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gates, and — with a great deal more clatter and a vast
amount more jingling — to come to a halt before the
front door.

" Lord bless us all, it must be Olive ! " exclaimed
Aunt Caroline, as she quickly put down the pair of
carvers and started fiddling nervously with the strings
of her apron.

" That is no excuse, Caroline," remarked Barnaby



A KIND OLD SOUL 25

Crabtree acidly, " for not handing me over a further
portion of lamb as I desired."

" No, Barnaby," said Aunt Caroline meekly.

And it was because she was then obliged to resume
her work of carving and to help Cousin Barnaby with
two slices of lamb, a roast potato, a spoonful of peas,
and a sprinkling of mint sauce, that she was not stand-
ing at the front door to receive Sir Baldwin and his
lady when the latter descended from her coach.

Indeed it was Olive who had arrived so unexpect-
edly. She had come in her coach, together with nu-
merous boxes, and Sir Baldwin had ridden beside the
coach all the way from Ashford.

Soon Olive was standing in the hall, meekly sub-
mitting to Aunt Caroline's embrace, whilst Uncle Jas-
per fussed round them both like an old hen, and Susan
stood in the doorway wide-eyed and open-mouthed,
gaping at the beautiful lady with the shot silk cloak and
the five huge feathers in her bonnet, until Aunt Caro-
line roused her from this state of semi-imbecility by
giving her arm a vigorous pinch and ordering her back
into her kitchen to put a couple more plates in the
Dutch oven.

In the meanwhile Sir Baldwin Jeffreys, having
greeted Aunt Caroline and Uncle Jasper with all the
courtly grace peculiar to gentlemen who live much in
London, gave directions to his servants and postilions
to stable his saddle-horse in Mr. Hemingford's stables,
but to return to Ashford with the coach forthwith,
since her ladyship would make a stay here for a few
days. He himself would return home that selfsame
evening.



26 MEADOWSWEET

Aunt Caroline's notions of hospitality, however,
would not allow her to let Sir Baldwin's servants de-
part without at least a good cut off that leg of lamb
when it presently found its way into the kitchen. So
for at least an hour after that coachman and pos-
tilions in white and scarlet graced the huge stone-
walled kitchen with their presence, and made Susan's
eyes grow larger and larger with the tales they told
her of the magnificent society in London of which
their master and mistress were the most feted leaders.

All this had occurred earlier in the day, of course,
for twelve o'clock was the dinner hour at Old Manor
Farm, and since then everyone had had a brief hour's
rest. Uncle Jasper had retired to his museum, where
he quickly forgot that he had a niece and that she had
arrived that day. Aunt Caroline had vainly tried to
keep awake whilst Sir Baldwin Jeffreys talked politely
on agricultural subjects ; she nodded over Jersey cows,
and closed her eyes over late lambs, but when the har-
vest of sainfoin came on the tapis she frankly lay back
in her chair and began to snore.

Olive in the meanwhile had found her way to the
room which she used to occupy when she was a girl.
It seemed mightily small and uncomfortable after the
luxuries of her house in St. James's-street, or of her
home near Ashford. Aunt Caroline, who had come
up with her, found herself vaguely apologising for
these discomforts, even though Olive had occupied that
selfsame room for fifteen years of her life.

" Try and rest now, Olive dear," she said, as she pre-
pared to rejoin Sir Baldwin in the little front parlour,



A KIND OLD SOUL 27

" the child will be home by the time you come down
again."

" Ah, yes ! " said Olive languidly, smothering a
yawn. " By the way, where is the child ? "

" On some bird's-nesting expedition," replied Aunt
Caroline, with a sigh ; " she is still the tomboy you used
to scold. I haven't seen her since breakfast time, but
she'll surely be home to tea."

Two hours later the little party was gathered around
the tea-table. Aunt Caroline's best silver teapot had
come out of its green baize bag for the occasion and
resplended above the china cups and saucers and the
plates full of bread and butter and home-made cakes.
Olive, languid and bored, was sipping her tea. Sir
Baldwin, looking black as thunder, was busy whacking
his boot with his riding-crop, and Cousin Barnaby
Crabtree sat in the most comfortable armchair, with
the dish of muffins close to his hand, and his third cup
of tea nearly empty.

Susan had been sent to fetch the master, but had not
yet returned.

" I declare," said Aunt Caroline as she put down the
heavy silver teapot and rose from her chair — " I de-
clare that that girl is nothing short of an imbecile. I
sent her to fetch your uncle," she added, not specially
addressing Olive, but because she always referred to
her husband as " your uncle " whoever she might be
talking to at the time — " I sent her to fetch your
uncle, and now I hear her moving about in the scullery,
and he'll already have forgotten all about having been
sent for, and all about his tea."

" Even if he comes now," said Barnaby Crabtree



28 MEADOWSWEET

placidly, "the !ea will have drawn too much, and
there are no more muffins left. Leave him alone,
Caroline," he added more sternly; "he'll come when
he wants to, and in the meanwhile cut me a piece of
plum cake."

However, Aunt Caroline did not like the idea of
Uncle Jasper going without his tea, so, having cut the
desired piece of plum cake, she begged to be excused,
and made her way straight to the museum.

There she found Uncle Jasper sitting at the top of
his library steps deeply absorbed in a book.

Aunt Caroline could have smacked him, so angry
did she feel.

" There you go again, Jasper," she cried ; " there
you go, up in the clouds, and no more heeding your
own lawful wife than a bunch of woody carrots. Jas-
per," she added, seeing that indeed he took but scant
notice of her, " Jasper, I say ! "

And she rapped with her bunch of keys upon the
back of the nearest chair.

"Eh? What?" asked Uncle Jasper meekly.

" You've scared that silly minx Susan out of her
wits, and now your tea is getting cold, and Sir Bald-
win will be going directly."

" Sir Baldwin ? " queried Uncle Jasper vacantly as
he stared down at her like an old crow from its perch.

He had wholly forgotten who Sir Baldwin might
be, and vaguely wondered what this gentleman's go-
ing and coming had to do with the Vespertilio ferrum
equinum, a specimen of which — so rare in the British
Islands — was even now lying upon his own table.

" Jasper," ejaculated Aunt Caroline, who you must



A KIND OLD SOUL 29

own had grave cause for vexation, " Jasper, you don't
mean to tell me that you had forgotten that Sir Bald-
win Jeffreys said at dinner-time that he must leave us
directly after tea ! "

" No, no, my dear," replied Uncle Jasper vaguely ;
" indeed I had not forgotten that circumstance, and
I am truly sorry that Sir Baldwin is going so soon."

" A very kind word, my good Hemingford," came
in pleasing accents from Sir Baldwin Jeffreys, who
had followed in Aunt Caroline's footsteps and was
even now standing at the door of the museum. " May
I enter? " he added courteously.

" Of course, of course," said Aunt Caroline. " Do
enter. Sir Baldwin. Jasper was asking after you."

When he was not scowling, as he had done ever
since his arrival, Sir Baldwin could be exceedingly
pleasant in his manner. He came into the room now,
and at Aunt Caroline's invitation sat on one of the
chairs that did not happen to be littered with eggs and
stuffed lizards.

" A very kind word indeed," he said, " and 'tis pleas-
ant for the parting guest when * so soon ' waits upon
* farewell' "

"Must you really go to-day. Sir Baldwin?" said
Aunt Caroline.

" Alas! madam," replied Sir Baldwin, and he sighed
with becoming regret, " urgent business recalls me
to London to-morrow, and I must sleep at Ash ford to-
night."

" 'Tis a short visit you have paid us," she remarked.

"I only escorted my wife down from home — and
now," he said, while with old-fashioned gallantry he



30 MEADOWSWEET

raised Aunt Caroline's mittened hand to his Hps, " I
leave her in the safest and kindest of hands."

" With a membrane at the end of the nose."

This from Uncle Jasper, who, absent-minded as
usual, was reading aloud to himself out of his book.
Sir Baldwin looked startled, as well he might, seeing
that Uncle Jasper had but a moment ago appeared to
be taking part in the conversation ; but Aunt Caroline
remarked indignantly:

"Jasper, how can you say such a thing? I am
sure Olive always had a beautiful nose! "

Whereupon Sir Baldwin laughed immoderately, and
for the first time to-day cast off the gloom which had
been weighing over his spirits.

" Nay ! " Aunt Caroline went on quite placidly, for
she did not perceive that anything funny had been
said; but she was too polite to resent Sir Baldwin's
levity. " We are happy, of course, to have our Olive
back with us for awhile. 'Tis sorely we missed her
when you took her away from us."

Then she sighed with every appearance of deep sor-
row, though to be sure no one had desired a marriage
for Olive more earnestly than had Aunt Caroline.
But the good soul had always a remarkable store of
regrets laid down somewhere in the bottom of her
soul, and whenever occasion demanded she would
deck out one of these regrets and trot it out for the
benefit of the beholder; and the regret came out well
accompanied by sighs and decked out to look very
real, though in reality it only existed in Aunt Caro-
line's imagination.

Having duly sighed over Olive's most longed-for



A KIND OLD SOUL 31

departure from Old Manor Farm, she now produced
yet another fond regret.

" How I wish," she said, " that her sister were more
like her ! "

" Is the child as much a tomboy, then, as ever ? "
asked Sir Baldwin kindly.

" Worse, my dear Sir Baldwin," sighed Aunt Caro-
line — " worse ! Now look at her to-day. Off she
goes directly after breakfast — and only one piece of
bacon did she have, though I fried a bit of the streaky,
of which she is very fond. She'd be hungry —
wouldn't you think so, now ? But no ! Off she goes,
Heaven only knows where — all alone — without ask-
ing her aunt's permission or excusing herself for not
appearing at dinner. Not in for tea, either. You saw
me putting a muffin down for her by the hob. No !
No dinner, no tea — and now it's nearly four o'clock,
and the child not home yet, and your uncle and I not
knowing whether she has broken her neck climbing
a tree or torn her stockings going through the scrub.
And it isn't that I don't do my best with her ; but,
there, she'll never be like Olive, though I do give
her brimstone and peppermint once a week for her
complexion ! Such a name, too ! Boadicea ! What-
ever can her poor mother have been thinking about! "

" An unusual elongation of the tail," came solemnly
from the top of the library steps.

And at this Sir Baldwin was seized with such an
uncontrollable fit of laughter that his eyes were stream-
ing and he was forced to hold his sides, for they
ached furiously. What made him laugh more than
anything was that Aunt Caroline was apparently under



32 MEADOWSWEET

the impression that Uncle Jasper was taking part
wilHngly in the conversation, and that his remark was
a comment upon what she had said. For even now
when Uncle Jasper made the funny statement about
the elongation of the tail she retorted quite angrily:

" She was not, Jasper ! I am sure my dear sister
never thought of such things."

At which Sir Baldwin, fearing that he would break
his sides, went quickly out of the room.



CHAPTER III

A PROVOKING YOUNG WIFE

Lady Jeffreys met her husband in the square oak-
panelled hall, which gave directly on every portion
of the old house. She was coming out of the little
parlour on the left, having duly finished tea.

" Ah, Sir Baldwin," she said in that affected, min-
cing way which had grown on her in the past two
years, "your groom has just been round from the
stables ! He wanted to know at what hour you wish
to start, since you must return to Ashford to-night."

In a moment all Sir Baldwin's good humour had
vanished. He frowned, and his handsome face wore
an air of deep wrath and also of gloom, and anyone
could see that to speak politely and quietly now cost
him no little effort. It required no great power of
observation to see that a matrimonial storm was effect-
ually brewing — nay, it even seemed as if the storm
had already broken out previously, and that the halt at
Old Manor Farm had been but a momentary lull be-
tween two vigorous claps of thunder.

Olive stood in the hall, looking remarkably pert and
pretty. She was beautifully dressed in a gown of
emerald-green silk, with trimmings of black braid and
quaint buttons. She had a very slim waist, and the
elongated shape of her bodice and full gathers in the
skirt set off her trim figure to great advantage.

'33,



34 MEADOWSWEET

She had taken off her bonnet, and her fair hair now
showed all round her head in a maze of innumerable
curls and puffs, which were richly set off by a high
comb of pierced tortoiseshell. No doubt she was ex-
cessively pretty, and so dainty, too, from the tip of her
dainty leather shoe and her fine white silk stockings
to the cluster of curls that fell each side of her small
oval face from the temple to the cheek, and anyone
who was not observant would naturally marvel how
any husband could scowl on such a picture.

She looked very provocative just now, with her head
cocked on one side like a pert robin, one hand on her
hip, and the other swinging an embroidered reticule by
its long delicate chain.

Sir Baldwin looked on her, and the scowl darkened
yet more deeply on his face. But he made no com-
ment in reply to what she had said, until Aunt Caro-
line's entrance into the hall recalled him to himself;
then he asked calmly :

" And what answer did your ladyship give to my
groom? "

" That you would start within half an hour," she
replied flippantly.

" Nay, Olive," said Aunt Caroline from under the
lintel of the museum door; " perhaps Sir Baldwin may
be persuaded to tarry with us until to-morrow at the
least."

" That were presumptuous on my part, Madam,"
said Sir Baldwin, " since my wife seems so mightily
eager to rid herself of me."

Olive laughed lightly, but I must say that her



A PROVOKING YOUNG WIFE 35

laughter sounded a little forced and devoid of true
mirth.

" Faith ! " she said, " with your temper at boiling
point, you have not been an agreeable companion."

" I intruded as little as I could on your ladyship's
privacy," he retorted.

. " I could have come dow^n here alone," she said.
" The coachman surely knows the way between Ash-
ford and Birchington. I had a postilion — your pres-
ence was unnecessary, and 'twas you forced your
escort on me, remember! "

" My dear Olive ! " exclaimed Aunt Caroline, who
was genuinely shocked.

Sir Baldwin's face had become very pale, but evi-
dently he was too polite to allow his temper to get the
better of him in the presence of his hostess. But this
was not to say that he would permit his wife to aim
her unpleasant shafts at him without meting her some
measure of punishment.

" As your conduct with a young jackanapes has
lately made your ladyship the talk of the town," he
said coldly, " I preferred that jou should not travel
alone."

" Lest my departure be construed into an elope-
ment," she retorted, with a show of spite, " perhaps
with Lieutenant Carrington on board the Dolphin —
or is it someone else just now? Faith, your insane
jealousy makes you the talk of the town!"

" Olive, I pray you," interposed Aunt Caroline, who
was becoming alarmed both at Olive's spiteful vehe-
mence and Sir Baldwin's unnatural calm, " remember
he is your husband ! "



36 MEADOWSWEET

" Great Heavens, Aunt," cried Olive at the top of
her high-pitched voice, " v^rould that I could forget it
sometimes ! "

" It would be an evil day for your ladyship if you
were to do so ! " said Sir Baldwin, who at Olive's last
words had flushed to the roots of his hair, and now
had much ado to keep his rage under control.

He looked so wrathful just then, and his eyes shot
so much anger upon his wife, that instinctively the
flippancy of her manner died down. Her oval cheeks
became quite white, and, though she strove to laugh
again, it was obvious that she stood somewhat in awe
of her husband's present mood. But, like all women
who find pleasure in worrying and teasing a man, she
would not let him see for a moment that she was
frightened. Therefore she laughed and pouted and
shrugged her dainty round shoulders — did many
things, in fact, to hide the quivering of her lips and
the trembling of her hands,

"Oh, ho, ho, ho!" she exclaimed Bj little shrilly.
"Faith, but this is interesting! And you. Sir Bald-
win, grow more and more charming, every day!
Violence and abuse have I suffered in plenty. It is
threats this time, eh?"

"I never threaten," said Sir Baldwin quietly, "as
your ladyship- is well aware — save when I am pre-
pared to act — "

" The part of a coward? " she interposed quickly.

Aunt Caroline threw up her hands in horror.
Never in all her life had she heard a wife thus address-
ing her husband. She herself had oft cause to be firm



A PROVOKING YOUNG WIFE 37

with Jasper, but never — oh, never ! — would she
dream of being anything but polite to him.

"No," Sir Baldwin said quietly; "rather the part
of a judge, and if necessary that of an — "

" Sir Baldwin ! " shrieked Aunt Caroline, terrified.

Olive, too, was very frightened now. No doubt
she knew her husband well, and knew how much de-
termination and vindictiveness lay behind his calm and
gentleman-like manner. She had teased him often
enough before — teased him until he lost all control
over himself, and had perforce to fly out of her room
lest his temper should induce him to do her some
injury. But to-day she had evidently provoked him
further than a mere outburst of rage, and the fact that
he did keep his rage so completely under control
proved to her that deeper determination lay in him
now than had ever been there before.

But, womanlike, she would not even now let him see
that she was afraid of him: what she did not mind
his seeing was that she hated him, and this she tried
to convey to him by a look. She drew up her grace-
ful figure and tossed her head defiantly, and you
should have seen her eyes then — narrowed until they
were mere slits, whilst a row of tiny white teeth buried
themselves in her lower lip.

"I hate you!"

She did not say it, but she looked it. Every line
in her face spoke of it and every movement of her
body proclaimed the fact, and Sir Baldwin Jeffreys,
being no fool, could read those lines plainly enough
even as she sailed past him straight up the stairs on
her way to her room.



38 MEADOWSWEET

Sir Baldwin as soon as she was out of sight seemed
to recover his normal balance. The scowl was still
there on his face, and dark thoughts must indeed have
been chasing one another behind that frowning brow
of his. But good breeding prevented his showing
more of his feelings now, and, moreover, he really was
very fond of his wife, and put all her coquetries down
to youth and inexperience. As a rule, when she pro-
voked him beyond endurance he found that an hour
or two away from her presence restored his equanim-
ity and reinflamed his ardour and admiration for her
beauty.

And she really could be very engaging when she
chose. Sir Baldwin still cherished in his heart many
happy recollections of her affection for him, and of
her pretty show of gratitude, whenever — after a
matrimonial tiff — he strove to console her by the
present of a handsome ring or some other article of
jewellery which she had previously coveted. Until
recently she had shown him quite a good deal of defer-
ence, never flouting him in public, as many fashionable
women were wont to do to their husbands ; and he
firmly believed that all her flirtations — and these
were- many — had been absolutely innocent, and
merely the result of childlike belief in her own
charms.

But Sir Baldwin was a very proud man, and fully
conscious of his eighty-and-forty years^ and of the
ridicule which is wont to assail a middle-aged husband
when the wife happens to be young and pretty. Dur-
ing the last London season gossip had been over-busy
with Lady Jeffreys, and this he did not like. In his



A PROVOKING YOUNG WIFE 39

own estimation, the wife of Sir Baldwin Jeffreys
should be beyond suspicion, and for the past few
months now he had oft heard veiled insinuating talk
aimed against his wife.

The name of a certain Lieutenant Carrington, of
H.MS. Dolphin, had been coupled with that of Lady
Jeffreys. The young man was well-looking and of
approved family connections. He had greatly distin-
guished himself recently in the China seas, and on his
return home had been much feted in London society.
Sir Baldwin knew him to be an upright and honour-
able fellow incapable of vulgar intrigue, but Lady
Jeffreys had smiled on Lieutenant Carrington in a
manner calculated to turn the head of any unsophisti-
cated young man fresh from the China seas. Where-
upon heads began to nod and tongues to wag.

Sir Baldwin was very angry, and all through the
early part of the London season there were many hot
and bitter quarrels between himself and his lady.
Now the season was still at its height, and Lady Jef-
freys's reputation had become a rag in the hands of
her friends. Sir Baldwin was very wrathful, and sud-
denly took it upon himself to announce to his wife
that she must forthwith prepare to quit London, for
he had decided that she should spend the rest of the
summer at their country house near Ashford.

He had expected protestations, tears, even angry
refusal, at this preposterous notion of quitting London
the second week in June, when the season was at its
height and the invitations for Lady Sydney's ball and
tlie Duchess of Kent's reception were just out. To his
astonishment, Lady Jeffreys received the dictum in



40> MEADOWSWEET

perfect meekness, with downcast eyes and lips slightly-
twitching, but otherwise in absolute submission to her
husband's will. All she stipulated as a reward for
passive obedience — and this, too, came as a humble
request — was that she should spend the beautiful
month of June in her old home in Thanet. It would
ease the sadness of her heart, she said, and raised a
lace pocket handkerchief to her eyes.

Sir Baldwin Jeffreys promptly chided himself for
being a brute and a bully, and — given the slightest
encouragement — he would then and there have made
amends for his harshness by changing his intentions
and allowing his pretty, submissive wife to remain in
London for as long as she pleased. But, strangely
enough, Lady Jeffreys discouraged all attempts at
reconciliation, and, with what seemed to him wilful
obstinacy, persisted now in her desire to spend a few
weeks with her uncle and aunt at Old Manor Farm.

Whilst Sir Baldwin completed his arrangements
with regard to the care of his London house whilst
her ladyship would be away, Olive remained perfectly
charming, even-tempered and gentle. During three
days Sir Baldwin Jeffreys felt himself once more a
happy man. Every cloud on the horizon of his matri-
monial heaven seemed to have been dissipated as if by
magic, and he realised that in this simple-hearted coun-
try girl he had absolutely found an ideal mate, and
that it was his harshness and jealous temper alone that
had warped her exquisite disposition.

On the fourth day, when every preparation was
complete and the caretaker and his family were duly
installed in the house in St. James's-street, Lady Jef-



A PROVOKING YOUNG WIFE 41

freys suddenly changed her tune. Meekness, submis-
sion, and gentleness seemed to have vanished with her
boxes, which had been sent on by the luggage chaise.
Once more she became the capricious, exacting woman
who in the past three years had well-nigh broken Sir
Baldwin Jeffreys's heart and certainly soured his dis-
position. She told him very plainly what her feelings
were towards him, and these certainly were anything
but kindly; she derided him for his jealousy, upbraided
him for his harshness, scorned him for his approach-
ing middle age, and finally called him a fool for hav-
ing been so easily gulled into the belief that she would
ever become the submissive slave of an abominable


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