Five years had passed since his sojourn to Italy. Often Mr. Beebe found himself pleasantly reminiscing, recalling the soothing days of picnicking and resting, as though no responsibility on earth could have parted him from his state of pacifying leisure. It was during this time in his life that he grew better acquainted with certain members of his parish, one in particular who had, by pure coincidence, traveling to Italy at the exact same period of time. From their first conversation together, Mr. Beebe had found Lucy Honeychurch to be a particularly bright, interesting sort of lady. Despite her seemingly unwise decision to elope with the disreputable George Emerson, Mr. Beebe could not deny the perpetuating sentiments of complicacy that remained within him when he thought of the young woman.
George Emerson was not the sort of young man with whom such an intelligent young woman should fall in love, Mr. Beebe often thought to himself. He had felt so from the very moment of becoming acquainted with the Emersons. Though Mr. Beebe had not spoken to Mrs. Lucy Emerson since the weeks that preceded her elopement, he had remained on pleasant terms with the other members of the Honeychurch family. Of course this was partially due to the fact that his own niece, Miss Minnie Beebe, had grown intimately acquainted with the Honeychurches' son, whom Mr. Beebe had viewed somewhat skeptically during the first several months of the young couple's courtship. But now Mr. Beebe found himself becoming fonder of the boy (or rather, man) who had recently been attending Mr. Beebe's services on a far more regular basis.
It was for this reason that Mr. Beebe was currently approaching the door of his late brother's cottage, in which resided his niece, as well as her cheerless mother. Within a matter of minutes, Mr. Beebe was seated within the drawing room, waiting patiently for his hostess to appear. It was a rather small, yet pleasant room, sparsely furnished with an antiquated sofa, as well as several small chairs, scattered awkwardly in front of the window. He could not reproach his sister for her modest, plain style of living, for he was quite aware that his brother had left his family with very little on which they were to survive. He suspected that perhaps this was the reason why Mrs. Beebe requested his company on this crisp, autumn afternoon.
At last Mrs. Beebe appeared in the doorway, making apologies for her belatedness as she crossed to the window and opened it, thus allowing a cross-breeze to sweep through the room, which caused Mr. Beebe to shiver ever so slightly.
"How are you, my dear sister?" he asked quietly, staring at the faded rug that was presently decorating the wooden panels beneath his feet.
"Very well, I thank you. I have arranged for tea to be served in the garden."
"Oh no," he interjected softly, raising a hand for emphasis. "I regret to say that I shall not be able to stay for more than several minutes. I have very pressing matters to which I must attend. If it were not so very important, I would remain here long enough to-"
"Thank you, sir. But of course you need not explain," Mrs. Beebe murmured, softly pulling at a loose thread that protruded from the lacy edge of her sleeve. Though he wished for his visit to remain as brief as possible, Mr. Beebe immediately detected that there was a matter just as pressing to which he needed to attend right there in his brother's house.
"Is there something the matter?" he asked urgently, gently leading the older woman to the sofa. "Are you ill? Is Minnie ill?"
"No, of course not," she responded with an amused grin. "We are both quite well, I thank you. But the matter does relate to my daughter. You see, earlier this week, I received an unexpected visit from Mr. Frederick Honeychurch. He candidly expressed his desire to marry Minnie. I was so taken aback, I could hardly respond. I told him that the issue could not be taken lightly, that I would need at least several days to consider it. Well, several days have passed and I hardly know what to tell the boy!"
Mr. Beebe glanced at his pocket watch, agitated. Clearly the matter at hand required his attention. Any other pressing matters of business would have to be temporarily delayed. "Am I to understand that you have not given the young man any idea as to your true sentiments on the matter?"
"No, sir. None."
"Very good," he muttered, slowly pacing from one side of the quaint drawing room to the other. "Minnie is still rather young."
"Yes, this has been a concern of mine from the moment I discovered Mr. Honeychurch's intentions. I cannot understand it. With our current financial situation, I have no reason to rebuke the match. I should be quite pleased that a member of the Honeychurch family has taken an interest in my daughter. The idea should greatly excite us, should it not? But, for reasons I cannot yet disclose, I feel quite unsure as to whether I approve of the match. As you have noted, Minnie is still quite young. She has not quite reached her nineteenth birthday. And Mr. Honeychurch is younger, in spirit if not years. I cannot explain my sentiments. I only know that…"
He watched her patiently, waiting for an elaboration. Feminine nerves, he thought, hardly willing to admit even to himself that he understood the woman's sentiments, for he was feeling the exact same inkling of inexplicable admonition. "Could it be that perhaps you have wished for Minnie to see more of the world before she settled here with a husband?" he asked pensively.
Her eyes quickly shifted to meet his own. After a moment of hesitant silence, she at last opened her lips. "I have no reason to expect so much for my daughter. Her father died, leaving the poor thing penniless. Due to her pretty face and general pleasantness, she has managed to secure a decent, if not venerated, future. How am I to excuse my silly behavior? I should have agreed to the match as soon as he requested my approval!"
"Nonsense, dear lady!" he exclaimed, situating himself on the sofa beside her. "There is nothing reprehensible in your sentiments. And I must admit that I feel very much the same as you do regarding the young man. Minnie is exceptionally bright in comparison with nearly any person of her age and sex. Yet she lacks maturity; she hasn't the smallest idea of what would be appropriate in a social setting. And though Mr. Honeychurch finds her candor and excitability endearing, it should be remembered that he possesses the same sorts of vices that plague your daughter."
"I have been told that he lacks a sense of propriety. Though he is affectionate, he feels very little obligation to behave appropriately during social gatherings and has brought his mother to tears of mortification on more than one occasion."
"Is there any reason at all that she should marry?" he asked quietly, for he had hardly been listening to her. "Well, yes, of course. As you have already stated, the young lady has no dowry. I suppose it is a miracle that he would be willing to marry her at all." At this, Mr. Beebe exhaled a sigh of dejection. "It is a shame that she shall not remain independent… But we mustn't think of that. There would be no point. My dear woman… Have you thought of perhaps sending her away?"
At this, Mrs. Beebe balked. "Sending her away? Sir, have you forgotten that-"
"Yes, yes," he interrupted impatiently. "The poor thing is penniless. But if certain social connections were used for your daughter's benefit, she could travel for practically nothing at all."
"But what sort of social connections have we?" the lady asked, becoming most downtrodden.
"Well, perhaps you have very few. But I am acquainted with several families of moderate fortune in Italy. And let us not forget the Honeychurch family. They are certain to know several families of good breeding. As I recall, you once implored me to introduce Minnie to the Honeychurches, just so she might become acquainted with several of their houseguests at the time. That was five years passed. I remember the time distinctly. It was before the Honeychurches' daughter eloped… with a most deplorable young man."
"Yes, I remember," she replied, only hearing the first half of his comment, for her mind had begun to wonder. "You claimed that we were frightened for the young girl's safety, due to the diphtheria scare of that year. That's why she resided with the Honeychurches, was it not? I don't recall that she made a particularly good impression with them or any of their houseguests."
"Perhaps not. But she was quite young at the time. They hardly noticed her, I'm certain. Though I might note that Freddy eventually become quite taken with her. Our efforts were not fruitless." Mr. Beebe immediately realized that this had not been his wisest statement as soon as his companion began to rub her temple, distraught.
"She just seems too young to be engaged. And she is certainly too young to be engaged to Mr. Honeychurch. As impractical as I may seem, I strongly feel that my daughter should become acquainted with higher society, or at least its customs, before she is wed. Am I ridiculous?"
"Not at all," he replied, standing from the sofa. "You know, my dear, an idea struck me as we briefly discussed that spring, five years ago. As I recall, Miss Honeychurch had been engaged to a Mr. Vyse during that period of time. It was a short engagement, to be sure, for, as you know, she broke it as soon as Mr. Emerson arrived on Summer Street. But it did not seem to end unpleasantly. As I heard, the Honeychurches continually corresponded with the Vyses for at least a year after the failed engagement. I doubt the families are still intimate, but I am quite certain that no unpleasant sort of animosity has arisen between them."
"And how is this to affect my Minnie?" the older woman asked anxiously.
"The Vyses are highly esteemed in London society, my dear. And, as Minnie is currently on affectionate terms with the Honeychurches, I'm quite certain that this connection could be used for Minnie's benefit." At this, Mrs. Beebe frowned, more out of incredulity than discontentment. "Mrs. Vyse resides in a well-appointed London flat," he continued, as though this would change her state of mind.
"And her son lives there as well?" she asked with an unprecedented level of intensity.
The question struck him as queer; nevertheless, he humored her untraceable train of thought. "On occasion, perhaps. I know that, as of five years ago, he was of no profession." Suddenly, realization struck him as to the reason for her sudden apprehension. "After the engagement was broken, Mr. Vyse quickly recoiled from society. So I am told, that is. He was never particularly sociable and I'm afraid his unpleasant dealings with the Honeychurches left him… withdrawn…cynical towards nearly all people and women in particular."
She glanced up at her guest, the expression of anxiety suddenly vanquished. "I see. I'm quite certain that the Vyses are a very good sort of people. And I doubt that Minnie could find a better social connection. Most importantly, she would be forced to learn the general rules of higher society."
"I shall speak to the Honeychurches about the matter as soon as I see them," he stated, venturing towards the door.
"Oh, be sure to send my utmost gratitude," she asked urgently, quite certain that the request would not be denied.
"You may depend upon it. I should have an answer for you very shortly. Until then…" At this, the clergyman gently tipped his hat and quitted the cottage.
Outside, he crossed through the garden, where he immediately spotted young Minnie Beebe, situated in a soft tuft of sunny hydrangeas, a wistful expression upon her face. He tipped his hat at her as well. She responded with a soft grin as she absentmindedly ran her finger across the petals that were strewn across her dress. Perhaps if Mr. Beebe had not been quite so preoccupied with the fact that his previous engagement was temporarily delayed, he might have noticed that, behind the young girl was a small window, opened widely, leading into the drawing room of Mrs. Beebe's cottage.