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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 24. Events Move Apace
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 24. Events Move Apace Post by :SimonB Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3466

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 24. Events Move Apace


Mrs. Bell was very successful in her purchase of plums. In her way she was a notable housewife, and she returned home about eight o'clock that evening with a large basket of greengages, which were all to be boiled down for preserving the following day.

As soon as she entered the house the maid came to meet her.

"You take these carefully down and put them in the larder, Hannah," said her mistress. "Be careful you don't knock any of them, or the bloom will go off. Why what's the matter, girl? Is Miss Matty worse?"

"Lor, no, ma'am. Miss Matty is up, and out a-pleasuring, ma'am. But if you please, there's a visitor in the drawing-room who would like to have a word with you the minute you come in."

"A visitor?"

Mrs Bell felt her heart beat. The Northbury people did not stand on ceremony with each other, nor wait in each other's drawing-rooms, for the return of an absent hostess. A wild idea came across Mrs. Bell's brain. Could Captain Bertram have quarrelled with Beatrice, and come back to Matty, his first and only true love.

"A visitor? Male or female?" she inquired of the girl.

"A lady, ma'am. Dressed most elegant."

"Dear, dear, dear! Then I suppose I must see her, and I so dead beat! She didn't give her name, did she, Hannah?"

"No, ma'am. But she have been a-setting in the drawing-room for over an hour."

"And Miss Matty, you say, is out!"

"Oh, yes, ma'am; a-pleasuring in her shot silk, and the open-worked stockings you ironed up a fortnight back."

"Well, I feel bothered altogether, but I must go and see this visitor."

Accordingly Mrs. Bell entered her drawing-room, where she was instantly confronted by a tall girl who greeted her with warmth, flashed her brilliant eyes into her face, subjugated her in a moment, and then made a bold request.

"My name is Josephine Hart. About a month ago I took rooms at the Testers. I find Mrs. Bertram has forbidden them to receive me again. I don't know where to go, as I am not acquainted with Northbury, but I can pay for good rooms. Can you recommend any?"

"My dear child, now let me think. The place is packed just at present--simply packed. Dear, dear! I have heard of you, Miss Hart. And so Mrs. Bertram doesn't like you?"

"No, she hates me."

"Well, I'm sure. You don't look like a young lady to be hated."

"No one else hates me, Mrs. Bell, but she does, because she has a reason. I have come back to Northbury on purpose to make her uncomfortable, and I must stay."

"So you shall, my dear. I applaud a girl with spirit. And so you hate Mrs. Bertram? And you have a spite against her with reason. Well, I may as well own that I don't love her, having good cause not to do so. She has been the means of breaking my young daughter's heart. My child is even now lying on her bed of--" but here Mrs. Bell remembered what Hannah had said about the shot silk, and the open-worked stockings. "I wish I could help you, my dear young lady," she said.

"I was hoping you would help me. Might I not come and live with you here? I would pay you well."

Mrs. Bell started and blushed. Caste was a very marked feature in Northbury society, and between the people who let lodgings for money, and those who lived genteelly on their means was a great and awful gulf. No people were poorer in their way than the Bells, and no one would have more dearly liked to add to her little store of this world's pelf than would poor Mrs. Bell. She could scarcely afford to take a fashionable girl in for nothing, and yet--dared she accept payment? Bell, if he knew, would never forgive her, and, as to the town, it would simply cut her dead.

The tall girl who was watching Mrs. Bell's face seemed, however, to be able to read her through. She spoke in a moment in a very gentle and pleading voice:

"I understand your position; you are a lady, and you don't like to accept money."

"I couldn't do it, my dear. I couldn't really; Bell, he'd take on awful. It isn't the custom in Northbury, Miss--Miss Hart."

"And I couldn't come to you without paying. Now, suppose you and I managed it between us and nobody knew."

"Oh, Miss Hart, I'd be terrified. These things always leak out, they do really."

"Not if they are properly managed. You might leave that part to me. And you need not name any sum. I shall see that all your expenses are covered. Have you a private cupboard in your bedroom? Unlock it every Monday. That's all you need do. You can give out to all your friends that you have received me as a visitor, because you were kind to me, and I wanted to come back to Northbury so badly."

After considerable more parley on both sides, the matter was arranged, and who more cheerful than Mrs. Bell as she tripped upstairs to prepare Matty's room for her guest. She was quite obliged to Matty now for having left her bed, for the thought of that little secret hoard, which Monday by Monday she might collect, and no one be the wiser, had filled her heart with rejoicing. So she helped Hannah to spread Josephine's bed with her finest linen sheets, and altogether she made the little chamber cosy and pleasant for its new inmate. All signs of poor Matty's illness were removed, and that young lady's possessions were hastily carried into her sisters' joint bedroom. Here they would be anything but wanted or appreciated but what cared Mrs. Bell for that?

Mrs. Meadowsweet, meanwhile, was having a somewhat exciting time. Beatrice was engaged. That event had taken place which the widow had only thought about as a distant and possible contingency. Captain Bertram had himself come to his future mother-in-law, and said a few words with such grace and real feeling that the old lady's warm heart was touched. She laid her hands within those of the handsome lad, and blessed him, and kissed him.

She was not a woman who could see far beneath the surface, and she thought Loftus Bertram worthy even of Beatrice. Beatrice herself said very little on the subject.

"Yes, I will marry him," she said once to her mother. "I have made up my mind, and I will do it. They want the wedding to be soon. Let it be soon. Where's the use of lingering over these things."

"You speak somehow, Trixie, I mean Bee, my girl, as if you didn't--didn't quite like it," said the mother, then a trace of anxiety coming into her smooth, contented voice: "You shan't have him, I mean he shan't have you, unless you want him with your whole heart, Bee, my darling."

"Mother," said Beatrice, kneeling down by her, and putting her arms round her neck, "it is not given to all girls to want a thing with their whole heart. I have always been happy, always filled, always content. Therefore I go away without any special sense of rejoicing. But oh, not unhappily--oh, far from that."

"You're sure, Trixie--you are speaking the whole truth to your own mother? Your words are sober to belong to a young girl who is soon to be a bride. Somehow I wasn't like that when your father came for me."

"No two girls are alike, mother. I speak the sober truth, the plain, honest truth, when I tell you that I am happy. Still, my happiness is not unmixed when I think of leaving you."

"Hoots-toots, child, I'll do well enough. Jane will look after me, and that nice little friend of yours, Catherine, will come and cheer me up now and then. I shall have lots to do, too, this autumn, for I'm going to have all the chintzes recalendered, and the carpets taken up and darned in the weak places, and there are some sheets to be cut down the middle and sewn up again. I won't have breathing-time, let alone half-hours for fretting. So the thought of the old mother needn't trouble you, my dearie dear. And the captain has promised to bring you back as soon as ever he can get fresh leave, so I can look forward to that, if I have a minute of time to look forward at all."

Beatrice smiled and kissed her mother.

"I don't think any one ever had a dearer mother than you are," she said, "or a more unselfish one."

"Oh, now, my pet," replied the crafty old lady, "you know you'd change me for Mrs. Bertram any day; she's so stylish, Bee, and so--so genteel, darling. You know I never did aim at being genteel. I always acknowledged that I was a step below your father and you."

"Hush! You were a step below no one. You stand on a pinnacle which no other mother can reach, as far as I am concerned. Compare you with Mrs. Bertram indeed!"

Here Beatrice tried to look scornful. The expression was so foreign to her face that her mother absolutely laughed and chuckled. Of course, she had meant Bee to say the kind of thing she had said; it was balm to the old lady to hear such words from her beautiful child.

Up at the Manor now everything went smoothly. Mrs. Bertram was in perfect health, and perfect spirits. The bustle of a coming wedding excited and pleased the girls. There was that fuss about the place which generally precedes an event of rejoicing. Such fuss was delicious to Catherine and Mabel. Captain Bertram not only looked perfectly happy, but all his best qualities appeared now on the surface. New springs of feeling, depths hitherto untouched, had been awakened by Beatrice. She had a power over this young man; she could arouse all the latent nobility which he possessed. He thought he was very much in love with her; he certainly did care for her, but more as his guardian-angel than with the passionate love he might offer to a wife. He made all sorts of good resolves when he was with Beatrice, and these resolves grew into his face, and made it look pleasant, and touched it with a light never before seen there, and strengthened it with a touch which banished for a time the evil lines of irresolution and weakness.

Captain Bertram had made up his mind--he had been rarely blessed--he was unworthy, but a treasure of good price had been vouchsafed to him. He would live worthy of her. He would cast away the useless life of the past; he would cease to be extravagant--his debts should be wiped off and never incurred again. He would be honorable, true--a gentleman in every sense of the word--the girl who was lowly born, but whose heart was so patrician, and whose spirit was so loyal, should guide him in all things.

Captain Bertram had only one uncomfortable corner in his heart just then. He had one little secret chamber which he kept locked, and into which, even in spirit, he never cared to enter. Men, when they are turning over new leaves, often keep this little reserve-room of the past uncleaned, unpurified. All else shall be swept and garnished, but this room, carefully locked, can reveal no secrets. From its door the ghost of past evil-doing can surely not escape to confront and destroy. So Captain Bertram thought. He must forget Josephine; the wrong he had done her, the vows he had made to her, could never be washed out or forgiven, but in all else he would be perfect in the future.

Before he returned to Northbury for the express purpose of wooing and winning Beatrice Meadowsweet, he had written to Josephine. In his letter he had promised to marry her; he had promised to confide all about her to his mother. He said he should be at home for a month, and during that month he would watch his opportunity and break the news of his engagement to Josephine to his parent. He had asked Josephine to give him a month to do this in, and he had begged of her to leave Northbury for the time, assuring her that her presence at his mother's gates would be highly detrimental to their mutual interests.

Josephine had departed, and Bertram, after the fashion of men of his class, had almost forgotten her existence in his pursuit of a new quest.

Now he was engaged, and his wedding-bells would soon ring. If the thought of Josephine Hart did flash now and then before his mental vision, he could only hope devoutly that she would learn nothing of his betrothal to Beatrice until after their marriage. "She may appear then, and I may have to tell Bee everything," he soliloquized. "Well, well, Bee could not be hard on a fellow, and we will both do what we can for poor Josephine. No doubt I should not have made her a good husband--no doubt, no doubt! Poor child--poor, beautiful child." But as he said the words under his breath, Captain Bertram felt his heart beat hard and fast. "My God--I love her madly--I must not think of her at all," he murmured. "I must not; I dare not!" He was uncomfortable, and even depressed, after these musings; and he was determined to keep the door of that chamber within him where Josephine dwelt more firmly locked than ever in the future.

When all the people concerned are of one mind on a certain point it is surprising how easily they can bring their wishes to bear fruit. It was all important, both to Captain Bertram and his mother, that his marriage should follow his engagement with the least possible delay.

Having decided to marry him, Beatrice would allow her lover to lead her to the altar the first day he cared to do so. Mrs. Meadowsweet was, of course, like wax in the hands of her daughter.

Accordingly, Beatrice would only be an engaged maiden for three short weeks, and on the 10th of September, before Captain Bertram's leave expired, Northbury was to make merry over the gayest wedding it had ever been its lot to participate in.

Mr. Ingram, who was one of Beatrice's guardians, and from whose house the wedding was to take place, had insisted on all his parishioners being invited. Both rich and poor were to partake of the good things of life at the Rectory on that auspicious day, and Mrs. Bertram, whether she liked it or not, must sit down to her son's wedding-breakfast in the presence of Mrs. Gorman Stanley, Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Butler, Miss Peters, and the other despised Northbury folk.

"Your son is marrying into one of the Northbury families," the rector had said, when the proud lady had frowned a little over this. "Beatrice must and shall have her friends round her when she gives herself to Bertram. Your son is making an excellent match from a money point of view and from all other points of view, and if there is a bitter with the sweet, he must learn to swallow it with a good grace."

When the rector had mentioned "from a money point of view" Mrs. Bertram had forced herself to clear her brows, and smile amiably. After all, beside this great and important question of money what were these small worries but pinpricks.

The pin-prick, however, was capable of going somewhat deeper, when Catherine informed her mother that Beatrice particularly wished to have her friends, the Bells, and Daisy Jenkins as bride's-maids at her wedding.

"No, no, impossible," burst from Mrs. Bertram's lips.

But in the end she had to yield this point also, for what will not a woman do who is hard beset and pressed into a corner to set herself free from so humiliating and torturing a position.

Thus everything was getting ready for the great event. The bride's trousseau was the wonder of all beholders. The subject of Beatrice's wedding was the only one on the _tapis_, and no one saw a little cloud in the sky, nor guessed at even the possibility of trouble ahead.

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 28. Rivals.
CHAPTER XXVIII. RIVALS.A couple of days after this Beatrice Meadowsweet received a note from Mrs. Bell, asking her to call to see her. The note came early in the morning, and immediately after breakfast Beatrice went to the Bells' house. Mrs. Bell took her into the drawing-room and shut the door behind them both. "Beatrice," she said, "I owed you a grudge, but that is past. You stepped in you had no right to step, and for a time, I won't deny it, my heart was very sore. I haven't sent for you to-day, though, to rip up past troubles.

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 23. That Fickle Matty
CHAPTER XXIII. THAT FICKLE MATTY"Well, doctor, and where are you off to now?" The speaker was the doctor's wife. "I do think it's unreasonable of people," continued this good lady, "to send for you just when you are sitting down to your comfortable breakfast, and you so particular as you are about your coffee." "Who is it, Mary Anne? Who's the messenger from?" turning to the maid-servant, who stood in a waiting attitude half-in, half-out of the door. "Oh, it's only the Bells. You needn't hurry off to the Bells, Tom." "As well they as another," retorted Dr. Morris "Tell the