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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 18. In St. Paul's Cathedral
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 18. In St. Paul's Cathedral Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3377

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 18. In St. Paul's Cathedral

CHAPTER XVIII. IN ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL

Miss Slowcum was right in saying that she was very particular with regard to her company. She prided herself on having select taste. She thought it well to assume distant airs to the other inmates of Penelope Mansion--Mrs. Dredge she thought quite beneath her notice, Mrs. Mortlock was slightly more tolerated, but Miss Slowcum never really unbent to either of these ladies. As she said to herself, she could never forget that she came of the Slowcums of ----shire that her father had been Captain Slowcum of the Royal Navy, and that, all things considered, her true position in society was with the county folk. What, therefore, could a lady of such patrician birth have in common with a Mrs. Mortlock or a Mrs. Dredge? Alas! however, Miss Slowcum was poor--she was very poor, and she was a great deal too genteel to work. The terms at Penelope Mansion were by no means high, and in order to live she was obliged to put up with uncongenial company. She was a very tall and angular person--her face was long and thin, her eyes small, her mouth undecided, but in her heart of hearts she was by no means wanting in good nature; and when, the night before, Jasmine, with her charming little face, offered her some of the country flowers, she began to take an interest in the fresh girls who had come to the rather antiquated house in Wright Street.

It was really good-natured of Miss Slowcum to offer to accompany the girls on their first walk in London. She had the greatest horror of ever appearing remarkable and she felt really alarmed at the thought of taking four unsophisticated country lasses abroad. It was bad enough to offer to escort the Mainwarings, who, however _gauche they might appear, were undoubtedly ladies, but to take Poppy, _alias Sarah, as well, was really trying. Without Poppy, however, the girls refused to stir. There was no help for it, and Miss Slowcum only trusted that their first walk might be short and uneventful.

"It is an unpleasant arrangement, but I do not see any help for it," she said, addressing her little party as they assembled in the hall; "we must sally forth as though we were a school. You, Miss Jasmine, will have the goodness to walk in front with me. Miss Mainwaring and her youngest sister can immediately follow us, and Sarah, you will please to keep behind."

"Oh, lor!" ejaculated Poppy, "I thought me and Miss Jasmine was to stay together--it's what I has been looking forward to through all the toils of the work, and the smuts and the Sarah Janes, and the Sarah Marys this morning. It is another biting. Well, London seems to be made up of them. All right, Miss Slowcum, I'll keep behind. I suppose there's nobody to forbid me gazing well into the shop windows. I hope you'll take us into a gay street, miss, where there are lots of new bonnets and hats to be seen."

"I'm going to walk with you, Poppy," said Jasmine; "Miss Slowcum is very kind, but I should not think of walking with any one else. Please, Miss Slowcum will you go in front, with Primrose and Daisy, and Poppy and I will promise to behave very well behind."

In this order the little party did set out, and in an incredibly short space of time they left the dull region of Penelope Mansion far behind, and found themselves in Oxford Street, and then in Bond Street, and finally walking along Piccadilly towards the Park.

Primrose could always restrain her emotions, but Jasmine and Poppy, notwithstanding their promise to behave well, were certainly guilty of many extravagant exclamations. Jasmine became nearly as excited over the new bonnets as her companion. The picture-shops were marvels of wonder and delight to her, and poor Miss Slowcum was obliged to draw up short on many occasions, or she would have lost the little loiterers, as they stood still to gaze. At last she made a proposition which nearly took her own breath away with the magnitude of its generosity. She would treat the entire party to a drive in the omnibus to St. Paul's Cathedral. Poppy earnestly begged to be allowed to go with Jasmine on the roof, but this the good lady negatived with horror. She finally ushered her young charges into the seclusion of an omnibus going citywards, and then was conscious of breathing a sigh of relief. Inwardly she made a vow that never again should her good-nature lead her into such a troublesome adventure.

"We must be solemn here, Poppy," said Jasmine, as they were entering the cathedral; "we must forget the beautiful bonnets, and those dear little tight-fitting jackets, and those muslin dresses. We must forget the little story we made up of imagining ourselves rich enough to buy all these things. Perhaps we may think a very little of one or two of the pictures, but we must forget the vanities now. It has always been one of my dreams to come in here--oh! oh!--Poppy." Jasmine clasped her companion's hand, and her excitable little face grew white--the magnitude of the great cathedral, the solemn hush, and quiet, and sense of rest after the rushing noise outside, was too much for her--her eyes filled with tears, and she was very nearly guilty of committing the offence which would have obliged her to learn some of Butler's "Analogy" by heart. The rest of the party wandered about the cathedral, and looked at the monuments, and presently went up into the Whispering Gallery, but Jasmine felt suddenly tired and disinclined to move about.

"Go on with Daisy, Poppy," she said to her companion; "I will rest here for a little;" then she seated herself on one of the chairs, and in a moment or two went down on her knees and covered her childish face with her hands.

Not at all long was Jasmine's prayer, but somehow it was very fervent, and it certainly reached a Presence which gives strength and peace. She was no longer oppressed by St. Paul's--she was comforted and strengthened.

"I do hope God will help us," she said to herself. "Oh! was it very, very rash of us to come up here?--and yet, what else could we do? It was Primrose's thought, too, and she is always so wise, and so grown-up."

Jasmine looked round the cathedral, hoping to see her party--they were, of course, nowhere within sight, and the little girl began to walk about by herself, hoping soon to rejoin them. She dropped her umbrella, and a gentleman who had been watching her for some time with interest stooped to pick it up. He was a young man of about six-and-twenty, with a bright and pleasant face.

"This is your first visit here?" he said, looking kindly at the child.

"Oh, yes," said Jasmine. Then feeling that she had a sympathetic listener, she continued--"It is so beautiful here!"

"Yes," answered her companion; then he added, with a second glance at the forlorn little figure, "Are you alone, or have you lost your party?"

Jasmine half laughed.

"I cannot find my party at the present moment," she said; "but I am by no means alone--my two sisters have come here also to-day for the first time, and a friend is with us, and a lady has very kindly brought us here."

"I see," said the stranger. "Well, it is a curious coincidence, but neither am I alone--I have brought a little lad here to show him the cathedral--he has gone into the Whispering Gallery, and I am waiting for him. Perhaps your friends have also gone into the gallery. While we are both waiting, shall we look round this delightful place? and may I tell you a little of what I know about it?"

It was in this manner, and apparently quite by accident, that Jasmine made the acquaintance of Arthur Noel, who turned out to be one of the best friends the girls were to make in London. Mr. Noel had taken a fancy to Jasmine's sweet little face, and Jasmine, when she met with a sympathetic listener, could be only too communicative. Before Miss Slowcum and her sisters and Poppy joined them Mr. Noel knew something of Jasmine's ambitions and of Primrose's modest hopes. Jasmine had even confided to him the brave resolve the three sisters had made not to sigh, or grumble, or wear themselves out with useless tears. He was very kind, although he could not be persuaded to say that he thought Primrose's scheme a wise one, but this chance encounter might never have led to anything further but for a little coincidence which shows what a small place the world is, after all. When Primrose and Daisy, Poppy and the sedate Miss Slowcum, joined Jasmine, as she stood with her companion examining Nelson's monument, they were accompanied by a handsome, bright-faced boy, who ran up to Mr. Noel, and linked his hand within his arm. This boy turned out to be young Frank Ellsworthy, and, as the girls all exclaimed on hearing the name, Mr. Noel assured them that the Ellsworthys were his greatest friends--that he loved Mrs. Ellsworthy almost as if she were his own mother.

"I felt that I must speak to you," he said to Jasmine. "I cannot tell you why nor wherefore, but your face seemed familiar--I did not think you would turn out to be an absolute stranger."

Thus the girls made a very valuable acquaintance; nevertheless, owing to circumstances, it was many a long day before they met Arthur Noel again.

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