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MEADOWSWEET

Baroness Orczy



MEADOWSWEET



BARONESS ORCZY



MEADOWSWEET



BY

BARONESS ORCZY

AUTHOR OF "THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL." "THE NOBLE ROGUE,"
" PETTICOAT RULE "




HODDER & STOUGHTON

NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



Copyright, 1912,
By George H. Doran Company



Stack
Annex

PP-

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I A Curious Old Bird 9

II A Kind Old Soul 22

III A Provoking Young Wife 33

IV A Meddlesome Old Busybody 42

V A Capricious Tyrant 51

VI A Wild Figure of a Girl 64

VII A Little Fury of Wrath 78

VIII A Society Lady 90

IX An Exquisite Apparition 99

X A Full-Blown Young Woman 106

XI A Much- Wronged Woman 115

XII A Jealous Man 124

XIII A Fair Temptress 130

XIV A Thief in the Night I39

XV A Beloved Sister 148

XVI An Impertinent Young Man ....... iS7

XVII A Man in Love 172

XVIII A Woman in a Rage 181

XIX An Unseemly Incident ........ 191

XX A Fairy Tale 196

XXI A Lie ' . . . .... 207

XXII A Broken Heart 216

XXIII A Stormy Petrel 227

XXIV A Hopeless Outlook 232

XXV A Sentimental Conversation 238

XXVI A Bunch of Roses 244

XXVII A Little Plan 253



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

XXVIII An Agreeable Surprise 261

XXIX An Awkward Situation 269

XXX An Honest Man 278

XXXI A Little Fool 287

XXXII A Stroke of Diplomacy 299

XXXIII A Sublime Conclusion 305

XXXIV A Simple Way 312



MEADOWSWEET



MEADOWSWEET

CHAPTER I

A CURIOUS OLD BIRD

You cannot imagine what a tangle and muddle
reigned in Uncle Jasper's museum! If you were not
one of the privileged few, allowed to gaze wide-eyed
on the countless treasures which positively littered
every corner of the room — well, then, it would be no
use to close your eyes and think what it must have
looked like, because your wildest imaginings would
fall far short of the reality.

I went into it once when I was a tiny mite, and Uncle
Jasper was then very, very old; but the picture of
that room as I saw it then impressed me more vividly
than anything I have ever seen since then.

The room, you must know, was long and low, with
a raftered ceiling, every beam of which was black with
age and carved by hand. There were no two beams
alike, for one had a garland of oak leaves festooned
along it, another was decorated with trails of brier-
rose, another with bunches of holly berries tied to-
gether with true-love knots, and so on, all most beauti-
fully hand-carved and dating back to the time of
Henry VH. Then on one side of the room there was
a huge, deep, mullioned window with tiny panes of

9



10 MEADOWSWEET

greenish glass, through which you couldn't possibly
see, all held together by lines of lead. The embrasure
of the window was panelled with oak, quite as black
as the beams of the ceiling, and these panels, too, were
beautifully carved, in lovely patterns that represented
folded linen, with every fold different, as you may
imagine, for there was nothing conventional in any
single portion or ornament of Uncle Jasper's museum.

Even the doors looked askew; though, of course,
they were made of stout oak, and never creaked when
you opened them. But their lines seemed to defy
regularity and positively to sneer at plumb-lines.

There were two doors to the room, one which gave
on the rest of the house — about which I must tell you
later — and the other which was near the embrasured
window and gave on a little stone porch.

Now, the best way to appreciate the view of Uncle
Jasper's museum was not to enter it from the house,
but rather from this same little stone porch which
faced a square yard at the back of the house — a yard
that might once have been a miniature farmyard, for it
had barns all around it — great, big barns made coal
black with tar and covered with heather thatch, on
the top of which pigeons were always sitting, and
beneath which I strongly suspect owls of holding their
midnight palavers.

They were wonderful barns these, and put to many
uses. One was fitted up roughly with boxes to accom-
modate two or three horses, if visitors came a-riding ;
another was used as a cowshed ; a third held the small
waggonette, wherein Uncle Jasper occasionally drove
to Canterbury, eleven miles away; and a fourth held



A CURIOUS OLD BIRD ii

just all the rubbish and all the lumber that you could
possibly think of — bits of iron gate and all the old
hayrakes and the chicken coops that weren't wanted,
and the pea-sticks that were worth keeping, and pussy's
latest family that had escaped the scullery bucket, and
the herd of mice and rats that had evaded the vigi-
lance of the cat, of the owls, and of the terrier.

And then, of course, there was the barn which
belonged exclusively to the chickens, even though the
chickens did not belong exclusively to it ; for they were
everywhere, and made their homes in every barn round
the yard, and scratched up the flooring and the brick
foundations, and roosted in the waggonette, and gener-
ally did as much mischief as a colony of self-respecting
chickens can very well do.

Finally, there was the barn which adjoined the
museum, and which held all the superfluous rubbish
and lumber which no longer could find a place inside
the house. This barn — it was really a loft — had
no entrance from the yard, and it was raised some
seven or eight feet from the ground on brick pillars.
Its only ingress gave on the museum itself, and when
you stood in that room looking towards the window
and the yard, the door into this loft would be in the
end wall on your right at some height from the floor,
and a short flight of wooden stairs led up to it.

But, of course, you don't want to hear just now
about the yard, or the barn, or the chickens; your
concern, like mine, is of Uncle Jasper's museum, of
which I desire to tell you.

Well, suppose that you — instead of knocking at the
front door of Old Manor Farm, which, perhaps, would



12 MEADOWSWEET

have been more polite, even if more bold — had skirted
the house, and were now standing in the yard, with the
barns to your right and left and also behind you, you
would be facing that same little stone porch of which I
have already told you, and no doubt you would be
wondering how the columns, being askew, contrived to
uphold the quaint architrave.

The stone was of a delicate mellow colour, a grey
made up of golds and greens, and in spring it was
covered with the pale mauve of the wistaria and in the
summer with the deep purple of the clematis, for these
two climbers joined tendrils over the porch and never
quarrelled, the wistaria always making way for the
clematis when the time came, and the clematis keeping
small and unobtrusive whilst the wistaria wanted
plenty of room.

The door under the porch gave direct on the mu-
seum, and if you entered it this way you had a splendid
view of the place. You saw the tall bookshelves op-
posite to you, with rows upon rows of books ; you saw
the wooden steps leading up to the loft on your left,
and all round you saw cases on the walls filled with all
kinds of eggs; you saw the table in the centre of the
room, with Uncle Jasper's wig upon its stand, and the
huge microscope, with its brass fittings shining like
gold.

Then in the dark corners at either end you saw the
skeleton of beasts such as you had never seen before,
and antlers and horns of every shape and size. I
could not, in fact, tell you what you did not see ; there
was a stuffed alligator, that hung by a chain from the
ceiling, and stuffed lizards, that peered at you from



A CURIOUS OLD BIRD 13

every point; and I could not even begin to tell you
about the stuffed birds, for they were literally every-
v^here — on the tops of the bookcases and in cases on
the wall, on the tables, the chairs, and the sofas.
There were little birds and big birds, song birds and
birds of prey, British birds and tropical birds, and
birds from the ice regions, white birds, grey birds, red
birds, and birds of every tone and colour.

And, believe me, that by far the most extraordinary
bird in the whole museum sat in a tall-backed chair,
covered in large-flowered tapestry, and had name Jas-
per Hemingford.

I suppose it was this constant handling of birds and
being with birds that made Uncle Jasper look so like a
bald-headed stork. For all day would he sit, with
glue-pot and stuffing and I don't know what other im-
plements, turning limp, dead birds into erect, defiant-
looking ones, with staring eyes that were black in the
centre and yellow round the rims, and could be bought
by the thousand in a shop in London city.

Now, to get those birds into their proper position, so
that the bird looked straight at you without the sus-
picion of a squint, required a great deal of skill and of
precision, and Uncle Jasper would sit by the hour in
his high-backed chair, bone-rimmed spectacles on nose,
and his mouth screwed up as if he were perpetually
whistling.

And that is the reason, no doubt, why his face was
so like a bird's.

I told you that his wig always stood on a stand in
the very centre of the big table, as if it were presiding
over the assembly of glue-pots and balls of string, of



14 MEADOWSWEET

metal tools and boxes of eyes, and of eggs and dusty
bottles that surrounded it like a crowd does a popular
orator. And Uncle Jasper always wore a white cotton
cap with a tassel to it, in order to protect his bald head
against the draught. Aunt Caroline always knitted
these caps for Uncle Jasper, as she did his white cot-
ton stockings, and Susan washed them when they were
dirty.

He invariably slipped off his coat the moment he
entered the museum, and put it down somewhere
amongst the litter, and never could find it again when
he wanted it later on to go to dinner in. But his
flowered dressing-gown was always laid ready for him
on the back of his chair, so he found that easily
enough, and put it on before settling down to work,
and he would always forget to tie the cord and tassels
round his waist, and they would trail after him when
he moved about in the room, and Aunt Caroline's pet
cat — if she happened to be in the museum — would
pretend that one of the tassels was a mouse, and she
would stalk it, and pounce upon it just when Uncle Jas-
per was about to mount his rickety library steps, and
cause him to trip, and to break one of the panes of
glass of his bookshelves, trying to save himself from
falling.

But Uncle Jasper never swore when this happened.
He only quoted Latin at the cat, and, as she didn't
understand Latin, she went on in just the same per-
verse way as before.

Now Susan, the country wench, whom Aunt Caro-
line dignified by the name of " maid," did not know
Latin any better than the cat, and I am quite sure that



A CURIOUS OLD BIRD 15

in her own mind she thought that her master swore
more often and more vigorously than was consistent
with Christian piety.

On this same afternoon — the events of which
crowded in so remarkably that that memorable day
became the turning point in the career of several mem-
bers of the Hemingford family — on this same after-
noon, I say, which was on the 2nd of June, in the year
1835, Susan was sent to the museum by Mrs. Heming-
ford in order that she should tell the master that tea
was served.

Susan, whose cap was always awry, and whose feet
and hands appeared to have been made for somebody
else, and clapped on to her arms and shins by mistake,
invariably became very nervous and excited when she
had to face the stufifed birds and beasts of the museum.

" For all the world like the internals," she would
explain to her follower, Thomas Scrutch, the tea gro-
cer's son from Birchington.

And this nervous excitement caused her to be still
more clumsy than she usually was, her arms becoming
like the wings of a windmill, her hands like flappers,
and her feet like fire shovels, whilst her eyes, staring
out of her round, red face, were very like those that
lay in boxes on the centre table, and could be bought
by the thousand in a shop in London city.

She did her best at first to attract Uncle Jasper's
attention from the doorway. Of course, he had not
heard her knock, nor was he conscious of her blue
print dress and her cap, all awry, with its double row
of starched frills.

He had got some ^wful-looking, grey, stark thing in



i6 MEADOWSWEET

his hands, and his bone-rimmed spectacles were mid-
way down his nose, and he was staring through them
at the nasty-looking thing which he held, and mutter-
ing to himself all the while.

" He give me the jumps ! " commented Susan in-
audibly.

" Undoubtedly — undoubtedly," murmured Uncle
Jasper, who was chuckling with delight, " a very fine
specimen indeed of the Vespertilio ferrum equinum,
or horseshoe bat."

" No wonder he be swearing at the horrible thing,"
thought Susan, whose nervousness was gaining more
and more upon her. She was balancing herself first
on one huge foot, then on the other, and saying in an
awed whisper at intervals :

" An it please you, sir."

But, of course. Uncle Jasper took no notice of her.
He just was delighted with the ugly, grey thing, and
he cocked his head to one side and patted the thing
with his long, bony fingers all the time.

" Length from the nose to the tip of the tail," he
said meditatively, " three and a half inches to three
and nine-sixteenths at the most."

An it please you, sir," murmured poor Susan.
Undoubtedly — undoubtedly ! " — and a deep sigh
of satisfaction came through the screwed-up lips of
Uncle Jasper ; " or, as one might more appropriately
say, non est disputan . . ."

Now, wasn't it a pity that an elfin chance chose that
very second in which to make poor, nervous Susan
lose her equilibrium? She had danced about from one
foot to another for some time, and during the process






A CURIOUS OLD BIRD 17

her cap had sHpped down over her left ear, the perspira-
tion had fallen from her forehead to the tip of her nose,
where it formed one ever-increasing drop, and she was
shedding hairpins like a porcupine sheds his quills.
Otherwise she had done no mischief.

But now when Latin once more fell from her mas-
ter's lips she lurched forward, with arms outstretched;
her hands, which certainly had been made for some-
body much larger than herself, clutched at the nearest
thing to support her falling person.

That nearest thing happened to be a chair, and on
the chair were all kinds of funny things, including a
number of pale blue eggs and a box of eyes ; the chair
slid on the oak floor, and Susan slid after the chair,
until the chair and Susan encountered an obstacle and
could slide no more; then both were turned over to-
gether, whilst eggs and eyes flew with amazing rapid-
ity and in every possible direction along the shiny
floor.

All that had occurred at the very moment that Uncle
Jasper said the beginning of his last word of Latin,
and when the clatter broke in on his meditations he
paused before finishing his word, for the sudden noise
had taken his breath away.

And when he recovered both his breath and his
Latin it was to emit the last syllable of his interrupted
phrase, and that was:

". . . dum!"

Can you wonder that Susan, who was sprawling on
the floor like a starfish, had only just strength enough
to gasp feebly:

" Yes, sir — please, sir ! "



i8 MEADOWSWEET

Then, of course, Uncle Jasper became aware of her
presence. He looked at her over the rims of his spec-
tacles, wondering, no doubt, why she had chosen this
extraordinary method of entering his room.

" Lord bless my soul, Susan," he murmured in pro-
found astonishment, " what are you doing there on
the floor?"

" I am very sorry, sir — please, sir ! " she stammered
as she picked herself up and began to chase the fallen
eggs and the rolling eyes.

" Go away," said Uncle Jasper mildly ; " go away —
never mind those things. Can't you see that I'm
busy?"

" Yes, sir . . . but please, sir ! . . ."

But already Uncle Jasper had forgotten the brief
incident which had distracted him from the examina-
tion of his beloved specimen. He readjusted his spec-
tacles, and once more turned his attention to the grey,
flabby thing in his hand.

" The upright membrane at the end of the nose," he
murmured, with every sigh of ecstatic delight visible
in his glittering eyes and his twitching mouth, " per-
fect — perfect in shape, just like a horseshoe."

There is a courage that is born of despair and a
boldness that comes of intense nervousness. Susan
suddenly felt both, for she had had orders from her
mistress not to return from her errand without bring-
ing the master along with her, and there he was back
again in the moon or somewheres paying no more heed
to her than if she were a bit of dirt — and he never
did mind dirt much.

So now she no longer muttered, she suddenly



A CURIOUS OLD BIRD 19

shouted right at the top of her voice — shouted just
like people shout when they are very frightened.

" The mistress sent me to tell you, sir — "

Uncle Jasper heard the voice, for he looked at her
over the top of his spectacles ; but he looked just as if
he had never seen Susan before to-day.

" Lord bless my soul, Susan," he said mildly, " I
didn't know you were here! "

" The mistress says, sir," said Susan, still shouting,
for having got his attention she didn't want to lose it
again, " will you please come to tea? "

" Eh? " queried Uncle Jasper in his funny, absent-
minded way. " What ? "

" Tea, sir," yelled Susan at the top of her voice.
" It's getting cold, and Master Crabtree is eating all the
muffins ! "

" All right, all right, Susan ! " said Uncle Jasper
placidly. " You waste too many words, my girl !
Dictum sapienti sat est. ... A word to the wise is
enough, Susan. And — what were you saying just
now, my girl ? " he asked absently.

" I was saying, sir — "

Uncle Jasper was staring at her in absolute blank-
ness, whilst in his hand he held that ugly little thing,
grey and flabby, with tiny claws pointing upwards and
limp, pointed wings. Susan, too, stared at Uncle Jas-
per; he sat perfectly still, and his pale, watery eyes
looked vacantly at her above his big spectacles.

" For all the world like one of his own mannies,"
thought Susan, whose sudden courage had already
given way. The creepy feeling which always came
over her when she was in the museum mastered her



20 MEADOWSWEET

now more strongly than ever. " I was that scared,"
she said later on, " my poor back just opened and shut
when I saw that hugeous thing lying in his hand, for
all the world like a begum."

At the time she just threw her apron over her face,
and crying:

" The Lord preserve us ! " she fled incontinently
from the room.

Uncle Jasper gave a very deep sigh of satisfaction.
He put down the precious specimen with infinite gentle-
ness upon the table, then he rose from his chair and
worked his way round' the several pieces of furniture in
the room toward the bookshelves against the wall.
And all the while that he moved he muttered to himself
in an absent-minded kind of way:

" Strange how much time is wasted by the unedu-
cated in idle talk. Yet, fugit irreparabile tempus —
time flies never to be recalled."

He took hold of the rickety little wooden steps and
moved them to that position beside the bookshelves
which he desired, then he began slowly to mount them.
And all the while that he mounted his eyes travelled
with the quickness of vast experience over the rows of
books behind the glass doors.

Apparently the book that he required was on the very
top of the bookcase, so Uncle Jasper mounted slowly
and carefully until he had reached the top of the rickety
wooden steps. There he now sat down, and, having
opened one of the glass doors, he took out a ponderous
volume bound in calf. He crossed one lean shank over
the other so as to afford firm support for the book, then
he opened it, and his bony fingers — so like the claws of



A CURIOUS OLD BIRD 21

birds — wandered lovingly over the yellow-stained
pages.

" Now, let me see ! " he murmured, for he had a
habit of talking to himself when he was engrossed in
his work, " Vespertilio ferrum equinum. Vesper —
vesper — ah, here we are ! "

And having totally forgotten all about Susan and
tea and his wife, he sat perched up there, very like a
bald-headed old stork. His long, thin nose was bent
over his book, his lean shanks were encased in white
cotton stockings, and the tassels of his dressing-gown
beat an uneven tattoo against the wood of the rickety
library steps.



CHAPTER II

A KIND OLD SOUL

One of the many fallacies invented by learned people
with a view to confusing the unlearned is the saying
that " Nature never makes a mistake."

Now no one on earth makes more mistakes than
Dame Nature makes up aloft, or wherever else she
may dwell. And I will tell you one of the greatest
mistakes that she ever did make, and that was that
she put a true mother's heart inside the ample chest
of Aunt Caroline and then wholly omitted — or forgot
— to give her children of her own to love, to cosset,
and to worry out of all patience.

Aunt Caroline as a mother would have been splendid.
Her children's faces would have been a bright red, and
would have shone like apples that have been polished
against the sleeve of a well-worn smock; their hair
would have been smooth and glossy, their hands white
and adorned with well-trimmed nails ; they would have
been learned in the art of making every kind of wine
and preserve and pickle that mind of woman can con-
ceive and stomach of man can digest, and totally igno-
rant of everything else in the world.

As an aunt. Aunt Caroline was a failure. For from
the moment that her sister's children were placed in her
charge by their dying mother they did exactly as they

22



A KIND OLD SOUL 23

liked at Old Manor Farm, and twiddled Aunt Caroline
right round their thumbs.

To be sure Olive, the eldest, had snow-white hands
with beautifully shaped nails to them; but she did not
employ them in making cowslip wine and rhubarb pre-
serve : she employed them chiefly for the decking up and
the ornamentation of the rest of her lovely person, and
one of them she employed now in the wearing of the
golden ring which Sir Baldwin Jeffreys had placed on it
some three or four years ago.

Olive, from the time that she left off playing with
dolls — and that was very early in the history of her
short life — had made up her mind that she would not
wear out her youth and her beauty at the Old Manor
Farm in the company of Uncle Jasper's stuffed abom-
inations : and since Aunt Caroline could not afford to
take her up to London, where she might have made a
suitable match, she looked about her in Thanet itself,
in search of the most likely gentleman of wealth and
position who would prove willing and eager to ask her
to quit the lonely farmhouse, and to grace London
society in his company and his own house as his mis-
tress.

The most likely gentleman turned out to be Sir
Baldwin Jeffreys, who had a large estate near Ash ford
and a fine house in town. He had come down to the
neighbourhood of Minster-in-Thanet for some fishing
with his friend, Mr. Culpepper, and Mr. Culpepper —
to while away a fine Sunday afternoon — had driven
him over to have tea with Mr. and Mrs. Hemingford
at Old Manor Farm, and to see old Jasper Heming-
ford's museum, which was the pride and talk of Thanet.



24 MEADOWSWEET

Sir Baldwin Jeffreys sat In the oak-rafted parlour of
Old Manor Farm, and Miss Olive Aldmarshe handed
him a cup of tea. Sir Baldwin Jeffreys was five-and-
forty years old, but he looked thirty-five, and on that
afternoon he felt twenty-two.

That was more than three years ago now, and in the
meanwhile Lady Jeffreys had been the bright comet of
two London seasons, and Old Manor Farm and its
inhabitants had not seen her since the day when she
walked out of it, a radiant and beautiful bride, on the
arm of her middle-aged husband, and entered the smart
coach, with its white and scarlet liveries and heavy
Flemish horses, which were to convey her to her new
home.

And now she had arrived quite unexpectedly on this
very morning, and at the moment when Aunt Caroline
was about to carve Cousin Barnaby's third helping of
lamb. There had come the noise of a distant coach
rattling down the hill, the clatter of horses, the jingling
of harness, the shouts of the postilions. Aunt Caro-
line had just time to ejaculate : " I wonder now who
that might be ! " and Barnaby Crabtree to grunt in
response : " Nobody for us, I hope ! " when the hand-
some coach was seen to swing in through the narrow


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