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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 34. The Bride!
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 34. The Bride! Post by :shine4789 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3009

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 34. The Bride!

CHAPTER XXXIV. THE BRIDE!

Miss Peters was lying in sound slumber, and Mrs. Butler, with a wet sponge in her hand, was standing over the little spinster's bed.

"Maria," she said, in her sharp voice. And at the same moment the sponge descended with unerring aim on the sleeper's upturned face.

"Good heavens--fire--water! What is it?--I'm drowning--" gasped Miss Peters.

She raised her eyes, choked, for her mouth had been open, and some of the contents of the sponge had got in, and then surveyed her sister in trepidation.

"Oh, Martha, it's you. How you frightened me!"

"I only applied the sponge," replied Mrs. Butler. "It's an old-fashioned remedy for inordinate drowsiness, and effectual."

"But surely, surely--I feel as if I had only just dropped to sleep."

"Maria, it's five o'clock."

"Five! What do you mean, Martha? Am I to be accused of inordinate sleepiness at five in the morning?"

"On this morning you are. This is the wedding morning--get up, dress yourself. Put on your bridal finery, and join me in the parlor."

Mrs. Butler left the room. Miss Peters rubbed her sleepy eyes again.

"The wedding morning! and my bridal finery!" she murmured. "One would think poor Sam had never been drowned. I don't think Martha has any heart. She knows how I suffered about Sam. He certainly never proposed for me, but he was attentive--yes, he was attentive, and I--I suffered. It's thirty years now since he was drowned. Martha oughtn't to forget. People have no memories in these days."

The little lady began to put on her garments.

"It does seem extraordinarily early to have to get up, even though Bee is to be married at eleven o'clock to-day," she murmured. "Certainly, Martha is a most masterful person. Well, I don't mind so much, as it is for Bee's sake."

Miss Peters proceeded with her toilet, took tenderly out of its folds of camphor and white linen, a little antiquated brown silk dress, put it on, crossed over her shoulders a neat fichu of white lace, mounted her bonnet, composed of a piece of silk, which she had artfully removed from the skirt of her dress. This bonnet was trimmed with three enormous lemon-colored chrysanthemums, and was further embellished with a pink ruching, which surrounded the good lady's face.

Miss Peters almost trembled as she placed this exquisite head-dress over her scanty locks. The moment the bonnet was on, she became conscious of an immense amount of moral support. In that bonnet she could even defy Mrs. Butler.

"Nothing gives a lady such a nice feeling as being properly dressed," she murmured. "I am glad I went to the expense of a bit of pink silk to make this ruching. It is wonderfully soft, and becoming, too. I hope Martha won't object to the chrysanthemums. I chose the largest Perry had in his shop on purpose, in order not to be accused of aping youth. Now, my parasol, my gloves, my handkerchief. Oh, and my fan. I'm sure to flush a little when I see that dear child being given away. Now I'm quite ready. It certainly is an extraordinarily early hour to be dressed for a wedding, which is not to take place till eleven o'clock."

"Maria!" screamed Mrs. Butler's voice. "If you're not quick, you'll not have time to swallow your coffee."

"Dear, dear!" exclaimed Miss Peters, "is Martha's head going? I have not been half-an-hour dressing; can she have mistaken the hour?"

The little spinster ran downstairs.

"Here I am, Martha. Really I--"

"Not a word, Maria. Sit down at once, and drink off your coffee. You can munch a bit of bread in your hand as we go along."

"But, Martha, it is not six o'clock yet."

"What of that? We have not a moment to lose. There'll be crowds at the church. I am given to understand it will be packed, and as I intend to have a front seat, I'm going now."

Miss Peters began to count on her fingers.

"But Martha, it surely is not necessary."

"Now, Maria, that's enough. You'd argue any one black in the face. I don't often have my way, but I'll have it on this occasion. I am going to call for Mrs. Gorman Stanley; and Mrs. Morris asked me to knock her up, and we'll all of us just be at the church in good time."

"In good time," gasped Miss Maria. "But the doors won't be opened."

"Oh, won't they! You just wait and see. I haven't fought that girl's battles for nothing. We'll be able to get into the church, Maria, don't you fear. I have made friends as well as foes of late, and there are these who can get me into the church, so that I may stand up for Beatrice to the last. Now, have you swallowed your coffee?"

"I have. It has scalded my throat frightfully. I hate drinking hot liquid in such a hurry."

"Maria, you are dreadfully fractious this morning. And, good gracious me! What have you got in your bonnet! Here let me hold up the candle and look."

"Don't--don't drop the grease on my brown silk, Martha."

"Brown fiddlestick! Hold your head steady. Well--I never! The vanity of some folk! The apings of some people. Oh, I haven't a word to say if you like to make a show of yourself. I respect my years. I live up to them. Some people, I won't name who--don't."

"Had I better take off the bonnet, Martha? I thought these very _large chrysanthemums--I chose them on purpose--"

"Hideous--you're a perfect fright! Look at me. Is there anything to laugh at in my velvet bonnet? Does it poke itself on the back of my head? And does it deck itself in pink and yellow?"

"It looks funereal, Martha, it's all black."

"Funereal! It looks suitable. Come on, or we'll be late."

The two ladies left the house. They walked quickly in the early morning light. Presently, they were joined by Mrs. Gorman Stanley. She was completely clothed in bridal garments of yellow. Her robe was yellow satin, her bonnet was to match, with blue forget-me-nots cozily nestling in its folds. Mrs. Morris joined the group in terra-cotta cashmere, with a cream lace bonnet. Round her face and mouth she had enveloped a black woollen shawl, but this was to be discarded presently.

As the ladies walked to the church they were joined by several more Beatricites, and when at last they found themselves under the shadow of the old tower, and in the shelter of the ancient porch, they were quite a goodly company.

"We'll just fill the front seats comfortably," said Mrs. Butler. "When Mrs. Bell and her Hartites arrive they'll have to go behind."

"But how are we to get in?" again questioned Miss Maria.

"Oh, I'll manage that. I have it all arranged. I spoke to Hunt yesterday."

Hunt was not only the baker, he was the church verger. He had quite sympathized with Mrs. Butler's wishes, while selling her a two-penny loaf yesterday. But why did he not put in an appearance now?

"Martha," again whispered Miss Maria, "Who are those people creeping round there by the south wall?"

"No one," snapped Mrs. Butler. "You're fanciful this morning, Maria. It's those horrid lemon-colored chrysanthemums; they have turned your head."

"I don't know about that," retorted Miss Peters. "I am sure I saw Mrs. Bell's snuff-colored bonnet."

Mrs. Butler sniffed. She would not retort again; but she was conscious of a little sense of uneasiness. It was difficult, even for a person as blind as she considered her sister Maria, to mistake that snuff-colored, drawn silk bonnet, ornamented with a huge bow in front of pale blue ribbon. That bonnet was celebrated. It had been worn by Mrs. Bell in season and out of season for many long years; it had been altered in shape; it had been turned. Sometimes the bow which filled up the gap in front was yellow, sometimes red, sometimes mauve. But every one in the town knew that for the wedding the bow on Mrs. Bell's bonnet was to be a delicate and bridal blue. This was to be her sole wedding adornment. To the length of purchasing that bow she had gone, and no further. Therefore now Mrs. Butler felt uncomfortable. If the Hartites secured the front seats in church she would have to own to defeat and humiliation. Was Hunt--could Hunt be faithless? He was known to be something of a toady, something of a Sergeant Eitherside, a Vicar of Bray sort of individual. To all appearance Hunt was a sworn Beatricite, but if by any chance he had heard something in favor of the Hartites, he was just the man to go over to them.

"There are about ten or twenty people with Mrs. Bell," said Miss Maria. "I'm sure that's Mrs. Bell. Yes, that _is her bonnet."

She raised herself on tip-toe, clutching hold of Mrs. Morris's arm as she did so.

"It's freezing cold standing by this door," said Mrs. Morris, shivering. "I'll have an awful attack after this. Poor Beatrice, she'll cause my death."

"Keep the shawl well over your mouth," said Mrs. Gorman Stanley. "Really, Mrs. Butler, it is extraordinary that no one comes to open the door."

"Hunt is faithless," proclaimed Mrs. Butler. "Maria, listen to me. Never as long as I live will I buy bread from Hunt again. I'll eat Coffin's bread in future."

"Oh, Maria, it's so musty."

"Fiddle dumpling. Hunt is certainly faithless. Maria, do you think you could squeeze yourself through an open window?"

"I don't, Martha," replied Miss Peters; "and, what's more, I won't. I have got my best brown silk on. Where am I to get another silk? Ah," with a sigh of infinite relief, "here is Hunt."

The baker, who was red in the face, and had a somewhat nervous manner, now appeared. He came by a sidewalk which led directly from the vestry.

"I beg your pardon, ladies," he apologized; "I overslept myself, and that's a fact. Now the floors are open--find your places, ladies."

Hunt vanished, and Mrs. Butler led her party into the sacred edifice. The light was still faint in the old church, and at first the good lady could not see very plainly. When she did, however, she beheld a sight which petrified her. As she and her party hurried up one aisle, she perceived Mrs. Bell and her party rushing up the other. There was not a moment to lose. It is disgraceful to have to relate it, but there was almost a scuffle in the church. In short, the two generals met opposite the front pews. There was a scramble for seats. The Beatricites and the Hartites got mixed up in the most confusing manner, and finally Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Bell found themselves side by side and crushed very close together in a small space.

Some awful hours followed. Mrs. Butler deliberately placed her back to Mrs. Bell. Mrs. Bell talked at Mrs. Butler in a loud whisper to a neighbor at the other side. Poor Miss Peters fanned herself violently. Mrs. Morris's breathing became so oppressed that it was audible; and in short, all these good ladies who had got up hours before their rightful time were as uncomfortable and cross as they well could be. But the longest time passes at last. From six to seven went by, from seven to eight, from eight again to nine. The waiting was awful. By degrees, without quite knowing it, Mrs. Bell was forced to lean against Mrs. Butler for support. By half-past nine she ventured to say to her neighbor:

"This waiting is intolerable."

"Vile," snapped Mrs. Butler, in response.

By ten o'clock the opposing generals were sharing the same footstool. By a quarter-past ten they were both nodding.

It was about that hour that Hunt in his position as verger once more appeared. The church doors were opened to the community at large, the bells began to ring out a merry and bridal peal, and the inhabitants of the town, the rich and poor alike, filed into the church.

Mrs. Butler was right. Long before eleven o'clock the building was packed. Mrs. Bell was also right. She communicated this fact to Mrs. Butler, who nodded in response. Both ladies chuckled over their individual sagacity.

All the side aisles of the church began to fill. It was really an imposing spectacle. The weary inmates of the front pews felt they were reaping their rewards.

At a quarter to eleven some of the bridal guests appeared on the scene. Those who had been especially invited by the Bertram family were magnificently attired, and occupied one or two seats reserved for them.

Then the bride's-maids came. They stood in groups near the door, waiting to follow the bride to her place at the altar.

Mrs. Bell turned her flushed face; looked down the church, and nodded to her girls. She thought she had never seen anything so heavenly as the vision of her Matty in her bride's-maid's costume. Her heart swelled so with exultation, that she could not help confiding some of her feelings to Mrs. Butler.

"Pooh, you're a goose!" nodded back this good woman. But a slow smile stole over her face as she said the words.

The moments flew on. The organist took his place at the organ, the choir boys filed into their places.

At the end of the church the bride's-maids looked nervously around. Had any one listened very attentively they might have heard Matty Bell's titter.

A thrill went through the waiting crowds. The bridegroom had appeared; he was accompanied by a strange youth, a young officer from his regiment. He walked slowly up the church, and took his place before the altar.

Bertram looked so handsome at this moment, so pale, so dignified, that every woman in the church fell in love with him. Miss Peters sighed audibly, and even shed a tear for the memory of that Sam, who had never proposed for her, but had been attentive, and had died thirty years ago.

Matty Bell felt quite a little tumult in her heart. No, no, whatever her mother might say her Bayard was not like Beatrice's Bayard. She did not even want to look at her Gusty this moment.

Bertram stood before the altar and waited.

_The bride!

There was a little buzz through the church. All the occupants of the pews rose; all heads were turned towards the door. In the excitement of the moment the Beatricites clasped the Hartites by the hands, Mrs. Bell's fat fingers rested on Mrs. Butler's shoulder.

The bride! She had come. Beatrice would marry Loftus Bertram. The Beatricites would conquer. Slander would die.

No, no. What was the matter? What was wrong? Was anything wrong?

A girl dressed in shimmering bridal clothes was walking up the church. A very slender and very pale girl. She was leaning on Mr. Ingram's arm; she was beautiful. There was an expression on her face which melted hearts, and made eyes brim over with tears. A bride was coming up the church--not Beatrice Meadowsweet--not the girl who was beloved by all the town.

Close behind the bride followed the principal bride's-maid. She was in a plain dress of white. Round her head she wore a wreath of white lilies, and in her hand she carried a bouquet of white flowers.

The other bride's-maids wore green silk sashes, and green with the marguerites which trimmed their broad hats.

"May God have mercy on us!" exclaimed Mrs. Butler.

She made this remark aloud; it was distinctly heard, and Beatrice, as she passed the good lady, turned and gave her a swift bright smile.

The bride joined the bridegroom before the altar, and the bishop, who was to perform the ceremony, began the marriage service:

"I, Loftus, take thee, Josephine--"

When these words were uttered Mrs. Bell turned and faced Mrs. Butler.

"Whose cause has won?" she murmured, "who was right?"

"Never you say a word against that blessed girl, Beatrice Meadowsweet," replied Mrs. Butler. "Watch her face--it's the face of an angel."

"So it is," said Mrs. Bell. And the ladies clasped hands and buried their feud.

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