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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 30. Guardians Are Not Always To Be Envied
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 30. Guardians Are Not Always To Be Envied Post by :shine4789 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2979

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 30. Guardians Are Not Always To Be Envied

CHAPTER XXX. GUARDIANS ARE NOT ALWAYS TO BE ENVIED

It would have been difficult to find a more easy-going, kind, happy-tempered man than Mr. Ingram. He had never married--this was not because he had not loved. Stories were whispered about him, and these stories had truth for their foundation--that when he was young he had been engaged to a girl of high birth, great beauty of person, and rare nobility of mind. Evelyn St. Just had died in her youth, and Mr. Ingram for her sake had never brought a wife home to the pleasant old Rectory. His sorrow had softened, but in no degree soured the good man. There had been nothing in it to sour any one--no shade of bitterness, no thread of unfaithfulness. The Rector firmly believed in a future state of bliss and reunion, and he regarded his happiness as only deferred. As far as his flock knew, the sorrow which had come to him in his youth only gave him a peculiar sympathy for peculiar troubles. To all in sorrow the Rector was the best of friends, but if the case was one where hearts were touched, if that love which binds a man to a woman was in any way the cause of the distress, then the Rector was indeed aroused to give of his best to comfort and assist.

On the evening after her strange interview with Josephine Hart, Beatrice put on her hat, and coming down to her mother where she sat as usual in the pleasant drawing-room, told her that she was going to see Mr. Ingram.

"It is rather late to-night, surely, child?"

"No, mother, it is not too late. I want particularly to see Mr. Ingram to-night."

"Are you well, Bee? Your voice sounds tired."

"I am quite well, dear mother. Kiss me. I won't stay longer away than I can help."

She left the house. It was getting dusk now, and the distance between the Gray House and the Rectory was not small. But no Northbury girl feared to be out alone, and Beatrice walked quickly, and before long reached her destination.

The Rector was in--Beatrice would find him in his study. The old housekeeper did not dream of conducting Miss Meadowsweet to this apartment. She smiled at her affectionately, told her she knew the way herself, and left her.

When Beatrice entered the study the Rector got up and took his favorite by both her hands.

"I am glad to see you, my child," he said. "I was just feeling the slightest _soupcon of loneliness, so you have come in opportunely. Sit down, Bee. I suppose Bertram will call for you presently."

Beatrice did not make any response to this remark, but she drew a little cane chair forward and sat down.

"Except your mother, no one will miss you more than I shall when you leave us, Beatrice," said the Rector. "You are quite right to go, my dear. Quite right. I see a useful and honorable career before you. But I may be allowed just once to say that I shall be lonely without my favorite."

"Dear Rector," said Beatrice. She came a little nearer, and almost timidly laid her hand on his knee. Then she looked in his face. "I am not going to leave you," she said.

"God bless my soul! What do you mean, child? Is anything wrong? You don't look quite yourself. Has that young scoundrel--if I thought--" the Rector got up. His face was red, he clenched his hand in no clerical style.

Beatrice also rose to her feet.

"He is not a scoundrel," she said. "Although if our engagement had gone on, and I had been married to Captain Bertram, he would have been one."

"Then you are not engaged? You have broken it off."

"I am not engaged. I have released Captain Bertram from his engagement to me."

"Beatrice! I did not expect this from you. His mother is attached to you--so are his sisters, while he himself, poor lad--! Bee, it was better you should find out your heart in time, but I am surprised--I am grieved. You should have known it before--before things went as far as this, my dear girl."

"Please, Mr. Ingram, listen to me. Sit down again, for I have a long story to tell. I have not changed my mind, nor am I guilty of any special fickleness. But circumstances have arisen which make it impossible for me to keep my engagement. Captain Bertram sees this as plainly as I do. He is very thankful to be released."

"Then he is a scoundrel, I thought as much."

"No, he isn't that. But he has been weak, poor fellow, and harassed, and tempted. And his mother has used all her influence. I know now what she wanted me for. Just for my money. But I've been saved in time."

"God bless me, this is very strange and dreadful. You puzzle me awfully."

"I will tell you the story, Rector, then you won't be puzzled. Do you remember once speaking to me about a girl you saw at the Manor lodge. She was living there for a little. Her name was Hart."

"Yes, yes, a very handsome, queer girl. I spoke to Mrs. Bertram about her. She seemed to me to have taken an unjust prejudice against the poor lonely child."

"Mr. Ingram, Miss Hart is engaged to Loftus Bertram, and he will marry her next Tuesday."

"Beatrice, have you gone quite mad?

"No, I am as sane as any other girl who has got a shock, but who is resolved to do right. Captain Bertram shall marry Nina, because in heart they are married already, because they love each other, as I never could love him, nor he me, because they were betrothed to each other before he and I ever met, because Nina was dying for love of him, and only marrying him can save her. Oh, it was pitiable to see Nina, Mr. Ingram, and I am thankful--I shall be thankful to my dying day--that I saw her in time to save her."

"Beatrice, this is very strange and inexplicable. Where did you see Miss Hart? I thought she had left Northbury."

"She came back, because she could not stay away. She is at the Bells'. I saw her there to day, and I brought Loftus to her, and--Rector, they love each other. Oh, yes, yes--when I see how much they love each other. I am thankful I am not to be married with only the shadow of such a reality."

"Then you never gave your heart to this young man?"

"Never! I thought I could help him. But my heart has not even stirred."

"You did not seem unhappy."

"I was not unhappy. It always gives me pleasure to help people. And Catherine seemed so bright, and Mrs. Bertram so delighted, and Loftus himself--there was much to win my regard in Loftus. I did not know it was only my money they wanted."

"Poor child! And yet you are wrong. No one who looks at you, Beatrice, can only want you for your money."

"Dear Rector, in this case my money was the charm. Well, my money shall still have power. You are my guardian as well as my trustee. I want you to help me. You can, you must. I will take no denial. Loftus and I have had a long, long talk this afternoon. I have found at last the very bottom of Bertram's heart. He came to me to save him, and I am determined to be his deliverer. One quarter of my fortune I give to Loftus Bertram, and he shall marry Nina, and his debts shall be paid, and his mother relieved from the dreadful strain of anxiety she is now undergoing, and Loftus and Nina shall be happy and good. Oh, yes, I know they will be good as well as happy. You will help me, Rector, you will, you must."

"Beatrice, you are the most quixotic, extraordinary, unworldly, unpractical creature that ever breathed. What sort of guardian should I be if I listened to so mad a scheme? What right has Loftus Bertram to one farthing of your money, without you?"

"He can't have it with me, Rector. I would not marry him now at any price."

"Then he must do without the money."

"No, he must have the money. Steps must be taken to secure it to him at once, and he must keep his wedding-day with Nina instead of me. Nina shall have my trousseau; we are exactly of one height--You have got to change the name in the marriage license. If that is impossible there shall be a special license. I am rich, I can pay for it. Oh, the joy that sometimes money brings!"

"My dear ward, you are a little off your head to-night. How could you possibly expect your guardian to be such a faithless old man."

"Faithless? Mr. Ingram, have you quite forgotten my father?"

"No, Beatrice, I remember him to-night."

"Let his face rise before you. Picture his face--his unworldly face."

"I see it, Beatrice. Yes, Meadowsweet was not cankered by the sordid cares of life."

"Truly he was not? Go on thinking about him. He made money. How did he spend it?"

"My dear child, your father was a very good man. His charities were extraordinary and extensive. He gave away, hoping for nothing in return; he was too liberal, I often told him so."

"You were his clergyman and you told him so."

A flash of indignation came out of Beatrice Meadowsweet's eyes.

"I don't think, Mr. Ingram, that a Greater than you has ever said that to my father."

"Well, child, perhaps not. You reprove me, perhaps justly. Few of us have your father's unworldly spirit."

"Don't you think his only daughter may inherit a little of it? Mr. Ingram, what is money for?"

"Beatrice, you could argue any one into thinking with you. But I must exercise my own common-sense."

"No, you must not. You must exercise your unworldly sense, and help me in this matter."

"What! And help you to throw away a quarter of your fortune?"

"I shall have fifteen thousand pounds left, more than enough for the requirements of any girl."

"I doubt if the wording of your father's will could give me the power for a moment."

"I am sure it could. I am confident that in drawing his will he trusted you absolutely and me absolutely. He often spoke to me about money, and told me what a solemn trust riches were. He charged me like the man in the parable not to bury my talent in a napkin, but to put it out to usury. He said that he made you my guardian, because you were the most unworldly-minded man he knew, and he told me many times that although he could not give me absolute control of my money before I was twenty-one, yet that no reasonable wish of mine would be refused by you."

"And you call this a reasonable wish?"

"I do. And so would my father if he were alive. Bring his face once again before you, Rector, and you will agree with me."

The Rector sat down in his arm-chair, and shaded his eyes with one of his long white hands. He sat for a long time motionless, and without speaking. Beatrice stood by the mantelpiece; there was a small fire in the grate; now and then a flame leaped up, and cast its reflection on her face.

Suddenly the Rector started upright.

"What day is this?" he asked.

"Thursday--Thursday night."

"And you are to be married on Tuesday?"

"No, I may never marry. Nina Hart and Loftus Bertram are to be married on Tuesday."

"God bless me! Beatrice, you have put me into a nice fix. Guardians are not always to be envied. What's the hour, child?"

Beatrice glanced at the clock.

"It is half-past nine," she said.

"You say that this--this Miss Hart is staying at the Bells'?"

"Yes."

"I must go to her. I must see her to-night."

"Remember she is weak and ill. You will be gentle with her."

"Beatrice, am I as a rule rough with people? Come, I will see you home, and then call on Miss Hart."

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