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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 18. "When Duncan Gray Came Home To Woo"
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 18. 'When Duncan Gray Came Home To Woo' Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3072

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 18. "When Duncan Gray Came Home To Woo"


Most people go away for change of air in the month of August, but this was by no means the fashion in the remote, little old-world town of Northbury. In November people left home if they could, for it was dull, very dull at Northbury in November, but August was the prime month of the year.

It was then the real salt from the broad Atlantic came into the limpid waters of the little harbor. August was the month for bathing, for yachting, for trawling. Some denizens of the outside world even came to Northbury in August; the few lodging-houses were crammed to overflowing; people put up with any accommodation for the sake of the crisp air, and the lovely deep blue water of the bay. For in August this same water was often at night alight with phosphorescent substances, which gave it the appearance in the moonlight of liquid golden fire. It was then the girls sang their best, and the young men said soft nothings, and hearts beat a little more quickly than ordinary, and in short the mischievous, teasing, fascinating god of love was abroad.

In preparation for these August days Perry the draper did a roaring trade, for all the Northbury girls had fresh ribbons put on their sailor hats, and fresh frills in their blue serge dresses, and their tan leather gloves had to be neat and new, and their walking shoes trim and whole, for the entire little world would be abroad all day and half the night, in company with the harvest moon and the glittering golden waves, and all the other gay, bright things of summer.

This was therefore just the most fitting season for Captain Bertram to come back to Northbury, on wooing intent. More than one girl in the place rejoiced at his arrival, and Mrs. Bertram so far relaxed her rigid hold over Catherine and Mabel as to allow them to partake, in company with their brother and Beatrice Meadowsweet, of a certain portion of the general merry-making.

Northbury was a remarkably light-hearted little place, but it never had entered into quite so gay a season as this memorable August when Captain Bertram came to woo.

It somehow got into the air that this gay young officer had taken his leave for the express purpose of getting himself a wife. Nobody quite knew how the little gossiping whisper arose, but arise it did, and great was the commotion put into the atmosphere, and severe the flutterings it caused to arise in more than one gentle girl heart.

Catherine and Mabel Bertram were in the highest possible spirits during this same month of August. Their mother seemed well once more, well, and gay, and happy. The hard rule of economy, always a depressing _regime_, had also for the time disappeared. The meals were almost plentiful, the girls had new dresses, and as they went out a little it was essential for them in their turn to entertain.

Mrs. Bertram went to some small expense to complete the tennis courts, and she even endured the sight of the Bells and Jenkinses as they struggled with the intricacies of the popular game.

She herself took refuge in Mr. Ingram's society. He applauded her efforts at being sociable, and told her frankly that he was glad she was changing her mind with regard to the Northbury folk.

"Any society is better than none," he said. "And they really are such good creatures. Not of course in the matter of finish and outward manner to compare with the people you are accustomed to, Mrs. Bertram, but--"

"Ah, I know," interrupted Mrs. Bertram in a gay voice. "Rough diamonds you would call them. But you are mistaken, my dear friend; there is, I assure you, not a diamond in this motley herd, unless I except Miss Beatrice."

"I never class Beatrice with the other Northbury people," replied Mr. Ingram; "there is something about her which enables her to take a stand of her own. I think if she had been born in any rank, she would have kept her individuality. She is uncommon, so for that matter is Miss Catherine."

The two girls were standing together as Mr. Ingram spoke. They were resting after a spirited game, and they made a pretty picture as they stood under the shelter of the old oak tree. Both were in white, and both wore large drooping hats. These hats cast picturesque shadows on their young faces.

Mrs. Bertram looked at them with a queer half-jealous pang. Beatrice was the child of a lowly tradesman, Catherine the daughter of a man of family and some pretension; and yet Mrs. Bertram had to own that in any society this tall, upright, frank, young Beatrice could hold her own, that even Catherine whose dark face was patrician, who bore the refinement of race in every point, could scarcely outshine this country girl.

"It is marvellous," said Mrs. Bertram after a pause; "Beatrice is one of nature's ladies. There are a few such, they come now and then, and no circumstances can spoil them. To think of that girl's mother!"

"One of the dearest old ladies of my acquaintance," replied Mr. Ingram. "Beatrice owes a great deal of her nobleness of heart and singleness of purpose to her mother. Mrs. Bertram, I have never heard that woman say an unkind word. I have heard calumny of her, but never from her. Then, of course, Meadowsweet was quite a gentleman."

"My dear friend! A draper a gentleman?"

"I grant the anomaly is not common," said the Rector. "But in Meadowsweet's case I make a correct statement. He was a perfect gentleman after the type of some of those who are mentioned in the Sacred Writings. He was honest, courteous, self-forgetful. His manners were delightful, because his object ever was to put the person he was speaking to completely at his ease. He had the natural advantage of a refined appearance, and his accent was pure, and not marred by any provincialisms. He could not help speaking in the best English because he was a scholar, and he spent all his leisure studying the classics. Therefore, although he kept a draper's shop, he was a gentleman. By the way, Mrs. Bertram, do you know anything of the young girl who has been staying at your lodge? You--you are tired, my dear lady?"

"A little. I will sit on this bench. There is room for you too, Rector. Sit near me, what about the girl at my lodge?"

"She is no longer at your lodge. She has left. Do you happen to know anything about her?"


"Ah, that seems a pity. She is the sort of young creature to excite one's sympathy. I called to see her a week ago, and she talked prettily to me and looked sorrowful. Her name, she says, is Hart."

"Really? I--I confess I am not interested."

"But you ought to be, my dear friend, you ought to be. The girl seems alone and defenceless. She is reserved with regard to her history, won't make confidences, although I begged of her to confide in me, and assured her that I, in my position, would receive what she chose to tell under the seal of secrecy. Her eyes filled with tears, poor little soul, but her lips were dumb."

"Oh, she has nothing to confide."

"Do you think so? I can't agree with you. Although my lot has been cast in this remote out-of-the-world town, I have had my experiences, Mrs. Bertram, and I never yet saw a face like Miss Hart's which did not conceal a history."

"May I ask you, Mr. Ingram, if you ever before saw a face like Miss Hart's?"

"Well, no, now that you put it to me, I don't think that I ever have. It is beautiful."

"Ugly, you mean."

"No, no, Mrs. Bertram. With all due deference to your superior taste I cannot agree with you. The features are classical, the eyes a little wild and defiant, but capable of much expression. The hair of the admired Rossetti type."

"Oh, spare me, Rector, spare me. I don't mean this low girl's outward appearance. It is that which I feel is within which makes her altogether ugly to me."

"Ah, poor child--women have intuitions, and you may be right. It would of course not be judicious for your daughters to associate with Miss Hart. But you, Mrs. Bertram, you, as a mother, might get at this poor child's past, and counsel her as to her future."

"She has gone away, has she not?" asked Mrs. Bertram.

"I regret to say she has, but she may return. She promised me faithfully to come to church on Sunday, and I called at the lodge on my way up to leave her a little basket of fruit and flowers, and to remind her of her promise. Mrs. Tester said she had left her, but might return again. I hope so, and that I may be the means of helping her, for the poor child's face disturbs me."

"I trust your wish may never be realized," murmured Mrs. Bertram, under her breath. Aloud she said cheerfully, "I must show you my bed of pansies, Rector. They are really quite superb."

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