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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 20. You Can Take Any Rank
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 20. You Can Take Any Rank Post by :SimonB Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3428

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 20. You Can Take Any Rank

CHAPTER XX. YOU CAN TAKE ANY RANK

Beatrice was not, in any sense of the word, a conventional girl. Her nature was independent, and from her earliest days she had been allowed a great deal of liberty. While her father lived he had trained her to love his tastes, to respond to his ideas; he had shared his thoughts with her, and as these thoughts happened to be original, and even slightly tinged with latent genius, the young girl had from the first taken a broad view of life. She was naturally intelligent; and to read and think for herself became a delight to her.

Mr. Meadowsweet died when Beatrice was twelve and then that further thing happened which so often makes an unselfish woman really noble. Beatrice had to support the burdens of another. Mrs. Meadowsweet was a most loving and affectionate character; but she was not as strong mentally as her daughter. She did not know that she leant on Beatrice, but she did. The effect of all this was that Miss Meadowsweet grew up something as the wild flowers do, with perfect liberty, and yet governed by the gracious and kindly laws which nature sets about her children.

Beatrice did not know what it was to be proud of her reputed wealth. When she looked at her sweet face in the glass she was not vain of it. Altogether, she was a very simple-hearted girl, as yet untouched by real trouble, for, except when her father died, its shadow had not approached her.

The passionate, childish sorrow for her father was no longer poignant. She revered his memory, she loved to dwell on his gentleness and goodness, and in her own manner she tried to plant her young footsteps in his.

On the morning after the Rector's feast, Beatrice sat at home and waited for Captain Bertram. She almost always wore white in the hot days, and she was in white now. She chose natural flowers as her invariable adornment, and two crimson roses were now daintily fastened into her girdle.

Beatrice could not help wondering what special thing Captain Bertram had to communicate. She was not particularly troubled or roused in any way by his admiration of her. He was certainly pleasant to talk to; she had never met a refined man of the world before, and Captain Bertram was handsome to look at, and had a charming way of saying charming nothings. Beatrice did not object to his talking to her, but her heart had never yet in the smallest degree responded to any beat of his.

More than one young man in Northbury had fallen in love with Beatrice. She had been very kind to these would-be lovers, and had managed skilfully to get rid of them. No man yet had secured even a small place in her affections.

"Are you going out this morning, Bee?" asked her mother. "It's very fine, and you are fond of a row on the water in the sunshine. It's wonderful to me how your skin never tans nor freckles, child. You might be out in all weathers without its doing you harm."

Mrs. Meadowsweet was seated in her arm-chair. In her hand she held a piece of knitting. She was making a quilt for Beatrice's bed. This quilt was composed of little squares of an elaborate pattern, with much honey-combing, and many other fancy and delicate stitches ornamenting it. Mrs. Meadowsweet liked to feel her fingers employed over Beatrice's quilt.

"With each stitch I give her a thought," she said to herself. "Beatrice will sleep soft and warm under this covering when it is finished," the old mother used to say, "for every bit of it is put together with love."

She was knitting Beatrice's quilt now, her chair drawn up as usual to face the sunny garden, and on the footstool at her feet her favorite tabby cat was curled.

"It is too hot for me to go out this morning," replied Beatrice. "So for that reason I don't go, and also for another. Captain Bertram has promised to call."

"Eh?" queried Mrs. Meadowsweet. To call, has he? Maybe you'd like to ask him to lunch, child?"

"No, mother, I don't think so."

"You can if you like, Trixie. Say the word, and I'll have a spring chicken done to a turn, and a cream, and a jelly put in hand."

"Oh, no, mother, he won't want to pay such a long call."

"Well, he's a nice young man. I have nothing to say against him, he carries himself nearly as upright as your poor father did, and he has a pleasant, affable way with old and young alike. I haven't a word to say against the young man, not a word. When he comes I'll just step into the garden, for you two young things would rather have your chatter alone. Oh, you needn't tell me, Trixie, I know. I was young once, and I never cared to have my nonsense listened to. By the way, I might ask Captain Bertram to take a box of Eleazer's Life-pills to his poor mother. I was recommending them to her, and I'm convinced they are just the medicine for her complaint. And, Bee, I wish you'd remind me to tell Jane to send over a jug of buttermilk to the Bells. I did think that poor child Matty looked so frightfully burnt yesterday, and there's nothing like bathing the face and neck in buttermilk, to get rid of the ugly redness. My word, child, is that a ring at the hall door? Then I'll be off, but I'll be in the garden handy within call, in case you should want me, my pet."

As Captain Bertram entered the drawing-room Mrs. Meadowsweet's trailing skirts might have been seen disappearing down the steps which led from the French window to the garden. Beatrice said to herself with an inward smile:

"From the dear old mother's way, any one would suppose I was going to receive a lover," and then she raised her eyes, and a very lover-like gaze met hers.

The expression in Captain Bertram's dark eyes joined to the thought which had flown into her heart, made the young girl flush up almost painfully. This sudden blush caused the gallant wooer's heart to beat with rapture, and he instantly changed his tactics and resolved, instead of giving Beatrice a half confidence with regard to his troubles, to take the apparently unapproachable fortress by storm.

"I had a long story to tell you, but I find I can't tell it," he said.

Then he looked at her again, as he knew how momentous were the words which must follow, he turned pale.

"Sit down," said Beatrice. "Come over to the window and sit down. We have such a pretty view of the garden from here. Mother and I are very proud of our garden."

"Are you? Miss Meadowsweet, I want to say something. Look at me, will you look at me?"

"Of course I will. I expected you to say something when you called this morning. You had some sort of trouble you wanted to confide in me. What is the matter?"

"I don't feel now as if I had any trouble to confide in you. I can only say one thing."

Beatrice began to wish that her mother had not left the drawing-room. She moved forward as if to step through the open French window.

"And I must tell you this thing," pursued the captain's voice.

Its tone arrested her.

"But I am mad to say it."

"Don't say it then," she began.

"I can't help myself. You must listen. I love you better than all the world. I won't marry any one but you. I will marry you, I am determined."

"You are determined," repeated Beatrice, slowly. "_You_--determined--and about me? I am obliged."

Her lips took a scornful curl. She sat down. She was quiet enough now; the worst was over.

Beatrice, however, was only a country girl, and she had very little idea with whom she had to deal. No one could plead better his cause than Loftus Bertram. Defeat here meant the ruin of his worldly prospects as well as of his love. He was the kind of man with whom the present must always be paramount; for the time being he had absolutely forgotten Josephine Hart, for the time being he thought himself honestly, deeply in love with Beatrice.

So he talked and talked, until poor Beatrice felt both her head and heart aching.

"I am not in your rank of life," she said at last, as her final thrust. "My set is not the same as yours; my people can never belong to yours--my dear old mother is a lady at heart, but she has not the outward polish of your mother. You want me to be your wife now, but by-and-bye you will remember the gulf which socially lies between us."

"How can you talk such nonsense? You are one of nature's ladies. Ask my mother what she thinks of you. Ask Catherine. Don't you think Catherine would be happy to put her arms round you and call you sister?"

When Bertram mentioned Catherine a sweet light came for the first time into Beatrice's eyes.

"I love your sister Catherine," she said.

"You will love me too. You will make me the happiest of men."

"I have not even begun to love you. I have not a shadow of affection for you."

"If you saw me very unhappy you would pity me."

"Yes, I pity all unhappy people."

"Then pity me, for I am miserable."

"Pity won't do you any good; and you have no right to be miserable."

"Still, pity me; for I am, I can't help it--I am wretched beyond words."

His face had grown really haggard, for he was beginning to think she would never yield, and this look won her to say:

"Well, yes, if it comforts you to know it. I do pity you."

"Pity is akin to love. You will love me next."

"I don't see the smallest prospect; you mustn't delude yourself."

"I do, I will. I will trust you. I know your heart. You will pity me and then you will love me. I am not a good fellow."

His words and looks were the soul of sincerity now. He took her hand.

"I have never been a really good man. I have not been a dutiful son, and I have made my mother unhappy. If you were my wife I think I should become good, for you, Beatrice, you are very good."

He was telling her the old, old story, and she was half believing him, half believing that it might be in her power to redeem him. Beatrice Meadowsweet was just the sort of woman to love such work, to glory in such martyrdom.

She did not withdraw her hand from his, and her gray eyes, already dark and misty with emotion, filled with tears.

"I have never been spoken to like this before," she said.

Here she rose and stood before him.

"Your words trouble me. It is not right for a girl to marry without love, and yet most surely I pity you."

"Carry your pity a little further, and believe that the love will come. You cannot receive all and give nothing in return--the love will come, Beatrice, believe me, do believe me."

"I am not of your rank," she said, going back to her old objection, which in itself was a sign of weakness.

"See what my mother says of your rank and of you. You can take any rank. Oh, Beatrice, how happy you will make my mother."

She was not moved at all by this.

"And Catherine, I can see her eyes sparkle."

At Catherine's name Beatrice clasped her hands before her, and began to pace slowly up and down the little enclosure which contained the wide French windows opening into the garden.

"And you will make me good, Beatrice."

Captain Bertram was astute enough to see that he played his best card here.

Half an hour later he left her. She had apparently consented to nothing--but she had agreed to see him again the following day.

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