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The Seaside Novelette
by [?]




Primrose Farm stood slumbering in the sunlight of an early summer morn. Save for the gentle breeze which played in the tops of the two tall elms all Nature seemed at rest. Chanticleer had ceased his song; the pigs were asleep; in the barn the cow lay thinking. A deep peace brooded over the rural scene, the peace of centuries. Terrible to think that in a few short hours … but perhaps it won’t. The truth is I have not quite decided whether to have the murder in this story or in No. XCIX.–The Severed Thumb. We shall see.

As her alarum clock (a birthday present) struck five, Gwendolen French sprang out of bed and plunged her face into the clump of nettles which grew outside her lattice window. For some minutes she stood there, breathing in the incense of the day; then dressing quickly she went down into the great oak-beamed kitchen to prepare breakfast for her father and the pigs. As she went about her simple duties she sang softly to herself, a song of love and knightly deeds. Little did she think that a lover, even at that moment, stood outside her door.

“Heigh-ho!” sighed Gwendolen, and she poured the bran-mash into a bowl and took it up to her father’s room.

For eighteen years Gwendolen French had been the daughter of John French of Primrose Farm. Endowed by Nature with a beauty that is seldom seen outside this sort of story, she was yet as modest and as good a girl as was to be found in the county. Many a fine lady would have given all her Parisian diamonds for the peach-like complexion which bloomed on the fair face of Gwendolen. But the gifts of Nature are not to be bought and sold.

There was a sudden knock at the door.

“Come in,” cried Gwendolen in surprise. Unless it was the cow, it was an entirely unexpected visitor.

A tall and handsome young man entered, striking his head violently against a beam as he stepped into the low-ceilinged kitchen.

“Good morning,” he said, repressing the remark which came more readily to his lips. “Pray forgive this intrusion. The fact is I have lost my way, and I wondered whether you would be kind enough to inform me as to my whereabouts.”

Recognizing from his conversation that she was being addressed by a gentleman, Gwendolen curtsied.

“This is Primrose Farm, sir,” she said.

“I fear,” he replied with a smile, “it has been my misfortune never to have heard so charming a name before. I am Lord Beltravers, of Beltravers Castle, Beltravers. Having returned last night from India I came out for an early stroll this morning, and I fear that I have wandered out of my direction.”

“Why,” cried Gwendolen, “your lordship is miles from Beltravers Castle. How tired and hungry you must be.” She removed a lettuce from the kitchen chair, dusted it, and offered it to him. (That is to say, the chair, not the lettuce.) “Let me get you some milk,” she added. Picking up a pail, she went out to inspect the cow.

“Gad,” said Lord Beltravers as soon as he was alone. He paced rapidly up and down the tiled kitchen. “Deuce take it,” he added recklessly, “she’s a lovely girl.” The Beltraverses were noted in two continents for their hard swearing.

“Here you are, sir,” said Gwendolen, returning with the precious liquid.

Lord Beltravers seized the pail and drained it at a draught.

“Heavens, but that was good!” he said. “What was it?”

“Milk,” said Gwendolen.

“Milk; I must remember. And now may I trespass on your hospitality still further by trespassing on your assistance so far as to solicit your help in putting me far enough on my path to discover my way back to Beltravers Castle?” (When he was alone he said that sentence again to himself, and wondered what had happened to it.)