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alone with me — as you promised," he said.

And his eyes invited her to sit beside him on the cool
grass, and, believe me, that when presently she did



198 MEADOWSWEET

so, putting on a quaint air of resignation and of dis-
dain which the soft blush in her cheeks disclaimed, he
had to clasp his hands tightly together, pressing his
nails into his flesh, in an endeavour to repress that
overmastering desire to seize her then and there in
his arms and to press her closely to him, whilst his
lips sought the delicious fragrance of her hair, her
eyes, her lips.

" Ah, yes ! I promised ! " she said, with whimsical
affectation. " Well, then, you must be brief. . . ."

Then as he said nothing, but continued to look on
her with an ardent gaze that sent the hot blood rush-
ing up to her cheek, she said impatiently :

" Well ! why don't you begin? I can only give you
ten minutes, you know."

He saw the blush in her cheek, and wondered how
much of it came from girlish coquetry and how much
from ignorance of what his glance had desired to
convey. Now that he had her so near to him, so
thoroughly at the mercy of the passionate appeal
which he wished to make to her, a strange diffidence
seized him. She seemed so very young, so wholly
unsophisticated, so far removed in her purity and her
innocence from the scorching breath of a man's pas-
sion. He was afraid that he would scare her, that she
would not understand all that lay in his heart, and that
he wished to convey to her in a few glowing words
which already seared his lips.

Therefore he called forth his strongest will-power
now, and forced back the words of love which were
rushing up, helter-skelter, from his heart, in mad dis-
order, and glowing, wild, delicious nonsense. He was



A FAIRY TALE i99

longing just to lie down close beside her, with his lips
pressed against her feet, and to pour out all the flood
of love, of worship and ecstasy which filled his heart
to bursting. But will-power was strong in him, for
on its strength, perhaps, depended all future happiness,
both for him and for this child. It called back his
unruly senses to calm and to self-control, and after a
moment's pause during which he closed his eyes, for
he could not bear to look on her and not tell her at
once of his love, he said, quite quietly:

"May I tell you a tale?"

"A tale?" she asked, in astonishment. "What
kind of a tale? "

" A fairy tale," he replied.

" Why should you want to tell me a tale now ? "

" You will understand the reason after my tale has
been told. May I begin? "

"If you like," she said, with an indifferent shrug of
the shoulders.

" Once upon a time," he began, " all the flowers of
the field rebelled against the Fairy Queen, They had
got tired of the country, and wished to go up to town.
* We'll go to London,' said they, * and see the world,
and be seen and admired by all the townsfolk. We're
tired of being looked on merely by stupid country
folk ! ' This, mind you, is what the flowers of the
field said to the Fairy Queen."

" Did you invent this tale. Lieutenant Carrington? "
she asked.

" Yes, partly. Do you care for it ? "

" Not very much so far. It seems to be rather
pointless."



200 MEADOWSWEET

" How can you tell ? I have only just begun."

"Will it take long?"

" Ten minutes. May I go on? "

"If you like," she reiterated, with still the same
indifference.

" The Fairy Queen," he then went on, " could not
very well stop them if they wished to go, so all the
flowers of the field went to town — briar-rose and
toad-flax, purple vetch and ox-eyed daisies. They
were clipped and trimmed and put into vases and
openly displayed in shops and markets. They suffered
tortures with wires and string, but they didn't mind.
They had had their way and had become town flow-



ers."



" I still don't see the point of the story. Lieutenant
Carrington," she said.

" You must have a little patience. I am coming to
the point. In the general exodus from the fields, one
little flower was forgotten. She was dainty and shy
and hid under the hedgerows, and so her prouder
sisters failed to notice her."

" What was her name? "

" I'll tell it you presently. The Fairy Queen saw
her as she passed, she was touched by the flower's
freshness and her grace, and then and there endowed
her with all the attributes which the other flowers had
disclaimed. She gave her scent so sweet that the bees
and butterflies fight for a kiss from her, she gave her
a white gown with dainty frills, and finally she gave
her a name so beautiful and so pure that ever after it
remained the emblem of tender womanhood."

" And what was that name, Lieutenant Carring-



A FAIRY TALE 201

ton?" she asked, shyly, timidly, almost in a whisper,
for her voice had lost its quaint note of affectation, and
her head was drooping as if under the weight of the
gold in her hair.

" The name," he said — also in a whisper — " which
always springs to my lips when I look at you . . .
Meadowsweet ! "

" My name is Boadicea Aldmarshe."

" Not to me ! . . . Ever since that day when Fate
thought fit to shuffle her cards and made us partners
in this game of life, ever since then you have meant
to me all that is fresh and pure in life — just a little
sprig of meadowsweet."

" But the game is ended," she said. " Fate is shuf-
fling her cards again."

He could not see her eyes, for they were downcast,
but it seemed to him as if dewy moisture lingered on
their lashes, and certainly there had been a tremor in
her voice, as of tears that would rise to her throat.

" Is it ended? " he asked.

" Why, of course," she said ; " we were partners not
of our own free will."

"Yes, then. But now?"

" I don't know what you mean ! "

" I could explain if . . ."

"If what?"

"If you would look at me."

She raised her eyes to his, and he saw that they were
full of tears, and so bright, so bright that an infinity
of promise lay within their luminous depths.

He could have fallen down and worshipped her then.



202 MEADOWSWEET

Never had he seen such innocence, such purity in any
woman's eyes. From her whole personality there
emanated such perfect trust, and such simplicity of
soul, that even the ardent breath of passion must cool
ere it touched her. Later on she would become a
woman, no doubt; later on she would understand a
man's love better, know all its ardour, and forgive all
its sins; but now she was only a child, and it almost
seemed sacrilege to disturb her serenity.

" May I go on with the fairy tale? " he asked.

"If you like," she said simply.

" One midsummer's day — while all the gayer jflow-
ers were parading the streets — the meadowsweet fell
asleep under the hedgerow. The air was full of the
song of birds, and the flap of butterflies' wings. And
the West Wind came playing round that hedgerow.
He peeped beneath and saw the Meadowsweet, so pure,
so sweet, so exquisitely fair. He blew upon the blos-
som . . . and whispered words to waken the soul of
the flower . . . words of tenderness . . . and
of love. . . ."

The long lashes were once more veiling the glory of
the eyes. She could not have gone on looking at him,
whilst he spoke like that.

How exquisite was his voice ! how tender the glance
of his eyes. A delicious sense of happiness, of confi-
dence and of faith crept into her heart. Something
thrilled her, too, something that she did not under-
stand; perhaps it was the scent of those white flowers
in the shadow, for the very air seemed quivering with
their fragrance.

" I don't suppose," she murmured shyly, " that the



A FAIRY TALE 203

Meadowsweet understood . . . tenderness, perhaps
. . . but love? . . ."

" My Meadowsweet — the one of whom I speak —
asked the birds and the bees, and they told her what
the West Wind meant."

" But you say that she was asleep."

" Ah ! but the West Wind woke her."

"How?"

He put his arms round her suddenly, without
further thought, and only because he could no longer
contain himself and his very body ached with the in-
tensity of his desire for that first kiss. He took her
in his arms, and his lips sought hers.

" Like this ! " he said.

She yielded her lips to him, just like a child that
would give all it has, for sheer love, for sheer happi-
ness, for sheer desire to give. She yielded her lips
and gave him kiss for kiss.

" Meadowsweet, my little Meadowsweet! " he mur-
mured through broken sobs that came to his throat
with the very intensity of his happiness. " It is too
good, too good to be true! . . . You so beautiful,
so dear, so sweet, do you ... do you really love
me?"

She smiled at him through her tears, and whispered
timidly :

" The West Wind woke the Meadowsweet, you see
. . . she has asked the birds and bees, and now . . ."

"Yes! And now?"

" I think that she understands."

She hid her face, which was covered with blushes.
Then as he was about to pour into her ear all the words



204 MEADOWSWEET

of passionate adoration which he had held in check
for so long, she quickly put up her small brown hand
and her fingers were pressed against his lips.

And now she looked at him again, half shyly, and
with a curious, questioning glance.

"Hush! sh! sh!" she said. "Don't speak now
. . . don't tell me anything more. ... It is all so
new, so wonderful! I had never loved before," she
added naively ; " I never even knew what love meant.
It must be so different for you."

" Until I looked into your dear eyes," he said ear-
nestly, " until I scented the meadowsweet in the hedge-
rows, I never knew what love could mean."

She sighed with infinite content; you see, she had
no idea that the world could be quite so beautiful as it
was now; she had no idea how glorious could be the
sunshine peeping through the branches of cherry-trees,
how green could be the grass, how sweet the note of
the cuckoo which came from far away. Everything
in nature which she had seen and felt and heard, every-
thing that she had admired and loved, was infinitely
more lovable, more admirable now that she sat with
a man's arms round her, and the savour of his kiss
still lingered on her lips.

How long they sat together like this, neither of
them did know; what they said to one another only
the birds and bees could hear. I'll not plague you
with telling you of that delicious nonsense which they
talked, the tender, inane, sublime babblings of newly
awakened love. Only those who remember their own
first babblings would forbear to smile, and those who
choose to remember are fewer and fewer every day.



A FAIRY TALE 205

In every human heart there is such a memory;
every human soul has once been an infant suckling at
the breast of Love, inarticulate, ecstatic, sublime in its
inanity. But the strenuous exigencies of modern life
have thrown a thick grey veil over the memory of that
halcyon hour, and the veil has been allowed to cling
to and to choke up memory until it has faded out of
ken.

But those who have kept such memory green will
understand, without being told, all that Jack Carring-
ton and Boadicea said to one another under the cherry-
tree that afternoon; as for the others, they would not
care.

The hours slipped by and the shadows grew longer.
From Minster tower far away came the sound of
church bells ringing for evening prayer. Boadicea
was the first to wake from an enchanting dream.

" And now I must go, my dear, my love ! " she said,
still shyly. " Aunt Caroline will be wondering . . .
and, oh ! it must be near supper-time."

" Not yet ! " he pleaded.

" Oh, but I must go I I ... I want to be alone —
just for a little while . . . before I meet the others
... I want to think ... to live my happiness."

" Live it awhile longer in my arms."

" No ... no ... I must go ... I really
must ! "

And she disengaged herself from those clinging
arms, and, rising to her feet, she stood before him,
demure and tall, with just that soft, rosy blush in her
cheeks to betray her womanhood, to show that a man's
kiss had blown the spirit of childhood away.



2o6 MEADOWSWEET

She meant to turn away from him without a word
of parting, for it seemed to her that everything had
been said that could possibly be said, and that the time
had come now for a long and delicious silence.

But just as she was about to turn away, some
thought seemed to flash through her mind, and it was
she now who, with a sudden impulse, had put her arms
on his shoulders.

" My dear," she said earnestly, " if anything should
part us now . . ."

" What could part us, little Meadowsweet ? " he
asked exultantly, triumphant in his love.

" I don't know," she replied; " but if it should . . ."
She paused a moment, then added slowly :

" It would break my heart! "

" Nothing on earth can part us now. I have held
you in my arms, my Meadowsweet, and I have felt the
magic of your kiss ... do you think that I could
after that allow anything to part us? "

" No! no! of course not," she said simply; "but it
seems so strange! it seems as if this happiness was
really too great to last ! "

Then she turned away quickly, and ran towards the
house, and he stood still under the cherry-trees, look-
ing after her retreating figure as a man would on the
embodiment of earthly happiness.

And the intoxicating fragrance of many blossoms
was in the air. Overhead a thrush was singing to its
mate; the swallows were circling high up above the
trees, and tiny fleecy clouds raced across the sky.

Jack Carrington fell on his knees and thanked God
for it all.



CHAPTER XXI

A LIE

What a beautiful world it was!

The air was balmy and soft, not too hot and not
too cool; never had the thrushes sung so beautifully;
their incessant "He did it! he did it! he did it!"
sounded just the right note in tune with this glori-
ous afternoon. Had the sky ever been more brilliant
and more filmy ? had the flowers ever been so fragrant
before, or the strawberries looked more luscious?

Of course they had not. Nothing had ever been
so beautiful, so fragrant, or so luscious; in fact, one
came to wonder how the world had got on at all be-
fore . . . before this . . . this wonderful thing hap-
pened.

The most wonderful thing that ever was had sud-
denly come to pass, and therefore the swallows twit-
tered so merrily and circled round and round high up
above the trees, in a manner indicative of their great
joy, and therefore the thrushes said : ** He did it, he
did it, he did it!" over and over again because, of
course, they knew that the one and only He in all the
world had done it. The one and only He had opened
the book of life and told Boadicea to read in it the
great opening chapter — the chapter of Love.

Would you laugh in a very superior way if yoit
heard that Boadicea ran straight up to her room and

207



2o8 MEADOWSWEET

threw herself on her narrow bed face downwards, and
that she buried her hot Httle face in her hands, and
cried, and cried as if her heart would break?

It was breaking, you know, with the intensity of her
happiness. That happiness seemed really greater than
her young heart could hold.

She cried for a while, and then she smiled through
her tears, and kissed the palms of her hands, because
they had touched his hair and his cheeks. Then she
laughed at herself for being such a goose, and blushed
at the thought of what he would say and do if he saw
her now.

She jumped up from the bed and washed her face
and eyes with cold water; and all the while she was
singing merrier than any bird : " He did it ! he did it !
he did it! " He had opened up the store-house of her
heart, and had put his own image there into a shrine.
There it would remain for ever; it would take very
cruel hands to tear it right out, hands that would lac-
erate the heart before ever they succeeded in their
cruel purpose.

And he had done more than that ; he had made the
world beautiful for her, he had decked the lily and
painted the sky, and taught her a great and wonderful
lesson.

She knew now how dellciously sweet a kiss could be !

The old grandfather clock in the hall below struck
six most solemnly. Though the world was so beauti-
ful, time did not stand still. Boadicea gave a little
sigh of disappointment. She had so wanted to spend
a few happy hours contemplating her dream. But
habit and a sense of housewifely duties still held pow-



A LIE 209

erful sway, even over her excitement. Hastily she
smoothed down the last rebellious brown curls, then
she donned her housekeeping apron and was ready to
go downstairs.

Half an hour before supper, and the cloth was not
yet laid unless Susan had been more than usually ac-
tive.

As she opened the door of her room, she saw Olive
coming up the stairs. She was apparently going to
her own room, but was moving with a languid step,
as if she were tired or else very troubled. She paused
on the landing, and looked with obvious surprise on
Boadicea, whose glowing face, bright eyes, and whole
personality quivering w^ith joy and excitement be-
trayed a secret that was not difficult to guess.

Olive's eyes were sharp, and her intuition in such
matters unerring. The child w^as simply brimming
over with happiness, and Lieutenant Carrington had
not yet come in from the orchard. It required no
great penetration to fit these two facts into one very
obvious whole.

" Why, child, where have you been? " exclaimed the
older sister, feigning complete astonishment. " Aunt
Caroline has been looking for you everywhere."

" I have been in the orchard," said Boadicea simply.

She had no occasion or desire to conceal the one
great fact, though in her heart of hearts she would
have loved to guard her secret just a little while longer,
to feast on it, like a little glutton that would devour
a world of happiness.

" In the orchard ? " queried Olive, with just that
delicate lifting of arched eyebrows which indicated



210 MEADOWSWEET

displeasure as well as surprise. " Were you alone? "
" No. Lieutenant Carrington was with me."
" Oh ! " said the other indifferently. " By the way,
child, just run down a moment to Aunt Caroline and
see if she wants anything, then come and talk to me
in your own room, will you? There is something I
want to say to you."

Olive was smiling, and she spoke quite kindly.
" Run along, child. Don't be long," she added, as
Boadicea, submissive and willing as usual, had already
turned to obey. Her white skirt soon disappeared
round the angle of the stairs. Olive watched her sis-
ter's retreating figure, until the light patter of her feet
ceased to echo from below, then she turned and went
into Boadicea's room.

She sat down at the dressing-table, in front of the
old-fashioned mirror. Leaning forward she studied
for awhile with grave attention the dainty image which
the glass held before her; the tiny head crowned with
curls of a pale golden hue, the colour of ripe corn,
shimmering in the sunlight; the blue eyes and arched
eyebrows, the softly-rounded cheek on which nature
carefully aided by art had spread a delicate rosy tint.

The image was winning and charming in the ex-
treme. No one who looked could deny this ; no won-
der that on Olive's face, as she gazed, there came an
expression of deep puzzlement. Surely a man must
be blind to look with favour on any other face but that
which the mirror so kindly reflected. And being blind,
he must, of course, be cured, and you may be certain
that he will presently be thanking God on his knees
for having been cured from his malady.



A LIE 211

The resolution of perfonning this surgical operation
was quickly come to. Olive now only chided herself
for having been so considerate, so tender-hearted all
this while. Lieutenant Jack had no doubt been miser-
able at her seeming indifference, and — almost in des-
peration — 'Was turning to Boadicea for solace and
consolation.

Well! all that could be put right with very little
trouble. Olive marvelled that she had never thought
of it before. Fortunately it was not too late; Lieu-
tenant Jack's affections were not really engaged, and, of
course, a child like Boadicea would soon forget her
own silly sentimentality.

There came the sound of light feet upon the stairs.
Olive went to the door and opened it, and the next
moment the same excited, quivering, glowing Boadicea
had followed her sister back into the room.

" Aunt did not really want me," she said. " I told
her that you wished me to come to you, so, of course,
she told me at once to run along, for she and Susan
had nearly finished laying the cloth for supper."

She talked rather breathlessly and quickly, like one
who has been running very fast. Olive put out an in-
viting hand to her, and in her childlike, impulsive way,
Boadicea ran to the dearly loved sister, and in the
exuberance of her joy kissed her tenderly.

She had no doubt but that Olive wished to question
her, and she was looking forward to entrusting her
precious secret to the one being in the world who she
believed would understand her.

" Sit down near me, little one," said Olive gently, as



212 MEADOWSWEET

she sat down on one chair and drew another close to
hers.

But Boadicea disdained the chair. She knelt down
on the floor beside Olive and had her arms round
Olive's waist, and her head against Olive's shoulder.
She sighed with absolute content and also with excite-
ment.

" I told you, dear, did I not," began Lady Jeffreys,
after a slight pause, " that there was something which
I wished to say to you ? "

"Yes, Olive. What is it?"

" Well, little one, it is a confession which I feel
bound in honour to make to you."

" A confession ? " queried the girl, very puzzled.

" Yes, dear. One which I ought to have made to
you long ago. ... I mean a month ago."

" Is it very serious, then ? " asked Boadicea play-
fully.

She was still so far from guessing what would come.

" Very serious to me," replied Olive earnestly. " I
do not think that it will affect you much . . . only,
perhaps," she added, whilst tears seemed to be on the
point of gathering to her eyes, " in your estimate of
me."

The arms round Olive's shoulders tightened their
embrace. The face that was hidden against her bosom
was raised to her with an expression of enduring affec-
tion and of boundless trust.

" Nothing could affect my estimate of you, Olive,"
said Boadicea tenderly ; " you know that ever since I
was a baby I have always looked up to you as the most
beautiful, the most clever, the most perfect being in all



A LIE 213

the world. And to this day you are my ideal — and
the pattern whom I long to emulate."

" Well, dear, that is just what I cannot bear any
longer . . . your innocent admiration, your loving
faith weighs on me like a burden. ... I am not wor-
thy of it, little one . . ."

And this time two genuine tears ran down the deli-
cately-rouged cheeks, making pathetic little rivulets
which Olive did not even try to obliterate.

" Then what is this serious confession," asked
Boadicea quite gaily, " which you feel called upon to
make to me ? "

" It is so hard to make," said Olive, with a sigh.

" Shall I turn my back? It might be easier."

" No, no ! don't jest, little one. It hurts me to see
you laugh."

"Olive darling!" exclaimed Boadicea, and for the
first time since that wonderful moment this afternoon
a curious pang of pain shot right through her heart.

" You know, dear," began Olive, after some hesita-
tion, " a month ago . . . when Sir Baldwin came on
us unexpectedly. . . ."

"Yes?"

" And I was alone with Lieutenant Carrington, you
remember? "

" Yes, Olive."

The voice was a little harder now, and the arms
that encircled Olive's shoulders dropped limply to the
girl's side. Boadicea was still kneeling beside her sister,
but her head was no longer pillowed on the sister's
breast. She was squatting back, sitting on her heels ;
the glow had died from her cheeks, and left them wliite



214 MEADOWSWEET

and drawn ; her eyes were fixed upon her sister's face,
and her Hps were tightly set and hard.

" Go on, Olive," she said quietly,

" I ... I asked you, then, did I not, little one ? to
stand by me and to save me from my husband's jeal-
ousy ? "

" I did it heartily and willingly, Olive, and I have
not repented since."

" I swore to you then that I had done no wrong . . .
that Sir Baldwin's jealousy was baseless and insane.
... I led you to believe, in fact, that I had been
merely thoughtless, and that Lieutenant Carrington
had never made love to me . . . you believed this at
the time, little one . . . did you not ? "

" Yes, Olive ... I believed this ... at the time."


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