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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 28. Rivals.
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 28. Rivals. Post by :shine4789 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1441

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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, where 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. I'm inclined to think that all's for the best. It has pleased the Almighty to provide you with a wild mate--and my girl with a steady one. Last night as the clock struck nine, Gusty Jenkins popped the question for Matty, and all being agreeable, the young man torn with love, and rock-like as regards character, Gusty and Matty are now an affianced pair. Therefore, Beatrice, I say let by-gones be by-gones, and may you have what luck can await you in the future with that wild young man."

"I don't see why you should take away Captain Bertram's character," said Beatrice, with some spirit. "You liked him very much once."

"I'm not saying anything against him, my dear. I mean not anything more than the truth can bear out. There was a time when I thought well of Captain Bertram. I'm the last to deny there was such a time, but handsome is that handsome does, and when a young man had not the courage to obey his heart's promptings, and when rumors will travel on the breezes of extravagant, not to say naughty ways, I say, Beatrice, a woman can't become blind as a bat when these things stare her in the face."

No one in Northbury ever remembered seeing Beatrice in a passion. She was acknowledged to be sweet-tempered, and slow to be provoked. On this occasion, however, she was very nearly making the proverbial exception to her general rule. Beatrice was very nearly angry. A flush of color crimsoned her cheeks and brow, and an indignant light flashed from her eyes. In time, however, she was able to murmur to herself: "This is only Mrs. Bell's talk, and how could I be so silly as to mind Mrs. Bell?" So after a pause she said with effort, "I must congratulate Matty on her engagement; I am glad Matty is happy."

"Ah, my dear, and well she may be! Glad should I be to know that other girls had half so bright a future before them. Rich, handsome, and young, that's what Gusty is! Devoted! he's like one of the old knights for devotion. I have had my qualms about the jealousy of his nature, but otherwise Gusty is, _song pear and song reproach_."

At this moment the door was opened, some childish giggles and mirth were heard in the passage, and Matty rushed in, followed by the redoubtable Gusty. "Oh, Gus, you'll kill me!" she exclaimed; "you are too funny. Why, ma, is that you? And--and--Bee? How do you do, Bee?"

Matty came over and kissed her friend awkwardly.

"I am very glad to hear of your happiness, Matty," said Beatrice; "and I congratulate you, too, Augustus," she added, turning to the bashful swain.

"Oh, you want us to leave this room to yourselves, you two naughty things!" said the mother, shaking her head in fat ecstasy over her two turtle-doves. "Come, Bee; by-the-way, there's a young girl upstairs, a Miss Hart, a friend of mine, who is very anxious to see you."

Mrs. Bell and Beatrice left the drawing-room, and Augustus Jenkins turned to his fiancee "By Jove," he said, "that girl _is a bouncer!"

"What girl?" said Matty, in a quick jealous voice. She had flung herself in a languid attitude on the sofa, now she sat bolt upright.

"Killing, I call her," proceeded Gus; "simply killing. Such an eye, such a curl of the lip! By Jove--she'd bowl any fellow over."

Matty flushed deeply, and turned her head away to look out of the window.

"What's up, now, little duck?" said the lover. "Oh, she's jealous, is she? By George, that's a good un! You were in luck, missy, to come in my way first, or I don't know what mightn't have happened; and she's got lots of the tin, too, I've been told! So she's Captain Bertram's fancy. Well, he's a good judge and no mistake."

"I don't know that she's his fancy at all, Gusty. Ma always said that I--I--"

"Oh, by Jove! Matty, don't you try to come it over me like that. What a thunder-cloud? So she's frightfully jealous, is she, poor little duck? I say, though, you'd better keep me out of that girl's way; engaged or not, she'd mash any fellow. Now, what's up? Is that you, Alice? What a noisy one you are, to be sure!"

Alice had rushed into the room followed by Sophy, who was followed again by Daisy Jenkins.

"The bride's-maid dresses have come!" screamed Alice. "Let's all go and try them on, Matty!"

When Mrs. Bell took Beatrice out of the room, she said a few more words about Miss Hart. Finally she took Beatrice upstairs, and ushered her into her young visitor's bedroom.

Amongst the other luxuries which Josephine's money had secured for her in the Bells' house was an old-fashioned sofa, which was drawn across the windows. On this sofa Josephine often lay for hours. She was lying on it now, in a white morning dress. Mrs. Bell introduced the girls to each other, and then left them.

"I have seen you before," said Beatrice, the moment they were alone; "once before I have seen your face. You were looking out of a window. Stay," she added, suddenly, "I think I have seen you twice before. Are you not the girl who brushed past Captain Bertram and me the other night in the dark? Yes, I am sure you are the girl."

"You are right," said Josephine; "I am the girl." She spoke in an eager voice, two burning spots rose to her pale cheeks; her eyes always bright now almost glittered. "I am the girl," she repeated. She half rose from her sofa, but sat down on it again, and panted heavily, as though her breath failed her.

"You are ill," said Beatrice, with compunction; "you look very ill. Have you been long here? Mrs. Bell says that you are a friend of hers, a visitor."

"Yes, I am a friend and visitor. Mrs. Bell is very good to me."

"But you are ill. You ought to see a doctor."

"I ought not--I will not."

"Can I help you? It was kind of you to send for me. Can I do anything for you?"

"Wait until I get back my breath. I will speak in a minute. Sit quiet. Let me be still. It is agitation enough to have you in the room."

Her eyes glittered again. She pressed her white transparent hands to her throbbing heart.

Beatrice sat motionless. She had a queer feeling at her own heart, a kind of premonition that a blow was about to be struck at her. Several minutes passed. Then the girl on the sofa spoke.

"The struggle of seeing you is past. I see--I endure. Your name is Beatrice Meadowsweet--?"

"Yes, I am Beatrice Meadowsweet."

"You are engaged to Captain Bertram?"

"Yes."

"You are to be married on the 10th of this month."

"Yes."

"This is the 5th. You are to be married in five days!"

"I am, Miss Hart. Do you want to congratulate me?"

"I--yes--I congratulate you. You--are attached--to Loftus?"

"To Captain Bertram? Do you know him?"

"No matter. You--you love him?"

"Why should I speak of my feelings? To marry a man is a proof of love, is it not? Do you know my future husband?"

"I--once I knew him."

"He has never spoken to me about you. Did you know him well?"

"No matter. I knew him--no matter how much. He loves you, does he not?"

"I believe he faithfully loves me."

"Yes, I saw you together. There is no doubt. I heard the tone in his voice. You can't mistake that tone, can you?"

"I don't know. I have not much experience."

"You ought to have, for you are so beautiful. Yes, he loves you. It is all over."

"What is all over?"

"Nothing. Did I say anything wild of that sort? Don't believe the nonsense I speak. I am ill, and my brain sometimes wanders. There is a great fire consuming me, and I am tired of being burned alive. Sometimes in my pain I talk wildly. Nothing is over, for nothing really began. You will be good to Captain Bertram, won't you? How you look at me! You have very true eyes, very true. Now I will tell you the truth. Once I knew him, and he was kind to me--a _little kind--you know the sort of thing. I thought it meant more. He has forgotten me, of course, and you'll be good to him, for he--he's not perfect--although he suited--yes, he suited me very well. How my heart beats! Don't talk to me for a minute."

She lay back panting on the sofa. Beatrice got up and walked to the window. There was a long view of the High Street from this window. The street was straight and narrow, with few curves.

At that moment Beatrice saw Captain Bertram. He was a long way off, but he was walking down the street in the direction of the Bells' house. In about three minutes he would pass the house.

As Beatrice stood by the window she thought. A memory came over her. A memory of a man's steps--they were leaving her--they were hurrying--they were quickening to a run. In a flash she made up her mind.

She came back to the sofa where Nina sat.

"Can I do anything for you? Tell me quickly, for I earnestly desire to help you."

"You are good," said Nina. "You have a true voice, as well as a true face. Yes, I sent for you. I do want you to be kind to me. I want you to take a present from me to Captain Bertram."

"A present? What?"

"This little packet. It is sealed and addressed. Inside there is a story. That story would make Captain Bertram unhappy. I know the story; he does not know it. On your wedding-day, after you are married, give him this packet. When you put it in his hands, say these words, 'Nina sent you this, Loftus, and you are to burn it.' You must promise to see him burn the packet. What is the matter? Aren't you going to take it?"

"Yes, I will take it. Give it to me; I will put it in my pocket. Now, wait a moment. I want to run downstairs. I will come back again."

She softly closed the door of Nina's room, rushed downstairs, and out into the street.

Captain Bertram was passing the Bells' door when Beatrice ran up to him.

"Loftus, I want you," she said.

He turned in astonishment. He had been walking down the street, lost in a miserable dream. Beatrice, in her sharp, clear tone awoke him. He started, a wave of color passed over his dark face.

"Is anything wrong?" he asked, almost in alarm. "Bee, you are excited!"

"I am, fearfully. Come in, come upstairs!"

"Into the Bells' house! I don't want to visit the Bells. Beatrice, you look strange, and oh, how lovely!"

"Don't talk of my looks. Come in, come upstairs. No, you are not to see the Bells, nor are any of them about. Come--come at once."

She ran quickly up the stairs. He followed her, wondering, perplexed and irritated.

"Beatrice, what is the matter?" he said, once.

"Not much--or, rather, yes, everything. Inside that room, Captain Bertram, is one you know. Go and see her--or rather, come and see her, with me. You know her, and once, you were, after your fashion,--a _little kind."

Beatrice threw open the door.

"Nina," she said, "Captain Bertram is here,"--then she paused,--her next words came with a visible effort--"And his heart shall choose the girl he loves."

Beatrice walked straight across the room to the window. She heard a cry from Nina, and something between a groan and an exclamation of joy from Bertram.

She did not look round.

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