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of her mind there lingered the thought that Barnaby
Crabtree was "not strong"— such a favourite ex-
pression on the tongue of a motherly woman who has
not a large family on whom to bestow the superfluous
abundance of her kind heart.



A CAPRICIOUS TYRANT 59

Barnaby Crabtree had given Aunt Caroline so much
trouble in the past five weeks that he had spent in the
house, she had dosed him so persistently, and — as
she thought — so successfully, with her home-made
medicaments, that she took a great interest in his gen-
eral health, and, believe me, she would greatly have
missed him if he had suddenly made up his mind
to go.

Therefore to-day, as on all previous days, Mr.
Crabtree was left the master of the situation, and of
the household. Aunt Caroline had been rendered
anxious by the state of his health, which verged on
apoplexy every time that he lost his temper, and Uncle
Jasper had retreated to his perch, tired of strife, of
noise, and of distractions, which took his mind away
from the pleasing realms of romance where owls and
bats reign supreme and frogs and lizards are of para-
mount importance. Cousin Barnaby lay back on the
sofa, crossed his hands over his protruding middle,
and gave a sigh of satisfaction.

" Where is that noisy young female," he said after
awhile, when Aunt Caroline, having given up all
thoughts of further strife, had quietly resumed her
darning, " whose name sounds like a cold in the
head?"

"Boadicea?" suggested Aunt Caroline.

" Now I ask you in the name of commonsense," in-
terposed Barnaby irritably, " is that a proper name for
a self-respecting young female ? "

" She can't help her name, poor darling," protested
Aunt Caroline.

" She can help spending half her day gyrating on



6o MEADOWSWEET

tree-tops and displaying various portions of her person
which usually are kept from view."

You may. well imagine how shocked was Aunt
Caroline at such language. Her work fell into her
lap, and for a moment was quite speechless, after
which she merely gasped :

"Really, Barnaby!"

Then she picked up her work again, and for awhile
she plied her needle in silence. But, as we all know,
silence was not one of Aunt Caroline's most favoured
virtues. Drawing her needle in and out, she became
tired of saying nothing, and even Cousin Barnaby 's
conversation seemed under the circumstance preferable
to no conversation at all.

" In the poultry yard," she remarked, " Boadicea is
my right hand."

" A hand," he grunted, " that would be all the bet-
ter for an occasional wash, ma'am."

Now, though Aunt Caroline devoted a considerable
portion of the day in scolding and admonishing her
niece, she could not bear anyone else to criticise either
Olive or Boadicea, and now she was very indignant
and said hotly:

" Barnaby, you are insulting the child — aye, and
you insult me too, seeing that I have brought her up
and still see to her hands and complexion. It's bad
enough that you should eat the muffins which I had
set aside for the poor child's tea, and now you must
be adding insult to injury."

" Flagitio additis damnum ! " murmured Uncle Jas-
per to the accompaniment of a short, weary sigh.

" Profane language now," shouted Cousin Barnaby,



A CAPRICIOUS TYRANT 6i

who seemed very exasperated. " I cannot endure
profane language."

And he who swore, morning, noon, and night!

" It was Latin, Barnaby," protested Uncle Jasper
mildly.

" Then if you can't swear in English, Jasper, you'd
best leave it alone."

Then he turned his attention once more to Aunt
Caroline.

" There are a few other items, Caroline," he began,
and I can assure you that this time his voice was quite
unctuous, like that of a man who has infinite patience
under most trying ills, " to which I may call your
attention at a more fitting opportunity. For instance,
the presence of an animated fly in the raspberry jam
this morning, a condiment altogether distasteful in a
preserve, and one that no self-respecting housewife
should tolerate for a moment."

" We can't always help the flies getting into sweet
things this time of year, Cousin Barnaby," she re-
marked meekly, " and I try to keep all jam and fruit
well covered. It was you, if you remember, who left
the raspberry jam uncovered after you had helped
yourself at breakfast."

" It was not I who put the fly into it subsequently.
But let that pass. I am not one to complain, and all I
want is peace. We'll let the fly pass, Caroline, but
there is another item to which I think your attention
should be called, and that is the presence of a parcel
of kittens underneath my bed. Now, even your own
fault-finding and criticising disposition could not tax
me with being the cause of the increase in your cat's



62 MEADOWSWEET

family, nor yet with persuading her to deposit that
increase under my bed."

" Poor pussy ! she looks upon your room, Cousin
Barnaby, as her special stronghold. The dogs never
go In there, and she feels that her little family is
safe."

" Well ! I have had the little family swept up into a
basket and ordered Susan to deliver them over to Top-
coat, with strict injunctions to drown the lot."

" You haven't done that, Barnaby ? "

" Indeed, I have, and if Topcoat knows his business
the drowning will have been effectually done by now."

"Oh!"

When Aunt Caroline was speechless it meant that
she was very indignant indeed. She was quite speech-
less now, even though a few words did appear to be
struggling upwards, out of her heart, and perished in
the attempt. She collected all the socks and stockings
into her basket, put down her needle and her thimble,
and, still unable to speak, she flounced out of the room,
to find Susan and Topcoat — Topcoat was the out-
door man, the one who swept the gutters, and kept the
yard tidy, and attended to the horse and the wag-
gonette.

If Topcoat had drowned the entire family of kit-
tens without asking Aunt Caroline's permission and
merely at the bidding of Barnaby Crabtree, well then
Topcoat should be told that he was no longer a serv-
ant of Mr. Hemlngford, and that the sooner he and
his wife packed up their belongings and engaged them-
selves as servants to Mr. Crabtree the better pleased
would Mrs. Hemlngford be.



A CAPRICIOUS TYRANT 63

But then Topcoat had not drowned the entire family
of kittens.

Still he got his scolding just the same : it would
serve for another time, when he would be sure to
deserve it.



CHAPTER VI

A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRL

When Aunt Caroline sailed indignantly out of the
room Cousin Barnaby was not in the least disturbed.
He may, perhaps, have been slightly vexed at her thus
quitting him summarily when he had at least two more
grievances to put before her — such as the noise which
her guinea-fowls made in the early morning, a noise
not unlike that of a blunt saw going through knotty
wood, and which prevented his enjoying the quietude
of early morning sleep.

" But," he remarked placidly, after the door had
closed upon Aunt Caroline, " I am not a man who
often complains. I came here for peace — and all
that I want is peace."

Uncle Jasper was now once more deeply absorbed
in his book and wholly unconscious of everything that
went on around him. Barnaby Crabtree, though he
greatly objected to self-absorption in anybody — see-
ing that people who were self-absorbed could not at-
tend to him — knew that it was no use trying to drag
Jasper's absent mind away from his books.

The afternoon, too, had turned very close. There
certainly was thunder in the air, for Barnaby had a
slight headache and a disturbed stomach, and he
always knew that there was thunder in the air when
he had a disturbed stomach.

64



A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRL '65

He proceeded now to untie his neckcloth, and from
his pocket he took a large, many-coloured bandana
handkerchief. He shook it out and then spread it
over his head, and finally folded his hands in front of
him.

•* Half an hour," he murmured behind the folds of
the handkerchief. " I will compose myself. I trust
that Caroline will have the good sense not to come and
disturb me again about those damnable kittens.
Females are so unreasonable where increases in fami-
lies are concerned."

He went on muttering like this for quite a consider-
able time, but Uncle Jasper, of course, was quite un-
conscious of him and of his mutterings. He went on
reading, and Cousin Barnaby sought refreshment in
a little sleep.

The whole house became quite still, lulled into
drowsiness by the closeness of the atmosphere. In
the museum only Cousin Barnaby's snores were heard
or the droning of blue-bottles against the small win-
dow-panes, and at regular intervals the flutter of paper
when Uncle Jasper turned over a leaf of his book.

Suddenly this quietude was disturbed. From the
yard there came the sound of a man's voice, raised
angrily and insistently.

Cousin Barnaby awoke, and from behind his hand-
kerchief he asked with great indignation:

"What in thunder is that?"

Then, as he received no reply to his peremptory
question — which, by the way, he repeated at least
twice — he tore the handkerchief from his face and
shouted at the top of his voice :



66 MEADOWSWEET

"Jasper! Did you hear me ask what in thunder
was that disturbing noise?"

" I heard nothing, Barnaby," said Uncle Jasper.

"Nothing? Am I deaf, Jasper, or am I a begad
idiot?"

" Ego cogito ! " murmured Uncle Jasper, " I am
wondering."

But outside the voice had become even more loud
and more peremptory. It was a man's voice • — seem-
ingly a young man's voice — and certainly it meant to
make itself heard and its owner to be obeyed.

" Do I or do I not hear a most disturbing noise? "
queried Cousin Barnaby triumphantly.

Uncle Jasper felt very worried and very nervous.
He hated such interruptions, which, fortunately, were
very rare at Old Manor Farm, and hated them still
more when they came from the yard, for this gener-
ally meant that presently somebody would be knock-
ing at the door of the museum, and probably would
want to come in. It was therefore specially distress-
ing at this moment to hear that tiresome voice outside
saying peremptorily:

" I tell you, man, that I must speak with Mr. Hem-
ingf ord at once ! "

Fortunately Aunt Caroline, who had been adminis-
tering the above-mentioned scolding to Topcoat, had
lingered for awhile in the yard, examining the chickens
and also the cart shed, and other places where untidi-
ness might find a home, and a reproof be needed,
which she might just as well administer since she was
on the spot.

She it was' now who came forward, and it was to



A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRL 6y

Her apparently that the voice of the unknown young
man now addressed himself.

" I beg ten thousand pardons, ma'am," it was heard
to say agitatedly, " for this seeming intrusion, but a
young girl's life is in peril. I ran here to get imme-
diate assistance, but your man seemed not to under-
stand."

"Good heavens! " Aunt Caroline was heard to ex-
claim. " What is it ? Do come in, I beg, sir — just
under the porch — yes, that's it ! The door is on the
latch. Mr. Hemingford is there."

And the next moment a young man stepped hur-
riedly into the room. Of course. Uncle Jasper
dropped his book — he always did when he was dis-
turbed — and equally, of course, Cousin Barnaby
grunted with dissatisfaction.

Aunt Caroline had bustled in after the young man,
administering a final scolding from the porch to Top-
coat for having parleyed so long with a gentleman
who evidently was in a great hurry.

The young man in the meanwhile had saluted Uncle
Jasper and Barnaby Crabtree. Apparently he was
very excited, for his good-looking face was flushed and
he did not trouble to speak the polite words which the
usages of society would demand of a stranger who
was thus making intrusion in another gentleman's
house. At once he began talking volubly, and paying
no attention to Mr. Crabtree, who had muttered
audibly :

" This man is a begad fool ! "

" Sir, Madam," said the stranger excitedly, " I beg
of you both to pardon my unwelcome appearance here.



68 MEADOWSWEET

Let me tell you what happened : I was walking along
the lane, having come up from Minster and being on
my way to Ramsgate, and just as I was going past
your gates a young girl darted right across the road
in front of me. She was so quick and so nimble on
her feet that I followed her movements with much in-
terest. Suddenly, even before I realised what she was
doing, she climbed like a cat up an old elm tree, and
thence on to the sloping roof of a barn which abuts
on this house. The roof is a thatched one, and its
angle very acute. She may lose her footing any
moment, and — •'*

Even as he spoke, and before the next word escaped
his lips, there was a terrific crash, followed by the
noise of broken glass, all of which appeared to pro-
ceed from the loft at the end of the museum. The
young man's face became pale with fright and Aunt
Caroline gave one wild scream.

" The child ! " and fell back, half fainting, against
the back of the sofa, to which she clung now with
one trembling hand, whilst with the other she picked
up the corner of her apron and fanned herself with it
vigorously.

Cousin Barnaby in the meanwhile had lost his bal-
ance; the impact of Aunt Caroline's body against the
sofa had caused him to roll off it, like a big indiarub-
ber ball, on to the floor.

Everyone was dumbfounded, and even Uncle Jas-
per realised that there was something wrong, for he
ran very quickly down the library steps and stopped
short at the bottom, his pointed knees shaking one
against the other.



A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRi: 69

After the crash there had been an ominous, silence
in the loft, and the young stranger, who was the first
to regain his presence of mind, had, with a curt
" Allow me ! " made his way to the wooden stairs that
led up to it, when a girl's voice suddenly rang out,
triumphant and clear:

" Got you ! — got you ! Shoo ! — shoo ! Go away !
Mine ! — mine ! Got him ! Go away ! ''

The next moment the door of the loft was thrown
violently open, and a young girl's form appeared for
one second on the top of the rickety wooden steps.
She was dressed in something white that fluttered
round her legs owing to the draught from behind.
Her head was bare, but a wealth of brown hair flew
all around it in a tangled mass of waves and curls.
She was looking at something above and behind her,
and in her two hands clasped in front of her she
seemed to be holding something which she was en-
deavouring to protect. Only for one instant did she
stand there, white and wild, like a woodland fairy;
the next she had striven to run down the steps, had
missed her footing, and come tumbling down the
rickety flight, landing on the floor with feet out-
stretched, hair dishevelled, one shoe flying halfway
across the room, and a piece of her skirt remaining
fastened to a protruding nail on the steps.

" God help us all I " shrieked Aunt Caroline ; " the
child has killed herself!"

As if to belie these words then and there, the young
girl burst into a prolonged fit of laughter.

She laughed and laughed until every dark oak beam
shook with the echo of that whole-hearted mirth.



70 MEADOWSWEET

" Bless all your hearts ! I am not killed ! " she said, as
soon as she was able to speak, which was not for some
time, as laughter took away her breath. " How
scared you all look — and there's Cousin Barnaby go-
ing to have a fit ! "

And truly Cousin Barnaby did present a most piti-
able spectacle. He had been scared out of his wits
after being roused from placid slumbers, and his yel-
.lowish complexion was blotched with purple, whilst
his pale-coloured eyes seemed to be starting out of his
head.

" And I who came here for peace ! " he said, as he
groaned aloud, and looked with unmitigated disgust
at the wild, dishevelled figure still sitting with out-
stretched legs and shoeless feet on the floor.

"The fright you gave us, Boadicea! " sighed Aunt
Caroline, who had not yet recovered her evenness of
mind.

" The bumps I gave myself ! " retorted the young
girl, still laughing. " By George, but I do feel sore ! "

She picked herself up rather slowly, and holding one
hand to her hip, which, indeed, must have ached con-
siderably. She looked a little wide-eyed and pale,
though she would not admit that she was hurt, and in
the other hand she still held against her breast that
which she seemed desirous to protect.

As the stranger stood back toward the door, she had
not yet seen him; but he was watching her with con-
siderable amusement, for, indeed, she looked a wild
figure of a girl with her brown hair flying in all direc-
tions, her skirt torn, and her stockings full of holes.

Indeed, now that she was standing up, she pre-



A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRL 71

sented rather a woebegone appearance. Her face Was
scratched and smeared with black and her hands were
covered with grey dust.

" But where have you been ? " exclaimed Aunt Caro-
line, with as much sternness as she could command.

*' I'll tell you," began the girl, talking excitedly and
volubly, and turning deliberately to Uncle Jasper.
" You remember, Uncle, that short-eared owl you and
I saw on the top of Farmer Upchin's barn an evening
or two ago ? "

" Yes, yes ! " said Uncle Jasper, whose wrinkled,
birdlike face had lighted up at mention of the memor-
able event. " Yes, yes ! The Strix brachyotus, or
short-eared owl."

" Well," she continued eagerly, " now I knew there
must be a nest of them somewhere. I thought you
would like the eggs."

"Yes, yes!-"

" So I got them ; but, by George, I did have a tear •
round I "

" A tear round ! " groaned Cousin Barnaby.
" Look at her stockings ! "

" My dear child ! " exclaimed Aunt Caroline, horri-
fied.

But Miss Boadicea, wholly unconcerned, looked
down calmly on her shapely feet and ankles encased
in coarse cotton stockings, through which her great;
toe peeped out unblushingly.

" Ever seen a great toe before. Cousin Barnaby?"
she said, as she suddenly held up her foot right under
Mr. Crabtree's nose.

" Don't do that ! " he shouted, for Indeed he was






>j2 MEADOWSWEEX

yery furious, &nd we must admit that He had every
cause to be exceedingly vexed, since he had come to
Old Manor Farm for peace, and this June afternoon
had been the scene of quite a number of disturbances.

"But the eggs, child?" said Uncle Jasper, with
quite a show of eagerness and impatience; " have you
got the eggs ? "

" Hm — hm ! " nodded Boadicea in response. " I
climbed on to Upchin's barn after Mother Owl. She
flew off. I scrambled down and then on to the pop-
lars after her. But, Uncle Jasper, where do you think
the nest was ? "

Well, my dear?"

In our loft — just under the thatch by the sky-
light! Oh, I had a scramble for it, I can tell you!
The thatch was so slippery after all this dry weather.
I slid now up, now down. Scratched my knees, too !
I tell you. Mother Owl was furious. She knew I was
after her nest. But I got it at last — when, bang! I
slid down again — this time on to the skylight, and
through I went with a crash ! "

She was quite breathless, for she had talked very
fast, undisturbed by Cousin Barnaby's groans of dis-
gust and Aunt Caroline's exclamations of horror.
Now she paused a moment, and her face assumed an
expression of pride and of triumph.

" But I've got the eggs for you. Uncle Jasper," she
said.

And she looked down upon the precious thing which
she was still holding to her breast. Suddenly as she
looked the expression of triumph fled from her face,
a look of dismay spread all over it.



A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRi: 73

" Yes, child, the eggs ? " said Uncle Jasper ex-
citedly.

A tangled bundle of brickdust and mortar, of twigs
and dried grass, together with fragments of some-
thing white and a yellowish liquid, fell in a heap; on
the floor.

" They are smashed ! " she exclaimed, as her eyes
filled with tears and her arm dropped down to her
side.

" Scrambled eggs ! " remarked Cousin Barnaby
placidly.

He really did enjoy her disappointment.

" Smashed? " cried Uncle Jasper in a piping treble,
for he was truly horrified at the awful calamity; " no,
no, child, not smashed ? "

And while Boadicea nodded ruefully he was down
on his knees turning over the remains of the destroyed
nest, trying to find some fragment at least large
enough to preserve.

" No, not smashed," remarked Cousin Barnaby,
who knew how to be sarcastic ; " eggs are usually much
improved by being hurled six feet through a skylight."

" I am so sorry, Uncle ! " murmured Boadicea.

She looked so conscience-stricken and with it all so
quaint and funny in her torn skirt and stockings that
the young stranger — who hitherto had politely kept
in the background — betrayed his presence now by a
loud and genuine outburst of laughter.

Boadicea quickly looked round, and, seeing him
thus laughing whilst trying to regain his composure
under her stern eye, she gazed on him for awhile in
mute astonishment. Then she said curtly :



74 MEADOWSWEET

"Who is he?"

At her words everyone Seemed suddenly to become
aware of the stranger. Aunt Caroline, very flustered,
hastily smoothed down her apron and put her hands
to her head to see if her cap were on straight.

" Indeed, child," she said, " your wild mischief
makes us forget our manners."

She turned to the young man, and bobbed him an
old-fashioned curtsey.

"Sir? . . ." she said, half interrogatively.

" Lieutenant Carrington, of H.MS. Dolphin/' he
replied, standing very upright and giving Aunt Caro-
line a real naval salute, " at your service, Madam ! "

" Lieutenant Carrington ! " exclaimed Aunt Caro-
line. " Not Mamie Carrington's son ? Mamie who
was Mary Janet Culverston?"

" My dear mother," said the young man.

" Mamie's son ! — Mamie's son ! " reiterated Aunt
Caroline, as with scant ceremony she placed her podgy
hands on the young lieutenant's shoulders and drew
him down until she could plant a kiss on both his
cheeks. " Right welcome you are, sir, for your dear
mother's sake! She'll have told you about me, I
know. Caroline Pettigrew I was before I married
Jasper Hemingf ord. Mamie's son, to be sure ! Why,
you were a mere lad when I saw you last at Crack-
mansthorpe. My 1 how you have grown since then !

" And this is Mr. Hemingford," she continued with
eager volubility, and waved one hand toward Uncle
Jasper and the other toward the young man. " Lieu-
tenant Carrington, Jasper, of H.M.S. Dolphin; my
friend Mamie Carrington's son. You remember her;



A WILD FIGURE OF A GIRL 75

she was one of my bridesmaids. And you remember
Mr. Hemingford, I am sure, Lieutenant Carrington."

"Jack you must call me, Mrs. Hemingford,
please ! " said he.

" Then Jack it shall be ! " rejoined she, blushing
with pleasure. " You remember Uncle Jasper, don't
you?"

"Remember Uncle Jasper? Why, of course I
do!"

And he shook Uncle Jasper cordially and very vig-
orously by the hand, whilst Uncle Jasper, rather
absent, and certainly vague as to who the young man
was and Who was Mamie Carrington, murmured pleas-
ing " How de do's ? " and declared how well he re-
membered.

" By gad ! " said Lieutenant Carrington gaily, " I
remember this museum perfectly now. Though I
only was brought here once in my nurse's arms,
I thought it then the most wonderful spot on earth —
in fact, it was my idea of heaven in those days."

" It is my idea of a rubbish heap now," grunted
Cousin Barnaby, who thought it was fully time some-
one paid attention to himself.

"And this," said Aunt Caroline, politely turning
toward him, " is our cousin, Barnaby Crabtree, who
is paying us a short visit."

" Your servant, sir ! " said the lieutenant.

" And now," continued Aunt Caroline, " I hope
that you find yourself quite at home, sir."

" You are too kind, Mrs. Hemingford," said he.

" I don't know where you lodge, sir — I mean
Jack," said she.



76 MEADOWSWEET

" On board the Dolphin, Madam."

" At any rate, then, I hope that you will give us the
pleasure of sharing our homely supper with us to-
night."

" I'll be greatly honoured, Mrs. Hemingford," said
he, making her an elegant bow.

" Then you'll excuse me, sir — I mean Jack — I'll
tell my niece Lady Jeffreys that you are here."

She had made this remark quite casually, having
for the moment forgotten that Boadicea had been
absent all the day, and knew nothing of her sister's
arrival; and she was calmly sailing toward the door


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