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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 12. Nina, You Are So Persistent
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 12. Nina, You Are So Persistent Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1116

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 12. Nina, You Are So Persistent


"I wish you wouldn't worry me so, miss."

"Well, answer my question. Has Mr. Hart come back?"

"Yes--no--I'm sure I can't say. Maybe he's in his room, maybe he's not. You do look dirty, miss, and tired--my word, awful tired. Now, where have you been, Miss Josephine, since early yesterday morning? After no good, I'll be bound. Oh, dear me, yes, after no good! You're a wild one, and you're a daring one; and you'll come to a bad end, for all your eyes are so bright, if you don't mind."

Josephine's queer, restless eyes flashed with an angry gleam.

"Do you know what this is?" she said, doubling up her small hand, and thrusting the hard-looking fist within an inch or two of her irate landlady's nose. "I knocked a man down before now with this, and I have no respect for women. You'd better not anger me, Mrs. Timms."

"Oh, dear no, miss, I'm sure I meant no disrespect!"

"That's right. Don't say what you don't mean in future."

"I won't, Miss Josephine. Now I come to think of it, I expect Hart is at home; I heard him shuffling about overhead last night."

"I'll go up and see," said Josephine.

She nodded to Mrs. Timms, and walked slowly, as though she were dead tired, and every step was an effort to her, up the stairs. They were rickety stairs, very dirty and dark, and unkept. Josephine went on and on, until her upward ascent ended under a sloping attic roof. Here she knocked at a closed door.

"Come in," said a voice.

She entered a long, low room, which did service as a sitting-room, kitchen and studio, all combined. A little, old man with a long, white beard and a bald head was bending over a stove, frying eggs.

"Is that you, Nina?" he said, without looking round. "If it is, you may as well fry these eggs while I lay the cloth for supper."

"No, you can finish them yourself," replied Josephine. "I'm dead tired. I'd rather eat no supper than cook it."

She flung herself into a long, low wicker-work chair, folded her hands and closed her eyes. The old man turned the tail of one eye to glance at her. Then he resumed his cooking, attending to it very carefully, removing each egg, as it was browned, to a hot and clean dish which stood in readiness.

"There," he said, at last, "supper's ready. Here's the vinegar, here's the pepper, here's the salt, here's the pewter jug with the beer, here's the bread and butter, and last, but not least, here's your tea, Josephine. You're nowhere without your tea, are you, child?"

"Pour it out for me," said Josephine. "Put an egg on a plate and give it to me. I'll be better when I've eaten. I can't talk until I have eaten. I was taken this way last night--I'll be better presently."

The old man gave her a long, curious glance; then he fetched a tray, piled it with refreshments, and brought it to her side. She ate and drank ravenously. The food acted on her like magic; she sat upright--her eyes sparkled, her pallor left her, and the slight shade of petulance and ill-humor which had characterized her when she entered the room gave place to a sunshiny and radiant smile.

"Well, Daddy," she said, getting up, going to the old man and giving him a kiss. "So you have come back at last. I was pretty sick of being a whole fortnight by myself, with no one but that interesting Mrs. Timms for company. You never wrote to me, and however careful I was, that five shillings wouldn't go far. What did you do in London? And why didn't you write?"

"One question at a time, Nina. Don't strangle me, child. Sit down quietly, and I'll tell you my news. I'm a good grandfather to you, Josephine. I'm a very good and faithful grandfather to you."

"So you tell me every day of my life. I'll retort back now--I'm a good grandchild to you--the best in the world."

"Bless me, what have you ever done, chit, but eat my bread and drink my water? However, I have news at last. Now, how eager you look! You would like to be a fine lady and forget your old granddad."

"I'd like to be a fine lady, certainly," responded Josephine.

She said nothing further, but sitting still, with her small hands crossed in her lap, she absolutely devoured the old man's face with her eyes.

He was accustomed to her gaze, which glittered and shone, and never wavered, and was by some people thought uncanny. He finished his supper slowly and methodically, and until he had eaten the last mouthful, and drained off the last drop of beer in the pewter mug, he didn't speak.

Then with a sharp glance at the girl he said, suddenly:

"So you wanted to take me unawares?"

"What do you mean, Grandfather?"

"You know what I mean well enough. However, I'll tell you, you have been on the tramp; you have no money; but you thought your legs would carry you where your heart wanted to be. Shall I go on?"

"Oh, yes, you may say anything you fancy. Stay, I'll say it for you. Yesterday I walked to Northbury. Northbury is over twenty miles from here. I walked every step of the way. In the evening I got there--I was footsore and weary. I had one and sixpence in my purse, no more for food, no more for bribes, no more for anything. I went to Northbury to see the Bertrams--to see that fine lady, that beloved friend of mine, Mrs. Bertram. She was from home. You probably know where she really was. I bribed the gatekeeper, and got into the grounds of Rosendale Manor. I frightened a chit of a schoolgirl, a plain, little, unformed, timorous creature. She was a Bertram, coming home from a late dissipation. She spoke of her fright, and gave her sister the cue. About midnight Catherine Bertram came out to seek me. What's the matter, Grand-dad?"

"Good heavens! Nina, that glib tongue of yours has not been blabbing. Catherine! What is Miss Bertram's Christian name to you?"

"Never mind. Her Christian name, and she herself also, are a good deal to me. As to blabbing, I never blab; I saw her, she spoke to me; I slept at the lodge; I returned home to-day."

"You walked home?"

"Yes, and I am dead tired; I want to go to bed now."

"You can't for a few minutes. I have a few words to say first. Josephine, I have always been a good grandfather to you."

"Perhaps you have done your best, Grand-dad, but your best has not been much. I am clothed after a fashion, and fed after a style, and educated!" she filliped her slender fingers scornfully; "educated! I belong to the self-taught. Still, after your lights, you have been a good Grand-dad. Now, what is all this preamble about? I can scarcely keep my eyes open. If you are not quick your words will soon fall unregarded, for I shall be in the arms of that god of delight, Morpheus."

"I have something very important to say, child. I want to lay a command upon you."

"What is that?"

"You are not to act the spy on the Bertrams again."

"The spy? What do you mean?"

"What I say. You are not to do it. I have made arrangements, and the Bertrams are to be unmolested. I have given my oath, and you must abide by it."

"What if I refuse?"

"Then we part company. You go one way, I another. You are truly a beggar, and can take up no other position without my aid. You have a story to tell which no one will believe, for I alone hold the proofs. Talk much about your fine secret, and what will be the result? People will think you off your head. Be guided by me, and all comes right in the end and in the meantime we share the spoils."

"The spoils," said Josephine, "what do you mean?

"I can give you a practical answer, Nina. I have made a good bargain, a splendid bargain; seeing that I have only put on the first screw, my success has largely anticipated my wildest hopes. Josephine, my poor girl, you need no longer suffer the pangs of hunger and neglect. You and I are no longer penniless. What do you say to an income? What do you say to four hundred a year?"

Josephine put up her thin, white hand to her forehead.

"Four hundred a year?" she repeated, vaguely. "I don't quite know what it means. What have we now?"

"Anything or nothing. Sometimes a pound a week, sometimes two pounds, sometimes five shillings."

"And we have in the future?"

"Didn't I tell you, child? Four hundred a year. One hundred pounds paid regularly every quarter. Got without earning, got without toiling for. Ours whether we are sick or well; ours under any circumstances from this day forward; ours just for keeping a little bit of a secret to ourselves."

"A secret which keeps me out of my own."

"We have no money to prove it, child, at present. In the meantime, this is a certainty. Whenever we get our proofs complete we can cease to take this annuity."

"This bribe, you mean. I scorn it. I hate it. I won't touch it."

Josephine's eyes again gleamed with anger.

"I hate bribes," she repeated.

"All right, child. You can go on starving. You can go your own way, I mine. For myself, at least, I have accepted the annuity; and if you anger me any more, I'll burn the documents tonight, which give you the shadow of a claim."

Josephine turned pale. There were moments when, fearless as she was, she feared this queer old man. The present was one of them. She sat quite still for a moment or two, during which she thought deeply. Then she spoke in an altered tone.

"Grandfather, if I consent to make no fuss, to say nothing, to reveal nothing by word or action, will you give me half your annuity?"

"Why so, Nina? Had we not better live together? When all is said and done, I'd miss you, Grandchild, if you left me."

"You'd get over that, Grand-dad. These are not the days when people are especially affectionate. Will you give me two hundred a year, and let me live away from you?"

The old man looked down at the floor, and up at the ceiling; then furtively into his granddaughter's face, then away from her.

"It's late now, we'll talk of it to-morrow," he said.

"No, I am not sleepy any longer. Two hundred a year is worth staying awake for. Will you give it to me? You can promise to-night as well as tomorrow."

"This is an important thing. I can't make up my mind all in a minute. I've got to think."

"You can think now. I'll give you half-an-hour. I'll shut my tired eyes, and you can think hard for half-an-hour."

"Nina, you are so persistent."

"Exactly, I am so persistent. Now my eyes are shut. Please begin to think."

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