain Bertram had overheard this whisper, and mentally determined that Beatrice Meadowsweet should also eat lobster with coral in it for supper. Was it likely, therefore, that he would now yield to that impatient tug of Mrs. Bell's rudder? On the contrary, he put out his hand in apparently the most unconscious way, and held the little green boat to the side of the white. In his way he was a diplomat, and even Matty did not suspect that he wanted to do anything but show her a kindness by keeping her in such close conversation with her friend.

"It's getting quite chill," suddenly exclaimed Mrs. Bell. "Girls, it's time for us to be getting home. Your father likes his supper punctually. Well, Bee, my dear, there's no use in asking you to supper, I suppose? Of course, more than welcome you'd be if you would come, lovey, but you're such a daughter--one in a thousand. I assure you, Captain Bertram, I can hardly ever get that girl to leave her mother alone in the evening."

Beatrice laughed.

"It so happens," she said, "that my mother is having tea and supper to-night at Mrs. Butler's. So if you really care to have me, Mrs. Bell, I shall be delighted to come."

Beatrice, the popular, the beloved of all in the town, never knew, never to her dying day, that on a certain memorable occasion, good-humored, fat, pompous Mrs. Bell would have given half a sovereign to box her ears. The astute captain, however, guessed her feelings, and chuckled inwardly. He had also found out during his brief morning's conversation that Mrs. Meadowsweet was going to sup from home.

"How delightful you look, Miss Bell!" he said, suddenly, fixing his dark eyes on Matty.

Their glance caused her to start and blush.

"Mrs. Bell," he said, raising his voice again, "Miss Matty has been so anxious to have Miss Meadowsweet's company this evening. And now we are all happy," he added, gayly. "Shall I give you another riddle, Miss Matty?"

Mrs. Bell's anxious brows relaxed, and she smiled inwardly.

"Poor man! He is over head and ears in love," she murmured. "I suppose he thinks Beatrice will play gooseberry with the other girls, and leave him more chance to be alone with little Matty. She does _not look her best, that I will say for her; but, poor fellow, he sees no faults, that's evident. How beautiful the love-light in his eyes is--ah, dear me, it reminds me of the time when I was young, and Bell used to go on his knees to me--Bell hadn't eyes like Captain Bertram though. Dear, dear, he is attentive, poor man, and how close he bends over Matty. I'll help him, so I will. I'll take Beatrice and the other girls away when once we get out of the boat. We four will walk up to the house together, and let Captain Bertram and his little girl follow. Why, of course, she's his little girl; bless her, the dear child! Then when we get in, I'll get Bee and Alice and Sophy to come upstairs by way of consulting how Matty's new dress is to be made, so the two poor things can have the drawing-room to themselves. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he popped there and then. Well, I am gratified. Bertram is a pretty name--Matilda Bertram! She won't like to be known as Matty, then. 'Mrs. Captain Bertram'--it sounds very stylish. I wonder how much money pa will allow for the trousseau. And how am I to manage about the breakfast? None of our rooms are big, and all the town's people will want to be asked. It isn't for me to turn my back on old friends; but I doubt if the Bertrams will like to meet every one, of course, they are the first to be considered. Lor, Sophy, how you startled me; what's the matter, child?"

"You're in a brown study, ma. How much longer are you going to stay in the boat? We have all landed."

"Good gracious! mercy mother! Help me out quick, Sophy, quick! Bee, Beatrice, come and lend me your hand. You are bigger than my girls, and my legs are always a little unsteady in a boat. Oh, not you, Captain Bertram, I beg, I pray. You just go on with Matty to the house, and we'll follow presently. Go on like a good man, and don't bother yourself."

Here she winked broadly at Beatrice, who started and colored.

"I don't want to keep him back," she said, in a broad whisper to the young lady, who was helping her to alight on the steps. "He's over head and ears, and I thought we would give them their chance. You stay close to me, lovey. What a fine strong arm you have! There! Alice hasn't a bit of gumption--as if Matty wanted Alice to walk with her! Alice, come back and help your mother. I'm quite giddy from the motion of the water. Come back, child, I say!"

But it was not Alice who turned. Captain Bertram, with the most gracious gallantry, proffered his arm to the fat old lady, and while he helped her to the house looked again and again at Beatrice.

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