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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 41. Mrs. Dredge To The Rescue
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 41. Mrs. Dredge To The Rescue Post by :Bonuses Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2114

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 41. Mrs. Dredge To The Rescue

CHAPTER XLI. MRS. DREDGE TO THE RESCUE

High tea at Penelope Mansion was an institution. Mrs. Flint said in confidence to her boarders that she preferred high tea to late dinner. She said that late dinner savored too distinctly of the mannish element for her to tolerate. It reminded her, she said, of clerks returning home dead-beat after a day's hard toil; it reminded her of sordid labor, and of all kinds of unpleasant things; whereas high tea was in itself womanly, and was in all respects suited to the gentle appetites of ladies who were living genteelly on their means. Mrs. Flint's boarders were as a rule impressed by her words, and high tea was, in short, a recognized institution of the establishment.

On the evening of the day when poor little Daisy had disappeared from her Palace Beautiful Mrs. Flint's boarders were enjoying their genteel repast in the cool shades of her parlor. They had shrimps for tea, and eggs, and buttered toast, and a small glass dish of sardines, to say nothing of a few little dishes of different preserves. Mrs. Dredge, who was considered by the other ladies to have an appetite the reverse of refined, had, in addition to these slight refreshments, a mutton chop. This she was eating with appetite and relish, while Miss Slowcum languidly tapped her egg, and remarked as she did so that it was hollow, but not more so than life. Mrs. Mortlock, since the commencement of her affliction, always sat by Mrs. Flint's side, and when she imagined that her companions were making use of their sight to some purpose she invariably requested Mrs. Flint to describe to her what was going on. On this particular evening the whole party were much excited and impressed by the unexpected return of Poppy, alias Sarah.

"It took me all of a heap!" said Mrs. Flint; "I really thought the girl was saucy, and had gone--but never a bit of it. If you'll believe me, ladies, she came in as humble as you please, and quite willing to go back to her work in a quiet spirit. 'Sarah,' I said to her in the morning, 'you'll rue this day,' and she did rue it, and to some purpose, or she wouldn't have returned so sharp in the evening. She's a good girl, taking her all in all, is Sarah, and being my own niece, of course I put up with a few things from her which I would not take from a stranger."

"She spoke pretty sharp this morning about you, Mrs. Flint, to my continual reader," said Mrs. Mortlock; "I wouldn't take no airs, if I was you, from Sarah Maria. Miss Slowcum, I'll trouble you for the pepper, please. Seeing that I'm afflicted, and cannot now use my eyesight, I think there might be a little consideration in the small matter of pepper shown to me, but feel as I will I can find it in no way handy. Thank you, Miss Slowcum; sorry to trouble you, I'm sure."

"She grows more snappish each day," whispered Miss Slowcum to Mrs. Dredge; but just then the attention of all the good ladies was diverted by a ringing peal at the hall door-bell, followed by eager voices in the hall, and then by the entrance of Poppy, alias Sarah, who broke in upon the quiet of high tea with a red and startled face.

"An awful trouble has happened," she began, breathlessly. "Oh, ladies, you'll pardon me, but this is no time for standing on ceremony, when my own darling little lady, Miss Daisy Mainwaring, has gone and left her sheltering home."

"Good gracious! my continual reader's little sister!" exclaimed Mrs. Mortlock. "Left her home! you must be mistaken, Sarah Jane."

"No, ma'am, it's a most sorrowful fact," said poor Poppy, who looked terribly dejected, and nearly sobbed as she spoke; "the other two dear young ladies has come for me, and I must go back with them. I'm sorry, Aunt Flint, to part again so soon, but this is unexpected, and my duty lies with my young ladies."

"Your duty lies with your aunt, miss," here exclaimed the exasperated Mrs. Flint. "Sarah, I was taking your part, but your airs are now past standing. Ladies three, I feel convinced that this story is all a make-up. I don't believe for a moment the child has gone away. It's a make-up of Sarah's, who is turning into a most wicked girl."

"I don't believe it," here exclaimed Miss Slowcum. "Sarah Bertha has spoken the truth, I feel convinced. I had a warning dream last night. I dreamt of white horses, and that always signifies very great trouble. It's my belief that the poor dear innocent little child has been murdered!"

"Murdered!" almost screamed Mrs. Mortlock. "Miss Slowcum, I'll thank you to come and take the seat next me, my dear, and tell me all your reasons in full for making this most startling remark. My dear, I don't object to holding your hand while you're pouring forth the tale of woe. How and where, Miss Slowcum, did the child meet her death?"

Meanwhile, during this wrangling and fierce disputing, Mrs. Dredge, more kind-hearted than the others, had left the room. She had gone into the hall, where Primrose and Jasmine stood side by side. She had listened to their bewildered and agitated little story, and then asking them to sit down and wait for her, she had returned to the parlor.

"Mrs. Flint," she said, "I have been talking to the two elder Mainwaring girls; they are in the hall. No, Mrs. Mortlock, you can't see Miss Primrose at present. The girls are in great trouble, for the little one has gone away, and there seems to be a mystery about it all. Your niece Sarah seems to be the last person who has seen the child, Mrs. Flint, and, of course, Miss Primrose and Miss Jasmine want to talk to her, and she had better go home with them. The friend they live with, a Miss Egerton, left home this very afternoon to spend a week in the country, and so the girls are quite defenceless, and have nobody to consult. That being the case, I'm going back with them also to their lodgings in a four-wheeler. Sarah Ann, go and fetch a four-wheeler this instant, and don't stand gaping. Mind, a four-wheeler, girl, and don't bring a hansom on no account near the place. Yes, ladies, it's my duty to go with the poor orphans, and go I will."

While Mrs. Dredge was speaking Mrs. Mortlock ceased to hold Miss Slowcum's very thin hand. Miss Slowcum's face looked decidedly jealous, for she would have dearly liked to have been herself in Mrs. Dredge's interesting and sympathizing position. Mrs. Mortlock raised her almost sightless eyes to the fat little woman's face, and remarked in a slightly acid voice--

"I'm obliged to you, Mrs. Dredge, for thinking that in the moment of trial the sight of me and a sympathizing squeeze from my hand would have done my continual reader any harm. It's very good-natured of you to go with the orphan girls, Mrs. Dredge, and I'm glad to think you've just had the support of your chop to sustain you under the fatigue. Please remember, Mrs. Dredge, that we lock up the house in this home at ten o'clock, and no latch-keys allowed. Isn't that so, Mrs. Flint?"

"Under ordinary circumstances, quite so, ma'am," answered Mrs. Flint, who would not have minded snubbing Miss Slowcum, but was anxious to propitiate both the rich widows; "under ordinary circumstances that is so, but in a dire moment like the present I think the ten minutes' grace might be allowed to Mrs. Dredge's kind heart."

"Here's the four-wheeler!" exclaimed Mrs. Dredge.

"Good-bye, ladies. If I'm not in at ten minutes past ten don't look for me until the morning."

When Mrs. Dredge, Primrose, Jasmine, and Poppy got back to the girls' pretty sitting-room the good-natured little widow proved herself a very practical friend. First of all, she listened carefully to Poppy's account of all that had transpired that day. She then got Primrose to tell her as much as possible about Daisy. All the child's distress and nervousness and unaccountable unhappiness were related, and the sage little woman shook her head several times over the narrative, and said at last, in a very common-sense voice--

"It's as clear as a pikestaff to Jemima Dredge that that sweet little child has been tampered with. Somebody has been frightening the bit of a thing, Miss Primrose, and it's for you to find out who that somebody is. As to where she's gone? Why, she has gone back to where she was born, of course, and you and me will follow her by the first train in the morning, my dear."

"She was taking care of a cheque of mine for seventeen pounds ten shillings," exclaimed Primrose, "and in her little note she speaks of the money being lost. I think nothing of the loss of the money beside Daisy, but, Mrs. Dredge, Jasmine and I cannot afford even a third-class ticket to Rosebury just at present."

"Tut, tut, my dear," said Mrs. Dredge, "what's the good of a full purse except to share it? My poor husband Joshua was his name--we was two J's, dear--he always said, 'Jemima, thank God the chandlery is prospering. A full purse means light hearts, Jemima. We can shed blessings with our means, Jemima.' Those was Joshua's words, Miss Mainwaring, and I hear him now telling them to me from his grave. You and me will go down to Rosebury in the morning, dear, and Miss Jasmine will stay at home with Sarah Mary for company, for there's no sense in waste, and one of you is quite enough to come."

While this conversation was going on Bridget knocked at the girls' door, and presented Jasmine with a thick parcel, which had just arrived for her by post. It was some of the manuscript, and the first proofs of her story. The parcel came to hand at a sorrowful moment, and Jasmine laid it on the sofa, made no comment about it, and did not attempt to open it. Primrose scarcely raised her head from her hands, and was not the least curious, but Poppy's eyes gleamed brightly, for sharp Poppy guessed what the parcel contained, and she sincerely hoped that whatever happened this story would prove a great success, and that it would bring in so many gold coins to her young lady that she would become not only rich herself, but able to pay back what she had borrowed from her. For although Poppy was the soul of generosity, she _did want her wages back.

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