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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 11. Somebody Admired Somebody
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 11. Somebody Admired Somebody Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1693

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 11. Somebody Admired Somebody


"Then, if that's the case," said Mrs. Bell, "if that's really and truly the case, and no mistake about it, Matty must have some new frocks made up for her at once. I have no idea of a child of mine looking shabby or behind any one else, but you must tell me truly, Alice, if he really was attentive. Bless you, child, you know what I mean. Was there any hand-squeezing, and was he always and forever making an excuse to have a look at her. No one could have been more genteel than your father during courtship, but the way his eyes did follow me wherever I turned, over and over put me to the blush."

"Don't say anything to Matty," responded Alice Bell. "She'll be sure to giggle awfully when next they meet, if you do. She can't keep anything in, and she owned to Sophy and me that he had got her heart. Well, yes, I suppose he was particular with her. He danced with her, and he looked at her, only, I do think it was _she squeezed _his hand."

"Oh, fie, Alice, to say such things of your sister. Well, anyhow the town is full of it. When I went out yesterday Mrs. Morris asked me point-blank if I hadn't news for her, and Miss Peters has taken so frightfully to rolling her eyes whenever Matty and Captain Bertram are seen together, that I'm quite afraid she will contract a regular squint. How long was he with Matty on the green last night, Alice?"

"About half-an-hour, I should say," responded Alice. "They walked round the Green five times, with me and Sophy doing gooseberry behind. I don't think Matty stopped laughing for a single minute, and the captain he did quiz her frightfully."

"Poor man, he was trying to wheedle her heart out of her!" remarked the gratified mother. "And he has all my sympathies, and what's more, we must have him to supper, and lobsters and crabs, and anything else he fancies. It isn't for me to be hard-hearted, and not give the poor fellow his opportunities; and no doubt Matty will relent by-and-bye."

"Oh, dear me, mother, she has relented now. She's only waiting and dying for him to pop the question."

"If I were you, Alice, I wouldn't make so light of your own sister. Of course she is gratified by being spoken to and appreciated, but if you think a girl of mine is going to let herself down cheap--well, she'll be very different metal from her mother before her. Three times Bell had to go on his knees for me, and he thought all the more of me for having to do it. If I'm not mistaken, there are some in this town who are jealous of Matty. Who would have thought that handsome friend of yours, Bee Meadowsweet, would be looked over and made nothing of, and my girl be the favored one? Well, I must own I'm pleased, and so will her father be, too. It's a nice genteel connection, and they say there's lots of money somewhere in the background.--Oh, is that you, Matty?--Goodness, child, don't get your face so burnt,--you shouldn't go out without a veil in the sun. Now come here, pet, sit down and keep cool, and I'll bring in some buttermilk presently to bathe your neck and cheeks. There's nothing like buttermilk for burns. Well, well, what were we talking about, Alice, when Matty came in?"

"About the person we're always talking about," replied Alice, rather crossly. "About Captain Bertram. Good gracious, Matty, it isn't at all becoming to you to flame up in that sudden way. Lor' ma, look at her, she's the color of a peony."

(It may be remarked in passing that the Bells did not echo one another when at home.)

"Never mind, never mind," retorted Mrs. Bell, who, with true delicacy, would not look at her blushing daughter.

"I was thinking Matty, my love, that you wanted a new evening dress. I don't like you to be behind any one else, my dear, and that green skirt with the white jacket, though genteel enough, doesn't seem quite the thing. I can't tell what's the matter with it, for the mohair in the skirts cost nine-pence half-penny a yard, and the first day you wore those dresses, girls, they shone as if they were silk, and your father asked me why I was so extravagant, and said that though he would like it he hadn't money to dress you up in silk attire. Poor Bell has a turn for poetry, and if he had not lost his money through the badness of the coal trade, he'd make you look like _three poems_, that's what he said to me. Well, well, somehow the dresses are handsome, and yet I don't like them."

"They're hideous," said Matty, kicking out her foot with a petulant movement. "Somehow, those home-made dresses never look right. They don't sit properly. We weren't a bit like the other girls at Mrs. Meadowsweet's a fortnight ago."

"No," said Alice, "we weren't. The Bertrams had nothing but full skirts and baby bodies, and sashes round their waists, just like little girls. Mabel Bertram's dress was only down to her ankles--nothing could have been plainer--no style at all, and yet we didn't look like them."

"Well," said the mother, bristling and bridling, "handsome dresses or not, _somebody admired _somebody at that party, or I'm greatly mistaken. Well, Matty dear, what would you fancy for evening wear? If my purse will stand it you shall have it. I won't have you behind no one, my love."

It was at this critical moment, when Matty's giggles prevented her speaking, and Alice was casting some truly sarcastic and sisterly shafts at her, that Sophy burst open the door, and announced, in an excited voice, that Mrs. Middlemass, the pedler, had just stepped into the hall.

"She has got some lovely things to-day," exclaimed Sophy. "Shall we have her up, mamma? Have we anything to exchange?"

"It's only a week since she was here," replied Mrs. Bell. "And she pretty nearly cleared us out then. Still it would be a comfort if we could squeeze a frock for Matty out of her. I could buy the trimmings easy enough for you, Matty, at Perry's, if I hadn't to pay for the stuff. Dear, dear, now what can we exchange? Look here, Sophy, run, like a good child, to your father's wardrobe, and see if there are a couple of pairs of old trousers gone at the knees, and maybe that great-coat of his that had one of the flaps torn, and the patch on the left sleeve. It was warm, certainly, but it always was a show, that great-coat. Maybe he wouldn't miss it, or at any rate he'd give it up to help to settle Matty."

"Lor, ma, I really do think you are indelicate, when the man hasn't even proposed!" exclaimed Alice. "There's Matty, she's off giggling again. I do believe she'll soon laugh day and night without stopping."

"Are we to have Mrs. Middlemass up or not, mother?" exclaimed Sophy.

"Yes, child, yes. Bring her up by all means. We'll contrive to make some sort of a bargain with her."

Sophy disappeared, and a moment or two later she ushered Mrs. Middlemass into the bedroom where the above conversation had taken place.

The pedler was a very stout person, with a red face, and the bundle which she carried in front of her and propelled first into the room, was of enormous dimensions.

"Good-day, Mrs. Bell," she said. "Good-day, young ladies. And what may I have the pleasure of serving you with to-day, Mrs. Bell? I've got some elegant goods with me, just the style for your beautiful young ladies."

With this speech, which was uttered with great gravity, Mrs. Middlemass proceeded to open her bundle, and to exhibit the worst muslin, cashmere, French merino, and other fabrics, which she offered for the highest price.

"There," she said, "there's a cashmere for you! Feel it between your finger and thumb, Mrs. Bell, mum, there's substance, there's quality. It would make up lovely. Shall I cut a length a-piece for the three young ladies, ma'am?"

"No, no," said Mrs. Bell, "that cashmere is dark and heavy, and coarse, too. I don't expect it's all-wool. It's shoddy, that's what it is."

"Shoddy, ma'am! That a lady whom I've served faithful for years should accuse me of selling shoddy! No, Mrs. Bell, may Heaven forgive you for trying to run down a poor widow's goods. This is as pure all-wool cashmere as is to be found in the market, and dirt cheap at three and elevenpence a-yard. Have a length for yourself, ma'am; it would stylish you up wonderful."

"No," said Mrs. Bell, "I don't want a dress to-day, and that cashmere isn't worth more than one and six. What we are wishing for--though I don't know that we really _want anything--do we, girls? But what we might buy, if you had it very cheap, is a bit of something light and airy that would make up very elegantly for the evening. Do you care to have another evening-dress, Matty? I know you have a good few in your wardrobe."

"I don't know," said Matty, "until I see what Mrs. Middlemass has. I don't want anything common. I can get common things at Perry's; and perhaps I had better send for my best dress to London, ma."

This remark of giggling Miss Matty's was really astute for she knew that Mrs. Middlemass held Perry, the draper, in the most sovereign contempt.

"Right you are, my dear," said the pedler, a smile of gratified vanity spreading over her face, "you _can get your common things, and very common things they'll be, at Perry's. But maybe old Auntie Middlemass can give you something as genteel as the London shops. You look here, my pretty. Now, then."

Here Mrs. Middlemass went on her knees, and with slow and exasperating deliberation, unfastened a parcel carefully done up in white muslin. From the depths of this parcel she extracted a very thin and crackling silk of a shade between brick and terra-cotta, which was further shot here and there with little threads of pale blue and yellow. This texture she held up in many lights, not praising it by any words, for she guessed well the effect it would have on her company. She knew the Bells of old: they were proof against anything that wasn't silk, but at the glitter and sheen of real silk they gave way. They instantly, one and all, fell down and worshipped it.

"_It is pretty," said Matty at last, with a little sigh, and she turned away as one who must not any longer contemplate so dazzling a temptation.

Mrs. Bell's heart quite ached for her eldest-born at this critical juncture. It was so natural for her to wish for silk attire when the hero was absolutely at the gates. And such a hero! So tall, so handsome, such an Adonis--so aristocratic! But, alas! silk could not be had for nothing. It would be an insult to offer Bell's old coat and the two pairs of trousers gone at the knees for this exquisite substance.

"Sixteen yards," solemnly pronounced Mrs. Middlemass, when the silence had been sufficiently long. "Sixteen yards for three pound ten. There! it's a present I'm making to you, Miss Matty."

"I like it very much," said Matty.

"Like it! I should think you do. It was the fellow of it I sold this morning to Lady Georgiana Higginbotham, of Castle Higgins. She who is to be married next month. 'Middlemass,' she said, when she saw it, 'I'm in love with it. It has a sheen about it, and a quality. Cut me twenty yards, Middlemass; I do declare I'll wear it for my travelling dress, and no other.' She'll do it, too, Miss Matty, you'll see. And beautiful she'll look."

The three girls sighed. They sighed in unison. As there was a lover in the question, the two younger were willing that Matty should have a new frock. But a silk! Each girl wanted the silk for herself.

"It is exquisite," said Matty.

"Exquisite," repeated Alice.

"Quisite," said Sophy.

"I'll put it away for you, miss," said the pedler, beginning to pack up her other things. "There, take it, miss," she said, flinging a long sweep of the glittering texture over Matty's arm. "Now, it does become you, my dear. Doesn't it, ma'am?" turning to the mother. "Well, now, I never noticed it before, but Miss Matty has a great look of Lady Georgiana. Remarkable likeness! You wouldn't be known from her, miss when you had that dress on. Their eyes! the complexion! the figure! all ditto, ditto, ditto."

The girls smiled; but what amount of flattery will not one accept when judiciously offered? They were all pleased to hear Mrs. Middlemass compare one of their number to Lady Georgiana, although they knew perfectly that the pedler had never in the whole course of her life even spoken to that young lady, who was a head and shoulders taller than Matty, and as unlike her in all particulars as a girl could be.

"There!" said the pedler. "Three pound ten! Dirt-cheap. Going, you may say, for nothing, and because it's the last piece I have of it. Lady Georgiana paid me seven pounds for the length I cut her this morning. I'd like to see you in this dress, Miss Matty, and, maybe, if all reports is true, you'll want me to sell you something different, and more--more--well, more, perhaps, bridal-like, by-and-bye, my pretty young lady."

This last speech finished the fate of the silk. If rumor had reached down to the strata of pedlers, etc., it simply could not be disregarded. Mrs. Bell bargained and haggled for the best part of an hour. She stripped herself of many necessary garments, and even ransacked her very meagre little collection of jewelry. Finally the purchase was completed with the sale of the ring which Bell had given her on the day when he had gone down on his knees for the third and successful time. That ring, of a showy style, but made of real gold and real gems, was beloved by Mrs. Bell above all her worldly goods. Nevertheless, she parted with it to make up the necessary price for the shot silk; for, what will not a mother do for her child?

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