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Aunt Caroline's anxious eyes fixed curiously upon
him. She was standing in the doorway, and he bent
down from his saddle as if he desired to say a final
word to her.

She came up to him, and patted his horse's neck,
whilst he whispered very earnestly to her :

" Dear Mrs. Hemingford, take care of Olive! She
is very young and — and — a little thoughtless. I
beg of you to keep an eye on her! "

The tears were gathering in her eyes, for he spoke
very gently and sorrowfully; and, indeed, she was
quite sure that he was a kind man and Olive very
thoughtless and wilful.

She made him the promise which he asked of her;
then he once more bade her farewell, and, pressing
his knees against his saddle, he turned out of the
drive.



A JEALOUS MAN 129

Aunt Caroline watched him for awhile from the
doorway with the puzzled look still in her face.

" Dear me ! " she sighed, " I wonder what has dis-
turbed him? What a strange temper he was in all
day, to be sure ! — at times so furious and the next
moment quite sad and gentle. There he goes ! " she
added, as Sir Baldwin, having turned out of the gates
into the lane, set spurs to his horse and set off at a
gallop — " there he goes, lashing into his poor horse I
I wonder now what has upset him? "

" His liver, most likely," said Mr. Crabtree placidly.
" I found him a most disturbing person. I am glad
that he, at least, has gone away."

And Aunt Caroline having lighted his candle for
him, he waddled off with it like a big, fat drake to-
wards the stairs, and then up to that part of the house
where his bedroom was situated.

But Aunt Caroline shook her head. She was not
altogether satisfied in her own mind. However, for
the moment she carefully shut and bolted the front
door, then she called loudly to Susan.



CHAPTER XIII

A FAIR TEMPTRESS

Susan was already standing at the foot of the
stairs, candle in hand.

"What are you doing there, Susan?" asked Aunt
Caroline sharply.

" Nothing, ma'am! " replied Susan with a grin.

" Then leave off at once, and close up for the night."

"Yes, ma'am!"

Nominally it was Susan who closed up for the night
at Old Manor Farm, but actually it was Aunt Caro-
line who saw that every shutter was put up and every
bolt gone home. Topcoat fastened all the outside
gates and made the round of the house, lanthorn in
hand, to see that everything was safe before he finally
retired for the night in the little cottage which closely
adjoined the old house.

From the floor upstairs there came from time to
time the sound of Cousin Barnaby's raucous voice,
calling loudly:

"Caroline!"

" Yes, Barnaby ! " she would shout in response ; but
she made no attempt to go upstairs until she was satis-
fied that all the closing up had been conscientiously
done.

Then she ordered Susan up to bed, and she followed
-— the last to go up — first paying a visit to Cousin

130



A FAIR TEMPTRESS 131

Barnaby's room to see that he had everything he
wanted, then knocking at Olive's door to ask if she
was all right, then going into Boadicea's room to kiss
her " good-night," and finally going to her own room,
where she had to scold Uncle Jasper, who was sitting
up reading by the light of a candle, which everyone
knows is a very dangerous thing to do with so much
dry woodwork about.

At last every noise in the house was hushed. It was
dark from attic to cellar, and soon even the lights which
peeped through the narrow chinks of the doors of
various bedrooms were extinguished one by one.

Apparently everybody inside Old Manor Farm was
asleep. From Cousin Barnaby's bedroom came the
sound of vigorous snoring, but otherwise everything
was still. From outside there only came the soft
sighing of the breeze through the quivering poplar
leaves, and at times from the distant marshes the call
of bittern or heron, or perhaps the lowing of a cow
in distress.

The footsteps of Topcoat had resounded for awhile
as he made his tour of inspection round the house;
then these, too, died away, and the silence of the night
fell upon the old house and its sleeping inmates.

Downstairs in the hall the old grandfather clock
struck ten.

Two minutes later a door on the upstairs floor was
very softly opened, and a figure, clad in diaphanous
white, emerged tip-toeing upon the landing. Through
the windows the rays of the moon struck full on this
part of the house, throwing into bold relief the top
of the staircase, with the closed dog-gate, and the



132 MEADOWSWEET

richly carved balustrade, and the dark oak doors with
their knobs of shining brass, which gave on the sev-
eral bedrooms on this landing.

Now it also lit up with its soft, silvery light the
figure of Lady Jeffreys, candle in hand, silently cross-
ing the landing and noiselessly descending the stairs.

From outside came the muffled sound of a horse's
hoofs on the sandy lane. Olive paused halfway down
the stairs, listening intently. The horse's steps had
halted just outside the gates of the drive. She waited
a moment until she heard a man's footsteps on the
gravel, then she ran quickly down the last flight of
stairs, shielding the light of the candle with her hand
against the draught, and found herself in the hall op-
posite the door which gave on the museum.

This was locked, of course, and bolted. Olive had
to put the candle down before she could manage to
unfasten all the bolts; these gave her a good deal of
trouble, for she had to push them very gently, lest
anyone should hear. The dogs had started barking in
the distant cottage gardens, and, to Olive's anxious
mind, it seemed as if presently the entire household
would be astir. She had no idea that a nocturnal visit
in a country house would be fraught with quite so
much danger of discovery.

At last she had contrived to open the door of the
museum, and she now found herself in the long, nar-
row room with fantastic shapes of birds and beasts all
round her, the tallow candle flickering in her hand
and throwing huge grim shadows against the white-
washed walls and the raftered ceiling.

A slight sense of superstitious terror sent a cold



A FAIR TEMPTRESS 133

shiver down her spine. Great, gaunt arms seemed to
be pointing at her from every corner of the room, and
wide-open jaws to be gaping at her, showing polished
white teeth.

One of the dogs at Topcoat's cottage was still
growling, but the others further away had apparently
gone to sleep, satisfied. Shaking off her nervousness,
Olive put down her candle and boldly went to the
outer door. Here she found less difficulty in undoing
the bolts ; though large and heavy, they worked easily
in their sockets. In a few moments she had undone
them, and also the chain. But she did not open the
door; she went back to the centre of the room and
calmly proceeded to light the lamp which stood upon
the table.

Whilst she was thus occupied, there came a knock
at the outer door. She said " Come in! " in an even
voice, and finished adjusting the wick of the lamp
until it burned clear and bright.

In the meanwhile Lieutenant Carrington had en-
tered. He was looking round him now, somewhat
bewildered, and when Lady Jeffreys turned to him,
and impulsively held out both her hands, he said apolo-
getically :

" A thousand pardons, Lady Jeffreys ! Am I very-
late? You said ten o'clock, did you not? and it is
only a few minutes since I heard the hour strike on
Minster tower."

" No," she said with a winning smile, " you are not
late. Jack ! Just in time, in fact, for Mr. Crabtree is
snoring and everyone is fast asleep."

*' Then let me acquit myself of my duty," he re-



134 MEADOWSWEET

joined. " I have brought your letters, Lady Jeffreys.
I came as quickly as I could, but when I saw the house
looking so dark and quiet I was half afraid to come
near."

Whilst he spoke he was fumbling in the pocket of
his coat, and presently he drew from it a packet of
letters held together by a rose-coloured band.

" It was very presumptuous of me to keep them at
all, Lady Jeffreys, and do please try and believe me
when I give you my word that at your command I
would have destroyed them to-night, and thus spared
you the annoyance of this visit if I could."

He was still holding the letters, but she made no
movement to take them from him; she stood for
awhile looking at him with eyes that seemed to shim-
mer in the lamplight, and then she walked deliberately
to the sofa and sat down.

" Come and sit by me, Jack ! " she said invitingly.

" But, Lady Jeffreys," he urged, " do you not think
that I ought to be going? On my honour, I should
not have come at all, had I not pledged my word to
you! You have said yourself that the household was
abed."

" Well ! " she retorted with gentle Irony, " and are
you frightened to spend a little time alone with me? "

" No ! But I think that Mr. and Mrs. Hemingford
would ill approve of my being here at this hour. I
feel that I am repaying like a cad their kindness and
hospitality."

" And has it never struck you. Jack," she said
earnestly, " that there is someone in the world more
Important than yourself?"



A FAIR TEMPTRESS 135



((



There are thousands of people in the world more
important than myself, Lady Jeffreys! "

" Yet you only think of yourself at this moment! "

" I don't quite understand."

" I mean," she said, with increased vehemence,
"that, manlike, you have talked of nothing since you
came into this room but of your honour, and your
promise, and your feelings when you found that the
household was abed, and your return for Aunt Caro-
line's hospitality. For me you have not one thought,
not one consideration. Think what I have risked in
the past few months in order to give you pleasure!
The letters which now lie on the table, which you have
60 carelessly thrown aside, testify to a woman's self-
lessness as against man's egotism. I did not give a
thought to my own reputation, my own peace of mind,
or the opinion of other people; but I thought a great
deal of you. Jack, and of making you happy."

" You have made me very proud, Lady Jeffreys,
both in the past and at the present moment; but I
should prove the blackest ingrate, as well as an arrant
scoundrel, if I did not now beg your leave to go! "

Unconsciously Jack Carrington's voice had become
more trenchant and hard. He was not by any means
the unsophisticated young bumpkin whom Lady Jef-
freys could hold under her thumb. He had realised
by now that he had been trapped into this anomalous
position, humiliating to any man of feeling and of
honour, and that he had fallen stupidly into the trap
from which now he would find it very difficult to
extricate himself without leaving behind him a few
shreds of his own self-respect.



136 MEADOWSWEET

" You shall go directly, Jack," she said, holding out
her hand to him with a winning gesture ; " but not just
yet. Come and sit down here and let us talk. Five
minutes," she pleaded ; " there, and I promise you that
you shall go ! "

Then as he very reluctantly complied, and sat down
next to her, feeling angry with himself for what he
termed his weakness, chiding himself for his stupidity,
she settled herself down amongst the cushions like a
kitten that has found a comfy, downy place in which
to curl up contentedly.

" There now ! " she said, " am I such a formidable
ogress that you should be afraid of spending half an
hour alone with me? Come now! tell me, did you
not guess that I could not bear to part from you whilst
jealous eyes watched our every movement? "

" There was no question of parting. Lady Jeffreys.
I hope that we may often meet again."

" How cold you are ! I thought that you cared for
me. Jack ! "

"Lady Jeffreys!"

" Why not call me Olive ? "

" Lady Jeffreys ! " he said firmly, " may I go now? "

"Yes, yes! You may go — directly; but not just
yet, and not — not like this ! "

She was leaning towards him, her eyes seeking his,
the tendrils of her hair brushing against his cheek,
her hand stealing forward to meet his.

" We could be so happy together. Jack," she mur-
mured, " if only you thought a little less of yourself
and a little more of me! You don't seem to under-
stand how a woman can thirst for happiness — how



A FAIR TEMPTRESS 137

she longs for some response to the burning wishes of
her heart ! Oh, if you only would listen to your heart,
Jack, which — I know it — I feel it — already beats
for me! "

And two lovely white arms crept round Jack Car-
rington's neck and a pair of red lips asked for a kiss.
He was young and she was beautiful; \vho would be
Pharisaic enough to condemn him if just then his heart
was softened and his resolutions gave way before this
charming temptress, who offered her beauty so un-
reservedly to his caress?

Jack Carrington was only a man ; there was nothing
of the saint about him, and he was heart-whole. No
other woman's image interposed itself between him
and the exquisite ripe and luscious fruit which only
asked to be plucked and enjoyed.

"Tell me — just once, Jack — that you love me!"
she whispered, " and the memory of your voice will
make me happy through all the misery of loneliness
which I have to endure ! Tell me — just this once —
that you love me, and then I promise you that, if you
still wish it, you shall go ! "

It is said — and oft with truth — that the whisper
of a beautiful woman is heard above the loudest call
of duty. In this case, though the woman was very
beautiful, duty had not troubled herself much about
calling. But now a slight noise — a creak upon the
stairs — suddenly recalled Jack Carrington to himself,
even w^hen temptation seemed to be stronger than he
could withstand.

" Hush ! " he said quickly. " Listen ! "

" What is it, Jack ? " she whispered, and her en-



138 MEADOWSWEET

circling arms tried to keep him by her side. " Is it
so difficult to say the three magic words which will
make a lonely woman happy? Only three words,
Jack — * I love you ! ' — and I shall be satisfied ! "

" Hush, I say ! " he said, suddenly wrenching him-
self free and jumping to his feet, " there's someone
at that door ! "

This time she obeyed, and the passionate words of
reproach died upon her lips. Thus for a moment did
they both remain silent, he standing, she half-cower-
ing on the sofa, listening intently, with every sense
strained, scenting the danger which threatened them,
both from that creaking stair and the muffled footsteps
which were heard descending.

Resolutely Jack walked to the door and opened it.
The next second he had drawn instinctively away
from that open doorway back into the shadow.

Boadicea, clad in a loose white robe, her brown hair
falling in heavy masses over her shoulders, was stand-
ing on the threshold.



.CHAPTER Xiy

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT

Olive saw her sister and quickly smothered a cry
of alarm. She stared at Boadicea for a moment or
two as if she were seeing an apparition, or perhaps a
somnambulist whose mental consciousness was not
present; the young girl certainly made no movement
to enter the room. She could not from where she
stood see Lieutenant Carrington, but she could see
her sister, and was gazing on her with wide, terrified
eyes, which gradually softened as she gazed until they
became appealing and gradually filled with tears.

"You?" gasped Olive at last, when she realised
that the young girl was indeed here with her full con-
sciousness, and obviously with some definite and
earnest purpose. " What are you doing here? "

" I heard your voice, Olive," murmured Boadicea,
as she took a step forward into the room. " I
knocked at the door once or twice, but you didn't hear
me, and I didn't like to come in."

Now she had seen Jack Carrington, for she had
turned her head for a moment, and looked him straight
in the face. Her eyes expressed nothing as she did
so but amazement, and they wandered from her sis-
ter's face to that of the young man, as if trying to
understand something which was beyond her compre-
hension,

139



140 MEADOWSWEET

Olive was the first to recover complete mastery
over herself. She had been a little scared by her
sister's sudden advent, but this feeling soon gave way
under a sense of irritation; she was angry with Boa-
dicea for having succeeded in frightening her.

" So you thought you would do a little eavesdrop-
ping, eh, little one? " she said acidly.

" No, no, Olive ! " replied the girl, who indeed now
seemed the most frightened of the three. " I came
because — "

She checked herself, for her voice was trembling,
and she made a sudden effort to speak more calmly.
She came up to the centre table, taking no notice what-
ever of Jack, and quietly facing her sister.

" I couldn't sleep to-night," she said, " and sat by
my open window — until just now. I saw a man on
horseback in the lane — he dismounted at the gate and
came stealthily round the house to the yard."

" We know all that, child ! " rejoined Olive care-
lessly. "Lieutenant Carrington forgot his mantle
when he left earlier in the evening, and he came back
to fetch it. I also happened to have been sitting at
the open window, and, seeing him arrive at so late an
hour, guessed that something serious had brought him
back, and ran down to open the door for him before
he roused the entire household, which he had been on
the point of doing."

Boadicea listened to her sister's peroration quite
calmly, then she gravely shook her head.

"No, no; I was not thinking of Lieutenant Car-
rington's arrival, for that, too, did I see ; but that was
some time before. It was only a quarter of an hour



A THIEF IN THE NIGHT 141

ago that I saw this second horseman in the lane —
saw him dismount at the gate and then steal round to
the yard. He has been prowling round the house for
some time. I meant to call Susan at first ; then, when
I was on the landing, I thought that I heard your voice
coming from the museum."

" Tush, child, you've been dreaming ! " said Olive,
with a shrug of her comely shoulders. " Thieves do
not arrive on horseback ! "

" Hark ! " broke in Boadicea hurriedly, " I can hear
his footstep on the gravel now. He is at the front
door."

*' Miss Boadicea is right!" now interposed Jack
Carrington firmly. " There is someone in the drive
at this moment."

Olive suddenly became as white as her gown.
There are moments in life when the coming danger is
so potent, so terrible, that it casts the shadow of an
awful prescience over the mind. Olive now saw
through the thick walls of this house — saw right
through the darkness of the night the owner of those
footsteps upon the moonlit drive. She saw the ap-
proaching danger, and fear gripped her so suddenly
and so overwhelmingly that her heart stood still and
her limbs felt weighted with the terrible weight of
unreasoning terror.

" Jack ! " she murmured in a hoarse whisper, " if
it should be—"

She dared not breathe the name, lest its very sound
realised all the nameless horror which held her almost
physically by the throat.



142 MEADOWSWEET

** I'll go and see ! " said Jack Carrington, resolutely
turning toward the hall.

But this Olive would not allow — not without a
struggle at any rate ; she would not see her fears made
real, her terror become tangible. As Jack with a firm
step walked towards the door she ran to him, stretch-
ing out both her arms and clinging to him, forcing
him to pause. At first she could not speak; a half-
inarticulate cry escaped her from time to time, an ap-
pealing " No, no ! " and a vigorous, entreating shake
of the head.

Her lips and tongue were so dry that she did not
seem able to frame the words, and Boadicea, forget-
ting her own puzzlement and her own fears, ran to the
loved sister and put her own protecting arms round
the trembling figure with a gesture that was quite
motherly in its encouraging tenderness.

" Olive ! " she said softly, " Olive, dear, what is the
matter?"

" Don't go, Jack ! " the poor frightened woman now
contrived to say; " don't go to the door! If it should
be Sir Baldwin! He was mad with jealousy to-day;
he suspected me, perhaps, and has set a watch on me.
My God! If it should be he! "

Jack Carrington stood for a moment irresolute. It
was pathetic to see this wretched woman clinging in
such terror to him. Instinctively his glance sought
that of Boadicea, as if mutely asking her advice as to
what was best to be done.

There came a loud knocking against the front door.
The midnight prowler, whoever he was, was tired of



A THIEF IN THE NIGHT 143

waiting outside, he desired to enter. Olive smoth-
ered a cry of anguish.

" Listen ! " she murmured. " It is Sir Baldwin, I
am sure ! "

" But why should you thinic, Olive, that it is Sir
Baldwin ? " urged Boadicea, in a quick, encouraging
whisper. " Let me go and see."

" No, no, child ! " pleaded Olive ; " don't leave me,
don't leave me ! I am in danger, little one — in great
danger! If my husband finds me here at night —
alone with Jack — he may kill me! — he may kill
me!"

" Olive ! " exclaimed the young girl, horrified.

The knocking at the front door was repeated. This
time it was more loud and more peremptory. Lieu-
tenant Carrington and Boadicea looked at one another
with a feeling of utter helplessness, for Olive was
clinging to the young man, clutching at his arm with
the frenzied strength of terror, so that he could not
move from where he stood.

" Lady Jeffreys," he urged, " I do entreat you to
let me go and open that door! Whoever is knocking
there will rouse the house if I do not."

But she paid no attention to him, and whilst cling-
ing to him she made heartrending and incoherent ap-
peals to Boadicea.

" I've done no wrong ! " she pleaded ; " but Sir
Baldwin won't understand. I swear to you that I've
done no wrong! You believe me, little one, don't
you ? Say that you believe me ! "

" Of course, I believe you, Olive dear; but do allow



144 MEADOWSWEET

Lieutenant Carrington to go to the door. I am sure
Aunt Caroline will hear, and will be coming down
directly."

" Promise me — promise me first that you will
agree with everything I say to Sir Baldwin."

" Yes, yes, I promise ! Do go and open the door.
Lieutenant Carrington. I can hear Aunt Caroline
moving overhead."

The knocking now was peremptory and incessant;
obviously it was bound to rouse the household sooner
or later. At Boadicea's promise Olive released Lieu-
tenant Carrington's arm; he went out of the room
quickly, and his firm step was heard crossing the hall.
Within the next few seconds he was busy with the
bolts and bars of the front door.

" Hush ! Listen ! " whispered Olive, when Jack
Carrington slipped the chain, and said in an audible
whisper :

" Who are you ? What do you want ? "

" I am Sir Baldwin Jeffreys ! " came the loud re-
sponse. " Open the door before I smash it in! "

A shiver ran through Olive's frame, and she gath-
ered up round her shoulders the filmy folds of a lace
scarf which she wore. Her cheeks and lips were of
a dull ashen hue and her eyes were dilated so that they
looked dark and cavernous in her pale face.

"It is Sir Baldwin!" she murmured. "You will
help me, child. You swear it?"

" I swear it, Olive ! " said the girl simply.

Now the sound of men's voices speaking in anger
and contempt rang right through the house.

"Sir Baldwin Jeffreys?"



A THIEF IN THE NIGHT 145

" Stand back, man ; stand back ! "

" One moment, Sir Baldwin ! "

" Not one instant, man ! Let me pass ! "

" Not before I know — "

" You shall know nothing until I have dealt with
her ! Let me pass, or — "

But during this brief colloquy Olive had quite re-
gained her calm. Hastily, whilst this brief passage of
arms went on in the hall, she had readjusted the tum-
bled folds of her gown and passed her fingers over
the lines of her face, as if instinctively trying to
smooth them away. She composed her lips into a
conventional smile, and with a great effort she steadied
the trembling of her limbs.

Thus Sir Baldwin saw her, when, with a loud curse
and a volent gesture of uncontrollable rage, he pushed
past Lieutenant Carrington and strode to the door of
the museum.

" Olive ! " he thundered loudly, as soon as he caught
sight of her, "Olive! — as I suspected, by all that's
damnable ! "

She confronted him quite calmly, allowing him a
full view of her clear eyes and the contemptuous smile
on her lips. He looked wretched and over-tired, his
eyes had dark rings round them, and a slight foam ap-
peared at the corners of his mouth. He was hatless,
and his iron-grey hair was matted against his temples.


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