Buddesby, in the Parish of Little Langbourne, was a small place compared with Starden Hall. Buddesby claimed to be nothing more than a farmhouse of a rather exalted type. For generations the Everards had been gentlemen farmers, farming their own land and doing exceedingly badly by it.
Matthew, late owner of Buddesby, had taken up French gardening on a large scale, and had squandered a great part of his capital on glass cloches, fragments of which were likely to litter Buddesby for many a year to come.
John, his son, had turned his back on intensive culture and had gone back to the old family failing of hops. The Everard family had probably flung away more money on hops than any other family in Kent.
The Everards were not rich. The shabby, delightful old rooms, the tumble-down appearance of the ancient house, the lack of luxuries proved it, but they were exceedingly content.
Constance was a slim, pale, fair-haired girl with a singularly sweet expression and the temper, as her brother said often enough, of an angel. John Everard was big and broad, brown-haired, ruddy complexioned. He regarded every goose as a swan, and had unlimited belief in his land, his sister, and the future. There was one other occupant of Buddesby, a slight slender, dark-haired girl, with a thin, olive face, a pair of blazing black eyes, and a vividly red-lipped mouth.
Eight years ago Matthew Everard had brought her home after a brief visit to London. He had handed her over to eighteen-year-old Constance.
“Look after the little one, Connie,” he had said. “There’s not a soul in the world who wants her, poor little lass. Her father’s been dead years; her mother died—last week.” He paused. “I knew them both.” That was all the information he had ever given, so Ellice Brand had come to Buddesby, one more mouth to feed, one more pair of feet to find shoes for.
She had many faults; she was passionate and wilful, defiant and impatient of even Connie’s gentle authority. But there was one who could quell her most violent outburst with a word—one who had but to look at her to bring her to her sane senses, one whom she would, dog-like, have followed to the end of the world, from whom she would have accepted blows and kicks and curses without a murmur, only that Johnny Everard was not in the habit of bestowing blows and curses on young ladies.
Constance was twenty-six, John, the master of Buddesby, was a year younger, and Ellice was eighteen, her slender body as yet childish and unformed, her gipsy-like face a little too thin. But there was beauty there, wonderful and startling beauty that would one day blossom forth. It was in the bud as yet, but the bud was near to opening.
They were at breakfast in the comfortable, shabby old morning-room at Buddesby. It was eight o’clock, and John had been afield for a couple of hours and had come back with his appetite sharp set.