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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 14. At Her Gates
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 14. At Her Gates Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1381

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 14. At Her Gates

CHAPTER XIV. AT HER GATES

Mr. Bell was as thin as his wife was fat, and as quiet and unassuming as she was bumptious and talkative. On the occasion of this memorable supper he very nearly drove his better half into fits by his utter want of observation.

"It's that that worries me in Bell," the good woman was often heard to say. "When a thing is as plain as the nose on his face he won't see it. And not all my hints will make him see it. Hints!--You might hint forever to Bell, and he wouldn't know what you were driving at."

These remarks Mrs. Bell had made, times without number, concerning her spouse, but never had ehe more cause to give utterance to them than on the present occasion. For just when the whole party were seated at supper, and she by the boldest manoeuvres had placed Captain Bertram next to herself by the coffee-tray, and had planted Matty at his other side, so that he was in a measure hemmed in, and if he did not talk to Matty had no one to fall back on but herself, who, of course, would quickly, using the metaphor of battledore and shuttlecock, toss him back to her daughter--having arranged all this, what should Bell do but put his foot in it?

"Captain Bertram," he called in his thin voice across the table, "I hope you enjoyed your row, and I'm proud to see you at my humble board. But come up here, my good young sir; you're quite smothered by the missis and the teacups. We have fine room at this end, haven't we, Beatrice? You come away up here, Captain Bertram, where you'll have room to use your elbows; the missis mustn't keep you to herself altogether, that ain't fair play."

"Oh, we're as comfortable as possible, Peter," almost screamed Mrs. Bell.

But in vain. The captain was too acute a person not to seize this opportunity. He said a courteous word or two to Mrs. Bell, apologized for having already crowded her, smiled at Matty, and then with a light heart seated himself beside Beatrice.

After this, matters seemed to go wrong as far as the Bells were concerned. It is true that after supper Beatrice called Matty to her side, and looked over a photographic album with her, and tried hard to draw her into the gay conversation and to get her to reply to the light repartee which Captain Bertram so deftly employed. But, alas for poor Matty she had no conversational powers; she was only great at interjections, at ceaseless giggling, and at violent and uncontrollable fits of blushing. Even Beatrice felt a sense of repulsion at the very open way in which Matty played her innocent cards. Matty was in love, and she showed it by voice, look and gesture. Beatrice tried to shield her, she was mortified for her, and felt a burning sense of resentment against the captain.

In spite, however, of the resentment of the one girl, and the too manifest admiration of the other, this hero managed to have pretty much his own way. Beatrice had to reply to his sallies, she was forced to meet his eyes; now and then even he drew a smile from her.

When the time came for Miss Meadowsweet to go home, Albert Bell was eagerly summoned to accompany her.

"This is unnecessary," said the captain; "I will see Miss Meadowsweet back to the Gray House."

"Oh, now, Captain! Bee, don't you think it's really too much for him?"

"Of course I don't, dear Mrs. Bell," said Beatrice, stopping the good lady's lips with a kiss; "but Albert shall come too, so that I shall be doubly escorted."

She nodded and smiled to her hostess, and Mrs. Bell felt a frantic desire to send Matty with her brother, but some slight sense of decorum prevented her making so bare-faced a suggestion.

Albert Bell was very proud to walk with Beatrice, and Captain Bertram felt proportionately sulky. To Albert's delight, who wanted to confide his own love affairs to Bee, the captain said good-night at the top of the High Street.

"As you have an escort I won't come any further," he said. "When are we to see you again? Will you come to the Manor to-morrow?"

"I don't know," said Beatrice, "I've made no plans for to-morrow."

"Then come to us; Catherine told me to ask you. Our tennis court is in prime order. Do come; will you promise?"

"I won't quite promise, but I'll come if I can."

"Thanks; we shall look out for you."

He shook hands, gave her an earnest glance, nodded to Bell and turned away. His evening had been a partial success, but not a whole one. He left Beatrice, as he almost always did, with a sense of irritation. It was her frank and open indifference that impelled him to her side. Indifference when Captain Bertram chose to woo was an altogether novel experience to so fascinating an individual. Hitherto it had been all the other way. He had flirted many times, and with success. Once even he had fallen in love; he owned to himself that he had been badly hit, but there had been no doubt at all about his love being returned, it had been given back to him in full and abundant measure. He sighed to-night as he thought of that passionate episode. He remembered ardent words, and saw again a face which had once been all the world to him. Separation had come, however; his was not a stable nature, and the old love, the first love, had given place to many minor flirtations.

"I wonder where my old love is now," he thought, and then again he felt a sense of irritation as he remembered Beatrice. "She is quite the coolest girl I have ever met," he said to himself. "But I'll win her yet. Yes, I'm determined. Am I to eat the bread of humiliation in vain? Faugh! Am I to make love to a creature like Matty Bell in the vain hope of rousing the envy or the jealousy of that proud girl? I don't believe she has got either envy or jealousy. She seemed quite pleased when I spoke to that wretched little personage, although she had the grace to look a trifle ashamed for her sex when Miss Matty so openly made love to me. Well, this is a slow place, and yet, when I think of that haughty--no, though, she's not haughty--that imperturbable Beatrice Meadowsweet, it becomes positively interesting.

"Why has the girl these airs? And her father kept a shop, too! I found that fact out from Matty Bell to-day. What a spiteful, teasing little gnat that same Matty is, trying to sting her best friend. What a little mock ridiculous air she put on when she tried to explain to me the social status of a coal merchant (I presume Bell is a coal merchant) _versus a draper."

As Bertram strolled along, avoiding the High Street, and choosing the coast line for his walk, he lazily smoked a pipe, and thought, in that idle indifferent way with which men of his stamp always do exercise their mental faculties, about his future. His past, his present, his possible future rose up before the young fellow. He was harassed by duns, he was, according to his own way of thinking, reduced to an almost degrading state of poverty. His mother had put her hand to a bill for a considerable amount to save him. He was morally certain that she would have to meet that bill, and when she met it that she would be half ruined. Nevertheless, he felt gay, and light at heart, for men of his class are seldom troubled with remorse.

Presently he reached the lodge gates. His mother's fad about having them locked was always religiously kept, and he grumbled now as he sought for a latch-key in his waistcoat-pocket.

He opened the side gate and let himself in; the gate had a spring, and was so constructed that it could shut and lock itself by the same act. Bertram was preparing to walk quickly up the avenue when he was startled by a sudden morement; a tall slim apparition in gray came slowly out of the darkness, caused by the shadow of the lodge, to meet him.

"Good God!" he said; and he stepped back, and his heart thumped hard against his breast.

"It's me, Loftus--I'm back again--I'm with you again," said a voice which thrilled him.

The girl in gray flung her arms around his neck, and laid her head of red gold on his breast.

"Good God! Nina! Josephine! Where have you come from? I was thinking of you only tonight. It's a year since we met. Where have you sprung from? Out of the sky, or the earth? Look at me, witch, look in my face!"

He put his hand under her chin, raised her very fair oval face; (the moonlight fell full on it--he could see it well); he looked long and hungrily into her eyes, then kissed her eagerly several times.

"Where have you come from?" he repeated. "My God! to think I was walking to meet you in such a calm fashion this evening."

"You never were very calm, Loftie, nor was I. Feel my heart--I am almost in a tempest of joy at meeting you again. I knew you'd be glad. You couldn't help yourself."

"I'm glad and I'm sorry. You know you intoxicate me, witch--I thought I had got over that old affair. What: don't flash your eyes at me. Oh, yes, Nina, I am glad, I am delighted to see you once again."

"And to kiss me, and love me again?"

"Yes, to kiss you and love you again."

"How soon will you marry me, Loftie?"

"We needn't talk about that to-night. Tell me why you have come, and how. Where is your grandfather? Do you still sing in the streets for a living?"

"Hush, you insult me. I am a rich girl now."

"You rich? What a joke!"

"No, it is a reality. Riches go by comparison, and Josephine Hart has an income--therefore she is rich compared to the Josephine who had none. When will you marry me, Loftie?"

"Little puss! We'll talk of that another day."

He stroked her cheek, put his arm around her waist and kissed her many times.

"You have not told me yet why you came here," he said.

She laughed.

"I came here because my own sweet will directed me. I have taken rooms here at this lodge. The man called Tester and his wife will attend on me."

"Good gracious! at my mother's very gates Is that wise, Nina."

"Wise or unwise I have done it."

"To be near me?"

"Partly."

"Nina, you half frighten me. You are not going to do me an injury? It will prejudice my mother seriously if she finds out my--my--"

"Your love for me," finished Josephine.

"Yes."

"Why will it prejudice her?"

"Need I--must I tell you? My mother is proud; she--she would almost disown me if I made a _mesalliance_."

Nina flung back her head.

"You talk like a boy," she said. "When you marry me you save, not degrade, yourself. Ah, I know a secret. Such a secret! Such a blessed, blessed, happy secret for me. It is turning me into a good girl. It causes my heart to sing. When I think of it I revel in delight; when I think of it I could dance: when I remember it I could shout with exultation."

"Nina, what do you mean?"

"Nothing that you must know. I rejoice in my secret because it brings me to you, and you to me. You degrade yourself by marrying me? You'll say something else some day. Now, goodnight. I'm going back to Tester. He's stone deaf, and he's waiting up for me. Good-night--good-night. No, Loftus, I won't injure you. I injure those I hate, not those I love."

She kissed her hand to him. He tried to catch the slim fingers to press them to his lips, but with a gay laugh she vanished, shutting the lodge door after her. Loftus Bertram walked up the avenue with the queerest sensation of terror and rejoicing.

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