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The Honorable Miss: A Story of an Old-Fashioned Town

L. T. Meade

  Produced by David Garcia and the Online Distributed Proofreader Team.



  A Story of an Old-Fashioned Town









  Bunch of Cherries, A. Merry Girls of England. Daddy's Girl. Miss Nonentity. Dr. Rumsey's Patient. Palace Beautiful. Francis Kane's Fortune. Polly, a New-Fashioned Girl. Gay Charmer, A. Rebels of the School. Girl in Ten Thousand, A. Sweet Girl Graduate, A. Girls of St. Wodes, The. Their Little Mother. Girl of the People, A. Time of Roses, The. Girls of the True Blue. Very Naughty Girl, A. Heart of Gold, The. Wild Kitty. Honorable Miss, The. World of Girls. How It All Came About. Young Mutineers, The. Little Princess of Tower Hill.

  _Price, postpaid, 50c each, or any three books for $1.25_




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  "So," continued Mrs. Meadowsweet, settling herself in a lazy, fat sortof a way in her easy chair, and looking full at her visitor with acomplacent smile, "so I called her Beatrice. I thought under thecircumstances it was the best name I could give--it seemed to fit allround, you know, and as _he_ had no objection, being veryeasy-going, poor man, I gave her the name."

  "Yes?" interrogated Mrs. Bertram, in a softly surprised, and butslightly interested voice; "you called your daughter Beatrice? I don'tquite understand your remark about the name fitting all round."

  Mrs. Meadowsweet raised one dimpled hand slowly and laid it on top ofthe other. Her smile grew broader.

  "A name is a solemn thing, Mrs. Bertram," she continued. "A name is, soto speak, to fit the person to whom it is given, for life. Will you tellme how any mother, even the shrewdest, is to prophecy how an infant of afew weeks old is to turn out? I thought over that point a good deal whenI gave the name, and said I to myself however matters turn 'Beatrice'will fit. If she grows up cozy and soft and petting and small, why she'sBee, and if she's sharp and saucy, and a bit too independent, as manylasses are in these days, what can suit her better than Trixie? Andagain if she's inclined to be stately, and to hold herself erect, and tothink a little more of herself than her mother ever did--only not morethan she deserves--bless her--why then she's Beatrice in full. Oh! andthere you are, Beatrice! Mrs. Bertram has been good enough to call tosee me. Mrs. Bertram, this is my daughter Beatrice."

  A very tall girl came quietly into the room, bowed an acknowledgment ofher mother's introduction, and sat down on the edge of the sofa. She wasa dignified girl from the crown of her head to her finger-tips, and Mrs.Bertram, who had been listening languidly to the mother, favored thenewcomer with a bright, quick, inquisitive stare, then rose to herfeet.

  "I am afraid I must say good-bye, Mrs. Meadowsweet. I am glad to havemade your daughter's acquaintance, and another day I hope I shall seemore of her. I have of course heard of you from Catherine, my dear," sheadded, holding out her hand frankly to the young girl.

  "Yes. Is Catherine well?" asked Beatrice, in a sweet high-bred voice.

  "She is well, my dear. Good-bye, Mrs. Meadowsweet. I quite understandthe all-roundness and suitability of your choice in the matter ofnames."

  Then the great lady sailed out of the room, and Beatrice flew to thewindow, placed herself behind the curtain and watched her down thestreet.

  "What were you saying about me, mother?" she asked, when Mrs. Bertramhad turned the corner.

  "I was only telling about your name, my dearie girl. _He_ alwaysgave me my way, poor man, so I fixed on Beatrice. I said it would fitall round, and it did. Shut that window, will you, Bee?--the wind isvery sharp for the time of year. You don't mind my calling you Bee nowand then--even if it doesn't seem quite to fit?" continued Mrs.Meadowsweet.

  "No, mother, of course not. Call me anything in the world you fancy.What's in a name?"

  "Don't say that, Trixie, there's a great deal in a name."

  "Well, I get confused with mine now and then. Mother, I just came in tokiss you and run away again. Alice Bell and I are going to the lectureat the Town Hall. It begins at five, and it's half-past four now.Good-bye, I shall be home to supper."

  "One moment, Bee, I am really pleased that your fine friend's mother haschosen to call at last."

  Beatrice frowned.

  "Catherine is not my fine friend," she said.

  "Well, your _friend_, then, dearie. I am glad your friend's motherhas called."

  "I am not--that is, I am absolutely indifferent. Now, I really must runaway. Good-bye until you see me again."

  She tripped out of the room as lightly and carelessly as she had enteredit, and Mrs. Meadowsweet sat on by the window which looked into thegarden.

  Mrs. Meadowsweet had the smoothest and most tranquil of faces. She hadtaken as her favorite motto in life, that somehow, if you only allowedthem, things did fit all round. Each event in her own career, to use herspecial phraseology "fitted." As her husband had to die, he passed awayfrom this life at the most fitting moment. As Providence had blessed herwith only one child, a daughter was surely the most fitting companionfor a widowed mother. The house Mrs. Meadowsweet lived in fitted herrequirements to perfection. In short, she was fat and comfortable, bothin mind and body; she never fretted, she never worried; she was notrasping and disagreeable; she was not fault-finding. If her naturelacked depth, it certainly did not lack affection, generosity, and atrue spirit of kindliness. If she were a little too well pleased withherself, she was also well pleased with her neighbors. She was notespecially appreciated, for she was considered prosy and commonplace.Prosy she undoubtedly was, but not commonplace, for invariablecontentment and unbounded good-nature are more and more difficult tofind in this censorious world.

  Mrs. Meadowsweet now smiled gently to herself.

  "However Beatrice may take it, I _am_ glad Mrs. Bertram called,"she murmured. "_He'd_ have liked it, poor man! he never put himselfout, and he never interfered with me, no, never, poor dear. But he likedpeople to show due respect--it's a respect to Beatrice for Mrs. Bertramto call. It shows that she appreciates Beatrice as her daughter'sfriend. Mrs. Bertram, notwithstanding her pride, is likely to be verymuch respected in Northbury, and no wonder. She's a little above most ofus, but we like her all the better for that. We are going to be proud ofher. It's nice to have some one to be proud of. And she has no airs whenyou come to know her, no, she hasn't airs; she's as pleasant aspossible, and seems interested too, that is, as interested as peoplelike us can expect from people like her. She didn't even condescend toBeatrice. I wonder how my little girl would have taken it, if she hadcondescended to her. Yes, Jane, do you want me?"

  An elderly servant opened the drawing-room door.

  "If you please, ma'am, Mrs. Morris has called, and she wants to know ifit would disturb you very much to see her?"

  "Disturb me? She knows it won't disturb me. Show her in at once. AndJane, you can get tea ready half-an-hour earlier than u
sual. I daresay,as Mrs. Morris has called she'd like a cup. How do you do, Mrs. Morris?I'm right glad to see you, right glad. Sit here, in this chair--orperhaps you'd rather sit in this one; this isn't too near the window.And you'll like a screen, I know;--not that there's any draught--forthese windows fit as tight as tight when shut."

  Mrs. Morris was a thin, tall woman. She always spoke in a whisper, forshe was possessed of the belief that she had lost her voice inbronchitis. She had not, for when she scolded any one she found itagain. She was not scolding now, however, and her tones were very lowand smothered.

  "I saw her coming in, my dear; I was standing at the back of the wireblind, and I saw her going up your steps, so I thought I'd come acrossquickly and hear the news. You'll tell me the news as soon as possible,won't you? Mrs. Butler and Miss Peters are coming to call in a fewminutes. I met them and they told me so. They saw her, too. You'll tellme the news quickly, Lucy, for I'd like to be first, and it seems as ifI had a right to that much consideration, being an old friend."

  "So you have, Jessie."

  Mrs. Meadowsweet looked immensely flattered.

  "I suppose you allude to Mrs. Bertram having favored me with a call,"she continued, in a would-be-humble tone, which, in spite of all herefforts, could not help swelling a little.

  "Yes, dear, that's what I allude to; I saw her from behind the wirescreen blind. We were having steak and onions for dinner, and the doctordidn't like me jumping up just when I had a hot bit on my plate. But Isaid, it's Mrs. Bertram, Sam, and she's standing on Mrs. Meadowsweet'ssteps! There wasn't a remonstrance out of him after that, and the onlyother remark he made was, 'You'll call round presently, Jessie, andinquire after Mrs. Meadowsweet's cold.' So here I am, my dear. And how_is_ your cold, by the way?"

  "It's getting on nicely, Jessie. Wasn't that a ring I heard at the doorbell?"

  "Well, I never!" Mrs. Morris suddenly found her voice. "If it isn't thattiresome Mrs. Butler and Miss Peters. And now I won't be first with thenews after all!"

  Mrs. Meadowsweet smiled again.

  "There really isn't so much to tell, Jessie. Mrs. Bertram was justaffable like every one else. Ah, and how are you, Mrs. Butler? Now, I docall this kind and neighborly. Miss Peters, I trust your cough isbetter?"

  "I'm glad to see you, Mrs. Meadowsweet," said Mrs. Butler, in a slightlyout-of-breath tone.

  "My cough is no better," snapped Miss Peters. "Although it's summer, thewind is due east; east wind always catches me in the throat."

  Miss Peters was very small and slim. She wore little iron-gray,corkscrew curls, and had bright, beady black eyes. Miss Peters was Mrs.Butler's sister. She was a snappy little body, but rather afraid of Mrs.Butler, who was more snappy. This fear gave her an unpleasant habit ofrolling her eyes in the direction of Mrs. Butler whenever she spoke. Sherolled them now as she described the way the east wind had treated herthroat.

  Mrs. Butler seated herself in an aggressive manner on the edge of thesofa, and Miss Peters took a chair as close as possible to Mrs. Morris,who pushed hers away from her.

  Each lady was anxious to engross the whole attention of Mrs.Meadowsweet, and it was scarcely possible for the good-natured woman notto feel flattered.

  "Now, you'll all have a cup of tea with me," she said. "I know Jane'sgetting it, but I'll ring the bell to hasten her. Ah, thank you, MissPeters."

  Miss Peters had sprung to her feet, seized the bell-rope before any onecould hinder her, and sounded a vigorous peal. Then she rolled her eyesat Mrs. Butler and sat down.

  Mrs. Morris said that when Miss Peters rolled her eyes she invariablyshivered. She shivered now in such a marked and open way that poor Mrs.Meadowsweet feared her friend had taken cold.

  "Dear, dear--I only wish I had a fire lighted," she said. "Yourbronchitis will be getting worse, if you aren't careful, Jessie. MissPeters, a cup of tea will do your throat good. It always does mine whenI get nipped."

  "Don't encourage Maria in her fancies," snapped Mrs. Butler. "There'snothing ails her throat, only she will wrap herself in so much wool thatshe makes herself quite delicate. I tell her she fancies she is ahothouse plant."

  "Oh, nothing of the kind," whispered Mrs. Morris.

  "That's what I say," nodded back Mrs. Butler. "More of the nature of thehardy broom. But now we haven't come to discuss Maria and her fads. Youhave had a visitor to-day, Mrs. Meadowsweet."

  "Ah, here comes the tea," exclaimed Mrs. Meadowsweet. "Bring the tableover here, Jane. Now this is what I call cozy. Jane, you might ask cookto send up some buttered toast, and a little more cream. Yes, Mrs.Butler, I beg your pardon."

  "I was remarking that you had a visitor," repeated Mrs. Butler.

  "Ah, so I had. Mrs. Bertram called on me."

  "And why shouldn't she call on you, dear?" suddenly whisperedMrs. Morris. "Aren't you quite as good as she is when all's said anddone? Yes, dear, I'll have some of your delicious tea. Such a treat!Some more cream? Thank you, yes; I'll help myself. Why shouldn't Mrs.Bertram call on Mrs. Meadowsweet? That's what I say, ladies," continuedMrs. Morris, looking over the top of her cup of tea in a decidedlyfight-me-if-you-dare manner.

  "Nobody said she shouldn't call," answered Mrs. Butler. "Maria, you'lloblige me by going into the hall and fetching my wrap. There's rather achill from this window--and the weather is very inclement for the timeof year. No, thank you, Mrs. Morris, I wouldn't take your seat for theworld. As you justly remark, why shouldn't Mrs Bertram call on our goodfriend here? And, for that matter, why shouldn't she cross the road, andleave her card on _you_, Mrs. Morris?"

  Mrs. Morris was here taken with such a fit of bronchial coughing andchoking that she could make no response. Miss Peters rolled her eyes ather sister in a manner which plainly said, "You had her there, Martha,"and poor Mrs. Meadowsweet began nervously to wish that she had not beenthe honored recipient of Mrs. Bertram's favors.

  "She came to see me on account of Beatrice," remarked the hostess. "Atleast I think that was why she came. I beg your pardon, did you sayanything, ladies?"

  "Oh! fie, fie! Mrs. Meadowsweet," said Miss Peters, "you are too modest.In my sister's name and my own, I say you are too modest."

  "And in my name too," interrupted Mrs. Morris. "You are too humble, mydear friend. She called to see you for _your own dear sake_ and forno other."

  "And now let us all be friendly," continued Miss Peters, "and learn thenews. I think we are all of one mind in wishing to learn the news."

  Mrs. Meadowsweet smoothed down the front of her black satin dress. Sheknew, and her friends knew, that she would have much preferred the honorof Mrs. Bertram's call to be due to Beatrice's charms than her own. Shesmiled, however, with her usual gentleness, and plunged into theconversation which the three other ladies were so eager to commence.

  Before they departed they had literally taken Mrs. Bertram to pieces.They had fallen upon her tooth and nail, and dissected her morally, andsocially, and with the closest scrutiny of all, from a religious pointof view.

  Mrs. Meadowsweet, who never spoke against any one, was amazed at theingenuity with which the character of her friend (she felt she must callMrs. Bertram her friend) was blackened. Before the ladies left Mrs.Meadowsweet's house they had proved, in the ablest and most thoroughmanner, that Mrs. Bertram was worldly and vain, that she lived beyondher means, that she trained her daughters to think of themselves farmore highly than they ought to think, that in all probability she wasnot what she pretended to be, and, finally, that poor Mrs. Meadowsweet,dear Mrs. Meadowsweet, was in great danger on account of her friendship.

  "I don't agree with you, ladies," said the good woman, as they wereleaving the house, but they neither heeded nor heard her remark.

  The explanation of their conduct was simple enough. They were devouredwith jealousy. Had Mrs. Bertram called on any one of them, she wouldhave been in that person's estimation the most fascinating woman inNorthbury.