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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 21. With Catherine In The Rose Bower
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 21. With Catherine In The Rose Bower Post by :SimonB Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3013

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 21. With Catherine In The Rose Bower

CHAPTER XXI. WITH CATHERINE IN THE ROSE BOWER

Mrs. Meadowsweet was not the least like Mrs. Bell. She was not constantly on the watch for lovers for her only daughter. She was naturally such a contented and easy-going woman that she never troubled herself to look far ahead. The time being was always more or less sufficient to her. No two people could be snugger or more absolutely comfortable together than she and her Bee. It was no use therefore worrying her head about the possible contingency that the girl might marry and leave her.

Mrs. Meadowsweet, as she walked about her old-fashioned garden on that summer's morning was not at all put about by the fact that her pretty daughter was having a solemn conference in the drawing-room with the handsomest and most elegant young man of their acquaintance. She was not curious nor anxious, nor perturbed in any way. She pottered round her plants, pulling up a weed here, and removing a withered bud there, in the most comfortable fashion, and only once she made a remark to herself with regard to the occupants of the drawing-room. This was her sole allusion to them.

"I hope that young man won't forget to take the box of Eleazer'ss Life-pills to his mother. I left it handy on the hall table, and I hope he'll remember to slip it into his pocket."

Presently Mrs. Meadowsweet re-entered the house. There she noticed two things. The drawing-room was empty, and the box of pills lay untouched on the hall table.

She sighed a little over this latter circumstance, but reflecting that she could send Jane with them in the evening she went slowly up to her bedroom and busied herself putting on her afternoon gown, which was of a large check pattern, the coloring being different shades in terra-cotta.

Arrayed thus she came down to dinner, and then for the first time she was really startled by perceiving that Beatrice's place was empty. Jane immediately explained her young mistress's absence.

"Miss Bee has a headache and is lying down, ma'am. I'm to take her a cup of tea presently, but she doesn't want any dinner."

"Dear, dear," ejaculated Mrs. Meadowsweet.

"And the peas are lovely and tender to-day, and so for that matter is the chicken. What a pity! Jane, you tell Miss Bee that if she has a headache she had better take two of my pills immediately after she has had her tea. You'll find them in the bottle on my dressing-table, Jane, and you had better take her up some raspberry jam to swallow them in."

Jane promised obedience, and Mrs. Meadowsweet ate her green peas and tender, young chicken in great contentment.

In the course of the afternoon Beatrice came downstairs again. She told her mother that her headache was quite gone, but the old lady was acute enough to observe a great change in the girl. She did not look ill, but the brightness had gone out of her face.

"Is anything wrong, dearie?" she asked. "Has any one been worrying you, my treasure?"

"I have got to think about something," replied Beatrice. "And I am just a very little upset. I am going into the garden with a book, and you won't mind if I don't talk to you, mother dear?"

"Of course not, my pet. What is an old mother good for, but to humor her child? Go you into the garden, Trixie, and no one shall fret or molest you, I'll see to that."

Beatrice kissed her mother, and book in hand went to the rose-bower, a secluded spot where no one could see her or take her unawares. Mrs. Meadowsweet sat upright in her chair, took out her knitting-bag, and proceeded to add a few stitches to Beatrice's quilt.

Presently there came a quick and somewhat nervous ring to the door-bell. Mrs. Meadowsweet often said that there were rings and rings. This ring made her give a little start, and took away the sleepiness which was stealing over her.

The next moment Catherine Bertram entered the room. Her eyes were glowing, and her face, usually rather pale, was effused with a fine color. She looked eager and expectant.

Mrs. Meadowsweet stretched out her two hands to her, and gave her a few warm words of welcome. The impulsive girl stooped down, and kissed the old lady on the forehead.

"You're just the person I'm glad to see, my dear," said Mrs. Meadowsweet. "You'll take your mother back her pills. Poor dear, she must have thought I had forgotten all about her."

"I have come to see Beatrice," said Catherine. "It is important. Can I see her?"

"Well, my love, Bee is not quite herself. She is worried about something; I don't know what for it's my aim in life to make her lot smooth as velvet. She's in the garden with a book, and I said she shouldn't be disturbed. But you, my dear----"

"I must see Beatrice," repeated Catherine. "It's important. I've come here on purpose."

"Well, my love, you and Bee are always great friends. You haven't a worrying way with you. She's in the rose-arbor. You can find her, child. You walk straight down that path, and then turn to your left."

Catherine did not wait another instant. She had the quick and graceful motions of a young fawn, and when she reached Beatrice her eager face was so full of light and excitement that the other girl sprang to her feet, her unopened book tumbled to the floor, and in one moment the two friends had their arms round each other.

They did not kiss. This was not the moment for outward expressions of affection. They looked at one another, then Catherine said:

"Well, Beatrice?" and, taking her friend's hand, she sat down by her.

"You know what happened this morning, Catherine?" said Beatrice, looking at her sadly.

"Yes, I know. I have come about that. Loftus came home, and he told mother. I heard him talking to her, and I heard mother crying; I came into the room then, for I cannot bear the sound of my mother's sobs when she is in distress, and she at once looked up when she heard nay step, and she said:

"'It is all hopeless, Catherine; Beatrice Meadowsweet will not marry Loftus.'

"'Nay, mother,' interrupted Loftus, 'there's a chance for me, she has consented to see me again to-morrow.'

"I flew up to mother when Loftus had done speaking, and I knelt by her and looked into her face and said, 'You make my heart beat so hard, I never, never thought of this.' Mother went on moaning to herself. She did not seem to care about me nor to notice that I was with her.

"'It was my last hope,' she said; 'the only chance to avert the trouble, and it is over.'

"She went on saying that until I really thought she was almost light-headed. At last Loftus beckoned me out of the room.

"'What is it, Loftus, what is wrong?" I asked.

"'Poor mother,' he replied; 'she loves Beatrice, and she had set her heart on this. Her nerves are a good deal shaken lately. Poor mother! she has had a more troubled life than you can guess about, Catherine.'

"'Loftie,' I answered, 'I have long guessed, I have long feared.'

"'If I could win Beatrice,' said Loftus, 'my mother should never have another ache nor pain.'

"Then he went back into mother's room, and I stayed outside and thought. After a time I resolved to come to you. No one knows that I am here."

"What have you come for, Catherine?" asked Beatrice.

"I have come to know what you mean to do. When you see Loftus to-morrow what will you say to him?"

"What would you say, Catherine? If you did not love a man at all, if he was absolutely nothing to you, would you give yourself to him? Yourself? That means all your life, all your days, your young days, your middle-aged years, your old age, always, till death parts you. Would you do that, Catherine? Speak for yourself; would you?"

"How old are you, Beatrice?" asked Catherine.

"I am nineteen; never mind my age, that has nothing whatever to say to the question I want you to answer."

"I asked you about your age on purpose--because I can't answer your question. You are nineteen, I am seventeen. I feel like a child still; I don't understand anything about loving people as you talk of love; but I could be kind, and if it lay in my power to keep hearts from breaking I think I'd be very glad to do it, and then Loftie _is nice, Bee."

Beatrice sighed. For the first time there was a gulf between her and Catherine. As an intelligent and intellectual companion, as an affectionate friend, Catherine was perfect; but in matters pertaining to love--that great mystery which comes into most lives--her unawakened heart was as a blank.

"You ask a great deal," said Beatrice, rising to her feet with irritation. "For some reason, I don't know what, I am of value to you and yours. I am not in your rank of life, still you want me. Your mother is troubled, and in some inexplicable way I, an ignorant and uninformed country girl, can relieve her. This is all very fine for you, but what about me? I sacrifice myself forever to give temporary relief. Catherine, you must tell me the truth. Why do you want me? Is it because of my money?"

"Have you money?" asked Catherine. Her big, innocent, honest eyes looked full at her friend, their expression showed bewilderment. When she looked at her in this way Beatrice suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. Then she put her arms round Catherine and kissed her two or three times.

"Kate, you are the sweetest girl I ever met in all my life. You are good, you are innocent. Kitty, I would do much for you."

"And Loftus is very kind," repeated Catherine; "and he's handsome, too. He often told me that girls fell in love with him."

Beatrice patted Catherine's cheek.

"Little puss!" she said, "he ought not to breathe such words in your innocent ears. So it is not for my money your mother and Loftus want me so badly, Kitty."

"I never heard either of them breathe the subject of your money. Have you any?"

"Yes, some."

"That would be nice, for somehow lately we seem to be dreadfully poor."

"If I were turned into a grand and patrician Bertram, and made into your sister, sweet little Kitty, you shouldn't be poor. I'd see to that. I'd dress you and pet you, and lade you with gifts."

"Beatrice, how bright your eyes are."

"Yes, I am excited when I think of the possible benefit I may be to you."

"I only want you to be my sister, and to make my mother and Loftus happy. My mother has a hidden trouble about which I must not speak; and for some reason which I cannot in the least understand, if you marry Loftus that trouble will disappear."

"And you want it to disappear?"

"I would give all I possess to make my mother happy."

"Good, dear, little Kitty! You don't incline then to the belief that your brother wants me for the guineas' worth!"

"Beatrice, I don't think Loftus is really sordid and he loves you. Oh, how earnestly he told me that he loved you. And my mother, she often, often talks of you, and I know she cares for you, Bee."

"Come into the house," said Beatrice, suddenly. "Now that you have come you must spend the evening with me. We can send a messenger to the Manor to tell them, and after tea you and I will go on the water. We'll have a happy evening together, Kate, and we won't talk any more about Loftus, no, not another word. If I do a thing I do it generously, but I will not discuss the _pros and _cons even with, you any more."

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