Emmuska Orczy Orczy.

Meadowsweet online

. (page 15 of 19)
Online LibraryEmmuska Orczy OrczyMeadowsweet → online text (page 15 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


my leave now ? "

She hesitated for a moment, then thought it best to
accede. Jack took his leave without another word.
He was evidently not in the mood in which she would
have liked to see him, and, moreover, she wanted to



A BUNCH OF ROSES 249

think matters out now, for they had shaped themselves
altogether differently to what she had anticipated.

And as soon as she was alone she did begin to
think.

Though nothing of very serious import had hap-
pened, yet somehow she felt that the last half-hour
had sounded the death-knell of her own hopes. Ob-
viously she had never really cared for Jack Carring-
ton, not in the same sense in which good women un-
derstand the words " to care." Hers was an essen-
tially shallow nature, wholly incapable of lasting or
genuine feeling beyond sympathy for and love of self.
Her own amusement and pleasure was the ultimate
aim of every one of her actions. Jack Carrington'
had been the lion of London society, and it had
amused her to chain him to her triumphant chariot.
She liked his unsophisticated gallantries, the atten-
tions which he paid her, but above all she liked the
other women of her own set to envy her her conquest
of the most popular man in London.

It had amused her to render Sir Baldwin jealous,
to play him the trick of outwitting him when he had
tried to stop the scandal that coupled her name with
that of Lieutenant Carrington by taking her away
from London in the height of the season; but she was
as incapable of genuine passion as of sacrificing her
reputation and position for any man in the world.

It all was only amusement. If Jack Carrington
had broken his heart over her she would have been still
more highly amused.

The engagement between Boadicea and Lieutenant
Carrington she had looked upon as a necessity. Her



250 MEADOWSWEET

own bodily safety and the upholding of her own repu-
tation were of far greater moment than the feelings
of two young people whose obvious duty it was to
protect her at a critical moment against her husband's
violence. But when the first breath of sentiment
mingled with the prosiness of the mock engagement,
then the situation ceased to be amusing. The only
strong feeling of which Olive was capable was that
of supreme egoism. Her position as elder sister chap-
eroning a younger one did not please her in the least,
and she certainly would not allow another woman to
wrest from her the conquest which she firmly believed
she herself had made, even if that other woman hap-
pened to be her own sister.

No, there certainly was no affection in her heart for
Jack Carrington, but there was a vast deal of vanity,
and that vanity had received a severe blow when she
first noticed signs of awakening love for another
woman in the man whom she would have liked to tie in
perpetuity to her own apron strings.

She fought with all the armoury at her command to
regain possession of Carrington's allegiance, and her
foremost weapon she had used with complete effect.
She had succeeded in parting Jack from Boadicea,
and she knew her sister well enough to be quite satis-
fied that the blow which a callous and lying tongue had
dealt would remain incurable so long as Boadicea had
no opportunity of a calm explanation with Lieutenant
Carrington. The subject, of course, was one which
the young girl was not likely to put into crude words
at any time; still, an interview might certainly prove
dangerous, fraught with the risk that Olive might



A BUNCH OF ROSES 251

stand before her sister and before the man whom she
still desired to conquer as a shameless and miserable
liar.

However, there was certainly no fear just now that
that interview would take place. Boadicea was safely-
stowed away in the wilds of Thanet, and was no doubt
busy forgetting in the midst of jams and pickles that
she had ever been engaged to marry Lieutenant Car-
rington.

As for Jack, well, I must confess that Lady Jeffreys'
thoughts became somewhat troubled on that subject.
H she had made no headway in his affections in the
past few weeks, was she very likely to succeed in doing
so as time went on? Her vanity — which was ab-
normal — certainly demanded that she should not give
up even this semblance of conquest. Some women
she knew of, in her own set, would indeed jeer at her
if Lieutenant Carrington did finally break away from
her apron strings. But her desire to keep him in
London was certainly not so great as it used to be.
If Jack no longer dangled round her skirts, then he
might as well go to the China seas. Lady Jeffreys
had but to lift a finger and she would soon find a sub-
stitute for that very indifferent admirer.

Jack was not amusing when he talked of Aunt
Caroline's pickles and of Boadicea's eyes; and as he
ceased to be amusing so his personal value went down
in Olive's estimation.

Moreover, if he still did hanker in a half-hearted
manner after the little savage from Thanet, he would
with characteristic masculine obstinacy persist in his
desire for an interview with her.



252 MEADOWSWEET

And that interview must not take place.

On that — if on nothing else — was Lady Jeffreys
absolutely determined.

She preferred the China seas for Jack and a new
admirer for herself.



CHAPTER XXVII

A LITTLE PLAN

" I HAVE just met Carrington on your doorstep,
m'dear!"

" Yes, he called to wish me a happy birthday and he
brought me some lovely roses."

Sir Baldwin had spoken quite pleasantly, and she
indifferently. We may safely assume that neither
tone was wholly sincere. Sir Baldwin — though his
jealousy no longer fastened itself on Lieutenant Car-
rington — was never very pleasant when the young
man called at the house in St. James's-street, nor was
Olive ever indifferent when her husband mentioned
the name of Jack.

But to-day Sir Baldwin's mood appeared most se-
rene. He did not frown at sight of the roses, and
presently he took possession of one of the most com-
fortable chairs in the room, and lounging in it he
looked for all the world as if he meant to stay and
have a long chat with his wife — a thing which, be-
lieve me, he very seldom did.

" I understood from Lieutenant Carrington," he
said complacently, " that he had been paying you his
farewell visit."

" Yes," she replied drily. " Lieutenant Carrington
proposes to refuse the splendid appointment offered

253



254 MEADOWSWEET

him in the AdmiraUy, and to sail in his old ship next
week."

" And all because a flirty miss is making a fool of
him."

" I pray you, Sir Baldwin, not to be so coarse in
your references to my sister."

" I only speak of her as she deserves. I have no
patience with the girl, and only wish it were my busi-
ness to give her a sound talking to. But I shall get
an opportunity one of these days. . . . Why don't you
speak to her, Olive? . . . You would have some in-
fluence over her — curse her obstinacy ! "

" Boadicea prefers not to see Lieutenant Carring-
ton — she does not want to discuss the subject at all.
She has told me so in her letters over and over again."

"The heartless little reprobate! . . . You women
are all alike . . . and we men are just a lot of silly,
gullible fools!"

"You wrong yourself, at any rate, Sir Baldwin!"

He took no heed of the obvious sarcasm, but con-
tinued in the same pleasant, even, conversational tone :

" I must say, though, that I had thought better of
little Boadicea."

" And did you tell Lieutenant Carrington so ? "

" Yes. Frankly, I did."

" And what was his remark on the subject? "

" He merely said that it would obviously be best for
him to sail to China. He thanked me for my solici-
tude, and he desired to remain your ladyship's and my
most humble and most devoted servant."

Sir Baldwin Jeffreys was in the habit of taking
snuff, a habit which became him remarkably well, for



A LITTLE PLAN 255

he had fine, aristocratic hands, and a selection of
beautiful gold and enamelled snuff-boxes. He took
a pinch of snuff now, an act which left him free quietly
to observe his wife, to note her impatient frown, and
to chuckle to himself at private thoughts of his own
which he was on the point of imparting to her.

" I must tell you that I did give Lieutenant Carring-
ton the advice not to decide about that Admiralty ap-
pointment just yet," he said when he had once more
restored his gold snuff-box to his pocket, and was
again lounging in the luxurious chair.

" Indeed ? " she remarked casually. " I thought
that he was obliged to give his decision in that matter
to-day."

" Yes. But I told him that so much can happen in
one day . . . say, between dawn and sunset."

" A very poetical way of putting it, but I don't sup-
pose that your eloquence. Sir Baldwin, would cause
Lieutenant Carrington to change his plans."

" I don't know so much about that," retorted Sir
Baldwin, with marked complacency. " I certainly
know of one thing that would keep Carrington hang-
ing about in London."

" And what may that be? "

She was getting a little impatient with his obvious
contentment with himself, and slightly on the alert for
something unpleasant which might be lurking behind
his unaccustomed good-humour.

" The hope of an interview with Boadicea," he re-
plied.

"Ah? I doubt if Lieutenant Carrington has any
such hope."



256 MEADOWSWEET

" He hadn't until just now, when I asked him to
come back here at sunset. . . ."

She turned her own chair right round, so that she
could look him full in the face. He sat there smiling
blandly, with his finger-tips tapping against one an-
other, his head slightly cocked on one side, and regard-
ing his wife with a look of distinct triumph.

An awful fear caused her heart suddenly to stand
still. Every drop of blood fled from her cheeks, her
eyes were dilated and her lips quivering. But she
forced herself to speak quite calmly, vaguely hoping
that her face was not betraying all that she felt.

" May I take the liberty of inquiring, Sir Baldwin,
why you should have asked Lieutenant Carrington to
return here at sunset ? "

" A little plan," he said airily — " a little plan for
which I entertain the greatest hope."

" Indeed?' May I ask what this little plan is? "

" Certainly, my dear. Originally it was a desire —
a not very unusual one with me — of pleasing you."

" In what way ? "

" I arranged a surprise for your birthday."

" A surprise ! "

" A visit, my dear, from your sister," he said tri-
umphantly.

To Olive's credit be it said that she did not wince
under this sudden blow. On the contrary, she pulled
herself very quickly together and appeared even more
tmconcerned than she had been before. But the blow
was all the more cruel as it was quite unexpected.
She seemed in one moment to see the entire edifice of
her fabric of falsehoods tottering beneath her feet.



A LITTLE PLAN 257'

There might in the near future be nothing for her but
more and more lies, under most humihating condi-
tions, or the tacit acknowledgment of the original lie
before her young sister and before Jack.

The position would be intolerable. For the mo-
ment, of course, she had no time to give it further
thought. Sir Baldwin was gazing on her with that
same irritating self-complacency, and it would be mad-
ness to let him see now that she was in any way dis-
turbed by his news.

" A visit from Boadicea ! " she said, feigning pleased
surprise. " Do you really think that she would
come? "

" I am sure she will," he replied. " I wrote her
some days ago saying that you seemed very dull and
lacking in spirits, suffering somewhat from megrims,
and so on ; and I begged her for my sake to come over
for two or three days and to reassure me, if possible,
about your general health."

"Admirable, admirable, I must say! Your inven-
tive powers do you the greatest credit."

" Well, I was afraid that she might not come unless
I put it that way."

" Quite so. And has she accepted your invita-
tion?"

"Yes, she has!"

" And let me know nothing about it? "

" I told her that I wished her coming to be a sur-
prise for your birthday. . . . The thought pleased her,
I think. . . . Anyway, she is coming," he concluded
jovially.

"When?" she asked.



258 MEADOWSWEET

" Almost Immediately. I sent the coach with re-
lays to fetch her. I reckoned that she would arrive
in time for luncheon."

Then as Olive remained silent, too much absorbed
in her own thoughts and fears now to make an at-
tempt at cheerfulness, he asked, with sudden concern:

" You are glad, Olive, are you not ? "

"Glad? . . . Glad?" she replied vaguely. "Of
course I am glad! What else should I be? It is a
pleasant surprise, as you say."

" And then you see my plan ? . . . A final visit
from Carrington. . . . Eh? . . . Boadicea here . . .
alone, for you must arrange that. . . . What do you
think of it all?"

"Think? Think?" she said as quietly as she
could, for her voice was trembling and every moment
angry tears threatened to rise to her eyes. " I think
it an admirable plan ... to force my sister into an
unfortunate marriage, now that she has found out her
mistake and realised that she does not care for the
man. . . . Admirably thought out, indeed ! " she added
more vehemently, whilst a tone of bitter spite crept
into her voice. " Our own marriage has been so bril-
liant a success! . . . No wonder you desire to see
another equally such perfectly ill-assorted pair!"

" But, my dear . . ." protested Sir Baldwin feebly,
for he had been wholly taken aback by his wife's ex-
traordinary attitude.

" Well, what is it ? You don't expect me, I pre-
sume, to be over-delighted at the prospective unhappy
marriage which you desire to force upon my sister."

" But . . ."



A LITTLE PLAN 259

" We will not discuss it any further, Sir Baldwin,"
she said, with injured dignity. " You have chosen to
take my sister's fate into your own hands. I suppose
that when the inevitable occurs and she flies to me for
protection against the husband whom you will have
forced upon her, you will be prepared to give her a
home."

She rose from her chair and went up to a small
writing-desk, where she stood for awhile with her back
towards her husband, fidgetting with some papers,
trying to compose herself into some semblance of
serenity.

She had the satisfaction of knowing that her tirade
had left poor Sir Baldwin hopelessly bewildered. He
was certainly wishing to goodness that he had never
meddled in women's affairs, for such meddling seemed
invariably to lead to most unpleasant tantrums.

" Will you leave me here now," she said after awhile,
" to receive poor Boadicea ? I must prepare her for
the ordeal which she will have to go through, poor
child."

Sir Baldwin rose somewhat awkwardly. Though
he felt rather sheepish and subdued, he had not by any
means given up the belief that his plan was an excel-
lent one, and that he was doing the right thing by
bringing two young people together who were labour-
ing under a misunderstanding.

He did not suggest that he would go and tell Car-
rington not to come to St. James's-street to-night.
Olive had half hoped that he would do so. She did
not dare, however, to make the suggestion herself.
Sir Baldwin had a curious disposition, and suspicions



26o MEADOWSWEET

were only dormant in him; they might be aroused at
the sHghtest false move on Olive's part.

She allowed him to go without any further com-
ment.

Then she sat down at her desk, and with her chin
resting in her hand she had a good hard " think."

She thought, and thought, and thought for the one
way possible out of the terrible plight in which her
husband's tactless blunder had placed her.

Should she own to Boadicea that she had told her
a lie, or should she persist in the lie, even, if necessary
in the face of Lieutenant Carrington's denial? Or
would Fate be kind to her and help her effectually to
keep those two young people apart ?



CHAPTER XXVIII

AN AGREEABLE SURPRISE

The luncheon-bell had just been rung.

Sir Baldwin had joined Lady Jeffreys in the draw-
ing-room, and the solemn butler had thrown the dou-
ble doors wide open and announced in a cadaverous
voice that " Luncheon was served," when the cheerful
noise of a fanfare upon a coach-horn rang clearly from
the further end of the aristocratic street.

" Your guest, Sir Baldwin," said Olive drily. " We
must wait now until my sister has had time to tidy
herself after her journey."

She sat down and took up a fashion paper, seeming
absorbed in her reading and totally indifferent to the
rattle of coach wheels, the clatter of horses' hoofs on
the stone pavement, the jingle of harness and shouts
of ostlers and grooms, as Sir Baldwin's heavy travel-
ling coach swung round the corner from Piccadilly and
came to a halt with magnificent precision immediately
in front of the stately front door of the Jeffreys' town
mansion.

Sir Baldwin seemed agitated. He did not go to the
window to see the arrival, but walked up and down the
room, with his hands behind his back, and his eyes
wandering from time to time furtively in the direction
of his wife.

" I shall have to put luncheon back at least half an

261



262 MEADOWSWEET

hour," said Olive coolly, as she stretched her shapely
arm toward the bell. " From the noise that is going
on outside I imagine that Boadicea has brought either
an enormous quantity of luggage with her or else some
members of the Thanet household."

There certainly was an extraordinary amount of
noise going on outside. Half a dozen people seemed
to be talking at one and the same time and at the top
of their voices. Sir Baldwin apparently had some
misgivings on the subject, for he went to the door and
opened it.

All doubts were set at rest then and there, for Aunt
Caroline's shrill voice, giving confused directions
anent a multitude of boxes, was quite unmistakable,
and two or three other voices also rose from below.
Sir Baldwin turned rather sheepishly toward his wife,

" They've come, my dear," he said haltingly.

" You mean that my sister has come, do you not,
Sir Baldwin?" rejoined Olive, who seemed unac-
countably absorbed in the perusal of her fashion paper.
" Will you not go down and receive her ? She is more
your guest than mine, you know."

" I mean, my dear . . . er . . . that is . . . they
all seem to have come. . . ."

Sir Baldwin felt distinctly at a disadvantage, and
knew that his wife was laughing at him. She was
not likely under the circumstances to help him out of
a very awkward situation which he certainly had
never foreseen.

He had looked forward to Boadicea's visit, but the
entire family, including Cousin Barnaby, installed per-



AN AGREEABLE SURPRISE 263

haps for an indefinite time in a London house was
more than he had bargained for.

The well-drilled footman now appeared on the land-
ing. His face, set on approved conventional lines, be-
trayed nothing of what he thought of the remarkable
visitors that were trooping up the stairs at his heels.
It certainly betrayed nothing of what he would say
presently in the servants' hall on that subject.

With scanty ceremony. Aunt Caroline, who was
leading the little party, pushed the solemn footman
out of her way. In one hand she had a bandbox
which contained her best bonnet, and in the other she
carried a gargantuan umbrella, and a small cardboard
box on which was displayed the legend : " Eggs.
With care."

" Here we are, my dear Sir Baldwin ! " she said
cheerfully. " And right glad to see something of
London. I cannot shake hands till I have put some
of these things down. Here, young fellow," she
added, turning to the solemn footman, who stood
there in resplendent livery, " take these, and be careful
not to drop this box; there are three turkey's eggs in
it."

She thrust umbrella and egg-box into the hands of
the highly indignant footman, deposited her bandbox
on the floor, shook Sir Baldwin vigorously by the
hand, and with a perfectly self-possessed " Come along,
Barnaby ! " she marched straight into the drawing-
room.

Olive rose languidly to receive her, but Aunt Caro-
line was always self-possessed and always at her ease.



264 MEADOWSWEET

She was quite unconscious of the coolness of the re-
ception or of Sir Baldwin's embarrassment.

" So kind of Sir Baldwin to ask us," she said with
the same persistent cheerfulness, after she had depos-
ited two well-sounding kisses on Olive's delicately
rouged cheeks.

She undid her bonnet strings and sat down with an
obvious sense of satisfaction. Cousin Barnaby had
entered in her wake, also Uncle Jasper. The latter
had his tin specimen-case slung round his shoulder, and
clung to his butterfly-net with an obvious sense of se-
curity. He was smiling benignly on the world in gen-
eral, and his eyes had already fastened themselves on a
glass case which adorned one of the walls, and which
contained a fine stuffed eagle, the product of one of Sir
Baldwin's shooting expeditions in the north of Scot-
land.

Cousin Barnaby, muffled up to the eyes, had a rug
over one arm and a travelling pillow in his hand; he
made somewhat gauche efforts at greeting Sir Baldwin
and Lady Jeffreys in a becoming manner.

" So you see, my darling Olive, here we are ! " said
Aunt Caroline airily, when she was satisfied that her
little party had all assembled; Cousin Barnaby and
Uncle Jasper in the drawing-room, Boadicea talking to
Sir Baldwin, and Susan still on the landing. " I could
not allow the child to travel alone, could I ? "

" No, no. Aunt, of course not," assented Olive, who
was feeling almost hysterical with an access of rage
mingling with one of uncontrollable laughter. Really
the situation was almost too funny to be infuriating,
and too infuriating to be genuinely funny.



AN AGREEABLE SURPRISE 265

And Sir Baldwin — the creator of this stupid, in-
sane, idiotic pHght into which he had placed his wife as
well as himself — looked the picture of hopeless be-
wilderment.

It was enough to send any woman, suffering already
from nerves, clean out of her senses.

" Your arrival is a charming surprise for my birth-
day," she said with bitter irony, which was wholly lost
on Aunt Caroline, but not on Sir Baldwin. '' I am
delighted to see you . . . and dear Uncle Jasper."

" Well," said Aunt Caroline complacently, " I could
not very well allow your uncle to stay in the house
alone . . . and Susan such a careless minx . . ."

"Of course not . . . of course not . . . dear Uncle
Jasper . . . this is really a surprise. ... Is it not.
Sir Baldwin? . . . You could not have given me a
more delightful surprise for my birthday . . . could
you?"

" How de do, Mr. Hemingford . . . very pleased to
see you," murmured Sir Baldwin. '

" How de do," responded Uncle Jasper. " Er . . .
er . . . mayhap you could tell me the way to the
Royal Society's museum, my dear Olive ... I have
heard that there is a wonderful collection there of
British song birds. . . ."

" Yes, yes, Uncle Jasper, there is . . . and Sir Bald-
win will take an early opportunity of taking you there,
will you not. Sir Baldwin? "

"Of course, of course ! "

" And fancy Cousin Barnaby making up his mind to
pay us townsfolk a visit," said Olive, who was ap-
proaching nearer and nearer to the verge of hysteria,



266 MEADOWSWEET

and talked glibly and gaily in a very loud, high-pitched
voice.

Aunt Caroline, a little shame-faced, was smoothing
out her bonnet strings.

" I could not ver^ well allow Barnaby to . . . er
. . ." she muttered, " to . . ."

" I could not allow you, Caroline, to leave me alone
in the house," rejoined Mr. Crabtree, settling himself
down placidly in a corner of the sofa; *' you are well
aware of the fact that I could not remain unattended
in an empty house. The matter was fully discussed
before we left."

" Besides which," said Olive, " my birthday surprise
would not have been complete without you, dear Cousin
Barnaby. And Sir Baldwin would have been so dis-
appointed if you had not come. Would you not, Sir
Baldwin?"

"Certainly, certainly!" murmured the unfortunate
man.

" Lis liten generat," said Uncle Jasper calmly.

" Jasper even brought his abominable Latin away
with him," said Mr. Crabtree, " and we found that
there would be less inconvenience for me to undertake
this tiresome journey than to be left alone in company
with Caroline's clucking hens."

" But what about Susan ? " asked Olive.

" Oh, we brought her along with us," replied Aunt
Caroline.

" She had to see after my bed warmer," said Cousin
Barnaby in tone of stern reminder.

"Of course she has, I had nearly forgotten. And


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19

Online LibraryEmmuska Orczy OrczyMeadowsweet → online text (page 15 of 19)