Emmuska Orczy Orczy.

Meadowsweet online

. (page 13 of 19)
Online LibraryEmmuska Orczy OrczyMeadowsweet → online text (page 13 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" Well, child, I ... I lied to you then ... I lied
because I was afraid . . . but Sir Baldwin's jealousy
was quite justified. . . . Lieutenant Carrington and I
fully deserved his wrath. . . . Jack and I had loved
one another for some time . . . and that night. . . ."

Almost against her will she paused. She had meant
to put facts crudely, to plunge the poisoned dagger
into the child's innocent heart, and then to turn it in
the wound, so as to be quite sure that it had done its
deadly work; but Boadicea's eyes had compelled her
suddenly to silence, and for the next few moments
silence absolute reigned in the small narrow room.
Through the open window came still the hum of bees
and the song of birds; but, oh! how out of tune wefe
they. There was a peep of sky and of sunshine
through that same window, and tiny, fleecy clouds
chased one another across the canopy of blue, but they



A LIE 215

were grey and dark, and the blue of the sky had faded
into dreary dullness.

" I ought to tell you, child," resumed Olive at last,
with an effort — for the silence had become oppressive.

" Tell me nothing now," said Boadicea in an even,
toneless voice ; " you have said enough . . . and I un-
derstand. . . . Now please go ! "

She seemed suddenly to have grown older. Olive
noted, not without satisfaction, how hard were the lines
of the young face now. The sun struck full in through
the open window, but Boadicea appeared not to notice
it, she was staring straight in front of her, her face
was the colour of grey ashes, and her lips were blood-
less. Her arms hung limply by her side. She had
forgotten Olive's presence, she had forgotten that she
lived, and that the world existed, In this awful cata-
clysm which had destroyed her happiness.

Olive tried to reason with her. She was almost
frightened at the havoc which she had wrought.

" Child, listen to me . . ." she urged.

But Boadicea, without moving from her position,
murmured through her half-closed lips:

" Go . . . go . . . Oh ! can't you see that you must
go now ! "

And Olive, without a word, slunk quietly out of the
room.



CHAPTER XXII

A BROKEN HEART

It had all been lies! lies! lies!

He had lied to her : that was the great, the dominat-
ing fact which reared its grim head above the ashes of
her joy.

He was a liar and had been Olive's lover ! The lips
which had murmured words of love into Olive's ear
had come to whisper lies into her own.

The shame of it! The awful, awful shame! The
desecration! The sacrilege! To talk of love and
pollute it ! To kiss, to embrace, and to be lying all the
time! To sneak like a coward, afraid of Sir Bald-
win's wrath ; and then to sneak further like a liar and a
cheat, stealing love and stealing kisses ! Oh, the misery !
The shame of it all!

It was not so much the sense of a cruel wrong done
to herself that oppressed Boadicea's heart at this mo-
ment, but the knowledge that he was a liar, a sneak,
and a coward! It was the shattering of her illusions
that hurt her so terribly ; it was the ruthless hand that
tore at the image which she had enshrined that caused
her physical and mental agony, so great that she could
have rolled .on the floor and cried out in bitterness of
pain.

For the first few moments after Olive left her, life in

216



A BROKEN HEART 217

her seemed almost suspended. She was so stunned
that her brain reeled. She saw nothing but blackness
before her, blackness through which came voices mock-
ing her and screaming shrilly : " He is a liar ! He is
a cheat!"

And now the thrush kept on repeating in a senseless,
monotonous fashion : " He did it ! He did it ! He
did it!"

He broke her heart by telling her lies without end ;
he cheated her into thinking him good, upright, hon-
ourable — he, her sister's lover, whom Sir Baldwin
might, if he would, have thrashed like a dog with im-
punity.

The shame! The shame of it all! The cruel cow-
ardly lies !

She stopped her ears, for that silly thrush would
keep on saying : " He did it ! He did it ! He did it ! "
And when she could not shut out that monotonous
sound she began to laugh. It really was too ridiculous !

She laughed and she laughed — loudly and jerkily.
She could not stop herself from laughing, because that
thrush was so very ridiculous.

And suddenly while she was still laughing, and her
chest and throat were torn to pieces by painful sobs,
the thrush ceased to talk nonsense. It seemed to
pause and to be listening.

And Boadicea, too, listened.

From the orchard which lay not far from her win-
dows there came the sound of a fresh, deep voice sing-
ing an old English song.

The refrain was quaint, and had in it a dreamy lilt,
and the words rang out clear and distinct.



2i8 MEADOWSWEET

Queen of my heart, unquestioned and alway,
Till death consume me, thou shalt be indeed !
Reason ordains that I should ne'er be freed
(And there withal my pleasure doth agree)
From thy sweet service, while the years succeed,
And to this end we twain together be !

The sobs and laughter in the girl's throat were
stilled. She squatted on the floor, there where she had
knelt when Olive first told her the ugly, unvarnished
truth.

She neither wept nor laughed now. Pain itself had
subsided. It seemed as if that song sung by him in
the orchard where he had lied to her had severed the
last cords which bound her to illimitable regret.

She was no longer a child. The last half-hour had
made her into a woman — a miserable, disillusioned,
suffering woman : a woman conscious of abiding deceit
and of abiding shame. But the paroxysm of grief
had gone by, leaving her physically a wreck and men-
tally numb. It was a long time before she could bring
her mind back to the realities of life and to its many
puerilities.

Supper would be served almost directly. It was
close on seven, and vaguely through her inert brain
there had passed the consciousness of various familiar
noises in and about the house — the rattling of pots
and pans in the kitchen, Aunt Caroline going up to her
room to tidy herself for supper. Cousin Barnaby
clamouring for something or other that he wanted.

Boadicea rose to her feet ; but she had to steady her-
self as she did so, for the walls of the room were danc-
ing a merry-go-round in front of her. Cold water to
her face and wrists brought a little sense of freshness.



A BROKEN HEART 219

She was soon able to master herself and to steady her
limbs. She even said a few words aloud to herself to
see if her voice trembled or not.

Then from the wardrobe she took out the high-
waisted silk dress — the one which she had worn that
first evening when Lieutenant Carrington stayed to
supper, and then rode away, returning late at night for
the pre-arranged rendezvous with Olive. She had not
worn the dress since ; it had seemed sacred to that one
day when love was first bom and peeped out shyly into
the world.

Now love was dead, a liar's hand had smothered it
with cruel embraces, a liar's tongue had spoken its
funeral oration. Boadicea put on the high-waisted
dress again ; it had ceased to be sacred — it was just a
rag that would help to mock the dying throes of agon-
ising love.

Just as carefully as she had done on that memorable
evening, she dressed herself in her mother's silken
gown; she arranged her hair in puffs and curls with
the high comb of filigree fold, and donned the long lace
mittens and the narrow-pointed shoes with the crossed
straps over the ankles. After that she studied her
appearance in the mirror. She thought that she looked
rather pale, and that her eyes seemed unnaturally
large, for they had wide purple rings round the lids,
,_but she hoped that her pallor would be generally
ascribed to the heat, and in any case she felt the power
in her to make light of it and to smile.

She took up the lace handkerchief and the tiny shell
fan which she had carried before, and thus arrayed
and equipped, she went downstairs.



220 MEADOWSWEET

Lieutenant Carrington was standing in the hall,
smiling up at her as she descended. She looked a per-
fect picture of dainty girlishness, and his twinkling
eyes told very plainly into what a fever of passionate
admiration her very appearance had thrown him.

He ran to the foot of the stairs with both arms out-
stretched, ready to catch her the moment her small foot
had touched the lowest step.

She paused, however, midway down the stairs and,
with admirable self-control, forced her face and eyes
to express nothing but lively unconcern, even whilst
within her innermost heart she marvelled how true
and loyal a miserable liar could contrive to look.

Half afraid that the contempt and loathing which
she felt for him would betray itself within the next
few moments, she gave a merry, affected laugh and
ran so quickly down the stairs that his arms failed to
catch her as she ran, and she escaped from him to the
museum door.

He overtook her just as she was inside the room and
was about to close the door on him.

" My Meadowsweet," he said gaily as he caught at
her hand and held it imprisoned between his own,
" queen of my heart, whither away? "

" A white-throat has nested in the mulberry-tree,"
she retorted as gaily as he. " I have just time before
supper to steal the eggs for Uncle Jasper."

" But not in this gown," he said, with a smile that
had something of triumph in it, and he tried to draw
her closer to him, but she contrived to free herself
and to interpose the big table with all the glue-pots and



A BROKEN HEART 221

brushes, the boxes of eyes and reels of wire, between
herself and him.

*' The gown will not suffer," she said lightly, " and
this is the best hour of the day for birds'-nesting."

But she made no attempt to go, seeing which Jack
Carrington's heart gave a wild thump of delight. He
was feasting his eyes on the exquisite apparition be-
fore him, and was longing for Old Father Time to
stand still for awhile, so that he might look and look
until he was really satiated with the sight of her.

He thought that she looked pale and that her eyes
were circled as if she had been crying, but at this he
was not astonished. He, too, out in the orchard, in
the shadow of the cherry-tree, had felt as if he could
have cried out his heart for sheer happiness; he, too,
felt as if all his blood had rushed back to his heart,
causing it almost to burst with the greatness of his joy.

And her pale cheeks and purple-circled eyes made
her seem a thousand times more beautiful to him than
she had been before, for these touches of pathos gave
to her strong personality an enchanting touch of child-
ish weakness, which rendered her infinitely dear.

Uncle Jasper up on his perch was immersed in a
ponderous book; through the open window came the
soft sighing of the west wind through the drooping
leaves of the cherry-trees.

" Will you come out into the orchard for ten min-
utes, little Meadowsweet?" he pleaded in a tender
murmur.

She raised her eyebrows with an expression of af-
fected surprise.



222 MEADOWSWEET

"What," she said, with a harsh Httle laugh,
"again?"

" The sun is just beginning to set. It will be glori-
ous through the trees. Come and look at it with me."

" How can I, in this gown? " she said coquettishly.

" The gown will not suffer. We'll walk through
the grass, and the dew has not yet fallen. Do come,
little Meadowsweet, there is so much that I have to
say to you."

" Much to say to me ? " she retorted. " Lord bless
my soul, Lieutenant Carrington, I thought you had
told me everything that you could possibly think of,
and that you had exhausted the storehouse of your
eloquence."

" I had not even begun," he said earnestly.

He was looking at her almost inquiringly now; he
did not quite understand her. All the merry twinkle
had gone from his eyes; they looked sorrowful and
puzzled.

The eyes of a liar, she thought, who begins to fear
that his lies have found him out.

She smothered a yawn, and turned her back on him.

" Then I am afraid," she said lightly, " that you will
have to find some other listener now. I am tired of
your rodomontades ! "

For a moment he thought that excitement must have
turned her brain. She looked absolutely a different
woman; when she turned once more to him now, and
faced him with that affected curl on her lips, that un-
natural expression of empty coquetry in her eyes, he
had to close his own just for a moment, for he really
thought that he must be dreaming some ugly, horrible



A BROKEN HEART 223

dream, and that he must make a supreme effort to
dispel it before it caused his own brain to reel.

When he opened his eyes again she was looking just
the same — smiling, affected, distinctly bored.

"I — I did not think, dear, that I had tired you," he
said gently. ** You listened so patiently . . . that I
hoped . . ."

" What ? " she exclaimed, with a laugh. " What
did you hope ? That I should be willing to go on lis-
tening for another long ten minutes to your stale gal-
lanteries? We may be fools in the country, Lieu-
tenant Carrington, and uneducated savages, but we are
not quite such fools as that ! "

Then suddenly he thought that he held the key to
this new mood of hers : she was just teasing him, play-
ing with him like a kitten with a mouse. The game
was cruel enough ; the suffering which she was inflict-
ing on him was greater than she could gauge, but he
loved her so dearly that He could find it in his heart to
forgive her readily, and to endure patiently any tor-
ment which she might think fit to impose upon him.

" My dear little Meadowsweet," he said, speaking
with utmost tenderness, " I don't suppose that you
realise for a moment quite how cruel is the game which
you are playing with me."

" The game? " she asked. " What game? "

" You have a perfect right, of course, to tease and
hurt me as much as you like if it gives you pleasure;
but just now, when my happiness is so new and so
unexpected, and I have not actually grasped the fact
yet that your dear lips have really touched mine, just
now, my beautiful Meadowsweet, the game is doubly



224 MEADOWSWEET

cruel. . . . And every word which you speak in jest
cuts through my heart Hke a knife."

" Your heart? " And she laughed loudly and mer-
rily. "Your heart? Oh, how funny! Lieutenant
Carrington, do tell me where you keep your heart ? "

" I am afraid that it has been in your keeping, dear,
for a long time now . . . and I had hoped that it
would remain there always."

" Always is such a long word. . . . What do you
mean by ' always,' Lieutenant Carrington? "

" Until death," he said earnestly.

" But I have no intention of dying for a long while
to come."

" I pray to God to fulfil that intention for you."

" Then how can your heart — as you are pleased to
call it — remain in my keeping for that long while ?
. . . Whilst you are in the Antipodes and I in Thanet
... it will get lost midway ... in the great open
sea."

" The great open sea will not always be between us,
dear, will it?"

" I don't know. I should imagine that it would be
. . . most of the time. . . . You are going to the
Antipodes to-morrow, are you not ? "

" I am going to Malta . . . but I shall soon be
back."

"Indeed? How interesting ! "

And she sank languidly upon the sofa. But in a
moment now he was near her, kneeling beside her, and
trying to imprison her hands. Gone was the merri-
ment, the patience, the softness from his eyes, passion,
anger, and reproach glowed within their depths.



A BROKEN HEART 225

" Meadowsweet," he said, and his voice was harsh,
for she had wounded him cruelly and unwarrantably,
and he no longer could bear the pain of that wound,
" in the name of God cease this fooling, dear! I am
only a man . . . nothing of a saint . . . I'll bear a
great deal from you . . . but not this . . . not this.
. . . This is beyond my strength."

" What is beyond your strength. Lieutenant Car-
rington? " she queried gaily. " Why are you so sol-
emn ? I don't understand you."

" Meadowsweet ..."

" Why do you go on calling me that? It is so sense-
less; my name is Boadicea . . . and for Heaven's
sake do sit down properly, and leave my hands alone.
. . . Aunt Caroline will be here directly. . . ."

" To me you are Meadowsweet," he said slowly,
trying to control himself, to keep calm in face of this
awful nightmare, which was fast becoming reality;
" you were Meadowsweet until just now, when you
started playing so cruelly with me. You were Mead-
owsweet when you lay in my arms. . . ."

" In your arms ? . . ." she ejaculated in mock sur-
prise. " Come, come, you must not exaggerate. . . ."

" In my arms," he reiterated fervently. " You
were my Meadowsweet when my lips sought and found
your own . . . when you returned my kiss and quiv-
ered with passion like a rose under the subtle touch
of the bee. . , ."

" Really, Lieutenant Carrington ! . . ."

" You were my Meadowsweet when you told me that
you loved me. ..."

"I?"



226 MEADOWSWEET

*' When you promised to be my wife."
"I? Your wife? . . . Your wife? . . ." And
once more her ringing laugh echoed from end to end
of the room. " Really, that is the funniest thing I
have heard for a long time. I promised to be your
wife? When?"

" In the orchard. Half an hour ago."



" You were dreaming."



*' Indeed, it seems as if I must have been."

" Then I really must ask you, Lieutenant Carring-
ton, to wake up from a dream which has such very
unpleasant consequences for me. ... I, your wife?
Did you ask me to be your wife? "

" Have you forgotten ? "

" No. But did you? " she insisted.

" I still ask you on my knees to leave off torturing
me."

" And to be your wife? "

" And to be my wife."

" Then stay on your knees just half a minute longer,
Lieutenant Carrington, for here comes Aunt Caroline
with Cousin Barnaby, and I don't think that they
ought to miss the fun."



CHAPTER XXIII

A STORMY PFTREL

He would then and there have risen from his knees
if he could, but he seemed rooted to the ground. His
limbs were paralysed; he was unable to move, for he
felt just like a man who has received a stunning blow
on the head.

She had risen to her feet — calm, smiling and self-
possessed — just when Aunt Caroline entered the
room with Cousin Barnaby at her heels.

When Aunt Caroline saw the pretty picture —
Boadicea in her quaint old-fashioned dress, standing
there laughing gaily, and Lieutenant Carrington kneel-
ing at her feet, she sighed with utmost satisfaction.
It was delicious to see these two beautiful creatures in
love with one another, and the wedding-cake would be
the finest that Aunt Caroline had ever baked.

" Oh, Aunt Caroline, there 3^ou are ! " exclaimed •
Boadicea. " I am so glad you have come. Lieu-
tenant Carrington was just busy making violent love
to me."

" Of course he was, child, of course he was ! " said
Aunt Caroline, somewhat taken aback and not a little
shocked. " But you must not shout about it like
that."

" Why not ? It is so funny ! "

"Funny? . . . My dear child!

22^



>>



228 MEADOWSWEET

" Yes, Aunt. Don't you see how funny It is ?
Here's this gallant officer who asks the young savage
from the country to be his wife. What do you think
the birds will say to it ... or the frogs or the beetles
or the bees. . . . They'll laugh, of course. . . . We'll
all laugh here . . . even the toads and bats will wink,
for we in the country have fooled the man from town."

" Meadowsweet, have you no pity?" murmured the
broken-hearted man.

" Child, child ! " exclaimed Aunt Caroline in utter
bewilderment. "What in the world are you talking
about? What does it all mean? I don't understand
you?"

" It's not at all difficult to understand. Aunt dear.
Here's a fine gentleman who had it in his head that I
cared for him, and that I really meant to be his wife."

" So you did ! " retorted Aunt Caroline.

" H she didn't, she ought to be stuffed and kept in
this museum as a stormy petrel ! " growled Cousin
Barnaby.

" I never intended to marry him," said Boadicea
firmly — "never! I never meant to be his wife . . .
the wife of an empty-headed, smooth-tongued gallant
— never ! never ! . . . I fooled him as much as ever I
could — because he called me a savage and I wanted to
be revenged on him. . . . And I think that it is the
funniest thing In all the world to see how I suc-
ceeded! . . ."

Then as Aunt Caroline remained speechless with
horror and confusion, and Cousin Barnaby sat down
in utter resignation at this new disturbance of his
peace, Carrington rose to his feet.



A STORMY PETREL 229

" It is unnecessary to say more, Miss Aldmarshe,"
he said quite calmly. " Am I to understand that your
desire is to intimate to me . . ."

" That I decline the honour of your hand in mar-
riage, Lieutenant Carrington. Yesl that is my de-
sire," she said.

And she swept him a deep and ironical curtsey.

" My dear child ! " murmured Aunt Caroline.

"Oh, Aunt! isn't it funny?" cried Boadicea, whose
voice now had become almost as shrill as Olive's, be-
cause she found the present game terribly difificult to
play, and sobs were fighting laughter for mastery over
her. " Lieutenant Carrington, I do wish you could
see yourself, how foolish you look! But you looked
still more foolish in the orchard, let me tell you, when
with sheep's eyes, and sickly sighs, you told your won-
derful legend of fairy flowers and meadowsweet and
— what was it ? — the West Wind I . . . You were so
engrossed in your story that you did not notice
how the young savage was laughing at you all the
time."

" At any rate I know it now. Miss Aldmarshe," he
said quietly. " Have I your permission to go ? "

His face was so ravaged with grief that Boadicea
herself would have been struck by it had she dared to
look at him. But she w^ould not trust herself to do
that; she was terribly afraid of breaking down, of
letting him see how terribly she suffered, how terribly
she had been shamed.

He was a liar and a cheat, and no doubt for the mo-
ment his fatuous vanity was smarting under the blow ;
at best he might be feeling relieved at thought that he



230 MEADOWSWEET

was free once more, free to break other hearts, to He
to other women who trusted him as she had done.

Therefore she would not look at him, but poured out
words which she hoped would lash him like a whip;
she made fun of every word he uttered, taking a sort
of grim pleasure in heaping odium and desecration on
the smouldering ashes of her love.

"His wife?" she reiterated again and again, now
addressing Aunt Caroline, now speaking to the empty-
air, to Cousin Barnaby, or to absent-minded Uncle
Jasper. "Really, I think I shall die of laughter!
Why don't you laugh, Aunt? ... I fooled him, you
know . . . made him think that I cared . . . and he
talked sentiment and poetry to me, the little savage
whom he despised . . . why don't you laugh, Cousin
Barnaby?"

And she ran up to Mr. Crabtree, seized him by the
coat-tails, just like the boisterous little madcap she
used to be, and she dragged him up from his chair and
twirled him and whirled him round and round, laugh-
ing all the time, as if she was the maddest, merriest
creature on the whole of God's earth.

Aunt Caroline looked at her almost in fear. She
thought that the child had gone mad. Even Uncle
Jasper woke from his absorption and stared down at
the strange bacchanalian dance. But he did not think
that little Boadicea was mad, he had often seen her in
these boisterous moods. She had always been a
strange and a wilful child!

Then suddenly, in the very midst of her maddest
frolic, Boadicea stopped short. Her eyes had met
those of Jack Carrington. Her whole figure stiffened,



A STORMY PETREL 231

the hysterical laughter died on her lips; her face be-
came stern and set and her cheeks deadly pale.

With one quick, imperious gesture, she pointed to
the door, and looking straight at him, she said loudly :

" Go 1 "



CHAPTER XXIV

A HOPELESS OUTLOOK

And after that came dreary, dreary days in endless
succession, dreary days the Hke of which had never
been in this world before.

Everything became a hopeless, colourless blank, life
was just one dreary thing after another; getting up in
the morning, helping Aunt Caroline about the house,
and going to bed in the evening. There was nothing
else, nothing to look forward to in the morning, noth-
ing to look back upon in the evening. Birds'-nesting
was uninteresting, the old mare slow in her trot, the
nightingales had ceased to sing, and only the weari-
some cuckoo sent his monotonous tune through the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryEmmuska Orczy OrczyMeadowsweet → online text (page 13 of 19)