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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 29. The Feelings Of A Crushed Moth
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 29. The Feelings Of A Crushed Moth Post by :shine4789 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :762

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 29. The Feelings Of A Crushed Moth

CHAPTER XXIX. THE FEELINGS OF A CRUSHED MOTH

"I don't think it's right for Maria to be in the room," said Mrs. Butler. "I'll listen to all you've got to say in a moment, Mrs. Gorman Stanley, but--Maria, will you have the goodness to leave us."

"I'd rather stay," pleaded poor Miss Maria. "I always was deeply interested in my darling Bee, and it's dreadful to think of her being discussed and gossiped over, and me not present. You know, Martha, you have a sharp tongue."

"This from you, Maria? You, who eat my bread. Well! Mrs. Gorman Stanley, you are witness to this ingratitude."

"Oh, my dear good creatures, don't quarrel," said Mrs. Gorman Stanley.

She was a very phlegmatic woman, and hated scenes.

"If I were you, Mrs. Butler, I'd let poor Miss Peters stay," she added. "I'm sure she's quite old enough."

"Mrs. Gorman Stanley, my sister is never old enough to listen to improper subjects. Faithless, she is, ungrateful, perverse, but her innocence at least I will respect. Maria, leave the room."

Poor Miss Maria slipped away. As she did so, she looked exactly like a crushed brown moth. In the passage she stopped, glanced furtively around her, and then, shocking to relate, put her ear to the key-hole. She felt both sore and angry; they were saying horrid things of Beatrice, and Miss Peters loved Beatrice.

Soon she went away, and burying her face in her little handkerchief, sobbed bitterly.

Inside the drawing-room, Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Gorman Stanley were holding awful conclave.

"You don't say, my dear, that she took the young man up to Miss Hart's _private room? And who _is Miss Hart? And what's all this fuss about? No, I'm glad Maria isn't here! I always tried to do my duty by Maria, and a scandal of this kind she must not listen to. What does it all mean, Mrs. Gorman Stanley? Is Beatrice Meadowsweet to be married on Tuesday, or is she not?"

"My dear friend, I can't tell you. There are all sorts of rumors about. I was at Perry's buying a yard of muslin, when Mrs. Morris came in. She had her mouth pursed up, and her voice perfectly guttural from bronchitis, so I knew she was keeping something in, and I made a point of going up to her. I said, 'you have got some news, Mrs. Morris, and you may as well out with it.' Then she told me."

"What? Mrs. Gorman Stanley, I trust you don't feel the draught from that window. I'll shut it if you like. But what--what did she say?"

"Well, she said some queer things. Nobody can quite make out whether Bee is to be married or not on Tuesday. Some say that Captain Bertram is married already, and that his wife is living in seclusion at the Bells'."

"At the Bells'? I'll go over at once and poke that mystery out. Maria! _Maria_! She's sure to to be eaves-dropping somewhere near. Maria, come here quickly, I want you."

"What is it, Martha?"

The little crushed moth put in a face, which disclosed very red eyes, at the door.

"What is it, Martha? Do you want me?"

"Ah, I thought you couldn't be far off. You'll oblige me, Maria, by running upstairs, and fetching down my bonnet and mantle. My _old gloves will do, and I'll have my fur boa, for the days are turning wonderfully chilly. Yes, Mrs. Gorman Stanley," continued Mrs. Butler, when Miss Peters had disappeared, "I'll soon get at the bottom of _that bit of gossip. Are the Bells likely people to keep a close secret to themselves; you tell me that, Mrs. Gorman Stanley? Aren't they all blab, blab, blab? Ah, here comes Maria--and dressed to go out, too, upon my word? Well, miss, I suppose I must humor you! You'll have the decency, however, to remember to turn away your head if we matrons wish to whisper a bit among ourselves. Good-bye, Mrs. Gorman Stanley. I'll look in if I have any news for you this evening."

"Do," said Mrs. Gorman Stanley. "I'm all a-gog to hear. It's no joke to order a handsome dress for a chit of a girl's wedding, and then not wear it after all. I meant to get new curtains for my back parlor, heavy snuff-colored moreen, going a great bargain, but I had to buy the dress instead. Well, you'll let me know the news. Good-bye."

As they were walking down the street to the Bells' house Mrs. Butler turned sharply to her little companion:

"Maria," she said, "you are a perfect fool."

"Well, really, Martha, I--I----"

"For goodness' sake, don't begin to snivel. I hadn't finished my speech. I'm a fool, too. We are both in the same box."

"Oh, no, Martha, you always were----"

"Folly. You needn't roll your eyes at me. Don't flatter. I said we were both fools. I repeat it. We have been hoaxed."

"Hoaxed?" said Miss Maria, with a high staccato note of inquiry.

"Yes. Hoaxed. Hoaxed out of our wedding presents by a girl who is not going to have a wedding at all. I miss my brooch. My throat feels naked without it. Last week I had a hoarseness. I attribute it to the loss of the brooch."

"I don't miss my lace," said Miss Maria. "I am glad she has it. I am very glad she has it, wedding or no wedding, bless her sweet heart."

"Maria, your sentiments are sickly. Don't give me any more of them. Here we are at the door now. You'll remember, Maria, my hint, and act as a modest woman, if occasion requires."

Here Mrs. Butler souded a loud rat-tat on the Bells' hall door. The little maid opened it rather in a fright. She poked her head out. This was a style usually adopted by the Northbury servants.

"Is your mistress in, Hannah?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Butler, ma'am. I'll inquire, ma'am. Will you walk in, please, ma'am."

"I will, Hannah, and so will Miss Peters. Show us into the drawing-room, and tell your mistress we are here. If she should happen to be out we will wait her return. You will be particular to remember that, Hannah. We'll wait her return."

"Oh, if you please, Mrs. Butler, will you--excuse me, ma'am, but _will you come into the parlor, please, ma'am?"

"Into the parlor? Why into the parlor, pray?"

"It's Miss Matty, ma'am."

"Oh! has Miss Matty become mistress of this house? And does she forbid her mother's visitors admission to the drawing-room! Hoots, toots--I'll soon put a stop to that sort of thing. Come on, Maria."

"But really, Martha--do stop a moment, Martha--I'm sure Hannah ought to know best."

"Oh, indeed, yes, Miss Peters--thank you, Miss Peters--missis did give orders most positive. These were her exact words: 'Hannah,' she said, 'the parlor is for callers. You remember that, Hannah, and the drawing-room is for--'"

"Yes," said Mrs. Butler, sweeping round, and confronting poor little frightened Hannah. "Who is the drawing-room for?"

"For Miss Matty, please, Mrs. Butler, ma'am. For Miss Matty and Mr. Gusty Jenkins. They're a--they're a-lovering in the drawing-room, ma'am."

"Then they are engaged! That rumor also reached me. Come on, Maria. We'll go and congratulate them."

No poor little ignorant maid-of-all-work could keep Mrs. Butler back now. She swept down the passage, followed by the shrinking, but curious Miss Peters. She threw open the drawing-room door herself, and intruded upon the abashed young people with a stately flourish.

"How are you, Matty?" she said. "Oh, pray don't let us disturb you. Is that you, Augustus? I'm pleased to see you, young man. I used to dandle you when you were an infant--good gracious, what red hair you had, and--it hasn't changed, not at all! Now, Matty, my dear, what are you blushing about? You have caught your young man at last, and much luck may you both have. If--' if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.' You _have tried again, Matty, and I congratulate you. You may kiss me, Matty, if you like. Maria, you may kiss Matty Bell. She's engaged to Gusty. Well, Gusty, you _are a sly one. Never once have you been near my house since your return. Better employed, you will say. Ha, ha, _I know young men. Marry in haste and repent at leisure. But come over now and sit near me by this window. I shouldn't object to a dish of gossip with you, not at all. Do you remember that day when you had your first tooth out? How you screamed? I held your hands, and your mother your head. You were an arrant coward, Gusty, and I'm frank enough to remind you of the fact."

Just then, to Augustus Jenkins' infinite relief, Mrs. Bell entered the room; he was spared any further reminiscences of his youth, and he and Matty were thankful to escape into the garden.

After the necessary congratulations had been gone through, and Mrs. Bell had bridled, and looked important, and Mrs. Butler had slapped her friend on the shoulder, and given her elbow a sly poke, and in short gone through the pleasantries which she thought becoming to the occasion, the ladies turned to the more serious business in hand.

Mrs. Butler, who prided herself on being candid, who was the terror of her friends on account of this said candor, asked a plain question in her usual style.

"Maria, go to the window and look out. Now, Mrs. Bell, you answer me yes or no to this. Has Captain Bertram a wife concealed in this house, or has he not? In short, is my throat naked for no rhyme or reason!"

Mrs. Bell, who could not quite see what Mrs. Butler's throat had to say to a clandestine wife of Captain Bertram's, stared at her friend with her usual round and stolid eyes.

"I think your brain must be wandering, Martha Butler," she said. "I don't know anything about your throat, except that it is very indelicate to wear it exposed, and as to Captain Bertram having a wife here, do you want to insult me after all these years, Martha?"

"I want to do nothing of the kind, Tilly Bell. I only want to get at the naked truth."

"It was your naked throat a minute ago."

"Well, they hang together, my throat and the truth. Has that young man got a wife in this house, or has he not?"

"He has not, Mrs. Butler, and you forfeit my friendship from this minute."

"Oh, I forfeit it, do I? (Come, Maria, we'll be going.) Very well, Mrs. Bell, I have forfeited your friendship, very well. And there's no young woman who oughtn't to be here, concealed on these premises. (Maria, stay looking out at the window for a minute.) There's no strange young woman here, oh, of course not. Poor Bell, honest man, only _fancies he has a visitor in the house."

Here Mrs. Bell turned ghastly pale. Mrs. Butler saw that she had unexpectedly driven a nail home, and with fiendish glee pursued her advantage.

"A visitor! oh, yes, _all the lodgings were full, packed! and it was so convenient to take in a visitor a--_friend. Hunt the baker has been speaking about it. I didn't listen--I make it a point _never to listen to gossip--but Maria--Maria, you can come here now. Have the goodness, Maria, to tell Mrs. Bell exactly what Hunt said, when you went in to buy the brown loaf for me last Friday."

"Oh, sister--I--I really don't remember."

"Don't remember! Piddle dumpling! You remembered well enough when you came back all agog with the news. I reproved you for listening to idle gossip, and you read a sermon of Blair's on evil speaking aloud to me that night. You shall read sermon ten to-night. It's on lying. Well, Mrs. Bell, _I can repeat what my poor sister has forgotten. It was only to the effect that you and Bell must have had a windfall left you, and _he never knew a visitor treated so well as you treated yours. The dainty cakes you had to get her, and the fuss over her, and every blessed thing paid down for with silver of the realm. Well, well, sometimes it is _convenient to have a visitor. But now I must leave. Maria, we'll be going. You have got to get to your sermon on lying as soon as possible. Good-bye, Mrs. Bell. Perhaps you'll be able to tell some one else why the whole town is talking about Miss Hart--whoever Miss Hart is--and about Beatrice, and the wedding being put off--and Captain Bertram going off into high hysterics in--(Maria, you can go back to the window)--in a certain young lady's private room. Now I'm off. Come, Maria."

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